That time I took my parents on a barge and bike tour from Paris to Bruges

Two weeks of cycling on a barge and bike tour from Paris to Bruges…..with my parents!

Facebook is useful for some things.

Like memories.

Facebook reminded me recently that 7 years ago (we – as in myself, the Mathematician, and my parents) had just finished a two week cycling tour from Paris to Bruges.

It’s these sorts of memories that hit me hard these days, given that Dad passed away just on a year ago.  He often said it had been one of his favourite holidays – which was a big call considering all the travelling dad had done in his life.  Dad had seen many places in the world in his life in the Australian Navy, followed by his and mum’s midlife backpacking trip across Europe including adventures on the Trans Siberian railway, followed by his years as a travel agent with his own business.  There weren’t many places in the world he hadn’t seen.

Cycling tour from Paris to Bruges, with my parents in their 70s and dad with Parkinson’s Disease

How did it come about that mum and dad, in their early 70s, joined the Mathematician and I on this epic two week trip?

Oh and did I mention that dad had Parkinson’s Disease at the time?

It was the year of my 50th birthday, and believe me, I made sure I had a full year of celebrations that year! Family get-togethers on a beautiful tropical island, a fun combined 50/60 party with a great friend as well as the everyday general 50th birthday celebrations.  It’s not every year you turn 50 when all is said and done.

But I had always wanted to do a cycling tour in Europe.

I managed to find a 2 week trip starting in Paris and ending in Bruges in Belgium, which combined barging and biking, with just a small group. Coming from a small rural town in Australia, it was the trip of a lifetime.

I put the call out to my parents and sister, inviting them to join me.  Two of our daughters were living in the UK, and the other daughter was travelling in Europe at the time, so it was the prefect opportunity to make it a big trip!

Completely unexpectedly my parents took up my invitation. They were in their early seventies at the time and dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a year or two beforehand.

Once it was decided, dad was determined to do the trip, so mum arranged for a personal trainer to get them ready.  They met with their trainer a few times a week and she built a program around their needs.  She also took them out cycling each week to improve their fitness.  She was thrilled they had a goal to work towards and was undaunted in implementing her training regime.  Cycling was considered a great exercise for Parkinson’s patients and having a goal was just the incentive dad needed.

But first…Paris

In what was a magnificent feat of organising, we managed to travel from Birmingham UK to Paris by train with our daughter and boyfriend at the time (now husband), meet up with my parents, my sister and our eldest daughter for a few days before our cycling tour started.  Somehow I had managed to find the BEST accommodation for our multi-generational family near Sacre Couer in Montmartre and we all enjoyed the late Indian summer temperatures of Paris, sightseeing and just being together.  We also had a visit from our Exchange Student daughter, Sophie from Denmark, she travelled all the way to Paris just to see us!

Mum and dad had been to Paris before and they were determined that we would all go to Moulin Rouge together for the dinner show, so dad made all the bookings prior to us leaving Australia. It was a night we’ll always remember, mainly because dad enjoyed it so much. We walked the city, we caught buses, we sat in cafes, we tried to speak French, we ate French croissants each morning and we had an absolute blast together.

We were farewelled at the Port de Arsenal, by our daughter, my sister and Sophie and her boyfriend – who all came to check out our barge and watched us cycle away on a practice ride around the closed-to-traffic Paris streets.

Life on board Elodie

The Elodie was a reasonable sized barge which meant once we boarded we were able to unpack and relax with a small contingent of other travellers.  We cycled between 40-60kms each day, with a guide and then found the barge in the afternoon. Everything was provided for us, good quality bikes, helmets, panniers, drink bottles. The chef on board spoilt us with amazing meals every evening, usually featuring local produce. We would make and pack our own lunch each morning after breakfast.  During the day of cycling we would take the opportunity to stop and sample local delicacies at cafes and patisseries along the way. It was a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace, burn some calories and have an active holiday.

The route

We started in Paris sailing down the Seine and it felt completely surreal to me, seeing landmarks I’d only ever dreamed about.  Once we disembarked and started cycling it became more real. Mum and dad decided to sit the first day out as it was quite hilly in places and they didn’t want to wear themselves out at the start of the tour.  Being on the barge enabled them to rest and enjoy going through the various locks along the way.

In total dad cycled about 260km of the 506km trip and mum did 220km. They took rest days when they felt they needed to.  It was so much fun having them with us and it truly was a holiday to remember forever.  I missed only one day of cycling, a really wet day when only a handful of riders went out looking at War cemeteries and coming back soaked to the skin! I cycled 462km of the 506km, which I’m very proud of 🙂

The other travellers were friendly and encouraging at all times, particularly to mum and dad.  They ranged in age from early 50s (I was one of the youngest)  to mum and dad in their 70s. We were a group of 16 made up of Aussies, Americans, and Canadians. Our guide was a big Dutch guy called Onno and he was fabulous with everyone.  The Captain Adrian and his wife Luce and Sander the chef, were also Dutch. After a day of leading us along the cycling trails, Onno would take us out on a walking tour of whatever city or town we were in.  He was full of information and local knowledge.

Every night we all sat down to a delicious and healthy 3 course dinner, and chatted with our fellow riders, getting to know them better.  We are still in touch with some of them today, all these years later.

The riding had been described as undulating, but in some places it was deadset hilly!  And windy – the Mathematician rode as my personal windbreak on many occasions.  We rode on forest paths, busy roads with the most courteous drivers I’ve ever come across, cobblestones, bike paths, lanes and nearly everything in between.  Have I mentioned that it was a lot of fun??

The route had to be changed due to issues with the locks, but we didn’t mind or even notice.  We just got up everyday, got dressed in our bike gear and got on the bikes. Everyday someone volunteered to be at the back of the group and I was the only female to be the tail-end Charlie – I picked one of the hardest days as we entered the city of Lille, with lots of traffic, lights and people!

Along the way we visited towns and cities of interest  including:

Versailles, Conflans, Auvers Sur Oise (Van Gogh territory), Chantilly, Creil, Compiegne, Pierrefonds, Port L’Eveque, war cemeteries, Peronne (which was a welcome rest day), Douai, Lille, Kortrijk, Gent, Damme, finishing in the beautiful city of Bruges.  I had never heard of some of these places but was so pleased I managed to see them, especially with mum and dad.

This was our first ever ‘proper’ cycling tour and since then we have been on tours of various kinds in Australia, New Zealand’s North and South Islands, Croatia, Amsterdam – with me even writing a post on tips for those interested, but unsure, of what a cycling tour actually entails –  How to save a sheep and other useful cycling tour tips

Happy memories

So what was started with a simple Facebook memory has now evolved into the telling of a very special trip with my parents back in October 2011. And I get to share some lovely family photos and stories on this special occasion.

This has been very appropriate and it has been good for me to write down the story, as we prepare to remember dad’s passing a year ago, back in January 2018.  I will be with my mother and my brother, for this first anniversary and we are taking mum away for a few days.  Due to my sister’s recent surgery, unfortunately she is unable to be with us, but she was instrumental in planning the few days away. I know she will be with us in spirit.

Feel free to ask any questions or leave a comment below. I always enjoy hearing from you 🙂

Deb xx

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Bike riding Debs

79 Replies to “That time I took my parents on a barge and bike tour from Paris to Bruges”

  1. Deb, What a lovely story and remembrance of your dad. It’s good to know that Facebook has a purpose beyond keeping us glued to a little screen. The memories that you made are forever. How brave of your parents to take on such and active adventure, especially with your dad’s Parkinson’s diagnosis. It’s inspiring, actually. Enjoy your trip with your mom and I know that your sister will be there in spirit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was so unexpected Donna but I shouldn’t have been surprised, they always did like a challenge! I really enjoyed sharing this post and have loved all the comments too.Thanks for joining in with me.

      Like

  2. Yes, Facebook does have some benefits and their memories but is one of my faves. This sounds like the most amazing family vacation, Deb, and I love how everyone helped with different parts and that your folks had a trainer! I had never though this would be something o would want to do but maybe someday with my husband. Sorry about your dad, I’ve seen a family member go the way of Parkinson’s and it is definitely a difficult journey. Hugs ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much for your kind words Shannon! It really was an ideal holiday for everyone and mum and dad took to the training with gusto. It’s such a great way to see the countryside and we’re looking at Prague, Croatia and maybe the Greek islands for our next trip!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It sounds fabulous Deb – and great memories attached to it for you as well. I’m pinning this so I can remember to look into it when retirement finally arrives – my husband would love how energetic it all is and I think I could manage to cycle at least as much as your folks did! I see the bitmoji is still keeping busy 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Deb – I sent my husband a link to your post so he knows what I’ve been adding to the bucket list – he’s a little dubious but I think I could handle it!
      Thanks for linking up to MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That is a wonderful memory. Losing a parent is so hard so making memories is so worth it. Well making memories period is worth it. My mother and I went on a bus tour of the UK and it was special. Neither of us had been to Europe/overseas before. These memories we will also have. Thank you for getting me thinking of my trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Deb, what an amazing trip you shared with your parents, and how amazing they were to prepare for the trip like they did, and then fully participate. Sounds like they lived life to the fullest. I’m so sorry about the loss of your father, but hopefully the memories you have will dull the heartache. Fantastic post, and thank you very much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I LOVE that you did this with your parents. What a fantastic trip!!

    My mum is in her 70s too, but I don’t think I could get her on a bike for that long!! Still she’d be up for it if it was a long walk!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a fantastic trip! How wonderful your parents could make it too, and that his anniversary got turned into this post. We took my parents on a trip to France and Italy 20 odd years ago, their first ever trip to Europe, and it was one of the highlights of their lives. They loved it so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Deb first my apologies as I found your comment on my Mm’s post in spam. Ugh I do detest when the blog sends my friends on unwanted adventures. I’ve just set you free so I’m sure my mom will respond to you soon.
    This story just arms my heart through and through. What sweet memories and I think your parents were amazing to train up and take on this challenge. Let us not say we are too old to do things! Sending hugs and I love the animation/drawing of you on the bike. Dd you do that yourself? It’s brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sue, apparently I’ve been in a few people’s spam folders lately. No idea why but I’m glad to be released!
      Isn’t it a heartwarming story? It just goes to show we can do anything if we set our mind to it. Age is just a number. As to my Bitmoji at the bottom of my post – I’m a bit late to the trend but my sister and I had fun creating our doppelgängers while I was with her last week. My family just roll their eyes at me when I use them so I’m very happy to hear you appreciate my efforts. It’s simply an app you use to make up your own emoji and then there’s lots of different versions of yourself to use covering all sorts of activities.
      Lovely to hear from you, I really enjoyed writing up this story.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a wonderful trip to have made, such beautiful memories for you. We are going to Belgium later this year, I am so excited about it as we have never been. No cycling for me though, that is a skill I never mastered.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a lovely memory and how fantastic that in Paris you had the whole family, including exchange “daughter” all visiting together. It must have been a special time for your parents to be showing Paris to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jennifer, it was so special to have the family together. I look back now and wonder how on earth I managed to pull it all together, but somehow I did! And I was still working at the time too.

      Like

  11. Wow Deb, your enthusiasm for LIFE just shines through every photo and word. How wonderful that you all did this AND of course, made so many memories as a result. I do send my loving wishes to all on the anniversary of your Dad’s passing.

    Denyse #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a lovely thing to say Denyse, thank you for that comment 🙂 . Thanks for your caring thoughts on dad’s anniversary, mum and I enjoyed spending time together away from her normal world and we drank lots of cups of tea while chatting about all sorts of things.

      Like

  12. Thank you for sharing this wonderful memory, Debbie. What a special experience to share with your parents. I am so impressed that they took such a physically demanding adventure in their 70s, but then it sounds like they were an adventurous sort. Now I know where you get it! On a side note, I also turned 50 in October 2011, and my husband took me to France (a dream of mine since junior high). We didn’t cycle, but we saw much of Paris, Normandy, and the Loire Valley. It was a trip I will never forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks for sharing your memories Deb. What a wonderful trip you had. It had everything – parents – barge trip – cycling and Paris. I just loved reading about your adventures. You also brought back memories of my visits to Paris. I dream of doing a cycling trip from Paris put into the countryside

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was such a fun trip Jennifer, although I was a tad worried at first that they wouldn’t be up to it! they both proved me wrong and we all had a blast together. I agree it had everything you could ever want in a holiday, especially having so many of my family members together in one spot! Thanks for your comment and I’m glad it brought back memories for you 🙂

      Like

  14. What a fabulous trip you all shared and such wonderful memories you now have. I’m super impressed at all the kms that you all cycled, especially your mum and dad. Happy and special memories indeed. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Been thinking about doing a bike/barge trip. This was helpful to read. Nice to have memories with your father, mother, family. I did a bike trip in Italy that was described as “rolling hills.” After we bike up Assisi, we began to believe that anything short of the Alps was a rolling hill.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This is beautiful way to remember you dad. What a fantastic trip. You and your family are inspiration. Your 1960 toddler photo with your father melts my heart, what a beautiful baby and what a handsome man! I wish many more safe travels to you and your mother.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for your lovely comment. That photo of me and dad is a real favourite, he was such a handsome man and I was pretty cute too 🙂 . My family is very important to me and that trip was a real highlight.

      Like

  17. I am so happy that you had the time to spend your spare time with your parents and you still have great memories on your adventurous bicycle trip from paris to Bruges. I think it was a great time to create long lasting, beautiful memories that you can still cherished even now that your father has passed away. Lovely adventure and truly sorry for your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

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