The Bicycle Diaries (Day 3) – 2nd Oct 2014 – Ghent to Bruges

Left at half 10ish after a nice chat with Lisa, the owner of the hostel/boat. Getting out of Ghent was easy as there were plenty of signs. The ride was pretty, mostly the rivers and canals. Stopped by a pretty spot by the canal after an hour to have a couple of sandwiches and a wee.

Not long after I met a couple of Americans who came cycling alongside me. I started chatting to them and I found out we were heading to the same hostel in Bruges so I joined them.

They were Alex and Carlos and they were halfway through a two month cycling tour of Europe. We got into Bruges, made a quick stop at an Aldi and then found our hostel about 1300. We had a chat in the hostel for a bit and then went for an explore by myself, arranging to meet the guys later for beers.

I liked Bruges, very pretty but a bit too full of tourists for my liking, I prefer the laid back atmosphere of Ghent. When I’m travelling I always prefer places I can imagining living and all the tourists in Bruges would piss me off. I saw so many almost cause accidents by not looking where they were going and just walking into the road causing bikes and cars to brake or swerve suddenly to avoid them!

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Whilst I was wandering I had time to read my book in a lovely, quiet park and I started to think about travelling and the people I meet. Alex and Carlos are both 29 and basically doing what I did last year. It’s amazing the amount people around 30 or coming up to it who give up their jobs to travel. People always say to me it’s a pretty brave thing to do, to give up work and just go, which is true to an extent but I always think of myself as brave.

Another reason I think some people do it, for myself anyway, is a certain level of desperation and unhappiness. I don’t know if travelling will ultimately make me happy but at least it’s an educational and fulfilling distraction.

Anyway that night I had fun at the hostel, chatting away to Alex and Carlos, the other guests and also some very friendly locals, especially Paul and Olivier. Paul was especially funny, teaching us Flemish drinking expressions and sharing his love of British comedy. Olivier was also a fan of Bottom and both were shocked and upset when I told them that Rik Mayall had died back in June…

With Olivier I had a very varied conversation, topics jumping from politics, opera and British comedy in general. It was very interesting but I had to retire about 11ish as I got very drunk. The beer in Belgium is outstanding but exceedingly strong…

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The Bicycle Diaries (Day 2) – 1st Oct 2014 – Brussels to Ghent

Started off at 1000 and getting out of the city was the hardest part of the day. It was;t too bad though as I had Google Maps (god bless you!) and it would prove very handy that day (and most of the trip!).

The first town I passed was Asse (easy…) and the first thing I saw coming into Asse (easy…!!) was a nightclub/stripbar!

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This I found highly amusing! I then passed a succession of small towns and villages before I got to Ghent. This included the brewery of the infamous Delirium Tremens beers, it’s does what is says on the tin!

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The route I took was pretty easy to navigate as the cycle path was almost continuous adjacent to the main road. Though I did get a bit (lot) lost when there were diversions due to roadworks.

Got into Ghent about 1500 and found my hostel which was actually a barge, very cool!

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As soon as I got there I cracked out some bread, cheese and meat I had got at an Aldi on the edge of town and made myself 4 sandwiches. I was ultra hungry as I hadn’t had any breakfast (not surprising at £24 a pop at the hotel!!). I then made myself at home in my 8 bed dorm (which I had to myself), had a quick shower and then did an explore.

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Ghent is a nice city, lots of historical buildings, waterways and plenty of students so had a lively buzz. There was also not too many tourists. Had a good old walk and then went back to have a bit of a chill and read.

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A bit later I went for another walk to see the pretty buildings lit up at night. For dinner I splashed out on some frites with sloveesauce (a Ghent speciality which is basically a meaty sauce/stew) which was €4.50! Nice but it was essentially just chips and gravy!! A funny thing I did see tonight was a young couple proper snogging in a restaurant, the look of the old couple on the table next to them was priceless!

I was back and in bed by 2230 as this cycling lark is tiring. Plus I had no alcohol today, well done me!!

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The Bicycle Diaries (Day 1) – Friday 30th Sept 2014 – Bristol to Bruges

I arrived back into the UK in May and spent quite a few weeks travelling around seeing friends before (finally…!) settling back in Bristol. While I absolutely LOVE the city in which I grew up in it didn’t take me long to get that itchy feeling in my feet, I just needed to be exploring and travelling.

Since getting back I had bought a bike built for touring and after a practice cycle tour from Bristol to Portsmouth and back I decided to do a cycle tour of Belgium and the Netherlands. Why? Mainly because Eurostar were having a sale and what better country to do your first cycle tour than the Netherlands? The country where EVERYONE cycles!

So here are the journal entries I made…

Left home at 0930 to get to Bristol Temple Meads, I’m still surprised how heavy the bike is when fully loaded, was a bit wobbly when I set off! Got there in plenty of time for the 1030 train. When I got into London it was quite scary riding as the roads were quite busy, it’s scary enough in a car! I clipped something near Tavistock Square and hurt my back keeping my bike upright, good start eh…

Got to St Pancras in plenty of time again but it took me ages to find the place to take my bike for the Eurostar. I then spent a sunny hour having lunch at Kerb, one of my favourite street food collectives at Kings Cross.

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I was really excited about taking the Eurostar, it just reminds of the helicopter chase in one of the Mission Impossble movies, 1 or 2 I can’t remember (it’s 1!). Fortunately that didn’t happen this time. I enjoyed watching the last bits of England disappearing before disappearing into a dark tunnel and then suddenly reappearing in France!

I spent the time looking out of the window, the woman opposite was busy doing working on her laptop and the novelty must have worn off on her. I was surprised that I maintained a signal on my phone all the way through the tunnel. Magic! I went to the bar carriage as well but didn’t get anything, it was £4 for a small can of beer. I’m supposed to be on a budget break!

Getting back onto the bike in Brussels was exciting, having to learn the road rules quickly and remembering to stay on the right side (figuratively and literally!) of the road. Good thing bikes have right of way on the roads which is handy! Found my hotel after a quick cycle, checked in and then went for an explore. I texted my mate Huggins for advice as he spends time in Brussels for work, conferences and stuff.

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Went for a walk but having just an evening (having got in at 1800) I didn’t have enough time to see everything. I went to the Grand Place and then a couple of places to have a few beers. At the Delirium Cafe (one of Huggy’s suggestion!) I talked to a group of middle aged Americans (Jean, Jeff Cybil and her husband who’s name I can’t remember (strange as I spent most of the time talking to him…). They’ll be in Bruges on Friday so I might see the then!

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Had some frites before heading off to bed. As national food specialities goes, just chips (basically) is a bit boring (even if it is doused in mostly industrial made sauces). At least it was relatively cheap but still around £3 for chips and mayo… At least I’m thoroughly enjoying the beer!

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Day 240 – Tuesday 29th April

So after 240 days (8 months) I’m finally back home in the UK, shorter than the year I had originally planned but long enough for me actually. Over this time I’ve been to some beautiful environments, seen some amazing sights and met some truly amazing people.

The things that stick out for me were the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the Taj Mahal, my first glimpse of the Himalayas (but any time I was in the mountains really, trekking in Nepal and Bolivia), island hopping in Thailand and learning to scuba dive, getting stranded on a beach on Koh Rong, Cambodia on Norwegian Independence Day, having my own motorbike in Vietnam, the caves in Phong Nha national park, sailing in Ha Long Bay, Iguazu Waterfalls, driving around NW Argentina, Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu. Then there was all the great people I met and travelled with from my time in Pucon, Chile to when I left South America. Of course there were lots of other great experiences but these just stick out particularly.

I’ve also enjoyed the food whilst I’ve been travelling, experiencing new flavours and ingredients (good and bad!) wherever I have been. The food in India and South East Asia was my favourite though, although it was an experience going to some top end restaurants in India, Argentina and Peru.

I have been extremely lucky that I’ve survived the trip without any serious disasters really. Only lost a Kindle and a laptop charger (both when I was drunk…), expensive but not major losses. I only gave myself one nasty injury when I hit my head and was bleeding from the ear, I did have a dodgy tummy a lot though…

So what have I got from this experience? Well I’ve seen a lot of the world I’ve always wanted to see and also many wonderful places that I didn’t know existed. I don’t think I’ve changed that much or learnt anything about myself, not that I was expecting to anyway. Maybe I’ve learned to just go with the flow, whenever something goes bad or when faced with the unexpected, good or bad.

I don’t think I’d do a long trip alone again though, I’ve learned I work best when in a group and always try to talk to people and make them feel included. But it takes that initial courage just to say hello to a stranger and I think this is just easier when there is more than one of you, I think this courage is still something I can lack when I’m by myself. But once you make that crucial step you can make the most wonderful relationships with people. That has been the true highlight of the trip.

Places like Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal will still be there for many years to come but you only have one chance to connect with the people you meet while travelling. When I have had the courage to say hello or vice versa I have found these people to be funny, interesting and generally jolly good company. From this trip I have made friends from all over the world so on my future travels I will hopefully find at least one friendly face wherever I go. And in return they will always find a friend in me if they ever visit England or wherever our paths may cross again!

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Day 239 – Monday 28th April

A bit hungover this morning… Left Boston at 1000 and got the bus back to New York. The fat guy next to me on the bus kept falling asleep on me… Surprisingly the bus arrived on time at 1430. I had a few hours to kill so I went all out on my last lunch. Went to the Oyster Bar as Grand Central station where I had a dozen oysters and a couple of beers. Also got a burger from ShakeShack as I had so much time on my hands (better than Five Guys in my opinion).

Had a little walk to the UN buildings and the river but got the bus to JFK at 1830. I almost missed my terminal as I was napping on the bus… Had some dinner while waiting and then boarded my flight home. I had a lot of space as the guy next to me moved because he seat was broken (not because I smell…). It was good as I could take off my shoes without feeling guilty!

 

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Day 238 – Sunday 27th April Boston

My last proper day of the trip today and I had decidedly mixed feelings. A part of me was a bit sad and wished I could continue travelling. However a much larger part is longing to go home and back to my family and friends.

I went down to breakfast, just had some tea and talked to almost everyone I had met over the last few days. Ended up chatting about politics to a guy called Dino until lunchtime, he was an extremely well informed guy.

For my last day I just wandered aimlessly, my favourite way of exploring a place. I bought a Swiss Army knife, a bit pointless at the end of my trip really but it did have a bottle opener and corkscrew, essential tools as I have learned!!

When I got back I had a quick nap and then went to the communal area. Pacino had amassed a crowd of girls so of course I joined him! I chatted to them until they went out to a club (didn’t want to go clubbing on my last night), instead I had two bottles of wine to finish so I made a start on them.

Played pool with Yue, Erina and Karina and then we were joined by Mikel and Ray. I shared out my wine and at midnight I was going to go to bed but was persuaded to go out for a bit. We went out to an Irish pub and got drunk with the guys, not a bad way to spend my last night.

 

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Day 237 – Saturday 26th April Boston

Got up really late today, not until 1130 when the housekeeping guy came along, whoops! Spent the rest of the day walking the Freedom Trail. Very interesting sites to see and more importantly it was free! It included a visit to the USS Constitution (and it’s loo!) and a walk up the Bunker Hill memorial which had good views of downtown Boston.

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After the trail I went to a pub for a couple of pints. The local ice hockey team (Boston Bruins) were on TV and I had to ask the girl next to me about some of the rules as I had no idea what was going on!

I got back, had a nap and then decided to do some laundry as my socks reek and I had no clean ones. Whilst it was on I went out to get some wine, had to walk ages until I found a supermarket. We are not allowed alcohol in the hostel so couldn’t ask reception where I could find booze nearby. Also bought some hummus and twinkies to snack on (not together!).

When I got back I saw Arnel from the bar hop and the girls from last night. I opened my wine (I had also bought a corkscrew after the wine fail last night) and opened the girls’ bottle for them as well. When I eventually went to bed my PJ’s were still a bit warm from the dryer!

 

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