Day 16, Sun 20 Sep, Kortrijk to Roubaix to Paris.

Breakfast was a simple affair. I went to the kitchen for my tray which contained the cutlery, butter, jam and milk. The rest was on the buffet – cereals, apples and oranges, yogurt, bread, ham, cheese, and a choice of hot coffee, tea or chocolate. Not a bad spread for a hostel.

There weren’t too many guests that day so it was a nice relaxing breakfast. I took my time…in fact, I overdid it and was told by Johann that checkout was 10am and it was already close to 10.

As I readied to leave, Johann once again came to my assistance, giving me a small map of the town with directions to get out of it and, a list of towns to tick off on the way to Roubaix. Thanks Johann, you’re a godsend.

My first samaritan of the day ... all colour-coordinated, too.

You know when you're leaving town.

Just outside Kortrijk, I couldn't help noticing that things got a little automated. Drank = drink, snoep = snack, brood = bread.

Cobbled roads on the French side

From now on, I would be cycling along main roads, although still on designated sections marked for bicycles. It was faster though. It took me only about 2 hours to ride the 30kms or so to Roubaix. Somewhere in between, I’d crossed into France, and the signs had changed abruptly to French.

Another sign that indicated that one had left Belgium was the general cleanliness of the town. Roubaix was scrappy-looking. Rubbish was everywhere, and some of the houses looked drab and rundown…. even the people looked different.

I had just entered Roubaix, and at this particular roundabout over a canal, 2 opposite sections of it could be elevated to allow boats to pass through. Not the most convenient of arrangements, as traffic built up about 100 metres or so.

Not sure of directions, I asked this friendly French boy and he drew me a map to get to the velodrome.

Finally, we're getting somewhere...

I circled around a bit and finally made it to the velodrome. It wasn’t some grand piece of architecture but it was hallowed ground – having been the finishing point for the infamous Paris-Roubaix Race for the last 119 years. 250km and some of it on cobbles that were so bad, people just didn’t use it in normal times.

(Read more about Paris-Roubaix race here)

The main gate was closed but not the side gate, which was strangely open. I saw a group of cyclists already inside. There were Brits, from Cycling Club Hackney, and they were here for the same purpose as I was.

Their leader, a guy by the name of Keir, was a bit apprehensive about us all riding the track and said we’d better not, and that somebody might be watching and all that, because normally velodromes aren’t just open like that. So we just posed a bit at the trackside.

The boys were a bit cheesed off that they didn’t get to ride after coming from so far. As for me, I’d decided that as soon as they were gone, I’d go ahead and ride it anyway. After all, the worst that could happen was probably somebody telling me off, and it would be worth it, too.

I took to the track just as they were leaving and as soon as they saw me on it, they hesitated going off. I could tell the boys were telling him ‘See, it’s alright, let’s do it’. Next thing I knew, 2 of the boys zipped past me ( a fully-loaded tourer is like an elephant lumbering along while the thoroughbreds went past me like lightning).

The sidegate was open, so I went in.

So did this group of pilgrims from Cycling Club Hackney, England.

Happily trespassing and doing a ceremonial lap in the velodrome (see video below)

A giant piece of ‘pave’ at the main entrance to the velodrome

With that crossed out of my things-to-do-list while in Europe, I headed for Lille, about 20 kms away, to take the train for Paris. (I was behind time and I had no choice but to take the train other wise it would be another 3 days on the road and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Paris).

To get to Lille, one simply rides on the Grand Boulevard, an old road that has dedicated tram lines, cycle paths and a dual carriageway, all flanked by beautiful trees the leaves of which were already changing colour, covering the street below with a golden blanket. I rode a little slower to enjoy it.

On the extreme left is the road for cars, followed by trams, then a fast road cars again, then the 2-way cycle path, then another road for cars.

As I was riding along, a cyclist came up to me with the usual ‘Bon jour.’ I bon jour’ed back and we started chatting. His name was Jean Chevalier, he was on his way home from his work as a communications executive with a bicycle manufacturer, and he was another like-minded soul. He started telling me about his ambitious plans for a long cycle tour that would be taking place early next year – India and across Australia.

We chatted almost all the way to Lille and he decided that he would take me to the train station, and help me buy a ticket. I love it when I meet such people on the road. They really do make my day.

Like elsewhere in Europe, bikes inside train stations do not raise any eyebrows.

The picturesque town of Lille.

Lille's main square.

The non-stop train to Paris cost me 64 Euros (ouch), including bike, of course, and it took a mere 1 hour 4 minutes to cover the 220 or kms.

The carriage for cyclists offers a special room to store bikes, hung up by the front wheel (I'd forgotten to take a picture).

A fellow tourer (enroute to Spain) who was on the same train with me.

It felt great to be finally stepping out onto the Parisian streets --- it was busy, noisy, colourful and beautiful.

Enroute to the campsite at Bois du Boulogne on the eastern side of Paris, I stopped to take in the sight of Arc de Triomphe, basking in the warm glow of a setting sun.

Tomorrow, I do the tourist thing, along with the thousands of other visitors from all over the world.

Distance today:: 62
Distance to date:: 878

Playback today’s ride on Garmin Connect (Kortrijk-Lille)
Playback today’s ride on Garmin Connect (Paris train station to Bois du Bologne)

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Day 15, 19 Sep, Brugge to Kortrijk.

Camp Memling is a lovely campsite, especially the park filled with tall and matured trees next to it. Maybe that’s why it was a little colder than usual. Today was time to change direction to Roubaix, France by way of Kortijk,  a small Belgian town almost on the French border where I would certainly have to stop for the night.

It was a late start for me today, taking my time packing up, talking to fellow campers ….

After relocating to the tents-only site.

Yes, that is a mini coffee press on the table:) Little luxuries like can help start the day on the right note

These 4 French boys were quite hilarious...using pet-food bowls to eat their cereals.

I wasn't about to pass this up ... plucking an apple from the tree next to my tent.

The day before I had also been talking to another cycle-tourer at the campsite, Luc, who was on the last leg of his tour which started in Denmark. His home is in Kortijk and fortunately for me, he had a proper cycling map of the area. He was kind enough to write out the numbers of the cycling path points for me, all the way to just outside Kortijk where he lived in a town called Bissingen.

At first I had asked Luc if I could ride with him but according to him, ‘I’m a lonely rider…I go, I stop, I like that’. Ok, I get the point. In fact, I know just how he feels. No wonder he was so quick to give me the numbers.

It was the shortest route to Kortrijk and the scenery was downright boring, bland and uninspiring. It was also hot (almost like in Malaysia), and there was no cool wind either. Farms, farms, farms and more farms – mostly corn, except for a lovely break from yellow to purple when I passed a lavender field. The ride itself is only worth this paragraph. But…I did see a couple of interesting things.

My first 2 angels of the day...putting me on the right track to ...

no. 70, the first of a series of numbers I had to follow to get to Kortrijk.

It started out pleasant enough

I even came across an ancient mobile home...check out the chimney.

Numbers galore ... now we're getting somewhere.

Riding through a very posh neighbourhood

Then the rest of the day was riding past farms, a lot of it yellow fields of corn

Except for this brief break of purple lavendar.

The first of 2 weddings I would pass that day.

This one was a wedding for a fireman. The wedding party immediately struck a pose when I took out my camera.

Another church later, I saw this antique bus dressed up for another wedding.

Luc’s numbered cycling paths ended at Bissingen and from there I decided to follow the main roads (in Belgium and France, you are allowed to ride on main roads, except highways, of course. Don’t even think of it in the Netherlands). When I reached Kortrijk, I set about looking for a youth hostel, as there were no campsites in this town. Here, I was surprised by the helpful, friendly nature of the Belgians.

First, it was this friendly Belgian driving a van. He stopped his vehicle and got down to help me with directions,

then it was a bus driver who shouted instructions for getting to the centre of town as he slowly passed me,

then it was this lady who sensed that I was looking for the hostel and called out to me while pointing in the direction of the hostel, ‘Sleeping? There, there.’Then she said, ‘You follow me.’ It was only a short distance but she led me there anyway. Then she told me, as we stopped there in the middle of the street, that she had adopted 8 Vietnamese children! I guess my Asian features aroused her motherly instincts and made her want to help me.

It never stops amazing me … all these wonderful people who helped a stranger in their land. I also learnt that if you stopped in your tracks and look at a map long enough, someone will eventually ask if they could help you.

I was also surprised at the size of the hostel. This was no Lonely Planet type of hostel. This was more like YMCA. I decided to take a room instead of a bed in an 8-bed dorm since it was only 9 Euros more, and I craved peace and privacy. It was a lovely room – small, spartan but clean, and most of all, the windows opened up to a lovely view of trees, not buildings.

Johann, the manager there, was just so helpful, checking me in, explaining to me where to go for dinner, explaining to me where to get the tray for the included breakfast, where the breakfast was served (in a huge multipurpose hall complete with a bar), and after I checked in, locking up my bike and things I didn't need to use, in the store-room.

The spacious multi-purpose hall also served as a cafeteria for breakfast.

Tonight, I would have a good night’s sleep and tomorrow, I head for Roubaix, France and the Velodrome Roubaix, where the Hell of the North race finishes.

I’m so excited 🙂

Distance today:: 77km
Distance to date:: 816km

Day 14, 18 Sep, In Bruges

Ray: After I killed him, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off me hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter the instructions came through – “Get the f#@# out of London, you dumb f#@#s. Get to Bruges.” I didn’t even know where Bruges f#@#ing was.

[pause]

Ray: It’s in Belgium.

 

Ray is Colin Farrell in the dark and wickedly funny movie ‘In Bruges’. Shot entirely in the old city of Bruges, the story is about 2 Irish hitmen (played by bushy-browed Colin Farell and the excellent Brendan Gleeson) sent to Bruges to lie low after a botched job.

The dialogue is sharp, witty and coarse, but I was more fascinated by the backdrop of Bruges in the move. I had to include Bruges in my plans.

So here I am, In Bruges. I’m gonna be a tourist again.

But when I woke up this morning, it seemed to be colder than usual. I would have to add another layer of clothing to keep warm. The campsite is about 15 minutes bike ride from the centre of Bruges, where it’s ringed by canals and the remnants of some fortifications.

I hadn’t bargained for the ridiculously high number of tourists though, and they were all over the place. Not nice. Buses and buses of them, many in orderly groups being led around like dumb sheep by their herders. Many others were sightseeing on boats floating through the many canals … damn, they were everywhere.

After I tired of the crowds, I pointed my bike in the opposite direction and explored the less popular parts of the city. Unencumbered freedom on wheels. Again, advantage cycle-tourer.

So here’re the pics of my little jaunt through the cobbled streets of medieval Bruges, or Brugge, as the Belgians call it.

One the entrance to the old part of Bruges that dated back hundreds of years. A busy main road is just off to the right bordering the canal.

Bruges lives up to its reputation as the ‘best preserved medieval city in Belgium’

At the town square, a Salvador Dali exhibition was being held

The town square is quite huge…this row of buildings flank one side of it.

A different kind of bike rack, which I couldn’t use.

It was easier for me to lock my bike to a lamp-post when I went to explore a building nearby. The 2 ladies are American tourists … eating fries.

Cycling through the streets of old Bruges, I could just imagine what life was like when Bruges was in its prime hundreds of years ago.

Canals and bodies of water covered the entire city.

as well as shady tree-lined roads

One of the quieter streets with no tourists in sight. The autumn leaves added a warm touch to an otherwise cold day.

At the Our Lady’s Church, simple on the outside,

but exquisite on the inside.

It was also famous for this statue — Madonna and Child by Michelangelo.

Real homes inhabited by locals. I had an interesting peek through the wooden windows of the house seen here.

Just next to it is this quaint little bridge.

One of the many boatloads of tourists plying the canals throughout the day.

Almost all the streets in central Bruges are paved with cobblestones

A sculpture that paid tribute to the humble bicycle.

Sometimes, I’d act like a tourist, too 🙂

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One of the first things I do when visiting a new place is to get a free map. I loved the one that I found at the campsite reception. It’s called ‘Bruges. Free map for young travellers’. Instead of the usual boring spin, this particular leaflet dished out tips and advice in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. The introduction, and some of the tips, deserve a mention here:

ACT LIKE A LOCAL

Bruges has 3 million visitors a year. Almost 1 million take the tourist boat, and many also do the horse carriage. No wonder it’s called ‘The Venice of the North’, there are some swans on the water, and there’s a Michelangelo statue in a church. Do you care? Of course not. Very well, then start acting like a local!

* Use your bicycle to run over tourists. It’s what we do as well. Kamikaze bicycles are for rent all over town.

* On your face! Most people in Belgium say ‘Sante‘ when they toast, but around here ‘up je mulle’ does the trick. It literally means ‘(I toast) on your face‘.

* West Flemish, the dialect in Bruges, is the most powerful dialect around. To summarize it; just pronounce half of the sounds. For example, ‘pannenkoek met chocolade‘ should be pronounced as ‘panne’oe’e me cho’ola‘. Ask help from any real local.

* Do not salute people with a stressy ‘Yo!’, but go for ‘Yuuu‘ or ‘Yooo‘ while pointing your finger at the person you’re greeting. Don’t wink or whistle though.

* Choose the right football team. Club Brugge (blue and black) is always high in the first division and regularly gets to the Champion’s League, but Cercle Brugge (green and black) is the proud underdog. The worse they’re playing, the more enthusiastic their fans get.


And then there are ‘QUESTIONS TO PISS OFF THE LOCALS’

* Oooh, I know this tower! It was built for the movie ‘In Bruges’, wasn’t it?
* When does Bruges close?
* Where is McDonalds?

Charming little town, isn’t it?

Tomorrow, I head for Kortrijk, near the French border.

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Day 13, 17 Sep, Renesse to Brugge, Belgium.

The weather was still very agreeable today, and although there were some clouds, there was a clear hint of a sunny day ahead. Usually, when the sun had risen higher in the sky, it would chase away the clouds, warming up the day.

After a quick breakfast, I packed up and went straight to the reception to pay the bill. Only thing was, this part of the world was pretty laid back and the manager had not arrived yet. Another man was there though; he didn’t speak English so he gestured for me to wait by putting up five fingers to indicate 5 minutes so I just hung around.

I was impatient to get on the road. Today I would be crossing into Belgium, and I’d hope to make Brugge (say bru-ger), or Bruges (say broojzh) depending on which country you came from, before sunset. I wasn’t quite sure of the distance but estimated it to be around 100km or so. It was going to be a pretty long day.

A woman arrived by bicycle a little later and I paid the 9 Euros for sleeping in an empty field and taking a dump in their toilet. I wondered if I should have just stealth-camped and save the money. It really wouldn’t have been much different.

I headed for Burghamsted, the next village less than 10km away. I found the supermarket and proceeded to stock up on food. When you’re on the road, it’s better to always have some food ready … just in case. I got the fresh milk that I just absolutely must have in the morning, and some bread. Water, on the other hand is never a problem – you can drink it straight from the tap. Saved me quite a bit of money.

Rural landscape of Burghamstead, horses and all.

 

Continuing after Burghamsted, the path would wind through smooth paths, a dyke or 2, and sometimes gravelled dunes that were higher than the houses nearby

 

O yea…boom! Actually, slagboom means ‘barrier’

 

Idyllic, serene leaf-strewn paths

Following the LF1 A  faithfully would sometimes take you through very colourful settings, in this case, a small town with cobbled streets

 

and busy sidewalk cafes in full swing

 

Passing through the town of Middleburg …

 

where Churchill is so revered, they named a street after him.

 

Interesting characters on the bike path. This one’s not an invalid, just an old pirate who gets around easier on her electric buggy.

Canals inevitably means boats, which take priority when they had to ‘cross’ the road. Here, the middle span of this bridge is lifted to allow the tugboat pulling a massive crane of some sort to pass.

 

 

My next destination was Visslingen, a port just outside the town of Middleburg to take the ferry across to Breskens. It was a pedestrian-and-cyclist-only ferry and costs 3.5 Euro for the 30-minute crossing.

In the hold below, bikes are simply tied to railings with the ropes supplied

 

Typical bikes that the Dutch ride

20 kms from Breskens, I reached the town of Sluis.

 

From Sluis, the plan was to ride along the canal all the way to Brugge, my destination of the day.

I patted myself on the back for being quite clever to have plotted my route through this town because all I had to do to get to Brugge from here was to simply follow the canal. Easy peasy…

In Europe, whenever there’s a canal, one can be sure to find a cycle path next to it and although I didn’t have any reference to this canal, I simply deduced as such from the Michelin map of northern Belgium (and a bit of France) that I had bought in Delft.

As Sluis, a rather popular tourist town, I stopped at a tourist information booth to confirm my plans and after that, I headed straight for the canal which passed through the town itself. One hour later, including a break for food at one of the many benches along the canal, I arrived at the UNESCO certified heritage city of Brugge, just 20km away.

10 minutes into the ride along the canal, I was already in Belgium, but as EU countries go, there really isn’t a border. Things just subtly change as you go along – the houses, the language (not that I could understand any of it), the number plates, the directional signs ….

Brugge is just another 20km away

 

The inspiring tree-lined canal bike path

 

and the occasional windmill

 

Finally, after 111km, I arrived at the town of Brugge

 

I headed straight for the campsite, the only one within city limits, and was pleasantly surprised by it. It wasn’t big, but it was fringed by tall, dense forest which apparently contained recreational cycling and jogging paths. Lovely, I thought and proceeded to pitch up my tent in what I though was a site for tents. The office had closed by now and as is usual of campsites, you just pitched your tent (or your mobile home) in an empty plot and register yourself the next day.

 

 

I had clocked 111km today, the longest distance in a single day since I began my tour. The wind had been quite cold and I was feeling a little knackered. I made a quick trip to the supermarket nearby, came back and cooked a simple dinner of rice with tomato, an egg, some simple seasoning, with some bread and cheese, and I had myself a little feast.

Tomorrow, I will check out ‘the best preserved medieval town in Belgium … or was it Europe? Anyway, sleep came real easy. It was cold that night, too…at least 6-7 degrees. Maybe it was because of the forest next door. Brrrr…. Good thing I had Aljoscha’s sleeping bag that Eva made me exchange for the one I had originally brought. Thanks Eva 🙂 It kept me warm and toasty inside.

Tomorrow: Exploring Brugge

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Distance today:: 111km
Distance to date:: 732km

Playback today’s ride on Garmin Connect

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Day 12, 16 Sep, Delft to Renesse, meeting an ‘old’ friend

After 2 ‘luxurious’ nights sleeping in a nice soft bed, it was time to hit the road again. But first, I had to get another map, this time I thought the Michelin driving map for north Belgium would be useful. The day before, Bee Suan had taken me to a ANWB travel shop to look for a cycling map that I could use to get me across the Belgian border at least.

I finally got one that covered the whole of Netherlands. It wasn’t detailed but it did show all the numbers of the cycling routes, or rather numbered points that a cyclist simply plans ahead and follows them accordingly. My plan today was also to ride a little bit of the 6,000km North Sea Cycle Route along the northern coast of  Netherlands.

And so more number-hunting today. It took me a little while to get out of Delft but once I did, it was quite simple, and I finally followed the numbers and made it to Massluis to take the short ferry ride across to Rozenburg.

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Why there’s no need to hurry when cycling in Holland

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The town of Maasluis, where I would take a ferry across to Brielle

 

Maassluis

 

I finally found the cycle route sign I was looking for — the LF1A, the North Sea Cycle Route, a 6,000km route that covered the coasts of about 6 countries that faced the North Sea

By now, I was quite used to friendly people coming up to talk to me, but today, it would turn out to be a very interesting acquaintance indeed, and it started when I was on the ferry.

83 year-old Dutchman Albert Willemsen was a kindred spirit. He had actually just decided that very morning that he was going to do a 2-day ride from his home to Middleburg and from there, take a train home. He lived not too far from Delft and was coincidentally going in the same direction as me.

It was only a 10-minute crossing and we only managed the usual pleasantries, but as we were disembarking, Albert came up to me and said he would like ride with me a bit and that perhaps later we could have coffee and cakes at Brielle, the next town on our list. I happily agreed to some company. It would turn to be more than just a pleasant break from solo riding.

Albert Willemsen, my new-found friend

Albert rides on very decent equipment — complete with Tubus front and rear racks

At Brielle, he made sure to tell me that I was his guest as we sat al fresco at a table outside a café next to a canal. So far, everything seemed to be going perfectly — the sun was shining gloriously, the wind was behind our backs and here I was having coffee with an interesting Dutchman.

Albert’s story unfolded as we enjoyed the cappuccinos and cakes. Mine had a big dollop of fresh cream. He had fought in the Indonesian war of independence in 1946 in Java and was stationed there for 2 years. On my part, I could only marvel at the fact that at 83, he was still so feisty in his outlook on life. I mean, even a 1-day ride like this would beyond most 80 year-olds I know.

 

The town of Brielle

 

At Cafe Dixi Anno where we stopped for coffee

 

Next to a canal… basking in the warmth of the sun

 

Being served coffee and cakes

Coffee and cake. Mine had a huge dollop of cream. Albert said he couldn’t handle it so gave it a miss

 

Listening intently as Albert recounted the exciting epochs of his life

Neither his children nor his wife shared his passion for recreational cycling. How sad for a European, I thought. I guessed he just wanted some company to liven up his otherwise simple existence. Amazingly, we never stopped chatting throughout the ride.

There are a lot of things one can learn from old people, and one of them is never to take life for granted. He was this sagely old man who, by our standards, was way over the hill … some would simply be biding their time until death released them from this world.

But Albert clearly loved life and was not letting any of it go to waste, and he lived life as each day came.

‘I look into the mirror and I see a very old man’ he remarked.

Well, all I can only say is that at 83, I too, would still want to be touring and, when meeting up with ‘young’ adventurers like me, be ready to dish out some sagely advice about life.

 

Continuing on, we rode past a massive dyke connecting 2 islands

 

The sluice gates of the dyke that controlled the flow of water to and from the sea.

 

At we passed a junction, he asked me if I would like to detour to a ‘romantic path through the dunes’. But of course … how could I pass up on anything that’s off-the-beaten track?

The bike path changed to mostly gravel along the sand dunes

 

and, of course, unrideable sand

 

Then we came upon cyclists stopping by the road picking berries. ‘Raspberries’ said Albert when I asked about it. ‘Would you like to try some?’ Fresh raspberries off the branch? This was just too good to be true. I stopped and started picking off some ripe raspberries, pricking myself in the process.

 

They’re not exactly sweet, just fresh and tart-tasting, but flavoursome. They’re ripe when they turn black. Most people who picked them made jam out of it.

 

As we ambled along, enjoying the wind behind our backs, we came upon a sign that said ‘mossels’, or mussels in English.

‘Fresh ones’ Albert explained. Apparently this part of Netherlands was famous for its mussels and even the Belgians come from across the border to enjoy them.

As we reached Oudorp, Albert’s destination for the day, he asked if I would like to have some mussels for lunch. ‘Mussels and beer,’ Albert said with a twinkle in his eye ‘were made for each other’.

He also hastened to add that ‘You’re my guest today, ok?’ And that was that.

Today was definitely one of the best days of the trip so far.

We rolled into a café that had a sign for fresh mussels and Albert proceeded to order lunch – 1 pot of mussels each, fries, salad, a bread basket and a tasty Belgian beer each. The mussels came in a small pot cooked with some onions. It was simple and it was absolutely the best mussels I had ever tasted.

But first, we needed to wet our throats. Nothing less than Belgian beer would do. Liquid ambrosia…

 

Cheers to life!

 

One pot of fresh mussels each

 

accompanied by a bread basket and a beautiful salad

 

After lunch, it was time to part ways; Albert to his B&B for the night and I, to whatever town I came to at sunset. Albert insisted on showing me the way out of town and when we came to the junction, I was actually sad at seeing him go.

‘Good luck, and God bless you’ he said as he turned his bicycle around and slowly headed back to Oudorp.

As he rode off into the distance, I remembered a little banner in Bee Suan’s house that proclaimed an Irish Blessing:

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand

 

Well, I was certainly blessed today. As Albert and I parted ways, I rode on alone, with a brisk tailwind at my back as I turned east towards the next junction.

 

A brisk, tailwind assisted, effortless ride… 34kph!

At around 6.30pm, as the sun began to dip into the horizon, I decided to stop at the next decent-looking campsite (and there were plenty along this route). By this time, all campsite offices were closed but the general rule is, if you arrive late, you simply find a proper space to pitch your tent for the night and the next morning, you just go to the office to register and pay.

The stop for the day — Rennese, more a village than a town

 

An ‘authentic’ campsite. Aren’t they all?

And so, at the tiny village of Renesse, I simply rode into a campsite and pitched up my tent in a big empty field (I was the only tent there, the rest were all mobile homes). It was a very quiet campsite and I saw very few people about. Definitely no marijuana-induced parties here. After a simple dinner, I hunkered down for the night while the wind was still blowing strongly.

The tent was flapping lightly all night long … it was a very cold wind.

Tomorrow, I cross the border into Belgium, and the medieval city of Brugge in Belgium.

Postscript:
Albert, if you’re reading this, please write to me through the comment page here. The email address you gave was not correct…that’s why you never heard from me after we parted ways.

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Distance today:: 80km
Distance to date:: 621km

Playback today’s ride at Garmin Connect

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Day 11, 15 Sep, Exploring Delft

Delft is another one of many charming towns in Netherlands. Most of the buildings here date a back a few hundred years. Even the house that Bee Suan is staying in is more than a hundred years old. They may be old but most of them are kept in good condition and still command a considerable sum on the open market.

Besides staying another day to explore the town, I would also be shopping around for a proper map, one that can take me all the way to Bruges in Belgium. Bee Suan took me to a specialist travel shop and I finally settled on a cycling map of Northern Netherlands. It wasn’t detailed but it featured all the numbered cycling paths as well as major ones like The North Sea Cycle Route which I intend to follow until I turned off at the town of Sluis on the Dutch/Belgian border. It was good enough that I wouldn’t get lost so easily.

The rest of the day I spent exploring the lovely town of Delft ..

 

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Another lovely dinner prepared by Bee Suan.


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Day 10, 14 Sep, Amsterdam to Delft, a captivating ride.

Amsterdam is a city that’s worth exploring for a few days, but I didn’t have a few days. By the looks of it, I could only enjoy the city for a day and I’d have to get a move on if I was to keep my schedule. I’d realized that the itinerary I had so cleverly planned was actually more feasible if done over at least 5 weeks… or better still, 2months.

The sun was shining bright and early, but the wind was gusty and cold

To Delft it was then. I was looking forward to it, too, as I would be staying with Martha’s friend from my hometown – Bee Suan, and her German husband Sebastian. Martha had so kindly arranged this special stop for me and it meant a nice break from camping as well.

The day before, I had asked and, according to the guy in the campsite’s bikeshop as an indication, Den Haag (or The Hague in English, which was very near to Delft) was only was about 50km or so from Amsterdam.

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Camp Zeeburg’s bike rental shop

50kms or so sounded like a ride in the park, especially with the weather forecast to be sunny (the weather forecasts here are very accurate). This morning, after packing up, I realised my rear tyre needed a little more air but I had already packed the pump and it was too inconvenient to dig through the pannier, so I headed for the bikeshop again.

It was another guy who was manning the counter and as I asked to borrow the pump, I told him about my plan for the day and asked him what the best route was to get to Delft.

He was a nice friendly guy (all the Dutch people I met seem to be friendly) and suggested I follow the scenic Amstel river route for part of the way. He even showed me the best way out of the city. well, it was … for about 3kms anyway.

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Errr… now what?

As is typical of Dutch fietstraats, or cycling paths, they were all numbered and all you had to do was simply follow the direction to the number coming up next on your planned route…. if you had a cycling map, that is. I didn’t have any, as I just couldn’t find a shop which sold one.

But soon, an elderly gentleman came up to me and asked if I needed help (tip: if you acted forlorn and lost long enough, somebody will eventually come and help you).

‘Ok, first you go straight until you come to a canal. Then you turn right until a traffic light and then you go across to the other side and you follow that road until you come to some new buildings, then you turn right because there are roadworks there and you have to go that direction anyway…etc etc…’

Ok, bye-bye, thank you very much and off I went. Naturally, by the time I reached the first turn after the canal, I was lost again. It never crossed their Dutch minds that a Malaysian from some tropical country which had no cycle paths would be able to remember their ‘easy’ directions.

And so it went on like this throughout the day. It was like a treasure hunt.

 

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Automatic train crossing

 

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Wonder who’s the invalid?

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Dutch cycle paths are some of the best in the world

 

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Bike parking at a train station. Count them..

 

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Local policemen doing their bit for lost world travellers

 

When I finally got out of the messy roads leading out of the city, I suddenly found myself on the Ouderkerk on the Amstel route. As amazing as the fact that I actually found it, the change in scenery was what made me gasp with surprise. It was beautiful, and it made getting lost so worth it.

As I wound my way along the Amstel, it became one of those moments that only a cycle tourer can explain — the sheer delight at the spectacle that kept unfolding with every pedal stroke; always surprising, taking your breath away every now and then and, as a bonus, clear blue skies and the wind behind your back — this was what we lived for as a cyclo-tourist.

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The Ouderkerk on the Amstel route, very scenic and very popular with recreational cyclists

 

 

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Along the way… what Dutch cheese and milk do before they become cheese and milk

 

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The route was so nice, I just had to stop and drink it all in …along with a cup of coffee al fresco

 

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Soon, the Amstel and I had to part ways and I was back to treasure hunting. But, I wasn’t worried at all. You see, instead of a cycling map which I couldn’t find, I had gotten myself a driving map. This gave me an idea of where I was at all times, and in the Netherlands, civilization is never more than 20 minutes away.

So, all I had to do was adopt a different strategy – when asking for help, tell them my final destination, then whip out my roadmap and ask them which was the next nearest town I should head for … and so on and so on.

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2 friendly ladies who helped me with directions

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This particular spot was so captivating that I just had to stop and soak it all in. I had my lunch break here as well, but sitting still meant being exposed to the cold wind so after a while I hit the road with the wind behind me once again.

 

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You couldn’t ask for better, or safer, roads to cycle on in Netherlands. The red sections are strictly for bicycles. Cars passing by would always be civil and careful. Such is the culture in Netherlands.

 

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Whenever you see the sign ‘Te Koop’, it meant ‘for sale’, In this case, fruits and vegetables from an unmanned roadside stall. This particular unmanned one, like many in Europe, operated on an honesty principle.

 

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You can even park a big boat in your backyard

 

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At one junction, I asked for directions from a helpful Volvo showroom salesperson. He even let park inside when I asked to use the toilet..even offered me a drink. So nice

 

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Idyllic scenery like this continue to roll by

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A fully-working windmill and home to some farmer

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That’s ‘Ha zers wow der dop’. Very near to Delft now.

It worked like a dream. Trouble was, I was now only halfway through and the trip-meter had only clocked about 50kms. Oh well… onwards to Delft. I had confidently told Bee Suan that I should arrive by lunchtime but now if I was lucky, it’d be dinnertime instead.

I was right. Rolling into Delft, I located her waypoint on my Garmin (that was all I had) and rode towards her home. I had gotten her GPS coordinates by pinpointing her address on Googlemap and then, by clicking on ‘get directions’ it would display part of the results in coordinates. I would then copy those coordinates and created a waypoint in Mapsource, then upload it to the GPS unit. Pretty neat, Googlemap is, and very, very accurate.

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Arriving at the town square of Delft. The town’s church is just behind me.

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And so at around 6.30pm, I rolled into a very narrow street called Smitsteeg…

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found the number of Bee Suan’s home and rang the doorbell…

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My gracious host for the night — Bee Suan and Sebastian welcoming me to their warm and cosy home

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The hunt was over for today and I was looking forward to a dinner of Hungarian Goulash that Bee Suan had told me she was preparing for dinner. Paired with a bottle of excellent Spanish red and the company of my gracious hosts, what better way than this to end a day of hard riding?

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Authentic Hungarian Goulash, cooked with authentic Hungarian ingredients.

 

 

Tomorrow: Exploring Delft

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Distance today:: 89km

Distance to date:: 541km

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Day 9, Sun 13 Sep, exploring Amsterdam Pt 2. Bikes, bikes and more bikes.

If you were to stand in the middle of a busy street in Amsterdam, just shout “Hey, that’s my bike!” to no one in particular, chances are one of them could just drop his or her bike and run away.

True story.

Every year 50,000 bikes are stolen in this city. And about 15,000 bikes are recovered from the canals  every year as well. Crazy, but also true.

So, here’s a photo-essay on bikes in Amsterdam … they come in all shapes and sizes, including their owners.

That , of course, is my trusty LHT. Doesn’t look out of place at all.

 

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I parked my bike to but some food from a supermarket and when I came back, somebody’s parked bike was leaning on mine.

 

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Can’t beat this casual parking though

 

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Or this…long forgotten and stripped of its dignity

 

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Dutch bikes are made to carry almost anything

 

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Kids…

 

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Shopping and kids..

 

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Thumb-sucking kids

 

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Big kids

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A very fertile bike

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Dam, there’s the rent-a-bike shop

 

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For the tourists. This one takes some pedalling to get about. Good thing Amsterdam, as is the rest of Holland, is pancake flat.

 

 

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