As mentioned previously, Luxembourg is small. The city boasts about 90-100K residents, which almost puts it on par with Alphabet City in New York. On weekends, when all the commuters from France, Belgium, and Germany stay home, it can feel even lonelier.
Fortunately, there are other places to visit a short train ride away. 20 minutes to the West, just past the IKEA on the Belgium side of the border, is Arlon, an old Roman outpost that recently hosted a high-quality music series. 45 minutes in the opposite direction, one crosses the Moselle River and reaches Trier, the oldest city in Germany and home of Karl Marx. There's no real city closer than two hours away in the north (see the first article in this series). But in the south, it takes 45 minutes to reach Metz, the closest French city to us.
Naturally, if it takes 45 minutes to bike to Metz it can't take much longer to bike there. A couple of Saturdays ago, I tested out that axiom. The 60 Kms took me just over 4 hours and yielded the following photos and feelings:
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|The Border Flag. Fairly Straightforward.|
|Look just to the left of the leaping deer sign for the smokestacks.|
|An idyllic dip in said countryside.|
History, recent and ancient, is everywhere in Europe. Posts like the one pictured above lined the whole route from Luxembourg to Thionville, and probably continued along the road to Metz. The blue plaques back the words "Voie de La Liberté." This was the road the American army took in the fall of 1944 to liberate Northeast France and subsequently Luxembourg.
It's a small thing, the commemoration of this feat, but I still enjoyed taking the road in the opposite direction.
Thionville is situated on the Moselle. The Moselle is a helluva river for our area: starting in the Vosges mountain range in France, it winds through Metz, Thionville, and up to form the border between Luxembourg and Germany, before breaking off towards Trier and eventually feeding into the Rhine at Koblenz. Its namesake valleys in Luxembourg and Germany are famous for cremant (sparkling wine ala champagne, and just as good) and white wine, respectively. We took a river cruise along the German border with friends one day this spring, and I wondered about the history of the river, and if anybody fled across the river by cover of night to escape Germany in, say 1938. Above, in Thionville, I'm wondering if there's anywhere along the river bank where I can pee without getting arrested.
My route took a fortuitous turn at this point. Not only did I find a reasonably tree-filled area where I could relieve myself: the road also became a bike-only path along the Moselle for the next 20 kilometers. Riding along the quiet river with only a few people passing me and the verdant waterfront to guide me, I felt a fleeting, powerful on rush of joy. For about an hour along the river, I sang, I cried, "Vive le vélo rouge! Vive la voie de la liberté!" I thought about things to write, I thought about life, I thought about nothing.
The thought process was especially liberating and meditative. When doing something meant to be meditative, like yoga or, well, meditation, I find my challenge is to harness my mind, to focus it on nothing or else on the task at hand. To reign in the "monkey mind". Usually, I fail at this on any objective scale, which is partly why I do yoga less than I should and meditate not at all. But when riding, when I have nobody to answer to and nothing to achieve, when I am exercising my physical energy and giving my testosterone and all the rest of it an outlet, I find my mind soaring, unshackled and unconcerned. On this day, with the weather a perfect sunny 70 degrees, riding along the river in a foreign country, thinking to myself in the language of the country (on about a 3rd grade level, but still), alone and free to strike out on my own path, I remembered my blessings, one mumbled French phrase at a time.
(And anybody knows how liberating it is to relieve an overstretched bladder on top of anything else).
|That pillar on the left with the circle and cross was some sort of strange windmill. One cannot capture its motion on a still-motion camera. Helas.|
|Europe, or at least the corner I'm in, may be more progressive about bike paths, but that doesn't always mean they maintain them well. A crisis, indeed.|
|Not sure how clear it is, but two of my favorite things about biking in Europe are represented here. To the left: cows. To the center/right: slow-moving traffic, on a Saturday no less.|
|A day late, half a meter short.|
|I'm not sure the installer of this sign realized its profundity: "You do not have the priority."|
Lastly, the Metz train station. By this point, weary from weaving through the suburbs and the northern part of the city, and anxious about the 40 or so euros I spent on DVDs and a French book about being fat and loving it, I felt drained of the earlier euphoria. In its place came the more lasting but more tenuous feeling of achievement.
What had I achieved? Nothing, really. Just a 4+ hour bike ride across a border and into France, a few transactions successfully managed in French, and a mild pain below my neck from wearing my backpack all day, including my computer to test out the weight.
Achievement is a funny thing. Take a big enough perspective, and all achievement is kind of silly. Take a small enough perspective, and the simplest task becomes a triumph over the gods. But the body, freed from thought and consciousness, knows when it has worked, and knows the feeling of satisfaction that accompanies fatigue. Whether or not that work and effort went to any end is up for the mind to waffle on.
Thinking back then, on the train, and now, a couple weeks later, I think of that hour along the river. Achieving that feeling is enough to keep going. On the bike or otherwise.
Vive le vélo rouge! Vive la voie de la liberté!
(Ok, I'll stop now.)