A Travellerspoint blog

What's a few more miles between family?

sunny 33 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

Unfortunately the stats for the day aren't much use as I forgot to turn the GPS on until we were well on our way and accidentally turned it off well before our endpoint. The map still shows the biggest downer of the day though...having to backtrack on ourselves in a 4mile round trip

Going the wrong way may rank as the highest gumption trap (see Delay on the Way from Calais) possible in a cycling trip, even worse than large, pointless hills, as at least then some ground is gained. In previous trips these had been fairly commonplace as a combination of sub-par maps and fast-and-loose continental road signs meant a certain amount of wrong turns were almost guaranteed. Maps do still have their uses for us, particularly in gauging elevation, but part of the reason for purchasing a GPS was to avoid these instances. Until today, we had had an exemplar success rate.

We managed to find our first and only full Piste Cyclables route this morning on leaving Luxembourg,and it was sublime. It somehow managed to bypass all the traffic, suburbs and elevation of Luxembourg city into Hesperingen,which naturally left me keen to find the Southern route to near our first objective of the border town Schengen. Instead an overland route took place. Hills slowly came and went. Winds increased. A fly flew in my eye. Then we ended up circling into Roeser where we had no option but to cut back on ourselves completely.

We arrived in Schengen on a dramatic hill overlooking the valley and the Moselle river. We immediately tried to size it for routes but all we could see was a steep descent, a motorway and several mudflats with no real connections between them. So, it wasn't as fun an entry to Aslace-Lorraine as it had been for Belgium and Luxembourg, but we were quick to find a cycle path which adjoined the river and began to follow it South to Thionsville. We felt so fatigued by this point with sore limbs, and asses especially, every push seemed a major effort. We'd forgotten the peculiar habit for French stores to close for the afternoon so had near no food or water on a very hot day. An old couple overtook us twice. We're now in Thionsville sunburned and considering cautiously the best way to proceed.

So, who knows where we'll be tomorrow - maybe Nancy, twinned with my University city of Newcastle, we'll just have to wait and see.

Ttfn from France's industrial heartland,
Tom xx

Posted by Tom.Calver 13:28 Archived in France Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

On Piste, Off Piste or Piste Off

sunny 28 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

The map and stats for this extremely eventful day

Unfortunately I have very little time to write on what may well have been the most eventful, full-spectrum day of the entire trip. I'm about to be kicked out of the hotel so I'll be as quick as I can.

As we left Bastogne we were fortunate enough to discover another RAVeL cycle way which went all the way into Luxembourg, yet on our first attempt to follow the Luxembourg equivalent Pistes Cyclabels (PC) found ourselves down a dirt track in a forest with some confused rangers, who pointed out no-one had cycled here in a decade and the route had been decomissioned. That said they helped us carry our bikes and equipment over a railway track (the bridge had collapsed) to where they thought it carried on and wished us good luck. Soon it came close to survival over cycling as we had to carry the bikes over the river and dodge electric fences. We came out of the forest into a very surprised Dutch groups team building exercise and went straight onto an incredibly tough hill. That completed, we had no choice but to follow it down again (awful when you hate to loose all that effort you just put in) and saw a signposted cycle route to our destination town. On arriving there was all kinds of information on the PC routes and we followed the Northern path to, as the sign posts would lead us to believe, the South...even after 10km of going North East we assumed it would swing back, but not at all.

So we arrived at the top of another hill South of Hosingen and took to the main road heading to Ettelbruck. After a large lunch we found a route of "outstanding natural beauty" which followed the river - a bit of a gamble as it meant loosing all our hard fought elevation, but we went for it and it was superb. Perfectly flat terrain all the way, with beautiful scenery and, finally on reaching Ettelbruck, I pushed to continue for Luxembourg. I would call this the day we should be most proud of for the entire trip as there was so much adversity.

Anyway, must run, I have 10minutes to get packed! There were no pictures unfortunately as the camera is out of battery power, a real shame as it was beautiful.

I mustn't forget to mention Callum either, an Irishman living in Luxembourg who has been a huge help to us in finding a hotel and on advice for the way to Strasbourg.

See you in Alsace-Lorraine,
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 00:59 Archived in Luxembourg Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Ask any veteran; you can't slip through the Ardennes

overcast 18 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

Here's our map and stats for the day - unfortunately the cadence sensor cut out two-thirds of the way through, and I forgot to start it until a few miles into the journey, but just look at the elevation...

"Le pays des vallées", valley country in English, is the maxim for the Belgian province Namur which we had the mixed pleasure to cycle through. As I mentioned in my last entry the hills of the day before had been gruelling, and we were fully aware today would see us rise to at least the 500metres necessary to enter Luxembourg and probably more. As it transpired today was every bit as tough as we'd predicted, except unlike the day before there was absolutely no flat terrain - we were on constant rises and dips which have lowered our overall daily distance to half of what we began with in the low countries. In addition the weather would unpredictably switch from hot sunlight to cold rain, which froze us on long descents but would cause us to overheat if we wore our rain jackets on the climbs. Then there were the problems with the RAVeL cycle route...I'll start there.

We began the day with high hopes. As no stores are open until nine on Sunday mornings, including those which serve breakfast, we took a stroll around town until we saw a tourist office. There we found a map which showed the RAVeL networks of Belgium, supposed national cycling routes that cross the country, and one was near us and claimed to be able to go all the way into Luxembourg. We understood we would have to gain height during the day but the thought of achieving this through gradual paths designed for families was extremely exciting, particularly as the day before our only productive portion of the day consisted of five miles of excellent RAVeL cycling route. With this in mind we set out to the village of Jumelle from the previous day's cycle track, then along the coast to Hargimont, constantly aware of the hills waiting on our flanks for our inevitable turn inland. After stocking up on food and drinks at a gas station we cut inland for the climb to Hargimont, only to find...nothing. Locals had no idea of this cycling route. We went down the hill, then back, to no avail. Our actions here were really incosequential as it became obvious the day was to be very tough no matter how it was approached. After checking our map we decided to cycle the 8km to the Southern village of Ambly in the hope of meeting the route on the way. Instead we had our first introduction to outrageous gradients and, as expected, nothing in the village.

The day continued in this vein to Nassogne and the Ardennes countryside. We took lunch on a marshy dugout at 1600feet on a main road for lack of anywhere better and are covered in mosquito bites as a result. There was a brief effort on a very busy dual carriageway to make some distance but it was realised there was no avoiding the contours and may as well face them somewhere where there wasn't a risk of being taken out by a zippy Belgian, so returned to the countryside. We are now in Bastogne, famed for its role in the Battle of the Bulge, and it's little surprise two generations of German attacks through this country have ended in failure - going through here isn't a shortcut. RAVeL have a lot to answer for; we saw hardly any cyclists all day, so clearly Belgians learned to disregard their advice a long time ago. A couple of miles from Luxembourg we can only hope their routes are better prepared. So, there we are...there are positives to this, our height should now have plateaued, and we have heard good things about the Luxembourg routes, but the veracity of these claims remains to be seem.

All the best,
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 23:39 Archived in Belgium Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

The hills have eyes: they watch us wryly

overcast 30 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

As I finally figured out how to use the Garmin a few miles outside Namur I've managed to upload a map of the journey, some statistics and a graph showing our elevation mapped against our speed.

Today was intended to be a reasonably relaxed cycle of 38miles to Rochefort, a medium-sized Belgian town roughly 60miles from Luxembourg's border, to allow us the chance to catch-up on various domestic chores and make sure we didn't completely run out of impetus so near the start. The reality was 50miles of intensely difficult terrain, from the moment we left Namur to around 5miles from the end.

Our exit from Namur was as difficult as most other cities - it is necessary to cycle in a straight line for a short period to enable the GPS to align which way you're facing, which is clearly difficult in cities as roads are often short and turn offs crucial, so cycling out the wrong way, running into dead ends, cobbled roads etc. happen depressingly often. We wanted to follow a river South for several miles before finally leaving waterway navigation (which had been a staple of our route-finding since our arrival at Calais) until Alsace-Lorraine, but roadworks meant we had to cut inland earlier than we would have liked. John's maxim of following main roads as they typically have gradual inclines was only true in so far as they stuck to river banks, and within 10miles of leaving Namur we had begun our first trip to 280m above sea level (look at the graph), followed by dipping into the next valley and up the other side. The gradients were horrific and we had no other options, which actually makes me concerned for tomorrow as we must enter Luxembourg at atleast 500m. Our situation only abated when during a chance encounter at the small village of Celles we noticed a pamphlet that explained a cycle route from nearby Houyet to Rochefort, which we later joined at the hamlet Ciergnon. We found the route after some advice from passers-by and were rewarded with an excellent cycle track created from an old railway line for the final 5miles. The day overall however, has been a tough one, with strong headwinds, steep gradients and poor quality roads. In defence of the region the countryside is idyllic, one local even said the king takes his holiday here, and Rochefort is the most cyclist friendly town we've seen so far, but today has left me a little shaken as to our ability to handle elevations like this.

As the Beglian cycling route administrators RAVeL appear to have a base here we'll look for an office tomorrow in the hope of advice, but if not we can only go up..and up...

Tentatively, until next time
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 12:24 Archived in Belgium Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

To be continued

semi-overcast 32 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

Having spent the evening in a Belgian restaurant, we can now understand why we so rarely come across Belgians in the street or on the roads; they really like to take their time, so much that we've spent the last 3hours there. So I don't have time to update the blog properly but as we've made so much distance lately we're going to aim lower tomorrow, so we have time to clean clothes properly, etc....

'til then x

Posted by Tom.Calver 14:40 Archived in Belgium Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

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