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Day 4 - Gent to Antwerp - 66km

Leaving the hospitality of ''Leonard in Quartier'' wasn't difficult. Our host had informed us that he wouldn't be serving breakfast until 9 am. We figured this to be as a result of his hedonistic lifestyle and probabiltiy that on a Friday night he'd be returning late. We later learnt we were wrong in our thinking. Many establishments in both Belgium and The Netherlands do not start breakfast or open their doors until 9 am.

Given we had to set off relatively early we left the ''hotel'' around 8am and went looking for a cafe in central Gent. Eventually we were forced to settle on a ''Pauls'' (chain like cafe group) and took our breakfast there. Handily it was next door to a super market that surprised us in being open so rolls and cheese and other condiments for lunch were purchased in readiness for another cycling picnic.

There is basically a cycling super highway that runs from gent to Antwerp it is called the F4. It is a protected cycling lane that runs through some suburbs, some small towns, alongside some canals but ostensibly mostly alongside an operative cycling track. Being a Saturday the MAMIL's were out in force with some cycling club peletons numbering over a dozen.

It was clearly a popular cycling corridor and the distance markers were very precise with measurement to the nearest towns down to 1/10th of a kilometre. Accurate too as we discovered. Now cycling alongside an operating train track is not the most exciting cycling in the world but it is direct and it does get you from A to B relatively quickly. Especially as the wind was once again blowing over our left shoulders and pushing us along at a fair clip. (Relative).

Towards 10 am we stopped at a junction of paths to try and ascertain where we could find a cafe. A local by the name of Martin who had coincidentally travelled to Australia and NZ some years ago, overheard us discussing our options and pulled over with his cargo bike to offer help. A 10 min conversation ensued in which he set us straight about the coffee culture in Belgium (there is none he said) and where we might find a cafe.

The picturesque local town of Lokeren was our answer and whilst enjoying coffee got to witness the arrival of a bridal group at the town's registry office. Dolphins, babies giggling and weddings will always make you smile.

Post coffee break it was back to the F4 and onwards to Antwerp. At this point it had become clear over the preceding days that the Belgiums love an ornament in their front gardens. They also like keeping horses, goats and chickens too.

Lunch was taken shortly after we passed through the delightfully named town of Sint Niklaas and we sat on a bench beside the cycle path and watched local cyclists pass us by in both directions as they hurried about their Saturday business. Always something fulfilling about watching other people exercise.

Arriving on the outskirts of Antwerp we could see the Old Town on the opposite side of the the river. Our route planner had us crossing the river at a certain juncture but a bridge I could not see. Somewhat confused and about to cycle further down the river a local lad beckoned us into what looked like a riverside concrete hut. Inside were a series of escalators that led down to a pedestrian / cycle tunnel that then took us across the river and back up through the same process on the other side spitting us out in the heart of the Old Town. For the second day in a row there was a bit of days end trauma when navigating the escalators proved a little difficult. However with the kind assistance of a local lady wrongs were soon put right.

Cycling through Antwerp it was fairly obvious this was by some measure the biggest city we had come to on our trip. Wealthy too. Lots of broad tree lined streets. Everything immaculately clean and seemingly in working order. We instantly felt attracted to the city. This was exaggerated when we checked in at our accommodation. Again an old magnificent multi storey house that had been turned over to hospitality. The difference between this and that we had endured in Gent was the owners in Antwerp were mature, clearly had spent some money on their project and turned out to be wonderful hosts. Our bedroom was enormous, beautifully styled. Had its own balcony over looking the quiet street and was well appointed. We were glad we were spending two nights here, as tomorrow is our rest day .

Having showered we headed out into the heart of the Old Town, enjoyed a now customary pre dinner drink(s) at various bars and then some Tapa's and made plans for what we were going to do tomorrow on a day off the bikes.

The mighty F4 cycling super highway. Undoubtedly the quickest and most efficient way to get from Gent to Antwerp on two wheels.

Not the most scenic way to do the days ride but interesting in some respects. If only to witness the sheer number of people using it.

An aptly named train station in a country with an oversupply of beer.

By 9 am 78 people had already used the cycle path at this point and 65,866 since January 1.

Dolphins, giggling babies and weddings will always make me smile.

It wasn't all monotonous cycling alongside the railway track and some points we were directed by the F4 through small towns and alongside canals.

As previously stated a lot of Belgians like to adorn their front gardens with all manner of ornaments. Mostly small statutes. This was a novel approach to garden decoration.

Straight and long - The F4 in all its glory.

Another strawberry vending machine.

The great named town of Sint Niklaas

Navigating the escalators leading to the pedestrian tunnel under the main river running through Antwerp.

Leaving the tunnel we noted this street for its vibrant cafe and pub scene and made notes to return for a drink.

As we wandered back towards Klooster Straat for our post ride drinks we walked past this magnificent building which we discovered is the recently restored Museum of Contemporary Art and made note to return tomorrow on our day off.

As noted earlier the streets of Antwerp near our accommodation were wide and tree lined and everything had a feel of orderliness and wealth about it.

Old town street scenes of Antwerp as we waited outside a tapa's restaurant to be seated.


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