Monaco et Nice-Ville

Day 6. Nice to Monaco and return(by train). 0 Kms, 0.01 miles.

We woke up at a reasonable hour, and walked up toward the train station. We stopped in a streetwise cafe, and watched construction on the new tram system, while having a coffee and a croissant. We then hopped on the train, which is ridiculously cheap, and got ourselves off to Monaco.
I have stayed in Monaco a few times, and visited a number of times, including 3 or 4 Grands Prix. Lena has never been, and it was nice to experience the Principality through fresh eyes. It is a really magnificent place, but also somehow too ostentatious and full of nouveau riche or wannabe posers. Still, we had a long walk, covering much of the town, and loved the scenery, the villas and apartments, the yachts, and of course, the casino.

We had a beer and a pizza by the harbourside, then walked back to the station and got on the train for the pretty ride along the coast back to Nice.
Back to the hotel, on with the swimming gear, and down to the sea for a quick frolic. Then back to the room, and up to the rooftop for another swim, this time in the pool, followed by a drink and a relax while we wrote postcards and chilled.
This evening we went for a walk to the flower market, and had a lovely meal alfresco. We are planning to get up early and hit the road, as we have things to do, places to go etc, and the long haul back to Angleterre has to start somewhere.
Be good and hug a shark if you see one.

Le Lac

Day 7. Nice to Orange. 309 Kms, 191 miles.
And another fabulous chapter in our French adventure. We had a lovely time in Nice, it was like a holiday from a holiday, because we didn’t have to worry about the bike, wear layers of clothes, and count the hours til the next destination. But we were also looking ahead to the next part of the journey, so woke up at a reasonable hour (7 o’clock in the morning is pretty good going for a holiday wake-up time), and got sorted and packed. We checked out, and set off along the Promenade des Anglaise, in the opposite direction to the way we had arrived. This wide boulevard is lined with palm trees, with the sea and pedestrian walkway to one side, and glamourous hotels on the other. The Nicoise do a lot of jogging, cycling, rollerblading, promenading and other publicly accessible stuff along this walkway, and the taxi drivers and scooters dice with each other, and death, along the carriageway. In all, a good experience to live through, which we somehow managed.
The satnav took us parallel to the coast for a while, heading west, then swiftly hoicked us inland, and we started to climb the mountains once again. Pretty passes and mountains surrounded us, and the sweltering heat of the coast began to cool off. Lovely as the surrounds were, they werent a patch on the alpine views of a few days ago.
However, we gradually climbed, and suddenly our route joined the Route Napoleon again. We began to climb swiftly, and the views started to get more spectacular. The air definitely got cooler still, and riding the windy passes and twisty corners was a real pleasure, even though my bike doesn’t quite handle as smoothly since it got knocked over.
In fact, while we spent s few hours in alpine cafe sorting out the aftermath of our accident, we met a slightly eccentric German bloke and his family. He told us of a beautiful lake and canyon “vere ve haff to go unt svim”. So today we were headed for said lake. We rode up to the head of the gorge of Verdon, which began to offer marvelous views of a very deep canyon, and extremely blue water. We passed camping and activity sites, and saw quite a lot of river rafters going down the canyon.
The ride was again great, and eventually we came to the head of the gorge, where it drops away suddenly, by hundreds of meters, into Lac St Croix. The view from the top of the gorge over the lake was breathtaking. The colour of the lake was swimming pool blue. It was really amazing to see. It looked like a picture, not something real. At the head of the gorge, we saw people on little boats riding into the canyon, and that is where we were headed.

Very very blue water - st Croix
We got down to the lake, parked up the bike, and changed into our swimming gear. The wether had got overcast, but it was still nice and warm. We had stopped at a small supermarket to get our lunch, so we walked down to the lakeside and ate our picnic, then joined the queue of people waiting to hire pedalo’s and canoes. The queue was long, but not many people wanted to hire kayaks, so we volunteered for that, and jumped to the front. We geared up, and set off on our little kayak.
Men and women definitely think differently about things. We didn’t always manage to row in tandem, so took turns. Lena’s paddling always made the kayak head more left than forward. I could see that this was because she was holding the paddle unevenly, with a much greater part of the paddle being used on one side of the kayak, but even though I pointed this out, she persisted on rowing us in circles, while I spent much of my rowing time trying to compensate and steer. Usually we just took turns with me correcting her steering, when it was her chance to paddle. We headed into the gorge, which rose up hundreds of meters on each side. There were lots of boats in there, but it was only about 30 meters wide, so a fair amount of collisions took place. A little way in was a diagonal crack that could be climbed, and a bunch of boys were climbing up, then jumping form a reasonable height into the water. The highest leap was probably 10-12 meters, and reminded me of a time in Israel, when me and my cousin Jules leapt of the Banias waterfall, and my uncle nearly killed us for frightening him so.

Trying to paddle straight
A bit further up the gorge was a waterfall, which we rode under and got soaked. It was very cool water, and my rowing partner didn’t quite appreciate my steering as much as I did. Anyway, it was about time to turn around as our hire was for an hour, so we headed back downstream, exiting the gorge, and rowing the final couple of hundred meters back to the beach landing point.
We had a swim in the lake, which was refreshing but not too cold. Then the process of drying out, and getting dressed in our bike gear in the car park. Finally we were ready to go, having spent a few really lovely hours by a beautiful lake.
More biking, an area that was really deserted with very narrow and twisty roads, which then lead us into wine country as we headed towards Avignon and our final destination, Orange. We rode through fantastic aromas, given off by vast fields of lavender, and other herb that I could recognize, but not name. We also rode past huge fields of sunflowers, which looked fantastic.
We past some massive vineyards, and some pretty (and some not so pretty) towns. This area has a long and intereting history, and was where the French popes were based when there was a division in the catholic church. I am a bit hazy on the details, and am currently without google, so I can’t tell you more, but you can look it up.
We arrived in Orange around 730 ish, to a pretty little hotel. We showered and ate a meal that we had bought a bit earlier from another supermarket, with one of the nicest dry beef sausages that I have ever tasted, plus the usual few meters of bread batons. We also had a bottle of wine, which cost 2 euros, and tasted like it should have costed about 30. Lovely.
We couldn’t get online, and went down to reception to try get it going, but suddenly I got very tired, and bed was calling strongly. I think I was asleep in seconds, sleeping the sleep of the just and the brave.
I am typing this now on wednesday morning, still without any Internet connection, but will post this when we do get online, perhaps this eve. It is now pissing with rain, we have to pack up, get our wet gear on, and go forth on our northern conquests. Laters, dudes…

French roads

So I have spent a lot of time over the past week looking at French road names on my satnav. I have come to the conclusion that there are only 6 names that they give to roads here.
1. Every main road through a town or village is called Jean-Juares.
2. Every town, no matter how small, will have at least 13 roads named after Victor Hugo.
3. About 40% of roads in France are named Marechal xxx, where xxx is a typical and very long French name like Marechal de Tartuffe aux Vendres des Liognines.
4. A huge number of roads are named after Charles de Gaulle, whoever he was.
5. Many roads are named after what I can only assume are important dates from French history. You get plenty of “6st de Juin, 1944” or “22de Septembre 1493” or similar
6. All the rest are agglomerations of the above, normally a de Gaulle followed by a date, and maybe with another Marechal de Somebody tacked on for good measure. You get names like “Boulevard de Generalle Charles de Gaulle aux Siegny et 14 Novembre 1820, around 9;30 in the evening”, or “Marechal Folies de Andripones et Chirac du Symfonie 1812 Ouverture la Fins de temps”.
Anyway, they keep me amused while I am traversing the countryside. Mon Dieu!

Chateau de Matel

Day 8. Orange to Roanne. 302 Kms, 187 miles.
Dorothy followed the Yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz, and today we followed the Rhone. My iPad keeps changing the spelling of Rhone to Rhine, so if you see the Rhine word, just pretend it says Rhone. Or replace all I’s with O’s. Loke thos. Nit loke thos thiugh.
Anyway, the area is called the cote-de-Rhone for a good reason. This is a massive river, running more or less from north to south, originating from a Glacier in Switzerland, and running south through France in an almost Swiss-like efficiency, in a single and very straight line. It is obvious what the importance of the river has been, and there are a lot of industrial installations along the way. However, these are not dominant, and there are a number of pretty little towns and villages too.

The river Rhone
We rode through a region known as the Ardeche, and after following the River for a couple of hours, turned west a bit, and headed upwards into a national park know as du Pilat. It was very pretty, with a twisty road and often high rock faces on both sides of the narrow roads, and we felt once again like we were in the Alps themselves.
After half an hour in the natural surrounds, we suddenly found ourselves dumped in St Etienne, a large and unwieldy city. Fortunately the satnav took us onto the highway for a spell, and we sped through the conurbation. North of this city, we spent a lot of time riding along very straight roads, in unremarkable countryside, joining up the dots between towns, car sales lots, and Mr Bricolages. Now I am not sure who Mr Bricolage is, but he has a lot of shops. I think they are a kind of DIY store that sells masonry, bricks and concrete, but every village, town and city seem to be overrun by these establishments. I think the French must do a lot of building, or home repair. Or perhaps they are waiting for the next time the Germans come a-visiting, and getting their repair materials ready just in case.
Our destination today was Roanne, about which I know nothing. The last 20 minutes of our journey was again on a motorway, and our satnav showed that the hotel was 2 minutes off the exit from the road. And indeed, it was correct. However, this two minutes took us past an industrial estate, and into a mature forest, where there was a beautiful old Chateau waiting for us.

Our room in Chateau de Matel
The building is from the 13 century, and I think was built up in the late 1500’s by a lady who founded an order of nuns, before dying and then haunting the establishment.
We didn’t meet her, however we did meet the present owners, a large and very welcoming family. The chateau is mainly used on weekends, for weddings. They converted a barn into a hall, and the wedding party stays in the hotel. During the week they are pretty empty, in fact there was only us and one other couple staying over.

Dinner outsside the chateau
The building is lovely, and the grounds are beautiful. The rooms are nice too, and we have a four-poster bed in our room. We settled in, had a swim in the pool, showered and looked at the days photos, and then rode back into town to fill up with petrol, and go shopping for dinner. The local Carrefour provided, and we took our dinner back to the chateau.
The owners gave us plates and knives and forks, plus wine glasses. We had bought a bottle of 2euro wine from the region we stayed at last night, Orange, and it was delicious. The chateau owner gave us the glasses, and explained that they have different types of wine glasses for each wine region. These apparently bring out the differing qualities and flavors of the wine types. Either that, or he was just gently teasing us ignorant foreigners- but I suspect not.
Anyway, our meal was lovely, and we were joined by various dogs at various junctures. Two very large alsatians, and a small rat-like creature, came and went. The main protagonist was the largest, a ten-month old pup called Flick. He was really lovely and friendly and playful, but was mostly after whatever we were eating.

Lovely dogs
We finished our food and wine, sitting outside the house. We felt like exclusive guests at our own private restaurant, as the other couple had gone to town for their evening, so we had the place to ourselves. The family run this place, so there were no staff about, and we had a very relaxed time. Once again I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow-this holiday must be relaxing me very much, because I normally take quite a while to go to sleep. Either that, or Jelly Bean is exhausting me with her chatting. But I think not…..
Don’t forget, until I get home and sort out the pictures, they can be found here

Per temps de pluie

Day 9. Roanne to Troyes. 320 Kms, 198 miles.
We had breakfast in the chateau, with the owner, who filled us in some more on the place and it’s history. It was built in the last 1500’s, but burned down within 2 years because of religious wars. It was rebuilt immediately, and was the centre of the order founded by some lady de Matel, who was born there. The order remained until 1905, when the French very sensibly banned all education that was not state controlled, and the order moved to the USA – who I am sure would appreciate the mania more than the French.
The house has had several owners, including Andre Citroen, he of the famous car. The present owners have had it three years, taking it over from a cooking school. They have done a lot of work on the place, and run it mainly to fund their repairs and upkeep of the house, which is beautiful and very interesting. They mainly host weddings on weekends, and run the place as a B&B during the week, letting out no more than five rooms, but usually only having one or two guests at any time.
It was raining, so we suited and booted in full regalia, loaded the uncomplaining bike, and off we rode. At breakfast we had discovered that in fact the River Loire was only 800 meters from the back of the house, and we soon crossed it. We had plotted our route to take us through a national park, rather than stick to the quicker roads, and much of they day was spent without seeing much traffic.
Actually, we didn’t see many people at all. I think the whole of rural France is on holiday, asleep, or have been murdered in their beds. We pass through 30 small villages or more each day, and hardly ever see signs of life. Everywhere is well kept, nicely tended, and looks in use, but we don’t see actual people. Very odd. Maybe the recent rapture that was offered by that mad preacher in the USA was only partially successful, and that part being the smaller towns of the Rhone and Loire valleys.
If yesterday was about the industrial Rhone, today was definitely agricultural. We sped through rolling hills of well cultivated lands, interspersed with lots of white cows. No sheep or pigs, but a few horses and the odd chicken hove into view. I think that all the pigs are already in sausages-and I have eaten at least a third of the national sausage stores while on this trip.
The land often looked quite similar to the UK, except that they had no dry stone walls. Take note, British farmers, people can be neighbors, know who owns what, and still run a farm without committing suicide, without walls in between every bloody field.
In fact, on this note, the French do really well without many of the tight-arsed boundaries and nit-picking rules of the UK. When you pull up at a traffic light, for example, there is no line across the road that says “stop behind me, or a big policeman will take your picture, hit you with a truncheon, or give you a fine of a years salary. Also, your neighbours, and people you don’t even know, will judge you forever unto eternity as a cretin for this transgression”. Here, they just stop, wait for the lights to change, and go again. No-one dies, no-one is mortally offended if you are two centimeters nearer or further from the lights, and no-one behaves irresponsibly. Yes the scooter drivers are maniacs, but they are fair game, and you can’t count yourself as a qualified French driver unless you have a few scooter scalps nailed to your bumper.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes scooter riders. Well, I have more to say on that one, but that can wait for another day. We were traversing the beautiful rolling hills of the Champagne region, riding through rainstorms that would have put Noah off. We got very wet, and the rain was so hard that it actually hurt when landing on my jacket.
We did our usual picnic lunch, in a mostly dry spot. We passed through some lovely and very dense forests on our way, and with the rain they smelled wonderful.

Shelter from the rain
We had picked Troyes as our destination pretty much at random, being roughly on the way back to le train, and at what seemed like a suitable days ride away from the last stop. Other than the fact that they had an Ibis hotel here, I knew nothing. We arrived, got checked in, unpacked, showered, hung up wet gear to dry, and went for a walk.
What a revelation this town is. Apparently it harks back to Roman times, and has a history that features the betrothal of Henry V (the one who starred in Shakespeares play), Joan of Arc, various popes, and a pretty Greek lass called Helen. OK, maybe not the last one, but historic this place certainly is. Much of the town centre is well preserved, and full of wonderful buildings, lovely streets and food. It looks a bit like old parts of York, but much nicer, classier and with a better accent. We loved it, and wandered the streets like proper tourists, going “ooh look at this”, and “ooh look at that”. Unfortunately, the official photographer had left the camera back in the hotel room, so no pictures are available with this part of the soundtrack. However, go on google images and look up Troyes, you will be in for a treat.
Tomorrow is the last full day in France, and will mostly consist of a trog up the motorway to the coast. We are staying in Boulougne sur Mer tomorrow eve, so until then, au revoir, mes amis.

Last full day in France

Day 10. Troyes to Boulogne sur Mer. 432 Kms, 268 miles.
For breakfast we walked back toward town, and stopped at a supermarket for juice and yoghurts, and then at a real French boulanger for fresh croissants. They were marvelous, and we ate while we packed up. We had decided that we would go on the toll road today, as we had a fair bit of milage to cover. So most of the journey went by quickly, but boringly.
We only travelled about 4 hours, but covered more Kms than most days where we had travelled far more hours. Our lunch was particularly notable -half n apple, and some M&M’s.

Boulogne sur Mer
We arrived at small hotel in the bus station, and I was a bit dubious about it, but actually the room was fine. After unpacking, we walked about ten minutes to the beach, but it was a bit windy, and though we tried, a full swim was unwise. Back to the hotel, a quick shower, checked the train times for the morning, then off for a walk.Once again this city surprised us. Only ten minutes walk from the hotel is a walled ancient town, in perfect repair, hosting lovely old buildings, churches, offices, consulates, and restaurants. We chose one of these, having been scared off by the prices of the first establishment we went to, and had the best meal of our holiday in a place called Les Grilladines. The waiter was very friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable, and the food was devine. We had a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, and that was excellent too. The perfect final meal and end to our ten days in France.

Our favourite restaurant of the whole trip
Tomorrow it is an early start to get the train under the sea, then a full day of hard driving to get back home. We are hoping to get home tomorrow, otherwise we will be home on Sunday at some stage.

Allergic to England

Day 11. 532 Kms, 330 Miles.

Trip totals: 3664 Kms, 2291 Miles.

Last day today. We woke up in our little hotel room, and packed quickly. We are well rehearsed now in the art of cramming an expeditions-worth of clothes, shoes, bike equipment and sundries into the small amount of lugage space that we had. Once she was ready, Lena went off to a local cafe to get us some breakfast, and I carried on sorting out the bike gear. She returned with a lovely cup of coffee for me, and a couple of croissants each. Hmmm hmmmm.

Suitably fuelled, we did our final loading, paid the bill, and set sail. The Channel Tunnel port was only about 20 minutes or so away, and we made good time. However, the system that they had in place was somewhat stretched by the amount of vehicles, and there were long delays checking in, going through passport control, and we also got pre-selected for the special prize, a vehicle inspection.

With all this fun, we actually managed to get into the queues for being loaded onto the train just as our train closed for boarding. As there are trains every 15-20 minutes, it didn’t matter much, and we were soon being directed to the next train. We got loaded on, and sat on the deck for the duration of the short crossing. It only takes 35 minutes, and soon we were stood to attention by the bike, ready to ride into the garden of England.

The motorway from Folkestone to London was closed a few junctions up the road, so we were diverted through the countryside. The queues were horrendous, but as we have a privelegd pass that allows us to ignore traffic jams, we slipped through quite quickly. The satnav decided that we wanted to ride through London as well, so we went through the docklands, passing the Millenium Dome, and popping under the Thames via the Blackwall Tunnel. This was a throwback to my youth, when was a courier and used to ride through the Blackwall tunnel often, sometimes 6 times a day.

I had woken up with a red eye this morning. I thought it was just because I was tired, but it got worse, with a bulging yellowness adding to the spectacle. It was pretty scratchy too. Eventually Lena persuaded me to divert to a pharmacy, and after one aborted attempt due to a closed road, and some grumpy driving through the countryside, we consulted with a lovely pharmacist, who gave me a bottle of eyedrops. It is probably just saline, but it cost almost a fiver, so it felt like it worked, even if it didn’t.

I spent the afternoon with my nose running and my eye tearing up, while feeling like I had 3/8ths of a small beetle stuck under my eyelid, and all the while riding hundreds of miles on the bike. Not my preferred way to finish the holiday. However, we made it home in one piece, and went into pack-down mode.

It is now later in the evening, two loads of washing are on the line, the bike is washed and lubed, our stuff is packed away, and we are looking at pictures and reminiscing. I am pretty tired, so will be off to bed shortly. Tomorrow I hope to sort out the pictures, put some captions to them, provide some pictures within the posts from this holiday, and generally tidy up.

It has been a real pleasure sharing this trip with you. We have had the most marvelous, memorable, magnificent and <insert your own M-word here> time, and will have experiences and memories that will last forever. Thanks for staying with us.