After two days of clean, safe, tidy, flat and yes, really rather dull, Belgian cycle paths I set off for the rolling hills of Germany, climbing out of Maastricht. And it was great! Great to be back on real roads on changing terrain with hills, woods, towns, villages and vineyards. A day of proper riding and it felt good.
The evening was spent at Daddy O's in Koblenz where conversation again turned to travel. The conclusion of the Germans I was talking to however was that whilst other countries were fine to visit, only a fool would actually live anywhere other than Germany.
The first few miles were fast and flowing before crossing the river on the ferry into Antwerp. In the middle of the day the wind finally turned against me as I rode down the Albertkanaal. I have a particular aversion to canal cycle paths. I understand why people like them, they're safe and by definition flat but they really get boring after a while and you are isolated from the real world of the place that you are passing through. The Albertkanaal was duller than most.
Luckily, perhaps, the Belgian summer road repairing season saved me from the tedium of the canal as repair works forced me to reroute onto real roads which was frankly a bit of a relief. Multiple reroutings later (they were repairing both roads and cycle paths all over) I was somewhat less less fond of rerouting. At least they look after their cycle infrastructure I guess.
My final destination was Maastricht in the little bit of the Netherlands that juts out inbetween Belgium and Germany, home of the Maastricht Treaty and the resulting Euro currency.
Most of the evening was spent in Cafe Zondag where conversation ranged over the purposes and philosophy of travel - as in many smaller countries, people in Holland love to travel - and the iniquities of the historical footballing failures of both the English and the Dutch exacerbated by the upsetting number of German World Cup victories.
I don't know Belgium very well but whenever I pass through I immediately know I'm there as everything turns brown (and beige and grey). Houses and cars all seem to be in tasteful but rather dull muted tones. I'm not saying that Belgium is boring, I don't know it well enough to say and there may be all kinds of crazy stuff going on behind the beige doors but aestheticaly, they're not really doing much to counter the stereotype.
The flatness of the terrain and the quality of the cycle paths made for a very pleasant but not overly exciting ride, which was probably for the best given my lack of riding in the months prior to the trip. After passing through Brugge I ended up in Zelzate, a small town north of Ghent. It's an industrial town, mainly steel and chemical factories.
The only bar in town closed at about 9.30pm so a quick beer, a short chat and an early night ensued, which probably wasn't a bad thing.
A simple first day down familiar roads, weaving out of London on the Q1, although I took the direct route to Dover through Canterbury rather than my preferred route looping round the coast to make sure that I made the ferry.
After a quiet start the evening was spent in listening to music and pleasant conversation with Dom and friends, discussing music, channel tunnel engineering and triathlon, among many things. Thanks for all the drinks! I didn't suffer too much the next day as, as predicted, the wind was indeed at my back.
I'll be heading out from London in a couple of days so stay tuned. I haven't ridden the bike for over six months and there's 2300 miles over 100,000 feet of climbing to come so let's see how that works out!