Wednesday 2nd September
Once again we woke up to a cool morning mist. Without the sun there is now a definite chill in the air, reminding me of when we set off in April (except now we are lacking our gloves, hats and warm weather clothes. Oh dear!).
The best way to warm up (apart from burying yourself in your sleeping bag and saying ‘I’m not going!’) is to get cycling. We hit the road, and it didn’t take us long to reach the Belgian border.
I know the drill now: camera out for the border crossing.
Here’s the other thing we learned… as you might have gathered from the title, Belgium is not flat. They LIED. I don’t know who “they” are, but the bastards are not to be trusted. We spent all day going up and down.
At least we were back to non-Luxembourg prices again, as well as the wonder that is the extremely bewildering French-style supermarket, where you have to walk past ten aisles of things which aren’t food before you can so much as glimpse a saucisson.
We found a nice place for lunch. By the side of a road was this little outdoor church.
As we continued north through Belgium the roads and towns that we passed began looking considerably smarter. It was quite a nice day cycling, really.
We found a cheap campsite, which was almost empty… looks like camping season is nearly over! We had a bit of company from a little French girl who spoke to us a lot. Whenever we said we didn’t understand her she just repeated herself more loudly. It was very funny.
It makes me roll my eyes to mention this, but Eric was particularly delighted to find a block of lead this evening, which he has been carrying around in order to improve his grip.
Thursday 3rd September
Another cold night made me re-introduce the tried and tested sleeping bag over the head technique. Works every time!
Once again we awoke to a morning mist.
Today we saw a lot of a Belgian breed of cow, called a Belgian Blue. Eric pointed these out because they have been bred to be as muscular as possible. At first I was thinking: typical Eric, obsessed with anything muscle-related… but then I really began looking at these Belgian Blues, and holy cow are they massive! They are like the Schwarzenegger of cows!
I have been trying to gather visual evidence of the Belgian hills.
I think my blog can now be classed as “investigative”.
It was a fairly cool day: warm in the sun, chilly in the shade. The clouds came and went (but mostly came) and we had a downpour at 3.15, as we were passing through an interesting town called Dinant. Look at this big rock we cycled past!
Plus, I’m pretty sure that someone in Dinant invented the saxophone(?). There were jazzy statues of saxophones everywhere (I didn’t manage to get a picture. By the time I realised I should take a picture of one of the saxophone statues we were already leaving).
We continued along a river (finally – no hills!).
‘I have a confession to make,’ he said. ‘I feel kind of bad about it.’
‘OK,’ I said, without much trepidation (there’s only about 30 minutes of the day where we’re not in each other’s company, so how bad could it really be?).
‘I put the piece of lead into our trailer this morning.’
You may recall that Eric found a piece of lead yesterday, and was using it to increase his grip strength.
‘Eric!’ I said.
‘Sorry, I really like it!’ he said.
‘You lied!’ I said.
‘It wasn’t a lie,’ he said.
‘It was a lie by omission,’ I said.
‘I knew you wouldn’t let me keep it.’
‘No, I wouldn’t, because it’s massively heavy.’
It is. It’s probably about 8KGs. In the world of cycle touring this is a catastrophic amount of weight. Three months back we posted home 5KGs of luggage and practically danced for joy. There are light-weight cycle tourists out there who try and keep their entire luggage under 10KGs!
We fell into silence.
‘But has it felt any harder today?’ said Eric.
He had clearly been rehearsing this conversation.
‘No, not really,’ I had to admit.
‘We’ve only got two more weeks, and we’ll be cycling along flat terrain,’ said Eric.
‘I suppose,’ I said.
In my mind I had already decided to let Eric keep the lead, because… I like Eric. And this whole thing was actually quite funny. What I was thinking about was exactly how offended I was going to be. In the end I decided to not act offended, as I am Very Mature (and this will surely give me leverage at some later point).
‘OK, you can keep it,’ I said.
Eric’s back seemed to grin.
‘But,’ I got my wagging finger out. ‘If you lie by omission again then I will disagree with whatever you want ON PRINCIPLE.’
‘What if I have to lie because it’s life or death?’ said Eric.
I left a dignified pause.
‘Then I will judge it on a situation by situation basis,’ I said.
I’m not sure how well I really did in that whole exchange.
At around 3 we pulled up at what we thought was a campsite, but turned out to be a silent, run-down and depressing place which was probably for caravans only. We moved on. Luckily, there was another campsite a few miles on that was very pleasant.
We pitched our tent in a playground area on a nice patch of very well watered grass. An hour later it absolutely chucked it down. The already saturated lawn became even soggier, and to our dismay wet patches started seeping through our tent floor. I guess the months of constant use have eroded the waterproof material.
Luckily, this campsite had an awning, table and chairs where we could have our dinner, and hang some clothes and towels up to dry. While we were eating we got talking to a couple who were on a short cycle tour with their young baby (now that’s impressive!). They had 4 months of joint maternity leave (progressive Belgian laws) so were taking full advantage of the time off. They pulled their baby along in one of those little buggies. They likened it to the chariots in Ben Hur.
I was quite jealous of their takeaway pizza. Our camping gas ran out in Luxembourg, so we were having a cold bean salad. It doesn’t really compare!
Friday 4th September
Another cold night. However, in the morning, as I was going through a clothes bag, I realised that I had a pair of cycling gloves that I had completely forgotten about. Amazing!
On a less great note, for some strange reason slugs had decided to crawl all over the towels and clothes that I had draped over chairs to dry (seriously, why? What’s in it for the slugs?) My shorts were now sporting a shiny speed stripe.
Under grey skies we joined the river again, following a cycle path until we reached a place called Namur.
From there we took a long, very straight road – the kind of thing you often see in France. It had a cycle path all the way along it, which I appreciated, as cars tend to bomb down these roads as they’re so ruler-straight.
During the mid-morning we had a puncture – sacre bleu! Our first one since just before Rome. One of the trailer wheels had quite an impressive shard of glass stuck in it. It happened while we were opposite another little roadside church, so we were able to scoot over and fix it there (Eric fixed it. I mostly held things and took a photo).
After lunch we stopped at a Decathlon for a bit of shopping. The first item on the list was camping gas – finally, we would be having hot dinners again. I also picked up a pair of gloves for Eric and some leggings and an extra jumper for me. The whole lot came to 20 euros, which is amazing value.
We arrived at our campsite, situated 10K outside of Brussels, at about 4. We were right by a petonque pitch, so once we had set up the tent we had a game. We last played this game in Italy, where I stormed to victory. We agreed that this time we would play until one person won 7 games. Eric then proceeded to whip my sorry hide. Eric suggested we carried on until one of us reached 10. I agreed, had the comeback of all comebacks and won. We shook hands at the end.
(It sounds a bit like Eric let me win, but this isn’t true. He would never do that. Not because he “respects me too much”, but because he doesn’t do letting people win – eg. one time he protested with genuine frustration that his nieces, aged 12 and under, were cheating during a family game of Rapidough. Sorry Eric, but IT’S TRUE. If he gets mad at me for putting this on the blog I will point out that I let him keep the piece of lead.)