Part I: Netherlands becomes Belgium

I bike through Rotterdam, ’s Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven, Hasselt, Namur, Charleroi, Chimay, and at Forge-Philippe I enter France.

I leave on a sunny Friday before the weekend gets its hands on me. I bike south-west. The city of Jules Deelder brings me courage, I will make this journey like many before me made so much.  

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You run into yourself on the bike. Your mood goes up and down and you can do nothing but observe it. Soft drops of rain become misery, a lonely tree dances in a field and then the wind dribbles you from right to left. The pure happiness trades itself for heavy feet and toes and there's nothing you can do.

I get to Eindhoven, an endless failure of skyscrapers and futuristic promises. A sign welcomes me, announcing that here your dog can walk off the leash under surveillance. I long for the wild, a way without signs, a way where surveillance is unheard of.

Resting in Belgium
The Sambre

I ride along the river Sambre. Cycling along rivers means no surprises; there are no sharp turns, you do not climb and you do not descend. It's almost boring, breathtakingly beautiful. Something ungraspable hangs in the air, like dreams that were never followed. The houses give way for industry. A long transport boat passes me, a graffiti text warns for a Dutch ship and I laugh with the sun. The Netherlands is far behind me.

When the evening falls I stop in a town along the river. People sit on the market square, young parents with babies and elderly. I park my bike along the sidewalk and everyone on the terrace looks at me. I look for my wallet, an old man starts asking me questions. "Come sit with us," he says and pulls a plastic chair up to the table where him and his wife are sitting. They are both in their seventies. The woman looks at me through the lines that are here eyes and keeps her arms crossed over her chest, they do not understand what I am doing and definitely don't think it's a good idea. The man orders half a liter of beer for me.

"You alone on the bike to Portugal?" the old man says, "you must be single."

"You do take the pill right?" he says and pushes his thick index finger into my leg. His eyes are a milky white, not much happens around here.

They want fries and I wonder where I will sleep. "You need to eat," the man says. I explain I will cook couscous but they do not want to hear it. With much effort they get off their chairs and I offer to go with them. "Biensur," the man says.

We slowly make our way across the square, past the church and to the snack bar. I say I do not eat meat. They shake their heads in disapproval. A man outside the snack bar tells me I am crazy and that it's dangerous to do this alone. I assure myself out loud that people are good. The three of us walk back to the bar where the second round of Jupiler is ordered. "Tomorrow I will read in the papers that a young woman was raped here," the man says.

Sleeping by the Sambre
The Sambre in the morning

The sun carefully rises making the dew dance on the water, as if life this early in the morning is just for me.

Soon I ride through the city Charleroi, long along the river and then the country side as a disruption of the trance I had almost lost myself in. I meet hills and need to use all my gears for the first time.

The sun burns, it's 37 degrees. A man stops his tractor and tells me I have a beautiful heart.

The wheat fields seem endless, large machines halve the plants and free much dust. The machines read New Holland, they are smaller than those in the Netherlands. I ride by the stench of factory farms, the asphalt moves like waves and the surroundings breathe death.

I am at the end of my abilities but keep pushing further than I want to get. I bite through the pain of the last kilometers to arrive in an oasis of beauty and peace. The town is called Forge-Philippe, the last town of Belgium. A small river runs by the road and everywhere are flowers. After the endless grainfields I feared would be the end of the world I am spoiled to the garden of Brigitte and André where I sleep by the sound of a waterfall.