Near the main station in Rotterdam, nestled amongst a wall of tenement houses and pubs, lies a small, cluttered workshop. From somewhere between the jumble of bicycles, wheels and metal, appeared the only man that knew any sort of order to the apparent chaos. A busy, oil blackened hand pulled a cigarette away from a crooked smile. “Ahh…Hollowtech,” he said, with only a slight Dutch twang. “All the bikes here are city bikes,” he explained as he pulled out a small tool that had never been used before. “Is this it?” I left the darkness of the shop to spend five minutes on the sunny pavement, before I too had black hands…and now a fully working bicycle. I gave him all the change I had, thanked him and cycled off, pumping life back into my stiff legs.
I had finally left Rotterdam. I made a fairly sluggish journey south-east across the Netherlands and towards Belgium, making several boat crossings over canals, through some small towns and around this hovering roundabout for cyclists in Eindhoven.
It was a nice feeling to finally leave the Netherlands and head across East Belgium. Cycle paths slowly began to disappear and hills gradually came back into existence. The land had become three dimensional again, the roads were more direct and covering larger distances became easier. I briefly re-entered civilisation to buy some food and toothpaste and took shelter from the hot sun under a tree, eating strawberry cereal with chocolate milk, and thinking about the great questions in life like: why do we need 19 different kinds of Colgate?
On the map, amongst the trees and in a valley surrounded by hills lies the city of Liège. On paper, it looked quite nice, it even has a river meandering through it. But sadly, the city, in my eyes, is a perfect example of how humanity can move into the countryside and completely obliterate it.
It’s dirty, busy and for the most part, the people were rude. It is also one of the most horrible cities to cycle in. I was almost hit by two cars and somebody ‘doored’ me, that is, opened their car door without looking. Luckily, it only hit off my right pannier but somehow, when the driver noticed the scratches to his car door, he started blaming me for his stupidity. My entire experience of Liège is encapsulated in this picture of a sad, little, melted, chocolate ice-cream that I found splatted on the pavement.
And so I made my way up the other bank of the river and into the trees once again, passing through some quieter and more picturesque towns lying on the Belgian Ardennes. I found a nice field at the side of the road and managed to catch a friendly man unloading his shopping into his house nearby. Thinking he was the owner of the field, I asked him if I could stay there, but he wasn’t sure, instead he insisted I slept in his garden (actually, I was lucky he could speak English…in this part of Belgium they speak only French). He even offered me some beer and if I wanted to use his kitchen but simply knowing I could catch a good sleep and get a lie-in was enough for me. I made a massive dinner on my stove, watched the ants walking by and fell asleep.
The following day I wound up at Spa, so named because of the natural hot springs found in this region. Unfortunately, this is no place for the budget traveller, as two days spent sheltering from the rain here would highlight. Even Lidl has put its prices up here. A visit to the only shop open on Sunday in Stavelot revealed the cost of a 600g packet of air-filled, sugary cereal. “€6.90 s’il vous plaît” she said politely in French. Confused, I looked at the screen on the till where I could see a big flashing six point nine zero. I’ve stayed in a hotel in Poland (with breakfast) for cheaper than that. I ended up eating a rather expensive plain baguette for the majority of the day. I always find it peculiar when you come across places like this and see what people are willing to pay for food when, in fact, where they live simply isn’t that good. I almost feel sorry for them.
I made my way south, crossing the border into Luxembourg and along the rolling farmland with its smooth and mainly quiet roads. The cars became black and silver Audi’s and BMW’s with tinted windows. A storm rolled in just after I took the picture below and I took shelter under a building until it passed.
When I started rolling again it was dark and still raining. Down and down I followed a steep and twisting road amongst thick woodland and into the valley of the river Our, creating the natural border between Luxembourg and Germany. I camped up for the night (I think it was in someone’s garden, but couldn’t really see) and woke up at 5am, when it was beginning to get light, eager to explore where I was.
Finally I had reached somewhere that truly is beautiful. Here I was cycling downstream surrounded by completely unspoilt nature on both sides of the river. As the sun began to slowly rise, I could see a blue sky just beyond the thick fog; which was only present in the depths of the valley, clinging to the dense mass of varying woodland.
I spent the day wandering around the surrounding countryside, following the river south and loosing count of how many times I crossed the border. Nature parks reside on both sides, small towns dot the way. The local language by now has shifted from French to German and there are good cyclepaths to be found around the area too. If you like nature, you could easily spend a week traversing the valleys of the so called ‘La Petite Suisse‘ and not be bored.
I eventually found myself following a nice cyclepath into Germany, alongside the river Moselle to Trier where I’ve been resting for the last couple of days. I’ve always been wary of towns beginning ‘Trie’, after my horrible experience of Trieste in Italy; but it’s actually quite nice here, and according to the locals, the oldest city in Germany. Regrettably, it has been raining horrendously and so I have no pictures. Also, sorry for the long post, but I felt I had a lot to say. If you want to say something too, please leave a comment!