Our European Adventure - From Bruges to Amsterdam

Our European Adventure - From Bruges to Amsterdam

The summer after my husband Mateo graduated from college, the two of us spent two and a half months bicycling through Europe, with only the supplies we could carry with us on our bikes and a budget of €20 a day. Granted, this was in 2016, so our €20 went a bit further than it would now, but it was still a pretty bare-bones trip - and we had an absolutely amazing time. I still talk about it to anyone who will listen.

We’ve always tended to be pretty economically-minded travelers. Although I love a good pampering every once in a while, we usually go for pretty budget-friendly trips.

But this year, after not really traveling for almost 5 years, we decided to splurge on a little bit of a more luxurious trip. It was such a different experience from what we’re used to, and such a great time. I really enjoyed having someone else plan everything for us and having local guides that could give us some tips and tricks. Neither of us had the energy or time to really plan a huge trip, and I put my faith in the trip organizers. Honestly, I just kind of skimmed the itinerary and assumed it would all work out. And it did!

Bikers in the distance, spaced between trees.

So what was this trip that we went on?

We did a bike and boat tour from Bruges, Belgium, to Amsterdam, Holland. We boarded the boat, called the Zwaantje (meaning Little Swan) in Bruges, then would bike all day from city to city, meeting up with the boat at the end of each day. There were excursions and/or guided city walks most days, and almost every evening, there was a three-course meal prepared by our amazing onboard chef, Frank. He also set out a breakfast buffet every morning with some extra sandwich makings, so we could take a picnic lunch with us.

The boat also had an open bar, and I consumed many an aperol spritz on the deck of the boat when our daily ride was done.

Hannah enjoying an Aperol Spritz on the deck of the boat

The biking

Of course, the main focus of the trip was the biking. As I mentioned, the last bike trip that Mateo and I did was entirely self-supported, and while I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, gosh was it nice to not have to carry everything with us. Not only that, but our hotel basically moved with us, so we didn’t even have to pack up our luggage each day.

The bike paths in both Belgium and the Netherlands were incredible. The drivers were so respectful to us, and we almost always had protected bike lanes, if not our own roads to use. I remembered that European bike infrastructure is chef’s kiss, but it was so refreshing to experience it again. There were two days that Mateo and I broke off from the group and completed that day’s ride on our own, and it was so easy to follow the directions and paths. I had no concern about getting lost or feeling unsafe - and we just got to hang out in a couple coffee shops and restaurants that were right off the main bike route.

A selfie of Mateo on his bike with Hannah behind. Both are smiling widely.
Hannah digging into a chocolate-smothered waffle. She is in pure bliss.

The excursions

Gouda tour

When I saw this on the itinerary (yes, I did read this bit of the itinerary), I was very much looking forward to touring the gouda farm. Could it be because “She’s the Man” was a critical part of my formative years? Perhaps. But really - I’m a huge fan of cheese, and getting to sample fresh cheese straight from the source, while meeting the cows that produce the milk, was a really cool experience!

Were there samples? Yes. Did Mateo and I buy an entire wheel of pesto gouda and proceed to carry it with us for the rest of the trip? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes.

Racks of fresh gouda drying and processing
Mateo petting a goat who was mere days old

In Ghent, we took a canal tour to learn about the history of the city. I am always struck by just how much history European cities have. In the US, especially on the west coast, if our buildings are 150 years old, they are ancient.

And then you go to Europe, where you have cities that have been critical to the history of their country since medieval times, and castles and churches still standing that were built in the 1500s and 1600s.

I absolutely loved seeing the evolution of architecture over centuries, and how advancements in technology changed how cities and buildings were made.

A castle standing proudly, as viewed from the Ghent canal.

Windmills

I don’t know if I should count this one as an official “excursion” since it was our bike route for the day, but I would be remiss if I did not talk about the windmills in the Netherlands.

Speaking of huge pieces of history - it’s amazing how many of them are still preserved and functional today. Apparently, you can even get a stipend to live in one and do the upkeep. Mateo and I may or may not have considered that option before leaving the country…

A row of windmills lines a canal.

The people

And, of course, the people on a tour like this can really make or break the experience - and we had such a fun group to tour with. We had folks from Australia, Germany, Italy, and the US, all coming together for one grand adventure. Despite some language barriers, we were able to forge friendships and have great conversations, and it really was a great crew to go on an adventure with.

We also had our fantastic guides, Corrine and Hilko, who put up with all of our shenanigans - even when Mateo and I absconded with one other guest down a really inviting alley during our evening city walk (sorry for scaring you guys!). In our defense, it was a really enticing alley.

And the crew of the Zwaantje just went above and beyond to make the experience great. Our valiant captain and owner of the boat, Martiin, always had a smile on his face and bravely navigated the locks with the first mate Yitze, and Yoke, the hostess and bartender always made sure we had cold drinks ready for us as soon as we got off the tour. And Frank, the absolute MVP, cooked us three-course meals in the tiny ship’s galley that were always so delicious and healthy. I think everyone was fighting over who got to take Frank home with them at the end of the trip ;)

The whole bike tour group!
Mateo holding a bicycle-shaped cookie in front of our boat

All in all, it was an incredible experience and now I have another bike trip to talk about instead of rehashing the same stories from 7 years ago ;)

Hannah and Mateo in front of a castle

*Pasta soup, a staple of our last bike trip, is when you make pasta and add a bouillon cube to the water, then drink the “broth” for extra salt.

Hannah Seger is an aspiring professional photographer based in Washington State, USA. She loves hiking, camping, and adventuring, and then coming home to a good book and snuggles with her dog.

Comments

Jens Teichmann
3 months ago

Verified Reviewer

We also took part in this bike-boat trip. It was our first time on this type of vacation. Everything was perfect: from the planning of the trip to the crew and the members of our group, who always got on very well.

Greetings to everyone - and especially to Hannah for this post, which lets us relive the vacation.

Marion & Jens from Germany

maria Wöstmann
4 months ago

Verified Reviewer

Thank you for expressing well all the nice things we have had together. I also want to support what you have written carefully. The tour, the crew, the meals , the guests, everything was marvelous!!
Best wishes and a lot of greatings to everybody who was engaged in that trip.
Maria Wöstmann

Jonathan E
4 months ago

Verified Reviewer

Hi.
Well done. Interesting blog post. I hope to be back cycling in Europe in May and June.

Maryke Henderson
4 months ago

Verified Reviewer

Thank you for the rekindling the memories of this amazing holiday. like you I have always travelled on a shoe string budget. This was luxury! I couldn't find fault with Martin's boat and his crew nor the tour guides, Hilko and Coriene. The passengers were good company and always included me as a solo traveller. Beautiful memories. Wonderful cycling. Thank you all for a wonderful trip. Maryke

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