I did write a few days ago about the change in plans that resulted in our current route through Belgium. However, technology being what it is (awesome when it works, frustrating as #%^ when it doesn’t), I lost that part of the post along with the pictures of the ride to Dover (pictures have been restored to the Dover post, BTW). It turns out that the WordPress app is not all that happy when it is not connected to the Internet. And it also happens that while hostels generally provide free wifi, that wifi may or (more likely) may not actually stretch to one’s bedroom/dorm in said hostels. So, there are periods without connection. Tonight’s B&B may or may not have wifi (there’s a piece of paper with the network name and password, but the network is MIA) so again we are working offline, but smarter–drafting in Pages/NotePad now for copying and pasting to WordPress at a later date.
So back to the trip modification… While we were still in England, I was trying to book accommodations for the next leg of the trip. We continued to be unable to find any maps for the northern French part of Eurovelo 5 and, given the challenges of route-finding even on a signed route with maps, decided to abandon that segment. We then thought we would pick up part of the route in Belgium, at Ypres/Ieper or Kortrijk. Unfortunately, the WWI centenary may have foiled those plans. Nothing remotely close to our price range was available in either town. Sigh. But, wait. Many people had mentioned Bruges and Ghent when we talked about going to Belgium, and our map book also contained a route through both (LF5, Vlaanderen Fietsroute, Flanders Cycle Route). Perhaps we could get to Bruges and start there? Yes, we could, and there were hostels and affordable-ish hotels/B&Bs along the route to Brussels. So, we are midway along that path–two days from Bruges behind us and two days to Brussels ahead of us. The path has run largely along rivers and canals, which means it has been MUCH flatter than England. Also, though we have seen bits of gravel (more on that below), most of the route has been paved, with the most challenging surfaces consisting of cobbles in the cities and towns.
Today’s route took us from Ghent to Dendermonde. We detoured a bit to stop in at the train station, but could not buy tickets because the agent (who fortunately spoke English) could not see whether it was possible to book passage for the bikes. So we will wait until Brussels to get tickets. If you’ve been along for the whole trip, you know booking “bike spots” has been an ongoing challenge to our multimodal travel. So far it has eventually worked out, but it often means that train tickets cannot be booked in advance, which can affect cost and availability.
After the station, we had to find our way through Ghent and back to the route. I am happy to report that we are getting better at way finding–only a couple wrong turns were made and quickly righted. Once on the path, we traveled smoothly for most of the rest of the morning. Until we came to the detour. We arrived at what appeared to be a construction site, with do not enter/no passage signs at the bike route. And all of the signs were only in Flemish. A passing cyclist indicated (with gestures) that we should take the ferry (for which he rang a large bell) across the river with him. After consulting our maps and the construction area map, we thought it too soon to be on the other side of the river and plotted a different route. We were traveling quite happily upon that route when we encountered additional (what we assume to be) detour signs. One path led up a road with very large gravel (those of you who have tried riding on this know what that’s like) and the other led into a residential area, then split into a dirt path marked no entry and a road filled with heavy equipment and interrupted by a deep pit. Hmmm. OK, back to the big gravel. Ugh. Maureen wisely did not ride that quarter-mile section. I managed to stay upright, but just barely. It dumped us onto a main road from which we were able to rejoin the detour and, a few minutes later, the actual route. Whew. First detour in a place where we can’t read the language at all–survived.
The next part of the ride was uneventful and I’m OK with that. When we were about 4 miles from the B&B, we stopped for beverages. (In Belgium, you can pretty much assume what that means for me.) At some point we decided to verify our check-in time at the B&B. I had read somewhere that it was 6 pm, but I couldn’t quite believe it, so I convinced myself that I had misread 1600 as 6 pm. We checked. It was 6 pm. Really? And how did I miss that when I booked it? Oh, well. We went there anyway hoping for luck. No luck. So we continued along the bike path. I was discouraged and not happy about hauling my stuff around while waiting to check in. As we were discussing this, I found myself headed for a low spot in the road right next to the curb, certain to crash. I crashed. Fortunately, I had seen it coming in time to use a guardrail to stop my body from contacting the ground in a rough manner. (Update: one wrist and both triceps are sore, but I am otherwise unharmed.) I got myself up, reattached some panniers, and had a snack. Then the GPS helped us locate a grocery store a couple miles away (she helpfully pointed out that the nearest one was 0.18 miles away–across the river!) and we pedaled into town to stock up. After shopping, we retraced our steps back beyond the B&B to a pub we’d seen on our way in, with the hope of getting some early dinner since we STILL could not check in. No luck on the food, so we had more beverages. When we finally checked in, we were astounded at the size of our quarters for the night. The bathroom was bigger than most of the hotel/hostel rooms in which we have been staying. All of the space was filled with beautiful art (the owner represents artists as her primary occupation). Also, the people who checked us in (we later learned they are friends of the owner) offered to phone in a food order for delivery. Things were definitely looking up.
Lessons for this day:
1. When you encounter a detour, stop, think, and try something. If it doesn’t work, repeat.
2. When you fall down, get up, dust yourself off, re-center (and refuel if necessary), and continue on or make a new plan.
3. When you make a reservation, check the check-in time!
p.s. No photos today–the camera rebelled after the boat trip in Ghent and finally demanded to be charged after almost a month of use.