Dedicated to a wonderful Mother Jean Noble 31/5/1929 - 20/8/2007 - may we never take our mothers for granted. - Goodbye Mum
BELGIUM PART ONE DECEMBER 2007
Belgium is a relative newcomer to Europe having only been founded in 1830. It occupies a small geographic footprint and a huge population density. We have one farm in Australia “Anna Creek Station” in South Australia, that is bigger than Belgium . The population density of Belgium is 342 per square kilometre (886 per square mile) – one of the highest in Europe, after that of the Netherlands and some “micro” countries such as Monaco Which has the most. The man above, Georges Prosper Remi, better known by his French name "Hergé" – Hergé's adventures of Tin Tin. He is a Belgian icon. Once again we are here to learn. Both of us hope we can give of ourselves and take rich memories from one of Europe's newest nations.
Money in Aussie Dollars
18th December 2007. Bush Camp
Soerendonk to Hamont
Approx. k's Average Speed kph Cycling time Hr. Min Max speed kph Max temp we recorded C (Stats added to Wednesdays)
After a bitterly cold night we decided to leave before daybreak at -7C (Our coldest yet) it was real hard getting out of bed.. We are pushing the limits of our gear at these temperatures. Our water was frozen – NO gears on the bike – these too frozen and only one brake working – the cable frozen on the other. Plus, to add to our woes, Lee has more frostbite, this time on the soles of her feet. We cycled to the Belgium border in the dark.. No pic's of the border signs as it was too dark... It had been a slow ride as Lee was stuck in a low gear and could not manage much more than 5 kph. We were just passing through the city of Hammond
and stopped at a bus shelter to fix breakfast and coffee, (see corner of pic) when a young lady pulled up and said “are you Mal & Lee? Are you on “couch surfing”?
We replied yes to both. We are now staying at her home. It is a good opportunity to learn a little about our host country and thaw out.
19th December 2007. Hamont to
Approx. 24.59k's Average Speed 9.5kph Cycling time 2Hr. 35Min Max speed 17kph Max temp we recorded 0C
After a nice night with Mieke and her family
(Lee cooked a Thai meal at the families request), we met a Thai guy “Nung” and his friend (flatmate) Yvonne at Mieke's house,
they invited us to stay the next night with them. We are going through an EXCEPTIONALLY cold period not often seen in Belgium or Holland for that matter.. Our accommodation options are drying up, maybe it is the time of year, we are not really sure. Tomorrow we go to the railways to see what we can do to get south, maybe the south of France or Spain. Personally I would like to leave Europe until spring next year and go to North Africa – maybe Morocco. We are also concerned that Xmas in Europe will not be a place of good cheer for us, searching for the elusive accommodation options.
We could not leave Mieke's house until after lunch – frozen bikes.. We had to take both bikes into the house to thaw out.
We are now in Nung and Yvonne's house, enjoying yet another beautiful Thai meal... Sometimes its just hard :-) Catchya Later.
20th December 2007.
Approx. 11.9k's Average Speed 9.5kph Cycling time 1Hr. 25Min Max speed 17kph Max temp we recorded -5°C – Yes minus five
Everywhere white this morning as we now experience another freezing day, where the max was to be -5°C (23°F)... We do not know the overnight low. There is a “misty” snow covering everything with a thin blanket.
Throughout Belgium, traffic has had the MAX speed limit reduced by 30KPH due to the unusual conditions. We went with our hosts to the Railway Station to get the options on booking our train. Unfortunately we met with a brick wall. The guy in the ticket office treated us worse than “rats in a cage”. In need of a “personality transplant” he absolutely refused to be of any assistance whatsoever. Nung and Yvonne headed back to Mieke's house to use the internet for info. Tomorrow we attempt to deal with the “moron” in the ticket office to get us and our bikes through Belgium... We could not book whilst we were there as he simply refused to offer ANY assistance whatsoever.
We were later to find out “Mieke” has had problems with him (The guy in the ticket office) and has written a report to the “railways” such was the poor treatment. One thing is certain in this world, does not matter how many complaints, he will still be there next year....
21st December 2007.
Approx. 9.49k's Average Speed 9.68kph Cycling time 0.0Hr. 59Min Max speed 22kph Max temp we recorded -3°C
We left our wonderful hosts Nung and Yvonne and cycled out into a freezing morning.
Everything we tried, to prevent our gear freezing we did, nothing worked. The bikes were stored inside the house last night to keep them warm, had barely cycled 1 k and we were frozen solid, locked into whichever gear we were using and only one brake. We cycled to the railway station and begun our attempt to “train it” south. The guy that needs a “personality transplant” was not there when we went to book :-) The guy that booked our tickets was most helpful. He spoke at least Dutch, English and French.. we did not press him further. The best he could do was ticket us to “Lille”, just over the border into France.
With great trepidation the train guard let us board – it was touch and go....
Having started the journey it gave us a tiny bit of “leverage” for stage two – we had to change trains to get to Lille. We stopped in Antwerp, to change trains...
Above Lee in Antwerp Railway Café....
The first guard did not want to take us and suggested we wait for a “direct train” (about forty minutes). Of course “Murphy” was listening and cancelled that next train. We then had to wait a further hour until the one after that again. The guard on this train was most helpful and asked us to go right to the front of the train. We then sat in first class, looking after our bikes... This guard was real nice to us...
There is a small room behind the drivers cabin on the type of train we were travelling.. We got the bikes in there and the trailers in the passage... Next stop France...
This ends a short stay in Belgium. Short but very intense.
BELGIUM SUMMARY Part One.
We were treated with great kindness during our short stay... We never needed to pay for accommodation as we were offered the hospitality of the people here. We only cycled about 50 k's in Belgium on the first pass, a bit more on the second pass. We did not sample enough of it's cycling infrastructure enough to comment. Despite these low stat's we still were able to discuss a little of what life is like here. A country with no government and in danger of splitting on tribal grounds. Perhaps not a “Hutu and Tutsi” scenario and all it's associated horrors, nonetheless a backward step in my humble opinion.
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