Distance: 86.33 km
Time: 5 hrs 33 minutes
Average speed : 15.5 km/h
Total distance: 327.5 km
rain — the ‘Apple route’ — the outer limits — vertiginous descent
We both had a craving for rice last night, so we decided to go with it, and had a Chinese meal in Tienen, which seemed to do the trick. The Grote Markt in Tienen was lovely, as usual, with a huge white cathedral at one end. These Belgian towns all seem to have a Grote Markt (the Flemish equivalent of the Grand Place), and they’re always a good bet for finding bars and restaurants. We found ourselves seriously flagging by the end of the meal, and trudged quite wearily back to the hotel (uphill, sadly), and put ourselves to bed.
This morning dawned grey, and the rain started as we were breakfasting. The lady receptionist in the hotel had looked up the weather forecast, and told us it might well rain all day. We met a Dutch cyclist in reception who was cycling from Amsterdam to Barcelona, some 2000km. He didn’t seem fazed by the rain, and to be honest neither were we, really, we’ve coped with worse, and it was still warm, with no discernible wind.
We’d got up half an hour earlier today with the idea of visiting one of the town’s several bike shops to see if they a replacement ‘proper’ tyre, so we could refold the folding tyre and keep it in case of more tyre problems on this or a future tour. The shop we picked was brilliant, the owner claimed only to know English from watching films, but they must have been quite high-brow, he was really good! He replaced the tyre, and made a small adjustment to a sticky brake return mechanism, and we were on our way by 9:45.
It rained solidly for the first hour, until our toes were swimming in our shoes, but we didn’t mind, the cycle paths were back to wonderful quiet hard-surfaced lanes through the countryside, and we made great progress. We seemed to have entered the fruit-growing area, at one point we were officially on the ‘Apple route’, but we also saw cherries, pears, even raspberries growing up wires.
After an hour, the rain let up, and our good progress continued. We seemed to be going directly east, and also slightly uphill, but almost imperceptibly. The signs for the nodes and routes between them changed today, they’re blue in this area and slightly bigger. We navigated off the node network into Tongeren for lunch, and found a nice cafe in the Grote Markt (of course) and refuelled. The Grote Markt church played tunes with its bells on each quarter hour, although we didn’t recognise them. There was also a very odd sculpture in the middle of the square, which can only be described as a sort of roman centurion atop a Stonehenge menhir arrangement. Very odd. Photos were taken.
After lunch we pushed on, knowing that we had to abandon the node network after about 10km for our excursion into Wallonia. It felt very weird, as if we were reaching the outer limits of the solar system like Voyager and heading off into the unknown. Unfortunately, when we reached our final node, and loaded Gary with the route to Liege, it became clear that we should have left the solar system slightly earlier than we had… We decided our only option was to retrace our steps, which was a bit annoying, but soon done, and we did manage to cut off a corner, which helped.
So, free of the nodes, we headed towards Liege, reaching the dizzying heights of 210m before a rather vertiginous descent into the centre and a slightly hairy 500m round the cobbled inner ring road in the Liege rush-hour to our hotel.
The bad news is that we will have to ascend the vertiginous descent tomorrow on our way out of Liege in order to re-enter the solar system. Having done it downhill, we know exactly how bad it’s going to be… On the plus side, though, it’s pretty much the last hill in the whole trip. They’re not called the Low Countries for nothing!
Here’s today’s track: