Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Europe Diagonal: Belgium GR 129 Part 1

At the beach near Brugges
When I had started to plan this trip and was searching for a route through the BeNeLux countries, I stumbled upon the GR 129 through Belgium which is so aptly called "Belgique en diagonal". With this title I could not resist and chose this trail which starts in Brugges. Travelling to Brugges from Germany turned out to be much longer than expected because a train broke down in Cologne, could not be "revived" and I had to wait for the next totally overbooked train two hours later. I was utterly exhausted when I finally arrived in Brugges at night. After half a day of sightseeing in this pittoresque tourist town I started my hike right at the coast in wonderful weather. The beach was fantastic but the 20 km walk back to Brugge showed me what was to come in the next days: endless road walk in very flat countryside!

Wild camping turned out to be a big problem because there was hardly any forest or trees to hide in! I had to plan very well in advance to find a suitable spot every evening. The trail itself wasn't too exciting either: More than 50% I was walking on concrete roads or bike paths! Flanders is definitely more bike than hike country. To my big surprise I even met another female hiker who was even wild camping like me. Still there were some highlights on this stretch: an old water castle and the pittoresque town of Oudenarde. From Ath where there was a big festival taking place I took the train to Brussels for my first rest day in Belgium - and to meet a hiker friend!

I had known Fatma only virtually but felt very welcome immediately in her flat in Brussels. She and her partner really pampered me with fantastic food and very interesting talks! I visited the Royal Palace and an art museum and we we sat together in the evening drinking a glass of wine together I could not think of anything that would have made that day more perfect! This was definitely the best rest day on this trip! After breakfast together I boarded the train again that brought me back to Ath and hiking - and the heat. Now in August it was almost unbearably hot and because there is so little forest there is also hardly any shade! These days really dragged on and on and I was very happy to be able to make phone calls and talk to my friends while hiking!

But there were also some highlights: Blackberries were ripe and I had always somehting to snack. And because I was walking along endless fields I could also skip lunch and eat corn cobs. And I passed the Mons which had just recently been Cultural capitol of Europe and was therefore full of interesting museums. There were so many that it was difficult to choose! I visited the War Museum because Mons played an important role in both world wars and the Silex Museum several kilometres away but along the GR 129. Here back in the stone ages flint stone had been mined and the museum  is in fact a huge tent where archaelogists are still excavating the old mine shafts. When I had a break in the shade there I found a lot of stone chips that could well have been created by our human ancestors.

Unfortunately this lovely day ended with a bad surprise: My "camping forest" turned out to be the garden of a castle and was completely fenced in! I ended up camping in a meadow right next to a cell phone tower. At least it was nice to have 4G reception in the evening ...
The trail does hardly get any use here! Some paths are completely overgrown with blackberry bushes and nettles and I have to wear long pants despite the heat. Along the roads there are "mowers" to cut the grass and bushes and when one of these guys saw me coming out of the fiels he was so surprises that he mowed one of the guardrails off ...

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