From Soissons I cycled to somewhere close to Meaux. Along the way I passed through the village where Jean Racine was born. He was the author of plays I’ve never even heard of, but according to Wikipedia, he is very important still.
Most remarkable, however, was the fact that I hardly took a wrong turn that day.
I have to be careful
It’s hunting season, so I have to be careful not to look like a pheasant.
That’s why I wear my new helmet! I bought it at a Decathlon store for 30 euros. They wouldn’t say it was bulletproof…
This is how I look with my helmet.
When I broke up from Meaux in the morning, it rained. It was a new experience to break everything up in a constant drizzle, but in the end I cycled away in my raingear and all my stuff more or less dry. Luckily it soon stopped raining. It was a bit difficult to find my way, but eventually I carried my bike down to a path along the Canal de l’Ourcq, where I stubbornly ignored the signs that said it was forbidden for cyclists. From Meaux to Paris wasn’t far, but the last bit was through the heart of Paris. I even cycled a bit arond the Arc de Triomphe.
Not a great photo, but at least I made it to Paris.
From Guise to Soissons was a long day. It started well with some steep climbs but nothing to worry about. This time I had a map and before I had started out I had looked on Google Maps and had drawn the route (for cyclists) on my map. At some point the road deteriorated into a hardly visible track and while I was cycling towards a motorway, I wondered if Google’s man on the ground had done his homework. Luckily it met with a bridge so I could cross the motorway.
Early afternoon I was sent into the woods. There were some steep little roads and I got lost again. When I bought my bike I had wondered when I would ever had use for first gear, because it kept me spinning like mad without hardly getting anywhere. Now I knew….
Eventually I descended into Soissons fully loaded at about 40 km/hr and lorries thundering by only inches away. It was hair-raising and when i got back to my senses I decided this was the time to buy a helmet.
Soissons had some nice old buildings. This is one of them:
Abbey of some sort
It was ruined a long time ago. A lovely old lady explained it all to me in excellent English.
After that I was lying on the grass for sometime, taking in all the details.
It was very beautiful.
Today I treated myself and had a resting day. It looked like this:
In fact, I had to get money, buy groceries, lubricate the chain of my bicycle, answer emails and do my laundry. Besides that, I strolled around town (chateau from the umpteenth century, very old), bought a baguette, because I was in France after all, and generally enjoyed not having to torture my sore behind.
When I was standing in line at the supermarket, I saw an old man walking around my bicycle, studying it with apparent perplexity. Not a common sight around here, I mused while I was paying for my groceries. When I left the supermarket, I saw the old man studying a pile of shopping baskets with the same perplexity.
I learned that the region was called Picardy, but not much else, because this was the time that an elderly couple came in the kitchen and turned on the old television. They talked loudly and occasionally sang along with songs shown on the tv. The kitchen being the only place with decent wifi, I had to sadly give up that comfort.
When I was fuddling with my bicycle, I noticed to my utter surprise that my compass was working again! The French must have repaired the magnetic field…
Leaving Brussels I had a little foto-shoot:
That day I made it to Binche in Wallonia and that meant more hills, and for reasons I cannot begin to comprehend, there seemed to be more uphill than downhill in Wallonia. Another tangible difference between Flanders and Wallonia is the total neglect of cycling infrastructure in the latter. The state of cycling paths, if they exist, is more often than not, ruinous.
At some point I stumbled upon a Ravel route which improved matters greatly, although even here I still kept losing my way. After asking the way several times I found my French wanting but eventually made it to Binche, put up my tent and bought some groceries. Sadly I couldn’t find any maps. Seems everyone else knows his way around here, except me.
The next day I left at about 10 in the morning and at about noon I crossed the border into France. Much to my relief I happened on the Veloroute 3, another long-distance cycling path. Late afternoon I found a small campsite but it was completely abandoned. A small note at the reception asked visitors to call at an address in the village down the very steep hill I just came up. I dismissed the idea and just set up my tent, cooked some macaroni and drank some water. After dark the area got an eerie feeling and at some point I was certain somebody with an axe was walking around my tent.
Early next morning I broke camp and after coffee I got on my bicycle again. In the afternoon it got cloudy and about an hour or so before Guise it started to rain. That was a good opportunity to test my raingear and I am glad to say it worked
The campsite in Guise was great value as they let me use all the gear in the kitchen (I was told I could even sleep there if the rain got worse), warm showers and wifi, all for under 10 euros a night. Just when I was pitching my tent it started raining again, so I did it really fast this time.
I bought a Michelin map of France so I could see my progress. So far, I’ve only made a tiny incursion into this huge country…
My hosts in Brussels took me to the Atomium. The total height of the structure is 102 metres and it’s total weight at it’s inception was 2,400,000 kg. During a renovation in 2006 they added another 100,000 kg. After the World Expo in 1958, for which it was purposely built, they forgot to tear it down again. It involves a lot of qeueuing to get anywhere beyond the entrance.
It’s fairly symmetrical as the picture below shows.
The Atomium in Brussels
The day before I had packed my tent at a decrepit campsite with a predominantly Polish clientele living in mobile homes. The friendly Flemish owner wasn’t particularly concerned with matters of hygiene, but it sufficed for a single night.
On my way to Brussels I followed scenic routes along little rivers and canals. The last twenty kilometres confronted me with the first serious hills sofar and I used gears I had never had any use for before. Slogging my way up In this fashion I reached new heights, as did my saddle pain which, I am afraid to say, left my buttocks in a sorry state.
In Brussels I enjoyed my first rest day.
The third day I had to get through Rotterdam. To aid cyclists in navigating this metropolitan area, people had begun signposting the way, but for some reason they had at various points abandoned their tasks. After hours and hours, trying to find my way across several waterways and a myriad of motorways, I finally found my way out of this labyrinth.
I slept at a campsite in Lage Zwaluwe and at night it rained. The Hubba Hubba (see Equipment) kept me dry.
The next day I crossed the border into Belgium. It was overcast and I thought about my compass not working as I mentioned in my last post. Since it applied to navigation and navigation being a mathematical skill, I decided to tackle this problem in a logical way.
So if my compass pointed northwest ALL THE TIME, it must be pointing the WRONG way MOST OF THE TIME. Therefore, if I wanted to go northwest, my best chance would be to go in a southeastern direction using my compass, because going in northwestern direction using my compass would lead me in the WRONG direction MOST OF THE TIME, so going in the opposite direction must lead me in the RIGHT direction MOST OF THE TIME. Vice versa, if I wanted to go south, I just had to follow a northern direction.
Anyway, I am in BELGIUM!!!!!
The morning of my departure I handed the key of my apartment to the man of the Housing Association. For some reason he ignored the fully mounted bike in the middle of the otherwise completely empty room pretty much the same way one ignores the proverbial elephant.
He asked me where I was going after this.
I’ll be riding my bike, I smiled, pointing at the biped with the pachydermic qualities.
Very unusual, he said. Will you sign here please?
When I moved my bicycle outdoors he waved goodbye.
Before the man arrived, I had made coffee, thrown away the coffee-maker, made sandwiches, thrown away the plate and knife, and after breakfast, I threw away what was left of my kitchen. I cleaned up, packed my bags and threw away all the cleaning stuff.
That first day I cycled to Amsterdam and noticed my compass was broken. It told me I was cycling northwest, which was not true. Well, at least not most of the time
In Amsterdam I was received with great hospitality by good friends.
Distance cycled: around 80 km
Number of wrong turns: 2
Other statistics: 0