24 Jun 2013

Day 2: Lille to Hagondange

Needless to say, it was somewhat easier to bring the panniers down the 3 flights and we set off around 10am the next morning, with a couple beautiful baguette sandwiches courtesy of Tom. I discovered a truly annoying quirk of my GPS when using preprogrammed routes. It likes to navigate you to the start of the route—in this case the geographical centre point of Lille—unless you can find a road along the programmed route. At home this is easy, but in foreign territory somewhat less so, and we ended up doing a needless loop through central Lille in Monday morning traffic.

45 minutes later we were heading out of Lille and then into Belgium. The rumours are true, they may as well not bother with a sign when you cross the open border, as the roads go from French perfection to war-torn as though someone flipped a switch.

I'm not sure if everyone in Belgium is currently on their holidays but many of the villages and towns we went through looked almost boarded up, with no people walking along and very few cars parked beside the roads.

Stopped to stimulate blood-flow through numb bottoms.

This stretch of road had the only signs of life in the village, with a couple shops open but everywhere else looked abandonned.

No people to be seen.

We stopped to fill up in Beaumont where we spoke with our first Belgians—the woman and (presumably) her daughter at the petrol station. All my initial perceptions changed, they were so welcoming and friendly, and curious about our trip. I spent about 10 minutes chatting with them—I find it heartwarming to meet people who have a genuine interest curiosity about things outside their everyday circles.

Something that stuck me as slightly curious was that they thanked me for speaking French to them... I would never think to thank someone for speaking English to me in the UK. I always try to learn at least enough of a local language to get by, I think it's callous to expect people in other countries to accommodate me in my own language.

A young sheep having a lie-down over the road from the petrol station in Beaumont.

We carried on through a mix of fast roads and slow (but all riddled with holes) as the GPS threaded us toward Luxembourg. On one downhill stretch a police BMW X5 flew past, lights blazing, and a few minutes later we came across an accident where it seems a car smashed straight into a barrier. The front end had been evenly compressed up to the passenger compartment. Hopefully the occupants were ok but it was still a sobering sight knowing they undoubtedly didn't intend for their day to end up like that.

Zev started making noises about food so we diverted up a narrow country in search of a village restaurant for some of Belgium's specialty—frites. After wandering around several villages and a track through a field we came across a restaurant which, like much of the rest of the country, was closed up tight. We stayed in the gravel car park and finished our baguette sandwiches.

Temperature dropped so time to get out a few extra layers.

Back on the main road we carried on slaloming around the holes and before long we were at the open border to Luxembourg.

I should reflect on the journey through Belgium. It is a beautiful country with some of the warmest and friendly people I've come across. The scenery is amazing and we both enjoyed our (short) time there. Still not sure why so many villages seemed almost uninhabited, but summer is the time when people go on holidays en-mass so perhaps someone could comment on this?

Still in good spirits and in one piece.

Luxembourg is one of the richest countries in the world as they have no national deficit. And it shows. The roads are instantly smooth as glass and seem to be engineered to be as enjoyable as possible for bikes and cars alike with endless and perfectly banked curves threading along the hills.

Every village looked like a movie set, immaculately presented without a single chocolate bar wrapper or cigarette butt to be seen. Every building seemed to be coated in a fresh lick of paint and everything seemed to coordinate together from the buildings to the gardens. Coming from London it was practically a culture shock.

Somewhere in rural Luxembourg resting the bottoms.

It only took about 2 hours to cross the country from top to bottom but Luxembourg has earned a spot on my 'must visit again' list.

I've barely mentioned two words about the bike and this is high praise indeed. It carried on with its duties, fully loaded, without so much as a burp. The F800GS is no muscle bike but even loaded up to its limit you never lack power in any way. So far on this trip I have averaged 60mpg on the dot according to the onboard computer—certainly nothing to complain about.

If I had to whinge about something, it would be the seat. The comfort seat is a million years ahead of the standard plank, which is stricter than a German head teacher administering a rap on the knuckles with a ruler, but I still find myself needing to disembark at least once every two hours.

The SPOT Connect is a different matter, however I seem to have learned its quirks now. If I did it again, I would have bought the standard version without Bluetooth connectivity. Unless the app is running in the foreground on the smartphone, the SPOT seems to stop tracking. As a result there are several gaps in the map. Also, the unit requires you to press the power button once every two hours to maintain the tracking function. Annoying.

I filled up with petrol in Luxembourg (city) where fuel is around 30–40 cents cheaper per litre, another sign of a country without a national deficit. The people were friendly, but perhaps not quite as warm as the Belgians.

We were back in France without even knowing it, as I didn't see the open border sign. Still 250km from Ammerschwihr, we were feeling tired and decided to find a hotel. One of the most useful apps on my phone for travelling has to be 'Booking Tonight' from booking.com. Hotels with vacancies will publish reduced rates in an effort to fill their last available rooms, often at discounts up to 75%. I found a hotel for €33 8km away in Hagondange so we headed straight over.

The hotel was not what you would call luxurious, but it did the job and the patronne was a lovely older French lady so I was sold. It had semi-secured parking for the bike and a pizza place was round the corner so we bought a couple take-away pizzas to bring back to the hotel. Despite internet access I was too tired to write so passed out until the next morning.

Always prefer to have the bike in sight from my room.

A wider view of the semi-secured car park.

And in HDR for the surrealists.

Alps 2013 quick links

Day 1: London to Lille
Day 2: Lille to Hagondange
Day 3: Slow road to Ammerschwihr
Day 4: Ammerschwihr
Day 5: Ammerschwihr to Thônes
Day 6: Thônes to.... Thônes
Day 7: Thônes to Ruèras
Day 8: Ruèras to Flachau
Day 9: Flachau
Day 10: Flachau to Wemding
Day 11: Wemding to Urberach
Day 12: Urberach to Antwerp
Day 13: Antwerp to London

The gear and how it held up
The trip in hindsight