France and Belgium

After a slightly rocky start I was hoping for some smoother cycling over on the continent, and the north coast of France and Belgium certainly delivered, I didn’t see a single hill for three days after crossing the channel. I have never known anything like it! Miles whizzed effortlessly beneath my tyres as I soaked up the long awaited sunshine. I spent a couple of days cycling along canals and have learnt that these are golden opportunities for cyclists that are not to be missed. Water can’t flow uphill so if you stick close to the banks neither can you!

The ghent-osteend canal. A cyclists paradise

I was joined by my parents for the first few days on foreign soil. They drove between the campsites and I joined them in the evenings. They also ‘camped’ although their version of camping does not fit with my usual defenition of the activity. On most usual kit lists for camping you might expect to find a lighter, fork, bowl, a stool if you’re lucky. My parents have kettle, doormat and even a fridge on theirs. In fact my mother was a little concerned about this trip as it would be the first time she has camped without a duvet. Heaven forbid! I’m pretty sure she was contemplating axing one of my panniers from the boot when I wasn’t looking to make space for more bedding.

Posh camping

However I cannot complain about the camping high life as for three days I woke up to a cup of tea in bed, sorely missed as a lone camper. In fact the one day I spent camping on my own during my parents visit was a real let down in comparison when after colleting some delicious vegetables during the days cycle I got to camp and realised I had brought the wrong camping gas back in the UK. It was a cheese sandwich and an early night for me. 

I spent a rest day in Brugges with Mum and Dad where we took the opportunity to sample some of the local delicacies including frites, ribs (maybe not local but delicious) and plenty of beers. 

‘Cultural’ beer tasting
Enjoying the frites

Dad and I undertook some routine bike maintenance before they left during which I uncovered a worrying problem, one of the legs of my pannier rack had snapped in two. Not ideal when the shops would be closed for the next two days (honestly who thought closing shops on Mondays was a good idea?!). It was here that I learnt the magical power of duct tape and with some strategic strapping my rack made it the 150km to Brussels where I could upgrade to a heftier version capable of carrying the rather monstrous weight of my luggage. 

Precision duct taping

After a celebratory waffle in Ghent I parted ways with my parents, anxious but excited to start the adventure proper. That evening I was to stay with my first warmshowers host Klaas. I knew nothing about Klaas apart from his name and address which is a slightly unnerving way to start an evening. However when a smiley guy who looked a similar age to me opened the door I felt immediately at ease. 

Sadly I don’t take after my mother when it comes to elegance
Klaas pretending to cook

Klaas admitted to not being a keen chef so I relished the opportunity to cook us some halloumi pasta whilst he made sure we were hydrated with his extensive beer collection. This is a man who knows his beverages as he had a gin and tonic matrix on the fridge, a three dimensional table used to find the optimum combination of gin, tonic and garnish. Unfortunately he was out of tonic so we stuck to beer.

Thank you Klaas for a great first warmshowers experience!

The next day I was to cycle to Brussels. An hour into my journey you had to take a short boat ride across the river. The driver was on his lunch break so I had a drink with two other girls who were also waiting to cross. Yasmine and Emma were also cycling to Brussels that day so we teamed up, great for me as it drastically reduced the chances of getting lost. It also meant I had great company for the afternoon. 

World’s shortest boat trip with Yasmine and Emma

They were kind enough to offer me a sofa to sleep on that evening so upon arriving in Brussels we settled down to for a beer or two. We were joined by two of their friends and one beer turned to many followed by Thai food before heading to their friend maximes house around midnight, barely able to keep our eyes open (tiredness not alcohol). 

Beers with Belgians
Visiting the apparently greatest monument in Brussels on the way home. The peeing boy

I have been overwhelmed by how open and friendly the Belgian people have been. Interstingly nearly all of them have asked me my opinion on Brexit. I am pleased to say that as of yet I have not received any hostility for being British and most young people in Belgium seem to feel a similar sadness about the situation as I do. They often make jokes about Brussels being a ‘hell hole’ in reference to the comment Trump made on his visit after the attacks earlier in the year. Trump must have visited a different area to me as I don’t think that could be further from the truth.

The next day I woke up early as I had three days to get to Luxembourg. It was pretty hard to tell how far that would be but it looked a long way on the map. After picking up some maps and having breakfast in the magnificent central square I was on my way. 

Breakfast a la Brussels

Next followed three huge days of cycling, 85km, 110k  and 116km respectively. I had a warmshowers host arranged for the third day and had slightly underestimated the distance.

On the first night I put my ‘magic letter’ to the test. Esssentially a note in the language of the country I am visiting explaining who I am and asking if I can camp in their garden. On this instance it really was magic as the family I gave it to went above and beyond and offered for me to sleep in their house and to eat dinner with them. Marie, Lois and Rebecca were absolutely lovely, and although there was a slight language barrier we managed to get to know each other a little and I had a fun hour playing catch with the youngest daughter Lois. 

Enjoying dinner together

The cycling on the second day was really tough with lots of hills that I wasn’t used to after the first few days of pancake flat terrain. I had been hoping to go further but the day had been really wet and after 110km I gave up and found a lovely campsite. Fortunately the sun came out for the evening and I was invited to join a campfire with a Danish couple, an artist and a rock musician who made very interesting company!

Sheltering from the rain

After a cold night I knew I had to get up early and make good progress if I wanted to get to Luxembourg for the evening. I stuck to some main roads in the morning to get some quick miles under my belt and was pleased to find that in Luxembourg the hills eased a little and with thanks to their excellent network of traffic free cycle routes I made it to Luxembourg in good time albeit completely exhausted! 

Some Belgian scenery
And I suppose that makes me up to date. Tonight I am staying with warmshowers hosts guillame and Kathy, who already had plans with friends so have given me free reign of their kitchen and the chance to have a good cup of tea!

Don’t get me wrong, there have been a couple of low moments, mainly when it’s not sunny and I realise I took a wrong turn a while back and have to turn around. Or when it’s 6pm and I can’t find an open shop and all I’ve eaten since lunch is an apple and a cereal bar. But these are minor problems which can easily be fixed by a blast from the extraordinary Lucy Arnold bike play list (or by finding an open carrefour).

Over the next few days I will meander between France and Germany as I make my way down to Switzerland. I am interested to see what the next few weeks have in store but right now I can truly say that I cannot think of a better way to travel.

Until next time,

Bonne Nuit x 

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