Three capitals in two countries
When I entered Belgium I realized that I had been spoiled with bicycle signs and bike paths in Holland. All of a sudden I had to ride with a lot of cars. Belgium is even smaller than Holland and I only spent 166 km’s in the country.
First I passed through Antwerp, a city where 84% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through. The famous diamond district is located just next to the central station, and you find diamond shops run by Jews everywhere. I thought that it was quite nasty to see this massive business, knowing that the so called blood diamonds from several African countries are the source of many conflicts and involve child labor and terrible working conditions.
I was happy to hear a lot of French being spoken when I arrived to the capital Brussels. My first lesson was in an Arabic kebab shop where they asked what kind of sauce I wanted. I answered “tous”, but my intention of getting a mix of all the whole range (mayonnaise, chili and garlic) failed and I only got one that the guy chose from his own liking. Bummer.
My cousin Marc lives in Brussels and I stayed at his place for a few days, helping his friend to move and eating more kebab rolls (good deal actually!). One day I went to the Royal Museum for Central Africa, located a bit outside of the city. It’s an impressive building built by King Léopold II in the late 1800th century. It features Central African ethnography and natural history, and also the history about the Belgian colonization and Christian evangelization of the current Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). But more on DRC and its history when I get there!
Marc’s parents Per and Françoise came on a visit one day and it was nice with a small family gathering!
In France, it was time to make proper use of my bottle cages, so I celebrated with a 1.99€ bottle of Corbières from the ALDI supermarket. I can’t believe wine is so cheap in this country! And even the cheapest ones taste good when you’re cycling :-)
Second capital: PARIS! This was for me a kind of a milestone. The day I entered it was 35 degrees and I hadn’t showered for 4 days so I took a swim in the Seine River, while cyclists stopped on the bridge looking at this bearded guy splashing around where you are not supposed to swim. If only they knew how clean I felt afterwards… It was a special feeling to cycle along Avenue des Champs-Élysées, arriving at the Arc de Triomphe knowing that Tour de France finished here only a couple of weeks ago. I also felt like a winner!
Marc’s brother and hence my other cousin Mikael lives in the pleasant area of Montmartre. We did some sightseeing together and went to party with an old friend from Singapore, Marie-Aline. Again, it’s great meeting people you haven’t seen in ages and to plan your route accordingly!
I had a photo with me from the 80’s when my parents for some reason came here to get me baptized in the Swedish Church of Paris. One day I went to visit the same church, but I didn’t remember anything from last time I was there. An interesting remark is that my initials happen to be the same as Paris airport CDG. Coincidence?
My dad’s wife’s daughter Cilla and her husband Chrille were on vacation in Paris at the same time as I was there, so we arranged a date. Their two boys Freddy and Billy are adorable and we played games, read bedtime stories and went to a water park together.
Fontainebleau, the third capital I visited is not that of a country, but of bouldering (a form of rock climbing). This place is located at a day’s ride south-east of Paris. It is estimated that over 30,000 bouldering routes can be found in the forests around Fontainebleau. There used to be an old sea in this area, and the boulders consist of sandstone that was created under high pressure many million years ago. The friction is great and the feeling smooth and not rough like granite, and I was happily surprised that the boulders were not very polished given that people have climbed here for something like a hundred years! If it would have been limestone it would be slippery as ice.
When you climb here, you will come across the concept of circuits. A circuit has a certain color that defines the level of difficulty, and once you know what grade you want to climb, you can easily follow the numbered problems until you are all pumped out. Many spots are flat and sandy with “safe” falls, even without a crash pad. I met some lovely people and didn’t really want to leave this great place, but after a week of wearing out my fingertips and draining my muscles, it was time to hit the road again. Enjoy the photos!