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A Traveler’s Perspective: Biking in Holland and Belgium

Whether it’s an email, a letter, or even a comment on our Facebook page or our blog, we love hearing from our travelers. And, as it turns out, our guests love hearing from one another as well. What can I expect on my next vacation? What are the highlights? How are the accommodations? These are all valid questions, and who better to answer them than a fellow VBT traveler? The following excerpts are from a Christmas letter we received from VBT Travelers, Gee Gee B. and Bill M. of Porter Ranch, California. The couple has joined us on three bike tours and since writing this, they’ve even taken a walking tour, exploring the Amalfi Coast & Capri. ​

Gee Gee and Bill have provided us with a very insightful account of their Holland and Belgium Bike & Barge President’s Tour. We hope you enjoy it!

Holland Bike Tour

In April we did a wonderful bike and barge trip in Holland and Belgium run by VBT, a bicycle and walking touring company with which we had previously done bike trips in Hawaii (Big Island) and the Loire Valley in France. We did a pre-trip extension of three days in Amsterdam. Checking into the conveniently located Vondel Hotel sometime after noon, we then set out to explore this delightful city, absorbing the atmosphere of the lovely canals. We visited the Rijksmuseum the Van Gogh Museum, and the Amsterdam Historical Museum. We relaxed in Vondel Park and toured through the Anne Frank House.

The beginning of our actual bike and barge trip was a walking tour through parts of Amsterdam conducted by one of our two leaders, Thomas, on the morning of the day we boarded our barge. The tour included a stop at a delightful tulip shop, where we heard an interesting talk on tulips given by the owner of the shop.

Bike and Barge Vacation

In the early afternoon we were welcomed aboard our barge, the Iris, by the crew of four. We discovered as the trip progressed that we could not have asked for a more friendly, helpful, competent crew… who worked very hard to provide us all with a wonderful experience. The owner and the pilot were friends who had designed and retrofitted the barge, their second, to serve in the capacity in which we were using it. The cook was a delight who obviously took great pride in her work and loved preparing meals that were appreciated by all of us. The food was always delicious.

The barge had a storage area for bicycles at the front with an outdoor lounge area also near the front. Inside there was another comfortable lounge area and a beautiful dining area with tables for four on each side and a longer table for eight in the center. The view, sometimes passing and sometimes from our docked positions, could be seen through the many large windows on the sides of the barge.

Travel Holland

Our rooms were on the level below, each with a window to access the view outside. Everything on the boat had obviously been very carefully thought out, including good lighting in our rooms, and there was plenty of closet and cabinet storage room for our clothes. Even the attached bathroom had enough shelf and surface areas for toilet articles to be left there. I really loved that barge.

European Cooking

Typically, we would have breakfast on board the barge, which had been docked all night, and then after getting information about the possible routes we would be taking that day (there was usually a short, medium, and sometimes long or extra-long option) and the things to see along the way, we would leave on our bicycles for our next destination, meeting up with the barge which would be docked and waiting for us by the late afternoon. After dinner we would participate in an optional walking tour conducted by one of our two excellent leaders, Dutch natives, of whatever city or town we happened to be in.

Netherlands Windmills

Our rides were usually through lovely rural areas, with sheep and lambs close to the bike path or road…. Our first full day of riding ended at Kinderkkijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is a dike with the country’s largest collection (19) of traditional windmills…. In the small town of Tholen… we participated in a special event called the Home Host Program, in which various local people opened their homes to tour participants for an hour or two in the evening. Bill and I and another couple were met at the boat by our host, who gave us a short walking tour of the town and then took us back to his home. We very much enjoyed our time there.

With us for about four days on the tour was the president and owner of VBT, Gregg Marston, who makes it a point to go on a number of VBT trips every year. His daughter Sarah joined us also. Gregg and Sarah participated in our rides each day… and on our farewell dinner on the barge the crew went all out to make it very special.

Bruges Belgium

The tour ended in Bruges, and we enjoyed strolling around this delightful, picturesque city, which includes canals, gardens, and a park with a lake. We visited the church which features Michelangelo’s 1505 sculpture, Madonna and Child. We also visited several museums. It was a wonderful, very educational and absorbing tour, and we were very glad that we had chosen to do it.

If you’ve taken a VBT vacation and you’d like to share a bit about it with us, we’d love to hear from you. You can email us at info@vbt.com and perhaps we can share your story on our blog, too.

Old and New: Traveling the Czech Republic

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is a land of complementary contradictions. It is a young country, only 17 years old, and yet it is steeped in history. Its cities feature an array of modern buildings standing among classical structures, and though Czech is a landlocked nation, the prominence of the Vltava River throughout the country will give visitors a sense that wherever you might be, water is rarely far off.

The Czech Republic is technically one of the younger nations in Europe, having been officially established in 1993. However, the Czech or Bohemian state emerged as early as the 9th century. Sharing borders with Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria, today’s Czech Republic abounds in a variety of historical and cultural influences, especially in its capital, Prague.

Prague

A walkable city, Prague boasts some of Europe’s most exciting architecture and is a virtual full-scale, living museum dedicated to the juxtaposition of a variety of architectural styles. Historic structures like the Charles Bridge and Prague castle work to complement very modern buildings like Tancici Dum. One of the most recognizable attractions in Prague, the Astronomical Clock, rests on the Town Hall Tower in the center of the city. The five hundred year old clock is most engaging at the turn of the hour when two doors above the clock open to reveal a brief procession of the 12 Apostles, accompanied by a ringing of bells. Though each hour generally draws an audience, the clock is high enough overhead that any vantage should grant a direct view.

Charles Bridge

Continuing through the city center, the Charles Bridge is the main thoroughfare leading up to Prague Castle. The bridge offers fantastic photo ops of the city from above the Vltava River. Your best bet is a scenic sunrise or sunset shot, and enjoy breakfast, lunch, or an afternoon beer while the path to the castle gets bit more crowded.

After taking a leisurely trek across the famed Czech bridge, you’ll meander along a cobblestone path to Prague Castle. The 9th century Castle offers outstanding views of the city, as well as another intriguing display of various types of architecture all in one building. Early visits will also grant a viewing of the changing of the castle’s guard.

Finally, if the bustle of the city has you after a change of pace, seek out one of Prague’s many public gardens. The Golden City features a myriad of relaxing spots to rest and enjoy the scenery. One of the best central escapes is Letná Gardens. Letná offers another tremendous panoramic view of the city, and even has an outdoor beer garden to enjoy in the summer months.

Czech Vacation

Once you’ve gotten a fair sampling of the Czech capital, continue south along the Vltava River and you’ll eventually come upon the historic city of Český Krumlov. With roots as far back as the 13th century, Český Krumlov is another architectural treasure and the small city retains an old-world feel through its ornate Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic style buildings. Included in VBT’s Czech Vacation, a guided tour of Krumlov Chateau is a must when visiting the scenic gem of the Southern Czech Republic. The Vltava River also offers a number of exciting and engaging activities like kayaking and canoeing. After seeing the sights of Český Krumlov, be sure to relax and enjoy the bohemian ambiance at one of the city’s inspired restaurants.

The Czech Republic has a number of natural wonders and an abundance of peaceful countryside, all best taken in by bicycle. Join VBT on one of our most popular Bike Tours in Europe: The Czech Republic, Germany & Austria. What’s your favorite spot in the Czech Republic, or where would you most like to visit?

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