France Germany Luxembourg

Chapter Thirty Seven: Knock, Knock, Knocking on England’s door

The storm had well and truly blown over by morning, the only remnant was a thick carpet of dew on the grass that was misting away slowly in the early sun. I left my tent pitched and full of stuff and ventured back along the familiar roads into Strasbourg for my first real encounter of the city who’s charm had alluded me yesterday afternoon. I even managed to find the same parking spot as yesterday, right outside the pedestrianized center. Exploring away from the center first, I wandered down a small street full of bakeries and fruit shops until I hit a big square lined with coffee shops where I could lounge under-canopy and slurp the froth off a cappuccino. So late in my trip I’d found a new vigor for writing up my trip logs – conscious to get the experiences down before I forgot them – so I tapped away at my tablet screen like a man possessed. An hour passed and I couldn’t afford another cappuccino at the rate they were charging so I packed up and went for a wander into tight, weaving old city center.

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This bridge takes you from new to old. Away from the hubub of traffic and into a sprawl of old, tight roads full of tourist shops and patisseries.
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The brightness of the morning was washing out all my shots, but you get the gist of fresh open pedestrian squares. Despite the intensity of the sun I’d long since bothered using sun cream – a fortnight spent under the Greek and Turkish sun had leathered my skin sufficiently brown.
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AND THEN THIS HAPPENED. I was blissfully unaware of Strasbourg, so had no idea what the city would be famous for. Until now the tall city buildings had hidden this gem, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, out of sight. The expansive square around it hummed with tourists snapping off photos of the intricate facade. The queue put me off going in, although I’m sure it would have been impressive from the inside.
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Narrow roads and flags representing something or other. I didn’t have the inclination to dig any deeper into what they meant – all I wanted was a chocolate smothered pastry…
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Another view of the cathedral. I felt a little sheepish that I’d missed something so imposing this morning…
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My ramblings took me past some really beautiful old buildings on the riverside. I spent perhaps too long checking out all the hatches, hidden ports and secret staircases that led down to the water.
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Another river view. Strasbourg was impressively well groomed.

I’d seen all I wanted to see of Strasbourg. It was beautiful, ok, but a bit too quaint on the whole for someone under 55 and busy with long, white socked Americans. I had intended to spend one more night at the pleasant campsite in Kehl, but racing back over the Rhine I’d changed my mind. I wanted back on the bike. It wasn’t like I needed to relax after my day spent drinking coffee and walking slowly around old town…

Within the hour I was packed up, paid and rolling out of the compound gates. Resentful of French toll charges I rode halfway back to Stuttgart following the border before picking up the #65 motorway north west. I was aiming for Luxembourg. Google maps, briefly stolen at the campsite before I left, told me the fastest way to go past Landau and up to Manheim, using long sections of autobahn to my advantage. But the autobahn was boring and the photos of Barney’s European road atlas I’d taken with my phone hinted there might be a quieter but more direct route through the countryside. I took the gamble but pulled off the motorway one junction too soon. Tearing through a tall pine forest without my GPS, I kept my eyes peeled for signposts to any of the smaller towns on my route. I turned back on myself a number of times before reassuring myself that the road I was now following was the right one – all the names were lining up. The route was fantastic – through more pine forests with fresh and moist air and dappled beams of light, through rolling yellow fields with the whole road visible for miles ahead, through small, neat villages into hilltop switchbacks and good tarmac. I stopped twice to feed the bike and once to feed myself in the early afternoon – taking on pasta like a ravenous wild animal before practically running back across the car park to saddle up. Much too soon I was back amongst civilization and pulling onto a slip road for the #8 motorway – low rumblings from the bike and I.

After a long grey stint on the motorway, built up on plinths bridging small valleys, ‘Luxembourg’ stood out overhead, printed in bold white letters.  Everything carried on as normal, maybe getting a little bit flatter, until I peeled off towards Luxembourg city. There were a number of unanticipated variants of Luxembourg city… what I was guessing would be  north, east, center etc. but could have meant anything. I picked one and rode it through wide industrial parks. Soon enough the buildings grew taller, then taller still, until I was following a little pedestrian sign (‘Centro’) round and round the same block of high rise steel and glass financial buildings. Confused enough I mounted the pavement and parked up outside the doors to one of the banks. It was after 6, so the automatic doors didn’t open as I faffed about with my chain outside, despite people milling about inside. I reckoned I’d have half an hour before a traffic cop would swing by and write me up a fine , so with haste went searching for Wifi and a hostel.

I thought Luxembourg city would be a thriving metropolitan town subjected to streams of american students on placements abroad. It even gave off that impression. Young and fairly trendy. Unbeknownst to me there was only one hostel in the whole city. Young and fairly trendy evidently had plenty of money. I struggled with bad internet connections to figure this out, eventually standing a bit to close to the entrance of a fancy restaurant  and probably creeping out the patrons. Fortunately the only hostel had some spaces, unfortunately I couldn’t book over the website because it was a bag of shit. It was also a youth hostel, so I was expecting streams of shouting 10 year olds excited to be on a field trip and no bar where I could ply myself with alcohol. At about 7pm, resigned to a lousy youth hostel, I got back on my bike (ticket free) and followed the route to my newly tagged gps coordinates, way down low in the verdant belly of the city. Aside from having to register as an annual member of the youth hostelers everything went smoothly. There was a bed in a room with adults and a bar with overly expensive beer but beer nonetheless. I kept myself to myself, took on a couple of beers and rested up after my day on the motorways. I’d seen relatively little of Luxembourg city on my foot search for wifi, so tomorrow would be dedicated to getting lost in its nooks and crannies.

A pleasant but hairy Iranian man had arrived late in the day and snored all through the night. I couldn’t get out of the room quick enough, and went for an explore before the hostel breakfast had been set out. The streets were incredibly quiet, only the odd passerby to distract from the morning bird chorus. It was also fairly crisp, the balmy mornings of the Mediterranean were well and truly behind me. I killed time until the banks opened then tried to change all the Croatian Kuna Sarah had left me with but they were having none of it. Can’t blame them really…

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It’s quiet in the city backstreets in the early morning.
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Mystical sheep seem to be a theme throughout Europe as shown in this statue at the bottom of the high-street.
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These umbrellas added a touch of fun to this otherwise expensive and trendy shopping street.
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I’d found a supermarket tucked away at the back of a ‘fairy-lit’ passage, bought two big oranges (my subconscious clearly hinting at my poor state of nutrition) and some water and stopped to picnic in the courtyard of this big church. It was all a bit serene.
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The monument of remembrance, Luxembourg’s testament to their fallen troops. It was dismantled by the Nazis in WW2 and only restored in 1985. The Gëlle Fra (Golden Lady) holds a wreath above the city.
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This is what I meant by verdant underbelly.. Luxembourg City is built on the crests of valleys and linked by long bridges. This main one was out of commission to be restored. In the valley troughs are long sweeping forests and running trails – it’s all rather nice.
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After exploring the verdant underbelly I kinda got lost and ended up climbing back out right at the other side of the city – despite thinking I’d looped around and was back where I started. If I can’t navigate on foot there’s not much chance on the bike.

Tourist stuff done and dusted I dropped back into the hostel for a buffet lunch and some more expensive beer. I contemplated what I should do for the afternoon and evening. I contemplated what I should do for the rest of the trip! Ideas turned around inside my head, nearly fully formed and as the sun began to set and after an hour spent pacing around on the large concrete slab in front of the hostel I realized I had it, I had a plan.  

Whatever happens tomorrow I would make tracks. Tracks 508 miles deep at the very least. Tracks all the way back to my home in Wolverhampton. That meant tonight would be my last night on foreign soil. I called everyone back home to let them know. I’d need another beer to celebrate. 

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