Remember how I said it still didn’t feel like I was actually going to Belgium to ride in a 153-mile granfondo, even as I was finishing packing?
Well, I’m here now. And I’ve been as giddy as a 90’s schoolboy opening their first TMNT toy since I crossed into Belgian airspace, which is when it finally dawned on me that I was indeed going to Belgium.
I went straight for a two-hour train ride from Brussels’ airport to Kortrijk — a town I had previously never heard of and coincidentally didn’t even realize I was staying in until a few days prior when BMC Switzerland sent me the itinerary. I slurred through the consonants of “K-o-r-t-r-i-j-k,” feigning a Dutch accent when asking for directions. Unsurprisingly, as I’ve come to learn about Europe since my first visit in Ireland two years ago, trains are plentiful here.
There was only one transfer in my trip, allowing me ample time to stare out the window as the Belgian countryside passed me by, dreaming of a day when something other than car travel is welcomed in my native States.
The Park Hotel where I’m staying sits right outside the Kortrijk station. Commuting cyclists and families rolled by, easily outnumbering cars, as if I needed another reminder I’m no longer Stateside.
And the fresh air! Ah, the fresh air that you’re able to consume when the citizenry takes up cycling or their own two feet over vehicular transportation. It truly is a treat.
Alright, enough of my crap. Back to the awesomeness that is Kortrijk, Belgium.
The folks at Park Hotel set me up quickly, allowing me for a quick change before complimentary breakfast ended at 10:30 a.m. Good eats and very comfortable lodgings. Certainly much nicer than I deserve. Not to mention they gave me a train station view. Clearly Belgium gets me.
I spent the next couple hours or so wandering around town. Kortrijk is filled with historic homes, buildings, and pedestrian plazas that welcome locals outside for lunch. This, it seems to me, is how we were meant to live.
You also get the sense that Kortrijk is old, which is probably unremarkable to Europeans who are used to living in cities older than a couple centuries. But it feels worth mentioning that Kortrijk seems to have done a bang up job in preserving much of its historicity.
After my self-guided tour, I went over for lunch at the hotel with my BMC comrades, Steven (Belgian), Fiola (Irish), and Alexandre (Brazilian). Great people to chat with while I devoured a tasty vegetarian pasta.
Following lunch, we got setup with our bikes for the Tour Of Flanders and planned to meet in a few hours for a ride. Jet-lag started to grab hold of me while relaxing in my hotel room where I dozed off repeatedly as Eurosport when from some cycling coverage to curling, of all things. Luckily I was able to fight it off, knowing how important it is for me to be on Belgian time when I start my 153-mile ride on Saturday at 7 a.m — 1 a.m. back home.
Our ride ended up being a 19-mile jaunt around Kortrijk (video to come) and the nearby countryside. Cows, sheep, goats (and therefore, the scent of fresh manure) were plentiful as we rolled through narrow, unmarked country roads. Drivers were respectful of cyclists, which is something (like the trains) I appreciated considering I get at least one horn and unintelligible insult thrown in my direction when riding back home.
Of course I almost managed to screw the weekend up by skidding on some gravel just 15 minutes or so into the ride. I could picture the tiny stones lodged into the side of my leg. Luckily, I recovered. Thanks, BMC GF01!
Near the end of the ride, I was able to experience cobblestones (or pavé) for the first time. In short, I’ve never felt so many things on my body vibrate at once. There’s simply nothing like it in Cleveland that could have prepared me for it. In fact, the last cobblestone bridge we went over back in Kortrijk, around what seemed to be a castle, just about destroyed my Garmin VIRB mounted to my handlebars.
Of course I have God knows how many more kilometers of ball-busting cobblestones to look forward to on Saturday. Swell!
We ended the night with a few damn-fine beers and dinner. On the beer-side, Steven recommended the Omer Blonde from a local brewery, which I was happy to order a second of at dinner. Then to go with my spaghetti bolognese I went with a Leffe Brown. Suffice it to say, the beer stereotype of Belgium holds true in the most glorious (and inebriated) of ways.
Nearing midnight, bed sounded like Heaven with all the puffy clouds you’re promised as a kid.
Though it had only been a day, I could already tell I dug this whole Belgium thing. Beautiful country and a livable city with good beer. What more could you possibly need?