For my 2017 summer holidays I considered several options for my first solo multi-week trip by bicycle. On the short list were Iceland (scratched due to only two weeks of time), the popular JOGLE route across Great Britain (also scratched due to time constraints) and cycling North to the most bicycle-friendly city of the world (Copenhagen).
As I opted not to fly this time (having flown to the Middle East and the US over the last year, sorry earth :<), I chose to follow a circular route closer to home (I later discovered that I could probably return by train from Copenhagen). Having crossed France two years ago by bicycle (following the famous green way to the Mediterranean and returning by train), I opted for a route North through the Netherlands and Germany. Both countries which are fairly new to me, having only been in Oldenburg and Berlin for work so far. Below you can find a trip report. The report of week 1 is available here.
Week 2: Germany and Belgium
Day 7: Leer-Lingen, 100km, 5h36m, GPX
Day 8: Lingen-Duisburg, 167km, 8h31m, GPX
Day 9: Duisburg-Euskirchen, 139km, 7h59m, GPX
Day 10: Euskirchen-Robertville, 107km, 7h20m, GPX
Day 11: Robertville-Wanzoul, 112km, 6h40m, GPX
Day 12: Wanzoul-Gent, 175km, 9h03m, GPX
Day 7: Leer to Lingen (July 20th)
I left the camp site with a Swedish cyclist who was cycling South from Scandinavia to the Netherlands and who was happy to find someone speaking English. He was having a hard time communicating so far, as Germans their English isn’t all too great apparently. For me this was a surprise, as I figured most of Germany would be pretty knowledgeable in English. On the other hand, I saw this as an opportunity to brush up on my high school German (poor Germans :D). Also, I experience the holiday feeling more intensely when I am limited to a foreign language.
After crossing the Emse river I cycle through the small but charming town of Leer. The route from here basically goes South following the valley of the Emse river until I leave the state of Lower Saxony near Salzbergen. During the morning I am hit by some rain showers, but nothing too seriously. I find myself stopping often to put on and take off rain gear in order to regulate body temperature. I am surprised that the cycling infrastructure is passable in this part of Germany. I am often confronted with ‘Radwegschaden‘ warning signs, but I soon learn that Germans have a higher standard of road quality than in Belgium. Belgian cycling paths would be filled with ‘Fietspad in slechte staat‘ signs if we were to follow the quality standards of North-Eastern Germany.
Before noon I pick up lunch in Bakerei/Konditorei Anneken, this is a concept I do remember from German class! With some German bread and pastries in my panniers I find my way to a covered bus stop for lunch with peanut butter jelly sandwiches and a lovely dessert! Stroopwafels make it extra sweet. After noon the clouds clear and the sun comes out. I continue to cycle along quiet German country roads in between pastures and farm fields. Occasionally I hit a busier two lane street, sometimes without cycling lanes. Luckily the drivers are considerable towards cyclists.
Before long I make it to the city of Lingen, where I meet my warmshowers host Lutz. He lives with his wife and son in a cozy flat right in the middle of the city and were kind enough to host me for the day. We exchange cycling experiences and even discuss some European history, mostly in German (with varying success) before sharing dinner. It’s nice to have some company and play with the four year old boy Max :). They have a ukelele but I quickly find my knowledge of the guitar has mostly faded and probably wouldn’t apply very well to the ukelele anyway. Lutz his family is expecting a baby soon and they confide me that they want to cycle the world as a family once he/she is fit for travel. I hope you can make your dream come true!
Day 8: Lingen to Duisburg (July 21th)
After a German breakfast (mostly toast with marmalade and loads of tea for me :)) I profusely thank the Lutz family for their hospitality. We take a quick photo on the streets of Lingen before I set off for a long day in the saddle. Today’s goal is Duisburg which is some 170 kilometers further south. Leaving Lingen, the route follows the Emse river much more closely than yesterday. I pass the village Ohne, which reminds of the song Ohne dich by Rammstein. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to the German band, but some of their older repertoire I will probably remember until I grow old. The weather is much warmer than yesterday, which means I drink lots of coke. Luckily the heat isn’t too bad, which means I am able to make some good miles. The scenery is dominated by wheat fields as I keep on cycling along country roads and ‘regional’ roads.
Somewhere half way between Schoppingen and Coesfeld I stop for lunch at a nice little bench. The rest of the afternoon sees me cycling through the countryside, where I am following high voltage electricity lines. After Dorsten I have reached 120ks and feel that I am starting to run out of juice. In order to avoid bonking, I make a pit stop at a gas station and fill up on fast sugars to keep the pace going (coke, ice cream and haribo sweets; sorry teeth) for the last stretch into Duisburg.
Two hours later I cycle along the Rhein-Herne canal into Duisburg. This area is heavily industrialized along the water, which reminds me that I have entered das Ruhrgebiet. The stopping place for today is a camping site seven kms South of Duisburg. When I arrive it is after eight and the reception is empty, luckily some nice Germans show me where I can pitch my tent. For dinner I thought I had bought some vegan burgers that you can store at room temperature. Apparently I bought a mix to make burgers, which means I am eating a hearty paste with couscous and chick peas. Not the best in terms of texture, but delicious nonetheless! Today was a nice, cloudless summer day and after the sun sets, the stars come out and I get to enjoy some nice stargazing. Soon after I crawl into my tent, tired but content.
Day 9: Duisburg to Euskirchen (July 22nd)
I leave early the next day, through some lovely forests to the south of Duisburg. After the forests I feel like I have entered the Ruhrgebiet proper, leaving behind the quiet countryside and cycling though lively cities and urban agglomeration along the Rhein river. Around 9:30 I reach a major milestone on this trip: the city of Düsseldorf, the home of another famous German band Kraftwerk. I pass by the zoo and the retro trams on the outskirts of the city. Some banners of this year TdF’s grand départ are still on display. Before long I reach another milestone, the Rhein river. I will follow this river all the way to Bonn for the rest of the day. Dusseldorf has a number of bridges that cross the river, some bigger and more modern than others. The Rheinturm is a famous landmark that’s hard to miss and that houses broadcast antennas at its top.
After Düsseldorf the route leaves the Rhein, choosing to divert West around the center of Köln. This is a shorter route as the Rhein winds its way through the river valley. Here one might prefer to follow the river and visit the center of Köln with it famous Kölner Dom. The Western diversion passes along the sporting complex of FC Köln and the Rheinenergiestadion. The route reunites with the Rhein at Wesseling, where I take a short break along the river. I continue south into Bonn where a lovely castle and building are build on top of the rises around the valley. I eat some fruit on a bench in Bonn. Many families are strolling along the river bank enjoying the pleasant summer weather.
I follow the Rhein until the town of Mehlem, where I head West towards Rheinbach on my way to the Eifel nature reserve. Riding away from the Rhein, I climb towards the plateau of the Hohe Venn-Eifel. Finding a commercial camping site is difficult in this part of Germany, but I managed to find a little, charming place in Schweinheim: campingplatz Katzenloch. On the camping there is a Dutch couple on their way to Rome, but they are away (where to I don’t know as Schweinheim is very small). I cook dinner, wash up and go to bed early, ready for an early day tomorrow.
Day 10: Euskirchen to Robertville (July 23rd)
When I wake up the Dutch are ready to leave, so much for my idea of starting early. Today I’m cycling through two highlights of my trip: the Eifel national park and the Hoge Venen nature reserve. From Euskirchen to Gemund, the route isn’t very interesting however as it follows a two lane street, with long stretches along the busy road. Sometimes it leaves the main road to take a back road, which often has me climbing before descending again towards the road. Still, there are some nice panoramas to be had in the rolling countryside.
I reach the Eifel park before noon, where I follow one of the mesmerizing branches of water towards to larger lake at the center. The lake is formed by the Rurtalsperre dam which provides electricity and drinking water to the area. This is one of the few stretches where I cycle along gravel roads. I pass many cyclists and hikers, even though the sky is quickly turning overcast. I don’t make it to the 77 meters high dam, instead I cross the water more South near Rurberg. From Rurberg I climb away from the lake towards the Belgian border and the Hoge Venen. I ride the last stretch in Germany along a boring provincial road, filled with motor cyclists.
Soon after I cross the Belgian border I reach the Hoge Venen nature reserve. I’m back on familiar ground now, as I have spent numerous (winter) hiking trips here and even two cycling trips as well. It’s a bit like coming home which makes me feel good :). I emerge from the fens near Ternell, before continue further South down again in the fens. As the Hoge Venen lie on a plateau, it is pretty flat here which is welcome after the last two days. Just when I leave the woods it starts pouring rain, I decide to hide under a tree until the worst of it has passed. After ten minutes I continue, descending like a mad man into Robertville trying to avoid the worst of the rain. In Robertville there are many campings you can chose from. I ended up at Anderegg, as this seemed more nature-oriented than the other options. I end up getting a quiet spot that overlooks some green meadows.
The camping is run by Limburgers (i.e. people from Limburg) and has a cozy communal area, where I meet some fellow cyclists that are also hiding from the rain. They are a family of five with three children, two of which are too young to cycle on their own. The children are distracted by the TV, which frees mum and dad to exchange some thoughts. I’m all too eager to string up a conversation :). They took the train to Aachen (which was a challenge in of itself with all the gear they are logging around) and are travelling South along the Vennbahn. Travelling with five means they are both heavily packed, each towing a cart behind them (with one child each). Travelling with young children also means they break a lot and often spend two days of the bike for every day spent cycling. Despite the hardships, I sense that they are both enjoying the adventure. Lots of kudos to this couple, whose names I unfortunately can’t remember when I write this two and a half months after having met them. I hope they finished their tour safely and happily!
Day 11: Robertville to Wanzoul (July 24th)
Last night I woke up from the rain, the outer tent acting a giant drum canvas for the rain drops. This morning I pack away my tent soaking wet. South of Robertville I cycle into the town of Waimes. From Waimes there runs a Ravel towards Malmedy which descends ever so slightly in this direction :). This one is a paved over railway road, similar to many of the other ravels in Wallonia. After Malmedy the road climbs towards Hockai. From here I follow another Ravel road towards Francorchamps, famous for its formula one track Spa-Francorchamps. The rest of the morning sees me descending along a boring two lane road, which follows the Amblève river. It’s efficient but uninspiring. I reach Aywaille where I do some lunch shopping in a big Delhaize. Being back in Belgium means I can use my Belgian meal vouchers again, needless to say a shopping spree ensued. I enjoy lunch on the banks of the Ambleve with some of my favorite vegi spreads, a tree providing cover from the rain.
After lunch I cycle on towards where where the Amblève flows into the Ourthe, a well-known waterway in the Ardennes. From here I head West, leaving the Ardennes behind as I cycle into the lands of the Condroz. Today’s goal is Wanzoul, a small village on the rises around the Maas close to the city of Huy (between Namur and Liege), where my grandmother lives. After a short climb I am on top of the plateau and from here the elevation differences are smaller. I cycle along Hody, Tinlot, Villiers-le-Templiers and numerous other small towns.
Before descending towards the Maas valley, I am hit by torrential rains. Luckily I can take shelter under some trees. Some horse riders I passed earlier are less fortunate. I’ve cycled along these roads many times before, but this descend via Tihange into Huy is unknown to me. I consider that riding the Mur de Huy would be crazy with this heavy touring bicycle. After crossing the Maas, I am hit by again torrential rains. This time I hide in a bush for ten minutes, which works surprisingly well to keeping me dry. After a last climb I arrive at my grand mother’s, happy to see a familiar face after eleven days on the road.
Day 12: Wanzoul to Gent (July 26th)
After a much needed rest day, I set of early to cover the last long stretch back home. I chose to follow a route that is a bit longer than my normal route, this time passing along the North of Brussels and sticking exclusively to way-marked cycle routes. This makes it a bit longer, but hopefully also more worth while. I start by cycling to Fumal and following the familiar Ravel towards Landen. After Hannut however I leave the Ravel and head West. Here I follow cycle markers that are similar to the fietsknooppunten in Flanders and the Netherlands. It makes for quieter roads than I am used to in this part of Belgium, which is very welcome. In Orp-Jauche I have to make a small detour as a small tunnel is flooded with clay-like mud which is so sticky it locks up my tires. With the help of some tree branches to clean my wheels, I am on my way again. I am surprised by the beauty of Waals Brabant, the many country roads, meadows, pastures are charming to cycle through. The route really brings out the best of this area.
North of Wavre I cycle into Flanders at Sint-Agatha-Rode. I cycle along the ‘Vlaamse Rand‘ around Brussels through towns such as Zaventem, Vilvoorde and Grimbergen. As a pleasant surprise the route passes by the end of the run way at Brussels Airport Zaventem and I am able to spot some planes and try some photography. Nothing too fancy passes but I get some good shots of a Brussels Airlines BAe 146 (OO-DWC) that is on final. Near Meise I take an extended break on a meadow where I can see the silver balls of the Atomium in the distance. After Brussels I follow a familiar route back to Ghent. Cycling north of the E40 highway, I pass along Asse, Aalst, Papegem, Kwadrecht, Melle and finally Merelbeke. After my longest leg of the trip I arrive home hungry and in need of a shower, but happy that I completed the trip :). On to the next adventure!