We had planned to take the Rhine Cycle route up to Dusseldorf and then head west across the Netherlands before coming back down though Belgium into France, finishing in Charleville-Mezières. However, with the experience gained over the previous two weeks as to the sort of distances we could expect to cover in our remaining time, some advice from our hosts that the Rhine north of Cologne might be quite industrial and less picturesque, and Emilie’s desire to eat waffles in Liege, we altered our plans. I mapped out a circuit leaving from Aachen which would take us to Maastricht, Liege and then most of the way back to Aachen where we could join the Vennbahn route. From there we would follow the Vennbahn south to its terminus at Troisvierges (Luxembourg) and then head across Belgium towards the Meuse river, which we would follow south into France.
Having enjoyed five days break with out friends in Bergheim, just out of Bonn, we had one final breakfast with our hosts and said our goodbyes. During these five days, Emilie also took the chance to buy the very recently released iPhone 7 (her old one having been stolen by a pickpocket in Paris). Up until this point in the trip, I had taken all the photos, so from this point on she should be credited with much of the photography.
We cycled into Troisdorf to the train station and had plenty of time to get to the correct platform via the lifts. We unhitched the trailer and got the girls out, as we were unsure how easy it would be to get everything aboard. When the train arrived we had to wait until some passengers had disembarked and then for the ones on the platform to alight. We put my bike in with all its panniers, we got the girls and Emilie aboard and then had time to put the trailer in but then there was no further room for Emilie’s bike. I raced with it down to the next carriage but just as I arrived the doors closed. I pressed the button and motioned ahead to the front of the train, guessing that the driver would be able to see me, but with the doors closed the train simply took off without me and Emilie’s bike. I stood there stunned for a moment before cursing the driver. I checked my pockets: no wallet, no ticket, no money but luckily I had my phone. To this point in the trip, Emilie had not activated her phone for roaming and we had relied on my phone, calling her was not an option. The next train was in an hours time, I would just get on and hope to explain the situation.
By the time the next train arrived, Emilie had activated her international roaming and messaged me. She had thought I was on the train for some time but then began to have her doubts. We agreed that we would meet in Aachen, which was the end of the line, rather than her getting off in Cologne with all the gear and the girls. When the conductor checked her ticket, she related the story but there wasn’t anything he could do apparently. I got onto the next train and no-one ever checked whether or not I had a ticket. When I arrived in Aachen, I found Emilie and the girls on the platform. As we’ve told so many people, getting on and off trains with all our stuff was the single most stressful part of our entire trip. We were glad that we had been vigilant to make sure that once the girls were on a train that one of us was standing with them at all times. Who knows how thing may have gone if Emilie had taken a step out of the train to grab the bike?
Delayed by one hour, we regrouped and headed out into Aachen following the course I had mapped out using Ride with GPS, trying to stick to cycling paths and routes on OpenCycleMap. Once we had exited Aachen this found us mostly following the LF6 Flanders cycle route into Maastricht.
The city of Aachen was very cycle friendly, although my body did not enjoy getting back into the saddle after 5 days of inactivity, wurst consumption, and beer. At some point in the back streets of Aachen we crossed into the Netherlands. We didn’t see any signage but number plates changed fairly abruptly.
The route between Aachen and Maastricht took us though rolling hills of open farmland and little Dutch villages. Having stuck to the Rhine for so long, we certainly noticed the undulating nature of the ride. The day would be our highest total elevation gain of the trip to date (+445 m), and as we ventured into the Ardennes in the coming days, things would become more of a challenge.
Our first experience of cycling in a Dutch city exceeded our expectations. Cyclists were everywhere and they owned the road, such a contrast to Australia. We followed the flow of two wheeled traffic into the centre of the city and made our way to Markt square and ate some fries at Friture-Restaurant Reitz, which had been recommended to us.
The day was fading and we headed out of Maastricht south along the Meuse, along a highway-like cycling trail, for most of the last 12 km before heading east a fraction to the little campground Eetcafe de Bosrand. We ate at the cafe attached to the campground and I enjoyed an exquisite Karmeliet Beligian Tripel. However, when we tried to pay, our bankcard was not accepted – the culture of bankcard use and the (lack of) integration of the different payment systems within Europe is quite frustrating. The lovely folks there let us pay in the morning. So after dinner as Emilie put the girls down to sleep, I cycled into the nearest town and got some cash out. Night riding with no trailer and panniers, I felt like I was flying.
To see the route, elevation profile, etc., click the link to Ride with GPS below (it should be able to be embedded but WordPress does not allow this).