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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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 🙂

.

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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