It was all kept very hush-hush, but Woolly managed to organise a nice little ride for Peliroja, whose 30th birthday it is in a day or two. Mrs. Wow and I caught the 8.15 train to Fenchurch Street and then cycled the entire length of the Embankment to Parsons Green, and then onto Woollypeli Villas where tea, cake and surprised expressions were the order of the morning. Then we cycled to Windsor, visiting a couple of pubs en route.
It was a gorgeously relaxed day with about twenty riders, I think. I was still pretty knackered after only managing something like 9 hours’ sleep in the past 48. Regulator managed to wind up a BMW driver perhaps more than any I’ve seen of late. There were strong words exchanges, slammings into reverse, squeals of tyres and finally, it seemed that the fine man had been intending to take his family to the same pub that we were going to, and when he saw that all these cyclists were there, he changed his mind and roared off, gesticulating in amost vulgar fashion as he disappeared.
It was a really lovely day.
Jan and I last tackled this journey in 2010 with some pals, one of whom spoke fluent German and took charge of all the arrangements. This time it was down to me to book the B & Bs so we stopped in Brussels, Luxembourg, Trier, Bernkastel-Kues, Cochem and Spay before getting the train back to Belgium with overnight stays in Liège, Leuven and Brussels before boarding Eurostar for our return to London on Sunday. I am writing this in Liège after an excellent meal with good beer and wine.
I hadn’t remembered exactly, and failed to check, the mileages between the overnight stops. Leaving Luxembourg was a shock to the system as the place is full of steep hills. We were grinding our way up one of these, and must have been close to 1000 feet above sea level, when a cheery young family approached from the opposite direction, father on his bike, mother and both children on hers. Never one to be ashamed of my rudimentary French, I bade them “Bonjour”. My greeting was returned with the extra information “Vous savez qu’il y a une funiculaire…?” No, I didn’t. “Yes,” she elaborated, in English, “there are lifts for everything in Luxembourg!”
By now we were nearly at the top so carried on but there were more hills and as the shade temperature moved into the high 20s Celsius so we flagged. Even the sight of a black stork and a red kite, closely followed by hearing a nearby cuckoo, didn’t spur us on as much as you might have expected. Jan was really struggling so when we happened upon a closed level crossing with a train approaching from the right direction, we hopped on. Jeff and Annie were well ahead by this time so I phoned Jeff and made him aware of developments.
We found the Römerbrucke hotel and had scarcely installed ourselves when Jeff an Annie appeared, having ridden about 10 miles more than we did. After ablutions, we wandered into Trier, found Karl Marx’s birthplace and took the necessary photos, albeit 200 years and 1 day after the event, and then dined on some splendid provender from some Wirtshaus or other in the city centre.
We weren’t that impressed with what we saw of Brussels. Eurostar dumps you off to the south of the city, which is a bit scruffy and the Bedford Hotel, where we spent the night, is on the way to the centre, so we almost certainly didn’t see the best bits. Our hotel is in an area of the city known as Stalingrad, no doubt celebrating the role its residents and the Soviet army played in the defeat of the nazis. So, when Karl Marx’s 200th birthday dawned bright and hopeful, we were in Stalingrad.
Our task today was to get to Luxembourg. It is too far for us old codgers to cycle, being about 140 miles, but we felt that 90 minutes on a train should do it, but to out great surprise the train took well over 3 hours and cost €43 per person and €13 per bike. We researched the possibility of a bus, and the journey seemed to take less time and only cost about €12 but we couldn’t find anyone to tell us about bikes, so in the end we caught the train.
Luckily our hotel, the Empire, is just across the road from the station so we settled straight in and then wandered around the city. We definitely approved of this one. Luxembourg has a deep ravine dividing it into two and there are two spectacular bridges over it. I expected to see an impressive river flowing below us but there was hardly a trickle, just a lot of attractive ornamental gardens.
There was some sort of festival on, with all kinds of sweets for sale, but we opted for a restaurant with steak and schnitzel. Then another wander back to the hotel and a couple of beers before bed.
Here we are on the 12.58 to Brussels and what a sodding rigmarole it was. Getting to St. Pancras was easy enough, but the fun began when we arrived at Eurodispatch where we had to disassemble a couple of bikes to go in the stout black bike box supplied. Given that the chances are that any bike being transported will be a touring bike, i.e. equipped with luggage racks, it is very awkward that the boxes are too small for a bike with racks. As luck would have it, there was a spare “complete bike” slot so we only had to dismantle the one.
Then there was the tortuous business of having our luggage checked. Our rookie status was clear for all to see as various bits and pieces of my attire ended up in an untidy heap in the tray on the conveyor. When I thought the torture was over I found myself trapped in a cubicle where a machine struggled personfully to try to match the photo in my passport with the image of my face on a screen. Whether this is due to beards is hard to say, but mine matches the picture in my passport for only a few days in any given six-monthly period, which is roughly how often I shave.
When we get to Brussels I have the tedious task of trying to build a bike out of a box of components, hoping that we haven’t lost any.
I’ll go by boat next time.
Postscript: Jeff became a victim of a light-fingered felon who made off with his watch shortly after we left Brussels station. Luckily the watch was fairly old and of not much value. That’s two Eurostar trips in succession that my companions or I have been victims of petty crime. I had my pocket picked in Lille las year.