In Bruges (and entry into the Netherlands)

Bruges turned out to be just like St Petersburg for us. It is known as a beautiful city with lots of old buildings and history and is one of the only places most people visit in Belgium. However this means that you go in with really high expectations. We arrived fresh from Ghent, which we had loved, so of course we were disappointed with how touristy Bruges was, plus we didn’t have any local guides to show us around. Just like we preferred Moscow to St Petersburg, we preferred Ghent to Bruges.

The campground in Bruges was also more expensive, we had paid about €12/night up until now but in Bruges we were charged €20/night. This isn’t really that surprising considering the campground is so close to a main tourist city, I think our outrage is more an indication of how cheap we are than anything else.

Rest day = bacon for breakfast

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Through the fields of Flanders

We planned a pretty short second day to recover from our surprisingly long first day of cycling. The trip to Tournai was pretty quick along mainly cycle paths and this time there was actually a campground right near the city. I had checked.

The weather in Tournai was crazily variable, changing drastically from cold and pissing down with rain to hot sunshine. Over lunch we experienced the former so we followed several other groups of cyclists into a pub to shelter. What a drag, drinking craft beer in a warm Belgian pub, eating lunch while it’s freezing outdoors.

The main square in Tournai (taken the next day when the weather was nice again)

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First day of cycle touring!

On Saturday morning we woke up bright and early, ready to start the next leg of our journey – cycle touring. We consider that SE Asia was the first leg and the Trans-Mongolian Railway was the second leg. Now it was time for the highly anticipated third leg.

First job of the day was walking to the post office to send a box of our excess gear to Scotland. We sent it to our ex-flatmate’s parents’ house, a slightly tenuous link. It was a bargain though, our package weighed 4kg and only cost €16.40. Thanks Kathryn and parents for helping us store our stuff! We really appreciate it.

There were still a few adjustments to be made to our bikes, fitting panniers, adding bottle cages, taping spare spokes to the bike frames. I finally got to attach my awesome bell which has flowers on it and was carefully selected to not jingle when I bounce over rough roads.

All of this faffing took a bit of time but somehow, finally, at 11:30am we were ready to go. No more excuses, it was time to actually start riding. I almost wished we could delay a bit further. Maybe we should have lunch before we go? It’s meant to rain today, we could postpone until the weather is nicer. Starting is scary.

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Bravely buying bicycles in Belgium

On Tuesday morning we finally met Dany, Françoise’s friend who has a lot of cycle touring experience. Really a lot. When we met him he had just come back from a trip to Germany and was going back to Germany for another cycling trip in a few days’ time. He showed us three of his bikes (a fourth was in the bike shop which he conveniently lives right next door to) we asked him lots of questions in a mixture of French and English. It can be quite hard to ask a question about handlebars when you don’t know the word for handlebars.

Dany recommended that we pick a reputable brand of bike, ie not a cheapo from Decathlon, but since we were only planning to tour for a few months as opposed to a few years he thought we should buy at the low end of the range. Although both of us have lusted after various top of the line touring bikes this made a lot of sense for our plans and the position we were in.

We then headed next door to the Enghien bike shop and Dany came with us to advise which was really kind of him. We had been warned by both Philippe and Dany that the owner of the bike shop was a really good mechanic but not the best people person, which would turn out to be somewhat accurate although perhaps a bit unfair on said owner. He was helpful but not going out of his way to show off the different bikes. The best bet seemed to be the Trek FX2 bikes for about €500 each.

Bike shopping!

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Return to Enghien

Ten years ago, when I was in high school, I went on exchange to Belgium for six months with AFS. I lived in a town called Enghien, staying with a local family and going to the local school. This is where I really learnt to speak French. I haven’t really kept in touch with my school friends from my exchange but I do keep in occasional contact with my host family. My mum and I visited them a few years ago and Andy and I actually shipped a box of cycling and camping gear to their house. The plan was to catch up with my host family, buy bicycles and start touring from there.

From Hamburg we took a slightly elaborate (but cheapish) bus-train-train combo to arrive in Enghien, close to Brussels but in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium. It was great to see my host parents, Philippe and Françoise, again and they were extremely welcoming hosts. We also managed to catch up with three of their five children while we were staying with them.

Andy and I with my former host mum Françoise

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