The first part of last week I was working in Brussels, but I was completely thrown by discovering a Belgian public holiday on Wednesday when I had planned to work. I still can’t get out of my British habit of assuming all public holidays are on Mondays and I certainly haven’t got any knowledge of Belgian holiday dates in my head yet.
However this prospect quickly turned to optimism because the weather was forecast to be great, I was staying close to a good route out of the city – and best of all Brussels likes a lie in:
Even on normal work days I find this is a city that is slow to get started. The urban commute is squeezed into a relatively narrow window and very few people even consider early starts in their workplaces. I anticipate Brussels folks being really shocked by the number of suits already at the main London stations by 7am on most weekdays, let alone 8 or 9. I am almost always the only cyclist on the roads before 8 here and when I have been here on weekends and public holidays I know that the lie in is always extended, even better during school holidays.
I love early morning bike rides so I was up and away on Wednesday knowing that the place was going to be deserted and I could come back and knock off a few hours undisturbed work too.
First heading south through Bois de la Cambre which is a popular and attractive large park. Crazily its perimeter roads have been allowed to become part of a car commuting racetrack on weekdays, but at least they are closed on public holidays and weekends so they were very welcoming today. The park pavilion was optimistically offering its deck chairs to all comers, but it would be several hours before they were needed.
The mansions of the wealthy that edge the park and the surrounding routes to Forêt de Soignes looked appropriately exclusive in the morning light, but I also felt exclusive to have a four lane boulevard almost to myself – extraordinarily quiet for a big city.
And then into the forest (Zoniënwoud in Flemish). I have quickly discovered this area for morning and evening rides since I started working here. It is great that just 6km from the centre of the modern capital city this area there is a forest of over 4000 hectares, stretching across the southeast of the city as a green belt. It is disturbed only by a few roads and unfortunately the motorway which does bring some resented noise to the tranquillity. Wikipedia tells me that like many such forests it has been eroded over the years, not least by Napoleon but now I am told it is one of the successes of Belgian political gridlock – the forest is split over the regions of Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia and nobody is going to let Brussels expand into their territory.
I can strike out through the woods on the signposted round Brussels greenway and a number of other better surfaced tracks, or as much as my small wheeled folding bike will allow I like go off on the dirt tracks and side paths discovering dips, hollows and tranquil ponds in ancient woodland settings. I do get some funny looks from the mountain bikers, not too many small wheelers in here.
On Wednesday after well over an hour of bouncing around I returned to a recent discovery, the smooth asphalt surface of the Dreve des Tumuli, a beautiful car free route that swoops and climbs through the forest contours back to the edge of the city and my ride home.
On this day I had seen almost no one except a few dog walkers but as I returned it was approaching 9am and the first cycle tourists were beginning to wander out sleepily. By the time I got to Bois de la Cambre the jogging community was in full flow. Maybe it was to avoid the later heat, or just an ingrained daily habit which gave them the best of the day – but where are the cyclists? Perhaps by lunchtime many more will be out in Forest de Soignes along with the walkers and families however I am told it is rarely crowded.
But on Wednesday it was nice to believe it was almost exclusively mine. Thanks Brussels.
Googlemap of the area below