Having a bike holds very fond memories for me, memories of building bikes, using rusty old frames we’d salvaged, with no or at least optional brakes. We’d paint them up to zooming about in the woods and race around the local Rec. Mine had a fixed gear so by standing on one one pedal you could go up and down like the horse rides on a merry-go-round.
I remember watching Eddie Merckx on the TV and dreaming of having a new racing bike like his. So imagine how chuffed I was when Christmas 1969 after all the presents had supposedly been opened and my Dad told me to take out the wrapping paper to the garage and there where they’d smuggled it was a shiny two tone blue second-hand racer, with drop handlebars and clip-in peddles.
Lesley and I have had hybrid bikes for a while but haven’t really used them much since moving to Cumbria. During our last trip in the Loire in Charlie I we’d really enjoyed hiring electric bikes which fired us up and as soon as we got back we started looking for a pair of our own. The size of Charlie II’s garage was perfect to fit in all our stuff (skis etc) and a couple of E bikes. After much research we settled on a pair of Sduro Hiabikes, chosen mainly for the battery size and the powerful Bosch Performance Line CX 75 Nm motors, that is just perfect for helping a fatty like me up the hills.
Belgium seems to be very, very bike friendly – bike racks and many cyclists in towns like Ypres. I guess with famous Belgium riders like Merckx and Sir Bradley Wiggins you’d expect cycling to be ingrained in the national psyche.
After a good first run out on our steeds in Ypres our next stop turned out to be an even better area for cycling. Suitably aided by a distinct lack of bumpy bits (hills) we found the traffic free routes and really easy to follow signs showing the direction to and at each section end-point.
Reading the reviews we had already decided to stay for two nights at ‘Nollekes Winning’, in the garden of a restored traditional Belgian farm. Its rural location was in the middle of a fruit growing region with a wide variety of crops from apples & pears to multiple varieties of fir trees. It’s always a great feeling when you arrive somewhere and have a good first impression. Although our host didn’t speak much English he did make us very welcome and showered us with maps of cycle routes, recommendations plus a host of tourist guides albeit in Flemish…..!
Not speaking the ‘lingo’ wasn’t so difficult as we’ve discovered for the first time the wonders of google translate, A couple of French children introduced it to us last trip and it is bloody marvellous. By speaking to the mic, the app will translate your speech in whatever language you choose. But the best function is the camera. Whilst using the app you point camera at text and it overlays the original text with English. This is brilliant for menus, road signs, camp site info in fact anything….. “Are you open on Sundays”? Haben sie Sonntag Geöffnet, brill. AND if you’re too embarrassed to give an instant pronunciation a go, the app will say it for you… unnnnn….believable!!!
The almost traffic free cycle routes were exactly what we had hoped for before coming away, a mixture of cinder tracks, tarmac road sections and autumn leaf covered bike specific paths. Most of them smooth and mostly level with just enough hills to warrant using the TURBO setting occasionally.
This impressive sculpture near Borgloon called ‘Reading between the Lines’ was reached via a short walk through cherry and pear fields, was a modelled on a nearby church although I’m not sure how much protection the parishioners will get when it rains
We found this nice spot near a small lake in Bilzen about 13km from where we’d stayed and a perfect place to stop have our lunch and relax in the sunshine. So relaxed was Dave he left his rucksack behind and only discovered it was missing when we got back to our parking to the farm. A frantic dash was required back to Bilzen in Charlie II this time, to thankfully find it still on the bench where we’d left. pheeeew. All I can say in my defence is I think Lesley should have spotted that I wasn’t wearing it? That makes it was her fault right, eh wrong, oh well it’s worth a try….
So it’s goodbye Belgium hello Germany, and a quick stop in Aachen to have a look at their famous Cathedral. (A B C, it’s as easy as one, two, three
As simple as do re mi…. ) In 1978, Aachen Cathedral was the first building in Germany to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
During World War II, Aachen, including its famed cathedral, was heavily damaged by Allied bombing attacks and artillery fire, but the cathedral’s basic structure survived. Many of the cathedral’s artistic objects had been removed to secure storage during the war, and some which could not be moved were protected within the church itself. However, the glazing of the 14th-century choir hall, the Neo-Gothic altar, a large part of the cloister, and the Holiness Chapel (Heiligtumskapelle) were irretrievably destroyed. Reconstruction and restoration took place intermittently over more than 30 years, and cost an estimated 40 million euros.
We liked Aachen lot, a manageable size not small, attractive but not overrun with tourist. But with Charlie II needing somewhere to rest his wheels, we set off to the Rurberg in The Eifel National Park, a huge area of natural beech mixed forests with panoramic views of impressive lake landscapes and open grasslands.
The Eifel National Park has a motto “let nature be nature” and it applies to more than half of the area. This is mainly because of the military use of this area over the 80 years after the war has generally kept people away leaving nature to its thing. This has enabled thousands of threatened animal and plant species to re-emerge in the special and emerging habitats here. Rare species such as black stork, eagle owl and wild cat have been able to have places vital to their survival in the Park
We will probably stay in some unusual places on our trip but the bargain stellaplatz (overnight €6) with a large parking area on the edge of Ordensburg Vogelsang might yet prove to be the strangest.
Vogelsang is on a huge natural elevated finger of land with a dominating position overlooking the whole Eifel National Park. This former military training area was built in the early 1930s chillingly to take German cadets from humble backgrounds and transform them into the elite of the Nazi Party.
The scale of the camp is enormous, the concept of training a complete leadership from indoctrinated youth is hard to imagine without seeing this reality. In February 1945 it was captured by the American Army with the end to 2nd World War two only months away. After the war it was first used as a training ground by the British army and then by Belgian Forces. Since 2006 it has been open to the public.
A text on a sculpture in the grounds expresses Vogelsang purpose in clear and no uncertain terms: “For the development of a loyal, physical impressive and ideologically resolute group of nationalist socialist fighters”., “creating the racist ideal of a master race in national socialism”.
I personally find this very chilling in the context of what is going on in our world today.
With lunch packed and the rucksack (this time) securely fastened we decided it was too nice a day to spend time inside the museum and so we headed off on a 20km circuit around the reservoir.
This profile of this route was very steep downhill at the start. A beautiful flat section on a level path following the edge of the reservoir. Then a ridiculously difficult steep, rock strewn muddy track up to this viewpoint. After setting me off with a big push from the bottom, Lesley was left to ride, push and wrestle her bike up from the dam to here. it’s no wonder she has her eyes closed…!
We’ve had a few complaints from Charlie II, it’s been suggested that he’s not getting enough credit and that this blog is too much about cycling. To set a better balance I have agreed to point out some of Charlie’s very considerable attributes. For instance like how roomy and spacious his garage is, ideal for transporting the new ebikes and how large the access door is ,just perfect for loading and unloading two bikes… There, even BBC management couldn’t complain about the lack of of editorial balance, could they?
Toodle oo for now