Had a lazy morning while Colin did some laundry. The campground is starting to fill up, just as the owner had said – all here to see the big race on Sunday. Once the laundry was dry – which was amazingly quick – we went for a walk into the village of Zwalm.
We found a bank, then had a nice drink in a cafe/bar. You couldn’t see much from the outside, and all of the outside tables were empty so we were surprised when we walked in and the place was fairly crowded – all men.
The wine was quite good, the waiter/bartender was very friendly, and there were lots of nice conversations going on. There was a strange pool table in the middle of the floor right in front of the actual bar – it had only two holes, one at each end, with posts on each side and an arrangement of posts in the middle.
After we left there we walked a bit further and smelled french fries – sure enough a nice little snack shop on the corner. The fries were really good – not too greasy – although she put a little too much ketchup on them. We took our fries across the road and sat on a bench in front of a tiny church on the banks of the river Zwalm.
Picked up a few groceries, then found another bar. This one was quite different from the first one – there were several people sitting at tables and we didn’t know which one actually worked there. It looked like it might be an ‘original’ building that survived both of the wars – it had beautiful ceiling tiles and curtains on the windows that might have been real lace.
We chose our own table to sit at, then finally one of the ladies acknowledged us and Colin tried to order – it wasn’t easy. It took a couple of minutes along with hand gestures and pointing for him to be shown a beer bottle, then more gesturing to try to get a glass of wine. I even pulled a bottle out of my grocery bag and said – red wine, like this. She then poured me a glass of white.
As we sat with our drinks one of the other patrons starting talking to us and asking questions about Mo. Despite our best efforts we couldn’t understand much but she got up and kept leaning over me trying to get me to understand by repeating the same things over and over in dutch (or something). She had terrible teeth and a very florid face – we guessed that the two empty beer bottles on her table weren’t the first two of her day, and wouldn’t be the last. We left the moment we finished our drinks.
The next morning we left fairly early to go find our spot for Sunday’s race – stopping for supplies along the way. We want to see a cobble section this time, preferably on a hill, so we drove along part of the course looking for a place. We passed a few campervans that had found wide enough spots – almost all of the roads have ‘no parking’ signs up, and there are very few places wide enough anyway.
After checking out that part of the route more than once we chose a spot next to a house-building site. None of the construction workers came over to tell us to leave so we settled in.
Around noon I went for a walk down the hill to the bottom of the Paterberg – it’s only 400 metres long but very steep and – cobbled! To get on it the racers will have to make a sharp turn, do the horrible climb, then a sharp left turn at the top. They were already erecting barriers – and viewing platforms for the VIP’s.
There was a photo of Bradley Wiggins painted onto the road at the top, and a row of Slovakian flags – for Peter Sagan, I assume.
I took another walk in the later afternoon trying to find a cafe or bar with wi-fi. I kept walking and walking – every time I thought I was nearing a village it turned out to be a farm or just a few houses. I eventually reached the town of Kluisbergen, where a very nice female on a bike stopped and gave me directions to the town centre where I could find a bank, etc.
More walking and I found everything I needed. There were dozens and dozens of campervans parked on a long side road that runs parallel to the main road, and there were cyclists everywhere.
I found a really nice little bar that had many outside tables, and was it ever busy. I hadn’t gone to the bank yet and had no cash at all on me, but I asked if they had wi-fi. The girl that had been washing some glasses asked another worker for the password and keyed it in for me – good signal.
I managed to find a love-seat outside next to the children’s playground and face-timed home – all ok. I stopped at an ATM on my way out of town as the wind picked up even more and the clouds turned dark.
Since I knew the walk back to the campervan was quite long and I was by now very tired, I decided to hitch-hike. Three cars went by before one stopped – she also had passed me, but slammed on the brakes at the last moment. Perhaps she’d noticed the maple leaf on my backpack that I’d taken off and deliberately faced towards the oncoming traffic.
The lady was so nice – she spoke english very well, and told me that her house was ‘right there – the one with the car in front’, but she ended up driving me all the way back to the campervan. Was I ever glad – she knew the roads better than I did and I think if I’d been walking I might have taken a wrong turn and gotten completely lost.
We had another wonderful steak dinner – very tender, once again with mushrooms, onions, smashed potatoes, and the addition of some lovely green beens. Roughing it again.