Ghent City Festival – Tuesday 23 July

Ghent City Festival – Tuesday 23 July

We only rode around 55 km to Ghent today and our final odometer reading, after making our way to the hotel, was 59 km. The route was easy and scenic, along the Ghent-Brugge canal almost all the way.

The first 10 km, to Beernem, was the same stretch of canal we rode along on our way to Bruges – just a little quieter on a Monday morning. There were still a number of Lycra clad cyclists out training and one or two pleasure boats on the canal.

Riding alongside the Ghent-Brugge canal

The last stretch of around 8 km into Ghent was off the canal again – some of it on a dedicated bike lane alongside a motorway. It was a relatively easy to ride into the city centre – with great cycling infrastructure everywhere.

Back alongside the canal on entering Ghent

When we got to the center, we were surprised to find the city in the midst of a city festival. It was also the start of a heat wave. There were signs up in the street warning people to drink enough water, and a stall providing free water.

We spent the whole afternoon in the “Mardi Gras” tent area, drinking beer and socialising – with some friendly engineering and medical students (Ghent is a university town), then a group of older ladies and a middle aged couple who all live locally, a British couple – both school teachers and traumatised by Brexit, and an American couple (who left quickly after Trump was mentioned). The music was also very good.

Monday 22 July – sightseeing in Brugge – on foot!

Monday 22 July – sightseeing in Brugge – on foot!

No cycling today – we left the bikes at the hotel and wondered around the city on foot. The whole place is very photogenic, so here is a selection of the scenes that caught my eye.

Free books
St Paul on a wall
Donkey door knob
City Hall
Detail on City Hall
City hall statues
Statue outside Basilica of the Holy Blood
Church of Our Lady Tower in background
Rozenhoedkaai canal
Passageway behind City Hall
Lunchtime – more Brugse Zot – small place just off the market square
Provinciaal Hof (Provence Court) on Market Square
Lions outside Provinciaal Hof on Market Square
Side street with Belfry in background
Belfry in the square – dusk
Canal Hopping – Sunday 21 July

Canal Hopping – Sunday 21 July

Today was another long ride, as we wanted to get to Bruges and spend a couple of nights there. So we did 93 km from Tournai to Bruges.

We started along the Tournai canal out of town for about 20 km, until we joined the Moen canal at Bossuit. We turned off this canal just before Kortrijk to find our way onto the Leie canal. We eventually had to turn off the canal to do about 30 km across country to get to the Bruges canal. There were lots of fishermen on the canals, some set up with little tents alongside the path.

We stopped for a coffee at around 1 pm at Tielt, it was getting pretty hot at this stage. Afterwards we had a look at the unique statues (a devil!) in the church square.

Coming into Bruges was interesting. The number of cyclists picked up dramatically around 10 km before the city with many groups, of all types of cyclists. I got stuck in the middle of around a dozen elderly cyclists all riding sedately on electric bikes, and it was quite a challenge to extricate myself. In the meantime, there were also periodic fast moving pelotons of racers all decked out in Lycra. And all kinds of other cyclists in between.

We were not very impressed with the hotel in Bruges. It is on top of a restaurant and they were not very friendly when we checked in. This is the first place on our trip where they expect us to store the bicycles outside in a un-sheltered public area overnight. We pushed them a little and got agreement to put the bikes in a store room.

We went out and explored the town a little, including sampling some of the local beer – Brugse Zot (Bruges fool).




Cold Brugse Zot beer

We ate our picnic (salad, wine, chocolate) in a park next to a canal.

Bruges picnic spot
Bruges canal in the evening light
The Wrong Canal – Saturday 20 July

The Wrong Canal – Saturday 20 July

Today’s ride was the second longest of the tour, at 113 km from Charleroi to Tournai. We planned a long ride (of 100 km, not 113), so we had an extra early breakfast at the youth hostel (breakfast is available from 6 am!) and were on the road at around 7.30 am.
The reason the ride was longer than expected is that we started out from Charleroi along the wrong canal. We started on the Sambre canal, which actually goes into France. In hindsight, it probably turned out to be more interesting.
The first 10 km were industrial – like a post apocalyptic video game set.

Then it became quite scenic. There were quite a number of people walking alongside the canal as well – maybe some sort of walking group.

Lock on the Sambre Canal
Passing by Thuin on Sambre Canal
Thuin on Sambre Canal

We realised we were on the wrong canal around 30 km into the ride, at Lobbes. Kris devised a new brilliant new route cutting back across to Mons – to pick up our intended route on the Canal di Centre. This probably added 10 km to our overall distance. We had a lovely long stretch that was probably an old railway line – a gentle downhill through forests where we cruised along at around 25 km per hour. However we later had a “short cut” of a few kilometres on a cobbled road – most uncomfortable.

I couldn’t believe how long this cobbled road was – not fun on a bike

Once we got back onto the Canal di Centre it was like being back on a commercial canal. It is like an trucking route for the transfer of raw materials (sand, scrap metal, etc). So it it serves as an alternative to trucks, as each boat can carry the equivalent of a dozen trucks.
Eventually the canal locks became smaller and the canal narrower – with more pleasure boats.
The weather closed in and we had a sudden thunderstorm and heavy downpour at around 2 pm. We got under a bridge just in time and sat it out for around quarter of an hour until the heavy rain had past.

Sheltering from the rain under a bridge

We were pretty stuffed when we reached Tournai. We stopped at a Carrefour (French supermarket!) and bought a juice to drink immediately, before doing some shopping for our dinner.
Then we had a quick look at the scenic centre of the town before finding the youth hostel not far away. This hostel had an excellent selection of Belgium beers on offer – all local – 19 by my count. We enjoyed trying a good selection of different beers.

Tournai town centre
Sambre canal – Friday 19 July

Sambre canal – Friday 19 July

We said goodbye to Esther this morning, after just over 1000 km and 14 days of riding together.

Today was an easy 52 km ride from Namur to Charleroi. We left the Meuse river at Namur and followed the Sambre canal. The bike path was flat and signposted the whole way – so no navigation was needed. The signs inform us that we are now on Eurovelo 3. In contrast to yesterday, the route was not very scenic. In fact, much of the canal was quite industrial, with heaps of sand and gravel, barges, refineries, scrap metal recyclers. There were only a few pleasure boats, just passing through.

Early on in ride, Sambre canal – not too industrial yet
Sambre canal – the coffee stop was just across the bridge

We stopped for a coffee at one of the small towns along the way. We found a lovely friendly local pub. I love the way you always get a little wrapped biscuit with your coffee in Belgium. Here is a picture of how simply but beautifully it is presented in the most unpretentious of surroundings.

Coffee!

When we got to Charleroi (our destination), we spent some time looking around the town, as we had to wait until 3 pm to check into the youth hostel. There was not much to see in the old town (which is up a hill), in fact the modern areas were much nicer with lots of outdoor cafes and a couple of big spacious squares. We had a beer at one of the cafes.

The youth hostel was great – brand new and we had a huge room to ourselves that could sleep about six people. It also had great bike storage on the ground floor, inside the hostel and accessible with the hostel access card.

Short and Scenic – Thursday 18 July

Short and Scenic – Thursday 18 July

Our whole ride today was alongside the river Maas (or Meuse) – to Namur, to get Esther to a railway station so she could travel back to Switzerland. It was only 38 km – including the distance riding around Namur when we arrived.

We were in a relaxed mood, so we spent some time enjoying the scenery around Dinant before we set of on our ride. We also stopped at a bakery for breakfast and ate a rice pudding tart (which is evidently a Belgium specialty). It set us up well for the day of cycling.

The ride along the Maas/ Meuse river was very beautiful. We saw large passenger boats in locks and vertiginous rock formations alongside the river, some with fortifications on top.

We enjoyed seeing groups of children in canoes and learning to sail in little sail boats. One of the boys in the canoes was singing an Edith Piaf song with a surprisingly strong voice and it stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

Our hotel is right opposite the railway station in Namur. When we arrived and Esther had bought a ticket, we spent some time riding around the town, drinking some beer and eating snacks. The 1 Euro waffle that I bought on the street outside our hotel was amazing (and the best we had on our entire Belgium trip).
We had a lovely final dinner out with Esther in the evening.

Cafe where we stopped for our first beer in Namur
Second beer in Namur
Eurovelo 5 – Wednesday 17 July

Eurovelo 5 – Wednesday 17 July

Today’s ride felt long, at 82 km from La-Roche-en-Arenne to Dinant. Most of the day was on Eurovelo 5 and the route meandered through the countryside. The first part of the day was along the L’Ourthe canal.

L’Ourthe canal

We found a bike shop and bought a new seat post for Jenny at Marche-en-Famenne – this made the bike a lot more comfortable to ride. We then stopped for a coffee at the central square. They didn’t have any pastries, so Jenny bought a custard tart at a Carrefour (favourite French supermarket chain) on the way out of town. We found Eurovelo 5 soon afterwards and spent the rest of the day on it – however it was not very good, as it zig zagged on ad-hoc country roads.

It was very hot in the afternoon, and we had quite a few long uphill climbs. There were lots of flies, probably attracted to cows in the fields we were passing.

Wheat fields, on top of the hills

The last 10 km into Dinant was mostly downhill (fulfilling a wish expressed by Esther). Dinant surprised me, as it was so beautiful alongside the river. Many people were eating and drinking at riverside cafes.. The bike path went all alongside the river. Our hotel is above a pub just outside of town, also alongside the river and next to a very iconic rock formation (the Rock Bayard). The hotel is great, except that it doesn’t have proper bike parking – so Kris had to lug the bikes up a steep staircase to store them in an small courtyard. We had our first Karmeliet Triple beer here, which became a firm favourite for the rest of the trip.

Belgium – Tuesday 16 July

Belgium – Tuesday 16 July

Today we had an easy ride – just 54 km from Wiltz to La-Roche-en-Arenne in Belgium. The first part of the river ride (route number 20) was easy and relaxing, in contrast to the previous day. The bike route is built on an old railway line, so even though it was an uphill climb, the gradient was really easy. We were only around 20 km from the border, which was not sign posted on the bike path. We only knew we had crossed the border for sure when we noticed the bike path signage had changed. The bike path went through about four old railway tunnels. I was most impressed that they were all lit with electric lights, just for the bicycles.

First bicycle tunnel
Great bike path (route 20)
Second bicycle tunnel

This good bike trail continued to Bastogne, where we stopped for some coffee and Belgium pastry at a bakery. The baked goods on offer are just gorgeous.

Pastry in Bastogne

Back out in the country we past through this unique country town – Givroulle. The church and houses are all made of stone. What made this town different was that it had dolls on display at the centre, and also some fabric fish hanging from a tree!

We rode past this burning barn. There were no other buildings around and it appeared that they were not fighting the fire, just keeping people away and making sure it didn’t spread.

Barn fire

We are now in the Ardenne region of Belgium, characterised by stone houses, most of which have bright flower displays in their window-boxes. And the odd garden gnome. Everything is beautifully kept and picturesque.

Typical stone house with flower boxes
country town scene

Our destination, La-Roche-en-Arenne is a beautiful tourist town, but food and drink is quite expensive. We had noticed that Jenny’s tire was damaged during the ride, so our first priority on reaching town was finding a bicycle shop. We bought a new tire from a lady bike mechanic at the only bicycle shop in town, and she helped us fit it (very quickly) outside the shop. This area is mostly French speaking, but we are hearing some Flemish in the streets as well.

La-Roche-en-Arenne

We had some Belgium frites with mayo at a take out place, a McChouffe beer (really good and strong) in a cafe and then ate some salad from the supermarket.

McChouffe beer at La-Roche-en-Arenne
Hazy Hill Ride – Monday 15 July

Hazy Hill Ride – Monday 15 July

Today’s 55 km ride was characterised by many hill climbs. It was a cool morning and we crossed the border into Luxembourg again at the start of the ride, to follow national cycle route 3 alongside the Our river (and the Germany Luxembourg border) to Bettel.

Crossing the border into Luxembourg again

It was not long before we had our first hill climb, taking the bike route up above the river.

First hill climb

After Bettel, we moved away from the river onto cycle route 22 and started on a long climb up into the hills. We could see the countryside all hazy around us. It was peaceful and scenic, and good exercise. We took it nice and slowly.

In the hills – cycle route 22

We eventually reached a reservoir, which is part of a hydro power generation regime – the water is pumped between this and and the river. We climbed up to a viewing platform to see the reservoir.

From here we continued along the high plateau to Groesteen, on a combination of bike paths and quiet roads. We stopped for a coffee and delicious apple tart at La Sapiniere – at a restaurant alongside a holiday park.

We had nice long downhill runs back off the plateau to Lellingem.

Downhill runs to Lellingem
Lellingen, bike path sign – 8km to Kautenbach, Jenny’s bike

From here the bicycle path followed the S bends of the Clerve river (route 21) and then the Wiltz river after Kautenbach (now called route 20). Unlike many river rides, this one was far from flat. The bike path was constantly taking us up above the river and then back down again. The quality of the path was excellent, taking us through lush green forests.

The final few kilometres into Wiltz were alongside the road, with sparse traffic. Wiltz is a quiet town, built on a steep slope. After checking into the hotel, we explored a little on foot. There is a monument to a strike against the Nazis and a castle. We decided to eat kebabs and bought some food for breakfast.

Mural in Wiltz
Wiltz monument to the strike
Wiltz castle

Later we found that Kris’s laptop screen has broken, which is a bit of a blow. It must have happened when Kris took a small tumble off the bike by accidentally riding off the side of the bike path in the forest. Now we will have to manage with just the little EeePC for the rest of the trip.

Sunday in Luxembourg – Sunday 14 July

Sunday in Luxembourg – Sunday 14 July

Today was our second day in Luxembourg – we rode for 68 km north from Luxembourg city to Wallendorf in the north and just over the German border (halfway across the country!). We mostly followed national cycle route number 15 – through Steinsel, Mersch, Pettingen and Colmar. We turned off onto route 16 at Ettelbruck to Wallendorf.

We started the ride by going down the Pfaffenthal Lift to the river valley floor again, to follow the river valley to the north.

We paused to look at the ruins of the 13th century Pettingen castle, just beside the cycle route. A sign at the castle claims that a ghost of a woman appears every year at midnight on 15 July, crying for her murdered child. So we were just a day too early for the ghost.

We stopped for milkshakes at Etelbruck, in a cafe on the main pedestrian mall.

Etelbruck

We saw quite a few of these outdoor picture galleries alongside the bike paths, both yesterday and today. The pictures all seemed fairly abstract. Occasionally there are also sculptures.

Outdoor picture gallery

The bike path followed the Sauer river for the final section of the ride from Ettelbruck to Wallendorf. We stopped to watch some kayak-ers practising. One kayak-er pulled his kayak up onto the grassy slope and launched himself back into the water by sliding down the slope.

Kayak training
River ride

Wallendorf spans the German-Luxembourg border, with most of the town in Germany. The border is the river, with the crossing on a bridge. The town seems to be mostly a tourist town, with a number of guest houses and camping areas. Our hotel is at the top of a steep hill overlooking the town. It is quite old fashioned and family run, with father and daughters working together. They provide a set menu dinner, which we ate in the dining area with the other guests, mostly older people and one big family group.

Border crossing to Germany
Wallendorf view from our hotel veranda