An adventure in Bredene

Today’s image: my new ride!

First off, don’t get used to this frequency of posts. I just so happened to have a day off in the middle of the week and a bit of a weekend adventure very reminiscent of my time in Korea. I remember enjoying recounting those explorations as I learned as much as I could about my host culture. Whether or not you all enjoyed it is irrelevant. These were the times that reminded me that despite the banality of my daily routine, I actually was on some sort of crazy global adventure. Belgian culture is far more like the one I grew up with than is Korean culture, but it’s the subtle differences that keep things interesting.

And so, after finally assembling my mail-order bike to the point that I was more or less satisfied with its safety, I decided to take advantage of the mild weather. My new steed and I were on our first adventure!

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I suppose the first thing I noticed was that I didn’t much enjoy riding this bike. It was the cheapest bike I could find that fit my criteria, but it was the same amount I paid for the bike I had in Visby and the one I also bought online in Denver. Both of those served me very well, so I figured I just needed a little time to adapt.

Even though I wasn’t particularly excited about the particular bike, it sure felt fast to move faster than a walk! It’s been several weeks without wheels, so the fact that I could cover several kilometers in a reasonable amount of time was exceptionally refreshing.

First stop was the entrance to the harbor. I assembled the bike at my office which is on the north side (the opposite side from my apartment), so I headed for the old Fort Napoleon.

This part of the harbor seems much less used than the industrial area where our office is and is lined with decaying old vessels, some still floating, others hauled onto the pier.

 

The Fort was closed, but the sandy hill it is built into is crisscrossed with paths. I might have to start using this area for a lunchtime run. It’s a surprising encounter with Nature adjacent to a military installation commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte (who feared an English invasion via Ostend) and very busy industrial park.

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Just down this little hill is a beachfront walk. It runs for a few kilometers further on up the coast. On the Sunday after Christmas, however, it was rather busy with pedestrians and less than ideal for my lightning-fast racebike! That’s a joke. I actually just couldn’t find a path that connected to it.

But that also meant that I got distracted by the sign for “sporthal”. I had seen a pool on the map that I had been meaning to visit. I knew they wouldn’t be open, but I wanted to see if it would be a reasonable ride from the office so I could go before work. I ended up failing to follow the signs and getting lost in the seemingly endless network of dedicated bike paths.

Side note: in places in the US that are trying to be more bike-friendly (I’m mostly thinking of Denver and Fort Collins, cities ranked near the top of bike-able US cities), painting a bike symbol on the street and posting a few signs that supposedly form “trails” seems to be good enough. Spending an hour riding in this very ordinary, par-for-Northern-Europe town reinforces what a pitiful effort that is.

But in my getting lost, I stumbled upon a sight that seemed very out of place.

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Look closely at the animals in this apparent schoolyard. Yes, those are deer. It’s a literal deer-park.

I found my way to the center of Bredene, the town adjacent to Ostend and the host of the pool I was seeking. I knew it was the center because I found the church.

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More thoughts later on the presence of the church in Belgium, but it seems that its primary function at this point is a storehouse for the remaining bodies of the quickly dwindling number of those who die as believers.

In a smooth segue from human corpses, I also found food!

And in a form that I had never seen before. I suppose it makes sense though. Belgians love bread. Actually, I don’t know if they love bread or if they just can’t conceive of a meal that doesn’t include bread. Walk around any Belgian city at lunchtime and most people will be walking around with broodjes, baguette sandwiches stuffed with an assortment of meats, cheeses, and/or veggies. The local supermarket consistently stocks an enormous cabinet (five racks high and probably 30 feet long) of fresh-baked bread. All of it delicious. Anytime I go to the store after about 6pm, it’s probably picked clean. But Belgians are bread snobs (for good reason). The prepackaged bread section, tucked away around the corner, looks to be full of expired loaves.

And so, I should have been surprised only by the fact that I had not yet seen a fresh-bread vending machine.

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If for nothing other than pure curiosity, I had to get one. The bottom two held one klein wit and one klein bruin (small white and small brown) for €1.60 each. I dug out the baggie of change in backpack and started dropping coins in the slot. They backed up, jammed, fell back down to the return tray. Once I got enough of them to register, I pushed the “8” key for what I wanted with no response from the machine. I tried pushing the button before inserting the money, tried other buttons, started with a “0”. After about 10 minutes (during which multiple people had entered and exited the adjacent bakery that stocks this thing), I finally accepted that it wouldn’t give me my klein bruin but it did give me a klein wit! I opened up the paper bag. It was cold, but when I stuck my nose in it, it still smelled like top quality, chewy and delicious, fresh-baked bread!

Proud of my successful cooperation with the machine and starting to get cold from standing still so long, I mounted my steed and headed home. The next road up led straight by my gym, so I knew where I was going, and I was excited to taste my treasure after being warmed in my microwave/convection oven combo box (more on that in another post).

But my adventure was far from over. As I gently pedaled along a quiet bike path the frame shuddered, the bike made an awful snapping noise, and pedals spun freely. I’ve had chains fall off before, but this is different. This is a single-speed bike. The chain does not fall off of a single speed bike. Nor can one get it back on without tools and knowledge that I did not have. And no, it was not user error. The drivetrain was one of the few parts of the bike that were assembled by the manufacturer. It also wasn’t their assembly failure. No, the damn thing just couldn’t take the pressure.

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If you’re wondering, it’s not supposed to look like that. The chain busted.

And so, after pushing my awkward behemoth of a scooter back to the office, I walked home like usual. I took consolation in two things:

  1. I had fresh bread in my bag that was about to make a delicious addition to dinner.
  2. I had a good excuse to send this piece of junk back to the rubbish heap from whence it came.

The next time I write about my cycling adventures, I will be very excited to tell you all about the amazing man-powered machine I will have acquired.

And there will be many more adventures! I may have spent my New Years Day at the office (it’s very productive when no one is here), but my explorations of Europe have only just begun!

Tot ziens!

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