So last week I wrote briefly about some of the excitement on my trip to Ypres. Mostly I focused on the European Union summit going on and the important people I ogled. But really, lurking at the outside of an EU summit is not what defined my weekend there. What defined my weekend was that lovely thing the French call le cyclotourisme. Which is a pretentious way of saying tourism on a bike.
With a couple of cycling guides in my bag and a wonderful network of cycling trails ahead of me, I was off to the races. The theme was WWI tourism – going to cemeteries, memorials, and former battlefields. This was greatly aided by a cycling guide to the Ypres Salient, which not only gave directions for a route along the former front, but also aerial photos of the Salient during the war and now and tons of historical information to help me understand the countryside I rode through.
There were a number of things I enjoyed about this type of travel. First, it’s incredibly affordable – 15 Euro for a day rental, no fuel or parking to worry about! Second, it’s so easy to stop randomly at the side of the road or go slightly off track to investigate things that catch your eye. Just stop cycling and take in the view – the same wouldn’t be so easy in a car on the main road. I also felt more engaged in my surroundings than in a car – I wasn’t closed off from it, and the sedate pace of cycling greatly aided enjoying the countryside views.
Finally, there is the fact that cycling left me feeling far more accomplished than driving would have. I estimate my ride on the first day was some 22-25 km, and on the second day my Garmin recorded a total of 36.5 km. I may have been absolutely exhausted by the end, but I felt great. In a lot of ways I felt like being at the end of a long Sunday training run. It’s a feeling I’ve dearly missed in recent months, as I’m currently not running while I recover from an injury, and it was great to get it back.
Fun fact: that endorphin-high post-exercise feeling makes bad weather hilarious. So when the clouds that had hung ominously around the region all day decided to let loose all their rain in a single five-minute-long torrential downpour, it hardly bothered me to get soaked to the bone. I rode through the rain and laughed like a maniac. It was the last kilometer of my ride anyway and I had dry clothes stored in a day locker in town. During that downpour I stopped at the Menin Gate where a lot of people were taking shelter and waiting for the rain to stop, and I got somebody to take my picture.