Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Belgium Baby Yeah!

I told you on the last update that we were headed to Belgium over the weekend, well, we made it, and here's our little story in pictures:

It's a long drive down to Dover, I've done it a couple of times before with my car buddies heading for the Swiss Alps and the Nurburgring, so it's essential to get an early start to avoid rush hour traffic, or head off around midday to limit your time losses. We were on the road for around 1pm, which should have given us plenty of time for the ferry.

Richard was driving us, and a top job he did too.

John and Richard getting friendly at the stop for services on the way down.

We finally made it over to France after hitting bad traffic and missing our original ferry crossing. Fortunately we got a later ferry at no cost on the way out, it was not quite the same on the way back.
We stayed the night in the cheapest hotel Al could find, which was fine for a quick nights sleep. Onwards to Nokerne in the morning.

Once in Belgium, we headed straight for Oudenaarde which we used for our base for the next two days. Working out of Richards van meant we didn't have to go from the hotel to get to the good cobbles.

Bikes were assembled, kit was put on and we headed on our first epic ride of the weekend to........

.....the museum cafe, and breakfast. Come on, give us a break, we'd had nothing to eat since the night before, and breakfast in the hotel we stayed in was bread and coffee.

The cafe was excellent, and we all had the same cheese and ham toasties. A perfect start to the day, washed down with white coffee.

A few more shirts than at Polocini, or maybe just a bit more wall space to show them all.

Chill out area to watch your favourite shows on tv while drinking coffee or Belgium beer.

The first time we were there, the place was very quiet, it was to get a bit busier on subsequent visits.

John and Al carbo loading for the day ahead.

Finally, we were on the road, or to be more accurate  the converted railway line.
As a warm up for the day ahead, this was perfect countryside to start off with.

Nice easy pace. It was a wet start, and a little chilly, but what the hell, we're in Belgium, you don't want sunshine do you?

The first cobbles of the day. God knows where this is, I'm sure Al will know, or I could pour over my Strava file and see if I can work out where it is, but suffice it to say, it was bumpy! Very bumpy.

But bloody great to be there, in Belgium, riding cobbles that the greats of cycling have ridden over throughout history.


As well as the cobbles, and the great company, the countryside itself was actually quite nice too. They're big on churches in Belgium, bit like our small towns and villages really. Very picturesque.

During the course of the weekend, I got plenty of practise taking pictures of the group riding off in the distance. With my current condition, I'm crap on anything that goes uphill, so they kindly waited for me at every opportunity. Big thanks chaps.

More cobbles, and this time a lot steeper. Certainly steep enough to have me walking it anyway.

Here's Rich showing us how it's done. Showoff :)

Cobbles as far as the eye can see, and a climb too! Perfect :)

By this time, John was truly embracing the concept of the cobbles, and was telling us all, constantly, how much he loved them. :)

Richard and John off the front again.

 Finally on our route, we made it to the infamous Koppenberg.
Do you know Swiss Hill in Alderley Edge? Imagine that, longer, steeper and much more slippy. Lovely.

Look, there's the boys off up ahead again :)

Although Al did go back down for another try, and managed to get less of a distance than his first attempt.

Walking. That's what you do on the Koppenberg. Believe me, this thing is a killer of a climb. It's only short when you compare it to say, cat&fiddle or long hill, but the steepness and severity of the cobbles really take it out of you.

To see the Pros cycling up here in the classics, really gives you a renewed respect for their power and ability. I'll be watching the classics with a keen eye on their technique for future trips to Belgium.

Al trying to lift his ridiculously heavy Cannondale Caad 10. He nearly fell over here cause it was so heavy! :)

Group photo on the Koppenberg.

Me, Rich, Al, John & Richard.

After all those cobbles and climbs, where else are we going to go?

Beer and risetarte of course.

Went down very well I can tell you.

We were back at the museum coffee shop, and it was a little busier.

Still great service, atmosphere and food (beer) though.

Tired, happy and a little pissed :)

You did this Al, massive thanks for this trip.

Here's a great shot of John, very happy, telling us all to raise our glasses to the wonderful cobbles that he's enjoyed so much. Cheers John. :)

Al's just pleased he didn't get too lost today. I'm sure he did, he just made it look like he knew where he was going. :)

Hang on though, the day is not over yet!

What is the staple diet of all Belgium's?

Frites and Mayo of course. Rich goes for a double helping there, he's a hungry boy :)

Richard tucks in. This was a medium portion!

We should of ordered small. No-one finished the chips & mayo. Very filling and delicious.

Time to return back to the B&B in Nokerne. Time to unpack, get settled in and shower and change for upcoming dinner.

This is not how Stefan, the B&B owner envisaged us storing our muddy & wet cycling kit. He didn't complain though. Top bloke.


All the restaurants in Nokerne were booked up (2), so we went a bit further afield for a gorgeous place a few villages away.

The prices were a bit steep..........

........but the steak was "to die for"

A few more beers at the bar next door to the restaurant and finally off to bed. What a great first full day in Belgium. Loved every minute of it.
And so to Sunday, more of the same? Yes please.

Oh dear. Not what you want to see in the morning on a cycling break.

Still, getting our priorities right, we first headed to the beer warehouse to stock up on essential supplies.

Camp pose Al :)

Beer packed away, and it's back on the road. Rain, sleet & snow, all within the first hour or so. Perfect Belgium weather. This place just wouldn't be the same if the sun was shining.

Richard plodding along trying to warm up for the day ahead, while keeping me company for a while.


Windmill & Cyclist.

Not much sign of the rain easing off just yet, but it was set to get better later in the day.

We were heading for the Muur today, and stopped off at this famous roundabout, with its cyclist sculpture, on the way.

You can just make out John holding his bike aloft, shouting "MY TREK IS HEAVIER THAN THIS SCULPTURE YOU KNOW"

yes John, we know :)

Nearly at the Muur, in Geraadsbergen. Lovely town. Brutal little climb.

Proper cobbles this time.

A pause halfway up the Muur, no, we didn't cycle up those steps. The road is up to the right.

Al gives it his best shot. It is very steep at this point, and gets a little better round the corner to the left. I walked this bit, Richard fell off cycling up this bit, and John fell off cycling down this bit. Rich cycled up and down without falling off. Showoff :)

The top of the Muur, with Edmond Hilary in the foreground :)

Time for food. Here's John once again smiling his little head off. He's so happy he's managed to cycle his enormously heavy TREK bicycle up the Muur.

He's also happy to be riding on cobbles again.

He loves cobbles :)

Camp pose please Al. Thanks. :)

Mushroom omelette's x 5 please, with mayo and frites. Lovely jubbly.

Back on the road, and heading back to the B&B, Al takes a slightly different route back. Taking in the last of the climbing cobbles for my trip.

You see some weird and wonderful things when travelling by bike. I spotted this bike and motorbike in the garden. The motorbike had a load of shopping in the back holder! God knows why. Quirky.

The final set of cobbles I rode on the trip. And what a set. They were long, bumpy and slightly uphill all the way. I've got to admit to seeking refuge on the pavement when I could. It's just so brutal riding on the cobbles.
John can be seen almost creaming himself at the thought of yet more cobbles. God he loves them :)

The days cycling done, it was back to the van to pack the bikes and wet kit away, quick change of footwear and head over to the cycling museum for a proper tour. Firstly the film show, and the boys get cosy. (No Rich here as he'd opted to get a few more miles in (showoff)) :)

The museum was good. Although none of it was in English, so we just guessed our way around. There was plenty to see and do though, here's a taster:


And back to the Coffee Shop, for beer. Time to catch up on Twitter Richard.

Back to the B&B and Al & Rich plan the next days early morning ride. I'd already decided to stay off the bike as I was tired after 80 miles in the last 2 days. I didn't want to spoil my trip with a bad ride.

Time to order dinner.

Pizza. Al kindly went over to the local Italian and picked up the pizza. Bloomin delicious it was too. Although I think he dropped mine off the bike on his way back :)

Stefan, our host and B&B owner. What a top bloke. His place is amazing. If you want to stay in Belgium, stay at Stefans.

Link here: https://plus.google.com/117057210507156013519/about?gl=uk&hl=en

3 blokes sharing a room? Of course it's going to look a mess :)

John woke in the night thinking these two were big blokes in the room :)

The final day. Plan? Quick ride round for the fit lads, spot of chocolate shopping, head for the ferry.

Rich is up and raring to go by 07:30. With driving snow, high winds and freezing temps, I'm glad I decided to stay in for this ride.

Al was first back, a little later than planned after a broken chain and a puncture. The other three were nowhere to be seen. Al had "smashed it" back. I think the boys were a bit surprised by that :)

Eventually the boys made it back, in high spirits despite being dropped :)

John loved the last cobbles he rode today. :)

 Chocolates! Shopping done. 

Home time. 

The journey home was a little fraught to say the least. High winds, snow, freezing temps yet again. Richard got us safely out of Belgium into France were we hit the mother of all traffic jams. At least an hour wasted stuck on the motorway, or no apparent reason. When we finally made it to Dunkirk, we'd missed our 2pm crossing and got stung with a £120 surcharge to cross on the 4pm. Ironically, due to the weather, the boat was delayed on the other side in docking, so we didn't land in Dover until nearly 8pm. 
Off the boat, and the weather was worse on this side. The roads were untreated and it was carnage. Trucks and cars slipping all over the place, getting stuck and generally not being able to drive in a little bit of snow. Richard followed a rather large dumper truck out of Dover, which helped clear the road and onto the clear motorway home. The rest of the trip was uneventful. John took over driving duties later that night to complete the trip back to Polocini in Romiley. 

What a trip, what great rides, what great friends I've got. I feel so lucky to have been part of the trip. Big thanks once again to Al for organising the trip, showing us around Belgium, and introducing me to the delights of cycling in that region. I'll definitely be back, hopefully with Johanna in the near future. 

10 days till my operation, and what memories to go with. :) 

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