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

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When the leaves turn colour …

The European summer is almost at an end. Most of the tourists will be leaving for home, the crowds are thinning out, the temperature has begun to dip a little — and hopefully, so will prices. All good signs for free and independent cycle-tourers like me embarking on a Tour of Europe.

The plan, as always, is simple 🙂

5 countries, 26 days (4-30 Sep), 1,500km; give or take a couple of hundred kms.

The starting point will be Frankfurt, Germany. From there, I’ll flow with the River Rhine all the way to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, about 500kms to the north.

From Amsterdam, I head south-west to Belgium, crossing into France and then into Paris.

From Paris, it’s a north-westerly ride to Dieppe on the French coast; then a ferry ride across the Channel to Newhaven, England.

The last leg will see me heading north towards London, and then home on an AirAsia flight out of Stansted, 60km to the north.

The first part of the journey will be fully along the cycle paths of the River Rhine. It would be pretty hard to get lost following the river so that’s less one worry. At the end of this leg, Amsterdam should be good for a few days of rest and sightseeing — and of course, blending in with the 700,000 or bicycles that rule the roads of this canal city.

Campsites, or campingplatz as they call it in Germany, are easily found throughout the length of the river so camping is how I intend to overcome the expensive issue of accommodation . Even in big cities like Amsterdam and Paris, there are campsites to be found, right in the heart of it all, and all costing less than 10 Euros.

However, once I reach Belgium, I intend to retrace part of the route that Robert Louis Stevenson (he of Treasure Island fame) took when he sailed from Belgium to France in a sailing canoe. RSL is one of my favourite authors and, without a doubt, one of the finest travel writers of the 19th century.

In his first real book, An Inland Voyage, Stevenson chronicles his travels in a canoe with his good friend, Sir Walter Simpson, along the many canals that define this part of the world. The language may be a bit archaic but if one perseveres, one will be rewarded with the beauty and colour of the land that fairly leap out of the pages.

One of the reasons I’m following in the wake of his inland sailing adventure is that part of the route happens to coincide with that of the other famous French bike race — the Paris-Roubaix Classic — a one-day, 250km race across the countryside. In dozens of stretches along the way, the peloton goes bumpity-bump on some of the most vicious cobblestones that trace back to Roman times (they don’t nick-name this race ‘The Hell of the North‘ for nothing).

At Roubaix, and if allowed, I’m going to ride on the oval timber track of the town’s hallowed velodrome that always plays host to the traditional final km of the race.

Paris will probably be the longest stop of the trip — doing the tourist stuff, eating the best baguettes in the world, drinking coffee by the Parisian sidewalks and, the icing on the cake — riding the traditional Parisian loop of the Tour de France‘ s final stage along the boulevards of Champs Elysees, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe.

From France, it’s merely a 2-day ride to the coast and, after a short ferry ride across the English Channel, I shall be in the land of fish-and-chips, steak and kidney pies, stiff upper lips and all …

A simple plan, no?

I can’t wait 🙂

The map below is an approximate route of the area that I will be traversing.

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