If the truth was told I’d had enough of riding my bike. Two weeks without a day off was sufficient. I was going well: no complaints with the butt, back or legs but I was tired. My fitness was impressive and I must say that eating more and more regularly was a big contributor as obvious as it sounds. My Australian warm up in March had provided a base of fitness. I checked out of the Ibis into a deserted Antwerp. I started to think that it must be another day off for the natives in Belgium. This is the second largest city in the country with half a million residents. At around 8am they must have been in bed. The streets and buses were empty. Maybe the Belgians have a leisurely start to the day?
I took a few snaps of the city. Note the crowds.
I was heading north east again to Europoort. This is a conurbation with a number of large chemical plants and warehouse facilities. Hidden somewhere in there are some jetties for ferries; one of them was for Hull. The literature says it’s Rotterdam but that’s like calling Stansted and Gatwick London airports. The route necessitated crossing a number of ‘fingers’ of land by bridges.
The first chore of the day was finding some breakfast. The Ibis hotel was unable to serve anything due to the resurgence of Covid-19 meaning they had to desist. As I trundled through the side streets I eventually spied a bakery and bought some pastries. Much to my surprise about Belgium again, was that they did a passable sausage roll.
Soon I was out of Belgium into Holland. The usual clue in continental Europe that you’ve crossed a border is the change in the preponderance of number plates of a certain nationality into another. This is how I worked out I was in The Netherlands. The other signal is that you often get a sign advising drivers that the speed limits are different.
(I hope they are employing a couple of hundred people in Brussels and Strasbourg, as I write, on an initiative to harmonise car registration plates and speed limits).
The terrain didn’t change between the two countries and the road layouts and cycle paths didn’t change. However I was now moving into the coastal countryside and it became increasingly windy as the sea breezes picked up. The infrastructure still remained immaculate for cyclists who like dedicated facilities. There really wasn’t a lot to see and whilst I was well ahead of any embarkation time I wanted to be there in good time.
Here’s a tell tale signal that it was getting windy: wind turbine farms.
Holland is a busy country and there is never an escape for too long from the traffic and housing but I did pass many fields full of cereals, probably in fields below sea level. For all the bustling settlements I ended up failing to find some lunch. As a consequence I ate all my remaining biscuits (Hobnobs), energy bars, crisps and sweets that I had lurking in my panniers.
Another sign that it was coastal were the working boats.
No I didn’t stop for the fish and chips! I seldom think they’re edible outside of Yorkshire and by this stage I was closing in on Europoort.
The Dutch and Belgians do like a brick. Are they really cost effective solutions for a road?
The final few miles were slightly worrying because the route to Europoort meant crossing stretches of water from peninsula to peninsula. I found the following sign and started to be encouraged that I was going in the right direction.
This may seem that I had the direction sorted, I didn’t. The signs at the bottom of the hill pointed in the wrong direction for the port! I stopped to ask a cycling couple and he was not only uninformed but made me anxious by suggesting I’d need to get a boat to cross banks. He was wrong; such stupid talk can be quite perplexing.
Eventually I found the relevant bridge and closed in on the giant chemistry set of Europoort.
The total mileage from Carcassonne was now just over 1,000 miles. I could see the P&O ferry and even found a sign. However it took a long time with the road system to pull up to the desk at the embarkation point.
With Anna’s forwarded email I was quickly ushered through. The sailing was still about four hours away but I could board immediately. I was so pleased as I was ready for a shower and a sit down with a pint of Guinness.
The ferry was not remotely half full. A chat with a P&O employee suggested that the Zeebrugge ferry won’t run again this year. I’d be surprised if it ran again ever as it was never busy during pre-Coronavirus times. With the ferry so empty you notice the staff more. The Filipinos were like little birds – happy and chatting in Tagalog to each other. However, they weren’t all very attentive and some management or demanding workload might have helped them concentrate on the passengers. There is nothing sadder than an empty ship and staff with little to do standing around.
I did my usual unplanned trick of dining and then going back to the cabin to find it impossible to keep my eyes open past 9pm. I slept 10 hours.
Entry in the UK requires completion of a Declaration about your health and where you’d been. I was queuing at Reception to use their iPad to complete the form. (I’d run out of data on my own mobile). This task made me late to to disembark but eventually I rolled off and made it to Passport Control.
The ride back home was starting with Hull rush hour traffic at 7.30 in the morning; none of this Belgium hanging about. In fact the traffic stayed with me all the way until I got past Market Weighton. One of my usual observations on returning to the UK is that I live on a very busy and populated island.
Before Escrick I met up with Anna who’d cycled out to meet me and we cycled home together. That was the end of the latest adventure and I knew I wouldn’t be sat on a bike for a week at least.
Lastly, thank you for your comments and for simply reading my blog. It is a joy to write this stuff up and think that someone somewhere is checking out my journey.