From Brussels to Bruges, via the best place for cyclists in the World (Netherlands, we salute you)

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Monday 7th September

Miles: 43

With a few days to kill before heading back to Eric’s parent’s house, we have decided to do a short 3 day round trip in The Netherlands. We will head north and then turn west towards the coast and follow it down, back into Belgium.

As we set off this morning it began to rain. Eric was in a gloomy mood – now that we’re just 10 days from reaching his parent’s house, he is feeling more and more like he wants a break from cycling and camping.

The scenery today was uninteresting as we didn’t leave urbanised areas. On the plus side, however, there was a cycle path for the entire time. It was great, though slow-going at times, as we had to stop at a lot of red lights.

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We kept seeing a lot of police doing things like directing traffic. Later on we found out that this was due to a farmer’s strike. A guy that we spoke to said that a lot of the roads out of Brussels were completely blocked, so it sounds like we were lucky not to run into any of it.

We had lunch in Antwerp, which seemed like quite a nice city, and then carried on northwards.

We passed the border into The Netherlands without event. We were looking out for a sign but there was none. Our campsite was in the town of Putte, which is just after the border. On our travels we’ve noticed that Dutch people frequently camp, so we were expecting good things of Dutch campsites, and were not disappointed today: this place has decent ground, mature trees, all the facilities we need and all for 12 euros, which is as cheap as France.

On the way to the campsite.

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We washed our clothes and had a chat with a Dutch man. He told us that some sunshine would soon be coming our way. Yes!


Tuesday 8th September

Miles: 54

We woke up at 7.45 today, which is unusually late. As the weather cools we are sleeping in more and more. However, a late start didn’t matter too much as we didn’t have far to go today.

Holland is famous for being cycle-friendly, and today we saw why. There are cycle paths absolutely everywhere, many of which were as wide as regular roads, and are set apart from the roads which cars use completely.

Aside from some confusing directions through a place called Hoogerheide in the morning, all of the sign-posting was very easy and clear.

Some Dutch wildlife.

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We saw that a lot of kids use the cycle paths, which is nice, as if the paths didn’t exist, there would be no way for kids that young to cycle safely on the main roads.

The landscape was flat, and this combined with an overcast day meant that the views were not very interesting. However, we did enjoy seeing the wind turbines that were scattered about. Some people call these an eyesore, but I don’t see why. I think they turned an otherwise unexciting landscape into something dramatic.

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We reached our campsite at around 4.15, and to our dismay saw a closed iron gate and a deserted looking interior. As Eric got his map out to look for somewhere else, I happened to see a button and pressed it. The gate opened. We looked at each other and went in. We found the reception, which was locked and empty, even though – according to a sign – it was meant to be open at this time. We assumed the person running the place would be back soon, so sat down on a bench outside to wait. 15 minutes later there was no sign of them. I tried some insistent knocking on the door, but nothing happened. Then… I noticed there was an intercom button by the door. I pressed it, it started ringing, and within 10 seconds a woman had appeared.

The moral of the story is: always press the button.

The sun came out in the evening, for the first time in days. It felt amazing!


Wednesday 9th September

Miles: 49

We woke up to blue skies! And the dewiest tent ever, which we just stuffed into the tent bag anyway.

We headed west for the coast, and it wasn’t long before we saw the sea.

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It was great to see it again, as the last time we saw it was on the Croatian coast, back in July. It felt like an achievement to have cycled from the Adriatic to the North Sea.

We also saw a lot of these bad boys.

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Our cycle path was a national route called the LF1, it’s known as the “North Sea Route” and it spans the whole coastline of The Netherlands. It took us through lots of interesting scenery, including alongside some massive sea defences.

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On top of long, sloping sea walls.

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Through pretty towns with interesting houses.

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Past lighthouses.

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And through forest paths.

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Here’s a couple more photos.
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Stopping for lunch.

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It really was a pleasure to cycle along this route.

We stopped at quite a pricey campsite (20 euros), which was so stingy that you had to pay 20 cents to get about 30 seconds of hot water for your washing up!

After setting up the tent and taking our showers we took a walk along the beach. I didn’t expect The Netherlands to have sandy beaches, but here they are.

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Singing a hearty rendition of: ‘It’s been a long road, getting from there to here / It’s been a long time, but my time is finally here…’ we dipped our feet in the North Sea in symbolic recognition of having crossed the continent. It was cold.

But the sunshine kept us warm.

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Thursday 10th September.

Miles: 30

“The sunshine kept us warm” I smugly wrote, before the chilliest night EVER.

We stayed in our sleeping bags until 8.30, which is normally the time when we would be setting off. We got going by 10 (short day, didn’t matter… but was still very lazy of us).

We continued along the LF1. The route took us to a ferry, which would carry us across a peninsula, saving us a long journey inland.

In contrast to yesterday’s report of our grand, continent-crossing achievements I will now tell you a petty story that would have star position in the as yet un-made reality TV show “Brits Abroad Queuing Nightmares”.

We joined the queue for the ferry, which carries pedestrians and cyclists only. Behind us people with bikes continued to arrive and also queue. Four pedestrians turned up and stood sort of to the side of us, as if they were queuing behind us, ignoring the fact that there was already a queue of people.

Eric, ever the hero of the people, turned to the pedestrians and said: ‘The queue goes back there.’ He gestured to the line of 10 or so people behind us.

The pedestrians looked at him blankly and said nothing.

‘The queue is over there,’ said Eric again, pointing to the back of the queue.

The pedestrians looked at him blankly and said nothing.

By now all the other people in the queue had cottoned on to the imminent possibility of the line-skippers, and were watching.

Another man gave Eric some back up by repeating what Eric had said in Dutch, again pointing to where they should join the queue.

They looked confused… and then stepped in front of Eric, so that they were between the two of us.

Eric tapped one of them on the shoulder. ‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘I am before you. I’m with her,’ (pointing at me). ‘The queue starts over there!’

As if in a daze the four pedestrians wandered out of the queue… and then walked straight to the front of the line and engaged the person at the desk selling the tickets.

‘Nay!’ said the Dutch man. There were mutters of disbelief from the members of the queue. But it was too late. They were already buying their tickets.

Doesn’t it just make you so mad?!

Anyway, never mind… The ticket for the ferry cost just 7 euros, and interestingly because we only had one bike (albeit a double bike) I was counted as a foot passenger, and had to use a different entrance to Eric.

There were a lot of cyclists crossing on the ferry, and most of them were retired people on a day trip. The vast majority of them had electric bikes, which have caught on in a big way in Europe.

A photo of cyclists boarding the ferry.

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The bike gets lashed to the rail (employing some nautical terminology there).

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The journey was about 20 minutes long.

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And then we arrived in Breskens. We had lunch by the Hogedijk Canal, where we were cornered by some very insistent geese.

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In the end we gave in and fed them some bread.

Then it was a short afternoon cycling along the beautiful canal cycle path, which was lined with impressive mature poplar trees.

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We re-entered Belgium (again, with no sign to tell us we had just crossed a border), and it wasn’t too long at all until we had reached our campsite on the outskirts of our final city break, Bruges.

Our campsite didn’t have a reception with a person, but instead used a self-service machine, where you filled in your details, picked your plot and paid. That’s a new one.

We spent the afternoon playing around on some exercise stations in the woods just behind the campsite. Eric was very happy because he got to lift and throw some logs. If he doesn’t watch out his lead block will get jealous.

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