Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cycletrip Day 2: Hoogstraten - Diest

Alright, alright, so the first day of our cycle trip hadn't gone entirely according to plan. But you know what, we survived it. We felt kind of awesome for surviving it. And we followed up a day of rain, wrong turns and occasional despair with three days of wonderfulness with Marjan and Patrick (Taco's Mum and step-dad) in Belgium. That first night was total bliss: Marjan's home-cooked food, a foot bath, wine, showers we could have lived in forever, and beautiful beautiful sleep.

Bicycle break: 3 days with the folks in Belgium...
On Wednesday we woke to the smell of freshly-squirted espressos, courtesy of Patrick and his magic machine. After enjoying a Dutchy-goodness breakfast of fresh bread and cheese and spreads, we headed for Antwerp. The city was quiet (a little too quiet, according to M & P, who lived there previously). But it was nice to wander and ogle pretty things in shops, as well as learn a bit about the city. It has a large Jewish community, apparently due to many of them being spared the fate of other Jews during Nazi times, and I learnt that Friday is Jewish peoples' day off, so it's school on Sunday for the kiddies. The men wear those cool hats with curls, and the women wear wigs (?!). We had lunch in a veggie cafĂ©, including their famous hot, frothy, ginger tea (verdict: Marjan and Claire- “delicious”; Patrick and Taco- “blergh”). Marjan sneakily bought us a box of finest Belgian chocolates (and DAMN, they were FINE!), which were to be scoffed over the next few nights. That night we feasted on Marjan's cooking with Ingrid, Patrick's daughter, and her beautiful baby (who, at roughly 4 months old, apparently isn't such a fan of meatballs and lasagne just yet- we ate her share). The following day we visited the lovely old city of Bruges (full of bridges!), drinking Belgian beers, walking the cobbled streets and visiting the Begijnehof- this is essentially a convent, and not uncommon to many old cities in Europe. I need to do some high-quality (Google) research on it still but I understand these places were sort of havens for single women in times when they were at risk of being in danger within communities (slash wanting to find God, I suppose). The Begijnehof is a little walled city within itself- tiny houses in a circle around a main square, this one grassy and filled with daffodils, which would have been lovely to skip through, were it not for a sign forbidding it: sad face). We popped inside the little church and were lucky enough so be able to listen to some of the nuns praying in sing-song form for a little while. The next day was spent doing errands and getting ready for our departure on Saturday. We dined on big, fat, fresh asparagus and smoked salmon, and played Dutch/English Scrabble.

Back on the bikes...
Saturday we were up, croissant-ed and packed by 9-ish, ready and excited to hit to the road Jack. Marjan and Patrick waved us off from Hoogstraten. I was feeling pretty stylish in my waterproofs (pants as well as the jacket, ladies and gents!). It was a little cloudy, yes, but we were ready for it today. And all went swimmingly. The sun shone, the attractive waterproof pants were shed, directions were easily followed and some nice little towns were ridden through.

All went swimmingly, yes, and at 40kms in, just after a snack and loving life, we had only 15kms or so to go until we reached our destination for the day- Diest. The two of us were, we later confirmed, about to turn to each other and suggest we maybe go a bit further today! And as Claire turned to Taco, there was a horrible sound, and Claire's bike went a bit wobbly, and felt a bit lighter, and we turned to see a broken fietskarretje. The bar holding the bicycle cart to Claire's bike had snapped clean in half. We stared. Blinked. Said a few swear words. Then burst into laughter. What were we to do? Really, what the hell were we to do?! Long story short, what we were to do involved a lot of gaffa tape (am I actually an Aussie male, do you think?), elastic ties and a handbag strap, all of which we had on us. We timidly rode on. Just get to Diest, that's all we need to do. The cart was wobbly, but wasn't moving thanks to the aforementioned 8687678m of gaffa. We got about 10km like this, before the hail came and we took shelter in a horse stable. After the bad weather passed, we rode on a little, and, coming across a man and his dog, we asked for some directions. This man was Luke, who turned out to be our Saturday Saviour. He suggested he could take us, and the karretje into Diest in his van. We walked back through some fields with him to his car, and drove to a bike shop. A dude from the shop came out to inspect the damage and whether it could be mended. He scoffed and told us it couldn't be fixed, good luck getting to Paris. But there was another man. Another man in a bike shop with much crap at his disposable- he connected one broken half to the other with a bit of hollow metal pole he had, screwing it all together as Dutch crooners sang out from the radio behind him, and we held our breath in anticipation. He did it! It worked! (We hope!)

Luke said he would drop us, and our down-but-not-out bike cart in Diest. Beforehand, however, we needed to pop by his place as his family might have begun to worry over his whereabouts. We ended up being fed Flemish food and meeting said-family, who were all very lovely and welcoming. After calling nearly every accommodation place listed in our little book, and finding them all full, we eventually found a spot in the slightly-beyond-what-we-wanted-to-pay-but-beggars-can't-be-beggars French Crown hotel in town. Luke dropped us off. We thanked him and promised him our first-born in return for his extreme hospitality and extent to which he saved our asses. We showered, walked around Diest, located our starting point for the next day, watched some football in the pub, then crashed into bed. Things could only get slightly more normal.

Day's stats
Hoogstraten, Belgium - Diest, Hoogstraten
Left 9.30am, arrived 6pm
Distance travelled: 57km
Conditions: weather ok, bike cart not so good but fixed, plenty of Belgian hospitality
Funniest bits: the cart breaking- the sheer "what the fuck" and timing of it

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