Monday, 1 May 2017

low country

We camp in woods near to an airfield.  Along the side road we take into the woods are signs warning us away - the land belongs to the military.  But there's a woodcutter's track which is clear and we find a nice dry spot under pines.  In the night there is the bark of a deer, but otherwise it's peaceful.

not a Belgian restaurant
We find our way onto the Albert Canal - a great waterway which cuts through Belgium and connects with Maastricht.  We call it the Fat Albert.  Both banks have a cycle path and it's really popular.  Belgium is awash with cycling clubs and we are frequently swept aside by swarms of lycra clad men buzzing past wherever we are.  You can't escape them.  The Fat Albert has huge embankments on either side and they are lush green with new growth.  Along the canal, enormous barges drift along.  
 
on the way to the Fat Albert

We take a bridge over the canal and then descend for a long time down into the city of Maastricht. And down we go some more onto cobbled streets that lead into the heart of the old medieval centre.  It's lovely and lively with people.  There are cyclists everywhere, mostly on those classic clunky Dutch bikes.  We trundle along through the centre and straight out the other side, crossing the Maas river and onto a bike path that leads almost immediately into a tranquil village.  We then end up alongside the main road to Aachen in Germany.  It's tree-lined but very busy so we're glad of the path running through the fields.  It's a very long pull uphill and we pass by an enormous American war cemetery which looks immaculately kept.  It's a stark reminder of the war and might explain why there are no road signs to Aachen or Germany - nothing to tell us we are approaching the border at all - only signs to the local villages and small towns.
English charity riders

At the border sign we stop for a photo and get chatting to a group of English road cyclists who have rode here in three days.  "Why do you need a fire extinguisher?" one of them asks, pointing at our fuel bottle.   They're all raising money for different charities and they are finishing in Aachen, just over the border.  Our challenge is to get across this city and out to where we can camp. We have paper maps used the last time we came through here in 2010 and manage to find our way onto a small road which takes us on another climb to a woodland area.  It's time to stop and camp but we can't find a good out of sight place.  We also surprise a man walking alone beside the woods - he jumps into the trees when he sees us and this spooks us.  It's only when we see another man just standing trying to look inconspicuous with his phone that we think we've arrived at the local cottaging area.  So we cycle around to the other side of the woods, cook our tea and wait for darkness before camping in a fallow field.  It never gets really dark - there's a full moon and a clear sky - but the only sounds are owls in the woods.  This kind of sylvan wonder is why we don't like normal campsites.  And of course, it's for free.
vorsprung durch technik

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