Friday, July 26, 2013

Tour of Flanders (Part 4)

(Part 4)

Other "strange" things that just blended into daily life were street signs, auto traffic, and the sunset.

Even when street signs were in one language (in Brussels they were in both French and Dutch)   they were disconcertingly not conspicuous on the street corner or hovering over the street that could be viewed before the intersection.  Street signs were high on the building on the corner, sometimes.  Sometimes they weren't on the building and we had to walk up the block to make sure we were on the correct street (and said the mantra "lucky we aren't driving or we would have gotten lost.)

Auto traffic was most often relegated to one lane.   If traffic wasn't moving you were stuck--while the bicycles and trams zipped by.  Nine years ago in Italy we mostly saw cars that look like the Mini-Cooper and Smart Car and never thought we'd see these in America; this time we saw a few ONE seaters.  Will we see these here in a few years?

Belgium way behind California in smoking--almost guaranteed that when we ate outside half the people around us were lighting up.

I wanted to see Grand Place, the Gent and Brugge bell towers, and the Amsterdam Canals at dusk.  Good luck.   We'd walk around after a late dinner and it was 9:30 and sunset was still an hour away.   The mostly small stores closed hours ago, just as they are all almost all closed on Sunday.  Best bike shop we saw was in Oudenaarde--unfortunately it was a Sunday and we could only window shop.

Photos from Oudenaarde (Tour of Flanders/ Ronde van Vlaanderen) Museum

Bike club going past Markt Square in Oudenaarde.

Old Support car in front of Tour of Flanders Museum.

Lots of Old and New bikes--the Time bike was Museeuw's last ride.

The man, Johan Museeuw, who won the Ronde 3 times, and finish 2nd 3 times.

Johan's hairnet

Tafi 's jersey (Tafi  beat Museeuw in 2002, when all the Flanders guys were fn around
 and marking each other )

 Tom Boonen's small jersey--must be super racers cut.

Ronde art.
In Flanders I finally got some riding in on a trainer that tired to replecate riding up one of the hills.

...and earned a podium finish over some local favorite sons,
No pissing statues in Oudenaarde
The major Belgium River, the Scheldt, runs through town

Ms. Pumpkin and I find a nice statue outside the Ronde

 Oudenaarde Stadhuis

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tour of Flanders (Part 3)

(Part 3)

With almost everyone speaking English, never as strange as our trip to rural Italy, but much more of a "culture shock" than our trip to London.   Many unique local customs.  One little thing that was "different"--you can't get a glass of tap water at a restaurant--where there was a nice markup on the local bottled water.  So I'd sit with a huge beer served in the specific brand glass, while Mrs Pumpkin almost paid the same amount for a much smaller glass of water or soda.  Coffee was always good but very few "quick takeout" places, so usually had to kill some time at a cafe.

Meals usually meant long sit down affairs where they were reluctant to bring over the check--usually our long (expensive) meal was dinner.  Otherwise it was sweet "Liege" waffles from a stand in the morning (could load them with toppings, plain was fine by itself.)  I liked the odd shaped Liege waffle with sugar put in the batter much better than the square and dry Brussels waffle that had powdered sugar dumped on it.    Found some good bread shops in our travels.    Farm frites--french fries--were OK but nothing special, and had them for lunch snack or they were the usual vegetable that accompanied Flemish stew.  In Amsterdam the pancakes, which are almost as thin as crepe shells, were very good.

Photos from Geraardsbergen (The Muur)

The Muur of Geraardsbergen was the seminal climb in the Tour of Flanders
(Ronde van Vlaanderen) bike race--one of the two most important one
 day races.  It features a dozen and a half short but steep climbs over 160 miles,
many over narrow cobblestoned roads.    The seminal climb in this race was the
Muur of Gerardsbergen--which was unfortunately taken out to accommodate a new
course with more paid spectators.  As you can see from the sign on the course it is 2/3rds
of a mile long with an average grade of close to 10%, but it kicks up
near the top.

I wanted to walk the Muur, and was going through old race videos and trying
 to match the buildings to Google Earth.  Problem is that at one point the
climb really takes back roads that are not pictured on Google Earth.  Even though I
had the route mapped out before we left, there was no problem as plenty of
signs along  the way that detail the Ronde.

Out of the train station the location of the Muur is well marked.

We're not on the Muur yet, but on the flat run in.   Besides its other unique features,
 this climb was the only one that took place in a town.  A few blocks behind me
is a bridge and then the fun begins--the pointed building over my right shoulder
 is on Markt Square (@2 on climbing chart)

Mrs. Pumpkin on the bridge--after this the climb starts for four blocks
through town on the Brugstraat (1>2) taking the riders to
Markt Square (2).

Looking back down the Brugstraat

End of the Brugstraat and about to enter Markt Square. (2)

The start of Markt Square--riders will take a right tun in front of the Stadhuis
(city hall.)
A young fan quietly waits in front of the stadhuis for the Tour of Flanders
to return to Geraardsbergen.  More on this special fan later. 

Looking down back at the @4 block climb up from Markt Square before the
right turn onto Vesten.  (3>4)
 Vesten (4) is a divided street with parking in the middle--another @4 block climb. 
 EZ for me to say-Vesten didn't look too steep from the bottom--half way up the
block we can see how steep it is.
The top of Vesten looking back.
About to make the right turn on the narrow-roughly cobbled, steeper 
Oudebergstraat (5)  Cars going to the top are sent the other way. 
 There will be more signs about the Ronde
and funky statues along the way.
 The start of the Oudebergstraat (5)
 Looking back down the start of the Oudebergstraat.

 This reminded me of when I walked though the catacombs of old Comisky Park--
about a half dozen strange modern and classic statues on the side of the road.
After 2 steep blocks makes a left turn and levels off a bit for 1 block that
passes about a half dozen houses.
Right turn, climb gets steeper, cobbles looser, road narrower, and
you are on the Muur--about 2-3 blocks (6)
 My favorite trip picture-we're at the top of the Muur.
It is strictly forbidden to drive off the wall or walk??  If you
know Flemish feel free to offer a better

We're not done yet-road flattens out a bit past Taverne 'T Hemelrjck (7)
 Last bit of punishment-1 more very steep cobbled block to the Chapel
(Kapelberg) (8)
So about 18 "blocks" of climbing that gets progressively steeper--
and treacherous when wet which is often is when the
Ronde is run in early spring.
I thought no section as steep as some of the crazy
streets in San Francisco (where my bad knee hurts
when walking downhill)--but no place in SF combines
18 consecutive climbing blocks with rough
Random scenes from the top:
Inside of the Chapel

 Looking at valley on the back side of the Chapel
 Cobble piece souvenirs--if I had a suitcase instead of a backpack there
would be a new pothole on the Muur
Mrs Pumpkin in front of the Chapel

Another one of the Chapel
This may have been the best beer ever.  Warm day, great beer
and overlooking the final section of the Muur
 Cyclists also looking at the final section of the
Oh yeah, what about that young fan back in town--

The Manneken Pis in Geraarrdsbergen was installed in
 1459 so it is 200 years OLDER than its more
famous brother in Brussels.