Today we head into Belgium to the town of Malmedi…And after that we plan to head south along the Our and Saar rivers, probably with a side trip into Luxembourg. But don’t hold us to that, we could change our minds at any time…But we haven’t changed them yet!
We’d decided to head to Malmedi on the advice of a cyclist we spoke to a few days ago who had agreed that Monschau was beautiful and had pointed out Malmedi on our map and said that was beautiful too. I can’t say that we agreed with him! Malmedi is a nice enough town, but it doesn’t really rate on the beautiful scale. The ride to get there was beautiful though. High pine forests and undulating country, always climbing. We crossed over into Belgium at some unknown point – it wasn’t until we saw Belgian post boxes that we knew we were no longer in Germany. In Belgium we skirted the southern edges of the High Fens. Both Guy and I imagined something out of Lord of the Rings – marshes, mists – but they just looked like more undulating forests.
The climbing stopped with a huge downhill into Malmedi and our first proper Belgian town. A few things struck us immediately – we had to order our ice creams in French (help!), the tourist office had a lot of information in English and at least half of it was useful (we have found German tourist information to be next to useless mostly) and we could straight away find unlocked wireless to use.
The wireless situation has been frustrating. Last trip we had no problems finding unlocked wireless somewhere in every town (except in Italy). But this time around it’s been near impossible. On quizzing some of our friends we discovered that the law has changed since we were here. Last time the law was such that although you were responsible for what was downloaded on your wireless connection, you could get out of it by having an unlocked connection and claiming that it wasn’t you. Now that loophole is closed and you’re accountable no matter what, so everyone has locked wireless. Bad news for us.
In Malmedi we met Evelijn, a friend I met on the Tour d’Afrique last year (she shared my near-death-experience-with-a-bus and white-ladies-peeing-by-the-side-of-the-road escapades). When she heard that I was going to be this close to her home town of Rotterdam she immediately volunteered to drive over to meet us and ride with us. It was really great to see her. We spent the evening chatting and reminiscing over dinner in the town square and then she rode with us to Sankt Vith the next day.
We had been delighted to discover from the tourist office that there was an old rail trail for all of our next days ride. However, even trains must go up hill and it was a steady climb for the first 8kms that left us hot and sweaty in the 35 degree heat. But from there it was pretty much downhill for the rest of the day through beautiful scenery of fields and forests and small villages. Evelijn left us after lunch to ride back to her car and back to work the next day. Hopefully she’ll be in Australia sometime soon (she wants to ride across the Nullabor, crazy) and we can catch up again. We kept heading downhill to Burg Reuland (scene of Guys birthday dinner, blogged previously).
From here we were on the Our river, which forms the border of Germany and Belgium, and then Germany and Luxembourg. Of course there is a denkmal (monument) at the point where all three meet (Dreilaenderecke, or three lands corner) so we stopped and read, in German, all about the agreeing of the borders. It seems odd to me that these borders were still all changing so recently – 1957. I guess it’s because I come from a country whose borders are unchanging and all defined by oceans.
Although the Ourtal had a 10km section on the map that had no road along it, I got excited when we found a map board that showed walking and mountain bike tracks. Since the alternative was a 200m climb out of the valley onto the hills and then back down, the tracks were worth a try. The first few kms were really beautiful riding along secluded dirt tracks next to the river. Unfortunately after a couple of kilometres the vehicle track became a walking track that was too rough to ride with panniers . Instead of turning back (never go back!) we tracked back only slightly to the MTB path and ended up climbing those 200m on steep rocky ground instead of smooth bitumen. My so far unblemished record at choosing great routes from the map took a bit of a beating that day, but I redeemed myself later.
Back on bike paths along the Our river, we stopped at Vianden (fabulous castle) and Echternach (abbey founded by St Willibrord, famous for hanky-waving spring procession), where we had a rest day. Echternach is in the Petit Suisse Luxembourgoise. Having never been there, I don’t know what the big Suisse looks like but this little one was beautiful. Thick, dark forests, streams, huge rocky outcrops looming in the forest – this was Lord of the Rings country. We spent a morning walking through the forests and then visited the abbey. It was still hot so we finished off the day with a swim.
Recently, the humid weather has been culminating in thunderstorms. All of a sudden a crazy wind starts that nearly blows us off our bikes if we’re riding and leaves a mess of leaves and branches afterwards. The sky goes dark and then all hell lets loose. Luckily so far we’ve always been able to find a handy pub to pop into, or we’ve already been tucked up in the tent. The annoying thing is that after the storm it’s still just as humid as before!
There was much discussion on what route to take from Echternach. Guy was all for retracing our route up river for a few kms to then head up the Sauer river to Diekirch, keeping the hills to a minimum. But I, not sure that we had seen all of what the Petite Suisse had to offer and having espied roads marked as scenic on the map, was arguing for getting out of the rivers and onto new high ground. And here is where I redeemed myself. The road passed through more of the amazing rocky outcrops and forest that we’d walked through the day before. But it was better. It wasn’t long before we’d left the bikes by the side of the road and were exploring on foot. The rest of the days’ ride, through the Muellerthal and Larochette were just as beautiful and well worth the hills we climbed.
So, yesterday we arrived in Diekirch, home of Luxembourg beer and also of an excellent museum on the Battle of the Ardennes. It was chock full of guns, tanks, vehicles, you name it they had it. Guy was in his element, although there was way too much to see in the couple of hours that we had. I was sobered by the thought that pretty much every place we’d ridden through in the last week, every photograph we’d taken, had a horrible war past, and so recently.
Today we are riding down to Luxembourg city, a short ride, with hopefully no hills, as they do take a toll on the legs!
For the stats lovers:
total kms so far – 941
ice creams to schnitzel ratio – 12 to 5