Ride Day 37 – Lincoln to Asfordby – 84 km

The last ride! For those who say “thank God for that”, we are now grateful to be back at Mum and Dads and the time to think straight, clean clothes, gear and bikes and have a rest. It’s been a ride and a half. Once you start, you just keep the momentum up as there is no going back.

After a very good nights sleep in Lincoln, we felt reasonably good other than sore bums and wind/sun burn having ridden with the sun in our face in a strong wind. Just a short 84 km ride back to Asfordby with a check in time of 6pm.

The wind wasn’t as strong as yesterday but it was still there, as were the clouds. After Duncan’s three false starts on the canal adjoining the hotel, much to the delight of people watching from one of the canal boats, we headed off.

We were soon on the Sustrans Route 64. As well marked paths as in France. As these routes are maintained by volunteers in each section, some were fantastic and some were not. One great idea is that some of the restaurants and cafes on route maintain them and this of course aids them getting business.

We passed many villages once again but then we reached Newark. For some reason, everything changed at Newark. Between Hull and Lincoln we had passed dozens of pubs and places to stop but from Lincoln to Newark, neither. The drivers changed too – more aggressive and on one stretch going into Bingham when we rode on a side path to facing traffic, we counted the number of drivers using their mobile phones (1 in 7).

There were a couple of closed pubs but that was it. We didn’t get any lunch until 5 hours later in Bingham – great soup, bad hair!

From then on it was small roads again. Now we are in familiar territory and villages we knew. A stop off for a swift beer in Hickling.

Then the monster hill up and out of the Vale of Belvoir just outside Old Dalby.

It’s a push job at the best of times but a hard push job in wind and with bags. and once on top, a whizz down the other side to Asfordby.

Home Sweet Home. Dad cooked us a roast lamb with loads of fresh veg from the garden – something we have seriously missed. Followed by a blackberry and apple pie. Remind us why we go on these trips again! The wine has arrived from Colmar, delish.

Best bits – riding in the Doubs valley to Dole and past Besançon. Really enjoyed Beaune, Auxerre, Amboise and surprisingly Luxembourg City. Colmar would be fantastic with fewer tourists, as would Ghent. Superb Chardonnay in Beaune, very welcome Weissbier in Merzig and strong but delicious Belgian ale. Several excellent meals, mostly picked by Tony. Most bizarre and amusing experience was the audio guide to Ghent castle with Paul & Belinda.

Next year, who knows…..

Ride Day 36 – Hull to Lincoln – 85 km

Back in Blighty. We had spent quite a considerable bit of time planning this route as it didn’t use the Route 1 – the north to south cycle route – all the way. This would have involved adding another night. Duncan therefore planned a fantastic route on quiet farm roads and through small country villages. The route in itself was not a problem.

We left the ferry after assembling all our belongings. Our other newly acquainted cycling companions for the on and off performance shown below, minus the Frenchman, Henri, who was Parisian and a little too casual about the whole thing. He didn’t even have a helmet – he was going to “head north to Newcastle” and then “go on to Perth” as if it were a trip to the Boulanger. Our German friend Stefan did look quite taken aback by this but most probably at the prospect of riding with Henri! He was busy studying his Sustrans Map. The other three were a family from Yorkshire who had been camping and cycling around Holland.

You get fast tracked off the boat when on a bike. Even the ten German motorcycles had to wait for us (off to The Isle of Man). It’s daunting cycling down the ramp. We all passed through customs and then followed the signs out of the port. Everyone said their farewell – Henri bumped into me twice – good luck Stefan! We popped in to have a quick look at Hull.

Now for the reason this day did not work as well as it could. The wind was 45 kph headwind – for us. it was going to blow Stephan and Henri to Newcastle and in fact, they are probably there by now. For us it was unbelievable. It took us two hours to get to and over the Humber Bridge, which was 20km. Just as well it wasn’t raining. We were glad of the panniers to hold us down. If we had worn the ponchos, I think we may have been lifted off the bridge like a couple of whirling dervishes.

Neither of us have ever ridden in winds this strong for such a long ride. Portugal was pretty bad but this was gusting too.

We found a small country garden store with a cafe and as is typical these days with stores of this kind in the UK, it was all about the cafe and other rubbish rather than actual plants. There were ten types of cake, all home made. We had a huge wedge of coffee and walnut cake and two flat whites. Totally brilliant and at £8, the best and the cheapest in the whole trip. We met a couple of ladies in their 70s, who were doing the trans Penine Way, some 260km in three days and with gradients up to 19%. They had very little with them. We noticed that most of the cycling clubs in the area were made up mostly of veterans.

We stopped at the 40km mark for soup in a pub in Brigg. We had already passed by 36 pubs by then and through many very pretty villages. In the whole day, we saw not one new build, no flats going up, in fact, absolutely no construction anywhere at all. It did all however, smell of manure. It is a fallacy that Lincolnshire is flat. We had a 15% hill ( downhill thankfully) and climbed almost 600m.

The ride was tough, very tough. The winds were relentless and at times we were struggling to keep at 10kph. Going along stretches of long roads with hedges, if there was a gap in the hedge, we braced ourselves. We literally were blown off the road at one point and that’s with panniers.

We stopped for afternoon coffee in a village called Normanby By Spital and there were many other gorgeous names of places too.

Drivers were courteous on all the country roads – it wasn’t Belgium. However, the small stretches of main roads were a nightmare and we remember how empty France is. You can stand at a crossing while 40 cars pass. This wouldn’t happen where e have been cycling.

The highlight of the day was seeing this tiny little furry thing on the cycle path. We now know it’s a Field Vole. It was about 3-4 cm in length and I nearly rode over it. It was completely unperturbed by this and carried on eating weeds while I photographed and took a video.

It was a very long day and we were very sore and very tired by the time we arrived in Lincoln at gone 6, having set off at 9.30. It’s a Marston’s Pub with accommodation on the Canal in parkland. A little way out of Lincoln but there wasn’t going to be climbing up England’s steepest Street after 85km. Bit of a local draw for its food – it was heaving with people having two roast dinners, two beers for £20! We got to our room and had a bath. By the time we reached the restaurant they had sold out of roast dinners but that was fine as we had steak and ale pie, a beer and a glass of wine for £20 instead – total.

This place is excellent for those visiting Lincoln. Finally, after 8.5 weeks of travelling by bike, we get a king size bed in an air conditioned room with a good bathroom, sound proofing and all for £50 a night with breakfast an extra £5 each. Cannot fault it. The accommodation won’t be the same tomorrow night but we may get a cooked meal if we are lucky – Dad?

Ride Day 35 – Ghent to Zeebrugge – 66k

Better to concentrate on Ghent rather than the ride to Zeebrugge. We spent a good couple of days seeing the sights and having lunches and dinners out. Ghent is a lovely city and we feel a lot less crowded than Brugge.

It was lovely to catch up with Belinda and Paul who came over from Kent to meet us. We are just sorry that the weather was so miserable. We are over the weather. It’s pretty much rained every day whilst in Belgium – another reason to tick this country off and no likelihood of returning.

The tour we did of the Gravensteen Castle was a highlight, mainly for the fantastic English commentary we received which wasn’t actually about the structure but rather the people over the centuries that lived there. Hysterical at times, especially the toilets and love life of Philippe of Alsace. To quote, “the taxpayers could watch the count do his number two and see impost turned to compost”.

Belinda, Paul and Duncan climbed the Belfort Tower. The views were quite spectacular from up there.

Obligatory boat trip.

Cathedral with the restored Adoration of the Lamb (photo of the copy below with the stolen bottom left panel replicated)

Gorgeous buildings everywhere. Well worth a visit but it’s not Belgium, just one of two must visit cities.

Below is the route, made just a little more awful cycling through the centre of Brugge in a downpour.

As we were leaving Ghent, there was a couple looking puzzled at the start of the cycle path. They asked us where we were going and we said Brugge. They were English, no GPS, no cycling maps. They were about to set off in the wrong direction. We cycled a little way with them. Their first outing on a long distance bike trip . Good bags but no proper clothes or even gloves and they had ridden 100km the day before having not been on bikes in two years! Needless to say, sore bums.

Brugge was crowded even in the rain. We were surprised by this as we visited two years ago and it was reasonably quiet by comparison. Then we remembered what a French camp site owner told us. The two weeks before school holidays start, everywhere is empty. That’s when we were there. So, a note to those with no kids in tow – go then.

A very wet and breezy ride, mostly canal. Zeebrugge itself is like a terrible beach resort with a row of high rise apartments on a vast beach. It all felt rather glum – the sea end of Belglum. Had a rather strange meal which we had to cook ourselves at the table. Reached the ferry by 4.30. We were fast tracked with 4 other cyclists by all the cars and had to ride up the steep ramp to get on. Bikes secured.

Into our cabin. Didn’t know what to expect having never been on an overnight ferry. I expect it’s something like the Trakka but no kitchen facilities.

Met Stefan from East Germany, who was cycling to Newcastle from Hull. It was on his bucket list, having visited 32 years ago. He said he loved the people but he didn’t understand a word they said. We had an enjoyable couple of drinks before an early night. Gale 4-5 winds but very smooth crossing and we both slept well.

Sitting at the dock waiting to disembark. We could see Grimsby coming in with its 1852 replica Sienna tower, built by the Italians. Looks pretty spectacular from the ocean. The. The Humber Bridge came into view, which we will cycle over later.

Ride Day 34 – Lessines to Ghent – 58 km

We are now in for a completely different experience – we are leaving Wallonie and going into Flanders. This means the language has changed dramatically from French which we understood enough to get by, to Flemish or rather gobbledygook as we understand not one word. Luckily for us and anyone outside of this area, the locals all speak English as otherwise they would be slightly isolated in the world.

As of the end of yesterday we have covered 2150 kms.

The roads have improved, there are cycle paths everywhere and quite a lot more cyclists. We stopped at a railway station so Duncan could do some work and the station cafe did very good coffee and it came with complementary biscuit and chocolate. That’s a first.

Before we crossed the border, we turned a corner in a village and there was a large removal truck blocking the road. We squeezed by. On the other side was a vehicle waiting. Julie took a photo of the truck. The man in the vehicle asked why she had taken a photograph and she told him because she thought it bizarre that someone would block the main road through a village. His reply was what we consider a very Belgian answer. “But he is moving house”, to which Julie replied “well, it’s early and the truck is empty, so you could have a long wait, good luck”. “It’s OK” he replied. Off we went. Ten minutes down the road, he zoomed past us going in the opposite direction. His brain obviously eventually kicked in.

There is always something to amuse the cyclist. There has to be really or you would go bonkers. Lots of farmland but the villages are very regular.

The entire day stank of cow manure.

We came across a total of four blocked roads and below, a blocked cycle path.

Two houses below in the architectural ‘style’ I mentioned yesterday.

We got on a great cycle path which took us along a canal into Ghent. We flew along with the wind behind us. What a relief to be off those roads.

Bit tricky working our way through but at least we got here without being soaked. cobblestones are terrible to ride on.

We finally arrived at our accommodation at 3pm. We had a key code for our apartment. The cleaner was still there so we grabbed a coffee – we just made it before another downpour. We saw the cleaner leave. Well, the apartment was terrible. It was nothing as described on the Booking.com website. It was tatty, run down, dirty and dingy. It was also the most expensive we booked on the whole trip. The kitchen cupboards had rat bait in them and virtually nothing else. The bedroom faced the street and had no curtains or blinds. There were five lights that didn’t work, the bathroom had the shower head over the toilet with no screen or curtain. The mirror had fallen off, the sink leaked and the handle fell off the shower. After calls and texts, the agent came around and seemed genuinely surprised it was so bad. They found us an attic room in a new converted house 1.2 km further out. We had booked the first place to be close to the centre. Belinda and Paul booked their hotel to be close to us!

Belinda and Paul had their dramas too being stuck in traffic due to an accident (surprise surprise). They arrived 3.5 hours later than expected. We finally caught up at 7.30 and found a typical Belgian restaurant close by. Late evening. Miserable weather due to continue!

Ghent looks so far like a fabulously well preserved city. There will be plenty of walking, talking, eating and drinking over the next couple of days and the bikes can stay in the yet to be finished basement.

Ride Day 33 – Fayt-Lez-Manage to Lessines – 50 km

Well, a short day today km wise but not so short cycling wise, along quiet roads to the town of Lessines. We had a very mediocre and boring breakfast in our accommodation, made bearable by a lovely Sicilian Manager who was so enthusiastic, especially when we told him we had been to Sicily this year. He was off in a week – perhaps another reason for his happiness. Lovely old property with character. We loved Room 101 which was for when hobbits needed a place to stay.

Here is the route. It was chilly and we knew rain was forecast.

If you didn’t know we were in Belgium you would believe us to be in the UK. It’s a strange mix of architecture, some older properties have real character but the rubbish they are building now is just terrible. Note to self – if we ever build again, don’t hire a Belgian architect. Will take photos tomorrow. we have decided there is one thing the Belgians are very good at – organising a piss up in a brewery!

Through mostly farming land and small villages. Nothing much to laugh at at all. Then it clouded over and the clouds were on both sides. It was going to get us sooner or later. We passed a field with a family of Emus and three Wallabies. Terrible photo so cannot post. It’s like being in the twilight zone.

Then came the thunderstorm, complete with hail. We found a row of bushy trees to shelter next to and did the best we could to stay dry underneath.

Fancy Chateau on route and then we came across our road entirely blocked by heavy road digging machinery. After the heavy rain it was thick clay soil. The chap in charge made all the machines stop for us to pass. We could not see the road ahead so didn’t know how bad it would be. It was bad, very bad. We were sunk into mud and grit. Our bikes, chains, shoes were totally covered. What a nightmare. We then spent the next thirty minutes scraping off as much mud as we could and found every pudding we could to wash it off.

On the approach into Lessines, roads were blocked and we had no idea why. They let us through each of the road blocks and then we saw people sitting in chairs on the side of the road. There was a cycling race. Two large pelotons passed. Quite how they do this on the appalling roads is amazing. What vehicle do you usually see behind the main peloton? Well, usually it’s a support vehicle for each team with spare bikes etc. No, the vehicle zooming behind this lot was an Ambulance!

When we arrived at our very fancy B&B in Lessines we were so embarrassed by our appearance and the host was just lovely. We had to park our bikes in their hallway.

Small town with a claim to René Magritte. There are so few famous Belgians, you have to grab what you can.

We had a large beautiful room with a bath, which came in handy to scrub the gear, thankfully Julie always carries a scrubbing brush and Jif. We found the only restaurant in town that was open other than a Fritterie with a large queue. It was Asian but we had a very good meal and it was served with great efficiency but glum non smiling Chinese. The meals on average are 40% cheaper than in France.

Ride Day 32 – Namur to Fayt-Lez-Manage – 86 km

Namur turned into one of those places you just feel comfortable in. Namur is a genuine working city, there were a few tourists about. It’s on the confluence of the Meuse, which we came in on and the Sambre which we rode out on.

The Citadel was the place to visit for us yesterday and we enjoyed a lively and very fast English speaking Belgian tour of the tunnels under the Citadel and it’s history. In a nutshell it was under siege 22 times and each time the defenders lost. The victors improved the place and … not learning much are we? Excellent video projection onto the walls showing you the different ages, from 15th century to 1939.

We cycled up to the top of the Citadel which seemed very easy without all the panniers.

Valerie and Bart suggested a tapas wine bar, which we cycled into from their place. It took us only 8 minutes. Good food, slow service.

Our route today went out on the EV3 (it crosses the EV5 here) heading north west on the Sambre. If we had chosen not to ride on a marked cycle route and been on the road, we would have gotten there a lot quicker or not as our advice would be to never ever ride on the roads in Belgium if it can be avoided. Having now checked the stats, Belgium is the worst country in Europe for deaths on the roads, double that of any other European country. They have the worst road safety record in Europe. This confirms what we thought. It’s simply horrendous for a cyclist.

The best thing about today was breakfast that Valerie prepared for us. We kicked ourselves half way through the day for not taking the most delicious pecan pastry with us for sustenance as we feel are eating too much. We set off at 9.25. Forecast was thunderstorms but this was the view as we packed up the bikes outside the house. That’s our bike path on the river. I don’t t think you could find a more perfect location to stay. We had a lovely time there. We even got to try some Belgian wine Valerie and Bart picked up from a winery in Valerie’s home village a short ride away. We rated it 4/5. It was a white – grapes Johanniter and Solaris from Chateau de Bioul. Bet we cannot buy this in Australia!

The first 10 km out of Namur was fine – gorgeous blue sky, quite cool but good surface. From then on it was terrible. We hit what our hosts called “The Black Country”. The heavy industry was far worse than we saw in Germany. It seems to be king in scrap metal and goodness knows what else but it stank, was noisy and it went on forever.

Note to potential other cyclists. Best bet is to catch a train to Namur, stay two or three nights, tootle to Dinant and back or head to France from here. Going north is not to be recommended.

Cycling around Charleroi was quite a challenge in many respects. Charleroi was named a couple of years ago The ugliest city in the World. We can confirm that the towns surrounding the city aren’t much better. We used the cycle path to go around. We saw much of the following – dumped rubbish in large bags on the side of the path, mutually supporting people who were quite obviously under the influence of drugs or alcohol, many dilapidated houses, boarded up shops. In general, a place to avoid at all costs and one wonders what will come of these areas. Even the main train station was closed and run down. At 2pm we found a co-operative volunteer place and shared a mixed plate. Targeted at cyclists doing the Charleroi avoidance route.

After this time the rain set in, heavy thunderstorms, back to the ponchos. We had to shelter under large bushes when the storm was overhead. We set off again when the rain had lightened. We saw a cyclist sheltering under a large industrial Ecluse, so we decided to join him, and the lock keeper. So glad we did as he told us the route we were on was blocked about 5km down and best ride the other side. We had already lost time having to ride back from another blocked route. Shoes drenched again. Bloody long day in the saddle.

Now in our blissful quiet hotel. Manager in charge kindly ordered us pizza as local restaurant is closed for the holidays. He dug a wine out of the cellar which he said we could have for a song as he had no idea what it was! Very interesting and twilight zone evening. Only 50 km to do tomorrow thankfully.

Ride Day 31 – Dinant to Namur- 37 km

This is what all rides should be like – flat and short. Set off from our grungy accommodation with no breakfast and happy to go. Found a lovely little patisserie in Dinant for coffee and pastry.

Dinant was the scene of a civilian massacre in the First World War and was instrumental in US involvement.

Also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax and there is also a museum dedicated to the saxophone.

Quick look around before taking a very slow ride to Namur along the River Meuse. Our shoes are still wet but we have clean dry clothes on thankfully and a stack of damp filthy gear.

So relieved to be back on the flat. Legs very tired from yesterday’s marathon but now realise it was the edge of a tornado that hit Luxembourg. In this respect, we were actually lucky as seeing the news it was so strong it was ripping rooves off buildings. We wouldn’t have been able to ride in that at all.

We are now cycling back on part of the EV5. The track runs along the river all the way and is a mixture of cobbles, concrete and some smooth bits.

We can see this is a very upmarket and wealthy strip of river with some lovely old mansions and the odd Chateau. This is where wealthy Brussels people retire. There was 20km of this so clearly there is plenty of money about for some.

We were so leisurely today, we even stopped for a salad at lunchtime. Believe it or not, this is Duncan’s first Belgian Beer – seriously.

We felt we needed to relax and take it easy for a change. Below is Chateau de Dave – it doesn’t sound so bad in a Belgian accent.

Arrived Namur, found the tourist office and then onto our accommodation. Bart and Valerie – a lovely young couple relatively new to this B&B adventure, a new start after Valerie almost died from meningitis two years ago. Attic room but very large and modern. Fans of Master Chef, Valerie cooked us a lovely traditional dinner. We bought a bottle of wine in town to have with them. Very interesting to hear how things are in Belgium. They tax you for putting in Solar Panels!

And for Oddity of the week we have this. Kathmandu obviously thought the Belglums needed cheering up, so they opened a chain of these ….

Ride Day 30 – Neufchateau to Dinant – 78 km

Today will go into the top three worst ever rides. Sodding awful in so many respects, there isn’t the time or energy to go into them all. Suffice to say, when Duncan and I were planning this route, we spent longer on it than any of the others and it would seem we still didn’t get it right. What would have been right, is to skip this country altogether until Ghent by turning left at Barr and cycling to Champagne and then up in Belgium at the end. Too late for that now. Here is what we did.

A sure sign that cycling across the widest border to border of Belgium (or Belglum as we now know it), was that we have seen just one other touring cyclist and in fact, on this ride, which was too long, 3 cyclists total.

So, here is how it went. We set off from our fantastically comfortable house, turned left and headed up a hill. Those gradients don’t look much but the numbers on the left are 100m each. For those at home in Yallingup, this was the same as riding from bottom to top of Hayes Road and back from Vasse Yallingup Road three times an hour + a bit of Yungarra – 250m every hour for five hours in a row. Now add drizzle for the first 28km and heavy rain for the next 30km and torrential rain for the final 20km. Here are some photos when we had breaks in the drizzle part of the day.

Plenty of reminders about the war in towns and villages. Resembles the north east of the UK in many respects, rolling hills, slate and stone houses etc.

The Ardenne is pretty much pine plantations as far as the eye can see. It could explain why there isn’t bird song but then there are some native patches of forest – not a tweet was heard. After France and non stop birdsong everyday, we found this eerie. Then we start to see the shooting podiums, all numbered, for dozens of kms. So, the photo probably explains the lack of any life (we did see a red squirrel run across the road).

On top of this were off road muddy tracks, terrible road surfaces and the icing on the cake – the most stupid, arrogant, dangerous drivers experienced. It was terrifying. Imagine driving at 120kph in foggy, seriously torrential rain on bends or at any time. We both had our front and back lights flashing and we both wore our new bike rain ponchos which are dayglow yellow and can be seen from Mars. Cars and trucks raced by us, drenching us and some giving us barely half a metre clearance. Julie considers the Belgians are so boring in their daily lives that they need to get behind a wheel and drive like a dickhead (this is Julie’s toned down version). It is also no surprise that the two best countries to cycle in have been Spain and France and the worst Belgium and England. The first two having the 1.5m rule and signs everywhere instilling the care into drivers. It is quite obvious to us that this works. Australia is a work in progress.

We had no choice but to use an N Road. We would have needed to extend the trip by three days to join up to various cycling routes as in the east they only seem to have circular routes. Perhaps given the awful weather, the cycle routes wouldn’t have been useable anyway as the small amount of kms we did on them were quite soggy and uneven, other than one very pleasant stretch along a river that on a sunny day would have been glorious.

At the 28km mark, we reached a fancy looking restaurant. This was the only place anywhere that was open and it was 12.15, so they were happy to make us a coffee and hot chocolate before lunchtime guests arrived. We had found a patisserie earlier on and enquired whether they did coffee, which resulted in definite “non”. Seeing as it was wet, miserable and there were no other people in the village or for ten kms around, you would have thought there could have been several other responses, such as “sorry, we don’t do coffee” or “there is coffee here or here”, but no, this is NOT France, this is Belglum.

We found a large tree next to a church in one village and ate our packed lunch – still raining.

Unfortunately, no further photos in the rain. As it happens, the camera has water in it and that could be a problem. It was in a bag and covered with the poncho but we were totally drenched as we got water up from the road. Our heads and bodies were kept dry. The best bit was the water gathered between the handlebars in the poncho and when a big truck went past in the opposite direction, it blew up the poncho and threw the water into our faces. It wasn’t ideal for the trial run of gear.

We coasted down into Dinant in heavy rain, to our cheap accommodation at a Panamanian bar. Hardcore smokers under a patio umbrella watched as we carted our bags, then bikes, up a narrow, steep staircase to our rooms. Yes, the damp bathroom is down the corridor from the dark bedroom. The first place without a hair dryer, so our sodden clothes will remain so. It is, however, immediately next to the number one attraction in Town – the spot where the road squeezes between a crack in the rock face that towers over our room.

We trudged by this as we went to an Italian bistro for dinner, and ended up chatting to some Belgians, including a Chimay beer salesman. Sadly no samples.

Correction : it appears Germans are much slimmer than we thought – it must just be the corner we were in. Actually the French are more obese, and don’t mention Australia 😦

Ride Day 29 – Luxembourg to Neufchateau – 70km

Luxembourg City turns out to be rather lovely. Struggled to get out as Julie’s back had seized up, no doubt from too much pushing the bike up steep hills. Ventured out for a slow walk around the city after Duncan’s work.

Lots of greenery due to main gorge running right through it and not many tourists. It’s a working city with multi nationalities. Duncan said he could work there! Turns out they make great coffee and it’s cheaper than France. English is used widely – you can hear conversations between different nationalities in English.

We found a great little wine bar – while you are having a drink you can help yourself to free nibbles – bread, cheese, olives, ham etc., we can see people taking advantage of this. We decided to have a curry instead as it’s been a long while. Too much food as always.

Left our hotel at 10am. It was raining most of the night so we were lucky it stopped for our departure. Our hotel was in an upmarket neighbourhood just around the corner from the British Embassy and in a quiet location away from the road on top of the cliffs. The bed was good and the room very comfortable but it was over the entrance and so we were woken every time someone arrived, or went outside for a smoke. No air con of course so windows were open. Got virtually no sleep. So, most expensive hotel, worst meal, no sleep quality.

Here is the route today – not quite as many hills as the last ride but still quite a rise.

Luxembourg is obviously a wealthy country. It’s smart, tidy, great roads and practically every town and village has new houses and apartment blocks going up. The cars are all expensive. The shops are upmarket. Even the cows have collars on in the fields!

Then the border crossing into Belgium. Again, it’s hard to imagine that crossing on these odd side roads and bike routes that the contrast between two countries can be so great. France to Germany was staggering but this one was just shocking in every respect. We cycled down through a beautiful little village, through a field and then turn onto the main road. Bang, we’re in Belgium. The speed limit is 120kph, the road has a lane, not a cycle path, which ran out after three kms, there are no road direction signs at all. The next four kms has three half derelict hotels, two nightclubs, Cabaret clubs, bars, casino and strip climb, all totally run down. A leftover from the old border.

Soon after the cycle lane runs out, the road is blocked into two lanes with cones and it’s had its surface removed so you are left with the ridges. We had to ride 10 km on this. Luckily we were the other side of the cones as the trucks and cars sped by. There was absolutely nobody working on this whatsoever. Oh, and it’s all uphill.

We enter the town of Arlon. We diverted into here after getting an email from the accommodation we are booked into for the next two nights. It said “sorry, we are away, a neighbour will let you in – you can use the kitchen” – we booked this B&B last October. It’s remote so the owners were going to cook us a meal – all a slightly odd situation.

So, we parked the bikes at the supermarket and Julie stayed with them while Duncan picked up some supplies. This is not a wealthy area, in fact, the whole place is rather run down. As Julie sat waiting, she observed a man who was watching people smoking walking in to the supermarket. When they put their cigarettes out, he would go and pick them up, rub off the end and pocket the stub. He did this several times. Observed several people walk in and returning with just one can of beer. We see this all the time in Dunsborough and Busselton. Workmen buying a beer for their drive home, so it’s not unusual but hardly anyone was coming out with trolleys.

Julie has been saying since booking this trip that she doesn’t have high expectations for the east of Belgium. Not just from watching “The Break” a series set in the Ardenne where we are and where in the series there are quite a few murders, but about 20 years ago, Jeremy Clarkson made a TV series called “Meet the Neighbours”. The Belgians were the country where the majority of its population would have preferred to be born elsewhere!

Small memorial below, two small for the chairs inside.

We did have a rather good salad at the only restaurant we could find in Arlon – it was so busy we had to wait for a table. Between Arlon and Neufchateau, things started to improve. The roads got better (not the drivers) and the scenery improved. Duncan’s Route was mostly off the main road and through forests and small villages. luckily the hunting season doesn’t start for another month.

We arrived at our accommodation and the neighbour who we called with an hours notice met us. She didn’t really know what was going on other than to give us the key but she said the owners were Belgian and Peruvian and they had gone to Peru for a holiday.

We have the house to ourselves. It’s huge. Massive everything, sleeps 14. Lawns are so vast there are two robot lawnmowers. Had a huge spa bath, Duncan cooked pasta, watched TV on a huge screen in the movie room. The fridge is stocked full of cheese, meats, yogurts and there has been a three bag delivery from the bakery – we won’t starve. Not bad for €60 a night. Awesome.

Will venture into town via the 3 in 1 hill on foot tomorrow. Over and out ..

Ride Day 28 – Merzig to Luxembourg 71 km – 1047m

We are now entering the fat burning stage of the trip. None of this namby pamby cruising along rivers and canals for a while. We have swapped to the overland river to river system. Saar, over to Mosel and over again to Alzette. There were some shocking inclines on this and there was a lot of pushing, swearing at legs which wouldn’t perform and panting.

We woke to rain in Merzig. Chucking it down. Duncan had work to do and after a German breakfast, which was delivered to the room and in true fashion, enough for breakfast and lunch. Julie made rolls from the cheese and ham, we ate the cereal, yogurts, fruit, fruit juice, croissants, coffee. We left the sausages, jams and preserves! The rain stopped, we packed up and left at 10.30. We climbed out of the Saar valley for the first 10 km. Good job we had a good breakfast!

We then found ourselves unexpectedly back in France – hadn’t spotted this when planning. Duncan did a fine job of avoiding any busy roads. In fact, the great thing is that now the cycle paths are subpar, the roads are fantastically maintained and even some new roads going through many areas. Saw virtually no cars.

So, we are now on the ride along the border, literally, top of the ridge, France on the left, Germany on the right. Wind turbines whizzing around and marvellous sculptures leading the way. Stones on the Border – created in 1986 with many countries contributing. Unexpected and just fabulous riding other than the head wind.

Then we dropped down to the Mosel and completed about 10km of the ride we did with Nancy, Rick and Tony two years ago. At the start of that ride, just prior to Perl, there was a border check. I think Rick took a photo at the time (where the mini Eiffel Tower was). Anyway, someone obviously decided they didn’t like it or what it represented.

We then came across the CHAIR. Just the two of us this time.

A stop in Remich for a good coffee and shared Tiramisu at a proper Italian restaurant. The Italian owner was very entertaining and enthusiastic on seeing our trip and proceeded to tell everyone in the restaurant. We managed to escape and then the climb out of the valley west which wasn’t any fun at all. Great route once up and just lovely scenery along an old railway track. A handful of road cyclists in small pelotons enjoying the steep inclines but no other touring cyclists.

So many cycle routes Criss crossing. Plenty to keep a day cyclist happy in this region.

Duncan had planned the route into Luxembourg City around the forested path alongside the river. This was just glorious riding and what a gift for Luxemburgers. Walkers, skaters, cyclists – so peaceful. Imagine if you had this around the inside of the M25.

Amazing properties just sitting under the cliffs around the edge. Not sure I fancy that but I guess they’ve been there a long time.

We then approached the climb into the city. Flipping heck, just what you need afte a long day. Tony did warn us. Roadworks abound, we rode across the bridge we shouldn’t have and arrived at our very peaceful, top of the cliff hotel – no road noise. Ten minute walk into the city. Had a rather mediocre meal at the hotel as too stuffed to go far. Tomorrow is a rest day so we can explore then.

View from hotel garden.

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