2013 – Le Havre to Monte Carlo

Day 19 – the chequered flag

Let me define luxury cycling.
Luxury cycling is sitting in an “Artisan Boulanger” eating a croissant and a Pain Chocolate accompanied by a very good cafe ‘au lait. Then crossing the road to the dedicated cycle track along the beach. This led us through Cannes, St Laurent, past the Nice Airport, along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice then through to the old port in Nice. Unfortunately it stopped abruptly and left is to negotiate the roads and pavements as we crossed the headland towards Villefranche-sur-mer. Here Paul made several decisions he was castigated for. Basically he reasoned that there was bound to be a road round the headland at beach level. There was not . We got to see the medieval castle and the very pretty sea front and beach. The bad news – we got to see it twice as we walked back up the hill towards the main road. Our journey has been marked by the extreme courtesy shown motorists. Here in the south this has ended. The cars seem to aim to pass as close as possible without actually touching.

We enjoyed the scenery through Eze and Beaulieu but were disappointed not to find a road sign saying “Monaco”
We wanted a photograph.
What did happen was that we followed the signs for Monte Carlo then Menton and found ourselves disappearing into a subterranean high speed highway system with no obvious way to escape. We didi not dare stop and eventually emerged at Lowes corner on the E side of Monte Carlo. We had crossed the entire city without emerging above ground. A policeman directed us off the road and on to the pavement towards Menton. At this point we turned on Lola to find our way to the hotel. Big mistake! Lola had no way of knowing all the roads that had been closed for the tennis. But eventually after an endless push uphill past the tennis complex we arrived at the hotel l had previously booked. So far this meets the recommendations of trip advisor, incredible views (we are about 400
feet vertically above the beach) beautiful rooms with out own individual terrace garden, but don’t risk eating here 20euros for breakfast and 80euros for dinner

After finishing the bottle of celebration bubbly 80euros for dinner does not seem too bad!

WE DONE IT !!!!!!

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Day – 18 – Wed an easy day

Today is different. For the first time we know we will make it to Monaco in time. There is only 80k to ride and 2 days to do it.
We took the coast road from Fregus to Cannes. After we left the town, this was a series of downhill runs into beautiful bays and uphill climbs onto beautiful headlands. Around every turn is another house you could not even start to afford. – But an awful lot of them are showing “for sale” signs.
The road had little traffic but is enormously popular with the local cyclists – all ages, shapes and sexes. I have never seen so much over stretched Lyra in my life.
Once we had rounded the headland we rode into Cannes on the road between the railway and the beach. We lunched on the main road near the centre of town enjoying the never ending procession of cars, scooters, cycles and pedestrians.
After lunch we were forced to ride along again over-looking the beach – Then after crossing the headland at Jean Les Pins – back along the beach again. Look! I know it is dangerous being distracted in busy traffic but l am an experienced cyclist and l can do this. Just after passing the Cornusier apartments in Cagnes Sur Mer we found a pleasant hotel and walked 3km into the town along the promenade absolutely bursting with skateboards,cyclists,walkers, scooters – and of course looking over the beach.

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Day 17 – I see the sea

After a rubbish breakfast in the Ibis(should have been good the staff should be fired) we rolled back down the hills into Brignoles we took the country route to Le luc via Cabrassc – this is named by the French as “route de la Cote De Provenca” and it was a succession of vineyards each one offering chance to taste and buy. (Damn the panniers are already full) Despite a couple of hills – especially climbing out of Cabrass the route was basically downhill Le Luc boasted another McD for a coffee and a wifi update. Because we could not find a better route we rode along the D7N to Le Muy. We had lunch – total cost 7.50euros in a sandwich bar and headed towards Fregus. To get off the main road (and stay Live) we turned right and took a slightly longer route to Fregus.
This decision did not agree with Elaine’s (or Paul’s) bum who chuntered and moaned all the way into Fregus Finally after expecting to turn the next corner for over an hour we saw the Med at around 3.00pm. By 3.45 we had cycled along the coast, past the beautiful people on the beach and on rhe promenade in San Rapheal and found a very nice friendly hotel.
The receptionist recommended several restaurants back in the port of St R. However we ignored them all in favour of “La Refuge” where we enjoyed a cheap and adequate meal despite a spectacularly bad waitress.

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Day 16 – Monday

This has actually felt like our best day so far. We covered 90km and it did not hurt too much. I was concerned because we had not made it to Chateauneuf and had not made it to Aix. So we were on the road before 9.00 having been pleased to find that our nice room included breakfast cost (only) 65euros. We took the country route towards Aix which was uphill bit delightful and through what was evidently the stockbroker belt for Aix. The houses were delightful. The poor guy who had to open his huge gates manually was clearly not a civic leader. The reward for 9 uphill was a long downward cruise into Aix. The city centre seems to look and feel like a smaller version of Paris. We were pleased that our route was basically downhill as this meant it was easier to negotiate the many turns and roundabouts through the traffic. As we left the city we stopped at a boulangerie/salle de the’ where e enjoyed an immaculate loo bought a very good sandwich and had the worst coffee of our trip.
We had chosen to go towards Brignoles via Trets, this was a great idea as almost all the route was along a cycle super highway which was separated from the road by a hedge. From the number of users it was well known and favoured by the locals
Pn the way into Trets we indulged in a Mcflurry and by wifi got the news that the kids were in the process of buying their tickets to visit us in the summer. Fr Trets another long steady uphill till we reached the D7N and a long steep uphill. All hills have tops – and from the top we were able to cruise to St Maximin. There we were able at last to buy new inner tubes (and a bottle of red) we thought that pushing on the 20km to Brignoles might be too much but were delighted to find that after an initially uphill drag, most of the way was a downhill cruise.
My technique of “head towards the centre and see what we find” failed on Brignoles and we had to walk uphill for 1km to find an Ibis near to the motorway junction.

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Sunday – Extra

I have failed to mention the dogs. Every house and farm is protected by a large dog whose job it is to run alongside as you pass the property, the constant barking makes sure you are warned not to enter. Once you pass by they sit back with a knowing grin as if to say “scared that pair off” I also forgot – as soon as we
Left Orange the buildings began to look as we expect in Provence -low , white or beige and airy with terracotta roofs. The hills nearby are white (ish) limestone topped with small scrubby bushes. In the afternoon we noticed that it even smelled like Provence. The wonderful mix of pine, dust and 2 stroke mix.

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Day 15 – Sun – From Orange

We enjoyed the international breakfast in the Best Western and having our panniers carried out to the bikes. As usual first thing in the morning Elaine raced along. After 30km in 90minutes she asked how far it was to Aix “60km” l replied – “oh we will be early then”. At that point things slowed down. Elaine checked every opening for a coffee shop and when we found one dawdled
because it was so nice. Immediately we left my front tyre went flat again. Worse l fitted a new (repaired) tube that also seemed not to hold pressure – so l fitted our last good spare. This was the first time we had been in this state and of course it was Sunday afternoon with all the shops shut. About 1.00 we lunched sitting on the steps of the was memorial in Cavaillion (the Algerian War). Then we started on the long gentle uphill ride towards Aix en Provence. I have noticed that Elaine slows down and complains more in the afternoon. Last week she was too cold and had a sore bum. This week she has sunstroke and a sore bum. (I am typing this and Paul is also suffering from a sore bum)!!! We did not make it to Aix. We stopped in Lambasc having cycled 80km and reduced the straight line distance pn Lola to 162km.
Finding a bed was not easy. Google led us to a hotel which from the sign on the door closed in 1450. But eventually we found a Chambre d’Hote in a farm house a couple of km out of town. The lady initially said no! She did not have a room – but as usual Elaine’s crestfallen look worked wonders and we sat in the sun drinking lemonade as she cleaned and set up the bedroom. Despite the worn farmhouse exterior, the interior was beautifully decorated and our room and bathroom were ultra modern and immaculately clean. I think the lady had Irish blood because she sent us off to a restaurant 1 to 1.5km up the road. 4km later we found it. In the middle of nowhere but buzzing with noisy customers and good reasonably priced food.

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The end of week 2

This seems to have been a week of not quite getting there. I’m still not sure we will make it to Monaco by the end of the 18th who cares!! We are actually having a great time the weather is now wonderful and if we cannot cycle there we will be near enough to take a taxi. Lola says there is still 216 straight line km to cover in the next 5 days with no buffers built in. Should be do able but there are lots of hills to come.

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Day – Sat – Downhill all the way

We were ripped off last night. The Hotel de la Valeee was 69 euros for the room and 25euros each for dinner. This was fine but we asked for tap water and were served Evian at 6euros. We had a pastis and were charged 5euros each. A veru mediocre breakfast wad 10euros each. Total bill was 175euros. The owner was very friendly chatty and clearly struggling to keep a float. We were the only guests. But the view across the Rhone to the far snowcapped mountains made it almost worthwhile.
In the morning we were on the road before 9.00. The road followed the river gently downhill for mile after mile. By 11.00 we were 30km down the road and had already had our morning coffee. The quiet road eventually met the N7 but as it was a Saturday , there were few big trucks and there was a nice space behind the white lines for the cyclists (except when the road narrowed then the cyclists space disappeared). There were no convenient picnic tables along the N7 so we ate lunch bought from the patisserie near the coffee shop standing up.
Shortly after lunch, the expensive puncture proof inner tube l had fitted proved its worth. It went flat in the space of 20m. The green slim it was filled with did 2 things – It enabled me to locate the piece of glass stuck through the tyre and it blocked up tje value making it impossible to deflate and pack for later repair.
We continued our rapid and almost painless progress and eventually approached Orange. Elaine’s complaints about the pain in her backside finally convinced me to stop on Orange rather than going 10km to Chateauneuf-de-Pape (who wouldn’t want to go there?) we those the Best Western in the city centre (132euros before we start) but it had a wonderful 30degree indoor pool. Before we tried the pool l marched off to find wine and crisps. There is not room in the city for grocery shops. It is full of restaurants. All seem to be full of young people sitting outside enjoying the warm sunshine. The Roman remains are quite spectacular. Very complex, very complete and dating back from 100a.d.
After 2 circuits of the city l was returning to admit defeat when l found the siesta was over and there was now an open grocery 20m from the hotel.
We wondered around the old city and chose a restaurant virtually at random. It was surreal – enjoying a bottle of Vin Pink and a well cooked steak whilst looking at the Romany Wall and thinking the people have been sitting eating dinner here for 2000 years. Then being disturbed as a 1300cc Japanese motor bike comes through the square and the girl on the back has a skirt that ……
Whilst wandering round we found an art shop with a painting of a Porsche – it looks like the price is 219euros but it may be 2190euros. We will go back in the morning and review when sober.

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Day 13 – Friday

Following my cunning plan we cycled south from Rousillion then west across the Rhone (yes l know it is the wrong way) to find the ViaRhone – we failed. But the road along the west bank was wonderful,gentle downhill slope and little traffic. After about 20km we stopped for coffee and shortly found signs for the cycle route. This promptly lead us back to the eastern bank dropped us on the busy N7 and disappeared. Crossing the river had upset Elaine because she had seen McDonalds advertised in Tournon and developed an insatiable craving. Fortunately we found another bridge and crossed in time to join every school child for 100 miles in a smart new McDonalds.
This afternoon was not quite so good as the morning. The headwind was strengthening and some fool had put a few uphill stretches on the road.
For the very time we were able to take off our jackets – this did present a problem – as we have removed layers, the bags have got increasingly full and ate now at bursting point.
We made it to La Voulte Sur Rhone for a 4.00pm stop on a nice (60euro) hotel on the banks pf the river.

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Day 12 – Thursday

It is amazing how there is always something to slow us down. As we tried to leave l found my front tyre was flat again. We chattered to last night’s hostess as l replaced the inner tube
The road into Lyon was still downhill but in order to miss the hills that crowd the city we had to go almost into the centre before turning south. Then it was a matter of staying alive in the busy city traffic and being sure we were going in the right direction. We eventually reached Grigny where we crossed the Rhone on a wonderfully rickety old iron bridge

Two English cyclists crossed the Rhone
Parlez Vous
Two English cyclists crossed the Rhone
Parlez Vous
Paul is looking at Lola, Elaine’s on the phone
Inky Pinky Parlez Vous

Getting to Vienne seemed to take forever. We lunched while sheltering from a shower in a bus shelter. The road ran alongside either the river or the motorway or both and the headwind was increasingly strong.
Getting through Vienne was worse the city is old, beautiful and a solid traffic jam. Lola led us through pedestrian areas full of nice shops but we would have been better sticking to the side of the main road.
Somewhere in there my back tyre went flat and l put in a “puncture proof” tube l had bought during the ride south from Lyon.
Back alongside the river on the way to Rousillion, the wind was now so strong we were down to 3kph in the gusts.
Tired again we reached “Le Peage de Rousillion” Elaine went into an Aldi for a large bag of crisps and a bottle of red. 2.85euros – we know how to do quality!!
The main street was 12ft wide lined with small shops and bustling with people. It was very down market. In the middle was a hotel we had seen advertised. For the first time in my life l said no (non) when shown the bedroom
Fortunately the Europa a small business hotel was just 1km further in Roussillon itself.
My main task of the evening is to plot the detailed route for the next day. I was having trouble finding a way south which avoided both hills and main roads. Then i spotted a mention of the ViaRhona in a tourist brochure. This cycle path allegedly ran all the way along the Rhone to Marseilles.

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Private: Day 11 – How many hills are there

Having cycled miles uphill the evening before, we hoped for a long, pleasant downhill cruise to start the day. For the first time l got my legs out – shorts- no hat and no gloves. We did get 2km downhill – followed by a stretch flat enough to cycle. (The name of the town Montagny might have given us a clue). The scenery in this area is glorious. Rolling, green hills with small woods, hedges and houses scattered around. In the fields were lots of “Essex Girls” – Tan horses with neatly cut long, blonde, fringes.
From Montagny we decided the traffic on the main road was tolerable and we pedalled along to Thizy where we walked alongside the main road up a 9per-cent gradient for 2km. We were rewarded by a steep downhill immediately followed by another 2km long trudge uphill.Around 12.00 we enjoyed a coffee in Amplepuis and set off for Tarare. We were able to cycle the first 1/2km but then walked the next 6. At the top the sign said 743m altitude. For once we had a long,long downhill cruise through the busy town of Tarare. As we cycled alongside the river, l realised that it must be a tributory of the Rhone and it might be downhill all the way through Lyon.Fool! Our luck held all the way to L’Abreste where we tried to book into a hotel. Sorry full. All Lola’s offerings were in the wrong direction so we decided to press on towards Marcu L’Etoila. As soon as we started , the hill started. But after 1/2 mile we spotted a Chambre d’hote sign the first on our trip in a real house. But she too said “full”. Perhaps l should not have put on the shorts!!We left and turned the corner to see the hill continued very steeply straight up the main street of the village and on afterwards and on and on. It was now approaching 6.00. We were tired and it was hard pushing the bikes. By the time we reached the top we were around 500m again. At the point meet the D7 showing 20k to Lyon and although the road was busy there was an excellent cycle lane painted along the edge. We resorted to google on the iphone and found a Chambre d’Hote 3 away in the right direction and it was downhill all the way. We were a bit shocked to be told it was a suite and cost 130euros – but we ate near the big city. We cycled down into the village (Lentilly) and stopped at the first eatery we found. More very good salad and Pizza. The bikes felt very light cycling back up the hills with no luggage to carry.

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Day 11 – How many hills are there

Having cycled miles uphill the evening before, we hoped for a long, pleasant downhill cruise to start the day. For the first time l got my legs out – shorts- no hat and no gloves. We did get 2km downhill – followed by a stretch flat enough to cycle. (The name of the town Montagny might have given us a clue). The scenery in this area is glorious. Rolling, green hills with small woods, hedges and houses scattered around. In the fields were lots of “Essex Girls” – Tan horses with neatly cut long, blonde, fringes.
From Montagny we decided the traffic on the main road was tolerable and we pedalled along to Thizy where we walked alongside the main road up a 9per-cent gradient for 2km. We were rewarded by a steep downhill immediately followed by another 2km long trudge uphill.Around 12.00 we enjoyed a coffee in Amplepuis and set off for Tarare. We were able to cycle the first 1/2km but then walked the next 6. At the top the sign said 743m altitude. For once we had a long,long downhill cruise through the busy town of Tarare. As we cycled alongside the river, l realised that it must be a tributory of the Rhone and it might be downhill all the way through Lyon.Fool! Our luck held all the way to L’Abreste where we tried to book into a hotel. Sorry full. All Lola’s offerings were in the wrong direction so we decided to press on towards Marcu L’Etoila. As soon as we started , the hill started. But after 1/2 mile we spotted a Chambre d’hote sign the first on our trip in a real house. But she too said “full”. Perhaps l should not have put on the shorts!!We left and turned the corner to see the hill continued very steeply straight up the main street of the village and on afterwards and on and on. It was now approaching 6.00. We were tired and it was hard pushing the bikes. By the time we reached the top we were around 500m again. At the point meet the D7 showing 20k to Lyon and although the road was busy there was an excellent cycle lane painted along the edge. We resorted to google on the iphone and found a Chambre d’Hote 3 away in the right direction and it was downhill all the way. We were a bit shocked to be told it was a suite and cost 130euros – but we ate near the big city. We cycled down into the village (Lentilly) and stopped at the first eatery we found. More very good salad and Pizza. The bikes felt very light cycling back up the hills with no luggage to carry.

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Day 10 – Tuesday

The day did not start well. We woke to find it was pissing it down. By the time we had eaten breakfast it had slowed to a drizzle. By the time we had changed into waterproofs and loaded the bikes it had almost stopped.
I had worried a lot about the route for the next couple of days as there were lots of mountains to clear before we dropped down to Lyon. There was the main valley but this was full of the autoroute and busy roads. So l had carefully plotted a route to the N and E of Roanne with lots of village waypoints. Even plotting the route l knew we had trouble – the map marked a “pass” between Lapalaisse and the first village. We rode and walked uphill for a full 10km. Then enjoyed descending to a wide valley with rolling countryside. Occasional walks but mostly we could ride (slowly) up the hills. The weather was as ever changing mix of threatening clouds and brilliant sunshine. We did find that all the hills had made us very tired and we stopped in a hilltop village after only 60km. The sign led us to a chambre d’hote/gite and the owner was reluctant to let us stay because it had not been cleaned and she could not offer us dinner. I looked sufficiently crestfallen and she said ok. She rushed off to make up a bedroom and left us to look round. It is magnificent – an old barn converted regardless of the cost to 6 en suite bedrooms and a huge dinning room and lounge. We walked a few meters back to the grocery store and bought the makings of a simple dinner. We felt even better as we sat watching Indiana Jones on the 40″ TV and the rain began in earnest.

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Monday Extra

God Bless Maggie She saved the UK

I forgot to mention the wind has changed direction it is now from the NW. Still not warm but no longer biting cold. Also very exciting Lola says we are now nearer Monaco than Le Havre.

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Day 9 – monday

Thank God Elaine surfaced from sleep to say she felt better. She insisted on having the panniers back on her bike. We were now into serious up and downs 1 minute high speed downhill followed by 15 minutes trudge uphill. But all the time we kept getting higher. The cattle in the fields were replaced by sheep and eventually by Llamas.

Then at last we turned downhill and had a wonderful few miles down into Saint Pourcain. We spotted a cafe/bar and were amazed to find it full to bursting with lunching workmen. 50 minutes later and several hundred calories later we were back on the road. The 15km journey to Billy was flat with a tail wind and would have been wonderful but for the rain. It started slow, then got heavy enough we had to put on waterproofs. By the time we had them on it had stopped. Three times in 15km!! After Billy the hills started again, and the rain. We sheltered for 30 minutes in a football pavilion. Eventually we joined the N7. Major mistake it must be the busiest road in France. After a few km l decided we had to get off the road. While we were examining the map we had another rainstorm. Just 500m down the road was a junction where we could get onto country roads.At the junction Elaine spotted a Relais which was open but refused to give us a room. To help matters l noticed my front tyre was again flat. So dripping rain l fitted the last new inner tube. 10km mostly downhill later we were in Lapalaisse and found a rundown looking hotel who provided, a nice room, a rubbish shower and a stunningly good meal (16eurs for 3 excellent courses).

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Day 8 – sunday

Dinner on Saturday night was simply the best I have ever eaten. If you are passing anywhere near change your route and schedule so you can eat at La Goute Noir in Chateaumeillant. We choose the option with just an entree and a main. This was not easy as the menu was in “Gourmandais” basically we could not understand a word. We did understand and choose the option for an extra 14euros, they would provide appropriate wine with each course. Did l say two courses, it was if you exclude the crab starter, the cold soup (consumed through a straw) the cheese course and the desert. The main was chicken stuffed with prunes. By the time we had finished that course Elaine was full. She refused cheese. I may forgive her for turning down the excellent Champagne with desert, but not soon.
As soon as we started to ride it was clear that Elaine was still not well. Very slow and unable to ride the smallest incline. And the countryside had lots of inclines. It warmed up around 10.30 and l even took off my hat. But an hour later it went back on again. We turned off the D943 onto a very nice road which sloped gently downhill for 4km. Along the way we stopped to eat our baguette and afterwards had an enjoyable game of “refold the Space Blanket”. Eventually the road dropped steeply and we raced down to cross the River Cher. Life changed quickly the road up from the river was by far the steepest we had met so far. The temperature had fallen and l added a 5th layer (t short,cycle shirt,t shirt,sweatshirt and cycle jacket.) By the time we reached (walked to) the Elaine was exhausted. I felt quite at home with the landscape and the scenery looked just like Derbyshire except they had hedges instead of stone walls.
I finally had a bright idea and took both her bags onto the front panniers of my bike. This seemed to help a lot. I had chosen Bizeneuille as a destination for Lola because it kept us off the busy roads but also because it was in the top left hand corner of my SE France map. That was probably the only thing to recommend the place! We asked Lola for a place to stay and she showed a “Relais” 11km away. It took us just under an hour to get there. There were shutters open but no sign of life. The phone number from Lola was out of service, we called the number on the door, ” Le Relais est Termin’ee. As we were making the call, a lady walking her dog told us there was a chambre d’hote back on the village – and there it was. They were open, friendly and had a room. It was probably best to say the evening meal was a contrast to the night before. Elaine looked at the main course and decided it was time for bed.

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Summary of the First Week

So where are we after the first week? 492km on my cycle computer sat we are very close to the 72km average we need- but we have not got to the hills yet. So far we have not had insurmountable problems finding accommodation.
The weather has been incredibly cold and for the last couple of days very grey and misty. This saps energy and enthusiasm. But it could have been much worse. We have had little rain and the wind had been mostly on our backs. Two punctures – both inu front tyre – no mechanical problems – no lasting medical problems. We have not even spent too much money. We are still on course to achieve our goal – so far so good .

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Day 7 – Saturday – to Chateaumeillant

Elaine slept all evening while l had a 4 course “menu” in the excellent but very expensive restaurant of the Logis. The chef/hotel manager was entertaining – very fat and determined to tell you how good the food was. The bikes had been brought inside – inside his 300 capacity function room. I went to bed not knowing if we would be continuing in the morning or arranging transport to get home. Elaine surfaced around 6.30am and whilst she did not feel good she was improving and able to continue.
As we were up early we planned to load the bikes, go into breakfast at 8.00 and be on our way. No chance at 8.00 the function room was locked with the bikes inside. So was the bar – so were all the shutters. By 8.30 there was someone to say breakfast would be at 9.00. Iy was good but at 11euros each very expensive as we had nothing but coffee and baguette with jam.finally we rescued the bikes and left just before 10.00am. Elaine really was not good but she struggled bravely and slowly on. The countryside was different again, still rolling up and down but the downs and ups were much steeper. Instead of huge fields of crops we now saw sheep and white (Lomousine?) cattle that looked just like big sheep.we were again on wonderfully quiet country roads but it was 40km before we could find a coffee stop. Elaine could not even manage the coffee. We managed another 15km to Chateauxmeullent and as we could see little possibility of accommodation further along our route decided to stop here . The signposts lead us to Le Goute Noir Hotel and Restaurant. The place looks very expensive and classy but once inside our small and very pretty room the sign said 59euros for 2 with just 19euros each for “demi pension” having viewed the very attractive restaurant Elaine decided she might just be well enough to try eating dinner.

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Day 6 – Friday – Not a good day

We woke to the telly telling us about snow disrupting travel in Normandy. We could tell – it was dry but very grey and bitterly cold. From the start Elaine did not feel good. Tired, headache, upset tummy – a real pleasure to be with. We had succeeding in persuading Lola to tale us on quiet roads and on a nice day, with Elaine feeling well, it would have been a pleasure to ride across the wooded , rolling countryside. The downside of the quiet roads is the lack of coffee stops. Elaine was shaking with the cold before we found a tiny cafe in Brion. She would have gladly spent the day curled up under the table, but l bullied her on. 7km later in La Champoise, Zak’s restaurant was serving lunch for 12euros, so we went in just to get warm for a while – l sort of enjoyed the “beef tounge” with mashed swede” but Elaine felt to ill to eat anything. The map showed a Logis at Neavy -Pailloux just 7km further – with a mixture of bullying , walking and pushing we arrived here around 14.00. Elaine made full use of the bathroom by throwing up and has been in bed asleep eversince. This has given me the chance to get up to day (on paper) for the first time on the trip. I now need to work out how to add photos to the blog and start to key all this text into the iphone.

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Day 5 -thursday – Blois to Valencay

The very friendly hotel manager and her husband served us breakfast – again we took a contribution of butter and cheese towards our lunch. For the first time we left off our thermal tights but kept on our sweaters hats and gloves. Bu the time I had loaded the panniers and blown up the tyres it was 9.30am.
Lola led us to the wonderful medieval bridge over the Loir and we (inevitably) walked up the hill out of town. The road was again too busy for comfort. Lola did her best – leading us 1km down a quiet road to a sign saying – “closed”. Follow signs to the new entrance to the Chateau”. So we had to retrace our path back to the busy road. After another 10km l had decided we meed to het a map and put in more waypoints to keep Lola off the main roads. – Perhaps l should explain that Lola can’t be seen, she sits in my top pocket and issues her commands loudly enough for Elaine to hear them too.
We turned into a nice tourist village (Coudray?) and we were able to get good coffee, quiches for lunch and a beautifully smooth, relatively quiet road towards Selles Sur-Cher – Vierzon was just down the road but we were not going there.
As soon as we crossed from Loire and Cher into Indre district we saw our first vines we also felt the first drops of rain! Gentle at first, it slowly got heavier and we added our waterproof trousers to our many layers of clothes . We stopped at a Super-U outside Valencay and bought a bottle of Vouvery crisps and 3.5km to the cm map of SE France. On leaving the store, the rain was seriously heavy so at 3.30 we gave in for the day.

We followed the signs to ‘centre ville and hotels’ to the Lion d’Or. It looked a bit tired but we were given a surprisingly large and clean room. We recuperated from the rain by showering and drinking the fizz (before it got warm). Then we went to look for a restaurant – it was peeing it down and it was freezing! 2 minutes later we were back inside asking if we could eat at the hotel. No – but there is a place 80km round the corner. There was and it was good – pizza for me and tagliatelle for Elaine (possibly a mistake) and we were again in bed by 8.30pm.

Day 4 – Wed – Dangeux to Blois

We had wondered how she would be able to find bread for breakfast. She had made it herself – thick 6inch x 8 inch doorsteps. Toasted – because they had come from the freezer – she also provided home made yoghurt along with ham, cheese,honey and jam. Once again we were well stuffed before we left. It was another bright and sunny but cold day – with brisk wind pushing us along. Once again we alternated between D’ roads with too much traffic and too little room and D’ roads with no traffic and wide open fields. What we did notice was how many villages (and hamlets) had boulangeries and bars were closed shutters and “a vendre”. We also found it surprising that even the small towns seemed incredibly quiet with no one walking on the streets.
Eventually we arrived on the outskirts of Blois and were delighted to escape from the traffic onto a cycle lane. After visiting an E.Leclerc to but crisps,biscuits and a bottle of red, we rolled down the hill into the ancient, large and busy city of Blois. Confused by the competing directions for the city centre, hptels and Lola we seemed to be going in circles, so we stopped at the first hotel we saw – not a good choice – tiny room even smaller pillow and no-one (I mean no-one no staff and no other guests) after 6.00pm. We enjoyed walking round the old town but were not impressed by the choices of eateries – all seemed to be “fast food” rather than long slow evening meal. We ended up in a very nice pizza place close to our hotel .

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Day 3 -Stage 2

It is amazing just how empty France is, miles of road with nothing but well tended fields in sight. You can always see the villages in the distance because the steeples stand out. We passed through Illiers-Combray and Elaine spotted a tourist office. They happily provided a district map and we thought we could reach Chateaudun but the road signs said 28km – too far! The map said we could get a bed and meal in Dangeux but when we for there the village was closed. Everything except the bar! The owner said we would find a B & B 3km to the west. It was straight into the wind. So we walked most of the way – to a tiny hamlet with a B & B. The elderly lady owner showed us to a self contained flat lounge kitchen and bathroom downstairs and bedroom upstairs. Is there anything to eat. Non! The restaurant is closed today. The grocer will be open now so you can go and buy food and cook for yourself.Cycle back to the village – easy with luggage the back again. Elaine cooked, we ate well and drank and slept the sleep of the deserving.

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Day 3 Dreux to Dangeux

At last i may be able to catch up. I have been writing each entry on paper and struggling to enter it on to the blog because of mo wifi on our hotels and the difficulty of entering on to the WordPress website. I have just worked out how to enter into the phone using Notes and also found the WordPress app which makes input from the phone much easier.
It is now saturday -day 7 and I am about to enter day 3 but things should now get better.

What a difference a day makes!!

Not sure how but the hotel provided a nice French breakfast with fresh croisants and pain choclat. We also helped ourselves to a few spare pats of butter.
When we set off, the wind was behind us, the sun was out but it was bitterly cold. Lola started in her Dalek mode, “recalculate, recalculate, recalculate”, but settled down to lead us through the back streets of the old town and inevitably uphill to exit the town. We rolled quickly along as far as Logron on quiet empty country roads, but from therethe road was very busy. After 20km we stopped for a coffee in Chateauneuf en Thymerais. I sat outside in the warm sunshine as Elaine shopped for cheese, tomato and a baguette. another easy 20 km and it wastime for another coffee and lunch (Courville sur Eure). The guy in the bar played the old French game of Fleece the Tourists. 5 euro for 2 coffees ! In the same village we found a pretty park by a river and enjoyed our sandwich.

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Day 2 stage 3

The first half of the 8km was fine it was still warm and the wind was helping. But then the road turned uphill and the wind. We were very slow with many stops.
The final 2 were terrifying. A narrow very fast dual carriageway with no hard shoulder and an incredible amount of bank holiday traffic. We gave in and walked the last part on the grass verge. This time Lola took us unerringly through a large retail/business park and straight to the door of the Stars Hotel.
This bore the welcoming sign “Hotel ferme”. WHAT!!!
We found a bell to push and a manager appeared. Yes the hotel was closed but he did have a room for
us. (It. Is France – don’t expect logic).
A quick shower later, we walked across to a nearby Chinese restaurant. During the very good dinner,Elaine happened to mention once or twice that i had made her ride 93km that day.

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Day 2 stage 2

So as we set off after lunch it was clear that there was no possibility of Elaine making it was far as Dreux. Our mood did not improve as we walked up the long hill put of town. At the top we followed the green sign for Dreux and sound found ourself on the N164. This was not a motorway but it might well have been. Two Lanes pd traffic doing mph and us riding along the hard shoulder. We think the people who tooted at us were giving encouragement but they may well have been saying “get the hell out of there” It was around 10km before we were able to take an exit travelling due south with the wind behind us but as Elaine was knacked and we did not see a “Chambre D’ Hote”sign for a while we decided to ask Lola to find a hotel.The best she could offer was 8km ahead, so off we went. Only to find a beautiful display of locked shutters. Tears ensued. With no option, we set off once more. After 1km or so ee realised that this hotel was not in th direction we wanted to go. So we looked for lola’s next idea. This choice was south of us but another 8km away. Then i had a brainwave. Lola not only gave directions, she gave phone numbers too. “Hello, are you open tonight? Oui, Monsieur.

Merci,au revoir. “
When we arrived in the village, we followed Lola’s instructions. “Turn left and find destination on right”. What there was,was a 12 foot high stone wall! “This must be the back of the hotel, if we go a little further along the main street, we will get to the front”. Oh no we did not. Lpla had correctly guided us to accompdation, but it was a camp site!!  The manager was sympathetic but unable to help. She had nowhere we could sleep. “You mist go another 8 km to Dreux”. She did help by providing the address of the nearest of the hotels. We called  and confirmed that  room was available.

 

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Day 2 ST-ELoi to Dreux

Breakfast at the manoir was like dinner basic but filling and tasty. By 9.00am we were pn the bikes and on our way.  The morning should have been fun. Sure was a Voir Verte –  basically an old railway track with a smooth asfelt surface all the way to Eureux. But!! The Wind – The Wind we battled against a strong headwind all the way. The 25 miles took 31/2 hours. We looked forward to a good long refreshong lunch in Eureux but being Easter Monday it was closed.Elaine eventually found a kebab restaurant -immaculate and friendly bit the chiclenshe choose was horrible.

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Day 1 – Stage 2

Day 1 stage 2

The afternoon ride was ok. After crossing the Tankerville Bridge nice view but every car whooshing past at 80mph we went for a coffee at the Light House Restaurant – non – we are a restaurant not a bar! so we pedalled on past beautiful noises old and new. Anticipating trouble on Easter Sunday we had packed bacon sandwiches which we ate without sitting down at the top of a small hill. Eventually we arrived in Pont Audmer and met the other cyclist from the ferry – he was a lightweight – only going to Paris – but so far as we could see he was planning to camp en route – in O degrees!!

We bought coffee in a bar – or was it a bookmakers and sat outside to drink it. Yes outside – someone had to watch the bikes. lamb planned 49.6 miles were achieved without too much trouble – but several hills were walked rather than cycled. St Eloi de Fourques had at least 20 houses and the Manior de Hermwas s ad isolated about 1.5k from the village. The sign post to the Manior were excellent but as we cycled through the broken down gates up the driveway we suspected a close resemblance to Castle Dracula. The Manior itself did not dispel our trepidation – but M.Patrice Noel-Winsor led us to a brand new barn conversion with a delightful modern bedroom. Is there anywhere we can eat? I’m not site they will be open! Elaine’s face at that point was a wonder to behold. I will askmy wife if she can do anything said M. He can back 10 minutes later to say Ham Eggs cheese bread yogurt and local cider 12euros each is that ok!!! Which it was andvery good. The meal was served in the old house which hadneen in the Windsor family since 1789. We were in bed and fast asleep by 8.30pm.

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Day 1 Le Havre to Saint-Eloi-de-Fourques

Once out of the docks we set Lola then went into the centre of Le Havre to find a bank. This was complicated by the fact that Paul had forgotten to load the Velomap of France  as we were trying to navigate using the Velomap of England.  We finally got some money and set off  towards the Tankerville Bridge  using the Garmin map of France.  Again, this was not as easy as shophouses have been because Paul had set the Garmin to avoid tolls.

We were several hilly miles NE before sorting that out and setting off in the right direction. We have seen snow on the side of the road, the weather has been sunny most of the day but still cold.

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The voyage

After a very nice dinner at Bertie’s Pat and Mike dropped us off at Portsmouth to catch the 11.00pm ferry.  We were very impressed with the cabin despite the Captain saying it was going to be a rough crossing we didn’t feel a thing.  Breakfast was expensive and crap but did provide fuel for the journey.  We enjoyed cycling past the long line of cars waiting for passport control.

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Packing

“It is amazing how much you can get in these bags. I have got in everything I wanted and still have some room.”  Elaine actually said this. Then she found more stuff and before we left we had everything but very little spare room.photo2

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It turned out that the bikes would not fit in the back of my estate car. At least not without removing wheels and loosening handlebars etc. So we borrowed a strap on rack so that we could transport us, our luggage and the bikes down to Portsmouth.

We are due to sail at 11:00 pm Saturday evening – so we are setting the mood by going out to early dinner at Berties in Romsey. Stephan and Pat and Mike Kelly are joining us, then Mike will drive us down and bring the car back home.

Elaine will take over entries from now on ‘cos they will be made from her iPhone and my fingers don’t work with those silly little things.

Posted in 2013 – Le Havre to Monte Carlo

The Isle of Wight

After our successful Beaulieu trip, I suggested that we needed to go on an overnight trip, doing 40 miles on successive days, in order to check that we could carry sufficient stuff to be able to stay overnight in a hotel. “Good Idea” says Elaine “there is an offer on Groupon, £100 for Dinner bed and breakfast at a big hotel in Sandown on the Isle of Wight. There is also a free pedicure and facial thrown in”. So  we went ahead and booked for the 12 March. It is 60 miles round the island and 10 miles to the IoW ferry from Romsey so we would get our 80 miles in 2 days. Problem is that Sandown is not in the middle of the route so we would have to do 50 the first day and 3o the next.

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Can you remember the 12 March? A howling gale from the North East and many roads on the island blocked by snow drifts. It was not bad at first . We set off at 7:30 and were at the Town Key at 8:30 where we were ushered onto the boat car deck before any of cars were allowed on board. Security conscious as ever, Elaine conscripted a crew member to ensure the bikes were not interfered with during the short voyage to Cowes. We began to get a little concerned listening to the other passengers discussing how they had heard of friends and relatives taking 4 hours to cover 2 miles the previous evening. “It won’t be a problem for us” I confidently asserted, “we are going to be near the coast, it will be warmer there”.

At first I seemed to be right, we were going round the island anti-clockwise and the NE wind helped blow us down towards Freshwater. We struggled up the hill from Freshwater and could see many spots where the wind had blown the snow off the fields and reduced the road to a single lane. As we pedaled along towards Blackgang, it got worse, there were 4 occasions where we had to walk the bikes through drifts that covered the road. We did feel good that we could get through and the lines of waiting cars and lorries could not.

The combination of wind, hills and walking through snow meant that we were behind schedule and Elaine was forced to phone the hotel and cancel her 6:00 appointment in the beauty salon. Still we eventually got there, not too tired and feeling quite triumphant. The hotel was OK if a little antiquated, the dinner was very good and the bottle of wine went down very easily.

Next morning, with a Full English to fortify us we loaded the panniers and set off for a much easier day – back to Cowes via Bembridge and Ryde. Today though, the wind certainly was not helping us, we were on the unsheltered coast and pedaling straight in to the wind. We also learned just how many very long, steep hills there are between Bembridge and Cowes. At one point I told Elaine that I could not believe how slow she was going, yes she said, I think a brake or something must be catching. Turned out she had a puncture, not dead flat but soft enough to make it hard work.  Once that was fixed we got on better and caught the 3:30 ferry back to Southampton.

The sleet, snow, rain that hit us along  Lee Lane just served to prove that our jackets were at least shower resistant.

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Before We Start

I’m not sure how but I managed to persuade Elaine early in 2012 that we should cycle across France and arrive in Monaco in time to watch the tennis.

I think it helped when I agreed that we should buy new bikes. After much research we decided on the Dawes Karakum. Cycle World in Romsey agreed to meet the best price I could find on the internet and the bikes duly arrived in April 2012. They are ideal touring bikes, big wheels with reasonably wide tyres and lots of gears (3 on the front and 9 on the back). The pannier holders (front and rear) are already built in. We started “training”, initially just 10 mile rides  but slowly increasing to occasional 20 miles.

More difficult was choosing appropriate pannier and saddle bags. The first bag we bought was for Elaine’s handle bars. That had to go because it automatically applied the front brake every time she turned the handlebars. Again with much help from the internet and Cycle World we acquired 2 36 litre bags and a saddlebag each.

The most difficult thing to organise was navigation, I had decided to use my Garmin car sat nav, but of course that needed an external battery and a lead to connect the sat nav to the battery. Problem was, when the battery was connected the sat nav thought it was connected to a computer and refused to do anything useful. Did you know there is a different lead required to supply just power instead of power and data? I do now!!

Eventually that got sorted and I started trying to work out a route. At this point I discovered OpenStreetMap.org and VeloMap.org. These websites provide free downloadable Garmin compatible maps of anywhere in the world. VeloMap was particularly useful because it shows bike routes and (very important) contours. So I was able to plan a route that avoids as many hills as possible.

Our trip to Florida before Christmas put a stop to training and when we got back the weather was sufficiently bad to keep it to a minimum. However we did manage to find the only warm day in February to manage a 40 mile ride to Beaulieu, Lyndhurst and Nomansland.

Posted in 2013 – Le Havre to Monte Carlo
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