A Travellerspoint blog

September 2012

Paris

Out of fashion Paris style

semi-overcast

It’s now the 26th of September and I guess this will be perhaps the last chance I will get to blog before I get back to England. I’ve been in Paris now for two days; the first day was spent catching up with the blog and basically just relaxing. Judging by the people who return to the hostel every evening looking completely exhausted I made the right call on my first day here to venture only as far as the communal area near the kitchen.

It’s been really nice to be here and I’ve met as per usual lots and lots of really cool people; I shall miss these places once I’m back home. It’s once again been great to hear of other peoples adventures and also to share my own.

I did manage to venture out of the hostel yesterday evening (Tuesday) for a short walk around the neighbourhood the hostel is located in. I’m situated in Belleville and surrounded funnily enough by all number of Chinese restaurants and shops; it’s like I’ve come full circle and am back in China!

It’s quite an arty area and the cafes at night time are populated with the chicest of the chic young things all donning the latest in fashion, crossed legged, deep in conversation over aperitifs. I looked quite out of place in my cycling shoes, shorts and fleece, very un-Parisian.

Tom’s wife Charlotte arrived this morning and we were there at ten to pick her up from Gare du Nord. It was great that she was able to come out to spend this special day and equally heart-warming to see two people close to me reunited. It reminded me very much of the quote from the movie ‘Love Actually’ by Hugh Grant and although he uses it in reference to airports it’s equally apt here:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion... love actually is all around.

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We walked out on the streets of Paris in search of Tom and Charlotte’s hotel so that they could drop off their bags before heading out to do a spot of sightseeing. Tom and I have done well with finding our way around but Charlotte immediately took charge and new automatically where to go. I commented that it would be good if she could accompany us for the final leg of our journey such were her navigational skills.

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Walking around the streets of Paris one immediately knows why it is the home of fashion and we passed person after person all immaculately turned out. Once again I looked down at my clothes and it really looked like I didn’t belong I’m really looking forward to the prospect of a pair of jeans and a shirt with buttons!

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You can almost see Naomi looking down on my dress sense!

We took in all the usual sights The Champs-Élysée and La tour Eiffel for the customary photo opportunities but we were really just ticking boxes. This is also Tom and Charlotte’s day and as much as I’m sure they didn’t mind having me in tow I decided it would be best to leave them for lunch and head back to the hostel. We were all somewhat exhausted and despite Paris’s amazing metro system we did a fair bit of walking around.

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So hear I am, ten o’clock and I’ve managed to finish off all our food in the fridge and even prepared some extra to take on the road tomorrow. My days of having to consider whether we have enough food or not for the next day are almost at an end.

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The weather forecast doesn’t look so good and once again we hit the road tomorrow hoping to reach somewhere near Louviers south of Rouen. I am a little concerned that we don’t have place to sleep tomorrow night so it looks like it might be one final night in the bivy before heading off to Dieppe on Friday.

Our ferry leaves on Saturday morning at 5:30 so we are probably looking at the prospect of two slightly uncomfortable nights sleep before arriving back on homes shores at 8:30 Saturday morning. Nevertheless I’m sure the adrenalin and excitement of being back will mean the effects of fatigue won’t hit us until late on Saturday night; at least this is what I’m hoping.

I’ve cleaned up my Panniers, jacket and shoes and rearranged them all perhaps for one final time. I’m very conscious of the fact that I don’t want to look a complete state when I roll back into Forest Row. I’ve held off cleaning the bike due to the continual rain but hope to give her a quick clean too before arriving home. The bags feel much lighter now that I’m carrying far less food and when I look at what I have left it makes me think that I got the packing for the trip pretty much spot on.

So…….that is Paris, please pray for a dry day tomorrow but more importantly a dry night as we head north towards Blightly. Perhaps there will be an opportunity for me to update the blog from the Ferry terminal in Dieppe late on Friday night so keep a look out for any postings.

As the trip is finally coming to an end I was thinking if anyone has any specific questions they want to ask about it you could drop me an email at paulsmith90@hotmail.com and then I’ll perhaps post up the answers to some of them when I get back. I’m happy to be able to share my experiences with you all.

Au revoir mon ami……. à bientôt

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 13:26 Archived in France Comments (1)

Dannemois (near Milly-la-forêt) to Paris 62km

semi-overcast

Yesterday afternoon neither Tom nor I knew whether we would head to Paris today or not. I think both of us had become so accustomed to being out in the countryside that the prospect of a major city such as Paris didn’t fill us with the sense of excitement that perhaps it should have. I think it might have been partly down to the fact that we hadn’t secured a place to stay in Paris which contributed to our uncertainty about arriving in the capital.

I sent out numerous couch requests but what it being Paris and a popular destination we weren’t able to find anyone to host us. We finally decided late on Sunday night to simply go ahead and book ourselves into a hostel for the duration of our stay. By hostels standards it’s a little on the expensive side but again, this is Paris!

Before we set out on our way we were once again treated to a lovely breakfast spread which interestingly enough also included chocolate brownies, not that we were b. The remaining brownies plus chocolate bar were stuffed into my handlebar bag by Monique with the words “You will need these!”

As we hadn’t got to see much of Milly the day before Monique offered to drive us into the village to have a quick look around a take some snaps. Both of us were eager to get out on the road especially as there was a break in the weather in the morning but it was a fitting way to end our ‘mini’ stay there.

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We finally waved goodbye to our incredibly generous hosts Monique and Michel just after 10:30 and were on our way to Paris. Any apathy we might have felt the day before had totally disappeared and both Tom and I were totally pumped at the prospect of arriving in this most famous of cities.

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Tom obviously has his very own reasons for being excited in that his wife Charlotte will arrive on Wednesday to celebrate their wedding anniversary; for me it really is the final landmark destination in my journey and just one step closer to completing what I set out to do 202 days ago.

It seems that the closer we get to home the worse the weather gets. The heavens certainly opened last night and perhaps it was the deafening clap of thunder that persuaded us to move to Paris today instead of doing some more wild camping in the countryside around it.

The sky looked pretty menacing as we set out from Monique and Michel’s house but we were thankful at long last for a slight tail/cross wind. It’s only about fifty kilometres from Milly to Paris but I knew only too well from past experiences that making your way through a large city on a bike and looking for a specific address can be both a time consuming and slightly stressful experience.

I was a little anxious about riding into Paris, the sheer volume of cars is enough to put you off but it turned out to be pretty straight forward. I’ve ridden for the most part extremely carefully over the last six months but if anything what with me being so close to home I’m taking more and more care as I ride now.

Despite the fact that we only covered a distance of just over sixty kilometres we arrived at our destination The Loft Hostel in Paris at just after four. It was a massive relief to get here and I’m really looking forward to the prospect of two days of rest. You might say we’ve been resting quite a lot recently but I’m now very much of the opinion that after 14, 744 kilometres I’ve earned the right to choose when it’s time to put my feet up.

The hostel turned out to be really nice and will be my home for the next three nights and Tom’s for two as he and Charlotte have booked a swankier place to celebrate their anniversary. I’m not sure bunk beds in a eight bedroom dorm is the sort of romantic place one would wish to see in such an special event.

I don’t have too much planned while I’m here, sure I’ll go out and do the sights of Paris but I’ve often found that sightseeing in itself is more tiring than riding a bike one hundred plus kilometres. The blog as per usual needs some attention and there is also the small matter of making sure we have our escape route from this mad city well planned out.

In addition, and this will certainly have to wait until I get back and sorted in the UK there are just so many people who I have to write to. The amount of support I’ve received in the form of emails, Facebook messages and Tweets has been unbelievable and without such support this journey would have been far harder. I very much hope to get the time to sit down and write to each and every person personally to thank them for keeping me going.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 11:44 Archived in France Comments (0)

Milly-la-forêt 16km

overcast

Today was by far and away the shortest ride of the trip which saw us leave Pascal and Carole’s and take the short ride back in Milly. I was told that there would be a welcoming committee for us as we rode into Milly and really had no idea what to expect.

Pascal and Carole have a great little Citroen 2CV in very unique colours and they escorted us to the town hall. I’m not much of one for a great fuss so was really pleased to see a small group of people gathered outside the ‘Maire’ to welcome us with warm applause.

It was a nice little turn out, with a photographer and a reporter from the local newspaper. We were greeted by the Mayor and invited to have our photos taken with him outside the town and under the signpost bearing the name of both villages.

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After that we were invited into the town hall where they had laid of some light refreshments and of course Champagne! Monique the chairman of the twinning association gave the following short speech:

Paul and Tom

The twinning between Milly-la-forêt and Forest Row is happy to congratulate you for this so as to give great and incredible feat which will bring something more to the world: the certitude that to give from oneself as to give to the others is the most important thing in the world.
Here is our small participation to Parkinsons UK research.

Let your life be as great as your heart.

With this they pressed a very generous donation for Parkinsons. As today was also my birthday I was toasted and wished Bon anniversaire. It was then my turn to give a small speech in which I closed with the sentence “we are so close to home but in some ways amongst you all here we feel we are already home”

I then answered numerous questions from people about my trip before we were given a short guided tour of the town hall.

We didn’t really have long to look around the village as Monique who was hosting us for the next evening instructed us to follow her back to her and Michel’s house. We were joined for lunch by Carole and Pascal and no sooner had we arrived was Michel coming round with yet more Champagne. It was patently clear that we wouldn’t be riding anywhere else today.

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Another delicious lunch followed before we retired to the garden for yet more Champagne and chocolate cake served with as they called it crème anglaise. The weather was nice enough for the sun loungers to be brought out for an afternoon laze in the sun. Is there a better way to celebrate ones birthday?

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 13:40 Archived in France Comments (2)

Romilly-sur-Seine to Campurceil 125km

semi-overcast

Annie and Dom provided us with a great breakfast to set us on our way in the morning and I was able to watch first hand the specter of another non-English person eating Marmite first hand……c'est magnifique as the French would say.

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A very un-French cupboard I'll think you'll agree

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More incredible hosts Annie and Dom

Luckily for us the rain which was promised for today failed to materialize and we were out and on the road early and very much looking forward to arriving in our next destination some one hundred kilometres away in the early afternoon.

I’m sure anyone who has ridden a bike and especially a bike over a long period of time or for that matter anyone who has driven a car will be only too aware of the situation where you have an unidentified sound coming from your vehicle. I’ve had it a couple of times since starting out and it’s usually something very simple such as my incredibly cheap mudguards have moved and are rubbing against the wheel.

Today Tom had to experience a strange creaking noise coming from somewhere on his bike. The result was that we found ourselves stopping on a couple of occasions in the morning to try and locate the sound. The second occasion involved poor old Tom actually turning the bike over, taking off the wheel and checking every nut and bolt. It was to no avail and actually as the day wore on the sound became less and less. I gave Tom the extremely non-mechanical advice of ‘just plug in your headphones and listen to some music it will soon go away’

The stop start nature of our mornings ride meant that we didn’t cover as much ground as we’d hoped and by two o’clock were still some way from our final destination.

A couple from a village near to Milly-la-forêt had kindly agreed to take us in for the night and I’d sent them an email informing them that we’d probably arrive at around 6. It meant that we had to put in some serious leg work to get there on time; it’s amazing how the body reacts when it knows there is not only a bed and shower at the end of the day but also the strong possibility of a cooked meal waiting for you!

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No.....we didn't couch surf here!

When I look back on my trip now there are days I’m sure that I sat down and thought ‘Wow Paris is such a long way away’ but now I’m in France I can’t quite believe how fast the time has passed and how very close I am to Paris now.

Arriving in Milly-la-forêt suddenly made real the fact that I’m now within touching distance of home. I last visited the village as a sixteen year old as part of a football tour arranged by the twinning association and I felt a real sense of pride as I passed through the sign showing Milly-la-forêt twinned with Forest Row with the little British flag next to it.

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The locals arrive home (well almost)

We made really good time in the afternoon and passed quickly through Milly. I’ve been in contact with Monique a French lady who has stayed many times with her husband Michel at my parents house in England and she has organized a small welcoming party for our arrival with the Mayor of Milly none the less for tomorrow morning. With this in mind we decided not to spend too long in the village and instead head straight on to Pascal and Carole’s our hosts for the night.

Pascal and Carole live in a small hamlet about fifteen kilometres from Milly. I’d never met them before this but after a quick phone call they turned up in their car and directed us to their lovely house in the forest. Carole concerned because the road to their house follows a steep hill up of about three hundred metres even offered to put some of my bags in the car for the last part of the journey but I explained that this would be cheating and that I needed to ride it with the bags on. She just looked at me like many people have on this trip in a very puzzled manner.

Once again these were total strangers who we’d never met previously welcoming us into their house. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the kindness and generosity of others has been one of the highlights of this trip and it is something that I’ll never forget.

They prepared a wonderful meal for us and like all meals served in France it is nothing without a couple of bottles of good red to wash it down.

One thing that has annoyed me slightly on my trip is my inability to be able to speak other people’s languages. In China it wasn’t a problem as I could converse in Chinese for the most basic of things but here when I’m invited into someone else’s house it always makes me feel slightly embarrassed that they are the one who have to scratch around and struggle to speak English.

Not for the first time we were fed firsts then seconds and ended up finishing most of the food on the insistence of our hosts of course. I think everyone sees it as a challenge to start ‘fattening me up’ again.

Like all the people who hosted me before Pascal and Carole were kindness personified and it’s hard for me to convey my appreciation to people like this enough. There are occasions on this trip where I’ve often gone to bed cold, dirty, tired and more than a little hungry but I’m coming realize the more I stay in peoples homes the more I find that familiar old feeling of slipping into a warm bed, relaxed and my stomach fully content returning, it’s a good feeling and one that I never take for granted.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 07:59 Archived in France Comments (0)

Ancerville to Romilly-sur-Seine 123km

all seasons in one day

It was a ridiculously cold morning that greeted us today yet despite the nights surely sub zero temperatures I still managed to cram in a good eleven hours sleep. Getting out of my tent, sorry bivy is pretty tough these days. I don’t think I’m going to miss sleeping in this smallest of spaces once I’m back home.

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Fancy a bit of this in mid-September?

It was great that we had alcohol for the stove as it meant I was at least able to cook up some bowls of hot porridge and honey to help defrost our bodies while we waited for the sun to come up fully. The porridge had to be of a fairly consistent nature due to the fact that we once again had to turn to the humble tent peg to get it down us. I’m wondering once I ‘re-enter’ society as it were will I be able to readjust to eating with normal utensils?

Tom lost a glove the other day and my hands were like two blocks of ice attached to the handlebars as we rode away from our campsite for the night so I have no idea how he felt. The fact that it was so cold this morning meant that we had to make an unscheduled stop in Saint-Dizier just to get another hot beverage inside of us. We stopped in what turned out to be the most French of cafes which was populated by old French gents reading their morning papers whilst sipping on their tiny coffees. Our appearance temporarily removed them from the daily routine and I once again fielded questions such as ‘why on earth would you choose to cycle all the way from China?’

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First mark of how far to Paris

Thankfully the weather picked up later in the day; the weather is very hard to read these days and means we often find ourselves stopping to first put on a jacket but five minutes later pulling over once again to remove said garment.

Headwinds have returned or perhaps they just never went away. It’s funny how one always remembers the days when the wind blusters into your face head on yet forget the rest of the days when it is minimal which is usually the case. It leads to the perception that everyday is windy and hence a few grumbles from two cyclists battling the elements through the afternoon winds.

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France is very quiet and we’ve now learned that pretty much everything in the countryside shuts down from twelve o’clock to three. Granted we are going through some pretty sleepy villages but there really never seems to be anyone anywhere.

The only people we do see quite often are the other numerous cyclists out and about on the roads. These are usually men of an older age all decked out in their fancy coloured outfits. France is completely different to Germany in the fact that every single other rider who passes by acknowledges you with a jovial ‘bonjour’ We noticed in Germany that there was perhaps a certain snobbishness on the road where we only get the odd nod from one or two other bikers. Cyclists on their expensively assembled carbon speed machines seemed very reluctant to even give us the time of day but here in France we are one, a brotherhood on two wheels out enjoying the freedom of the French countryside.

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France as one might expect just seems far more relaxed than most countries I’ve visited and not just Germany. Things happen here at a certain pace and that does seem to be dictated by meal times.

We were about 30 kilometres from Romilly-sur-Seine when the weather took a turn for the worse. Tom obviously had no desire to be stuck out in the rain riding and set a pretty fierce pace speeding along the road so fast in fact that it took all the effort stored in my thighs to keep up with him. I often wonder once I get these panniers off the bike how quickly it might be possible for me to go? All I can say is Bradley Wiggins watch out!

I had arranged for us to couch surf in Romilly and we arrived just after 5:30 wet, cold and incredibly thankful that we wouldn’t have to sleep outside tonight.

We managed to get in contact with our host for the evening Annie who appeared ten minutes after calling her to lead us to her house. Upon arrival we were introduced to Annie’s partner Dom who was busy in the kitchen preparing food, you could say it was the very best of ways to mark our arrival.

Annie and Dom were the perfect hosts and no sooner had we arrived did they ask if we needed any washing doing. I always feel slightly guilty when arriving in someone’s house and presenting them with a bag of dirty laundry but both Tom and I were really grateful and more to the point only to willing to take them up on their kind offer.

After a quick wash and settling in we were called for aperitifs of the finest Belgian beer before sitting down to a delicious home cooked meal. We spent a lovely evening chatting about life in France and their various travels. It just so happens that they have spent a lot of time in China in some very remote places doing some teaching. It certainly reminded me of my days riding through the small secluded villages in Gansu province where they spent most of their time. We were joined later in the evening by their very well rounded 16 year old son Guillaume. It was after a short while of talking that I discovered that Guillaume had something quite strange in common. France as we all know is the very centre of the universe when it comes to all things gastronomic so it was therefore slightly strange for me to find a 16 year old with a love of Marmite the most British of all foods one might say. In fact I counted at least five large jars of the stuff in their house plus one of Vegemite but as well all know that doesn’t really count.

As the evening went on Dom pulled out some of his old vinyl records and we sat in their cosy dining room chatting for hours as the sound of Neil Young filtered through the house.

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It was so nice to not only be inside but also to spend time in the company of such a relaxed and extremely friendly family.

Tomorrow we head off towards more friends near the village of Milly-la-forêt which is twinned with my home village of Forest Row.

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Oh......and the small matter of 9,000 miles!

Posted by Ontheroadagain 04:37 Archived in France Comments (1)

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