Posts Tagged ‘Belgium’


The day was surreal. Escorted by a mass of friends to the Belgian border, we sat in the sun, fearing the moment of our ways diverging. Then welcomed by more friends on arrival in Schimmert – with the Dutch flag and a glass of champagne. I still haven’t fathomed everything. That will come.

Departure in Eindhoven

Departure in Eindhoven

 

I guess it must be the excitement. 2 years in the making, the day arrives, and I have a cold. Not a bad cold, and nothing that a bit of fresh air, and 30 people with waving flags can’t fix. I walked out of my front door, and soon, the people amassed. Lots of friends, people from work, and even people that I didn’t know that had read about my departure in the newspaper. Really cool. After flying the flags of the 32 countries I will pass through, the moment came: not only am I unemployed, but I am also homeless. I handed over the keys to my apartment to the new tenants. And then the trip began – with 30 followers on their bikes. The Pied Piper of Eindhoven.

All of a sudden, cycling through the forest, I hear ‘Advance Australia Fair’. A string of flags crossed the path, and Rufus Driessen – a friend from Philips – was cheering us on. He was set up there with his stereo in the forest. How cool is that? As my webcam had decided to crash again, I wasn’t able to capture this.. But, it is stored between my ears.

The sun came out for us as we sat in the cafe just over the Belgian border. The 2 hours there was punctuated with hugs and tears between the eating and drinking, and some magic tricks by Dhemie. The time for the departing of ways finally came, and I turned towards Belgium as the friends returned into the Netherlands.

A pleasant and familiar trip along the Belgian canal followed, before my very warm welcome in Schimmert.

Welcome in Schimmert

Welcome in Schimmert

Welcome dinner in Schimmert

Welcome dinner in Schimmert


With two months to go before leaving Holland to cycle to Australia, my equipment needed testing, and friends needed visiting. I cycled back to La Jonchère in France – where I spent 3 months as an exchange student in 1988-89. This was the start of my relationship with Europe.

And, yes, I am glad I tested my equipment. I need a new pedal axle, and the baggage-holder has broken off from the frame. I’m glad I have time to fix all that before I leave!

As I only had one week this year, I started in Paris – last year I cycled from Eindhoven to Paris, so that stretch was already covered.

Day 1. 145km. Eindhoven-Brussels: A day along the canals of Belgium, staying with Kevin in Brussels.
Day 2. 191km. Brussels-Guise: Following bike paths (existent and non-existent) along rivers and train-tracks to beautiful France.
Day 3. 205km. Guise-Paris: I was awake before the sun. It was crisp – well, cold outside. My tent had a layer of ice as I left it to start my morning ritual. Today was a long and eventful day. It saw me cycle 205 km into the Parisian dusk.
Day 1. 155km. Paris-Égreville: A ride through the old and the new. The old: beautiful Paris – overflowing with memories of the last 26 years. Bathed in warmth and sun, I cycled through memory lane. The new: Following the Seine upstream I discovered the meandering valley, and met my lovely Warmshowers hosts – Nicole and Claude – at their house in the rolling hills of wheat.
Day 2. 120km. Égreville-St Cyr en Val: Along a sand path next to the canal – on and on along the green, shady waterway. A bit bumpy, but peaceful and pretty. A cycle of solitude, finished with a lovely dinner invitation at the camping ground.
Day 3. 165km St Cyr en Val-Montbazon: Sun, castles, views overlooking the Loire, minor bike problems with improvised fixes. Very very bright. It’s summer. I like!
Day 4, 125km. Montbazon-Luzeret: Sun, sun and sun. Leaving the Loire valley, the hills are getting bigger, and the sun is bringing out the sweat. Rolling fields along the Indre River, and then a landscape of lakes in the Brenne region.
Day 5. 95km. Luzeret-Ambazac: South of the Creuse River, the hills get bigger, they said. They did. They also got more familiar, those hills, and I got more emotional. I am here again, and by bike – I laughed with joy. My arrival at La Jonchère was marked with thunder and lightning.

With the equipment tested, and all the farewells made, arctic-cycler is ready for the big trip. Bring it on!


Contrary to yesterday, today was a day of burning through the kimometres (and the müsli bars). Blown by a gale tail wind, I scooted through Belgium and out the other end to Breda to take a night train back to Eindhoven. A final 7 km in Eindhoven saw me break my day record of 301 km.

Map and gpx. Calais – Breda. 295km

I left the hotel shortly before 7 out into the cloudy, blustery morning. Maybe not ideal weather for sunbathing, but, perfect for cycling. You don’t sweat much, you don’t need much to drink, and you can go like (with) the wind. Learning from my last cycle to Calais, I avoided the coast. The area around Dunkirk is horrible for cycling, and I took a detour inland to my favourite place from last time – Licques – a cute little village nestled in a steep valley behind Calais.

From there I was bound east. And the wind was… also heading east. A match made in heaven. I have never had this. I look on the map – I need to head there. And then, next time I look, I am already there. Next place. Before I know it I’m there. After 70 odd kilometres, I found myself in Cassel – a village perched on the top of an unlikely hill in a fairly flat landscape. Some wares from the patisserie – and then a refill. I was hungry, and my appetite today was eternal.

Then, hello Belgium.

Hello Belgium

Hello Belgium

The morning was punctuated by stopping in market squares – ah yes, another cute little town hall.. 🙂

Poperinge

Poperinge

Tielt

Tielt

As time went on, I realized that today was not just going to see me enter well into Belgium to catch a train home. I could get much further. For a while I entertained the possibility to cycle all the way home to Eindhoven. When I finally zoomed out on the map to see all of Belgium when I was in Gent, I realized the impossibility of this – it would be about 350 km. Still, a day record (301 km+), and reaching the Netherlands was still in reach. But it would take a concerted effort. And minimizing stops.

On I went. No rain. But some serious looking clouds. It must have rained everywhere except over me.

No rain.

No rain.

Into Gent. Central square. Tick. Lovely buildings. Tick.

Gent

Gent

Out of Gent. More direct roads. Straight line with the wind. Speed speed speed. I arrived in Lokeren hungry and with not much water. Pizza. Quick and an energy boost. Then on. St. Niklaas, and through some suburbs of Antwerpen. How do I cross the harbour? Explored. Tunnel closed to bikes. How do I cross? Ask. Of course. The pedestrian tunnel (!). Cool.

Pedestrian tunnel in Antwerp

Pedestrian tunnel in Antwerp

It was 20:30 and getting distinctly dim. I didn’t know how far it was to Breda in the Netherlands, but, I had to be there by 23:21 to catch the last train. The road was dead straight. I could do it. Or die trying. Suburbs of Antwerp. More suburbs. Then forest. Then Wuustwezel. Then the border.

Entering the Netherlands

Entering the Netherlands

On and on. The train station was on the other side of Breda. Still, there was no traffic and I had some time up my sleeve. Just as I arrived at the Breda train station, the rain started – for the first time for me. And I was presented with a stairway to heaven – with a super heavy bike and 295 km in the legs.

Stairway to heaven

Stairway to heaven

Goal reached with 20 minutes to spare.

Breda

Breda

And then, some would say, the ultimate madness. Others understand. I cycled 7 km around Eindhoven in the rain at midnight to get my day total to 302 km – breaking the record I held with Ed when we cycled from Delft to Den Helder and back in a day. Then I could go to bed satisfied.

Day record

Day record


On day 2, the quest to clock up those kilometres was on. Paris was a long way away and I had two more days. I knew the terrain between Brussels and Paris was hilly, and so the quickest way to get there was not necessarily the shortest way as the crow flies (I am not a crow), but to follow waterways or old abandoned train tracks that have now become bike paths. I followed these where I could, and in between these, I just followed my nose (well, GPS on the smart phone).

Brussels – Guise. 191km

Following a suggested Brussels-Mons bike route, I started day 2 being blown down the canal that joins Brussels with Charleroi and Mons in the south. I learnt more about how canals work and how they connect cities of quite different altitude. First you have sluices. You have huge ramps transporting goods uphill when no more sluices will do the job. You have aqueducts. And an amazing massive sluice like a cliff face in the landscape.
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So I was officially in the hills. In fact, I had been in them for a while, and the canal had allowed me experience beautiful hilly landscape without the effort. Leaving the canal between Mons and Charleroi saw me start what I would do a lot more of. Up and down and up again. Through villages, across pastures, and through forests. I was following my nose connecting the canal with the start of my downloaded Eurovelo route, before I hit a Belgium bike route – RAVeL – that ended up connecting with Eurovelo at the French border.

I crossed over into France and was welcomed with a beautiful sight. A wonderful bike path following a river, and the hope that such bike infrastructure would be with me all the way to Paris – a mere 250km away.

Promise of bike paradise

Promise of bike paradise

With the wind at my back, the kilometres rolling past along a serene river, I was thinking – is that all – I though Paris was further. I am going to get there in the early afternoon tomorrow. I will have time to do lots of sightseeing. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to cycle at least 180km today to only have 150km tomorrow (assuming Paris was indeed 250km from that sign). Well, I cycled 191km on day 2, and Paris was a lot further away that the planned 150km on day 3. The sign was more an indication that biking infrastructure is planned. In places it existed. Most of the time it didn’t. Maybe Paris was 250km from that sign. It certainly wasn’t the way I went.

Well, for those that are interested, there is a beautiful bike path from the Belgian border to Mauberge, there is a signposted route along normal roads (sometimes main roads) to another cycle path from Ferriere la Grande to Glageon. These were part of the voies vertes bike network in France. The route I followed to my endpoint in Guise was quite pleasant along little country roads. Guise itself is a cute little country town on the Oise river where I set up tent and devoured a big pizza.

Near Guise

Near Guise


What was originally going to be a continuation from last week’s cycle from Givet to Paris was thrown on its head when a friend from Brussels invited me over. I calculated, Paris should still be reachable with the first night in Brussels. The second and third days would be long, but the wind was blowing in the right direction, and I was motivated.

I needed a route to get me to Paris. I pasted one together using the bike node system in Flanders in Belgium,  a route I found from Brussels to Mons along a canal, and bits of eurovelo 3 that supposedly went to Paris and further. I threw the gear into the paniers and I was all set. This what I ended up cycling.

Eindhoven - Paris by bike

Eindhoven – Paris by bike

Day 1


Link to interactive map and gpx.

It’s always lovely cycling in the early morning along the canals in Belgium. A layer of mist hangs low over the water, steaming up into the skies. Birds chirp and the occasional one plops into the water out of my sight as I pass. The air was fresh – well, cold. I cycled fast to get the blood flowing, warm gloves on to slow down the freezing of my hands.

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Mother nature wanted me to get to Brussels quickly. I was blown down those canals and across those fields. It was wonderful. And the roads were quiet taking me through nature.

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I am rarely in this situation. I am going to get to my destination way ahead of time. The winds were too strong. 😉 Time to do the tourist rounds of Brussels before meeting with Kevin.

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Somewhat of a rarity on my bike trips, I finished around 5, but was in Brussels at 4. I could have a relaxing evening. We went for a nice dinner at a thai restaurant and had a chat. All ready and rested for the early start. Day 2 and 3 would have to be big to reach Paris!


Weekend cycles are good to get ready (mentally and physically) for my 2 month cycle to the North Cape in 6 weeks. This weekend I left my home in Eindhoven, touched French soil (in Givet), and returned to Namur in Belgium to catch the train home.

Eindhoven – Givet – Namur. Info and gpx download on EveryTrail

Flat and curvy is better than up and down, and up and down. This trip I followed the Maas River (which is flat and curvy), starting with passing through my favourite forest, then cycling along my favourite canal – a canal following the Maas on the Belgian side of the border.

Leendebos

Leendebos

The view over the canal following the Dutch - Belgian border

The view over the canal following the Dutch – Belgian border

Lovely island in the canal.

Lovely island in the canal.

I had chosen to cycle south as the wind was blowing that way. When I have no concrete destination in mind – cycle where the wind blows. I will have enough headwinds cycling to the North Cape.

After Maastricht (well, skirting around it), I entered new territory. Castles, fields and a beautiful river – the Maas (Meuse).

Border post

Border post

Castle at the Dutch-Belgian border

Castle at the Dutch-Belgian border

Meuse at Liege

Meuse at Liege

When the road was nice, it was very nice – bike paths and no cars. In Belgium (Wallonie), the cycle network is not connected. So.. When it was not nice, it was not nice. Busy roads, loud. Not fun.

I had booked a room in a castle in Huy – between Liege and Maastricht on the Maas. It was a lovely castle with friendly, helpful staff. They gave me a great tip for a cycle route the next day. And, it had an interesting view – looking out over the nuclear reactor on the other side of the street.

Domaine Du Chateau de la Neuville

Domaine Du Chateau de la Neuville

Bedroom with my bike

Bedroom with my bike

Lovely view

Lovely view

In Wallonie (the french speaking part of Belgium), they have the RAVeL network (Reseau Autonome des Voies Lents) – ravel.wallonie.be. These are separate bike roads, no cars in sight (usually), passing leisurely through the countryside. I first discovered these when I crossed the border into Belgium (there was a big sign explaining the system). In Huy, I was suggested to go on the Ligne 126 to Ciney. This followed an old train track, passing up a beautiful valley, through forests, and through a high area above the valley. And, as it followed an old train line, it was not steep. And it was empty. Beautiful.

Abandoned train station on Ligne 126

Abandoned train station on Ligne 126

Fields

Fields

Reaching the end of the path, I had to make my way uphill and down dale to the Meuse. The landscape away from the Meuse is undulating, and then a sudden steep drop to the river. Fun to cycle down, but once you’re down, its hard to leave the valley. The steep sides of the Meuse River made for some lovely cycling. I passed vertical rockfaces covered with rock climbers. Looked like fun.

Vertical cliffs on the Meuse

Vertical cliffs on the Meuse

Vertical cliffs on the Meuse

Vertical cliffs on the Meuse

View from above.

View from above.

Dinant

Dinant

The goal of the trip was to step over into France. I did.

France

France

And then cycled back to Namur to catch the train.

I learned some stuff about my equipment, remembered stuff I learned cycling in Norway last year, and remembered how important it is to cycle along a scenic road, with little traffic, and a good surface. On this trip I discovered that:

  • My phone backup batteries can discharge if something is pressing on them in the bag – at least that is my theory why they were both discharged on the last day.
  • Just like following the curves of a fjord in Norway, following the curves of the Maas River is better than taking a ‘short cut’. I learned in Norway to get mentally prepared for all places where the road deviated from the coast. Last weekend I learned that the Maas River has steep banks.
  • Unfortunately, longish stretches of cobblestones in the RAVeL network made the busy road that I was avoiding seem appealing. But then, lots of roadworks on the RAVeL routes forced me to take the main roads, after which I dreamed of hitting the cobblestones again.

My last training trip before the big, exciting trip in Norway next week. It was a perfect day for cycling. The weather forecast was for 25C and partly cloudy. I got up before the crack of dawn to be able to cycle in the cool stillness of the early morning. A serene time of the day.

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It was cool and hardly a breath of wind as I passed through fields, sleeping villages and green green forests. The Malpie marshy nature reserve was alive with birds squawking as they circled over the water looking for fish. And then I joined my favourite canal in Belgium: the one I run along when I run to Weert. This time I was to follow it all the way to Maastricht.

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The sun rose in the sky, but I stayed in the beautiful shade under the leafy trees that lined the side of the canal. A head wind picked up but was nothing compared to my slog along the coast in Belgium a month ago.
I arrived at Maastricht at 11:30 and had a nice lunch on the main square in the sun.

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It was time to rest in the hottest part of the day, and I made it to a swimming spot on the Maas and lay there and read, going for periodic swims until 15:30. The last part of the trip was going to be hilly, and I didn’t want to do it at the hottest time of day.

I made my way to Aachen along the lovely scenic but very up and down route that hugs the border with Belgium. Holland does have some steep hills and some cute little villages tucked in cosy valleys. Epe and Slenaken are like this, and are very pretty.
I stopped at the famous huge ice cream place in Epe. They were busy, a hoard of cyclists having just arrived.

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I got the third size of ice cream from a total of 7. They have 1, 2 scoops, giant, mega, giga, ultra, and super ultra.

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Some dark clouds crossed the sky, for which I was grateful. I could climb my way up to the Vaals ‘mountain’ – the highest mountain in the Netherlands – in shade. It is at the point where the borders with Belgium and Germany meet. From there it was all downhill (as I know a route that is like this) all the way to Cristina’s place, situated at the lowest point in Aachen.
The whole family will cycle a bit tomorrow. A pleasant day excursion.