After six days of rest in the French Ardennes, I repacked my bags and took the road again. The well-paved and well-marked cycling road along the Meuse River south to Charleville-Mézières and then east to Sedan offered a rather direct route eastwards. But I had already cycled this bit in the summer of 2019, so I chose to take another road instead. My uncle Albert and cousin Émilie biked along with me back down the Meuse River valley to Monthermé, where we met a friend Magali and had a gorgeous picnic with too much beer. Though I passed the village on my way in a week earlier, the weather was quite different this time. The sky was clear blue and temperatures rising.
The meanders of the Semois River
In Monthermé, we turned eastwards to follow the Semoy River, and affluent of the Meuse. Albert and Magali kept me company for another 15 km to the last French village of Hautes-Rivières. We ate more cherries and said goodbye. So I crossed the border to Belgium for the fifth time. Suddenly villages were full of campsites, restaurants and souvenir shops. I had tipped over from northern France to southern Belgium, and it felt more like Côte d’Azur. I felt dizzy from the beer, still digesting the picnic while sweating hop. The road followed the meanders or cut across them. After the uphill to a Rochehaut, a village overlooking one of the many river loops, I finally felt like I had digested lunch, and set up camp in the village of Poupehan near Bouillon. Then I ate the last cherries, kept fresh in my thermos bottle, and hurried into the river for a bath.
The next morning I woke up drowsy with a headache. I had gone to bed worrying that I could have transmitted the virus to my grandpa. For some reason I hadn’t slept well. Several times through the night I had waken to watch the stars or the twilight of the morning through the roof of my tent. I was sunburned most likely just dehydrated. Mechanically, I folded my tent and packed my bags, longing to feel the morning’s fresh air on my face. The first climb of the day to the perched village of Corbion began to wake me up. After a coffee break by the old bridge in Bouillon I felt ready for the day.
In Bouillon, I left the ups and downs and the twists and turns of the Semoy River and began driving on long straight roads on the plateau. There was less relief but I quickly found out that I was more exposed to the winds, and to cars. My rear-view mirror was so useful. I had revamped it a few days before leaving so that I could mount it on the Surly’s original bar-ends brake levers. This position was ideal to watch the road over my rear left pannier. After leaving Lille I had so quickly grown accustomed to it that I wondered how I had cycled so many tours without one.
The Abbey of Orval
The road then dove down to Orval, where the famous beer is brewed. I imagined to find a small abbey in the woods but I was stunned by the size of the buildings, old constructions of stone standing tall above the forest. There was also a long double line of parked cars, and a few touring bikes, the first I saw since I leaving Lille. Somehow it felt good to know that I was not the only one to travel in these uncertain times.
The visit of the abbey made for a pleasing digestive break after lunch. The abbey grounds are busy but a one-way path of visit was set up to minimize the coronavirus transmission. I encountered a family of redstarts that probably set home in the building during the lock down. After Orval I rode back up on the plateau through small sheltered roads. The day was hot and the shade much welcome. I was glad to find spring water at Bellefontaine, and a bike shop shortly after where I equipped my bike with a third bottle and cage, very useful by this kind of weather. I then cycled the last stretch to Arlon on not-so-pleasant busy roads, before settling in for the night in a quiet camping in the city’s outskirts. I was tired but not exhausted. In the evening’s warmth I took time to take notes and process the day’s photos.
Cycling across Luxembourg
The next morning I slept well past daybreak and woke up in good shape. I felt like the rhythm of bike touring was settling in. For the last few kilometers to the border with Luxembourg, I felt like cycling in a Windows desktop wallpaper: smooth roads, green pastures and small clouds in the blue sky. Without even noticing the border, I definitely left Belgium behind and entered my third country: Luxembourg.
I was not sure what to expect in Luxembourg. Despite being so close from my hometown, I do not remember ever visiting the country. Finding my way into the capital’s city center was easy thanks to well-marked cycling roads. The inhabitants had multiple origins and seemed to dress with style. Parks and nature were abundant. In many ways Luxembourg reminded me of Switzerland. The Alzette River cuts a steep gorge which is not unlike the Sarine River gorge in Fribourg.
While I biked along the river and then through the wheat fields dotted with flowers, clouds were gathering in the southern skies. By mid-afternoon I had reached Shengen, where the famous treaty was signed, and exited Luxembourg. From then on I had planned to cycle southwards along the Moselle River up until its spring in the Vosges Mountains. But my cousin had invited me to come by visit him in his new home near Strasbourg.
For half a kilometer I cycled in my fifth country Germany, before crossing again the border to France. Then the storm broke for real. Skies were thundering right overhead, and rain pouring over me. The contrast between the two countries became incredibly stark. I had just entered a remote part of France. The rain and gloomy atmosphere of the storm added to patchwork roads, weary houses and discoloured road signs to feel like signs of poverty after prolific and sunny Luxembourg.
Right after entering France I fell miserably on the sidewalk after failing to unclip my left shoe, scratching my knee and bar tape. Only about half an hour later I abruptly paused under a bus stop to put on my rain pant and failed again to unclip. This time the rearview mirror broke. My proud repair works were gone and I became angry with myself. This is when I decided to book a hotel for the night. I was tired of the hills and just lazy to put up my tent in the rain. When I reached the water divide between the Moselle and Saar Rivers, which is also the border between France and Germany the rain finally stopped. So I let gravity do its work and take me down to my hotel in the town of Merzig.
The route (3 days, 247 km)
- 24/06/20 Nouzonville – Bouillon 60.3 km
- 25/06/20 Bouillon – Arlon 90.1 km
- 26/06/20 Arlon – Merzig 96.5 km