Last vacation I took with Mrs. Pumpkin was 9 years ago on a cycling trip to Italy. Actually I got froze out of the planning, went at the last minute, cycled rural Italy solo while my wife and friends couldn't get their stuff together, and had the best time of anyone. We took a few long weekend vacations since--usually staying up to do the Death Ride. Last year on our 34th Mrs. Pumpkin said we best go on vacation together for our 35th and I could pick the place. What a deal. So I picked Belgium, specifically Flanders--the half of Belgium that is cycling crazy and dislikes the French. Unlike our trip to Italy, I was assigned to plan out the trip.
Why Flanders? My favorite (dry) bike race is the Tour of Flanders, and it was seeing the Lion of Flanders, Johan Museeuw, a decade ago that got me through my first Death Ride. I had been to England and Italy, and not many other foreign countries on my list. All I really knew about Flanders is that they are cycling crazy, its real cold in the winter, and they have lots of beer, chocolate and waffles, and their national icon is a young kid peeing.
|Some day I'm going to get this made into a cycling jersey|
I didn't do any of the trip prep in 2012--my last hurrah for long cycling epics. I started in 2013 and worked feverishly on planning for two weeks, stop for a few weeks when I got utterly confused, and then start back in. I think I got everything together, but could have used more time.
Mrs. Pumpkin hasn't been cycling so we decided to make this a walk around exploring trip with no cycling. This led to we don't really need to rent a car--we can take the train everywhere. This led to why should we take suitcases and have to wheel them over cobblestones--I always wanted to backpack Europe so why don't we get backpacks. Mrs Pumpkin looked at me like I was crazy but I soon enlisted my oldest daughter who had backpacked in Czechoslovakia (yeah, I know, the old names) and see came down on my side. If anything goes wrong with this backpack idea I'll fully blame oldest daughter.
Then was the train schedule nightmare. We just booked our hotel in Ghent. So went to Belgium train site, nice English option (in Flanders they say of you can't speak Dutch/ Flemish, then English is OK. Just don't speak French.) I looked for main train station in Ghent and possible connections--can't find it listed. AAAAAAh. Finally put in Gent, no h. Bingo. Seems like every town is spelled different ways.
|(1) Brussels -> (2) Ghent -> (3) Gerrardsbergen -> (4) Oudengarde -> (5)Brugge -> (6) Amsterdam|
Thought Brussels is in Flanders it is an international city where French is allowed. Actually French dominates. Street signs of streets that are all crooked and suddenly end, and rename themselves after every loop, are in French & Dutch. The KIEKEWMARKT become the GRASMARKT though the same street, which is also named the RUE du MARCHIE aux HERBES. Trying to plan out walking tours in Brussels is "not the best."
Ghent and Brugge are supposed to be two nice medieval cities with as many canals as Venice. Ghent is in the middle of Flanders so convenient for some train ride excursions. One planned to small town of Oudengarde, so we can see the Tour of Flanders Museum. Another to Gerrardsbergen, so we can walk up what used to be the seminal climb in the Tour of Flanders. watch lady who is ex-Olympian do it in street clothes on a cruiser bike here Unfortunately the Muur was taken out of the current Tour of Flanders to accommodate more spectators, which ruins the race a little. Then Mrs. Pumpkin said we'd be soooo close to Amsterdam we have to see that, so we added a few days at the end of the trip. Since that I overplanned but I have to keep reminding myself that in Italy I had no clue where we were going and everything worked out very very well.
I was trying to learn some Flemish which is a derivation of Dutch, until one guy I rode with from the Netherlands told me "I'm ashamed to say the Flemish beat the Dutch in every spelling bee. But they can't speak properly" Supposedly Flemish Dutch is akin to Deep South English.
|The thrill of backpacking thru Europe--18 + 10 lbs of minimal "stuff" Empty small dufel bag needed to carry back swag. Maybe should have taken rolling suitcase for bicycle.|
Real "thrill" of traveling is not as much seeing the sights as getting immersed in the local culture. Sure, in Italy seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa was nice, but was more memorable were the amount of laid back, overly friendly people living in towns that actually didn't meld into each other like interconnected surburbia here.
So this is written in June 28th with no expectations except to have a good time. Who the hell knows what I'll experience.