Electric Dreams

We started this section by having a day off in Namur, Belgium. It felt like ages since we’d had one, and it was good just to rest our legs and drink beer without worrying if we’d cycle into the river. Namur is that nice balance of not enough to do to entice tourists, but enough to do for a couple of cyclists taking a day off. We were drinking outside a tavern, when a woman sitting next to us was very insistently trying to talk to us in Flemish, and it took a while to realise that she had served us in a cafe earlier and had recognised us and wanted to say hello. Her companion, with the help of his phone, translated the history of the tavern, how it had been given to the workers who had built the nearby church, and how proud they were of it. They also had an insanely large beer menu, of which we only had four.

We went north out of Belgium, following the EuroVelo 19 route from around Namur to Roermond in The Netherlands. The section up until just outside Huy is lovely and picturesque. After that it becomes a purely industrial landscape, with large sections of the cycle path removed, and the diversions not always obvious. If this section is just utilitarian for you, then it’s fine. It’s mostly flat, save for railway and road bridges. But if you’re planning on using your precious annual leave on a cycling holiday in this area, then avoid it.

Once past Maastricht, the power stations and piles of aggregate eased off, and the scenery was quite pretty, in a canal kind of way. We were riding into the prevailing wind though, and some sections are very open and exposed, plus the industrial dust is much worse in the wind. It was strength sapping and a bit disheartening. We were getting demoralised that so many cyclists were passing us, some of them easily, until we noticed that they all had electric bikes, which we started to eye with envy.

In Ohé en Laak, we met with a friend from home, Paul. It was very kind of him to come out of his way, and good for us to see a friendly face. Unfortunately he confirmed that absolutely everything shuts on Sundays and holidays in Germany, as it had done in Belgium and the Netherlands. Not the best news with a national holiday that weekend and us running short of supplies. We’ve also met some other cyclists at campsites in the Netherlands – a Danish guy who is riding to Spain and back over the summer because he wants to see Andorra, and a Dutch couple heading for a tour in Northern France.

The Netherlands is flat

Just past Roermond, we took a turn to the East, and the relief of not having the wind in our faces was instant. A large chunk of that day was spent riding through a nature reserve and forest. It was tough going, but I found it interesting after long days of very open countryside and same-ish scenery. Richard hated it. It had been forecast heavy rain all day, but it only caught us on the very last bit of trail, which was incredibly lucky, as we would have really struggled to get our heavy bikes through wet sand and mud paths.

Our route from here is to get on the Rhein river and start following that South, hopefully leaving the headwinds in the past.

Just a note for anyone visiting the Netherlands outside of the big tourist areas: Visa and Mastercard (either debit or credit cards) are not commonly accepted. The Dutch use the Maestro system almost exclusively, so if you don’t have a card with that symbol on it, you are unlikely to be able to pay by card in shops and restaurants. You will need to use cash (cash machines do accept Visa and Mastercard, though fat chance of finding one.)

Playlist for EuroVelo 19:

Belgium Is Not Flat

Turns out there’s good reason that the greatest ever Tour cyclist comes from Belgium. We are admittedly not very fit yet, but we got our arses kicked in Wallonia. Up to 11% climbs, climbs that went on for miles, climbs on gravel and chippings, there is a full variety! On the upside, putting this work in our legs will pay off in the coming weeks. It hasn’t helped that I was sick for the worst days. One campsite we stayed in had a tap on each pitch of “eau potable”, but I was about a litre into a water bottle I’d filled when I noticed that it had tiny bugs in it. Getting ill is part and parcel of travelling, so why not do it in Europe where there are plenty of good toilets to use?

It’s rained most days, though thankfully it’s mostly been at night or while cycling, and not when we’re setting up or packing up the tent. The tent is as battered as we are – one large tear and a broken pole – but we’ve got some major towns and cities coming up and should be able to get some spares and repairs. We also found that my front stem and fork had come loose and were barely attached, which would have meant a nasty accident, but everything seems fixed now.

Our one really warm day had us on dirt tracks through woodland, where we met a family who’d fled Ukraine. The father spoke some English, and we chatted for a bit before he shook our hands and wished us well, the reverse of how it should be.

We’re doing our best to try lots of beer, and it’s a heavy burden to carry. In Belgium, the abv % isn’t listed on the menu, which is unhelpful when you need to know whether cycling is advisable after one of them.

We’ve meandered our way through Belgium rather than going straight across, and our route now heads north for a couple of days to take in a bit of the Netherlands, before hopping over to Germany for pork knuckles.

A flat part of Belgium, fooling us.

A playlist from the ride through France and Belgium:

On Your Marks, Get Set, Slow.

We had a smooth ferry crossing and a pleasant, but unremarkable couple of days in France. The highlight was trying some bambaloni, a kind of Tunisian beignet. The lowlight was that my sleeping mat has a slow puncture, so by the morning I’m essentially sleeping on just the floor. We can’t find the hole, and the mat is over 10 years old, so I’ve ordered one to be picked up at a camping store in Belgium. Negotiating that conversation in Flemish is going to be fun.  

Our last night in France we stayed at a really friendly campsite, where the owner saw us off with coffee and cake. We were surprised by a bit of a savage climb out of town, but reassured that the local club riders were also huffing and puffing in their low gears. The next hill was thankfully in the shade on a day that got to 24 degrees, and we’d stashed some pastries to eat at halfway as a secret weapon. We both got badly sunburnt, but we wouldn’t be Brits abroad without becoming bright red at some point. We arrived completely exhausted at camp, but the hosts were incredibly welcoming and they had the best shower block and largest beer menu we’ve seen at a campsite. There were also some goats. We had a couple of strong beers and couldn’t be arsed to cook that night, so ate at the cafe on site because they served bitterballen, one of about 950 foods that I cannot resist. It rained heavily most of the night and almost all of the next day. Camping in the rain in a muddy field is godawful, which meant more beer to set us right again.

Today has been a bit mixed. Some beautiful flat countryside, some poignant stops at WW1 cemeteries, a hail storm and a quiche.

We’ll continue making our way sloooooowly through Belgium and trying all the beers we can.

Some cabbages and Richard

Do you REALLY need to take that? (Yes.)

Less than a week before departure, and the eve of Eurovision.

Even though this is without any doubt what we want to do, it’s about now that all the worries have started to kick in. What if we have too much stuff? What if we don’t have enough stuff? What if I get rabies? Will I lose touch with my friends? Should we have learned how to fix our bikes? I won’t wear jeans again for ages, how do I feel about that? And on and on.

We’ve been getting some good rides in this past week, but even though we’re feeling much more buoyant about our capabilities, there’s a slight concern about getting up the ferry ramp at Dover. We’re now doing some equipment shakedowns. We knew the tent had a slight hole in it, but we now can’t find it to patch it up (slightly worrying,) panniers are good to go, the stove seems to work and we have everything we need. Richard has discovered that I’m taking a pocket shower (non negotiable) because if we wild camp I still need to wash my hair. I also may have accidently thrown out most of his socks.

Ferry tickets are booked with DFDS, which sounds like we’re travelling by sofa. By our next update we will probably be on our way, starting with a beer tour in Belgium. What could go wrong mixing beer with cycling?

Home sweet home

Have Bikes, Will Travel

It’s two weeks until we plan to leave. The business is sold, most furniture is sold, the house will be let soon, the rum collection is safe and sound (thanks guys.) It feels weird to be packing up, binning, selling or giving away an entire life, reducing everything to stuff to sleep in, stuff to wear and stuff to cook with. The mattress has gone to the tip, so now we’re sleeping on the floor. That feels great and liberating when camping in a tent, but in a house it just feels like squatting.

Away from all the naval gazing, my arse hurts. We got our bikes back from a wheel build and service about 4 weeks later than we hoped, so we haven’t done any cycling for ages. After about a week of doing some short rides, it all seems like such a bad idea. We’re just going to have to get fit and used to our saddles again when we leave. We’ll have 3 months to get ourselves out of the EU once we start so we can take it easy, but honestly at this point we might as well walk round the world.