Belgium
Hainaut Province

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  • Day6

    Thank god for soccer

    June 6 in Belgium

    Rode 60 shitty miles.

    The first 20 were EXTREMELY hot and in the sun (and my face is already peeling and burnt from day 1 - its very attractive)

    The next 25 were under construction, unimaginably hilly detours around the interstate (which googlemaps kept trying to put me on), or gravel/dirt/poorly maintained.

    The last 15, mercifully, were through a beautiful and cool forest, which smelled amazing (like forest-scented air freshener), but entirely uphill

    So I didn't make it to my destination, but I made it to some random small town in southern Belgium near it, where it's 9:25 pm on a Wednesday, but, to my surprise, everything is still open because there's a Belgium-Egypt soccer match tonight. Enjoying a Jupiter beer and Belgium is 2-0! Even the hard days end up alright.
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  • Day7

    The snails and slugs of the Rance Regional Forest in southern Belgium woke up to a grisly scene Thursday morning. An American cyclist rode 18 miles through rush hour traffic, injuring dozens. Some, like Monsieur Jean-Baptiste Lelimace (pictured) narrowly missed death by bicycle, but many remain unaccounted for or in critical condition. Paramedic crews are, very very slowly, on their way to the scene.Read more

  • Day7

    Campsite #3

    June 7 in Belgium

    Where I endured one of the strongest thunderstorms I've ever seen on a bike trip.

    I was woken up around 1am by rain pounding on my tent, thunder and lightning. This "campsite" was not technically at a "campground" - I just pitched my tent on the side of the trail - and I didn't know it was supposed to rain, so I hadn't secured my rainfly very well.

    I woke up again at 3am. The lightning and wind had picked up and I had lost a stake. After listening to the trees getting blown around and feeling my tent almost move with me in it, I decided to abandon ship and find real shelter in case a branch fell on me. I put my raingear on and headed out. Naturally, about 15 minutes later, things calmed down.

    Didn't get much sleep and coffeeshops don't open until noon around here (apparently). This morning is a struggle.
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  • Day512

    Tournai, Poppy gets her passport ready

    November 20, 2017 in Belgium

    Tournai is a large and busy town. It offered us a free aire to one side of a spacious, crater pocked car park used by lorries. A few hundred meters away was a football pitch and in the opposite direction ran a fast and noisy road. The hum of engines wasn't too bad, but we drowned it out completely by listening to a Belgian music station on the radio. We like to hear foreign languages spoken, even if we can't understand what is being said. All of the countries we've visited so far have played English language songs and most have interspersed their commentary with the odd English phrase.

    In contrast to the fine bright day we'd had yesterday, today delivered grey skies and sheet rain. Will suprised Vicky by volunteering to go out and get bread and when we'd finished eating, Vicky called a nearby vets to get Poppy's passport sorted. We were still in a French speaking area and Vicky got a real kick out of being able to arrange the whole thing in French. It was a bit nerve wracking because it is so much more difficult over the phone when there are no contextual clues, gestures or facial expressions to help.

    At 11:30am we drove Poppy to the clinic. Now she is old she becomes very nervous around other dogs and she has never enjoyed people being too close to her, unless it is on her terms. We were therefore keeping our fingers crossed that it would be a good experience for her. Fortunately there were no other animals to be seen and we'd hardly sat down in the waiting area when the vet called us in. After Poppy had gone on the scales, Vicky stealthily fed her the worming tablet between two treats and the vet gave her a checkup. Within 10 minutes of entering, the passport was stamped, we had paid and were out of the door with a very relieved Poppy! Success!

    N.B. For anyone intersted the vet we used was Dr Claudine Peeters at: http://www.veterinairepeeters.be/
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  • Day511

    Merbes-le-Château on the River Sambre

    November 19, 2017 in Belgium

    It was Sunday and after a chilly night, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky. We have been doing short hops and one night stays on a route Will has programmed in to the sat nav, ending at Calais ferry port! Soon after setting off we spotted a car wash with an extra high bay. We'd been looking out for one of these since Sweden as the van had become filthy. When getting our Euros ready, we found the previous user had left €4 worth of tokens in the slot! It worked very well and we proudly drove a glistening Martha Motorhome away.

    It wasn't just the sun making today's spot look very attractive. The medium sized car park was by the side of the slow moving River Sambre. It had a picnic table, a launch ramp and a good area of grass for Poppy to get her nose stuck in to. Fishers cast their lines, people cycled and someone even came and took their boat for a trip. There were only a couple of cars whose occupants were drinking, littering and generally being loud and lairy. We were grateful they didn't stay for too long. The only other noisy neighbours were a gaggle of domesticated geese, two of which we found out to be Chinese Geese, with a distinctive basal knob (bumpy thing) above their bill and a wattle hanging down from their throat.

    We spent a bit of time catching up with friends and family on Skype and the phone. Vicky packed Will off in the canoe while she transferred some clothes and equipment to new storage boxes we'd bought for the boot, the old ones having become cracked and unusable. She then got stuck in to making Christmas cards, meaning we both had a very enjoyable afternoon.
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  • Day175

    Day 176: To Mons via Tournai

    August 9, 2017 in Belgium

    Another busy day exploring southern Belgium. Checked out and hopped in the car around 10am and drove directly south to the town of Tournai, close to the French border. Here is another UNESCO site - of course - and another belfry on the list too.

    The cathedral is immense and grand - built in the 12th century in Romanesque style, with a large gothic nave added later. It also has five distinct spires on top that give it a very unique profile. Unfortunately, it's currently undergoing heavy restoration as it was damaged by a tornado in 1999. The work has been going for 15 years and isn't expected to finish any time soon.

    We went inside as well, but there wasn't much to see other than scaffolding. It also has the problem that its icons were destroyed during the Reformation, its treasures were looted during the French revolution, the stained glass was destroyed by an accidental gunpowder explosion, and of course two world wars were fought in the area as well (only one direct hit from a German bomb in 1944). So I can cut it a bit of slack!

    We walked around and filmed what we could, then decided to check out the belfry. It was a bit different to the other belfries we've visited, since this one was actually a standalone tower. It's really only when you see the solo towers that you realise they're just bell- and watch-towers, rather than religious or secular buildings. Even though most of them are joined to a religious or governmental building!

    Since the belfry was closed during lunchtime, we sat out on the main square in brilliant sunshine and had a delicious burger. Mine was with baked goat's cheese, bacon, caramelised apple slices, salad, and honey BBQ sauce. Incredible. Great vibe in the square as well, it's the height of summer and lots of people are on holidays. We're a long way from the tourist trail here so it's almost entirely Belgians relaxing and enjoying themselves. Also a long way from the gritty neighbourhoods of Antwerp and Brussels!

    Back to the tower exactly when it opened after lunch, and we were the first people to head up, so we had an uninterrupted climb and view. A couple of hundred steps on tight spiral staircases to the top, but we're getting fairly used to this by now! Excellent view across to the cathedral, the city, and the wider district, though it was very narrow and claustrophobic up top - thankfully it was just us and another couple. Finished our filming and headed back to the car.

    We then drove south-east to the city of Mons which is our base for the next couple of days. More world heritage sites in the area, and of course the town has one last belfry to look at! We settled into our hotel in the old town, with a view of the (standalone) belfry - it's situated on top of a hill so it tends to dominate the town. We decided to just relax for the rest of the day and settle ourselves in.

    Shandos grabbed us a baguette and some jambon et fromage so we made our own dinner in the hotel room. Headed out later in the evening to wrap up our belfry tour by filming at the base, but it was closed and we couldn't get too close. Oh well. Filmed a bit anyway through the fence and then headed home.
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  • Day177

    Day 178: More Mining Sites

    August 11, 2017 in Belgium

    More world heritage sites today, all of it mining themed! First stop was another of the coalmines from the industrial era, a site called Le Grand Hornu. This site was a little odd - the old mine buildings were all constructed in grand neoclassical fashion, with lots of columns, archways and hemispherical porticos. We had a look around, but there wasn't an awful lot of the mining heritage still on display.

    These days the site is used as a modern art museum and conference centre, so we had a look around at the current exhibition by a designer from Japan. Not quite what we expected to find in rural Belgium, some hyper-arty and modern furniture designs, but it was quite interesting!

    Wrapped up filming and had lunch in the on-site restaurant, as there looked to be a paucity of options in the area. Food was quite good - I had a huge dish of mussels that I couldn't finish, while Shandos had a salmon tartare with salad.

    Lunch finished, we set off for the third WHS in the area, a neolithic flint mine around the small town of Spiennes. These are a series of mine shafts dating from around 4500 BC - 3300 BC, discovered during the 19th century when a railway cutting was being dug. This was where neolithic peoples would come and mine flint, later shaping it into axes, knives and other tools.

    Since it's in the middle of a large field, we had to walk a fair way from the car, and by the time we arrived we'd just missed the start of a tour. Normally you have to book for these things, but because the group wasn't full the nice lady at the entrance allowed me to join up (and she gave me a discount price as well). Shandos had to stay behind to mind Schnitzel, sadly, as he wasn't allowed inside.

    The best part of the tour was undoubtedly going down into the mines themselves - very tight and small, but surprisingly far under the surface! The neolithic peoples would dig their mine shafts to a depth of about 6 metres, hollow out a gallery to extract the flint, then once it was exhausted they'd fill it with rubble and dig a new shaft nearby.

    It was great to go down there and see things with my own eyes, thinking about how they would have worked in darkness (no smoke residue on the walls from torches/fires), and how they were only digging at the chalk rocks with deer antlers and flint stones for tools. Yikes.

    When we got back top side we had a look around the area - apparently on this hill of a few hundred acres, they've discovered evidence of over 10,000 mine shafts!! Only about 15 have been excavated, and they haven't found any sort of bones, just flint. Fascinating spot.

    Finished off our filming and headed back to the hotel by 5pm. It's been quite nice to finish off early like this, gives us both time to unwind in the evening and either do something productive or just relax!
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  • Day176

    Day 177: Canal Lifts and a Mining Site

    August 10, 2017 in Belgium

    For some reason, this quiet area in southern Belgium has a bunch of UNESCO sites for us to investigate, so off we went in our rental car! Today's stop was a series of four canal lifts dating from the late 19th century. During the industrial revolution, this area in Belgium was coal mining country with hundreds of mines dotted across the landscape.

    To transport the goods in these pre-railway days, barges were used. However, in this particular area, the transport canals were about 70 metres too high to connect to other nearby canals in the wider network. Normally, traversing a hill or something isn't a huge problem in a canal, as you can do it with a lock. But locks can't raise or lower by much, so they came up instead with boat lifts.

    Each of these are a pair of essentially swimming pools sitting on connected hydraulic poles. Flood one with water, and the extra weight means it descends, raising up the other pool. You sail your barge into the elevated one, flood that with water, lowering down to the level of the lower canal. The bonus of this system is that it doesn't really require any energy other than the movement of water and a couple of pulleys for sluice gates and dams. There's four different lifts, all of them about 16-17 metres high, so we had a look around at this and did some filming before getting a little wet in a brief rain shower!

    While in the area we also visited the new canal lift at Strepy-Thieu, built in the 1980s to replace the old four canal lifts from the previous century. This one was absolutely gigantic - raising and lowering boats the full 70 metres in one go! Shame we couldn't see it in operation though, as we didn't have long. It's not world heritage listed, but maybe it'll get added one day!

    Up next after a brief lunch was a mining site. As mentioned, this area of southern Belgium was once covered in coalmines, and the few that remain are on the World Heritage list. For today we visited a site known as Bois-du-Luc, which shut down in the early 20th century and had basically been preserved in-situ since closing.

    After going through the museum, we had to wait about 20 minutes while the staff found the guy with the keys to the actual mine area! They don't get many tourists I guess, though he was nice enough to supply us coffee and tea while we waited. The mine site itself was quite interesting, going through various aspects of mining in that era (though much of it was familiar to us from mine site visits in England).

    Finished our filming for the day and headed back to Mons where we relaxed in the hotel room for the late afternoon and evening, only ducking out briefly for dinner.
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  • Day7

    Belgium!

    July 3, 2016 in Belgium

    We stayed just 5km from the Belgian border and felt up for a cycle ride so we took the tandem and headed for the little bridge over the stream that turned out to be the border.

    The photo of Vicky facing forward is taken from France while she is in Belgium and visa versa for the photo she is turning round in.

    It is a real pleasure to be able to move so freely between the countries over here.

You might also know this place by the following names:

Province du Hainaut, Provinz Hennegau, Hainaut Province, Hainaut, Henegouwen

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