Visit to Aachen – Day 2 ride report

Thursday 18th April – Ostend to Aachen.  Words by Iain Dawson; photos by Ian Macsporran

BELGIUM (STILL)
Ian and I were the first to arrive at Oostende station for the day’s public-transport leg having extracted our bikes from the hotel without, again, arousing the suspicion of the reception staff, and marvelled at the scale of the cycle parking that SNCB lays on for its customers.

Bike parking at Ostend train station

Bike parking at Ostend train station

After talking to some helpful station staff, we were told that there is a special compartment on the trains, with an oddly shaped door, that takes two bikes. The other four? “Should not be a problem”. And so it proved, the SNCB staff being incredibly helpful both on this train and on the ones that brought us back from Germany.

We were, predictably, by the area set aside for wheelchair users and had some good conversation once underway, firstly with a Belgian lady who was busy learning Italian as that’s where her daughter was now living, and later with the chaperones of some young children who were on their way to a Kandinsky exhibition in Brussels. (The train stopped at Brussels Midi/Zuid, for the Eurostar, Brussels Central, which is entirely underground, and Brussels Nord where the EU has many of its buildings. We felt quite at home). The train staff assured us that they’d let the bikes out at Liège, which they duly did, and we left the modernist, almost brand-spanking-new, station there to call in at the “Maison des Cyclistes” for some advice then promptly got lost in the road works in the town centre. Such is life.

On the platform at Liège-Guillemins train station

On the platform at Liège-Guillemins train station

La Maison des Cyclistes - integrated into Liège train station

La Maison des Cyclistes – integrated into Liège train station

We tucked into lunch, and beer, in the Outremeuse district before Phil led us out of town on a combination of main roads and steep, cobbled, side-streets to our route through eastern Belgium: Ligne 38, a Sustrans-style, paved ex-railway line that guided us safely through the suburbs and out into the Ardennnes countryside.

Progress was good, if a little warm (did I mention it was warm?) once we cleared the main population centres but we were to learn lessons about Belgian shortcuts in the town of Battice. The trackbed made rather a large loop and, with time pressing, Phil had decided to try the road for a while to cut the loop off. Here we discovered that not all Belgian roads are cyclist-friendly, this one carrying lots of HGV traffic straight from the Autoroute along quite a narrow, fast road. Back to the track! but at least we tried.

On Ligne 38 at Battice

On Ligne 38 at Battice

Some way out in the back country, the surface deteriorated into badly-rutted hardpack that brought our speed down a tad but we did pass through the town of Hombourg before picking up quiet lanes towards our next border crossing.

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In the formerly-independent district of Moresnet, we hit the main road again, complete with cycle-path, and saw a big sign telling us that the Bundesrepublik of Deutschland was a mere 1100m away.

Never did see the border itself, although there was some kind of flag garden in the middle of the road a bit further on.

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GERMANY
The biggest giveaway that we’d crossed the border was that the signs on the bus-stops had changed! But we still had one more hill to deal with before we could claim to have reached our target: the ancient city of Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle as it has sometimes been know). Phil made a couple of calls to advise our hosts of our progress, and we made the last climb of the day before shooting down the other side and through the back streets to the Elisenbrunnen, one source of Aachen’s famous spa waters, to meet up with our new-found friends in the ADFC.

Sabine, Rowan, Alex, Philip, Ulrich, David and Iain

Sabine, Rowan, Alex, Philip, Ulrich, David and Iain at the Elisenbrunnen in Aachen

Sabine – Ian and Alex’s host – was there waiting for us as was Ulrich Weber, a long-standing friend of Philip’s and long-serving member of Aachen’s ADFC chapter. Ulrich very kindly escorted Dave and I out to our host’s home as they were busy with the evening family routine (and in true CTC style, we were running a little late), and so each of us finally made it to our intended destinations that evening. Our hosts were simply wonderful. Cyclists of many decades standing and so helpful to complete strangers.

Our Endomondo route from Liège to Aachen is here – 42 miles.

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CTC Northampton to visit ADFC Aachen (Germany)

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.

Dates
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.

Costs
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.

Notes

  • 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.