luni, 27 august 2018

5 days, 4 countries

I will try a new combo for these articles:

- The meaty part of the article will be in Romanian, as I am much more fluent (and supposedly funny) that way
- The captions for the pictures will be in english so they can appeal to any reader.

That being said, let's crack on with it, in Romanian to begin with.


Anul trecut cand ne intorceam din plimbarea cu bicicleta ne-am promis sa continuam de unde am ramas (link catre articol). Inca nu stiam in ce directie am vrea sa mergem, decat ca trebuie sa continuam din Roermond, capatul calatoriei. 

Din fericire, sa ne punem de acord despre directia de urmat a fost trivial. Am ales, bineinteles, ceea ce suna cel mai tentant. Decat sa incercam o intoarcere spre Amsterdam tot prin Olanda, am decis ca din Roermond, sa continuam tot inspre sud. Si ca sa fie totul bine pus la punct, am decis si pana unde vom incerca sa pedalam: Luxemburg. Nu de alta, dar in felul asta vom strabate 4 tari, dupa cum zice si numele articolului. Ceea ce suna destul de tentant. 

Pregatirile au durat cam jumatate de an. Nu ca ar fi necesare 6 luni ca sa te pregatesti pentru o calatorie de 5 zile, dar e bine sa bifezi din timp cele necesare, ca sa nu te trezesti cu 3 zile inainte si sa dai din colt in colt. De exemplu, Jofi si-a reconditionat o bicicleta cumparata (sau primita?) anul trecut pana acum, special pentru aceasta calatorie. Eu mi-am cumparat una SH, din Barcelona. Si tot asa cu una, cu alta s-au strans. A durat din Ianuarie pana prin Iunie ca Jof sa isi poata asigura cele 5 zile de vacanta in August, perioada cea mai aglomerata si totodata cea in care toti colegii doresc concediu.

Practica de anul trecut mi-a prins bine: am reusit sa impachetez totul in aproape jumatate din spatiul folosit anul precedent. Jofi nu prea. De fapt a reusit sa mai adauge 2 genti la tot arsenalul lui. Dupa cum se va vedea mai incolo, aceasta nu a fost o adaugire foarte inspirata.

Bicicleta am lasat-o in Amsterdam la intoarcerea din Barcelona. Si cortul si alte cateva acarete utile. Aveam sa revin dupa aproximativ 3 saptamani, cu avionul si doar cu un bagaj de mana, infundat la capacitate maxima.

Revenit in Amsterdam (acum 9 zile! nici nu am simtit cand a trecut atata timp), am facut bagajul repejor si l-am asteptat pe Jofi sa vina de la munca, caci a doua zi urma sa plecam de dimineata. 

A durat ceva pana a venit acasa si si-a strans lucrurile de care avea nevoie. Avea sa mai dureze inca ceva si a doua zi, desi ora vehiculata de el pentru plecare a fost 8. Vreo ora a durat numai sa luam biletele de tren. Ce-i drept am reusit sa ajungem pana in sudul Olandei cu ceva gen 12 Euro de fes (+ vreo 6 pentru bicicleta). Stand pe capul lui, am reusit sa il scot din casa doar aproape de pranz si la ora 11:57 am plecat! Directia, statia Lelylaan.

PS: Daca am invatat ceva de cand calatoresc cu avionul este practicalitatea de a-ti face un bagaj usor, desi recunosc ca mi-au lipsit cateva unelte pe care din fericire a avut inspiratia sa le ia el. Si nu au fost putine, cel mai util fiid un primus pe care am incalzit cateva supe de mama mama si bineinteles imbusul cu care mi-am strans saua cand s-a desfacut de la greutatea agatata de ea sau ghidonul care s-a slabit la o coborare.

Pregatiti dictionarulul si ochelarii de citit ca o dam pe engleza de acum.

Day 1: Roermond to Vaals
Distance: 67 km
Countries passed:
Elevation gain: 523m
The counter started ticking the kilometers once we left the front of the house.
Took only 2 hours to get to the south-east of Holland but 4 different trains. Boarding each one of them was a little adventure, running for the bike bays available in 1 or 2 carts (marked with a bike on the door), followed by jostling for the limited space with other travellers.
Jof is almost ready. The day is overcast and not exactly warm but the train station is close by (by bike; otherwise it would be quite the walk)
 First train change at Schipol Airport.
 They could almost fit in the designated space..almost
 Rotterdam Centraal. We're inching closer to our destination, one station at a time
 Back in Roermond it's a sunny day. I guess 250 km do matter.
 On the outskirts of town I stop to take a quick pic and check the map. This sequence of events would be repeated hundreds of times as checking the map often is quite necessary (unless you are going in a random direction, then it doesn't really matter)
 As soon as we got out of the city proper, we stopped for lunch. The supplies were bought in Roermond, as it's always advised to carry food for only 1 or 2 meals; it's less to carry and reduces chances of  food spoilage on hot days
 With hunger dealt with, we've back on track. There were quite a few kilometers to cover between Roermond and Vaals (around 60) and it was already around 4 by the time we started pedaling seriously.
 One of the last villages before crossing the border. Since I stopped to take a photo, I took the opportunity to fix the saddle that was bugging me for the last 10 km as well. Thank Jof for the hex key.
 Hello from Germany
 Release the Karken. Sorry, could not help it with this (bad) pun.
 The Kraken I suppose
 So rustic
 No shadows to hide behind but at least not hills to climb (yet). You won't see too many hills in my pictures. You know why? Because I was pedaling my lungs out. Lack of practice doing uphill climbs, I suppose. What's sure is that once we started closing on the extreme south of Holland (where Vaals is), hills have started appearing more often
 By the second day, we were practically either ascending or descending all the time, never running on flat ground. At least here in Germany we had a last chance of enjoying some flat terrain. 
 Ja, ja!
 German chic + grafitty 
 No idea what this place was called but it was quite nice.
 When we were lucky, we had a bike lane or a sidewalk to run on. When we were not, we were by the side of the road, with cars passing by every moment. I obviously enjoyed the quiet sections more
 A little bit of real motion blur
 All sorts of surprising vistas appear
 Like this vast...castle? Fortified something? No idea
 What's sure, after the castle the road became a proper country road
 Even if the proper road seemed to be ending, Google was pushing me onwards, like there was supposed to be a road I did not see. To make matters worse, it was almost 8 and the light was going away. It was clear that our initial estimate of getting to Vaals by 8 was blown off.
 It was either going back a couple of kilometers and trying another option or going forward. By this time we were already dismounted and pushing the bikes as the going was extremly bumpy and unfit for our laden bikes
 After the corn field the going got even more rough. On the left, on a high, unacessible bank there was a railway; on the right, through almost impassable bramble and bushes, there was a canal. The only path was a slim serpentine trail, totally unfit for bikes (or humans if you ask me). 

This is the only time when I stopped to take a picture, as the flowers were too unexpected on the rough terrain. The rest of the time I was busy getting the bike unstuck from various branches, picking the tent that kept being dragged down by enemy thorns and twigs and empathizing with Joffi, still in his sandals and shorts.
 At least 3 or 4 times I stopped and tried to reach a road that according to the map seemed close to us, only to find it's impossible to pass without a machete. Just when I was resigned with the idea that we are going to spend our night in a bush, we found a way out of the spiny hell that Google has sent us to. Going back on asphalth and towards civilisation was magical. Had to photograph that lighted clock in the distance.
After the off-road adventure, we pedaled for another 3 hours before reaching our destination in Vaals. I find that, in the absence of more pictures, I don't remember much of that night ride, other than the solitary bench where we stopped to take a quick dinner. And no, the bench is not in the picture above. I don't even remember where this is.



Day 2: Vaals to Spa
Distance: 45.8 Km
Countries passed: 3 (being close to the point where Holland meets Germany and Belgium, it wasn't that hard)
Elevation: 794m (ouch!)
As the map also shows, we start to enjoy a series of unfriendly climbs
 On the way out of Vaals we stop to buy some food...
 ...and before leaving the suburbs, we pass again into Germany...
 ...and find a quiet place on a hill nearby, overlooking the valley, to enjoy our breakfast. Not even sure in what country we were at this point. Aachen, in Germany, is 5 km to the right. To the left, Vaals.
 Here we were in Belgium already, although I am not sure when we crossed the border. The pedaling got quite hard, with all the hills. As you can see, we are at quite a height 
 Did not have the energy nor the inclination to climb this tower
 At least, a bit of downhill, next to the wacky racers
 Surprised house somewhere in Belgium
 An impressive rail bridge
 Sometimes Google sends us on some really nice bike trails. Other times on steep and bumpy packed earth roads. Depends on luck and availability I suppose
 More climbing!
 By this time Jofi was stopping every other minute to adjust the mudguards that were touching his wheels, braking him 
 Time for a longer break on a bench in the shadow.
 First time Jofi's chain broke down. Luckily for us, the link didn't jump away, as we had no spares. And no chain repair tool either. And obviously, not many open shops around on a Sunday afternoon, in the middle of nowhere.
 It was quite the steep climb and his heavy bike combined with equally heavy bags didn't do for a good combo
 With some other tools, the damage was repaired for now
 It seemed best for him to climb the steeper portions on foot
 And second break, after another climb. Good thing the morale was relatively good
 And the third break. It was obvious the next day we would need to find a bike shop for a new chain and maybe a chain repair tool. Good thing Jof is a good handyman. I would probably be still there, trying to fix the damn chain
 It was getting late in the day but our energy was gone before the light did. Already begging for a campsite. 
 Lucky for us, usually what goes up also must go down so there were sections where we also descended. Quite fast too.
 Sunset lake
 By this picture, we were on the third day. Over night on the second day, we stopped in a camping 4km from Spa and when we woke up we were so beat we decided to camp in the area for a day. Here we were taking a trek towards the nearest shop, 2 km away. The camping is somwhere over those trees in the background but of course there was no direct road and you had to circle around. 
 On the way back, an alpaca farm. 
The day was mostly rainy so sleep and just some light moving around the camping were the only activities. Ah, and reading Viata la tara by Duiliu Zamfirescu for me. I wonder, what kind of name Duiliu is. Do you know or ever heard of a person called Duiliu (other than the author)? Me neither.


Day 4: Spa to Saint Vith (on day 3 we were in R&R)
Distance: 60.1 Km
Countries passed: 
Elevation: 968m (record for the trip)
The day of recuperatiom blessed our thighs with vigour up the steep slopes of Spa 
 Until reaching Spa we had to travel the last 4 or 5 km. On the way we met the friendly Eagle and Rabbit gang...
 ...stopped for breakfast near a fence that asked nicely in french and dutch not feed fresh bread to the horses (does that mean stale bread is ok?)... 
 ...and had to jump over a fence to get back on the right track. Not pictured is me falling on my back with the bike over me and Jofi having to come to the rescue. Thus his abandoned bike in this image.
 Finally, this was the long albeit smooth descent into Spa. The same hill we would have to climb on our way back. And not only to this speed sign but to the actual top of the hill, 3 km in a straight incline behind us.
 Spa presented itself as pitoresque and rather small.
 Our destination was the bike shop in town where Jof bought a backup chain and the tool to fix it. I took this selfie while I waited. Some 2 minutes and minus 40E later, Jof emerged from the shop.
 Made a small navigation mistake but I did not regret it as it allowed us to see a bit of the center of town.
 And even snap a quick picture or two. With sadness I realised the road we were supposed to take was back up the hill I was mentioning earlier.
 This is the picture I took when we've beaten the first and most punishing part of ordeal. Somewhere down there is Spa. The isotonics disposed of in our water bottles surely did the trick.
 Onwards and upwards, the climb towards Francorchamps continues. I admit, seeing Spa was Jofi's ideea, but I added the circuit of Spa Francorchamps as it was one of my favourites as a kid. When viewed from the cockpit of a Formula 1 car, it provided the most thrills with its fast curvy ascends and sharp bends on a hilly forrest track so unlike others.
 At the half of the distance and at the apex of the hill, the small aerodrome of Spa.
 The slow descent into Francorchamps. The stop lights look like stolen from a race track, a small detail I have enjoyed a lot.
 And we're there. Jofi waited at the top of the slope while I got close to take a picture. A bit further down, the guard made me turn around.
 Unbeknown to us, the race at Spa happened this weekend. This explained the general hum I have felt around the track. Here you can see the main line after the pits and a series of stands.
 From the road out of Francorchamps (which is not very impressive, just a lane each way, wending over the ridges), we took a left on a forrest road. Of course, the climb is not featured as I was trying to maintain a steady rythm and generally not run out of breath. Lack of practice is a real thing.
 As keenly was felt a lack of practice in doing fast descends, especially with 8-10 kilos of extra gear attached to the bike. As it can be seen, we've already encountered all sorts of roads I would not have expected outside Romania.
 This place looks promising from afar
 From up close it's confirmed
 This bridge is too beautiful to just skip 
 Behind us, the cliff over which we climed and rolled down on with over 40 km/h
 Holier than thou
 Another picture snapped from the saddle
 Ah, finally, the blessed bike lane
 The road takes us to the most unexpected places
  One thing is certain. We are eating the kilometers, despite the slopes
 From time to time we stop for a quick snack...
 ...or to take a picture.
 I think this is the best thing about a bike trip. The slow, calculated pace allows you to stop in the most inaccesible and beautiful places, without having to look for a parking space and so forth. Even better, you find the random bench now and then and if you are lucky, it's in the shade.
 Thank god, except for the day when we were too tired to continue anyway, the weather was nice and warm. 
 Sometimes, on unforgiving slopes up corn hills (and there were plenty of those) the sun could be ruthless, taking everything from you. When you were lucky, the road was like this and you had time to recuperate between sunny stretches. 
 This bike lane was a God sent. The best part about it is the builders calculated it so that it never went up too steeply or down too abruptly, nor was it too bendy. In a word, it was perfect.
 Perfect afternoon for the cows.
 As usual, the final stop before the camping is a super market.
 The camping has been located. Now we have the last kilometers to cover to get there.
 As this has been the day with most of the climbing, we are exhausted. My legs are burning and my ass is chafed from the saddle but I am happy we managed to get to the site while there was still light.
 The view from the front of the tent is not bad.
 Frankly, I am a bit unsure of this way of vacantioning. People coming here from all around, to camp  for a number of days with a tent or a caravan. There is not much to do in the camping and it's not like you are in the mountains doing trails. Nor do you have the convenience of a resort with restaurants, shops and other attractions. But I suppose you could take the car out and see the country-side or just be lazy for 3-5 days, with relative quiet and fresh air.
Somehow I had enough energy left to take a shower and a quick meal and went to sleep at 10:30. For most of the trip, I went to sleep rather early.
Bonus baloon, just before nightfall.


Day 5: Saint Vith to Ettelbruck
Distance: ~56 Km
Countries passed: 2
Elevation: ~550 m
Missing are about 12 Km that somehow Strava did not record, despite hitting the damn red dotted button. The climbing got easier but we still encoutner the odd steep road or fast and long descent.
There are 4-5 categories of people in a camping like this. The ones that use the bungalows (cheap or expensive), the ones with caravans or RVs, the tent campers that come with a car and...us. The bike campers. I don't remember seeing another group of cyclist campers yet.
 Calatorului ii sade bine cu drumul. This one I have teached to Jofi on day 1 and he was still trying to get it right by the time we returned. I can agree Romanian is complicated to pronounce. 
 The simple pleasure of a straight road. Constantly having to take out the phone to check the map: not so pleasurable. 
 Most of the stuff we pass is nice...
 ...and the forrests remind me of home.
 By now we had perfected the art of making both bikes stand by balancing on each other, even on a slope like here. This is also the spot where I realised Strava was not recording our progress. And we have done some good climbing by this point. Shame!
 Here we go again. God bless the bike lanes that take us out of car's way.
 If we were lucky, the bike lane was replaced by a less travelled road.
 After a nasty climb, I threw the towel and stopped. 2 minutes after he joined me, Jofi exclaims: Look at that! Ok, what I am looking at? A bench! 
I was so tired and thristy I did not even notice the bench that was not 10m away from where we were sitting, somewhat uncomfortable, on the road rail. 
 By lunch the effort from the previous day was beggining to be felt...
 ...but we were already in Luxeburg and closing in. For the last day we were trying to leave only a short distance to cover before reaching the end of the destination. It was obvious the train ride was going to be long. 
 Here we stopped for an ice-cream and an eclair and calculated where it would be the best to stop for the night. I think the break was almost 1h long, one of the longest taken, as we were both generally tired. I think the golden rule is 1 day break for 2 days of climbing or half a day break for 2.5 days of normal cycling.  At least for someone with our endurance. Last year we managed to do the trip with no breaks only by going through Holland which was 90-95% flat. 
 The fifth time the chain broke. Always on an ascent. 
One of those corn covered hills I mentioned.
 Finally in Ettelbruck. We are close to our destination now. Only 34 Km left so we treat ourself with a nice room and shower.
 This was the hotel, in the middle of the town. Quite nice, I have to say.
 The kind of small place it takes a couple of hours to see in its entirety. Much like Luxembourg itself.
 Everything is better after a nice shower. Even the search for food.
 Ironically, this is the second time I try to dine at a Portugese restaurant in the last 2 months, only to find it temporarily closed for some obscure reason. At least I took a picture of this nice tree along the way.
 Finally we found our way to the trattoria with the best ranking in town. They even had my favourite beer which I used to wash this national Luxemburg dish. A proper dinner at last.
This article took the better part of the day to be written. At this moment I am about to call it a night and finnish tomorrow. 



Day 6: Ettelbruck to Luxembourg
Distance: 39 Km (+3 from train station to home)
Countries passed: 1 (+2 on the return train trip)
Elevation: 440 m
I admit by this point I was tired and only wanted to get to Luxembourg. Which was a pity as the weather was nice and the trails friendly. Only had to do a big push at the end as the city is on top of a hill
 On our way out of Ettelbruck and towards the last stop
 Interesting way of crossing the railway. At least you get all the advanced warning possible
 Slowly but surely covering the distance
 That castle in the distance looked way more impressive than this poor photo can indicate
 If there is a constant, that is the element of surprise that accompanies each turn of the road
 A conveniently placed gazebo for breakfast
 Frozen in time. Nothing in this picture can tell what year it is. If it were black and white, you could've said it's 100 years old (ok, maybe there's a plastic trash bin, but it's hard to notice)
 Lots and lots of cows
 Only been 4-5 days since this trip and I already long to go back

 Some sort of fort
 Ah, bike lanes!
 Not much climbing but some still happens. Compared to the longest day, it's a breeze, although my tired legs scream for break
 Close to our destination, we finally discover the yellow brick road
 Nice  photo opportunity by the river
 One of the last resting places, overlooking a river. Luxembourg is 3-4 Km away
 And we're there! Of course, there was a bit more of a climb before entering the city proper
 This picture is taken from the belvedere spot with glass floor and walls. I still didn't feel like stepping on the glass
 Looking as impressive as last time I've seen it. Maybe with a bit more sun this time
 Slowly making our way to the train station, fighting the slopes
 This was to be our route. Given that it was 3 when we got to the train station, it was a bit of a rush to get the tickets and to the train in time but we made it with 2 minutes to spare. Good thing we did too, as the next train was scheduled in 2hrs. The price was also a bit different, as we had to pay 73E per person (+bike) instead of the 18.5 we paid on our way down. Has to be said that was a special offer, otherwise we would have paid around 30-40E.
 Finally, the bikes are in the train. The first of them anyway
 Liege train station. Nothing short of impressive. Here we had 40 minutes to spare so we went out and found the nearest place to eat, which just happened to be a shaorma place. Not the real deal, but at least edible and not too expensive. It was going to be a long 6:33 hrs back to Amsterdam
Bonus if you made it this far, my favourite spot in Amsterdam. Taken on the following day, before the rains started. See you soon!