Distance: 51.36 km
Time: 2 hours 37 minutes
Average speed : 19.6 km/h
Total distance: 555.07 km
canal — canal — canal— canal — canal — Antwerp!
Turnhout turned out to be much larger than we had imagined. In particular the Grote Markt was huge – bigger than any other we have seen. It had a lively ambience, too, in the many outdoor bars and cafės we passed en-route to our carefully selected restaurant for the evening: “Cucina Marangon”. What a great choice it was too, a Venetian restaurant in an airy room with a sort of faded splendour and cooking worthy of a Michelin Star. In particular we both really enjoyed delicately flavoured canneloni and some excellent pork loin. The proprietress spoke no English but we were able to exercise our slightly rusty Italian, much to her relief.
We have two demerits to award today. The first one is for the tandem, which had clearly had a wild night in room 1. Clearly other tandems had visited in the night…. The second is for Gary the Garmin, who crashed every time we tried to load today’s route, the little sod! Fortunately our planning and compliance officer/rear motive unit had of course prepared a back-up plan, consisting of a laminated card describing all the nodes and important roads of today’s route. As the saying goes: Prior Preparation Prevents P*** Poor Pedalling!
It was bright and sunny as we left Turnhout for a short cycling day – we have never visited Antwerp before so we wanted to allow time for sightseeing. So only fifty-one kilometres to do today and, as with yesterday, the vast majority on canal-side paths. It being Saturday the cyclists (of all shapes and sizes) were out in force on the towpath of the lovely narrow canal between Turnhout and Antwerp. The surfaces were variable, some sandy tracks and plenty of Tarmac, and on the latter at least we were able to achieve speeds of up to 30km/hr for quite some time.
When enthusing about the cycle tracks a couple of days ago we forgot to mention perhaps the most impressive feature of cycling here in Belgium – the astonishing courtesy shown towards cyclists. Often the cycle paths (usually coloured red to distinguish them from the roads) cross the ends of side roads, or form a continuous ring around roundabouts. So we were bewildered at first when we approached such crossings and the cars simply stopped to let us through, every single time. We even tried to wave some of them on, but they would wait patiently for us to pass. This was often somewhat embarrassing, as, expecting them to go first we were not quite ready to continue, or were in the wrong gear. Anyway, just thought we’d mention this particular feature of Belgian cycling, we’re sure the “lads” at Top Gear would be really interested to hear about it.
Back on the canal we were speeding along in the benevolent warmth of the sun. It gradually became less benevolent and more scorching, and we stopped briefly for a drink in the shade of the canal-side oaks. Eventually, after passing ten or so locks the scenery started to change. We were obviously entering the suburbs of Antwerp and, with about 12 kilometres to go we left the canal and took road-side cycle paths towards the city centre. We paused briefly at a bike shop to borrow their track pump so we could re-inflate our tyres to the optimal pressure. Then, passing through a couple of city parks, and navigating without the assistance of Gary, we headed into the centre. The signing of the nodes was sometimes less than obvious, and we had to retrace our steps a couple of times, and to avoid some nasty tram tracks near the water-front. Soon enough, though, we found ourselves at Antwerp’s Grote Markt and located our hotel in a nearby side street. After the disgraceful scenes of last night the tandem has been relegated to the hotel garden!
By now it was lunchtime, and after a quick shower we changed into our civvies (strange feeling, that!) and walked towards Antwerp’s cathedral, looking for somewhere to eat. A simple pasta lunch followed, washed down with a bottle of Soave! We tried to get into the cathedral to have a look around, but sadly it was closed for the afternoon. In the nearby square of Groenplaats we spotted a “petit train”, always a favoured way of getting a quick view of an unfamiliar city. Nearby we also spotted a poster for an Elvis Costello concert, but not for tonight, unfortunately. We enjoyed our tour of the city, although the rather solid suspension of the “petit train” made for an uncomfortable ride, worse than our tandem saddles!
Afterwards we returned to the hotel to catch the end of today’s stage of the Tour de France – well done Chris Froome! We’re looking forward to a sunny evening stroll and perhaps an outdoor meal.
Tomorrow (excitingly!) we’re cycling to Ghent/Gent/Gand (so good they named it thrice)!
Here’s today’s track: