It has been almost a week since I initially left Paris, pedaling out towards Luxembourg. Since then I have had the opportunity to see seemingly countless villages and endless agricultural fields, all while gaining insight into French culture. From the picturesque champagne country of the Marne river valley, to the scarred landscapes leftover from WWI in Verdun, I’m grateful to have been able to see France from perspective and speed of a bicycle.
Making my way out of Paris, massive concrete housing blocks stood ominously over small suburbs as artifacts of the modernist/brutalist movement of the mid-century. Some may have still been occupied, but others were derelict. By this time, I began to notice other peculiarities of concrete in the form of infrastructures as I continued to make my way towards the outskirts of development. Large water towers were almost alarming at first, looking more like alien watchtowers on the horizon. In addition, telephone lines are suspended by concrete masts instead of creosote treated timber poles, like in the United States. By the time I made it 30 miles outside of Paris, the landscape had shifted to almost entirely agricultural, with small villages scattered intermittently along my route. At 50 miles, I entered the Marne valley, and was surrounded by vineyards until I made it to Reims. Small villages are spaced almost evenly along the “Rue de Champagne”, seemingly centralized to the acreage of vineyards that each of the champagne maker’s tended.
Immediately after leaving Paris, I knew that my window of good weather would be short-lived. As I spent the previous week exploring Paris with the temperature being in the mid 90’s, a cold front was following me as I made my way to Reims. Luckily, I had the pleasure of being hosted by a couple of cyclists who were able to share some of the history of their city during my stay. Much of Reims was destroyed, or heavily damaged, during the First World War, including the magnificent gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame. My host Severine showed me pictures of citizens taking refuge in wine cellars, and even had a newspaper from 1914. Now, many of the buildings are modernist concrete structures, and the lost timber-framed homes have been rebuilt from stone.
Although it was nice to sleep under the stars for my first couple of nights on the Rue de Champagne, I as an architecture student, should have the known the importance of having shelter, and quickly found myself looking for an alternative to a wet sleeping bag as I made my way past Reims. After finding inexpensive accommodation in Verdun though, I was glad to have made the stop. Just like Reims, my host was able to share some of history of his town, and even had found artifacts from the war in the walls of his home as he made renovations. In Verdun though, you almost don’t even need to be told of the history, as the buildings themselves still show the scars from the shelling, and the battlefields remain a chilling, haggard landscape.
Now in Luxembourg, having completed most of the back-to-back days of riding I’ll
do on my tour, I’m looking forward to getting into the cities that will be the subject of my studies. After riding on some less than ideal roads on my way into Luxembourg, it will be refreshing to make my way into the low-countries of Europe with their extensive cycling infrastructure. For now, I’ll explore Luxembourg and make my way to Nuess, Germany, before cutting over into the Netherlands to visit Eindhoven.