Day 5: Changing Tack
Trip Start Nov 11, 2009
273Trip End Ongoing
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Speaking of my goal list (if you skipped the blah blah then I was, trust me) today's was Maastricht, I mentioned yesterday that I would be going to Belgium, and this is true but I will still be returning to the Netherlands for the night to continue south through Belgium tomorrow
There have been a few other changes to the plan in my head: I am, at this point, fairly certain that I will NOT be able to cross over into the Rhone valley before the end of December. This would mean I would be cycling around towns that are known as Ski-Resorts in early January. I'll keep an eye on the weather, but I am fairly sure that this is a stupid idea. So what I will now think about doing is head for a city in northern France (maybe Metz or Nancy) and catching a train to Dijon which is at the top of the Rhone valley. This would also have the happy coincidence of taking me past an awful lot of uphills - awesome - and put me in the south of France for christmas (maybe Lyon).
The plan then, is to reach the train in around 8 days as the weather forecasts the first snow (other than showers) around the 18th (almost universally at this longitude it seems). On the way I will make a day trip to Luxembourg although not spend the night there as it is apparently very expensive - what else do you expect from the only Grand Duchy in the world?
Everything looked solid, until as I was arranging my stuff it started raining, this was not unexpected as today was supposed to be similar to yesterday (when there was a persistent drizzle for much of the day) however when it started to get harder I thought it was settling in and with a fair breeze out there too I thought, "It'll take a miracle for meto get to Maastricht today."
Well if you were my mother then you will say that a miracle is exactly what I got (I just hope that this is coming around not going around if u catch my drift), moving the stuff out to the bike there was suddenly a massive downpour which I barely got out of. This actually made me hopeful as I thought it might be blowing itself out - and so it proved.
Thus it was about 10.15am under clearing skies and some bright sunshine that I headed out of Valkenswaard, armed with a map... I still had some trouble finding the right road but I managed to get on to it with the help of a woman and her snarling dogs. :-) I was at the Belgian border in short order and had my first hill about 30 minutes later, this was a new thing for me while carrying so much extra weight and I was very glad of the few days lead in. A friend of mine at CaNkorf (Hi Dave) who has done some touring says that it is surprisingly easy to get used to the balance and this is definitely true; I can now stand up in the saddle with ease - a skill that proves handy when the gradient starts to rise.
Of course with uphills come down hills and over the course of the day I reached speeds, and gears, that have been hitherto unreached since the panniers went on. The Belgian countryside sped by and it was pleasant enough a few thatched cottages and MANY quaint bars. No pictures though - I was on a mission!
The map proved to be a great success and just knowing more than a couple of place names and their relative loctaions was priceless. Meanwhile, I decided it was time to get brushing up the Francais and the "Learn in your Car" went on (Yes, I can still hear the cars - I keep missing sentences because of them)
It dulled over as the day went on but I kept the hammer down and even a bit of light rain couldn't stop me. Although some of the roads slowed me down (it was almost reassuring to see second rate public services again). I made only one wrong turn in Opglabeek (I missed As in what must have been very similar to yesterday's 'Eindhoven' incident (I leave it to readers to devise their own jokes about me missing As). Even this mistake was quickly corrected now that I had a map (I couldn't tell where the sun was anyway).
I crossed back into the Netherlands about 330 (although I don't remember the sign) and was in Maastricht around 30 minutes later. It has got to be one of the Nicest places I have yet been, and the full swing of late Xmas night shopping as dusk fell made the atmosphere even more convivial.
I was again heading for a hostel because I had a plan to get a front rack in town (for the bike that is) and needed to stash my stuff. I did what I should have done in Eindhoven and asked someone for the tourist info rather than an internet cafe, the TI directed me to another Stayokay hostel on the bank of the Maas river (Stayokay is a Dutch hostel chain, other than Strowis all my hostel stays have been in them and they are pretty good although they dont let you cook your own food). This one was the most expensive yet at 23 euros (I can't keep this up forever) but it was for a good cause. I stowed my bike and headed up to the room. My new roommate was a girl who was doing an Intership in Eindhoven but here for an exam tomorrow. We chatted briefly but I was making a beeline for the shower and she left while I was in there.
I got ready and was out of the door by 530 armed with an intent to remodel my luggage solutions and perhaps grab some food (I still hadn't tried anything Dutch).