It’s been a while. But welcome back. Welcome back to the feeling that today is that day. The day I just have to ride.
The temperature is drifting up and forecast to clear 30 degrees for the first time this year.
Tomorrow is Belgian National Day, a public holiday on a Thursday in the summer, which means the majority of the population is actually on holiday, or mentally on their way to a four day weekend. So traffic levels will be almost like a Saturday.
So I offer you a two hour cycle tour of some of the finest sights to the South of Brussels. By adding just a few side diversions to the most direct route I gave myself an uplifting trip of relaxation and beauty, all within just a few kilometres of the capital of Europe.
I start by looking out on the valley of the River Lasne where I am presented with a bright sun coming up over the trees and the valley, but when I drop down below there is just a slight chill that has forced mist into the air. The deserted roads and fields suggest agricultural landscapes frozen in a different era.
After a short climb out of the valley I cut through Genval and drop down again, to the beauty spot of Lac de Genval, once a popular spot for day trips to take the waters. With no wind whatsoever the lake mirrors the trees, teahouses and boats perfectly.
Only the neighbourhood watch is checking up on me!
I don’t really want to leave, but I know a short cut that allows me to cut through to La Hulpe and beyond to one of the landmarks of the region, Chateau Solvay and its huge landscaped park.
It’s a favourite riding spot of mine and has featured many times in this blog, it never fails to deliver. There I am surprised by my first cyclists, mountain bikers are already up and about, probably avoiding the later heat. I almost resent their intrusion, at this time of the day this is my park, I am used to being alone here.
Out onto the dirt roads of the park and I can see the wide open spaces leading me to the Fôret de Soignes, the green belt that protects Brussels from the south.
The forest is mixed with all sorts of trees, but my favourites are always the beech woods, their light cover and huge height allows a scattering of sunlight onto the forest floor. It is a silent deserted world, even the deer seem to be having a day off.
However there is always a wildlife moment in Soignes and this time it is a suspicious terrapin who retreats into his shell when I arrive. I have seen them here before on warm mornings, when it gets hot I guess they have to change pools or risk becoming turtle soup.
Somewhere I pass briefly through a bit of Flanders, I know because the signs on the tracks have changed, the forest drives are no longer “dreve”, they have become “dreef”. It must be somewhere close to where I enjoy a private passage under the dreaded Brussels Ring> I am smiling, but up there hopes for the day are being diminished by the daily traffic jam.
For the final flourish of the forest I pick up the beautifully surfaced Chemin des Tumuli, the path of the mounds. It dips and rolls through the valleys of the forest before popping out into the suburban roads of Brussels.
Normally the transition is a noisy shock, but with no schools open and a holiday mood these suburbs project a sleepy, leafy nature that reflects their position close to the forest edge.
I have always hated this school crossing because cycling through here around 8.15 is to deal with the appallingly behaved parents trying to park their cars. Today it is like Car-Free day.
However I get an unexpected surprise when suddenly I am faced by a real traffic jam just before I get to the EU district.
Moving to the front I had to smile, because even this is a holiday traffic jam. The Brussels mounted police are having a practice ride before the National Day parades tomorrow, complete with their own service vehicle.
The Tour de France doesn’t have a following car to do that job.
And then there can be no doubt that I have arrived. Our offices are close to the EU Commission where of course there is congestion out front, even today. However today it makes me smug instead of annoyed, I feel I have done something good with my day already.
It may just be my commute, but picking a route and a day to share this lesser known corner of Belgium with you turned it into something special. Wherever you live, consider adding 30 minutes to your cycle commute one day and see what treasures you can uncover?
I do not despair.