I wish I could say I liked Belgium.
Riding over the border from six coastal days in orderly and proud Netherlands (orange everywhere for the Euro football team at the moment), and especially after Germany (of course), Belgium feels like old Eastern Europe without the hope of possible future change.
Little things like verges not being mowed; grass growing between the paving slabs on very uneven bike tracks; huge areas of industrial wasteland on the edges of Antwerp, where my GPS took me to two non-existent camp sites before I threw up my hands and came to the youth hostel.
Which is very friendly, but very tatty. Rather English, in fact.
Staying with sweeping generalisations, which have been fun on this trip as I’ve moved through Europe East and West, rich and emerging, I’ve long thought that Belgium doesn’t really work as a state.
The Dutch-speakers keep to themselves, as do the French-speaking Walloons in the South. There’s almost no mixing, and. as a visitor one just doesn’t feel that the folk here care for their country in the way many other nations do in Europe. Good preparation, perhaps, for my own transition back to the UK.
But perhaps my moaning today has to do with the total change in weather. POURED with rain all 85 miles down from Rotterdam – with a brief interlude in Dutch Oudenbosch to allow capture of the above photo.
Not St Peter’s in Rome, but a carbon half-size copy, erected on the initiative of local 19th century priest who, we were told, so loved the Church and the Pope that he wanted Oudenbosch to have a basilica of its own.
Quite impressive in fact – and a reminder of the ridiculous sums once spent on ridiculous buildings. Think also chateaux in France and Moscow metro or University. Perhaps we do learn with time – although think also Millenium Dome…
Hard to illustrate with a photo, but thinking therapy – the back end of this blog’s title, which has been a bit neglected in my musings so far – I’ve been reminded in these last days of my mega-ride of the important work we’ve done and still have to do in changing journalism culture in understanding trauma.
It’s rewarding work which I’m looking forward to reengaging with come the autumn. Listening and talking to journalists who’ve witnessed bad stuff, and giving them permission, as it were, to be human beings as well as reporters really can make a difference.
Not rocket science, but sometimes life-chaning.
Oh yes, and a first sort-of-breakdown to report. Raven’s back tyre needed changing today, probably because I overinflated it when unnecessarily pumping it up in Northern Holland. But, not a bad maintenance record for nearly 4000 miles.
Brussels tomorrow, which new Dutch and Canadian friends here at the youth hostel tell me is a lot closer than I thought. A result of taking bike routes today which literally flank the motorways in Holland.
Can you imagine the Brits automatically building cycle tracks with every new motorway? We have SO far to go.
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