Yesterday, we left Belgium. Angie says she may not need to go back. I think Bruges and Ghent were the best of it, though Angie did love the Royal St. Hubert Gallery in Brussels, which is one of my favorite spots, and wished she could have seen the Grand Place in all its splendor instead of playing host to a beer festival full of people and booths. It does look like a lot of the gilt has been redone since I was there last.
In order to prioritize some of the other places we most wanted to ride, we decided to take a train from Brussels to Strasbourg. It was a long ride but pretty interesting, though I think we would have been happy if our bikes hadn’t taken such a beating. This was a definite downside of the apparently faster engine that was put on the train in Luxembourg for the France portion of the journey. Our bikes were hanging in yet another version of how you put a bike on a train and clanging about all over the place. Angie had adjusted her handlebars and the banging about loosened them up so she couldn’t initially use them to steer when we hit Strasbourg. Scary.
The train on which we rode seemed to be very old, with the old fashioned six-person compartments, and it wasn’t super fast. It seemed to take longer to get through Belgium and into Luxembourg than it did to go from Metz to Strasbourg. The train picked up a different (SNCF, French train company) engine in Luxembourg and it was way faster. As a point of interest, we had originally thought about a day in Luxembourg but changed our minds, but at least we can say we went there even if it was just for a half hour!
We still managed to see a couple of other cool sights from the train, including a few hawks and, once we were in Alsace, several White Storks. Info about white storks
One final comment about the train ride. Whoever designed the different setups really is thinking that the only audience is young males riding commuters or road bikes. The process of getting a loaded touring bike on and off a train for a woman in the short time that the train is in the station is very stressful. Most of the trains have steps, and the set up of the storage means you have to take all the panniers off to get the bikes on and off the train. It’s not a very enjoyable experience and Angie noted today that it’s a really good thing I don’t also have front panniers, since getting 6 panniers and my chunky handlebar bag on and off along with two steel bikes is a huge chore.
So we got to Strasbourg around 6:30 in the evening, which made getting to the hostel a little challenging too, especially since the GPS was resistant to finding our way until I went into the IBIS to ask for a map. Amazing what a little competition will do. 🙂
Our experience at last night’s hostel has made us think seriously about whether the cost saving is worth it. Last night we were in a crowded hostel overrun with rowdy Dutch teenagers. We were sharing a tiny dorm room with two other people, which also made it hard for us to get organized to leave early this morning (though we ended up doing ok with that and I think, not leaving anything behind in the room). In addition, this was one of the few hostels in which we’ve stayed that had self-catering facilities, but they were pretty poor. Someone was just ahead of us to cook, which meant we were not able to make dinner till well after 8, making our day even longer. At the same time, I thank heaven Angie remembered that we should pick up something to cook before we left Brussels, since the hostel was not close to anything. We discussed this all today and I think we are going to try to avoid any hostels where we can’t get our own room (even if they are with uncomfortable bunk beds) and where there is no self-catering set up.
This morning, we got out as early as we could after breakfast (another breakfast with limited nutritional value) so we could get on our way to Colmar. Angie did a fantastic job navigating us out of the city and onto the EuroVelo 5 route along the Rhone-Rhine Canal given that we had no printed maps for this stretch, and my phone was still not topped up with a new data plan due to last night’s crappy internet and the fact that I’d had to ask my brother Stephen to buy a voucher to top up after we discovered that you need a British credit card to do a credit card top up online.
Today we rode 48.5 miles, our longest day of riding so far. It was mostly flat, except around the many locks, but it was a very warm day so it was a challenging ride. The ride was pretty and very peaceful, but a little monotonous. The biggest issue was that in over 80 kilometers, there was not one single place to go to the bathroom. Another example of how male-oriented the bike infrastructure is in Europe. There was one pretty location that clearly was trying to cater to bikes with a snack truck, but no toilet there so they didn’t get any of our money.
Sightings along the way today included plenty of swans (including a fully-grown but not yet white one), grouse, grebes, small lizards, and some sort of small river mammal, a marmot perhaps?
Also saw a cool bike repair stand (we’ve seen these in Denver but never along a bike route I don’t think).
We rolled into Colmar round 3 and collapsed for while. Then we cleaned ourselves up and walked through part of this historic town in the Alsace region of eastern France. We had dinner at a popular spot that was fairly well reviewed on both Chowhound and Trip Advisor.
One fun fact before I sign off. Colmar is the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty.