Saturday, May 16, 2009

Assault on Western Europe: Part II - The Battle of Belgium


Wednesday, April 8th
The ferry ride back to France was a bust. For some reason, this one carried no scones or clotted cream. Rather unpatriotic, don’t you think?
Classic and Flemish

LAND-HO and it was off for a frustrating and confusing drive to Belgium. Fortunately, we found the town we were looking for; unfortunately it was ten minutes after the Gent-Wevelgem classic bike race ended. To add insult to injury, it started pouring down rain AND (as was to reoccur whenever we split up) we separated for two minutes and lost each other for thirty.
A picture Bruce took of the Gent-Wevelgem Classic we missed.

Reunited, we headed for our hotel in Gent. Bruce and Alisa found it, and though it sounds funny, “The Holiday Inn Express” it was quite nice and very European. When we arrived they were shooting some TV show, or something, and had to ask us to move our car. This woman ran up looking really annoyed and speaking ticked-off French to us. Our blank stares gave away the fact that we had no idea what she was talking about and her demeanor changed when she switched to English and politely asked us to move our car. They speak Flemish in Flanders and we later found out that the offenses of the French against the Flemish have not been forgotten. You do better to speak English in the area than to address them in French.
Our Holiday Inn Express Room. I wish our house was this... Zen.

The bicycle culture in Belgium is a beautiful thing. Half the population gets around on commuters, even in the rain, and they all look quite stylish while they are pedaling. I love it.

The restaurant recommendations from our hotel hosts were ridiculously nice, so we found our own way to the Café du Arts and continued the trend of fantastic food in Europe. Belgium has become know for amazing eats, a village outside of Bruges seems to be all the rage for restaurants. Gent was plenty delicious for us, and when we finally caught up with Bruce and Alisa, they met us at the Café for round two of our dinner. Fantastic.

Thursday, April 9th, 2009
Bruce and Alisa are very relaxed travel companions and kindly let us sleep in as late as we liked. Edwards got up before me and headed downstairs for breakfast and café. The three of them met this awesome couple - husband works for Sram bike components and wife just loves to ride her bike - who taught them all about Belgium (because they’ve been coming to the Spring Classics for 8 years) and gave them some tips on watching Paris-Roubaix.

After I finally emerged we headed out to pick up a rented bike for me and then to tour the classic climbs on the cobbles. Once we found Jowan’s Bike Shop, the boys and girl were in heaven. I might have been, had my bike not been a ridiculous 1970’s color orange, but I was alone in this opinion. Everyone else loved it.
Jowans Bike Shop.

We all took off on our bikes only to face around the first corner one of the steepest climbs of our ride. At least it wasn’t on cobbles, but… ARG! I’ve been sitting on the back of the tandem so long I’ve lost my technical riding ability. Trying to balance my bike up that hill was a mentally crippling challenge. What was I going to do on the cobbles???

Bruce, Alisa, and Edwards are all much faster riders than I am, and I’m stubborn and had no intention of keeping up. More than ride my bike… I wanted to see the country. Edwards would just have to wait for me at important intersections. Phhhhttt!
Someone... on the cobbles.

For Edwards, finding the first cobbled climb in Belgium was like striking gold in Alaska. So cute my husband is! He rode them fast and got WORKED. I rode them slowly and bumped along. We toured around between proper pavement and cobbles until we reached what Edwards was really looking for… 20% incline cobbles… The Koppenberg. Alisa rocked it almost to the top and then took pictures. Bruce had his back tire slip and was toast, just below where Alisa was standing. I hopped off early and Edwards climbed the whole thing… with a huge smile on his face. Man on a mission, he loves the cobbles.
Alisa rockin' the cobbles

After the climb, it wasn’t far to Oodenarde for a snack, tea, and café.

The ride back to our vehicles was torture. Flat, but maybe windy and further than I expected for sure! Edwards came back to let me draft, but I couldn’t keep up. Finally we got back to the bike shop and the cars. Jowan himself came out to see how we did. It was super nice of him and Edwards was thrilled.

Showering back at the hotel was a miracle and at 10 p.m (soon after returning from our ride) we headed out for dinner at Amadeus. Amadeus is an All-You-Can-Eat Ribs restaurant that looked NOTHING like our rib joints in the U.S, but still looked ridiculous. We all enjoyed our meals, and left at midnight completely exhausted, but happy. It was a marvelous day.

Friday, April 10, 2009
Lazy morning, again, but poor Edwards woke up with a sore throat and a mounting cold. Terrible for him, but it means I got a rest day without having to ask! We poked around, even took a 20 minute nap, and finally decided to leave the bikes and go climbing.

We drove towards Luxembourg and I wished a whole lot that we could go there. There is a long standing joke between me, my little brothers, and MST3K about Luxembourg. Sadly, before arriving in Luxembourg we found our cliff… just to the side of an old castle, now army base, there was a very polished limestone cliff covered in routes.

The first couple of routes were quite nice and it felt excellent to be doing some easy movement after the bike ride the day before. We ran into some brits with a guide book that Edwards sprinted off with, while I chatted. Then, we headed off in the opposite direction of the routes he had looked at in search of a 3 star route he read about in the guide. Let me just say, we did not find it. Instead we found a beautiful cliff that looked great and fun from the ground but was an absolute NIGHTMARE once on it.

First off, there were so many routes and bolts that Edwards led the most divergent route in the history of rock climbing. Then he put me on it. I was total crap and by the third bolt and the struggle I had unclipping it, I was coming unhinged. I went to the fourth bolt under much duress, but colorfully convinced Edwards to let me bail before I made it to the fifth. On his trip back up to clean… he noted that it really was total crap and really hard. After that, we left.

I nearly died on this climbing trip, and it wouldn’t have been the worst way to go, but I’m not going to detail it out because it is too incriminating. I’ll just say that if they don’t want you taking the clear and defined trail then someone should put up a sign.

Dinner that night was rest stop food. Some of the rest stops in Europe are just awesome and the food plenty good enough to eat. We had a sandwich and frites and made our own fry sauce with purchased condiments. Of course I picked up some Haribo gummy candies as well. Unfortunately, easy climbing wasn’t easy enough and Edwards felt worse by bedtime.

Saturday, April 11, 2009
The eve of Paris-Roubaix and another bike ride for the four of use. Two more classic cobble climbs were slated for the day. I did one, but uninspired, bailed on doing the Muur. Edwards loved the Muur and kept doing it, finally in his big chain ring. He’s such a doll! The best part of the day was sitting outside at the café at the top of the Muur and watching all the amateur cyclists make the climb. The best was the old guy, on his old fat tire bike, smoking past the young hipsters. Awesome.
Yep, I rode cobbles too

After the ride, we finally journeyed to where we said we were going all along! France! We stayed in a bad looking French town called, Vaneciennes in order to be well staged for the race in the morning. There appears to be considerable World War relics in this area of France and Edwards pointed out how great it would have been to have my little brother Scott there because he could have told us the history of EVERYTHING. Scott says, “yeah, or I would have made up something that sounded awesome.”

It sorta feels like we just disappeared from Belgium, but that's okay as we moved cleanly into our adventure in France.
Happy, happy Edwards after riding the cobbles in Belgium.


Steve Edwards said...

No pics or mentions of the mid-ride 'snacks'! Eating in Belgium is so good I even miss the gas stations.

Reedster said...

Disappointed my an Orange bike. Travesty.

Always remember that Orange is the color of the Millenium. Learn to embrace it and your life will be better. Or at least more orange.

Steve Edwards said...

Color of the Millenium, indeed. We all tried telling her that, but it didn't take.

Lisa Romney said...

The bike was ugly. No amount of enlightenment could make it any different. Not in this Millenia, or the next.