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  • Jamie Shannon

Amsterdam to Antwerp. Dutch canals and Belgium beer

Being The Netherlands and Belgium, I imagined that I wouldn’t need a map for such a short journey and I was proved, well, partially correct. It would have made the trip certainly easier but at the same time, maybe a little less daunting. I did indeed want a challenge. With a compass as a means of confirming my direction and by following road signs and asking various people I happened to come across, I didn’t go far wrong and was quite surprised at how easy it was to find my way.

Setting off from Amsterdam brought with it a range of mixed emotions; I was leaving a place that I had called home for the last three years, where I had met some amazing people and where I had enjoyed some super happy times, thus I was quite sad to leave but I was also equally excited to be heading back to England.

It can be unnerving to be leaving the security of a job and the comfort of a brick and mortar home in order to swap it for a, dare I say it, a cosy tent and a life not confined by working schedules. To do this though, is to live a less stressful life, to indulge and to allow yourself to tap into the simpler things in life and this is why I just kept on peddling.

The first couple of hours were straight forward enough as I had done this part to my friends house near Utrecht a couple of times before. Coming out of the city though, I came to my first problem. A problem, albeit a small one, that arose from not having a map; I couldn't find my way out of town. Having stopped to ask for directions, the lady pulled out her smart phone and this, I reluctantly write, got me back on track. Maybe, just maybe, If the battery life ever improved, I might just invest in one.

As I had lived in the Netherlands for the last three years I really just wanted to get to Belgium as fast as possible and so I cycled on and on until it got dark enough to find a quiet spot to camp for the evening. There is always somewhere to camp if you know what to look for, and with the light fading I found the perfect spot just of the main road down by the side of a field that wasn't fenced in at all. I just had to be quiet when cooking.

Leaving very early the next day, I continued to follow the signs for the south and asked for directions whenever I became a little disorientated. I cycled past endless kilometres of farms and canals and it all became a little mundane. I couldn't believe I was thinking this but I actually wanted some hills!

There was really only one place I wanted to visit on my way and that was the city of Breda where I had lived for the first three months after I arrived; more for nostalgic reasons than anything else.

Halfway through the day, after cycling alongside a children’s parade in a small town after Breda, I arrived at the border with Belgium and thus, had reached my first little milestone. (I think it was the border, but in Europe, one can never really tell).

Arriving over the border, I stopped for a break and some lunch before heading back south where I followed an extremely long, pot-holed road towards Antwerp. It’s a strange little curiosity that as soon as you cross the border into Belgium, the quality of the road deteriorates just as swiftly as the dialects change. I suppose that’s the great thing about this continent; there’s always something new around the corner.

A couple of hours later, closing in on Antwerp, I started to scan the sides of the road in order to look for a suitable place to camp. My thinking being that if I could find one, I could go into the city to look around and then, as it began to darken, go back and set up camp. The area was sparsely populated and so I didn’t think it would be a problem. As it happens, I decided to camp very near the centre which was not something I would normally advise but I did find a reasonably stealthy place just behind a power station facility. Upon wheeling my bike through the bushes and looking for recent signs of activity I decided that it was as safe as anywhere and also relatively peaceful.

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