We’d made it to Bruges and with it came excessively strong Belgian beers, pans full of mussels in the main square and a day to recover. I went to Bruges last year with Hanna and although this visit was a little less romantic I still enjoyed having a wander around the streets. In case you didn’t know Bruges means bridges of which there are many. The bridges go over the canals and it’s all cobbled, horses and carts take tourists down the narrow streets, it’s really very nice but I’ll let the photos give you a better idea.
Bruges to Beveren (54 miles)
We were one of the early birds at breakfast the following morning but it had still passed 9am before we were back on the bikes. Having planned out the days route to Beveren the day before it only took a few minutes to get out of Bruges and back onto the canals. Beveren was a small place on the edge of Antwerp and we had arranged our first night with a Warmshowers host. Warmshowers is a website similar to couchsurfing where people act as hosts for passing travellers except Warmshowers is used specifically by cycle tourers. I guess we fall into that category now! The idea is to share experiences, cultures, stories etc. In terms of the day it was a relatively easy day due to the flat terrain and the fact we followed canals all morning and a bike path by the side of the motorway for much of the afternoon, making navigation very straightforward.
We arrived at Steven’s, our host, early evening and after the normal introductions, we shared a good evening with lots of lovely food and great conversation. Our introduction to Warmshowers was a very good one and the only concern is that any future hosts might not be able to live up to the standards set by Steven!
Beveren to woods north of Turnhout (42 miles)
After a hearty breakfast Steven lead us down the back roads all the way into Antwerp. I really didn’t know much about the city but it was a really beautiful city. One of the advantages of a Warmshowers host is learning about the local areas. We discovered the large divide between the French and Dutch speaking areas of Belgium and also the more localised feelings of pride, slightly comparable to the north/south divide in England. From what I understand this has partly contributed to the fact that there is still no bridge over the River Scheldt into the centre of Antwerp. There are however two tunnels, one which is completely pedestrianised. To get into the tunnel we rode our bikes into huge lifts and then cycled straight through the tunnel and into another giant lift at the other end. Steven explained how there had been a big push to improve the leisure aspects of the city. We cycled across the city and barely touched a road the entire way. In comparison to this, London is an embarrassment with bike lanes that stop suddenly halfway down the road or you have to weave round parked cars into busy lanes of traffic along the way.
We joined another canal after Antwerp which we were able to follow all the way to Turnhout, another very nice town. After a few kilometres we stopped for lunch and said our goodbyes to Steven. We made good progress to Turnhout with the only ‘complaint’ being it was too flat and straight! I’m sure in a few weeks time we’ll be regretting this but it was certainly comfortable cycling. After the usual dinner shop we left the town and cycled off into the woods to camp for the night.
Next day we made our way to Eindhoven where we were treated to a lovely evening of beers, a meal, a warm evening and good conversation. It was another hot day and we couldn’t belive how lucky we’d been with the weather. Our host, Lesley, is a family friend of Al’s and despite having a full house was still kind enough to put us up. Unfortunately we didn’t have much chance to see much of Eindhoven before we were on our way again.
From Eindhoven we headed to Venlo, a town on the Dutch side of the border with Germany. We stopped at a Lidl late in the day and picked up food not only for that night but also the following day as we’d planned a rest day camping in the woods. With the help of a friendly local we made our way towards the Krickenbecker Seen, a national park. Here we set up camp for two nights. Activities included bike maintenance, cooking, eating, resting and woodsmen activities. Luckily, despite being surrounded by footpaths we were either unnoticed or undisturbed.
A steady start to the day didn’t get too much quicker but we made reasonable progress towards Dusseldorf. I was excited to finish what we’ve described as the first leg of the trip because it meant having several days off and even better that it would be with Hanna! As we approached the city I started to notice landmarks that I knew from my many visits there previously. I managed to locate Hanna’s work and we picked up the keys and made our way to her apartment. Leg 1 – Done!
The next few days were spent relaxing and seeing a few sights in both Cologne and Dusseldorf. Hanna and I also started planning our trip to South/Central America which starts straight after this tour but won’t involve bicycles!