Friday, 14 September 2012

Three countries in two days...

Well, it heps if the countries are small, and you just go through corners, but I did go all the way across Belgium... My overriding impression? One giant ribbon development... Seriously, just about the whole way across the country is an endless parade of 1 deep houses, gas stations, lawn mower shops and Audi dealers. Who knew there was such a demand for Audis? The countryside is quite pretty, but it is kind of marred by this beauty strip of suburban nowhereness. Very odd. So, I started at De Panne, on the North Sea coast. Very middle class retirement kind of town. All old people. Big wall of buildings facing the sea, which reminded me little of Florida, except for cold and grey. The countryside around there, and for the next 50 miles inland, is flat flat flat. And then it's not. Just like that, there is a gentle incline, and the rest of the way across the country is rolling. If the west of the country remind me a bit of the Central Valley, but greener, heading east felt a bit like the Upper Midwest. Nearly all the larger roads have separate cycle lanes. Really puts the UK to shame, though that isn't hard on that front. I learned a few things about Belgian roads. The first is that people really do pull out from the right without looking, unless the road is marked. Also, unlike England, where the savvy cyclist takes the small roads, in Belgium, as often as not, these roads end up being cobbled (badly) or end suddenly in dirt. And in England, when they close a major road for construction, they put up lots of helpful sighs saying where to go. In Belgium, they just seem to close it. And then you're stuffed... Finally, while having bike lanes is lovely, it's not so great when you are require to use them, even when they are only on the wrong side of the road. I got pulled over by a cop for cycling illegally on a road when there was a 2 direction bike lane I hadn't noticed along the other bumpy shoulder. Cue stupid American mode... Anyway, I got to Brussels late yesterday evening, got lost about a million times, as the GPS wanted to send me down yet another cobbled road and I refused, and nearly got run over by a tram, as, apparently, they do not stop for traffic already in the roundabout! Stayed with Alex last night. We went to an Italian place, where I ate a small mountain. Then today... Today I set off in Brussels morning traffic, which was very exciting. I was v v happy for my super padded and super expensive shorts as well. Must get more... Most of the day was spent getting across the rest of Belgium. Then across the river into Maastricht, and suddenly everything is very leafy, and very very organised... I basically just cut across Maastricht, getting lost again bc of construction, but wow I've never seen so much cycling infrastructure! Smooth, seamless cycle highways connecting everywhere and everything. Total bike paradise. Actually, eve. In Belgium, outside of Brussels, which kind of sucked for bikes, loads of people were cycling, even in pissant towns. Seriously, how.shit is the cycling infrastructure of the UK? Just shameful! So, I head out of maastrict into the hilly (!) southern bit of the Netherlands. It reminded me very much of England, except neater (whereas the endless nothing development of Belgium reminded me of the USA).... As the sun was setting, I crossed into Germany. I'm staying in a very Spartan private room at the Aachen youth hostel, which is fine, except it seems to be full of, well, youth, who are extremely noisy. The rooms doors are heavy metal doors and the walls have about zero soundproofing. Reminds me why I don't normally stay in youth hostels anymore... Right, well it's time to get my stuff out of the dryer, go to the floor bathroom, and hopefully get some sleep!

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