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Get moving: Two tour outfits show Belgium on the go
It sounds rather difficult to combine a tour of Brussels while jogging. What if I want to gaze at a turret for more than a few seconds? was my first thought.
But Marc Anthonissen assures me that this is possible. City Runs, which offers tours of Brussels, Antwerp, Lier and Charleroi, doesn’t make you jog for the entire 9+ kilometres of ground covered. When Anthonissen needs to talk about a church or a the history of a neighbourhood, he just stops the group.
When he’s finished, they jog onto the next part. “We stop 15 or even 20 times,” he says. “I have a lot to say!”
Anthonissen leads tours for people who want to get a little running in while discovering the cities. “If I have really experienced runners, and there are only one or two of them,” he says, “then we might continue the tour without stopping. But usually, we need to stop.”
Choose neighbourhood or theme
This is good news for the less-experienced runners who would still like to give City Runs a go. Some tours are scheduled in advance, but most people just arrange a time and place. A large majority of them are tourists from abroad who do the tour in English.
There are even tourists who plan day-trips around running tours. “I had tourists who did the running tour in Amsterdam on Friday, with us in Brussels on Saturday and in Paris on Sunday,” says Anthonissen.
Those other cities are home to different jogging organisations. City Runs was founded in Brussels two years ago and offers tours of Belgian cities only. Though they do co-operate with other cities by listing their running tours on their website.
Brussels is the most popular city on City Runs, and there are multiple options available in terms of neighbourhoods (downtown, Atomium, Molenbeek…) and themes (Art Nouveau, Comic murals). Anthonissen talks about the history of the area and also tries to individualise the tours according to what the joggers are interested in.
See Belgium on two wheels
While casual joggers can take part in a City Run, you have to be a pretty avid cyclist to keep up with PedalBXL. They lead tourists and other visitors to Brussels on road bike tours of 65 to 100 kilometres.
You might recognise the name from the courier service, which is their main line of business. According to founder Karl-Heinz Pohl, they were the first bike courier in Brussels when they launched in 2008.
And they’re still the only courier service staffed by road cyclists. “We’re a bit of a different kind of courier because we all come from a background of cycling. Some of our staff have ridden at the pro level.”
Pohl (pictured above in red) is a former pro road racer from Finland, while PedalBXL co-owner Karl Rowies is currently a Belgian elite cyclist. “A lot of the courier world is based on this urban, skinny jeans, hipster world, so we have another angle. We are actually cyclists, and a courier service allow us to earn our living by riding a bike.”
The pair are also ambassadors of Katusha and Ritchey cycling gear and make Katusha bikes available to their road bike tour clients. They started the tours this year and offer three options: The Muur van Geraardsbergen, Atomium/Pajottenland and the Sonian Forest.
‘They broke down in tears’
Their clients so far have been avid cyclists who are in Brussels either on holiday or business and don’t have their bikes with them. But some tourist come here specifically because of Belgium’s status in the cycling world.
The price for a tour is €150 to €200, which buys you a guide’s undivided attention for pretty much a whole day. “Anyone who can cycle the distance is welcome for a tour, of course,” says Pohl, “but considering the price they’re paying, most of our clients are really into cycling. It’s a big part of their lives. And most of them want to go to the muur,” he says, referring to the infamous cobblestoned climb, made famous by the Tour of Flanders spring cycling classic.
While Pohl conducts a tour by telling them a bit about what they are seeing – the history of the Atomium, for instance, or what the area they’re riding through is known for – cycling in Belgium really just sells itself, he says.
“Flanders and cycling go hand-in-hand. It’s like folklore here. I have gone with a client into a bar in some random village, and we are sitting there, and there is, says, a statue dedicated to cycling during the First World War and then there is an old calendar showing when Tom Boonen won the Tour for the first time, and then a guy orders beer at the bar wearing a Belgian champion racing shirt. And it’s on a square, and the church bell starts to ring, and the client says, ‘did you set this up?’ It’s almost too much for them.”
And those who do opt for the longest of the three tours – the muur – don’t regret it. “For people who know cycling, the Muur van Geraardsbergen is one of the most iconic places to visit in the world,” explains Pohl. “I once had a couple of guys from Los Angeles who have been watching that race their whole lives. And then I took them to that climb. They broke down in tears up there. I totally understand that because the first time I went there, I felt the same way.”
Photo top: Courtesy City Tours/Facebook
Photo above: Courtesy PedalBXL