July 15, 2023

It Boiled Down to This

I went to the beach.

I don't deal well with high temperatures. When it goes above 30 (or 85 for my American readers) degrees, I've no more layers to take off, and my brain ceases to cooperate. I can't focus properly, and I can't sleep. I lose any desire to eat, and the idea of cooking or baking makes me physically sick. It's a downward spiral of vicious deterioration.

The other weekend featured these hell-like temperatures. I lacked the will to do anything. But see, that state itself disgusts me. I want to do stuff! Eventually, I forced myself to go to a laundromat and buy some vegetables or fruit to snack on. At least something productive, right? Well, as I left the shop nearby, I totally forgot about the laundry – No kidding about the brain shut down. Salvaging the clothes a few hours later, I thought, "I have to fight this!"

I started planning a bike trip to the tallest point in Belgium. "Mountains with breeze, forests with shade... Yes, please!" But also, around a kilometer of elevation gain. Eh, maybe that's not the one, with my 50-year-old bike with jammed shifting. "I'm not fixing it in this heat, no chance! ... Let's explore more of the coast instead," I thought and drafted an alternative plan. But by that time, it was evening already. That's another thing; everything takes ages in these temperatures. To move, even to think. Ridiculous! So, I had ice cream dinner and decided: let's go to the sea tomorrow, swim, and cycle along the beach. And let's go early morning because there's rain predicted after lunchtime.

Yeah, but then I couldn't sleep till around 4 am, so when an alarm rang at 5, I threw it away and stayed in bed. When I finally got up, ate a kiwi, and put some clothes on, it was past 11. "Oh-uh," I sighed. "Might as well call this off ... No, I have to fight it!" I busted off the doors, raging at the numbness. At the train station, I realized I forgot my towel, but no way I would turn at this point. It is happening!

A train to the coast came in about two minutes; good timing, I celebrated and entered it. Oh, it was hot. Before reaching Gent, I already drank the liter of water I brought with me, and I sweated at the minimum twice as much. Then, the clouds came, and when we pulled into Oostende, it rained. "This will be an adventure... Thank goodness!"

Oostende station with a bike

At the Oostende station: Beginning of the journey.

The moment I stepped outside the wagon, the combination of seaside air and a gentle spray of rain provided the much-desired relief from the boiling warmth. I didn't prepare any points of interest in the city, but since being here, let's have a look.

Just outside the station is a port. Seeing all these vessels made me think about Brittany, further contributing to the good vibes. And then, there's this attractive cathedral!

After taking a closer glimpse at it and the medieval Sint-Pieterstoren nearby, I stopped by a street food corner to get something salty. Earlier that week I talked with friends, and one mentioned that intake of salt is somehow related to heat. It was so hot when they told me, that I remembered it as if salt helps. I looked it up while writing this text, and it is the other way around: increased consumption can lead to dehydration. Well, at least I also got my water bottle refilled, so I continued to the coast with a clean score. There, I hopped on a free ferry that took me across the port. Sweet! I am a big fan of services like these, providing excitement from something unusual while getting people where they want to be. A win-win!

On the other side, I had a good view of the ongoing Ostend Beach Festival, more boats...

...and a plethora of WW2-era coastal defense fortifications, a part of the Atlantic Wall.

Some bunkers are freely accessible to the public, so I couldn't resist and entered one.

There is also the 19th-century Fort Napoleon, which is a museum now. But I skipped it for what's beyond: the beach.

Being there felt fantastic, even with signs prohibiting swimming. In the rain, jumping to the sea didn't appear as desirable as I imagined it anyway. At least that's what I told myself.

So, I joined the cycling path toward another major Belgian coastal town, Blankenberge. It was nice and safe, but it diverted away from the sea.

As the sea was the main goal of today, I went back to the beach, where I noticed a big green flag. "Hmm, there's no excuse anymore, is it..." I thought and headed for a swim.

It might not look like it in the photo, but the weather made everything remarkably better. The colder air meant that entering the water was without the temperature shock like when it is mega hot and dry. Another benefit was that I had the beach nearly all to myself. I could count all the people around on one hand. Amazing!

Oh, sea swimming is one of the things I tend to forget how nice they are; every time I get to do it, I am surprised by just how thrilling it is. I was in no rush and stayed awhile.

Once I re-joined the cycling path, the rain stopped. Just like that, the people came back out. But it was okay, there was plenty of space for everyone.

I made another diversion to the waterfront in De Haan, a town roughly halfway between Oostende and Blankenberge. The buildings there reminded me of Eureka Springs a bit.

If you follow this blog, you know I like cycling. No matter how long I do it, I still get excited about the opportunities it provides. Here, I thought how cool it is that I can change the route, park anywhere with ease, and get a waffle. Okay, the last might have nothing to do with cycling, but it helped to make my day yet better.

After another stop in Wenduine and a scenic countryside traverse, I made it to a busy marina followed by a long beach with a promenade. I arrived in Blankenberge.

I could take a direct train home from here, but it was too good to call it a day already, so I decided to prolong my tour and continue towards the Dutch border.

While on dunes just outside the town, the sun showed up and saturated colors around.

I enjoyed the view of the Belgium Pier on my left and the massive freighters on my right...

...soaked in the atmosphere, and I opted to continue to the West Flanders capital, Bruges.

There's a phenomenal cycling road to the city and cruising through the historic downtown once again proved to be worth the time. And when I went to the station, my train came in about five minutes. Oh, Belgium is growing on me.

If you liked this article, you might also like other posts about Belgium, the seas, my solo travels, or other topics that you can browse in my Blog Archives. Thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories


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