I Heart Luxembourg

imageI’m expecting some serious brownie points from Tourism Luxembourg after this post. But it’s ace. I heart it. We rode through Luxembourg on our last European cycle trip and I remember it being fun for cycling, and now I’ve been reminded why – it ticks all the boxes.

imageAs a country it’s stunning to look at. Forests, steep sided gorges, rivers, and small towns and villages dominated by old pointy buildings (abbeys, churches, castles) high above them. Everything is clean and well presented. Even the picnic areas by the side of the road have shelters, picnic benches…. One even had a book swap. We didn’t see any litter. Maybe because it’s so small you get the feeling that you are seeing all it has to offer. And the cycling is great, not least because of the above, but also because the roads and cycle paths are so smooth. Seriously smooth – not a bump in sight. In fact the only bump in the road I can remember us going over was where we ignored the road closed signs and ended up cycling along a brand new surface, no other traffic, until we reached the point where the new surface hadn’t been laid yet and we had to bounce over some stones. This had almost became standard practice on Belgian bike routes (especially when you consider their love of cobbles. Ah another plus to Luxembourg – the obsession with cobbles is limited to town centres so our brain cells stayed mostly intact).

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Luxembourg even fed us well. We were riding down the border with Germany, repeating a route we did in 2013 – back then it was a rainy ride to the pretty town of Echternact which improved our drab mood vastly by providing huge slabs of meat between bread as there was a fire services fundraiser in the main square. When we found ourselves once again riding towards Echternact – not so rainy this time but hardly all sunshine and smiles – we were reminiscing about how the town saved us, thinking ‘how great would it be if that were no happen again….’ Imagine the sheer joy of two hungry cyclists riding into the main square only to find a Scout fundraiser selling sausages, freshly pressed apple juice, coffee and cake. Amazing!

imageOk, one concession, there are some evil hills to ride up. Par for the course with the gorges, rivers and hill top villages. To get from the river in the centre to the river in the East, we had to get over a large hilly section. After choosing a bike route described as ‘family friendly’ we climbed a ridiculously steep hill for what seemed like forever only to then plummet back down into Vianden with hands so sore from braking I thought they might never hold a cup of tea again (but we did pass a spectacular castle on the way so it wasn’t all bad). Note to Tourism Luxembourg, if I took my family on that bike route I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be friendly for much longer. But still, fantastic riding. Shame it is so small you are in and out in a couple of days. Heartily recommended!

Other news about Belgium

imageThere were many revelations about Belgium in Brussels. As we rode south other misconceptions were addressed. The southern half of Belgium is definitely not to be grouped with the Dutch lowlands. There were some steep climbs, especially later in the Ardennes region. It is not always sunny here, sometimes it rains rain, sometimes it rains leaves. We also learned that even if there are lots of campsites on a map, and you chat to several locals about the location of these, they may not exist or could be very well hidden. Our first stop was Namur, notable for having a statue of a golden turtle and an international film festival. This meant there was red carpets out around town and also that we were accosted by two photographers and other staff for a photocall as we rode past the event. It is possible we were on The Today Show on Belgian TV. This is not our first cycling media event, we were snapped for the Winnipeg Metro in 2012. No idea whether we made the newspaper though.

imageFrom Namur we headed along the Meuse to Dinant, where brightly covered Saxophones decorated the town. Belgium is responsible for the Saxophone as well as the skinny chip. We climbed out of town and into the hills past several invisible campsites and some that were just closed. It got completely dark and having been told, “there is one in the next village, 6 or 7km” several times we decided to stop riding. There are so many kind people in the world, and the Belgian family whose evening we disturbed by knocking on their door wearing reflective vests welcomed us to our best campsite yet in their back garden (with full size football goal – one of the girls is an excellent player). Also a opportunity for us to test out rusty French and drink chocolate chaud in their kitchen. Passable at best! (Our French, not the hot chocolate).

The roads got hillier still, even as we followed the river Ourthe. The surroundings were very pretty and even better there was hardly any cobbles. We had a great stay in an old farmhouse and enjoyed hearing about container ships and tinyhouses. Luxembourg next!

Thanks in this post to the family Debaty of Heure, Luc, David and Pierre.

3 for 2 Belgian City Breaks

imageAs you may have noticed on Track my Tour, we did not take an obvious route towards the Alps from the ferry. This is because Jo really wanted to visit Bruges. Colin Farrell was not there, but Belgium’s cities delivered in all other aspects. At least once everyday we saw fancy buildings, rode on cobbles, and consumed either beer, chocolate or waffles. Occasionally we managed all three. From Bruges we rode along a canal path to Ghent which has even more fancypants buildings. It looked especially impressive on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and one of the fine squares provided a great venue for an evening out eating Belgian (great marketing coup France) fries with meat and beer sauce.  Continue reading 3 for 2 Belgian City Breaks

The best place to cycle?

DSCF0032-0We arrived in Hook of Holland at 8am Dutch time (we are now an hour ahead of you in the UK) and even managed to get a passport stamp from the cheery border lady. Sadly the bakery item getting equipment in Lidl was too much for our little brains, so exciting pastries were not available to us. (I later worked out how to get at them whilst cycling, you have a lot of time to think when pedalling. It was a bit like a Crystal Maze task – look it up kids – using a slide-y thing through glass to place the pastries on a chute).

imageWe had been hoping that our UK headwind would not change and it didn’t – on our first day in the Netherlands it became a fabulous tailwind, and pushed us 120km along a scenic coastal route past giant sand dunes, wide beaches and lots of kite surfers. Although the smaller local maps can have harder-to-follow to routes, in general the cycling in the Netherlands is super safe and easy. It is rare to be on a road with cars, though sometimes brommers and mopeds share the bike routes. When on the road, drivers are much more aware of your presence. This is different to home, where there is always the worry that a driver hasn’t seen you/hasn’t looked for you. People of all ages use bicycles as their first choice form of transport, there are bikes of all shapes and sizes, though perhaps not many with bags as big as ours. I assume bike weight was the only reason the local pensioners kept overtaking us?!

imageAfter a great stay in Vlissingen (and awesome pizzas, thanks Froukje!) we continued south west towards Bruges. There was more stunning coastal scenery (for elevenses stops), lots of pretty towns (for lunch picnics) and Jo was very taken with a dazzling display of bike front baskets in one shop. Next stop Belgium!