At the end of part 1, we had just started to check in at the Hotel De Keizer in Sint Eloois Vijve. Our lives would have been significantly enhanced if we hadn’t.
Without a doubt, this is the worst place I have ever stayed. It took us 45 minutes to check in as there was apparently some problem with the reservation. Once we did check in (with a totally different combination of rooms from what we had booked) we put the bikes in the garage and headed upstairs. We were hot, tired and hungry so to be greeted by rooms with black nylon bedding with the words ‘Carpe Diem’ embroidered on them was, to say the least, alarming. On top of that, the towels stank of dog urine, the electrics were clearly unsafe and locking and shutting the bedroom door was a major effort. The owner was also a bit of a nuisance as he kept appearing from around unexpected corners and seemed to have a chronic case of verbal diarrhoea. The only thing for it was to head out for dinner (a local Chinese – there wasn’t much choice!) and drown our sorrows in the hope that alcohol would knock us out for the night.
But, alcohol is no good for sleeping when faced with….wait for it…a power drill at midnight! In what was far too much like a scene from a horror movie, we were woken from our slumbers by the most awful noise. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to go out of our room and see whether our lives were in danger from some crazed psychopath. Turns out that a woman who had been staying 3 nights (!) had got back (who knows where from?!) to find that she couldn’t open her bedroom door. So she’d asked another guest, who had been there for 1 year (!!!) and fortunately was holidaying with a power drill, to open her bedroom door for her. The owner was, oddly, nowhere to be seen.
The Fawlty Towers theme continued throughout breakfast where the bread was strictly rationed, condiments were limited, there were mouldy bananas on a nearby table and the coffee was distributed one cup at a time (meaning that by the time our very talkative host had finished making 8 cups of coffee, it was time for him to start on round 2!) Never have 8 people escaped so quickly from a hotel. The owner was still talking, seemingly to himself, as we cycled down the road singing the Great Escape theme tune.
The day improved immensely as soon as we had left. We had a lovely time visiting the surprisingly delightful town of Courtrai (Kortrijk) where we had coffee and also bought ourselves a fantastic picnic, to be eaten by the river somewhat in the manner of a Famous Five adventure.
After our lovely morning and our tasty picnic we hit the hills of the Flemish Ardennes and started passing first world war cemeteries on our way to Ypres. The ride was lovely but the sun was beating down and we were quite exposed as we pedalled up and down hills.
Picnic spot View on our ride
We arrived in Ypres (Ieper) and celebrated by drinking beer in a local bar and chatting to a lovely old local who, despite his age (he remembered the capitulation of Ypres in the second world war) was happy to try out his French and English on us and gave us some top tips on where to stand for the Last Post at the Menin Gate.
After the ceremony at the Menin Gate, we spotted “Morleys” on the walls (that’s my family name) and we headed off for dinner and a much better sleep than the night before involving no nylon, no dog urine and no power drills.
After what can only be called an enormous breakfast in Ypres, we set off on some illegal cycling along the city walls. We know it was illegal because everyone stopped to tell us and do the Belgian Finger Wag (a special gesture used by Belgians when they are telling you off…which is quite frequently if you’re me!) I’m quite adept at the Finger Wag myself now and use it on a regular basis when I’m back in the UK. I’m happy to provide masterclasses on request.
We escaped without being fined by the Police and continued on our merry way through not 1 but 4 diversions. It really was rather marvellous. We even had a small diversion into La Belle France to see what we could see before heading back to the little orange diversion signs that we all know and love in Belgium.
We eventually made it to Mouscron (Moeskroen) where we had another beer and packed 8 bikes and 8 sweaty cyclists on to an over crowded commuter train destined for Brussels.
Despite the one night of odd accommodation, it really was a wonderful trip with fabulous (mainly Belgian) friends who should be justifiably proud of their gorgeous and historically fascinating little country. We’re already planning our next adventure for 2018!