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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.

Tea and Culture

Here in America, few of us let a day go by without at least one cup of coffee. Whether it’s part of an early morning routine, a mid-morning break, or an afternoon perk-up, coffee drinking is a common, ritualized facet of American culture. However, for much of the rest of the world, there is another hot beverage, whose history and rituals play a vital role in contemporary society.

Vietnam Bike Tours

Coffee’s international antagonist is, of course, tea. Though we can’t be sure how long tea has been consumed as a beverage, theorized dates of origin range from the 10th century B.C. to the 1st century B.C. And the hot, refreshing beverage’s global popularity can be attributed not only to its lengthy history, but also to its social importance.

The custom of tea-drinking is likely to have originated in China. However, its neighbor to the south, Vietnam, boasts the perfect climate for growing the plant. Warm temperatures and predictable rainfalls have supported tea growth in Vietnam for thousands of years and with such a perfect environment for the delicate leaves, it was only a matter of time before drinking tea became a popular tradition in Vietnam. Though sharing tea doesn’t have to be a formal affair, its importance in Vietnamese culture is by no means understated. Tea is served before business transactions, in political negotiations, during weddings, and friendly introductions and refusing a public offering of tea could be seen as a social faux pas. The most common type of tea in Vietnam is green tea; however, oolong is also quite popular, along with black and herbal varietals.

Portugal Walking Tours

Though not made up of the most fervent population of tea drinkers, the small nation of Portugal has played an important role in tea’s development as a global beverage. In fact, it is likely that Portugal introduced tea to the west. In the late 16th century, Portuguese traders and explorers adapted the customs of growing and drinking tea. Slowly, the rest of Europe took up sipping tea throughout the day. As time pressed on, the custom of drinking tea proved to hold a firmer grasp on other European nations. However, Portugal’s Azores Islands, noted for their unique climate given their North Atlantic location, still grow a variety of tea today.

After making its way to Europe, tea drinking eventually began to catch on throughout the world. Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the custom with them as they explored South America. However, the Europeans’ taste for tea could hardly be quenched by the limited availability of tea growth in the region. Instead, settlers adapted a native practice to their social habits, and picked up drinking yerba mate. Mate is a hot drink, but is not technically a “true” tea, rather an herbal infusion. But what really sets mate apart from traditional tea is its method of consumption. Dried yerba mate leaves are placed into a hollowed out gourd, and the steeped in hot water. After steeping for a few minutes, the mixture is then drunk through a unique straw that filters out the leaves and only allows the smooth liquid to pass. In Argentina, yerba mate is often served with breakfast, occasionally at gatherings in the early evening. Though the practice is not quite as widespread as Vietnamese tea drinking, yerba mate has deep roots in indigenous Argentine culture and is proudly declared Argentina’s national drink.

Take a break from the coffee grind and join in on one of these historic tea-drinking traditions on VBT’s Journey through Vietnam, our walking tour of Portugal, or our walking tour in Argentina.