I was 9 years old when I first read Dumas’ “The Three Musqueteers” and I read the whole series several times again throughout my life. I loved the books when I was 9 and I had the same excitement reading them when I was 39. The description of French countryside and its people, customs and food was what made me dream of France for a long time. Of course, I have been to France probably 20 times, but it was always in a hurry, driving to or from somewhere and never really taking the time for the countryside.
Leaving Northern Spain by San Sebastian, we entered the Maritime Provinces of France, from Bayonne in the South all the way to La Vallee de Loire and up to Normandy by the English Channel. This stretch of France, famous for its culinary delights (rightly so), was exactly what I dreamed of since I was a child. The perfectly manicured villages, with tiny but impeccable houses and lawns lining the equally tiny and winding country roads, were mingled with fields with yellow flowers gently rolling in the morning breeze and caressed by the April sun. The smell of the village bakery, where even on Sunday people were coming out with fresh bread and pastries for their brunch with the family and friends; the elderly people, walking hand in hand and with woolen scarves over their necks and stylish hats or basques; we couldn’t believe how different country life is to the city life in France. All in all, I was riding the bike but gasping at the scenes in front of us, which were incredible, village after village. One of our favorite cities on the West Coast was Nantes, set on the Loire River and boasting some impressive architecture and cathedrals. However, I have to say that nothing compares to the villages and small towns we encountered; and this is just our opinion, perhaps because we love the off the beaten places so much.
The food is impeccable, of course, from the foie gras to their cheeses and meats and veggies and fruit and certainly for their amazing recipes of seafood. From province to province and apparently from village to village, same kind of food tastes different than the previous. We have never seen so many kinds of cheeses as we saw now; Charles de Gaulle was right when he said: “A country that has more than 400 types of cheese cannot be governed”; at least not from a cheese point of view!
We exited France at Calais/Dunkerque and entered Belgium and headed for Bruges (or Brugge as they call it in West Flanders). I wanted to take enough time to explore this city, apparently the only one in Europe that has the most medieval buildings still habitable by locals. From here, we could explore the surrounding regions of Belgium and Netherlands, because the distances are relatively small compared to what we have experienced before. Amsterdam is only 250 km away, Ghent, 70 km, Antwerp, 90 km, etc so it seemed like a good place to center ourselves. Brugge proved to be more than I expected and we fell in love with the city right away. The character of the buildings, the canals and the many medieval bridges that cross them, the architecture and the spirit of it all make this city one of the top 3 on our list of favorite places. Words are not needed much, the photos below convey the message better.
My bike reached the 50.000 km mark here in Brugge, 20.000 km from Livingtone, Zambia and from our orphans. It is a great milestone, as this is 30% of our Round the World trip. I also changed my tires here, over 21000 km from Pretoria and I think I had 500 more km on those Heidenau K60. I put again Heidenaus and I am hoping to ride on them all the way to San Diego. My bike had its 50.000 km service here at the Yamaha Dealer and we are now ready to face the East.
We visited Keukenhof in Netherlands, of course (if you have never heard of Keukenhof, check it out online) to see the Tulip Festival. It was the best 15 Euro we ever spent. I will say nothing on this subject because this is a visual experience so enjoy the spectacle.
New horizons await now, our European journey is slowly coming to an end and I smell already the flavors of the Great East, from Russia all the way to Japan. I take it a day at a time, looking at the few hundred kilometers that I have to ride to my next destination. That’s how we did 20.000 km so far and I think it is the best way for us to cope with these immense spaces in front of us.
Countryside of France
Riding through Netherlands
Keukenhof Tulip Festival: enjoy
Changing my tires in Holland