Kevin Mayne and his wife Cheryl have been great hosts. Not only did Kevin make the effort to come and ‘collect’ me on Friday afternoon after I cycled over the border into Belgium from France but they wined and dined me like an honored guest. Kevin was a fantastic guide around the Waterloo battle field – his father is a history teacher so it is in his blood – and Kiwi Cheryl has such a relaxed manner that anyone would feel at home in her company. My weekend was time well spent as well as time well spent not cycling. Many thanks to both of them and I can only apologise for not having taken the opportunity of buying a couple of bottles of wine to replenish their stocks when I had the chance on Saturday morning in the local town.
This morning, Kevin offered to cycle with me again – an offer I was glad to accept – as far as Leuven. I’m usually a bit of a contol freak when it comes to route finding but once in a while I’m happy to let someone else take charge, especially when they know the roads as well as someone like Kevin. I could sit back, enjoy the scenery and soak up the sun; the good weather seems to have returned, at least to this part of western Europe. We shared a coffee (well, we didn’t, we had one each but you know what I mean) before Kevin headed back along the route that we had come and I was once again left to my own devices. This has happened many times before after having been looked after for a day or so by a local and there is always a slight sense of unease for the first few moments. I feel like a bird that is about to fledge from the nest, albeit one that has already fledged from the nest on numerous occasions in the past. I was somewhat aided in this transition back into the ‘unsupported’ world this morning by the young guy who had been sitting next to Kevin and myself in the cafe in Leuven. He was wearing Lycra – see the picture below – was clearly a cyclist and we chatted for ten minutes or so about my plans for the next few weeks and months. It was good to see that I could still cut it as an independent traveller!
Up until this point I had simply been following Kevin’s arse. No navigation had been required by me, just a willingness to put faith in someone else’s knowledge of where we were going. Post Leuven of course, it was me in charge again. My cycle could be summarised as follows: 33, 73, 87, 86, 92, 91, 34, 35, 13, 64, 60, 59, 58, 50, 21, 51, 187, 188. To a Belgian or Dutch cyclist, that might make sense. To most other people, probably not. All you need to do to navigate from place to place in Belgium and The Netherlands is follow the numbers. It’s a brilliantly simply and effective system. For the first time since leaving Tarifa on the 9th April I was able to put route finding aside and simply follow the signs that corresponded to the string of numbers above. Wonderful! I didn’t get lost once.
Sint-Truiden was, however, a bit of a disappointment. No campsite, no reasonably-priced hotel… I sat in a bar and listened to an annoying young woman rant in what sounded like coarse Dutch. The bar woman laughed when I asked if she spoke English. The drunken customer told me that British beer was crap. Did I really want to spend a night here? I went to sit outside to study accommodation options. The only one that was worth considering was 15 km away. It was worth the extra hour of cycling.
For some reason I find these end of day summaries much easier to write when I’m on a campsite, my preferred option. Tomorrow that’s my plan; a campsite. But hang on… BREAKING NEWS!!! This seven country trip across Europe has just become an eight country trip across Europe; tomorrow I’m going to Maastricht in The Netherlands. That will be country eight!