Our Lonely Planet said that there was a fine castle a little ways away that you couldn’t really find “without a good map and a set of wheels.” We visited the tourist office to do some research and found that getting to the castle was a) feasible on just two wheels each and b) would take not one, but two maps. Ever since our Dutch bicycle exploring, we’ve been excited to get back on the saddle and left the office with the two maps and a scrap of paper with bike rental information.
Four days later, we finally got up enough gusto to open the darn things, rent the bikes and get on the road. The bike trail system here in Belgium is pretty amazing and we kept a jotted down list of our route in my pocket for easy reference while we rode: Take 99 to 57 to 64 to 73 to 22 to 24 to 23 to 25 to 71 to 67 to 92 to 10 to 62 to 63 to 65. Simple, right?I managed to take a few pictures while I pedaled. Which is really impressive being as I also managed to fall and flatten some corn stalks and roll down a hill full of thistle, both from a complete stand still. If you don't know what thistle is, it's a green plant that looks really soft but feels like a thousand tiny little needles that itch.
It was amazing how throughout the trip we seemed to be right in people’s backyards, gardens and farmland. Sometimes we’d see people working in the distance and sometimes we were literally a few inches and a wire fence away from someone watering their tomato patch.
Here’s Merlin riding next to a huge pile of harvested turnips.
And here he is riding in a cornfield.
When we started off, the bike route was mainly a wide, paved road like this:
But on our journey it took different shapes.
Sometimes it was two dirt lines in the grass, sometimes all gravel, sometimes cobblestone lanes next to cars. All the while, we would be looking out for tiny green signs with the bike path number on it.
For a little while, we found ourselves biking through some serious mud ditches. We kept looking for a number sign, but there had been long stretched without them before, so we figured this was just another one of them. It was really narrow and steep and I finally had to walk my bike for a little bit to get through.
At our hungriest and muddiest, Merlin found some wild blackberries in the shrubs beside the road, which raised our spirits quite a bit. Then, we biked a little further and found ourselves right alongside an apple orchard! We stole two apples and put them in our backpack in case the hunger situation got dire. Speeding away, delinquents, we got a second wind and we made it through – discovering at the end that we were riding parallel to an actual, paved bike path the whole time.
About three and a half hours after we left Mechelen, we reached the castle. Then, it was time to stalk our prey.