Naturally, I didn’t leave on time. I didn’t actually leave until 4 pm. There was a time when packing for a trip was routine and I knew exactly what I needed and where it went. Of course, that is no longer the case. Everything lives in different places now, adapted to the things we do as a family. And I had to find again where it all goes on the bike.
Yes, I should have done that in the days before, but they had been really busy with work and social commitments, not to mention finally fixing my broken turn signal after years of continually reattaching it with electrical tape (and which turned out to include re-wiring it), replacing my broken hazard light switch (so handy for lane splitting) and wiring and attaching a GPS cradle. It’s just the way it goes.
So, I changed the plan a little – instead of the planned fun route through the south of Belgium, I basically went directly to the first campsite. It’s OK. Belgium’s close.
That closeness is why, even after all these years, I’m still surprised at how different Belgium is from the Netherlands. As I got off the highway, there were even some areas that were so downtrodden that it felt unsafe to stop on a pretty shiny bike and take pictures – I don’t think there’s anywhere in the Netherlands that I’ve ever felt unsafe. But it’s mostly that the architecture and streetscape is so very other than I’m used to, so much more car based and less orderly. The Belgian’s don’t do planning – the Dutch do it to extremes.
The road south of the highway was a long boring bit where I really got to appreciate the Belgian urban form, but I was rewarded with a wee bit of enjoyable road with no one on it just before the French border (there’s a new highway, but it was too new to be on my GPS, so I took the fun way by accident). Unfortunately, it was getting too dark (and cold!) to take pictures, but it was a lovely road through a fragrant forest.
I got to the campsite at about 8, just after the sun went down. I panicked for a moment when the gates were closed and the office shut. Poor planning disaster already? Luckily, before I panicked, I went to talk to the snack bar, and it turns out that they had a procedure. A photo of my passport sufficed to get me in, although I’d have to wait until the office opened at 10 am to register and pay.
After setting up the camp (next to the only other bikers there), I went for dinner at said snack bar, far too lazy (and hungry) to walk into town on my own. Not exciting, but did the job.
My route for the first day – after I turned on tracking. I bought a new camera in the summer, in Olympus Tough TG-6, for times when I want a smaller, tougher camera for travelling. It has a GPS and tracks where it’s been (with some hiccups) into a smartphone app. It didn’t take me 8.5 hours though – I guess that’s when the tracking turned off. It was more like four hours, enough time in Europe to get to the third country of the day!