Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bragging Rights for the Unathletic

As a newlywed, there are certain things you agree to because you think your significant other will eventually forget about them. Like riding your bicycle halfway across the country.

A few weekends ago, we finally completed a ride that Nick has wanted to do for over a year: the Piste Cyclable 2, a bike path that stretches from Luxembourg Ville to Echternach on the Luxembourg-Germany border, a one-way ride of 42 kilometers. It wouldn’t be our longest ride ever, but I was nervous because we had ridden part of this path last summer; I remembered more than one large hill, and had a nagging fear that there could be a lot more. And if there’s one thing that this House Frau does not like, it’s hills. (This would be in addition to wind and rain, if you’re asking.)

While I secretly prayed for a thunderstorm, we went ahead and made plans to ride to Echternach on a Saturday and spend the night. On Sunday, we would cycle home along the Sûre River on Piste Cyclable 3, a short 24km and mostly flat ride to the Wasserbillig train station where we’d catch a train back to the city.

Saturday Morning
Nick practically rolled out of bed wearing his bike helmet. I, on the other hand, tried to delay the inevitable by working my procrastination magic: I drank my coffee as s-l-o-w-l-y as I could, I hemmed and hawed about what kind of clothing and toiletries to pack in my backpack, and then I made sure that every single plant in our apartment had been watered.

Finally, Nick had had enough of my little game and threw the ultimate guilt card at me: “Well, if you really don’t want to go, we don’t have to go.”

So, we went. And it actually turned out to be one of the most interesting adventures we’ve taken yet in Luxembourg, and one that I’d highly recommend.

I’m pretty sure I’m the Least Athletic Person in Luxembourg, so, if I can do it: you can, too. Here’s the play-by-play so you know what to expect if you go:
Filling up at the free air pump.

Starting the Trail
On our way out of town, we stopped to fill up at the free air tank at the top of the city park, next to the Vel’oh station at the Schuman roundabout. The city installed it earlier this year and it’s a godsend to anyone on two wheels.

We crossed the red bridge over to Kirchberg and pedaled the low uphill grade along Boulevard Konrad Adenauer toward Luxexpo; staying left at the roundabout, we turned onto the paved forest path that leads toward Senningerberg.

In Senningerberg, the path crosses a busy street into a residential area before passing a small playground and descending into another forest. When this hill flattens out, you’ll get to choose your own adventure and continue to the left or to the right. Both paths reconnect after a few kilometers – so, it’s impossible to take a wrong turn here – but turning left will take you uphill for a very, very long way. We continued to the right, crossing the short wooden bridge and eventually coming to a clearing that offered an expansive view of Hostert, Oberanven and Rameldange down below.
A view from the trail.

The Hill
The trail carries on through the small town of Ernster; once through the town, we crossed a busy street to pedal up a hill that is shared with vehicle traffic. It looked a little steeper than it felt. Toward the top, we followed the signs left and the route turned into bicycle path once more, taking us into rolling farmland that makes up a part of the “Gutland” agricultural region of central Luxembourg.

This is where things got a little painful. The hill, which I think is called the “Headhaff,” starts so slowly that it’s a bit deceiving. We had done this part of the trail before, and this was the hill I was dreading. It’s the kind of hill that begins in such a way that you don’t even realize you’re starting to pedal up a hill, until after you round a slight bend and see more uphill that will feel like it just keeps going and going. (When you get there, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

I took my time and eventually made it to the top, with the help of the face-saving strategy of telling Nick that I took such a long time to catch up because I “stopped to snap a quick picture” and that I also “paused for a little swig of water.” Certainly, I didn’t need to stop because I was so out of breath that I thought I might keel over! (wink wink)

Picnic lunch, with moutarde!
Anyway, when the path flattens out on the “Mouerbierg” plateau, pat yourself on the back because you’ll have just completed the very worst hill of your one-way adventure.

Downhill From Here
Now we had entered new cycling territory. Our bike trail map had fooled us into expecting two more giant hills shortly after the Mouerbierg plateau, but the hills (thankfully) turned out to be giant downhill slopes from our direction.

To celebrate, we stopped for lunch that included a number of delicious items including – you guessed it – moutarde de Luxembourg (which you may remember me blogging about here and here).
One of many charming villages.

When we picked back up after lunch, we came to a sign that told us Echternach was only 17km away: so close, we could practically touch it! We kept pedaling and a few kilometers later, another sign told us we were 19km away; then another that told us we were 21km away. The numbers I’m recalling now may not be exact, but they were definitely moving in the wrong direction.

I ignored the growing dent from my cheap bicycle seat and kept pedaling on. The countryside views were lovely and, as a further distraction, we were crossing into the forested Müllerthal region of Luxembourg where the trees began to thicken.

1901 Railway Tunnel
1901 railroad tunnel.
Riding in the woods, we eventually approached a tunnel. In the middle of the archway, we noticed a stone carved with the date “1901” and realized that what we were about to ride through was an old railway tunnel that had been carved for the “Charly” train, nicknamed after Charles Rischard, who managed Luxembourg’s transport lines at the time this rail line was created. For forty years between 1904 and 1954, a train ran between Luxembourg Ville and Echternach; it was a slow-moving train that only reached speeds of 25km/hour, but it connected people in the country to new jobs in the city, and farmers and artisans to new markets in which to sell their products. Today, its former route makes up much of the Piste Cyclable 2.

Exiting the tunnel, we rode past an old railway station in the town of Bech that serves today as a tourism office, if I remember correctly.

The Bomb in Consdorf
A short while later, we entered the town of Consdorf. There is a memorial here that has intrigued us when we’ve passed by bus, but have never been close enough to inspect: an unexploded, now defused bomb from WW2. A nearby plaque shares the story of how it came to be located here:
Consdorf WW2 memorial.

In October 1990 this aerial bomb, equipped with an infernal rocket was dug out and defused under especially hazardous conditions by the mine clearance department of the Luxembourg Army.

In returning from a mission to Germany in autumn 1944, a bomber plane of the type B17 F “Flying Fortress” of the 8thU.S. Army Air Force” had to unballast against its wall two delayed-action bombs each weighing 907kgs and loaded with 447kgs of tritonal.

Penetrating fields near the villages of Consdorf and Breidweiler, they dug six-meter deep bomb craters.

Half a century later, a specimen was put in this place to remember one of the most murderous wars of all times.

The Council of Consdorf, 1994

Into Little Switzerland
Through Little Switzerland.
Following the path from town, we were led back into the forest through the “Little Switzerland” area of the Müllerthal region, so named for the thickly canopied, craggy forest floor that coils around other-worldly rock formations; Luxembourg’s more petite answer to the real thing.

Little Switzerland is a terrific place wander on foot, but zooming past on bicycle was a wholly different experience. The path sloped downward, so all we had to do to enjoy the scenery around us was grip the brakes from time to time and make sure we kept at least one eye on the trail. Apart from the crunch of a few leaves beneath the whirr of our bicycle tires, it was almost eerily quiet; the entire way through, I think I can count on two hands the number of people we passed.

Relaxing Among Ruins
Echternach Lake
At the end of the long, downhill forest ride, we followed signs toward the Lac d’Echternach, a man-made lake that sits on 24 acres of parkland. We’ve been to Echternach probably two dozen times since arriving, but still hadn’t made it to the lake, so, we rode the short 2km loop around it to investigate. There’s a playground, plenty of paths for wandering, biking or rollerblading, several small docks, paddleboats, the inevitable mini-golf course and a small snack stand with a large terrace full of umbrella-covered tables overlooking the lake. We decided we’d reward ourselves on the terrace after paying a visit to the lake’s most famous attraction, the Villa Romaine.

The archeological remains of an ancient Roman villa were discovered in 1975 by workers digging the site for Lake Echternach, says our guidebook. After the ruins were unearthed they were moved nearby and reconstructed in their current location near the northern shore of the lake. The villa is thought to be one of the largest, wealthiest estates of the northwestern Roman Empire, with up to 70 rooms on its 118 x 62 meter (387 x 203 feet) ground floor alone. The 1,50€ entrance fee is a small price to pay for an unlimited wander through this treasure.

Looking east from the Roman ruins, we were reminded of a sight we’ve been curious about for a while: a rocky outcrop with what looks like holes or windows near some kind of domed building, at the top of a large forested hill perhaps a kilometer or two away, on the German side of the Sûre River. Since our friendly host at the ticket sales counter had invited us to ask him any questions we might have, we asked him about the rocky outcrop.

“I do not know. That is Germany.”

Someday, I guess we’ll just have to walk the whole extra kilometer over the Sûre bridge and up the hill to find out.

In the meantime, it was time to cool off with a cold beer on the snack shop terrace, where we were entertained by a flock of geese who snuck up on an unsuspecting family in search of food.

Eau de vie distillery on the PC3.
The next morning we woke up to pouring rain. Nick wanted to tough it out and get started with our ride to the train station. I bet you can guess who didn’t want to get going quite as quickly... We waited it out, and with only a 30 minute delay to our departure, the rain tapered off.

This was a familiar path, and a favorite for taking guests on bicycle when they visit. The Piste Cyclable 3 follows the Sûre southward to where it joins the Moselle River. It’s a relaxing ride that takes about 1.5 hours from Echternach; it has a few effortless dips and climbs but apart from one not-too-bad hill, it is a relatively flat ride beneath apple trees and through small villages most of the way.

If You Go
Bikes always ride for free
on the CFL!
If the promise of seeing an enormous swath of Luxembourg’s landscape isn’t enough to convince you to go, hopefully the centuries of history you’ll pedal through on this particular ride will encourage you. If that’s still not enough, just think about the bragging rights you’ll earn by riding halfway across the country! 

(Unless the person you’re bragging to has the last name of Schleck, of course.)

Here are a few resources for your trip:


  1. Way to take one for the team!! Don't be surprised if Tony and I show up on your doorstep and want to go on this ride!! :)

  2. I totally had your "You don't have to go fast, you just have to go" motto in my head the whole time!

  3. We did this ride yesterday! I was SOOOOO proud of myself.