Thursday, 15 September 2011

What's a Prince Albert in Dutch? Antwerp to Maastricht along the Albertkanaal, 15/09/2011


The day I eventually left Antwerp, Sven skived off his college course and rode with me along the Albertkanaal. This was the flattest 90 miles I have ever ridden.

Not to say it was dull; in Antwerp, Sven had insisted that I buy a Union Flag to put on my bike, which drew more than its fair share of attention. As we were brewing up by the canal a load of factory workers on their fag break came over to chat, and a lady out to get her shopping said "I'm very proud of you" when Sven explained (in Dutch) that I'd ridden from the UK.

Sven had ridden this route loads of times, but that didn't stop us getting lost. We were high above a lake and riding through a pine forest when Sven commented "This is really pretty - I haven't seen this before."

Actually, Sven was a very good guide, and pointed out things I would have missed on my own, such as the work of a Belgian artist/lunatic who wanders the country picking up discarded plastic and nailing it to the closest bit of wood, or the crossover from urban Antwerp, where the local posers ignored us, to friendly Limburg, where everyone wore a smile and every cyclist waved at us. A few of them commented on the discrepancy in weight distribution between our bikes, as I was lugging four panniers plus drybags, and Sven had a spare tube and a pump. "We play Paper-Scissors-Stone", Sven told them.


After the detour through the pines where we realised we'd been going north instead of south, I started to look for somewhere to camp, and though there was a campsite marked both on my map and on the one belonging to a Belgian couple who were cycling to Germany, we couldn't find it. I'd had enough after 90 miles and the ground next to the path was flat. That did for me. There were a few odd looks from passers-by and the Belgian couple laughed, saying we'd given up too soon.

A few beers and a bit of tea, then Sven went to ride back to Antwerp, and I felt weird, as it was the first time I'd be on my own and with no familiar people on the horizon. It felt as though, after an extended and boozy few days with friends through Yorkshire and Belgium, the trip was really starting here.

Sven: "I think it's this way"

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