The Route, at a Glance…
Paris, Besançon, Annecy, Col de la Madeleine, Col du Galibier,
Aix-en-Provence,Montpellier, Carcassonne, Villefranche,
Brive-la-Gaillarde, Vierzon, Paris
July/August, 2008 – Approximately 2500 kms
Every year, I watch the Tour de France on TV and soak up the accomplishments of some of the world’s cycling elite. The TV coverage does a fantastic job of not only portraying the event, but also of allowing viewers worldwide to sample some of the incredibly picturesque regions of France itself. As the years passed, I became more and more tempted to visit some of those places and ride my bicycle on at least some portions of the routes of the pros – hallowed ground, so as to speak for many cycling aficionados!
So I checked my airline points plan and figured out that 2008 would be my year to drag my bike and butt over to Europe to check out the country of France and ride my own Tour of France – Adam & Basil style!
I also planned to be on the Champs-Élysées in Paris for the final stage of the Tour de France before heading out on my own tour – how cool is that!
In addition to Basil, I took along all my camping gear and my “Break-Apart” touring bike. My flight would be long, but that’s to be expected when travelling from the West Coast of Canada to Europe. I had two stops at Toronto, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec where I switched flights and hoped that my bike and gear did too! They did, and all arrived safely in France together with a very jet-lagged owner – I hate flying, but it’s a necessary evil!
I’d pre-booked a private room in a hostel in Paris (fairly expensive, but as I was soon to learn, so were many other commodities in France), and as I planned a loop tour to the same area for my return flight, the hostel would store my bike case for the five-plus weeks that I would be riding – for free too – bonus! The hostel was only opened this year and the facility was virtually brand new and located on the waterfront of the Quay de la Seine – a very pleasant place to stay in close proximity to many amenities, shops etc. As another bonus, my private room was on the top floor and I had a nice balcony with a wonderful view.
I’ll mention here that I have only added a few photos throughout this blog post of my bicycle tour in France, but all my images from this trip are available for viewing by clicking this link.
What follows are my (edited) email messages home to family and friends…
Travel to Paris
It was a loooooong day and night, especially as I only slept for about half an hour on the final flight to Paris. But it’s kind of hard to sleep when you know that the flight is only six and a half hours duration – about the same length as the other two combined to get me to Montreal (a milk run is often the penance for using airline points!). I thought that we would be delayed due to thunderstorms in Ontario and Quebec, but none materialised even though it was rainy, humid and hot. The only delay was in Toronto, due to the plane arriving late and the mass of humanity waiting to board – I didn’t know that flights from Toronto to Montreal were so busy and popular. In fact, that plane was bigger than the one from Victoria to Toronto! What a cattle car though – I wouldn’t recommend that route to my worst enemy. Luckily on my return trip, I miss that leg – shame eh?
CDG (Charles de Gaulle) airport in Paris is just a huge conglomeration of terminals – I’m glad that I pre-booked a shuttle van, which arrived right on time with a driver that spoke some English. All my gear arrived OK, so I guess that I’ve got no excuse and have pack all that crap all the way around France for the next five weeks. No extra fees at the airport for fuel surcharge (surprised the hell out of me!) and the lady at the check-in desk didn’t even comment on the weight of my bags – I was fretting because they were both on the limit of 50 lbs each. She was a newbie though, as she had to to ask another lady if my bike case was OK to fling down the chute. Funny thing was, she asked what was inside; I replied sheepishly that it was “bike parts.” She said, “oh a bike,” and began looking at her extra charges list. So I quickly chipped in, “not really, just parts,” “besides,” I said, “it is a legal sized case that I have travelled with on airlines with before.” She thankfully left it alone!
I pre-booked a pricey hostel in Paris but it was still much cheaper than a hotel would have been. St Christopher’s Inn Hostel is on one of the many canals in Paris – The Bassin de Villette – and I have a private room on the top floor of the building – the bonus is a narrow wrap around deck with a view over the rooftops of the city.
Anyway, no other things to report other than I’ve put my bike together and been exploring already. Paris is going to be quite the experience, I can see that already. Well, I’m absolutely knackered and even this cheap French plonk that I’ve found isn’t appealing enough to keep me awake. So an early night and lots of exploring to do over the next two days before I head out on the bike. And of course, I have the end of the Tour de France to watch on Sunday – live at the Champs-Élysées!
Adam K. & (thank God that I escaped that bag after that trip) Basil.
Day 3 – Touristing in Paris
Wow, what a couple of mad days I’ve had. I bought a Paris Metro pass for two days and spent them like the proverbial gopher – popping up out of holes and drinking in the sights. It’s a great way to play tourist without worrying too much where one ends up – the transit pass lets you go literally anywhere in the system for about $10 a day. Quite the bargain here, as everything else is super-sized, price-wise! A few examples – cup of coffee: C$8, pint of beer: C$8 and so on and so on. I did hear that it was pricey here, but many items are beyond belief. One ray of sunshine is the price of wine – very cheap. Needless to say, the vineyards better up production for the next few weeks ;-).
Otherwise, I could write six emails with all that I’ve seen, done, ate and drank in the last two days, but take my word for it when I say that it has been a wonderful experience so far – and today, watching the end of the Tour de France bike race on the Champs-Élysées was the ultimate thrill for any cycling enthusiast – myself included – what a rush; and probably a once in a lifetime memory which will last me forever. I’ll never forget the moment when the cyclists first appeared and the cheers started from the ten of thousands of people attending the event. Yes, it was hard to see and put up with being jostled and trodden on by other fans, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Now tomorrow, my own Tour of France begins – much slower than the guys I saw today, but nevertheless I’m sure that it will be a wonderful experience for me – and Basil.
More in a couple of days after I get settled on the road to wherever. Wish me luck getting out this zoo called Paris in the morning!
Adam K. & (Bummer! I was too short to see anything today) Basil.
Day 4 – Paris to Bray sur Seine
I had scoped out a plan for a reasonable route to leave the mayhem of roads in and around Paris, and for the beginning of the day it worked. Then in the suburbs, I encountered two detours – the first one was a mere hiccup for me, the second one got me completely lost! What’s that saying about the the best laid plans? Basically the plan went down the crapper, and I struggled in 30+ degree C heat to get out of the suburbs of Paris. The heat was really oppressive too as the humidity level must have been close to 100%.
Eventually I did find my way out onto my planned route (D231) to a town called Provins where I had researched a campground for my first night on the road. Down the crapper with that one too! The campground was closed and after asking at the tourist office, I found out that it never opened this Spring! Well it was getting late as it had taken quite a while to ride the 30 kms out of the melee of Paris plus other mileage to get to Provins. The girl at the tourist office gave me two choices; one campground was 10 kms back on the road I came – tempting, but I hate backtracking. The other choice was to ride another 20 kms into the headwind – Oh, I didn’t mention that did I? Yes, I should have known the way without a map – point my nose into the headwind and I won’t be far wrong! Anyway, I did the masochistic thing and took the 20 kms like a man – or fool, whatever you want to think. So it was pretty late after I set up, cleaned up, ate, drank two wonderfully cold beers and thought to hell with the email – you guys can get your fix, when I say so!
Besides the lateness, I did take in some good scenery, my biggest loss was the fact that Provins is a walled medieval town and I had planned for a quick looky-loo, but that wasn’t to be.
The humidity brought a night of thunderstorms, lightning and rain for my first camp night. By morning, even though the skies looked threatening, there was no rain and by noon the next day it was hot again, but at least the humidity had decreased.
Talking about down the crapper – you’ve got three choices, at least at the campground I did. One was to sit down on the regular toilet – no seat mind you! The next was the squat toilet, pretty dangerous after a tough day in the saddle and shaky legs. The third was actually at the next site on Day 5, and that was a regular seat. Now don’t forget yer tush paper here, ’cause there ain’t none. If you don’t have your own – “tough shit” as they say!
Adam K. & (I didn’t know that there were so many streets in Paris) Basil.
Day 5 – Bray sur Seine to Tonnerre
I had a dark start to the day and rushed to pack my (wet) gear away before any further rain started – didn’t happen though.
Today’s ride was on much quieter roads, thanks to the girl at the tourist info in Provins, who gave me a more detailed map of some of the back roads. I followed the smaller roads until the map gave out and then took the D905 all the way to Tonnerre. I will have to buy more maps like this on route, as knowing the numbers of the back roads is invaluable. The map that I brought along is good, and it does show campgrounds etc., (doesn’t show that they’re closed mind you) but it is not detailed enough.
I had planned a death march to Châtillon-sur-Seine, but by the time I reached Tonnerre over 100 kms later, I was glad to find a campground here. It’s funny because it’s half the price of yesterday’s and has toilet seats – no paper mind you! I arrived early enough for a bit of an explore, found some decent maps (Michelin) and cold beer, so all is well.
For the last two days it’s been mostly farmland scenery, with today’s vistas improving due to addition of many long hills in the countryside. Yesterday, nearly all the places I passed through had the word of Brie somewhere in their name; try and guess what they make there??? Strangely enough, I didn’t see any cows though. I guess those Brie milk cows are shy.
Toilet thing again… Don’t get the poops here; apart from a few non and barely working ones in Paris, there is a serious lack of public toilets here. I haven’t seen any in any of the towns and villages that I’ve passed through. You pretty well have to go into a restaurant/ bar, chug-a-lug a beer and ask for the facilities! Hard to do if in discomfort, but doable!
I’m going to try for a shorter ride tomorrow – maybe a hostel night too in order to send some email and photos. 115 kms the first day was too much in that heat and the slow going out of the city was draining. Language-wise, I’m struggling, but I expected that. Sometimes it’s nice to just nod your head and hope for the best. Steal of the day – half a litre of beer in the grocery – 37 € cents – much cheaper than the bars in Paris. Camping first night – €11. Second night – €5. Maps, as they say in the Visa ad, priceless, but so much more costly than the beer!
Adam K. & (at least with the new maps we’ll be able to find our way around instead of crying into cheap beer) Basil.