Trust the numbers

Posted on April 26, 2011

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So we had arrived in the Promised Land.

After a little bickering about the right way to go, we put our faith in the numbers that form the cycling network. Numbers 1, 65, 66, 82, 67, 8, 9, 12, 13, 19, 18, 53, 54, 29, 42, 47, 49, 57 & 65 to be precise. With these numbers alone you can navigate from the north westerly tip of Belgium all the way down to sunny Bruges. Fact. You do not need a map; you just need to trust the numbers.

We rode up to the beach resort of De Panne and then meandered across the De Kust region on our way to the city of Nieuwpoort. Now we were off the primary roads the pace slowed a little and we began to settle back and enjoy the ride. And notice a few things, too. Belgium is the land of bike. Here you are welcomed as a cyclist. Many Belgians make use of the serene cycle networks. The mood on the network is relaxed and you will even see people cycling with one hand in their pocket. Cycling on the right hand side takes a little practice, and the pancake-like landscape brings its own challenges including an ever-present wind. It is a good idea to have a few agreed signals so that you can communicate with your fellow riders. And always check your bike to make sure you have your saddle in the optimum position – when your pedal is at its lowest position, there should be a small bend in your knee, roughly 25 degrees.  Sadly Graham and I did not do this meaning our cycling is less efficient and a little painful. Graham’s saddle was way too high and mine was way too low. Graham looked like he was riding a Penny Farthing and I looked like I had opted for a clown’s tricycle which was quite a sight given we are almost the same height.

Back to the route… when we reached the outskirts of Nieuwpoort we had a pit stop for some much needed refreshment. It was hot and we’d been cycling for a few hours now. The café we choose was a non-descript sort of place and the owner was not exactly welcoming. He pretty much threw our order on the table including a few cokes bottles which shattered around our feet. After gulping down our food we had a quick look at the map to assuage the fears of non-number believers – yes, you Goat – and then re-joined the network.

We then upped the pace along the Kannal Plassendale – Nieuwpoort before giving Ostend the lollypop, and with a quick drop of the shoulder we were on the Kannal Gent – Oostende to Bruges. We got a little lost in Bruges but we eventually stumbled upon Rabbit Castle, or Fort Lapin as it is more prosaically known here, at 7.30pm. We were tired yet happy, and with sixty-two miles nestling neatly under our collective belt. Now we only had to find the B&B which, rather confusingly, was also called Fort Lapin.

The building where our B&B was meant to reside looked more like a high class bar than a sanctuary for weary cyclists. As we stood in the rather grand entrance hall looking like a portable scrapyard a very smartly dressed giantess – she was wearing those stilt heels that seem to be de rigueur – approached us.  Unable to make ourselves understood, an easy stand-off developed – she was quite easy on the eye I am told (I did not notice for I have a blindfold for just such occasions). Thankfully a well groomed gentleman from the bar came to our rescue and led us to our B&B which was tucked away in the adjoining courtyard. Here we met the rather splendid Ingrid and her jolly husband who relieved us of our bikes and led us to our room. Now this place was a bit ‘Living Etc.’ but as tramps, we were not able to cherry-pick, as they say, so we were stuck with our sophisticated and spacious high-ceilinged mini-palace. The only drawback was there was no bathroom door. I’ll just say ‘four men sharing a room’ and your imagination can do the rest. Think polite coughing with strategic undertones…

After dispensing with the three Ss, we set off to plunder the bounty of booty that is the bars of Bruges. I had spent months researching these bars – ‘Around Bruges in 80 beers’ for more details – and this was my time. As we walked through the entrance hall our ears were pricked by the gentle hubbub trickling out of the adjacent bar. Could we pass this bar or would be we lured to our almost certain destruction before even setting foot out of the B&B? It is my duty to inform that we failed, and failed miserably. Our collective will held out for about 2.3 seconds before we capitulated. And while it did not stock hundreds of esoteric beers, it was a beautiful bar for beautiful people and with free snacks on demand – they even brought us a ham toasty at one point.

After agreeing it was rather underhand to have a fully functioning bar concealed within in the entrance hall, I approached the bar with a steely look in my eye that said ‘I want that beer for I have earned it’. The kindly lady holding fort behind the bar returned my look with a wry smile. She could see the hunger in my eyes. We settled for Leffe Blonde. No shame in that; it is what it is and I have to say it tasted divine. We then switched to Leffe Bruin before upgrading to Duvel. Three drinks in, we agreed that now was the time to move on. “The centre of Bruges is only a 1000 km away” I said by way of encouragement and thus confirming that even generic beer in Belgium comes with a heavyweight punch.

And you’ll hear more about that in the next blog.

Posted in: Beer, Belgium, Cycling