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In preparation for The Great Tulip Caper I have been biking for about a month now. I have pedaled through outer space, several professional kitchens, a medieval church and several soccer pitches. That is to say, my exercise has been confined to a stationary bike in the living room, in front of the television or a book. To test my progress (and assess the very feasibility of The Great Tulip Caper — more about that later) we ventured out onto the road on a couple of locally rented bikes.

Fairly quickly two ideas of relief spring to mind: Holland’s tulip fields are absolutely flat, as opposed to mostly flat, and Belgians love cobblestones much more than the Dutch.

There we were pedaling through serene wooded parks, no one around but the cheering birds in the trees. Them wam, or wama-wama-wama-wama-wama-wama-wama-wama-wama. The dirt path turns into an old cobblestone lane, much to my teeth- and bone-chattering chagrin. What I had once admired as a beautiful and historic aesthetic touch to Belgium was now slamming my soft brain into the hard sides of my skull. Think I’m exaggerating? Just take a look at this video link.

But relief was soon within sight. Accompanying the Flanders bike route maps is a brochure listing each of the watering holes that your green line of progress passes through. And by water, I mean beer. In Bierbeek we selected In de Molen, which just happened to also be mentioned in someone’s Good Beer Guide to Belgium. Although an unimpressive yellow brick building from the outside, inside we sat at polished wooden tables beneath heavy wooden beams in the company of locals sipping their afternoon beer or coffee. The refreshing La Trappe Wit helped dull the bike-seat pain and hush the whirring in my ears from the parts of my brain that had liquefied. Nourished by a tiny bowl of cheese cubes, served with compliments beside your beer, we set off to further explore the local countryside.

Biking the rural landscape around our little city proved one of the best ways to casually explore its lovely bits and pieces. Past ancient farmsteads and more recent castles, we stopped and admired the green pastures, growing fields and livestock: a typical mix of cows, sheep and, of course, emus.

Emus? Yes. Emus.

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Being in Belgium, this means that internationally understood meaning of the word. And Belgium being an international hub, we have four options from which to choose from each of the national stations– Belgium v. Croatia, France v. Spain, Germany v. Argentina and Italy v. Cameroon. (Although we get Dutch and British channels too, their national games are evidently on the prime pay stations.)

I do not follow the sport adamantly, but I am exposed to a constant update of the characters, positioning, politics and results from my in-house source. And so I am privy to instruction on the importance of various elements of the ongoing games as we switch between channels this evening.

I will admit, however, to silly and shallow entertainment that I find more applicable to this game than others. Who has the best looking club? (France and Spain are tying.) Who has the worst hair? (Wow, is there some competition for this one.) Least annoying announcer? (The Flemish guy is calm and non-chatty.)  Best name? (Eden Hazard.) If I could control the closeups I would vote for best legs too, but the cameramen are being stingy.

And periodically I am told to look up from the computer if I’ve missed something impressive or particularly painful — or both, in the case of one goal against Germany; that goalie is not going to see World Cup action.

But although the tickle of having all these games to select from may not have hit my funny bone quite as intensely as the rest of this household, I gladly welcome this version of football night over the American version.

Of course, if we wanted to watch some American football, we could always catch the action of the Leuven Lions. Their next event is a spaghetti dinner (bolognaise or vegetarian) but their web site assures that they play three, or possibly more games, each season.

Perhaps we will stick with the real deal while we are here.

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