In praise of Belgian lumberjacks.

A heron hiding                                    A cycling selfie

After spending the whole day inside yesterday, working on speculative CVs, nationality paperwork and flat buying stuff, I was absolutely determined to get out on the bike this morning.  Luckily, the sleety rain had stopped overnight and the sun was almost shining so, once I had dressed myself in the warmest (and weirdest) selection of cycling clothing I possessed, I was ready for the off.  I had initially planned a 50 km cycle to Mechelen, via the National Endive Museum but, on seeing the temperature, I decided to do something a bit shorter.  Cycling in temperatures of 1°C is never a warm experience and, within 10 minutes of setting off, I knew a shorter ride had been a good decision.  I hurtled around the forest with increasingly frozen thighs and feet and made it back just in time to jump into a hot bath with a large mug of tea and a good book.

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After months of only being allowed to commute, Tricky enjoyed a decent ride.

The forest was looking lovely but was definitely suffering from the effects of the two serious storms we’ve had in January.  Debris from Thursday’s storm was still scattered all over the paths and a number of trees had clearly not made it through the winter.  I counted about fifteen in total that had been newly felled, either by the wind or in anticipation of the storm.  One of the impressive things about my forest, and my local woodlands, is that the trees are never removed.  The paths are cleared but, as much as possible, the tree is left where it fell and becomes a home for the local wildlife.  In the first storm, a tree fell down on top of my local orchard, bringing down the orchard fencing and blocking the footpath.  The next day, despite the weather conditions still being horrible, 6 men in hi-viz jackets and helmets spent the whole day clearing the path, sorting out the tree and re-fencing the orchard.  Considering how long other things take to do in Belgium, this lumber-jacking is very impressive!

In other news (as I realise it is some time since I blogged), I have made a firm decision to stay in Belgium when my contract ends in August.  As my landlady has decided to sell my flat, this means that I need to find a new flat before the end of July, a new job before the end of August and a new nationality at some time too.  It’s quite a challenge I’ve set myself for 2018 but, if 2017 taught me anything, it was to expect the unexpected.  Whilst the unexpected in 2017 was pretty bad, I’m optimistic that the unexpected in 2018 will be good.  And, if it all goes belly up, I’ll just set off around the world on Tricky in September!

Just to finish, here are some photos to cover the last few months of no blogging:

December

  Christmas involved a trip to Austria where we met Father Frost (he’s Russian), walked in the snow and ate cake.  Mum and I met a camel in Germany on our way to Austria.

November

 

Trips to  Abu Dhabi and Masdar City in the UAE (something that the geeky Geographer in me loved!) and to Copenhagen.

October

Hiring electric bikes and visiting the new Green Bridge (Ecoduct) over the Brussels ring and…

…the annual field trip to France.

 

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My Vélodyssée: part 2

Now I’m back at work and the weather has turned wet, cool and very windy, it’s almost impossible to believe that just 4 weeks ago I was still camping and cycling my way along the coast of France.  Before I forget everything, it’s time for me to tell you all about part 2 which went from Paimboeuf (just west of Nantes) to Lacanau-Océan.

Velodyssey

My diary from the day I left Paimboeuf records 3 momentous events: very strong winds making tent erection very difficult, my first ‘kaffee und kuchen’ and the lack of toilet paper (and increasing expense) at the campsites.  Apparently I paid €15 for the pleasure of putting up my tent in a sand dune and providing my own loo roll.

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Kaffee und Kuchen! I stopped for elevenses at the St-Michel-Chef-Chef biscuit factory and the warm chocolate madeleines were a delight.

But, oddly enough, I remember this day as being one of the best of the cycle.  I finally got to see the sea, explored some places off the official route and delighted in the fact that the paths were nowhere near as busy as I thought they would be.  It was fabulous and, after the monotony of Brittany, the variety of landscapes and cycle paths was much appreciated.

(Showing enthusiasm for the landscape variety on part 2 of my Vélodyssée.)

This section of the French coast has some gorgeous views and some lovely settlements and, apparently, I have been here before.  When I go on these long trips, I text Mum every night so she knows roughly where I am.  Here’s a little snapshot of our chats from this stage of the trip when I found out I was on familiar territory:

Me (09/08/2017): ‘Have found the chavvy heart of French tourism.  Stopping for the night between St Jean de Monts and St Hilaire de Riez.  Wiggly but fun day today.  Now to erect tent and remove sand and mud from Tricky and me.”

Mum (09/08/2017): “Have lovely old photos of us at St Gilles Croix de Vie just down the coast.  Also have some on beach at St Jean de Monts. Enjoy your tent tonight.”

Me (09/08/2017):  “Think things might have changed in the last 30 years.  It was very busy today.”

Can you spot the difference?!

St Gilles

The bustling French coast, Summer 1985 (?) (My brother on the left, mum in the middle and me on the right – no idea why we’re wearing identical charity t-shirts!)  The French fisherman at the top look much better wrapped up than us.

The same stretch of coast in 2017 but with slightly better weather!

However, despite the large numbers of tourists and over-developed sea fronts, there were hardly any cycle tourists around so, in the gaps between tourist towns, I pretty much had the place to myself.

(A peaceful lunch spot and some almost wild camping – the campsite in this photo found me an unofficial spot so I could use their facilities but sleep in complete tranquillity.) 

I was also really well looked after by French cafe owners and by campsite managers as they always managed to find a little space for me (and Tricky!) regardless of how busy they were with ‘normal’ tourists.

I took a bit of time off in the town of Rochefort. I had wanted to stay in La Rochelle, which is where my French text books at school were all set, but the place was rammed and the campsites had terrible reviews so I headed on to Rochefort instead and stayed inside for a couple of night.  La Rochelle was nice:

but Rochefort was a hidden gem:

I had a great time there, exploring the city and recovering from the ride so far.  It was a really pleasant little holiday within my holiday.

I left Rochefort and had 2 boat crossings in one day as I continued down the coast.  The second crossing was across La Gironde and led me onto a section of coast that was about 95% pine forest.

It wasn’t thrilling but it was nice and I enjoyed some lovely sea swims in the evenings and some very pleasant coffee stops. I also learnt all about HMS Tuna and Operation Frankton and stumbled across the world surfing championships in Lacanau-Océan.

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The surf championships made this stretch of coastline even busier!

Because I had a yoga course booked, further inland, Lacanau was where I turned off the Vélodyssée, left the Atlantic and headed to Bordeaux.  Just before doing that, though, I had one more night of camping (when the rabbits ate my guy ropes) and one new activity to try; stand-up paddle boarding.

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Out on Lake Lacanau 

I had been wanting to try this out for ages so was delighted to be able to do so with the Tengo Frio Surf School.  It was as fun and as relaxing as I had hoped it would be and the perfect end to my Atlantic Coast adventure.

Bordeaux, and meeting friend B, was an absolute delight…

 (The joys of Bordeaux included a trip the the launderette where I was adopted by the local elderly ladies who clearly thought I was the weirdest and most incompetent person they had ever met.)

…and the yoga course?  Well, let’s just say, it was quite zen but involved a lot more alcohol than I had anticipated 🙂

(Being zen at yoga before heading off for Brussels at the end of a lovely trip.)

 

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My vélodyssée: part 1

I didn’t manage to blog whilst I was on my odyssey down the French Atlantic coast earlier this month.  There were a couple of reasons for this.  Firstly, I don’t like blogging from my phone as I find the screen too small and secondly, wifi and battery charging options were limited whilst camping and, although I was certain you were all desperate to know how I was getting on (!), I wasn’t prepared to use my roaming data allowance to tell you.  So, I’m going to try and summarise 2 weeks and over 1000 km of cycling into a couple of blog posts.

I started by taking a lot of trains.  Here comes the technical bit (especially written for Lyn at Freewheeling France!) Getting a fully assembled bike in and out of Belgium can be a bit of a challenge and I’ve talked about this before in previous blogs (e.g. here and probably elsewhere.)  To get to my starting point of Morlaix in Brittany, I needed to do the following journey:

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Fully laden and leaving my Brussels garage in the pouring rain.

  1.  Cycle to gare du Midi.  Buy ticket from ticket man, NOT a machine as that’s not possible.  Discuss ticket buying and bike transportation with aforementioned ticket man.  Receive a complaint form for Belgian Rail (given spontaneously!) so I can complain about the difficulties of leaving the country and buying tickets to re-enter the country.  Jump for joy that, for the first time in 8 years, the lifts are working. Get on train to Tournai by carrying the laden bike up 2 steep steps into the official bike carriage.  This is so ridiculous (steps and bike carriage) that I can’t bring myself to even add it to my complaint form.
  2. Get off at Tournai.  Carry laden bike down and up a flight of stairs as there are no lifts at Tournai.  Strip bike of luggage.  Throw luggage on to train.  Hang bike in special, locked compartment.  Throw self on train.
  3. Get off at Lille Flandres.  Put luggage back on bike.  Cycle to Lille Europe (approximately 30 seconds.)
  4. Strip bike of luggage.  Throw luggage on to train.  Hang bike in special, bike-hanging compartment on the TGV.  Find seat.  Relax. 

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    Blurry picture of Tricky hanging up (the TGV was wobbling a bit!)

  5. Arrive in Paris, gare du Nord.  Re-load bike.  Cycle across Paris in glorious sunshine to gare Montparnasse.

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    Time for some sightseeing on the trip across Paris.  On the way back, there wasn’t even time to breathe.  I had to go from Montparnasse to Nord.  The first train was late so I had only 30 minutes from arrival to departure.  I cycled at speeds that would make Kittel and Sagan look slow and arrived, dripping in sweat, at Nord in order to repeats steps 1-4 (without the relaxation bit!) in the reverse order and arrive home at 23h30.

  6. Load bike onto train at Montparnasse.  Happily, the luggage could stay on.  Sadly, there were steps.
  7. Strap bike on to train and spend the 3 hour journey sandwiched between Tricky and a cat in a cage.
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My seat is the one with its back to you, between Tricky and the cat.  (The cat’s owner has just popped out for a fag, leaving me in charge.)

And that was day 1.  By the time I arrived in Morlaix, I was delighted with my achievements for the day.  And look how lovely Morlaix is:

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Morlaix at sunset

After all that train effort, it was quite a relief to start the cycling.  Following my grandpa’s oft-quoted phrase ‘time spent in reconnaisance is seldom, if ever, wasted’  I had located the beginning of the cycle route and the cycle signs whilst out for a post-train celebratory dinner.  That meant that I could head off with confidence on cycling day 1.

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The orange and blue signs that guided me for 2 weeks.

 

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Days 1 and 2 mainly looked like this (old train line with annoying horse-drawn tourist caravan taking over the path)…

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…or like this: tow path next to a manky, possibly mosquito infested, canal with no boats on it.

If I was introducing someone to cycle touring, I wouldn’t start in Brittany!  Even I was marginally bored and I LOVE cycling.  Due to the slight monotony of the situation, I ended up doing 100 km a day for the first 4 days. Really, there wasn’t  a lot else to do but pedal and watch my fitness increase by the hour.  There weren’t even many possible coffee and cake stops!

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Luckily, things improved as I went along with some very pretty locks…

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…and a nice chateau in Josselin.

My plan was mainly to follow the Vélodyssée as shown in orange on the map above.  But I was rather hoping I’d be able to miss out Nantes (because I was there on the bike a few years ago) and do a cross-country variation, as marked in yellow.  As I passed through Redon on the afternoon of day 3, I knew that wasn’t going to be possible but, 7 km in to day 4, I saw this marvellous sign:

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La Loire a vélo is what I wanted to join so I took a risk.

which enabled me to do a small diversion around Nantes, marked in green on the map above.  Not only did this avoid too much repetition from 2013 but it also let me escape from some, quite frankly, horrific canal path surfaces and explore some lovely, quiet, tourist-free, sections of the French countryside.  Normally, I would never go off-piste without a map but, such is my confidence in French cycling signs, I risked it and it was brilliant.  I can wholeheartedly recommend Savenay and the area around it.  The country roads were really quiet with enough hills to provide a challenge but not too much annoyance, the signs were excellent, the people were friendly, the food and drink were cheap and the history of the area was well documented on lots of guidy signs.

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A sign explaining why there were American flags all around Savenay..

All in all, it was an excellent diversion, which led me to cross the river Loire by boat at Pellerin.  The boat was free for everyone, including horses.

I then arrived in Paimboeuf after 4 days of cycling and got to the end of the first part of my cycle.  From Paimboeuf it was onwards to the Atlantic coast.  But I’ve already written too much so that story will have to wait for another day.

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Cycle paths and wildlife

Monveloetmoi is currently on a yoga retreat. The vélo (Tricky) is enjoying hanging out by the pool all day, leaning against a stone wall, as there’s no accommodation for him here. I’m in much nicer accommodation but having to deal with 3 hours of yoga a day and some very healthy food. I’m sure it’s good for me but I did escape with Tricky for a little ride (& an ice cream!) yesterday.

And my little ride got me thinking about cycle paths and whether I would ever find the perfect one. Yesterday’s ride took me along quiet country roads but the hills were quite a challenge and the gravelly resurfacing certainly stopped it from being perfect, although it was fun. So, surely a flat route would be better? The beginning of my vélo odyssey should have been flat as it was old train lines and canal tow paths but even that didn’t please me because their surfaces were too rough and the canal was old and stagnant (the kind of water that mosquitoes just love!) It was also pretty monotonous and, oddly enough, not flat. So, clearly I need flat with a little up and down and also tarmaced for smoothness. I think in must be the fussiest cyclist ever! Over the past few weeks on the vélodyssey (which I’ll talk about in more detail on my return) I had 1 ‘perfect’ day of paths….and that was when I went off piste just north of Nantes. I’m hoping my new found yoga zen-ness will making me more accepting of the less than perfect paths that I’ll inevitably cycle along on the way back!

The title of this blog also mentions wildlife and wildlife has been pretty present over the last few weeks, in good ways and bad ways. On night two of my camping, I unwrapped my towel in the shower to find a caterpillar inside it. Clearly it had been there since I’d packed up in the morning and, whilst I had been pedalling along, the caterpillar had been trying to eat his way out. So, I now have a hole in my travel towel, thanks to the very hungry caterpillar. And then, on the final night of camping, rabbits ate through three of my tent guy ropes! Unbelievable behaviour! Luckily, other wildlife was truly fantastic. I had lunch one day with a kingfisher, saw some gorgeous little deer close up in a field and had a very close encounter with a buzzard who had just caught a rabbit and was just carrying it off in its talons. The joy of cycling (whatever the paths) is that my quiet approach gives me some wonderful wildlife spotting opportunities.

(More stories and photos on my return to a computer and good wifi.)

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June and July adventures at home and abroad (plus my Summer cycling trip preview.)

I’m quite surprised to see that I haven’t updated this blog for almost 2 months now.  Where does the time go?  June was, as ever, really busy at work and the main cycling I managed to do was commuting to and from work (although sometimes I did that commute up to 3 times a day, just to add some cycling to the month!)  The main exception to the cycling drought in June was the first ever edition of the Brussels Tour.  This is a 50 km cycle ride around Brussels with closed roads and a bit of time pressure added in for good measure.  It was an absolute blast.  I managed to get together some semblance of a team so we all started together but then went our separate ways.  I spent the ride with good friend, N, and we had a great time, ending with an average speed of about 24 km/h and the joy of getting a medal.

A photo montage of my Brussels Tour experience. 

July has seen a whole host of visitors in my flat and a week in Wales with my family.  Having the visitors helped me to discover some exciting new destinations in Belgium.  For example, why has it taken me 8 years to find Gaasbeek castle, its brilliant walled garden and, more importantly, the ice-cream parlour opposite it?

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Enjoying a walk in the grounds of Gaasbeek castle.

Inside the fabulous walled garden at Gaasbeek

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Enjoying ice cream (they’re not BOTH mine) at the Krimerie van Gaasbeek

 

Also, how is it possible that I have only just visited the absolutely wonderful Belgian Chocolate Village ?  Admittedly, it is more of a museum than a village but it’s nicely presented, they do give generous samples and the surrounding area is pretty nice too.

Chocolate museum montage (with obligatory link to Tintin!)

After 30 years of going to the same area of Pembrokeshire with my family, there were slightly fewer new places to discover here but sometimes the old favourites are the best places.  We spent a lot of time on the beach this year making sand boats, sand crabs and sand castles and I even went for a couple of sea swims.  Mum joined me for one of these swims.  I think the last time she was seen in a swimming costume was back in the 1980s, which shows you quite how nice the Welsh weather was!

On the last night of the trip my brother and I had the joy of listening to a concert by the Haverfordwest Male Voice choir.  I’m an absolute sucker for Welsh men who sing (!) so it was a very special evening.  Here’s a nice link (sadly a different choir but they’re good) for anyone who might fancy a listen to Welsh men singing.  Beautiful, isn’t it?

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We stayed in beautiful Newport, in sunny Pembrokeshire.  

A few photos from Pembrokeshire (including sea pre-swim evidence!)

For the reason mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, my plans for this summer cycling trip have changed a little bit.  Feeling that I didn’t really have the mental capacity to do a long and possibly difficult trip to somewhere lacking a super cycling structure, I have returned to an old favourite and, on Thursday, Tricky, all his attachments and a new and exciting tent will be setting off for France.  I’ve written before about how much I love France and how easy I find it to cycle there.  The path I’ve chosen this time (La Vélodyssée) is reputed to be the cream of France’s cycling crop.   I’ll be joining it in Morlaix, up in Brittany, and I’ve given myself exactly 2 weeks to get to Bordeaux.  The reason I need to go to Bordeaux is that I’m booked on a yoga course for a week in a place about 80 km inland (a cycling day) from there.  This yoga is a new adventure for me so fingers crossed that it’ll be the perfect ending to 2 great weeks of cycling and not just a week of me realising, yet again, that I am incapable of standing on one leg.   As ever, I’ll be updating this blog as much as I can during the trip although this depends on wifi, battery power and blogging ability from my phone.  It might also depend on how zen I am after all that yoga.  A happy and sunny Summer to you all!

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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.

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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.

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The local beer went down very well…

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…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.

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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.

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We stopped for coffee right on the border…

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

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…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.

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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!

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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

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

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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Consulting with the sozzled local.

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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!

Posted in Belgium, cycling, Cycling in Belgium | Tagged , | 2 Comments