After the Part 1, here is the rest of our cycling adventures in Flanders.
Today, the real deal starts : we are planning an eight day cycling holiday, the Tour of Flanders ! On paper, the plan looks magnificent. We hope the rest of Flanders is going to welcome us like the Brussels region did the past two days.
The first stage doesn’t start yet, as we have appointments with a few potential partners. One of the most evocative is a visit to the last real Brussel’s gueuze brewery. Gueuze is a beer that spontaneously ferments. It can only be brewed in the Zenne valley, for it is the only place in the world where a certain strain of yeast lives. Unfortunately it is too early for a tasting session, we’ll have to come back later !
Today’s journey is somewhat shorter. We travel to Aalst (Alost), through the countryside. Starting slightly hilly, it changes into the flatlands Jacques Brel sang about. We reach Aalst without any trouble, the Belgian cycling paths are among the best in the world. Aalst is a small town in Belgium that once a year, for a few days, turns into a witch’s cauldron. The carnival of Aalst is world famous in Belgium. It consists of several days with parades and people getting slightly drunk. The rest of the year it’s a small provincial town with a beautiful and lively town center.
Today is a special day for me, as we are traveling to Gent (Ghent), the city in which I lived for 20 years, before moving to France. It’s also the day the weather gods decided that we have had enough sun. The heavenly locks open and don’t stop throwing buckets of water at us until we reach Gent. After 57 km, soaked, starving and hypothermic (we are no strangers to some sense of exaggeration), we reach the hotel. A hot shower and a culinary treat revive our bodies. For the first time in her life, Aurélie tastes the Belgian version of the “boule de berlin”. If you don’t know what that is, don’t google it when you are hungry, as you’ll want to travel to Belgium right away.
On top of that, the sun comes out! Gent is Europe’s most spectacular hidden gem. Most have never heard of this city, but it is amazing. It’s not too big, not too small, has a wonderful historic center, beautiful people, excellent bars and restaurants. We visit Confiserie Temmerman, a tiny candy shop, owned by a family of women for 4 generations. They only sell their candy, most of it recipes that are hundreds of years old. At dinner we have the local speciality : waterzooi. A sort of soup with chicken or fish and a load of vegetables. Excellent and delicious food for cyclists !
The cycle path from Gent to Bruges can be described in a short sentence : along the canal. 56 km of flat, well paved, wide cycling roads lead us from the capital of East Flanders to the capital of West Flanders. Both of them are gorgeous, amazing, wonderful cities and yet totally different. When we arrive in Bruges, we immediately notice we are not alone. Millions of tourists visit the old town every year. It is so busy, we can hardly cycle. But we have a secret tip for you : at 6 p.m., all tourists get on their buses and go back to their hotel outside the city. From that moment on, you have the whole of Bruges to yourself. Bruges at night is entirely different from Bruges during the day.
The first day of October and the weather is still smashing ! Nobody has arrived in Bruges yet. The coffeeshops are open, the terraces empty, we enjoy a bit of Bruges. We take the opportunity to take some pictures before leaving, which we mustn’t postpone as we have a big day ahead : 60 km to Kortrijk (Courtrai). At the end of the day it turns out to be 75 km, as we have had to find our way on the Flemish countryside. This is rural Flanders, a region where more pigs than humans live. Here the frites factories are planted next to the potato fields. We see all kinds of vegetables on the fields along the way : beets, carrots, maize, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, potatoes, more cabbages, spinach and yet another Flemish specialty : the square hedge.
This time we cycle along deserted country roads. Every so often we cross a gigantic tractor as it is the high season for harvesting the vegetables. We notice that Flemish drivers are usually very well behaved and sometimes stay behind us driving at the same pace we do. It’s a long day with quite a bit of headwind. When we arrive in Kortrijk, we feel the need for a small local beverage. As it clearly hardly ever rains in Belgium, the terraces on the main square are packed. It’s Sunday afternoon and the Belgians are preparing for a long cold winter by sitting in the sun as much as possible.
Kortrijk is a beautiful town with a bustling center. You can admire the beguinage and the church tower which can be visited for free. The squares and buildings reflect the rich history of 19th century Kortrijk, when flax was grown in this region. The river Lys, cutting the city in half, was once called the Golden River, as the water composition was ideal for retting the flax (yes, we had to look that up).
Coming soon, the last part of our adventure…