Posts Tagged With: France

Photo Update

Here are some random photos that accidentally missed being put on their correct blog posts:

I had just come down the hills from Jeruzalem and there was this stall just sitting on the side of the road with this dummy behind it, and no one else was around so David took a photo

Since I have been in Spain I have been seeing these signs! Either it’s an interesting interpretation by the artist or they have really strange looking cows here

Ok so now I have seen a cow I don’t think it looks anything like the sign

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Day 59: Le Balcares to Colera – 76k

4,701km down: 1,524km to go (3/4 of the way there!)

I never sleep well in a tent but last night I was awake for a few hours and could not go back to sleep. I feel very conflicted being over here with Lizzy just having had a baby. I rang Lizzy before leaving camp this morning; it was evening there so I got to speak to Lizzy, Theo, Shellbe and Kelly.  It was reassuring as it sounds like everything is going along very well.

I got some great photos of the aunties and uncles with their nephew, my grandson looks a lot like his Mum did as a baby – long and thin, with a red tinge to his hair, and very beautiful.

Today we rode through more deserted holiday parks and shopping centres, and closed amusement arcades. Although they look quiet and deserted now that school has gone back, the places must have been humming in the midst of the season. We made our way through the south of France and went through a couple of towns too beautiful not to mention.

Collioure had an old castle, old walls, a nice harbour, interesting looking houses and old boats.

Collioure

The next town, Port Vendres, had a great big ship in the middle of the harbour unloading, and lots of other small and large boats.

Port Vendres

From about 40k we hit the foot hills of the Pyrenees Mountains so we had couple of significant climbs, including the one to the Spanish border.

Just before the climb up to the border we stopped in a really pretty little town, Cerbère, for a cold drink and tried not to look at the climb ahead.  At least today the wind was behind us and we had a bit of assistance up the hills, however we also nearly got blown over the sides a couple of times, especially up by the Spanish border.

There was a really pretty little bay with people swimming, unlike France with its long sandy beaches, this was pebbly with a rugged coast line (a bit like Makara).

John, me and Brett at the Spanish border

The Spanish border is at the top of a big hill, on the way coming down the hill we came across a small snake on the road, it was smaller than I expected snakes to be, it was more like a large worm! I will have to watch carefully for these in the grass at toilet stops!

Coming down the Pyrenees mountain foothills just past Spanish border

The place we are staying was just after the bottom of the hill, San Miguel Camp Site in a town called Colera. We rode past the campsite and had a look at the town, it was very much like Cerbère – a pebbly beach with a rocky foreshore, the water is so blue.

Beach where we are staying in Colera

The campsite has toilet paper and a shower that stays on, but still no soap and still no toilet seats!  This is the third country with toilets at camps without toilet seats, but on a positive side there were no squat toilets to be seen 🙂 The last couple of camp sites that we have stayed at have been set up for mobile homes rather than camping and the ground is like concrete. I have had to borrow some tent pegs as mine have turned into tired and bent squiggle shapes, and some of them can no longer be knocked back into shape with a mallet.

Tortured tent pegs, or art?

Tortured tent pegs, or art?

We must not have been able to cook here as we had dinner in the restaurant tonight. We had paella, it was really nice.

Paella (pic stolen from another riders blog)

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Day 58: Day Valras Plage to Le Balcares – 88k

4,625km down: 1,600km to go

After my phone being silly last night, I woke up at 12:03am and my phone was not going – damn!! I should have found out where to charge it, as now all the other rides were asleep so I couldn’t ask anyone. I reassured myself that Lizzy was not due for another two weeks. I spent the night waking up every hour or so (checking the time on the iPad but the Wifi was not on).

I woke up at 6:10am and asked straight away where I could charge my phone and I put it on to charge. I was thinking to myself that it’s unbelievable that the phone chooses now to play up, so late in the trip. At lunch time I planned to send through a list of alternative numbers just in case it played up again. I put my charged phone into my bag at 7:30am, with no messages showing, and we set off.

It was a really windy ride; at times we were only going 8kph, into a headwind blowing so strongly at times it was threatening to push us into the middle of the road. We got to one village and could not find the way out, a group of eight of us spent about 40 minutes unravelling the directions (it turned out later that the local cop had removed all the flags). We finally set off again, 5k back into the head wind, followed by a totally glorious 15k dirt track along a canal with the wind behind us. We could get up to 15kph without pedalling, and the highest we got up to was about 28kph.

After we got out of the canal we were back into the head winds and slow going until the lunch stop. I had been going to text Lizzy the alternative numbers at lunch but it was so windy I decided to wait for another 5k. We had a planned stop at 65k to eat oysters, the boats go out and catch them and sell at small restaurants along the shore. I thought “at least I will be inside and be able to hear myself think!”.

So we got to the oyster restaurant and I checked my phone and I had 3 missed calls and about 20 messages! Starting with:
Mum it’s happening, Lizzy is in labour
Mum, you awake?
Mum, please ring when you get this
Mum, Jiggly* is here!! He is healthy, Lizzy was amazing, all is well.
Mum, please ring when you get this message!!!!!!

So I am a Gran!! Lizzy and the baby are both doing well which is the main thing.

Where I was when I found out I was a Gran!

It was 20k from there to the camp, I could not wait to get there to see if there is Wifi available (I had my fingers and toes crossed!) – I was thinking hopefully there will be a photo!! And there was: Oh my gosh Jiggly looks just like his mum did, ginger hair and long and lanky. Next stop was the supermarket to get three good bottles of French champagne to celebrate the safe arrival with the rest of the tour riders.

Proper French Champagne to celebrate the arrival of my first Grandson

I was so relieved, 95% of women have perfectly normal deliveries but I know way too much about those that don’t. I had a few moments of thinking “What am I doing here! I should be there” but I am not. At least he is here, and safe, and Lizzy has lots of support at home.

The other riders celebrating with me

(* Jiggly is the nickname we have had for the baby the whole time Lizzy has been pregnant).

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Day 57: Montpellier to Valpas Plage – 86 k

4,537km down: 1,688km to go

We left the hotel in a convoy for the first 5k. As already mentioned, the weather is noticeably colder, most riders are wearing jackets, and even a couple are wearing hats. The wind was around, but not too bad. We had reasonably good riding until the lunch stop.

All I can say is that when the lunch truck stopped and set up, Geergo would have had no idea that it was going to be right by a crazy busy market and in the middle of a massive motorbike display! My god, the bikes! Hundreds of them – big bikes, small bikes, bikes that were more like cars, they were endless.

At one point we lost the flags but after discussion and consulting a GPS we were off again. We stopped and took a photo of the Gulf of Lion (part of the Mediterranean), there was kilometre after kilometre of bike path.

We stopped about 15k from the camp at a lock and watched a couple of boats going up it. One of boats was called Christina B which is the name of my maternal grandmother so I took a photo of it.

Christina B

There was also a field with a large straw man, it was really huge.

I still get bike chain gunk all over my legs EVERY day!!

As already blogged about, the night before we got to Montpellier the camp we stayed at had a shower where you had to hold it on with one hand while you showered, well today was not quite as bad, at least it lasted 5 seconds in between pushes. But once again there were squat toilets, no soap, and no toilet paper. One of the things I have also found challenging is knowing which is the male and female toilets and shower, as it is not always clear if you don’t speak the language. In Italy I lurked outside until I saw a women going in, in Slovenia there were graphic illustrations on the male sign that left you in no doubt! In France I took a guess that Femes was female, luckily I was right.

The main holiday season has finished and the children have gone back to school, so we are riding through mile after mile of deserted camp grounds, empty shops, and amusement parks that are being dismantled. You can tell by looking that the place would have been bursting at the seams and humming only a very short time ago . . . Now it has that after Christmas feeling when it’s time to take down the tree.

I was really tired when I got to camp so I had a sleep. I woke up for tea then went for a walk along the beach. I noticed when going to bed that my phone was showing only 16 percent charged, which was strange as it was fully charged in Montpellier this morning! I was going to get up and find an outlet to charge it when it then decided it was 76 percent charged, so I thought it would be ok.

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Day 56: Rest day in Montpellier

I slept in until 8:30 and then Skyped with Lizzy, Dan, Theo and Eva. Lizzy is now 38 weeks and on maternity leave. It was good to catch up and see them all looking well. I even got to see our old cat who looks like she has put on weight, which is reassuring.

I went out and did the laundry, and bought a couple of things from the market. I had plans to sightsee but I have been feeling a bit weary and ended up having a three and a half hour nap. Then I went for a walk. We went through a wall, up an escalator and then we were in the old town. Unlike the new part of town it was full of people – once again street performers, painters etc. There was one particularly novel act – a pair of jandles on a box with a note saying “Naked invisible man”. I gave some money for being so novel.

Novel type of street busking

There is definitely a change in the temperature, after being way too hot, people are wearing jackets, and hats (including us), and the wind is not pleasant – although it would be normal to those of us who live in Wellington, but after the past couple of months is not normal to me!

A couple of things have hit me while I have been looking around, there appears to be much more than the usual number of disabled people that are in wheelchairs. It is a university town so I wonder if they are students or lecturers, but certainly many more than you would see around Wellington.

The other thing that is more numerous is dogs! In many sizes and shapes, they are allowed into the malls and restaurants and general shopping centres. They are everywhere. When you have a meal at a restaurant it is not uncommon to see a few nozzles poking out from under the table, hopefully sniffing the air.

Not sure if you remember back to a very early blog when I first got to St Petersburg when I mentioned that I really missed being able to just make a cup of tea whenever I wanted to. Well unbelievable, this hotel has a kettle in the room plus paper cups. Only two teabags but that was quickly sorted by going to the market. It’s hard to explain the joy I got from making as many cups of tea as I wanted over a 24 hour period!

We have a new rider, Danya’s dad Bill has come to join us to ride five days to Barcelona. Bill flew into Nice and had to manage transferring a bike box and two bags in between platforms on a train change – no mean feat. We have given him some helpful hints such as the tradition that new riders ride baboon style their first day. Tomorrow we will see if he has taken our advice.

The evening finished with a curry, at the first curry place I have seen in two months (my local would be under no threat) then back to the hotel for an early night, as we are back on the road tomorrow.

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Day 55: Salon-de-Provence to Montpellier – 120k

4,451km down: 1,774km to go

We left the camp site at 7:30 this morning, the day was nice and cool. The first 15k went well, a slight up with a slight tail wind – nice! Then we came around a corner and saw a truck we recognized on its side in the ditch. My immediate thoughts were “I hope no one’s hurt”, quickly followed by “I wonder what will happen with lunch?”. Christano was driving and had moved over as another car was coming towards him. Unfortunately Christano did not see the irrigation ditch next to him as it was covered in grass and looked just like a grassy verge. And would you believe, the oncoming car turned off the road just before him anyway!

Lunch truck in the ditch on way to Montpellier

The first truck out in the morning does the flagging until the lunch stop. The second truck (which carries the cook for dinner) does the flagging of the second half. We rely on the flagging, as well as our written directions. One of the team sometimes writes left when they mean right on the direction board so flagging is a vital part. As well as this, we have our own notes of the names of cities we are passing through. Plus of course we always have the end destination for the day. As the first flagging truck was now out of action, Esther – who was with Christiano in the truck – was sent by bike to do the flags. We are not sure what notes she was flagging but we ended up on a different highway.

Example of the flagging on the way to Montpellier

Whilst I was riding along at one point, there was a great big flock of black birds flying and swooping and soaring. I was watching them and thinking about how wonderful it is with all the intricate manoeuvres and changes of directions that they fly in sync with each other, without crashing and they know when to change directions. I get nervous just following one other rider closely, let alone riding in a peloton! I would probably not make a very good bird.

We stopped and looked at the remains of a roman aqueduct system, and we went past a chateau that my daughter Kelly would love to run events in – the Chateau de Barbegal (wedding and other events centre).

Aqueduct (roman ruins)

Chateau de Barbegal on the way to Montpellier

After we had been past the Roman ruins and the chateau we had to go through a town called St Gillies. We got into town but the flags were obstructed by a steel grille fence. We wandered back and forward but could not see a way round then we noticed that people were squeezing through the barriers and up the street. So we thought “Ok we can do that too”, but we could not fit through with our bikes. So then we saw a gateway, and thought we’d found the way in, so through we went. After about a minute a siren sounded, and the first thing we noticed was the people quickly going back out to the otherside of the barrier – which we can’t because our bikes don’t fit. And then Brett notices (now of all times) that the barrier looks like a stock barrier, not a people barrier! Oh my god do we start to cycle quickly!! We got to another opening and out we went like rats up a drain pipe! Turns out they have the Running of the Bull (note singular) in this village for three days at the end of summer each year. This was of these three days! So we had a lucky escape! In this event there are 6 cowboys and one bull with carpet on his horns but still …. Would not have liked to be caught in the middle of it!

One of the interesting parts of our daily rides is that because we cover quite a lot of ground in a day (average of 100k) we get a great contrast over a day. Today was no exception, we started off with hills, villages perched on the hillsides, through small towns, crazy busy stretches of highway, back roads, gravel tracks, marsh land, small towns, back to crazy intersections, we saw Camargue horses, rivers and canals. Plus we went past the Petite and Grand Rhône.

We rode though an area of marshland for about 25k (later when we looked at the map we had gone just over the top if it) and there were lots of white horses. We found out later they were a breed of horse – a Camargue horse – specific to the Rhone Delta.

Me looking at some of the Camargue horses

Today we had our first introduction to what is known as the Mistral winds that happen throughout the year in the Rhone Delta. It was like being back in Wellington, struggling to get over 10k, which made it a long day. For the first time on the trip jackets are out, and when we walk to dinner the temperature has cooled noticeably.

We are staying at the Kyriad Hotel, yay it has air conditioning and WiFi, plus a laundry nearby (but this can wait until tomorrow). I went to a restaurant with Michele, John and Brett called Le Suite. We all had the special of steak but different deserts. I had the lemon tart (citron pie), it was fantastic. I can understand now why my friends Delwyn and Pat were determined to recreate one when they got back from France last year.

One observation made on the trip is that in general, the drivers over here are pretty good about bikers; the big trucks even give a very small toot just to let you know they are behind you so you don’t suddenly swerve in front of them. The drivers we have the most trouble with are drivers of small white cars. These drivers toot angrily at you as if you could pull over more, then go right into the other lane to pass you. This is followed by other drivers who move out slightly giving you room but pass you within the lane. I will have to see if this is the same at home.

Snails on the way to Montpellier – I wonder if some of the riders who eat snails stopped for lunch in case the lunch truck did not make it out in time?

Edit 06/09/12: Cristiano had to wait about four hours for the right machine to come along to extract the van from the ditch!

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Day 53: Cannes to Aups – 101k

4,220km down: 2,005km to go

We set off in the convoy just before 7am this morning, the weather was not too hot to start with. At the end of the convoy we had a reasonable climb which certainly woke my legs up. There were some really pretty bays with some interesting rock red formations. There was even a bay called Miramar!

The first two hours of riding was peaceful and relaxed, through small villages and along the seaside etc. We stopped for coffee and a croissant and then about 10k later the flag took us onto a crazy busy highway. We had a traffic policeman shouting something at us, we thought we must have got onto a motorway (the day when we were going into Cannes we took a wrong turn and ended up heading up a motorway on-ramp before a policeman spotted us and turned us around) but turned out he just wanted to warn us there was an oversize load coming. Luckily we had pulled off the road and were discussing what he may have been telling us, because certainly we had no idea what he had said.

Crikey going into the crazy intersections definitely got the heart rate up, thankfully after half an hour most of the traffic turned onto the motorway toll road! The turns and directions and getting more challenging by the day, today the roads we needed to follow were D6908, D559, D928, D07, D1555, D557, D60. As well as this we climbed 1,114 metres (and went down 644).

We did really well with the directions until about 75k when we missed a flag down the bottom of a steep hill – I was concentrating on cornering. We did not realize for about 15k that we had missed it, until we came to a town that was not on our list and had no flags. I was not keen to go back 15k and then we saw a sign to Aups 10k, so we decided to keep going as that was the town we were going to, and we figured we could find the camp once we got to town. So we only ended up doing an extra 4 k 🙂

The camp – once again – has no toilet paper or soap, it but does have Wifi and a bar – you can’t have everything, including shampoo which I had left at the hotel in Cannes 😦 So I had to wash my hair with soap. I have to say I actually felt pretty good afterwards. I stayed up until about 10pm in the hope of sleeping better; at least the camp site is pretty quiet, not filled with Italian families well rested from a siesta.

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Day 52: Rest day in Cannes

I woke up in time for breakfast this time. It was so nice to wake up in an air-conditioned room in a comfortable bed (and having a toilet and shower). It is amazing how you appreciate really simple things:

  • No bugs! (although one small sandfly did attempt to bite me just before it went to sandfly heaven)
  • A bed that is bigger than your body
  • Being able to stand up while you get dressed!
  • A bathroom with soap, toilet paper and privacy!

So after breakfast it was time to take the post box to the post office – I had my fingers crossed that it would be open and not have any strange rules like no boxes on Tuesdays! Luckily I managed to get the post box sent off – we are not allowed to have anything on the tour that does not fit in either our permanent or day bay. The box was taking up a third of my day bag, so it’s good to have that space back!

Then it was time to do the laundry, yay we could leave stuff there, and they washed and dried it for us, we just had to return to pick it up in two hours. We looked around the markets, bought lunch and sent some postcards.

The markets in Cannes

Cheeseshop in Cannes

We saw a number of beggars sitting with a cup in front of them on the sidewalk by the laundry and market. I guess if they tried to sit on the beach front they would be moved on. There were a few street performers, as well one was a man with a cat and dog, they were curled up asleep together. The cat looked just like our cat Boss apart from it had only one black ear. I did not get a photo as my camera was in the hotel but I did take a picture of another pair heading out to their daily spot.

Street performers on their way to beg

There was also a metallic man that stood really still until you put money into his jar, then he moved.

After we picked up the laundry we had the option of sightseeing or going to the beach. We headed to the beach for the afternoon. We went to a pay section, there are small public sections of the beach in Cannes, but they are small and crowded. The rest are owned privately – mostly by the hotels, unfortunately the Ibis where we are staying is not flash enough to have its own beach space. By sheer luck we went to a spot that you did not have to be a hotel guest, for the price of 15 euro we got 2 chairs and an umbrella. If you didn’t pay for the umbrella they took it down. We spent a very nice lazy afternoon there swimming and dozing. The sea was so warm.

I went back to the hotel as I had arranged to have dinner with Dan and Brett at 6:30. We wanted to go to the pizza place right by the hotel but when we went in there the staff were all eating. They told us to come back at 7pm. We went and had a drink just down the road, and when we got back to the restaurant at about 7:05pm it was already packed. The pizza was nice, but I could not finish it.

Then it was time to pack and an early night ready for an early start in the morning.

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Day 51: Imperia to Cannes – 132k

4,119km down: 2,106km to go (2/3 of the way there!)

Another early start, we had a 130k to cycle, but it turned out to be 132k – I only mention it because the day was hard – 10 hours on the road and by 130k I was ready to give it up. One of the riders clearly felt worse as they gave it up in Nice and caught a train the rest of the way! There was no lunch truck as nowhere to park so we had taken a packed lunch, so he did not have the usual option of catching the lunch truck.

We travelled along the Ligurian coast (also known as the Italian Riveria) until we crossed into France, it is very very beautiful, I would not mind coming back here.

To start off with we were on SS1, after about 35k we stopped for coffee and a pastry, and spoke to a young lady (Luciana) from the flower shop next door. Luciana was really interested to hear about our bike trip and hopes one day to do one. We had another day of really pretty towns but of course now that it’s Monday, all of a sudden we were in rush hour traffic. One of the riders Scott said it was like being in a pin ball game and it was cars, scooters, walkers etc everywhere, it was crazy, mad traffic.

We crossed the border into France after 57k, and immediately the architecture changed and of course the signs as well.

Me and Brett at the border into France

We were on a mixture of the A8, D37, D35, D6908. We climbed quite a lot – over a 1,000 metres over the day, looking at the bays and yachts and the launches – millions of dollars in boats!

On the way to Cannes – a couple of dollars in boats

France

We had the option to take a small detour into Monaco, which seeming as it is another country we decided to take. We went 1k in and had lunch at a museum. However as we had not bought lunch at the museum we were not particularly welcome. First off we all got asked to stand up, and then we were asked to move completely from the property. We had taken a packed lunch of Vegemite and cheese buns (one of the riders had left his stash of Vegemite when he left in Venice so of course Brett and I swooped on it), I’m not sure our black toothed smiles covered in Vegemite helped the situation.

Monaco

Anyway at least we can say we had lunch in Monaco. After Monaco the next large town was Nice, and we were back into the pinball machine game again, thankfully we went through the outskirts and only spent about 10 minutes in the traffic. Amazing, there was a bike path that lasted about 22k.

In Nice, wearing the shirt that Chris and Dave gave me

The day was hilly and hot and seemed to go on and on. Just before Cannes there was a lovely little town, we thought it was Cannes until we kept riding and didn’t see any orange flags, and then to my horror we were out of town and climbing a hill again. Thankfully it was not much further and we came into Cannes, which was certainly nothing like the small town we had just left.

I got to the hotel and unpacked, it was too late for the laundry so it will have to wait until tomorrow as will the post box! I spent over 10 hours on the bike today, no wonder I’m stuffed.

I met Michele, John and Brett at 6:30pm for dinner, we went to a really nice seafood restaurant. After dinner we went for a walk along the beach, and paddled a little bit. I can’t believe how warm the sea is, and no wind!

We are staying at an Ibis hotel so we were fairly confident of it having air conditioning and Wifi and we were right, we have both.

The beaches from France until the town before Cannes were stony rather than sand, so I was happy to see sand reappearing in Cannes.

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