River Meuse

River Meuse

Namur! What a difference and a breath of fresh air, lifts, a lovely modern station and a very nice town. I managed to take my bike in a glass lift from the platform to the concourse, had a look round and then squeezed into a smaller glass lift to the street, very pleasant. I visited the new tourist information office to the left as you exit the station, next to Starbucks. They hadn’t got a clue but were full of apologies, they did suggest Maison Des Cyclistes which was on the right of the station exit.

This narrow glass booth was a repair and hire shop, the young man on duty this Sunday was Jeremy, I asked about maps, he said no problem, I then asked about headset bearings and we spent the next hour changing the bearings, fitting bar ends, adjusting the back wheel and setting the gears. I left with a full set of spare bearings, maps and the directions to a campsite €20 the lot.

I followed the river as instructed crossed the stone bridge and continued for several miles. I even spotted a nice wild camping spot, so stayed in a wood near the road which was fairly quite until 22:00 and then nothing until 07:00 or I was just fast asleep. The only problem was I was unorganized, it took too long to set up the tarp and hammock and I spent 30 minutes tying branches back to create some camouflage. It seemed to rain all night and I had to pack up in the rain which I’m not keen on. Getting out of the wood was harder than getting in as the bank was wet and steep, so I just held on to the bike and went with it.

I cycled along the N92 towards Danient, not knowing if it was the correct route but it was extremely scenic and followed the river Meuse. Once the rain had gone I stopped on the river bank near a church which was on the opposite side of the river, there were geese passing overhead as I propped my bike against a fence to take some photos, It was overcast and chilly but I thought the rain had ended for the day so I put the solar charger on my rack. I continued along the river bank for several miles and even stopped at a lock to watch a boat go through, across the river there was a steep cliff and I noticed a team of climbers attempting an ascent. As I was watching life go by it started to rain so I sheltered under the lock keepers tower until it passed. The river Meuse is very picturesque and the cycle path goes all the way to Danient, only a few kilometers to go the heavens opened and I had to shelter under a road bridge, I was there at least an hour before it stopped and was joined by a group of cyclists who all seemed to have the latest bikes and panniers, I was a little jealous and felt like a hobo.

Danient is at the base of a cliff with an unusual cathedral and above the cathedral on the top of the cliff are the walls of the old city and a castle, there is a cable car which takes you to the top. I resisted a ride to the top as I had nowhere to put my bike and my budget is not going well. I pushed the bike along the river through the city and asked 2 old dears who were crossing the bridge to take my photo, they agreed but as I posed for my portrait in Danient on the bridge which crosses the Meuse river my chosen photographer raised her own camera to her eye, it took me several attempts to persuade her to use my camera. I think the confusion was we had exactly the same cameras but mine had a different lens on, funny moment though.

That night I stayed at the Villatoile campsite which was a mistake, it was very expensive €19, was full of noisy kids and was the venue for rock climber, kayakers and general outdoor courses but I needed to dry my gear and I was knackered. I pitched near the cows at the back of the site who came over to say hello and could hear a fast flowing stream nearby. I dried my stuff, setup camp and went to buy some snacks. I bought jus De pommes, 2 bread rolls some sliced cheese, 2 small waffles and crisps. €9 ouch! I headed back to the tent, had a little picnic and fell asleep.

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Sore Ribs

Train Grafitti

I had a relativity good night sleep but woke with sore ribs from the fall. The weather outside the tent was windy in the early hours with some showers, I got up at 09:00 and went to the shower block to freshen up and hoped a hot shower would relive the aches and pains. The sky was very overcast and dark so I made a coffee before deciding whether to move on. I packed slowly taking almost 2 hours and was tempted to get a train south as my ribs were really sore and I’m grumpy. I decided to continue my journey.

The second I set off it rained, luckily I had already put my waterproofs on. Ha! I rode towards a draw bridge knowing I had to cross it. Cycling along the river bank I saw lots of fishermen and noticed that you were allowed to water ski and jet ski here. Once I found the ramp to get up on the bridge I followed the Brussels road. I spotted a Quicks (Wimpy), I went in and had a Maxi Burger (which never are maxi) and fried cheese balls as I’d only had a coffee for breakfast. It was still raining outside so I took my time. As the weather was so bad, my ribs were sore and I wasn’t enjoying Belgium I headed for Vilvoorde railway station.

The ticket office was being looked after by Malak and her mum, Malak was sitting on her mums knee pushing the buttons on the keyboard, she seemed to know to check with her parental boss when, it looked like good teamwork. She wrote her name in my journal, the ticket was €10.50 for me and €5 for the bike. The Belgium train network is not geared up for bikes, no lift, I looked for a lift through the tunnel with stairs leading upwards to the platforms, no luck. I carried my bike up 2 flights of stairs the 2nd flight with the help from a stranger. The platform looked like something from a black and white movie, if a steam train passed it wouldn’t look out-of-place, apart from the rust it could have been 1930 over again. The stranger pointed out it was a very old station and I had to go via Brussels north to get to my destination Namur.

When the train did arrive it was old rolling stock, think cold war movie. I walked towards the guard at the rear of the train and he nodded his head to the carriage he was at, I struggled to get the bike up the 4 steps onto the train. Five minutes later we arrived at Brussels north, this time a French guy who was on the platform helped me with the bike get off the train. At Brussels north the lifts didn’t work, another slow step by step down off the platform. I found platform 7 the one for Namur but this time I just took my bike on the escalator holding the brakes.

I waited 20 minutes for my train, the station was rough, graffiti everywhere including the trains. There were some backpackers sat on a bench with their pop up tents. When the train arrived it passed me with no sign of which carriage was for cycles, so I went to the last one and climbed the 4 stairs in the doorway. The carriage was empty so I stood in the doorway with my bike, an hour later I was in Namur.

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Belgium Waffles

Belgium port

Once I had escaped the grips of the forest I headed into Brussels town, my aim was to get to see the atomium. I popped into a bus shelter to look at the map and figure the route out, it turns out I was very close and after a short incline it was down hill most of the way. I found myself a sign with Brussels on it, so did a bit of filming and as the sky had gone a horrible shade of grey I knew I needed to find shelter and quickly. I passed another bus shelter but this one was full of people all looking up at the sky, no room for a fully laden bike and it’s rider, I pushed on and found a shop with a canopy, the shop was called Finitro, I stayed there until the worst of the downpour had finished. I then move to a nearby bus shelter,  it was still raining, both the bike and I was covered in mud and filthy. I took the tent off the bike and sat on it for the next 2 hours in a bus shelter in Oude Afspanning, Brussels. I charged my GoPro and Tablet from the Power Monkey battery pack.

Once the rain had stopped and the sun was out I followed a tramway to the Atomium, I’d never thought I would be stood here next to this monument, there were tourists everywhere and a queue at a waffles van, so I propped the bike on the back of the van and joined the queue.  The sign on the van said warm waffles which I thought was excellent as no one could accuse the waffle seller of breaking the trades description act. “My waffles not hot”. ” read the sign and move on” perfect. The seller was called Richard and when I went for my second waffle we had a bit of banter, that I had cycled from London to buy one, well two of his waffles, Richard would also like to move to London, so next time your there keep an eye open for Richard and his warm waffle van.

There was a tight rope across two of the highest atoms of the structure. (I won’t say balls) and a tight rope walker sat on the rope at one end, I watched for 20 or so minutes but all he did was stand up and sit back down again. Either too windy or some extreme way to train new staff. Later as I was further away heading to the Brussels expo centre there were people absailing down from the top ball to the middle ball. I would hate to have to clean the windows on that thing.

Close to the expo centre was the Alliance hotel, I was filthy and knackered so thought I’d check the rate, which didn’t matter as it was full, Fatima Hidea the duty manager was very good and allowed me to use the facilities to have an all over wash, clean my teeth and shave. I left the Alliance hotel feeling very refreshed.

As I write this it’s pouring down with rain but I’m in my tent. I tightened my panniers and headed towards a campsite, saw the sign for the Dowe Egbert coffee factory and passed a bike shop. The site was close to a sports complex and was quite small but it had everything I needed and was cheap. I slept from 17:00 until 21:20 then went to the site office to pay my bill, I hadn’t eaten so bought 2 bags of crisps, I slept again from 22:30 until 06:00 then rolled over and slept until 08:00.
I woke up achy and hungry so had a wander around then made porridge and coffee. The sun was out so I put the solar panel up, met a family from Bath who had been touring Europe camping. Later mum and the kids were walking close by and the young girl about 5 ish knew plants by name and saw a dragon.

I decided to stay another night and rest, had noodles for lunch then spent an hour or so sorting the tent out. I changed the shock cord as a few of the originals had broken or come undone. I lay in the tent all afternoon either sorting video clips out or snoozing. The wind had picked up and it had showered on and off, so not a day to be outside. I discovered a power socket in the shower block and charged the battery pack but it was incredibly slow. So when the sun finally came out I cleaned the bike, bent the front cog back into place, cleaned the chain and indexed the gears.

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Continue Straight On!

Corn Field

Continue Straight On!

But it’s a corn field, now I knew the navigation App was set to keep me off busy roads and aim for cycle paths but a corn field, okay there was a path and it had bike tracks on, so perhaps it was a short cut (by the way if a short cut is shorter why isn’t it just they way). What happened over the next 2 hours was going to be one of those life lessons.

1. As a man I admit I don’t ask directions, after all I’m in Belgium and don’t really speak the lingo.

2. Turning back was not an option, after all I wanted adventure, plus I had watch Bear Grylls on Netflix.

Cycling through the corn field was fine I just stayed in the middle of the track on the hump that’s created when tractors go up and down. In fact at one point I had huge corn on one side and a field of Brussels sprouts on the other and had to chuckle that I was actually in Brussels as well as near Brussels. I turned right and was parallel to a busy motorway and the track turned to grass with narrow bike tracks cut into it, I made the error of trying to ride in one of these grooves, got stuck and came off the bike with a big thud, I landed awkward on my side bruising a rib or two (still hurts a week later). I picked myself and the bike up, reattached the panniers and continued on foot. This was the point of no return but with hindsight I most definitely should have turned back. The big clue that I should have returned the way I came was a guy covered in mud on a BMX bike flying past me shouting something in what I can only assume to be French or Flemish, I couldn’t translate it so continued on.

This is probably time to view the video as my description may not be as good!

I had managed to get myself onto a Pro BMX track, think steep hills in a forest with mud everywhere. Remember 20 mins ago it had pissed it down. I went under the motorway and it got worse, at one point I came out of the forest onto the hard shoulder of the motorway and walked against the traffic to a clearing where I could see someone jogging. Luckily I didn’t get caught or killed. I managed to find an information board with a map of the forest and BMX track on and walked out into a lovely park. At last I had arrived in Brussels.

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Sleeping in a Car Wash!

Car Wash

Sleeping in a Car Wash!

I could see lightning in the distance and hear the thunder, it was already raining and I had a feeling the weather was going to get worse. I was on the main road heading out-of-town when the lightning was directly above me and the thunder was really loud, up ahead I could see the lights of a petrol station and knew I would have to take shelter,  as I approached the wind picked up and it started to rain heavily.

I pulled into what was an automatic petrol station with no staff, it had a jet wash bay which was covered so I sheltered there. I watched the rain bouncing off the floor for at least 30 mins I even got my ground sheet out to wrap around me as I was cold. Another 30 mins past and the rain kept coming down, as it was midnight I decided just to sleep against the wall in the jet wash. I got my sleeping mat and sleeping bag out, lay my bike on its side and curled up under the ground sheet. I had a terrible nights sleep mainly because I could be seen by anyone entering the petrol station. I did nod off but only slept for an hour or so. I packed up about 06:30 as I was freezing. I rode to Asse which should be renamed Ass because everything was closed and I couldn’t get any food.

I followed a cycle path which led me to a farm where a noisy dog started to chase me, I wasn’t in the mood and shouted at the dog which made it worse, so I ended up turning back. I stopped at a farm gate and decided to get my stove out to make coffee and porridge, luckily I managed to eat it and start to pack everything away before it pissed it down. I just pulled my ground sheet over my head until it stopped. I loaded the bike and noticed the chain had come off, so took all my gear off to fix it.

I had set my navigation App to local roads which is proving to take too long and I was about to pay the price.

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Nico the Bus Driver


Nico the Bus Driver

I cycled for about an hour and a half before arriving at Kerk in Spiere just after the Belgium border, not that you notice borders in Europe, apparently they have an arrangement. I stopped in a parade close to a wonderful old church, the sun was out and I needed to dry my gear. I stripped the bike, lay my tarp out to dry and adjusted the handle bars, seat and rear wheel, then had to adjust the gears again. I was in a good mood and wasn’t in any rush. A bus pulled into the parade and the driver came over, in fact everyone who passed me stopped for a chat but the bus driver, whose name was Nico was especially chatty and helpful. He stops here for 7 mins then drives for 50 mins waits 15 mins at the other end then comes back, he does this from 08:00 until 15:00 having lunch at the 15 min end of his run. He told me that Kerk was normally quite but as it was the school holidays it was even quieter, he had only 12 or so people on his bus that morning.

After Nico had set off I made porridge, coffee, washed up the pots and pans, washed and shaved and got changed. I was there that long that Nico returned for another chat, he’s married with 2 children and we swapped email addresses to keep in touch. When I did set off following the main road I rested in a bus stop after about an hour, at Toekomstratt and Nico drove past in his bus No:85, beeping his horn and waving, such a nice guy.

I rode for far too long as I was exhausted, I came across a lovely town called Oudenaarde, I cycled through the square and filmed the fantastic architecture.

Belgium seems to be taking forever, perhaps it’s the saddle sore. I continued to Asst to look for somewhere to sleep, a motel would be good. I followed a canal thinking there would be somewhere along the bank I could sleep. I tried a spot in the wood but it was next to a motorway and had tall weeds and thorn bushes so I moved on, my arse is really sore and I’m getting grumpy as I can’t find anywhere quiet or dry. I cycled to a lock and an industrial estate but there were lots of guard dogs, so I rearranged my panniers so I could setup camp quickly when I did find somewhere. I had to backtrack along the canal for about 30 mins until I was at a sports complex, I was tempted to pitch camp on the football field but it started to rain, so I waited under a tree until it eased and pushed on.

I could hear thunder and see lightning in the distance it was about 11pm when I got caught in another storm and had to make a quick decision.

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