Our final day before the trip dedicated itself to the Tour de France started as the others had: sunny. We ate amongst other residents who were picking through aging ham, curling at the corners and trying to spread breeze blocks of butter on soggy croissants. The food reflected the hotel; it had seen better days. Jaded from the previous night, we got on the road, this time to Bastogne in southern Belgium.
Despite the hotel, I enjoyed Heidelberg. It’s a beautiful city, even our hotel had a great view of the river, the old bridge and surrounding tree clad hills. The city has fantastic Germanic architecture, giving it an old look which juxtaposes an easy going and international feel. It is definitely worth visiting, though nowhere is ever perfect and the hotel was over-priced for what, in reality, a poor place to stay. The evening before, we had wandered into the city centre and found an abundance bars and restaurants, tables outside crowded exclusively with the young and beautiful of central Germany and beyond. There were plenty of Americans, most of whom I’m sure were from the local US military bases or the local university.
We found a rather gothic looking bar, where suits of armour stood under their shields and spears hanging uselessly on the walls above. The gorgeous waitress-of-the-week served us beer while we chose from the menu, and more with both our starter and main course. After our meal we had a wander round the town as the dusk melted slowly to night, but ended up returning to the same place for more beer and a pizza. We were hungry. It was a great night in a fabulous city, though did nothing for our alertness the next day.
After filling with petrol at Speyer, we loafed across to Neustadt and the B39 to Kaiserlautern, which looked on the map like it would be fantastic. We were overtaken by a couple on his and hers Kawasakis, judging by the evidence of their subsequent overtakes they were en route to the culmination of their suicide pact. Mind you, at least they made progress, as Saturday morning traffic was heavy, speed limits were severe and abundant and it was hot. It was Friday all over again. Progress was the same as the previous day, so we stopped in a lay-by opposite a German Army barracks and dejectedly discussed what we already knew we would do.
The autobahn was quieter than the day before and progress was easy, though accompanied by the regret of giving up on a route which had looked brilliant on the map. Ahead of us on the north-western horizon, dark clouds threatened, but we remained dry skirting round Trier and heading north to Bitberg, where things started to go wrong. A road closure greeted us when we entered Luxembourg and the Garmin directed us the only way it knew how; along the tightest, narrowest, worst surfaced roads it could find. Drizzle added a menacing glaze to the bumpy roads and my morale plummeted with the temperature. The only high point highlight was the ride across the slick cobbles of the beautiful town of Vianden, which certainly looks to be worth a visit, though what hair poked from behind numerous tourist cameras was universally grey, so maybe it’’s a bit boring. Not long after leaving the town we found the relief of a major road and in no time were rumbling sullenly through Ettelbrück, where the fun began.
Europeans revel in their cultural differences and many of us refuse to see any similarities, but it was obvious as we left Ettlbrück that anyone driving an old, dark green Seat Leon is a twat, wherever they’re from. So close was the car behind me, I could see the spots on the driver’s pasty face, and he was obviously desperate to get past me as I assiduously stuck to the 50kph speed limit. I was in third gear as we left town and, as the acned idiot went to overtake, blasted away with all the power my really quite powerful bike had. We didn’t see him again. Crossing into Belgium where there was a brief exchange of overtakes with another idiot in a Mercedes, before riding past the old US Army tank on the main square in Bastogne.
Our hotel was the best of the week, in stark contrast to the town, which is a bit like Wisbech but with hills, trees and people speaking French instead of Polish. Whilst it was a bit depressed we had the sort of interaction one rarely gets in a tourist hotspot. Wandering around we had seen an agricultural looking hen party, and later encountered the corresponding stag. They spoke to us in French but soon realised our stupidity and switched to perfect English. It seems that there is a Belgian tradition where the group sell forfeits the stag fulfills to help pay for their evening. My activity was to throw large pieces of chalk at the poor bloke, who was dressed up as the country’s Prime Minister, and hit him in the eye after he removed his joke glasses. Ian’s task was to pluck nasal hairs using a pair of tweezers. Now if that wasn’t a good way of spending €10, nothing is.
I always enjoy the trip and this was no different, I look back with fondness, but harbour a nagging feeling we missed opportunities. In retrospect we should have one done one of two things; eaten and drunk better or been less ambitious distances. The weather didn’t help, but I’d rather suffer in the heat than crawl in the rain.
As I write this, my dining room floor is covered in kit in various states of packing, preparation for this year’s trip following the Tour de France in the Alps. We’ll see what this year brings.