Hiking the Billy Goat Trail on Father’s Day

This year Arthur’s Father’s Day present was to visit his family in Maryland and hike the Billy Goat Trail.

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Billy Goat Trail is a 1.7-mile section of Great Falls Loop (4.3 miles) along the Potomac River.  According to alltrails.com it is one of the most strenuous trails in the east coast.  There are many attractions along the Potomac River, C & O (Chesapeake & Ohio) Canal National Historic Park on Maryland side and Great Falls National Park on Virginia side are just a few we frequent.

The entrance fee for the C&O Canal Historic Park is $10 per vehicle, good for 3 days. Make sure to first visit the Tavern Visitor Center, which opened in 1830 as an inn.  Imagine to reserve a bed (a bunk) for the night for only 25 cents!  During the weekend the mule-drawn canal boat ride is a popular family activity, see NP website for schedule and pricing.

We began our hike from the canal towpath, which was flat and shaded most of the way.  On our left we counted at least five locks along the canal. This wide open section of the canal is strangely named as “Log Wall”, I am not sure why since the canal bank is full of rocks, no logs.

On our right, the Potomac river, gushing through boulders and bedrocks, glittering in the afternoon sun, was quite inviting.  We saw parents with little children in strollers lingering along the towpath, having a good time.

About a mile into the towpath, the Billy Goat A Trail forked to the right.  The trail turned into a narrow and arduous rocky path.  This section A was what made this trail famous. It was so steep in some areas, we had to get on all fours, hands and knees.  Obviously the trail was destined for an agile mountain goat! 🙂 If not for the clearly marked blue sign, we would easily wonder off track since there was no visible trail, only rocky cleft!

However, our hard work paid off, the reward was the incredible view! And I haven’t mentioned the feeling of appeasing accomplishment! 🙂

When C & O Canal Company broke ground in 1828, their original plan was to dig a 360-mile canal to connect Chesapeake with Ohio River.  Of course, we know the canal never reached Ohio river.  At the time of its grand open in 1850, the canal was 184.5 mile long, getting as far as Cumberland, Maryland.  Coals were carried down on boats from the Allegheny Mountains to Washington DC through the canal.

We stopped briefly at Cumberland, Maryland on our drive back home.  This little historic town, the west end of C&O canal, is worth of a longer trip to fully explore.  We will be back for sure.

Georgetown, Maryland, the east end of the canal. The pictures were taken during Thanksgiving 2015.

So glad that Arthur rose to the challenge on this Father’s Day to tackle the Billy Goat Trail!  Now he has one more thing to boast about. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Bruges, the Venice of the North

Bruges (broozh) in English, or Brugge (BROO-ghah) in Flemish, is a popular tourist town in Belgium. Through small, less than one square mile, Bruges is packed with charm. Our family visited there the summer of 2009.  It took about three hours with fast train from London.  The train dropped us right in the center of the town, and there were plenty taxi at the station to take you to hotel.

We stayed at Hotel ter Reien, at the top floor suite overlooking the Huidenvettersplein Canal.  I highly recommend this family-owned budget hotel: great location at the town center, although in the center of the action, the hotel was quiet; the owners were very friendly, they served delicious home-made breakfast.

For sights and attractions, the Bruges by Boat was a must. It was a relaxing and scenic tour with the captain narrating. Bruges was quite photogenic from the canal.

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There were two renowned Squares.  Burg Square was the political and religious heart of the town, a popular place for outdoor concerts during summer night.  Carillon bells could be heard every fifteen minutes.  Make sure to visit “Basilica of the Holy Blood” at the square (below, left). This church was built by the crusaders who had brought back the drops of Christ’s blood in 1150. For a small donation, we touched the vial containing the blood!  Tourist trap or not, we WERE tourists. 🙂

Talking about church, another memorable one was Church of Our Lady (above, right), made famous by the white marble Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. This was the only Michelangelo statue to leave Italy in his lifetime, a testimony of the wealth and power of Bruges in her heyday.

Bell Tower (Belfort) stood over the Market Square.  Around the Market Square, you could find many eateries and shops. Make sure to try frites, the Belgian-style fries. As detrimental to health as frites actually were, Belgians took pride in creating the frites. They were deep fried twice, first round to cook the potato strips, second round to crisp and brown them, the frites were traditionally served with mayonnaise, not ketchup. They might clot my arteries, but boy, they were heavenly with a capital H!

Another snack to try in the Market Square was the pickled herring, and ate it the Dutch way!

For dinner, moules, the Belgium mussels, were a must dish. We ordered ours with white wine (vin blanc), and with shallots (mariniere).  Ever since the trip, the Belgium way has become the only way for me to cook mussels at home. Of course, pair them with dark Belgium beer.

Another delicacy, and great gifts to bring back home, was Belgian chocolate.  Freshly made and sold the same day, Belgians know how to make divine chocolate. The best ones were from Dumon just off Market Square. After Belgium it was hard to go back to American chocolate, no offense Hersey.

My last advice was to pack a warm jacket even in the summer months.  We were there in mid July, the highest of the day was in the 60s. We had to cancel our biking trip because it was too cold!