Getting to know and love Belgium

Elisa Longo Borghini makes the tough transition from sunny Italy

2011 was my first year in the ‘Elite’ ranks and thus the first time I took part in the ‘Northern classics’ races. I remember my first one well, Omloop het Nieuwsblad; rain, wind and cold.

After that experience I decided to avoid Belgium as much as possible, so thinking I was safe I chose to ride for a Norwegian team, Hitec Products, in 2012. However my plan didn’t work, as it turned out the team bases itself in Belgium, and then I found a boyfriend from Flanders.

Belgium is quite different than Italy and the first period I spent there I had get used to some things; the weather, the roads, the bike-paths and the road signs.

At the beginning, looking out of the window and seeing the Belgian rain pouring down from the sky, I decided to skip my training and going on the rollers. I'm Italian, I never train in the rain, come on!

The day after, same thing. Two days after, same thing again. In the end I had to give up, so I wore my rain jacket and I went out. Not bad, I have to say!

Other times I started my training with the sun and then I hit the rain 10km later. That's the most annoying thing for me! Luckily I had a teammie who taught me the art of 'follow the blue spot’, meaning following the blue part of sky. It works!

Belgium has a multitude of roads. Bigger roads, smaller roads, REALLY small roads, asphalt roads, cement roads. Every kind of road!

It took quite a while for me to be able to get home without hanging around twenty minutes before I found the right way.

You can be sure you’re on the same road you trained on the day before and then you come out in a totally different place.

You think you’re a thousand kilometers from home and in the end you discover you are on the parallel street of your house.

Talking about roads, it wouldn’t be a blog about Belgium without mentioning the bike-paths. In Italy we have them, but there aren't so many as in Belgium and we don’t really ride on them.

I didn't ride on the bike-paths the first days I was in Belgium but after being stopped by an angry driver who explained to me in a straight way that I should have ridden on them, I decided it was smarter to ride on them than not if I wanted to finish my bike ride alive.

And now we speak about the signs. Everybody knows that Belgium is a bilingual country and the names of the cities are different from Dutch to French.

So when you go to Wallonie you must be sure to know the French version of the names on the signs otherwise you will get lost — as I I did several times, of course!

In the end I solved my problem with fantasy, I imagined how could a name change from Dutch to French. I can’t say it worked out immediately, but it did somehow work out — or maybe I just remembered my way home better.

It had to get used to Belgium, but now I can say I really like it and I appreciate the time I spend in this small country in the middle of Europe.

Rain isn't anymore a big problem, I can ride on the bike-paths, getting lost has become a nice way to discover new training routes and I have started to formulate some sentences in Dutch. But will I start to like french-frites and mayo? I don't think so! Tot ziens è!


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