Cycling Belgium Day 4: Old World Cities & the Horrors of Cobblestones

July 29, 2013 Sometime yesterday, I crossed the 100 mile mark. That always feels good. The sights and people on these trips are great, but at the risk of sounding self-righteous, there’s also a feeling of accomplishment. Cycling vacations, or the general category of ‘adventure travel’ gives sights and that feeling of accomplishment. Once in a while, I think about trips at “ “, but so far, I’ve found enough on my own.

Another feeling I had yesterday came from the part of my anatomy that the British call your ‘bum’. Americans call this your butt. Whatever your call it, it  hurt. I like my new cycle a lot, but the saddle on this bike isn’t right for me. Every few miles, I had the irresistible urge to stand up in the pedals and grumble “My bum hurts!” I tried to do this when no Belgians were around, not sure if that really worked. And worst of all, the lifetime pleasure I’ve had with cobblestones is now gone, long gone. Those damn things are brutal to a sore bum. When I see them now, I instinctively stand in the pedals, to avoid lots of painful grumbling and lots of Belgians wondering why the American on the funny folding bike seems so bothered.

Moving on to other things I’ve thought about, I’ve also thought that I haven’t seen many Belgian towns, maybe to take my mind off the horrors of cobblestones. I’ve cycled through many of those towns, and stopped at a few, mostly to get groceries or have a snack, but I haven’t done any proper sauntering. From what I’ve seen of Belgian towns, sauntering is important, since the towns feel so slow-paced, contemplative, and just plain pretty Instead, I’ve been getting in as many miles as I can to make sure I finish my route before my vacation is over.

That led to starting the day with looking over the route I had in mind and seeing where or how I could build in a day of sauntering. Before this trip, I didn’t look at my entire route very much, since work has been busy. When I looked at it this morning, I realized that finishing all of it meant that I had to cycle an average of 40 miles each day, not much time for sauntering. Taking off just one day would mean 80 miles the next, or maybe a couple of 60 mile days—no thanks. I went for a better option. I cut off part of my route, using a very handy website for creating cycle routes in Europe, That site allows me to put the route in my GPS, my favorite gadget. After that, all I do is look at the gadget, follow a bright purple line, and stay on slow roads and cycle paths.

My route is generally in the shape of an oval, with the port of Dunkirk on the upper-left, or west side. I cut off the right or east side of the oval. I kept the part that allowed me to see the cities of Brugge and Ghent, which are probably the two most scenic cities in Belgium. It took about 2 hours to adjust the route, but that effort should make for a better trip.

After spending all that time preparing to cycle, I was very ready to actually cycle. I hoped to cycle to Gent, spend some time in that medieval city, and hopefully, find a campsite someplace past Gent. I was only 10 miles away, so that plan seemed simple enough.

The route there was along more of the quiet roads I’d enjoyed before, with small towns along the way.???????????????????????????????

After arriving in Gent, I headed for the city center and found a street market.



I bought some bread and very nice cookies, at the stand shown below.


I also had some fun conversations with people who asked about the solar panels I have on top of my panniers. A couple asked me if they power my bike. I wish. I explained that they charge a battery that powers my netbook, after about 8 hours of good sun. It was fun chatting with the locals.

Gent really is a wonderful old-world city, but on this day,??????????????????????????????? it had a new-world event, their annual city festival. I tried to cut those parts out in the next couple of pictures. That meant the wonderful churches and other architecture was hidden a bit by inflatable stands, brightly-colored plastic displays, and some serious head-banger music. I’m sure the people of Gent are more than happy to have a change from the old-world architecture they see month after month, but I admit that it wasn’t what I hoped for.



I decided to leave Gent and head on to Brugge, but that was challenging. It was about 5pm, and Brugge was about 28 miles away, too late to get there before sunset. I tried to find a campsite that was about half-way, using my laptop and GPS. Unfortunately, none came up. There was a campsite about two miles away, so I decided to go with that one.

That meant my total cycling for this day was about 10 miles, but I figured that would be good enough, since I’d reduced my overall route and cycled a long way yesterday. I got to the campsite early, did some laundry, talked with Gabriella, and got to sleep at a decent hour. Sleeping sound is something else that works well on these trips, although I do worry about nightmares about cobblestones.