At Passendale the dead sleep well beneath manicured lawns. The unknown Soliders receive dozens of daily visitors,like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys they remain forever young.
Along with the regular summer crops, local farmers also do quite nicely from the detritus of war: bullet casings, belt buckles shrapnel and such are on sold to tourists who cherish them as a religious pilgrim would a piece of the true cross. Evidently a young Walt Disney washed up around here in the early 1920s making and selling counterfeit war memorabilia.
I was pleased to leave the dead behind, they are too exhausting. One can easily be seduced by the suffering. The towns and cities of the living, with their earthly pleasures and gaudy summer carnivals were calling.
We camped in Bruges, the Venice of the north, a UNESCO world heritage city, was founded in 1128. Bruges escaped the horrors of war and remains largely intact as a medieval city. After gazing at the gorgeous buildings, canals and wandering the cobblestoned streets until we were footsore, we took refuge at the Chocolate Museum which was both informative and tasty. Belgium Chocolate Yum!
In the campground I met Stephen an English saxophone playing mathematician who was in Belgium for a GO tournament. GO is an ancient game and was developed by the Chinese some 4500 years ago to develop discipline, concentration and balance. Think Chess without the excitement!
We cycled on via the tree lined canal to Gent at a lazy pace. I enjoyed watching the barges and lazy weekend boat traffic on the river. I stopped occasionally just to breath and remember where we were. It feels so luxurious taking theses big gulps of Freedom.
Our next stop was Gent, where we took in the sights of the Castle and met Sebastian, a young cycle tourist who is also completing his Phd in Climate Science. “I have developed a system whereby you can measure the degree of suffering a tree may feel.” Geez don’t these people have enough suffering!
At Bo’Drams coffee shop we got chatting with the owner Nick, who is also an actor and Town Crier. He showed us a few pictures of his town crying. Nick has also adopted a dead American solider from WW2. He visits his grave on what would have been his birthday and on Armistice Day. “He had no family, it’s the least I could do.” said Nick..
Back out on the road we are passed by many bunches of cyclists. The pelotons come and go. We found them courteous and friendly, even in this cycling obsessed country expedition tourists are a novelty, we have received much enthusiastic approval from passers by, which isn’t surprising. Cycling is the number one sport in Belgium where the National hero is Eddy Merckx aka The Cannibal 5 time winner of the Tour de France. Cycling paths abound and touring cyclist such as ourselves are respected, everybody cycles here.
Cycling is mostly easy on well marked paths. You can take your pick of a number of routes along the canals, through the aroma filled fields, via secondary roads or mix and match to suit yourself. I always manage to find something unexpected and interesting, I guess that’s what I love about cycle touring.