Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Once in Tazzie, beyond the cute beagles, the drug-and-contraband-fruit sniffer dogs at the airport, I got into a dinky rental car, and whizzed off to Richmond, to the pure luxury of a B&B called Cornwall Cottages. I'm used to driving on the left by now. It's a lovely place, set between a raspberry orchard and a vineyard, with a gorgeous view of a lake, rolling tree-covered hills and an interesting looking radio telescope. The air is clear down here, so star gazing must be exceptional at times.
Today I'm hanging out on Hobart's wharf-front, at the Taste of Tasmania weeklong food and wine-fueled blowout. Everyone is there, including the local bike advocacy group, which has a booth where you can sign a petition to get a bike lane installed on a major Hobart road, and pick up a "Leave 1.5 metres" bumper sticker. Back home in Washington State, we still don't have a 3-foot rule, and these folks are asking for 5. Hope they get it. Tasmania looks like a great place to ride, but the roads are rolling, narrow and seem to have no shoulders at all. Outside the Tourism information center in Hobart I chatted with a long distance touring cyclist I'd seen riding into town over the Tasman bridge. He's come from 6 weeks in New Zealand, and he told me the drivers over there are a bit of a challenge. Yikes. Can't worry about that today.
The Taste is really something: booths selling everything from oysters on the half shell to panna cotta, in vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, passionfruit and leatherwood honey flavors. Strangely, the most popular booth appears to be one selling deep-fried Huon Valley mushrooms. These "treats" are dipped in tempura batter, and served in various quantities. There are many lines of customers at least 6 people deep at the counter. Why the locals are going crazy for the most basic type of supermarket mushroom, is utterly beyond me. I've heard that Tasmania is the only place in the world able to domesticate the truffle. No signs of those here, though. I'm not sure I want to try them. I've already had enough grease for a lifetime, as I ate crumbed trevella, a fish with large white flakes, and a mountain of french fries last night for dinner.
The Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race ended yesterday, but there are two other races in progress: Melbourne to Hobart and Launceston to Hobart as well. I watched a bunch of lobster-red-faced guys wearing red coveralls pour off one of the boats as it docked. I presume they were headed to the nearest pub. As always, the Tasman Sea and/or Bass Strait, have been one big vomit-fest, with several boats pulling out after some sailors got washed overboard. The things people do for fun...
Tomorrow, I'm going to hit the wine trail and sample some of Tasmania's pinots. Life is so tough.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
bit bashed up in transit, but as far as I can tell everything that
belongs to the bike is still inside. Today is my final day in
Queensland, where I spent time with family on what should have been the bright, sunny and hot Gold Coast. Unfortunately, it's been a downpour every day
since I got here. Torrential rain, all the rivers and streams are
flooding, and lots of birds and animals that normally live in the
rainforest seem to be heading, two by two, down to the coast.
The only good thing about the rain is that it's warm. Very warm. It's
so humid here, so it's not so bad walking around in the rain. I've
seen a few of the green tree frogs that are the State's national
Riding a bike here is impossible. Still, the surfers are out, as
always, riding the small waves at the beach. Lots of sodden families
trying gamely to picnic at the beach and make the best of it.
Tomorrow I fly to Hobart, for what I hope is warmer and drier
Tasmanian weather. Looks like El Nino in this part of the world is as
weather crazy as back in Seattle.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
I just finished a 2010 book about 3,600 mile cross country ride from Oregon to Maine by two retirees. The authors Alice Honeywell and Bobbi Montgomery did not mention the year of their trip anywhere in the narrative, but I finally figured out it was 2003. The book's tone gave it away: old fashioned with a lot of comments about safety on the road. They followed an Adventure Cycling route, which even back in 2003 was hardly unknown. Still, they carried bear spray and seriously considered taking a firearm along. Apparently one woman talked the other out of the gun idea. Good for her.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
I recently finished a great book by David Byrne, who I’d only known as the distinctive lead singer in the group Talking Heads. The 2009 book, Bicycle Diaries, is an intelligent chronicle of David’s observations on history, art, music, the urban landscape, fashion, globalization, with a good dose of thoughts of how cycling enriches one’s life in interesting cities. He pedals in some major cities of the world: Berlin, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Manila, Sydney, London, San Francisco and New York.
David uses a folding bike, which is why I first picked up this book. Lots of food for thought as I plan my coming two month bike trip to New Zealand early in 2011. Here’s the folding bike, William the Conqueror, that I will use for my next tour. I am planning a variant of a fully loaded bike tour. Wm is designed for large city urban commuting in a place without a lot of hills. I'm going to New Zealand, which is rural open road riding with plenty of hills. It will be a "trip" for sure.
David’s website is www.davidbyrne.com
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
"I was reminded once again that one way to look at technology is that is simply a device that amplifies and extends a natural human ability. The bicycle amplifies the leg; the telescope, the eye; the telephone, the ear. I am still trying to figure out what exactly the computer and Internet amplify." Doug Johnson Sept 6, 2005 blog post.
Doug is a school librarian, school technology speaker, writer and runs the Blue Skunk Blog, which I found recently when I was researching something else.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Less known is the fact that you can ride your bike from Rim to Rim as well. I'm not talking about doing so via the Kaibab trail. That would involve mountain bikes and super human endurance. Also, the NPS doesn't allow any bikes below the Rim, so that's out.
But riding it is possible, and you can even skip the part of the Arizona Strip [from Marble Canyon to the eastern entrance of the park] by taking a shuttle.
I've just done it. Plus, once you're on the South Rim, you can ride to Phoenix. I'll post some photos to the blog once I return to Seattle. Today I'm shading up in Phoenix, as it's been a bit hot to be on the bike out there, and it's triple digit weather here.
One of the tools I used for this ride was Adventure Cycling's Grand Canyon Connector map. I also used the bike option in Google Maps to map out the last bit from Wickenburg to Cave Creek. Google only fails within the last mile of the map, pointing to non-existent streets.
The high desert is in bloom, as there's been a lot of rain during the monsoons of August. The flowers are pretty impressive. And I found Arizona motorists to be very considerate all-in-all, despite some long stretches on hot, straight, rumble stripped desert highways. Looks like "share-the-road" is taking route here, which is great.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Yesterday, after I unloaded Sir Gulliver from the EBE bike bus at Thorrocks Services in East London, I took the train from Chafford Hundred to Fenchurch Street, walked through the City, and got National Rail from Waterloo back to Epsom, a bittersweet experience, given how Sir G and I have been partners for nearly 7 weeks. I'm sad, my trip is coming to an end, and people are staring at me again because I'm wearing my wierd cyclist clothing here among all the bespoke suits of the banking set.
Cloudy, humid, light rain is falling, cobbles are slick as heck, it's July, London is now just like Paris, infested with hordes of visitors tripping over their own feet, just the sort of "downer" day you don't need at the end of a truly fabulous adventure.
Still, I consoled myself by finally getting to see the pretty new bikes of London's version of Paris's Velo Lib. Tfl managed to get a big bank to sponsor the scheme, so the bike fenders aren't the nice pure white ones like in Paris, with a simple decal saying "Velo Lib" no, these are blue ad racks, but they aren't too bad really. The official launch of the scheme is this Friday, July 30, when Sir G and I will be back home unpacking in Seattle, but there's been a "soft" launch, as most of the racks near any Tube station are completely empty of bikes. I got lucky and found one parking lot which did have bikes still ready to roll. I checked out the list of rules on the info kiosk. This being the UK, the list was a long one, and I found it somewhat amusing, with its polite advice to "consider wearing a helmet," "don't ride on the left of a vehicle," etc. This gave me a good laugh. I haven't tried riding Sir Gulliver recently through a major city, while holding an open umbrella. Am I missing something here?
So, let's paint a picture now. I now have some experience with riding. I had just deliberately walked through the City of London (the banking district, where Fenchurch St Station is) with my completely loaded bike. I did this because, well, this is London, not Paris. It's midday, there is traffic everywhere, lots of lorry drivers from Europe who are driving on the opposite side of the road to which they are accustomed, and it's raining. As I walked over Tower Bridge, coming towards me was a woman on one of these Barclay bikes, riding, naturally, in heels, and sheltering herself from the rain with an open umbrella in her right hand. This caused me to think over my recent experience. I have ridden, and often pushed a bike that quite easily must weigh, oh, perhaps 50 kilos, been on the open road and dealt with gravillons, pavees, chaussee deformee, routes barrees, lateral ridges, potholes, soft shoulders, road kill that includes pheasants, hedgehogs, eagles, innumerable song birds, frogs, snails, several rabbits and a fox. I have ridden through double level "rond points" and learned to give hand signals as I approach the exit so that I don't get a "left hook" from a driver trying to speed past and beat me through the exit. I have learned to listen to the traffic coming from behind, and I can immediately tell when a "convoi agricole" is heading my way. This convoy involves a New Holland wheat thresher and a dumpster truck of enormous size and is a signal for "get the hell off this one lane rural road fast, because you're riding in the wheat belt and it's harvest time, kiddo." I have bent one of the arms of my back rack through the sheer weight of riding loaded, added more scratches to the bike's frame after 100s of times of leaning it against rocks, church walls and the often gorgeously tiled walls of the local bar tabac or boulangerie. My odometer is hanging from one of its wires, because I tore off the housing doing something stupid somewhere. But it still works, and it's reading 863km. It's already done a full rotation, so that means I've ridden 1,863km, give or take a few. I've been greeted warmly by teenagers, young mothers pushing baby strollers, municipal workers, delivery drivers, farmers, new retirees, old grannies in little little one street towns. Oh, yes, got the thumbs up and waves and shouts of "Salut!" from the Sunday pelotons I saw out on the roads. I've been invited by 3 sets of people to stay overnight, accepted one in Normandy and made new bike friends for life, been treated to several petit cafes, and received one marriage proposal from a Breton house builder.
Oh, yes, I've seen Mt Saint Michel and Chartres Cathedral rising up from a flat plain like phantasms, and ridden my own pilgrimage towards them. I've seen stands of menhirs and allees couverts in Brittany, and walked in the sands of Omaha Beach. In Les Andelys, I've seen the light that the Impressionists so loved to paint. All through the Loire valley area, I have seen masses of the most beautiful rose in the universe, named naturally for the rose poet, Pierre de Ronsard, followed by fields of ripened wheat full of poppies and cornflowers. In the last 2 weeks I hit my first massive stands of sunflowers. I've been through a lot of forests of linden, oak, beech and chestnut, and I'm pretty sure I identified a perfect porcini (cepes) mushroom in a ditch in the Beauce region of the Loire et Eure. All that rain over Bastille Day combined with heat means its time for 'shrooms. I know this because there are lots of wild mushrooms in Washington State.
And I've also been blessed with the opportunity to ride completely across the Paris of everyone's imagination and seen Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower shining in the cool of a 7am morning.
And been asked by countless people: "So what's it like to ride alone? Aren't you scared? Isn't it hard?"
Here's the answer.
Yesterday at Fenchurch Street Station, I took this photo of Sir G resting against one of Tfl's posters telling people to "catch up with the bicycle."
They got that SO right.
The French, old and young, had generally one farewell for me: "Bonne courage!"
So, Londoners, please, please "consider leaving the umbrella at home" and always, always: "bonne courage a vous!"
It's been a blast.
My last day of riding in France, 68km in the Loiret region, from Bonneval to Orleans, and my first chance to load a few of the photographs. These are just a few samples of the vitraux (stained glass) in the cathedral in Orleans. Most of the windows are C19th, although a church of some sort has been on this site since before the C10th. It was damaged in the religious wars, which I think is what I learned as the Reformation, then rebuilt, damaged during the French Revolution, then rebuilt, damaged in 1944 during bombing, then rebuilt. Looks like stained glass is an easy to attack target. But the cathedral rises again.
Currently the entire central part of Orleans is torn apart. They seem to be redoing the tram system, so getting to the church was an obstacle course of ditches, rock, manhole covers, heavy machinery, and mess everywhere.
Orleans is the birthplace of Joan of Arc, who's known here as Jeanne d'Arc and even Jehanne d'arc, which seems an archaic spelling variant. Makes sense, as her brief life of 19 years ended in the 1200s, yet she was really something, known as a mystic, matryr and a political leader. She's a popular saint in many of the churches I've visited. The cathedral here has a superb collection of windows featuring the life of Joan.
Orleans is the end of my tour. At 00:40 on July 26 I took the European Bike Express back to Calais. That's a picture of the bike trailer end of the bus, at the Orleans' "peage" the toll booth entrance to the autoroute back past Paris, through Picardy and into Normandy to hit the coast.
Back to London for 2 days, to disassemble Sir Gulliver, squeeze him back into the bike box, say goodbye to my good friend in Epsom, and then, la rentree ("the return").
Saturday, July 24, 2010
|I left Chartres this morning about 10am. I showed up at the Cathedrale of Notre Dame at 8:30am to beat the mob scene, and see the morning sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. The front of the cathedral is under wraps as they are cleaning it, but I saw one of the rose windows and the blue madonna window, which is lovely. Best of all, I was heading out of town as the first tour groups were showing up.|
Yesterday I skipped a visit to the Palace of Versailles because of the tourist mob. I got fed up with dodging groups of idiots walking every which way on the bike lanes in Versailles. It's not as if there is a lack of footpath folks! Sheesh! Plus I had at least one "know-it-all" make a face at me when he saw my loaded Sir Gulliver. OMG, the number of panniers I'm carrying and they're so full!? Yeah, right, so you're suddenly the expert in long distance touring, eh? Hmm, "if I just let go of Sir G's handlebars just so quickly I could take you down in a New York minute buster..."
I did recover my sense of humor later, after getting my daily dose of "bonne courage!" from a delivery guy, and a guy pushing his grandson in a babystroller. Thank god for real people.
And yesterday; I did ride alongside the Parc of the palace on the way out to Chartres. Maybe I'll come back and visit again bright and early when I can have a clear view of a fountain without some idiot taking a cellphone picture of themselves in front of it.
|I didn't really think it would be so easy, but on Thursday I rode clear across Paris, from the Pré St Gervais/Porte de Pantin area to the Bois de Bologne. I did it using Paris's network of bike lanes, often separated from the traffic by a big rounded hunk of concrete. Only at Pantin did I have to deal with illegally parked trucks in the bike lane.|
Where there is no bike lane, you can use the bus/taxi lane and cars keep out. The biggest challenge was getting around the Trocadero, as the bike lanes and bus lanes disappear for a while and I just clip clopped the bike up and around until I could connect with the route to the Bois de Bologne. The Bois was fine, as well, until I had to lose the bike path and take the main road to Porte de Bologne and the neighborhood called Bologne Billancourt. By now it was rush hour, and the road surface outbound here is basically dangerous potholed crap. I'd started early at 5:45am, when it was finally getting light, and that is the key. There is little to no traffic and you can ride your bike around the Place de la Republique, past the Centre Georges Pompidou, past Notre Dame, the Louvre, Concorde, and also; get a full on ride past the Eiffel tower.
I never bothered to rent any of the velo lib's while I was in Paris, but I can see why people use them. The road infrastructure is there, so it's relatively safe to ride.
A big help was the little fold-out map I got from the Office Tourisme folks in Pyramides. You have to know to ask for it, but it shows recommended routes. And they work!
I rode from Paris to Versailles. Vive le velo lib!
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I tried to escape the heat by spending the day at the Louvre Museum on Monday (mobbed, and the a/c is also C17th!) Yesterday was a bit better, the Musée d'Orsay, with all the French Impressionist art, and an a/c that worked.
The Louvre is amazing, both the collections and the buildings itself. I queued at 8:30am to get first dibs on a ticket 9 euros at opening time, 9:00am. A very good idea, as the queue became enormous as the day heated up, and entering a museum through a glass pyramid when it must have been in the upper 30s, well, let's just say it was toasty. Mona Lisa was mobbed, as was Venus de Milo, but after I paid my respects, I headed for the Richelieu wing, with all French art and sculpture from Middle Ages and beyond, which was great as fewer people, and the collections were wonderful. I've been visiting Gothic churches all through Normandy and Brittany, and the Louvre has similar treasures, properly provenanced, so it was wonderful to get the full picture, and also know that it's possible to see this stuff, as good or better than the Louvres' collection still in place in little French towns.
The Orsay was equally wonderful. It's a terrific renovation of a train station from the 1840s that was almost demolished in the 1970s. Now superbly renewed, it has a collection of just about every famous piece of Impressionist art you could wish for: Van Gogh and Gaugin from their time together just outside Paris, Manet, Monet, Corot, Coubert, on and on and on. "Dejeuner sur l'herbe" is big and extraordinary. And "Olympia" is just as outrageous as when it scandalized the locals back in the late C19th.
Cooler today, so walked everywhere. Leave tomorrow, early to bet the traffic and head for Versailles.
I have to quit now as the Internet shop is closing for the evening.
More later if I can.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
I am enroute to Honfleur, which everyone tells me is gorgeous. Let's hope the circulation (traffic) isn't too crazy. My Michelin map doesn't show a lot of smaller roads as alternates, and there's a lot of RED road here. Hmm. Pushing a major road through Norman towns often means the road cuts through a feudal enclave, of church, chateau and tithe barn, all in stone, all ancient, and many still working as farms, not simply as chambre d'hotes.
This morning I chatted with a local photographer in Courseulles-s-Mer who has a show both on the beach boardwalk and at the OT, opening today:Frederic Vignolles. Fred.firstname.lastname@example.org. He's on Facebook he tells me. I haven't had time to facebook myself properly. Too busy riding and figuring things out. Check out Fred's photos. They're good and all taken of the local sites.
Had rain in the AM 2 days ago which made riding easier, but today's it's gonna be a scorcher. There is a circus in town, and a small car with a big loudspeaker is driving up and down the one street outside, telling everyone to come to the show tonight. You have to go, folks, I think I understood the word "camel" as part of the pitch.
And tomorrow the Grand Guignol (French Punch and Judy) is in Courseulles for one night only, an all new 45 minute show. Unfortunately, I have to miss it. Also, likely I wouldn't understand about 95 percent of what they say anyway. But I really am in traditional seaside resort land right now.
Yesterday spent the day in Bayeux, first visiting the Cathedral; which is very rich in art and sculpture, and later at the Tapisserie de Bayeux museum. 70 meters of embroidered history, or propaganda from Wm the Conqueror's POV. It is amazing, sewn by English nuns (likely) in the C11th century, and full of vitality and gore and humor. There's Halley's Comet foretelling bad things, warriors using their shields as a table, the Norman navy storming the beaches, pillage and house burning, the horses leaping into battle, Harold being killed with an arrow in the eye, dead bodies on the battlefield being stripped of chain mail. If you really want you can buy embroidery kits for about 60 euros and sew a piece of the history yourself. Me, I settled for several 1 euro postcards. It's a terrific comic strip version of history. Wm had a rough time once he'd conquered the Anglo-Saxons in England. And it's a miracle the embroidery has survived. Napoleon took it at one point to prove that his proposed invasion of England was also God's will. The nuns used natural dyes and the colors are still beautiful.
After the tapestry, I had my normal 2 hour lunch of fish and dessert then rode into a horrible headwind all the way to Courselles. No wonder my back hurt this morning when I got up.
Yet, the good part of riding on the coast here is that I'm meeting more sympa folks. Met my first long distance US biking couple: Bob and Sherry (www;bsbikeadventures.blogspot.com) on their way to Spain. They have 3 weeks, quit their jobs and took off. Had some bad luck outside Paris, where Sherry had her trailer bag stolen: clothes, laptop, a real downer. One of those lovely waterproof BOB yellow bags, so bad luck. So, the closer I get to Paris, the more streetsmart I need to be.
I'm posting this blog from the Office Tourisme in Bernières-s-Mer (3 euros per hour) and a guy visiting his mother in the house across the street just came over to chat about bike touring. Maxim recently returned from Martinique and he's off in a few weeks for a tour. My matching bumblebee yellow ortleib bags always command a lot of attention. Not exactly something that fades into the scenery, but visibility is key when cycling, especially with roundabout imbeciles.
I've visited both the Normand-American cemetery outside Colleville-s-Mer and 2 of the Commonwealth cemeteries, called this because they include Canadians, NZ, Australians and South Africans, as well as fallen British military people from the D-Day battles. The cemeteries are truly moving places to see. So many young men and some women who gave their lives 66 years ago to help liberate France. The American cemetery and memorial is beautiful and possibly the best war museum you'll ever see. Excellent mutlimedia presentations that help you understand that the beautiful bucolic Normand countryside outside, all wheat, corn and beet fields once saw incredible carnage. Ditto for the beautiful towns you ride through. The cathedral in St Lo lost 2 of its turrets and is left as a memorial to the dreadful bombing that occurred. Many Norman towns were obliterated, some, like Bayeux, remained intact.
If you are an American you would be proud of the tastefulness and beauty of the Normand American cemetery. The Commonwealth cemeteries, and there are several, I went only to the one in Bayeux and another near Bazenville, are elegant in their simplicity and the touching epigraphs on the tombs. These cemeteries also include rows and rows of German soldiers, identified by name and date of birth and death.
Rest in peace.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Fortunately, it was a downhill run into Villedieu-les-Poeles. If not, likely I'd have skipped its museums of copperware, lacemaking and Norman furniture. Today I took off from Camping Les Chevaliers in record time (for me) and was on the road at 7:55am. So a great ride on the rollercoasters to Tessy-sur-Vire. But by the time I got to St-Lo, I didn't want to deal with anymore patchwork fields, rolling hilly riding and pretty farmhouses. St-Lo doesn't have any camping, but the OT women helped me find a chambre d'hote about 3km out of town. After some wrong turns, particularly tough when they involved difficult climbs (I'm wearing out the knobs on the soles of my cleated shoes will all the pushing of the bike up hill) I finally found the place. The owner's grandson is sitting with me in the living/dining room of this C16th farmhouse, which is furnished with armoires and tables and sideboards exactly like the ones I saw in the Muséé de Meublee Normands back in Villedieu, and watching tonight's coup du monde match.
Tomorrow my goal is Grandcamp-Maisy on the coast, so I can visit some of the World War 2 beaches: called here les plages du débarquement. I've been passing more and more memorials noting some battle related to D-Day. The heat I'm experiencing must be exactly like that of the allied troops and French resistance fighters in 1944.
Tomorrow is July 4. Happy Independence Day to everyone back home in the USA. In Normandy, you feel that that you are welcomed.
I'm not frightened of being robbed. I ostentatiously lash my kypto lock and super think cable extension to the tent on the back panniers, but (shush) rarely if every use them to lock the bike. I brought the krypto because I wanted to ride in London and basically a bike gets stolen there in, say 1 second. All the bikes left at the rail stations are total beaters and anyone who rides in London basically shells out for a folding Brompton and folds it up and carries it where ever they go.
When I go into a boulangerie every morning to buy 2 croissants, then go across the street to the Bar Tabac to pick up a café créme and give the local layabouts inside something to talk about, I never lock the bike. I just prop Sir Gulliver against a wall or a flower planter and go inside. Ditto at lunchtime, my main concern is to park Sir G in the shade so that my bike bags don't roast in the Norman sun.
Several guy cyclists I've talked with just can't resist lifting Sir G and they are amazed at the weight. So, that's partly the answer: the bike is way too loaded for anyone to dash off with it. Besides, I am the only cyclist so far I've seen with bright yellow matching front and back panniers. Believe me, all the little towns I've gone through must have a grapevine running hot n heavy: "Hey, Didier, tu crois, l'anglaise elle s'arrive!" and "Sophie, did you see what that americaine is carrying. I just peered at her through my pretty lace window curtains so she doesn't see me looking. She's totally mad!"
My major fears are having to change another flat, and again apparently forgetting how to do it, and skinning more of my knuckles than last time. Other fears are: "OMG! It's 12:15pm and if I don't find a restaurant serving lunch, or at least one that isn't serving only moules frites, I don't have enough time to make it to the next town, and I'll bonk because maybe that next town won't have an epicerie either! Final fear is: "where the heck is the municipal campground and now that it's July will it be totally full of camping-cars and will I have to pitch my little tent on a field of gravillons?"
As for being lonely, jamais! I seem to present such an unusual spectacle, and perhaps my smile and "bonjour!" is so disarmingly strange, that people really reach out to me. Sometimes it's some farmer cutting a hedge who gives me a big country smile, makes the pedaling motion with his arms and shouts "roulez!" Or grande-mére working in her potager or cooling her heels sitting in a chair in the open doorway of her stone house on a hot hot afternoon, who'll happily chat. Plus, now that I'm in the "anglais" belt of Normandy, I'm meeting lots of folks from the UK, and they're keen to figure out why someone would ride around France like I'm doing.
It's getting a little easier to find places with Internet, as in some of the Office Tourisme's or in the campground offices, so it's possible.
Out on the road all day, it's really pleasant to have only cows or chickens or doves for company.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Well, I finally made it. It is a magical place to see, like Disneyland, except it is real. Now, it's been a long time since they built a road to connect MSM to the mainland of Normandy, and the place is infested with ice cream parlors and post card racks, and overrun with tourists "checking the site off their must-see" list, but later tonight (it is now 8 pm and broad daylight, I am going to ride back over the 1.8km causeway and watch the sun set and the massive tide race back in. Yes, it is possible to believe some abbot had a vision of the archangel Michael clobbering the devil here. From a long way off it is a hazy specter, sort of like a large battleship floating off the coast. Up close, it's an extraordinary testament to faith. From the causeway you can see the light shining through the glass abbey window. Visiting it may be a bit challenging as it's all my favorite type of road: pavéés, and these ones are worn smooth by thousands of tourist feet. Hauling the bike over this, and not crashing into any tourists is a big challenge.
I rode to MSM this morning, after camping on the Baie du Mont Saint Michel in a little waterfront town of stone houses facing the sea front on in St Benoit des Ondes (St B of the waves). The shoreline ride is wonderful, as you cruise along next to the digues (dikes) and look out to sea and the oyster farms. If you want you can pull over for oyster and mussels snacks from roadside vendors. I chose to pull over in le Vivier-sur-Mer to talk to 3 touring cyclists: Harald from Germany, near Alsace, who is just finishing up a 4 week ride around France and heading back home as it's getting too hot. It was great listening to Harald speak French, as he's German, so he was enunciating the words slowly enough I could actually follow. Of course, I was up to my old tricks of speaking "troglo" French, messing up all the tenses and forgetting basic prepositions. Also met Nelly andDaniel, recent retirees to Normandy, and who are completing a 3 day ride. Later, at lunch at a creperie that was an uphill slog from St Marcan and I was hoping to heck that the restaurant would be open because things seemed dreadfully quiet around here, at 12:45pm and you can't be too fussy about le formule lunch of the day in these tiny places. Still, I met 4 pleasant West Virginians. Later I rode by Nelly and Daniel again, so after more coffee and chatting, we rode through les polders, the reclaimed farmland near MSM which is now full of farms growing corn, carrots, potatoes and garlic: all pre-salted, of course! It was amazing to ride these quiet back roads, and have MSM get closer and closer with each kilometer. Then, at MSM I chatted with Mary and Gavin, from Wales. Everyone so much fun, esp. my new French pals who patiently listened to me mangling their lovely language, and they never grimaced, not even once, trés sympa, as you'd say here, and such a change from the pretension of St Malo. St Malo looks amazing from a distance, as in from the Bus de Mer (water taxi) that Sir Gulliver and I rode over the Rance from Dinard, but it's heavily touristed and has the prices to match. After more than a week riding in central Brittany, where I was basically the only foreigner around, it was strange to be back on the tourist circuit. Still, even in "fake" St Malo I met really fun people, including a foursome of retirees from Hastings "popular with tourists since 1066" and we shared a few laughes in the overprice café where we met. St Malo is a curiosity. Basically a fort with a long history of "corsaires": pirates, and being the birthplace of Jacques Cartier who founded Quebec, so the French Canadian connection is strong, but the town itself is quite new. It was bombed to smitereens by Gen Patton in 1944 to dislodge the Germans, and 80 percent destroyed. It's impossible to believe that 20 percent of anything could have survived that, but the city was rebuilt, and only looks old from a distance. I've been in the real thing, towns like Dinan, for example, that still have their maisons du bois and other buildings from medieval times, so it was a bit odd being in a place that had been rebuilt. Still, I'm now moving into the region of France where I expect to see more monuments and reminders of WW2, after reading plaque after plaque after plaque of names like Gaston and Yves and Pierre in every Breton village I rode through that lost 20, 30, or more, "enfants mort pour la France 1914 à 1918.
Time to say goodbye to Brittany and onto Normandy.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
It is cooler today, so I may head towards Cap Fréhel via Lancoet. I haven' seen any foreigners for days, as I don' think many travel the places I go, but as I am now getting close to St Malo, I'm back in the tourism belt. I want to avoid the horrible traffic bottleneck on the dam across the Rance between Dinard and St-Malo, so I will look for a boat to take me, and Sir Gulliver across the bay. I have renamed my bike appropriately, given the number of places I've been through recently that have some chivalry aspect. Yesterday I was able to study the C12th tombs of Jehan de Beaumanoir and various other relatives or knights of the time. It is amazing to be able to place your hands on the stone carvings of knights holding swords and shields, and, in one case, an honorable lady of the time, also dressed in a stylish hip belt, short tunic, and cropped haircut of the time. The carvings are lovely in their simplicity, and having survived maybe, 800 years, it sort of puts things into perspective. I am shaky on the history of this time, and, at 1 euro per 15 mins of time in the Dinan OT (office tourisme) internet spot, I will save my historical re-education for later. But you don't have to know a lot about the history to appreciate the artistry.
Plus, again, it's a great place to ride, despite the fact that Dinan is a HILL town, and they sure love pavés around here. Actually, I have 2 new swearwords now: pavés! and gravillions! I feel my teeth rattling around in my head when I clatter over yet another set of pavés, and I say bad things about the little towns that decide it's "quaint" to add bands of pavés into their central town traffic circles. And getting gravillions stuck in your cleats, after several km of newly oiled road, as I got outside Hédé 2 days' ago, well. I think the last week of June is "let's re-il every small road in every small town" week. Still, today I was greeted by a large peleton of buffed out cyclists as I sat having my café créme in the Bar Tabac across the street from the OT with a chorus of "saluts" plus various grunts, waves, thumbs up, etc. It is so nice to be in a place where being a solo middleaged bike tourist, loaded with matching sets of yellow panniers, and lumbering up another hill is considered totally normal.
Alors, maintenant, il faut que je parte vers la cote!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I visit the tourist info centers in each town i go to, unless it is lunch noon to 2PM and mostly they are very helpful and go out of their way to be of assistance. I have had many cmpliments about my "excellent command of the language" which just goes to show how few Americans do anything like what I am doing. Bonne route!
The breton houses are about the cutest ones you can imagine: whitewash stucco, wooden shutters, lace curtains in the windows, flower boxes full of petunias and geraniums on every ledge. I have ridden through serveral versions of "villes fleuries" where the number of flowers: 1 flower, 2 flower, etc., grades the show.
Brittany is also the location of more menhirs, dolmen, allees couvertes, tumuli and other neolithic stone constructions, tombs or circles or alignements than you can imagine. I spent Sat of the soltice weekend in Carnac, where it gets light at 4am and dark at 10pm. The only thing missing were a few Druids dancing around.
I am now in King Arthur territory. I tried to find the fountain of Barenton today on a little hike out of Trehorenteuc, but i guess i missed it. So no Sir Gawain and the Black Knight for me. But last night I stayed in the Auberge de la Table Rond in a tiny place called Néant-sur-Yvel and that was a treat.
I have plenty of photographs, and not a field of sunflowers in sight. Too early for that, the sunflower fields of France are planted but not yet setting flowers. I have had to content myself with photos of CXIVth chateaux and calvaries (roadside celtic crosses) that are everywhere. Brittany is unbelievably old.
I am making my way to St Malo and should be there in a few days. I am keeping away from the trains there is the first strike of the summer happening tomorrow. Ask a French person their opinion of the SNCF and they say "c'est la France" with a shrug.
I have been keeping detailed notes due to lack of technology readily at hand. Plenty to write about and lots of pix. You'll just have to read my book folks!
Now time to leave this cafe. The coupe du monde foot game is on now and i think it is the USA vs Grande Bretagne! Sans blague! Even France lost a few days ago. Le foot is the only news here folks,
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
i hope that Brittany continues to be as welcoming and i hope the rain keeps away. rain + bike + 4 panniers + getting lost + being a novice touring cyclist + pavees = '!:;è&$!!
Still you can park your bike outside any shop here and noone will touch it. Perhaps the fact that i drap my washing on the back panniers to dry while i ride along is part of the fun. Still there is a guy outside the internet place (actually the local print shop) having a cigarette while he checks out my rig). Time to go and make another friend
no photos for a while. it takes a while to find an internet cafe as they are only in bigger towns, and even there you have to ask 3 people before you find one. This is a tip from Ron and Nikki, 2 other touring cyclists (USA and New Zealand) i met at Villandry. They are riding to Croatia which isnèt as impossible as it sounds. For me, the Loire toute seule is plenty of challenge and now it is time for hillier and windier Brittany. Everyone comments that "vouse etes bien chargee" which means "you are really loaded" likely they are making a double entendre as in "you are female over 50 and you are doing this? yes, you are vraiment loaded"
i have to get to the Saumur station now and deal with two sets of stairs as the platform is ripped up and being jackhammered. Bienvenue à la Loire à velo folks!
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
And, get this, i rode about 5km from the airport this am with all the rush hour traffic, and it is true! French drivers, INCLUDiNG truckers, pull out to pass you and patienty tool along behind you, plus Tours has bike lanes all over. it is looking good despite the lousy weather. Now i just need to get used to reading my odometer in KM.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Photos top: Free Cycle Storage at Liverpool Street Station and a tfl poster for this summer's campaign to make cycling more acceptable
middle and bottom: selling pieces of junk bike in Brick Lane, and very witty activist "don't park, dump your car" signs outside Wieden and Kennedy advertising agency nearby
I'm spending today loading my touring bike as tomorrow at 11:45AM I have to be at Thurrocks Services in East London for the pick up by European Bike Express, EBE. It sounds easy, right, East London, and Epsom is SE of London, and in a normal city without traffic from hell, it would only be about 15-20 miles.
I ain't riding it, folks. Tomorrow I get up early to put Gulliver, my fully loaded bike, onto the South Eastern train from Epsom to Waterloo. I will get to W'loo before 8AM, when non-folding bikes on trains are banned for 3 hours. I will then walk Gullliver out of W'loo, using the handicapped acccessible exit #3, and likely walk it along the Thames Path and over either London or Tower Bridge, heading for the no-barrier entrance to Fenchurch Street Station. A ride up in the elevator [gosh I hope it's working! I checked last week, but they're constantly working on stations and rails around town] to the platform, then the C2C train to Chafford Hundred, a station that isn't an 1840s-era staircase-to-the-high-street special. The no-bikes-in rush-hour doesn't affect outbound trains at 8AM. From there, a few miles alongside the A10 to the pickup point, which looks like [thanks Google maps!] a motorway truck stop. I've been pestering the contact person at EBE for tips because, let's face it, I'm a middle-aged solo female cyclist on her first real bike tour going to a country where my grasp of the language leaves much to be desired.
By 1:45AM on Wed, assuming everything is fine, I should be using my credit card to check into the Premiere Classe hotel at the EBE drop off point in Tours, France. Then it's Loire a velo!
I'm a bike commuter from Seattle, a place with a politically active and quite effective bike lobby. I've had the chance to visit a much bigger and more complex city, and see how things works here. It's fascinating. Some of the things they do, Seattle should do. But London's Cycling Minister Norman Baker might benefit from a little bike holiday to the Pacific Northwest.
In a nutshell, London isn't yet in that happy nirvana of "Share the Road". Instead, it's still a lot of "get out of my way you !&*!%**! hippy/idiot/wanker/moron/prat/git/[fill in a culturally meaningful expletive of your choice here]. I've read too many scary stories in the free copy of the Evening Standard I pick up at Waterloo every evening. There's too many cases of cyclists, often women, being run over by lorries driven by European drivers in London's congestion zone. Now, what the heck are big trucks doing there at that time of day I wonder? Also a case where a cyclist took on a cabbie who ran him off the road to pick up a fare. The cyclist says the cabbie choked him unconscious with the cyclist's own scarf after telling him to, well, you probably guessed what was said. Now the cabbie is suing the cyclist, but I forget on what grounds, dinging the paint work of the cab perhaps? Who knows. Seems like there is a lot a mutual cyclist/driver hatred, and plenty of blame to go around. Motorists speeding and practically running you down on a pedestrian crossing, cyclists scaring the living daylights out of pedestrians when riding on the sidewalk.
What am I learning? Well, although it looks so cute, I would skip the scarf while cycling. I would wear a helmet, even if it flattens my hair and the locals look at you funny. If a double decker bus pulls up on my right I would get the hell off the road and jump up on the kerb. But I wouldn't ride at road speed into a bunch of pedestrians, I would deal with all the stares while I clippity clop in my outfit of parrot-colored clothing and flourescent cleated shoes. And I would walk the bike. Actually, I'd change my pedals and ditch the bike shoes if I lived here, but I certainly wouldn't don the high heels + dress+ cute hat outfit that is so popular. While it makes you look normal, it's dangerous for people here to use their London roads as sartorial venues. London isn't Oxford or Cambridge, or those towns where you can apparently tool around on your "sit up and beg" bicycle, with a cute puppy in the wicker handlebar basket. That puppy would be road kill and a bike is a vehicle. I don't like the playfulness approach. But I realize you have to start somewhere.
When I got here in May, I thought Mayor Boris's Cycle Superhighways were already running, and I thought they'd be segregated bike-only lanes with a barrier between the cars and bikes. Looks like it's more promise that reality, and a lot of take a paintbrush and paint an existing lane green. The start has been delayed to July, and there is both interest and skepticism in the idea. Not only is it Superhighways, it's things like the now branded Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, with expected 400 docking stations and 6000 bikes, at £1 for 30 minutes, also launching in July. Not quite the Paris white bike scheme, but similar. Perhaps I'll try out a white bike when I get to Paris in July.
The "ride it's good for you and good for the planet" approach is active. Looks like there's a bike week later this month, and a new campaign, showing a union jack made out of green things is running in the Tube. And the tfl posters are out there trying to convince meek and nervous cyclists to "Catch up with cycling." Hmm. Nearly every woman, irrespective of age, I've met here basically thinks I'm nuts to plan a solo bike tour that involves camping. Boris, you've a l-o-o-n-g way to go to get some buy in on your admirable scheme. But I hope it happens. There is so much to see in London, and doing it at the speed of the bike is great.
As for me, it's "B" day for me tomorrow. I am finishing up reading French Revolution, by Tim Moore, a ride done along the Tour de France route back in 2000. Let's hope things have only gotten better in the past 10 years. I'm not doing any piece of this year's T de F and I will miss the finale on the Champs d'Elysees by a few days, as I think I am scheduled to leave Orleans the day the tour rolls into Paris.
I think I'll save all those hors categorie climbs for the future.
The blog updates will become less frequent from this point, until I figure out French Internet cafes. And, this is assuming that I'll figure out the ridingand navigating and camping beforehand.