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Strasbourg, France to Arnhem, the Netherlands

On Friday (September 21) we arrived in Arnhem, Netherlands after riding a little over 700 km from Strasbourg. It is the best and most varied riding we have enjoyed on this trip. Our route took us from France through much of Luxembourg and through parts of Belgium and Germany. Most of the way we were on quiet secondary roads and in small towns rather than large cities. The terrain has varied from open rolling farmland with big skies to the hilly and forested Ardennes. The weather has been mostly warm and dry, but Friday, the last day of summer, we had rain with strong, gusty winds and temperatures have dropped by 10º. Fall is here!

Of the things we enjoyed about this ride, two stood out. First, the country of Luxembourg. It is scenic and has both good cycling and hiking. A prosperous country, it is clean, orderly and things work. The country is trilingual (French, German, and Luxembourgish) which makes life fun sometimes—you never know what language a native will use, even different staff members in the same restaurant will use the language of their own choice. But unlike Belgium where the linguistic groups have difficulty getting along, Luxembourg works and feels very comfortable.

The second memorable thing is the Vennbhan cycle route, a 125 km rail trail from Aachen, Germany to Troisvierges near the city of Luxembourg. We cycled about 100 km of it from a small town in Luxembourg to the city of Aachen. It runs through lovely small villages, farmland and forest, and is mostly paved. Quiet, fast, easy cycling and best of all, no motorcycles. Luxembourg, with its rolling hills and windy roads, is a favourite for motocycle tourists who always seem to travel in packs. I don’t mind most of them, but I wish the Harley owners would stay home.

Now that we are in the Netherlands, we are visiting friends and family. We began by spending two nights with some friends just outside Maastricht who have a small vineyard, then carried on to Arnhem where are staying for a few days with another friend.

Strasbourg Nighttime view of the covered bridge in Strasbourg. Cycling (another!) canal heading North from Strasbourg. Cloudy morning in French farmland. View of French farmland from a chambre d’hôte in France. Chateau and vineyard on the Mosel River. Rocky cliffs in a Luxembourg river valley. It is hilly in the Ardennes.

Old rails and locomotive beside the Vennbhan trail.

Inge on the Vennbhan making train noises and pulling cord for the whistle. A country lane near Maastricht.

Heading to the vineyard with our friends.

Cheers! Learning about winemaking. Ferry across the Mass River, loaded with cyclists. Belgium on one bank, the Netherlands on the other. A Netherlands sky near Arnhem.

Rhône Cycle Route – 3

We are in Saint Gilles at the end of our Rhône River ride.

From Avignon we rode South to Arles, then continued South into the Camargue (the large delta where the Rhône flows into the Mediterranean Sea). We spent two nights in the Camargue in the small town of Salin de Giraud, then did a long ride through the Camargue yesterday, passing through the town of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, to end our Rhône River ride here in Saint Gilles, an old pilgrimage town. Tomorrow we’ll do a short ride back to Arles where we’ll catch the TGV to Strasbourg early Monday morning.

While Arles is a tourist destination with an ancient Roman coliseum and theatre, famous as the place where Van Gogh painted, it didn’t really click for us. Busy, touristy, rough and run-down. What I found interesting is that Arles is a centre for photography—it has the national photography school plus numerous galleries and exhibits.

The Camargue did click for us. It is a vast area of lakes and marshes with salt and rice production, farming, some vineyards, and a large part of the land and water protected as fish and wildlife habitat. It is famous for wild horses (now domesticated but still running free) and birds. We enjoyed the open space and solitude, even though some of the riding was on rough and muddy gravel roads. We also enjoyed a dip in the Mediterranean Sea on a sandy beach.

Today we are loafing in Saint Gilles, a town with an abbey founded in the seventh century, a pilgrimage destination in its own right and the first stop on the pilgrimage route from Arles to Santiago. It is an odd feeling to see pilgrims, pilgrim hostels and scallop shell emblems when we are cycling, not walking.

It has been a good ride.

Bridge near Arles, the subject of several Van Gogh paintings.

 

Salt pile in the Camargue.

 

Old building in the Camargue by a salt evaporation pond.
Camargue horse.

 

At the sea.

 

Protected Camargue wetlands.

 

Flamingos in the Camargue.

 

Muddy road into the Camargue.

 

Riding atop a Camargue dike.

 

Lighthouse built in 1882, still operating.

 

Saint Iago statue in the Saint Gilles Abbey.

 

Door to the Saint Gilles Abbey. Exquisite exterior stone carvings.

Rhône Cycle Route – 2

Reaching southern France

We have had a good 12 days of riding along the Rhône route. The terrain has leveled out since our big descent on the first day from the Furka Pass, but still offers the occasional climb.

Cycling through the Valais valley in Switzerland was delightful—good roads, good signage, good weather, and beautiful scenery. Another advantage of being in Switzerland is that stores and restaurants tend to be open all day—no need to work around lunch hours or Sunday closings, which can be a challenge in France.

It was a milestone to reach Lake Geneva on day 3, but the ride along its southern shore of the lake was hard: much of it along a busy and narrow highway; pretty intense riding, although the drivers were good about giving us the space we need. In some places the route detoured through little villages, which was a welcome reprieve.

Saturday a week ago we reached Geneva. I’ve discovered I really enjoy rolling into big cities by bike. It surprises me how easy it often is: a trail, a few turns and suddenly, there you are in the middle of the city. It feels like sneaking in via a back-door.

We continue to have good weather: no rain and temperatures in the mid twenties. The last few days we’ve also benefitted from the Mistral, the famous (or infamous) wind that blows DOWN the Rhône. Yes, we have enjoyed a lovely tailwind the last four days making our two 80 km days pretty easy.

The cycling has been uneventful, which is a good thing I suppose. We have simply been enjoying the cycling and the country side, which varies from vineyards to agricultural fields, some industry and power stations, old villages and many hills with old fortifications.

Today we arrived in Avignon—another surprise entry into the city via a path along a little canal (more like a ditch) and suddenly, there we were. Tomorrow we head to Arles and then down to the Camargue on the Mediterranean where we’ll spend one or two days celebrating the end of our Rhône adventure.

Our original thoughts were to continue from the Mediterranean along the Canal Du Midi to Bordeaux, and then up the Atlantic coast to Angers, where we started August 1. However, we (especially me, Inge) feel we’ve seen enough canals and rivers for a while, so instead we’ll head back to Avignon next Sunday and catch the train to Strasbourg first thing Monday morning. From there we’ll make our way back to the Netherlands, via Luxembourg and the Ardennes, where we will continue cycling but combine it with visiting friends and family.

Geneva

 

Huge wooden sculpture in Evain

 

Street by Lake Geneva in Evian.

 

Flags on a street in Geneva

 

Chateau on the Rhône,
Red tile roofs in Lyon.
Roman amphitheater in Lyon.
Bridge over the Rhône.
Evening in Valence.
Setting off in the morning
Crossing the Rhône again.
Many ways to tour by bike.
Chateau Neuf de Pape

Rhône Cycle Route

We are on day two of the Rhône Cycle Route. The Swiss portion is Swiss cycle route 1, the full route through Switzerland and France is the EuroVelo Route 17: http://www.eurovelo.com/en/eurovelos/eurovelo-17.

On Tuesday we traveled from Basel to Andermatt by train—three trains actually. The first, an intercity train to Erstfeld, not far from Lucerne. The second, another intercity, carried us up 500 m to the small town of Göschenen at 1111 m elevation. The third, a narrow-gauge cog rail train took us up the short but steep 300 m climb to Andermatt, a small ski village at 1447 m elevation where we spent the night.

Wednesday morning we took the Post Bus from Andermatt up a steep narrow road to the Furkapass at 2436 m, near the Rhône Glacier, the source of the Rhône River and the start of our EV17 ride. The scenery was spectacular. It was cold at the pass and daunting to look down at the steep descent ahead. We went only a short distance before stoping to bundle up in warmer clothing.

The first part of the descent was exhilarating! In 40 minutes, including time to take some photos, we descended 700 m in elevation just hanging on to the brake levers, no need to turn the cranks.

The rest of the day was good cycling but not quite as exciting. We continued the descent to the town of Brig at 691 m elevation where we spent the night. Although we were descending, we had some stiff climbs as the valley is narrow and sometimes the trail had to ascend high above the river.

Today, day two on the Rhône route, the valley is wider, full of industry and agriculture. Vineyards on the slopes. The river is flowing fast from the snowmelt in the recent hot weather. It is a dirty gray colour from the alpine sediment it carries. Not attractive, but powerful.

Tomorrow we follow it to Lac Léman (Lake Geneva).

Bikes on the Post Bus

 

Looking down from the pass.
Happy me after the first part of the descent.
The Rhône with the Rhône Glacier above.
Old buildings in Brig.
Brig
Crossing an avalanche on the trail. That’s snow under the debris.
Industry in the Rhône valley.
Vineyards.
A small town against the valley wall.
Castles on valley hill tops.

Crossing France on the EV6 route – 3

Yesterday we finished our ride across France, crossed the Rhine, spent a few minutes in Germany, then rode into Switzerland and spent the night in Basel.

After leaving the Loire a week ago, we continued riding beside waterways: the Saône River, the Doubs River, the Canal du Rhône au Rhin and others. On the canal, we’ve ridden past more than 100 locks. It is an amazing system of rivers and canals that once carried goods all over France. It has carried us through vinyards, farms, forests and  major cities for about 1100 km of mostly easy riding on quiet roads and old tow paths in hot, sunny weather.

Tomorrow we begin the second part of our trip—riding the Rhône river from its source in Switzerland to its end at the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Old canal towpath, now a cycle path.

 

Bikes get dirty.

 

Moving East into Burgundy and beyond, colourful tile roofs adorn church and public towers.

 

At Bésançon, a long tunnel carries the canal and the bike path under the fortress above.

 

An abandonded paper mill. Canals were once thriving with industry.
Sign over a doorway.

 

Fence that’s an artwork. Montbéliard.

 

Classy bike storage!

 

Series of locks descending to the Rhine.

 

On the EV6 route near the Rhine.

 

Line at the bakery on Sunday.

 

Basel

 

Basel

 

Swimmers floating on the Rhine.

 

Feet in the Rhine.