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You Are Viewing Germany

Six Days, Four Countries, Four Bikes and a Toddler

Posted May 11th, 2014

Caution: this post is being written to the soundtrack of the Teletubbies. As parents of a two-year old, free time is a precious commodity. Bribery is frequently required.

Since an episode of the Teletubbies only lasts 24 minutes, we’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s the story of our Easter tour: six days through Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, including most of the Vennbahn rail trail.

We were cycling with two good friends, Shane and Stijn. As a group, we looked a bit like a bicycle circus with touring setups in all shapes and sizes.

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We started with the Vennbahn because it was easy to reach by train from our home and was supposed to be flat. We aren’t scared of mountains but flat terrain is unquestionably a great advantage when you’re adding a toddler, a bike seat, a trailer and various child-related goodies to the standard bike touring setup.

What’s that? Flat you said? Ha ha. Try again. As it turned out, the trip involved a fair amount of climbing. Our workout began in Luxembourg City — not technically part of the Vennbahn (the trail begins about 70km further north) but a popular kicking-off point for many people.

Climbing a steep hill in Luxembourg - not technically part of the Vennbahn, but a taste of what was to come.

For us, the steep climb between the campground and the train station signalled the start of a weekend which was great fun but also harder work than we expected. The Vennbahn is largely flat but it also threw a few curve balls our way: unexpected hills, detours where parts of the trail were closed (this led to more climbing) and strong headwinds.

We look cheery in this photo, taken on one of the Vennbahn’s easy and paved sections, but the truth is that we’ve never been so exhausted from cycling 40-50km a day.

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Normally we’d manage this distance easily but now we were carrying the extra weight of a toddler and all the associated luggage (toys, clothes, diapers). At the end of the day we weren’t resting, we were chasing a toddler around the campsite. This photo is a rarity: it shows one the few moments when Andrew got to sit down.

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Luke could occasionally be bribed into relative quiet with a pastry. As on so many bike tours in the past, bakeries quickly became a mandatory, twice-daily stop.

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On most nights, we didn’t make it much past Luke’s bedtime.

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When we weren’t chasing Luke around, we were marvelling at our different touring setups. We each had a different strategy, to meet different needs. Here’s Shane, with his Brompton folding bike and Cyclone trailer from Radical Design — the perfect combination if you need to take trains and buses as part of your bike tour.

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Stijn was riding a titanium tourer of his own design with fat tires and a minimum of luggage. He’s preparing for a trip to Iceland later this year and wants a bike that is lightweight and handles well on dirt roads. In 2011, we interviewed Stijn about lightweight bike touring in this podcast.

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As for us, Friedel was on a classic steel touring bicycle, built in 2005 by Robin Mather. This is the bike she rode around the world. The bike is great but we had to accommodate Luke’s Yepp bike seat on the back, and this made it complicated to carry any other luggage. To be honest, we didn’t do a very good job of loading up this bike. We’re still working out the best way to pack and carry gear, while also having room for Luke on the back. More on that later.

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Andrew rode a Santos Travelmaster 2.6 Alu and piled it high with all the junk that Friedel couldn’t fit on her bike, including an 89L Ortlieb Rackpack. Yes, we said 89 litres. That’s not a typo. We should have put a front rack on this bike to better balance the load but ran out of time before we left. Behind the bike is a Chariot trailer — Luke’s place to nap and hide out from bad weather.

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A picky person could probably find fault in our packing styles and choices but at the end of the day we all made it and we all had fun. Isn’t that what counts? The most important thing you can pack for a successful tour is enthusiasm and we had that in spades.

Over the next few days, we crossed borders.

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We experimented with wild cookery. We picked some stinging nettles and threw them into a pot with red peppers and onions. When cooked, they taste like spinach. What a great base for a pasta sauce or soup!

cooking with nettles

We encouraged Luke to walk up the steepest hills, when pedalling became impossible.

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And after 6 days and 250km we returned home. We learned a lot from this first cycle-toddling adventure, for example:

  • 40-50km a day is the maximum distance we should plan on cycling. If the terrain is hilly, we need to cut this distance further.
  • Bike touring with a toddler requires a different packing setup. We’re considering a trailer for our next tour.
  • A small bag with toys is a must-have. Luke has a little backpack which he’s allowed to fill with books, dinky cars and other favourite items.
  • Falling asleep in a tent can be difficult for little ones. Be patient and be prepared to extend bedtime.

Now it’s time to prepare for our next tour: Switzerland! Yes, that’s right, after complaining about hills on the Vennbahn we’re going to one of the hilliest countries in Europe. What’s life without a good challenge? We’ll fill you in on that trip when we return in June.

 

Tips For Cycling The Vennbahn Rail Trail

Posted March 30th, 2014

Cycling the Vennbahn, an easy ride on one of Europe's longest rail trails.

Cycling the Vennbahn, an easy ride on one of Europe’s longest rail trails.

The Vennbahn is a 125km rail trail that runs through Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. It’s one of Europe’s longest rail trails and is quickly becoming known as one of the nicest bike paths in the region.

We’re going to see what all the hype is about. Our plan is to take the train from our home to Luxembourg City and then to use the Vennbahn plus other local bike trails to ride back home.

Below we’ve listed some helpful information, in case you’re planning a similar trip. You can also check the official Vennbahn website.

1. Get A Free Map – Download a free map of the Vennbahn rail trail (complete with accommodation and sightseeing information) in English / German or in French / Dutch. You can also order a free paper copy in English by emailing [email protected] or online from the “Tourist Shop” of the regional tourism office (in German, Dutch or French only).

Vennbahn Map

Order a free copy of the Vennbahn Map from the East Belgium tourism office.

2. Use Bike Paths To Connect Luxembourg City With The Vennbahn - Luxembourg City is 60-90km from the start of the Vennbahn (depending on which route you take). You can take local bike trails much of the way there. We found two main options:

  • Option A:  Take PC2 (a rail trail) east out of Luxembourg City to Echternacht, then PC3 (the Trois Rivières bike path) and PC22 (the cycle path Des Ardennes) north, along the border with Germany.  This leaves you with roughly 30km to cycle on local roads before you hook up with the Vennbahn. PC22 is listed as “difficulty: Exigent” on the Luxembourg tourism site.
  • Option B: Take PC15 (the Alzette rail trail) straight north out of Luxembourg City and then connect with PC16 (the Moyenne Sûre bike path). Again, there’s a gap between the end of the bike paths and the start of the Vennbahn. You’ll have to improvise on local roads.

You can use the Waymarked Trails site to get a good overview of the various options.

3. Make Life Easy. Take The Train. If you don’t want to ride between Luxembourg City and the Vennbahn trail, you can easily take the train. This will save you some route planning, some hill climbing and 1-2 days of riding. Tickets cost just €2 and your bike rides for free. Trains leave once an hour (look up schedules on the Luxembourg Railway site). We picked up this tip from the European Cycling website.

4. Bring Your Tent. There are plenty of great campgrounds in the area. We’ve plotted a few on this map.


View our VennBahn map in a larger size.

We also found this list on the website of the Wereldfietsers (a Dutch bike touring club). For those who don’t speak Dutch, we’ve translated it.

Aachen
Aachen Camping (1.5km from the start of the Vennbahn, can be busy in the summer)
Branderhofer Weg 11
Aachen
Tel. 0049-(0)0241-60880 57
[email protected]

Hauset/Hergenrath
Camping Hammerbrücke*
Hammerweg
B – 4710 Lontzen
Tel. 0032-(0)87-78 31 26
*To reach this one, you have to leave the Vennbahn when you get to Raeren. It’s just before Hergenrath, near the big train bridge over the Geul river. It could be a bit difficult to find.

Monschau
Camping Perlenau (nice tenting field but can be very full in high season or soaked with water after a hard rain)
D-52156 Monschau
Tel. 0049-(0)52156 Monschau
Tel. 0049-(0)2472-41 36

Küchelscheid
Camping La Belle Vallée (just over the border, by the former station of Kalterherberg)
Küchelscheid, Rickshelderweg, 6
B-4750 Bütgenbach
Tel 0032-(0)80 44 60 57

Robertville
Camping La Plage*
Route des Bains 33
B-4950 Robertville
Tel 0032- (0)80-44 66 58
*To reach this one, you have to leave the Vennbahn at Sourbrodt.

Amel
Camping Oos Heem (on the Vennbahn itself, near the former Montenau station)
Deidenberg 124A
B-4770 Amel
Tel 0032-(0)80-34 97 41

Sankt Vith
Camping Wiesenbach (on the Vennbahn, near a swimming pool)
Wiesenbachstrass 65
B-4780 Sankt Vith
Tel. 0032-(0)80-22 61 37
Email: ernst.paulus@hotmail.[email protected]

Ouren
Camping International*
Ouren 14,
B-4790 Ouren,
Tel. 0032 (0)80-329 291
*You have to cycle about 8km off the Vennbahn to reach this one but it’s an easy ride along the Our.

Troisvierges
Camping Walensbongert
Rue de Binsfeld
L-9912 Troisvierges
Tel 00352-(0)99-71-41

5. Cafes & Supermarkets Are Few And Far Between - According to the same thread on the Wereldfietser website, cafes and supermarkets aren’t very common along the Vennbahn. Therefore it’s good to know where they are so that you can plan for a tea break!

There are food shops in: Kornelimünster, Roetgen (just over the Belgian border), Monschau, Waimes, Sankt Vith and Troisvierges.

There are cafes in: Kornelimünster (former train station with patio terrace), Roetgen, Monschau, Küchelscheid (just over the border near Karterherberg in an old railway carriage), Waimes (Konditorei Heinrichs), Montenau, Sankt Vith, Burg-Reuland (just off the route and down into the town, follow the main road and to the right you’ll see a bakery).

We hope you find this helpful. We’ll update this page when we’re back from our trip!

Europe’s Best Bike Routes In 2014

Posted January 23rd, 2014

It’s almost that time again, when the annual Fietsenwandelbeurs takes place in Amsterdam.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of going, let us explain. This is a huge two-day exposition, dedicated to everything for cyclists and hikers. We go every year to check out new gear, the latest bikes and of course to get inspiration for future bike tours.

Ahead of the fair, the Fietsenwandelbeurs nominates bike routes for the “Route of the Year” award. This year there are four nominees:

#1. The Pirinexus (through Spain and France)

The Pirinexus is a 350km loop, of which 280km are in Spain and 80km are on the French side of the Pyrenees.

Pirinexus Route

At the moment, it’s southern Europe’s longest marked bicycle route. The route is mostly flat, taking in a part of the Costa Brava and former railway lines. That said, you will have to climb a couple mountains with peaks of 1,000-1,500 meters. The roads leading up these mountains aren’t too steep, however. Part of the Pirinexus also tracks EuroVelo 8 from Athens to Cádiz. Read more…

#2. The Tour de Manche (France and England)

The Tour de Manche is a bike route around the English Channel. Ferry services help you make the connection between England and France. In total it’s a route of 1,200km but there’s also a smaller version of 440km, which takes in the Channel Islands.

Tour de Manche

The Tour de Manche doesn’t always follow the coast. Sometimes it uses old railway lines and small tracks to cut across Normandy. The English section involves a few steep climbs. On the return leg, you get a wonderful view over the cliffs. You can also use the Tour de Manche route to hook up with the Vélodyssée, which runs down the coast of France towards Spain. Read more…

#3. Valsugana (Trentino, Italy)

The Valsugana route follows the Brenta river valley between Pergine Valsugana and Bassano del Grappa. It’s fairly short at just 80km. You bike nearly entirely on dedicated bike paths. The route climbs very gently (you’ll barely notice it). It the Western part you can take on some extra loops around local lakes.

The Valsugana Route

The Valsugana connects to the Adige (Etsch) cycle path from Austria to Verona and the Via Claudia Augusta, going towards the Adriatic coastline. Read more…

#4. Vennbahn (Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg)

The Vennbahn is a dedicated bike path that follows old railway lines from Troisvierges (Luxembourg) to Aachen (Germany). It’s 125 km long.

The Vennbahn

Leaving Aachen, the route climbs to 500 meters but the grade is never more than 2% so it’s a gentle climb. Save your energy! There’s a 10% climb just before the Luxembourg border. As far as the landscape goes, the bike path mostly goes through green areas and there are many signs of the area’s railway history. We’ll be cycling this route over Easter, so there’s more information to come! Read more…

Three Great Bike Touring Routes In Europe

Posted February 4th, 2013

Every February, thousands of cyclists come to Amsterdam for the Fietsenwandelbeurs. It’s a gigantic fair centred on everything of interest for bike tourists, hikers, campers and anyone who enjoys the outdoors.

As part of the event, 3 bike routes are nominated for ‘best bike route of the year’. Here are the 2013 selections.

1. Velodyssey – The Atlantic Cycling Route
The top choice of this year’s judges is Velodyssey: a 1,200km bike route that starts in Britain and runs all the way down the western coast of France to the Spanish border. It’s France’s longest waymarked bike path and connects up neatly with the Eurovelo 6 and Eurovelo 4 routes.

2. Burgundy By Bike (Tour De Bourgogne)
The Tour De Bourgogne sounds like a food-loving cyclists’ dream. It’s a 580km bike route (soon to be expanded to 800km) that passes through the gastronomic capital of Dijon and famous wine regions around Mâcon. The route is set partly along voie vertes, canals and disused railway lines, where no motorised traffic is allowed. Detailed route descriptions and a GPS track are available from the website.

Tour De Bourgogne

#3. The Vennbahn
At just 125km in length, the Vennbahn is the shortest of the three nominated routes. Unless you live nearby, it’s not likely to be a destination in its own right but could make a nice addition to a longer tour. It traces the path of an old railway line through Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. The website has some good information about the route and the area, including intriguing stories about the coffee smugglers that roamed the border areas of Germany and Belgium after World War II.

Helpful Route-Planning Resources For Bike Touring In Germany

Posted March 7th, 2012

The question of how to best plan a bicycle route through Germany recently came up on our Facebook group.

Facebook Question

At first, we were stuck for an answer but after a bit of reflection we remembered a couple good resources.

#1.  Naviki

This website is relatively new but looks promising. The interface is easy to figure out and once you’ve entered a start point and an end point for your tour, it produces a GPS route that can be downloaded in a variety of formats. Naviki even has smartphone apps if you’re planning on touring with an iPhone or Android handset.

The only thing that’s not clear to us is exactly how Naviki chooses a route: do they include local bike paths or only smaller roads? It’s certainly a good starting point for planning your tour in any case and you can always refine the route as you go along.

#2. Radweit

This is a totally different kettle of fish from Naviki and takes more effort to figure out but www.Radweit.de is also incredibly rewarding, once you understand how it works. The website is entirely in German so use Google Translate if your German isn’t up to scratch.

When you first access www.Radweit.de you’ll find it’s not exactly an ‘online route planner’ in the modern sense. You can’t just plug in a starting point and an end point and expect a route to pop up. What you can do, however, is access and print bike routes and maps for all of Germany and many surrounding countries.

The maps are impressively detailed and the website creator has gone to a great deal of trouble to fit only the relevant sections on each map. In David’s case, he could find information for his trip from Kiel to Munich by going to the page on bike routes to and from Munich.

On that page, he’d find a link detailing options for Kiel to Hamburg and Hamburg to Munich (outlined in red in the image below), as well as an overview of routes in Germany running to and from Munich.

Radweit

When he clicks on any of the links, he’d get a map like this. At first, it looks incomprehensible but look closely and you’ll see that on one neat sheet of A4 paper you have an entire 150km bike route. Just follow the sections in order. The end of section 1 lines up with the start of section 2 and so on…

Radweit

You can print the maps in black and white or colour, in A4 size or on A3 paper. Handy! With a little time to go through the site, you can print maps for an entire bike tour across Germany and even into neighbouring countries such as the Netherlands. Best of all – it’s free!

There are, of course, other options for planning bike tours across Germany. Our friend Blanche from the World Cycle Videos group suggested these websites:

  • Fietsrouteplanner – The interface is in Dutch but there’s an explanatory page in English. Note, you have to zoom in on the map a few times to see city names and if you’re typing a city name into the search box, try the Dutch spelling. It often doesn’t recognize the English spelling.
  • Via Michelin – There is a bicycle option and we’ve used it in the past but as we were writing this post it wasn’t working. Let’s hope it’s back in service soon!

Do you have a website to suggest? Share it by leaving a comment!