Tag Archives: cycling

Reflecting on our 2013 French tour

Shutters on the windows and flower boxes on the sill. Much as I would them too, my windows at home will never look 'French' like this.

Shutters on the windows and flower boxes on the sill. Much as I would them too, my windows at home will never look ‘French’ like this.

As I have already indicated in recent posts, my entries on this blog have gotten more than a little behind the times. However, the memories are still fresh and there is much to write about our cycle tour in France in 2013.

This is what I love coming to France for. So beautiful.

This is what I love about France.

This trip could more accurately be considered a series of shorter cycling tours than one big long trip. Some cyclists are super fit and measure their achievements by the number of kilometres or miles they pack into each day. This is definitely not me, I have never been an athletic type and frankly, it is sometimes very difficult to muster the willpower to get on the bike again, especially after 3 or 4 days of riding with no days off to explore and take photos. I also get very frustrated at missing out on seeing so many things along the way.

Pure magic.

Pure magic (the Canal du Midi in Toulouse).

There were three of us on this tour, me, my partner and my youngest son who was about to commence 2 years of study in France. Unlike our previous French experience, we were based in Toulouse, home of our son’s new university.

Apart from an initial desire to ride along the Rhône Valley, we decided to try ‘winging’ the rest of the 4 weeks we had to ride. This plan worked reasonably well, but personally, I think it would have been better if we had decided on a rough schedule beforehand, so that there was an overarching plan. I am a bit boring in that I like to know what I am doing ahead of time!

How many bikes can you fit into a train compartment? In this photo, there were ten!

How many bikes can you fit into a train compartment? In this photo, there were nine!

Given that there were three of us, we decided to try camping, rather than staying at B and Bs (which are mostly suited to couples or groups).

‘Free’ camping is definitely cheaper than staying in B and Bs or hotels, or family holiday camps. By ‘free’ camping, I mean staying in places that are not designated camping areas.

This was our preferred option as it would have given us the most freedom to plan as we went along and to stop when and were we felt like doing so.

Table and benches - rare luxury! In Australia, most campsites have these as standard fixtures.

Table and benches – a very rare luxury in all the campsites where we stayed! In Australia, most campsites have these as standard fixtures.

In Australia, it is possible to free camp almost anywhere outside major cities, if one is prepared to ‘rough it’ a little.

However, we were unsure of the situation in France, so read widely about what others had done. It seems that free camping is not really encouraged, although many do manage to do it quite successfully. Not being quite as young as we once were (and consequently just a tad less brave 🙂 ), we decided to plan around destinations where we knew there were camping sites. Unlike our first cycling adventure in France, we did not book any accommodation except for when we first arrived and the few days prior to our departure.

Ultimately, we used a mix of camping and hotel stops (after camping in the rain for more than 2 nights, one starts to dream about dry things.. clothes, shoes, tents…. 🙂 ). We also found that in the larger cities, the cost of a room for 3 at a cheaper hotel was sometimes less than the cost of a tent site! So it payed to look at all the options before deciding where to stay.

The first few days of riding were very, very wet! Madoqua and son enjoy a rare break in the weather. At least it was not hot!

The first few days of riding were very, very wet! Madoqua and son enjoy a rare break in the weather. At least it was not hot!

At the finish, there had been four main parts to our trip: the Rhône Valley, Millau-Albi, the Canal du Midi and Bordeaux. Each was special for different reasons, as you will find out in upcoming posts.

As with other tours, I will compile a page which references all the relevant posts, but I had better get on and write them first 🙂

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Time to get cycling again

It has, as they say, “been a long time between drinks” on this blog site. The last post was just over a year ago. This has not been due to any tardiness, simply that the events of life took over and this blog had to be temporarily put on ice.

I hope to now reverse this situation and get regular posts going again. There is so much to tell, and so many questions to ask of you cycling fraternity out there, it is difficult to know where to start 🙂

Perhaps it is appropriate to have a quick review of where our cycling adventures have taken us, the things we have learned and what we would like to try next. We have completed 3 major biking tours and have learnt so much from each of them. Each one has been remarkably different in some way.

Waiting for a train in with our loaded bikes. Let our French adventures begin!

Waiting for a train in with our loaded bikes. Let our French adventures begin!

For our first, somewhat timid foray into cycle-touring, we booked ourselves into B and Bs along the beautiful Loire Valley in France, and then rode avidly from one to the next for 4 weeks. It was a superb trip, but on reflection, we spent far too much time in the saddle, trying to cover as much distance as we could.

All things wonderfully French!

All things wonderfully French!

There was not enough time to explore unexpectedly lovely spots, and not enough rest days. And we went too late in the season and got cold. Frosty cold! But at least the rain stayed away, and we had fine weather for almost the entire month.

The take home message for this trip was not to be in such a hurry to “get there”.

Our second trip took place in the  UK. It was a cyclo-tour with a family history flavour in that we tried to visit a number of the places where our ancestors had lived.

Having learnt not to pack too many kilometres into each day, we took a bit longer to cover the same distances, but then got the train, so moved around the countryside very quickly, while still being able to do a lot of cycling. This plan worked very well, and we were able to ride in the lovely Cotswolds, the Scottish borders and highlands, around Bath and London, and along the south coast of England. Accommodation was a lot easier (and cheaper) because we stayed at Youth Hostels in most locations.

Cycling in the lovely green English countryside.

Cycling in the lovely green English countryside.

The weather was a bit more of a problem on this trip and we got drenched a number of times (there is nowhere for cyclists to get out of the rain in the UK!). One particular evening stands out in this regard: it was pouring rain (and had been for most of the afternoon) and we arrived at our destination absolutely soaked. Once we were dry, there was no way we were going to voluntarily go back out into the wet to find a meal!

Our third trip took us back to France.

One of our Hubba Hubba tents which were a breeze to carry, erect and pack.

One of our Hubba Hubba tents which were a breeze to carry, erect and pack.

We had enjoyed ourselves so much the first time, and loved all things French, especially the people. This time we packed two tents and enough camping equipment to give us some basic comforts and headed to the Rhône Valley to see what this area had to offer.

We wisely started in the north and cycled southwards, so had the Mistral (wind) helping us most of the way. The area had some amazing surprises for us, with Nîmes and the Pont du Gard being the highlights. A train trip later and we entered the Albi area which also had a few surprises in store. The highlight for me was the incredible Millau Bridge and the fun times riding through inky black tunnels on our bikes.

The amazing, 4 lane Millau Bridge, France.

The amazing, 4 lane Millau Bridge, France.

Admiring the spectacular Millau Bridge from a distance.

Admiring the spectacular Millau Bridge from a distance.

The camping lost its appeal when the weather turned wet, but it was not a problem when things were fine (I am not fond of mud!). We did find that many of the campsites where we stayed were quite expensive, and a more comfortable (dry) bed could often be found at a local three star hotel or F1 hotel.

What you can see when you cycle through one of the tunnels between Millau and Albi.

What you can see when you cycle through one of the tunnels between Millau and Albi – it was bright daylight outside!

So what is next? We think a hybrid trip, using busses and trains to go longer distances (since this worked well on both the last two trips). But getting bikes on and off trains can be rather nightmarish, and some buses refuse to carry them altogether. So we are planning to take two Brompton folding bikes, which pack down so nicely into compact bundles with wheels. The tents will probably be left behind and a greater reliance placed on finding reasonably priced hotel accommodation. Such are our tentative plans.

A Brompton folding bike can be carried on and off trains and easily  put on a bus.

A Brompton folding bike can be carried on and off trains and easily put on a bus.

The challenge now is to figure out how to get a folded bike and all my gear into a single bag or suitcase. Ideally, the case needs to have wheels and be “inversible” When the bike is airborne, it needs to be inside the bag, but when the bike is unpacked, its bag needs to be able to fold up somehow so that it can travel on the bike racks i.e. “invertible”. 🙂  Does anyone have any helpful suggestions?

Metallic knight

KJ and I  had not long packed our bikes and  left Blois on our Tour de France and we were headed towards Valençay thence to Selles sur Cher for the night.

The bikes were behaving perfectly and we were well into a cycling routine and enjoying what the new cool, but sunny day had on offer. It was a still morning and we were riding silently – each of us contented, relaxed and deeply immersed in our own thoughts as so often happens when we ride.

House

Suddenly we looked across to see the most unusual sight. We had come across a large house (small chateau?) set in beautifully maintained gardens. But there are many such houses in France, so why did this one startle us so much?

A most unusual garden sculpture - a full sized knight on his horse!

A most unusual garden sculpture – a full sized knight on his horse!

Knight1A full sized knight in full battle dress was mounted on his large trusty steed and riding purposefully across the lawn right outside this imposing residence.

It wasn’t real of course, but had (most impressively) been made from recycled bits and pieces – mostly steel scrap.

We started, then stared and reached for the camera.

Unfortunately, this amazing sculpture was quite a way off and we were reluctant to approach too closely as this took us too close to the house. But what we saw was impressive enough!

In the blog Have you ever …. there is a series on Amazing Mailboxes that I and some of my followers have found in our various travels. This knight was not a mailbox, but if it had been, it would clearly have been king of them all!
ZKnight

A funny little lane

Our cyclo-tour of France took us some way along the banks of the Loire River which I really enjoyed. We like the wide open spaces of rural areas and had plenty of this sort of countryside to ride through.

The beautiful Loire River. Our route followed the river bank as we approached Orléans.

The beautiful Loire River. Our route followed the river bank as we approached Orléans.

When we did come to large cities (unless we particularly needed something), we would side step them if possible. This avoided issues with the traffic and getting lost! Our paper maps were terrific for going from town to town, but they were dismal when it came to navigating through large cities. We bypassed Orléans by riding along the cycling routes which followed the river. The city was beautiful and I have photos here showing it shrouded in mist.

Once we had traversed the city and crossed an amazing bridge to the southern bank of the Loire, the fog had lifted and the day was pleasant if a little cool.

BridgeOrleans

The amazing and beautiful bridge in Orléans where we crossed the Loire.

Working our way through suburbia, we came across the most amazing little lane. It climbed quite steeply up an incline and at the same time, sloped to a central drainway.
Narrowlane1
We came upon it quite unexpectedly and it was negotiated with much merriment. KJs chain had came loose at the bottom, and once the problem was fixed, the slope was too steep to get a loaded mountain bike going uphill. The lane was also too narrow to turn around so he was stuck with walking and pushing the bike instead!

Narrowlane

This was a sensible idea, but it was quite funny at the time! Sometimes things just become memorable and this odd little lane and the circumstances surrounding KJ having to walk it instead of cycling are one of those times 😆 .

It wasn’t too long after this that we were back in our element – riding along the river, enjoying more the of the fantastic scenery for which this area is justifiably famous.

Loire

Follow this link for access to other posts and the itinerary and details of our Tour of France).

Orléans – eerie in the morning mist

If you have been following my Tour of France posts, you will know that we started riding in Dijon in the east and crossed the French countryside to get to the Loire River. We then turned north and were following along the river crossing it from time to time as we found suitable cycling routes. We were on our first cyclo-tour ever and learning a lot about both France and bicycle touring!

Our bikes were mountain bikes which we had adapted for our trip. We had Old Man Mountain pannier racks which supported 4 pannier bags – two larger ones on the rear and two small ones (which I had made) on the front. The bikes were comfortable and we were travelling well. Our itinerary was just right – not too much riding each day, so that there was time to stop and enjoy the sights as we went along.

The loaded Anthem showing how the bikes were packed.

The loaded Anthem showing how the bikes were packed.

We had got as far as the city of Orléans and had toyed with the idea of going into the city, but eventually we decided against this. We had no need to go into the busy central precinct and did not have any detailed maps, so navigating was going to be a hit-and-miss affair at best. This does not bode well in an unfamiliar city at morning peak hour!

Instead, we decided to cycle through/around the city along the River. It was quite early as we had stayed overnight at a B&B in a small town just to the east of the city and had not taken us long to cover the distance to the outskirts of the city.

Our decision was a good one. The morning was foggy and very still. The river was eerie, shrouded in wisps of fog and very beautiful. We stopped a number of times as we rode this stretch, taking photos and generally enjoying watching the city wake and start a new day.

A beautiful bridge over the Loire River. This is where we crossed.

A beautiful bridge over the Loire River. This is where we crossed.

I now envisage Orléans as a place always shrouded mystically in mist, which is probably unfair as it probably has quite lovely weather most of the time 🙂 .

Bridge1

Follow this link for access to other posts and the itinerary and details of our Tour of France).

An unexpected find – Château de Romefort

This post is part of the series which describes our adventures during our tour of France some years ago. We had left the lakes in the Rosnay district and were heading south when we came across a very pretty river.

It was “La Creuse” and it was relatively small by French standards but had an amazing setting. I was so caught up with looking at the clear water and the rippling water weeds (did I mention I have a thing about water? – anything wet instantly gets my undivided attention!) that I did not see what was behind me!

The Creuse River

The Creuse River

The Creuse River showing the waterweeds flowing evenly in the current.

The Creuse River showing the waterweeds flowing evenly in the current.

Château de Romefort, on the banks of the Creuse River

Château de Romefort, on the banks of the Creuse River

Strategically placed on the river bank was a lovely set of buildings – the Château de Romefort. We did not have the time to do much more than admire and take plenty of photos, but here are the best of them for your enjoyment.

Château de Romefort, with lovely reflections in the water

Lovely reflections in the water

Château de Romefort

A different perspective of the Château as we rode past the main buildings on the southern side of the river.

Coming unexpectedly on things like this château was what made our trip to France so great. We did not have internet access or much time to spend in tourist offices, so had little idea of what each day would present to us. The down side of this was that we sometimes did not see something we would have liked to (by going a slightly different route), but the flipside was that we saw some amazing sights, simply because we had chosen a different way to travel. The Château de Romefort was one of these nice surprises.

(Follow this link for access to other posts and the itinerary and details of our Tour of France)

C: Deciding on a specific route

Part of a series on how to plan a cyclo-tour from start to finish. Check out the “A – Z of planning a tour” on the menu at the right of this page to find other articles.

Part C: deciding on a specific route

So you have decided on a broad destination for your cyclo-tour. Now the fun starts, especially if you really have no particular preferences about where to ride.

The criteria we used with our tour in France was simple. Since it was our first tour and we really did not know what to expect or how we would cope with the loaded bikes, we would start with a landscape that was relatively flat and easy to  ride. (In fact, to my way of thinking, this sounded like a great philosophy for the whole tour!) We were a bit nervous about starting off in Paris, not knowing what the traffic was like, the general attitude of drivers towards cyclists and how we would cope with riding on the wrong (right!) side of the road without having practised this for a bit first.

Assembling the bikes in a convenient area of the hotel in Dijon.

Assembling the bikes in a convenient area of the hotel in Dijon.

I had always liked the sound of Dijon, and so we chose that as an alternative starting point for our ride. But we could just as easily have gone anywhere else that was easily accessible by train.

For more about our stay in Dijon, check out the post Dijon revisited.

When it came to actually planning the route, we decided to first follow a canal along a river, then to branch off onto the roads. You can read more details about how we went about this process with the Challenges of planning a ‘Tour de France’.

When it came to planning our second major tour (in the UK) we took a somewhat different approach to many things, mostly because of what we had learned in France.

Knowing which way you are headed is essential. Good signposting makes it easy.

Knowing which way you are headed is essential. Good signposting makes it easy.

We started cycling from a hotel near Heathrow airport (London) and returned there at the conclusion of our tour. In France we were worried about doing this and did not get the bikes out until we were (safely 🙂  ) in Dijon. However, by the end of the tour we were quite comfortable on the roads and cycled all the way back to Charles de Gaulle airport just prior to our departure. I have written previously about planning our UK trip in two posts:

What Comes next?

The next part of this series will explore options to get yourself and all your cycling goods to your starting location. This can be quite a challenge if you intend to use coaches or trains.