Gent to Oostende (Belgium) Stage
71 km Distance
So Ben walked into my room in the morning and proclaimed that I was really messy. I looked at my little backpack and panniers and the few items which were sprawled beside them and scratched my head. Had I really unpacked I think I would have given him a heart attack!
I wasn’t planning on heading to Gent but after receiving a warm and genuine invitation from Couchsurfer Ben to visit his home and understated city I decided to pass through. And I was indeed delighted to discover it through the eyes of a local and ex-tourguide. Ben lead me in and out of side alleys filled with graffiti, pointed out local landmarks and shared city legends which seemed to always feature an observant old lady.
Besides being a wonderful host and excellent city guide Ben best described himself as a writer. I followed his narrative as he recounted characters and story plots of the project he’s currently undertaking. Growing up in a ‘Sci-Fi family’ who were divided between Star Wars and Star Trek he hoped to write for a new generation an epic of space exploration and terra forming. A man driven by passion and imagination I’m sure whatever he creates will be nothing less than spectacular.
Only half an hour out of Gent on my way to Brugge I met Uwe - German bicyclist and long time traveller. He’d recently been laid off from his job after 30 years of service but he didn’t mind so much - this was evident as he told stories of all the bicycle trips he’s undertaken in the last few months. He mentioned a wife who’s only rule was ‘come home at least once every three months’ and that she’d probably also be just as likely to kick in the job and join him if the opportunity presented itself. My little legs had to push a little harder to keep up with old Uwe but it was worth the extra effort to gain a few little nuggets of wisdom and motivation for the next trip.
Arriving in Brugge 3 or so hours later the weather turned less favorable for cycling and we donned our wet weather gear. Uwe was in search of a place for a coffee and a croissant while I preferred to find a park to eat my avocado and bread. We shook hands, thanked each other for the conversation and parted ways.
After lunch and a siesta in the park the clouds parted and the sun finally showed it’s face. A perfect time to explore the UNESCO protected old city of Brugge. I recalled the scene from the movie when I saw the old clock tower and tried hard to imagine how it might have been decades ago. I found old Fidel - a placid golden labrador who lies enjoying the sun in his infamous window beside the canal. A guide in a passing tour boat slowed as he approached the window and when he pointed up to Fidel the group sighed a collective and appropriately timed, ‘Awww.’
As the afternoon pushed on I grew a little tired and decided that I would kick on to my hosts’ place 7km outside the old city. Struggling to find the house I called Henk who described surroundings which weren’t familiar and I realised that I’d written down the wrong town on my tattered hand-drawn map. In fact I was still 25km from where I needed to be and hadn’t accounted on needing energy for another hour and a half of riding. I had a momentary sink in spirits before ditching my blues and focussing on the solution; saddle up and keep on riding.
When I arrived at Henk and Katrien’s place the sun was setting and the fields surrounding were a brilliant golden-green. Henk inspected my luggage and estimated a 15kg total - 'not bad,’ he thought. I still thought it was a tad too much.
Stepping inside I was greeted with a smiling Katrien and when I came back downstairs after a long hot shower I pulled up a seat at the table set for three and a feast of home cooked spaghetti, red wine and a dessert of apple cake! Over dinner Henk ran to the other side of the room to pull out maps and photo albums from cycling trips in Tanzania, Indonesia and Australia as he recollected stories from their many overseas adventures. He apologised for the state of the house (which wasn’t anything to be sorry about in my opinion) and said that they’d probably spend more money on fixing it up if they didn’t spend it all on traveling. At this point I’d be happy to take a leaf from their book - priorities well sorted I’d say!
|Graffitied alleys in Gent|
|Housing and symmetry in the neighbourhood of Gent|
|A man paints the window frame of a house in the old city of Gent|
|Coloured houses in Gent|
|Enjoying a coffee with Ben in his favourite cafe where he spends much of his time working on his novel|
|A lone park bench aside one of the many canals in Gent|
|The smallest house in Gent|
|The old city of Gent|
|The postal service bike|
|A rainy arrival into Brugge|
|Alternative uses for bicycles in Brugge|
|A squatted house in Brugge where the residents print their own magazines and create other arty stuffs.|
|Looking up in the main square in Brugge.|
|Chuck rolls into town.|
|A passing tour guide smiles as he passes by.|
|Fidel enjoys the sun in his usual perch.|
|Taking a rest and Belgium hot chocolate.|