Monday, May 3, 2010

A Tiny Tour: From Crewe to France and Belgium, Day Three

Into the Headwind
Mrs. Monkey succumbs to Hills and Headwinds

Day three was planned to be our longest day on the road, travelling from Brugge to Ieper.

After a very pleasant breakfast with our hosts and the other couples staying at the B&B (including a couple from Florida, who were charming) we headed out of Brugge. This was one of the few times the LF system let us down, as one of the points seemed to be missing. We were able to ask for directions, and a combination of that, and picking up another knoppunkt signpost (not for our route, but did tell us which (wrong) way we were heading) which allowed us to find our way back.

This was quite a challenging day of riding - as we were travelling south and west at this point, we began to have the prevailing wind against us. This part of the LF route had large sections of off road trail, so I was able to ride two abreast with Mrs. Monkey & push her where she was flagging, although occasionally the only answer was to dismount and push.

Cobbles, Baby
Mrs. Monkey and the Pavé

We also got our first real taste of Belgian cobbles on this day.

Pavé
Cobbles, Baby

This is another reason for examining the "Recommended Alternative Route" carefully on the fietskart, I think, a lesson we'd sadly not learned after our experience of Cabourweg on day one. This stretch was by far the longest bit of pavé we encountered on the trip, on a road appropriately called "Steenstraat" (Stone Street) - I think this is around Diskmuide. It's hard to describe adequately just how jarring these are - even on 32c tyres, it feels as though your fillings are about to part company with you. This was also the point that I began to hope in earnest that I'd done a good enough job on my homebuilt wheels...

Windmolen

The scenery was beautiful though. The fietsroute, once you're properly out of Brugge, winds through a series of wooded areas and parks.

Kastell Aertrycke
The Entrance to Aertrycke Castle

I think the most spectacular of these was the one around Aertrycke Castle.

Kastell Aertrycke
Aertrycke Castle Grounds

This route is also part of a signed "Kastell Route" (there seemed to be lots of these themed tours, in addition to the LF route signs).

Me
Me, in the grounds of Aertrycke Castle, the weather is nice enough for me to need my cycling cap

If all the castles are as nice as Aertrycke, the Kastell route is definitely one to note for future tours. We also had a picture taken of both of us, for a change, by some nice Flemish ladies who were kind enough to offer on seeing me trying to set up the camera on a stone plinth.

Ahhh!
Wijnendale Café Stop

Of course, all that riding into the wind, and negotiation of cobbles is drying work, so you can imagine how glad we were to see this sign in Wijnendale. I also recommend the café by the canal at Knoppunkt 8, although I can't for the life of me remember its name.

Our destination was the Hotel Sultan at Ieper.

Ieper Grote Markt
View from the Hotel Window

Recently refurbished, the hotel is basic, but has a fantastic position right on Ieper's Grote Markt, as you can see from the picture above. Bike storage is adequate (bikes go in a corridor at the back of the hotel, with a railing they can be locked to), and the proprietors were helpful and friendly when we arrived, opening a large side door to allow us in more easily.

Menenpoort
The Menin Gate

Despite having been to Belgium before, we'd never visited Ieper, and Mrs Monkey wanted to see the last post ceremony at the Menin Gate. Having showered and changed, we ate another hearty meal to replace (more) cycling energy, and headed for the gate.

Last Post
At the Menin Gate, before the ceremony

The scale of the gate is astonishing, and begins to illustrates the scale of loss suffered during the first world war.

Menenpoort
This model outside the memorial shows the original concept for the gate

Despite the crowds at the last post ceremony, it seemed to me to be an appopriately sombre affair, although there is more opportunity for reflection afterwards, I think.

Contemplation

By the time we left the gate, night had all but fallen, and we decided to grab a coffee before returning to the hotel.

Koffie
Coffee

We headed into the "Regina Republica" bar by the fountains on the Grote Markt, and were very pleased to see coffee served with cake, and even a miniature Twix.

Miles Covered: 42, at an average speed of 9.21mph

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