Antwerp and onto the GR5

It’s amazing what a difference a reasonable night’s sleep and some brighter weather can make – also, the scenery and riding got more interesting, so that helps. Alas, I forgot that summertime-full campgrounds are not quiet places – so it was some time before I actually got some sleep. For my sanity, I decided that I’d have an easy morning – a lie in, a bit of internet time to keep this updated and then a leisurely look around the centre of Antwerp (there looked to be some impressive buildings across the water as I sat eating my dinner in a park the previous evening). In fact, as my riding goal for the day was only to bridge the twenty-odd kilometre gap between the end of the GR5A and the GR5 (this apparently is one of the premier long distance paths in the world – connecting Amsterdam and Nice,) I wasn’t really expecting too much.

The view across to Antwerp as the sun sets

My GPS was telling me that there was a bike path connecting the side of the harbour I was on with the city centre. But as it has been reliable so far, I was a bit confused as to why I couldn’t find it. Eventually, I clicked that the big brick box that seemed to serve no other purpose was in fact the top of an elevator shaft & the path must be a tunnel. A gargantuan elevator car in time laboured back to ground level and we descended under the harbour. It must be the longest foot/bike tunnel I’ve ever been in (and still clean somehow) – there since 1932, the original wooden elevators are still there.
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The Guild Hall and Town Hall seemed, logically, to be the centre of town – but it was still early enough that it wasn’t too busy. I pottered about a bit – easier than in Brugge as there was much more street space and few tourists. My poor planning didn’t really give me much breakfast early on so I sat on a square watching the world go by, over various baked goods. It only took me three days to work out a few things I could do without, so after tracking down a Post Office (third time lucky) my load was the best part of two pounds lighter.

The Guild Hall tower

Town Hall – NZ flag top left

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A better, sunnier, view of the Guild Hall tower

My route out of the city was just pieced together using whichever cycle trails helped to get me east. A lot of this a bit close to the noise of the motorway, so when I saw the red & white blazes painted I started following these. The same colour-coding that both the GR5 and GR5A use, I guessed this must be some sort of variant that would take me to the GR5 proper. Anyway, it took me away from busy roads and into plenty of woods – and past some palatial homes. A hidden stump jumped out and attacked my pedal viciously, sending me flying – after having sorted all that out (no damage to me or bike, so that’s good). Then it started to rain – for only twenty minutes and the only time I had to put my wet-weather gear on all day! Also the wind was much lighter today. Due to an oversight in my planning, until last night I didn’t have a GPS track for the GR5 (one of the main reasons for finding internet). But all I could find last night for the particular section I want to do is waypoints. With quite some distance between points – up to a mile, it means I’ve had to put into practice all I’ve picked up of the code of trail marking that is left by little red and white stripes on all manner of things. Generally, the stripes are painted (sometimes stickers) on posts (fence post, sign posts, lamp posts etc.) or just on trees. They’re at most intersections and then as often as who-know-who pleases in between – there doesn’t seem to be much consistency here, you can go for kilometres and not see one but at other times they’re on every second lamp post. Of course, things such as posts or trees aren’t particularly permanent, so one has to keep alert – I’m glad I’ve got the waypoints just to keep me going in the right general direction if I manage to lose the blazes.

I’m sure these blazes are much easier to spot at walking pace

All of a sudden – a very big building in the middle of nowhere. Or so it seemed when I’d been riding through the woods a lot. It wasn’t signed, so I didn’t work out what it was. My best guess is a monastery.

The riding today was much better – I even went up a hill! Of sorts – all manner of glee going down the singletrack on the other side, even if it wasn’t for long. Away from all the canals of the last few days, there’s much more of interest to look at – or so I think. And all the houses aren’t so annoyingly immaculate. I also managed to get out my cooking gear for the first time tonight – although it may have been a bit of false economy tonight, as cooking for one doesn’t save much money when all the packs come in sizes at least twice as big as you need. It’s four handfuls of pasta per person, isn’t it?

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