Thursday, May 18, 2017

London to Brussels - Day 4 (Short and Sweet)

Day 4: Bruges to Ghent (May 9th, 2017)
28.9 miles, 165' Elev Gain, 6% max grade, 14 mph Avg (click for route map)

Day 4 I had originally planned as a full day off in Bruges, with perhaps a short jaunt out to the Dutch border; but after going over routes, distances and timing, I instead opted for a half day off, and a short ride to Gent for an overnight stop.

That extra bit of sleep was definitely welcoming, as was the clear blue skies. First stop was the breakfast bar at Martin's Bruges hotel (included in our room price), this is probably the most lavish breakfast spread I have ever seen at any hotel (full cooked breakfast, fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, freshly squeezed orange juice, cereals, chocolate sprinkles....). Fully loaded with food, it was time to wander for an hour or so, then back by 11am to check out. Most people wandered on their own, or split into small groups, which was not a bad thing.

Beautiful morning

Tour boats fill up early

11am arrived, and everyone voted to get on the road towards Ghent, we were all still full from a hearty breakfast at this point!. The temperature starting out was still a cool 52f (11c), but quickly warmed up into the low 60's (17c), the sunshine felt good!. Our route to Ghent was only 29 miles following cycle route LF5, this was beautiful canal-side riding and small narrow country lanes.

A typical canal-side bike path on LF5

Beautiful scenery and paths

The distance between Bruges and Ghent may have only been 29 miles, but there was plenty of sights along the way, the going was easy, we were all smiling, and we had plenty of time to make photo stops. At about mile marker 10 we came across a canal path closure, this was only our second route diversion of the tour, considering how many turns were mapped that was pretty good going. Note to self: learn what "diversion" is in Flemish, we were oblivious to the orange signs, and instead used the trusty GPS map to go around the closure.

18th Century windmill

Beautiful cottage dating from 1720

We made exceptionally good time reaching Ghent in a little over 2:40 hrs, and after leaving the canal and cycle route LF5 we only had 0.7 miles of town riding left, sounds easy right!. Well, Ghent has recently become car free, so within the main city centre bicycles, pedestrians and Trams rule, and negotiating all 3 is a scary challenge - there is a saying "failure is not fatal, but hesitation can be", that certainly applied here, although failure to cross the Tram tracks could have been fatal.

Our overnight stop was the Hotel Gravensteen, a splendid hotel right in the heart of the city, and opposite the fairy-tale castle (pure luck on my part when booking it). The bikes were stored in their courtyard out of sight, and our group was scattered around the hotel on different floors. It was early afternoon so we had plenty of time to explore, 1 group opted to visit the castle, another opted to get food.

View from the top of the castle keep

What is used for unruly cyclists

View from castle to one of the many squares in Gent

Walking up and down castle stairs certainly worked up an appetite, but it was still relatively early, so Frites and waffles filled a hole until the time for dinner rolled around. Most of the group re-grouped back at the hotel, and a handful decided a boat ride would be the best way to get the feel for the city. The pre-dinner boat ride lasted 40+ minutes, was well worth the €7, and we even brought wine on board - how civilised, how European.

Ghent is centred around canals like Bruges

The evening ended with a decent meal and good beer, and a pretty sunset over the castle. I turned in early on this occasion and caught up with some sleep.

Gravensteen castle opposite our hotel

Day 4 route

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