Westvleteren - Day 1
First I needed to cycle to Retie, the way there I knew by heart. Along the way I had the same feeling as during my winter hike to the Vogezen. You just know you are not going to forget the next couple of days, but not if that will be because of the fun or 'less fun' things. Similar to all the other cycling vacations I already missed listening to music within 5 minutes after leaving. Fortunately there was a party going on when I passed Postel. A bit further a farmer stood along the road that got a big smile on his face when he saw me. Those things are just guaranteed to make you happy.
After arriving in Retie I had to go to Kasterlee and then to Herentals. It was drizzling but I was still pretty happy and looking forward to the trip. After arriving in Herentals I had finished all the sandwiches I carried and needed to go to Lier. The signs indicating the villages were bad the entire way, and putting distances on those signs is really unheard of in Belgium. After finding a map by the side of the road I could continue. Upon arriving in Lier I needed to follow a canal to Boom and then continue to Dendermonde. I took several wrong turns but eventually found the canal, after which it was easy to stay on the correct road.
At the end of the canal I was lost again so asked someone for directions. He had no clue where the town was where I wanted to go. I knew it was westward but couldn't see where that was because it was clouded. As Ghent, a big city, lay toward the west I asked for direction to there, which he fortunately knew. Afterwards I soon lost directions again, because there just weren't any signs; anywhere.
Along the way I got close to Affligem, which sounded familiar. When I arrived I realized where I knew the town from, this is where the great beer Palm is brewed. I didn't know where to go but there was a sign indicating the brewery, so I figured I would have a look there. After following two subsequent signs they suddenly stopped. At least I figured out where I was. A while later I unexpectedly passed the brewery of Delirium Tremens, a.k.a. the pink elephant beer.
The brewery of Delirium Tremens
In the meanwhile I hadn't eating anything except breakfast and some buns. That would normally already be little, but now I was cycling even more so. During my winter hike in the Vogezen I had eaten too little because it had been though, which in turn made it even worse. That's why I forced myself to take a break and eat.
I on purpose hadn't brought any cash so I would need to find an ATM and some interesting stuff might happen. After cycling passed plenty of bakeries and stores I had build a good appetite by the time I found one. It only held 50 euro bills, but at least it wasn't empty. I discovered that my credit card didn't work, which was strange because it had worked fine in France and Germany for years, and also at Belgian train stations. It would be kind of a problem if I wouldn't be able to buy any food. I still decided to continue because I wanted to drink Westvleteren no matter what.
I passed a McDonalds and tried to eat there. When I wanted to pay my card again didn't work, so the waitress called the manager. He said my card wouldn't work anywhere in Belgium and the nearest ATM was 4 km away. Just when I wanted to say 'oh then I will quickly cycle there', he said I would get my meal for free. I didn't expect that, certainly not at McDonalds. This type of experiences were exactly why I hadn't brought any cash. Although I still wasn't sure if I would be able to get money in Belgium I decided to continue my trip. If need be I would try to replicate this at another McDonalds or cycle all the way to France to find an ATM there.
Eventually, after some more detours, I arrived at Zottegem, which is just south of Gent. It was getting pretty late and started to rain more and more, so i started looking for a place to sleep. I hadn't seen a single campsite along the way so probably needed to camp in the wild. After some searching I found a nice spot. I had just crawled in my sleeping bag when it started to rain really hard, which it did until the morning.