On Tuesday we took the train from Kaiserslautern (K-Town!) to Aachen, near the border with the Netherlands. When we got off the train we had a short 15 km ride into the Netherlands and our campsite for the night. It was a pretty nice evening as we rode out of Aachen. Anna went into a little shop to get some food, and got given complimentary bagels, onions and garlic. That stuff never happens to me!
As we got near the campsite we saw a big hill (by Netherlands standards). Anna said “I hope we’re not going up that”, which of course we were. The hill turned out to be a 14% gradient, which makes it officially the steepest hill we’ve tackled on this tour. In the Netherlands?! We started up it and as we did, three Japanese guys came past on road bikes. Two of them disappeared past pretty quickly, but the third was a bit out of shape and unwillingly kept us company as we ground our way up. At least it was the end of the day!
The campsite turned out to be a bit soulless, but on the plus side the owners basically told us that if we cleared out before 8 in the morning we didn’t have to pay. Sweet! We had showers and went to bed, planning for an early start. We had a long 95 km ride to do the next day, all the way the Leuven in Belgium.
We rose with the lark and enjoyed the view of the sunrise across the valley. I didn’t enjoy getting soaked with dew from the tent as we exited (totally Anna’s fault), but the lovely view from the top of the hill, and the subsequent race down the hill cheered me up a bit.
We got back on our route to Leuven and basically settled in for a long slog of a day. The road we were on was pretty busy and pretty straight, mostly through suburbs with the odd few kilometres of open countryside. We crossed the border into Belgium early in the day, which meant giving up the glorious Dutch cycle paths for the substandard Belgian ones.
The cycle path was alternately bad or worse, sometimes on the road with a good surface, and sometimes on the pavement with a rubbish surface. Cycle paths in Belgium are a bit frustrating. It’s like they’ve done 80% of the work and then just got bored, so often the path just runs out, or goes out into traffic. Sometimes it’s been put in, but then left to subside into the ground. Still, we persevere! Anna managed to find a nice little detour at one stage which gave us a few blessed kilometres of relief from the traffic, noise and potholes.
We finally rode into Leuven and headed to the town centre to wait for Alex, who is Anna’s university friend and our host for the night. Leuven has some amazing public buildings and a really nice feel to it. The old town hall is verging on the ridiculous with its incredibly intricate facade and its four towers bristling with statues and other embellishments.
When Alex got home we went off to meet him, had showers then headed back to town for dinner and drinks. It was a great evening, we tried some more delicious Belgian beers and had a good catch up. We headed home too late (obviously) and settled down for a kip on the sofa bed before our last little bit of European riding into Brussels tomorrow.