Saturday, 27 April 2013

Whirlwind tour of Belgium and traveling home (Day 6-8)

Day 6
After a late sleep (7am) we were up and ready to explore Brugge! But first breakfast. One would think that at 8am there would be place for food but alas, a local pub which was the only place we could find open only served coffee so we had that and checked out of our hotel and started our exploration of the city.

The square which had been empty except for tourists the day before was suddenly transformed into a market! Fruits, veg, flowers, meat, fish, herbs, breads and cheese filled the square! We grabbed pastries for breakfast (I had a nice custard pastry) and continued our meander through the city and into an old church. This building was amazing! It had a stunning statue made of solid silver that must have been an easy 2m high. Add that to the ornate stained glass windows and other decorations and this was quite a sight. This church also apparently has a container that has some of Christ's blood and every 5 years they have a procession where this comes out and a reenactment happens.

After our church exploration we continued our journey through this amazing city! Personally I find it such a stunning place because of the old architecture and the fast that they discourage cars in the town and encourage bicycles. In fact, you have to be careful to avoid being knocked over by a bicycle!!

After Brugge, we headed to Oudenaarde to see the Museum of the Ronde van Flaanderen. This place was SO cool!! A history of cycling in the area but also I suppose a cycling history since they had bikes and kit from the old days to the new days. We had fun looking around and even got on the idt to race an old pro up a hill on a simulator. Was so cool seeing now the sport has changed. The tour appropriately ends in a shop where naturally we bought stuff kit and stuff.

After feeding our cycling brains, we headed for a bite to eat (we had asparagus with eggs which is a typical dish from this area) and then checked into a hotel for a spontaneous night in Oudenaarde (have run out of fresh clothes but I suppose that is tomorrow's problem). We then took a stroll through town to explore this town. It's quite different to the other towns in that its slightly more modern yet it still has the old town feel in most of the buildings. The streets are in general wider than the other towns. Oh! And there are plenty roadies in this town.

Tonight we ate another local dish: Frittes and mayo. We enjoyed this take away style and had it whilst sitting looking at the museum and after went to grab a beer.

Thus far, the last time I had water was Sunday. Literally. In the last 3 days I have had more coffee than I have had in 6 months and I have only had 3 glasses of fruit juice from Monday to today. The rest has been beer - and no, I am not an alcoholic, its just how it's worked out. Especially when beer, water and coke all cost about the same!!

The other thing on my mind: how the heck am I gonna get all the stuff I am buying into my bag!!!

Tomorrow we are off to Gent and then back to the chateau.

Day 7

After a solid night of rest at an awesome hotel in Oudenaarde called De Zalm (if you are ever in the area and need a hotel, try get a room here), we had a yummy breakfast followed by a quick walk through the market and then we hit the road to our last city, Gent.

First impressions of Gent.... The buildings coming into town are very much more spaced out and the town itself is quite medieval. It even has a castle. It's quite a cool little place but is little. The cathedral is awesome though!! There was even a dude playing a harp. Gent is quite a cute little place and made for a nice end to the hectic sight seeing. We also managed to grab a few gifts for ourselves and others.

When we got home we had a bite to eat for lunch and then headed to town so I could get a few things for KD and so we could find the beer we wanted to return with. We managed to get quite a few goodies!

When we got home we kitted up and went for a ride into the town of March. It's a really cute little town with some nice cobbles and a little climb. It felt so surreal riding after 8pm and still having sunlight! As we turned around we realized we would have to pace home. Whilst pacing, Andy decided to stop suddenly to take a pic of the moon rising. So glad I looked up when I did cause I had to quickly maneuver around him!

Dinner was spent around the table chatting about the trip and enjoying some more Belgian beers. This was followed by 2 hours of packing. Not kidding when I say it took this long! And... We may have to repack because we got so much stuff whilst on our trip.

Ok, time to get some shut eye before our ride tomorrow.

Day 8

Can't believe we are flying out today. Woke up this morning and headed out on the bikes to the little town of Hotten where there is a Commonwealth War Memorial. Was a bit chilly but with the scenery one hardly noticed and before we knew it we were in town and looking at the memorial. It's pretty sad seeing how some bodies are of unknown soldiers. I wonder if they have family and if their family knew where they were lost in battle. Interesting thing was that there were not just low ranking guys killed en mass but also senior officers. It's actually sad how many people were killed all because of 1 mad man.

After looking at this sad sight, we mounted our bikes and rode back to Baillonville where we had a hearty breakfast of croissants, yoghurt and sweet rolls before packing the bikes for the return to Johannesburg.

After saying our good byes to my uncle who spoilt us rotten, we put everything in the car and returned to Brussels National Airport for our return flight.

After booking bikes and bags, we went for a quick beer before waiting for Quinton from Decca to deliver something that needed a priority delivery to SA. Parcel in hand, we legally exited Belgium and then went to spend more money in duty free before going to our gate to wait for our flight.

Flight to Istanbul was totally uneventful and went by fairly quickly thanks to the gift of sleep.

Then came the long wait for our next flight!! We started with a walk through the shops and naturally got a few more items. (Space was becoming and issue and my bag bulging.) Being dinner time and having time to waste, we grabbed a Turkish meal, beer and a cold drink. Service was super slow but we eventually got our food. However, whilst waiting for my food a strap on my bag broke. Then, as I put my food on the table, my other strap broke! Argh. Now I had a schlep to deal with so I got a trolley and we went to chill at the terminals. After relaxing for a bit, we decided to go find a plug to charge our phones and I decided that a new bag was worth it instead of hassling with a broken one. Found a really nice bag and managed to get most of my stuff in there (cept for my Tin Tin dog and a few ornaments which I put in my shopping bag).

We then got a plug and enjoyed watching Japanese people and their inability to read pictograms which resulted in them putting trolleys on the escalator walkways and well, the result when they came off them!!

Flight was on time for boarding and the highlight for the passengers was an air hostess getting engaged on the flight. Fortunately the rest of the trip was sleep filled and before we knew it we had landed in JHB.

And so ends holiday part 1. I am now off to the Lowveld for a bit of chilling in the bush. And, later today I am taking my Ghost out to fly down the Strydom Pass. As far as I am aware, this is a first road bike ride down the pass. Need to wake up first but think the short ride will be good for me.

Post trip thoughts...
Belgium is an amazing country!! The scenery is stunning, the people are special and its both dog and cyclist friendly. The cycling in the country is also amazing! In the north, its rolling hills but also has some decent cobbled climbs. The south is climbers territory! There are some amazing climbs out there.

Language wise, the Flanders area (north) is fun cause you can speak Afrikaans and the Wallone area (south) is French so you can get used to saying "Bonjour", "Pardon" & "Merci" a lot!!!

My favorite city was definitely Brugge because of its warmth and how insane it is that you can get run over by a bicycle!!

The trip really was amazing and am sad its over but... I am already thinking of ideas for next year!

Pics: lace map; old chateau; Oudenarde; Gent; town centre in March; somehow fit all this in my bags; Commonwealth War Memorial;

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