Through the Night
The ferry crossing was painless other than my choosing this time for resetting the headlights for LHD travel. It's reasonably easy to do this on the 360, a simple little panel underneath each wheel arch and a lever to flick across. Easier said than done however when you're sat in a puddle on the truck deck of the ferry fumbling around in the dark. Perhaps I should've done this before setting off.
Upon reaching Dunkerque, we exited the ferry terminal and our pre-planning with google streetview man had shown us we could grab a few euros at a cash point in a local town. We couldn't even find the town so instead drove round in circles at 2am until we eventually spotted a sign for Lille. So giving up on obtaining some pocket money, we aimed the car towards Lille and the Belgium border. We were off into the night.
After a while we hit Belgium and a bit of weather. Pushing on regardless, we made reasonable time through the rain and grime until we'd covered a fair distance and spotted a 24hr service station.
One word: not very good. Ok, that's three but I'm trying to be diplomatic. In the UK we complain a lot but we can travel along a motorway comfortable in the knowledge that there wont be a kerb built across it, or a sinkhole. Not so in west Belgium. In our stiff aluminium car, we hit every bump, hole and ridge known to man and most of them made us cringe. It's especially fun in the dark as you wont see them coming and if the motorways weren't bad enough, we'd yet to experience the true delights of rural Belgian once it'd gotten light.
If you enter Belgium with anything loose on the car, don't expect it to still be there when you leave.
We'd seemingly been up for ever so at about 4am we decided to park up and get a couple of hours sleep (attempted). Trying to get 'a couple of hours sleep' isn't easy in a two seater car and it's probably best not to bother. We woke from a semi-slumber into semi-light only to discover a man crouching by the front wheel of the car, not trying to let the tyres down but head-down/arse-up on a prayer matt. An odd sight in the early hours but perhaps he was praying for something akin to smooth roads for the rest of his journey (good luck with that).
Once Sarah had cunningly figured out how to get into the toilets without paying (we didn't have any Euros remember), I followed her lead under the barrier to the restrooms, before fuelling up and setting off. We drove into the countryside, greeted by a beautiful sunrise and early morning mist rolling over the fields as we made our way towards Mons. We saw many cows, of which Belgium seems to have most of the EU quota.
Many of the roads in the area seem to retain the cobbled surfaces that some people find charming and nostalgic but they've been given a half millimetre of tarmac on the top to lull you into a false sense of security. I've never used a washboard but I imagine this is what you would liken it to. If you haven't driven through western Belgium in a Ferrari it's quite easy to recreate the effect by trying to have a conversation whilst tapping your fingers on your windpipe.
Mons is fun. It's home to a great inner ring road that's impossible to escape. Due to its strong gravitational pull and lack of useful signposting, we managed a full two laps before finding somewhere inconvenient to stop to try to get a GPS signal on the iPhone. Eventually we managed to work out a route and set off, missing a non-existent signpost before completing another lap (we'd be needing to stop for fresh tyres soon…). Finally, using the sun for navigation, we found a big road heading east that would take us past more cows, through Binche with its extreme comedy cobbled road surfaces and to a nice little town called Anthée for some much needed breakfast - chocolate eclairs. I only mention it here because other than on the N40 (read on…), it's the only place in Belgium that I took a photograph.
In the Ardennes region between the pointy bit of France that pokes into Belgium and the Luxembourg border we found a little gem. No, not a lettuce but a road called the N40 that just below Wellin turns into a Nürburgring tribute act. Better surfaced than the motorways, the only things lacking are the stripy curbs. It's not too long and wouldn't be anything like a road highlight of our trip, but other than the cows, it was our highlight of Belgium.
Late morning we hit Luxembourg City and found our hotel. Sarah found a piece of scrap paper and made some notes. I still have it and it reads: