Our route.

We rode to another country today! And in spite of some bicycle seat-inflicted pain, we’re very happy we did so.

Riding in Belgium and the Netherlands is a flat experience. The largest incline we encountered today would be laughed at by a footpath ramp at home. But the flat landscape doesn’t just make riding easier, it means there’s a far-ranging vista all around you to soak in as you ride. The fact the landscape is flat doesn’t make it uninteresting at all. There’s so much going  on everywhere you look, from little villages, to people going about their business, to rabbits running across the fields.

The ride we did today ran along the canals from Brugge in Belgium to Sluis in the Netherlands. There is one small town and three or four hamlets along the way; so, you don’t have to go more than 4km or so without refreshment. You pass through Damme, then Oostekirche and then a little place whose name I’m unsure of but which boasts a lovely looking restaurant by the waterside.

As an aside, I should recount for posterity that Callum, and I can’t think where he gets this from, is pushing out puns at a rate of knots at the moment. Today’s winners were “What did the man say when he fell into the canal outside Brugge? Damme.” and “Why did the bell-ringer refuse to stop working? He was afraid he’d be tolled off.”

Callum-powered hand ferry.

Anyway, about three-quarters of the way to Sluis we came across a cute little hand-ferry across the canal. I doubt that’s the technical term for one of these babies, but it’s the one we’ve gone with in the absence of better. Basically you stand on a little pontoon and turn a wheel. The wheel engages with a steel wire strung across the canal and so you proceed to the other side at a stately hand-powered pace. We were so taken with it we went back and forth a couple of times just for the fun of it.

About a kilometer after the hand-ferry you cross over into the Netherlands. We were, I have to admit, a bit disappointed that there wasn’t even a sign to mark the border. In fact the border is at the edge of a little tunnel that dips under a main road and we were so busy powering out of the dip that we didn’t even realise we’d crossed to another country until a few hundred metres later.

Sluis in The Netherlands

Sluis itself is charming if you have a bike. The town was, in the 1500s, surrounded by an intricate double-star of walls and moats. They still roughly exist today and you can ride around the outside of them through some lovely countryside. There’s even a couple of windmills – the old sort – to catch the eye. We eventually meandered into the centre of town and had lunch in a cafe on the market square. After lunch, we bought some afternoon tea to take with us from a patisserie that proudly announced it had won the 2010 Netherlands Patisserie Prize. A patisserie competition may well be the indicator of a highly advanced civilisation in my view; and if the cakes, which we ate later halfway back to Brugge, are any indication, the prize was richly deserved..

The entire trip was about 40km and we hit a headwind on the way back – all those windmills ought to have given us a hint, shouldn’t they? By the time we got back to Brugge, all of us were feeling our bottoms. In fact, our bottoms were screaming out for attention. Having to do the last few hundred metres over cobble-stones was a special form of torture.

But a bit of nether-region pain was nothing in comparison to our sense of achievement. As we came back to Brugge, Callum called out to me, “This is what every day should be like.  Apart from the sore bottom thing!”

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