Biking Days 4-5: Across Belgium

It’s hard to believe that the bike trip is halfway done already! Over the past 2 days, I’ve biked across Belgium, from Antwerp, Belgium (near the Dutch border) to Ghent, and then from Ghent to Tournai, Belgium (near the French border).

It’s interesting to see everything up close like this – I’ve taken the train between Paris and Amsterdam before, but riding through the villages and by the farms by bike feels way different.

Monday, September 3, 2018: Antwerp to Ghent

Monday was the longest scheduled day of the trip, at 91km (57mi). I was actually fairly exhausted by the end of the day, and went to bed somewhat early to compensate.

The ride began in Antwerp, where I pedaled alongside Monday morning bike commuters to leave the city. Note to self: cobblestones are quaint, but they’re not a fun surface on which to ride a bike. The path then went via some industrial/suburban areas, and after roughly 15km the route was finally in the countryside again:

A lot of the ride was similar to the past few days – assorted farms, rivers, wooded areas. It was very pleasant – I’d be happy if my daily commute bike path were this scenic. That said, I think a few of the stretches on the first half of the day were less exciting. There was a ferry across a river along the way, though it only ran every 30 minutes, so I needed to wait a bit:

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There were a few villages and towns along the way. The route went by a supermarket around noon, so I picked up a bite to eat there. I think the town on the left below is Temse:

Otherwise, much of the rest of the route was similar landscape like scenes that the route went past. In the thumbnails below, there was an elaborate shrine along the dirt path in the middle of the woods, which was quite unexpected.

Ghent was a really attractive city, with lots of grand stone buildings and squares. Many people were out and enjoying the city. I could have easily spent more time here, and in fact it is a fairly tourist-oriented city in Belgium.

That said, I arrived in Ghent tired – the last 10km of the ride seemed to tick by slowly. And even more so, the bike GPS doesn’t route well with the big buildings in the city, so I did a few extra unnecessary km as well (my total was 93.9km).

After a hot shower, I psyched myself up to go into town, where I saw the grand cathedral and walked the squares. I had a nice time and wished that I had a ton more energy, but having seen the highlights, I went back and crashed in bed early.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018: Ghent to Tournai

I woke up from the extra long night feeling much more rested. Even better, today’s ride was a shorter segment at 73km (~46mi). While that might not sound like much less than yesterday’s 93.9km (~59mi), it did feel much shorter in comparison.

One slightly ominous sign, though, was the weather report – essentially 40% chance of rain for most of the day. When I started biking in the morning, I could feel the heavy mist in the air. And in the final 10km, I could see the dark clouds and feel the wind blowing. That said, I’m grateful that it didn’t actually start raining until after I checked into my hotel, and even that rain was mostly drizzle.

The route for today could be mostly summarized as “follow the Scheldt River” – which goes between Ghent and Tournai. Decent chunks of the route looked something like:20180904_101042If I understood the signs correctly, cars were not allowed on the path, but farm vehicles were. In practice, I only saw bikes and large tractors – fortunately, tractors don’t go by all that quickly.

Along the way, the route went through the center of Oudenaarde, which seems to be a nice enough small city, with an old main square:

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Otherwise, it went by various farm villages and towns, as I tried to get ahead of the weather:

About 30 km from Tournai, one of the wires holding my front fender got undone, and a plastic part broke. Later after I got to Tournai, I bought some electrical tape to jerry rig the apparatus holding up the fender.

Then roughly 20km from Tournai, the signs switched from Dutch to French – I was now in the western French-speaking area of Belgium. I finally finished the ride around 1pm. While I was taking my shower in the hotel, it finally did rain.

I had never heard of Tournai before, but there was a tourist office right around the corner, which offered me a map with a city walk. According to the pamphlet the tourist office gave me, Tournai is the oldest city in Belgium, and there was a plaque on the belfry tower indicating that they were the first Belgian city liberated in WWII.

In the afternoon, I went in several of the churches, climbed the belfry tower, and I walked around town. While it’s not a headline tourist magnet like Bruges or Ghent, Tournai was much nicer than I was expecting. It’s interesting the kind of high art and grandiose buildings can be found in a relatively small European city like this.

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