Although not everything went as it was planned – like always -, I did find adventure in many places. There were some good lessons learned, tricky hills covered and beautiful roads ridden. In total about 900 miles by bike through Belgium, France, Holland and the UK. Plus about 1600 miles hitchhiking to Portugal.
Moving out to the UK
read my online diary of the trip down below! It is also my first time experimenting with this program which made the online booklet.
Bike ride to…. not Porto!
This bike trip was supposed to go to Porto, but as discussed in earlier posts, unfortunately I couldn’t finish it and had to quit early, here are the blog updates in chronological order!
Absolutely terrified. Crazy wanderlust. Fear of missing Nijmegen. Fear of physical injury. Fear of not enjoying. Wanting to start immeaditely
In the months leading up to this trip, I have thought, pondered, contemplated way way too much. As a thinker instead of a do-er, I spend many hours thinking how this trip would be like. Mainly with good and happy thoughts, but I got scared of the doubts I felt in some of my thoughts. Fear of doubts, made me doubt even more and voila I got stuck in this vicious circle of negative thoughts. It was hard to break free from these, sometimes I wondered if I should do it anyways. I realized that the only way of knowing if I like it, is to do it. Since I love travelling and before this trip started already I traveled a month through Europe in a van and spend a week in Danish forests, without a doubt I am going to love the trip.
Another aspect of uncertainty was if I would be joined by people on the road. I realized that travelling alone for a month would be too lonely and I asked some people around me if someone is willing to join. I found a great friend of mine, Jeroen, who is willing to join me. Only two days before we left he got is definite answer. Near Paris we will be joined by another friend and with the three of us, we will make it to Bordeaux where I will continue alone, and they will head back to Nijmegen.
Realizing and accepting the doubts of travel partners, destinations and the trip as a whole, created some rests in my head. instead of overthinking before, I created the mindset of ‘let’s see what happens’. Now with much more ease I am preparing to leave Nijmegen for good until December and pack all my belongings for Bath and the trip to Porto. Still there are some traces of fear in my thoughts, but much more confidence and joy is now filling the chambers of my brains. Let’s see how this trip will go and where I will end up coming weeks.
Let’s see what is around my corner.
First day, first problems
Leaving for such an adventure, you know you are never quite ready. In the morning me and my travel partner, Jeroen, raced through the city to do some last minute errands. We also decided to skip the Netherlands and take a train into Belgium, we have both cycled more than enought in the Netherlands so it is not even remotely interesting anymore.
Starting directly in a forgein country would help us capture the spirit again that we’ve lost during the rushed preparation this morning. Ofcourse the trains we delayed and they didn’t want us to take bike with us, so fortunately at 14:30, we stepped out in Leuven to start our first non motorized kilometers of the journey!
Only after 100 meters the first and the major problem of the day occured, a screw in Jeroens’ bag carrier broke and we spend the entire day every other 3 km, stopping to fix his carrier. This ofcourse doesn’t help get us in the right mindset, when frustration is growing to material break downs.
The hero of the day was a bike repairman who helped to fix it for atleast 20 kilometers, finally giving us some clearance in the head to focus on the adventure itself. Just 61 km done we arrived at 20:30 on a camping in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere between Brussels and Charleroi. The Flemish fields have shown their true beauty last night with the setting sun while we inched through them. We got a beer offered by a lovely English couple which helped us to fall a sleep really fast. Time for day two, hopefully without problems!
Au revoir Belgique, Bonjour France!
Last night with the amazing setting sun we crossed the border between Belgium and France. The only difference between the two nations was a Jupiler sign on the Belgium side. Tonight I will upload an article of Belgium Borders. For now, we will ride through French countryside.
Hopefully today Jeroens carrier will hold it so we don’t end up fixing it on the side of the road like last two days.
Let’s see what is around the corner today!!
Belgium, a country of two
Belgium has played a much bigger role in the formation of the European Union than one might think. Cycling through Flanders fields, the traces of the two World Wars are still to be found. On this very ground where we have pitched our tent, massive armies fought each other. The first time in 1914-1919 as an imperialistic war and the second time (1939-1945) to fight a harmful ideology.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
John McCrae, 1915
After the first World War, which left millions dead and countries bankrupt, the first steps were taken into the direction what is now the EU and the United Nations, namely the League of Nations. Apparently the Western World needs to see suffer before acting together. Fast forwarding 20 years, Germany was again in its war modus; the treaty of Versailles, facism, deep economic crises, deep social crises all created this situation where Adolf Hitler could rise to become the dictator. And yet again, Belgium and north of France was the place where the battlefields were born. Hitler blitzed through these countries and thereby conquered Western Europe. The countless war cemeteries of both wars dotted on these fields are a grim reminder of what these fields were.
Fast forwarding yet again, Charleroi, which is near the 2nd campsite, saw fierce fighting to liberate Europe from the Nazi’s. This ground again is the place where a World War had been fought and won. This time, the world took another serious effort to build a League of Nation like organization; the United Nations. The first forms of the European Union, the steel and coal community, including Belgium as well, were soon formed after that. Now the heart of the European Union beats in Brussels, which is near these contested grounds from the previous wars.
The Flanders fields are more than just cycling races, they are the places where the soul of the European was forged and where the heart of the Union beats at the moment.
Besides the two wars and Brussels, Belgium has another aspect that has formed the country; The bilingualism of French and Flemish. I expected to see a continuum of languages, from the North to the South gradually becoming more French. However being on the bike, it seems that there is actually a stark contrast when crossing the region border.
We cycled up a hill out of a village in the Flemish part of the country and in the downhill the roads where suddenly named in French.
Culturally speaking, the region we cycled through changed as well. Not quite sure if this is to be generalized, but the buildings and cities had different architecture and lay out. The real border was not the border we crossed between France and Belgium but the language border earlier that day. It became clearer that Belgium is a transition zone between the Dutch and the French cultures. Generalizing a lot, it seems that the cultural borders, which are far more poignant than the national borders, lay between the Rivers in the Netherlands and the language border in the heart of Belgium.
The bilingualism, the fields that have seen great wars, the heart of the European Union, Belgium is a country not the be under estimated in its importance for the European Union and its peculiar borders.
End of First World War and encirclement of Paris
The past three days we have covered more than 250 kilometers to rest our legs in Fontaineblue. At the moment of writing this, all our clothing is being washed, chains are being lubed and knees are given a rest.
Yet again we have crossed an institutional border between differenent regions in France, from Aisne to Oise. However, not to my very surprise these borders mean hardly anything on a bike. A border which was more appearent was what I’d like to call the First World War border.
End of First World War
This first leg of the journey brought us straight through the battlefields of the First World War, of which the scars are still visible in the places we biked through. In contrast what the great late geographer Doreen Mossey said about the places and their past, these places still do live their past. Countless sleepy villages we biked through had their memorial sites for entire (male) families who lost their lives on the battlefield. Usually these memorials sites were the highlight of the small village, all the other buildings were either deteriorated or hardly lived in. Once in every 20km or so we came across a bigger cementary with more than hunderd or even more graves. Besides these cementaries and memorial sites, the places were for us nothing more than agricultural landscapes. In that sense the past is hugely woven into the present identity of a place and especially for us as visitors a major part of the identity. Ofcourse for the local inhabitants the experience of such places differ greatly, without a doubt with much more meaning than the traces of the First World War.
In this line of thinking Vic-Sur-Aisne would be called the border town, in this town the history of the place of the First World War was turned into a touristic phenomenon, with information signs in English (which is unusual we noticed), designated history routes and even tours. This was the place where the frontline ended of the First World War, also ending for us the area of the war.
After this so called border town, a new region for us started, the so called hinterland of Paris.
Encirclement of Paris
Altough Paris is – if I believe travel magazines – one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, navigating through the entire city of Paris would take us too long and isn’t worth the shot at the Eiffel Tower. Instead we decided to encircle Paris all together and go round the east side. Still yesterday, day 5, it was extremely difficult to navigate through the towns near Paris. Some roads we non existent at all or were so overgrown that cycling through them was almost impossible and a tick control was mandatory afterwards. The surprising knee ache from the first days luckily faded away and the lost time because of the navigation and the many coffeestops was retaken in the evening.
From Vic-Sur-Aisne to Fontaineblue and probably coming few days, the area we cycled through breathes functionality for Paris. It is clear that Paris is the spin in the infrastructional web and that we biked through the edges of that web. The many railways, highways and electrical grids going from east to the west (where Paris is) showed that there is a huge magnet for these functions. We were so close to the city of Paris that we briefly touched Disneyland Paris’ ground, where we were send by the navigation on desolate tracks full with garbage of the park.
I see this stop as the first chapter of the journey, we are somewhat halfway Bordeaux which is the end stop for Jeroen and the halfway point for me. From there one I will continue on my own over the Picos de Europe and into Portugal. I might take a longer detour to see what kind of place the Camino route is. But this is all to far into the future for now.
Let’s see what waits for us around the corner the days to come.
Major trip update
How ironic it was, my last picture was called the ‘mental challenge’. Well that road of over 70km with head wind and trucks passing by, we conquered in mentally. But physically…
What started as a minor ache in my knee after the first day – which seemed completely normal, getting the body into the sport mode -, grew bigger to a major ache and a pain every day. Rest days and mornings didn’t matter, my knee would stop working after 80, 70, 60, 50km of cycling. It became too much to finish the day’s target. It became even too much to enjoy the trip when the knee ache was too much. On pain killers I did make it to Tours, where I decided to end the trip.
I know myself, I can push myself beyond physical limits until I see black. But this time the pain was different, it was not the hardest pain, it was also a mental pain. I couldn’t enjoy some parts of the journey anymore when the pain kicked in. I realized that, although I could make it on painkillers to Porto, it was not worth the injury coming months or even years with a busted knee. I decided to quit.
My plan right now is to rest for at least a couple days before making new plans. If I think of something interesting I will share it again on this place, but for now, it is time to rest and figure out how this happened.
I will find my way around the corner.
A week of total rest. No sporting, no big parties, no travelling to families, total rest. This is what my body apparently needed to fully recover. Now the wait is over and the wanderlust has been itching in my soul again! Just this day I have been longboarding again and it feels good, no knee ache (it was a small distance and no cycling) and a clear mind.
With Shinedown blasting through the room there have been new plans made that include the words ‘cycling’ ‘hitchhiking’ and ‘Porto’!
The plan is to hitchhike to Porto in a week’s time together with Annet, my girlfriend who was planning to come to Porto anyway after her full time month of working. I will fly back earlier to pack my bike, take a ferry and then cycle from the east to the west coast in the UK! Starting in Harwich and ending in Bristol, how cool is that? The distance is a bit less than the 2000km (just 350km) and I allow myself a much easier pace. Now I can and visit Porto and cycle through England and experience the wandering in the UK before the Erasmus adventure starts!
The adventure around the corner is looming and is filling me with joy again!
And these were just a couple of the amazing adventures I experienced in the summer of 2016. For now I am studying full force again in Bath and living in the vibrant Bristol until January. Ideas have been buzzing around again in my mind, no definite plans. yet. The corners in my life path filled with adventures are awaiting me again.