Sunstroke in Dreux

After finishing my post from Amiens, I checked the weather forecast and I had finally caught up with summer. The next five days were going to be in the mid-30s. So I had an early night and early start on what I planned to be a two day ride to Rouen – a 70km ride to Forges dEs Eaux followed by a shorter 43km hop into Rouen. While not the ideal weather to be back among the rolling hills, all went to plan and I was having lunch – done for the day – by 1pm on both days.

My day off in Rouen was pretty uneventful, a wander around town until it got too hot and a lazy afternoon drinking coffee in an air conditioned shopping mall (and finally getting a new pair of bike shorts).

The ride from Rouen was to be the same (get it over by lunch) approach, but between the hills getting harder and no accommodation near Cahaignes, I ended up having to do the full circuit to Giverny. Over ten hours door to door, six of them in 30-35C temperatures.

A long hard day, but one of nicest rides to date – Tour de France highlight package material. An early morning ride along the Seine, coffee stops in medieval villages, ruined castles and lots of back lanes. Cahaignes was not exactly the highlight and after 950 years I hardly recognised the place, but when William said “hey guys let’s go conquer England”, I imagine many residents would have had a look around and said “yeah, why not!”.

A tourist tip – DO NOT ROCK UP IN GIVERNY ON A SATURDAY NIGHT WITHOUT A BOOKING!

Finally hit Giverny at six and began the long walk of rejection along Rue du Monet. The place was full! With three options left, I got lucky and a nice guy named Alain came to the rescue. His place was full, but if I didn’t mind roughing it he had an unrestored studio I could use. After weighing up my options for three milliseconds I said “I’ll take it!”.

After rearranging some stage props and costumes (it was being used to store things for the amateur drama group) there was room for a mattress, it had a cold water tap, and a few bushes along the street where I could go “pee pee” once it got dark.

I slept soundly and after a ciabatta and several cups of coffee for breakfast I headed to Monet’s gardens. Probably not at its best in late summer, it was beautiful nonetheless and the Lilly ponds in particular were a tranquil sanctuary (well maybe a few hundred less tourists wouldn’t hurt). The queue to Monet’s house was too long for me, so I collected my bike with the intent of knocking off some kilometres between Giverny and Chartres (my next planned stop).

Didn’t go quite to plan, and the hotel in Anet I had planned to stay at was deserted, so Dreux (as in “Some Kid Called ….” for those in the know) was the next town down the road. Actually “Some Kid Called Dreux” may even be an improvement on the original as it is pronounced with that wonderful French insouciance that befits indifferent rock gods.

Another nice ride, and while cycling all was fine, but every time I got on or off the bike or stood up after a rest stop, I felt I was going to pass out and was clearly suffering some heat stroke.

So today was a recovery day. Dreux is a beautiful place and the Hotel de Beffroi where I am staying is charming. The balcony in my attic room overlooks the main square and other than regular visits from the neighbours cat very peaceful. If they sold food in this town, you could not ask for more.

Another Tourist tip – DO NOT EXPECT TO GET FED ON SUNDAYS!

Slim pickings food wise on Sinday, a ciabatta stick for breakfast and a left over Madeline (little cake), a Kit Kat and three energy gels for dinner! Things didn’t really improve today; going by the tourist info the last five weeks has been full of events, so my guess is the proprietors decided they had had enough. Finally found an Italian Bistro this evening and had a nice steak and not so nice profiteroles (must stop ordering them as no one does them properly!).

Beginning to feel human again and will be off to do the remaining 30km to Chartres in the morning, followed by another rest day. No rush at the moment, 465km to Nantes  and plenty of days to do them. Will probably rain tomorrow (good) and then mid-20s for a week. Hopefully no more heatwaves.

A lovely week with lots of photos to share.

Au revoir

Amiens to Rouen

In Rouen

Rouen to Giverny

In Giverny

Giverny to Dreux

 

Amiens

Hello All, Well it’s 6pm and I’m contemplating dinner on my day off in Amiens.

I’ve continued on my merry way, sticking with the canal to the French border at Motagne du Nord; and then the country lanes and backroads on my way through Douai, Arras and Amiens.

Other than a few short sections of cobblestones (a section of the Paris-Roubaix route), very strong headwinds heading to Arras, and taking a wrong turn and getting stuck on a freeway system and its many interchange ramps – the cycling has been very laid back and the days short.

The route from Mons to Amiens has the dark side of crossing what was in effect the extent of the World War 1 western front, so there were way too many War Cemetries full of young men often in unnamed graves. Very sad and very wrong. When will old men stop settling their differences with the blood of children?

And (drum roll) the land has stopped being flat! Yes folks some hills have returned and after 38 days of flat, I must admit my thigh muscles were burning a bit even if 150m was probably the highest elevation reached. I had to check the 38 days a few times as it seems a lot more than five and a half weeks since I landed in Denmark but clearly not!

So that’s been my week! Lots of Cathedrals, piazzas (or whatever the French call them), and wandering along old alley ways checking out the buildings.

I will head off towards Rouen tomorrow (2 hops) then turn westward. The plan is to head towards the Loire via Giverny and Chartres joining the river at Orleans, then to follow the river to Nantes via Tours (maybe it’s waters can cleanse my riding gear) and Angers.

Around lunchtime tomorrow, somewhere between Lachapelle and Gaillefontaine I will click over kilometre number 5,000! Haven’t worked out the exact number to go but my guess is another 2,000 – 6,956 km would be an ideal final count (matches the height in metres of Aconcagua). Although as the Argentinians insist it is 7,002m maybe that’s the magic number. Still a while away and still 22 days till Rose arrives in Paris but sometime in late October my pebble from Nordkapp will be placed on the beach at Tarifa.

The camera battery is on charge so I’ll load photos after dinner. Best wishes to all. And big hugs to Alex and Lachie.

From Mons

Hello All!

Well I am in Mons on what should be my last night in Belgium and thanks to Nico, what could have been a 77km leg with a stop over in Brugge became a thoroughly enjoyable ten days, with almost 500km of cycling through lovely villages and forests and along some amazing canals.

Admittedly for the three days at Nico’s we were pretty lazy. Saturday saw us have lunch, a ride through the local forest and a tub of delicious home made ice cream to recover. Sunday was lounging around and dinner at Nico’s parents. On Monday we caught the train into Brussels where we caught up with Pieter (another Te Araroa survivor) for some minimal sightseeing with a long lunch and evening drinks.

Most of the time was spent discussing adventures past, present and future.  Reliving trails in NZ, Nico’s recent trip to Morocco, Pieter’s trek along the French side of the Pyrenees and a huge list of potential rides and walks that lay ahead.

It was great to be with kindred souls and not to feel (or be told) that we must be slightly crazy to even consider these trips.

I set off from Nico’s on Tuesday morning after he was called into work and we shared the trail – as the first part was on his way to work. A phone call shortly after we started meant he had the day off after all, so we shared the ride through some lovely forests and pastures until 10km before Tienen where we said our farewells.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable four days and my thanks to Nico, his family, and Pieter for their hospitality.

From Tienen I continued south via the forest/pasture trail to Numar where I switched to following canals – firstly La Sambre from Namur to Charleroi (where I stayed last night) and today the Charleroi-Bruxelles Canal and Canal du Centre to Mons.

While the first two were clearly once rivers, it wasn’t long before I realised that the Canal du Centre was definitely a human creation. A 200m long over pass (where the canal crossed OVER a valley) was the first hint, but the ten story high barge elevator I encountered a few kilometres later left me in awe – or more to the point optimistic. A species with the ingenuity and aspiration to be capable of creating such a remarkable structure will survive whatever the ideologues throw at it. Knowledge will prevail!

I reached Mons at about 2:30pm so had a chance to have a good wander around. It’s a lovely little city.

I will continue along the canals tomorrow crossing into France at Maulde. From there who knows!

Having poured over maps at Nico’s my first dilemma was that while there were a number of nice looking routes to France, they all come to an abrupt halt at the border. Maulde is as close to the general direction I want to go to get to Nantes.

Other than stopping at Giverny to visit Monet’s garden I have no firm plans. I don’t need to be at Nantes till the 9th of September (the 10th and 11th are a weekend) so I have 22days to cover what would be 623km by the most direct route, before I drop the bike of for a service and get the train to Paris. So basically I will wander around.

I had thought some classic Tour de France routes might be the go, but all the routes I have looked at include long freeway sections and my guess is that they won’t close them to cars while I pass through (seriously these professional cyclists are so pampered).

So if anyone knows of any nice villages between Maulde and Nantes please let me know.

Best wishes to all.

 

Lots of Photos

Hello All!

I’m in Beringen, Belgium and after posting this I will have some breakfast and then head over to Nico’s on the other side of town.

The past week has been one of lovely old buildings and some very long and windy rides. Rose and I are organised for a week in Paris and a week in Nantes starting mid-September, and I am looking forward to the Tour de Nico – which will hopefully be a leisurely ride with lots of long lunches.

The ride from Amsterdam to Brugge saw me back on the coast with the usual strong headwinds but crossing the three dams was an amazing day’s ride even though I was exhausted by the end of it.

Brugge was magnificent. A managable size, I think I must have walked every street in the old city.

As they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

A Canal Tour of Amsterdam

Getting to Brugge

A Walking Tour of Brugge

Mechellen

Now that I am about to get a second set of hands, I promise to have a shot of me on the bike for the next post.

From Amsterdam

It’s Friday night in Amsterdam, where I arrived yesterday evening after the ride from hell from Zwolle. I had planned to slow down on reaching the Nederlands and had completed a pleasant ride from Assen to Zwolle, when I realised it was still a fair hike to Nico and I wanted to have some time in Amsterdam and Bruges.

So it was Zwolle to Amsterdam in a day – a 120km ride, 70km of which was through a treeless, dull landscape with a strong headwind. I know it was a headwind as hundreds of wind turbines were pointing in the direction I was heading. A hint guys – wind turbines are a nice way to reduce carbon emissions but PLANT SOME BLOODY TREES!

I had booked a room in central Amsterdam without giving it much thought. It was a reasonable price, conveniently located and had good reviews. 200m from my journey’s end, I remembered what Amsterdam was (in)famous for as the smell of stale marijuana wafted through the air and  the shop windows filled up with a variety of products which demonstrate the remarkable versitility of latex!

I had booked a hotel in the heart of the red light district and with some apprehension (like had I booked a room for 3 days or 3 hours?), I made my way to my lodgings to discover I had a room in the cellar. My apprehension passed when I arrived at a very nice room, and on opening the curtains, looked out to some ducks and a canal.

I got up bright and early and headed out for a walk. The red light district was deserted except for a small army of street cleaners. I walked for about 5 hours passing a lot of queues to the various attractions. Lots of canals and lovely old buildings. In the afternoon I had a nap!

Not a great tourist really!

I have lost where I was up to on the photo front so here is an assortment.

Germany/Nederlands

Amsterdam

At the risk of repeating myself

(Doo Doo Doo another one bites the dust)

Here I am in Assen, Nederlands after crossing the border from Germany shortly after midday yesterday having completed that 400km stage of the journey. A good psychological win!

I joked before leaving that this would be my last big adventure and in future it would be nothing over 1000km. But the reality is that a thousand kilometres is a long way, and when you string them together they take their toll.

The last week in Norway was hard and part of me was thinking “Norway is enough”. The other part of me was saying “but life is not a dress rehearsal”. If I want to cross a continent, I do it now or never.

So the Churchillian quotes and jumping straight onto a ferry were really just a crude approach to sports self-psychology. To set my mind to the road ahead and not allow myself to pause (and maybe falter). The spill at the start of Denmark didn’t help (I told me so), and so for the past two weeks my only focus has been the ride.

Now I am in the Nederlands, the chance to cross Europe is real; three of seven countries are behind me; I have passed the half-way mark; and plenty of time to complete the adventure in a less hectic manner.

My two day break in Rudbøl was very pleasant. The hut was very basic but the restaurant great. Not great fancy, but great wholesome with “almost” home cooking. Steak, chicken and lamb, each served with a big bowl of baby potatoes, a big bowl of baby carrots, and a big bowl of fancy peas (done with bacon and fried onions). And gravy!

I did a Herculean tour of Rudbøl and Rosencranz, which involved checking out the twenty-odd houses on the Danish side and eight across the bridge in Germany. A textbook example of the “Dependency of Nations”, Rosencranz had the only supermarket and Rudbøl the sole pub/restaurant. Clearly both sides had a vested interest in cross-border trade.

Full of Spring vegetables, I embarked on the German leg, following backroads through thatched roof villages until the shops opened and I could get some essential supplies – (A man cannot cross continents without (at least) two packets of cigarettes and two Coke Zeros in his day pack.) – before heading to the coast.

The sand dunes of Denmark were replaced with a dyke that extended into the distance and as for bike tracks, German engineering didn’t disappoint! Two tracks (on either side of the dyke) with the track on the sheltered side the cycling equivalent of an autobahn.

I headed off on the seaward side, which was shared with sheep (a slight inconvenience as they had gates every kilometre or so) and enjoyed a very smooth ride. With the tide out, all that stood between me and the islands that ran in a chain offshore was sand flats.

The European concern over rising sea levels really hits you here. A few maps show how the area has changed over the past 500 years. The islands were all once part of the mainland, thousands of square kilometres of land have been lost, storm surges have only breached the dyke once, but the farms that it protects are clearly at risk. It is so flat (and low) that without the dyke (and dunes in Denmark) all of it could disappear.

My first day in Germany ended in the campsite just outside Husum (a very pretty town if you avert your eyes from the industrial area).

From Husum I headed inland towards Tönner to avoid a big curve on the coast rejoining at the Eider Dyke that controlled tidal flows into the river. I then just meandered along through Wesselburen, Wöhrden, and Meldorf to the Brunsbüttel Ferry across to Cuxhaven. Cuxhaven was a very popular seaside resort (and full) so I wandered down the coast to Duhnen and the Seelust Hotel.

The next day was much the same swapping between either side of the dyke depending on how windy it was. As I approached Bremerhaven, the first sight was the docks. Someone had had a great time with their Mekano set and built a container system that makes the Port of Melbourne look like a bunch of baggage handlers!

Alas this also heralded the end of the enjoyable ride, with the usual nightmare of navigating through the industrial and residential zones to reach the city centre. I didn’t complain about the bike detours this time – riding amongst container trucks is bloody scary!!!

Had a day in Bremerhaven and finally bought a new camera. Different make but still orange. Alas while it came with instruction books in every European language, it didn’t have one in English. I imagine post-Brexit there was an EU ruling that all English instructions be removed from products. So have camera can’t sync 🙁

The plan from Bremerhaven was to catch another ferry across the river. I arrived at the departure point to find a big red sticker over the timetable. It was in German but the word “kollision” was a bit of a give away and a local confirmed the ferry had closed after an accident. The rivers are like barge highways so I imagine the ferry is less important to them.

I headed off up-river to find another way across with the first available being a tunnel. Fat chance of course but in trying to get around the freeway that led to the tunnel I took a wrong turn and turned a 10km ride to the next ferry to a 30km one. To make matters worse when I finally got to the ferry from Sandstedt to Fähranleger the skies opened up, so on disembarking I headed into Brake and found a nice Pensione on the riverfront.

A lovely old house owned by an elderly lady who seemed quite content to chat endlessly, content with my occasional polite smiles.

I was a fair way south of the coast by now, so I decided to head west “town-hopping” through Jaderberg, Westerstede, Apen, Stickhausen and
Neuberg to Leer where I found a great Greek restaurant and had the Zeus Platter I am still digesting. Got to love a cuisine that includes five servings of meat with a meal.

From Leer it was a short run the Nederlands through the village of Weener to the border crossing at Nieuweschans. More town hopping and I was making good time towards Assen when about 25km out I hit the freeway. The next four hours was a frustrating attempt to navigate a myriad of towns and hamlets where every “Assen this way” sign led to another freeway ramp. So it was a late arrival at Assen, fish and chips for dinner and a day off today. To be fair on my navigating skills, when I told the hotel receptionist about how hard it is to get to Assen, she agreed and said she often gets lost after going cycling.

So here I am and things will slow down for the next few weeks. I plan to head in to Amsterdam for a look around and then onto Bruges before catching up with Nico. Nico and I shared many trails doing the South Island of New Zealand but is a marathon cyclist at heart having ridden pretty well everywhere.

Then it will be on to France and a catch up with Rose in Nantes for the last ten days of September. So all is good and Tarifa here I come.