A 4 day cycle around Belgium’s nether regions – part 2

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.


Knocking ourselves out with alcohol.

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.


                                                                      Lovely Courtrai

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.


The local beer went down very well…


…although I was quite tempted by the local tea!!

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.


A couple of Morleys

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 stopped for coffee right on the border…


…before buying our picnic lunch in Comines’ number 1 sandwich shop…


…and having a very leisurely picnic by the river bank.

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!

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A 4 day cycle around Belgium’s nether regions – part 1

Those of you who know me personally or who read this blog post, will probably know that my Dad had cancer.  At the end of March, he was told that there were no new drugs available to help him and, on April 28th, he died at St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds.  Grief is a odd thing but everyone seems to have an opinion on it.  My thinking is that, if I don’t know how I’m going to feel from one day to the next, how does anyone else think they’ll know?  The only thing I do know is that cycling helps me a lot.  The last blog post I wrote was written 10 days after Dad received his final diagnosis and that cycle ride was deeply therapeutic.

So, it was hardly surprising that 3 weeks after Dad died, I was packing for another cycle trip.  This trip, the annual work francophone-and-friends cycle, had been organised for some time.  The original plan had been to follow the course of the river Lys (or Leie in Dutch) from where it joins the mighty river Escaut (Scheldt) in Ghent to its source in Armentières , France.  The logistics of that all became a bit too complicated with bike paths, maps, bikes on trains etc so we ended up not going to Armentières after all.  That was, for me, quite a relief because I fear my colleagues would have expected a raunchy franglais rendition of this song (the only thing I know about Armentières) on arrival!


Arriving in Bruges.  N.B. Blue skies but anoraks!

Day 1 started with persuading Belgian rail that they really wanted to put 8 bikes, 2 kids bikes and 2 Bromptons on a train which had capacity for only 2 bikes.  Once that was successfully done, we rode in comfort to Bruges where we took all the bikes off the train and began the cycling part of our journey.  Our destination for day 1 was Ghent, a nice ride along the canal from Bruges and the day looked like this:

A quick tour around Bruges


We had to do ‘kangaroo patrol’ at one point.


Tricky visited a ‘Crazy Bike Museum’ (which was, sadly, closed.)


And, of course, we had a diversion!  I was delighted, particularly as I now have ELEVEN witnesses to the fact that Belgian bike diversions are totally weird and inevitably lacking in signposts.  We navigated the Day 1 diversion with some skill, until the last minute when we had to rely on some passing cyclists as, in a break from tradition, there were too many diversion signs and one said go straight and the other said go left. 

Apart from some heavy rain, thankfully when we had stopped for a coffee, the weather was good, the company was excellent, the route was nice and we arrived in Ghent in time to enjoy the facilities e.g. shower and bar at the lovely youth hostel before going out to eat dinner with a former colleague.


The rather stylish youth hostel in Ghent.  It’s in an old printing works and is really rather lovely.  It comes highly recommended.

Day 2 began very well.  We ate a good breakfast at the hostel and set off along the Lys in the direction of Sint-Martens-Latem, the richest village in Belgium and home to the Dad of B, one of our fellow cyclists.  Somewhat suspiciously, B’s Dad had decided to go away before our arrival.  B claims that this decision to go away was nothing to do with our imminent arrival but I’m not convinced.  If I was told that 12 sweaty cyclists were heading towards my beautiful house in a lovely village, I would probably leave the country too!  To make up for his missing Dad, B gave us a good tour of the village and the surrounding area before we stopped for a very fancy lunch in a very fancy restaurant.

The village, a statue of a reclining bottom (in true keeping with Belgian surrealism!) and the fancy restaurant.

After a long and tasty lunch, 4 of our cycling friends left us to head home and the remaining 8 of us headed off towards Sint-Eloois-Vijve, a tiny place along the Lys.  We already knew that there wouldn’t be much to do there so no-one wanted to get there too quickly.  Luckily, there were lots of things to delay us on the way.  First, we came across an impressive chateau


Ooidonk Castle

and then we found a really nice, relaxed bar (‘t Oud Sashuis) where we stopped for a drink outside, next to the river.  After that, we found something truly exciting to delay us.  We found ourselves in the town of Deinze, where there was some kind of crazy Belgian parade going on and the whole town was out to watch it.  More importantly for us, the roads were all shut and the town was in real party mode.  Thanks to some snazzy map reading from M and the help of a (slightly sozzled) passing local, we made our way out of the town.  Not before, however, I spotted a small part of the parade.  Through the crowds lining the street, I saw a trailer of cauliflowers and a wooden chicken.


Consulting with the sozzled local.


Crowds lining the street for the parade of cauliflowers and chickens.

Further investigations seemed to suggest that this parade only takes place every 5 years and celebrates the fact that tiny Deinze seems to be in control of European chicken prices.  None of us really understand this but we do, at least, appreciate what luck we had to stumble across this once-in-five-years parade.  Because of all this, we had managed to delay our arrival into Sint-Eloois-Vijve until almost 6pm.  Which, in the event, turned out to be a very good thing indeed. But, to find out why, you’ll have to wait for the next blog post…or you could always google the Hotel Keizer (NOT recommended) in Waregem/Sint-Eloois to find out why night 2 wasn’t quite the night of rest and relaxation we were hoping for!

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An impromptu bike trip

This morning I found myself in the unusual position of not having to go in to work and not being able to stay at home.  I quickly dispensed of the sensible plan of sitting in a local cafe with a pile of marking and a good book and decided that an impromptu cycle was called for.  I had a few of ideas in my head:

  • I wanted to see if I could link the end of the old train line near me with the great knooppunt cycling system in Flanders.

The old train line, now a walking and cycling path.

  • I wanted to end up in Mechelen so I could get the direct train home to the back of my house as I only really had time for a morning cycle.
  • I wanted to avoid orange diversion signs.  (Regular readers will know that this is always an ambition but rarely an achievable one!)

I ended up having a really varied ride.  Flanders can be beautiful but the first part, though interesting, was not a classic tourist route.  Here’s a chronological look at my route, in photos.


An early orange diversion sign in a typical Brussels suburb.  No disasters, no getting lost!  


An almost bucolic scene, right next to the Brussels ring road.


Definitely in Flanders: an excess of cycle signage and a lot of train lines.


Stopping at a picnic bench for a scenic selfie.  Trains behind me, aeroplanes (Zaventem airport) the other side.  Who would have a picnic here?!


Classic Flanders: cycle lane not on the road, varied housing and a water tower.  And look!  I’m leaving Erps-Kwerps, first discovered 5 years ago.


Almost idyllic, until I tell you that at the back of the photo is the airport perimeter fence and the planes arrived overhead about every 2 minutes.


If Belgium had a national vegetable, it would be the witloof (chicory or endive.)  They are obsessed with it.  I loathe it with a passion and always laugh when Belgians tell me how lovely it is or how to use it in cooking.  Horrid stuff.  But, les Belges are so obsessed with it that they have a cycle route named after it and….wait for it….


…a witloof museum! (Sorry for the dark photo.)  Luckily it was closed when I passed but you can enjoy the (Dutch) website here, so you know I’m not making it up. 

Things got more scenic towards the end, as I pedalled along a canal and in to lovely Mechelen.  I celebrated my great route with coffee and apple cake and then Tricky and I got on the train home.


Impromptu cycles are great!  I can’t believe I still have so many new (and occasionally scenic) paths to discover.  I love Belgium!


My nice, but not totally direct, route.


Some rather pleasing stats (especially the calories one!)

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Trams and storms

A few months ago, I blogged about my identity crisis , created as I attempt to decide where I want to go in 18 months times, when my job in Belgium ends.  With the uncertainty brought about by Brexit (about which I am an unapologetic and very vocal REMOANER) I find myself wondering where to go next.  The last few months have seen a variety of plans from the sedate to the ridiculous and everything in between.  It’s interesting discussing this with good friends because, at some stage, they manage to try and bring in a reason for why exactly I should go and live nearer to them.  One, particularly enthusiastic, friend even saw the possibility of an independence referendum in Scotland as a reason for me to move back there.

Actually, Scotland is probably somewhere high up on the list of the more sensible options I have come up with recently and a few days there back in February certainly didn’t diminish my enthusiasm for the place.  I started off spending an afternoon in Edinburgh.  I haven’t been there since 2012, the year of my first big cycling adventure, and I was delighted to see the new tram system in action.  I absolutely love trams.  After the bicycle, they are my favourite mode of transport.  Actually, it’s hard to express in words quite how much I love trams.  I love them so much, in fact, that becoming a tram driver in Brussels is seriously on my ‘future job possibilities’ list!


A beautiful tram in the heart of Edinburgh.

I was so excited by seeing a tram in Edinburgh that I had to go and recover with a cup of tea and a shortbread biscuit.  My traditional cafe i.e. the one I frequented for years when a student in Edinburgh had, somewhat disastrously, shut down so I found myself opposite it, in the Elephant House.  The Elephant House is famous for being the place where Harry Potter was born so I had great fun sitting right in the window and smiling as tourist after tourist took a photo of the cafe from the outside.  I’m not sure the tourists were so happy for me to be grinning away in their photos!


Inside the Elephant House cafe.

I left Edinburgh, by train, in the early evening and was delighted to see that, along with  the developments in public transport, Edinburgh has also installed some nice looking new bike lines.  It’s a hard life being a keen cyclist as your eyes are constantly drawn to any cycle signs or cycle paths.   I can tell you it’s an exhausting problem in the Netherlands and Denmark!  Anyway, I arrived in Glasgow at approximately the same time as Storm Doris and made my way to the house of friends S and D for a very warm welcome and the chance to meet H, the newest addition to their family.

They have trams in Glasgow too:


but they don’t seem to be as hi-tech as the Edinburgh ones.

If you were in Glasgow, in February, during a storm so serious that it deserved the name Doris, what would you do?  Go somewhere warm and dry?  Hibernate inside? But S and I are made of tough stuff (we once survived an entire 9 months in Northern Quebec) so were undisturbed by the weather.  We went on an open-top bus tour and on a visit to a wind farm.  Worryingly, we were not alone at either activity so it appears that we’re not the only lunatics around!


Watching the rain pour down from the (half-covered) top of the open-top bus!


The  wonderful Whitelee wind farm. In a competition between trams and wind farms for my affections, I’m not sure which one would win.

Next week, I’m off to the Bodensee (Lake Constance) for a cycling trip.  I’m hoping for no storms-with-names, lots of sunshine, plenty of wind turbines and trams and some seriously good kaffee und kuchen.  I’ll keep you posted.

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Some thoughts on cycling in Brussels.

In January 2016, I blogged about planning to record all the kilometres I was going to cycle throughout the year but I’ve never reported back on it.  After eliminating all the ‘long trips’ i.e. not cycle-commuting activities, I’m amazed and surprised to report that, in 2016, I cycled approximately 1800 km just getting around in Brussels!  So the next question to answer is:

what were those 1800 km like?

Let’s start with the positive points.

Firstly,  a lot of the 1800 km were on marked, although not segregated, cycle lanes.  There has been much improvement over my time here in cycling provision.  I can now cycle from my flat to the centre of town (about 7 km) on marked cycle paths and the cycle shaped paint just keeps on appearing on the roads.  But, as every Brussels cyclist will tell you, a lick of paint does not make a cycle path!

(Cyclists everywhere: out and about protesting against paint and asking for better cycle paths.)

Second, a lot of those 1800 km involved cycling alongside, behind or in front of other cyclists.  The number of cyclists in Brussels is growing rapidly and the solidarity amongst cyclists in Brussels is pretty good.  There’s always lots of cycling chat to be followed in Twitter, once you know where to look and the cycling unions (one in French, one in Dutch…) seem to work really well together. A few weeks ago we had a joint protest to demand better cycling infrastructure on a very busy road, near my flat.  It was great fun.


Protesting with my fellow cyclists (I’m the one in blue….I really need to blend in more!) Photo credit to @kwinlambrecht, one of Brussels’ tweeting cyclists.

And third, a lot of those 1800 km were pretty speedy or, at any rate, speedier than any other form of transport in Brussels.  The city has excellent public transport but dreadful congestion, which can affect trams and buses too, so the bike really is the quickest way to go short to medium distances.

But, those 1800 km have also been, at times, a bit hairy.  

Firstly, car drivers in Brussels are, quite often, complete nutters.  They seem to think that they, and they alone, are allowed to be on the road and anything else they come across whilst on their journey is fair game.  Cycling in Brussels can often be like taking part in an extreme version of fairground dodgems.  The drivers that do consider cyclists are few and far between but, and I’m being optimistic here, do seem to be increasing in numbers.

Second, the air pollution in Brussels is so bad that I’m sure that the health/weight benefits of cycling those 1800 km have been cancelled out by the health losses to my lungs.

And, third, I have to mention the weather.  Cycling in Brussels requires a full set of good waterproofs and also requires the cyclist to be totally unconcerned about what they look like.  Of the 1800 km cycled in 2016, I reckon at least 500 involved wearing brightly coloured waterproofs.  I’m permanently grateful for the invention of lightweight waterproof clothing!

If you want to read more about cycling in Brussels, you can see what other cyclists think in this article:

Cycling in Brussels

which I posted on Facebook last week and features some of my thoughts.  The Brussels cyclists are getting more and more vocal about their requirements and I really hope that, by the time I’ve clocked up another 1800 km of commuting, I’ll have some lovely new, segregated lanes to pedal along and some fresher air to breathe. (It doesn’t harm to dream!)




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Trip planning and walking in the cold.


The Main Square in Brussels with a very tall Christmas tree, all the way from Slovakia.

It has been some time since I last blogged.  I think I might be suffering from writer’s block!  This could be mainly because there is very little cycling going on at the moment. Much as I love crisp, cold, winter weather, I’m not a great fan of black ice and so, apart from the usual commute, Tricky is spending most of his time tied up in the bike room.  The block could also be because I am spending far too much time thinking about what I’ll do when I get made redundant in 18 months time and not enough time focusing on enjoying 2017.  So, in an attempt to improve the situation, I have started planning cycling trips for 2017 and have been getting back in to the Sunday morning walk routine.

The first planned cycle trip will be to Lake Constance at Easter.  Clearly, the route attracts me but the fact that most of it is in Austria and Germany does mean that I should be able to have good supplies of Kaffee und Kuchen and that’s incredibly important.  I’m going to spend 5 days cycling around the lake and an extra day visiting the Rhine Falls in Switzerland.  Last time I visited the Rhine Falls, I didn’t actually visit them.  I had intended to but the ever-friendly Swiss (!) had put up plenty of signs warning cycle tourists about thefts from bike panniers and theft of bicycles without actually providing any provision for such tourists (unlike the good folk at Melk Abbey) so I didn’t bother hanging around.  This time, I’ll take no luggage, as I’ll leave it at my accommodation, and I’ll take an extra strong bike lock.  I hope it’s not going to be a giant anti-climax!

I know that I vowed, after the horror that was cycling in Switzerland in 2014, never to go to Switzerland ever again but I thought I’d give it one more chance.  Keen readers of this blog will remember that, in August 2014, I described cycling in Switzerland thus:

“Not content with taking me round 3 sides of every square, the cycle paths were then mainly made of sand, stone, sharp gravel and recently chopped vegetation. Cycling, in the pouring rain, along these paths past (and through) an enormous pile of animal manure being stockpiled for an anerobic digester was a real low-point of my [3 week] journey. I cheered myself up by singing a little, self-created, song entitled ‘Switzerland smells.’”

I’m hopeful that the path around the Swiss section of Lake Constance will be much nicer and that the ride to the Rhine Falls will be pleasant.  I can’t do anything about the weather though, so I have taken precautions by booking accommodation in advance and deciding not to camp on the trip.  But, Switzerland, I warn you now!  Any sign of unfriendliness, excessive attention to rules and regulations or rubbish cycle paths and you must definitely will be permanently off my list of places to go.

After Lake Constance, I’ll be cycling with the francophone colleagues in Belgium in May and then I’m planning to do some sections of the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland (Kaffee und Kuchen to be replaced by tea and scones!) in the Summer.  More to come on those plans as they happen but this is advance warning to my Irish readers so they can plan to be away for July and August if they don’t want to welcome a wet and dirty cycle tourist in to their homes!


A misty Sunday morning walk in Lasne.

In non-cycling news, I’m delighted to announce that I have a new Sunday walking buddy. After first walking buddy G left to move to the UK, I adopted S as my walking buddy.  She moved to Germany and so I’ve had to appoint walking buddy number 3.  After a series of tough interviews, G the Second has been given the post.  She doesn’t have any wellies (yet! I’m working on it!) but seems keen to wrap up warm on a Sunday morning and head out to the beautiful Belgian countryside.


The snow arrives


Frozen forests


Frozen fields

Sadly, she might just have been fired for attacking me with snow balls.  Clearly the interview process wasn’t rigorous enough!


Caught in the act! G2 attacks me with a snowball.

And so 2017 gets underway.  A very happy New Year to you all.  I hope 2017 will bring walking and cycling adventures galore to those of you who like such things and health and happiness to you all.


2016 went out in style – early morning bird watching with good friends in Somerset.





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Autumn colours and an identity crisis.

I’ve enjoyed the Autumn colours in France, Belgium and the UK over the last 2 weeks.  On Friday I was lucky enough to go to Stourhead in the UK.  If you’ve never heard of Stourhead, it’s famous for its grounds and the Autumn colours.  We arrived in the rain but, by the time we had toured the house, the clouds had gone and we could tour the grounds bathed in sunlight. The views were superb.

(A mix of photos from Belgium and the UK.)

It was very nice to see the UK looking so beautiful because I don’t think I realised when I moved to Belgium, over 7 years ago, that living abroad for a long time might start causing me some identity problems.  As a passionate defender of the EU, the result of the recent referendum in the UK and the apparent rise of intolerance there, coupled with the fact that I only have 22 months left on my current (non-renewable) contract have got me thinking about where I really belong.  I don’t feel Belgian, and I probably never will despite my love for the place,  but I no longer feel totally British either.  Even if I ignore the recent political events, I noticed on my recent trip how much British ‘culture’ I miss out on by not living there and how some aspects of life there seem totally strange to me now.  One really stupid example struck me as I flicked through the Lakeland catalogue.  It appears that the UK has taken to ‘spiralizing’ vegetables.  I didn’t even know what this was until I saw pages of spiralizing devices.  It’s possible that Belgium also spiralizes and that I’m just not up to date with Belgian vegetable news but it did make me think about what other changes had happened in the UK that I had missed out on over the last 7 years.  Lacking in knowledge about spiralizing isn’t going to give me major problems (I hope!) but what if something major has changed and I commit an enormous faux pas out in public?

I’m thinking a lot about my life after the current job and I’m lucky enough to have a fair few options but one of the major decisions has to be about what country to live in.  If I feel like a foreigner in the UK and I am a foreigner, technically, outside the UK then where do I go?

In an attempt to solve my identity crisis, be more positive about my country of birth and to be ‘more British’ in general, I’ve tried to make a list of all the things that are good about Britain and the British.  Here it is:

  1.  Tea rooms.  A good British tea room, such as those found at National Trust properties, are just brilliant and completely unique to the UK.  A good tea room involves tea (proper black tea, with milk) and a variety of cakes.


    Halfway though tea and cake in a National Trust tea room.

  2. The fact that people are permanently saying ‘sorry’ even if they have no need to, especially if they think they might possibly have touched you but, in fact, are nowhere near you.
  3. Marmite.
  4. The Great British Bake Off.  Only the UK would consider 12 people baking in a tent worthy of a television programme.  I met one of the bakers by chance in a shop on Friday.  She was lovely.


    A slightly blurry picture of  Val from Bake Off.

  5. Good friends.  This one is a bit of a cheat as I have good friends all over the world and the UK doesn’t have a monopoly on friends but it’s something that makes me happy to go back.


    With good friends at the top of Glastonbury tor.

  6. Yorkshire.  This county definitely makes the UK great, especially now it has gone cycling crazy.

The Yorkshire Dales. Always stunning.

And I think that’s it.  I won’t publish my list of things that I think make Britain ‘un-great’ – it would cause too much controversy and be far too long – and I will try and embrace my country of birth more.  I’ve started to realise that being neither one thing nor the other isn’t perhaps a good position to be in but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll be moving back to the UK in 22 months.  That decision is definitely a case of ‘wait and see’.


The sunset view from my flat.

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