I was woken at some unknown time in the middle of the night by wind and rain beating the outside of the tent. I snuggled down into my sleeping bag, glad that it was still dark and therefore I didn't have to get up yet - there was a chance the weather would improve by morning.
It was still grey and a bit rainy when I woke again at six - and packed very slowly, waiting in the tent and hoping things would brighten up a bit. Breakfast was bread and butter - on previous trips I would make porridge each morning while packing up but, despite carrying stove and fuel, I was yet to actually cook anything this time round. I'd spent the last couple of days getting hot food in cafes at lunchtime and eating picnic-style dinners, in the hope that this would be a great idea and I wouldn't have to endure my horrible camp cooking ever again.
I finally left at about half past eight during a dry spell.
I was nearing the narrow southern tip of the Netherlands now, and crossed briefly in and out of Belgium during the course of the morning. It was while in Belgium that I spotted a bakery and, enticed by its delicious smell, pulled over and noticed a bread vending machine outside (empty, presumably because they were open). I am all for vending machines that sell things other than the usual chocolatey / fizzy rubbish. My personal favourite was an inner tube vending machine in Austria, but I was pretty pleased to find bread available at all hours. Rock on Belgium!
The Netherlands is only a few miles wide at that point and, after crossing back from Belgium, it wasn't long before I was close to the German border. I didn't manage to actually find the border, but stopped for lunch at a coffee house nearby. Another habit I was getting into was hot chocolate. I don't usually drink it, all that hot liquid sugariness goes straight to my head and I get the whole sugar high / crash / headache thing - but hot liquid sugariness is just perfect half way through a day's cycling under a damp cloudy sky.
Further south I entered the sprawling urban landscapes of Sittard / Geleen, two cities which failed to capture my imagination with what I saw of them - but the weather was deteriorating by that point, and very few cities actually look good in the rain.
I saw my first hill on the way out of Geleen, and climbed my first shortly after that, although they were still only tiny hills by pretty much any other country's standards.
Finally I got back into the countryside and spotted a left turn to Valkenburg. I wanted to go to Valkenburg but the route looked to be in the wrong direction so there was some hesitation and checking of maps and compasses before deciding that a break from traffic would be a good idea, and hurtling off down the stony track between cornfields, the wind on my back for a change. The route didn't last long but it was the highlight of my day!
I soon found myself back on the road, beside some roadworks, with no idea where I was or where to go. The wind had really picked up and was making it very hard to use the map (OK, GPS wins a point there). I wasn't sure whether I should be heading off down the newly laid cycle path that ran through the roadworks - the signs were confusing - but I eventually did when I saw some other bloke do it. It turned out to be roughly in the right direction and I was soon at Valkenburg.
Valkenburg turned out to be a pretty (and quite touristy) town with an old castle and city walls, and the town campsite was quite pleasantly situated on a hill overlooking the castle ruins. I was finding Dutch camping prices to be particularly high, and this was no exception - 17.50 euro for the night (I'd normally consider £10 expensive). Since there were lots of places to eat in town I went for a beer and schnitzel. It may not be cheap in the Netherlands but the portions are usually of a good size and they know how to lay on the carbs - my schnitzel came with both chips and rice!