Sun 15th Sept.
The end is night.
Despite the perfection of the spot for my purposes I didn’t sleep well getting up in the night to go to the loo. Although it was a beautiful little nook, carved out of nature very conveniently with a tall field at the back and a lake nearby.
The morning sunlight was incredibly bright and strong. Before I’d packed I walked out onto the road to gaze in wonder at is, as it peaked through the trees. Hopefully the weather would stay like this today.
I saw a large group of about twenty cyclists speed past the snippet of view I had of the road. Obviously out early enjoying a Sunday morning cycle. I got out and followed the roads around through the residential areas. It was very green, an idyllic place to live, lots of cycle paths and rivers.
There were cycle lanes that cut through long uninterrupted fields here too. The Dutch being famous for cycling you could begin to see why. I took a bridge across a still beautiful river and into a quite neighbourhood with a beautiful modernist house.
I got to the nearest town and ordered a cappuccino from an ice cream shop. It came with a mini ice cream on the side that cheered me up. I did some research and planned a route into Belgium. Another highlight of this ice cream shop was that I discovered that squirty-cream in Dutch is ‘Slagroom’. I saw it on a board that said ‘Slagroom €0.95’, “That’s cheap for a go in the slagroom” I thought. There was also a shop opposite called ‘Hobo’. Hobos and slagrooms.
I crossed a few more rivers and passed a few more crazy Dutch feats of architecture before I got to Eindhoven. It was quiet, but I’d come to expect that for a Sunday. I looked around and saw very little worth stopping for, but I had to eat. I hoped the kebabs were half as good as the ones in Germany and ordered one from a guy in one of the few shops that was open.
A few miles south and I was in Belgium. Originally I planned to cruise through Belgium, seeing Brussels, Antwerp and Bruges, spending a day or two in each and sampling as much beer as I could manage. But due to leaving Berlin late, I had to blitz through the country with Godspeed.
It was around four o’clock and I saw a little cafe, so I thought I’d stop off for a little pick me up to get me through the next few hours. I also had a host for the night near Antwerp, so that was something to look forward too.
Everyone in the cafe was pretty hostile. I tried order a coffee in french and the man there didn’t want to know, so asked in english and he complied unwillingly. Everyone else in there looked like a zombie. I went to the loo, stole the toilet paper and finished my coffee. I tried paying but the (now) lady on the bar completely ignored me and went about washing glasses and getting men in there more beers. A left a euro on the bar and walked out. I soon discovered that Flemish is not only still used, half the country abides by it, where the other half is French. Every Belgian I met was French and as I understood in Flemish was something of a myth. For the curious minded it’s very similar to Dutch. Maybe the French people are the exciting ones that get out a bit.
I had a few hours left in the day and was confident I would make it to the house of the host in good time. The bike was still running smooth and I had no problems, other than it was starting to get late. I could hold out, as I was near so I kept going. It became dark and now I was sure I was close, still I had no maps and wouldn’t until France.
I got to where I the town where I thought the house was and relaxed. I looked around for some clues on where the street was and compared the plot on the map I had with the bus stop maps, bearing in mind it was dark. I now had a problem. I realised that where they were was about another 18km to the east. It was dark already so camping wasn’t an ideal option and to top it off, it started raining. I got through a town called Geel hoping for some motive or inspiration to spur me through this dark patch towards the end of the trip. The town centre was alive with people out and drinking which was nice, but I still had lots more cycling and navigating to do before I was through.
I attached my lights and crossed a river. It began to sink in that this was one of those rare nightmare moments of the trip. Things were bad, but they couldn’t have been much worse. I took some comfort in that and kept moving. I hated being on the road at night, but I had my lights and had an objective. I pushed on up the river, crossing it again getting into a town called Herentals, where my hosts were.
I was getting cold and the wet was beginning to soak through. Still using a vague plot on Google maps I managed to find their road and their house number.
I knocked on the door. No one responded. I knocked and knocked again, starting to think about knocking on every door asking if they knew the people by the names I had and where they lived. If that didn’t work, I hoped they might see my dilemma and take me in. People would do things like that in Europe, they were nice and laid back.
Finally they answered and apologised for being in another room and not hearing me. They said they thought I wasn’t coming after all, I replied I didn’t either. This was by far the biggest bail-out I’d received so far. They had some vegetable and noodles left over for me, then I had a shower and put all my clothes on radiators to dry.
Once again, I was saved by the skin of my teeth and I was one day closer to being home.