It's all happening on de Koog Beach, Texel Island, Netherlands.
Travel writers hate beaches, according to British columnist A.A.Gill. It’s not the beaches themselves they hate, it’s trying to find something interesting and original to say about them.
I understand the problem. Nothing ever happens at the beach, except on Baywatch , so where’s the story? Continue reading
As I often tell my writing students, a good story always starts with something going wrong. So when I caught myself writing a summary post about the best meal, prettiest town, most charming B&B and most spectacular scenery etc of the past five months, I thought, ‘Stop that immediately, Richard! Everyone prefers reading about your disasters.’
So here are my worst travel experiences of the past five months: Continue reading
The hand thrower, Antwerp.
Belgians haven’t always been nice to visitors in the past and it seems the tradition continues.
Antwerpen takes its name from the Flemish ‘hand werpen’ – or ‘hand throwing’. The story goes that the gates were guarded by a giant who demanded a toll of travellers. If they couldn’t pay, he cut off their hands and threw them away. Continue reading
I’ll try to make this quick, Lance. It’s short notice, I know, because you’re already on the road, but I guess Mr Bruyneel has wifi and a laptop in the manager’s car and can pass my advice on to you via your earpiece. If Radio Shack can’t keep up with the latest technology, who can?
Yesterday’s stage had far too many falls, and soon you’ll soon be riding over the feared cobblestone section of the route. I see Stuart O’Grady predicted there would be ‘carnage’ there, and I think Stuart was looking forward to that. He’s good on the bumps and won the classic Paris-Roubaix over these notorious speedhumps a few years back.
I’ve learned a bit about cobbles from living in Amsterdam. That’s one of our roads above. It’s a shame my bike came out a bit dark in the picture, because I wanted you to get a good look at it. It’s exactly the sort you need for riding those rocks – solid and upright, with really thick padding on the saddle. If you don’t have one like that on top of the support vehicle, get them to rush on ahead and rent one. You can get them at any Belgian train station and they’re quite reasonably priced.
Mind you, there are worse cobblestones in this world than the ones you’ll be riding over. I tried out these ones in Tallinn, Estonia recently.
Lance, another possible reason O’Grady and I are so good on the cobbles is that Dutch, French and Belgian cobblestones are nothing compared to the sort we have in our native Australia. In the tough land downunder, you think you’re doing it easily on the flat, then suddenly the road surface gets rough. “That’s not a cobblestone – this is a cobblestone!”
STOP PRESS: Oh no, Lance, you got a flat tyre on the cobblestones!!!! I warned you that you’d need a city bike like mine with ‘anti-lek’ (anti-leak) tyres, but did you listen??? No, you tried to do it on those silly skinny wheels and lost valuable seconds. Next time I give you advice, take it – local knowledge matters!
Filed under Cycling, Sport
Bikes cram Bruges's market square
I’ve enjoyed riding the Dutch and Belgian cycle networks
over the past few weeks, and I’ve now been doing some research.
The Belgians invented the cycle network system and it’s paid off handsomely. When the mines in the Belgian province of Limburg began to close one by one, mining engineer Hugo Bollen had a great idea. Putting funds into building cycle paths could generate work, and stimulate the Belgians to appreciate their land more. “The more people cycle through their area, the more they will come to value it…and valuing it will lead to nature and landscape being preserved.”
Hugo’s fietsnetwerk (cycle network) officially opened in 1995. By 2007 Limburg had 1860km of signposted cycle routes, 700km of it car-free. The idea spread to the rest of the country, which now has a staggering 13,000km of signposted cycleways. Holland, Germany and Denmark have followed the Belgian example enthusiastically.
Even Hugo probably didn’t foresee the economic boom his cycling infrastructure would bring. Over 700,000 cyclists visit the Limburg area every year, and this directly generates income in the region of more than 16million euros.
We invested a couple of hundred euros of our own in Belgian food, accommodation, trains, bike hire and alcohol last week.
Money well spent, I say!
There are still a few corners of Bruges like this...
Bruges (officially ‘Brugge’ in Flemish) is reputed to be a quiet, olde worldy mediaeval place, where people can step back in time to an era when life was slow and strawberries were small and tasted like strawberries.
...but a lot of it is like this...
...or like this.
Millions of visitors can’t be wrong. Bruges is beautifully preserved, and there are spectacular old buildings around every corner. Come to think of it, the corners themselves are made of spectacular old buildings.
This is the oldest hospital in Europe. Never mind the leeches and the blood-letting – the brickwork alone should make you feel better!
St Jan's Hospital is now a museum.
Fortunately there is a place where we can escape the chocolate and lace shops, the clip-clop of horse-drawn carts, the amplified commentary of the tour boats, the I Love Bruges and 50 Great Beers t-shirts.
Elizabeth Beguinage, Bruges
The Elizabeth Begijnhof
attracts only the devout few. I’m one.
And Belgian strawberries look like strawberries, smell like strawberries and by golly they still taste like strawberries too.