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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.c[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!

Tips For Cycling Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway

Posted November 29th, 2013

Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway is the world’s second highest international highway and one of the most challenging bike touring routes out there.

Grace Johnson cycled the route in the summer of 2013 with her husband Paul Jeurissen. Along the way they picked up a few tips and updates for this route, which Grace has kindly shared in the article below.

Grace Johnson & Paul Jeurissen

Paul and Grace on the Pamir Highway. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Her notes build on the advice given in 10 questions: Cycling The Pamir Highway (an earlier guest post written by Christine McDonald) so please read that post before reading Grace’s observations.

Grace’s Tips For Cycling The Pamir Highway

There have been many changes since Christine travelled the Pamir Highway:

Visas - There is now a next day visa service (which includes a GBAO permit) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. A letter of invitation is no longer necessary. On the visa form we didn’t have to present a complete route itinerary. We just wrote down that we were planning on cycling the Pamir Highway. That turned out to be enough information for the embassy. The embassy operates on regular opening hours and was easy to find since we looked up the GPS coordinates beforehand via internet.

Telephone and Internet - Internet is still pretty much non-existent. The only connection we came across was a very slow one via a single laptop in Murgab’s Pamir hotel. Telephones are more accessible. The main Pamir towns such as Lake Karakoal and Murgab have telephone send masts powered by solar panels and the villagers own mobile phones. At Lake Karakoal the Swiss cyclists at our homestay decided to take a day jeep tour to a scenic outlook. The homestay owner got on her mobile phone and within a half hour a had jeep arrived.

Transport - There are no buses on the Pamir highway. You could hitchhike (as Christine noted), however it might not be very easy. We saw 5-10 vehicles per day between Sarey Tash (Kirgizistan) and Murgab but most of them were fully-loaded and didn’t have room for cyclists. Between Murgab and Dushanbe there is more traffic – Chinese trucks (with Tajik and Chinese drivers) heading to Dushanbe – so it might be possible to get a lift with them.

Water - Of course in the summer months there was less water and some of the rivers were murky. Since we only had a steripen and water sterilizing drops we often had to fill our Orlieb folding bowl with river water and wait for the sediment to sink to the bottom before sterilizing it with the steripen.

Grace Johnson
Grace Johnson cycling across the Pamir landscape. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Winter versus summer cycling - If you cycle in the winter as Christine did, you will miss one of the biggest attractions of cycling the Pamir highway: the colourful landscape. It will be covered in snow. We didn’t find the strong summer sun too much of a problem. We just carried a couple bottles of strong sun block. There was always a strong wind to cool us off. Make sure you carry cold weather gear, even in the summer, since storms and sharp drops in temperature can happen at any time.

Route finding via GPS  -  You don’t need a GPS for the Pamir highway and the Wakhan valley. There is only one road and even though there isn’t a sign marking the turnoff to the Wakhan valley – it’s still quite obvious. If you want to try some off-road cycling to the more remote villages, you definitely should consider using a GPS. The routes to outlaying villages are via jeep tracks and as soon as the main track becomes too rutted the locals create new ones. When we rode from Bulun Lake to Alichor, we regularly checked our GPS to find out if we were still on the “correct” jeep track.

HomestaysA sign for a homestay on the Pamir Highway. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

Homestays - The homestays are now marked by English signs in front and for 100 Somoni you sleep on a blanket mattress on the floor plus you receive three meals of tea, bread plus eggs or soup. The toilet is an outhouse. Most of the homestays can provide a hot shower. Sometimes the hot bucket shower isn’t included in the price so ask beforehand. In most homestays, electricity is only available after dark. Don’t count on it working. Note: the homestays are often poorly ventilated so if you are sleeping in a room with a number of other cyclists you may find yourself breathing hard due to the lack of oxygen in the room.

Pamir hotel in Murgab  - In 2013 the Pamir hotel in Murgab opened. It has hot showers, clean sit toilets and serves “substantial” food such as omelettes, meat, salad, potatoes and pancakes in the hotel restaurant. It also has 24-hour electricity (via the hotel generator) so we were able to recharge all of our camera batteries plus laptop there. The Pamir Kids on the Pamir Highwayhotel manager speaks English and completed the required Tajikistan registration for us. The registration was a hassle (the forms aren’t in English and the police complained that the first photocopies of our passport weren’t “dark enough”). It took the manager 7 hours before we (and the other hotel guests) finally received our registration papers. We offered to pay the manager afterwards for the service but he refused our money. Our registration papers were checked at the police checkpoint just south of Murgab.

The People - Christine is right when she says that the Pamir people are great. We especially enjoyed the kids. They love having their picture taken and will even run up to you smiling and yelling, “photo! photo!”

Towns - The villages and surrounding area are very desolate. Everything is built using whatever material is available. Car doors are used for gates, and sea containers as market shops.


An improvised shop on the Pamir Highway. Photo by Paul Jeurissen.

During the months of July and August you will come across other cyclists every day. They are a colourful bunch (we met a Hungarian carrying mountain climbing gear on his bike, Italians on Decathlon bicycles) and are another good reason to cycle there in the summer instead of winter months.

Additional Resources:

  • Pamirs.org - contains a number of links to Pamir cycling sites
  • Carry On Cycling – a report from a cyclist who rode the Pamir Highway in May 2013

For more on Grace and Paul’s trip around the world, please see their website Bicycling Around The World.

 

A Free Guide To Cycling Across Australia’s Nullarbor

Posted October 16th, 2013

If you want to cross Australia on a bicycle, chances are you’ll find yourself riding across the Nullarbor plain. It’s a hot, long and dusty ride.

Nullarbor Desert
Push-biking it across the Nullarbor. Photo by Mike Boles.

To make things easier, download this set of notes. Our free guide was written by cyclist Mike Boles and laid out by us here at TravellingTwo HQ.

free guide to cycling the nullarbor

Inside the PDF, you’ll find Mike’s story of pedalling across the Nullarbor and day-by-day notes for the entire trip. He tells you where to find campgrounds, hotels, wild camping spots and − most importantly − water. Mike even gives tips for sightseeing along the way!

We hope you enjoy the notes. Download them. Share them. Let us know what you think.

If you have updates or further advice about cycling across the Nullarbor, please leave a comment below.

Nine Tips For Cycling The Cabot Trail

Posted August 30th, 2013

The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia must be one of the most scenic bicycle rides in all of Canada, if not the world.

For a taste of the experiences that await you on this 300 kilometer road, set your mind on breathtaking sea vistas, framed by dramatic cliffs; curvy roads through timeless fishing villages; old-growth forests in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and some truly epic climbs.

DSC_7317

On a recent trip around the Cabot Trail, we picked up a few tips that may be helpful to anyone planning to ride this classic route.

#1. Prepare For Wind

We camped for a week in mid-August and experienced stiff winds every day, blowing clockwise around the trail. It’s true that the views are better if you travel anti-clockwise (with the sea on your right) but on balance we would recommend going with the wind. This was also the choice of most cyclists we saw during our visit.

The strong winds also meant that our camp stove quickly burnt through fuel, even though we used firewood and stones to build a wind break around our stove. Keep your fuel bottles topped up, and preferably take a stove that uses either white gas or fuel from gas stations. We could not find gas canisters anywhere on the trail.

DSC_7341

Our stove surrounded by a make-shift windbreak.

#2. Pack Lightly

It almost goes without saying that when the hills are steep, it pays to travel as lightly as possible. We wouldn’t normally recommend dehydrated campers meals as they’re fairly expensive but it might be worth carrying a few on the Cabot Trail to save weight. Remember, sustained climbs at grades above 10% are common. Some grades even reach 15%. Ideally, you’ll get a bike with thin tires and a couple back bags. The exception is Meat Cove (see tip #7). In that case, you’ll want more robust tires for the dirt roads.

Rest Stop on French Mountain Climb

Rest stop on French Mountain. Photo by Bobcatnorth (flickr).

#3. Not All Campsites Have Water

There are campsites dotted regularly around the trail, including several in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Of the six main campsites in the national park, however, only those at Cheticamp, Broad Cove and Ingonish have water. The private campsites around the trail have all the services you’d expect (eg. wi-fi, water, showers). Expect to pay $25-30 Canadian a night for camping. Firewood and ice is usually available at campsites, for an extra charge.

#4. Reserve If You Plan To Stay In Hotels

Nearly every B&B, hotel and hostel we passed had a ‘no vacancy’ sign outside. If you don’t plan to bring a tent, you’d better reserve a room.

#5. There’s A Bike Shop In Cheticamp

We saw one good bike shop along the trail: Velo Max in Cheticamp. The owner does plenty of work preparing bikes for tour groups and should be able to help with any mechanical problems.

#6. Take Hiking Boots 

Most cyclists breeze around the Cabot Trail in 3-4 days but there are so many world-class hiking tracks on the Cabot Trail it almost seems criminal to pass them by. If you can, lengthen your stay by a few days and stop to explore on foot. You’ll see a side of Cape Breton that isn’t revealed until you walk away from the road. You could easily spend 10-14 days doing a mixture of cycling and hiking on the trail.

We do realize that hiking boots are a heavy addition to your panniers. If the weather isn’t too hot, you might consider using your boots both for cycling and walking. We personally find hiking boots very comfortable for both activities.

DSC_7396Ready to walk the trails of Cape Breton.

#7. Meat Cove Makes An Amazing Side Trip

The most northerly community in Cape Breton is Meat Cove. It’s literally perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a sheltered bay.

Meat Cove
Meat Cove view. Photo by Kaymoshusband (flickr).

Don’t kid yourself: this is a tough side trip. You’ll travel 30km off the Cabot Trail. The hills in the 15km leading up to Meat Cove are steep and relentless and the final 8km are on a rough dirt road. Still, your hard work will be rewarded by the stunning views and you can treat yourself to a bowl of chowder and a cold beer at the campground restaurant. There are also several hiking trails that lead up the hills and to hidden bays.

DSC_7323Chowder at Meat Cove

For an easier option, cycle the relatively easy (and entirely paved) 18km to the picturesque fishing community of Bay St. Lawrence. There you’ll find a campground, grocery store and delicious fish ‘n’ chips at the harbour.

#8. Be Aware of Bears And Coyotes

This is wild country, particularly in the national park. Bears and coyotes call the forests home, so if you are hiking or plan to wild camp, take appropriate precautions. Don’t eat near your tent or keep any food inside. More information is available on the national park website.

DSC_7397Lobster Supper with all the trimmings in Baddeck.

#9. Celebrate With An All-You-Can-Eat Lobster Supper

When you’ve completed the Cabot Trail, you deserve a treat! We very much enjoyed our meal at the Baddeck Lobster Suppers. With unlimited chowder, mussels, salads and desserts it’s the perfect place to fill up your hungry cyclist’s belly. If you don’t fancy lobster, they also roast salmon on a maple plank. Delicious!

These articles provide further tips and advice:

 

 

10 Questions: Cycling On The Andean Puna

Posted April 4th, 2013

The Puna, or Altiplano, is a high altitude region of the Central Andes spanning southern Peru, western Bolivia, north-east Chile and north-west Argentina.

It is one of the most extensive areas of high plateau in the world, and Harriet & Neil Pike explored the Puna extensively by bicycle in 2010 and 2011. They recently took the time to answer 10 Questions about their bike tour through the area.

Chasing llamas to Sajama, Bolivia.
Chasing llamas to Sajama, Bolivia. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

1. Which route did you take in the region?

We spent nine months in 2010 and 2011 on the Puna, first cycling northwards through Argentina, Chile and western Bolivia before taking a circuitous route through southern Peru. Still eager to continue exploring the area, we then did an about turn and cycled south through Chile and Argentina.

2. Why spend so long cycling there?

We were fascinated by the desolate landscape with its sprinkling of salars and colourful lakes, and volcanoes dotting the skyline. We loved the wide open spaces, the big skies, and seeing more camelids than cars. Going hours without encountering another human being made any meeting with a friendly local person, in an area you wouldn’t think it possible to eke out an existence, all the more special. Above all we enjoyed the sense of freedom and the challenge of having to be self-reliant, carrying all we needed – our food, clothes and home – on our bikes.

Cycling on the Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia.
Cycling on the Salar de Coipasa, Bolivia. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

3. How useful were maps for route planning?

The availability and accuracy of road maps very much depends on the country. Good maps are available in Argentina. Likewise, you can find Chilean maps that are of reasonable quality. There are maps of Peru and Bolivia that show main roads accurately but despite buying a wide selection we didn’t find any that were reliable on minor unpaved roads. Often the smaller roads we took didn’t exist on maps and there were few road signs to follow.

4. How did you navigate in remote areas without maps or road signs?

We spent a lot of time in internet cafes looking for information on cyclists’ blogs and poring over satellite images on Google Earth, searching for small unpaved roads to cycle. We then noted down GPS co-ordinates of landmarks such as rivers, junctions or settlements and used these to help us navigate. Sometimes this was overkill and we could get by on the ground by asking local people, but on many occasions we were grateful to our GPS to know which way to turn at forks in the road.

Local drivers can also be an excellent source of information, though be wary of asking directions from people who don’t travel the roads very frequently – they might provide you with an answer, but it could well be guesswork.

5. What can you expect to encounter weather-wise?

All year round, the region sees warm days and cold nights. We were grateful for our four season sleeping bags as the temperature regularly falls below zero at night, and -20°C isn’t uncommon in June or July. The best time for cycling in the northern Puna is the dry season (April–October) with its blue skies and days without a cloud.

In southern areas of the Puna the summertime from December–March is better as this avoids the often savage winter weather. At any time of the year don’t be surprised if you encounter fierce winds. While it may not have Patagonia’s reputation for strong winds, much of the Puna can give even the windiest parts of Patagonia a run for their money.

Camping on the Puna in southern Peru.
Camping on the Puna in southern Peru. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

6. Is the food anything to look forward to?

Um, in a word, no. Many parts of the Puna, particularly in Chile and Argentina, are very sparsely populated so you’ll usually have to fend for yourself. Carry a few days’ provisions and cook on a camp stove. Small villages in Bolivia and Peru often have a basic restaurant but the difficulty in growing local produce and of importing fresh supplies from afar means that you’ll have to get used to surviving for days at a time on the staples – rice, eggs, potatoes, chuño (freeze dried potatoes) and hearty broths.

In Sajama National Park, Bolivia.
In Sajama National Park, Bolivia. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

7. What are road conditions like?

There aren’t a huge number of paved roads and those that have been tarmacked are usually busy with truck and bus traffic. Heading onto unpaved roads means taking pot-luck with the surface. The Bolivian altiplano has a reputation for having bad roads, but it by no means has a monopoly on them. In all countries of the Puna you can happen upon a good consolidated unpaved surface or find yourself rattling over corrugations or floundering in sand. As a rule it’s best not to expect to travel too quickly!

8. Most of the Puna is above 3,500m. Did you have difficulties with the altitude?

Apart from going very slowly and panting a lot up to the first few passes, we were lucky and didn’t have too much trouble. If you haven’t been at altitude much before it’s a good idea to read up about Acute Mountain Sickness at sites like www.altitude.org beforehand, then take it easy and gain height slowly to begin with.

Near Laguna Negro Francisco, northern Chile.
Near Laguna Negro Francisco, northern Chile. Photo by www.andesbybike.com

9. As well as cycling, you also hiked on this journey. What’s the Puna like for hiking?

Hiking up mountains was almost as important a part of our trip as the cycling, and we spent many happy days cycling to mountains on the Puna, dumping the bikes and then heading off on foot with backpacks. Most of the highest mountains in the Andes lie on the Puna, and with few exceptions they are non-technical ascents. If, like us, you love the wild, barren landscapes and don’t mind going a while without seeing a tree, there are plenty of opportunities for exploring the Puna on foot.

10. Any advice do you have for other cyclists heading to the area?

Choose your tent carefully, and then look after it well! It needs to be good in strong winds so geodesic tents are better than tunnel tents and will give you a quieter night’s sleep. Try not to leave it up for too long in the sun. The fabric will soon degrade due to the high intensity UV. Be warned that in the dry Puna regions tents shrink, so unless you can vary the length of the tent sleeves it can be difficult or impossible to get poles in.

Also, treat all zips with care as they become fragile and regularly break in the dry atmosphere. On leaving the Puna we were left with few working zips despite having become very adept at fixing them with candle wax and pliers!

More importantly, research your route before heading out to the remote areas – on many roads you can go hours or days without coming across water, supplies or a village. There is plenty of information on routes we took on our Andes By Bike website.

Thanks to Harriet & Neil Pike for answering the questions and providing the photos. Check out their Andes By Bike website for more information. If you’d like to answer 10 questions about a favourite cycling destination, read the guidelines and then get in touch.