Small tour of Belgium

cisamcgu

Guru
Location
Merseyside-ish
Dear CCers

Following this thread https://www.cyclechat.net/threads/short-tour-in-holland-belgium-recommendations.246243/

Mrs Cisamcgu and I went on the mini-tour last week .. here is a write up, taken from http://ramblings.mcguiness.co.uk/


Thanks
Andrew


Belgium - Ypres to Brussels - Monday, 25th August

By Andrew on Monday 26 August 2019, 18:45

Brompton bikes checked, most packing done, dinner being prepared - all ready for an early start tomorrow .

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Obviously the luggage isn't attached yet - we cannot travel for 12 days without a change of undies - we are not barbarians !! (although Belinda is Australian, which is close I suppose?)

We will be catching a train from Crosby all the way to Lille in northern France. Obviously not the same train, I'm not sure a class 507 Merseyrail train would get that far, the third rail would be a problem anywhere south of the Wirral anyway - this may be a little too nerdy for a non-train person, but anyway, we will continue ...

So, train from Crosby to Liverpool, then Liverpool to London, then London to Lille (lots of L's, maybe this is a hidden theme ?). Once in Lille, we stay the night, then catch the train to Kortrijk (avoiding trying to navigate out of Lille), then ride from there to Ypres. Sharp eyed readers may have already noticed the occasional Anglicising of the European towns and cities. For instance Kortrijk is also in English Courtrai or Courtray , whereas Ypres is properly called Ieper. I will make no apologies for this, and will make use of whatever name I fancy - I will leave it up to you, dear reader, to decipher

Trains, trains and more trains - Tuesday, 27th August
By Andrew on Wednesday 28 August 2019, 06:40

We set out from Crosby (well it wouldn't make sense to leave from anywhere else, would it?) and caught the local train the Liverpool Lime Street station. Trains ran on time, we got seats and they were mostly empty. The bicycles folded well and were very well behaved on the journey.

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We arrived in London and rode (aren't we brave?) the 1km to St Pancras Station. (Please note, dear reader, that it is not Pancreas, which is an organ in the body, but Pancras which is something else entirely). With 4 hours to spare before the train left ( you van never be too early), we plonked ourselves down on the concourse for a nice, but expensive, snack.

We tried to pop into the Crick Institute, but found it was closed on Tuesdays, so pottered around, went through customs and passport control, and eventually boarded the Eurstar to Brussels via Lille. Belinda carried the bags and I carried the bikes. If you ever think about getting a Brompton also consider getting a large, powerful manservant at the same time, it will make you life easier and stop you arms from stretching unnecessarily !

Lille was as elegant as we remembered. We had a beer in a local bar, served by the Frenchiest person you are ever likely to meet, had a nice pizza and salad further down the road, and retired early to sleep in the hottest, noisiest room in the whole of Flanders...

Cycling by numbers - Wednesday, 28th August
By Andrew on Thursday 29 August 2019, 15:34

Before I go any further, I must apologise over the lack of photographs. This is because of a technical reason that may have to wait until we return home for resolution. Hence, pictures will be painted by the written word, and imagination may be required to fully appreciate the goats and corn (if we had photos you would know why both goats and corn were mentioned - sadly it is not to be).

Lille in the morning is a strangely quiet city, but no less pleasant. We broke our fast on croissants and porridge and then loaded the bikes, waved goodbye to the Ibis hotel and zipped over to the Lille Flanders train station. After a few minutes trying to translate a French ticket machine, a tiny Union Jack flag was noticed and everything magically turned into English, we managed to get a couple of singles to Kortrjik, and stepped onto the 10:08 out of France into Belgium.

Once in Beligium we obviously started to ride in earnest, only stopping after about 7 minutes for a refreshing lemonade - cycling gods we are ! We found the Fietsroute and started towards Ypres. The Belgium cycle routes are simply wonderful, you just go from number to number, and arrive. Almost no navigation required, nearly all dedicated cycle paths and tremendously courteous drivers - nothing could be better.

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We followed the river which was full of huge barges carrying all sorts of things including containers, cars, agricultural products and anything else you can imagine - a proper use of infrastructure. The sun was hot, and our legs slowly became tired, but we plodded on through small, sleepy towns (sleepy is not some romantic turn of phrase, they were literally asleep; every shop and cafe closed), slowly closing in on Ypres. We were climbing some serious hills, many over 10m high. (In actual fact the hills were low and shallow but continual for many km, and did become tiring)

We past a few WW1 cemeteries, stopping briefly at a couple - they were not sad places, more thought provoking really, especially when you saw the lists of thousands upon thousands of names. We were so busy looking at one that we missed our route coming into Ypres and had to navigate by map (how quaint I hear you cry, very retro).

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Ypres was nice, full of WW1 stuff, obviously, but very interesting. We had a superb burger in a small cafe, went to the last post at the Menem Gate, and retired to our sumptuous hotel room tired and happy.

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Belinda and I at the Menem Gate ( yes, I DO know it is upside down, do you think I like being this way up, it is virtually barbarian !)

Riding with the wind - Thursday, 29th August
By Andrew on Friday 30 August 2019, 14:56

Ypres sleeps in late....very late...

We wandered the streets looking for breakfast and in the end bought croissants and cakes. We devoured these in the hotel and packed up the bikes. There was a slight issue on checking-out, we were given the wrong bill for the wrong room, but eventually everything was fine and we began the relatively short trip to Roeselare. The wind was with us so we flew out of Ypres, taking the wrong route almost immediately !

After a hurried consultation with the map, and no crossed words, we veered south and reconnected with our plan. It was mostly uneventful.

We cycled past acres of corn and rows of sprouts, and eventually stopped for coffee at a place called ANZAC rest. It was a coffee shop/pub, and was also the site of excavations of WW1 fortifications. They had found a photo and had traced it back to an Australian solder from 1917. The whole area was the scene of fierce fighting from 1915 - 1917.

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This is the sort of path we follow

We had a scrumptious lunch in Passendale after popping into the museum for a few minutes. We also visited Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth cemetery. It was immaculately kept, and rather lovely, in a stark and depressing way.

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Tyne Cot

The route was about 50% on dedicated cycle paths and was a pleasure to ride. Roeselare was quite a large town, lots of industry and such, but also strangely quiet, like all of Belgium - maybe they heard we were coming and all scarpered ? We had a late afternoon beer and dinner in a peculiar bistro, run by a cross between Olivia Coleman and Kerry Goodliman from Derek, (if you have never seen the TV show, then take the time to find it, very touching and very, very funny; Derek that is, not this Bistro).

Staying in the same hotel were a group of lady bike riders called the "cycling sisters". They seemed to stalk us a little, drinking at the same bar, eating at the same cafe, but I am sure it was just a coincidence and we won't see them again

Also had a moment of panic that I had forgotten to insure the house since May, but 15 minutes later a nice lady from John Lewis insurance assured me I could continue to enjoy my holiday safe in the knowledge that the buildings and contents had been safely covered by their comprehensive plan .. phew!

We retired very early to bed in the hotel, the room over warm but comfortable.

Still a problem with photos, eventually they will appear, and then you will just have to read the whole thing again, won't you ... well ... I thought so, good ...

Coffee, the civilised way - Friday, 30th August
By Andrew on Saturday 31 August 2019, 07:56

We left Roeselare, travelling North along an old railway line, the sun was shining, the birds were tweeting - you get the picture ? We ariived for a brief stop at Gits, and then carried on to Torhout where we had a lovely cup of coffee. I have a picture, but cannot work out how to include it here, so it will have to wait until we are back, but perfect coffee, a piece of Belgian chocolate and a tiny glass of brandy (Baileys for the ladies) and a lovely view of the square. It was picture perfect, only spoiled by the arrival of the cycling sisters - they are stalking us, I am sure

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Hey, we have got some photos to work, maybe more to follow, dear reader, but do not hold your breath.

Obviously we soon lost the route and had to navigate simply by smell (we are like scouts) to get to the next waypoint. The bikes were performing well, only a few strange noises from some of the gears, but nothing singing a loud song didn't fix ! We made our way to Aartijke and had a nice lunch in what turned out to be 'the place to be' it filled with lots of locals, many of whom knew each other and seemed to order, and then eat, a pile of orange goo. I'm sure it was lovely, they all devoured it with gusto, but we had no idea what it was.

The cycling passed the normal crops, for here, of corn and sprouts. We wondered for a significant time why they were growing so many sprouts in Belgium, was it a national vegetable, was it very popular here, it was a mystery until we remembered the full English name -Brussel Sprouts - doh !

The road to Brugge now passed through a lovely wooded region, we were cycling through a forest with the sun dappling on the track, very scenic indeed, but soon we were past it and into Brugge proper. A glance at the map and 10 minutes later we were checking into the Novotel.

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With hardly a pause we were out again, wandering the street of Brugge, drinking wine and beer and eating mussels - we were virtually native. We booked a walking tour for tomorrow and retired for our customary early night.

In Bruges - Saturday, 31st August
By Andrew on Monday 2 September 2019, 08:03

We snuck out of the hotel and bought breakfast in a small supermarket. Pastries and yoghurt and freshly squeezed orange juice. Squeezed by yours truly, using a mechanical machine the likes of which the world has never seen ! It was a marvel, moving, squishing and disposing of the oranges in a never ending stream.

After our breakfast we meandered to meet the guide who we had booked yesterday. An American chap, he was entertaining and enlightening in equal measure and gave some excellent insights into Bruges. After the tour we grabbed a quick bite of lunch before looking at markets and bric a brac shops.

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We had a small rest back in the hotel then walked a quarter of the circumference of the city, seeing windmills, boats, ducks and canals. All very scenic and pretty. A beer and dinner (Thai) followed before we crashed back to the hotel for a well earned sleep.

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Following the river - Sunday, 1st September
By Andrew on Tuesday 3 September 2019, 07:30

Today we cycle from Brugge to Gent, basically following the river for about 45km. The wind is blowing from the north-west, we are cycling south-east, rivers are notoriously flat, so even we should manage it in a few hours.

We again feasted on supermarket findings - gluten filled pastries for me, gluten-free options for Belinda; and of course the wonderful orange juice created by the infernal squishing machine. As we walked back to the hotel a peleton of about 35 cyclists whizzed up the narrow, cobbled Brugge street. They were all dressed in purple, all (well most) thin and fit looking, and all obviously going at 850kmph. Following this cavalcade was the 'team car', a small Fiat with a billboard on the roof announcing the name of the club. It was sureal, like watching the Veulta Espana, but not really

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View of the river

We checked the route on our every useful maps, and set off, following the river, and a lot of other cyclists on the route from Bruges to Ghent. It was a simple as we had hoped, and other than the fact it was Sunday and so nothing was open, it was lovely. We passed some WW2 re-enactment, passed and re-passed the same boat all the way down (maybe housing the cycling sisters), and generally made good time. The only thing to go wrong was Belinda, she started making a dreadful grinding, knocking noise and will maybe need replacing when we return to the UK.

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Can you hear the grinding noise ?

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We saw the same boat again and again ...

Ghent is a bigger place than Bruges, and it took us some time to cross through the suburbs and find the hotel. We are right in the centre, ideally located for waffles and beers.

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Arriving into Ghent

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One of the lovely Belgium beers

We found a lovely restaurant and I had fish casserole and Belinda had steak. After an ice-cream we wandered back to the hotel, got our room changed because the original one had a building site outside the window that would commence at 8am, and collapsed into bed.

Please note : Belinda has asked me to make it clear that it was her bike, not her, that started making odd noises, and that it is the gear mechanism that will need to be changed, rather than .... well, anyway, you get the idea.
 
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cisamcgu

cisamcgu

Guru
Location
Merseyside-ish
The best city in Belgium - 2nd September, 2019
By Andrew on Tuesday 3 September 2019, 08:26

Gent is pretty spiffy. It is a living city, rather than the 'stuck in the 16th century' of Brugge. Don't get me wrong, Brugge is much prettier, much more lovely, but Gent is busy, thriving, alive, full of people, and in a couple of weeks, inflated by the arrival of over 7000 students (or maybe 17,000, my Flemish is rusty) It is, as I said, spiffing.

We started the day with a walking tour. The thermometer had dropped a bit, about 22C today, it had been closer to 30C in Brugge. The tour was good, and the guide funny and charming. Gent is a city that has been conquoured so many times, that the Second World War occupation by the Germans doesn't even rate in the top 10 ! We saw some lovely buildings, the Marriott hotel a surprising star, heard some funny stories and learned a little more about the country and what it means to be a Belgian. We saw the famous 'graffiti street' and 'giant toilet roll'. The toilet roll was made because the city wouldn't let the art gallery build a new toilet block, so they put forward a request for permission for an external art installation. They recieved that permission, so built a gigantic roll of toilet paper, and placed the toilets inside it !!!

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After lunch we went around the 'Castle of the Counts'. If you are ever in Gent, you have to go here, it has the best audio descriptions ever. The castle itself is slap bang in the middle of the city, and was designed to control the population rather than protect it, but it is the descriptions in the tour that make it so good - worth a trip to Gent just for this !

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The view from Castle of the Counts.

We sampled some beers and wines by the side of the canal, and after a rest, and decided to return later to the same resturant for, what the giude had promised, was some of the best food in Gent. (The giude had waxed lyrically about the gastronomic delights of Gent - it turns out he was almost certainly a liar ).

We went to a famous pub, full of merry tourists drinking 1.2l of beer from 'yard of ale' shaped container. Because people used to steal these glasses, you have to give a shoe to the bar as a 'hostage' so you don't run away !

When we got back to the resturant I had paella, Belinda had organic scampi, but in reality it was just a mess of whatever the chef thought he/she should put in the plate. For instance Belinda had : Rice Prawns Cauliflower Lettuce Chips Beetroot Tomato Mashed pumpkin

Whereas, here is a photo of paella ...
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It tasted quite nice, but it was really very, very strange. Also, food in Belgium is universally expensive. It is at least €20 for anything, and there seems little connection between the price of the ingredients and the cost of the dish. Steak is often cheaper than an omelette or a stew, for instance.

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Belinda in the very odd resturant

We wandered back to the hotel after a fruitless search for ice cream. Not for a lack of places to buy it, but rather our inability to choose one.

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Gent at night

Wandering in Ghent - Tuesday, 3rd September
By Andrew on Tuesday 3 September 2019, 15:44

Today was going to be lazy. We didn't have anything planned other than a boat trip around the rivers and canals of Gent. We wandered into a cafe, had a coffee and biscuit, then decided to climb the bell tower . About 90m high, it, along with the three huge churches, dominates the Ghent skyline. There were huge bells, an automatic bell player (rather like an enormous music box) and superb views.

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The bell machine.

On top of the bell tower is a gold dragon, that Ghent stole from Brugge, and prior to that, Brugge stole from Istanbul when Istanbul was trading with the Vikings. When Norway asked for it back over a hundred years ago, Ghent simply forged a document saying that they made it, and that was the end of the matter - not sure what Norway thought of that, but Brugge still wants it returned !

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View from the Bell Tower

After the tower, we took our boat trip. It lasted about an hour, and was a very pleasant trip around the city. At one point we found a multitude of children in canoes, so we had to wait around so as not to drown them

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Corn market from the boat

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City library. Very new, and built to look like a stack of books - very nice

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Back of the Castle of the Counts

After the water based amusements, we had a quick look at a couple of huge churches. Either could have been a sizeable cathedral, but even so, they were very impressively big. In one we saw a statue of ....

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St Barbara in St Michaels Church

We missed lunch, but I managed a Belgian waffle, and went back to the hotel for a nap (I said it was a lazy day). In the late afternoon we sampled a few beers, and then had a very nice meal - Belinda with Flemish stew and I had mussels.

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The beers

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Night time view from the restaurant

Brussels - Wednesday, 4th September
By Andrew on Wednesday 4 September 2019, 17:09

We caught a train to Brussels, partly because it was over 60km, but mostly because we didn't fancy riding into an unknown city as big as that. It was a good choice, the train was quick, smooth and relatively cheap, and it rained for most of the afternoon so it would have been a wet arrival into the city if we had travelled by bike.

The hotel was right next to the train station, which is good and bad I suppose, but anyway we checked in and then caught a Metro to ...

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It was something I remember from books I used to have, and in real life it looked spectacular, shiny, silver, huge ... The trouble was inside it, and yes, you can go into a couple of the spheres, it didn't seem to have been updated since the 50's. It looked brilliant at times

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View inside one of the tubes

But in the end was just a little disappointing. It is 102m tall, by the way. The reason I know this is because they tell you ALL THE TIME !! At every single opportunity they tell you it is 102m high, each sphere is 18m in diameter, it weighs ... Well, you get the idea

After the Atomium we wandered back to check out central Brussels. And then it started to rain, and rain, and rain. We retreated back to the hotel rather bedraggled and rested before having a beer in the hotel bar and then slipping out to a nearby bistro for something to eat.

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Lovely, original gate house in Brussels by the Bistro

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In the Bistro

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will explore the European Parliment before catching the Eurostar back to London. Until then, dear friends, Au revoir. (We are in the French speaking part of Belgique now)

Brussels and home - Thursday, 5th September
By Andrew on Friday 6 September 2019, 07:41

Brussels is not the greatest city, indeed wouldn't even make the top 100, but it has a certain charm; well hidden for the most part, but charm none the less.

It is home to one part of the EU parliment, and so we grabbed some take-away breakfast, put the bags and bikes into the hotel storage and caught the Metro over to the Hemicycle, or EU parliment building. We took a bit of time finding the visitors entrance (considering they control the whole area, and ALL the signage, the EU is completely rubbish at indicating the correct way - this maybe a metaphor for something).

The visit was short but interesting, nice place and impressively built, but there were no sessions (they only have 6 per year here, the rest in Strasbourg), so not much to see. We also went to the parlimentarium, a sort of "history of the EU". Very much a self congratulatory place, but again, a nicely presented place.

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The EU chamber

We grabbed a bite to eat. Mixing with important EU people (maybe) and eating expensive cheese cake (definitely) and then walked a long route back to the hotel. Nice cathedral, lovely old centre where they were preparing for a beer festival (did anyone mention Belgium likes beer?), and a pleasant, but long, stroll back to the hotel.

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Cathedral

We were in plenty of time for the Eurostar - obviously - and struggled aboard with the bikes (did I mention they are heavy?), and settled down for the trip back to London. It was uneventful, as train trips should be, and we were in the hotel by about 8:30pm. A beer and a mouse later we retired for the evening.

''Pardon, what was that ?

A mouse ?

Yes, a mouse - doesn't your hotel have a mouse ?

Well, only the best ones have a tiny little creature scurrying across the floor of the bar.''

Anyway, we survived and will be home tomorrow.
 
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