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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 will not forget the next few days, but not if that will be because of the fun or 'less fun' things. Like all the other cycling vacations, I 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 beside the road and got a big smile when he saw me.

After 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 terrible the entire way, and putting distances on those signs is apparently 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.

 

I got lost again at the end of the canal, so I asked someone for directions. The man had no clue. I knew I needed to go westward but couldn't determine where that was because it was clouded. As the big city of Ghent was west of us, I asked for directions to go there. Fortunately, he could give those. Afterward, I soon lost directions again because there simply weren't any signs anywhere.

I started getting close to Affligem, where Palm beer is brewed. There was a sign indicating the brewery, so I figured I would have a look. 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.

Delirium tremens brewery

The brewery of Delirium Tremens
 

In the meanwhile I hadn't eaten anything except breakfast and some buns. That would typically already be little, but now I was cycling even more. During my winter hike in the Vogezen, I had eaten too little because it had been tough, making it even worse. That's why I forced myself to take a break and eat.

 

I hadn't brought any cash on purpose, so I would need to find an ATM, and some exciting stuff might happen. After cycling passed plenty of bakeries and stores I had built 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 couldn't buy any food. I still decided to continue because I wanted to drink Westvleteren no matter what.

I passed a Mcdonald's 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 experience was exactly why I hadn't brought any cash. Although I still wasn't sure if I could get money in Belgium, I decided to continue my trip. If necessary, I would try to replicate this at another Mcdonald's or cycle to France to find an ATM there.

Eventually, after some more detours, I arrived at Zottegem, just south of Gent. It was getting pretty late and it 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 I probably needed to camp in the wild. After some searching I found a nice spot. I had just crawled into my sleeping bag when it started to rain hard, which it did until the morning.

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