It’s not just about the bike lanes. A beautiful cycle touring day in Copenhagen.

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As a cyclist it is so easy to be blown away by the waves of Copenhageners cycling to work and school along their wonderful bike lanes and forget to take a look at the city and its region. I haven’t … Continue reading

Arnhem to Aarschot cycle tour. Netherlands and Flanders – just because it’s flat doesn’t make it easy!

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A few weeks ago I found myself in the Netherlands for the opening of the new Gazelle factory in Dieren.. As this event went into the evening it required an overnight in nearby Arnhem which in turn left me wondering … Continue reading

British cycle tourist in the Netherlands – what I’m really thinking

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“Nice cyclepath”           “Oh look, lots of Dutch cyclists behaving normally”         “Bikes”           “Wow, driver stopped for cyclists”             “Windmill!” “Nice cyclepath”   … Continue reading

Celebrating cycling in Bruges

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This post is a photo gallery of cyclists and cycling taken while I was wandering the streets on our recent visit to the lovely city of Bruges. My wife calls this sort of behaviour “stalking” and seems permanently worried that … Continue reading

Abbaye de Villers – peace and tranquility in another hidden treasure of Wallonia

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Just 40km south of central Brussels are the atmospheric ruins of the Abbaye de Villers, the largest set of church ruins in Belgium. It is the remnant of the great Cistercian Abbey whose lands once stretched right across Belgium, today … Continue reading

Tour de France in Belgium 2015 – unforgettable moments

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It is now four days since I cycled to Huy to watch the Tour de France stage finish at the summit of the legendary Muy de Huy. In the way of these things the excitement of the Tour has rolled … Continue reading

Potential book chapter? “Cycling across Belgium with Andrew Sykes and a bike called Reggie.”

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Regular readers will recall my book review for “Along the Med on a bike called Reggie” by cycling traveller and write Andrew Sykes. I am delighted to say that we have had a chance to meet up because Andrew is passing through Belgium on his latest ride as he heads from the south of Spain to the very North Cape of Norway. That’s about 7,000 km by the way, one hell of a trip.

Planning the meet up has been interesting because it has made me watch Andrew’s Twitter feed and daily postings on www.cyclingeurope.org quite closely and by doing so I feel I am watching his next book write itself in front of my eyes, whether it be the never-ending saga of the lost sunglasses or a detailed commentary on French Atlantic Coast cycle routes.

I feel a bit of responsibility here. I have somehow become “Belgian expert” for this part of the route, a big ask for someone with just three years in the country. And I am guilty of encouraging Andrew to divert off his planned EuroVelo routes through the south of the country and further in to the centre nearer to Brussels and Flanders to be our guest in Lasne. If it doesn’t turn out well my EuroVelo colleagues in the ECF office will kill me for spoiling part of their publicity.

Last but not least he is a “proper” author, print and pages and Amazon listings and all that stuff. On the internet we may be a bit ephemeral and a rude remark on Twitter can be laughed off. However I am a bit old school and I like my books to last. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I am worried I might feature forever in print as “the man whose instructions sent me cycling into a canal” instead of some nice words about the Belgian countryside.

Anyway, so far so good. A few hours ago I left Andrew in Leuven plotting a route east towards the Netherlands and Germany following roughly the route I did with my Dad last summer. Prior to that we have had three good days cycling and sightseeing together with the Belgian countryside and indeed the weather doing us proud.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

On Friday Andrew’s arrival over the border from France was a good excuse to take an afternoon off work so I could meet him part way guide him though some of the interesting routes through Wallonia using mostly the Ravel cycle network of canal towpaths and converted railway lines.

I took the train to the old Roman city of Nivelles where I took a ceremonial photo of my bike being dwarfed by the imposing west face of the church of Saint Gertrude.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I then had a lovely ride down the route I planned for Andrew enjoying the wild flowers, birdsong and warm sunshine on the traffic free routes that took me swiftly south, firstly on the old rail line of Ravel 141 and then the old Brussels Charleroi canal, Ravel 3.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Our meeting point was La Louviere, crossing point of a number of routes due to its extensive canal network. Not a town I knew at all because it doesn’t feature in any guide books, When I approached the town past the steel works I realised why, because these canals were first and foremost industrial corridors and La Louviere was clearly a solid working town, struggling like much of Wallonia with the decline of historic industries.

The town is trying very hard to spark itself up and I thought I could not have picked a better meeting point in the town square which was full of “animations”. Landmark? There can only be one purple and yellow tree in La Louviere surely.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

That didn’t quite work out because La Louviere has a few satellite suburbs that have their own squares and for a while we were missing each other completely. Eventually a rendezvous was made so we could have a very enjoyable summer afternoon ride back to Lasne. Last time I was here was the 5th of January when it was gloomy and so cold the canal surfaces were partly frozen, today was like another world.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Yesterday is going to lead another blog post or two because we took a sightseeing diversion up to Waterloo, the most famous tourist attraction of the area.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I am going to write about it separately because the 200th Anniversary is just a few weeks away and work is flat out in preparation for the events to mark the occasion. The existing Waterloo tourist area was frankly a bit of an international disgrace, run down and unappealing so I haven’t written about it much. However the new visitor centre was opened just a few days ago and it is a transformation, worth a write up in its own right.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

It was also an excuse for an hour or so gentle cycling to and from the battlefield through some of my local favourite routes. I am often very, very scathing about Walloon customer service so a special shout out to the landlady of “Le Gros Velo” the wonderfully named bar-restaurant in Plancenoit who knocked us up a couple of bowls of spaghetti bolognese hours after the lunch service was officially over, supped in the tranquil square with a glass of Leffe.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

And today we sent him on his way with the ride up to Leuven, countryside full of sporty Flemish cyclists out on a Sunday spin on a public holiday weekend. None of them knew they were passing a man on a trip with 3,000 km done and still 4,000 to go, perhaps we should have demanded some respectful salutes.

What else can I say? Well for those potential hosts further up Europe in the Warm Showers network I can tell you the Andrew you get in the books is very much the Andrew of real life. He is a very warm and engaging guest, full of chatty anecdotes and commentaries from his travels and teaching career. In particular I can see how the life of the traveling author suits him because he has an open mind and is curious about the countryside and cultures he is traveling though, much like a journalist as well as a writer. I admire that quality, it must sustain him.  While I have secret hankering to set off on ride across a continent one day I find it almost impossible to imagine months on the road, I am very happy to be a reader of these travellers’ books and I am looking forward to Andrew and his bike Reggie reporting back after they get to the North Cape.

Andrew posts his reports daily on cyclingeurope.org so you can see his perspective on the visit as it unfurled too, with much more clever stuff like videos and commentary.

I will be slightly nervous until they do arrive. Andrew told me he blames broken spokes on his very first trip on the cobbles he hit in Lille early on that journey. I must be getting a bit too accustomed to them because I just forget that many of my favourite routes have several sections of the horrible rattly stuff and my British guests are often distinctly discombobulated by bouncing around on the stones. I may just have passed over a few sections in my three days with Andrew and Reggie.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

They didn’t seem impressed. Having the bike laden with camping gear and everything you need for three months on the road just make it worse, so even if I didn’t end up as the man who sent the author into a canal I will be mightily relieved if I am not blamed for a wheel collapse, somewhere in northern Norway, three day’s ride from a bike shop.

Bon voyage!

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Day out in blossom country – Belgium’s beautiful Haspengouw

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I fulfilled a small Belgian ambition yesterday. Ever since I went cycling in Limburg last summer and discovered the beautiful region of the Haspengouw I have been looking forward to going back in spring to see the blossom season. We … Continue reading

Taiwan – Taipei and Taichung rides with the Formosa Lohas Cycling Association

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I promised I would flesh out my two earlier posts about riding in Taiwan with a bit more of the story of the rides. This was a special opportunity for me because despite this being my fourth trip to Taiwan … Continue reading

Eating and cycling combined in Taiwan – put it on your culinary bucket list

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It is going to be very hard in the next few blog posts to not just turn this into”101 reasons why you should visit Taiwan in 2016.” We have our major international cycling conference there in March 2016 so there … Continue reading

Taiwan touring day 2 – Taichung mountain circuit

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I am assured that the three peaks of the mountain circuit from Taichung are the measure by which all local riders are judged, with the local clubs and pro-groups regularly thrashing round in a form of survival of the fittest. … Continue reading

Brilliant day’s cycling in Taiwan – brief report

Taiwan Bike tour

There will be time for better edited, clearer photos.

There will be more time for ride and route information.

And there will be special thanks to my friends at the Formosa Lohas Cycling Association who delivered me a great day cycling today. Over 140 km south from Taipei to the smallish town of Dongshi near the bigger city of Taichung.

But as I sit in my hotel room tonight I can reflect on great company:

FLCA ride taiwan

Super riding and some great views;

reservoir view Taiwan cycle tour

Use of a very tasty titanium road bike that I really would like to own;

Phil's bike

Riding through the strawberry harvest (in March);

Strawberry harvest taiwan

But above all else…….. the food.

I must have sampled thirty dishes today, most of which I have never tried before. At some point I will try an inventory but I will just capture a touch of the variety with the Hakka style hot pot, the excellent steamed meatball in a dumpling and the incredibly weird drinkable jelly tea.

Traditional Hakka style hot pot Taiwan

Steamed dumpling meatball Taiwan

 

Wierd jelly drink Taiwan

No danger of losing any weight on this tour.

And tomorrow I am told we hit the mountains for real. As if my legs don’t ache enough.

 

I just want to keep riding

Solvay park morning March 2015

Today I leave for what is now the fourth of my annual trips to Taiwan for the Taipei Cycle Show. Added attractions this year are the Asian Cycling Forum, a big step on the road to our Velo-city 2016 Conference in Taipei and a very special weekend cycling with the wonderful Formosa Lohas Cycling Association team who are going to take me out for a couple of long days in the centre of the island.

It may be the rainy (drizzly?) season but it will be warm and muggy compared to Belgium.

However before I leave I had some personal errands to do so I decided to do them by bike early this morning and then cycle hard for an hour so my body is nicely jaded and I might just sleep on the plane tonight, a process that never comes easily to me.

This was a sharp but wonderful contrast to what I am expecting in Taipei. As I left the house there was a very sharp frost and the first 70 metre drop to the valley below left me gasping in shock. But the place was bathed in sharp morning light which began to warm everything with a golden glow. An hour later as I rode through the woods I felt this was going to be the perfect day to spend the whole day riding,

Belgian woods March 2015

I just wanted to set off on a huge adventure on my two wheeled companion and “not come back till tea-time” as we might have said in a children’s book. What a waste to be stuck in a metal tube for hours.

Taipei will be wonderful again, stand by for lots of blogging. But I have unfinished business with these spring mornings in Belgium.

The chilly cycle tourist – a short winter cycle tour of Munich

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This was the cycling excursion that was never going to happen. It was the result of a three day process that went from “no way”, through “maybe” and “what the heck” and ended up as “that was good”. A chilly … Continue reading