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Day 3 - Oostende to Gent - 73km

Leaving Oostende was an immeasurably more pleasant cycling experience than leaving Dunkerque yesterday.

It started with a decent breakfast at which smart wifey suggested that instead of paying over the top for lunches we should abscond with the necessities from the breakfast buffet and have a picnic en route. So accompanying us as we set off was a collection of hams, cheeses and buns.

The weather was cool but clear and there didn't appear to be rain on the horizon. Our track took us out through the industrial eastern suburbs of Oostende and onto a canal which we ostensibly followed all the way to Gent. I say 'ostensibly' because there were minor deviations from it at various points including a deviation for both a morning coffee and later a corner shop.

The first deviation was through a small town called Varsenare where we purchased the most over priced and overrated trouser clips (Made by the English saddle maker BROOKS) to prevent our waterproof trousers from getting entangled in our chains. The upside of that slight deviation was that we enjoyed a truly wonderful coffee and cake at a newly opened patisserie opposite the most expensive bicycle shop in Belgium We dared to ask the most expensive bicycle shop keeper where he went fro coffee. ''Home of course'' came the reply as he looked at us quizzically and wondered to himself why anyone would go out to buy coffee. This was a theme that had started to dawn on us yesterday. The Belgians don't do a coffee culture and finding designated ''coffee cafes'' was not going to be easy. The town itself was surrounded by long straight streets with impossibly well kept houses and gardens on each side and flanked by tall magnificent trees. It seemed to us that the architectural style here was one of minimalism and cubism. (See photo's later) . it was pleasant to get away from the canal and the ride through this part of Belgian was a delight. Passing as we did a Strawberry vending machine. Which was a first for me.

Back to the canal around lunch and stopped for a picnic and then made our way in leisurely fashion towards Gent. At this stage the route simply followed what was clearly a well used canal and the tow path / cycle track beside it became increasingly busier as we closed in on Gent. When I say busier envisage lots of very serious looking MAMIL's (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) taking everything a little too seriously as they sped past us in one direction only to reappear from the other direction an hour or so later. Their activity didn't detract from the beauty of the ride however and there were plenty of moments where we had the entire tow path track to ourselves.

Eventually the canal we had been following for most of the day morphed into a much larger one and here the signs of industry were very obvious. These canals are still very much a vital part of the industrial supply chains in Belgium and some of the barges were impossibly and impressively large.

As we took the main canal into the epicentre of Gent it was around 5 pm and peak hour. The number of cyclists using the various cycle paths was extraordinary to witness if not a little intimidating. They weren't shy about making their presence known and I made the comment that Belgians seemingly ride their bikes like Italians drive their cars.

As we made our way across Gent to our accommodation Mrs W came a cropper on a tram track when her front wheel becoming entangled in it. The first and only fall of the entire trip. It darkened the mood a little but at least we were at days end and all could be remedied with a cocktail and food.

All up close to 73 km done on the day. By some measure the longest day of riding in terms of distance that Mrs W had ever done. Full kudos to her for doing it with aplomb, style and without a whimper.

Our accommodation was in a somewhat large eclectic house that had been sub-divided into different bedrooms to masquerade as a hotel, and each room had its own theme with ours being "Dali' . Complete with a mural of Dali in the shower recess. The host was a Russell Brand look-alike and we took the opinion he was a fundamentally a chancer. Someone who had stumbled into a situation that he decided to make the most of without really giving any thought to the details of providing hospitality. It was all very surreal. It was however centrally located and it wasn't long before we were out the door and taking a look around the Old Town of Gent.

A couple of magnificent cocktails at a bar called Jiggers was followed by a very underwhelming Japanese/Peruvian fusion meal where every course was drowned in sauce.

Over the years since I last visited Brugge many people have said '' Oh If you loved Brugge (and I did) you'll love Gent even more. Well I have to disagree. Gent is a much more working type town as opposed to Brugge which seems set up for the tourists. Gent's vibe is very gritty and being a student town with a large University population that is understandable. Yes Gent has its canals but it just didn't do it for me today. The grey weather and the reappearance of rain that stayed with us right through the night probably didn't help. We both agreed we'd come back to give it a second chance in fairer weather and out of tourist season.

Theres a few good ways to start a days bike ride and travelling canal side through the Belgian countryside is one of them.

As I said, nature at is best. Tranquil too.

Leaving the canal we sought out the most expensive bicycle shop in Belgium and took solace in cafe, passing along lovely suburban streets as we did so.

Some impressive private houses too. Just what I want when I grow up. A house with a moat.

Cubism and minimalism seemed to be the design order of the day.

Local tourist horse whisperer doing her work

Some impressively large barges in this part of the world that served to remind us of the very working nature of the canals.

Like the Dutch the Belgians love a bicycle path and there was no lack of directions to take.

it wasn't all pretty canal side cycling. There were moments where we passed through industrial areas that sat canal side.

On occasion we even passed under the industry at work

Gent graffiti v social obstinance.

Like Brugge, Gent has its fair share of small canals that crisscross the city. Unlike the centre of Brugge however, the Gent centre is not as architecturally pleasing on the eye.

Not to say there weren't some impressive historical buildings in Gent


A decent cocktail at days end is always a good reward for a long day in the saddle.

The Castle of Gent. Impressive in design and its smallness.


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