I have made an almost complete survey, and I can say with high certainty that Ter Streep is indeed still an island. If you read my first post from Oostende, you may have caught that the origin of the name Oostende (literally “east end”) actually does make sense even though it is in the far west of the country. The city was on the east end (really, the northeast end; the coastline runs basically SW-NE here) of an island called Ter Streep. After a few centuries of ambitious civil engineering, this island has been brought into the mainland. Almost. The water that separates Ter Streep from the rest of the country has been reduced to a series of canals, perhaps a meter deep and a few meters across at some points. But it does appear that Ter Streep is still only connected to the rest of the country by bridges.
I confirmed this by circumnavigating the island. It took me a few hours, but I could have done it in half that if I didn’t stop every 10 minutes to take pictures.
Google Maps will tell you it’ll take several hours, but Google’s rider is on a rusty old fat tire. My new machine moves a bit faster. Indeed, it startled me how much this horse wants to jump out from under me when I crank on the pedals. I’ve made quite a leap from the aluminum wreck I wrote about last weekend.
I mentioned last weekend that my new ride just wasn’t very enjoyable to ride. Getting my new Orbea up to speed is sheer joy. That’s the way a bike should be. I honestly didn’t think I’d own a bike like this anytime soon. I’ve had to do some creative budgeting, and I’ll need to make some sacrifices, but it’s about priorities. And when a bike like this in on 25% discount, it’s very hard to pass up.
My ride this morning started before sunrise, but the bike paths in the city are fairly well lit, and I got a pretty powerful headlight. In a place where daylight hours bottom out around eight, I figured it was a good investment. It was the intention to circumnavigate the island, so it started by getting out to the first lock of the canal that forms the southeast side. There are a handful of historic buildings at the junction, which was once a guarded entrance to a Spanish fort. It is also a popular meeting place. As I was figuring out which way I wanted to go, a group of cyclists started to form. They kept looking at me, and I guessed they were trying to figure out if I was joining them. They were headed toward Bruges, but they were going offroad. Most of them had mountain bikes. And they were properly outfitted in matching spandex. They were only the first of several such pelotons I saw today.
They headed east to Bruge, and I headed south along the canal. The bike trail continues almost uninterrupted all the way to Westende (and maybe next time I’ll turn left to take the route to Dunkirk). But I kept getting distracted by things in the middle. Including this random little nature reserve.
Of course, I had to go check it out.
Soon enough, I bypassed the town that marks the middle of the island, Middelkirke (“middle church”), but it didn’t take long to get to Westende.
Although I don’t buy into the myths and ceremonies that the building was constructed to support, I find the social utility of such a conspicuous and beautiful civic center very charming. Even though most Europeans aren’t religious anymore (apparently I qualify as “Christian” by Belgian standards because my family celebrates a purely secular Christmas), there is definitely a community culture here. People seem driven to participate in local events and take pride in their communities. I’ll have to dig into specifics at some points, but that’s a feeling that I’ve gotten throughout northern and western Europe.
There’s a focus on more than just utility here. Even simple buildings are aesthetically pleasing. Few buildings are merely a collection of walls to accomplish some purpose. Even new buildings copy the traditional style with distinctly 21st-century additions.
Ashley had a conversation with someone a couple weeks ago who claimed that Belgium got something like 50% of their electricity from renewables. In truth, their goal for 2020 is to get 18%, but I can see where there’s confusion. Everyone has solar panels! What more electricity could we need?!
Do you think those panels are generating much electricity with that kind of sky? No. And it’s like this most of the year. It’s a nice gesture, but there are a hundred better ways to spend that money to increase renewable energy. Here’s one of them:
A combined wind & solar farm that powers probably a couple thousand homes. They’re old turbines. The ones with the boxy nacelle (the house on top where the blades are attached) are 900kW machines. The next wind farm Parkwind builds will use turbines that are 10 times as powerful.
Orbea should pay me for advertising. I wonder if they pay for renewable energy for their factories? That’d be cool.
Finally, I reached the end of the island and on the other side of the water, I found Nieuwpoort. I hope I don’t have to translate that one.
I thought Oostende was cute, but this takes it to a level that’s actually a bit uncomfortable.
The way back was far less distracting. And I also threw off my elevation measurement because I climbed an observation tower. It says I gained 84m on that section. That was almost all on the tower.
I once made a comment that Rotterdam was flatter than Kansas. Seems to be true throughout the coastal areas of the low countries.
When I reached a section that follows the beach, I stopped while I was walking my bike over the piles of sand that had blown onto the walk. Having recently watched a documentary on World War II, I thought about how Oostende could have been the site for D-Day.
When I turned around, I realized that Hitler had the same thought.
This area is teeming with history. The system of canals has been in progress since the British and French were bickering over their colonies in the Americas. The layouts of the streets can probably be traced back to the Middle Ages. This beachfront has concerned military commanders since amphibious assaults became a viable military tactic, and many of the fortifications the Nazis had hoped would keep the Allies from opening up a second front in Western Europe are still here.
And now that I have a liberating mode of transportation, I get to go see all of it!