Friday 28 August 2015

Dover to Munich. Verviers

Well,  two days,  167 miles and two completely different experiences. Yesterday morning I started off in Ypres in the rapidly descending gloom. Mostly,  it pissed rain yesterday.  A lot.  It was cold and windy and generally horrid. One could imagine how the green and pleasant fields could rapidly turn into a complete quagmire.  Even stepping a few feet off the road collected a generous amount of mud,  now stuck in my pedals. I didn't stop much yesterday,  save to eat. I mostly put my head down and cycled,  just trying to get to Brussels.  It wasn't a little bit of rain or a sudden summer thunderstorm,  it was sheets and sheets of water,  bucketing in a very businesslike manner from a slate sky. The roads were lovely and smooth.  The cycle paths sometimes astounding,  even in the middle of nowhere. It all passed in a blur though. My waterproofs resisted for about 30 miles,  then became quite amenable, welcoming even to the rain. I had a lovely lunch huddled under a highway overpass. Anyway,  I made it to Brussels in the end,  with its lovely,  not insane at all drivers,  tram tracks and completely nonsensical massive intersections. I have to remember here that people take their traffic on the right has the right of way rule very seriously and will just whip out without looking. I had a very nice dinner with Alex.

This morning was cool and dry,  autumnal. I set off in Brussels rush hour traffic,  which is a delight and managed to not get run over by any trams. I set off to the southeast,  across a lot of rolling countryside not unlike southern Minnesota or the east of England. Rolling countryside,  of course, means it is actually continuously uphill. Big difference going from Flemish to French speaking Belgium,  the bike lanes disappear. I ended up giving up on my planned route today when bumpy concrete turned into cobbles turned into dirt, and made it to the end with a combination of Garmin and winging it. The weather was perfect though.  What I was not counting on was it suddenly getting extremely hilly,  with 25% grades at mile 75, just after Liege. Countryside not dissimilar to Devon.  Actually,  Liege and Verviers remind me a bit of the Belgian equivalent to western Pennsylvania. You can tell there was a lot of money here,  just from the number of amazing buildings,  but it is all a bit rough around the edges. It's also very French,  which to me feels much more foreign than Flemish. Anyway,  I'm staying tonight in a fantastic room in an old mansion, once owned by a wool magnate. The guy who runs it seems a little eccentric,  has several cats and greeted me at the door in a straw hat.  He has many objects d'art and is currently hosting a wine tasting beneath my room,  which I'm hoping doesn't go late.  He did invite me but it seems like all his friends,  who speak French and are all a bit fabulous.  I decided that might be a bit too excruciating, had my dinner in town and am now in the room, being a blob, and thinking I should use the hair drier on my bike clothes I washed so they aren't damp when I put them on in the morning.  Oh the life of the rich and famous...

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Dover to Munich. Ypres

OK,  I admit to being a dork.  I've been trying to figure out how "leper"  becomes "Ypres", totally not getting that it was actually "Ieper", which,  admittedly,  looks exactly the same in quite a few fonts.  I still can't pronounce it properly and completely get why the British called it "Wipers". Honestly.  Foreign people with their silly foreign names. It always gets me going across western Belgium how serene and completely ordinary it looks.  It is very hard to imagine millions of people dying in a quagmire and the little towns (now complete with plenty of places to buy Miele ovens and Audis) pulverised to dust. I went to the Last Post (when the woman at the B&B mentioned the Last Post being at 8 I somehow thought she was talking about,  you know,  the last post, which I thought was an odd thing to say.  God I'm terrible.  Luckily I didn't say anything.  Anyway,  the solemn occasion of the bugler playing was somewhat lessened by the throng of tourists with bleeping cameras on selfie sticks. Wow,  that almost as reverent as starting and ending the two minute silence with the fire alarm at work.  So,  yeah.  I was supposed to start yesterday,  but, being me,  I put everything off until the last minute.  It got late,  I got stressed and the weather was complete shit. I decided to start today instead from Dover. Up at 530 for the 10am ferry,  which didn't leave until 1130. Apparently the PA was broken.  Really. This after standing outside in the rain,  waiting to board,  for 40 minutes.  Nice.  Thank you,  DFDS,  service with a smile. I did get to have impure thoughts about the single and only attractive person on the whole ship,  fortunately decked out in motorcycle leather,  so that almost made up for it.  Almost.  The rest I'm pretty sure share most of their chromosomes.  Not a pretty sight. Landing in Dunkirk is a bit like landing in Mordor,  a scrubby,  sandy industrial area with the occasional flame shooting out of a tower.  Very welcoming on a bike.  However,  even this Mad Max countryside has better roads and less trash than England. How sad.  Bike lanes too.  It all gets a bit more cosy feeling crossing into Belgium.  More trees on the roads,  more trees,  a lot more streets lights.  Also a lot more concrete or cobbled roads.  Bad Belgium,  bad! Anyway,  must get to bed so I'm not a dribbling wreck tomorrow...