Category: Belgium - Sam and Shanna's world adventures
 

Distance: 45km


This was going to be our blog for today; 

A Car stopped twice- told us to go on the path
On path - Another car on it! Beeped at us to move
Then path blocked. Big detour. Cars Allowed, bicycles not.

...but then I got off my lazy butt and wrote something.



We got up and everything was wet, we hung it up, and waited for it to dry.

It didn’t. So we packed it anyway.

Then, we cycled into the Netherlands, mostly via the cycle paths beside the roads.

We got lost several times, being forced to ride these paths, and I admit I thought this idea, cycle paths, would be fantastic before we came here, but it has been a real challenge. Not only is the surface bad, finding which way to go is also constantly challenging.

Maybe it’s just me and I need to adjust to another country’s way of doing things…

But, the Netherlands has incredibly well manicured lawns, actually the general appearance of cleanliness and strict order is pervasive, everything exudes regulation, classification, law, civility and rule, I haven’t seen anywhere like this before ever, every line is marked, every one seems to know the rules (and be happy to tell you them, although in a friendly way) and everyone rides a bicycle. Amazingly there are even a lot of road bicycles sporting carbon wheels, they must have to true them every day, unbelievable!

We find a campsite at 7:30pm, and feeling our dream of having a shower is about to be realized begin to become excited in anticipation… but it’s crazy here, dogs are barking, kids are screaming and it sounds like there is a party with an MC!

‘Wow, this is strange,’ I say to Shanna, ‘hundreds of people making a lot of noise in the middle of the countryside, not what I expected.’

All too much for these two tired old timers we leave, and shortly get lost again (we do have a GPS and a map, but there always seems to be more roads in real life).

An hour later, hope fading, we stumble upon a caravan park in the woods that is part of a farm. It’s quiet, ‘lots of old people, that’s great,’ we both say at the same time.

Walking through the park is a fascinating experience. Everyone is arranged perfectly into a circle around the edges of a huge field. It reminds me of church youth dances where everyone sits or stands around the outside of the room, looking across at each other, wondering who’ll make a move, looking at who’s with who, ‘hey they’ve got jeans on,’ you might say to the person sitting next to you, ‘are they even, like, you know allowed,’ they reply…

An hour later and we’ve set up the tent, we turn around to admire the horses standing next to us, curious and friendly amidst a darkening sunset, pinky reds glancing across the sky, and thunder strikes from somewhere behind us.

It begins to rain. 

Jackets on we stumble to the shower block. Already wet, about to get more wet, but in a good way, no pun/ double entendre intended…

Half an hour later I stand there, thinking to myself that this is the best shower of my life, the air frigid and cold, the water hot washes away what might have been six days of accumulated dirt and grime.

‘Totally, fully rad and awesome, I’ve never felt so clean in my life, what a feeling…’ I say, smiling, grinning stupidly, to nobody in particular, or maybe it was just part of the constant running monologue in my head.

Crazy? Yeah probably, but admit it, I’m not the only one that talks to myself…

 

 
Distance: 90km

We awoke to a pleasant surprise. No rain. And the sun was even shining while we packed up. With high spirits we set off through Belgium.

It didn't take long for the rain clouds to gather. And when we stopped for lunch (7 euro for two burgers, a coke and a HUGE chips that we couldn't even come close to finishing) the rain began to fall. We took shelter under the awning of a kindergarten, but the stares of the staff through the window forced us to take refuge in the supermarket around the corner. Here, Sam found an English Top Gear magazine, his first English magazine for seven months... it's the little things that really brighten your day...

We rode for half an hour while the rain took an interlude. Luckily, we stumbled upon a bus stop with a shelter just as the second act began.

All this rain was really dampening our enthusiasm for cycling in Belgium. 


Our enthusiasm was suffering anyway as we cycled deeper into the Flemish section. Cars beeped at us and gestured for us to get off the road. They've built paths alongside many roads that are apparently for cyclists, but the condition is so terrible that I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to ride them (there are cyclists on them, but surely not by choice)- holes, poorly patched asphalt, drains, gravel... you name it. 

Sometimes we use the paths when we get sick of the abuse from drivers but our bikes take a serious battering. Plus we're mixed with two year olds on bikes (seriously), pedestrians, road works, cars reversing from driveways... we feel safer on the road shoulder, even with the abuse! 

But McDonalds, with its 1 euro burgers and free wifi, dots the country at regular intervals and the cold nights, last night definitely being one of them, mean we're sleeping well. 

So that leaves us two down and two up... Smile trooper, It could be a lot worse.

And what is a Friterie anyway people, how can you just make hot chips and nothing else...?


 
Distance: 72km

It's been raining for three weeks.

Or close to it at least. 

Actually we really are starting to feel a little water logged and if you look closely enough you might see some moss growing on us. In fact, it's now said by some that we've begun to blend into the green landscape so well that we're barely visible...

Today we got pelted with rain. Eventually we couldn't tell what was wetter, the rain or us. Sloshing (is that even a word) around on our bikes we rode some fantastic streets and alleys in the Belgian countryside. 

Despite the relative obscurity of the roads on the map, traffic was heavy, so the scenic route wasn't quite as scenic as it might have been.

Another thing. The architecture here is dramatically different to that in France. We haven't been to Germany yet but it looks more like what we imagined that would be.

So as I was thinking about this blog It stops raining and we start to dry out... 

Haha, I spoke too soon... rains again.

We ended up in La Hulpe, and predictably no-one noticed us in the bushes, putting up our green tent amongst the green trees and green grass we started wondering if maybe the joke was on us, maybe you can turn green after all...
 
Distance: 86km


Northern France is definitely not Southern France, or so we learnt today.


Our clothes were still very wet after hanging on the bridge last night, and we couldn't wait all morning for them to dry, so we reluctantly put them on and continued cycling along the canal.


But pretty soon, after a few putrid wafts we began to wonder where the stinky smell was coming from. And then we saw it, just beside the canal, a huge sewerage plant! 'Whoa that stinks' we yelled at each other.


And the smell just wouldn't go away. We're going to smell like this town Shanna yelled back at me while we were riding along. 'You already do' I yelled back, laughing. 20 kms later and we could still smell the sewerage, but maybe by that stage it was us... 


Another thing we learnt today was that the canal we swam in last night has some big fish, pretty damn big for fish that swim in a river. 


At a small cafe/supermarket we stopped at, the first shop we found open for 30kms we saw some photos of some of the fish that have been caught in the river, they looked almost 3 feet long, or as big as a small boy. I wonder if we'd have swam in there if we had of seen those photos first.


And then, sitting outside the cafe a thing, an event you might say happened. And I still can't work it out but we'll write about it at some point in the future, maybe when we write a book or something...


RIding towards the Belgian/France border and it begins raining, first a sprinkle and then it steadily becomes heavier. We see a camping sign, it tells us to turn right. We follow it and eventually find the campsite. 


'No tents,' he says, 'only caravans and motor homes, next camp sites 30 km's away.' Wet and feeling sorry for ourselves we keep riding, and cross the border into Belgium.


Riding through the rain, desperately searching for somewhere to camp we see a forest behind some houses and make a dash for it. Is it somebody's land, maybe, but it's late and the rain won't stop. Amongst the blackberrys and the dense trees we push our bikes through the undergrowth.


'It'll do' we say to each other. 



We set up the tent in the rain and eat some scraps of food inside to try and stay dry. Then we dry the tent inside where it got wet when we set up.


Laying down we can hear the rain pounding into the forest.


Exhausted and ready for sleep I struggle into my sleeping bag, but somethings not right. Somethings funny.


'Damn it, we stink like the sewer!'