Return to Belgium (Keer terug naar België)

A short days riding from my Warmshowers host’s Fabienne and Peter at Auchy-les-Hesdin to the east of Aire-sur-la-Lys. I have been contacting Warmshowers hosts in advance of arriving at places and had a response from a host in Poperinge for the next day so looked for camping spots about halfway or so. Camping La Petite Forest came up on a quick search.

Fabienne joined me for the first 5 miles or so, and just after leaving I remembered I hadn’t topped up my water bottles, it was set to be a scorcher again. I asked Fabienne if there was a cemetery en-route, which she confirmed. Cemeteries are very good for topping up water as they tend to have water taps that are connected to the mains. It’s always wise to check it is mains connected before topping up water bottles and not coming from a tank, which may harbour some nasties. An upset stomach when cycle touring isn’t much fun.

I have crossed many rivers and streams as I cycle through the lush french countryside, other than one, I have not seen many fish in. Talking with Fabienne and Peter, they explained that the rivers are fished, and often these fish are taken. The rivers are regularly restocked and their local river was due to be restocked that weekend. I have noticed most of them look very healthy with good quantities of lots of different types lush green weed, indicating good clean water.

Mesmerising, I just missed 4 chub drifting over it!

The following day I was due to cycle into Belgium and to stay with Sabien, another Warmshowers host. Sabien has cycled in some spectacular places and this year is cycling in Columbia. As a teacher she regularly goes off for the summer and 6 weeks cycling. Some of the places she has cycled are East Africa, Mongolia, Turkey and Georgia, Indonesia, Peru, Denmark and Scotland.

It wasnt far into the ride and I entered Belgium, the village that was the border, L’Abeele. I stopped here to buy my daily baguette and two pain au chocolat. I rode on a little further to take lunch in the shade, by a memorial. In the sun it is still very hot, in the shade, still very cold with the persistent northerly wind.

Taking lunch, me in and out of the shade, solar panel in the sun!

As the ride to Poperinge wasn’t far and I wasn’t due to meet Sabien until gone 6pm, I rode into Ypres (Ieper) and to the Menin Gate. It has become a bit of a tradition for my friend John and I to go to the Ypra Inn, by the Menin Gate. So I headed there. I was surprised to see it shrouded in Scaffolding and a very large crane looming over it. John had been here only a few weeks before and none of his photos showed the scaffolding, so I gave him a call. John confirmed they hadn’t started the work a few weeks ago.

Checking online, the Commonwealth Wargraves Commission website shows that woks will be carried out to restore the memorial from 17th April until Approximately March 2025. I will be planning to come back again once the work is complete. You can check out more of the works being carried out here: Menin Gate Repairs

I met up with Sabien in the evening and we shared some bread, ham and cheese and I provided Belgian Beers that I had procured from Lidl. The choice was overwhelming. I chose a beer called Pirate, that had “Tripel Hop”, it tasted good, I didn’t realise it was 10.5% strength. It certainly didn’t taste that strong. My head in the morning, told me it was! We discussed all things touring, and Sabien’s plans to ride in Columbia. Also we spoke of issues that women touring can come across with unwelcome attention from men. Obviously this is something I have never experienced but have often heard mention on touring groups that I belong to. Many countries are still very male dominated and this can be an issue for the female cycling tourist. There are several ladies that have cycled around the globe without incident, however the risk is clearly much higher in certain areas depending on your sex.

I had decided that the next day I would spend some time in Ypres again, although John and I visit often, we don’t tend to stay for long. I took the opportunity to look in the Flanders Fields museum again. I had last been here when my boys were young. They are now in their mid 20’s. The museum has changed. It has modernised and it takes you on the journey of someone you pick who was in the war. I picked someone who looked on the map, that was from Devizes. Tragically the end of the story was all too common, they had died during the war.I’ve put a post earlier to detail this. Here

After wandering around Ypres looking at churches and museums, I booked into the campsite that I have been to several times before. This time as I was on my own and wanted to ensure the bike was safe, while I went to watch the last post and have a few beers. I rented a “Kanin”. The cabin was 40 Euros, a little expensive, but worth the piece of mind.

I went to watch the last post, as the Menin gate was shrouded in scaffolding, it was still moving, but didn’t feel the same. Before that I had visited the Ypra Inn. Having a beer or few.

Cheers for the beer David!

Following day I set off at 11, having written half of this post, and using up my allotted time in the cabin. Destination was Brugge. I had made contact with Filip, who was a “Welcome to my Garden” host. I had only recently heard of this, from a French couple I hosted from Warmshowers. You register on a site and request to camp in participating hosts gardens. What is on offer varies, I am particularly interested in ensuring I have toilet facilities. I am happy to bucket was but a toilet is essential. On arrival, Filip showed me to the back garden, explained a few things and left me to it. He had rigged up a hot water shower outside, it was fantastic and a portaloo in an outbuilding. Water, toilet and shower, you don’t need anything else.

The following day, on leaving, I did a few tasks requested of guests, i.e. clean the portaloo, made sure I left no trace and quietly left, sending Filip a message of thanks on WhatsApp.

Welcome To My Garden – Brugge

In the evening I went out for a beer, finding a nice bar called Bar’n, just off the main square, It served some local beer. I opted for the Brugge Tripel. I didn’t ask the percentage, I didn’t learn. Three beers later I was three sheets to the wind! They certainly don’t taste strong.

Cheers for the Beer Billy!

I didn’t rush to leave the picturesque town and took time to take in the square in the morning, its extremely pretty, with horses ad carts lined up, to take tourists on trips. The Belfort looms over the whole square.

Belfort, Brugge

I couldn’t leave without having a waffle and a big shot of caffeine.

Brugge Waffle, Waffley good!

On leaving Brugge, you cycle down an old canal. One i have cycled before, this takes you to the Netherlands. On the way a couple were following me and when I stopped with my fully loaded bike, they were astonished to see I didn’t have an electic motor. Hendrick and Monique took time to explain to me that canal once brought large ships to the local town were stood next to. Over the years the canal had silted up and with it the towns fortunes had dwindled. As we were about to part company, they explained that I was welcome if I came back that way to go and stay with them and gave me all their contact details. Exceptionally kind to a complete stranger.

Henrick and Monique

A few miles further and I entered the Netherlands, no fancy sign, just a barrier that you had to go round and as I write I am in the one day away from Amsterdam. I will update the next post on the Netherlands. This one is quite long enough and I have missed out parts!

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