Time: 4 hours 48 minutes
Average speed : 19 km/h
Total distance: 646.31km
groentjes — what bridge? — a bit ‘off-piste’ — what is ‘kop’ — church spires
We fancied some thing simple for dinner last night, after the ‘fine dining’ of the night before, and Sjalot en Schanul was perfect, a warm welcome, and the waiter very patiently translated the menu for us. (We especially liked the word for ‘veggies’, which is groentjes, pronounced ‘cchhhr-earnt-cheese’, very gutterally, as if you’re harrumphing. We practised saying it, until we realised that was going to seem really odd to any Dutch or Flemish speakers, us going around saying ‘veggies’ repeatedly to each other..).The steak was really good, and we left room for a trip across the Grote Markt for an ice-cream.
Lots of kilometres to do today, so we got up half an hour earlier to get a good start. We left Antwerp with no navigational accidents, Gary having decided not to be on strike today, and after an hour we spotted node 34 coming up, complete with bench, and decided to have a stop for a drink. We had been riding next to Antwerp’s river, the Schelde, for a while, and knew we had to cross one of its tributaries, but there didn’t seem to be a bridge. We realised that it was because the crossing was a little ferry, especially for Fietsers! When the ferry arrived at our side of the water it disgorged loads of cyclists with a variety of bikes, including a tandem and two recumbents. We boarded along with all the other waiting cyclists, who stacked their bikes up in a long chain, one facing left, the next facing right, the next left again, and so on. We were too long, so we stood at one end, and were joined by a couple on solo bikes, one of which was pulling a little trailer with their collie, Sam, in it. They came from Mol, quite near Turnhout, and were touring to France and back, camping as they went.
After the ferry arrived at the opposite bank we cycled around the next part of the route to the next crossing, this time of the Schelde itself, and also a ferry. The trouble was that the ferries only travelled across every half an hour in each direction, so it felt like we were losing a lot of time. After this crossing, we cycled on, the cycle path was smooth and wide, and the views of the river were lovely. The next crossing was a bridge, and on we went, eating up the kilometres very efficiently, but all too soon, yes, you guessed it, another ferry, and we’d just missed it.
The couple with the dog had told us they were also heading for Ghent today, but just following LF route 5, a sort of pre-planned route along the nodes, also sign-posted with the node numbers themselves along the side of the cycle path. We decided we’d abandon our own route and follow LF5 for a while, until it met up with our route again, to save a bit of hanging around for the ferry. It was a bit ‘off-piste’, but we could see it was going to work, LF5 was well signed, and before long we were back into our own route, even arriving at our proposed lunch stop cafe at 60km as expected.
Unfortunately it was completely full!
The lady told us we could find another cafe just across the river, and that the ferry was going in only a few minutes, so we headed over there, as we had to cross at that point in any case. The cafe was very pleasant, although we seemed to have arrived in the crucial part of the day when it was too late for hot snacks (stopped at 13:30) and too early for waffles (not available until 14:00), which was a bit weird! So sandwiches it was, which was fine. One sounded interesting, with ham, cheese, groentjes (!) and something called ‘kop’.
“What is kop?”, we said.
“It’s … err … I don’t know what the word would be in English”, said our waitress, “it’s kind of a meat, it’s soft”
“Is it nice?”, we asked
“Well”, she said, pulling a face, “some people like it, but I really don’t”
We decided to go for the safe option of cheese, with some groentjes (good job we’d practised), and it was very good. Whilst waiting, we looked up ‘kop’. It’s that stuff beloved of the French, ‘head cheese’. A narrow escape, we decided!
After lunch we headed out in the scorching sunshine, 28 degrees now according to the sign in one village, still alongside the Schelde, which was filling rapidly now after the earlier low tide. We were really enjoying the cycling, it had been varied and interesting along the river, and we were feeling very strong. We had planned a couple of shortcuts where the route seemed to take an unnecessary detour, and navigated them without too much fuss. One was a really silly detour around five sides of a hexagon, so we took the easy option and just did the sixth side.
We started to see church spires on the horizon, we were coming into Ghent! A few cobbled streets, steering very clear of the tram tracks, which looked like terrible wheel-grabbers, across the canal, and we were there. It had been a long day, but hugely enjoyable.
Might even treat ourselves to some groentjes for tea.
Here’s today’s track: