Saturday, December 23, 2017

Cycling Europe 2017 Day 6: Dunkirk To Middelburg - A Twisted Tale

                                     AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                   
Cycling Europe 2017 Day 6: Dunkirk To Middelburg - A Twisted Tale
United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Netherlands & Germany : Days 6 - Saturday, 2nd September - Dunkrik to Middelburg
This is part of cycling tour of Western Europe, covering Dunkirk (France) to Middelburg (Nettherlands) via Belgium:
Cycling Distance - 71.21 km.     Level: Medium.
Tram Ride Distance - 31.70 km.     Bus Ride Distance - 29.1 km.
Cycling Time : 7:20 am to 6:00 pm.
Time Taken : 10hrs 40mins (inclusive of tram, bus and ferry rides, stops for quick lunch, rests and many, many photo opps).

This is page 5 of a 13-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D5 Dover-Dunkirk        |      Go to Other Days     |     Go to D7 Rotterdam >

Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
        On the Continental Europe, vehicles are left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. And do remember the traffic directions at road crossing. Also note that often cycling lanes run next to pedestrian lanes at town and city areas, at crossings there are separate lanes for pedestrians and bicycles, so stick to the correct lane.

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
    The route is flat but rather long and is hardly shaded so do cover up or apply sun block lotion.
    For planning cycling routes in Europe, Cycle Travel which has a very user-friendly cycle travel trip planner, routes using this planner can be saved and also converted to GPX format for use in GPS devices.  

3. Weather
    The weather for fairly cool average of 19°C with a high of 26°C: due to the un-shaded route, it did feel rather hot. Night temperature at Vlissingen averaged 15°C, with the wind blowing it felt cold, so cover up and wear gloves. Wind speed averaged 18 kph with gust up to 30 kph.
    It is always prudent to check the weather for the next day so as to know what to expect and be prepared for it. Useful weather forecast sites are BBC WeatherAccuWeather and Weather Spark.

4. Places of Interest
- Port of Dunkirk town (GPS: 51.03783, 2.37186).
Angel Monument at Boulevard Paul Verley (GPS: 51.04082, 2.38224) in Dunkirk.
- Monument du Cinquantenaire de Rosendaël (GPS: 51.04358, 2.40206) in Dunkirk.
- Monument for King Albert 1 (GPS: 51.13593, 2.7558) in Nieuwpoort.
- Ferry Ride from Breskens (GPS: 51.40174, 3.5487) to Vlissingen. (GPS: 51.44412, 3.598).
- Seaside and beach front at Boulevard Bankert (GPS: 51.44651, 3.56339) in Vlissingen.

5. Food
Note: On weekends it was rather difficult to find food shops opened during the daytime at smaller villages and town, so we did pre-pack some food.
Breakfast: Pre-packed sandwiches & pastries.
Lunch: Pastries and packed drinks from Vita Sana Grocery Shop (GPS: 51.1639, 2.83065) at outskirts of Middelkerke.
Tea : Burgers & drinks at McDonalds Knokke-Heist (GPS: 51.31671, 3.30574) at Westkapelle.
Dinner: Western set meals at Amadore Grand Café Next (GPS: 51.44651, 3.56339) in Vlissingen at €17 to 20 per pax.

6. Accommodations
    We stayed at the B&B Kamerverhuur Gebr (GPS: 51.45066, 3.57951which we had pre-booked online a room for three pax and another room at dorm for two pax at €76.42 and €51.89 respectively. As it was unclear whether the hostel allowed foldies into the premises, we initially folded and bagged our bikes before taking them in.

7. Bringing Bikes Onto Ferries
    The Vlissingen Ferry is a pedestrian and bicycle ferry, no cars are allowed in and bicycles can be cycled in without extra charges. The fare per pax is €3.

8. Bringing Bikes Onto Trams and Buses
    In Belgium, we found that our folded bikes could be brought onto the local buses or trams even without bagging them. But do discipline one-selves so as not to inconvenience other passengers.

9. Communicating with Each Other
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost.
    We got pre-paid SIM cards from UK mobile provider Three under the All-in-One #15 deal for only £15/= from one of their outlets in Bristol (GPS: 51.45735, -2.59074). This plan lasts for 30 days and allows for 5GB Data, 3,000 minutes of call time & 3,000 text messages within the system. More importantly it has their "Feel At Home" which allow the phone's data, call and messaging allowance to be used in sixty countires (mostly European and also Singapore) without any extra charges!

10. Communicating with Locals
    In France, although some locals may speak English, it would be good to learn some basic French as the locals warm up more to people who speak their language.
In Belgium, the locals speak Flemish, Dutch and French. Many can speak English fleuntlyly, so communicating with them is not a problem.
    In the Netherlands, almost all the locals can speak English.
    When communicating with locals is a problem, this could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    Look out for the tourist information booths at airports, railway stations or bus stations, the guides manning the booths speak very good English and do give good tips on where to visit, directions, train and bus schedule.

11. Navigation
    As Bill had pre-planned the route and had loaded the GPX route file onto his Garmin GPS unit. I was the assistant navigator and had loaded the route maps onto my unit too.

12. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.
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PRELUDE

Yesterday we had crossed over from England to France via the DFDS ferry from Dover to Dunkirk. It was a memorable day as this was the first time I am crossing the English Channel by sea and on top of that it was on a gigantic ferry. But the past five days had just been sort of a warm up with us doing short rides with distances slowly building up to seventy kilometers per day. Today onwards we will be doing at least a hundred kilometer day; and today itself will be a ride of 120 km. covering three countries - France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Will I be up to the task? Let's hope the weather will be cooperative and let us have a smooth ride. Keeping fingers crossed!

THE RIDE

 
The route is a coastal one that should take us from Dunkirk (Dunkerque) through Belgium (via Bruges) and end in Middelburg. But don't be surprised to see trams and buses on the route plot; there is a story behind it.

7:00 am - Bearing in mind the long ride ahead today we started of early, but did take a short stint to the Dunkirk Harbor marina, where the Duchesse Anne and other ships were berthed. I like this red ship and was wondering for a while whether it is a fire-engine ship. But then my view strayed to the the buildings on the opposite side of the marina, they were modern in design with stylized geometric lines.


Drat! Short of time we will not be visiting the beaches where the Allied Forces evacuated to Dover during World War 2, something that would have been a significant milestone for me. But after coming back, I did a Google street view of the beaches; sad to say the evacuation beaches have not been preserved as a memorial (although there are respective museums nearby). Time have caught up and the area is too valuable as commercial beach-front properties; and presently are lined with restaurants and the like; click here for a street viewInstead we cycled along the inner thoroughfare, Boulevard Paul Verley, riding pass shop-houses that still retained their old faces. Just at the start of the boulevard was this monument of an angel and a rainbow arching behind it; blessing us on the start of our journey.



Further along we made a right into Rue Albert Camus into the city of Rosendaël, I wonder if he is of the Camus Cognac fame? We were greeted by another monument, one with a lady atop and some men at the base. I thought that this was a memorial for the soldiers of World War 1, but I was wrong again. This is the Monument du Cinquantenaire de Rosendaël, a monument built in 1909, i.e before the Great War. The monument consist of a tall column held up at the base by four buttresses, at the top is Lady of the Val de Roses. On one side of the base is a statue of a fisherman and on the opposite a farmer, both representing the main economic activities of the town. On the other two sides are the Muse of Prosperity and a child offering a rose to the lady.


Another pleasant surprise lay ahead, a green cycle path that connects Dunkirk to Rosendaël - in French called "Véloroute du Littoralla, la voie verte sur" meaning "Coastal Cycleway, the greenway from Dunkirk to Rosendaël." which indeed was green as it ran along a route with a railway track on one side and woods on the other. Rosendaël was a separate town in the past, but is now part of an enlarged Dunkirk.


Soon we are out of the town and onto wider but still quite roads running along farmlands. We are near the Belgium border (Dunkirk is only 15 km. from the border). I thought we had entered Belgium as we rode pass a signboard announcing the town of Zuydcoote which sounded Belgian but is a French town. At border areas the line between languages tends to fade.


A boat serving as a large flower box.


8:15am - We reach Bray-Dunes, the French border town where we stopped and had a road-side bench picnic-breakfast before crossing over to Belgium.
In the photo above, the booths ahead at the center of the road were former border checkpoint, but are now small coffee stalls.



Just as we crossed over into the Belgian border village of De Panne, we made a right onto off-road tracks which ran along an irrigation canal called the Grand Mardyck. The canal runs parallel to the border on it's other side is France.


Welcome to Belgium!
It's green farmland for the time being, not much different from those on the other side of the border but in our hearts we felt the difference.


It's time to admire the surroundings; this building have some Dutch influences with it's multi-curved gable wall ...


... and it's time to admire other pretty sights too😍! Pretty and friendly.


Our route took us along quieter lanes passing through serene farmlands and pastures with grazing sheeps ...


... and even an old red bus that seems to be a blast from the past. This ride is getting more and more interesting!


Then... something busier. It's a Saturday, and local cyclists are out in force; many groups whooshed by us, two abreast, drafting close to each other. In Malaysia, we often ride slow and the winds are not that strong so we seldom draft each other. But in later days we would have to learn how to draft when we met strong headwinds.


10:20am - At Nieuwpoort, the Monument for King Albert 1 which was constructed in 1938 as a memorial of the war veterans of World War 1. It lies on the banks of the River IJzer (Yser) which played an important role during the war. Short on time we did not visit the museum which is located at its basement.


But we did take a short break at a nearby bridge with beautiful flowers overlooking a canal that connects to the Yser. Here we took some dried dates to power up a bit.


But the dates were not enough, so we started hunting for food. It's not easy to look for food along the countryside, especially so on weekends. We passed several shops thinking that the sold food; yes they did but not cooked food. These were shops selling produce from the nearby farms, often they laid out the products in colorful ways which just looked too good to eat. Our stomachs will have to be patient.


11:00am - At Slijperbrug we saw some shops on the opposite side of a canal but just as we were about to cross a bell started ringing signaling that the bridge is being raised for boats to pass by. This took a while but our hunger was temporary forgotten as we watched the boats sailing pass.


We bought some food from the Vita Sana Grocery Shop like the other shops they sell mainly uncooked stuff but did have some pastries which were cold and hard; well beggars can't be choosers. And it was another bench meal, this time the banks of the canal at Slijperbrug. A simple meal but we were happy all the same as we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves.


The grand building of the Oostende Railway Station.
But my happiness was short-lived. Ten days prior to coming for this tour, I had a nasty fall and had twisted my left knee hurting a meniscus badly. I had gone for several Chinese massages and physiotherapy sessions, hoping that these would improve my condition. They did help but not enough, today's longer ride had taken it's toll and the pain in my knee was getting worse making it hard for me to continue on.
We had already cycled fifty kilometers and there was another seventy more to go. At the next stop on the outskirts of Oudenburg, I told Bill that I could not continue riding on and will look for a train to ride to Middelburg. While the other three rode on; a kind Siah accompanied me. We rode to the O0stende Railway Station some seven kilometers away but disappointment met us there; on inquiries we were told that there is no direct train from Oostende to Middelburg. One would have to take a train to Antwerp and change over to another one to Middelburg and that whole journey would take more than half a day.



Forlorn, we started to ride back to catch up with our friends. As luck would have it we met local Jules and his family who confirmed "YES! NO TRAINS TO MIDDELBURG!". But they did give an alternative means, one via taking a coastal tram from the nearby Oostende Tram Station.


On a piece of paper Jules wrote down his recommendations: from the Oostende Tram Station take a tram to Knokke Tram Station and from there cycle 30km to the Breskens Ferry Terminal. Thirty more kilometers on my poor leg? Well at least it did cut down the cycling distance by half.
Lady Luck was still with us, at the tram station we met Rik who is a Brompton owner too. He pointed out that from the Knokke Tram Station we could cycle over to the Westkapelle bus stop and from there take a bus to Breskens (he added his recommendation in blue to that written by Jules in black). It would be a short four kilometer ride from the tram station to the bus stop.... "Yahoooooooo!" my knee shouted.


Here's Siah on the tram, the fare was per €6 pax. There was no need to bag our folded bikes, but we did try our best to keep it from obstructing other passengers. Just for note, at 68 km. this is the longest coastal tram line in the world. It starts from De Panne at the French border and ends at Knokke.


And here she is on the bus after we had a lunch break at the nearby Westkapelle Mcdonald's, the fare was €12 pax. The other passengers were intrigued by our compact folded Bromptons and soon we were in friendly chatter with some of them; telling them that we were from Malaysia and had come to tour their beautiful country on our bicycles, and how we had separated from our other friends. We could feel a tinge of sadness in them when they heard how we got separated.


As luck would have it, just as the bus drove into the Breskens bus station we saw our buddies cycling in and shouted excitedly "There are our friends!". The whole friendly bus erupted into cheers and claps!


Here're Siah and Ying happily united on the ferry from Breskens to Vlissingen. This ferry is strictly for passengers and bicycles only; there are railings to which we could tie our bikes.
Many thanks Jules and Rik for making this section of my ride easier on my knee.



Just for note, we ended our day not at Middelburg but at Vlissingen, a short distance away.
After checking in and a rest, we took a short ride to Bolevard Bankert located at the mouth of the River Scheldt and facing the North Sea. This is a beautiful stretch of road with many eateries lining it facing the sea. At the two far ends are a couple of medieval buildings, the one shown above is a stately brown-bricked tower but I did not get its name.




There at the Amadore Grand Café Next we had a lovely dinner (a real blessing after earlier pastries and dates 😉) while watching the sun gloriously set at the horizon of the North Sea.
It had been a long, interesting day - my twisted knee led to a twisted ride, Haha!

Gelukkig eten!
(That's "Happy eating!" in Dutch)

(For more photos of the Day 5, Click Here)
This is page 5 of a 13-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Go to D5 Dover-Dunkirk       |      Go to Other Days     |     Go to D7 Rotterdam > 
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