Upon arrival in Zeebrugge we left the ferry terminal and my mind almost imploded attempting to turn left at a roundabout in the right-hand lane. After getting our bearings we soon joined the fietsnetwork, an intricate group of bike paths that span the majority of Belgium. Its was beautiful riding on another hot day, the frequent turns and map checking made for slow progress though. The first evening was to be spent in Gent which was only about a 40 mile ride even after going round the houses a little bit even detouring in the Netherlands for a couple of miles. One thing I will say about the suburbs in this region is that alot of effort has gone into the homes and street layout, with barely a thing looking out of place or rundown, lots of idyllic pretty towns.
Flat as a pancake all the way to Gent we coasted most the way, I shouldn’t need my bottom cog until we get closer to the Ardennes. We found the campsite which was part of a larger sports complex that included park, tennis courts, swimming pool etc. Gent is home to some mind blowing medieval architecture, the next morning we could have spent hours gawping up at the spires of St. Nicholas’ Church. It quickly became apparent a fry up breakfast is not going to be had on the continent. As substitute however the immense choice of pastries for 1 Euro each holds us up pretty good past lunch.
In Belgium, bicycles seem to cross infront of cars without warning and have right of way. We have found on several occasions whilst standing slightly lost by the roadside that cars have stopped in anticipation of us crossing the road only to cause a line of cars to be queued up, oops! Every road is sidelined by a bike lane, you really cannot take a turn onto a bad road because even the buisest have the dedicated lanes. Thats not just in the cities either, we rode a quick 35 miles without a turn from Gent to Antwerp on the N70, a primary road, with a perfect bike path the entire route.
On Wednesday we were staying with my friend Wim in Mortsel, a suburb south-east of Antwerp-centrum. We had spent a month on the road together back in 2010 and I hadn’t seen him since. After he had finished work he gave us a brief tour of Antwerp by bicycle followed by a sample of the local brew, De Koninck.
Back at Wim’s place he proceeded to bestow us with the most amazing hospitality we could only have dreamed of. Wim is an experienced bicycle tourer so he knew just how to please and also how much we appreciated his geneoristy. Firstly dishing up some fine BBQ and much needed salad which was accompanied by a refreshing mojito with leaves snipped from his patch. He then pulled out the big guns (Joe Meyer, I hope your taking note for when we hit Pittsburgh), first an extra blond bier, Vedett, followed by a blue Chimay Trappiste. At this point the strong Belgium beer was beginning to hit, we had already had several that afternoon. The final showstopper was a Rochefort 10, an 11.3% monster dark as the night.
That was just about enough to knock us out cold after an amazing night with Wim and Anka sharing memories and talking about Belgium brilliance. I thought about how my decision to go on the previous tour had led to mine and Wim’s meeting resulting in this great evening. I can only hope that everybody else I meet is as awesome as Wim and Anka, thanks guys I owe you one.