Bruges: 7 Reasons The ‘Venice Of Belgium’ Is Worth Visiting

Anna Brones

The only memory I had of the Belgian city Bruges was thanks to the black comedy film “In Bruges,” where the city is more or less equated to some form of purgatory. The only image I had retained was a grey, misty and dismal city with not much going for it.

Not the case.

An easy day trip from Brussels, Bruges is worth your time, and not just if your obsessed with waffles. If you’re lucky, the sun will be out and you’ll find out exactly why this picturesque European town is called the “Venice of Belgium.”

Anna Brones

1. It’s a bicycle heaven, reminiscent of other bike capitals like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, only smaller and much more manageable. There are several bike rental operations in town as well as bike tours.

2. You can eat your weight in waffles. However, although waffles are easy to find, not all are created equal. Make sure you buy yours from a place that makes their own batter and makes the waffles right in front of you instead of heating them up.

3. Nothing is more classic than the rooftops of Bruges, and the city is perfect for anyone interested in architecture.

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4. Bruges is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Thanks to its Gothic center, there’s plenty to explore from the Belfry, dating back to the 1200s, and the Burgh square in front of town hall.

5. You can dive into the world of Belgian beer on pretty much any corner. If you’re a beer connoisseur you better get ready; the options are endless and it’s good to choose carefully. Here’s a good roundup of a few of the best.

6. It’s quainter than Brussels. Yeah, I said it, and although most of Bruges looks like it could be the subject of a postcard collection, you never get the feel that it’s overly touristy. There are just as many Belgians out for a day trip on weekends as foreigners.

7. You can tour the city by boat. There are few cities that are lucky enough to be built around canals (hello, Venice) and snagging a boat tour is a perfect way to explore all the ins and out that Bruges has to offer. So when you’ve had enough of walking or riding, track down a canal tour.

Bikers In Paris: Artcrank Poster Show Comes To The City Of Light

Adam Turman/Artcrank

Love bicycles? Love good graphic design? Love transportation-inspired art? You’ll love Artcrank.

The point of Artcrank is simple: get artists that have a love of bicycles to produce unique posters for shows in bike capitals around the world. The result is a fun combination of art and life on two-wheels around the world.

The latest showing kicks off this week in Paris at the Grand Palais, an homage to life on two wheels in the romantic City of Light, a place that has in recent years become home to a burgeoning bike culture. A lot of that is thanks to Velib, the city’s popular bikeshare system that has turned into a model for other velo-aspiring cities around the globe.

From artist Adam Turman:

“While visiting my sister in Paris, she had it in her head that we needed to ride bikes while we were there. My sister used the Vélib’ bikes to get from place to place instead of using the Metro. She said she could see much more of the beauty of Paris that way. She took me for a spin to see everything touristy and not-so-touristy via Vélib’. We rode on the Lover’s Bridge and past the Eiffel Tower, and we even did our reenactment of National Lampoon’s European Vacation scene where the family goes around the Arc de Triumph. That was the highlight of our bike ride through Paris.”

The show features top French, American and British artists and runs through June 21. Can’t make it by then? Not to worry, the show will be moved over and housed at Cité de la Mode et du Design until October 6, 2013.

Dinner And Bikes 2013: An Annual Tour To Grow The Bicycle Movement

There’s a lot of talk about bikes these days. From single speeds in New York City to nighttime tours in Guatemala City and the bike share in Paris, the discussion of bicycles as a real means of alternative transportation is taking hold in a big way.

But talking about bikes in cycle centric hotspots like Portland, San Francisco and New York is only part of the step. As with anything, getting more people on two wheels means getting people engaged all over the country. And that’s where Dinner and Bikes comes in.

The annual month-long tour is a traveling combination of bicycle inspiration, vegan food and pop-up bookstores that brings people together to get inspired about bicycle transportation. If you’re a bike junkie, it’s hard to resist.So what do you get from a Dinner and Bikes evening? A gourmet, vegan and gluten-free buffet dinner prepared by Joshua Ploeg, a presentation by Elly Blue on transportation equity and the everyday bicycling movement, and a near-complete excerpt from “Aftermass,” Joe Biel‘s forthcoming documentary about the history of bicycling in Portland. This year, they’re hitting up the Midwest and Northeast, with over 30 events from Michigan to New York. You can find the full schedule for May and June here.

Elly took time to answer a few questions about the tour and the inspiration behind it. And in perfect nomadic traveler form, she answered them on an Amtrak train somewhere between Portland and Chicago.

What was the inspiration for Dinner and Bikes?

In 2010, Joe and I did a tour called Bikestravaganza around the Western US. It was similar to what we do now, but just the two of us talking and showing movies about bikes. The idea was to energize people about bikes, show them a little of what we’ve seen is possible, and also let them know that Portland’s bike-friendly streets weren’t this huge, unattainable goal, but that in fact our achievements could easily be matched or surpassed by any city or town that wanted to. It went great, but one big problem was that the event was always during dinnertime. Everyone was hungry including us! We invited Joshua to join us the next year and it all fell into place.

Why bikes?

When I first started bicycling, it was liberating and it’s continued to be so at a personal level. Culturally, though, it’s about as good as it gets as far as a movement goes. With bikes, everyone wins and there’s no problematic temptation to put someone else’s happiness or livelihood secondary to your cause, as is the case in a lot of other social movements. Also, even when people are vehemently anti-bike, they usually change their mind once they start riding. So even when it’s polarized, it isn’t really. That photo of Senator Schumer smiling as he rides down the cycle track he fought so hard to prevent? That’s why I do it.

How do you decide which places you visit/where you host dinners? Why the central/northeast for the 2013 tour?

It’s an inexact science. As we go on tour, people’s friends in other cities hear about the events and get in touch to invite us to their town. I keep track of all the invitations in my spreadsheet, and then Joe and I go out to breakfast with an atlas and a notebook and create a route that we can do in a month that incorporates as many of those cities as possible. Then I set to work filling in the gaps. I believe the impetus for the Midwest/Northeast route is the result of invitations from folks in Michigan and DC. Next year I already know where we’re going: up and down the eastern seaboard, Maine to Miami. People should get in touch if they want to talk about doing a stop.

Having traveled around the country talking about bikes, how do you think the attitude towards bikes differs by region?

People who are deeply involved with their local bike scene read a lot of the same blogs and articles, so there is some unity in the movement. But local attitudes generally differ quite a bit, and in unexpected ways. A lot depends on the culture, layout and politics of a city. Some cities have a culture of being polite, so even if most people don’t understand bicycling, they don’t mind waiting a bit till it’s safe to pass the person riding in front of their truck. In other cities, there’s some kind of hostile force against it, maybe driving culture or city planning or the police – which oddly enough often has the result of catalyzing a far stronger bike movement.

What was the most surprising location you have visited in terms of their support for cycling?

Over the last four years, I’ve learned not to be surprised. Everyone’s got their stereotypes, like only big cities like bikes, or only small cities, or only liberal cities or secular cities or gentrified neighborhoods or cities with lots of young white creative class people. None of these things are true. People like bikes who have started bicycling already is the only generalization I can make. Once you get riding and have just the barest amount of community and infrastructure to support you, there’s no turning back.

Is it true that you travel only by train and by bike?

Nope, we rent a car to travel from city to city. If we’re lucky, we get to go on bike rides in some of the cities. I am still trying to figure out how to do it all by train, but we would pretty much have to have a source of funding from outside the tour in order to make that happen. I see it as an opportunity to not totally lose touch with the car-oriented reality of most of the US.

Any top tips for traveling by bike?

I’ve only been bike touring a few times, but I will say it’s important not to run out of water, and always to talk to people.

Check out the Dinner and Bikes 2013 schedule here.

[Photo Credits: Dinner and Bikes, Elly Blue]

Photo Of The Day: Bicycles In Batavia

Photo of the day - Bicycles in Batavia, Jakarta
Sometimes on our travels, we come across a scene so perfectly photogenic, we have to wonder if it was staged. Today’s Photo of the Day was taken by Flickr user thetravelingteacher in Jakarta‘s Old Batavia, or Kota, area. The line of rented bicycles with matching helmets is so beautifully colorful and unusual, it almost looks painted, and I bet she wasn’t the only passerby who took a photo. Not sure those helmets would pass many safety tests, but they sure are fashionable. Why shouldn’t we match our accessories to our transportation?

Share your favorite travel photography in the Gadling Flickr pool, we may choose one for the Photo of the Day series.

[Photo credit: Lauren Irons]

Biking In Afghanistan: The Power Of Two Wheels To Change Perspective

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.” John F. Kennedy

Bikes have long been a simple mode of transportation, getting us from point A to point B. But riding a bike doesn’t just get you somewhere; the process is fun. There is joy in riding a bicycle.

When I travel I am always on the lookout for bikes and what the local bike culture is. In my hometown of Portland, Oregon, bikes are everywhere. It’s a city filled with commuters, cross racers and road riders. It’s a city with a strong bike culture and thanks to the work of bike advocates and groups like the Bicycle Transportation Alliance there are plenty of incentives to ride.

Coming from a place like Portland, it’s easy to take my easy bike commute for granted. Other cities are not always graced with the same ease of life on two wheels; but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

My first day in Kabul, we were in the midst of afternoon traffic hour. Cars, minivans and motorcycles were everywhere. There was even the occasional goat on the side of the street. In the midst of this chaotic hustle and bustle, men on bicycles wove in and out of traffic, dodging cars and doing the kind of cycling maneuvers that are normally equated with bike messengers.I was stressed, and it had nothing to do with being in a conflict zone. The thought of bikes in this mess of traffic was too much.

I thought back to my own close calls with cars – the near misses that keep you aware every time you get on your bike. I shuddered and wondered if I would have the mental capacity to deal with cycling in the midst of Kabul traffic on a daily basis. The phrase “this isn’t Portland …” kept popping into my head.

Making a U-turn in the middle of a busy road to avoid a traffic jam, we nearly hit a man with a kid sitting on his handlebars. Both the driver and cyclist insisted on their right of way, resulting in the bicycle tapping the front of our minivan and both our driver and the cyclist shouting at each other. I looked at my friend Shannon who has worked extensively in Afghanistan and knows the ins and outs of daily life. She just looked at me and shrugged. This was normal apparently.

What is not normal, however, is seeing a woman on a bicycle. As Shannon said in a recent interview about her own experience with biking in Afghanistan, “I had one man say to me, with this very shocked look on his face, how impressed he was, that it takes a lot of intelligence to ride a bike, alluding that that’s why women don’t ride bikes,” she said. “It became an interesting conversation starter.”

But that perspective is changing. There’s an Afghan women’s cycling team that competes internationally. One day we happened upon a girl riding to school just south of Kabul. In a country where conflict is a constant and women’s rights have a long way to go, it’s things like this that keep you inspired. Small change leads to big change.

In the rural village of Istalif, Shannon and I were even invited to take a cruise down the main street on a well-outfitted old bicycle, complete with a siren-sounding bell and streamers on the handlebars. The men laughed as we pedaled back and forth. A woman on a bicycle? How amusing!

It’s interesting to think about how much a simple thing like a bicycle can do to change perspective. As Susan B. Anthony once said, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel … the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

The simple joys that come from riding a bicycle are undeniable; the smiles from a group of young Afghan kids on their way to school stopping to ride with Shannon when she was out on her mountain bike are a vivid memory. If there is a cultural bridge to cross, a bike may very well be the way to do it.

At the end of October 2012, Anna Brones spent two weeks in Afghanistan with nonprofit Mountain2Mountain working to produce several Streets of Afghanistan public photo exhibits. This series chronicles the work on that trip and what it’s like to travel in Afghanistan. Follow along here.

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