Category Archives: France

France revisited

The first few days after I was back in France I had to deal with the Dutch Tax Office. They had assumed I had emigrated and wanted me to fill out a form of mythical length. To avoid a Kafkaesque struggle with bureaucracy I asked for adjournment which I hope they will grant me. Meanwhile I will try to convince them I haven’t emigrated.

Cyclists, beware of the water...

Cyclists, beware of the water…

From Sete I headed in an Easterly direction which brought me to the French Riviera.

In Morocco, people tried all different scams to get money out of you. Here on the French Riviera they have different means: they just write silly numbers on price tags.

For lunch it was back to baguettes again. A baguette is a  kind of bread that seems to consist of crumbs glued together and that instantly falls apart as soon as you take a bite of it. To avoid this, I put huge amounts of pâté on it to make it stick together.

This is what I look like when I've done hard work...

This is what I look like when I’ve done hard work…

Cycling through this part of France gave me the chance to see a countryside that inspired so many great painters. In Arles there was the Yellow House, where Vincent van Gogh lived. It was destroyed during some war. This I didn’t know, so I asked at the Tourist Information where it was. It was destroyed during the war, the girl told me with the kind of French accent that makes you want to vacate any building you are in as soon as possible. In the museum I visited, were some sketches of Van Gogh, some of them looked awkward. None of his paintings remain in Arles.

Not far from Aix-en-Provence I cycled along the Mont Saint-Victoire which was immortalized in a series of paintings by Paul Cézanne and a photo that I took:

Tree

Tree

My route took me through a village called Pourrières. The etymology of this name is interesting: in 102 BC, a Roman army defeated migrating Teutonic and Ambronic tribes, who came from the North and were accidentally heading to Northern Italy. They didn’t have GPS or Google Maps at the time. According to Plutarch, a hundred thousand were massacred. Many mothers killed their babies and committed suicde thereafter. The fearsome smell of the putrifying bodies earned the battlefield the name campi putridi. Hence the name Pourrières.

Cagnes-sur-Mer was the place where Auguste Renoir spent the last years of his life. Unfortunately, the museum dedicated to him was closed on the day I visited.

 

Summer’s not over yet

From Rochefort I followed the signposted Velodysee route to the south. On the way I saw some birds which I identified as ibises. Last time I had seen one, it was mummified and it had been dead for several thousands of years. An Egyptian boy had put it in my hands when I visited Hermopolis where in pharaonic times great numbers of these dead birds had been mummified to baffle later Egyptologists.

Ibis

Some birds

The campsite in Hourtin was in the forest and the deer were bellowing. Later in the night I heard noises not unlike someone throwing a couple of broomsticks on the floor. I wasn’t sure what that meant. Maybe it was just someone throwing broomsticks on the floor.

In the afternoon the wind picked up and I had trouble crossing a bridge because the wind kept pushing me to the sides, making it difficult for me to keep up speed and balance.
The next day I crossed the Gironde Estuary by ferry, on which I met Stephan and Corinne, a French couple on a short cycling tour. It was nice to talk to someone and they were also instrumental in the making of this photograph:

ferry

The ferry to Le Verdon

The third day I decided to have an easy day and cycled a mere fifty kilometers to Ares. It was a wonderful day and I enjoyed it very much. The campsite had a swimming pool and since I was the only guest I could make full use of it. First time I had to unpack my swimming trunks.

The fourth day I made it to Saint-Eulalie-sur-Barn. Cyclists were passing by me and we yelled bonjour! They left me in a smell of washing powder. I occasionally rinse my clothes, but only if they get really dirty do I wash them with shampoo. In the evening there was more throwing with broomsticks..

The fifth day I cycled to Messanges. In the morning it started to drizzle and after an hour or so, it started to rain heavily. Later in the afternoon it cleared up and got quite warm. In Messanges I found a campsite that was closed but the manager let  me pitch my tent for free. He warned me there was no hot water available, but it being balmy weather, I thought I’d brave a cold shower, which I did. From Messanges I cycled to the Atlantic Ocean and admired the might and roar of the breaking waves.

The sixth day I continued to Biarritz. Following the Velodyssee  didn’t mean I didn’t get lost anymore. Every once  in a while I missed a sign and cycled happily in the wrong direction. I asked directions of an elderly couple and the man explained I had to return to Souston plage, miming  a swimming person to emphasise he meant beach. In Biarritz I checked in into the auberge de jeunesse. I thought it would be nice to sit on a chair for a while.

The seventh day is another rest day. As I’m writing this blog the temperature is 28 degrees Celsius. Summer’s  not over yet.

Approaching the Atlantic

One of my favourite new words: Boulodrome.

After another three days in the saddle, I reached Rochefort.

The first day I cycled from Chatellerault to Parthenay. It was a hard day. First some steep hills and rain. The latter came mostly from above, but some lorry drivers added some variety by spraying me from the side, leaving me with flapping raingear and wet glasses. Then the weather improved, but I started suffering from a strong headwind. I won’t easily forget the D738: a road disappearing to the horizon where I couldn’t manage more than 9 or 10 km / hour. With aching legs…

In Parthenay it started to rain as I was erecting my tent, but I managed quite well and kept most of my things dry. After doing so I cycled into town to get some groceries. On the way back I was overtaken by a devastating deluge which left me drenched. As I came to the campsite, I feared for my tent but it had withstood the downpour miraculously. In the toilet blocks I startled an elderly couple when I was standing in my underwear, laying out my dripping clothes to dry.

The second day I travelled (the verb travelling, derives,  deservedly so, from travaille) from Parthenay to Coulon. I followed a signposted route for cyclists from Parthenay to Niort (which doesn’t sound very French) and it directed me over every spine breaking little hill they had. Just to show me a Roman church, or whatever they thought might be of interest, to the casual passer-by. Ever forgetting that some cyclists carry fully loaded panniers that are almost impossible to carry up those hills.

That night I camped at the Camping Municipal. It was deserted, and there was a notice at the entrance that said I could transfer money to their account if I made use of the municipal services. I didn’t understand.

The third day was a breeze. No rain. Nicely undulating hills. Lightly trafficked roads. Why couldn’t every day be like this?

In Rochefort I reached the first signposts of the Vélodyssée and enthusiastically started to follow them. Until it dawned  on me that I was following them in the wrong direction.

palmtrees

Climatic change

The photo above was taken in Rochefort, close to the Atlantic coast.

office

Another fridge serving as my office.

I decided to have a resting day.

Rainy days

In Tours I habitually visited the cathedral which took me longer than usual due to some excellent stained glass windows. Some panels were  erected for the visitor to elucidate the depicted scenes, which was just as well, because it was difficult to make out anything on these high placed windows. Before I had read the explanations, I thought I could clearly identify some bishops with metal detectors, which seemed an unlikely combination.

This, however, was not the cathedral where St. Martin, the one famous for giving away half his cloak to a beggar, was buried. I missed that one.

Just south of the cathedral was the Museum of Fine Arts and I decided to treat myself. It was the first Sunday of the month and for that reason the museum was free. It exhibited paintings of Rembrandt and Monet, it had creaky floors and a suspicious guard following me around. It was a real museum. It also left me more exhausted than if I had cycled for 80 kilometers….

The day after, I set out for Chatellerault, or something, but in the afternoon it started to rain. I also had to deal with a persistent headwind that made sure I got all the rain in my face. I put on my raingear, but in the end I was soaked. I had to make haste as it was getting late in the afternoon and I don’t carry lights, making cycling on the road in this weather a hazardous undertaking.

In the end everything turned out alright. The caretaker of the campsite put a small, albeit dishevelled, caravan at my disposal, so I could keep my bags dry. It could also serve as a dry place to cook. It was too dirty too sleep in, however, and so I pitched my tent nearby.

Later I cycled through the pouring rain to get some groceries. Then, after I had done all my chores, it stopped raining.

No pictures. I didn’t make any.

Tours

On the first day after Paris (October 1st), I found a campsite that was just wonderful. A little grass field with a picnic table and a walnut tree. It’s easiest to recognize a walnut tree by just stepping on one of its fruits with your bare feet, I found. The lady that owned the placet took me to a supermarket with her car. It was quite sensational to sit in a car and whizz by all the kilometers I had just cycled. I ate rice that evening. I was sick of macaroni.

From Villiers le-Morhier I cycled towards Chartres. It was beautiful. Chartres was nice. Just took me 10 minutes to see the cathedral. I am getting the idea that I’m visiting cathedrals on a daily basis now. After that I came through Illiers-Combray. This is the Combray from Proustian fame. It looked every bit as boring as it sounded from his novels (A la recherche du temps perdu). Another 20 kilometers brought me to Bonnevalle where I found a campsite.

Chartres cathedral

Another cathedral…

The day after I rode to Vendome. The first bit was fine, but after I crossed into Loir-et-Cher (?), another departement I was in the woods again, no sign whatsoever… I just followed the sun from there.

Vendome to Tours brought me to the Loire valley and it was the day I saw the first vineyards. My saddle pain has much reduced and the sun keeps shining… Life on the road is becoming routine: Getting up, make some breakfast, pack in the tent (always dripping wet), get cycling, later in the day try to find some tourist office for a map of the next departement (no gps, remember), riding a few kilometers the wrong way, cursing and turning around, going downhill, singing along with my mp3 player, going uphilll, some more cursing. Etc etc.

Paris and beyond

The first morning I breakfasted with some porksteak, left from the evening before, because of the rain. After a cup of coffee I decided to see Paris by bicycle.

In Paris, bicycle lanes are often misused as a second parking lane, forcing the cyclist into the dense traffic. Otherwise, cycling in Paris is a breeze.

There was an enormous line for the Notre Dame, but it was a loose and wide queue with occassional gaps caused by people making pictures when they got near the front of the building. This gave me the idea of getting close to the line, fuddle a bit with my camera. let some people pass and then simply slide into the line. It worked, in a very Mr Bean kind of way.

Other tips:
– Next to the Notre Dame is a free toilet.
– There are no ATMs inside the Notre Dame (yet).

After Notre Dame I cycled to the nearby Pantheon but found out that they charged an entrance fee. I looked at the map and made a mark at Père Lachaise Cemetery, another location with Great Men (and Women) buried and with the additional bonus that it was free.

At the entrance was a map which I photographed, because I knew the graveyard was very large and I needed the photo to find my way around (given my notorious talent for getting lost). In this way I located the grave of Jim Morrison. It was fenced off for the public.

Jim Morrison

Dead American in Paris

Oscar Wilde wrote the following dialogue:

– When good Americans die they go to Paris.
– Where do bad Americans go?
– They stay in America.

Oscar Wilde’s grave looks like this:

Oscar WIlde's grave

Oscar WIlde’s grave

The day after (the first of October), I broke up and cycled in the direction of Versailles. After Versailles I had to deal with the N10. At times there were bicycle lanes, but sometimes I cycled on a narrow shoulder with traffic racing past me at 110 km/hr. Sorry, I mumbled, Google sent me this way, sorry! Next time I have wifi, I’ll have to check if I’m actually allowed to cycle there…

I am now in the department Eure-et-Loir.

To Paris

From Soissons I cycled to somewhere close to Meaux. Along the way I passed through the village where Jean Racine was born. He was the author of plays I’ve never even heard of, but according to Wikipedia, he is very important still.
Most remarkable, however, was the fact that I hardly took a wrong turn that day.

Hunting

I have to be careful

It’s hunting season, so I have to be careful not to look like a pheasant.
That’s why I wear my new helmet! I bought it at a Decathlon store for 30 euros. They wouldn’t say it was bulletproof…

This is how I look with my helmet.

This is how I look with my helmet.

When I broke up from Meaux in the morning, it rained. It was a new experience to break everything up in a constant drizzle, but in the end I cycled away in my raingear and all my stuff more or less dry. Luckily it soon stopped raining. It was a bit difficult to find my way, but eventually I carried my bike down to a path along the Canal de l’Ourcq, where I stubbornly ignored the signs that said it was forbidden for cyclists. From Meaux to Paris wasn’t far, but the last bit was through the heart of Paris. I even cycled a bit arond the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe

Triumph!

Not a great photo, but at least I made it to Paris.