Thursday, March 1, 2012

The beginning

The beginning of this blog is really in the summer of 2008.  I had just landed a job in Brussels and had 2 months to lay the groundwork for my family to join me.  I bought a used city-bike from a dodgy colleague and used it to commute to and from work, as well as to search for an apartment that would become the next home for my wife and two small boys.  I don’t even remember the brand of the bike, but I do remember that it was a 7 speed and it served me well in the city.
Having quite a bit of time on my hands on the weekends (there’s no point in looking for apartments on the weekends in Brussels, as everyone is off to the seaside), I came up with the brilliant idea of cycling the 80-ish kilometres of the Belgian seaside during the upcoming weekend.  I did my research and found that Belgian tourism offices do a great job of portraying the seaside as interesting, beautiful and a worthwhile visit.  There was even the promise of seeing traditional fishing villages where the locals still ride through the shallows on horseback dragging a net to catch gray shrimp, which are then served in the form of croquettes, while one quaffs local Belgian beer or a nice white wine.
I planned to cycle from Knokke (the northern-most seaside town of Belgium) down to DePanne (the southernmost) over two days – a leisurely 40 km. per day, stopping when my fancy took me.  I dutifully went to Decathlon (the local sporting goods giant) to buy panniers, a sleeping-bag and two man tent (for comfort’s sake), packed and got really excited about my big trip.  Saturday early morning, I cycled to Gare Centrale and hopped on the first train to Knokke (they go at least once an hour).  Weekend train+bike tickets are a steal on SNCB (Belgian railways) – I think I paid a little over 10 Euro round trip.
An hour later, I was off the train in Knokke and blissfully cycling south along the Belgian coast.  Ah, the romance of it all – here I was, new dream job, new country, beautiful weather and the North Sea on my right.  Life did not suck.
It started to suck pretty soon.
I soon realized several things:  1. The Belgian seaside is ugly as hell.  It’s kilometre after kilometre of ugly Stalinist block apartments with short stretches of grassy dunes inbetwixt them (the grassy dunes are, admittedly, beautiful).  Those short stretches are there (probably) because they haven’t cleared away all the mines from World War II; 2) headwinds suck! 3) my ass hurt and 4) 7 speeds is no good for trekking and 5) I couldn’t find anywhere I would like to stay – everything was full and looked horrible.
So, I kept going.
I told myself that I’ll cycle to Oostduinkerke (the horseback fisherman village) and spend whatever it takes to stay there – to get a taste of the “true old-fashioned Belgian seaside).  So, 65 kilometres after starting that morning, I puffed and wheezed into the village – which looked like all the rest of the concrete-block developments I’d seen along the way.
At that point, I realized that this was going to be a one-day trip.  I didn’t bother stopping – I set my sights on DePanne and a train ride back to Brussels.  I suffered through the next 15 kilometres to DePanne, only to find that the train station was another 5 km away.  I got to the station just as a train to Brussels pulled out.  Exhausted, thirsty and hungry, I collapsed in a chair outside the restaurant next to the station.  I ordered a local beer and drank it down in one greedy and desperate chug.  Ah! Life began to get better.  And better!  It turns out that the beer was a local trappist variety with an alcohol content of 12%.  I ordered another.
The train ride home was a blissful buzz that I hardly remember.  I got back to the Brussels apartment and collapsed on the sofa.  I was exhausted – I was sunburnt - my ass hurt – I was disappointed with the Belgian seaside – my body was wracked with pain – I had suffered physically more than I could remember.
I was in love.  This is where my love affair with cycling began.

6 comments:

  1. Very enjoyable read! I see a Wine Cycling magazine in your future. Can't wait for the stinky cheese post...

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  2. Merci pour cette jolie histoire.
    J'espère qu'il y en aura beaucoup d'autres, et que la gastronomie rejoindra bientôt le vélo et le vin sur ce blog prometteur.

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  3. Ah, truly funny, and thank you for that. Cannot wait for the next bit!

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  4. Your blog should keep even non-cyclers (like me) smiling. Looking forward to reading more of your adventures Aidai! Sounds like Brussels seaside is no Huntington Beach.

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  5. So anonymous, seems more like a dirty tryst than love. :)

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  6. Wine cycling! Yes!

    Funny story...as usual some of the best stories come from the less-best experiences.

    There are several wineries along Missouri's Katy Trail, which has the benefit of being beautiful as well.

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