Bruxelles - Namur - The land of the Belgians and Luxembourgeois - CycleBlaze

March 13, 2011

Bruxelles - Namur

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After my heavy night I slept well, and actually woke up feeling reasonable. A quick breakfast in my hotel and then I headed out to recover the Hawk. The mighty Oxford-proof lock had protected it overnight on the streets of Brussels, so I packed it up and headed South out towards the district of Ixelles.

I'd drawn a line on my guide map, so managed to get out the city centre without too much hassle. The plan was to head for the huge park of Bois de la Cambre, which grades into woodland and seemed a pleasant way to exit the city. I would then have my work cut out, crossing small towns and countryside and climbing out of Flanders and into French-speaking Walloon.

The mighty Hawk next to a might monument
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The gardens of the Bois de la Cambre make a great way to cycle out of the city
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Bois de la Cambre
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I was starting to feel a few after-effects from the night before, so I grabbed an ice-cream in the gardens and then felt much better.

The gardens grade into proper woodland remarkably quickly. The Foret de Soignes.
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"Tree house"
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Cycle tracks continue through the woods towards Groenendaal. We've left Bruxelles far behind now.
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It wasn't long before I officially oassed into Wallonia. There is still an amazing amount of tension in Belgium between the Flemish and the Walloons - you can see the attempts to scrub "Walloon" off this sign...
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I popped out of the woods in the small town of La Hulpe,where there was a pretty lively flea market going on. I wheeled my bike through to a stall selling (naturally) Belgian beer, and had some hair-of-the-dog. I chatted to the family next to me, who suggested beer wasn't great for cycling. Au contraire!

Flea market in La Hulpe
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Lots of level crossings on this stretch. One train my hide another.
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Cobbles! There are a remarkable number of still-cobbled roads across Belgian. Bits fell off my bike as I attempted to ride on them.
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I worked my way across country and got somewhat lost trying to get around, and out of, one of the strangest bits of urban planning I ever come across. This turned out to be Louvain-la-Neuve, a planned city and a kind of Belgian Milton Keynes. It was deserted but seemed to be entirely built on large underpasses that I didn't really want to cycle down.

Louvain-la-Neuve, a strange Belgian new town. I spent some time avoiding those underpasses which seem to run under the whole town.
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Manor house - not sure where this is
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After my brush with Louvain-la-Neuve, I took to the main N4. These days I would probably avoid cycling on such an arterial route, but it was actually pretty civilized: it wasn't too busy, and the traffic was courteous. 

Actually my main problem was that it was turning into a very hot day, and I was out of water. I found myself thinking constantly of dripping taps and babbling brooks. At one point, catching sight of a tap by the side of a roadside house, I stopped the bike and peered towards it. The occupier appeared, and rather than do the sensible thing of asking for a drink, I looked embarrassed and continued. I have only dehydration to blame for that little attack of irrationality.

The reasonably civilized N4
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Pointy church
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At Gembloux I came off the road and found a nice cafe where I could get a drink of wheat beer. Thus fortified, I could face the 10 last miles into Namur.

Hallelujah, I could quench my thirst
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Not far to Namur
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I had a few miles of tearing descent down into Namur in the valley of the Meuse. I rode all the way down to the river, and then traced along until I found my hotel. 

Everything seemed very quiet compared to Brussels. I wondered around the attractive old town for a bit, and then struck up for the prominent fortress which towers over the town. It rather startled me that I had the energy to climb up there after the (for me, then) grueling day. At the top were great views over the town and down the river, and a rather curious modern amphitheatre memorial, the purpose of which I wasn't too clear on.

As the evening drew on I strolled back down into town, and had dinner at a pizza place I'd noticed on the way up. It was run by an emphatically friendly bunch of Turkish guys, who expressed some interest in my trip, and reacted to any mention of Flanders (where I'd come from, as opposed to Wallonia, where I was) with cries of contempt. It really is a country of two halves.

Centre of Namur
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Town hall in Namur
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Views from the fort over the town
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Views from the fort over the town
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Looking down the Meuse towards tomorrow's destination, Dinant
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Huge, strange amphitheatre/memorial up near the fort
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Today's ride: 64 km (40 miles)
Total: 262 km (163 miles)

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