We set of from Lander’s house in the drizzle, but with a good idea of the route and a shorter day planned to try and accommodate our super slow speeds. Unfortunately the weather really didn’t want to play along. First it was just raining with a very strong headwind, then it started hailing large rocks of ice which smashed into our pink faces. Our gear is not really suitable for winter touring, as we’d planned to get all the things we needed for the Himalayas on the road somewhere to cut down on weight for Asia. Our gloves quickly became wet and froze our fingers, and the wind cut straight through our shoes onto our wet socks. We both had enough layers to keep our core warm, so we knew we weren’t going to die (and anyway, Flanders is so populated that we could find someone to rescue us if it got serious) but it wasn’t much fun.
Despite the crappy weather we still made a small detour to include a couple of famous cobblestone sections on our ride. It felt fitting to ride on these roads featured in the spring classics like the Tour of Flanders with the same shitty weather we see on TV. With the combination of slippery, bouncy cobbles and the weather, Bryony decided that watching on TV is better.
After the cobble section, about 10km from Het Eyvken Huys B and B where we would spend the night, the sky got darker and darker and eventually it started snowing. Big puffy flakes of snow were settling on the ground without melting and in the creases of our clothes. They didn’t melt, so it must have been pretty cold. We usually need to keep a phone or the GPS out at the end of the day to navigate the tricky bits at the end, which means no gloves and frozen malfunctioning fingers. When we finally pulled up our host Hans came outside, took one look at us and said “what on earth are you doing biking in Belgium in November?”. He ushered us inside into our super warm room and told us to shower and warm up before we did anything else. We had to defrost for half an hour before we could face the shower and our clothes made muddy wet puddles as they melted.
Once we were finally warm we joined Hans and his wife Melanie in the bar. We were the only guests and they heated up our pasta for us, shared some delicious preserved meats and advised us on the best beer to drink. Hans even tried to sell James a vintage racing bike, but we argued it would be a bit difficult to transport just at the minute. Even with the day redeemed by friendly company we started seriously thinking about our trip. Our plan started out to continue biking through Europe, making longer stays in some places to apply for jobs, but basically to keep moving until we found somewhere to put down our feet. Our lack of appropriate winter gear however was making the riding miserable, and in some places we had hardly any choice of accommodation so were spending far more than we would have liked for somewhere warm to stay. So we decided that the best plan would be to hang the bikes up for the winter and carry on moving by bus and train. Luckily Luna in Den Haag agreed to store the bikes for us, and with that plan in place we resolved to enjoy the last few days of cycling as much as possible.
After breakfast with Hans and his family we headed off towards Oostende. It wasn’t exactly warmer, but it was sunny and that made a big difference. We stuck to quiet roads, and as we approached the city we found a signposted cycle route. We’d set off early enough that we arrived well before dark and settled in to another cozy apartment in the center of town.
We had wanted to stay in Brugge, but accommodation there was nearly twice the price, so the next day we left the bikes at home and took a train into town. Lander and nearly everyone we talked to in Belgium recommended visiting. It was the first time in Europe that we visited a truly tourist destination and the rows and rows of waffle/chocolate/beer shops were a little overwhelming, as were the hoards of people. The Bruges belfry (made famous by the 2008 film In Bruges) was closed because of a storm, but we happily wandered around the narrow streets past the tiny canals and grand buildings for the afternoon. A highlight was the beer alley with hundreds of different beers displayed with the glasses they are meant to be served in, including the Captain Cooker from Golden Bay in NZ.
Back in Oostende we packed our panniers again and prepared for the last leg of cycling to get us back to Den Haag.