12 April 2012

France and Belgium Tour, day 1

On the morning of Good Friday we woke up in our tent in darkness. It was 5am, time to start packing it up and descending into Dover to catch our 8:00 ferry to Dunkirk. We surprised ourselves with our efficiency and even had time to enjoy the view of Dover Castle in the early morning light before making our way to the check-in and boarding the ferry.

Dover castle, 6:30am
As the ferry pulled out of Dover we finally got to see the famous white cliffs - and what a brilliant day for them! Two hours later we had arrived in Dunkirk and were on our way -- our first ever proper cycle tour!

White cliffs of Dover

It was a bit chilly, but the sun was shining, and we enjoyed the flat ride out of Dunkirk (actually the entire  day's ride was literally pancake flat) and along a canal, passing through Bergues and then heading into the countryside, where we crossed the border into Belgium on a quiet country lane, with not even a sign to mark the occassion. We only noticed because we saw a car with a Belgian plate and looked down at our GPS to see the border a few meters behind us. We snapped a photo of the occasion anyway - our third country of the day!

We've just crossed into Belgium!

Our route through Belgium took us on quiet country lanes, many of which seemed to be part of a country cycling route network (comparable to Sustrans one would imagine) as we kept seeing little signs and loads and loads of cyclists. It felt a little strange not to be nodded and waved at by the cyclists we encountered, as is the custom in England. But we figured that in Belgium passing another cyclist on a country lane is probably not such an unusual occurrence! At one point we saw a very large group of young machacas cycling together in a tight group. They even had a car following them which must have been driven by a coach or something. It was really impressive to see all of them in their team colours--there must have been at least 40 of them!

The tail end of the machaca group just faintly visible at the end of the road.
At one point we were cycling along through a small grouping of houses and we noticed a solitary zebra, standing next to a house and eating some grass! I can't believe we didn't take a picture, but it all happened so suddenly. I'm very glad Alberto was there to witness it as otherwise I would question my sanity!

We were making relatively slow progress, for once not due to me! Alberto, with his new Surly Long Haul Trucker (which he'll have to write about soon) had taken the majority of the weight of our baggage, while I had managed to convert my boardman to a light tourer with the addition of my bar bag and a seatpost rack. This meant that, for the first time in the history of our relationship, Alberto's comfortable speed was actually slower than mine! A role reversal which I handled quite gracefully if I do say so myself (let's see if Alberto agrees!).

My light touring setup
In the late afternoon, we rode through the town of Ernegem and stopped at a bakery for some delicious cakes. They provided the fuel for the final kms into the center of Bruges.

The approach to Bruges was lovely as we rode through a forested area seeing many other cyclists coming the other direction, presumably on their evening commute home. Suddenly we were in Bruges, which I had never been to before. It was completely adorable. We stopped to snap a few pictures but didn't stay long, as we wanted to make it to our campsite and pitch the tent before it got dark.

Bikes with bikes
After setting up camp we cycled back into Bruges (only about 2km away) for a nice hearty dinner. We intended to explore Bruges at night but were incredibly tired after our early start and long day of riding, so we headed back to the campsite and fell asleep almost immediately!

Day 1 was complete, with 111km under our belts and a moving average of just 17.4kph - yikes!


  1. Estais hechos unos machacas!!muy bien pareja, vaya rutitas que os haceis...
    Un abrazo.

    1. Ya os llevaremos por sitios guapos cuando vengáis. Con suerte, aún hará buen tiempo. Traeros las bicis no?