June 22 – First day in the Netherlands

It is Thursday night, we’ve been awake for a day and a half, just rode 90 km (57 miles), and it is almost 10 pm, so this might work better as an enumerated list of thoughts.

  1.  I can’t sleep in planes. I can fall asleep in 15 seconds on a hard church bench with a loud sermon, but put me on a plane and I’m wide awake. At least I was able to read a good book. Natalie is about the same (at church too).
  2. I over-stressed about bike transport. It ended up working well. We lucked out though, because when I picked up our bike box from the odd sized luggage claim area, the bottom ripped off and everything in the box came pouring out. We had panniers, tools, shoes, and helmets loose in the box with the bike. Had that happened in the plane cargo hold we would have lost things. Yesterday Natalie said “shouldn’t you tape the bottom of the box?” Laughing at her naivety, I informed her the bottom was stapled shut and needed no tape. Everyone knows that, right?
  3.  It took us about two hours to assemble the bike and maybe two more to find the place to assemble it, get organized, change our clothes, fill water bottles, etc. We landed a little after 9 am and started riding a little after 1 pm.
  4. Then we got lost leaving the airport. Our navigation system works good once on route, but not so much for finding the start of the route. We figured it out, eventually. Like after an hour…
  5. We meet several (not exaggerating) other couples, mostly retired, doing the same thing we were. This was exciting and encouraging. We were able to give our bike boxes to a couple who were packing to head back to the US. 
  6. The Netherlands is beautiful! Seriously beyond description. The bike trails are more than abundant (which can help one get lost) and the drivers are super bike aware. The landscape was amazing. We were gawking so much we often forgot to take pictures. 
  7. The last 2 hours of our ride was in light rain with thunder. It caused us to push for speed a bit. Once we stopped for Natalie to put on a rain coat the rain stopped. She left it on to keep the rain away. Pete had had a last minute great idea to pack our 2 rainproof covers that we use on backpacking trips, and those worked perfectly to keep our 4 panniers dry. 
  8. We are staying at a beautiful bed and breakfast in a little town called Bruchem. We found a simple cafe and had fries and salad for dinner. We learned how to say hi and thanks in Dutch.
  9. We are baked. I don’t anticipate the timezone change messing with our ability to sleep tonight.
  10. Tomorrow we go about 100 km (64 miles) and into northwestern Germany.

June 23 Bruchem to Dilsen-Stokkem

We slept in… longer than ever… Birds woke us up at about 4, but we put in earplugs and fell back to sleep. I slept until 8:30. It was amazing. The bed was really comfortable and there were 4 windows open and a fan. The temperature was perfect. We loved B&B De Bloesemgof. Highly recommend it, especially if you need a place that also can securely store your bike.

No Alpine start for us. We didn’t roll until after 9:30. We rode a few miles and found a place with smoothies and fruit – our standard breakfast.

When we finished eating and got ready to leave it started raining, so we put on our coats and that made it stop.

After a little less then 2 hours we stopped at a farmers market in Saint-Michelsgestel and bought fruit and veggies for lunch.

We then rode through Eindhoven, Achel, and Bocholt. We are staying in Dilsen-Stokken in the House Max B&B. The hosts are super nice – the husband even offered a ride to a restaurant, which our tired bodies gratefully accepted.

Today’s ride was mostly on beautiful bike paths. Some of the route had us next to large canals with barges and other boats. The few roads we had to use seemed to give bikes high priority. The drivers seem extra courteous.

The highlight of the day for me was finding a place that served popsicles. Seriously, popsicles straight from heaven.

Our ride was a little over 100 km and involved about 500 turns (there are so many paths – and our routing software tends to offer zig zag routes through the larger cities.) Amazingly we only took 2 or 3 wrong turns which we quickly recovered from. I have no idea how people did this without phones and bike computers with GPS.

Dinner was nice. Another salad for Natalie and veggie spaghetti for me.

Everyone has been nice to help us with our complete lack of Dutch language skills. Although we confuse them when we say we don’t want cheese or meat. Crazy Americans.

June 24 from Dilsen-Stokkem to Monschau

Natalie here, writing about our 3rd day of riding. We usually kinda co-write….

Last night we had a harder time getting to sleep. We wondered if our sodas at dinner may have been caffeinated or something. Or it could be our body clocks still adjusting. We really speak/read no Dutch! So menus and labels are mysterious to us. Thank goodness for translating apps. And also GPS and Google maps! How did people do trips like this before then?! Haha

Breakfast at Huyze Max B&B was simple but very yummy: fruit, plain salad, bread, OJ. We really appreciated our host’s effort to make something we could eat. We are also grateful that he let us park our bike in his garage!

The weather today was perfect: cloudy and breezy and cool. Great biking weather, especially for a day with hills to climb.
As it was a Saturday, we saw tons of bikers on the trails and roads, especially groups of road bikers. We had one short ferry crossing early today, and the only customers were in fact groups of bikers! 

Early today we also experienced our first detour of the trip: a closed bridge. Thanks to our routing software we were pretty easily able to re-route, and the detour was through beautiful farmland.

We began in Belgium of course, then we were in Netherlands part of the day, and finally Germany. We rode 48.8 miles (78.5 km) and gained 2700 vertical feet. That’s a lot compared to our last two days which have been pretty flat. Our legs are tired but happy. We’re staying in Germany tonight. It’s fun to keep crossing borders. We’ve never had to show our passports except at the airport. I love having Euros, as compared to when I did my Belgium internship 30 years ago and was constantly exchanging money in every country. (Go E.U.!!)

Much of today’s ride was in kind of more industrial but small towns. Interesting! Then as we climbed higher we got into more green and wow it was beautiful!!!

A couple of the cities we passed through were Heerlen, Netherlands, and Aachen, Germany (where we rode through a cool little cobblestone shopping area).

Today near the end of ride we had 10 miles of sustained climbing. Then we ended the ride going down a bunch of super steep, twisting, narrow, cobblestone streets and being amazed by this old German town of Monschau! Google it! We did not expect to be staying in such a cool place! Monschau Germany is a 300-year-old town and we are staying in a 200-year-old house (B&B found through AirBnB), up a tiny cobblestone crazy-steep street. We have a sweet old German lady host who helped us stash our bike safely in a random small room at the bottom of her house. After cleaning up we found a simple but good dinner at an outside cafe, surrounded by many different languages, and ate slowly and just talked. Then we strolled through the quaint old town, happy to relax and stretch our legs. 

Tired but happy! It really was an amazing day. What a great adventure! What great variety we have in our world. 

30 years ago

Natalie again… Thirty years ago this summer (so, 1987) I did an internship in French-speaking Belgium, after completing an intensive university program of French. It was an amazing experience; I learned so much, and not just about French. I traveled for 2 weeks before beginning work, to London, Paris, Dijon, Geneva, and Interlochen. On weekends I traveled with friends to other places in Belgium like Brussels, Bruges, and Luxembourg. I had two consecutive jobs: one at a grocery store in Bastogne and one teaching English in Thiaumont. I’ll write more about Bastogne later — we head there tomorrow!
In this post I want to reflect on some things I’ve noticed are waaayyy different about this Europe trip for me.

Finding your way around: “Fodor” travel book and paper maps vs GPS and Google maps. What a world of difference. Can’t even compare. Seriously, I don’t know where to begin to compare these two methods. Technology is amazing despite its “problems.”

Google translate. You can hold up your phone’s camera to text in other languages and it translates right there before your eyes. It even matches the fonts. I would never have believed that was possible 30 years ago. We had little pocket dictionaries and hand signals.

Euros. Once again, go E.U.!! Soooo nice not to have to be trying to use up your cash before you leave each country so as not to lose too much with the exchange rate. Or just trying to find somewhere to exchange all your different money all the time. Boo Brexit. And 30 years ago I just had a pile of traveler’s checks (and an emergency-only credit card). Did ATMs even exist 30 years ago? Haha, I forget!

Of course my mode of travel is completely different this time. A recumbent tandem orange bike vs trains and buses. That affects where you travel and of course speed and what you are able to notice and experience.

Eating simply:  In 1987 I had “no money,” so I ate simply out of necessity. Now we are eating simpler by choice (vegan and mostly gluten-free for going on 8 years, and what a difference it has made in our health). I have been eating a little bread, sometimes out of necessity. So far I’m doing ok. But I am worried about long term effects, as that is what I have noticed mostly in the past. This time, 30 years later, despite eating simpler than many people would in Europe, we are enjoying some very nice meals in fun restaurants and cafes. Again, a big plus for 30 years later.

Contact with the U.S. In 1987 I wrote paper letters to family and friends. I think I called my parents 3 times the entire 3-month internship (remember how crazy expensive long distance calls used to be?) This time we have social media, texting, and email at our disposal and if we want to call it’s much cheaper.

Photos! 30 years ago I had one camera and a few rolls of film. You never knew if the photos turned out until you paid to get them printed (which I didn’t do until I got back to the US). Sadly, the film was not advancing in my camera due to user error all the time I was in London, Paris, and Interlochen so I essentially lost all my photos from that time. It was a devastating feeling. I only had postcards and my memories. You had to “conserve” your shots/film. Now we are taking a ridiculous amount of photos and videos everywhere we go. It is great!

And saving the best for last: Being a 19- and 20-year-old woman traveling alone (and with another young woman I didn’t really know very well) is also obviously very different from traveling as a 49- and 50-year-old woman with my husband/ best friend! That is definitely the biggest win of this trip by far!!!

June 25 – Rest day, day of rest

Today we slept in, awaking to the sound of rain. The air was clear and cold. A perfect Sunday morning. Our host left us a basket of food for breakfast. We are really pleased with this Airbnb.

We wanted to attend church but the nearest congregation of our faith is in Aachen. Unfortunately the bus service doesn’t run there on Sunday, so we were left to come up with a different plan for our worship. We planned to attend Mass at the nearby church, but found that had been temporarily cancelled. We went to the cathedral and sat peacefully for about and hour. It was a good opportunity to meditate. In the afternoon we went to an Evangelical musical sing along. Most of the music wasn’t religious, but a few at the end were more so. We missed our normal Sunday experience and hope to attend church in Paris next Sunday.

In the evening we ate dinner at a simple Asian restaurant, and then strolled around the town. This place is amazingly beautiful. We can only imagine how magical it must feel during Christmas.

Tomorrow to celebrate Natalie’s birthday she gets to ride about 70 miles with the same elevation gain as Saturday — with the first 30 – 40 minutes spent pushing our bike up and out of this beautiful town. For her birthday present I’ll let her rest her feet on my back while I pedal for a while. We hope to start early and beat the rain in the forecast, as wet cobblestone could be treacherous.

Birthday girl rides to Bastogne

Natalie didn’t sleep well last night. Maybe her body clock is taking some time to adjust. Maybe it isn’t used to getting more than 5 hours of sleep the night before…. She eventually fell asleep but we were up early getting ready for the ride to Bastogne.

Our Airbnb host provided a nice breakfast and we took off before 8:30. We chose to push our bike for about the first 15 minutes because of the steep, narrow, cobblestone roads. We started riding once our legs were warm and the road widened. The weather was overcast and cool. Perfect for riding.

We rode most of the day on two bike paths without the noise of cars. This has to be one of the most beautiful ways to see Europe. Not only to see it, but to hear and smell it too. (Natalie’s note: all day we were passing through beautiful mountain forests, rolling hilly farms, and lovely villages with flower boxes in pretty much every window! Amazing.)

As promised, I let Natalie rest her feet on my back as I pedaled, because after all, she is the birthday princess. Luckily for me she is more comfortable with her feet clipped into the pedals. (Natalie’s add: this is all true.)

Today’s route was moderate physically. We gained 2600 feet but none of the climbs were sustained. Some of the hills were 8 and 9 percent in grade, but we feel like our legs are getting stronger and making it up hills that would have challenged us a few weeks ago.

We ate lunch (snacks) in the middle of nowhere with broad fields and rolling hills in a beautiful empty picnic area off the bike trail that appeared to be there primarily for bikers. (Natalie here: we could have taken a nap or gotten a suntan on these nice comfy chairs!)

Natalie is enjoying speaking French. So many people greet us with friendly comments as we ride by.

Arrived in Bastogne at about 3:30. Our hotel allowed us to store our bike in their basement. Our first order of business (after showers) was to take care of laundry. When everything you can travel with has to fit into a small pannier, you don’t have a lot of clothes. We were both at the point that either we find a laundromat or start wearing dirty clothes. Luckily we found one about a 20-minute walk from our hotel. I chose to wear my swimming suit (not a speedo) and a shirt to maximize my laundry opportunity and to establish myself as a bold American with little sense of fashion. My black shoes and grey REI socks topped off my ensemble nicely.

I got a slushy on the way and pretty much was in heaven from that point on. There is something about sugar water and ice and food coloring that brings me to my happy place after a long day’s ride. Natalie seems to have a more refined palate. Her loss. (Natalie again: I was craving nuts, which I bought while he sat with laundry.)

The laundromat was in the same building where Natalie worked at a grocery store 30 years ago. So while I got dizzy watching the clothes going around Natalie went back to her old stomping grounds and bought us snacks. We  chugged grapefruit/orange juice, ate nuts, and finished with chocolate rice cake sandwich thingies.

Then we walked back to our hotel, went and ate a slightly more normal but less satisfying dinner, and finished our day planning our next.

Happy birthday #50 Natalie! 30 years ago you probably never would have guessed that you’d be on some crazy trip riding a crazy bike with a crazy husband staying in the same town in which you celebrated #20. I raise my slushy high in the air to you. (Natalie’s note: Thank you, Pete, for inspiring all this craziness! What a memorable birthday!)

Wonderful Reunion in Bastogne

Natalie writing today.
This morning Pete and I went to “Le Mardasson,” the beautiful World War II memorial in Bastogne. I of course had been there in 1987, but in 2014 they had built a new museum. The outdoor memorial really is as beautiful as I remember. The new museum was very nicely done, with many interesting artifacts, interesting audio, informative displays, and readings. But our favorite parts were probably the three rooms where elaborate scenes had been created with films and narration about three parts of the Battle of the Bulge, in and around Bastogne near the later part of the war in Europe. The whole memorial/museum experience was sobering and very moving. It was good to go and reflect. 

But the afternoon and early evening today were the most memorable for me, and we accomplished one if the major goals and reasons for this trip: We were able to visit Josiane and Maurice, the dear couple with whom I lived 30 years ago when I worked at the grocery store here. It was so very good to see them! And I was able to see most of their family as they stopped by throughout our visit. It was truly a delight. They were so good to me and welcomed me into their family and lives back in the summer of 1987. We talked and laughed and took pictures. I tried to translate for Pete occasionally, as he really doesn’t speak French, but he had to be (and was) very patient, and that meant so much to me. Thank you, Pete! Merci encore, Josiane et Maurice ! Je vous aime. 

Rainy ride to Sedan

Pete writing… 

We slept great. Our body clocks must have caught up.

Woke to rain, a lot of it. Forecast was rain all day, so after breakfast we rode off into the rain. We followed a route suggested by Google – you know the ones that have a note that says ‘this feature is in beta, so don’t blame us if this route stinks’ or something like that. Within the first 100 yards we were bouncing along a rocky path. For most of the day we alternated between remote roads and trails and crowded roads. We’re going to go back to our other routing software tomorrow. Sorry Google.

It rained hard most of the day, but somehow it was still fun. The rain made the colors more vibrant and saved us the trouble of sweating. Our Houdini coats turned out to be not as rain proof as we hoped. Maybe next time we will bring plastic overcoats for days like this. We are grateful it wasn’t colder today.

Today we rode through lots of small towns. Sometimes our route would take us off the main roads and onto small unpaved village roads that have probably been there for hundreds of years. Crazy cool way to see Europe.

We were so soaked we decided not to stop for lunch or rests – just photos. We worried if we stopped moving we would get cold. Plus, we wanted to get to Sedan before it got worse. And we wanted to get dry.

We arrived in Sedan relatively early and checked into an older hotel near the center of town. It has character. (I mean that in a positive way.)

We showered and then scrounged for groceries, walked around a few hours, and found an open bike shop where we got some chain oil. We sat in a pretty garden park for a while. Then we looked at the massive castle fort of Sedan. The didn’t seem to be much else to see, so we found a simple dinner, bought some groceries for breakfast, and headed to our hotel.

Rain is in the forecast. We are excited to see more of France.


Winning the bed and breakfast lottery

This morning we rode from Sedan – rain was threatening, but never materialized. The weather was perfect.

Today we didn’t have any sustained climbs, but several short ones over 10% grade. Our legs are getting stronger, but still hurt on these steep climbs. (Natalie’s note: Emphasis on the word “several.” And we rode through such beautiful rolling hillside farms!)

We arrived on Guignicourt around 3:30 and found our accommodations. A simple bed and breakfast on a working farm. The home was destroyed in World War I, and rebuilt shortly after. It was eventually gutted and used for storage. Recently the owner (probably a grandson or great grandson of the original owner) refinished the inside, so it is a unique combination of an old exterior with a very modern and well-appointed interior. It is very nice, but the hosts are even nicer. We talked for an hour or two, cooked dinner together (exceptional yet simple meal) and then talked for at least another hour. (Natalie again: They are so delightful and welcoming. We really feel at home. And we even got to see up close all his cool huge farm machinery! Pete loved their homemade apple juice.) Every bed and breakfast we have stayed at has been great. It’s like we’re winning the bnb lottery.

(Natalie’s PS about our hosts: Such a friendly and fascinating couple. She was born and raised in Siberia but has also lived, worked, and studied in France and Sweden. She speaks excellent English and of course French. She teaches languages online now. He is a farmer and has done agricultural internships and studies in other countries (like Australia, New Zealand, Sweden). He is amazingly organized. He knows a great deal about the area and its history. They are both fascinating to talk with.)

Now turn left onto cow path

Pete again…

If your trip through Europe doesn’t include the GPS directions lady saying “now turn left onto cow path” you might be doing it wrong.

Today we woke up and had a big breakfast. The biggest yet. Our bnb hosts went out of their way to accommodate our crazy diets and we had also shopped for breakfast for all four of us, so by the time we were done eating we were stuffed. We said goodbye to our new friends in Guignicourt and headed for Compiègne about 60 miles away.

Today’s route took us through parts of France that few tourists and perhaps few locals see. At one point we were riding across fields on the paths the farmers use for their farm equipment. Another time we popped out of some trees on a non-trail behind some workers running heavy equipment loading barges. In all cases we’d wave as of to say “Yeah, we know where we are and we belong here.” There were some confused looks today, but none were on our faces.

The poor GPS directions lady had to keep saying “the tour is being adjusted, now make a u-turn.” She said it at least 50 times and somehow always maintained her composure, repeating that phrase kindly in a clear but authoritative voice. We hope to be as level-headed in the face of disobedience someday. We’re hoping she doesn’t call in sick tomorrow — we certainly wore her out.

When we weren’t on the less-traveled paths we tended to be on busy roads with no shoulders, fast cars, and puddles. Natalie was splashed several times. We remained calm, rode on, and looked for cow paths.

It rained several times today (thus the puddles) but now when it would start to rain we’d think of our bnb host Jean-René and his crops and yell “hooray for Jean-René.” We of course realize that is silly, but mentally it changed how we processed the weather. Once we are far enough away from Jean-René’s farm we’ll revert to hoping for sun.

The view from tonight’s bnb window is crazy good — right in the middle of the city across from a cathedral. It is a small apartment to ourselves with a modern interior and an old exterior. It has a full kitchen which we put to good use for dinner tonight. It has a safe place to store our bike in a small interior courtyard, but it was super tight getting it in. Our bike is over 8 feet long. Years of elders quorum moves, slogging pianos through impossibly tight stairwells, have prepared me for this very moment.

After showers we walked around Compiègne. We just missed visiting the palace museum by an hour. We needed to ride faster on the cow paths. We bought dinner and breakfast at a grocery store and headed back to our apartment to rest and cook.

Tomorrow: Paris!

Getting breakfast ready
Minimal path
“trail” came from the left and ended toward the right
Single track on a recumbent tandem!
View from our window
Eating dinner with Natalie

Sufferfest from Compiègne to Paris

(Co-writing today, but the “I” is usually Pete as he was typing.) We are writing this from an Indian restaurant near where we are staying in the 18th arrondissement. We are happy to have found a vegan-friendly place to eat (recommended by a local on the street and also our Happy Cow app). The real challenge of this tour is less about riding a bike through Europe and more about finding food that fits our diets.

Today we woke to rain. A lot of rain. Hooray for Jean-René! We had no idea if it would stop, so we put on our Houdini coats and started to ride in the rain. 5 hours later it was still raining and we were soaked! The wind and cold added to the experience. The Houdinis held up poorly. We were drenched and cold. (Yes this paragraph is repetitive on purpose because it rained a lot and we were cold.)

We had our first gravity check today – we hit some very loose gravel and tipped over. Luckily we were already in the process of pulling over and going slowly. It caused minimal damage to us and the bike and we learned something else to watch out for. Part of the learning experience.

I had Barry Manilow singing “I made it through the rain” in my brain for hours today. That may have been the worst part of the ride. The situation called more for an “eye of the tiger” vibe than Barry’s slow jams. 

The traffic became more and more dense as we approached Paris. I think there are a few good bike routes into the city. We weren’t on one, but we survived. Occasionally a driver or pedestrian would give a thumbs up or honk or shout a cheer to encourage us on our way. It would always make us smile.

Today’s ride was between 40 and 50 miles. We were slowed by the weather and the last 5 miles we were slowed by traffic. Imagine a big long tandem bike trying to navigate New York City during rush hour. That was us. Natalie has to pedal solo much of the time as I have my feet on the ground to catch us as the cars stop and start.

We drug our tired bodies into our Airbnb flat on the North side of Paris. This is clearly a non-tourist part of town. Our flat is really small but we have it to ourselves.

Upon arriving we showered (we were both chilled) and started doing laundry. This Airbnb has a washer but no dryer, as is common in Europe, so we had to get our clothes washed quickly so they would have 36 hours to air dry.

Next we headed into the center of the city on the metro. We found the bridge from the movie Inception that Amy wanted us to find. That was cool! It’s called le Pont Birk-Hakeim and it’s close to the Eiffel Tower. That area was of course insanely busy but we wandered around and took some photos. It was fun and touristy. Despite the crowd, is a pretty part of the city. We have both been there before but not together. Later we took the metro back to our AirBnB flat and bought a few groceries. Then we took on the project of finding dinner with vegan options and finally happily ended up at the aforementioned Indian place which turned out to be excellent! 

Now we are pretty beat and looking forward to a rest day / day of rest tomorrow. It has been a good four-day haul to Paris. Fun to be here together! Crazy how diverse each day’s experience has been so far. 

Rest day?

(Pete writing)  We slept great. We are at an eclectic artsy Airbnb flat. At first it seemed extra cramped, but after a short adjustment period it felt great. It seems like the owner just goes and stays with friends when she is able to rent it out – so it feels really lived in.

We attended church in the center of Paris in a beautiful historic building. There were many visitors because a BYU study abroad group attended today. I was so impressed by the diversity of the local membership. It was great to be in the minority in almost every possible way, yet feel so united.

The church is in the building on the left

Once church was over we started walking. Then we walked, and walked, and walked some more. We walked like pioneer children. We walked around Paris for more than 4 hours. We saw Notre Dame, le Palais de la Justice, le Jardin (and le Palais) de Luxembourg, le Pont Neuf, le Louvre, le Jardin de Tuileries, la Place de la Concorde, l’Arc de Triomphe, some kind of giant parade, and probably other places we can’t think of right now. It was easily 10 miles.
We are now sitting on the metro heading back to our flat where we will have dinner: vegetable soup, fruit, and salad.

I can’t wait to get on the bike tomorrow and get some rest. My body can’t keep up with the rigors of hard-core tourism.

(Natalie’s PS: This was a “just-right” Paris day with Pete. Paris really is amazing — the architecture, the museums, the gardens. It can seem almost unbelievable. I loved strolling around together. … Also interesting: Along the Champs Élysées this afternoon there was a big parade for Carnaval Tropical, and as we were going into the area we had to have a quick bag check and pat-down by police. There were so many people, it was a bit overwhelming. But it was a pretty fancy parade, very colorful, musical, and lots  of dance.)

Au revoir Paris!

(Pete writing again) Another good night for sleep! We thought about trying to time our departure from Paris so that we could miss rush hour, but rush hour is several hours so we just decided to embrace the madness and roll whenever we were ready to leave, which turned out to be just before 9. 

Traffic was crazy, as expected. It is good that we started in Amsterdam and gave ourselves more than a week to acclimate to navigating in Europe before attempting Paris. We did fine and about 10 minutes into the adventure a Paris bike commuter befriended us and we were able to follow him through the worst of it. 

It probably took an hour and a half to clear the city and its suburbs. Then it was peaceful farmland and small roads for a few hours. With about 20 miles left our route took us down a path that cows would struggle on. Eventually we had to retreat and piece together a bypass (which required a few bypasses itself). 

Eventually we hit Avenue Verte and finished our ride on a beautiful bike trail to Gournay-en-Bray where we are in a quaint Airbnb effectively staying in their attic. They make such good use of space here.

They also apparently never go to the bathroom. Seriously. Gas stations don’t have bathrooms. There are no rest stops on the highways. And when we ask at a gas station or store if they have a bathroom we could use they look at us confused, like we just asked for something super personal and awkward, like if we could borrow their socks to wear for a few minutes. 

We went looking for food tonight, on empty stomachs, which never ends well. The fries, cashews, and orange juice combo we put together at a random market and a Lebanese grill had the effect on our stomachs you would expect. We followed that up with a trip to the store for breakfast food, where we bought some fruit, vegetables, juice and almond milk.

Tomorrow will be a long day as we head for Berck on the northwest coast of France.

Natalie’s additions:

Miles today: about 65

Vertical feet: about 2000, but all nice slow gradual

Weather: Beautiful!! No rain!! A bit cloudy in the morning and sunnier in the afternoon. Around 70F. Perfect. 

A really nice day!

Great ride to the beach at Berck, France

(Natalie writing)

Happy Fourth of July, America!

Today’s ride was the longest segment of the trip: 85 miles. But it was also one of the best so far. We really had perfect weather, some clouds for about half the day, becoming sunnier in the afternoon, a nice breeze, and temperature in the low 70s F. The route itself was very enjoyable, perhaps our favorite thus far. It was one we adjusted rather late in our planning, so we weren’t sure how it would turn out. We had only a few climbs at 10% grade or higher, which were briefly painful but manageable. We only had minor routing problems. We rode on lots of small farm roads, some bike paths, and through some especially beautiful forests. As we got closer to Berck it became just a bit more touristy but much less busy than most beach destinations. 

Our biggest disappointment has been that we didn’t schedule a rest day here! It is a quiet but quaint beach town and we really like it! (I’m sure it’s much busier on the weekend…. We’re here on a Tuesday evening, after all.)

We’re in an excellent Airbnb, too. 

Dinner was from a grocery store again, to give us more time on the beach, but this time it was honestly delicious: Pete found some microwavable tofu rice lentil dishes. Really yummy! We added some fresh produce and nuts to our meal as well.

Then to finish the evening we walked to the beach where we snacked, strolled in the sand and tide, took photos, and enjoyed the setting sun. We even saw a seal playing in the water near the shore.

A few more notes in general about the trip:

It has been delightful for me to be able to have all sorts of little conversations with various people in French! Of course our bike and our trip usually are part of the conversation, but all kinds of other things come up as well, like politics, family, and education. I am so happy I have strengthened my French in recent years so that I could use it and benefit from it on this trip.  

Pete and I have often remarked to reach other that we have experienced an amazing variety so far. Each day, each ride, each location has been so different from the others. Pretty cool!

And finally, as we anticipated, we are definitely having an atypical European vacation. But that’s exactly what we wanted. It is a great adventure!

“Independence” day

(Pete today)  Today’s ride was to Calais, a simple 50 miles jaunt to the North. When you are skilled at navigating as I am you don’t need a GPS, so today we decided to declare our Independence from the oppressive GPS directions lady. Using my carefully honed scouting skills, I identified a way to get around the only significant obstacle we faced today: a half-mile climb maxing out around at around a 14% grade.

It was beautiful riding out of Berck this morning. If you want to spend time at a less crowded beach in France, Berck may be your ticket. Granted, we were there mid-week. We meandered along the coast until the trail ended.

Early in our ride nature made her morning call, so we went through the normal gas station rejection ritual. Natalie made the comment “we need a McDonald’s” and within minutes we saw one. There are very few over here, so it was kind of weird. McDonald’s didn’t disappoint and earned our purchase of a small order of fries for breakfast.

The next few hours went about the same, with several visits to beach towns, although none as charming as Berck. 

Natalie adding: towns such as Boulogne-sur-mer and Wimereux. Today we were also able to see England on the distant horizon across the channel, from near a little town called Wissant. That was neat!

The final segment of our trip provided me with my chance to shine. Shifting our route to the east to avoid the big climb brought us into beautiful farmland with distant views of the sea. This little detour added about 5 miles to a trip that had already grown by 20%. Unfortunately this route had a couple nasty climbs of its own, each similar to the one we were avoiding. Climbing these on a big, heavy, tandem bike hurts. There is no better description. Lots of lactic acid! As we rode to the end of my bypass route we were greeted by the start of another climb – the one that we were trying to avoid. It must have moved. We had no choice but to ride it. So my routing basically tripled our pain. 

Natalie again: it was ridiculous and yes painful and now in hindsight rather funny. But we did it! We did them all. Never got off once to push. Also, another thing Pete forgot to add was that part of our change of route was due to a very kind, well-meaning man who pulled off the road in his car to point out a route with much less traffic. He was also a biker and knew the area and trails very well, so it seemed reasonable to take his advice.

I don’t think I was getting the silent treatment after the third climb – I just think Natalie was too tired to talk. (Natalie: yes!) The marriage is still strong and tomorrow I’m going to make amends with GPS navigation lady.

Natalie’s ending: Tonight we are in Calais, the port city, also where the “Chunnel” connects from the U.K., although not near it. We are in the beach residential area before Calais, however, so it is not too busy. We are at a traditional B&B, not an Airbnb. Very nice couple running it, nice old home, comfortable and clean. We strolled on the boardwalk and pier in the late evening. It was amazing to see the giant ships and ferries coming in to port. We will sleep well tonight! Tomorrow we head to Bruges, in western Belgium.

Calais to Bruges

We are team writing today.

Today’s ride from Calais to Bruges felt a lot longer than 77 miles. We are physically and mentally tired, so it is great that tomorrow is a rest day.

We made up with GPS navigation lady. She likes us and we like her. We mostly stayed on course, only straying when tempted by beaches. We had a few route segments we had to work around when the bike wouldn’t fit through bike gates or similar. We are getting better at dealing with such issues with minimal hassle.

Today was mostly flat roads through smaller towns. Dunkerque had a beautiful beach, although we also rode through some grungy areas. It had all of the characteristics of a large port city.

As we crossed into Belgium there was a distinct change in cycleways (better maintained and more of them). We saw many more cyclists and the drivers were more attentive.

The weather was pretty good, even though it rained off and on. Every time it would start raining we’d stop and put on our rain gear, which would make the rain stop. And we just keep thinking how much better it was than the cold constant heavy rain we had on our ride into Paris. The hardest rain of today is falling now, as we sit under a canopy at a restaurant getting dinner.

We are staying in a 200 year old home in Bruges, Belgium.  Bruges is amazing. Venice-like. Architecture is charming. It is old but clean. The rain stopped after dinner and we enjoyed strolling around. I (Natalie) am so happy to be back here again! (I visited here with my friend Greta during my internship.) It is a delightful little city. We are looking forward to a day to explore it tomorrow.

A pretty place we liked in Dunkirk
Bike looking out at the beach at Dunkerque, wishing it could swim….
Border between France and Belgium
Bruges
Bruges

Rest day in Bruges

(Natalie writing today) 

I am beginning this post in the early evening at a small shady park in Old Bruges, a quiet respite from the tourist area. People are napping, talking, reading, walking. The sound of the fountain is calming.

Pete did laundry for us first thing this morning, at a nearby laundromat, while I got ready. That was greatly appreciated and needed! Once again our room is decorated with drying clothes. 

Excellent breakfast this morning at our AirBnB. It’s such a beautiful, old, tall home. Our hosts are very welcoming yet more business-like than some places we’ve stayed: again, we are amazed at the unique experience we manage to have each day. It is great to be almost in the center of Old Bruges, yet it was quiet last night.

We did a boat ride tour first thing, around the many canals, and it was a perfect start to our more touristy day. Our guide was fun and knowledgeable (and gave the tour in both English and French for our group) and it was cool to see the city from the water. There are 43 bridges in Bruges. There are some impressively old buildings too. I am glad to be here again, 30 years later, this time with Pete!

We’ve been sampling Belgian chocolate throughout the day (well… mostly I have been), and we also enjoyed some yummy raspberry and coconut sorbet and (of course) Belgian frites. 

Pete’s comment: Natalie is to chocoholics what Otis on the Andy Griffiths show is to alcoholics. I think if we had a better way to keep chocolate on our bike from melting we’d be loaded down. We can keep one chocolate bar from melting by packing it in our CamelBak next to the bladder of cold water. We call it “the fridge.”

Another treat for me from Pete: we toured a local Belgian art museum (the Groeningemuseum). Art museums are not his thing, and while I am no art expert I do really enjoy many art museums. This one was really good but not too big. Very nice! Thanks Pete! 

Just walking around this city and enjoying the buildings and ambience has been delightful! It is one of the cleaner cities we’ve been in. It became busier with tourists as the day went on, but it is still much less busy than Paris.

We found a site that recommended a free daily harp concert in the city, so we found it (in the Site Oud Sint Jan on Mariastraat 38), and it was really unexpectedly good! We even bought a USB of one of his CDs (something we rarely do). Not only does he play the harp, but several other interesting instruments. His name is Luc Vanlaere. Pete admittedly snoozed a bit for the more traditional harp parts (that’s good because he needed a little nap), but when the musician began the unusual instruments it really got Pete’s attention. If you go to Bruges, go to this concert!

The weather today has also been delightful: sunny, light breeze, mid to high 70s F.

We used the Happy Cow app again and found a vegan-friendly restaurant for dinner. It was great. We strolled around a bit more, stopped inside a beautiful Jesuit church built in 1619, enjoyed the cooling evening, and watched the city change into the night scene. Now we’re retiring a bit earlier, getting ready to ride again tomorrow. Bruges has been great!

This has been a good rest day. We head to Antwerp tomorrow. Our trip is going too fast!

This is a paintbrush made of really dark chocolate! Yum!

Wind at our backs

(Pete writing)

Today’s ride from Brugge to Antwerp was much easier than the ride from Calais to Brugge. It helped that it was about 10 miles shorter (66 miles) and that we had rested and that we had the wind at our backs. The trails were good, with a few well groomed single tracks, and the weather was almost perfect at 75 degrees. Because it was a Saturday, we saw a lot more bikers.

Riding in Belgium and Holland requires a stable ego. Imagine riding along in your spandex kit, on an expensive engineering masterpiece, working hard, high heart rate, sweat dripping off your face, only to be passed by a 70-year-old lady on a 3-speed wearing a skirt, sitting straight up in the least dynamic position possible, with a big front bike basket where her dog is sitting, and she’s toodling along with no more exertion on her face than she does when playing bridge and drinking tea. I find it best in such situations to pretend I’m lost. 

Americans are weird. We’re way too concerned about riding faster than someone else. It drives me nuts to get passed by someone on the way home from work. It’s like they are challenging my human worth. Over here the speed you go is more a sign of how fast you need to be somewhere than it is an indicator of your physical prowess. It’s kind of like when you see someone in a hurry shopping at the grocery store. You don’t think: wow, that person is a really strong shopper, I wonder how they would do at Costco… You think they must be in a hurry.

Back to today’s ride…. We had our first major drawbridge, saw a tandem hand bike, had several happy interactions with others on the road, and managed not to get lost, although we came close. GPS navigation lady led us to the banks of the river Schelde and directed us to ride in. We were in the process of rerouting ourselves when a kind elderly couple pointed out the 0.5 km pedestrian/bike tunnel under the river. Of course there would be a tunnel under the river…. It was a great route into the city center.

Our house tonight is another Airbnb. This one we don’t have to share with the owner. We have the apartment to ourselves. We went and shopped for the next two days, cooked a big meal, and are now winding down. Tomorrow we go to church and then will walk around the city center of Antwerp.

Belgium has windmills too.
Cool way to say “share the road”
Another lovely bike path along a canal
Our bike!

This is what part of our route looked like today

Very big jump

The reason for the drawbridge…
St. Anna’s Tunnel under Schelde River, for cyclists and pedestrians to get to Antwerp
We should know better than to go grocery shopping on empty stomachs…. This was 3 grocery stores later….

Simple Sunday in Antwerp

Team writing today…

We slept well, as happily has become our pattern on this trip. We are not looking forward to returning to our 4 AM wakeup routine once we return. It has been amazing to not awake to the sound of an alarm clock. We both are ready to retire and make this permanent.

With the help of Google and friendly people at bus stops, we were able to navigate Antwerp today. When you travel by bike, public transportation or your bike is the only way to move about a city. Our bike is a little hard to find parking for, and we were dressed for church, so public transportation was our chosen mode of travel.

We attended the Antwerp ward. During each meeting we had kind and competent translators. After church, while we were waiting for a bus a church member recognized us and gave us a ride to the city center. We walked around the city center, market area, city hall, the river, and an old castle fort. It was warm and sunny so we took the opportunity to go and sit peacefully inside the Church of Saint Paul. We finished our journey on a tram back to our Airbnb apartment where we are resting and trying to decide which chocolate to eat next.

We are just under 800 miles of riding at this point and are sad that we only have about 120 miles left. There is rain in the forecast for the next few days. We are so grateful for the good weather we’ve had for most of our trip. And if it rains on us, hooray for Jean-René! (Although he sent us an email saying his farm has had enough rain.)

We’ll be heading back into the Netherlands tomorrow.

Back in the Netherlands

(Natalie writing today)

Surprised ourselves by sleeping in. That’s always nice, especially on vacation, right?

We had expected a little rain but happily didn’t get any until we were checked into our AirBnB. It was a perfect temperature again today, some clouds too. 

Lots of great cycle trails and roads today. Some smaller towns, some farmland. A few cool bridges over big rivers or industrial/rail areas. Sometimes the bike lane/path would be paved and the road for cars would just be dirt! We had some detours due to construction in Antwerp on our way out, but we quickly worked around them.

We really love this way of seeing and experiencing all different aspects of Europe. We love the variety we’ve had: farmlands, cities, gorgeous green forests, rolling village streets, all kinds of bike trails, centuries-old buildings and churches, quaint cottages, touristy places and middle-of-nowhere places, museums, castles and palaces and forts, parks of all shapes and sizes, subways and buses, beaches, canals, drawbridges, ferries, giant towering ships, forever-long barges, strong tugboats, fisher boats and fisher people, steep city streets, crazy narrow alley ways, sketchy underpass bike routes, cobblestone, brick-paved streets, kids (of all ages) laughing happily and pointing at us, truck drivers giving us thumbs-up, fellow cyclists of all varieties, different languages, helpful English speakers, a great variety of lodging experiences, lovely restaurants, fun cafés, navigating all kinds of grocery stores, and the list goes on. 

We gained very little altitude today; in fact, we almost wished we had planned more miles for today so that we could have stayed on the coast tonight. (We rode around 65 miles today.) But we are learning, and we are taking notes about what works and what doesn’t (for us) so that next time we do this it’ll be even more amazing!!

For example, we are realizing that in general we like smaller cities. (Of course there are exceptions to this.) We also really like water rides (as in coastline or riverside).

Rotterdam seems a bit smaller, cleaner, and greener than Antwerp. It also doesn’t have the same old-old architecture. Our host explained that much of Rotterdam was burned down in the 1940s, so that’s why. After arriving and cleaning up, we walked the city a bit and found some fun snacks. Then as it began to rain, we opted for groceries for dinner and breakfast, so we found a good store and returned to the apartment. It’s a small but well-appointed attic flat, with a small kitchen and bathroom of its own. Our host is welcoming and helpful and even let us put our bike in a rather inconvenient (for him) but safe place in the hallway entrance. 

We are very sad to think that tomorrow is our last ride day. What an excellent adventure it has been!

Paved bike path next to a dirt road. They have good priorities in the Netherlands.
Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam
Green in Rotterdam
Making dinner
Having fun exploring the city

Completing the loop

Pete writing tonight…

Today was our final ride for this trip. We are really sad to be finished, but very grateful for the experiences of the last 3 weeks.

We changed our route last minute to give us some extra miles along the coast. Months ago, when I planned the route, I wasn’t sure if we’d be tired and want an easy day or if we’d be getting strong, so Rotterdam was chosen because it had a short direct route back to Amsterdam if needed, but also offered the option of a longer scenic route as well. Turns out we didn’t need the shorter escape valve.

Our route took us west to the Atlantic coast, which we then followed north until we were at the same latitude as Amsterdam, and then we rode east to Amsterdam. The route was 70 miles.

The trip started with a pair of brutal rain storms which forced us into the trees for cover. Even with the trees blocking the brunt of the rain we still became soaked. Between storms we saw what we thought was a cruise ship (turned out to be a huge ferry to England – silly us). We were sad for everyone onboard because they didn’t get to get soaked riding in the rain.

After the second storm the weather held for rest of our ride. We went through several beach towns where we were reminded again and again that Europeans don’t go to the bathroom very often. Even the pay toilet we found got in on the fun and denied us entry after the fee had been paid. It seemed to fit in with the rest of the experience.

We rolled into Amsterdam in the middle of rush hour, grateful for its abundance of cycle paths. This is a country that thinks bike first and car second.

Our accomodations tonight are nice and very close to the airport. Tomorrow we will ride our bike 4 miles to the airport, box it up, put in overnight storage, and head into Amsterdam for a day of sightseeing. Then we go home on Thursday. We are excited to see family and friends again, but we are going to really miss the pace of life we’ve established over the last 3 weeks. 

We’ve learned a lot about bike touring logistics. We learned about the countries and cultures we visited. But mostly we learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We’ve spent more time together over the last 3 weeks than any other 3-week period of our lives. It has been fun to work together, to get lost together, to struggle up steep hills together (well, maybe not), and to accomplish this trip together. After 930 miles we not only still like each other, but we like each other more than when we started (except for that little hill incident approaching Calais). We made new friends and strengthened our most important friendship. This trip warrants a sequel next year.

We liked the red boat

Feeling sorry for those on the ship
Enjoying the rain
Bike getting a solid washing
We need one of these to schlep the grandkids around in
The beaches were amazing
Lots of greenhouses today
Chocolate soy milk pudding. The stuff is magical… especially when eaten on the beach.

Amsterdam day

(Natalie writing)

I’m going to try to be concise, as we’re waking early tomorrow (early for this trip’s standards but not our normal life). 

We biked 15 minutes in the rain to the airport, with minimal gear. Spent 2 hours taking apart the bike and packing it in its two boxes for our flight home tomorrow. Paid to have it stored overnight. Found a train into the city. 

We opted for another boat tour ride, and we liked it. It was warm and covered from the rain, for one thing, and it gave some interesting highlights about the city, its architecture, and its history. By the time it was finished the rain was slowing. (It eventually stopped but then gave way to quite a strong chilly wind.)

We walked around as we enjoy doing. We found good things to eat too. We waited an extremely long time to go through the Anne Frank House. The museum is beautifully simple, well done, sobering, and moving. It is a meaningful tribute to Anne and all she represents. We are glad we went. But we would very strongly recommend you get online scheduled tickets in advance if you go.

Walked around some more, found more food, and then decided to walk back to our AirBnB instead of navigating the public transit. The evening was cool but much less windy, and we had a very nice brisk walk through several beautiful and interesting parts of the city and its environs, including the lovely Vondelpark (Central Park on a smaller scale).

Travel day tomorrow. Europe, it’s been great! You’ve been good to us and our bike. We will be back!!!