I posted yesterday that I was thinking of removing part of the route and avoiding Brussels and most of Belgium. It does make sense on all levels apart from the one that wants me to tick the box of having followed the route of the Eurovelo 5. George Jemmott comments as follows;
Best reason I can think of to go to Brussels is that the ECF office is there. Then again, talking to them didn’t enlighten anything about the route other than just how little they know about it. Also, as you read and re-posted earlier, there is no bike path through France between Luxembourg and Strasbourg.
George’s first point might be worth pondering over if the ECF (the European Cyclists Federation, based in Brussels and responsable for the Eurovelo network of routes) had taken any time in showing the slightest interest in what I and others are doing. I’m sure they are very nice people and very good at getting funds to produce glossy brochures and development plans but until they start engaging with the grass roots (I originally spelt that “routes”; I have cycling on the brain!), they will always fall short of what they purport to be in their name. Sorry folks, it’s the impression I get (and if you read this and want a right to reply, I’d love you to do so!). I think, when originally considering the route think that a trip to Brussels would include at least a cycle past their office and brief hello through the window but my enthusiasm for doing that now has waned somewhat.
George’s second point is worth pondering over as he speaks from experience (he cycled from Milan to Calais just a few weeks ago and wrote about it on his blog). However, as George himself was happy to point out at the time, he didn’t prepare the route in advance in sufficient detail to know where he would be cycling each day (again, correct me if I am wrong George!). He is right in saying that there is no cycle route through France between Luxembourg and Strasbourg but this is further south than the “kink” and I am happy to meander the border towns between France and Belgium, then Luxembourg, then Germany before arriving in Strasbourg. The picture, from the French Voies Vertes site shows the official routes that currently exist in France; certainly far short of a continuous line from Calais to Strasbourg that I might wish for.
A straight(ish) line charge for Strasbourg it is then!
It’s true I didn’t do enough research ahead of time… that said, no matter how much research I’d done, I still would have followed “the route” laid out by the ECF in order to learn just how it is. I like the way you diplomatically phrased, “I’m sure [the ECF] are very nice people and very good at getting funds to produce glossy brochures and development plans but until they start engaging with the grass roots… they will always fall short of what they purport to be in their name.” They seem to be engaging the folks at the VVV and other “official,” local organizations. That said, I had *tons* of information and whatnot to share with them and they gave me less than 10 minutes because they had an important meeting to get started. When I asked if there was a time I could come back, the answer was not really, but they’d love to receive an e-mail and any content I could give them. Long story short, I agree with your assessment, except that they *are* getting in touch with, and indeed delegating responsibility of sections of each route to, local “authorities.” On that note, I liked to hear about one model used up in Scandinavia where a sort of “route ranger” (in the sense of park ranger) is responsible for a section of bike path.
Regarding Lille to Luxembourg, it sounds like you’re already decided on “Straight-lining.” Sounds great! Let me know what you find there! And if you could record GPS coordinates and take pictures of the route, that’d be great. I have a paper cycle map of all of southern belgium (purchased at the cycling office in Brussels) that might do you some good, but I just sent it ahead of me, to California and haven’t made the time to scan or post it yet. I’ll meet up with it around the beginning of June and have made a reminder in my calendar to post it and send it to you. Of note, though, is that a “cycle route” in southern belgium is not usually actually a “cycle route,” but rather the least busy street that goes a long way with few turns. Some of them, too, would be really hard to follow without a lot of planning and map-reading, as there weren’t really any signs for continuous routes until I got to Northern Belgium.
And thanks for the clarification – indeed, the kink you’re planning on removing by skipping Brussels *is* well north of the stretch between Luxembourg and Strasbourg. Regarding that section, I would try out the german trails, as pretty much everyone I met said it was more pleasant than riding through France (and clearly marked to boot). They’re a bit farther out of the way (remove one kink and add another?) and more hilly, but without the car traffic – worth it to me! I get so tired of that constant car noise and exhaust, and love the safety of carless bike paths.
True to our relationship we seemed to have swapped places!!
In the past week I have almost decided to start from Brussels. My plan was always to get the eurostar to Calais and start there, but it seems that trains that stop in Calais are either very early in the morning, or very late at night! A train to Brussels is easier to arrange, and it also means visiting a few more countries and sticking close to the EV5. I have never been to Brussels, as you have. And when I was starting in Calais I was not keen on the detour to Brussels, so I can see your point.
Are you still travelling by Eurostar? I looked into taking a bike across the channel on Eurostar a few years ago but found out that the bike itself had to be deposited at the terminal 24 hours before departure. Has this now changed? You could get a train down to Dover on the commuter lines and then cross the channel by ferry. That would allow you to arrive in Calais at a decent time to set up camp (or find a hostel) somewhere near Calais before setting off the following morning…
I did want to do that originally, I prefer ferry! However, train to Dover is £85 off peak, and then the ferry cost, compared to Eurostar to Brussels £60 + £20 bike fee. There does now seem to be an option to take a bike on as oversize luggage.