Day 23 – Beziers to Carcassonne
I got lucky – the winds died down considerably overnight and I didn’t have too hard a time for the start of today’s ride. There was still a cool headwind though and I had to wear my windbreaker for about the first 30 kms of today’s 90 km ride.
The weather actually has been unseasonably cool in this region for the past few days as the areas that I have travelled through are usually the hottest – you know… South of France! Today was cloudy for most of the day and some rain spots are appearing this evening – still warm and muggy though.
I figured that the roads D11 & D5 would be busy today, as combined they are one of the main routes west, but they were surprisingly quiet and good roads for most of the trip. The last 10 kms on the D6113 were much busier as I neared the city of Carcassonne. More miles of vineyards and fruit growing country – melons are everywhere too (hard to carry on the bike though) – but as I headed inland further the scenery was definitely changing. The roads were getting a bit hillier and more trees and small forests were apparent. The winds also lessened as I headed inland further.
An interesting discovery today was the canal that I was camped next to last night – Canal du Midi – runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. I could have probably ridden the towpath all the way to Carcassonne, but it would have been much slower. Nevertheless, it would be an excellent way to travel had I planned for it.
I arrived in the “La Cite” of Carcassonne, which is a very large medieval walled city. Absolutely amazing too – towers, walls, ramparts, chateau and a large church in the centre of the old city. Very much reminds me of York in England, albeit on a different scale and with all of the outer walls virtually intact here. Tomorrow is a full day off for me, so a great place to poke around in and rubber-neck for a day. I booked the hostel here for a couple of days and it is right in the centre of the old city, so a prime location for exploring without paying the high prices of neighbouring hotels, which charge quite a price around this tourist attraction. I know, I’m a tourist too, but it is jam packed with them here.
To be honest, after this I won’t be looking for any more large towns to stay in – they are just too crowded and too busy for me. Just negotiating one’s way through some of the towns is a nightmare of one way streets, cars, scooters, cyclists etc. Oh, for the peaceful small villages.
No mail tomorrow, I’ll write again as I start to head north back to Paris next week.
Adam K. & (Where do all these people come from?) Basil.
Day 24 – Rest Day in Carcassonne
Views from around La Cite…
Day 25 – Carcassonne to Albi
It was very hot today, the temperature rose over the 32 degree mark and it was hard work keeping hydrated. I had a bit a tailwind for a change and it was very rewarding ride as I had some beautiful panoramic scenery to look at all day long through the 120 kms it took to get to Albi.
I took lots of photos along the way, but a small camera can never reproduce those panoramic views. One reason that I had such good views was that I had to cross the “Montagne Noire” after leaving Carcassonne on the D118 – that was about 20 kms of climbing to get to just over 800 metres. The grades weren’t that bad, but quite wearing. In fact, even after that the road was a roly-poly affair with climbs and descents all day long. I stayed on the D118 all the way to Albi and then had to hunt around for the campsite.
Funny day too – it must be a national holiday here today as all the shops were closed in two quite large towns that I rode through – slim pickings for those patisserie shops where I get my daily quiche fix. Luckily in Albi – probably because it is more touristy, there were shops open for me to pick up some goodies and drinks. I wish that I had more time to visit some of these other places such as Albi where I am now – another town reeking of history and historic monuments/architecture.
Albi boasts quite a few things, but the main draw is the world’s largest brick-built cathedral – and it is huge too. Albi was also home to Toulouse Lautrec – another famous French artist. I had a quick gander at the Cathedral and the other sights in town, but I have to keep moving on my schedule now to get back to Paris.
By the way, I had a splendid day off in Carcassonne. After seeing as much of the old city (La Cite) as I wanted to, I headed into Carcassonne proper and wandered around there.
I watched boats getting raised and lowered in the canal locks, watched some trains, ate, drank and generally lazed about for the day. And I met some nice people in the hostel in the evening to share a bottle of wine with and chat about travels past.
Adam K. & (Phew, that was one hot day) Basil.
Day 26 – Albi to Villefranche-en-Rouergue
What a difference a day makes! From yesterday’s heat and tailwind to today’s cool temperatures, rain and headwinds. Today was supposed to be an easy day for me, but it didn’t work out that way.
I heard some raindrops on the tent fly this morning, then they stopped, so I hurried out of the sack and packed up my gear while it was still dry – quick breaky of oatmeal, banana and coffee – and hit the road. Almost immediately out of Albi on the D600 there is a steep hill – about 10% or 11% for a few kilometres. Well I managed to clear that before the first rain squall hit, after that it was rain squalls with drizzle interludes all the 70 plus kms to Villefranche-en-Rouergue. Yeah, headwinds too, it was a miserable ride and continued to be very hilly even when I switched to the D922 – more of yesterday’s roly-poly hilly roads from ridge to ridge. It’s too bad, because this was listed as a scenic route and it really was, but the rain really put a damper on rubbernecking the wonderful views.
I was definitely glad that I’d booked a hostel ahead – and they let me in early, so I stripped off the raingear then into a nice hot shower – felt good. That’s one of the worst things about riding in the rain – the rain gear just makes you sweat like a pig, but if you don’t wear it, you get wet and cold – no happy medium, especially at full exertion while climbing any grades. I seemed to do a lot of climbing today too – rewarded by a final 8 kms of (wet) downhill into Villefranche-en-Rouergue at the end of the day – I think that I’ll have to pay for that in the morning to leave town though!
Villefranche-en-Rouergue – another historic town and with my little bit of extra time this afternoon, I had a quick look around – more historic churches, town squares, narrow streets and old buildings. All these places are melding into one for me now, as the towns are getting to look alike. I hate to say that, but that’s how I see it. I guess, it’s going to take something really impressive now to make an impact on me! However, I did discover that the Tour de France boys rode through here on July 12th – so I guess that I’ve been cycling some more of their route!
That’s enough for today – I’ve got a long hard ride tomorrow, and I’m praying that the weather will brighten up and perhaps even give me a tail wind.
Adam K. & (I thought that I would have to use my swimming skills today) Basil.
Day 27 – Villefranche-en-Rouergue to Brive-la-Gaillarde
I had a hostel booked at Brive-la-Gaillarde, so I pretty well had to make it a long day regardless of road conditions or weather, and 140 kms of riding was more than enough today for sure.
The ride should have been about 10 kms shorter, but I ran into a detour just south of Figeac on the D922. The old “Route Barre” sign reared its ugly head and is not something a cyclist wants to see, especially on a day when I’m trying to make miles in a hurry. So the detour sends me over some Godforsaken hill and back down into a village before demanding a steep climb to get back on track to Figeac proper – we were not amused!
Otherwise, still lots of climbing early in the day- I’ll take a guess and say that over the day I accumulated well over 2000 metres of climbing – very up and down. But after Figeac I switched to the D840 and then after the village of Le Bourg, the hills were certainly less steep than before as I entered the Dordogne valley region. All in all though another very scenic day, bridges, rivers, gorges etc. – when the roads are marked as scenic on the maps and there are viewpoints listed – well, you don’t do viewpoints from the bottom of a wall, do you? So go figure that they all take a little work!
I think that I passed through at least four towns that were rated as “Medieval” – and I could have spent hours in any one of them, but time marches on. I managed to get to Brive-la-Gaillarde in the late afternoon though, even with a late start from last night’s hostel (none of the hostels seem to serve breakfast before 7:30 or 8:00 a.m.) and the detour business.
After checking in and cleaning up, I met up with an Australian cycle tourist at the hostel who is touring similar areas to mine. Although he is not as foolish as me to carry all the camping gear etc., but has booked all his hostels ahead, so no camping and looking for digs for him, or carrying the extra weight. Interesting fellow though and nice to converse with someone in a language something similar to English!
The weather was just fine today – sunny and cloudy, which kept it cool enough for comfortable riding – hopefully this will continue as I plan to camp tomorrow somewhere east of Limoges. I still hit headwinds today though once I was in in the Dordogne valley – but nothing too serious.
I think that I mentioned before about most shops closing at noon for a couple of hours, well that’s about the time that I’m usually scrounging for something to eat or drink without actually going to a bar or restaurant. Today, I just about had to strongarm a shopkeeper into letting me into his store to spend my hard earned money on a couple of items. You think that he’d be pleased to see a paying customer – oh no, lunch is much more important. I’m glad that I got what I wanted though, it was hard enough today to keep the energy level up to do the miles that I wanted.
Adam K. & (Shops closed for lunch – imagine, tsk, tsk) Basil.
Day 28 – Brive-la-Gaillarde to St Leonard-de-Noblat
Another day of great riding – the roads today were unbelievably quiet, probably due to the fact that the route I chose parallels the main A20 motorway to Paris.
I basically took the D920 all the way out of Brive-la-Gaillarde until I could pick up the D7B route to St Leonard. The D920 snakes around the motorway, changing sides many times. It was also another day filled with a fair amount of climbing and roly-poly roads for almost the whole 100 kms, but with an extreme lack of traffic. I never went through any large towns and all the villages that I did pass through were certainly beyond quaint and clean – superb. Much farmland, historic churches/buildings to look at for vistas and other spectacular viewpoints made this another day of eye-candy!
The weather was perfect, fairly hot but not overbearing and no wind to speak of at all. I chose to camp today and lucked into a very pretty campsite by a river and a weir. The place is almost deserted as most French people are at the end of their Summer holidays now I feel. Hostel last night was good too – also very quiet, I had a room for three all to myself for a change. Basil liked it too – he had his own bed!
I keep meaning to mention the foods here – and the diet is very different from what I consider a North American diet. Lots of focus here on meats, cheeses, deserts and of course, wine. All the grocery stores here have a fabulous array of cheeses – I really have never seen such vast amounts of cheese displayed in shops. I’ve managed to try quite a few different varieties and haven’t had one yet that I didn’t like. Some cheeses are even served hot on a salad, such as “Chevre,” which is a goat cheese – very nice too. I don’t think that I could get used to the French diet long term though – there’s lots of things that I miss and I hate eating white bread (baguettes) all the time, but that’s all that’s available most of the time. But I have to admit that the quality and taste of even the white bread is very good. Wine – what can I say about that- just a stupendous selection to choose from and by far the cheapest item to buy in France. Many wines are less than a few dollars for a bottle and nearly all the ones that I have tried, have tasted good to me – but there again, I’m no connoisseur – however, I do know what tastes good and what doesn’t! Beer, well I have to say that the best beer that I’ve had yet is Belgian beer – I’ve not really been exposed to any quality French beers, but I’m sure that there are some out there. Besides, when you’re hot and thirsty, any cold beer will taste very, very good!
Adam K. & (I didn’t like that smelly blue cheese) Basil.