75 Classic Rides WashingtonMike McQuaide is an avid cyclist and the author of 75 Classic Rides: Washington. This past February, Mike and his family moved to Luxembourg in Northern Europe, and with most of the Northwest’s biggest cycling events about to get underway, we thought it a good time to catch up with Mike to see how he’s faring in the world’s only Grand Duchy.

Want to follow along with Mike's adventures? Checkout his Facebook page.

Tell me, how do you like living in Luxembourg?

Mike McQuaideI love it! Luxembourg is this tiny, amazing country that’s only 30 miles wide by 50 miles long, that’s it. It’s less than half the size of King County! But it’s got castles and old stone forts everywhere, and in the north of the country, the Ardennes, there are these beautiful rolling hills with forests and fields and just so much history. They fought the Battle of the Bulge up there and so you see a lot of American flags and various artifacts—tanks and such, from World War II.

My family and I live in Luxembourg City, a city that's celebrating its 1,050th-year anniversary this year, which is sort of mind-boggling! It’s got that cool, European City-vibe but it’s not vast or overwhelming or anything.  About 100,000 people live here in the city but because Luxembourg City is a big international banking, insurance, European Union hub, every day some 150,000 people commute here from France, Germany and Belgium. So, every day the population swells from about the size of Bellingham to over a quarter-million people! It’s incredibly diverse too; there are people living here from something like 168 different countries. (Can you tell I’ve been on the Luxembourg City guided walking tour?)

What else—oh yeah, Luxembourg has three official languages -- French, German and Luxembourgish (none of which I speak, though I’m trying to learn) -- two national flags, and the phone numbers can have eight, nine or 12 digits!  And oh yes, Luxembourg is not Lichtenstein—that’s the other tiny European country that starts with ‘L’.


What’s it like living someplace where you don’t speak the languages?

Most people here can speak English so it hasn’t really been a problem. I have to say, people’s language dexterity here is off the charts! Children grow up speaking Luxembourgish at home, learn German and then French in early elementary school, and then English, if they want, starting in about Middle School. Luxembourg has a long history of Italian and Portuguese immigration as well, so it’s not unusual for people to speak five or six languages and switch between them as easily as switching TV channels.

I’ve been lucky enough to make a bunch of cycling friends, and in general they’ll speak English when I’m around. They say they like the practice. Sometimes it’s fun though, and good practice for me, when they forget I’m there and they speak to each other in Luxembourgish and I try to follow their conversation, making out what words I can. I can tell when they’re agreeing with each other: “Jo, jo, jo, …”—pronounced “Yo”; disagreeing: “Nee, nee, nee, …”, and, when we come to an intersection and we’re to turn left: “Lénks!”. I don’t, however, recognize the word for ‘right’ so a lot of times, I find myself continuing straight as everyone else turns right. 


Speaking of cycling, how’s the riding in Luxembourg?

Mike McQuaideI think it’s super! Luxembourg has this National Cyclepath system (or réseau national des pistes cyclables) which is a network of some 360 miles of mostly paved dedicated bike trails, with another 200 miles to be added in the coming years. There are also some smaller regional pathways (circuits régionaux) that aren’t part of the national network so there’re just hundreds and hundreds of miles of paved trails. And up north, in the less-populated regions of Luxembourg, the roads have relatively few cars on them so you feel like you pretty much have the whole country to yourself. You’re just pedaling up and down the spectacular countryside, past chateau after chateau, through tiny village after tiny village—it’s like riding through Fairy-tale Land! And, come to think of it, you don’t have the country to yourself up there; you share the roads with the seemingly hundreds of Dutch cyclists who foray down from the flat Netherlands to ride Luxembourg’s hills and nice roads.

I like hills myself and though there are no Alps or big mountains in Luxembourg, there are plenty of short, steep 15- to 20-percent pitches, many of which are cobbled and are great places for thrusting oneself into the pain cave, should that be one’s intention. A lot of them are Strava segments too, so you can quickly and easily find out how much slower you are than some European pro cyclists!  


Is there anything that you miss about riding in Washington State?

Oh yeah, definitely. And that’s one of the things I’ve found so interesting: I’ve truly loved what I’ve ridden here so far and know that it’s just the tip of the iceberg, but at the same time this experience has made me appreciate even more all the great cycling that we have in Washington. And that’s saying something, because I was already crazy in love with our Evergreen State.

I miss Washington’s epic variety. Riding in the islands: all the ups and downs with sparkling water views always just around the corner. The flats riding throughout the Skagit floodplain. The huge alpine climbs like Hurricane Ridge and Mount Baker and everything down at Mount Rainier, where you’re just grinding away in your tiny gears for like an hour, hour-and-a-half but you get rewarded with these out-of-this-world alpine vistas: flowers and meadows and lakes and maybe a black bear or two and some gigantic volcano that dominates the sky! And that’s not even touching on Eastern Washington: those beautiful dry pine forests, glistening rivers and amazing roads near Winthrop and Chelan and Wenatchee, or down in Yakima and Walla Walla. All of it, I miss it all.  

I miss the great events too: Ride Around Clark County, the Chelan Century, STP, Tour de Whatcom, RAMROD and wow, I could just go on and on. Washington is awesome!

Mike McQuaide

What’s next?

We have no idea how long we’re going to be here so I really want to see and ride as much as I can, as often as I can. I also really want to make some headway in the language-acquisition department. I’m trying, but I need a lot of work, particularly with my French.

The other day I’d forgotten my bag when I went to the grocery store and so I needed to ask the checker for a plastic bag (“Un sachet”; pronounced Uh sa-shay), but instead I said “Enchanté” (pronounced Uh shahn-tee) which is generally used for “Nice to meet you.” The checker looked confused and didn’t offer me a bag, so I said it louder and repeated it a couple times while pointing at the bags.

“Enchanté … Enchanté … Enchanté!” 

Essentially I was pointing at a stack of plastic bags and saying, “Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you.”


To follow along on Mike's adventures abroad be sure to like his Facebook page, or checkout his blog. And to ride some of his favorite rides in Washington, pick up 75 Classic Rides Washington.




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