The route between these two cities for the cyclist is magical. In the first instance it follows the N50 (Baron Ruzettelaan) due south (the Youth Hostel and bicycle shop are on this street). At Steen Brugge it turns south east and hugs the Ostende-Ghent Canal. There are tracks on both sides and plenty of café/bakery opportunities for refreshment. There is also a mixture of meadow and woodland landscapes with their microclimates.
One of advantages of riding a bicycle the likelihood of encountering objects that come from an earlier, albeit modern, era. So, whilst stocking up on food in Bellem, I spotted an old oil company sign that framed a picture for me (right).
The approach Ghent is also along a canal. The key decision is when to leave the canal and head into town (for us, we were keen to find the tourist information centre). A bit of local knowledge was sought from a restaurant masquerading as a hotel (another feature of Flanders) and in we went along Hoogstraat. The Tourist Information Centre is located adjacent to the castle (Gent Gravensteen).
We opted for the campsite (Blarmeersen) which is part of a very large sports complex in the South West of the City. It is relatively easy to find if the canals are used as a guide. It took us about 30 minutes or so to cycle. On the way we had 50c extracted from us by a group of girls who essentially acted as gatekeepers to the path. 50c for a glass of apple juice or water, or no passing. A small price to pay for apple juice and, again, that invaluable local knowledge. The campsite is the terminus for one of the bus routes into the city. One thing I am not keen on is getting back on the bicycle to cycle in to town. Once the tent is up, for me, that is it, mobility is provided by some mechanical traction until the next day.
We took a day out in Ghent to visit the fine art gallery in the Stadtpark (Museum voor Schone Kunsten, right). The contents of the gallery will be the subject of another post. Suffice to say, it hosts influential and historically important paintings from some of the region’s most famous artists.
Our ferry was scheduled for 12 noon from the East Dock. Bicycles are treated as vehicles and riders have to queue rather illogically with cars, trucks and motorcycles (below right). It is hazardous getting to the queue.
The crossing is 90 mins. The ferries are essentially floating motorway service areas. Functional. Dunkerque is an extremely cycle-unfriendly port. The disembarking trucks are driven with some abandon. There is no separation for cycles and no signs on how to avoid joining a motorway!
Essentially, we had to guess how to get to Dunkerque (such contrast with Rotterdam with its dedicated tracks and countless direction signs). Our advice, turn left off the first roundabout and go the wrong way up a one way road for about 50 metres. Follow the now two-way road (Route des Dunes) along the canal (on the left) and turn right on to Route de Mardyck along which a cycle track crosses at the junction of the D601). Dunkerque is signposted and eventually comes (right).
We then rode north towards the coast. The beaches are sandy and vast. The promenades all along the coastline are busy and not particularly easy to navigate in the summer season. There are plenty of potential campsites. We again picked the wrong one (at Zuydcoote – I’ll write a separate post about the places we stayed). We left wiser than on arrival. We had breakfast in a bar in the nearby small town of Brays Dunes before crossing the border at De Panne and rapidly made it to Oostende. It is a port masquerading as a seaside town. The railway station is architecturally notable (left).
The Belgians take a lead from the Dutch when it comes to long distance cycle routes. The use the ‘Knotten Punkten’ method. Cycling by numbers, in a nutshell. Follow the arrow to the Punkt, and then follow the arrow to the next Punkt that forms the route that is to be taken. Fool proof. Largely. So, we ignored the direct route to Brugges and followed the route given in our guide, the Bikeline Flandern-Route. That took us back to the coastline through Blankenberge. We finally stopped at an extremely picturesque small town called Lissewege (with an enormous church) where we found a hotel and an eatery (right).
Next morning, I discovered that we had a broken spoke on the rear. In Brugges, then, it was necessary to find a bicycle repair shop. From Lissewege we passed through Dudzele and Damme (where a bakery and bar provided breakfast and coffee) before entering Brugges from the north east. We kept a keen eye out for cycle shops. in the rain.
Cycle shop owners know each other. “I cannot do it, but I know who will do it for you”. OK, but then being unable to find said workshop and stumbling across another shop, albeit without a workshop, and finding out that the original recommendation was not recommended…we finally found Bike World (on the N50 heading south out of the city). They are brilliant. Whilst they could not do it immediately, it was ready by 11 the following morning. They fixed the out-of-synch gears as well. All for 20 Euros. Down the road was a youth hostel. That is where we stayed. And spent the afternoon/evening in Brugge.
I’m not going to write too much about Brugge. It is picturesque, historic and full of tourists. And fast-moving horses and carriages. The main square boasts fine examples of classic Flemmish architecture and civic grandeur. But we had decided to crack on and immerse ourselves in the nearby competitor city, Ghent. We may have been well advised in that.
In previous years we have used the ferry between Hull and Rotterdam. This time, having moved to Hastings on the south coast of England, we decided to cycle to Dover and make the short crossing to Dunkerque en route to Belgium. At £10 each, with DFDS, it is a bargain.
Getting to Dover, however, illustrates just how far the English are from providing safe and enjoyable cycle routes. For example, the Royal Military Canal (right), flowing from Rye to Hythe (see map, above left) is an obvious potential route for the National Cycle Route 1. But alas, no. Private land ownership means that the cycle route has to weave around – albeit quiet roads – only being granted access in the approaches to Hythe (left).
We had to cheat on our first day. We were unable get away before 1400. We took the train from Hastings to Ham Street towards Ashford (the Class 171 trains used on that route can accommodate a tandem with ease).
Once into Hythe, the cycle route takes riders on to the promenade which is wide enough to share comfortably with pedestrians. And then through Folkestone where, unfortunately, it is necessary to join a busy road that climbs out of the town in the East. The route then provides a dedicated track up to a quiet road (B2011) that runs parallel to the busy A259. It provides a rewarding view over Folkestone by way of compensation.
Past the Battle of Britain memorial, through Capel le Ferne downhill in to Dover. If wanted. However, we followed the coast path which is a shade rough but worth the effort. We’d booked a B&B just outside Dover on the B2011, so we had to make our way back. There is a route under the A20 and a non-public road down. The gradient is significant. Unfortunately, it ends with a locked barrier. For single cyclists it is unproblematic. A fully loaded tandem, unfortunately, has to be unloaded in order to thread it under the barrier. The B&B (Farthingloe) was, however, adjacent.
A mixed 35 km for our first half day.
The August summer of 2014 was, to say the least, wet. It was also cold. I have to admit that these factors made us think carefully about camping. So, here, chronologically, is where we stayed: (I’m constructing this as I publish the pages describing the tour more generally).
The new academic year starts in a few days’ time. The time immediately before is conference season for us journeyman academics. I’ve been to two.
One way of judging (or being judged, if one is an organiser) is the mid-conference dinner. Last week, at a conference in London, this was held on a cruiser on the Thames. It cost extra. A nice spectacle, particularly those unfamiliar to London. A great opportunity for photographs (left), especially in balmy weather.
The food was a bit…
I’m now in Berlin, one of my favourite European cities. This is an academic corporate-sponsored conference. The venue for the dinner was inspired. The entrance to the Classic Remise on Wiebestrasse in the North West of the city is modest. Once inside, it seems like a museum, but in actual fact it is one huge second-hand car sales showroom. Everything is for sale, at a price. The VW camper (right) is so valuable, that one has to request the price. It has been beautifully restored.
Clearly, these being vintage cars, supply is limited. But it does seem that, within reason, one could buy – and presumably sell – anything here. Tucked away on a platform, I saw a Ford Capri MkI. Naturally, there are many BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes of various vintages. But American cars also feature. There were three Ford Mustangs as well as a lumping 1930s Lincoln. Magnificent and obscene in equal measure. The resource that went into building it, to meet with GM’s ‘cars as disposable fashion accessories’ industrial design and business approach, must have been huge.
Now I am a white van man (there were a few vintage Citroen vans in various stages of refurbishment), hence prioritising an image of a VW camper over a Porsche. More interesting, however, was the building. I would not have guessed its origin without a trip to the toilet. And, there, on the wall, were some pictures of the very same building with trams peeking out like horses in a stable (left). When first built in 1901, it was Europe’s largest tram shed ‘Wiebehallen’. It is the work of the Berlin architect, Joseph Fischer Dick, who seemingly specialised in these structures. The current owners have been faithful to the building. Whilst the tracks are no longer there, the entrance arches are all numbered. The roof glass and steel frame remain. As do the authentic lights (albeit with modern bulbs).
The food was also good.
This has now migrated to the “Don’t be a Maybe” campaign which has a new impetus with the “I changed the Game” man. Which game, we might ask? It looks like some sort of desert endurance. The brand is global, so there must be easier ways of getting a fix. A shop, perhaps!
With the new packaging, clearly, endurance man is not always necessary. It is enough to push for more nicotine, tar, carcinogens and cold outdoor shelters (if you are lucky) outside pubs, offices and hospital waiting rooms.
Having previously done the Rhine and Elbe, sort of, this year the tandem takes another ferry, this time from Dover, England to Dunkerque, France, in to Belgium taking in the cities of Brugges and Ghent. Then onward to Maastricht and Aachen. From there, who knows? We have limited time.
We are armed with a new tent (Octane 3 person tent, pictured left). It weighs in at 3.5kg, but it is generous in terms of space and has two layers. It is worth the extra weight so we discovered on our first tour with a very light single-skinned tent. Last year’s tent was a bit old and did not make it back from Holland.
The tandem has been serviced. The two tours so far (both are recorded in the cycling tab, right) had taken their toll on the chain wheel and the chain. Both have been replaced. We look forward to trouble-free cycling.
I regret the time that I have wasted in my life. Time that I could have used productively. But did not. Sitting on the train yesterday, as I often do, heading to my workplace (one hour), I glanced around and saw maybe two-thirds of the people on the train engaged in no activity other than looking around or out of the window. Immediately opposite me was a boy about 12 years’ old, I presumed with his mother. Both were, how I would describe, under-stimulated. I remember being that boy.
Each Class 171 train has 124 seats. The train was full for the whole journey. For sections of the journey, there were people standing. So let us say there were 150 people on the train. If two-thirds were under-stimulated, that means 100 people. That is 6000 minutes going spare, 100 hours.
What could I do with 100 hours? I know that they are not mine to claim. I also realise that it is not for me to tell people what is good for them. However, I wonder whether this issue is not what is good for the individual, but rather society. Not using time productively, arguably, is anti-social?
The obvious activity for this sort of available time is reading. The boy in front of me had no visible reading material with him. He sat there patiently, commenting periodically to his mother about something that he had seen out of the window. I remember being that boy.
When I talk about society benefitting from those lost hours, I do so against the backdrop of what seems to be an almost global breakdown in human reason. The situation in Gaza, for example. It troubles me not least because the mis-information is so completely assimilated by our news organisations. It takes a bit of decoding when one is aware of it, let alone when reporting seems ‘balanced’. We are many of us under-informed (I include myself very much in this). Rectifying that would strike me as a good use for those 100 hours.
Picture of Class171: Mackensen
The scene on the left is the devastation meted out to the Gazan neighbourhood of Shijaiyah (picture sourced from Media Lens) in the name of ‘right of self-defence’. Proportionate? By contrast, the image, right (from the Israel Defence Force). This was the damage to an apartment block in the Israeli town of Ashkelon from a Palestinian rocket. Proportionate? Proportionality is a bit of a red herring. The issue is the siege of Gaza and Israeli settlements.
It is time for Obama to get on his plane and tell Netanyahu that he is on his way to the to the ICC in the Hague.
It is also time that the media get their reporting proportionate. Too much sourcing from official Israeli authorities. Too many platforms given to the likes of Mark Regev (http://t.co/mNkP57gpKf). Too easy. Lazy. If you do have the mis-fortune to sit through Israeli propaganda, decode with this guide: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/israelgaza-conflict-the-secret-report-that-helps-israelis-to-hide-facts-9630765.html
This piece of legislation, pushed through the UK Parliament in 3 days, is wrong in so many respects. Enacted to protect innocent people against terrorists and paedophiles (nice juxtaposition) and supported unconditionally by all three main parties in the Parliament, including the Labour Party, unforgivably.
In this country the police can now demand from suppliers of internet services and mobile phone network operators details of all of my transactions. The police will legally be able to access details of my searches, sites visited and my emails – and all those with whom I engage. They have access to the duration of my visits, conversations, times of those conversations and my location.
So often, one is confronted by the trite response from politicians that if one has nothing to hide, one has nothing to fear. One has everything to fear. I am no libertarian, but the state has no right to enter my private space, and that includes my email inbox. I know now that if I, or any others, seek to become a whistleblower against corrupt public or private organisations, including the police, they will be able to find us.
The Open Rights Group is challenging the legislation. They say: “The European Convention of Human Rights, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and our own Human Rights Act – all exist to defend are rights and are where we will be able to challenge DRIP.” They intend to challenge the legality of the legislation in the European Court of Justice. The UK remains a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights for the time being. The Conservative Government is currently composing legislation to undermine its authority over UK legislation – a move that is thought to precipitate the UK’s withdrawal. In Europe, the only non-members are Ukraine and Russia.