2 — 14 September, 2019
We had dreamt of a bike journey from Paris to Amsterdam for many years, and in September 2019 – three years after we started developing the plan – our dream came true.
We designed the merchandise for the trip, including the flag, caps, buffs, and postcards which we’d send to our cyclist friends. We knew this would be a windy ride and incorporated a weather vane into our logo, painted in the colours of the French and Dutch flags. Added to the logo was our official sponsor, KLM Airlines. The Dutch air carrier marked its 100th anniversary in 2019 and was kind enough to sponsor our flights to and from Europe.
51 hours 40 minutes
Day 1. Paris — Le Havre
We flew into Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, our bicycles packed into cardboard boxes. One of the boxes ended up slightly torn, but luckily no damage was done. Finding the way out of the airport was quite a challenge since it’s tailored for public transport and cars. Our first few kilometers of the journey were probably the most stressful. The highway out of the airport was not bike-friendly, and we were catching the angry glances of drivers. However, three kilometers in we took the exit to an excellent bike path and breathed out.
We were supposed to have at least five hours to explore Paris and grab a bite before taking the train to Le Havre. However, due to the delays at the airport we arrived in the city much later than anticipated.
We were efficient enough to quickly take in the views of the local landmarks but had to skip lunch altogether.
Late night in Le Havre we drank coke for dinner and went straight to bed dreaming of the croissants we’d have the following morning.
Day 2. Le Havre — Dieppe
We pumped up the tires and ran some errands, while briefly enjoying the sights of the city that’s home to one of France’s biggest ports. We saw very little and decided to come back one day.
It started raining just as we hit the seafront where the bike path to Dieppe starts.
Luckily, the rain stayed in Le Havre and as we were cycling past the local lighthouse and one of the many wartime bunkers spread along the coast of Normandy, the weather was getting better and better. The seaside wind was blowing hard but the views were breathtaking.
Stretching in front of us were the famous white chalk cliffs at Etretat. We were beyond lucky to see this nature-made beauty in person and I can see now why some of the world’s most famous artists seeked to depict them.
Hiding in the cliffs is a dangerous cave that gets flooded every evening at high tide, but we were smart enough to avoid it.
The road to Dieppe from Etretat was rather easy and smooth, with gentle slopes and ascents. The wind was blowing into our backs the whole time.
Day 3. Dieppe — Berck
Our stay in Dieppe was rather unadventurous, save for a false fire alarm during the night at the hotel.
The following morning we took to the seafront and cycled to Berck with a stopover in the charming town of Le Treport. The latter is set against the backdrop of stunning 100-metre cliffs. A recently renovated century-old cable car can take you to the top of the cliffs for even more breath-taking views. This is another spot we’d like to revisit.
Soon after leaving the town we rode into a tunnel designed for cyclists. Marked on all cycling maps as a must-see, it turned out to be an extremely narrow and low-ceiling passage with graffiti walls of dubious artistic value. The road then turned to gravel and we made a detour, eventually arriving at the seafront again. We cycled for a bit along the country roads and got to Berk on time.
Day 4. Berck— Gravelines
While on the road we usually don’t eat at restaurants, but on the fourth day of our Eurotrip we made an exception and sat down for dinner in the town of Audresselles.
The steak and fries were a welcome change to the daily diet of hotel meals and coffee shop snacks. We didn’t skip dessert, either.
The weather took a turn for the worse in the afternoon. The wind picked up and it started to rain. We put on our thermal layers and cycled to Cape Gris-Nez. Located just outside of Calais, this is the closest point to England in France. On a good day you can even see the snow-white rocks of Dover with the naked eye.
As we were approaching Calais, the road took us downhill quite sharply. The sudden acceleration to 70km per hour felt nerve-wrecking but we kept in control. In Calais we had just about enough time to enjoy the downtown and drink some coffee. We then headed further to Graveline where we stayed the night.
Day 5. Graveline — Dunkirk — Lille — Bren-l’Alleux
We planned quite a lot for our fifth day so we woke up early and were on our bicycles by six in the morning. Cycling in the dark and cold is of questionable pleasure, but in the end we managed everything! First we dropped by Dunkirk, a town famous for the World War II battle depicted in Christopher Nolan’s 2017 blockbuster of the same name. We made it to the beach and saw the famous Leffrinckoucke Bunkers covered with glass.
From Dunkirk we took a train to Lille, another beautiful town on our route. There just wasn’t enough time to enjoy its fairytale colorful buildings and old cobblestone pavements, as there was another must-see ahead of us. Velodrome Andre Petrieux in Roubaix is the end point of a same-day race that starts in Paris. The track was free when we got there so we couldn’t resist having a ride.
We didn’t even notice leaving France and entering Belgium as we headed towards our next destination: the Tour of Flanders Museum in the Belgian town of Oudenaarde. Little did we know that the museum attracts biking enthusiasts from around the world! We spent three hours there and stayed for lunch in a cute cafe with ceiling lamps made of bicycle wheels.
The gift shop also delivered, and we took with us two little cyclist figurines.
Our destination that night was a rental apartment in Braine-l’Alleud (not far from Waterloo), and we chose the route that’s part of the Tour of Flanders. Due to the constant ascents and paved paths we went off the schedule and the last few kilometers saw us pedalling frantically in total darkness through a scary forest outside our destination town.
Route to Lille to Dunkirk
Route from Lille to Bren-l’Alleux
Day 6. Braine-l’Alleud — Brussels
This was the first day we encountered some proper ragged roads. Yet, this was also the day we put our tourist shoes on in order to do some sightseeing.
The museum turned out to be large and fascinating, and the museum cafe and gift shop were most enjoyable as well. There were quite a lot of visitors, probably because of the weekend.
It was hard to leave the place but another art experience awaited us in Brussels – a large show of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the local museum of fine arts.
We were in such a rush, the chain on one of our tires tore – the first and only time throughout the journey! Luckily after applying a quick patch we were soon on the road again and got to Brussels on time.
Seeing the paintings we’d only previously admired online was an extremely rewarding experience. Only after leaving the museum were we able to relax and take a break. The chain was fixed, and we headed to our hotel located not far from the Atomium monument.
Day 7. Brussels — Ossendrecht
Next up, we headed to Antwerp, Belgium’s second biggest city. There were only a couple of hours allocated to this stop – enough to see the city centre and the Grote Markt Square. Antwerp was added to our “to come back to” list.
The borders between the EU countries are all but invisible and before we even noticed we were in the Netherlands. That night we stayed at a heritage pension in the countryside populated mainly with old folks looking for a nature getaway.
Day 8. Ossendrecht — Rotterdam
Canals, fields, old windmills and new wind turbines. We were riding through all things Dutch. Almost every road had a bike path shoulder!
Upon entering Rotterdam we even cycled through another kilometer-long underwater tunnel.
The historic Rotterdam was almost entirely destroyed after a 1940 air raid and the fire that followed. Only a few pre-war buildings remained and were restored, while the rest of the city was rebuilt from scratch.
Hence at almost 700 years of age, Rotterdam has an ultra modern look.
We were tempted to crash at the famous cube house hostel but in the end opted for a cheaper bed and breakfast.
Day 9. Rotterdam — Zandvoort
After a short ride around the town we set off to Den Haag. The plan was to follow the picturesque seaside path and see the North Sea dunes.
Unfortunately there was not much to see as we were followed by hard rain for the rest of the day, and the stormy wind was blowing the sand straight into our faces. Den Haag — Zandvoort, done!