Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Friends in low places

We left Lewes on Sunday evening by very overcrowded 2-car train for overnight stop in a convenient B & B at Ashford, the Cornerhouse, and a cheap lukewarm 'Italian' meal in Wetherspoons. Then early departure next day on Eurostar for Lille (avoiding Calais). Breakfasted on croissant and coffee at the Terminal where check-in was quick and friendly. There were overunning engineering works, but we had no connection to make at Lille. Mid-morning departure from Lille on bicycles (two Bromptons, one Loopwheels) for Amsterdam via Zandvoort, out on the coast. Richard on Brompton P type, 6 speed Sram; Jack on customised H type with P bars, 6 speed Brompton/Sturmey - which has to be the tallest Brompton in the world! The Loopwheels bike has no spokes, features belt drive, disc brakes and 11-speed Alfine hub gears.
Stage 1: 8th June. Lille-Ronse, 38 miles.
I lost the boys in the suburbs of Lille on the road to Hem, before we left France. With no map, compass or tools I started to busk my way east following the Canal de L'Espierres for some distance, crossing the Schelde near Warcoing, to reach Hérinnes. Somewhere along the way I learned that Ronse is Renaix in French, helpful when navigating by road signs and bus timetables. Lunch consisted of an energy bar. Not far short of the target near Mont-de-L'Enclus I punctured the front tyre on a drawing pin. With no prospect of mending it I walked on, reaching Garage Dewolf. They took pity on me and put the bike in the back of an estate car, then they drove me to Hostellerie Lou Pahou, Zuidstraat 25, 9600 Ronse. It is just amazing how fair people can be. I reached the hotel before my companions who had at one stage got hopelessly lost trying to get out of Hem, despite all modern navigational aids. They had though scored sandwiches and tarts. The main party crossed into Belgium at Nechin. We garaged the bikes, planning to fix the flat in the morning.
To Italian restaurant Il Pinel'lo, Grote Markt 9, 9600 Ronse. 136.80 EUR for three, reasonable value. The fair was in town.
Stage 2: 9th June. Ronse-Brussels, 49 miles.
Front puncture soon fixed at Jacky-Sport, zonnestraat 163, 9600 Ronse. Quick release on front wheel made removal a cinch.
Depart 10:00 on long climb out of Ronse at start of up and down day. Aldi shopping. Tea stops at two rural bars, Boekkouter and Hemelveerdegum. Picked up a cycle path along the River Dender, all the way into Ninove, where we lunched outside a superette on Beverstraat. Separated out towards Gooik. Glad to eventually see the tower blocks of Brussels in the distance. Took the Groene Weg to Anderlecht, busked to the Grand Place in Brussels. Phoned the boys from the Ibis Hotel, Grasmarkt 100, Rue du Marché aux Herbes 100, 1000 Brussels, while enjoying large (cheap: 5.00 euros per demilitre) Stella beers in the sunshine, requesting rescue. Main party had stopped for coffee in St-Kwintens-Lennik, and also entered the capital by way of Anderlecht. Modern self-catering apartment at Residence Opera, rue de l'eveque. On corner of square near Theatre Royal. The boys took some while to locate the remote check-in bureau but spacious, comfortable, and good value. Supper at nearby Mexican Restaurant: Chi-Chi's Tex-Mex, Anspachlaan 5, 1000 Brussels.
10th June at leisure in Brussels. Morning visit to Atomium on tram, return via underground. Lunch at the apartment. Obligatory viewing of the Mannekin Pis. Pleasant evening in the bar of the Ibis, followed by chips and waffles in the street, and nightcaps at the bar L’Ecuyer, near our apartment, where we earlier had breakfast. Local beer could be had for as little as 3.20 euros per demilitre.
Stage 3: 11th June. Brussels-Wouwse Plantage, 61 miles.
06:45 depart Brussels northbound via Grimbergen. Cool. Follow Zeekanal Brussel-Schelde. Tea stop at Willebroek, by lift bridge. Picnic lunch stop on fringes of Antwerp by tram terminus, then ploughing through the interminable docks in hot weather. Eventually reach pleasant countryside, via Stabroek, taking us to Putte in Holland. Immediate improvement in cycle lanes and signage. Stop for double Orangina at Restaurant Jagersrust, Putseweg 21, 4641 RS Ossendrecht. Last lap into Wouwse Plantage, running on empty. B&B Ouwerveldezicht, Schouwenbaan 10, 4725 ST Wouwse Plantage (3 rooms, 58 euros pp), beer, swimming pool on arrival. Nightcap, stout breakfast for cyclists. Good value. Ride to Restaurant-Taverne Kwizien, 2 km, outstanding dinner outdoors 136.80 EUR plus tip for 3.
Stage 4: 12th June. Wouwse Plantage-Nieuwerkerk, 54 miles.
Headwinds through the polders into Rotterdam, via Steenbergen. Lift bridges, intriguing derelict buildings. Picnic lunch on island, Hellegatsplein at river crossing. Even the motorway bridges here provide for cyclist transit. After a nasty mile-long run against the headwind, very friendly air-conditioned pitstop for ice creams at gas station, where attendant spoke perfect English and was a keen cyclist. Offer from other friendly locals to investigate squeaky, rough-running rear wheel, but no time. Passed through Heinenoordtunnel, a separate bore for cyclists and a cold plunge. Got separated on final approach, baffled but rode down the dyke to Niewerkerk.
Hotel Nieuwerkerk, Parallelweg Zuid 185, 2914 LE Nieuwerkerk a/d IJssel (trouble finding hotel as it is not called the Van Der Valk, a chain name). Superior digs. Jug of fizzy water and apple juice to rehydrate. Nice supper on the terrace. Attitudes of numerous young hotel staff vary from cool rudeness to helpful 'customer-focus'. Loopwheels bike stashed in storeroom. Crashed out.
Stage 5: 13th. Nieuwerkerk-Zandvoort, 44 miles.
Via excellent cycle paths through Zoeterwoude to Leiden, which has much of the charm of Amsterdam but without the crowds. Passing towns with familiar names from previous visits. Apart from about 20 minutes of heavy rain, very helpful weather with strong tailwind to Hotel Zeespiegel, Hogeweg 70, 2042 GJ Zandvoort. Italian Restaurant MMX, Haltestraat 13, 2042 LJ Zandvoort. Acceptable. Watched Le Mans 24 Hours on bar TV.
14th June. At leisure in Zandvoort, 14 local miles. To Circuit Park Zandvoort for cycling exhibition. We test ride a number of electric bikes, plus lap of short circuit. Loopwheels bike attracts much attention. Picnic in town. Later Porsche winning Le Mans on TV in a bar. Chris Froome wins Critérium du Dauphiné. Greek Restaurant where, just as in Greece, all meals taste like school dinners.
Stage 6: 15th June. Zandvoort-Amsterdam, 25 miles.
Early start through the dunes to pavement breakfast at De Complete Bakker Portvlies, 279 Bloemendaalseweg, Overveen. Remorse that tour is ending. On into Amsterdam, tea at pavement cafe in western reaches of the city, enjoying the bicycle culture, short tour to Rijksmuseum. Train home via Brussels: first class all the way to Ashford, with plenty of freebie food and alcohol on offer. I travelled, like Jack, as a senior so got it all cheap!

Total: 285 miles approx.

Plus Points: Minimal luggage. New bike better than Brompton on the rough stuff, including pavé. GPS navigation; weather mostly good; tailwinds, health benefits (the gift that keeps on giving). Yet again the Bromptons totally reliable though, and much easier to fold. Cycling infrastructure, with much running separated from vehicles.
Thanks to Harvey at Cycleshack2, Lewes, for fettling Loopwheels bike.

Downsides: Headwinds, punctured Continental tyre, teething troubles with new bike, getting separated (mostly unlike previous tours), no mobile phone. Foldabilty of new bike not a patch on Brompton.

Learning points: The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre an option for Loopwheels bike. Get mobile.

Overall: Good tour in low countries, a classic.

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