I don’t have internet access here everyday, so I’ll be writing things as I go along, and will post them when I do have internet access. So most things I write, happened a few days earlier.
The team got uninvited to the Tour of Liege, which sucks. But then again, I don’t think I would have done very well in it anyways, seeing that I’m still coughing up stuff. Because we won’t be doing the race, the rest of the team won’t be showing up to Belgium until the 17th. But the two people taking care of the house who will be doing the cooking, food shopping, and all that stuff, will get here on the 14th. That means I’m here by myself for a day.
After my flight and getting through customs, I stumbled out into the airport lobby area here in Brussels. My first obstacle was to find a hotel. After wandering around for the better part of an hour, I finally made my way outside to the free shuttle area, and took the bus to the cheapest hotel I could find ($59 euros). Earlier that day, I exchanged $100 for 50 euros. So 59 euros isn’t that cheap, although the room is tiny.
As quickly as I could, I assembled my bike in the hotel room and put on my cycling stuff. It was 10:30 AM, but it felt much later. More like 3AM. I never fell asleep the other night—the night before I left. And the sleep I got on the plain was more of just a doze. So by the time I stepped out of my hotel into the sun ready to explore the streets of Brussels, I hadn’t slept for two days.
The hotel managers pointed me in the right direction to the city, which was 8 kilometers away, and then I was off. I spent the next three hours in complete confusion, disoriented from lack of sleep and the strange streets, and completely lost.
I cruised alongside cars and buses down the narrow streets, dodging opening car doors on the right, and deranged oncoming Belgium drivers on the left. The city smelled strange. In the poor areas, my nose detected hints of sewage. And then I would pass by Middle Eastern food stands and fruit shops and the smell would make me hungry. But of course, a familiar smell would bring me back to the car-controlled world: the stench of exhaust as a smoggy tailpipe went by.
The buildings in Brussels are all made out of brick and concrete. They rise out of the sides of the streets and stretch up four or five stories, creating a canyon. These buildings would be a full block long; housing apartments were connected with stores. Small balconies overlooked the packed streets. Everything was old and decaying, and yet colorful and exciting.
Most of the time I was able to keep up with the speed of traffic, which decided its current speed not based on speed limit signs, but by how fast the car in front of it was going.
Brussels is filled with round a bouts, which are confusing and dangerous for bikers. I used my middle finger more than once, although most of the drivers were courteous enough.
On one occasion, a car almost cut me off in an intersection as I flew through, it honked and put on its breaks as I gave the guy the finger, remembering that the finger here is the peace sign backwards. He passed me a moment later and honked at me again, then sped off. I reflected on the situation, trying to figure out why so many cars were pissed off at me on my bike. Cycling is their main sport, so why were they driving like maniacs? Was I doing something wrong? Then it hit me. I didn’t know what a stop sign looked like. In fact, I had just been going through every intersection assuming I had the right of way. There were stoplights, and I had stopped at those, but I never stopped at any other intersection. I paid more attention at intersections from then on, but I still never saw anything that resembled a stop sign.
The cobbles here are everything I thought they would be. They jar your entire body, especially your hands and feet. I rode on them for a total of two miles probably. Doing the Paris-Roubaix on them seems insane, and completely awesome.
Although there were some bike lanes in the city, I only saw six or seven other cyclists (most were commuters) during my three hours. I don’t think people ride in the city because there are way too many cars, all following their own rules of the road. I did, however, see a group of eight road bikers heading out of the city when I was on the bus leaving the airport.
By around 12:00 or so, I was getting tired and was ready to head back to the hotel. I had absolutely no idea where I was or where the hotel was. So I did what anyone would do in that situation. I rode around randomly.
I first imagined Brussels to be a medium-sized city, and assumed I would get turned around for a while, but I didn’t think I would get as lost as I did. Brussels is much bigger than I thought. It has about 1 million people in it, and there are no street signs or names. I kept going in circles, coming to the same street fair over and over again. Traffic was clogged here, and I ended up riding down the middle of the road, in between honking cars and pedestrians. After the third time accidentally going through there, I decided to try a completely different direction, and headed straight, towards a tunnel. I went into the tunnel, which was a bad place to be, considering the lack of a shoulder, the dark, and the rapid speed of the passing, honking cars.
I finally began asking directions, and it turns out a fair amount of people here know English, or at least a little bit. I, on the other hand, know absolutely no French, German, or Flemish. Although I was coughing some up on the ride.
To make a long story short, I rode around in circles for a long time, then began following planes overhead, assuming they were leaving the airport. I asked a fellow road cyclist for directions, and he told me to follow him. He got me part of the way there, and gave me directions for the rest of the way, although I didn’t really understand what he said.
Amazingly enough, I got to the airport, and shortly after found my hotel by some bizarre string of luck. I talked to the hotel managers for a bit, then went back to my room and fell asleep to the Tour. By the way, the Tour is on 3 channels here, and is completely unabridged. And there are no commercials. And they show reruns and highlights all day long on almost every channel. Another cool thing about Belgium is that they play Monopoly with wooden motels, not plastic. I saw a picture of it on a bus.