Just added pictures through Belgium, still need to find some time to catch up to Holland.
Current Location: Champlon, Belgium
This is what happens when I try to write off the cuff, I forget to put things down that I had meant to write.
First I wanted to write about navigation in Paris. Don’t try it, it doesn’t work. They don’t believe in blocks or building things in rows. I had the same problem in Hanoi, also built by the French, streets would twist and turn as soon as you get on them and also have the tendency to change name mid stream, as if they forgot the name of the street and forgot to go back and fix it, to make things even more frustrating there could be multiple streets with the same name. You try and figure that out, the only way to do it is to remember landmarks, other than that good luck. More often than not I would be lost in Paris.
And as for riding in Paris it’s both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Especially the round-a-bouts where there exists some demented scheme of round-a-bouts within round-a-bouts, all with minimal markings and traffic lights in the middle. Going around the Arc de Triomphe was a big deal for me as that is where the Tour de France ends but the entire time I just recited my mantra of ‘don’t die.’
On to the Luxembourg cycle paths. If I could choose a country to cycle around as a beginner it would have to be Luxembourg. The paths aren’t that difficult, they are all paved and excellently maintained. They still provide some challenges and provide nice scenery along the way. Now that I am in Belgium I can compare to another national cycle network and hands down Luxembourg has the signage almost perfect. It’s very accessible for everyone to use and you don’t need to spend money on any maps. Here in Belgium I find that I’m staring at every telephone pole for another marker.
I should make a shirt ‘Don’t bother me, I’m staring at telephone poles’
This took 5 times longer to put down than necessary, French keyboards are tough.
Current Location: Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Thats right, the capital of Luxembourg is Luxembourg. Keep that in mind should it pop up on a quiz sometime.
First I have to thank Gina for hosting me in Paris and Fannie (her roommate) for putting up with me. Paris turns out to be heaps of fun if you have someone to hang out with. We both gushed over each meal we had and did a whole lot of wandering around the city. I’ll share Gina’s link just because it’s such a different aspect which which to ‘view’ a city. Paris is such an audible city that we managed to catch some classical guitar and accordion (2 different people) performing in the subway. We caught a band playing in front of the Hotel de Ville and I caught another one in front of the Notre Dame. All this without even trying.
We ate at little cafe’s outside and watched the world pass by, I know most people who know me will find it hard to belive but I really can take two hours to eat a lunch. It’s just how it works in Paris. Of course this is helped by the fact that we typically start with a coffee, then an appitizer, on to the plat, and of course dessert, and round it all off with a coffee at the end. One of Gina’s friends, Ibrahm, (probably one of the few PhD’s to come out of Niger) introduced us to a west african resturant which we also fell in love with.
I did a little of the touristy stuff but tried not to pay too much for it preferring to save money for the food.
I caught a train out of Paris because I had already proved that I could cycle into the city center, I didn’t need to prove anything more. It just saves a lot of headache navigating around a very busy city. This time I was headed north, with the wind for a change. The rough idea was to head into the champagne region and cycle around there for a couple of days. The day cycling out of the train station into that area was brilliant, sun was finally showing it’s face and the wind was at my back. I made it to the capital of champage, Epernay, and booked myself onto the Moet & Chandon tour. The tour was interesting enough if a little pricy at 14euro for a 1 hour tour. The lady spoke perfect english and was very high brow, she probably didn’t approve of me wandering about in shorts and a ratty jumper. We got to try one glass of the stuff and I carried on, this time in the rain. Unfortunately the rain didn’t let up like it normally does, it carried on for another day and a half.
The rain followed me all the way into Luxembourg, I slipped once into Belgium completely by accident but I righted myself and started peddling through Luxembourg. At first glance I hated the place, it seemed far too industrial and traffic was crazy most of the time. That is until I found a bike path leading to a town that wasn’t on my map which lead to another trail and yet another. At this time I thought this might be a large regional cycle network and that I wouldn’t make it into the capital. That is until I found a map of the cycle routes that covers the ENTIRE country! At this point I figured out the biggest loop I could do that would take me through the capital and back into Belgium. Unfortunately I managed to cycle around the country in a day, so I’ll spend the afternoon making my way into Belgium. As for the routes themselves I found them all quite easy, some of it is old rail trails with magnificient tunnels and easy grades. A lot of riding through forests and the signage through towns is almost impeccable. The arcitecture of towns is somewhat dissapointing after France. It seems a lot of the old stone buildings are either demolished or covered over with plaster so it all looks very new.
PS. Did you know that the official language of Luxembourg is Luxembourgish? Yeah, neither did I.
I am somewhat negligent for not thanking Alastair and Sarah for hosting me in London, a feat truly appreciated. Sharing a flat, which are really small mind you, with a cyclist and all his gear means basically giving up a whole room of their life. They also gave me a taste of a true London life with a Jerked Chicken dinner and another night spent at a quiz night at an English pub. ‘Twas lots of fun I hope to cycle properly through the English countryside someday.
Leaving London on a cloudless day was the omen I needed, Alastair escorted me to the rail station (he convinced me that cycling out of town was a bad idea and it isn’t too expensive to get out of town, nor hard to do on a cycle.) I commented that it would be nice if he could ride as well and he agreed that it would be a nice but it wasn’t meant to be.
I left last Sunday from Paris to Rouen with little more target than to be back in Paris 7 days later when Gina was free to play host. It’s a relatively loose idea I came to enjoy, each day I set off with little more direction than to cycle, leaving the path ahead open to the moment. I ended up following the river Siene to where it let out to the ocean and decided to follow the coast down instead of crossing any one of the 3 bridges I came too. They all looked fairly daunting and wasn’t sure it was advisable to try and cross them.
I typically got on the bike by 7 and 8 in the morning and rode until dusk where I would find a bunch of trees and jump into the forest to camp the night. Setting up the tent first and enjoying some bread and cheese typically with a bottle of cidre that I bought at the farmhouse door.
I met my first tourers, they were from Canada and were headed in the opposite direction as me and on recumbent trikes. We had a nice chat about how pleasant it is to cycle in France as the drivers give all kinds of room to cyclists, even those with souped up cars wait until there is room to pass by to go around us. They did the Netherlands last year and gave me lots of places to try and visit on my trip up there. Thanks to Lesley Thomas and Thomas Quinn for advice and the chat.
Continuing on the coast I knew that the Normandy invasion happened somewhere in Normandy but wasn’t quite sure were. When I looked one map further than where I was it was clearly marked where Omaha beach was so I decided since I was that close it would be worthwhile to visit the museum there. It ended up being a really amazing place, the museum is really well done and I got a one on one tour with a guide since the weather wasn’t the greatest. I found out there are 5 guys from Hawaii buried there (note: Hawai’i was yet to be a state at that time.) One father, son pair and a bunch of brothers. The film “Saving Private Ryan” is based off some truth, 2 brothers were lost within a day of each other on the invasion and a third brother was thought lost somewhere in the Pacific so the fourth brother was repatriated. I ended up spending 3 hours there and could have easily spent a few more but it was closing time and I had to find somewhere to camp for the night. I spent the morning before that in Bayuex looking at a really old tapestry and ended up visiting the graveyard of the British soldiers lost in the invasion, the epitaphs on the gravestones there are soul rending.
Rolling along Normandy I found that it’s a popular area for cidre and that most are really keen to sell a bottle for a euro or two so most nights I couldn’t help but pick up a bottle for dinner. That is when I remember Gregg telling me about his trip through France samping ciders and taking pruning that he could add to his trees back in New Zealand.
I found the Normandy area to be a lot more interesting than the route from Calais to Paris. The houses were a lot more old fashioned and very well maintained, even going so far as to have roofs re-thatched. Most of the towns by my guess are summer resort towns so at the moment they are fairly well deserted with only a baker, butcher and a bar to keep the town going. Most people stare at me as I cycle by but I have been approached a few times as I’m enjoying some crossionts to inquire what I’m up to.
A day or so before getting back into Paris I finally found my rhythm coming back to my on the cycle, much like the Pacific coast it came to me after a week of riding.
Pictures from London and France added.
Current Location: Paris, France
I arrived into Paris yesterday after 4 days of riding. It ended up being a little bit harder than I had anticipated due to the fact that there is a very persistent wind that always seemed to be against me. Add to this that it’s been a while since I’ve been cycling and not all the muscles remember what they are supposed to do, it’s coming back to me though. One thing I’m quite happy about is that I haven’t had to walk my bike up any hills like I did during the Pacific Coast ride, although none of the hills compare in any way to those on the Pacific Coast.
This is just a quick post because I’m actually going to move on from Paris so that I can meet my friend Gina later this month and properly hang out in Paris. So the plan now is to head up to Normandy and cycle around the area there looping back into Paris again.
I must say that I had an amazing meal in Paris when I arrived, I’m not sure if I found it amazing because that is what it is or because I’ve been living off of baguettes and cheese while on the road. But whatever it was it was truly amazing, the sauce was so very rich I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like it.
The bike is holding out like a champ, I’m really quite happy with what I managed to get for 300 pounds and I think my uncle Bill and Rob would approve of this one. It’s a Koga-Miyata Worldtraveller and it comes fully tricked out with Tubus racks, a Brooks saddle, mud guards, Shimano SPD peddles, and lights. I think all those accessories alone come out to probably 300 pounds really quite a deal I think.
Written 3 days ago, I am somewhere in Normandy near Caen.