Category Archives: Traveling

Discover Flanders

Discover why the Flanders Region in Belgium should be on your vaction list this year. If you enjoy cycling and beer, this is the place to be.

Flanders is home to many great roads to ride on.  Some are wide and busy, but so many more are narrow, quiet, and have low-traffic. They are considered ‘paths’ or ‘lanes’ to the locals because they are out of the way.

Beer, beer, beer… If you love trying new brews, this is the place for you. With over 300 kinds of beer, why not sample as many as you safely can?  The lambic or trappist beers will keep you coming back for more. Some are very hearty or bitter, others are sweet and fruity.  There are even beer experts and tastings held weekly to give you a lesson on what you are drinking.

This year, discover the great beauty of the Flanders Region.

Why Belgium?

A common question we hear is “Why Belgium”?  Our first response is “Why Not”!

There are many ways we could answer this, but let’s focus on some highlights.

Crazy for cycling: Belgian’s in general, are nutty-crazy for cycling. Everyone. Country-wide. Yes, it’s true. The passion is clearly obvious and is not only a beloved past-time, but is a current affair.  Cycling is a main mode of transportation for many. It is a hobby and a lifestyle. There are just as many cycling clubs as there are street lights. Who wouldn’t want to bike in an area that is so bike friendly?

Famous Cyclists: Eddy Merckx, the best cyclist in the world, is from Belgium. He helped foster the cycling spirit and continues to do so. His bike factory still located in his home town showcases a glimpse from is legendary career with the amazing action photography on the walls. The cycling industry all looks up to him, no matter where we are with our individual cycling abilities.

Chocolate: The world’s finest and richest chocolate is made in Belgium.  After a great ride, you will smile in the coffee shop when they serve you a tasty piece of chocolate and cookie with your latte. Chocolate tours are informative but the sampling part is by far the best. Arrange your own taste test at a variety of chocolatiers and determine which truffle is your personal favorite.

Beer, Beer, Beer: Even though Belgium is a tiny country in Europe, it has a significant beer production. In fact there are over 500 unique beers brewed in Belgium from 200 breweries. It’s strong. It’s sweet. It’s sour. There’s no limit on what is produced. The choice is enormous. There are hundreds of breweries in the country and they range from microbrewers that produce 1-2 beers, to the large-scale producers who have several labels tied to their name.  It’s common to drink a beer at lunch everywhere you go.  Brewery tours give you a glimpse at how beer is mixed, bottled, and labeled. Of course they all end with a tasting so come thirsty.

It’s NOT France or Italy:  Everyone seems to have been to France or Italy to ride their bikes. We have too. Belgium is different. It has a special feel to it. It has a local sense of pride. There are less tourists so you get a true sense of how people live. Because it is usually traveled after the big, well-known countries, cyclists already have an idea of what to expect with European cycling.

Belgium is at sea level and the terrain is mostly flat with rolling hills. There are cobbled hills in Flanders which makes the pro races so thrilling to watch. The routes in the pro cycling races contain extremely steep hills which are generally short, but the maximum gradient can head up near 20%. There are lengthy hills in the Ardennes, in the Wallonia Region, which seem to take all day to climb. The weather is mild and the countryside is lovely.

Belgium is a hidden gem! That’s why! And this is why we ride in Belgium.

Travel Hacks

We all take trips and experience new things. Sometimes the new experiences are not good and sometimes they are great. In both cases there are lessons to be learned and we have culled thru social media for the best travel hacks to improve your experiences.

  • Safety
    • Upload a photo or scan of your passport and important travel documents to online storage. We use Dropbox for this, now if we lose any of this there is a copy. All US embassies have internet connections so you can reach these documents.
    • It’s important to remember to call your credit or debit card company before you leave to ensure that you have your card authorized for your foreign destination. This prevents them from suspecting suspicious activity.
  • Entertainment
    • If you run out of chargers, check your hotel room television. It might just have a USB plugin that your phone or other rechargeable device can use.
    • If, like me, you suffer from motion sickness, you can use a long flight to enjoy audiobooks. They are available for download from libraries for free.
  • Health and Beauty
    • Don’t pack both shaving foam and hair conditioner. Conditioner makes a great shaving lubricant, so you can ditch the shaving foam. Baby oil does a great job, too.
    • Use a contact lens case to store just enough foundation and face cream for your trip
    • Avoid jet lag buy getting some light exercise the day before travel to help you sleep on the airplane. Also all our tours include a short ride on the first day, this will help set your sleep pattern correctly in the new timezone.
  • Packing Tips
    • Hotels generally have a ton of extra toothbrushes, paste, shaving cream, razors, and even phone chargers. Ask if you can have them before you go out and buy them yourself.
    • Use A Dryer Sheet At The Bottom Of Your Suitcase To Keep Things Fresh
    • Use a shower cap to cover the soles of your shoes so you can pack them with your clothes without dirtying your clothes.
    • Newspapers can be used to absorb the moisture and oder from inside of shoes. We use this after rainy spring rides but this works anytime!
    • Use GLAD press n’ seal to prevent your necklaces from tangling when traveling.

We’ll add to this post as we find new and better tips to help us travel easier.

What to do if you lose your passport while traveling in Belgium

  1. Find and contact the nearest US embassy or consulate
    • For our tours it will be-
      U.S. Embassy Brussels
      27 Boulevard du Régent
      B-1000 Brussels
    • Telephone+(32) (2) 811-4000
    • Emergency After-Hours Telephone+(32) (0) (2) 811-4000
  2. If your passport has been stolen, file a police report
  3. Take a new passport photo to provide for your emergency documentation
  4. Fill out an application for a new passport and a statement regarding your lost or stolen passport, these are two separate forms
  5. Go to the nearest US embassy to obtain your new passport
    You’ll need a to bring a few documents with you in order to receive your replacement passport:

    • Your new passport photo
    • Some type of identification such as a driver’s license
    • Some type of travel itinerary (airplane or train ticket)
    • Evidence of US citizenship (a birth certificate or photocopy of your missing passport)
    • Your application for a passport and statement regarding your lost or stolen passport if you’ve filled those forms out
  6. Be prepared to pay the fee, currently $140
  7. Wait, at least 24 hours for an emergency passport that must be turned in when you return to the US, and they are not generally issued on the weekends or holidays

How to load cycling maps on a Garmin

We use a Gamin Edge Touring as our prefered way of loading cycling routes, and accessing them during our rides. These instructions are written with this model in mind but most Garmin models should be pretty similar in the setup and use.

Our GPS unit came equipped with North America pre-loaded on it, but if you look at our Tours page, you will note we have a lot of rides in Belgium. So we needed to get maps of Belgium. Also, if I make a route, how do I load it on my cycling computer when it doesn’t have Bluetooth?

The following instructions have been gathered from a few sources who were working with different models.

Make Bike Routes for your Garmin

There are a number of options to make routes and each has their strengths and weaknesses. Foremost, I like making my routes with RideWithGPS. Making the route initially and editing it afterwards is really the easiest to use. I can choose from a few different map displays, easy link to Google Streetview, I can add both notes to the cue sheet as well as points of interest on the map. Items in the cue sheet show up while riding to help me point out things of interest to our customers.

My second choice for route making is the routes function of Strava. The ease of use is very close to RideWithGPS but has the added feature of global heat map. This allows me to see how popular a stretch of road is, or more importantly, how much riders avoid it. Sometimes I know two great areas for riding and with the heat map I can find the best route between them.

In both cases you want to export GPX file with your route. This will work on most modern Garmin GPS. Some older models may need a different format.

How to Get and Load Maps

There are three sources for maps but I like the first one the best.

For Open Street Map, the linked page will guide you through selecting the area you want as well as the way your computer can use it. First, you select Routable Bicycle. Second, select the country under the continent you want. The third option will allow you to add to your selection. For us, Belgium is mostly what we want, but sometimes we go into Northern France. Click the check box and you can use the controls in the upper left of the map to pan and zoom to the extra areas you want to include. Clicking on a blue square will add to your selection.

A word of warning here, you may have to adjust your selection to fit within the memory of your Garmin unit.

Last, you enter your email address and wait for the map to be made for you. A new window will pop up telling you where you are in the queue for map making. You should receive two emails; the first right away repeating what is on this page and a second when your map is ready for download.

Once you get the message with your link, download the map file. It will be zipped up, so save the gmapsupp.img out of the zip file to a convenient location. Plug in your Garmin to the computer where the file is via USB cable. It should show up as attached storage on your computer. Copy the gmapsupp.img file to the Garmin folder of the Garmin unit.

When the copy is complete, unplug the unit and restart it. It should recognize the new map data and start loading it. Depending on how much new map you have added it could take some time to a lot of time.

If the new territory does not show up in map view on the Garmin, it may need to be activated. To activate a map: tap the wrench icon, tap Activity Profiles, tap your activity profile name, tap Navigation, tap Map, tap Map Information/Select Map, select Openfietsmap Lite and (finally) tap Enable.

How to Load Bike Routes

Plug in your Garmin to the computer via USB cable. In the attached storage that is the GPS unit, navigate to \Garmin\Newfiles\ and copy the GPX file(s) with your route to this folder. Restarting the Garmin should put the routes in the list of saved courses. You can find this by tapping Where To?, then tapping Saved, then Courses.

If you have any improvements or comments on these instructions please drop us a line! I use these instructions too and would like to make things easier on myself.

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