In the aftermath of the storm that had passed over the night before we spent the morning drying out anything that had gotten wet. I had left my sleeping bag and shoes out in the rain and Finn had left his Bivvy zip slightly open so we both ended up laying out most of out sleeping gear to dry in the sun.
We waited until maybe 10 and then started to pack up as most of our stuff had dried off and the sun disappeared behind some clouds. We set off to Monchau where we would be staying in nearby Höfen with Siegfried. We rode along access roads in a slight drizzle most of the morning through the Eifel national park.
As we crossed the German border we stopped to take a photo. A friendly German lady who was just out walking her dog passed the two of us, drenched from the morning on the rain and asked if we wanted a warm shower or anything! First impressions of Germany are pretty good.
We started a long descent into the river valley that held the town of Monschau. We hadn’t heard of it before and weren’t really sure what to expect but it was beautiful. Apparently a famous tourist destination among Germans and Belgians alike, it’s a picturesque old world town set in a lush river valley. We wandered for a bit, got some food the rode out to the neighbouring Höfen where Siegfried was located.
A brief climb out of the river valley later and we were at Höfen and soon at Siegfrieds place. Heidi, Siegfriedis wife welcomed us and the two of them were so generous, we were very grateful for the warm hospitality. We were able to have a shower and get change into dry clothes before they rusted up a bbq from leftovers of one they had had the day before. And it was delicious.
After dinner they invited us in their evening walk around the area. When we got back to the house they sat us down and informed us that they were leaders of a beer tasting club back in their home town and broke out some Belgian brews for us all to try. It was a fantastic evening with the two of them and we felt so lucky to have run into Siegfried that day by the side of the road.
Tomorrow we would ride into Cologne where we would have another off day, but the great evening provided by Siegfried and Heidi felt like we had already had one.
On a somewhat related note, we’ve finally sorted something out so that Finn should be able to get his photos up here when he wants, wifi permitting of course. We’re leaving Strasbourg tomorrow morning ( writing this at 11pm local time) with a goal of arriving in Munich by the weekend. Hopefully once there we can get Finns pics out, he’s got much better photos on his camera than I do on the iPad.
Today was a very relaxed, if uneventful day of riding followed by a comparatively busy night. We contined from Aubel along the route we had planned out to Houfen via the cycle network, which was so well signposted it didn’t take much effort to follow. We were climbing a lot more today than we had been on days past though, as we were right in the edge of the Ardene.
In the morning we did a big climb out of the valley we stayed near last night and down the otherside where we passed what we assumed to be the Chataux we had heard about the day before. The Chataux that was looked so poorly on simpler cycle tourers like us, looking to spend a quick night in a field.
The route took us over hills and down and up again on gravel roads.
It was sort of a half day today, we finished at 5 (but only go going a bit before noon). Just before we finished, we had planned to camp in the park beside a lake we had seen on the map again we had a big climb. We arrived at the top and found the dam, and across it a carpark where you were aloud keep camper vans for a while. Nearby the carpark was a patch of grass shielded from the carpark by a hedge.
Following a relaxed evening of reading/writing/foam rolling we got into the Bivvys and drifted off to sleep.
Only to be rudely awoken at 11 by some German kids who had driven up to the carpark, we assumed from some nearby town, to spin doughnuts and blast trashy rock/dub step out of their car stereo. We were joking about the whole situation, us behind the hedge in our sleeping bags and them having the time of their lives in this carpark.
When eventually they noticed us through the foliage a few came to investigate. Unfortunately before we could get talking to them, Finn scared them off with a friendly hello.
They finally left the carpark when it started to rain. At first a drizzle, but soon it was torrential, a thunderstorm had blown in. We were kept up by the heavy rain pounding the Bivvys, which lie directly on top of your legs. After the rain subsided a few hours later though, we drifted off to sleep.
Ok I completely forget to include a rather signficicant event in one of the previous posts that influenced where we decide to cycle to after leaving Tine’s.
On the way out of Ghent going to Keerburgen, so on Day 8 of cycling we stopped to eat the bread, meat and cheese we had bought earlier in a supermarket. It was raining so we were eating in a bus shelter with out bikes propped on either side. While we were happily eating our lunch out of the rain, a van pulled up with the signs of the local government on the side across the road for us.
We just sat there and waited for the driver to approach us and we’re kind of assuming it would be an official coming to tell us to move on, that we couldn’t stop and eat here. This guy gets out, tall guy, long-ish hair tied back and walks over to us. Oh here we go…
The guy was actually super friendly, his name was Siegfried and he did work for the local government as a groundskeeper. He asked if we needed directions or help, we said we were ok and he said “alright no problem”. He offered us to stay with him and his family that night, they lived nearby but that night we were staying with Tine.
Siegfried got back in his van and just before he pulled off asked us where we were going before he pulled off.
By now we had gotten into the habit of telling people our goal was “Istanbul, first” and then maybe elaborate on the whole year long trip if they seemed interested, it was easier this way.
So, we told Siegfried “Istanbul” and that got his attention, he got out of the van came back over to us and told us how he’d been there over 10 times! He asked us what our route out of Belgium was and we told him we were leaving through the Eifel National park which bordered Germany in the South East.
“I have a holiday home there and will be down this weekend with my wife while the kids are at camp! Call me up when you get near and you can stay with us a night.”
And with that Siegfried gave us his phone number and address and told us to call him when we got near.
So the result of all this is that we had planned the rest of route through Belgium such that we would arrive at Houfen where Siegfreid and his wife had their holiday home on Sunday, the day he guaranteed he would be there. We couldn’t turn down such hospitality.
So we found ourselves, not with time to kill per say, but with a comfortable distance to ride in a generous amount of time. So back, to Day 10. As the crow flies the journey from Zoutleeuw to Aubel is not really that long, but since we had time on our hands we decided to go through Hasselt and then dip into the Netherlands for a bit and go via Maastricht and then down into Aubel, on the outskirts of the Eifel National Park.
Once again, we were on the fantastic Belgian cycle route which works as a network of nodes you plan a path between.
We got lunch (Lidl) in Hasselt and gave Siegfried a call letting him know we’d arrive on Sunday (it was now Friday). We then pushed on to Maastricht.
We crossed into the Netherlands without noticing. We were probably only there for about 90 minutes all told, but I reckon it counts. We flew the Maastricht, didn’t really feel like stopping again at the time.
As we approached Aubel we started to experience something long forgotten since entering Beglium, inclines! We hadn’t climbed a hill since getting off the ferry.
We spent a bit of time looking for somewhere to camp, but couldn’t find anywhere discrete, and asking around if we could sleep in someone’s field led nowhere as the land was all own by “the chateaux”, so eventually, reluctantly, we ended the day in our first campsite.
After a thoroughly enjoyable evening spent with Tine and the family we slept in spare beds the provided us and we woke up well rested. We had breakfast with Frank and Victor, Frank’s son. At breakfast Frank showed us Lotus Biscoff Spread, a cinnamon flavoured spread that tastes like this little biscuits you sometimes get served with coffee. It was delicious and of course we bought a jar at the next supermarket we stopped at.
After eating we spent the morning doing some upkeep and maintenance on the bikes, just simple stuff that needed tuning after the first few days of the tour.
We left feeling well rested and ready to ride across the rest of Belgium over the next few days. Thanks so much for the hospitality guys!
We rode from Keerburgen along the cycle track that followed a canal (again! Belgium was proving to be easy enough to navigate) into the nearby city of Leuven. More flat cycling with a tailwind in the sun, it doesn’t really get easier than this.
We didn’t spend too long in Leuven as it was late enough when we left Tine’s. We picked up some supplies in Lidl for lunch and the next few days and went and sat in the square.
Our end goal for today was Zoutleeuw, what looked on the map like a lake not to far from Leuven. A couple of hours of flat, prefect Beglian roads later and one wrong turn (not too long, maybe only an extra 20 min) we got into Zoutleeuw town, another lovely old settlement. In the centre of town was a public water fountain so we could fill up without having to potential anger anybody.
A short ride out of the town we came across the lake. As it turned out it wasn’t a lake, but a wetland and would probably have been really nice, a relaxing place to spend the evening if not for the abundance of mosquitoes. We found somewhere to camp and threw on bug repellant. A pretty full day overall.
The day off in Ghent had been nice but it felt good to back in the saddle. We left around noon as our end point today was my aunt’s sister Tine’s house near Keerburgen only about half a days ride from Ghent. A short trip back to the hostel for breakfast set us up for the ride out to Keerburgen which was flat and easy, if not particularly scenic as we were passing between right Brussels and Antwerp.
Part of the route though, took us through the city of Mechelen. We didn’t have time to stop there but it seemed from our short ride through that it would have been a good place to spend some time.
As we got into Keerburgen we started trying to navigate to Tine’s place with our road map and some chached Google maps. It’s started to look like we were going to have a hard time finding the place until we heard so one yell out “Hugo! Finn!”. Turned out we had passed by Tine’s husband Frank’s shop just as he was leaving. He gave us directions to his home and we got there soon after.
Tine and the family were so welcoming. They were having a barbecue and we enjoyed some tasty Belgian meats after a refreshing shower. Here also Finn was finally reunited with his Bivvy poles which had been posted from Ireland, a truly joyous occasion.
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.
After a great nights sleep on the ferry in our cabin bunk we arrived at Zebrugge, Belgium. This was a bit of an occasion for us really. while the trip had begun six days ago in Wales, now that we had arrived on the Eurasian continent it felt like we’d really begun the journey. From here there should be no more outside transport, just the bikes and us to get to Nepal.
As we left the boat we came across an English guy and his couple of friends he was touring with. He claimed to have travelled by bike a lot through Belgium and assured that coming off the ferry we should take a right and soon find a sign to take us to Bruges. As it turned out this was not true and we were later informed at a tourist info centre that we should have, in fact, taken a left at the lights. The young guy at tourist info also gave us directions to Bruges that took us through Damme, an old Belgian town.
The route to Damme was lovely, long, flat road along a canal, which we found before too long after receiving the correct directions. We had a another group of English guys join us along it, three friend who had left from Hull on a two day tour to Antwerp and back. We cycled along with them until we arrived at Damme about an hour later.
Damme was a really lovely old style Belgian town which we wandered around for a bit. We had a coffee before getting back on the bikes on to Bruges.
After leaving Damme we followed the same Canal all the way into Bruges. The whole city of Bruges is a UNESCO WORLD heritage site, and it’s very easy to see why. The whole places is almost a charicture of old Europe: Canals, cobbles, spires, squares and narrow winding streets. It does make for a beautiful place to visit though and we spent the rest of the day wandering around the historic old town.
In the evening we we left the city and rode towards Gent keeping an eye out for somewhere to camp for the night. After riding through pretty developed countryside and getting a bit worried we wouldn’t find a spot we came across the perfect empty field, off the road with a row of trees to block the road.
After dumping out stuff we went off in search of water. At every house we tried nearby no one seemed to be home. We eventually found ourselves poking around an apparently empty, what appeared to be something like an old folks home. Calling out for a while and not finding anyone we presumed the place was vacant. A tap nearby was perfect for filling up our bottles, so of course we went ahead and started to fill up.
Almost as soon as we started we heard someone come round the corner. A large, old Belgian poked his head around the corner and demanded, understandably, to know what we were doing.
We tried to explain that we were very nice boys out on a prefectly innocent cycle through Belgium, but he was not happy. “do you do this in your country? This is Belgium. Go immediately”. So sheepishly we left, and found water from our very kind lady a bit further up the road.
As it turned out, in our hasty retreat from the angry Belgians place, the water filter we used to store water at camp had fallen from the bike. So, we went back and poked around again until we found it, making sure to let him know we were on the premises.
That night we slept well despite the rain that started soon after dark.