Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Belgian Limburg - Day 2

We got up around 9 the next day and took our breakfast out on our little patio: bread, salami, cheese, but disappointingly no eggs from the chicken coop. Corrie's boyfriend Toon was puttering around pruning bushes and carting things around with a wheelbarrow.

My plan was to follow a fietstocht that I'd found on Ontdek de natuur rond Lommel. Lommel is the next town west from Overpelt. It's a 53 km loop round Lommel but if we got tired we could cut it short.

We rode along Fabrieksstraat, lined with factories as the name suggested. Most of the factories were old and decaying but not unattractive in the bright sun. Reaching the east side of Lommel, we turned on the N715 and rode up on a bridge over the big canal. On the other side, a knooppunt marker (228) pointed down to the canal. We rode along the north bank for about 12 km, all the way to Russendorp. It was lovely and we rode on effortlessly alongside the canal, admiring the occasional barge, keeping pace with a pleasure yacht. Again we observed a different attitude in the landscape: just the continuous line of wooden pilings on the opposite bank seemed to signify a looser approach; the Dutch would've built a stone partition so they could be done with it for the next couple of centuries.

Discovering Nature around Lommel

At point 260 we traversed a narrow steel bridge over the canal and continued south along another more slender canal. At kp 268 we turned back east. We could have continued through this rural landscape but I suggested we ride into central Lommel and Alice liked the idea though after a couple of hours riding in the hot sun, she was tiring. The trail went alongside a busy road with continuous auto traffic. We rode into Lommel, parked the bikes and walked around. Lommel, too, felt more like a French or Spanish town than a Dutch one, partly because so many cars were flowing through the center, though there were plenty of bicycles too and places to park them. Down a side street was a Carrefour supermarket where we got some things for dinner.


Alice was very tired and wanted to go back to our abode. First we had a beer at one of the terrace cafes, an older, well-worn place called the Melchior. Mexico was playing Cameroon on a big-screen TV.

We rode back to the canal. Somehow I got ahead of Alice and when I turned off on the other side of the bridge I'd lost sight of her but figured she'd see the knooppunt marker and turn off too. I rode down along the canal for a while. Still no sign of Alice. I rode back to the bridge and found her at the top of the ramp. Apparently she had kept going, not realizing that we'd gone over the canal. Again it was peaceful and pleasant when we went by the rear of the factories that we'd passed along the road earlier. The late afternoon sun bathed the rusted white buildings in an orange glow. I decided we'd continue along the canal and go up on the highway when we reached it rather than taking the bridge we'd gone over that morning. But when we reached the highway there was no way over so we had to continue to Neerpelt, then double back.

Back at our little cabin Alice showered and lay down while I labored at making a big salad: cukes, radishes, avocados, tomatoes and lots of smoked mackerel. Alice settled back to watch the match, Holland vs Spain. I was glad that Holland was creaming Spain, a bit of righteous revenge for blowing the last cup.

Unlike in Holland, minor roads in Belgium have two auto lanes, each flanked by narrow bike lanes, which are demarcated from the road by broken white lines. The knooppunt markers also look different: the numbers are on a blue background and have three digits instead of two. It also seems there are more of them, sometimes even too many, but always good to know you're on the right track. It seems that when a Belgian knooppunt marker is shown on a Dutch map, they drop the first digit, so 219 becomes 19. Alice said that this part of Belgium is where the knooppunt system began--and remains the only part of Belgium where they're used.

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