The day began at 7am, up early to catch the airport shuttle for my 11:53am flight with a D.C. pit-stop. With Jeff already in Brussels waiting for my arrival at the Welcome Hotel, I was more than ready to make the trip up and over. It's been far too long since my last trip to Europe. I made some pretty good use of my extra time at the airport by making some last minute texts and reading the latest Boneshaker Bicycle Almanac that my folks found while visiting my brother in WY. I actually would make Jeff wait a little longer than planned as the flight from D.C. to Brussels became delayed due to a change of planes. I spent that extra time to wander the internet to see if I could find a ride to the Welcome Hotel, and was pleasantly surprised to find the schedules and directions to the Brussels public transportation - took Express #12 bus to Schuman stop, where I caught the M5 Metro to Sainte-Catherine where the Welcome Hotel sits, less than a block from Ste-Catherine Cathedral.
The weather was great - some would say not-so-great, but when you figure in that this is the Spring Classics we're talking about, a grey, cloudy day is almost preferred over the bright, sunshiny day. The sky wanted to fall, but ended up keeping it in, allowing Jeff and I to wander the streets enjoying all the very old architecture, including St. Michael's Cathedral and the Grand Place, where you'll find Gothic and Medieval buildings. Brussels is such a intimate, compact city full of friendly people, who comfortably walk through the narrow, cobblestone streets, eating the local cuisine. There's also an enormous park in the city center which gives proof of the Belgian's eco-friendly perspective. Everything is just within a short walk and as long as you watch your step from all the skyward gazing, you'll find yourself safely soaking in all the rich history found around every corner. Jeff and I certainly learned a thing or two - well before clicking into our pedals.
The only real hurdle of the day was the TGV Train run-around. We both agreed that they could make both the track signs and ticket info just a bit more clear - we missed our first train and had to wait an extra hour for the next one. We actually made it; however, chose the wrong tracks and had to do the whole mad-dash-with-your-luggage to the next set. The doors were still open; however, Mr. Flemish Conductor said no-can-do. No worries. We had bigger, pave fish to fry tomorrow.
After finally arriving to Lille, we found Frank, Brett, Alex, William and the rest of the Velominati gang patiently waiting for us at the train station pub. Needless to say, the brews were keeping them good company. Introductions and handshakes all in order - we then headed out of town into the countryside, finding the Hulhove Cottage in Westouter. Completely new and modern, the Hulhove sits snug against an old dairy farm - the air smells rich in manure and the bright green, rolling hills carry the narrow farm roads up and down, twisting through little villages - each one with a unique collection of old, stone houses and of course, the usual roundabouts.
Upon arrival, we immediate broke into the Molteni brew and started setting up the bikes for tomorrow big day. This took some time - all the while, William's mother-in-law, Genevieve, was busy preparing for the evening's meal. And what a meal it was!? I was arm wrestling food coma in one arm and jet lag in the other. The only reason I'm able to type this is because of a strange second wind I got going here. I will call it a day soon here, I promise. Jeff advised that I don't play on the second wind much longer - the pave will finish me off tomorrow for sure!
Anyhow, that's pretty much the day - it feels so good to be back in Europe. There something about this old place - old buildings, old ground. Good for you for sure. More photos to follow. See you tomorrow!