Saturday 20th April – Two rides with ADFC Aachen – words by Iain Dawson and Ian Macsporran, photos by Ian Macsporran
David and Iain spent the morning exploring the town centre on foot, having lunch, writing postcards, doing the usual tourist stuff, etc.. Didn’t get much riding done before 1pm.
Meanwhile Ian and Alex joined the ADFC Aachen “brisk” ride. This was to be a circumnavigation of Aachen around seven of its high points! Sabine took us to the meeting point – the Audimax building of the University of Aachen – where the ride was, in fact, jointly organised by the ADFC and the university cycling club. As a result, the two of us sent the average age soaring!
The route was up-and-down and up-and-down to say the least and the fit young German cyclists were kind enough to wait once or twice for the oldies to catch up! It was pretty much non-stop pedalling from 10.00 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. with just time to eat a chocolate bar and take a drink of water. But it was brilliant! After the Lousberg – yesterday a mighty hill, today just a warm-up – we had an idea of what might be in store.
Next was the Dreiländereck – the hard way – but with time for photos.
Then onto other high points culminating at one with a huge modern crucifix (Aachen is, traditionally, a Catholic city) before swooping down to the Europaplatz and onto the Railway Station, the end-point of the “brisk” ride and the start point of the “easy” ride. No time for catching breath, just some goodbyes to our new student friends and some hellos to our next friends, and then we were off on the “easy’ ride. (I think a sandwich may have been gulped down at this point.)
Meanwhile, Iain D had met up with Phil, Rowan and David and had ridden over to the shop to collect David’s bike, complete with new Shimano bottom bracket. Even out of hours the shop serves customers as they’ve seen fit to install an inner-tube vending machine on an outside wall. Couldn’t see an airline though. Got a quick tour of the southern part of Aachen from a former resident (i.e. Phil) on the way to the Hbf, passing the ADFC’s local HQ in the Welt Haus (“World House”) on the way. This is a former council-occupied building that is now leased out to a number of environmentally- or socially- aware orgainsations (think Greenpeace, unemployed-workers-cooperative cafe, etc.). I can’t readily think of a matching example here in the UK.
PLUS NETHERLANDS AND BELGIUM
So the afternoon ADFC ride was a “beginners’ ride” – via an easy route as the morning adventurers noted – up to the Dreiländereck/Dreilanderpunkt/Point-Trois-Frontieres which, as its names suggest, is where three countries come together at a single point. The ride started by crossing town to the University Hospital (Aachen has one of the largest technical universities in Germany, and also one of the largest university medical centres) to see if anyone else was wanting to join the ride (there were about 30 of us by this point). The recently installed helipad (known as the “helping hand”) has to be seen to be believed – it’s bright green and looks like a crocodile’s head. Mind you, the whole hospital is “Pompidou Centre” style with brightly-painted external pipework. Another thing we don’t usually see on our rides is someone taking a cigarette break – obviously not all German cyclists are health freaks.
We climbed our way up through the Dutch town of Vaals, stopping at an old border point, and continued to climb through woodland to the point itself.
It was also getting warm again. With not much to see (it’s more of a plateau than a point), and the service from the frites counter being appallingly slow (some of us – who had not had lunch – persevered), we headed downwards on forest tracks through a half-marathon that was nearing its end and paused, once again, near another old border crossing. At this point we had to separate from the ADFC group as we had to get back to our respective bases and freshen-up for the evening meal.
A single Endomondo route for the two rides is here – 52 miles.
BACK IN GERMANY
This is supposed to be a ride report, so I’ll skip most of the details of the meal except to say that the gift that we had sourced for our host group – a beautifully engraved bell – was handed over and much appreciated by the ADFC members present. I also still owe Brian for my share of that … I did enjoy the ride “home” though, Elke leading the way through the dark and silent streets of Aachen and us not seeing the cobbles until it was too late.
Wednesday 17th April – words by Iain Dawson; photos by Ian Macsporran
Turning onto the Dover seafront on a cool Wednesday morning, Dave and I were hailed by a fellow CTC’er making his way to the port and so our little group of travellers started to come together for the trip.
Ian Macsporran had been down at the port the evening before, scouting out suitable meet-up locations and had sent us some nice pictures of the Travel Centre, which is where we were headed when he caught up with us that morning. Not many minutes later, we were joined by Phil and Rowan and decided, since Alex had said he might be running a little later than us, to head through to the dockside for the boat.
Thanks to the port of Dover having bought a big pot of red paint, getting to the boats is easy on a bicycle – you just follow the red line and stop everywhere you’re asked to. What you don’t do is leave your lock behind at the Travel Centre because getting out again is not so easy (no names!). Fortunately, a kindly motorist had seen it fall of one of the bikes and had brought it dockside with them.
After being allowed to board, we stationed ourselves in the restaurant at the pointy end (one of the perks of getting on first) and Alex, having timed his arrival impeccably, appeared a few minutes before the off. Away to France!
First off the boat in Dunkerque, we failed to capitalise on that by stopping to take a few photos and shed a few layers of clothing. The Channel may only be a few miles wide but it was about 15 degrees warmer the over other side than it was in Dover.
Narrowly avoiding a turn that would have drawn us up towards the Autoroute, we rolled through the industrial landscape between the port and Dunkerque town, stopping only to remove yet more clothing (did I mention it was warm?), before hitting town roads. Google StreetView (other online mapping resources are available) had prepped me for the route and we made it through Dunkerque unscathed, and without getting lost, turned onto the road for Belgium and began to appreciate the combination of flat roads and tailwind.
We thought France was cyclist-friendly, but it’s positively second division compared with Belgium. Separate, well-surfaced cycle tracks, priority lane around roundabouts and, when you must use the road, motorists drive like they don’t want to hit you! Of course, sometimes we had to slum it and use on-road cycle lanes (If only we had that sort of infrastructure and attitude here!).
We switched from the original plan somewhere in De Panne. It was a nice day, the wind was being kind and the resort was lovely (we even saw a mum teaching her kid to ride his balance bike, in the middle of the town centre!) so instead of tracking inland, we followed the main cost road, alongside the trams, to Nieuwport. Yep, that’s right, we just followed the main road. Imagine that in Britain.
With a little assistance from Alex’s GPS, we snuck around the canal bridges in Nieuwport and struck out on the main road (again!) to Middelkerk and Oostende, rolling into town at 19:30.
(Our Endomondo route from Dunkirk to Ostend is here – 44 miles.)
Ian and I were surprised to find that our hotel could not accommodate bikes because the lift was “too small”. Obviously no-one in Belgium ever stands their bike on its tail! Fortunately, our room was on a separate floor to Reception so we didn’t have to wheel the bikes past the front desk. I think everyone managed something similar.
One of the more exciting plans we have for this year is a short visit to a fellow organisation in Aachen, Germany – to meet with the local member group of the ADFC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club or German Cyclists Federation) – to see how they do things over there.
We have a programme of rides to take us over there and back (with a little assistance from boats and trains), and a small selection of rides to participate in whilst over there.
We are also planning to spend some time seeing how German cycling infrastructure and rights stack up against ours.
There is a possibility of some homestay accommodation in Aachen, although this is rather limited. There is plenty of other accommodation in the area, including a campsite.
Outbound riding dates: Wednesday 17th April & Thursday 18th April to reach Aachen in the late afternoon. We are planning to muster at Dover docks at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday 17th April for the noon crossing to Dunkirk. We will pedal from Dunkirk to Ostend (45 miles) and stay overnight in Ostend. On Thursday 18th April we will take the train from Ostend to Liège and then pedal from Liège to Aachen (40 miles).
In Aachen: Friday 19th April, Saturday 20th April, Sunday 21st April.
Return riding dates: Leave Aachen early on the morning of Monday 22nd April, either pedalling or taking a local train to Liège. We will then take the train from Liège to Ostend and pedal to Dunkirk. We will stay overnight in Dunkirk, catching the 10.00 a.m. ferry on Tuesday 23rd April from Dunkirk to Dover.
Programme in Aachen
Rides are planned in Aachen for both the Saturday (led by the local group) and the Sunday (led by former ADFC’er Philip Gray), with Friday being set aside for tourist sights, seeing how the ADFC operates, discussing German cycling policies and, perhaps, a visit to the famous Thermal Baths.
- Thursday evening: meal with hosts
- Friday: Free morning to visit the cathedral and city centre, a World Cultural Heritage Site. Afternoon visit local ADFC office in the Welthaus to see their operation and to meet their full-time intern, Karin.
- Saturday: In the morning, either tour the city’s key cycling infrastructure or join the ADFC “sporty” ride. In the afternoon, join the ADFC “leisure” ride to Dreiländereck (“Three Country Corner” – the spot where Germany, Belgium and Holland meet.) In the evening, we will host our ADFC friends at a local restaurant.
- Sunday: Philip Gray will lead a day ride to Monschau in the Eiffel.
Of course, you are free to join us for part or all of the week, but we have reckoned that the cost of the whole week, following our riding plan, to be approximately £350 – £400. That includes the costs of ferries, trains and hotels en route, plus meals and other incidentals, from Northampton to Aachen and back. It does not include the cost of accommodation in Aachen itself (see below for why). Of course, your own costs may vary.
Accommodation in Aachen
Philip Gray and his contacts in Aachen have kindly agreed a deadline for homestay requests of February 28th – the day after the Slideshow at Park Avenue Methodist Church. If you are interested in this option, and have not already emailed Phil, do so before the 28th or come and talk to him at the Slideshow.
Hotel accommodation is not difficult to find in Aachen, there is a camper-van site within the city and a pleasant-looking campsite about four miles away across the border in The Netherlands so you have options other than homestay if you so wish.
Whether you choose to ride with us there and back, or just meet us there for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, let Philip Gray (01604 720522) know your interest as he’s collating this. Philip lived for some years in Aachen, where he was a member of the ADFC.
- This is not an organised or led tour. Riders are responsible for making their own arrangements for accommodation, ferry crossings and train tickets.
- Riders are responsible for their own passports, EHIC cards, and insurance.
- Bring lights, spare batteries and/or a charger. Don’t use flashing lights in Germany!
- French law requires hi-viz clothing, e.g. a jacket or waistcoat, outside built-up areas at night or in conditions of low visibility.
- Please do a “test run” – a fully-laden ride – with the gear that you are planning to take mounted to the bike in advance of the visit.