When I cycled into Verdun I was expecting just doom and gloom from its tragic history from the war. Instead I arrived during the climax of the Venetian Carnival, and I even managed to get a snap with Wilson and two extravagant costumed participants by the river. In Verdun I spent two nights with my host Cecelia and her flatmates, and on the day off borrowed her bike to explore the battlefields. It proved to be a scary day off with a racing bike which felt so unstable after the fully laden Wilson (I nearly fell off at least five times), and my rest day ironically brought a huge climb up to Fort Douaumont. The sites were just incredible, especially seeing the numerous towns that have remained abandoned since the war, as well as getting inside Fort Douaumont.
Luxembourg was extremely hilly; on one day I pedalled upwards on four successive mountains. It was hard work, made even more daunting by a 110km/h road with just a tiny shoulder lane! The 5km 7% descent was my exhilarating reward. I spent just one night camping in Luxembourg, and really enjoyed the rolling lush landscape. The city of Luxembourg, and smaller villages such as Larochette, was a thrill to discover. I followed many of the key sites of The Battle of the Bulge, culminating in my arrival to Bastogne in Belgium (whose renowned museum was unfortunately being renovated. Damn!).
Soon after crossing into Belgium I hit the 2000km milestone, and celebrated in the evening with a bottle of Leffe (my favourite Belgium beer whose name I can remember).
Most mornings over the past week has been spent in my tent reading while I wait for the rain to stop. It really has been a game of patience, and on the whole I’ve managed to avoid the worst of the rain. The advantage is I’ve been able to get through a book every few days or so on my Kindle. I took a lot of strength from Rosie Swale’s book Just a little run around the world: 5 years, 3 packs of wolves, and 53 pairs of shoes. As the title suggests, the hardship she endured during her cancer charity expedition was just immense. Her book has put a lot of my challenges over the past month into perspective…
I’ve started cooking myself some interesting meals in the evening. In Herve I cooked up a meal of rice, pasta, mash potato, crab meat and herbs. Unfortunately I didn’t fasten my petrol tank properly afterwards, and when I later got into my tent the smell was horrid! I salvaged what food I could, and spent a good hour cleaning my pannier at a service station the following day. I must have looked a sight as I cleaned each muesli bar and coffee sachet with my bar of soap! My other camping mishap this past week was camping in a park on a Saturday night. It was a restless sleep, with drunken teenagers wandering around all evening… I think at one stage I was even fire-worked! So there have been plenty of lessons from the road over the past week…
The Netherlands were such a pleasure to ride through, and I found the Dutch very friendly and helpful. The landscape is completely flat, and in this respect even rivals my time cycling in Bangladesh. Everybody rides in The Netherlands, and I think I can think of just one or two moments I actually rode on a road throughout the country! Maastricht was an absolutely beautiful city, and I spent hours strolling around the cobbled streets and city walls. Zutphen was also a gem of a place, and together with much of the countryside homes it reminded me of the colonial influence I experienced in Java many years ago. Eindhoven was quite the opposite; what wasn’t destroyed in the war was subsequently knocked down by modernist architects. It made me reflect on some of my bizarre route choices… my sole reason for cycling through was because I watched PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League as a child!
After eight days without a clean I cycled into Lochem in the early evening, and wandered into a leisure centre to perhaps do some laps. After a friendly chat the lovely manager at StradaSports she insisted that I have a shower for free. It was bliss, and sure beat a bucket shower along the canals!
I’m now in Germany, and the long flat stretches of cycle paths have continued- I’ve just about forgotten what it feels like to ride up a hill! On my first evening camping in Germany I was nestled in the woods of the countryside. As the last light of the day disappeared I heard a strange bellowing noise from out in the open fields. Poking my head out to investigate, I saw a beautiful deer yelping across the plains. It then eloquently dashed across the grassland out of sight, although I heard his call for the next hour or so. It was without doubt the most beautiful wildlife scene I have witnessed outside Africa.
I’m now making my way to Hamburg where I will spend a couple days relaxing off the bike with a fellow cycle-touring friend.