Leg 17, 18 & 19: Rain-roulette

Morning vista from Theziers

Dear Friends!

On arrival in Lapalud we escaped intense and nightlong rain with thunder and lightning only marginally. It started raining big drops when we saved ourselves into the Chambre d`Hote and got worse from that moment on. Luckily we had reserved the dinner option in the farm house and oh boy how well we ate again (www.ferme-terrebioprovence.com)!
We sat with 3 couples at the table – one English but living in Switzerland for about 30 years, one from France and us. After a while we realised that the common language amongst all of us was actually German. The English couple both spoke good German and the French gentleman mastered the language impeccably as he came from Alsace where they speak German a lot (his wife understood everything but spoke less) and Olli had the chance to practise as well. It was perfect and the evening turned out to be a lovely experience.

We were frightened to death looking at the weather forecast for the next 2 days which predicted severe weather in the region we wanted to cycle through. And indeed Montpellier which we wanted to pass by on stage 19 suffered from heavy floodings after that particular night. Still, we were lucky. We did have 2 beautiful and sunny bike days – the weather actually turned out to be that well that I ended up with a sunburn on my arms – not bad for bad weather days!

Avignon -1

Avignon Pope Palace

Stage 17 led us from Lapalud to Aigues-Mortes. While we anxiously kept watching the sky everything stayed wonderful and we enjoyed the vistas and the terrific and peaceful route. Lunch we took in Avignon with its gorgeous old walls (Avignon has been papal seat during one of the more “dynamic” eras of Christian history around 1400) – before we continued with slightly overfilled but happy bellies towards Theziers. One of the challenges of the leg was that it was impossible to get the distance between Lapalud and Avignon right – what we had found as information was 35 kilometers but we actually had 60 on the clock when we arrived – slightly disturbing for the planning I have to say… The second stretch luckily was as expected and we reached our destination after a total of 80km. This time we stayed in a vineyard which offered rooms and to Olli`s utmost pleasure a sauna. We hardly cared that we had to hike down into the village to find ourselves something to eat due to that.

From Theziers we turned towards Aigues-Mortes and again the forecast threatened us with nightmarish prediction. Which again turned out to be wrong – good for us! We noticed more and more horse stables and bull farms which we had not seen before on our trip and yes – we actually had entered the Camargue! During this stage we intensified the discussion on the term “flat”. Well, for me flat landscape signifies that I can move forward without experiencing significant elevation change. I got the impression that that was not the case as I had to change in very small gears to labour myself up the hills and shot down on the other side. NOT flat…! Haha, Olli said to that, all wrong – compared to Pyrenees this is flat.

Aigues-Mortes  In Aigues-Mortes

Aigues-Mortes was a really delightful experience. The city has been the starting point of the 7th crusade in the 13th century and still has a complete mediaval city wall and a lovely ambience in its narrow streets. We had an excellent dinner in “Le Dit Vin” and Olli found a little pearl in an oyster. It will join our tour from now on :-). So we went to bed in a very happy state sure that the leg to Sete and the sea would be an nice and easy stroll. Guess we have been there before that things were not exactly as expected, weren`t we? The 55 kilometers of the leg were indeed flat and the wind was either with us or it was windstill – so ideal for an easy day cycling. But no! The stage was the most challenging one we have done so far. Right after leaving Aigues-Mortes the bike road changed from gravel to a dirt track and then into a construction site for a road. The deep and rain soaked sand slowed us down a lot and made the stretch very demanding. bad bike road between Aigues-Mortes and Sete After we had overcome that part of the route we were on a normal road with cars which converted into a highway. It was clearly faster to cycle now but pretty stressful… And as we were at it we had the dirt track/road construction and then highway combination another time a bit later on. After 50 km we were completely done. But: we are in Sete and did pay our visit as planned to “Chez Francois” where we will eat lovely sea food tonight as well. And Sunday is our rest day – a treat after a cycling distance of 1,551 kilometers since Bonn.

Seafood at Chez Francois! _1  Seafood at Chez Francois! _2

And that is Bye Bye from us again: Bye Bye!

Claudia & Olli

Leg 16: Bridge Day!

Dear friends,

Today`s leg led us from Le Pouzin to Lapalud – thanks to our lovely host in Le Pouzin, Dominic, we had a really gorgeous stage. As we have mentioned in an earlier post we sometimes have a bit of a challenge to identify the route of ViaRhona and this was the case in Le Pouzin as well. A little drawn back from the traffic on the main street which we understood would lead us to ViaRhona for many kilometers, we decided to go an alternative route all together and use the opposite side of the Rhone. When Dominic (who does not speak any English but was very helpful and patient communication with us nonetheless) asked us which route we had planned for the day he was not happy with our idea. “No, no, no – not a good idea! Too much traffic on the other side of the river. Why would we not simply follow the street we were in, take the tunnel under the railway and then left and Voilá: we would be on ViaRhona!” Olli, who is in charge of planning the stages gave it a very brief thought and off we went following Dominic`s description – and that was the right decision for sure.
ViaRhona Signpost
It turned out to be the most beautiful stage on ViaRhona so far – quiet, excellently developed and we went up all those gorgeous 5 little bridges over Rhone and its side-arms. We crossed the river over a dam and experienced an old bridge which only bore space for a single car whenever reaching one of its 3 bridge pilars – we talk about a street with two-way traffic of course. It does discipline pretty much automatically… there is not much traffic on the bridge and those using it take velocity not too seriously…

Our favourite bridge on the other hand was the rope bridge! No – you did not mis-read: I mean it – ROPE BRIDGE!! We already were over the moon when we saw Chateau Rochemaure which started to spread out across the hill. Chateau RochemaureDespite of slightly falling apart the castle is remarkable and impresses both by its location on top of bare rocks and its size. But when we turned our back to the castle we found ourselves in front of a really old little bridge – and on this bridge no car would fit! In between the century old bridge piers a rope bridge made of steel had been installed for bicycles and pedestrians – ingenius! It is an amazing experience to cross the bridge. You pass the stone pier and feel you cycle into… nothing… Below you are light metall plates and left and right there are steel meshes with a steel rope as handle on top. And then you let go and the bike rolles on, while you concentrate on the next pier in a somehow perplex state of mind before approaching the final pier at the other end. Some 200 meters of the most phantastic marriage of old and modern architecture. This bridge is worth a visit!
Hanging bridgeHanging bridge near Chateau Rochemeareau
We have been delighted as well about peoples’ friendliness in this region. We have been asked twice if we were lost and offered help in the most patient way possible – simply lovely! And I admit that I enjoy it when we are greeted with enthusiasm by fellow cyclists. While the “Bon Jour” in Alsace and Franche-Comte is rather aspirated it will be belt out in this region – very nice!!

The upcoming (head-) wind then announced that the weather forecast (we use: http://www.yr.no – the best ones we have found) was unfortunately very accurate and a massive rain front was closing up on us. So we cycled as fast as possible and managed to reach the Gite (french for Bed & Breakfast) with the first drops of rain and thunder. This night we stay and dine on a bio-farm, which again is located in a beautiful old farmhouse which has been renovated with an obvious love for detail. [www.ferme-terrebioprovence.com].

We assume that the next 2 days we will cycle in permanent rain – let`s see what we will have to report of that experience 🙂

So it’s Bye Bye from us for now – Bye Bye!

Claudia & Olli

Leg 14 & 15: Eventually… the South!

Toulon

Dear friends,

it is a bit tricky to describe these two legs… Reason being that it would be best to completely forget about the 100 kilometers between Macon and some 30km south of Lyon. It was simply not nice and was not made any better by trying somehow to find a way to leave Lyon… The mentioned 30 kilometers were marked by us not being able to find any kind of bicycle path and we were with bikes and panniers in the middle of heavy traffic, surrounded by cars and lorries until we accidentally found the “Via Rhona”. That is the bike route which shall lead us first to the river Rhone and following it towards the Mediterranean Sea.
Olli helps anoter cyclists en route
Well, let`s say that Via Rhona is nothing for people with weak nerves. What we have found so far was: Missing sign posts, perfect indication of the route, paths that were hardly possible to cycle and brilliant surfaces. To keep things entertaining they change in random order 🙂 The second half of the stage eventually made up for it and became more and more beautiful. Even people we met were a lot more friendly than around Lyon (where I admit they appeared to be rather grumpy – no offense…) – and our mood rose!
Today`s leg was rather short with 65km and absolutely gorgeous: The landscape became more “southern” (as Olli said: Look, the grass is looking burnt from the sun!!), Valence is beautiful and rewarded the visit with a wonderful lunch – and we enjoyed the rest of the day to Le Pouzin fully. Even the headwind did not bother us too much – we have been very lucky so far with backwind that it almost feels right to have a bit of a headwind now.
Chambre d`Hote in Le Pouzin
Chambre d`Hote in Le Pouzin - including dog
The funniest what has happened so far took place in front of a supermarket just beyond Lyon. We were approached by an elderly couple and while I tried to make sense of his gentle words the wife taps on the sholder of the husband and says: “Honey, I think they don`t speak French. Look at the way they travel – No French would do THAT.” I almost died laughing 🙂

Tomorrow we will go towards Orange – we get ever closer to the Sea!

So it`s Bye Bye from us for now… Bye Bye!

Claudia & Olli

Leg 11, 12 & 13: Where I lay my helmet is my home

 

 

Castle between Cluny and Macon Givry - Hunting Lodge

 

Dear Friends!

after we left quiet unwillingly from Dole and the best accomodation ever (cheers to Francois and La Batellerie! Who ever plans to travel near Dole – THIS is the place to stay! We went to meet the river Saone and  to Olli`s utmost horror the direction of the bike road turned north-west – pretty much 90 degrees from where we actually wanted to go. But when we decided to leave the bike road behind and looked for our own path through hamlets and villages things turned out all right again – thanks to leaving the gravel bike road for the small and calm “normal road”. We found a pretty terrace restaurant where we shared our lunch with fellow cyclists (from France) which interviewed us – in German 🙂 on the quality of the bike road. We felt very important…! It was a lovely day indeed – rolling hills which led us up and down continuously but without being too hard to cycle. A truly delightful bike ride. When we reached our accomodation for the night we found it to be a hunting lodge from the 17th century which in many ways was in pretty original condition. We were more than happy to accept the offer from the hosts to cook dinner for us – and what a good decision that was! Most of the food was regional – if it did not come straight from their own garden. It was delicious. Four courses later an English couple arrived (they got lost and were late as well for the dinner) and we did spend more time than we expected with them talking, laughing and emptying the wine…

 

Surprisingly enough we were the first ones to get up the next morning and started our route to Cluny (or as Olli pronounces it in perfect Finnish-French: Clooney…). It is one of those places I wanted to see all my life. Cluny… where all of those important decisions in mediaval church history have been prepared and thought up – and which have studied with my friend Janni back in Constance. A dream coming true! Not much is left though of the buildings, church and abbey have been thoroughly ransacked in the 17th century – but the town is pretty (built largely with the stones taken from the mentioned abbey). For me it was really special to be able to walk around Cluny…!

View on Cluny   Cluny Abbey - detail

Leaving Cluny we found steep passages over and over again – partially as much as 10-15% elevation. Too much for me – I had to push the bike twice and my legs started complaining (bodylanguage… unmistakable!). Remarkable was the longest bicycle tunnel in Europe – it is 1.6 kilometers long. It expected us after another steep elevation – so we went up exasperated (speed around 5km/h…) , had an impressive decline and in we went into this former train tunnel. Interesting experience!
Shortly after that we did reach the 1000 Kilometer mark – hard to believe, really!! We have been cycling already 1000 kilometers…

Finish line of the stage was Macon – which we have not seen much of to be honest. Our last minute accomodation was in a commercial centre and we did not enter into the town (rule number 1: most importantly you need a place to sleep!).

Leg 12 was surprisingly un-delightful… Even though the bike roads became increasingly bad over the past days, this one was really bad. The unpaved paths were covered in gravel – but this time the stones were as big as fists and loose. For about 6 kilometers that was the track before we abandoned it to cycle on a road which had rather heavy traffic. All in all a bit stressful those 70km – so the rest day on Sunday s most welcomed!

Lyon as the target of our stage and rest-day has surprised us immediately. What we have seen so far is pretty well – we are in the gourmet capital – what more is there to ask? We stumbled across a comical ballett on a square – boys and girls equally dressed in tutu`s – which was a laugh. The architecture is impressive and has a lot of art deco elements. We will further roam around…

So it is bye bye from us for now – bye bye!

Claudia & Olli