Friday, May 16, 2014

Day 7: to Maastricht via Belgium (~90k)

A perfect day!

Isn't Belgium a wonderful place? For starters the sun has been fully shining... Well actually it was shining in Holland when I woke up, for that matter. Despite the 'school party' (which turned out to be 30 or so youngsters doing sports at a vocational college), I slept wonderfully with two duvets to make up for the previous night. 

It's been a day of amazingly beautiful off-road cycle routes. I have finally got to grips with the Dutch/Belgian system of cycling by following signs from point to point. (And also worked out that google maps can work without internet at least some of the time). As such I spent most of the day following fantastic paths along canals. I saw very few cars, though a good few cyclists, average age 60 I should think.

I've never been to Belgium before but this bit seemed lovely, and quite different from the Netherlands (at least in architecture). 

With fewer map-reading stops I happily put in 50k before lunch where I finally made it to a 'fietscafe' (bike friendly cafe) on the outskirts of Neeroeteren. Not actually sure what qualifies it thus, but this seemed to be attached to a sports centre and I sat outside in the sunny, wind-sheltered terrace with full view of my bike and two old ladies eating the most enormous strawberry-covered cakes while their dogs woofed at all who passed. An odd spot but very pleasant!

Crossed back into the Netherlands shortly after, after a lovely stint along the Maas river. Needless to say border formalities (or indeed, border signposts) don't exist, the crossing back was a free two minutes on a roro ferry.

Back in the Netherlands I followed the magic numbers for a much lengthier than planned, but very picturesque, dawdle through small villages and over, along and around a confusing set of canals and rivers.

Finally made it into central Maastricht where I am staying in the Crowne Plaza. I know this seems a bit decadent but in my defence, it was the only option. Khanum is coming out for a much-needed weekend off from the kids, and as we only decided this a few days ago everything was already very booked up. So I decided to splurge some of my last remaining airmiles (thanks Camcog!) on a room for tonight. I have to say I was a bit apprehensive rocking up to a four star hotel with a cycle but of course, this being Holland, it was completely fine. In fact the concierge told me to take it right into the hotel and they had a meeting room to leave it in. Brilliant!

So now I am taking advantage of all possible hotel luxuries (A bath! Hurrah! And a bathrobe! And biscuits!) and awaiting the lovely Khanum and her bike, who are due in to the station at any moment.
Sunny canals and happy cows

A tough second international border crossing of the day...

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