Resisting the temptation to ride and race every day at the beginning of the trip will pay off towards the end because you will still have gas in your tank. So take a few unstructured days off the bike and hop a train just 750 meters from our house in Zingem—an eight-minute walk or a three-minute bike ride—for a little leisurely exploration of Belgium.
Ghent and Oudenaarde are just 20 minutes away by train. For you die-hards who just can’t say no, you can even ride there and take the train home since bikes are welcome on all local trains.
Stroll or bike along the cobblestone banks of the stunning canal that cuts through the middle of Ghent, a magnificent European city with abundant shopping and café life and historic, architecturally stunning homes that date back to the Renaissance.
You can experience Ghent’s cycling culture by simply looking around you or by visiting the town’s velodrome, a world-class 250-meter, 45 degree board track that has open training sessions year-round. For 15e you can rent an Eddy Merckx track bike and ride the track. You’ll find the track’s schedule here.
Also check out the cool BMX track that is right behind the velodrome.
Oudenaarde, once the world’s center of tapestry production and now the proud finish of the 2012 Tour of Flanders, is a 20-minute ride down the cycle path that runs along the canal from Ghent. The town, with its spectacular market square that dates back to the Renaissance era, is nearly a thousand years old and this history has left traces that are still visible in its stunning monuments. The open-air market on Thursday morning is fabulous and visiting the Tour of Flanders Museum, brasserie, and clothing shop—probably more than once—is essential.
See the beauty of Oudenaarde in this video:
Bruges and Brussels are about one hour away by train. Just be aware that the Brussels central station has two names: Zuid (Flemish) and Midi (French). So listen and look for both.
Bruges, often referred to as the Venice of the North, is a splendid medieval city in West Flanders close to the North Sea. A stroll through the tiny streets lined with 12th and 13th century architecture, as well as along the ancient canals, can be an enchanting experience. Don’t miss the belfry that dates back to 1240 and whose 41 bells still toll. The city also boasts Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child (the only sculpture by the master said to have left Italy during his lifetime), as well as the world’s tallest brick tower, the 401.25’ spire of the Church of Our Lady.
Founded as a fortress by Charlemagne in the 10th century, this Flemish/French city has become not only an international political center, but a center for the arts as well. Theater. Opera. And over 80 museums. But you don’t even have to go inside to see art. Artists have designed a number of metro stations. And since Brussels has given birth to numerous comic strips, outdoor painted murals commemorating comic book characters created in Brussels now abound. Of course, there’s also the food—including Belgian Waffles, chocolate and French fries—and the beer. Sounds like a meal to me!