Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tour of Flanders (Part 1)

Two weeks in Europe, in the race cycling crazed Flanders & Amsterdam.  Surprise-surprise---I see more road bikes on one weekend day around Mt. Diablo than in two weeks on our trip   When we saw a road biker, not riding in any large group.   The most we saw were on a Saturday when we went to Geraardsbergen---some tiny groups or solo road cyclists on the mostly vacant cyclopath along the train route that connect the towns.  Then later a few dozen attacking the famous Muur.

It was, however, cruisers and hybrids on parade.  Well not really in Brussels, the capital in Belgium that is physically in Flanders but not culturally.  Brussels had narrow streets with uneven cobblestones and crisscrossing tram tracks, and not many cyclists.  This changed in the medieval university town of Gent--lots of bikes, most notably tall coeds on cruiser bikes in short skirts.  Here no one looked scared of cobblestones (actually more pavement than Brussels) and tram tracks, in fact no one wore a helmet.   Contrary to our pedal with traffic, many bike lanes went against traffic on one way streets.  Same in Bruges, only difference no tram tracks and casual cyclists a little older. 

This led us to Amsterdam where junker bikes rule.    Auto traffic doesn't move.  Thick bike locks look more expensive than what they are securing  Here walkers beware on 2' wide sidewalks at street/ bikepath level--separated from traffic by a row of short posts.  The 2' wide sidewalk is blocked by parked bicycles, but look both ways before trying to go around in the street with 1 line of cars moving slowly and cruiser cyclists, many ladies fashionable dressed, flying both ways.  How does one pedal with 3" heels? 

Brussels Photos
Start off a huge square, Grand Place.  Unfortunately temporary bleachers were being put up all over the antique square for an ancient pageant later in the week.  Fortunately we saw part of the ancient pageant cue up when we were eating dinner 1/4 mile away from Grand Place, and later saw the pageant march by when we were having coffee close to Grand Place.

Walking towards the national icon Manneken-Pis, aka the Pisser of Brussels, the excitement builds for blocks as faux Pis front chocolate and waffle stands.

Mr Pis is famously used in posters and has a popular display at the City museum in one of the ancient buildings on Grand Place, where many of his uniforms are displayed.
Finally, a big crowd around the little guy.  Haven't I seen him before at a local garden centers?
But I never saw his newer, less famous sister, Ms. Pis...

Or his pet dog, Fido Pis...
Or the urinals build into the side of a church...

What's this Belgium infatuation with pissing.   Maybe its the huge cheap beer that is less expensive than water.  This got Ms. Pumpkin to switch over from water to beer for dinner mid-trip.
The "Liege" Waffles are so sweet didn't need a topping on it
A few nice garden oasis around Central Brussels--though a big city it never seemed crowded.
Homage to Rene Magritte, Belgium's most famous painter.  The museum doesn't have his
most famous painting but has the largest collection of his works. 

Ms. Pumpkin in front of the King of Belgium's Palace.  The King abdicated the week we were there--no doubt because he is not allowed to wear a crown. 

Belgium is almost pancake flat.  One side of Brussels is suddenly 200' higher than the other side, so you get a so-so view of the city.    You can faintly see (in the blue by the back of the church) the large Atomium-a model of an iron atom that you can climb inside.  No Pissing statues so no desire to go there, 

How much of Brussels, especially lower town,  is paved--cobblestones laid in sand.

At dinner see the Grand Place extravaganza cue up, and then later we see them arrive before entering Grand Place.

One of the many rent a bike stations around town--but they were usually full and saw very few on the street in actual use.  This is a major street in upper town so it is actually paved--but just one lane of traffic each way and tram tracks in the middle.


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