Thursday, May 18, 2017

London to Brussels - Day 6 (Euroexit & Conclusions)

Day 6: Brussels to London (May 11th, 2017)
3.21 miles, 89' Elev Gain, 6.9% max grade, 11.2 mph Avg (click for route map)

Technically the bike tour was not 100% over, we still had 3.2 miles left to cycle to drop the bikes off in London. Our Eurostar train back to London did not depart Brussels until 12:52, so we had the morning to wander and explore. Brussels is a bit of an odd city, to me it felt like it lacked an identity, the Grand Place and museums are about the only "attractions". It was still pleasant enough to wander around though, and check off the list.

Grand Place

London to Brussels - Day 5 (Flemish to Francais)

Day 5: Ghent to Brussels (May 10th, 2017)
45.9 miles, 646' Elev Gain, 6.7% max grade, 12.4 mph Avg (click for route map)

Ghent was probably the most surprising city we visited on this trip, may be because I had never visited it in the past, and was very pleasantly surprised. Onward to Brussels though, our final day of cycling was upon us. It was another 8am start, mainly just to leave us some leeway for stops, and to be sure we arrived at Eurostar baggage drop off with plenty of time spare to transport all 11 bikes back to London (2 riders were continuing onto Amsterdam).

It was another nice sunny morning, but a chilly 48f (9c). We were all dreading the possibility of having to tackle Tram tracks again, but the worst obstacles we came across getting out of town were cobblestones and a construction site (no health and safety here, we walked the bikes right next to rotating cranes and construction vehicles).

For the first 20 miles we followed the canal and route LF5 again, as we had on Day 4, this was flat and easy going, a good way to get some miles under our belts.

Very peculiar sight along route LF5

London to Brussels - Day 4 (Short and Sweet)

Day 4: Bruges to Ghent (May 9th, 2017)
28.9 miles, 165' Elev Gain, 6% max grade, 14 mph Avg (click for route map)

Day 4 I had originally planned as a full day off in Bruges, with perhaps a short jaunt out to the Dutch border; but after going over routes, distances and timing, I instead opted for a half day off, and a short ride to Gent for an overnight stop.

That extra bit of sleep was definitely welcoming, as was the clear blue skies. First stop was the breakfast bar at Martin's Bruges hotel (included in our room price), this is probably the most lavish breakfast spread I have ever seen at any hotel (full cooked breakfast, fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, freshly squeezed orange juice, cereals, chocolate sprinkles....). Fully loaded with food, it was time to wander for an hour or so, then back by 11am to check out. Most people wandered on their own, or split into small groups, which was not a bad thing.

Beautiful morning

London to Brussels - Day 3 (il Fait Pleut)

Day 3: Dunkirk to Bruges (May 8th, 2017)
59.7 miles, 187' Elev Gain, 4% max grade, 13.4 mph Avg (click for route map)

Another early start, since our longest ride day lay ahead. The hotel breakfast was lacking the heartiness of a good old English fry up, and it appeared some other hungry guests had wiped out most of the cheeses and meats on offer, c'est la vie!. Unlike Day 2 through Kent, the landscape was going to be as flat as a pancake (note only 187' of elevation gain!), but the weather outside looked to be a little damper and heavily overcast.

We were all ready to roll close to 8am, we were starting to get more efficient at packing the Apidura bags, and attaching them to the bikes!. A light mist was in the air, and a breeze began to kick up, it was looking like a rain jacket and helmet cover type of day.

Immediately after setting off, a light drizzle set in, this would be with us all day, off and on, with about a 50f (10c) temperature. The going was easy though, it almost felt like sitting and spinning in your lowest gear, quite the contrast from the Kent hills. We reached the first French town at mile marker 13 in under an hour, this is the pretty walled town of Bergues and was worth a 10 minute stop to take some snaps.

Clo Posing for a pic

London to Brussels - Day 2 (Downs, more like Ups)

Day 2: Rochester to Dover to Dunkirk (May 7th, 2017)
49.7 miles, 3215' Elev Gain, 13%+ grades, 12.6 mph Avg (click for route map)

The morning of Day 2 arrived a little too soon for those who decided to camp out at the local pub the previous night (this would be a re-occurring theme for a few of us during the tour). We had planned to meet for breakfast at 7am, and get on the road by 8am, today we had a deadline to make Dover by 3 pm for our ferry connection to France. The Youth Hostel breakfast consisted of the usual suspects (cereal, yoghurts, fruits, and of course a hearty English cooked breakfast), hot breakfast was the only way to go when you have a calorie burning hilly ride day ahead.

YHA Medway - Image from YHA website

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

London to Brussels - Day 1 (The long lunch)

Day 1: London to Rochester (May 6th, 2017)
38.5 miles, 1792' Elev Gain, 10% max grades, 11.4 mph Avg (click for route map)

2 years almost to the day had passed since my first European cycling adventure when myself and 2 friends leisurely cycled from London to Paris, it was an adventure that had me yearning for more. After a year in the planning, cycling adventure numero deux had finally arrived, I was going to be guiding 12 other riders (9 Americans, 3 Brits, 1 Irish woman) from London to Brussels. Most of the non-European citizens had been to Europe before, if only once, but this journey would still be an experience of a lifetime for most.

Arriving into London on Friday, May 5th, I felt pretty excited to be guiding 12 other cyclists across 2 international borders (UK/France and France/Belgium) over the coming 5 days, the 2015 adventure had certainly given me some useful insights, confidence and UK/European route planning skills.

The iconic Shard building in Southwark