The collegiate atmosphere of the five cycling tourists on the one small patch of ground at the campsite south of Maastricht continued this morning as we all packed away our things are readied ourselves to head off in our respective directions; Javier to the north, Nils to the south, the Dutch couple to Eindhoven and me east towards the German border and Aachen. I seemed to ‘win’ the packing race and was off by shortly after 9am back along the road north towards Maastricht. My initial thoughts were to return to the old centre for coffee and breakfast but in the end I decided to stay on the more modern eastern side of the Meuse and admire Dutch post war urban planning at its best. Where did Britain go wrong? Why didn’t we create a country in the 1950s that gave foundations to a desirable environment in which to live in the early 21st century? Let’s face it, we cocked up big time and it’s all too evident to see when you visit continental destinations like Maastricht.
Moving on… Which is what I did, along the very straight N237 all the way from Maastricht to Aachen. Not only was it straight but the inclines were long and uniform. Usually the altitude profile generated by Cyclemeter has an earthquake feel; today it doesn’t. It exudes long uniformity…
Along that first long, steady climb just after 10 km I came across the main American war cemetery for The Netherlands. Over 8,000 soldiers are buried there which makes it almost as depressingly large as the cemetery in Normandy. It was interesting to contrast the atmosphere with that of the more somber German cemetery that I visited last week in France. Nothing triumphal, just more uplifting and hopeful. It’s strange to think that all of those 8,000 people were never aware that they didn’t give their lives in vain. They never knew of VE Day, the demise of the 3rd Reich, the downfall of Hitler… They died still hoping but not knowing. It’s a strange thought.
I chatted to the Dutch woman in the small information office about why there were ribbons tied to the trees along the road outside the cemetery (she gave me a leaflet – read the book in 2016!). She asked me where I was travelling from and to and then informed me that she had been to both Tarifa and Nordkapp. She conceded that she hadn’t cycled between the two. Next time I really do need to choose starting and finishing points that few people have heard of let alone visited!
Up, down, up, down… Lunch was from a strawberry vending machine… Up, down… Then I arrived in Vaals, the very well tended last town in Netherlands. But stop! What’s that? Can it really be true?? Is it? No! Never!! [Get on with it; make your point!]. An international border sign! Yes, for the first time since leaving Gibraltar I was being informed that I was moving from one country to the next. How novel! The video of my shock is on the Facebook page.
So to Aachen, the twin town of Halifax/Calderdale as the sign proclaimed it. I was born there (Halifax, not Aachen) but the Germans seem to have exploited the whole twinning thing to a much greater extent than Halifax. I made my way past Halifaxstraße (I’m being serious – look on a map) and into the old centre of the town. Similarly to my arrival in Maastricht yesterday, I was expecting something older than what I was given. Another place to have suffered from the miseries of war I suppose but the heart of Aachen was still well preserved, especially the Rathaus and the extraordinary cathedral. I was in two minds as to whether to poke my head inside it I’m glad I did. Byzantine according to my guidebook; the place of the coronations of German kings for five centuries. Dazzling!
There was one major issue. Accommodation. No campsite that allows tents and the formal lady at the tourist office knew of no other sites in the direction of Cologne. The local hostel didn’t have great reviews so it was back to Booking.com and a €50 hotel. Could this all have been avoided by a bit of forward planning…?