I recently returned from a solo tour in Europe, primarily in the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg and thought I would share a brief summary of my experience should anyone here be contemplating something similar.
Most of you probably know the Ardennes was the scene of bitter fighting during the winter of 1944/45 as the Germans launched a winter offensive which came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. My father was a combat infantryman at the time and a veteran of that battle. He rarely spoke of his combat experiences and generally politely deflected my childhood inquiries about what he did in the war. He began to open up a little during the last years of his life, but I never truly sensed he shared everything. But what he did share helped me understand why he never seemed keen on reliving it.
For this year's tour, I decided to explore the Ardennes region and visit some of the battle's more notable sites with a focus on those particular areas where my dad participated. This tour was largely one where I spent a lot of time off the bike and exploring museums, battlefields and villages. In other words, this was a learning experience with a bike ride thrown in on the side. On most days, my mileage was under 50 miles to allow me the time I needed for these off bike experiences.
From a bicycle touring perspective, the Ardennes is a lovely region. There was an abundance of scenic vistas. Much of my self selected route was along bike only paths or very low traffic rural roads amid lush green forest and farmsteads. There were a few difficult climbs, but they were more than made up for with incredibly beautiful scenery. I never had any difficulty locating a place to stay the night, though prices seem a little steep. Of course, this is a vacation area and it was early summer, so I guess the pricing is to be expected. I received a very friendly welcome everywhere I stayed and they were all accommodating in finding a place to keep my bike safe and dry at night.
I eventually made my way to Luxembourg City where I stayed a couple of days. Luxembourg City is simply beautiful and I highly recommend it for a stay. While I was there, they kicked off the Tour of Luxembourg with the time trial prologue. It was a thrill seeing some of the teams and riders I've often associated with the Tour de France, including Mr. Armstrong himself.
It is much easier to return home from Paris than Luxembourg, so I made arrangements to visit Paris for a couple of days prior to my flight back to the States. The TGV high-speed train that runs between Luxembourg and Paris is one of the most recently established routes. Unlike many TGV routes where taking a bike can be difficult, the Luxembourg route accepts unboxed bikes. One of the passenger carriages is divided into first and second class accommodations. The second class section occupies about 1/3 of the carriage and it is here where bikes are stored for the trip. There are tie downs in the carriage to secure your bike and your reserved seat will be almost within arms reach of your bike. Be aware that you MUST have advance reservations for your bike. There are only a few spaces available, but I made my arrangements on the Tuesday afternoon prior to my Thursday morning departure and had no problems.
In Paris, I visited an english speaking bike shop and had them box my bike. The cost was 20euros, which I considered a bargain since I was able to spend my limited time enjoying the city instead of looking for a box and doing the packing myself.
The airport experience at Charles De Gaulle was not too bad. I had no problem with the boxed bike. It cost $100 but I was aware of that ahead of time so the fee came as no surprise. However, it took 20 minutes and four airline staff people to try and determine how much to charge for the full pannier I was checking separately. No one could agree on anything so they finally let me on the plane without charging for the pannier.
That's it in a nutshell. If anyone would like extra detail, feel free to send me a pm and I'll respond at the first opportunity.