It was still raining in the morning as we got out of the Bivvys, but we were both feeling pretty good as we were only a short ride outside Ghent. Ghent promised two nights of sleeping indoors and our first day off the road. We ate breakfast quickly and moved on.
We had a brief encounter with the Belgian cycle network the day before, but it was only on the morning ride (flat, through more farms and towns) that we realised just how good it was. Not only are there cycle paths everywhere on almost every road or footpath, but there is an extensive cycle network throughout the county connect the towns and cities. It felt good riding in dedicated cycle tracks all day, and navigating to Ghent was easy with signposts specifically for bikes that directed you through quieter road.
A short while outside Ghent while riding along the banks of a river just before noon we spotted a group of three cycle tourers coming towards us at pace. As they got closer we realised it was the three English guys from yesterday, bombing it back to Hull in time for the ferry. We didn’t get a chance to ask them if they made it to their goal of Antwerp – they had quite a bit of distance to cover to make it back to Hull.
Ghent was far more active and lively than Bruges, which only felt busy on account of the amount of visitors. We cycled into the city centre and looked around for a tourist info centre. “You’ll find it just across the square” a local worker told us “just under the statue of Poseidon”. We got some wifi and checked mail, hoping to find if any of the Couchsurfing and warm showers hosts we had messages were able to host us. We really wanted to start of staying with someone from Ghent and were disappointed to find no one available (we had probably left it to late, only getting in contact with people yesterday.)
A hostel was nearby so we got a room for the night there and left to spend what remained of the afternoon poking around the city. An hour or so later in a coffee bar Finn got a response from someone on Warm Showers who could host us! Delighted, we got in contact with the guy, a local named Tom and met up with him.
Tom was the perfect first host, he had cycled in loads of different places and ran a sort of impromptu bicycle maintenance place out of the big old monastery he lived in with his girlfriend and served other people. We spent the evening talking to him about the various cycle trips he’d been on, comparing gear and routes and all that.