Belgium and the Flanders-Wallonia border
11th – 17th November 2015
From wild camping to a very Belgium Warm Showers: 11th November
I started the day around 7.30am, appreciating yet another mild winter’s day. Like yesterday, I put together a fine feast. This time it was last night’s pasta topped with two fried eggs, coffee and chocolate for dessert. I washed the Trangia in the leaves and moss again and gradually packed away my life onto the bicycle. It is a bit like tidying up the playroom at home. When everything is out of the playroom cupboards and you look around the room and see spaces have been are created, corners have been defined, every item has its purpose and accompaniments. The lego castle dominates the lego village, overspilling onto the toy cars lined up in metres of traffic jam along the cream woollen carpet, the Duplo unused today takes up another space which becomes almost invisible in the room, ignored until defined. Somehow, all these spaces can fold up neatly bit by bit into the playroom cupboards leaving the cream carpet pleasingly empty. I fold up my kitchen with its cooker, table, crockery and cutlery, my bedroom with its bed, bedside table, night light and book, my office with my laptop and camera, my living room with my mat and reading light. They all fold up onto a small, two-wheeled machine and are rolled away leaving an empty space, suddenly devoid of purpose.
It was around 10am that I left the now undefined carpet of damp mossy grass at the end of a long strip of lawn outside the campsite in Aubencheul-au-Bac. I rolled guiltily passed the gardener of the campsite for fear he would see me and question what I was doing in the field next to the closed campsite. I continued in the next village just 200m up to road to see not one but two signs for campsites, one of which I could see and was most definitely open. So much for needed to wild camp last night! Ha!
I continued for another few kilometres before reaching Aniche. It was getting close to 11am and I passed the square where the locals, a small brass band and the odd few ex-soldiers were readying themselves for the 11th November remembrance day parade. I decided to hang about and follow the parade which led me in a circle around the village. For the people at the back of the parade, I seemed to draw more attention that the parade itself.
The middle of the day was tainted by getting rather lost and ending up added a fair few unnecessary kilometres. It’s funny having chosen to cycle around the world, happy to cycle anywhere between 40 and 140km in a day, happy to detour anywhere to visit a friend, happy to take on hills and wind and rain, but ask me to go a single kilometre back on myself and I throw a grump. Having refused to return this kilometre I thus got entirely lost and added at around 10km to my day. Mph. Stupid cycling.
I arrived nonetheless happily to the Belgian-French border. Unlike the Spanish-French border, it was slightly clearer. There was an enormous church on the horizon for a start, which indicated the entrance to Belgium. There were also several policeman stopping ‘random’ cars (by which I mean lone black or asian men). I felt like this was more of a country border and decided to celebrate with a coffee and a chocolate pancake.
GOODBYE FRANCE I’M GOING TO MISS YOU!
I arrived 20km later at precisely 17h (first time I have ever been on time arriving anywhere on this trip!) at the Warm Showers. I was greeted by Delphine, a kind faced Belgian lady who runs her own osteopath clinic in a nearby town. She introduced me to Yann, her husband, who works with environmental affairs relating to local farms. They have three children: Léon (around 9), Achilles (around 5) and Gaston (4 months old).
I enjoyed some English lessons with the eldest son, Achilles. I also enjoyed the ability of children to engage with new comers as if they had always known me, as noted by Yann.
From the Warm Showers family to Beth Doyle in Brussels going via some cobbled muurs of Belgium: 12th November
I breakfast on waffles and brown sugar, seemingly the norm for a Belgian breakfast. The children were already packed off to their Steiner school, which was 40km away so they left quite early. I was chuffed to hear that Achilles had been really excited today because he had an English lesson that day and was going to tell his teacher all about meeting me and speaking in English. Yann, the father, headed to work, then Delphine, the mother, left with baby Gaston around 9.30am. They very kindly said I could stay a little and get some writing done, so I stayed and used their Internet until about 11.20am then took to my bike and was away.
A day of glorious sunshine!
I could hardly believe the weather in the middle of November. About 10km into the day, I decided to have lunch and I found myself sitting in a field under pure blue skies. I sat eating baguette, avocado, camembert and tomato under a glorious November sun. I also noted the Christian cross on the farm crossroads where I had chosen to sit and thought again how incidentally religious the trip kept turning out to be.
I continued another 15km, which took me across the border from the Walloon Region to Flanders. The first town I reached had an appropriate level of Flemish about it. And in Geraardsbergen I found my first cobblestone ‘muur’, the Flemish word for wall. The cobblestone walls are stretches of cobblestone roads that are used in cycle races such as the “Ronde” and the “Tour de Flanders”. After cycling up one of these muurs through Geraardsbergen I head out again into the countryside.
I saw a hill ahead of me and starting mentally preparing. What I didn’t expect was that the muurs were also to be found out in the countryside too. Ahead of me was a 9% cobbled incline. I pushed and pulled the vibrating bicycle up the Bosberg climb (in three minutes and seven seconds, the record on Strava being fifty seven seconds!) and reached the top. (A quick look on Strava later let me know than I came 7052nd up the hill! Perhaps I’m not yet ready for the women’s Tour de Flanders. Next year eh?)
I continued onwards following small farmers roads, past more piles of sugar beet and bumpy Belgian roads. It seems most of the country lanes are made from slabs of concrete about three metres long. Between these slabs, of course, there is a join. So every three metres you are treated to a gentle bump. After about 40km you start to wonder if you’ve shaken the screws loose on your bike.
I made it to the outskirts of Brussels by 4pm. I had set to meet Beth at 4.30pm outside her flat in Ixelles, south of Brussels city centre. I knew the route took me into the city centre and out again and the GPS suggested I had about 10km to her front door. My brain clicked into cycle messenger gear and I was off. Soaring along the Brussels-Charleroi Canal cycle path and turning right into the city centre, passing Central Station, curving up past the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, bumping along a cobbled street before heading south out of the city up the Rue de Namur hill and finally reaching number 12, Rue de Hennin at 4.40pm. I hadn’t eaten or drunk nearly enough to complete the last 20km but the inner city speed cycling had pumped me with adrenaline.
After a hug, a shower, a catch up, meeting Beth’s Quebecois boyfriend JS and a dinner of pasta rolled around spinach, feta and squash, we head to bed.