In his quest for collecting passes, Charly noticed that Luxembourg has a lot of them in a small geographical area. Of course, we traveled there to ride our bicycles. Below is my translation of his report.
The Grand Duchy , as it is called, but a small, splendid, fantastic country, that Barbara and I are going to discover on this cold Pentecost weekend. Anyone who thinks of Luxembourg can imagine seeing, at the most, some banks, a few insurance companies, and a radio-television station (RTL), but would be surprised at the richness of the historic sites and the changes in the magnificent landscape. But the passes (ah, yes) in Luxembourg also have something to do with it. They are official and the census counts 90! which immediately caught my eye. We won't be able to do all of them because some can't be located on the map.
The point of departure for our trip is set at the Gare de l'Est. Barbara has been waiting for me for awhile, because I'm coming directly from work. We put our bicycle bags discreetly in the appropriate corner of the train car. The train leaves at 5:19 p.m. for a carefree trip that lasts three and a half hours. Getting off the train at the station in Luxembourg city, we feel the appreciable negative difference in temperature. We go to our hotel, 200 meters from the station. It is called Hotel Zurich, a name that seems inappropriate here.
The first day: Luxembourg - Scheidgen, 108 km, includes 15 passes, which in reality, are small hills, quite appetizing (for me). (Note: this sentence in French is a play on words. "Côte" in French, is a hill, a climb. "Côtelette" is a small hill, and this word also means a cutlet of meat. Thus they are "appetizing" for Charly.) We start off early in the morning, in the cold, but under a clear, blue sky, which promises a nice day. We are in the heart of town, but in about twenty minutes, after six kilometers, we will be in the countryside, in "the heart of the good country", as it is called here. Immediately, the difference is striking. The landscape is impressively green and numerous orchards line the fields. We continuously go through rich, small villages, which have kept their character in their setting of greenery.
We leap from valley to valley. The passes, whose altitude is around 300 meters, are not difficult because the elevation is slight. The road surface is normal, narrow at times, which lends a certain charm, and the traffic is almost nonexistent. All conditions are favorable.
Now we enter into Luxembourg's Moselle area, the vineyard kingdom. We follow renowned wine-producing centers with famous wine cellars, as well as scenic villages with old residences that have been restored.
After leaving Womeldange, the Riesling capital, we penetrate even deeper into innermost Luxembourg, where we are not at all bothered, which suits Barbara. The air is pure. This is not Mont Blanc, but it is better here than in Paris. As for the passes, we cross them blithely (right, Barbara!). The downhills, a bit less, but the main thing is to get a foothold. We end this first stage at Scheidgen, a small village in a pleasant site surrounded by vast forests.
The weather predictions are rather pessimistic. The rain makes its appearance at daybreak, and we decide to shorten our day. We sensibly wait for the rain to stop. We start off on a slightly wet road, and the first passes, which are close together, let us warm up, or rather, let me warm up. Without sunshine, the view is somber. Too bad, because we are in the Mullerthal (Luxembourg's "Little Switzerland"), basically made up of enormous sandstone rocks with strange forms, enlivened by winding streams, and crowned with magnificent forests.
Now that the road surface is dry, our spirits are up. But we have to be careful, anyway, especially when making a long descent into one of the country's important valleys, with, obviously, but for only a short time, traffic going into nearby Belgium.
We leave all these tourists' cars to take a small road which, as it must, climbs again, for seven kilometers onto one of the most beautiful agricultural plateaus in the Ardennes. The wind must blow often here, considering the numerous windmills. Along our way, we still collect passes, which becomes routine in the long run.
The weather has been favorable until now, but suddenly, the sky unleashes its fury. Unfortunately, there is no shelter at hand, and we have to put up with unpleasant gusts of rain for more than 10 minutes. Barbara must be cursing this nasty moment to get through.
Now we have to go downhill, which quickly makes us cold, but then we have to climb again, one of the last difficulties of the day, and certainly the toughest. At the top, we have time to admire the grandiose setting of the Ardennes mountains and forests.
The road surface is dry again, before we reach the end via a long descent into Wiltz, in the heart of the Ardennes, among wooded hills and calm valleys. We hurry to get to our hotel because Barbara is slowly freezing. It's true that the thermometer shows 11º C (about 50º F)!
We really don't have any luck for what should be the big day in the Ardennes and its 18 passes! A bad spell dogs us, for the weather is temperamental again, but after a rainy night, we give it a try. Let's talk about the Ardennes: a hilly landscape that looks like a real sea of green as well as an immense, undulating carpet. The fields of broom, the plowed fields, the pastures and forests, all make changing, renewable colors according to the seasons' whims.
It is dry when we start off, but for how long? We immediately climb long, beautiful hills that cross the monumental, massive Ardennes forest. After 10 kilometers of our ride, near the pleasant country village of Wilwerwiltz, the first raindrops appear. We hurry to find a dry shelter: a church porch does the job. Because the rain lasts too long, we regretfully decide to cancel the ride. But this will surely let us make another trip at the end of the year. We are not unhappy abut this, as it will let us enjoy autumn here.
After a lull, we return to the hotel and kill the rest of the time, between downpours, by visiting Wiltz, the site of important fights during the Battle of the Ardennes in 1944.
(Barbara's note: Eisenhower stayed in this town. There is a monument to American soldiers, a small W.W.II museum, and an American tank. We made a second trip to Luxembourg over the November 1 long weekend, mostly in the Ardennes, which let us ride more passes that had we made only one trip. The temperature was colder than the first trip, and crisp. The sky was clear and sunny, which accentuated the brilliant autumn foliage. We spent a total of eight days bicycling in Luxembourg. Yes, it is a small country that you miss if you travel by car and happen to blink at the wrong time, but travelling by bicycle is different. I recommend Luxembourg to bicycle tourists.)
Since the train for Paris is at 1:00 p.m., we have to start this day very early (5:30 a.m.), in the dark and bitter cold, hoping to find an open cafe as soon as possible. The main thing is that it is not raining, but in spite of uphills, we can't get warm. The cold is too intense and the sun hasn't yet appeared.
The passes follow each other easily among the numerous villages typical of the Ardennes. The landscape is essentially agricultural, so there is less forest, at least for now. The numerous plateaus and winding valleys carved deeply into the Ardennes schist make an interesting picture.
We make rapid progress because road descends more often than it climbs. For now, since the sun has come out, happily, our spirits are on the rise as we cross vast forests that invite us to take our time.
After several hours, it is not a mirage, but a miracle. Finally, an open cafe and a good, hot drink. Barbara is famished, and devours several appetizing slices of bread and butter.
The end of the trip is in sight. We are within our time limit. A last descent into the suburbs of Luxembourg city, and the trip is completed. On this Pentecost Monday, the city is peaceful. We retrieve our bike bags, which we left at the hotel during our trip, and take our places in the train for Paris, rather empty now, but it will fill up at Metz, in France.
All in all, this jaunt to Luxembourg went well, for the most part. The weather was disastrous only on the third day. As for the scenery, we weren't at all disappointed: green, flowery plateaus surrounded by wild beauty. Small villages that, with their old houses and peaceful corners, still keep their authentic character. As for the harvest of passes, it was rather fruitful for a weekend: 32 for me, and also for Barbara, whom one often has a tendency to forget.
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