From a Bike Tourer’s Perspective
1. Drivers and Eurovelo Routes – I have never known a country which is so respectful of its cyclists. In fact, they are so polite at times I feel that I must have made a mistake. For example, when turning onto a road, cars will often stop (even holding up traffic) to give you as a cyclist enough time to make your turn safely. This kind of road generosity has felt incredibly foreign to my partner and I after our generally ‘beefy’ encounters on the streets of London
For any cyclist planning on travelling the Eurovelo routes in Belgium, they are so good! Easy to navigate, little traffic, lovely scenery, safe and generally pretty easy cycling (excluding the cobblestone bits! which I will come on to shortly). Although it should be noted that if you are in a hurry to get to your destination, google maps might be your best option. This is usually a no go for someone like me who will avoid busier roads like the plague, but again it is fine to go on busy roads in Belgium because generally they have pristine, fully separated, cycle paths which are again; easy to navigate and most importantly very safe.
My only issue with Belgian travel that I have encountered thus far is the cobblestones. I used to have a very romanticised view of cobblestones before becoming a cycle tourer, now I hate them with a passion! Yesterday we climbed the Bosberg hill, which too my surprise not only had an 11% gradient, it was also made of cobblestones. Cobblestones pretty much make your head feel like it is in a washing machine if you try to ride over them in a bike. If, like me, you enjoy an easy stress-free ride try to avoid the cobblestones in this country.
2. Eating and Drinking – I have found it very difficult to eat right in Belgium. First of all, their breads are incredible, and served with pretty much every meal. Second of all, their beers are incredible, and it is very difficult to pass up having one with at least every meal (and every time you want to stop for water).
I don’t have a solution for this issue yet, I just thought that it should be raised. If you are looking for bike touring to limit your waist line, Belgium might be a difficult country to achieve this in.
3. Middle of Nowhere – I had a very romanticised view of the European continent (probably due to my American misconception), that everywhere you travel in Europe you are only 5 minutes from a beautiful boulangerie, or café, or anywhere that serves nice food and drink. This journey has taught me that that is definitely not the case. If you are planning a bike tour through Belgium (as I am in this case) carry lots of food and water with you because you probably won’t see an eatery for miles or if you do see one there is a good chance it will be closed, because it is a holiday, or a day after a holiday, or generally just another day of rest.
4. No Phones! – One of the most interesting observations I have made about rural Belgium (we are staying out of the major cities so I can’t generalise about them) is that no one seems consumed body and soul by their phones. Generally, when my husband and I are out to dinner in London, people are talking then looking at their phones, and then maybe having a brief conversation again before going back to their phones. No one seems to be on their phones here! It is so refreshing! We eat dinner, or sit at a café for lunch and no one is on their phone. I haven’t even had anyone walk into me on the street because they were looking at their phone instead of where they were going. I don’t know if this is just a phase in Belgium but I think England and America could learn how to communicate again from this country.