After riding 2 months through Japan in autumn of 2017, I am now back in Europe, working... but still riding on my brompton whenever possible. Currently this is mainly in the Netherlands, close to home. But hopefully other countries will join the list.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

TdE - Day 36 Martelange - La Roche en Ardennes

Route: Martelange - Bastogne - La Roche en Ardennes 
Distance: 72 km
Elevation: 537 m
Duration: 4:19 h
Weather: sunny but not too hot, 19 C

Today right into the Ardennes, and well , I have to admit they are very nice indeed!

Actually much nicer than the picture above. I wasn’t very capable of converting the nice landscape also in nice pictures. Probably the nicest valley was the one just leasing into La Roche en Ardennes. 

My hotel tonight was on the top of a very steep hill, and even after breakfast the clouds were still hanging low in the fields. 

So the day started with a steep descent back into the valley where I would rejoin EuroVelo 5 route. In contract to Luxembourg here in Belgium the route is very well indicated. 

Nevertheless the first 15 or so km were a bit hard, not because of any incline/descent but because of the road surface. (I actually didn’t take a picture of the worst parts of the path, were it was covers in huge rocks and I had to push the bike)

When I finally hit asphalt again, it was the smoothest tarmac ever! Such a beauty:

And actually for Belgium this was so far the best tarmac, as a lot of the smaller streets are a bit deteriorated. 

I had planned my first stop of the day in Bastogne, at about 25 km. I am always planning ahead where are bakeries or restaurants so not to run out of calories (and rest stops). Bastogne was at a great distance as a first stop. What I didn’t know that the would be a cycling race (probably of under 19s) starting in the center of Bastogne shortly after I arrived. When I first came into the city on an other one of these rather uncompacted gravel roads, I noticed a lot of cyclists in team gear. I thought that maybe some teams are training there, but actually it was the last few minutes before their race. So I witnessed the “depart fictif” …

Within minutes of the depart everyone, all the team cars had left and I went to a local bakery which had been my objective for even going into town and got myself a tartlet and a huge baguette. It turns out that in Belgium baguettes (ie sandwiches) are prepared at the moment instead of already lying around since hours waiting for someone who wasn’t exactly this kind of sandwich. The one I had prepared was with salmon and really good (and enormous, although I had taken the smaller one). 

My accommodation for tonight was in La Roche en Ardennes, a small town I had never heard of before, but which seems to be THE center of an outdoor activities in the Ardennes. Coming to my hotel I did cross some incredibly dirty MTB riders (all male I think), and down at the river, there were lots of kayaks waiting for the next day. 

However for being a Saturday work really nice weather they weren’t a lot of cyclists on my route today. I am on an official EuroVelo route, but nevertheless I met maybe 1 or 2 other long distance riders per day. So different from the Danube or the Altmühl where it was sometimes even too much to greet all of them. Not only cyclotourists were missing, even just plain normal cyclists weren’t abandoned either. Until hitting La Roche, where all the MTB guys were rolling around.

I was lucky that I still got a room at La Roche, as it seemed to be very popular. Most of my bookings i I do though, but they had nothing available for this town, so o searched on Google maps and mailed a few of the hotels and only one answered with some availability. But it was nice enough. An old, big hotel overlooking the valley. 

In the late afternoon/evening I went down into the village, which is spotted with tanks from the offensive of the Ardennes.

But the village itself is quite nice. 

Friday, 17 September 2021

TdE - D35 Luxembourg - Martelange

Route: Luxembourg - Steinfurt - Redange - Martelange 
Distance: 64 km
Elevation: 789 m
Duration: 4:22 h
Weather: sunny with some clouds, 17 C

Today towards the dreaded Ardennes! I THINK I am taking them in from the high point, so that is probably good, but nevertheless even tomorrow and the day after the plan foresees quite some elevations, over 500 m every day! So not sure how these Ardennes are organized. 

Today I think I was mainly riding TOWARDS the Ardennes but not yet really IN them, at least if one takes the definition of Ardennes as a mountainous, forested area. 

Luxembourg itself seems to be a relatively sparsely populated country, so I needed some planning to make sure there were some places to eat on the way, but it worked out perfectly, and now after dinner I can say, that today was probably the day were I ate the best in this entire trip… and I probably ate all the meat that should be permitted per month if climate change could be averted… 

For lunch I had identified Redange as a village with some options, and the restaurant I chose (the one with the best evaluation in that village) was excellent. I took the steak that was offered as one of the “plat du jour” options, and it was really a filet mignon rather than a steak, and very well prepared. 

And now at dinner, already in Belgium but just about, a steak tartare which was also excellent… although a raw egg on top would have improved it even a bit more… 

Talking about food, my first stop after about 20 in was in Steinfurt where I had second breakfast plus I bought an “Einback”, a simple pastry which I bought quite frequently in Germany as a child. I had my rest in the village square which had some strangely decorated trees under the pretext of an arts exhibition with the topic “Impf-Stoff”.

A good part of the ride today was on old railway tracks, which is really an extremely comfortable way to ride up or down an incline. I will research them more and maybe do some more excursions specifically to these kind of cycle ways. It seems that Belgium potentially is full of them, as apparently Belgium was the country with most railway kilometers before shutting down a lot of them and later converting many of them into bicycle lanes. Something to be explored. 

But today it was the turn of some Luxembourg cycling railways, including this very, very chilly tunnel (fortunately it was well lit though).

These mushrooms along the way from far seemed like a piece of art, but actually I think they are extremely poisonous mushrooms. But nice to look at:

Luxembourg seems to be uncertain which language to use, so all the languages address used mixed. It is quite normal to see one warning sign in German and the next in French, or like today in the restaurant, the toilets were indicated in French, but how to open the door to the toilet in German. And then every now and then things are explained in Luxembourgese. It kind of seemed that people used preprinted material in any language, as long as it was readily available. 

Thursday, 16 September 2021

TdE - Day 34 Kitzing - Luxembourg

Route: Kitzing - Schengen - Luxembourg 
Distance: 51 km
Elevation: 497 m
Duration: 3:23 h
Weather: Sun and clouds and for the Forest time a bit chilly, 19 C 

Today I crossed so many boarders! France to Germany only to leave Germany again after less than a kilometer and cross over a bridge into Luxemburg, nothing less than to Schengen. And later in the day crossing again into France, without really noticing it, until I came by the typical French “mairie” and “liberté, égalité, fraternité” signs so ubiquitous in France. But my path quickly turned back into Luxemburg. 

Around Schengen a lot of streets were kind of closed for some Rally by Skoda. Or so I thought. I just saw “Skoda” and “road closure due to race”, so I assumed it would be a car rally. But I was wrong, but pure change I had a break right along the route when the race came by. 

First a lot of cars with spare bikes, then more police, then the peloton of the Tour de Luxembourg… and finally a LOT more cars.

I had no idea that the Tour de Luxembourg was underway, and even less so that they would use parts of MY route! 

So I got to see my first bike race of the year swooping by me. And although I had a lunch stop underway I was at my hotel before they made it to their destination, so I could watch the last 16 km of the race live on GCN!

I continued on over the false flat landscape of Luxembourg. It’s true that once I had managed to push up the bike the steep incline close to Schengen, the rest of Luxembourg is relatively flat, but RELATIVELY flat only. From a Dutch perspective still quite a lot of up and downs. The landscape of the rest of Europe really puts the Dutch landscape into perspective. That kind of flatness is NOT normal. 

Close to Luxembourg city Komoot planned for me the cycle path on the left, but luckily on the other side of that small river was a well asphalted one, reserved for cyclists and pedestrians. 

And that’s how I came into the city and my basic Ibis hotel by the station, where Roubaix can sleep with me:

After a shower and washing my clothes I went by foot to explore the city. Somehow I had imagined Luxembourg as this fabulously rich country, where everything would be extremely posh and emanate wealth, but that isn’t really the case. It seems a pretty normal city, and I still wonder why it is a UNESCO world heritage site. Probably every country has a right to at least one UNESCO site and Luxembourg tried with it capital. 

What was nice though is the view from a bridge down into the deep valley that divides the city and has been planted to be a garden. 

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

TdE - Day 33 Saarbrücken - Kitzing (DE->FR)

Route: Saarbrücken - Saar - Kitzing
Distance: 70 km
Elevation: 386 m
Duration: 3:55 h
Weather: Rainy, sometimes dry, not cold, 18 C 

After the nice (and long) ride along the canals yesterday, today a shorter ride through the most depressing parts of Europe I have visited in this Tour d’ Europe. The Saar: 

The cycle path follows the Saar river, but so does the train, the highway and all the heavy industry. 

It didn’t help that today was one of the few rainy days, although it wasn’t actually that bad. Only about 15 minutes already at less than 15 km from my B&B did it rain a bit more. 

As I had planned a relatively short ride today, because of the long ride yesterday, the weather and the incline, I started late. Nevertheless I was in Saarlouis which on the map looked like a potentially interesting city for early lunch. 

And well, it might have been an interesting city when it was built as it was a fortified city build by Vauban, the same architect as Neuf Brisach that I visited only a few days ago in Elsass, but during too many wars Saarlouis got destroyed too many times. And the fact that someone thinks that using the central place of the city as a huge parking lot is a good idea also tells a lot about the current situation of this town. It seems, like other parts of the Saarland I passed, stuck in the 1970s at best. 

Anyway, I had something to eat and bought also two bagels for tonight, because when I booked my accommodation for tonight I only checked where it is located and the rating on, but forgot to check if there was a place to eat close by, and there isn’t. Kitzing is in a rather god forlorn part of France. 

But at least it is in the countryside… and close to a castle:

But tomorrow into a new country and a big city: Luxemburg!

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

TdE - Day 32 Lutzelbourg - Saarbrücken

Route: Lutzelbourg - Rhein-Marne Canal - Saar canal - Saarbrücken 
Distance: 123 km
Elevation: 358 m
Duration: 6:07 h
Weather: cloudy and humid, only a little bit of drizzle later in the day, 21 C

After the relative test day of yesterday, today the first 100+ km day of September! Normally I now ride at least one if not two 100+ km rides on a weekend, back at home in the Netherlands, but it is a difference if riding completely in the flat, without any baggage and with less kilometers in the legs from the previous days. But still, I managed the 100+ km today. 

The day started with an exceptionally poor breakfast. Old bread, old pain au chocolate, an orange juice that didn’t taste too well… all in all probably the worst hotel I have had on the entire trip. Luckily in the small village of Lutzelbourg there was a bakery so after breakfast and before departing I went there and got a TASTY pain au chocolate plus a sandwich. 

And then I set off along the same canal I had come riding up yesterday afternoon, now getting higher and higher into the Vosges, which for a canal means a LOT of sluices! Sometimes so many that one could see the next sluice hut from the previous one. 

And always a well maintained bicycle path alongside. With surprisingly little cycling tourists. Considering the nice, gently upsloping path through the nature, far away from any traffic for miles and miles. 

For the ships there is now an elevator, constructed some 50 or so years ago, which bypasses another many sluices and apparently reduced the travel time by an entire day. 

I haven’t seen it in action though. 

What I did see is where the canal disappears into a tunnel, and where as a cyclist the hardest part of the ride starts, because there is no tunnel for cyclists, we are “forced” to ride OVER the mountain! 

The tunnel wasn’t the only engineering master work, there were also bridges OVER which the canal flowed. 

A huge investment into all the canals, clearly indicating the economic relevance of the black gold found in the region, which is still being extracted to the day. 

Also in order to habe enought for the canals, there were huge artificial lakes often along side the canal, but the region is apparently so remote that these lakes don’t get used for major outdoor activities.

Here a schematic presentation of the Saar canal, its sluices and the water reservoirs:

But enough about engineering and back to cycling… This was me and good “young” Roubaix on the top of the climb and I rewarded myself with the pain au chocolate. 

From there in general terms downwards, but it isn’t so easy, there are always some small ups and downs, when leaving the canal. 

At some time I wanted to have a break and didn’t find a bench along the canal but saw one of the few villages that I encountered and stopped in front of the local church. Luckily in the same village there was also a bakery which doubled up as basic grocery shop, and I could restock with one more sandwich (with foie gras) some Haribos and water. 

The region itself was incredibly unpopulated. Only a few small villages and not a lot along the canal. Luckily I hadn’t planned on having lunch in a restaurant along the canal, as that could have been a difficult search. 

Only shortly before Saarbrücken does the canal become ugly due to industry and parallel highway. But more of that tomorrow. 

Monday, 13 September 2021

TdE - Day 31 Breuschwickersheim - Lutzelbourg

Route: Breuschwickersheim - Marmoutier - Lutzelbourg
Distance: 45 km
Elevation: 437 m
Duration: 2:50 h
Weather: very sunny, but not that hot, 22 C 

Today was kind of a rest day, just 45 km in a day and a long test on a bench in front of this church:

The day started late after a breakfast at 9:15 on a small terrace in front of my gîte accommodation. Finally I started shortly after 11:00, probably the latest start of the entire tour. But the plan for today was quite short on purpose, to relax and now I feel ready for over 100 km tomorrow. 

After a short time I ended up in the middle of some major road works, but luckily and with the permission of the workers I was able to use their service roads so I didn’t need to find an alternative or mingle with the real traffic. 

A little bit later I rejoined a cycle path which was running on old train tracks, which is such a comfortable way of cycling. Even better than canals, because the landscape in general is more varied, i.e. not continuously along a canal. 

Shortly before Marmoutier I met an other cyclist and he a restaurant at Marmoutier where he was going to meet his mother for lunch, and yes it was as very nice place for lunch. In that village there was also this originally medieval church, but inside it wasn’t very interesting. 

In contrast to the last two days there weren’ta lot of vineyards today, but normal fields and getting closer to the Vosges, and starting to enter them. After Saverne I joined the Marne-Rhein canal which is an engineering achievement with a lot of sluices in order to get up through the Vosges and over to a canal towards the Saar. Today it seems to be only used by pleasure boats, but originally it was built in order to transport building material from the mountains to Strasburg. 

Each sluice makes an enormous step as one can see in this “before - after” picture:

Sunday, 12 September 2021

TdE - Day 30 Saint Hippolyte - Breuschwickersheim

Route: Saint Hippolyte - vineyards & old villages - Breuschwickersheim 
Distance: 69 km
Elevation: 464 m
Duration: 4:42 h
Weather: again very sunny and warm, although the air wasn’t THAT warm, 19 - 27 C 

Today I had quite a late start after a home made breakfast in my accommodation in Saint Hippolyte, which was in a house where probably nothing has been changed in the last 50 years and which was full of decorations and fauteuils, even in my bathroom there were 2! 

Then I went a little bit downhill until joining the EV5 cycle path which runs through the vineyards at the feet of the Vosges. 

Today again was a continuity of small (and not so small) villages with very colorful half timbered houses. Similar to these type of houses in Germany, but much more colorful. 

The villages also lie very pictorially in the landscape and as the bicycle path uses mainly viticultural paths, one often gets a nice view on the village before entering it. It feels a little bit like in the medieval ages when wine merchants were visiting the villages for their trade. I am just imagining that the speed of travel of a horse drawn cart and a bicycle (at least when I am riding) is probably quite similar…

Again all these small villages did flow one into another, similar houses, similar gates, some quite overrun by visitors (e.g. Obernai), some very quiet. 

The highlight today was probably the lunch place. The food was okay, but it was the location in Itterswiller that was outstanding, with the view over the entire Elsass. 

And a bit above the restaurant there is a Belvedere with a 360 degree view of the Elsass, the Vosges and the vineyards. And probably also the Alps, weather permitting.

The last few kilometers today were not in the vineyards but instead on a canal that was built specifically for transporting heavy stones to Strasbourg for constructing a fortress:

Tomorrow I have planned a specially short day. Late breakfast at 9:00 and then only 44 km to Lutzelbourg. 

The day concluded in a good restaurant in Breuschwickersheim with a “café au liégeois” celebrating the achievement to book a hotel close to Leuven (I.e. Liege) for the weekend of the UCI world championships

Saturday, 11 September 2021

TdE - Day 29 Umkirch - Saint Hippolyte

Route: Umkirch - Breisach (New &Old) - Colmar - Route du vin - Saint Hippolyte 
Distance: 85 km
Elevation: 469 m
Duration: 5:26 h
Weather: generally sunny with some clouds, plus one major downpour in Colmar

Today I entered the last new country of this trip: France!

And this was probably the last time I see the Rhine before joining it again at home in Leiden. 

From here onwards I plan to follow EuroVelo 5 all the way to Brussels and then see from there how to get back to Leiden.

My first stop was Neuf Breisach, a fortified village constructed as the ideal garrison, and on the plan it is interesting and still totally maintains this form:

But in reality at least inside it looks like a very depressing, small town. Not very well maintained. What was impressive though were the fortifications:

My next stop was Colmar, a city that I already visited in the past. I had hoped for a bit less tourists due to Covid travel restrictions on non-Europeans, but no, the city was pretty packed with tourists. So I wonder how it looks like normally when also all the international tourists are there! But it looks nice:

One can already see in this picture that it was starting to rain. At that moment it was more like a drizzle, but as it became stronger I searched for a hiding spot and luckily found one under a roof in front of a Fnac. Not totally ideal, but it protected me from the ensuing downpour, that within minutes transformed the street in front of me into two, small, rivers. So I had a forced stop at Colmar for about 45 minutes, and not in the absolutely nicest place of town, but at least reasonably dry. 

After Collar I first encountered the cycle path that should bring me closer to home. Here it generally does NOT go through all the small villages but instead stays somewhere below them, so I had tweaked it to go through the villages. Tomorrow instead I plan to follow it a bit more strictly, also because tomorrow it actually does go through the main villages! 

All these villages now in my head kind of combine into one, with a city gate (often looking quite similar)…

… old, half timbered houses…

.. and often a main square:

But quite arbitrarily some of these villages (e.g. Riquewihr) we’re totally flooded with tourists, others such as Turckheim or Bergheim had hardly any (in comparison), but looked pretty similar ‘, except the absence of all the tourist shops.