Like Gulpen

CE75FA1D-12FE-449B-8DFE-50C4A62F1425Woke up to a beautiful and sunny day, if still quite chilly. After a nice cup of tea and a bite to eat Colin went down to the office to check in properly. He specifically asked about the laundry machines, and did they accept coins or did we need a token – he was told that either would work.
I then went for a bike ride, and it’s so great here – very similar to Belgium. The local road has a nice wide marked lane on both sides for bikes, and the car lane is in the middle – if a car is coming in each direction at the same time the bicycle actually has priority and at least one of the cars has to stop!! If only that could take off at home it would save a lot of accidents, not to mention get more and more people riding.
I went as far as the small town of Slenaken, and the road I followed is part of the race route on Sunday. It was through very beautiful countryside, and there weren’t very many cars. The small town itself was crammed with hotels with bars and cafes, although I did manage to find a supermarket.
Since I couldn’t read the signs I tried to go in through the out door – the young lady initially told me to go around to the front to enter, but must have felt sorry for me and just waved me in anyways. The wine selection was pitifully small – there was only one kind that I recognized as actually being red wine so I grabbed two (just in case!).

On the way back to the campground I took a right turn down a smaller road and ended up going several km out of my way – the side road back to village near the campground had just been re-paved and they wouldn’t even let a bike down. I had to ride all the way into Gulpen, then back down the main road – quite busy and very, very hot. It’s amazing that just over a week ago I was bundled up in my winter coat, including boots, hat and mitts and now all that’s needed is my rah-rah skirt, a shirt and flip-flops.
Back at the campground we tried to do a load of laundry, but discovered, with the help of another camper who didn’t actually speak english, that it did indeed require tokens as opposed to coins. I went down to the office to get a token and found a lineup out the door for folks checking in.

I asked if I could pop to the front of the line just to ask a question about the laundry and no one had a problem with it, except, apparently, the office lady. She quickly answered my question – yes, you do need a token (contrary to what she’d told Colin just a couple of hours earlier) and how much it was – an extremely high amount of 5.50 euros(!) but didn’t get me one. I was made to ‘get back in line’ and wait while she checked in three other campers, then, within less than 5 seconds, sold me the token. Smile pasted on my face the whole time I swallowed what I really wanted to say and left.

Laundry washed and hung on the rack we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon and evening. Chicken with potatoes and green beans for dinner – roughing it again.
Next morning I went for another ride to Slenaken and again on the way back took the right turn to the smaller road – this time the connecting road was open so I didn’t have to detour all the way into Gulpen.
There were many more cyclists on the road today and I wouldn’t want to be on the road tomorrow when the sportif will be held.

Brabantse Pijl and more

7E817CA3-772A-40E5-AD03-C15486EE5D50The morning was kind of overcast but not really cold. We went for a nice walk down the Holstheide climb that we’re parked near for the race, but veered onto a nice looking forest path partway down.
At the bottom it opened up into several nice farms with horses, chickens, geese, sheep and cows. Colin has mentioned to me before that people didn’t used to have guard dogs, but rather geese – there’s no way to pass a goose-pen without them making a huge racket.
As we passed one place back on the road there was a fierce barking – a german shepard was going nuts trying to get at us through a hedge and fence. Another dog shortly joined him and they were both in a frenzy. The farmer was in his yard and said something to the dogs, which was very fortunate since the double gates were actually wide open and there was nothing stopping the dogs from running out and getting at us. But they didn’t – they simply ran past the open gates to the hedge and fence on the other side and barked up a storm. They ran back and forth past the open gates a couple of times but never once stepped a foot outside – it was one of the funniest things, but I was very grateful they listened to whatever command the farmer had given them.

After a light lunch we saw the helis overhead and on a nearby road could see the blue lights of the motos – the race was going by on a nearby road, but wouldn’t be back for the climb to where we were for a couple of hours.
In the meantime we went for another walk in the other direction down a quiet side road through a field, then downhill a bit to the outskirts of Huldenberg.
We noticed that there is a greater variety of house building materials – still lots of brick, but also some plaster, all with neat, tidy yards and gardens of course.

There was one dog that really wanted to get over the fence at us – his fur flew around him almost like feathers as he jumped against the gate.
We walked down and around the corner so we’d be on the actual race hill and waited – after the first pass we changed to the other side of the road. There was a young couple with a little blond girl – daddy had her at times on his shoulder and she was blowing a plastic horn – she was just so cute.
In the hour and a half we were there to see the multiple passes of the racers she never whined or complained once – if all kids were like that I wouldn’t mind most of them so much!
We watched the end of the race on tv – young van der Poel won again, beating Alaphillipe in a sprint to the finish. As soon as it was over we hit the road for the Netherlands to get near the next race – Sunday’s Amstel Gold.
Despite the mis-direction once again of miss GPS we found a really nice campground – the office was already closed but the fellow in the bar/restaurant showed us which sites were available. We picked one and parked for the night, then went down for a drink. It was a lovely evening, complete with a full moon.

Waterloo – did Napolean win??

CDDB8C54-47F1-4E88-8886-67747549F617We left our farmer’s field fairly early and went back to the campground in Tournai, stopping along the way in Orchies.

First thing after we parked in Tournai – nice hot shower, followed by lots of laundry. Unfortunately they didn’t have any machines so it was all done by hand – luckily the sinks in the shower room had hot water so I filled one with soapy water and one with plain water and got going. It took several ‘loads’ but all got done then hung on the little clothes drying rack Colin bot a couple of weeks ago.
Colin had met a couple and their son that were from the Isle of Wight, and the father and son (Harrison) came by the campervan and chatted for a bit. Colin had given Harrison a hat that he’d collected the other day – he’s only 9 but is a pretty serious cyclist and seems very knowledgeable without being snotty – actually he was very polite, well spoken and quite adorable.

In the evening we had the tv on and saw the beginning of the fire of Notre Dame – watched for a couple of hours as it got completely out of control and things started to cave in. I recall that on that long ago backpacking trip my awesome travel buddy Sue and I saw the cathedral but declined to go in – at least I declined but I can’t actually remember if Sue did or not.
The next morning seemed considerably warmer and I actually went for another ride after a bite to eat. The campground is right next to an eco-area and I thought that might be a good place to find some trails – wrong. There was a large group of men getting ready to scuba dive in the small lake but the best looking trail had a no-bike sign on it – kind of strange for Belgium.
I pushed my bike up a different steep trail that led to a dirt road but it didn’t go very far, so I back-tracked to a nice paved road that had great cycle paths on both sides. I rode into the village of Vaulx and around a bit, then back to the campground.

The big news story on the BBC was, of course, the burning of Notre Dame – billionaires are already pledging hundreds of millions of euros, and Macron has already stated that it would be re-built. Seems kind of disgusting to me – I know it’s a huge tourist attraction, but when you think how much manpower (ie – thousands of unpaid peasants) and money (ie – stolen by the church) was spent building it in the first place, and how much it’s going to cost now I have to wonder – how many hungry children or homeless people could be helped with the huge amount of money it will take? How many social programs will be cut so a fricking church can be resurected? Maybe the pope could cough up some dough to help fund it – after all I bet there’s as much money and treasure in the Vatican as there is anywhere else – perhaps he could donate a painting or two to the cause. Or maybe queen E could pawn one of the crown jewels – oh wait – wrong religion – they both spout ‘christianity’ but can’t agree on much else but the name.
We got going just after noon towards the next race. We stopped on the way to visit the site of the Battle of Waterloo. They’ve ‘built’ a huge mound with a lion on top right in the middle – kind of ruins the whole place, actually – and of course you have to pay to walk up the stairs to the top.
The whole place is actually kind of funny – they seem to totally ignore the fact that Napoleon lost! It’s all about the french – hardly anything even shows or mentions the british who kicked their asses. Even the statue of NB looks like an arrogant little dickhead – I though he looked kind of constipated and Colin told me that Napolean had hemmoroids so that might explain it. At least ABBA got a hit out of it the eagles rocked (get it? Ha ha).
After a quick grocery stop in the nearby town we visited Hougoumont Farm, another very important site from that war.
The wall around the farm has holes cut into it so the defenders could see out and take shots at anyone that came near.
We finally headed for our destination – the town of Huldenberg, that has more than one hill that tomorrow’s race will pass 3 or 4 times. We followed the route around, then chose a spot just past the top of one of the hills. Some guys were just erecting a banner that shows 10 km to the finish – at least it will be on their final time around.
In the field next door are a beautiful little donkey and a white pony – both look very well fed, although are a bit skittish.

Paris-Roubaix – Pave Hell

Woke up before 7 to the sound of what I thought was another campervan arriving, but it wasn’t – a crew of guys were erecting advertising banners for a sun-glasses company. They were actually very quiet about it, although they did pen in the campervans across the road from us.

A couple of cars had arrived last night and erected a large blue tent at the end of the field we were on, and also towed a port-a-pottie in. We figured it was either a bike-tour or VIP-type place. I made use of the port-a-pottie on my early morning walk.
People started walking along the road around mid-morning, and the young men’s race arrived just after 1:00. They all try to ride on the side of the road if it’s flat – like it is where we are – or else in the very middle of the pave. The pave roads here are very old, and the middle is kind of a hump – the faster you ride on it, the smoother it is, contrary to what you might think.
And the cars all try to have one wheel on one side or the other to cut the bumps in half – not sure it really works but they all do it. Many of the moto cops ride standing up – I guess it shakes them up less, although none of the bike riders do it.
There was a small cavalcade at about 3:00 – several cars throwing out hats, candies, newspapers, etc.
The racers arrived just before 4:00 – there were two in front, followed by one by himself, then a small group led by Sagan (last year’s winner).
It was quite a while before the last racer passed – we’re on pave section 12, which is actually the 18th section because they count down from the first one, which is 29 and the last one right before the finish is number 1. Anyway by the time they got to us they’d ridden about 180 km and been jolted to bits by 17 sections of pave already.
We’d watched the beginning of the race on tv, and of course watched the end as well. Sagan wasn’t able to repeat as winner, but we were very happy when Gilbert, a Belgian, sprinted across the line in first place.

The folks at the end of the field poured out of their large tent and were partying as we went for a walk to the end of our road. Being the sociable person that I am – and always a bit nosy – I invited myself over. The tent was larger than it looked – it was filled with chairs and had a very large tv at one end – also a very good heater or two.

They offered me all the beer I could drink, but had no wine at all. Mo got a sausage, and as usual made a lot of friends. Colin and I stayed for a short while chatting to a group of the folks, who were all very nice and spoke very good english. They are all from Gent, and had paid 33 euros each which included a coach ride, all the beer they could drink and all the BBQ sausages and other food they could eat. It sounded like a pretty good deal to me – the only thing better would be wine instead of beer – we are in France, after all. Oh, and at least a couple of them know almost as much about politics in Canada as I do – I think they’re a bit in love with Justin Trudeau, and told me I must vote for him again in the next election.

The organizers were a Gent bike club, and you had to either belong to the club, or know someone who did, to participate. They tried to round everyone up to get on the bus so we walked back to the campervan. I think trying to round them up was a bit like herding cats – it took more than a little time, but they eventually got away. Not long after the tent was down, the port-a-pottie was towed away and the site was empty.

We were the only ones that were staying another night – we didn’t want to fight with the traffic and were in no real rush.

Ready for the big PR

As I went for my morning shower I noticed that the door to the shower room was open several inches and thought ‘damn – they’re letting the nice warm air out’ as I closed it firmly behind me. While I was in the shower I heard the door open to the main room, but no one else seemed to be showering.

When I exited my shower room I saw the little orange cat, and noticed two dishes on the floor, as well as a cat-bed. I then realized that the kitty used the room to eat and sleep in and I had effectively locked her out – I call it her because its in the ladies room, not the men’s. A short while later the maintenance man had filled up the two dishes – she doesn’t get water, but had a full dish of milk in addition to the full dish of food.
We had a general destination in mind – one of the 29 pave/cobble sections of Sunday’s race, so keyed in the small town of Bersee to the GPS and headed out. We crossed the ‘border’ into France and found the town, but had a heck of a time finding the actual route due to road construction and some of the very tiny roads not being on our fairly detailed map.
After taking the ‘scenic’ route we eventually found a great stretch of pave – section 12 of the race – with a nice place to park so took it. There was one campervan across the road just down from us so we figured it would be ok. More than one of the race teams went by on a re-con run.
After we settled the campervan we went for a walk into the town – it was a fair ways but the cafe we found was worth it. The wine was very good and the server spoke pretty good english. We walked back along another bit of the pave route – there were several campervans parked at a really sharp corner so the racers will be slowed by more than one thing at that point.
The next morning we heard a large vehicle and looked both ways up and down the road but no campervans were in sight. Then we saw the large blue tractor in the farmer’s field across the road – he was spraying his grass (uck!!) but luckily the wind hadn’t picked up yet so there wasn’t much drifting.
The first of the sportif riders got to us at about 9:45, starting out one by one, then slowly more and more coming. As Colin was putting up the flags for the day a local fellow came by and started chatting with him – he lives ‘in the second house from the corner’ just up the way, and had invited us for an apperatif sometime around noon.
I actually got on my bike and rode into the village mid-morning – it’s a good thing I had lots of warm clothing, but even then my face almost froze. I had a nice, very strong coffee at the same cafe as yesterday – they had good wi-fi so I got caught up on a couple of things. I then walked my bike around the corner to what I thought was a grocery store but turned out to be another bar that also sold lottery tickets and tobacco.

It seemed to be a ‘locals’ bar so I thought ‘what the heck’ and sat down and had a nice glass of wine. I finally looked at the time and realized I better get going back or we’d miss out on our invitation for the apperatif. As I neared where we were parked and rode around the corner towards the campervan I had to get off my bike and walk it – so many sportif riders were coming towards me I couldn’t ride in the opposite direction.
Before I got half-way down Colin was walking towards me so I turned around and walked with him back to the nice local fellow’s house. They un-locked their gate and invited us into their beautiful modern house. He and his wife, Michelle, were very warm and welcoming and we enjoyed more than an hour of conversation and a couple of glasses of very good red wine with them. Their grandson, Antoine, arrived just before we left – they were so nice. The husband was born in Italy, and they had worked and lived in many places, including Canada, the US and Australia.
The sportif riders were coming at a great rate, although nothing like last week at the Tour of Flanders. One thing that bothered both of us was two young ladies on horses going in the opposite direction as the riders – the horses, especially the white one – were not comfortable and we thought that the riders were just incredibly stupid to be endangering not only the bicycle riders but also their animals.
The campervan across the road ended up with two others for company – we think the two newcomers are friends as one arrived, spoke with the original guy, then pulled in front of him right next to the road. We commented to each other that he was too close to the pave and would for sure get told to move back before the race arrived, but he had a plan. A little later another campervan and a car pulled up and they all re-arranged themselves in a line well back from the road – no one was too close after all so I didn’t have to stomp over with the new whistle that Colin got for me and demand that they move.
We had a nice dinner of pasta with sauce and a small salad, then as I was doing the dishes afterwards I noticed what I thought was our pet fly on the window in front of me. However as I Iooked closer I realized it was actually a spider that was making its way upwards and before I could react it had climbed behind the upper cupboard. I decided to let it live – it looks like we exchanged our pet fly for a pet spider.

Once again I stayed up way too late reading. I finished the book ‘Arthur’, about an injured stray dog in Ecuador that latches onto a Swedish endurance racer and just keeps following him – it was a great little book and I’d recommend it to anyone, especially if they love animals. I laughed out loud more than once, and also cried – warning/spoiler alert – it has a happy ending.

In Brugge

We got going from the free camp a bit later than usual, but were in no particular rush. We headed southwest, then pretty much straight west to Brugge. The old city is surrounded by a large canal and ring-road, which we followed until we saw a parking area with campervans and buses.
We saw the prices they were charging so promptly backed up and got out onto the ring road again. There is free parking allowed on the ring, and we found an excellent spot not far from the Gentpoortbrug bridge over the canal. I have extremely fond memories of Brugge having been there on my backpacking trip many years ago – my expectations were pretty high.
A short walk after going in under a fortified gate led us to a church – I decided to go in and see what the stained glass windows were like, and they were ok.
But what caught my attention was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in a church – and to me lots of things in churches are funny – there was a giant swing hung from the very top of the high ceiling and there was a fellow on it swinging away – he seemed to be enjoying himself.
Jesus on the bench outside was not enjoying himself so much – I wouldn’t either if I knew how much harm and destruction had been done in the world in my name.
Next to the church was a nice park with a gazebo, pond, fountains and beautiful flower beds.
Further on we came to an inner canal and turned left towards a square full of people. There were a couple of vendors selling artwork, etc, and a lot of people posing for f’ing selfies.
We continued on further to a larger square that was ringed by beautiful buildings, including, of course, a bunch of over-priced cafes and restaurants.
Since we hadn’t gotten the fries we craved the other day in Zwalm we chose a ‘fritteria’ – Colin sat at table outside in the sun while I went in and ordered. It was a busy little place and I was pretty hungry but opted to just get fries – all of the ‘food’ was pre-made and they just threw it in the fryer before serving. I also had to get coffee from a machine – when I told the server that I needed one cup with milk and brown sugar he told me to push the ‘coffee complete’ button. I looked and looked for cups but didn’t find any – he noticed my dilemma and handed a stack of paper cups over the counter to me. The fries were actually pretty good – I got mine with mayo this time instead of ketchup.
After eating we walked around the rest of the square – the middle of it was filled with carnival-type booths as the kids are off school this week and hoards of them, as well as tour groups were everywhere.
There are horse-drawn buggies too, and some of the horses were done up very prettily and ‘strutted’ rather than ‘walked’, as if they were proud of how they looked. I hoped they were well treated – at least they all looked well fed.

On our way back out of the inner town I noticed the corner of a building – there was a niche with a madonna and child on the very corner, and right next to it a painting for a bakery. It almost looked like, in addition to giving it the ‘thumbs up’ he was also giving it the finger – ha ha ha, kind of like how I feel.
Returning to the campervan we chose our next destination close to the french border so we won’t have far to go for Sunday’s race. The campground was right in the town of Tournai, and was quite nice – it seems to have a resident cat that’s light orange and looks quite young. The washrooms and shower area are both heated, which is especially nice considering how cold it stills gets at night.

I must add that my experience today in Brugge was not a disappointment at all, except I was amazed, as I frequently am, at the number of tourists and how they can almost ruin a place. I really don’t consider myself a tourist, but rather a traveller – makes a difference, at least to me!

North to Scheldeprijs

24BD3C5F-CA84-4E40-BEE6-D5FA66A2D381We got going from our roadside camp and headed back to Zwalm. The next day was rainy and cold – we did some more laundry, then walked into the town planning to get some more of the tasty fries. No luck – fries shop was closed, as was the nice bar, so we picked up a few things from the grocery store.

On the way back to the campervan we passed a store that sold books and toys, and in the window was a vintage game with superstar racer Eddy Merckx, with a ‘no bicycles’ sticker in front of it – it struck me as very funny in cycling-mad Belgium.
The next morning we left before noon back to Brussels so Colin could pick up his camera – now with a complete new shutter assembly courtesy of Nikon. We decided to go north to near Antwerp to see the Scheldeprijs since we were so near.
We were following the Wayz GPS rather than the campervan’s, and it turned out to be fortunate – we were detoured at one point due to roadworks onto a very small side road. We noticed a small group of bicycle riders coming towards us so Colin pulled off as much as possible to let them pass. We were thrilled to see that one of them was van Avermaet in his CCC uni and another was Naesen in his AG2R gear – just out for a nice little ride of likely 150 km or so.

We had keyed a street name into the GPS but were thwarted by closed roads – an early race was happening on the same course. We backtracked a bit to another possible site, and had great luck.
We ended up right on the canal road at the ‘5km to go’ banner, where we parked in the lot of a construction business of some sort – it was perfect. This canal is a major ‘port’ with lots of large tanker-type barges and ferries. Apparently some of the bargemen live on them and travel with their families and everything. Several of them had cars strapped on top- mostly BMW’s – and one even had a playground enclosed by a large cage.

We saw two rounds of an amateur race before the men’s race arrived, also making two passes.
The first time around one of the riders threw a bottle on the road near us – there was a young boy with his mother watching behind the barrier I was at, and I wondered if I could somehow grab it for him but it was soon run over by a team car – it kind of exploded and was totally ruined. After the race had passed the first time we went back to the campervan and Colin asked me to grab one of the many bidons we’d collected from Tirreno-Adriatico and he gave it to the little boy who was just thrilled with it.
Afterwards we headed just a bit north to a campground that turned out to be full – but Colin was told to just park in the parking lot and use the facilities for free. There are some very cute goats, chickens and ducks.
We did go into the bar for a drink, then Colin returned to the campervan. I took my glass outside so I could face-time home without bothering the other customers. After a few minutes I noticed that they were locking up so I downed my wine (which was really very good) and couldn’t get back in to return my glass. Luckily the lady inside noticed and came around the side to collect the glass with a smile. What a nice place!AB175FBD-2FF8-4A4A-9710-ECFF9A8A4956