Posts Tagged ‘France’


With two months to go before leaving Holland to cycle to Australia, my equipment needed testing, and friends needed visiting. I cycled back to La Jonchère in France – where I spent 3 months as an exchange student in 1988-89. This was the start of my relationship with Europe.

And, yes, I am glad I tested my equipment. I need a new pedal axle, and the baggage-holder has broken off from the frame. I’m glad I have time to fix all that before I leave!

As I only had one week this year, I started in Paris – last year I cycled from Eindhoven to Paris, so that stretch was already covered.

Day 1. 145km. Eindhoven-Brussels: A day along the canals of Belgium, staying with Kevin in Brussels.
Day 2. 191km. Brussels-Guise: Following bike paths (existent and non-existent) along rivers and train-tracks to beautiful France.
Day 3. 205km. Guise-Paris: I was awake before the sun. It was crisp – well, cold outside. My tent had a layer of ice as I left it to start my morning ritual. Today was a long and eventful day. It saw me cycle 205 km into the Parisian dusk.
Day 1. 155km. Paris-Égreville: A ride through the old and the new. The old: beautiful Paris – overflowing with memories of the last 26 years. Bathed in warmth and sun, I cycled through memory lane. The new: Following the Seine upstream I discovered the meandering valley, and met my lovely Warmshowers hosts – Nicole and Claude – at their house in the rolling hills of wheat.
Day 2. 120km. Égreville-St Cyr en Val: Along a sand path next to the canal – on and on along the green, shady waterway. A bit bumpy, but peaceful and pretty. A cycle of solitude, finished with a lovely dinner invitation at the camping ground.
Day 3. 165km St Cyr en Val-Montbazon: Sun, castles, views overlooking the Loire, minor bike problems with improvised fixes. Very very bright. It’s summer. I like!
Day 4, 125km. Montbazon-Luzeret: Sun, sun and sun. Leaving the Loire valley, the hills are getting bigger, and the sun is bringing out the sweat. Rolling fields along the Indre River, and then a landscape of lakes in the Brenne region.
Day 5. 95km. Luzeret-Ambazac: South of the Creuse River, the hills get bigger, they said. They did. They also got more familiar, those hills, and I got more emotional. I am here again, and by bike – I laughed with joy. My arrival at La Jonchère was marked with thunder and lightning.

With the equipment tested, and all the farewells made, arctic-cycler is ready for the big trip. Bring it on!


South of the Creuse River, the hills get bigger, they said. They did. They also got more familiar, those hills, and I got more emotional. I am here again, and by bike – I laughed with joy. My arrival at La Jonchère was marked with thunder and lightning.

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Sun, sun and sun. Leaving the Loire valley, the hills are getting bigger, and the sun is bringing out the sweat. Rolling fields along the Indre River, and then a landscape of lakes in the Brenne region.

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Sun, castles, views overlooking the Loire, minor bike problems with improvised fixes. Very very bright. It’s summer. I like!

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Along a sand path next to the canal – on and on along the green, shady waterway. A bit bumpy, but peaceful and pretty. A cycle of solitude, finished with a lovely dinner invitation at the camping ground.


Click here for map and gpx download.

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A ride through the old and the new. The old: beautiful Paris – overflowing with memories of the last 26 years. Bathed in warmth and sun, I cycled through memory lane. The new: Following the Seine upstream I discovered the meandering valley, and met my lovely Warmshowers hosts – Nicole and Claude – at their house in the rolling hills of wheat.

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Contrary to yesterday, today was a day of burning through the kimometres (and the müsli bars). Blown by a gale tail wind, I scooted through Belgium and out the other end to Breda to take a night train back to Eindhoven. A final 7 km in Eindhoven saw me break my day record of 301 km.

I left the hotel shortly before 7 out into the cloudy, blustery morning. Maybe not ideal weather for sunbathing, but, perfect for cycling. You don’t sweat much, you don’t need much to drink, and you can go like (with) the wind. Learning from my last cycle to Calais, I avoided the coast. The area around Dunkirk is horrible for cycling, and I took a detour inland to my favourite place from last time – Licques – a cute little village nestled in a steep valley behind Calais.

From there I was bound east. And the wind was… also heading east. A match made in heaven. I have never had this. I look on the map – I need to head there. And then, next time I look, I am already there. Next place. Before I know it I’m there. After 70 odd kilometres, I found myself in Cassel – a village perched on the top of an unlikely hill in a fairly flat landscape. Some wares from the patisserie – and then a refill. I was hungry, and my appetite today was eternal.

Then, hello Belgium.

Hello Belgium

Hello Belgium

The morning was punctuated by stopping in market squares – ah yes, another cute little town hall.. 🙂

Poperinge

Poperinge

Tielt

Tielt

As time went on, I realized that today was not just going to see me enter well into Belgium to catch a train home. I could get much further. For a while I entertained the possibility to cycle all the way home to Eindhoven. When I finally zoomed out on the map to see all of Belgium when I was in Gent, I realized the impossibility of this – it would be about 350 km. Still, a day record (301 km+), and reaching the Netherlands was still in reach. But it would take a concerted effort. And minimizing stops.

On I went. No rain. But some serious looking clouds. It must have rained everywhere except over me.

No rain.

No rain.

Into Gent. Central square. Tick. Lovely buildings. Tick.

Gent

Gent

Out of Gent. More direct roads. Straight line with the wind. Speed speed speed. I arrived in Lokeren hungry and with not much water. Pizza. Quick and an energy boost. Then on. St. Niklaas, and through some suburbs of Antwerpen. How do I cross the harbour? Explored. Tunnel closed to bikes. How do I cross? Ask. Of course. The pedestrian tunnel (!). Cool.

Pedestrian tunnel in Antwerp

Pedestrian tunnel in Antwerp

It was 20:30 and getting distinctly dim. I didn’t know how far it was to Breda in the Netherlands, but, I had to be there by 23:21 to catch the last train. The road was dead straight. I could do it. Or die trying. Suburbs of Antwerp. More suburbs. Then forest. Then Wuustwezel. Then the border.

Entering the Netherlands

Entering the Netherlands

On and on. The train station was on the other side of Breda. Still, there was no traffic and I had some time up my sleeve. Just as I arrived at the Breda train station, the rain started – for the first time for me. And I was presented with a stairway to heaven – with a super heavy bike and 295 km in the legs.

Stairway to heaven

Stairway to heaven

Goal reached with 20 minutes to spare.

Breda

Breda

And then, some would say, the ultimate madness. Others understand. I cycled 7 km around Eindhoven in the rain at midnight to get my day total to 302 km – breaking the record I held with Ed when we cycled from Delft to Den Helder and back in a day. Then I could go to bed satisfied.

Day record

Day record


I was awake before the sun. It was crisp – well, cold outside. My tent had a layer of ice as I left it to start my morning ritual. Today was a long and eventful day. It saw me cycle 205 km into the Parisian dusk.

Trip map and gpx.

The sky was clear, and the sun threw a long shadow and a beautiful soft light as I cycled through the pretty little village of Guise and through the fields.

Guise in the soft morning light

Guise in the soft morning light

Fields in the early morning

Fields in the early morning

The scenery was serene as I followed the Oise river in the sun. Unfortunately the wind had changed direction, and I now had a head wind. That, and the up and down (chopping off some of the meanderings of the river), it was slow going. But, all was better after stopping at a little boulangerie in a little village and buying a beautiful baguette sandwich and some other tasty morsels. And then eating them on some stairs in front of the boulangerie in the sun. This is France!

Fields

Fields

Then the irritation begun. I left my planned route (although I don’t think it existed in real life anyway), and found myself on a main road with trucks whizzing by. Attempts to leave the road resulted in crawling along stony sandy paths that meandered along getting nowhere slowly. Then the planned route (eurovelo) followed a canal. Only, there was no path that didn’t fizzle out. And then there was one, but, it was blocked by massive works on a bridge. There were also ‘no entry’ signs on the canal road, so, there was definitely no guarantee of the road not being blocked again. And the wind was strong, and blowing directly into my face.

Stretches of the canal were suddenly beautiful bike paths – from Appilly to Sempigny. And then, there was another massive bridge works. I crossed that bridge on the narrow pedestrian passage, lugging the bike up a narrow, steep and windy staircase – 3 times. Then the clouds got darker, the wind picked up, and I found myself contemplating a very busy road. Stop, Matthew. Time to eat. Frustration. Anger. Everything sucks. This is lack of sugar. You know that. I ate some müsli bars, and everything seemed better.

My trip to the massive supermarket saw me buy vast quantities of müsli bars. Enough to last the whole year. I still haven’t learned to counter the urge to buy the whole shop when hungry. After a proper lunch, the main road and head wind didn’t bother me, and before I knew it, I was in Compiegne.

The final blow was when I saw a sign – Paris 69km. It was already quite late in the afternoon. I wasn’t going to make it. And, then, the wind changed – it became a tail wind. I left the main road and was blown across beautiful fields, and through lovely villages, past beautiful castles. Life was better again, and I was cycling to Paris! Yay!

Castle

Castle

The big question was: could I get into Paris without going along an almost freeway? All roads become main freeways near Paris. My planned route had me going along a canal all the way into Paris. I didn’t believe that, though.. But, there it was. A beautifully signed and cared for bike path, just where it was meant to be. And it took me all the way into Paris.

It got darker and darker, but I was on the home stretch, and I had a tail wind. I hurtled along the canal. On and on. Passing runners, cyclists, fishermen, lovers sitting admiring the waters. It was a beautiful sunset. A bright pink sky.

Sunset near Paris

Sunset near Paris

And then I crossed the periferique. I was in Paris!

Hello Paris!

Hello Paris!

I had made it! 205km today, and 541km in total. I was happy.

The next day was the victory tour.

Arc du Triompf

Arc du Triompf

Eifel Tower

Eifel Tower


On day 2, the quest to clock up those kilometres was on. Paris was a long way away and I had two more days. I knew the terrain between Brussels and Paris was hilly, and so the quickest way to get there was not necessarily the shortest way as the crow flies (I am not a crow), but to follow waterways or old abandoned train tracks that have now become bike paths. I followed these where I could, and in between these, I just followed my nose (well, GPS on the smart phone).

Brussels – Guise. 191km

Following a suggested Brussels-Mons bike route, I started day 2 being blown down the canal that joins Brussels with Charleroi and Mons in the south. I learnt more about how canals work and how they connect cities of quite different altitude. First you have sluices. You have huge ramps transporting goods uphill when no more sluices will do the job. You have aqueducts. And an amazing massive sluice like a cliff face in the landscape.
image

image

So I was officially in the hills. In fact, I had been in them for a while, and the canal had allowed me experience beautiful hilly landscape without the effort. Leaving the canal between Mons and Charleroi saw me start what I would do a lot more of. Up and down and up again. Through villages, across pastures, and through forests. I was following my nose connecting the canal with the start of my downloaded Eurovelo route, before I hit a Belgium bike route – RAVeL – that ended up connecting with Eurovelo at the French border.

I crossed over into France and was welcomed with a beautiful sight. A wonderful bike path following a river, and the hope that such bike infrastructure would be with me all the way to Paris – a mere 250km away.

Promise of bike paradise

Promise of bike paradise

With the wind at my back, the kilometres rolling past along a serene river, I was thinking – is that all – I though Paris was further. I am going to get there in the early afternoon tomorrow. I will have time to do lots of sightseeing. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to cycle at least 180km today to only have 150km tomorrow (assuming Paris was indeed 250km from that sign). Well, I cycled 191km on day 2, and Paris was a lot further away that the planned 150km on day 3. The sign was more an indication that biking infrastructure is planned. In places it existed. Most of the time it didn’t. Maybe Paris was 250km from that sign. It certainly wasn’t the way I went.

Well, for those that are interested, there is a beautiful bike path from the Belgian border to Mauberge, there is a signposted route along normal roads (sometimes main roads) to another cycle path from Ferriere la Grande to Glageon. These were part of the voies vertes bike network in France. The route I followed to my endpoint in Guise was quite pleasant along little country roads. Guise itself is a cute little country town on the Oise river where I set up tent and devoured a big pizza.

Near Guise

Near Guise


Weekend cycles are good to get ready (mentally and physically) for my 2 month cycle to the North Cape in 6 weeks. This weekend I left my home in Eindhoven, touched French soil (in Givet), and returned to Namur in Belgium to catch the train home.

Eindhoven – Givet – Namur. Info and gpx download on EveryTrail

Flat and curvy is better than up and down, and up and down. This trip I followed the Maas River (which is flat and curvy), starting with passing through my favourite forest, then cycling along my favourite canal – a canal following the Maas on the Belgian side of the border.

Leendebos

Leendebos

The view over the canal following the Dutch - Belgian border

The view over the canal following the Dutch – Belgian border

Lovely island in the canal.

Lovely island in the canal.

I had chosen to cycle south as the wind was blowing that way. When I have no concrete destination in mind – cycle where the wind blows. I will have enough headwinds cycling to the North Cape.

After Maastricht (well, skirting around it), I entered new territory. Castles, fields and a beautiful river – the Maas (Meuse).

Border post

Border post

Castle at the Dutch-Belgian border

Castle at the Dutch-Belgian border

Meuse at Liege

Meuse at Liege

When the road was nice, it was very nice – bike paths and no cars. In Belgium (Wallonie), the cycle network is not connected. So.. When it was not nice, it was not nice. Busy roads, loud. Not fun.

I had booked a room in a castle in Huy – between Liege and Maastricht on the Maas. It was a lovely castle with friendly, helpful staff. They gave me a great tip for a cycle route the next day. And, it had an interesting view – looking out over the nuclear reactor on the other side of the street.

Domaine Du Chateau de la Neuville

Domaine Du Chateau de la Neuville

Bedroom with my bike

Bedroom with my bike

Lovely view

Lovely view

In Wallonie (the french speaking part of Belgium), they have the RAVeL network (Reseau Autonome des Voies Lents) – ravel.wallonie.be. These are separate bike roads, no cars in sight (usually), passing leisurely through the countryside. I first discovered these when I crossed the border into Belgium (there was a big sign explaining the system). In Huy, I was suggested to go on the Ligne 126 to Ciney. This followed an old train track, passing up a beautiful valley, through forests, and through a high area above the valley. And, as it followed an old train line, it was not steep. And it was empty. Beautiful.

Abandoned train station on Ligne 126

Abandoned train station on Ligne 126

Fields

Fields

Reaching the end of the path, I had to make my way uphill and down dale to the Meuse. The landscape away from the Meuse is undulating, and then a sudden steep drop to the river. Fun to cycle down, but once you’re down, its hard to leave the valley. The steep sides of the Meuse River made for some lovely cycling. I passed vertical rockfaces covered with rock climbers. Looked like fun.

Vertical cliffs on the Meuse

Vertical cliffs on the Meuse

Vertical cliffs on the Meuse

Vertical cliffs on the Meuse

View from above.

View from above.

Dinant

Dinant

The goal of the trip was to step over into France. I did.

France

France

And then cycled back to Namur to catch the train.

I learned some stuff about my equipment, remembered stuff I learned cycling in Norway last year, and remembered how important it is to cycle along a scenic road, with little traffic, and a good surface. On this trip I discovered that:

  • My phone backup batteries can discharge if something is pressing on them in the bag – at least that is my theory why they were both discharged on the last day.
  • Just like following the curves of a fjord in Norway, following the curves of the Maas River is better than taking a ‘short cut’. I learned in Norway to get mentally prepared for all places where the road deviated from the coast. Last weekend I learned that the Maas River has steep banks.
  • Unfortunately, longish stretches of cobblestones in the RAVeL network made the busy road that I was avoiding seem appealing. But then, lots of roadworks on the RAVeL routes forced me to take the main roads, after which I dreamed of hitting the cobblestones again.