Riding rails and roads: a cycling adventure from Luxembourg to The Netherlands
When my friend Nikki proposed a cycling trip, I was immediately hooked! After checking my remaining vacation days, I took a week off and started planning a route. We set our sights on a six-day trip taking the train from The Netherlands to Luxembourg and cycling back. Kickstarting our adventure like this was a first for me. With my Santos gravel bike and Nikki’s road bike, we were ready for the adventure ahead!
Mapping our journey
We wanted to cycle abroad, without traveling too long by public transport. So we decided to travel by train to Luxembourg, from which it was about a 600-kilometer trip back home. Spread over 5.5 days, this equated to a manageable 110 kilometers per day, beginning with hilly terrains and ending with the flat terrains familiar to us as Dutch riders.
As Nikki would be on her road bike, we focused on finding tarmac roads for a smoother ride. After some online research, we designed a trip consisting of three official cycling routes:
- EuroVelo 5 (Via Romea): Luxembourg to Bastogne
- Liege – Bastogne – Liege (LBL): Bastogne to Liege
- EuroVelo 19 (Meuse route): Liege to Rotterdam
Having downloaded all the necessary gpx files to my Garmin, we were ready to start!
Preparing my bike for the Thalys
Or so I thought… Traveling by train required a bit more preparation than I had initially anticipated. To bring a bike on the Thalys, it must fit into a flexible bag of max. 135 x 85 x 30 cm. For me, this meant that I had to disassemble many parts of my bike:
- Both wheels
- Front and back fenders (left them at home)
- Front luggage racks (left them at home)
- Unscrewed the carrier at the back. As the rear light is going through the frame, I didn’t want to take it off completely. Once unscrewed, it could be positioned in a more compact way.
For ease of reassembly, I packed all parts and associated screws into individual ziplock bags, each marked with a note indicating where they belonged.
I used adjustable tie wraps to hold everything together. To safeguard against any potential damage, I wrapped the delicate parts in bubble wrap and foam rubbers that I picked up from Mantel. For them garbage, for me peace of mind. I then tucked everything into a flexible rain cover, sealed it with a good amount of duct tape and attached a name tag on it just in case. After all this, it was well within dimensions.
As it was my first time, not everything went right at once. Learning on-the-go that it is easier to get your pedals off while the tires are still on, made me take my tires on and off multiple times. It was quite some work, but I now know my bike way better than before!
Off the rails: our first day’s mishap
Carrying my securely packaged bicycle was quite uncomfortable. If I undertake a similar journey in the future, I'll definitely work on improving this aspect. But for this trip I managed just fine. Stumbling into the Thalys, I expected the conductor to stand there with a measuring tape to scrutinise my bike. I read on random internet blogs that this really happened. But no such thing, he didn’t really care and just let us in.
Also, when we had to transfer to the local train in Belgium, no one blinked an eye. The relaxed environment spurred us to begin assembling our bikes right there in the shaking, moving carriage. My Topeak NTX+ Ratchet Rocket Lite toolkit, conveniently stowed in my saddle bag, was perfect for the job.
Engrossed in assembling our bikes, we weren’t paying much attention to our surroundings. Suddenly, announcements in French echoed from the intercom, including the name of our stop. We hurriedly disembarked, barely having finished our bikes, only to realize our mistake - we had exited a station too early. This fact dawned on us just as the train doors closed behind us. There we were, stranded in the middle of nowhere, 25 kilometers from our planned layover station, near midnight, under a raging thunderstorm. Not exactly our finest moment. However, an hour later, we managed to catch the last train of the night and finally reached Luxembourg. Our adventure had truly begun, and it was only the first day!
From riverbanks to hilltops
Luckily, it all went uphill from here, or do I say downhill. In the literal sense both do apply, and in the metaphoric way it only got better. Blessed with great weather, we cycled nice paths through forests and fields. In Belgium we found ourselves riding parts of the RAVeL routes, some of which included gravel paths. Fun for me, a bit more challenging for Nikki, but fortunately no flat tyres. Along the way we visited nice villages, met friendly people and spotted a few deer and foxes.
In Luxembourg and Belgium, we encountered some steep climbs up to 15%, but they were not too long. One of the more famous ones was “La Redoute”, also part of the LBL route. Quite recently the official race was held which was clearly visible by all the riders’ names painted on the streets. The supporters of Phil (Philip Gilbert) were very fanatic, and I felt highly supported by it as well.
Unique overnight stays with “Vrienden op de fiets”
My tent, while ideal for solo trips, was too small for this journey. Given the prospect of sharing it with Nikki for six nights, we decided it would be a bit too cramped. So we opted for bed & breakfast stays, as well as a unique arrangement I was eager to try: 'Vrienden op de Fiets' (Friends on the Bike). This Dutch foundation caters to multi-day biking or hiking enthusiasts, offering overnight stays at any of their 5000 member addresses.
Our journey in The Netherlands led us to two such 'friend' homes. Both stays were enjoyable introductions to this hospitality network, with hosts providing not only affordable accommodation but also a sense of belonging. The chance to meet new people and immerse ourselves in their daily lives, even if just for a night, was uniquely enriching. As a bonus, our hosts kindly prepared meals for us, much appreciated after our day-long rides.
One night we were fortunate enough to stay with my parents. We arrived at their home after a gruelling two-hour ride in the rain, completely drenched. Having the luxury to put all our soaked gear into the washing machine was very comfortable, ensuring we started the next day refreshed and dry.
In The Netherlands we cycled via Kinderdijk, where our routes parted. Nikki was almost home in Rotterdam, and I cycled back to Utrecht. It was a beautiful trip. From steep climbs to flat roads following the rivers showing us some beautiful parts of Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands.