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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Another go at France. September 2013.

Day 1
                                                     You would think I would have learnt my lesson last year. Stay home! I can’t, the flipping road calls.  France is good. Lets do France again. No don’t! Yea, let’s do it. My imaginary friend has turned up early this year. Out with the maps. Draw lines. Curse at the computer whilst trying to load routes into GPS. Get frustrated fall out with my wife, growl at the cat or is it the other way round? You’ve got to love touring.
                                                   I’ve spoken once to a guy who is also in France at the same time and thinks it could be good to travel together. I’m wary after last year when I lost my companion after one day and ended up on an expensive lone tour. Still we exchange details with this new contact. I don’t let him know about last years trip. Best not.
Lessons to be learned as any brainless MP will recite. This year I’m taking an emergency tent and sleeping bag plus bubble wrap for a mat. I’m heavy enough without taking a load of heavy camping gear, which I hope not to use.
Oh and I’m having another go at Warmshowers. Last year I asked six of them to host me for a night. Not one sodding reply. This year I’ve changed my Lycra dressed, look at me, so big and muscular [LOL] profile pic to a picture of a, non-threatening, granddad me in Eric Morecambe shorts holding on to a Touring bike in order to stay upright.
Old man in a garden.

                                       It works! I start to get replies. Pity ones of course but who cares. I’m accepted for five nights in total.
Ok. Airport. No problem checking in. Bike in box with camping gear and panniers. Wait in line for Ryanair flight. Eva Braun in Ryanair suit comes down the line with cardboard box to see who they can catch out with an oversize bag. She’s disappointed when she sees my stuff sack and has to settle for making a young mother and kids unpack in front of the desk.
Not a bad result for her I thought.
                                      A guy next to me starts to chat. I thought he had a stutter but no. He’s pissed! Off to see his DddddDaughter in TttttTours I ffoo. Oh it’s me, I found out.
No bother I let him lean on me [not that I had a choice] as we progressed down the tunnel. Once aboard I dump him and manage to shoulder charge a couple of those, everybody wait while I slowly fill my overhead locker, types out of the way and nab a legroom seat.
                               I’m flying to Tours. Did I not say? Flying to Tours and riding down the west side of France to Beziers, as Beziers is the only place I can realistically fly back from to Manchester.
Quick, easy flight and I’m walking across the tarmac to a shed/customs at Tours tiny airport.
Get the welcome to France bit off Customs, as I’m rollocked for letting my foot stray over the yellow line while he was scrutinising the persons passport in front of me. Once he decided which was the right way up, I was allowed to cross the magic line and dispatched with a casual sneer into the baggage hall/hut.
Drag the bike box outside and start the reassemble. It starts to rain. Why does it do that when it knows you have a bike in bits?
                                 The uniformed, yellow line fanatic, gun, fag and hat set at a haughty angle, comes out and passes me, on his way to his mums I suspect, having done his community service.
 I manage a childish “Tosser” under my breath as he passes. He heard, but don’t think he understood. Too late mate. I’m in.
Well. Bikes together. GPS is switched on and I ride slowly out towards my first night with a Warmshowers host. Get to the first junction and look down at GPS and it say’s
“Where the f… are we. Why have we left home?” Okayee. Lost already. Traffic is crazy. Nobody around. I’ve not totally trusted the GPS and have printed a little map. That’s fine but none of the roads have signposts. So I head into the centre of town. Find some young humans and ask in my usual crap French for help. They look at me dumbstruck. I can see them thinking, should they fight or flee? They go for acting dumb. Pretend to look at my map and shake their heads in amazement. One even has an I-phone thing and look on there for me [I’ve won them over to the pity me bit]. But no, even that does not bring a result so they slope off to McDonald's and leave me to it.
                                       I boot Garmins finest up again, and it goes all French and decides to tell me where I am. Using my incredible intellect and good luck I find the street where the host lives.
While riding up and down I hear. “James”!
It’s the guy I’m staying with waving from an apartment balcony in a gated compound. He runs down and lets me in. What a nice guy. Pleased to see me. We take the bike up in the lift to his apartment. He stows it in the lounge.
He introduces me to his girlfriend who does not speak much English and is engrossed in her laptop. She manages a hello and returns to the screen.  The guy Pierre is great. Only young and speaks good English. After a while I have to ask if I can sit down and if I can have a glass of water. Of course. A beer is offered and accepted with relish.
He then goes to work on a MTB he has on the balcony and I’m left with the silent girlfriend.
It’s awkward so I go to help fix the MTB.
                             They are very good and we all sit down for supper. I think the silent GF is just shy as her English is not good but not as bad as my French. I do get the impression though that she did not know I was coming and maybe they had had words before I got here.
They inform me that they were going on an MTB trail ride tomorrow so have to be away for 7.30. I’m to be kicked out early. I’m also kipping on the couch. But that’s fine. It’s free so who am I to be picky.
Its now 9pm and off they trot to bed after giving me a sheet for the couch. Good job I brought the sleeping bag.

                                             My hosts wake me at 6.30. Not a bad night on the sofa. They soon set up breakfast that consists of coffee in a soup bowl and some hard bread. Very French I presume and note that the bread has to be dunked in the coffee. Good stuff. I’m sat opposite Pierre and am a bit miffed as he has already has cereal and is wading through a packet of chocolate biscuits with his coffee.
No sooner are the plates dumped in the kitchen than the pair disappear into the bedroom and I am left alone to pack up my gear ready for the early off.
I’m still filling my panniers when a head pops around the door to tell me that they are ready to go. So everything is quickly stuffed away and I wheel the bike out and down the lift accompanied by Pierre.
He opens the door, lets me out and says goodbye. I never saw his partner and am left in the car park to work out how to get out of the security gate.
                                         Bit weird. Can’t remember burping, swearing, or letting one go but am left with the feeling that they could not wait to get rid. Maybe they just thought I was an old fart.
However I’m very grateful for the hospitality and have told him to stay with me in the UK if he’s over there.
I’m meeting my new buddy at his hotel so I have to find my way across Tours at this ungodly hour. Lovely place I think as I cross the bridge over the river. Nobody about except a couple of joggers and I’m not sure if I’m headed in the right direction. I’ve entered the route into the Garmin but it does not want to play. It is a Sunday. Fair enough.
                                  I’m stood astride the bike in a deserted churchyard when a Fireman comes walking down the avenue.  Yes a fireman in full kit. No fire engine. Just one solitary fireman. At 7.30 on a Sunday morning?  What! Maybe it’s a tradition or he’s coming back from a date that likes that kind of thing. My wife…….. Oh never mind.
Monsieur! Pardon! He answers in perfect English and directs me. See that bothers me. How do they know I’m English? I’ve no Union Jack with me. I’m an ugly 6’2”. So I’d go for German if anything. But no, English! Grrr. {I’m not even English though. I’m Irish!}
                               Anyway I find the hotel easily enough as there is a nice, loaded LHT parked at the door. I park up next to it and in two minutes a voice asks “Jim?”
It’s my new riding buddy Henry. He seems ok for a Southerner [always dodgy] and says it good to hear an English voice [He’s already been on the road for two weeks]. He’s kept the key to his room so I can nip up and use the bathroom for everything that I needed to do before I was hustled through my host’s front door.
I’ve left my phone charger at home so we have a stroll through the flea market that is setting up to look for a replacement. No chance! There are lots of 20yr old chargers and phones among the broken chicken baskets and lampshades but nothing for me.
                                 Why do people buy broken lampshades from carboots? Most Sunday mornings at home on the way to club meets I usually pass somebody clutching a broken lampshade on their way home. Looks like France has got the disease.

Henry knows his way out of Tours so I let him lead. Till he gets lost! Doesn’t matter. We are lost outside a McDonalds. I need breakfast so dive in.
“Vous ne comprenez pas l’angais, Mademoiselle?” “Of course Monsieur.” She speaks perfect English.  {Probably an English degree student on minimum wage.]
And they do a bacon and egg burger. Plus every table has an i-tablet fixed to the top.
I love Macadees when I’m abroad.
                                    Now I’m cleaned and fed I’m rocking. Off we head. Tonight’s stop is Chatellerault, another Warmshowers Host. I’ve only booked myself in here so I text them to see if they can squeeze another in but assure them that its no problem if they can’t.
They soon come back to confirm they can handle two of us. I didn’t want to book for two anywhere as I was not sure Henry would turn up, or if we would last that long riding together after last years debacle.
So. Henry. He’s ok. Laid back. Almost horizontal. Slower than me but carrying more stuff and a heavier bike. Smokes now and again. All puts me at an advantage except he’s twenty years younger than me, but we seem to get along. For now! Did I mention he’s a Southerner?
                                     It’s pretty good riding on French country roads. We don’t have a proper map between us and as it appears to be a Bank Holiday in Garmin land we have to rely on the printed pages of the route that I decided to bring as a standby.
Coffee stop, somewhere.

I reckon it’s about 50 plus miles and we have agreed that if one wants to jump ahead its ok as long as nobody turns off. This works fine though it’s usually me that jumps ahead as we don’t have a matched pace.
 The roads are good and we have time to shop for lunch stuff when we find one open. Pretty rare on a Sunday in France. The weather is ok. Not great but ok. At one point we meet a Dutch couple and ride alongside. They have cycled all the way from Holland and are camping. I think he’s keener on the camping than her, which is understandable. It must be love. My wife says she’d rather trap her hand in a door.
Believe it or not we are faster than them and his wife complains about the pace, so we leave them to it.
Late afternoon the weather closes in and the heavens open. The wind gets up too and I stop to put a jacket on. Well that’s the last I see of two pairs of glasses. Henry had committed the sin of haring off and making a turn so I have to fly to catch him. I stop him and go back in the pouring rain but no sign of the bloody glasses. How can that be?
Come on Henry. It's just a hill.

                                     We are close to our destination now and the weather is rubbish. Strong winds cut our pace, the odd shower and hills appear. It’s a struggle. A cursing, what the hell am I doing here struggle? You know what I mean.
We finally. Bloody finally, hit the village where our host resides. We are worn out. He’s a smoker and I’m old. Come on!
                                        The address is a number on an old stone gateway up a side road. The gate is open wide. So we peep through. Hear a shout. “James, James”. A guy comes rushing out of a house in the grounds to shake my hand. This is Klaus our host. He is so pleased to see us. “Come, come” He takes us into a huge barn to park the bikes next to an old car, tools, motorbike and bits of building stuff. Then we are led into the house. House? Did I say house? Nothing like mine.
Klaus informs us that he has plenty of room. A room each, en-suite. I tell you, this place is like a château. It’s beautiful. I’m led down a series of steps to a huge bedroom with a great bathroom with towels laid out. “You wish to have a shower. Yes?” “Yes great” “Ok. Or swim if you wish?” “Swim?” He pulls back the bedroom blind. I’m overlooking the swimming pool. Wow! I would have been happy kipping in the barn. He leads a bewildered Henry off to install him in the east wing at the other end of the house and I dive in the shower.
                                 Once showered I wander into the huge kitchen to find a cold beer waiting for me. Henry is already smugly installed.
We are knackered but happy. Who wouldn’t be? Klaus’s wife Juliet turns up and joins us for a beer. Then Klaus asks if we want to see the village before dinner. There’s dinner?
Sure we cannot refuse. A nice stroll before dinner. Trouble is the tour is on the bikes. He pulls a recumbent tandem thing out of the barn. The last thing we want to do is get back on those bikes. But our lovely hosts are so keen to show us the area we go for it. We are out for an hour! Off road mostly. Those recumbent things can shift!
                           Once we are back the dinner that has been cooking is served. Before we take out places in the dining room [you should see this place!]. It’s like a castle. We are taken on a tour of the wine cellar. It runs under the house and is full of allsorts. Wines, beer, champagne, jams spices. Never seen anything like it. Our host grabs bottles of Red and Rose and we head back to the meal. What a meal!
As much beef as you can eat plus potatoes and veg etc. And the wine. Oh boy does it flow. Klaus disappears down to the cellar and comes back with jugs of the stuff.
I’ve lost the plot by 10.30pm. Juliet [they both speak perfect English by the way] toddles off to bed and I’m gone as well by 11.30.
 I leave Henry to it. I think I’m a lightweight.
What a day?

Day  3  

I wake up without the expected hangover. Now why is that? Must be the pure wine. I’m not a big drinker. Normally anybody’s after a bottle of wine. Not that anybody wants me anyway. Sniff…
A quick shower in my en-suite [can’t resist a boast] and I head down to the kitchen following the aroma of food. I’m a proper touring cyclist. I can sniff out food from miles away.
Our host is busy cooking up a storm. Squeezing fresh oranges, while whisking up a storm of eggs and fresh coffee burbling up a storm. Henry wonders down to join us and we make a good show of appreciating out host’s culinary skills.
Hell! I don’t want to leave this place. The weather report is not good and our host informs us that we have a hilly ride in front of us.
                             It is two unenthusiastic cyclists that drag our bikes out of the barn to set out on a new day. A rainy day. But first our superb host insists on a photograph. Who can blame him. It's not often you get two handsome, ultra fit cyclists to stay. Or two old unfit gits like us even?
Our brilliant Warmshowers host.

 We ride 500yds before getting lost in the village. No I know nothing new there. We soon sort ourselves out and get some miles in before we cross the bridge into Chatellerault.
Stop! Whoa. Henry has spotted a tobacconist and has to stock up on his Coffin Nails. Soon we are off again and it’s true it’s a hilly ride. A very hilly ride. A cool hilly ride. Hell it’s cool, wet very hilly ride. We are blown about all over the place!
We eventually take cover in a bar. Hot coffee and cool looks off the local and we sit it out for a while to see if things improve.
They don’t!
                             So head up and ride out as they say. Into the ever deteriorating weather. It’s a fair ride and we stop once more for a brew up in a bus shelter. The French have great bus shelters. Big stone buildings. Sling a door on it and you’ve got a UK Youth Hostel.
So glad I brought my little brew kit. It’s a titanium three-legged stove, which weighs about the same as my thumbnail.
A couple of esbit tabs gets me enough boiling water for a couple of cups of Typhoo’s finest. We know how to live the high life.
                                At the next town, Poitiers,  we decide enough is enough. We are not making enough progress due to the weather and our crap legs so decide to check out the train times at Poitiers station to cut a few [or a lot of mile] miles out. It’s teeming down as we reach the station and we squelch inside with the bikes.
It’s now about one thirty and I’m informed, in French by the way. Yes I know we are in France. That the next train is 4pm.
                                  I enquire about the bikes and they say we have to pay an extra 10 euros for the them. Each!
Which is almost about the same as the fare for us. Crazy! Now reader. Be aware in French train stations things can change on a whim. We discuss our options and decide we have no choice. We decide to book the train and doss out at the station for a while. Henry decides to go buy the tickets. Hah. I think his French is worse than mine. Good luck with that. I volunteer to guard the bikes and keep my eye on all the lovely French women passing by. Just in case they want to steal them you know. Can’t be too careful.
Henry returns triumphant. He’s bought the tickets and there is no charge for the bikes. See what I mean. The French. You just gotta love them.
                           So we settle down on the station floor with another poor soul on a bike who has decided a to jump a train [not ours] to avoid the weather. See. We’re not the only wimpy, weak willed cyclists in town.
Why can’t our station buffets be more like the French. We ordered quiches from the goddess behind the counter and as we stood gobsmacked by her perfect smile she offered to heat them up for us.
Beautiful. So were the quiches.
Train was on time and dumped us in Ruffec some 20 miles form our destination.
Nice train.

                                        This was a B&B in Nere, that I had booked in the UK. She did not know there was two of us so I had to ring and inform her. No problem she says. Probably glad of the 15 euros for the extra meal.
We now had some serious riding to do. The weather had not improved so we set off into a strong headwind and a fine drizzle. No stopping for brews or a chat. It was head down and go for it. We rode through open country. Lots of moorland then sweeping down into an area occupied by acres of  vineyards.
Then it was climbing again until were riding through huge forests. It was getting late and I was tempted to just give up and put the tents up for a wildcamp. However I'd paid upfront for the room and meal so the old miser head clicked in and I soldiered on.
                                            We eventually found the quiet lane leading up to the B&B. But could not find the property. Not until a head peered out of a window and shouted. James! James!
It was out host. A Cockney lady. She rushed out to open the gate and usher us into a lean to for the bikes. A nice welcome. We were shown through the kitchen and up into the room prepared for us. Very nice. twin beds. ensuite. Informed that the evening meal was on the go and we could shower and change into whatever as it was very informal and she would see us downstairs.
                                      I wandered down to be met at the bottom of the stairs with a cold beer poured for me. Lovely. Our host them showed me into her huge living room and introduced me to her husband who was curled up asleep on the couch with a bottle of red and large grey cat.
Nice guy. A builder from London. We got on fine and soon the meal was on the table and a bottle of red was plonked down in front of me and a bottle of Rose [his preferred tipple] in front of Henry.
Now I start to get concerned. I'd only paid £30 for the room for two of us but the three course evening meal was 15 euros each which I thought fair enough. But I'd spotted a price list on the side for wine and beer. We were the only guests so thought, this is going to cost us.
I asked how much is the wine and got the reply. "Oh nothing my darling. The drinks are all inclusive. Have what you want."
                                      Oh. Here we go again. I,m knocking back the Vino with the husband. Henry is glugging the Rose with the wife and we are well into our stride. We move into the lounge to settle down with the cat. Come 10.30 the husband has had enough and wanders off to bed.
Now Henry decides to go out for a smoke. When he returns out lovely lady host has a go at him about his smoking habit. She's a reformed smoker so the most critical.. Henry gives it back. Now remember we've all had a few, so she comes back again at Henry. It's entertaining for a while.
But being the lightweight I've had enough wine and decide to go to bed to leave them to slug it out.
I don't think Henry lasts long as he turns up within the hour.
Now we've only known each other two days and never shared a room. Well. I'll tell you now. This guy is a world champion snorer. For crying out loud. I launch a pillow across the room. No chance. he's spark out.
                I get up to search for my earplugs. Oh no. I've left them downstairs in the barbag on the bike, outside in the leanto. I've no choice I have to go and get them. I creep down the stairs, into the kitchen and fall over the a cat. It's not the lounge cat,. they have a few. It yarls at me and scoots outside as I open the door. No locked doors here.
                 Earplugs found, fitted and I'm gone into a deep sleep.

Day 4
Next morning down for breakfast. Host asks us who was creeping about in the night. Explain it was me. "Oh she says. The house cat got out and we had to search for her this morning. She never goes out."
Oh well. Time to leave. great B&B though.
Our hosts waved us off. Nice people.
                   Weather has not improved much as we head out towards  Marmande. We won't make it tonight. It's too far for a bad example of the male physique like us two. Still belly in , chest out, and away we go.
We make it as far as Baignes-sainte-Radegonde. Nice little town. Pretty main square but very quiet, almost nobody around. Now we have to start looking for somewhere to rest our weary bones tonight.
We ride up and down the square, explore the side roads. Nothing! Not a B&B in sight. very strange. We're hungry and it's getting late. We've spotted a supermarket just outside of town but it's closing soon. The town does have a small campsite so decision is made. Reluctant camper me decides that the emergency tent has to come out of it's wrapper.
                    It's a really small site but clean and tidy.  We set up the tents in minutes. My cheapo does not take much to peg out while Henry wrestles his expensive job into place. Very posh.
                Tents up, bikes lighter and faster we head into the supermarket to stock up before they close. We have only one tiny stove between us so Henry goes wood collecting so we can use the camp barbecue. In best Boys scout style he's soon got the barbie going and we end up dining on sausage and cheese baguettes, washed down with a local red wine. Does life get any better?
                    Time for a shower. It's as I approach the shower block I am stopped by a little French guy who appears from a caravan. He says something to me in French. I don't know what he is saying  I explain I only speak English but the carries on. In my best French I say something that probably sounds to him like "my horse in hungry and the chicken is on a motorbike". Hey! what!
He then raises his hand to my face and rubs his thumb and forefinger together and says "euros?". the guy is asking for money. I don't know who he is and tell him. Non! The camp office is shut so I'm not giving a stranger anything. next thing his wife appears from the caravan and starts to berate him. he bows his head and shuffles off to the van while she apologises. I wonder if he tries it on with all new arrivals.
                            So to bed. In my little tent while Henry curls up in his mini palace.
Now I'm sleeping for the first time on bubble-wrap instead of a mat. I didn't think I'd be trying it out but here we go. I can really feel the ground hard beneath me. But I must doze off ok because I wake at 7.30 after a good nights sleep and no aches and pains.

Day 5
                                The single tent walls are soaked in condensation and I have to be careful creeping out into the new day. The grass outside is soaking a heavy dew so the tent did well considering. The caravan of the euro robber from the night before is gone. Maybe he has left before the staff come on asking for payment.
Kettle is on and I kick Henry's palace to wake him into the land of the living. I hate packing tents up, especially when they are wet so we hang them up in the early sun as we sup tea and contemplate the new day. The staff turn up just before we leave and charge us 12 euros for the night. not bad. 15 minutes earlier and it would have been free.
                                     We have a long day ahead as I've booked us into a Horse Ranch for 10 euros each. We stay in the bunkhouse but I think it's about 90 miles away. Come on! We're not going to make it are we? It's a nice day as we roll out and we soon get some mileage in. getting towards lunchtime and we're climbing a hill on a busy road full of trucks when we come across a roadside burger van. No question! food time!
The young beauty behind the counter [you have to wonder why these lovely looking young French girls are working in such places]  speaks no English at all but we can just about rustle up enough French to order burger and chips each. This is served with a side salad, and coffee. the french fries are to die for and the burger is served in a large baguette. It's as well cooked as any restaurant I've been in. the cost. 3 Euros each. Ridiculous!
                                         So we're sat in the hot sun at the side of the road in France eating one of the best meals yet. You've got to love cycle touring.
Now we're 75 miles in. We're hot and tired. Decision time.  We can't guarantee that we will reach our destination. There is nowhere up ahead for accommodation that we can see. We could wild camp but we need to restock the larder. Time to deviate off our course and head for a little town on the map called Duras.
It's a much longer ride than we thought and with a headwind. We are totally exhausted when we roll into towm. The town itself is at the top of a long climb. It's a nice place which means it is very touristy.
                           They have only one hotel that we can find. they want 85 euros for one room. When we ask about twin beds the price shoots up to 100 euros!
No chance. Time to head for the shops and ride to the campsite we spotted on the way in.
Stocking up the larder.

                                         We roll downhill, bikes laden with shopping into a deserted campsite. It's got a price list on the wall. Not cheap. 10euros each. Hmmm. Mr reluctant camper. [Me. Henry's not bothered.] spots some mobile homes and wonders about grabbing one of these. trouble is the office is shut.
I spot a bungalow and change banging on the door. The resident turns out to be a nice English fellow who runs the camp. When I ask about the Mobile homes he shakes his head and says they are all closed up for the winter. I say is there none available I'm not bothered about electric or anything, just some walls and a bed. Each! We're friends but not that sort of "friends".
                                             He must have taken pity on the sweat stained, knackered, scruffy specimens of his own countrymen, or wanted to hide us away from frightening the other campers for he said he has one that is still connected but it's not being cleaned yet.
I couldn't care less. he says it'll be thirty euros though. That's fine the tents would have been 20 euros and we're getting free gas and electric. They said the beds are not made up or anything. I don't care I've got my sleeping bag. They give us the key.
                                               Result!. It's fine. Luxury. And it's clean. we are just getting a brew on and sorting some tea out when the guy's wife comes over with a load of clean bedding for us. Lovely people. So we've got a nice comfy beds in a mobile home with a veranda in a beautiful woodland setting after a really hard 85mile day. It just gets better.
This or a tent? You choose. No contest.

Day 6

We get up late. This accommodation is too nice to not stay awhile and enjoy. A leisurely breakfast on the balcony and watch the world go by for a while {I'm good at that]. But we need to be somewhere. I've arranged a warmshowers host in Agen so that's where we need to be. It's about 55 miles and we are off course and running late so we need to get a move on.
                    I've booked in at a Warmshowers Host in Agen so we have an appointment to keep. With this in mind and being a lazy sod I notice the station in Marmande. I do like trains and Henry seems to have contracted the lazy tourer bug. Looks a nice station. I'm on holiday right. Would be a shame not to visit. The suns shining. Nice to sit on a railway platform somewhere in France watching the day go by. Well that's my lazy thinking. Right tickets bought and we jump another train to deposit us a bit further down the line.

This engine was just sat running all the time we were waiting for our train. Fuel must be cheap.
It spits us out somewhere. Forgot where and we ride off in the afternoon sun to Agen. I stop to check my phone in Agen. Nice busy town. My host has texted to say she cannot host us. Great. Will I ring her. I ring and between us in her good English and my terrible French she explains, apologises and says she has arranged for her friend to put us up. Fine great. She then puts the phone down without telling me her friends address. I ring back. No answer. I text for the friends address. No reply.
              Now it's getting late. What to do. We have the camping gear but I'd rather find some walls. we can't hang back until we get an answer so decide to ride on for a couple of hours. Some twenty miles later we end up in the town of Valence. This is a nice place and we head for the centre and the tourist office. We pile in just as the lady is about to lock up. Now this is a lovely lady in a lovely tourist town. She does not speak one word of English. Go figure. Weird. How can you go through life listening to English or American music, watching films in English and then not speak a word. Oh and then get a job in a Tourism office.
             I explain in my best French that we require a room with twin beds please. I think she hears the table is upside down and the goat has a cough. nevertheless I'm about to try again when her husband turns up to pick her up from work and he speaks good English.
            She kindly gets him to wait and books us a cheap room locally. We are handed a local map and thanking her ride off to end up hopelessly lost on the other side of town. I know, I know useless.
             Eventually and I don't know how we stumble upon the B&B which is on a small housing estate. We are shown into the garage to leave the bikes. There is a large classic Renault car stored under a dustsheet. Full running boards and big headlamps on the mudguards. looks about a hundred years old.
            This lady also does not speak a word of English. Luckily she has a schoolteacher staying there who teaches English and is brought out to help translate. We are shown into a very typical dark French bedroom with a huge double bed and a small single. Very cozy. We have to share the bathroom with the other residents. I don't mind but feel sorry for the other residents having to share with us!
            We are left to freshen up. There is no evening meal on offer so will have to walk out to find something. I go to the bathroom to find the English teacher stood up in the hallway working on a laptop. I have to ask why and am informed it's the only place in the house where you can get a wi-fi signal. She's not particularly friendly though and am left wondering why an English teacher would not take advantage of speaking more with two English guys, to improve her language skills. She was fluent but still fell down on some things. Maybe it's just me, or maybe I'm smelling a bit.
            We head out and find a local restaurant for a good meal. Not hard in France. It's cheaper than the UK. Henry grabs the big bed on our return and I try to fit into the single. Still better than the tent.

Day 7

                    Down to breakfast. It's set out in the big kitchen. Very French and very old. There is a big table in the middle of the room and already installed are a young French couple. We had seen this couple last night riding, fully loaded around the centre of Valence but did not get a chance to speak to them.
They must have gone to the same Tourist office as us. maybe they better understood the directions as they were French. Breakfast consisted of a large pot of coffee and some hard bread and jam. Unfortunately the young couple had devoured most of it and we were left with a small amount of bread and two small cups of coffee. Oh, and jam.
                There were no refills on offer. Oh well. It was a cheap B&B. Saddled up and away. Nice morning and we were soon on our way. Toulouse is tonight's destination and I have pre-booked a room near the centre. 30 euros for the room which is a bargain in a big city in France. It's a good flattish ride and we are heading for the Canal de Garonne to avoid the harder [hills to you, mountains to me] approach to the city.
 The canal path is superb and we are bowling along at a good pace. A wide tarmac path that reminds me of the Danube route. We are making great time and we are able to stop for a brew up. We find some wild ripe figs that make up for the rubbish breakfast are are washed down with a good pot of tea. Luxury. What more do you need?
You can't beat a brew up at the side of a canal.

OK. teas gone. Henry has had his fag, it's time to mount up and hit the last few miles into Toulouse.  Good going again and as we get closer to the city the canal become busier with cyclists, boats etc. What amazes me is the sudden appearance of rows and rows of crudely built shacks alongside the canal. they are covered with tarpaulin's or bin bags. It appears to be Eastern European immigrants as many are sat outside with a cig and a can with nothing much to do. Obviously the guys in charge in the city don't appear to be that bothered but it is a pretty dismal sight.
However. We leave the canal for the mental roads leading into the city and we are soon hopelessly lost. No change there then. Remember we have the hotel already booked. It looked so simple on the map. Trouble is maps don't show buildings, crazy drivers, wrong signposts and all the other obstacles.
I ask one lady who shoes me away as she says she has no time to discuss. Not typical French I must point out. Just one ignorant individual. She needs to sit by the canal with a brew for a while.
             Anyway with the help of Henry's I phone my garmin and a lot of cursing we find our hotel. It's one of these chain hotels and looks very funky and smart. Lovely lady at check-in who issues me with a key and says, no, she does not have a spare charger for my Blackberry but is back on shift later and will bring hers in from home to charge mine overnight. See. How great is that. I'm back to loving the French.
           I open the door to the room. Love it. Love it. It's tiny. Brilliant! Now remember this is dirt cheap. It a tiny room with a double bed and a third bunk over the top. The en-suite is sweet. Tiny sweet. You can just get in. For long legged me, sitting on the toilet means keeping the door open. What a laugh. I'm not knocking it. It is what it is. It's immaculately clean with fresh bedding and fluffy white towels, but the smallest room I've been in. Remember we've got to squeeze two touring bikes in here. Say after me. "it's still better than a tent". Agreed.
            Ok, we're in. washed, changed. Keeping the window open for oxygen of course. Bikes are squeezed into the room. Time to step out for food. The lovely Madam at Reception has given us a discount voucher for the restaurant [another chain thing]. I wander in. I've been in these before. They are pretty good.
              We are seated and menus accepted. It's a standard deal for I think 13 euros. One course plus a buffet starter or desert. Steaks for us. Henry goes for the "all you can eat" starter buffet and I go for starter dessert. This way we can attack the buffet [all you can eat] getting enough for two each time. So we both have three courses. The bottle of House Red is extra though but not much. The waitress comes over with the bill, sees our voucher on the table and deducts that. Lovely. Good end to the day.
              I get the big bed tonight though I'm sharing much of it with my bike. Henry's sent to the bunk and his bike gets pride of place blocking the bathroom door. Still. It's better than...  Oh, I've already said that.

Day 8
Last night at reception I was asked "breakfast Monsieur?". Now I keep getting caught out with these crap breakfasts. Big heavy cyclists who are also greedy gits. Well Henry is.  We need something more substantial than some hard white bread and a bit of jam. No wonder the French are thin!
              I interrogate Madam in my worst French. I ask if it is a buffet. But I think, she thinks I'm asking will the Bullock be coming.  She is obviously not used to perfect French so I retreat into not so perfect English and we reach agreement that it is indeed Buffet. So I paid up although it might just mean help yourself to bread and jam.
Okay so with that info stored away and my cash stash a bit lighter we saunter down to breakfast, after we have climbed over the bikes of course.
               Hey what a good do! It is Buffet. Not only that there is plenty of it. Juice, coffee or tea, bread of course, but different types. Cereals, eggs, toast etc,etc. We dive in and gorge ourselves silly. Stagger to reception and retrieve my fully charged phone. Brilliant hotel. Highly recommended if you don't mind sleeping with your bike. At least it does not snore.
We are back on the road again. Tonight's stop is Carcassonne. We waddle away. Stomachs on handlebars and decide to jump on a train. I can't for the life of me think why. Its only about 60 miles. I mean I'm the lazy one but this time it's Henry's choice to get the train. I wanted to ride but I'm an awkward git. But once again though we did start late.
               Now first we have to find the station. Ha! We start the day lost as usual. Spot a Metro station and ask a couple of young French lads who are starting the day with a can, if the Metro will take bikes. No chance. So, ok , we eventually head for the centre and come upon the main station.
               Toulouse is a nice city but it seems to be a bit rundown. The canal good and I snap a few pics while we wait once again for the train.
There are quite a few dodgy characters about. They've taken over the benches around the canal which runs past the station. They seem to be settled for the day with their cans and rollups. Not very french.
                        Ok. train turns up. Board my bike. Then get told not there. Down there! Un-board my bike and go down the other end of the platform to the carriage we have directed to. The supervisor or whatever you call them. Conductor? Tells me the train is waiting Monsieur. Well you held me up chum! Anyway he gives me a leg up with the bike and we shove them in and take a seat. Ten minutes later same conductor/supervisor/jobsworth turns up and tells us off for having the bikes there. What! He helped us put them there.
                       He's accompanied by this young blonde Vogue model who has found a train uniform from somewhere and put it on. She's all sweetness and light so I assume he's just after impressing her. I ask her and she says it's fine. Leave them where they are. I mean there is only us in the carriage!
We are not on the train for long and disembark for the ride into Carcassonne. Now I did have a warm-showers host just outside Carcassonne. Quite a way outside it appears and halfway up some mountain. I'd figured this out a couple of days back and e-mailed the host to explain that we could not make it. While on the train Techno Henry managed to book us into a hotel for the night. technology eh. Not cheap this time. Well bloody expensive I thought. I gave him one of my What the f...... stares but to no avail.
                         Whatever. We'd had a good cheap run up to now. Long story short. we found the place easily enough [miracle for us] and booked in. Evidently we ended up with a very nice apartment. We asked about breakfast. Priorities first. Informed it was nine euros. Nine Euros! I asked if there were dancing girls and a massage included but evidently not. Pass on that then.
                          Our apartment was very nice but to be honest, wasted on two scruffs like us. It did have a fridge and cooking facilities. Plus a Lidl supermarket down the road. Off we go for a big shop. Enough to cook a meal tonight and a breakfast to start the day. Henry like to cook. I like to talk and rest. I also wash up which I don't like. All this meal with wine sounds a bit gay but we're not. Neither of us are pretty enough, but tightness and greed means we need to make the most of the facilities. Plus my wife won't let me tour with beautiful women. Well any woman. She's very trusting.

Day 8

Nice to wake up in our posh apartment. We have some great leftovers for breakfast and we even decline to eat the croissants that I had purchased in anticipation of a great start to the day. we were too full. First time that's happened. So I tie them to the back of the bike. I'm not leaving them. I've paid for them for goodness sake!
Looking out the window it looks like it's blowing a mini gale. Oh well. We reluctantly leave and head out on the open road to see how long it is before we get lost or blown away. We do have the option of looking at the famous old town of Carcassonne but I'm pretty bad at the tourist thing and we have the loaded, lightly loaded in my case, bikes to drag around as well. So I vote to forgo the tour.
           Its an easy day today as we are heading for Beziers which is not too far, fifty miles ish and we are going to ride the Canal Du Midi which of course is flat and sheltered from the wind. So easy peasy for the likes of a lazy cyclist. You'd think? Hah.
          Oh yes we find the Midi ok, surprise, surprise and set off. The canal turns out to be rubbish. Well ok, if you are riding a mountain bike with full suspension and you like playing on pogo sticks. Sheessh. The size of the tree roots. They come at you like mad dogs. They are right over the towpath! Non stop. The bike and I am flung all over the place on my 28c tyres. It's just not pleasant at all. I stop for a minute to make sure my ribs are all in the same place and chat to an English couple who are po-going all the way down the canal. She looks worn out, poor soul. They are camping. I tell her we have booked a hotel in Beziers. At this her face [which has stopped shaking]  lights up and she exclaims "oh a real bed". see it's not just me that is a reluctant camper. I'm tempted to offer to share but her husband might think I mean him as well.
           Oh have I mentioned it? No? I had a Warmshowers host booked for my Beziers stop but I received a curt message from the hosts husband telling me that his wife is not very well and could not possibly host me.
It's not going well this warmshowers thing this trip. I get the feeling that it is not always a mutual decision when couples decide to host somebody. I may be wrong but then again it is a big thing for some people and a lovely thing to do in the first place. So whatever. that's how we managed to boom through Henry's I phone thing, a place in Beziers for I think €30 once again. bargain? Remains to be seen but it's better than ....  Sorry already said that.
           I take an executive decision now that I have stopped trembling with the under wheel vibrations and decide to decamp to the road that is running alongside the canal. Lovely smooth tarmac. I have read somewhere that it is too be avoided due to the traffic levels. Rubbish. It's fine. Beautiful road. Good to see where the EU money has been spent. Well the leftover cash that the Euro MPs have finished with.
           Anyway. We zoom off. Zoom off? Oh yes. We have for once got the wind at our backs. How often do us cyclists get the wind at our backs. It's some wind, really blowing. But it's sunny and warm and we are flying! Really. What a ride. Smooth tarmac, quiet roads and a following wind. Biking paradise. Whoopee!
          We are riding so fast that we are pulling back time that I start looking for a place to stop and brew up.   I see a lay-by that looks good but when I stop to wait for Henry. has he stopped for a fag somewhere behind me? Remember I'm riding a much lighter outfit and don't smoke.
          Can't wait it's too windy here in the open so I set off until I ride downhill into the outskirts of a village and spy a bus shelter. I love bushelters. The tramp in me see,s a place to camp out of the elements. I should collect bus shelter photos there are so many good ones. The nerd in me showing itself. Stop it! Anyway I digress. Pull up and get the brew going while waiting for smokin Henry. Hope he's not reading this. Henry I'm kiddin! He turns up and we have a break out of the wind.
Brew time. You lost Henry?
Spot the  croissants
We don't have far to go now. Progress has been so good. At times I just stopped pedalling and let the wind blow me along. Sometimes it's good not to be a racing snake. Broad, no not fat, broad, broad shoulders help in a wind.
Mount up and soon enough we are on the outskirts of Beziers. I know my way from last year and we stop in a park for a lunchtime brew. It's only 1.30 so we have plenty of time. The croissants have warmed up nicely from being tied to the back of the bike in the sun and we break them out and snaffle the lot. I've even got some melted butter to spread on them how fattening is that. Heart attack in a bag. Delicious!
         Right time to find our hotel. It's down a side street off the main square. Actually very ice and modern. I was not expecting much for the €30 but no. It's ok. The room is fine. Much the same as the last min room we had in Toulouse, just not as mini and we can squeeze the bikes in and still find oxygen.
Room for the bikes. Just.
         We are booked in that early that we can go out and have a mooch around the town and sit with a beer and people watch. Opposite us is an oyster bar. there is a huge fat guy there with a one of those big twirly moustaches, making oysters vanish off his plate in quick succession. I was amazed. 
         Beziers is a nice place, but it's quiet as it seems to be closing down for the winter though it seems quite a working town. Probably just the tourist joints closing the shutters. We come across a group of English guys on motorbikes who are looking for a hotel and direct them to ours.
          Back at the hotel it's a case of getting changed and heading out for an evening meal. A few doors down there is a Chinese restaurant. It's my last night so why not. We are soon given a table and the guy at the next table nods to us. It's the fat guy from the oyster bar! He's finished his meal. A Chinese after all those oysters? Oh well. Good for him. We wishes us Bon appetit and shuffles out. Nice guy.
          A nice meal and a comfy bed. Well it was my turn for the bunk but never mind. good day overall.

Last day. I'm done.

I wake in my top bunk. It's nice and quiet, till I realise the earplugs are still in. Take them out and there is the contented or teriible, snoring coming from below. Henry is still out of it. Last day for me  today so no rush for anything.
               I'm hungry though and we did not book breakfast. We eventually wander down to investigate whats on offer.  Breakfast is on the go and it's buffet style and looks good. I'm an old hand now at sussing out whether breakfast is worth paying for. Reception happily takes my money. €12 for two breakfasts and we dive in. Well worth it!
               Henry decides to book another night at the hotel as its pretty good for the money. He is not flying back yet as he wants to ride towards Nice and meet his lovely lady there for a couple of days doing the touristy thing.
                I'm soon packed and we head out into the square for a coffee together before I head down the Canal du Midi for the airport.
Henry, wondering whose turn it is to pay.
Do you think Henry is looking pleased that at he's getting rid of the madman at last.? yes. That's what I thought.
 Henry has been a great travel companion. We had a lot of laughs and shared great experiences. I though we got on really well and would do it again. Well I would, not sure about him. We had differences of opinion, sure, but nothing big deal.
              So it's a bit of a sad departur,e but we'll keep in touch. He's got a chill out day in the sun in front of him to look forward to and  I'm back in the saddle. It's an easy ride down the canal. Very pleasant, same as last year and I find the airport easily enough.
             Packing the bike is a pain in the bum as the tape won't stick to the bag and I end up tying it in strips to secure the whole thing together. Ends up looking like something put together by a drunken blind man. Not to worry Ryanair aren't that fussy and just check it in. I love the bit at airports after I have got rid of the bike. I can just sit back and chill out.
              Smooth efficient flight to Manchester and I unpack[tear the damn thing open] the bike in the arrivals hall and ride it down to the station in the rain. Straight onto the train into Piccadilly and I'm almost home.

Must remember not to ride down the platform.
I dump the bike in the garage and head inside for tea and loving. The returning Heroes welcome? I wish!
              It's not till a few days later when I clean the bike that I notice the dent in the top tube that it must have picked up at one of the airports. I never noticed it when I took the picture in the station. Bit of a bummer that.
Oh well. Another tour done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this, I found your writing style most entertaining and the topic very informative. I am not as an accomplished cyclists as yourself, and have found it slow progress increasing my distance. After reading a little it inspired me to go out for a quick ride on my bike. I managed 14 miles, which I can now do quite easily. Later this summer I will be setting off on my bike for a little tour around the Isle of Wight with my tent (unlike you I enjoy camping!). I'm looking towards doing my first 50 mile trip. Thanks for the inspiration and entertainment. All the best, wishing you many more pleasant adventures with your cycles and those whom you meet on the way.
John (probably more Southern than you, with a little Irish too!) :-)