Sunday, 4 June 2017

2017 Trip To Belgium

Part Deux - en Francais et Belgique

'Smashy' and  'Nicey' do Flanders'

Day One:

Normans Bay to Dunkirk


I opened my gate to find Tom poised with a Kodak Instamatic pointed straight at my face'


'Gosh, I haven't seen one of those for a while!', I said.

'Well, I haven't got one of those 'snazzy' phones that the rest of you chaps have, that takes photos and all that stuff, so I bought this along - don't want to miss a thing!'

'What about making calls', I said.

'Oh,that's no problem, I keep  a few 10Ps in my pocket for emergencies.'

'Can't wait to see the finished picture', I said ,encouragingly
Malc has an unusual way of carrying his footwear

'Yes, I shall get my self down to Boots the minute I return', he replied.

With that we set off for Hastings to meet up with the others.

I was feeling good and enjoying the novelty of riding with panniers for the first time. (My Moda bike doesn't really like panniers; it has top bolts - but brakes prevent you using them - and no bottom eyelets.  Eric, of 'Zigi Cycles', did a brilliant job of circumventing the problem with different fixings. He is well worth considering for bike servicing/repairs; usually does small things while you wait, and his pricing is very fair.  He is located by the traffic lights where the Chain Gang ends.  I'm not related to him BTW.)
Pete shows off his new pannier set up 

Assembled at The Bridge Cafe were most of the faces from the French trip - with the exception of the Captain and Mal C - who were replaced by Derek and Duncan (more about these two later).  Additionally, we had 'newbies' Helena and Shirley.

I took a long, hard look at the shipping containers attached to either side of Shirley's rear wheel and thought:

 'There's bound to be a kitchen sink in there somewhere!'

The ride to Dover and the crossing went without incident - apart from the delay caused by Shirley being forced to queue with the lorries in the freight lane - and we were soon in Dunkirk.

Dunkirk 17:00 'ish

Steve had done a lot of planning and had worked out a beautiful ride alongside the dunes, and with the aid of a strong tailwind, we were motoring along it; a lovely seascape and to our left and a sprawling industrial cityscape to our right.

Another bar, another beer!
After a few miles we reached the end of the road and came across a bridge that was shut.  After a thorough investigation we could find no alternative way across.

What glorious weather
'Oh, le pont es brise!'

A helpful local explained, as best he could, that someone had broken the bridge a year ago and it hadn't been repaired.

'We'll just have to go back the way we came', said Steve

'Oh, double ****ocks', I thought

The return was into the headwind and with a swirling sandstorm blasting our faces.  Just to add to our woes we were now navigating without a route and had Ivan insisting that he needed to get to a particular shop to buy some illegal explosives for his garden.)

Ivan asks for help from a local:

'I need berms!'

'Pardon, monsieur?'

 'I need berms, I 'av moles and I need berms'

Whether it was his desperation, or his charm, I don't know, but he came back beaming'

'They've invited me back for some champagne!'

Despite pressure from the rest of the group he couldn't be dissuaded and set off in the opposite direction armed with a paper map.

' I reckon that's the last we'll see off him!' said Steve, looking worried.

We set off and at one point found ourselves on an unmade road - the original Talking Heads' 'Road to Nowhere'. Even with a bucket full of Garmins we were unable to locate the Hotel; and then Steve had a brain wave:
We're on a road to nowhere!

'Why don't we use Google Maps?', he said

Even with my phone in my back pocket I could clearly hear 'Doris' calling out instructions - brilliant!.  I led the group to the hotel and grabbed all the available kudos.

To call Dunkirk a 'sh*t hole' would be heaping praise on it, but the hotel was very good and suited all our needs.

Day 2:

Dunkirk to Ghent

Happiness is an Ivan with mole bombs!
These flat canal paths are highly rated by Shirley !
For some reason the first part of the route was missing on our Garmins but we found it without too much bother and stopped for our first coffee break.  At this point Steve realised, with horror, that he had left his mobile at the hotel. After much confusion we managed to ring the hotel but nobody would answer so we had to send them an email asking if they can look after it until we return; later we got a reply saying they had it, Steve was very relieved.

Within Belgium the route is all on traffic-free cycle lanes which are superb and very flat.  We were all very impressed with how incredibly neat everything is in Belgium - maybe a bit too neat - Stepford wives was one suggestion.  Most of the gardens are open plan and it is as if there is a competition for who has the neatest, and all the houses are unique and, almost without exception, of brick construction.

Duncan exiting the bat cave!
Much of the route is on the canals leading into Ghent.  These are massively wide with speed boats going up and down and some even towing water skiers.  The sun was beating down and the moral in the group was mega high.

En route we pass some massive bunkers guarding the canals and stop at one which has been turned into home for bats.

The route was generated automatically by a Belgium web site and it never faltered.  There were many twists and turns, and one section went through a large forest which was magnificent - Ivan seized the opportunity for some off-roading.

We stopped at a small safe which did superb spaghetti and met a cyclist who said he was taking his wife to the Garden of England: Kent. - hope he isn't too disappointed!

On arrival at our hotel in Ghent we were pleasantly surprised to find a food festival, with food from all parts of the world.

Helena rediscovers her touring legs!
Everybody did there own thing; Mal C and I opted for a 'Weed Burger', but were upset to find that even an hour later we weren't 'stoned'.  Helena decided she wanted a 3 course meal and 'topped off' with a waffle the size of an upturned traffic cone!

 Ghent 21:00 'ish

'Tonight you're mine completely...' - Steve

'You give your love so sweetly....' - me

''Can I believe the magic of your sighs - doo be dooby doo....' Steve and me.

'Shut the **** up!' - Mal C

'I think we should find a karaoke bar', said Steve.

'What's the point - you can't ****ing sing!, said Mal C

Steve was very p*ssed, but very happy, Mal C and I were a bit p*ssed, but all of us realised that 'enough is enough' - there was some cycling to do tomorrow and shuffled off to bed at a sensible time.

Ghent 23:30 'ish

There was a knock on mine and Mal's door:

' Have you seen Ivan?' said a concerned Tom

'No', said Mal C

'I better go and find him then!'

Day 3:

Ghent 07:30 'ish

' Apparently, they didn't get into 3:00!, said Mal C, at breakfast

Shortly afterwards, Ivan appeared; looking surprisingly O.K, but no sign of Tom.

'I better ring him then!'
Derek discovers the joy of cycle touring

Mal C was quite surprised when Tom answered his room phone, and even more surprised when he appeared 5 minutes later, looking ,it has to be said,like sh*t.

'Ivan crashed into our room at 03:10 and fell on the floor - totally wasted!', said Steve.

The day was even hotter than yesterday and we followed some superb cycle paths towards Ypres.

'The Belgiums pronounce it Leper , you know?', said an ill-informed Steve.

He had been using this pronunciation since the start, until he realised that the 'L' on the direction sign was an 'I' Still to be fair, none of us knew any better.

I tried to get more info. from Tom about the previous night.

'I found him in a jazz bar - but it definitely wasn't a Gay Bar!', he said

'So what was Ivan doing then?' I asked

'Oh, he was dancing with a man and really enjoying himself - I think he even took part in a dancing competition'

Later I had confirmation from Ivan that this was true.

'This bloke and I were dancing and he said to me I'm not gay, you know', said Ivan

'So what did you say', I asked

'I said, 'I'm not gay either, mate!''

After some time we found a decent looking restaurant in the town square of Roeslare; ignoring the generally accepted advice of 'avoid touristy looking places in town squares' we checked out the prices and decided it would be 'chips all round'.  This didn't give us much of a saving as the bottled water was 9 Euros - and we'd ordered 3 bottles.

' That's 27 quid just on water!' said Derek

As the day progressed Tom seemed to be rallying round, but Ivan was in decline and also Mal C was starting to suffer.

Canadian cemetery outside Ypres
Approaching Ypres we start to come across war cemeteries, including a Canadian one. Duncan's grandfather died around here so he, very possibly, lies there somewhere?. The approach to Ypres was through the heart of the western front and I think we all felt a strong sense of the past; the guns may have been silent for a hundred years, but this area will forever be haunted by it's horrific past.

We arrived at the get magnificent centre of Ypres.  We were short on time as we had to continue on to Ballieu to check into our luxurious accomodaton at the F1, but  we took a brief look at the town hall and Menin gate.

I had seen enough to want to come back again and this is currently being considered by Steve as a trip for next year.

Outside restaurants were too pricey for us but we found a burger bar down a side street with tables out the back. The burgers wre huge and very tasty but Ivan couldn't eat his and leaves it sitting on the table getting cold.



Mal C had started some serious pyrotechnics.

Just then a couple of German tourists arrived.

'I zinc we sit at zis table?, the man said


'I zinc maybe zere are better ones around!' the woman replied as she led her partner swiftly back out again.

'Mal C was leaning over his creation with one hand supporting him on a wall.

'Sorry about that chaps', he said

Beneath him sat the perfect 'pavement pizza' - crusty topped with a thin but slightly soggy base.

'I don't do sick' said Helena.

Who then courageously got up and sloshed away Mal's offerings into the drain using bowls of water supplied by the restaurant.

We continue our journey to Baillieu .

What a novelty: we saw a hill in the distance which turned out to be the legendary Kemmelberg. Tom couldn't resist the challenge and rode to the top - complete with panniers -  What a legend!

We arrive at Ballieu and check in to our cheapest hotel - the dreaded F1!!.  I have just been reading a Tim Moore book called 'You are awful, but  do like you' where he outlines his experience of F1s in the U.K:

'The shower was ankle deep in van driver pubes....' - classic!

I went out with Duncan and Derek to find a local bar as the 3 of us all agreed we had to escape for a while. What sustained me through this testing time was the knowledge that it was payback time for Tom - who had had 2 nights of luxurious single room occupation - was now sharing with Steve and Ivan!

Ivan had still not recovered and was reporting that he was thrown up bile containing bits of his stomach lining! - charming!

Steve had concocted a cunning plane to recover his lost phone.  This required that he, me and Duncan set off on an advanced party to go via the Hotel and then meet up with the others at the port, and with the aid of 'Doris', this plan did work quite well.

It happens without warning, and it can happen to any of us, but it it wonderful to behold.  The last time I witnessed it was in the cafe at Pevensey when it struck the 'Fun Chums'.  It starts with mimicking each others gestures, progresses to finishing each others sentences and is sealed through eating and drinking the same things: that special bonding they call 'man love'!.  This time it was Derek and Duncan and was probably as a consequence of bunking up together for 3 nights.

I lent across their table on the lounge of the ferry.

'Sorry to interrupt, but I've decided to christen you 'Smashy and Nicey'. now who is who?'

'I'll be Nicey then', said Derek who seemed to be half accepting of this.

'No, actually, I think Duncan should be 'Nicey', I said

'Oh, O.K then' he said.

Duncan seemed quite pleased to be 'Nicey'.

Smashey and Nicey

Leaving the Ferry highlighted, yet again,my geolexsia as I led a group of the others towards the wrong end of the boat to collect our bikes. We were forced to make a u-turn and squeeze our way through a mass of juggernauts.  I was getting seriously worried as I knew we would be invisible to the drivers who could set off at any time.

Once disembarked we waited patiently for Shirley to appear from the freight section before regrouping for the final leg back to the car park.  This in itself is no mean feat as it involves a very steep climb and we were all impressed with the speed in which Shirley appeared at th
e top having kept her promise to dismount and push!

Safely back in Blightly, we all agreed it had been a great trip; It was a great mix of people and we had a lot of fun and I look forward very much to the next time.

Well Done Steve!!

Peter Buss (with a lot of help from Steve)

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