From Budapest we took a local train from Keleti station to Gyor close to the Hungarian border where we were able to hop an express to Vienna. “It’s peak season, you can’t expect to just take a train with your bikes you need to book in advance.” said the flustered station attendant. Well pardon me for asking.
We were to spend a further couple of days in Vienna before we could take the overnight train to Cologne, time well spent servicing the bicycles and relaxing. We shared our train compartment with three lively young Swiss guys. One fresh out of the Army, another doing his best to avoid compulsory military service, while the third was a political activist and member of the Swiss Socialist Party. I grabbed a few snatches of sleep before arriving bleary eyed to a wet early morning in Cologne.
We had been to Cologne before, so were able to navigate out through the suburbs for a few Kilometres. We were also reacquainted with our old friend the Rhine. Despite our best efforts we got lost once or twice following paths that criss crossed farmers fields of carrots corn and rye grass. At one point in particular, we were exposed as the heavens opened up above and we were pelted with hail and sleet. Hearing thunder, I was fearful of a lightening strike! Cycling’s like that, everyday reveals adventure and challenges. You get lost, it’s blisteringly hot and you get stung by a bee- ouch. It rains or the campsite you arrive at is closed.
Despite minor setbacks you always manage to find a camp. Out on the road cycling days are lived to there full. Hiding out under bridges or by the edge of apple tree orchards, we sneak along towards Aachen avoiding as much of the torrential rain as possible. Therese is a navigational wiz plotting a course through the cobbled streets of the old town to the cycle path that takes us across the border into the Netherlands and 35 kilometres later, after almost drying out, we arrived exhausted but exhilarated at Maastricht railway station, where we meet our Warmshowers hosts George and Monique.
We were treated like old friends to an amazing homemade Greek feast, wonderful conversation, a shower and a warm bed It’s great to sit and chat with other cycle tourists and hear about their adventures. We exchanged tips and stories and talked late into the night about plans for the next tour, there’s always a next tour! After a final early morning breakfast of Stoop on bread (think deliciously sweet Vegemite) George rode us on a guided tour of Maastricht, before we crossed the border into Belgium along the Albert canal. We cycled back roads, along canals and cycle paths in brilliant sunshine to the Saturday morning market in the Belgium 7th Century town of Hasselt.
Therese was questioned by a passing bicycle policeman who she thought was going to arrest her but it turned out he was an avid cycle tourist who’d ridden around the world and through Asia. We then passed through a medieval town called Diest, with its festive flags, narrow and winding streets and ramparts still partially preserved around the walls of the old town.
Pushing on along a rough forest track late in the afternoon, we arrived at Averbode famous for its monastery, where we enjoyed a quite nights camp under the trees in a pine forest. Next stop was Aarshot. At the Vangrootloon Cafe in Martyrs Square at Aarschot, we met a local, Liz who gave us a history lesson of the area and told us a story of when the Germans came to her Grandmother’s house, the corporal in charge said “You and your sisters will be safe, if any of my men try anything I will have them shot.” When one of the soldiers attempted to molest her grandmother,true to his word, the corporal had him shot! “My grandmother, her virtue intact, continued to correspond with the corporal after the war and I now keep in touch with his grandson. You have to forgive. ”
Ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events.