Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bruges, Ghent, Belgian Wilderness

Our morning in Bruges was dedicated to finding maps for the rest of the country. They have a comprehensive map system for the northern part of the country, but each map only covers a small area. We learned that there was an easy way to get to Ghent, about 40kms on a canal. So we decided to try our luck without a map for that, and it was a breezy ride and a simple-to-follow route along the LF5.

We figured in Ghent we would find more maps.

At a little bakery we stopped for refreshments and saw our first vending machine that sells Jupiler beer. Soda, water, beer. We had to try it to believe it.

Ghent was also a nice city, but again crowded with tourists, trams (watch the rails), cars, and a few bikes. The LF5 brought us right through the center, where we stopped at a cafe for a bite and a coffee. Then we did a grocery shop, and found a bookstore that had a supply of Border Crossing Maps. We haven't seen the website yet, but it's These maps are 1:50,000, much more manageable. They also showed good north-south routes, and a couple of east-west routes. These routes are unmarked. They are really just a recommendation from the map makers, and they haven't lead us astray too often. The bookstore didn't have the whole set, especially not the one for the region around Ghent.

We navigated south to a campsite we saw on the Michelin map. That turned out to be much more difficult to find than we had hoped. The first few kilometers were on very rough roads; the kind that had once been paved but have degraded to mostly gravel. Very very bumpy. We also had our first cobblestone climb of the summer. We were always relieved when the route headed into towns.

As it got later, we again thought to find a bed and breakfast, and even asked at one place, which was full. Finally, getting on 8pm, we decided to camp in the trees next to the huge canal we had followed for quite a bit of the day. Wild camping Belgium, side of a horse riding track through the woods, horses clopped by in the morning, but nobody kicked us out.

We hoped to catch up with the map we had bought, south and east of Ghent a ways, navigating with our Michelin map using towns as if they were knoppunts. We ended up making it about halfway that first day, then the second day we found ourselves with a detailed map again.

Sometimes we had to make decisions like: should we go up this cobblestone hill or the hill that's paved? Or (below), should we take the route that meanders on a small roads or just roll down this big straight hill alongside the busy, noisy street?

Belgians like this form of boat bridge:

We rode into a small town, near another (supposed) campsite, and stopped to get some water and a beer at a friendly looking bar. The four or five people inside all gave us perfect directions: a le feu, tournez a droit. Tournez a gauche a la "Champion" (supermarché), et continuez sous le pont. À la deuxième gauche, tournez a gauche et c'est a droit là. This is the french speaking part of Belgium.

Sadly, our hopes were dashed. Big green field, nobody tent camping. We were unapologetically rejected by a busy-body youth with a cell phone who made a call to the manager. The "campsite" was more like a residents only, permanent-RV park. We filled our water and used their bathrooms on the way out and headed for a nearby wood. We were more exposed than the night before, but only to a path that was used by mountain bikers, joggers, dog-walkers. No one seemed to notice us nestled in the trees and ferns. Ticks everywhere - the little tiny ones. We had a nice dinner of tortellini and white pesto. For desert, some appelbak pastries. Then early to bed after a comprehensive tick check.

Turns out that we are good wild campers.

-- rolling post

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