A few observations on Belgium

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.

The 1st Day

We’ve had our first day in the saddle! 65km from Lille, France to Ronse, Belgium. Crossing the first country border felt like a giant leap forward. We mostly rode along the Eurovelo 5 route which follows the canal. The way is flat and relatively easy but it was my first time feeling the bike so heavy and it felt like a difficult push even on a river basin. People in general have been incredibly friendly, coming over to say ‘Bonjour’ and ask us where we are headed with so much stuff.

I keep thinking about physical things I have left behind and as quickly not caring. I haven’t straightened my hair, I haven’t really even changed clothes (yes I know it is only day 2) but that already feels like I’m quickly letting go.

As per any bike trip that we have taken so far, we planned it totally wrong. We forgot the Eurostar confirmation for our bikes. We managed to get lost, even with our new state of the art GPS tracker. It was Easter Monday so absolutely everything in France and Belgium was closed (funnily enough it is now Tuesday and we were told that Tuesday is also a day of rest in Belgium so there hasn’t been much open today either) and we didn’t pack any food. We couldn’t use our new touring stove (again state of the art) because we didn’t pack paraffin. Thank goodness McDonalds, as it still keeps its American standards no matter where you are in the world, was not closed and we managed to eat our first lunch and dinner there. We realised we obviously packed way too much and have already started ditching stuff, away has went our expensive foldable chairs saving the bikes around 4 kilos.

Relaxing now in Ronse, Belgium I am realising how perfect this way of travelling is. I have been to Belgium several times staying in Brussels and Bruge, but as with any big cities you don’t really get to know a culture until you ditch the tourist areas and go to the small towns.

We are spending the next couple of days chilling and enjoying Belgium life, which basically means eating nice bread, drinking very nice beer and wandering through cathedrals (at least that is what I hope it means!) looking forward to exploring more in this country.