When I saw people riding cycle in Ghent, Belgium, I thought it should be pretty convenient. Unlike India, there are no auto-rickshaws at your beck and call. You need to time your travel right from the moment you start home to catch a bus or tram to the nearest railway station or metro. If not you will end up wasting time waiting or walk three miles to catch a train to your destination.
So that is why most people use bikes. They use bikes for everything – carrying toddlers, going for parties, dining, to work and schools. With separate lanes for bikes, it is only agreeable that they ride one. You save time, gas and energy walking.
So when I got a chance, I rent a bike for half a day. I was pretty excited at first. I had to walk three miles to Steendam, a place near city centre in Ghent, for renting. But I can go to places that I have been putting off due to distance. It seemed perfect. First I took the bike from Steendam to my temporary residence. My romantic notions of riding a bike as carefree as natives shattered soon after I boarded it. The traffic, rules and bike routes began to confuse me. I could not balance and navigate between people in shopping district. When I got weird looks, I understood that I was not supposed to use bells or ride in pedestrian area.
Road were another issue. In India most roads are either tar or cement or there were no roads at all. Apart from occasional manholes that are open and usual ups and downs on roads, you can ride. Or probably I feel that way because I learnt to ride on such road.
When I took off on cobbled pathways with steep highs and lows, not knowing the right route, I wanted to give up right away. I could not drive continuously for 10 minutes, not to mention, I had to get down from the bike and drag it along with me half the time. It was exasperating. I even got lost. I fell down thrice when the tyre got stuck on tram lines. Adding to my embarrassment, my clumsy driving was threatening to blow up my red summer dress I chose to wear that day. I just wanted to return the bike.
Then I did something. I began to practice. I rode in residential streets, where there are hardly people. I rounded up the area like 10 times till I gained confidence. Then I moved on the route to beer brewery. Even then it was not easy, but at least not as bad as before. Another hour, I would have gotten the hang of navigating European streets in bike.
But sad, I decided to hire a bike on my last day!