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A hot shower, a bed: a welcome for cyclists by cyclists

In their apartment situated near Annessens, we meet Matthieu and Anne-Lise. The entrance opens onto a garden courtyard shared by the different residents of the building that frames it. From the entrance, the tone is set: bicycles and child’s trailer are stored there.

A few stairs and we arrive at the apartment itself. “Some tea?” Anne-Lise asks. We sit around the wooden table in the kitchen. The welcome is spontaneous and warm. It’s because Matthieu and Anne-Lise are used to receiving people passing-through since they registered on the Warmshowers network in 2012.

Warmshowers is a website that puts bike and travel enthusiasts in contact. Concretely, cyclists offer accommodation to other vacationing cyclists. “I have heard about it through the Gracq magazine,” Matthieu explains. “What tempted me is – unlike couchsurfing which is quite invasive, which advertises… - it is a non-profit initiative. The website is quite homemade.”

The Warmshowers project was created in the United States in 2001. It is run by volunteers. “The atmosphere is really good without any fuss. Thanks to this site, you meet people from all walks of life. The connection between all these people is the bike but there is a huge diversity. The interest is to be confronted by this unknown,” Matthieu says.

As they have busy lives – jobs and their son – Matthieu and Anne-Lise do not automatically accommodate all the cyclists who ask for it. “But every time we accepted, we were happy,” says Anne-Lise.

The only rule for the couple is the exchange: “If you have been accommodated, you undertake to accommodate someone else,” explains Matthieu. “The world accommodate is understood in the broadest sense: that could be a tent in the garden,” he continues.

In the beginning, Anne-Lise and Matthieu accommodated the guests in their guest room but that has now become their son’s bedroom. So cyclists passing through are given a mattress on the living room floor.

“The first question a cyclist asks is: where can I leave my bike safely. When you are travelling by bike, that is your only treasure. That is THE thing you cannot have stolen,” says Matthieu. “The second question is: what is the Wi-Fi password?” he says smiling.

In addition to a bed, Anne-Lise and Matthieu usually offer food. “We cook for them because we know that it is hard to eat well when travelling by bike,” they explain. They do not hesitate to inform people of the things to see and do in Brussels and Belgium. “You become a bit of an ambassador for your city,” says Matthieu.

The last guests they accommodated were people from Malaysia. “They were small self-employed people (they had an office supply shop). They decided to travel for a year. On foot to begin with and then, finally, they travelled by bike,” says Matthieu. “Hosting people like that allows you to travel while staying at home,” Anne-Lise observes. “Just by listening to them, you discover the world. And then they cooked us dishes from home on the two days they were here.” Matthieu says, still amazed at the rice cooker they were carrying with them.

“Sometimes there are people that you do not gel so well with, but that is like everywhere. And then it’s already an experience,” Matthieu says. In general, things go well because they are cyclists themselves, Anne-Lise and Matthieu quickly find common ground. The annual holidays are cycling holidays. The couple love their tandem to which they attach the trailer for their son. As they have no car, they also do all their daily trips on two wheels. They have an ordinary bike for that.

An article from Violaine Jadoul

Photos by Gilles Bolland