Before embarking on our Arctic Cruise, we made a quick 3-day stopover in Antwerp. While our original plan was to spend one night in Amsterdam, the Grand Prix event happening that weekend made staying for 4 nights in Antwerp cost about the same as 1 night in Amsterdam.

With no particular expectations in mind, we were pleasantly surprised to discover the city's inherent charms. We strolled through the historical center and had the chance to visit some of its attractions: The central station, the cathedral, the botanical garden, and the medieval fortress (Het Steen), to name a few.

During our stay, we were fortunate to witness the "De Reuzen" parade, translating to "The Giants" in English. This captivating event featured two enormous articulated canine puppets that paraded down Antwerp's main street.

Belgium's reputation for an extensive network of bike paths convinced us to partake in a cycling trip. One sunny day, we embarked on a 45 km ride westward along the river Scheldt to the city of Steendorp. As we savored our lunch, we noticed foreboding dark clouds gathering to the north. Deciding not to take any chances, we quickly finished our sandwiches and commenced our return journey. As luck would have it, we encountered a brief but intense thunder shower that lasted no more than 20 minutes. We got drenched but dried up on our last 20 km home. 

An interesting aspect of our ride was that, to cross the river Scheldt, we had to take a 32-meter elevator down to a tunnel that went under the river.

All in all, our unexpected detour to Antwerp turned into a captivating prelude to our upcoming Arctic expedition. The city's architectural marvels, engaging events, and cycling escapades left us with fond memories of our time spent in this hidden gem of a destination.

Biking Belgium

We decided to spend a long weekend biking in Belgium.  On Friday morning, we folded up our bikes, hopped onto a high-speed Eurostar train, and arrived in Brussels 2 hours later.  


From Brussels, we took a local train to Bruges where we intended to spend the afternoon seeing the cute canals, squares, and shops, but it turned out that everything was closed because it was a national holiday. On the plus side, there was a huge stage in the main plaza with music/entertainment, so we picked out a nearby patio and had dinner while watching the show.

The next day, we cycled a 50 km loop to the coast and were really impressed with the cycle network here.  The car-free path from Bruges to the coast along the canal was particularly beautiful.  We were surrounded by unending rows of trees that protected us from the wind and light sprinkle of rain.

The actual costal cities were a bit disappointing. There is a cycle path running down the coast, but it runs alongside a busy main road, is not as well maintained, and you can’t actually see the sea from it. The area is quite industrial and the coastal city of Blankenberge looked like an overcrowded beach town with no soul. We stopped for a quick lunch of burgers and Belgian fries with curry mayonnaise. 

On our return trip, we were caught in a huge downpour and arrived back in Bruges soaked to the bone. Despite the rain and the costal town not meeting expectations, we still had an amazing day and would recommend it to everyone. 

Bruges To Ghent

We cycled about 50 km from Bruges to Ghent along another super flat, scenic path, away from the main roads. 

When we arrived in Ghent, we noticed Market booths in the distance, so we dropped the bikes off at the hotel and wandered over to check out the Market. To our surprise, we had arrived in Ghent on the last day of the Ghent Flanders Festival. Apparently it’s a huge 2-week-long music festival with 10 stages showing a variety of free music performances. We wandered around experiencing the sites and sounds, bought sausages, had dinner, and returned to the main area to watch a really good reggae band, Jahneration, playing on the main stage that spanned across one of the canals.

On our last day, we woke up to pouring rain. On our Eurostar train from London to Brussels, we were given a warning, that our bikes had to be in bags.  Since we didn't want to take any risks returning home, Dom braved a quick 10 km round trip in the rain to get DIMPA bags from IKEA. By the time Dom dried himself and we checked out, the downpour settled to a light mist and the sky eventually opened up to a lovely day.  We visited the Medieval Castle in the middle of the city and witnessed the city squares return to normal as they tore down the various festival stands, stages, and rides.

We then returned to Brussels and took the Eurostar back to London.  Lucky us - the Standard Premium tickets that we had picked up on sale meant we got dinner and wine for the ride home! :)

Food experience

One of the best things about travelling is tasting different foods everywhere you go!  On this trip, we found some local dishes to try: 
 - Belgian Fries: Every restaurant serves fries with the meal and we had way too many, but the best fries we had were in Ghent at a touristy fast food joint called Frituur Trans Hooiaard. They had several options for sauce (besides Belgium's typical "mayonnaise"), but we went with the one they recommended, "Joggie sauce", which was quite tasty.
 - Belgian Waffles: They were a bit expensive for what you get, but it was worth the experience - the taste and texture was unlike any waffles we had tried before - very dense and full of sugary goodness :)
- Stoverij: A traditional Flemish Beef Stew, served with Belgian fries of course!
- Gentse Waterzooi: A classic Flemish Chicken Stew with a soupier consistency.  Very delicious!
- RoomeR: A deliciously light and fruity liqueur flavoured with Elderflowers.