To Montpellier

The smell of freshly baking croissants filled the air as another blue sky dawned. The cramps informed me that there would be no breakfast for me. I stayed in bed and left the others to their usual morning routine which involved food and nice things.

The country here is very flat indeed, fewer trees, far more reed beds and many small farms with guess what? Black bulls. There are lots of them and it seems the whole agronomy of this region is based on beef, horses and fruit. So imagine Redruth, but flatter, and with fewer tin mines and ugly people.

This was to be Grant’s last push to the line. About 40 odd miles to go in heat and on flat roads. As long as the fluids were taken there should be no problem.

We all eventually get away from Saints Maries later than usual and taking the correct roads we meet Grant late morning for liquid refreshment and an ice cream, I could manage that without requiring an ambulance.

Lunch was had (by the others) at a marina at a place called Carnon. I recognised it as a marina because of the sea and the boats. However the buildings on the quayside looked like poorly designed 1970’s Spanish hotels, except these were finished and did not smell of fish. You have not heard of Carnon because Thomas Cooke would not have the chutzpah to try and sell it to the Brits, even the Mancunians (apologies to Colin and Lee) would avoid this place as being a bit too common. This is the bit of the south of France that never appears in films, and so is still affordable.

We shared our ferry with a team of beautiful white Camargue horses, surreal, and I hoped the outlaw Josey Wales was not waiting on the other side of the bank. The lack of Bqr/Tabacs meant a longer than normal ride between breaks, passing through vineyards and the well preserved walled town. Across the salt fields of the Camargue a barge was being loaded with salt as I cycled by. Getting into real tourist country, with hotels built in the 70s inspired by Gerry Andersen, and Space 1999, just horrible lumps of concrete terraces, thankfully no union jack flags draped over the rails, however the Jack is big fashion here, if you want to look trendy, wear a top with a union jack on it.

The country here is very flat indeed, fewer trees, far more reed beds and many small farms with guess what? Black bulls. There are lots of them and it seems the whole agronomy of this region is based on beef, horses and fruit. So imagine Redruth, but flatter, and with fewer tin mines and ugly people. This was to be Grant’s last push to the line. About 40 odd miles to go in heat and on flat roads. As long as the fluids were taken there should be no problem.

We all eventually get away from Saints Maries later than usual and taking the correct roads we meet Grant late morning for liquid refreshment and an ice cream, I could manage that without requiring an ambulance.

Lunch was had (by the others) at a marina at a place called Carnon. I recognised it as a marina because of the sea and the boats. However the buildings on the quayside looked like poorly designed 1970’s Spanish hotels, except these were finished and did not smell of fish. You have not heard of Carnon because Thomas Cooke would not have the chutzpah to try and sell it to the Brits, even the Mancunians (apologies to Colin and Lee) would avoid this place as being a bit too common. This is the bit of the south of France that never appears in films, and so is still affordable.

With only 8 miles left to go and with a good amount of drugs inside me, I consider trying out the bike for the last few miles. So duly changed into my tour de france gear, Grant and I set off for Montpellier.


The last 8 miles to go, sun on our backs and a fresh wind in our faces. Route finding was easy, just follow the signs to Perols and Lattes, two small towns on the outskirts and keep to the cycle lane. We picked up a tram line near the coast only to discover that it goes straight to the heart of the city. Kirsten and Ann kept close in the car. The outskirts were just like any other city, a few out of town shopping areas (although there seemed precious little shopping going on) and the ubiquitous plane tree lining the road. These are the trees we have seen almost all the way down. I think they line the canal du midi and are planted deliberately to shade passing traffic whether it be bus, boat or bike.

We crossed a few roundabouts, negotiated a few traffic lights and saw in front of us the sign simply stating in black letters ‘Montpellier’. We have seen hundreds of similar the red edged fluorescent town signs along the way but this was the one that was to signal the end. And of course who should be stopped beside the sign to take pictures as we roll up? So with grins on our faces we stop, and the compulsory picture is taken (it is the law).

In one sense Montpellier was never the goal, the journey to Montpellier was. This was not a ‘means to an ends’ trip. The means was the end, the purpose was not to arrive but to go; to try and overcome niggles and doubts and little worries about aches, pains and mechanical breakdowns, to deal with the cold and the wet and the heat and the dry, to face the wind and to face down the wind, to let hills be our friends as well as our challengers, to double guess rain bearing clouds up ahead, to let the route find us as we found our way. The sign signalled the end of one road, but the beginning of another as we now have a better idea of what cycling can do and the challenges it throws up. I think we have achieved this. Even the dangerous cloudburst, and the illness cannot take anything away from the journey, they were part of the journey and it is trials and triumphs that have to go together otherwise it is all too easy. And of course it may have been all too difficult without Kirsten always being there.

All that was now required was to find the hotel in the city, and what a surprise the city is. The hotel is a chain, the Novotel, but the suites are large and very comfortable indeed. Not unlike the hotel in Lyon. This time we have a suite each.

The hotel is near the Place de L’Europe which is at one end of new development called Antigone which is on a Las Vegas grand scale. It is all broad boulevards and sweeping crescents of colonnaded buildings, festooned with Greco-roman statuary and neo classical architectural references. Fountains and cafes are shaded in the tree lined main avenue running from east to west to the Opera-Comedie in the old city. The old city of Montpellier and this new sister thus sit together, holding hands. Maybe the older sister resents the brashness, the newness, the confidence and the neoclassical style of her younger sister’s joie de vivre, maybe she is a little embarrassed and is afraid that little sister’s knickers are showing. I don’t think the younger sister thinks much at all about her older sibling who sits brooding 19th century classic gothic architecture which sits upon a medieval street pattern. This sister however knows she has class and has seen it all, and if you want Greco Roman references then she has some all of her own at the Place Royal de Peyrou, the highest point in the old city with a fantastic panorama. An old aqueduct (what have the Romans done for us) feeds into the Place, but sadly no water is visibly running. A statue of Louis XIV on horseback dressed up a Roman Emperor commands the central plane and views a Triumphal Arch, a smaller version of the the one in Paris or London (c’mon…Marble Arch!).

Our rest day today allows us to explore and although the new development is impressive in scale the old city is the real attraction. As we are about to stop for a mid morning cafe au lait we get talking to a woman who has lived in the old part for 50 years. Coming back from buying a ‘cake’, she stopped to chat as we took pictures. I asked her about the cake as it was wrapped in a very french patisserian mode, all bows and ribbons sort of thing. Maybe she is biased and the shock of the new is too much for her but she recommends seeing the old city, and staying there. I can’t say she was wrong. We discovered twisty turns old narrow streets among the five or six story buildings on either side. A shoppers heaven, housing many individually quirky establishments with very few chains in sight. They sell handbags and shoes here. And dresses. They are French.

We had a day ticket for the trams and which are the new sisters contribution to the party, but ‘Madame Montpellier’ does not let the lines, ahem, ‘enter’ her. They have to skirt the four edges of the old street pattern. Nonetheless as they are frequent, clean, air conditioned and easy to use. It makes coming and going in the heat a little easier.

Dinner tonight was steak for Grant while the three of were disappointed by a lovely looking but rather average tasting risotto. It was like going out on date with a pretty little thing only to find that the Chelsea girl exterior has an Essex girl mouth, all noise and no substance. It is good to know the French can get it so wrong. It may also be the case that we have been spoiled by the fish dishes that one can enjoy at home in Cornwall at my sisters house ‘chez Pentreeve’.

Time to pack away the bikes and reflect on a phenomenal two weeks of cycling and enjoying simple pleasures. some statistics :

  • Distance: 802.94 mi
  • Time: 74:06:00 h:m:s
  • Elevation Gain: 7,075 mtrs
  • Avg Speed: 10.8 mph
  • Calories: 45,013

Tarascon to Saints Maries de la Mer

Ben is not well last evening, and this morning his stomach cramps haven’t improved. So i am riding alone, thankfully Anne is here to take him in hand. The Ride was fast, really fast 45 miles in under 3 hours, assisted by a tail wind and good roads. 

Entered the Camargue national park to see the recognisable white horses, swarms of dragon flies, flamingoes and black bulls. After a head wind for the last 10 miles reached our destination, surprised to find the streets lined with waving people – surely not for me ? Correct, i arrived in the middle of of a Tourneau run, ie a bull run with a full festival celebrating Camargue culture – lots of bulls, proud men of white horses, and maidens in pretty frocks (a bit like flora day in Helston).  

After 850 miles we got to dip toes into the warm, blue sea, clear skies, a fresh breeze keeping down the temperature. 

Tonight dined on Camargue Bull steaks, Ben unfortunately still not well, and abstained.

Tomorrow is Montpellier, some 48 miles west of here, where we hang up of bike gloves and enjoy the moment.  

I have to admit a (small manly) tear crept into my eye as i finally reached the Med, tomorrow is the finish i trust it will be a good ride, though 48 miles of headwind could be a bugger.

Avignon to Tarascon

Another rest day of about 30 miles further into Provence. The hotel’s breakfast was shall we say disappointing? Imagine the offerings of your young child when they try to make you breakfast. I could not find a spoon and so ate my cereal with a small teaspoon. In any case I think I had a dose of something that did not agree with me and did not have an appetite anyway. Imagine, then the first coffee stop at Meynes. I were bloody starving. The people at breakfast according to Grant must have been northern european because they were fat. Very fat. France does not do much in the way of Fat. The jolly fat host maybe in a restaurant but that is it. So ipso facto these were Belgian. I did not think they allowed fat Belgians into a ‘premier classe’ hotel, which in any case is not a hotel but a series of porta-cabins in an industrial estate. To top it all we saw an empty syringe in the car park. Lyon, with it’s 5 star facilities, feels a long long long time ago. 

As this was a very short day we ambled on tiny roads through the very rural countryside. The Rhône valley has widened considerably but one could still see the limestone cliffs to the West. This was farmland producing fruits as well as corn and other agricultural things which I don’t recognise but think I have eaten. What remains of sunflowers have moved to the bowed heads stage, losing their bright yellow petals which now are resembling the brown cassocks of monks walking slowly to prayer. There were wafts of herbs and other flowery stuff, and another nuclear power station, as we slipped quietly through the lanes. We saw the yellow van of Madame La Poste making her slow rounds. This has been a common sight all the way down. Only us and La Poste are on the roads.

On the way we met some beautiful white “Camargue” horses who were more than happy enough to pose for us, then onwards for a simple coffee at a bar more reminiscent of Spain than France.

We are in Bull fighting country, and the French dialect is so strong none of us can understand a word the locals are saying.

About 2 kms outside of Maynes we came to a junction with no signs to the village. A farmer sat on his tractor pulled up and enquired about our destination. “toute droit” (straight ahead) said he, and you know what, he was right ! Damn clever these French bucolic types and he did not have a sat nav either! On entering the village it looked like one of those settlements that consist of houses running alongside a road but bugger all else. We nearly gave up but Grant suggested just a hundred yards more, et voilà there was the tiny square with its boulangerie, pharmacie, bar tabac and a coiffure. This is a law in France. Where two or three people are gathered together, there must be these services and they cannot overlap. So, no buying pain au chocolate in the cafe bar and no getting your hair cut in the Bakers.

By 1200 ish we rolled into Tarascon, having stopped to admire the scenery once or twice as we crossed the Rhône and it’s ‘barrages’. The temperature had climbed to 34 at one point so this is no place for shrinking violets. Thankfully pulling into the hotel we garage our bikes and look for lunch. However, the dicky tummy kicks in and I have lost my appetite. Don’t even fancy beer. So I go to the room and try to sleep for a few hours. I am awoken by the blasting of car horns as a horse drawn carriage of a wedding party pulls past the window.

Ann arrives in Avignon at about 1950 ish and we drive to the airport to pick her up. While waiting for her plane to arrive I notice an old Typhoon single engined propeller plane, dating from the second world war, take off. It was in full Royal Navy livery of dark blue. The sight and sound was from a war film but of course in real life…also in Avignon? The airport is smaller than Newquay, and I guess the only reason there’s an airport here is to ferry wine loving Londoners to Provence to enable them to pick up their chateau de plonk. Just as Ann’s plane arrives the typhoon flies over again, this time Grant sees it. Don’t tell anyone, but I felt the odd lump in my throat seeing Ann arrive.

As we had not eaten, except for Ann who had a pasty on the way to Exeter, we needed to get back to Tarascon. The car was swiftly parked and we sat down at an eatery next to the hotel. My appetite had not improved and at the restaurant I started feeling quite fatigued, getting visual disturbances and quite heady. Dehydration, following an earlier bout of diarrhoea and inadequate fluid intake on the road, was kicking in so I went to bed before the end of the meal and required the taking of a few sachets of sugar salts. What I did not realise then that this was dehydration secondary to a) the bleeding obvious and not drinking anywhere near enough on the bike but also b) a case of gastroenteritis.

We stayed tonight in Tarascon (with its sister Beaucaire across the Rhône), both are small medieval towns of great character and history. It is a relief to be in a real hotel again, and today being a rest and repair day for our muscles, hopefully this will give us vigour for the push the to coast tomorrow.

Bollene to Avignon

Expecting a short but very hilly 30 mile day to Avignon. the first 20 miles will see us climb 1700 feet into Orange then to the town of Chateauneuf-Du-Pape (I think we’ve all drank some wine from there at some point in life, so why not go there for a…coffee). Let’s hope the legs are okay from yesterday, both Ben and I are feeling a little sore, more from the heat and time in the saddle than the exertion.

In the event, we decided to use the Avignon ‘Bis’ route via Pont St. Esprit, which took us to the west side of the river, a very welcome 37 miles downstream. Now it is easy to get complacent, what to comment upon when you are riding such a glorious area. Birds of Prey aplenty, stops for coffee in small provincial towns (in Provence by the way), gliding passed the Rhône, vineyards, Chateauneuf-Du-Pape and duck croissant a l’Orange.

My legs are telling me that they worked hard yesterday. The ‘hotel’ in Bollène laughingly called itself ‘petit’ dej’ which means ‘breakfast’. Now, if I called my establishment ‘breakfast’, which is almost a boast, I would ensure the coffee beans were ground there and then, the cornflakes were harvested from the field of corn nearby, I’d offer roast hog, foie gras and dancing girls without tassels. You can see where I am going with this one can’t you? Last night when we arrived there was a ‘troupe’ (is that the right word?) of German Bikers on Harley Davidsons. They had all shopped at the ‘Gear for German bikers R Us’ which, as you know, throws in a free pair of dungarees with every 100 euros spent. The beards were their own. They had left early this morning. I don’t think they could face a breakfast of such ineptitude without feeling the need the crack chicken necks. Let’s hope the ‘premier classe’ in Avignon lives up to its name.

We set off in what is for southern France cool ish weather but it soon heated up. The limestone hills of the Rhône valley are actually cliffs at many points rising vertically from the valley floor. We passed a huge nuclear power station but we are ok. I checked my cojones this pm and they do not glow.

Phew! Coffee was at a pretty little village called Caderousse. We sat outside in the shade of a tree at a cafe in the village square ‘comme les autres’ and watched the world go by. We said our ‘bonjour, Messieurs Dames’ like the locals. This is always said when entering any establishment, be it cafe, pharmacy, local shop. I think it is why they think us rude for not saying it. Taffy Jones, my old English teacher, told me that factoid many years ago, he was not wrong. They still do it. At this time of day (late morning) it seems only the old come out to play. I watched as one Msr turned up on an old bike for his morning bonjours and a coffee, another wearing a beret to do the same. Joy. Madame sat at a table nearby and just watched the dust settle in the sunlight. A Porsche Carrera slowly drove past and Msr waved to Madame. Perhaps he was arranging a secret triste, for some joie de vivre counting on the cachet his Porsche gave him. Perhaps he was just picking up cream for his Chalfonts. Such was our morning.

The road to Avignon was another dream along the river. We saw kite like birds, one of which was fishing like an osprey. Do kites fish? The railway line again followed us into town. We got there at about 12 ish but found our ‘hotel’ at about 1330 ish. This place is on an industrial estate out of town and the sat nav took us to some weird wasteland places, so waste land we thought that this could not possibly be the place. Turned out it was a short cut to the estate. Hotels calling themselves premier class ought to…..but you know the rest. Suffice to say that the ‘bathroom’ is a moulded plastIc cubicle that fits together with the rest of the Lego the hotel is built of. It is a good job Ann did not turn up today because she has 5 star tastes and this hotel is barely twinkling.

The bikes held up well today with no punctures or bearings becoming loose. They are safe in our rooms tonight.

So we had the afternoon in Avignon. It was hot. We caught the bus into town and found a beer. Avignon itself is a tourist trap, there are thousands of the bastards here, jostling and demanding this and demanding that as if they own the bloody country. We found a cafe in the pedestrianised bit of the old town. Avignon is old and houses the palace of the popes. I did not see him today and so could not genuflect my order for beer. A jolly lunch was had served by probably the most disinterested and under trained staff in France. The food was fresh and tasty but getting attention required trouser dropping and doing a windmill with one’s willy. I have not done that since I was 16 and in the Navy on shore leave. I was ignored still. They have seen a lot of British willies in Avignon.

The town’s wall is also intact and impressive, but the bridge stops in the middle of the river (the one they all sing about). Why, I know not. One for google methinks. So you have a bridge going to absolutely nowhere and yet because some schoolchildren sing a song in French schools many years ago tourists pay, yes pay, to walk to nowhere and back again. Now I am not saying it is not a nice bridge, as bridges go some of its arches are very nice indeed and there appears to be a chapel halfway across. They do God bothering seriously here. A chap can’t even cross a bloody river without saying a few hail Mary’s and paying for a few indulgences. And then finds out he has to turn back and find another crossing. Even the Scots would wince at this blatant money grabbing.

I danced on the other bridge built in the 60’s. It may not have the history but; by focals; it gets you to the other side which I say is a job well done for a bridge.

The Pope’s palace is big. Very big. I think the Pope is making a statement with this sort of hubristic display of pomp and wealth. You have to pay to enter to see how wealthy he is. So, someone who says he follows someone who argues we should be kind to the least of them, feed the poor, and bangs on about rich men finding it tricky to get into heaven because a camel is in the way, and that sort of unfashionable thing, takes money from those who have just a bit to put in his own bank account and in return as the vicar of Christ on earth can get God to turn a blind eye to your little peccadilloes. I will forgive you your sins for half price when I get home. In fact just send me your dosh now and will do it while I am here.

We found a wine bar. Oops. Several glasses later and the purchase of some fine wine because we got suckered by an intelligent French wine seller, we caught the bus back to our resting place. Wine: Chateuneuf du Pape, Luberon, Gigondas and that is as close a description as you are going to get. I know that is about as specific as saying I bought some English cheese, but after the first glass who was counting?

Dinner was a nondescript pasta bolognese in a non descript hotel. We are tired and need sleep. Only a short one tomorrow to Tarascon, when Ann will be turning up!

Tournon sur Rhône to Bollène

The last real tester, a 67 mile jaunt with a real big sting in the tale at 50 miles, rising with a 300 ft climb at Montelimar. The heat will be the main issue given today’s 38.4 degree max in the afternoon. Once done the last few days will be ‘simple’ barring accidents or silly mistakes.

So, an early-ish morning under a blue sky. Apologies if I keep saying that, but it is still a novelty. We are so used to living under a poly tunnel sky in the UK that blue mornings need to be celebrated. Guess what we had for breakfast?

There were no eggs on display, but Grant asked Msr if he could have some. “Oui, of course” and to aid Msr’s decision making regarding the cooking of said ovarian victuals, Grant suggested 6 minutes to which an affirmative reply was forthcoming. In less than six minutes the eggs arrived at the table.

At this point you would think that ‘gruntles’ would be exceedingly ‘dis’, in that having instructed 6 minutes for the eggs then 6 minutes it should be. Not 3 minutes or 8 minutes but 6. But these were no ordinary boiled eggs.

They were fried. We can only conclude that Msr always fries eggs in less than 6 minutes and so to be set a target by an Englishman was an easy win. He may well have stated, “You want it in 6 minutes? Well, I will do it in half the time to show you English that we French are your betters in the oeuf frying department. You may have Agincourt but we have Escoffier and Raymond Blanc”. He did not say this, however, God only knows what he thought of being set a target to fry (not boil) eggs in under 6 minutes.

Who says breakfast time is routine?

When preparing to leave and after being oiled and rubbed up, we met two chaps from the former colonies of the United States who were also on a cycling holiday of their own. They were from Vermont (I don’t know where that is either) and had flown direct from Montreal to Lyon. There were both 6 feet tall racing split pins and well into their 50’s if not older. They had all the gear, including the Lycra which I think they carried off better than we do, and agreed that France was perfect cycling country unlike their own home. We bade them adieu, well I would have liked to, but they might mistake me for a nonce or thought I was speaking French, so we said cheerio instead.

So we all set off in the sunshine. They for ‘je ne sais pas’, we for the metropolis of Bollène. It was going to be another hot day.

We continue down the Rhône valley and since we left Lyon it is has been river, road and railway. The trains have never been very far away and we have seen many long freight trains. Joy of joys, we even got stopped at a level crossing just as a train came by. Some of the wagons look a bit dangerous, Grant suggested one train was carrying hydrogen peroxide, I think another was carrying nuclear waste (we had earlier passed what looked like a nuclear power station smack bang in the middle of the countryside). We had stopped by the tracks to watch it. The driver, dressed in white T shirt and shorts, had his door open and I would like to say he had a Gauloise nonchalantly hanging from his mouth, but rather unsportingly he did not. Damn the French when they resist stereotyping!

As the temperature climbed and we were on our way for the first rendezvous Grant had a puncture. This was the first of the trip and we are prepared for such eventualities. Thankfully there was a bus shelter for shade so that the tube could be changed without either of us melting in the heat. This delayed getting to Kirsten for a short while, but we made it without too much bother. However we were very hungry and thirsty, so pain au chocolat it was!

Our neighbours at the table outside the cafe had obviously been there a while. Kirsten had counted four glasses of wine and I swear I saw a pastis. It was only 1130. The imbibation had so loosened inhibitions that one of the chaps would frequently whistle at passing girls and shout the French equivalent of ‘ello darling’.

Suitably victualled, we set off for our lunch time meeting in a town called Cuaras which is book ended by a cement works on entry and a power station on exit. In between is a medieval town with a very old church and a castle overlooking the main rue. We sat in the shade of a tree beside the old church and devoured pain, fromage, charcuterie, tomatoes and pâte. Kirsten had also bought apricots and peaches straight from the producers. We are eating like Royalty.

We are so far south now that many houses have ruddy coloured pantile roofing, small shuttered windows and are built of a very light almost white yellow stone. One could be forgiven for thinking one was in Spain. For the whole day we heard the zizzing, the chitterings and the tinklings of various grasshopper type insects. The noise at times vied with traffic for intensity, and then for no reason would just stop. Peace. Then, they would be off again. I will probably hear them in my sleep. I would like to say they were cicadas, Grant keeps calling them chinchilladas which it think is a cross between an insect and Mexican food. We passed more fields of sunflowers whose heads were now drooping as if in silent prayer. I think they have had enough of the sun.

“I don’t believe in fate” spoke mon frère the other day about omens and stuff about punctures, then not one but two come along within the hour. Now it might be due to the temperature being 41.2 degrees and Boyles Law dictating that heating something up in the same volume will increase the pressure, hence the tearing of inner tubes, or it could be sheer bad luck that on the day that we needed to cover 72 miles, that we ended up buggering about in the searing sun, beating down relentlessly upon us, changing inner tubes between the wonderful lunch again arranged by our logistics maestro.

Following lunch and just before we set off I discovered a rear wheel puncture and so another repair was in order. What odds for two punctures in the same day? Grant’s tube could be repaired as the hole is so small we have not yet found it. My tube was torn near the valve. No need to search for where the problem lay, it was obvious. We have more spares but hope not to use them.

The afternoon heat got up to 41 degrees at one point and we were drinking litres of water. Much of it was hot, no matter how cold the replacement had been. Still, it was water and we needed plenty of it. I think I went through 5-6 litres of fluid which I still don’t think was enough considering we were in the saddle for over 9 hours today*. The cycling however is heaven, cruising along in the summer heat with a warm breeze for company on roads designed, it seems, with the cyclist in mind. Again and again we crossed the Rhône and its canals on bridges and what must be hydroelectric dams. The views are magnificent. We rediscovered the voie verte (V2 – the ViaRhona), and slipped effortlessly to a small town called Chateauneuf de Rhône.

Nevertheless, if you’d have asked me if I wanted to spend 9 hours staring at a hairdryer on the full heat in my face in a cold, wet morning in mid February (or mid July if you live in England), I might have said yes, but now on reflection of today, I might give another answer. So, the stats are above, but that masks a beautiful day on the Côtes De Rhône, passing vineyards and the rolling River Rhône, passed vast power stations and industries that rely on the mighty european river to breathe life into them. Beautiful hill top castles and villages, mostly medieval, some not changed since, with the architecture so reminiscent of Provence (where we enter tomorrow – hurrah).

At this point roadworks blocked our path and so resorting to discussions with an old local (who was wearing a baseball cap with a small fan fitted to it, I kid you not) we found an alternative road. His french was appalling though, it was worse than mine and I could hardly understand a word he said except for ‘up’ and ‘down’ and ‘5 kms’. This must be the equivalent of ‘Camborne English’ which even people from St Ives find hard to understand. Anyway the road did turn out to be 2 kms, but of steep climb in heat. He did not mention the heat. The bastard. Again, this was another Watlington Hill with knobs on. At this point water had run out but we had calculated at being at the next village to top up in another 5kms. It took what seemed an age to climb the 2kms but the 3kms descent to a cold glass of iced coca cola at a cafe flashed by.

The last 10 miles into Bollène were thankfully uneventful. A pretty much straight road in to town flanked on our left by hills and pretty villages.

It has all changed from the plains of Northern France, the panache of Champagne and the Côte De Nuits, Beaujolais, and Maçon in the the Saône valley, to the Med proper; the food, the wine the poor driving !

I continue to be staggered by the simple beauty of this part of the world, with its smell and light, and with the voie verte, France’s version of motorways exclusive for cycles, makes it accessible to anyone – even slightly overweight Dutch people loaded down on their way to Barcelona from Amsterdam. It beats the hell out of sitting on a beach in Torremolinos, or some other popular hellhole with a hangover looking forward to your next Spanish sunday lunch.

A shower then a beer were then the priorities. Dinner tonight was hake for one and steak for two. Another very nice 50cl bottle of the local stuff finished it all off. During dinner, a guest had to carried out by paramedics as she was having respiratory problems. I blame the eggs. The ‘chinchilladas’ are still zizzing rhythmically. Tomorrow is a doddle, 37 miles to Avignon, where I will find a bridge and dance.

Lyon to Tournon Sur Rhone

Woke up early to a clear blue sky. The city was quiet as very little sound reached the fourth floor of the hotel. At 17 euros each for breakfast we decided to buy our own, and as the suite came with its own kitchen and dining area, that suited us very well indeed. We had eggs.

We have 63 ish miles to go today following the Rhône valley. It will be hot and so fluids and plenty of them will be necessary. As it turned out the temp reached 38.4 degrees, which I think is enough to melt an ice cream on Portreath beach. We left the city just as it was waking up, putting on its make up and preparing itself for another day. Delivery drivers vied for space with bin men who jostled cycle couriers. A few souls were off to the office and would cross the road nonchalantly in front of us, but the traffic on the inward bound route was building up nicely. We got a good look at this Gothic, Victorian, Edwardian, and modernist city from the inside. Bikes are great for city watching, they get you places that are difficult by car.

First we crossed the Rhône, then into the old town and then over the Saône to then turn left southward to the confluence of the two great rivers. Dodging traffic and following railway lines we eventually stopped where the two rivers met. Lyon at this point is industrial but with new developments arising on the banks of the river. From this point it would be the Rhône we follow all the way down. So far, so much sunshine and a Chalfont index of 0! This was going to be a good day. We passed a sign to Montpellier – 320 kilometres. The first we have seen.

The river was followed by the railway and all day we were treated to freight trains and only one passenger train. There is a Renault factory in Lyon which explains the cars being transported south and the empty flat bed car trucks being carried north. Our path kept criss crossing both river and rail as we descended the valley. The views were stunning. The river is wider than the Thames at times and there has been a canal built which is just as impressive. Huge barges sail up and down the canal taking who knows what to god knows where. Don’t think canal or narrow boats, these things are massive, as is the canal itself.

We stopped for coffee and pain au chocolate in a place called Givors, which Grant insisted on calling Illogan. Given the lack of evident inbreeding in Givors this may have been a bit unfair. ‘Twas a strange place nonetheless, where the purchasing of basic victuals should have been a doddle. A croissant in France should be as easy to find as a filet mignon, escargots a la Bourgogne or a mistress. Not so. However, the ever resourceful Kirsten literally turned up with the goods. We were briefly semi harangued by an old man for sitting in his favourite cafe chair, so maybe we were in Illogan after all as there are many strange old men in Cornish villages. We also witnessed a bus being held up by a parked car. Horn blowing and gesticulations failed to move it. When the young Msr turned up to shift the offending vehicle, he promptly gave the woman bus driver a kiss on each cheek and drove off. France eh?

The Rhône valley at this point is flanked by limestone hills which are festooned with vineyards. Wines to look out for are those from Côte de Rotie, Hermitage, St Joseph and something from Carnas. The latter was recommended by a travelling Danish wine buyer. However, what do the Danes know about wine…? Any culture that bases its whole cuisine on the pig and beer ought to have its prognostications on viniculture to be met with a large doses of salted belly pork.

We discovered another voie verte called the VoieRhona. This is another long distance cycling path along the Rhône. We joined it at a place called Salbons and followed it until Sarras. There are plans to take it further south. At Tournon there is yet another going south along the banks to Valence. I need to research this but it looks like there are plans to take it all the way south.

Despite the heat the cycling was pure heaven, have I mentioned that this might be the best cycling on the planet? The cycle path took us along the river and the valley widened out, cut corn and hay bails on one side the river and the canal sparkling on the other. At one time we were ambushed by a field of smiling sunflowers in full bloom as we got to the apex of a small bridge. There they were, unashamedly flouncing their colours at us as we sped by. We were also assaulted by the heavy scent of a herb meadow. Rosemary? Thyme? The herbs were green looking. Lost count of the herons we disturbed, the skittish birds would lop away from us as we approached. I don’t think they get to see much Lycra, and if you know what’s good for youneither should you.

Arriving in Tournon at about beer o clock across an old wooden bridge open only to walkers and cyclists, it was beer time. We had drank about 4-5 litres of fluids and were still thirsty. So we have to have a cold beer, a pastis and then dinner (steak x 2 and ribs x1) washed down with a carafe of Hermitage which just happens to be the hills sitting above us as we eat.

The sunset was glorious, and we could see the Massif hills way to the east rising high into the dusky sky and gilded pink by the rays of the sun. Time for bed said zebedee, but not before two more freight trains rumbled pass the hotel as we sat watching a bat with a beer (I know, sentence construction is poor here, it was not the bat who had the beer). Tomorrow is 67 to Bollène. We are very far south now, and soon Ann will be flying down. Hurrah!

Belleville to Lyon

A rest day in all honesty. Just 30 miles on flat roads that hug the river Saône southwards in glorious glorious sunshine. I did not even bother with sunscreen as my cyclist’s tan is getting better. We stopped halfway at Trevoux for coffee and coke. At this point the river is crossed by on old bridge which has now been pedestrianised. The cafe is exactly the same as all French cafes. A couple of old men, mainly empty chairs and smoking. The music was odd and would be more appropriate in a cheap bar in Ibiza. Still, the old men did not seem to mind. After that we soon hit the outskirts of Lyon cycling all along the river, crossing it once or twice. Helpfully there was a cycle lane for much of the way. At one point we turned into a street called Montée Roy, there is a clue in the mont bit of the name. After days of flat this was a nice little tester of a hill and for those who know it, it would be akin to Watlington Hill, except with houses, lorries and sunshine.

We made the hotel in good time, about 1130. What a difference to all the other places we have stayed. We are in a suite in a very nice hotel indeed. In size, it reminds me of the suite Ann and I had in Las Vegas, i.e. it is big. I have the balcony room. It has it’s own separate kitchen area, not that we will be cooking.

There are ladies here expensively dressed. Lyon is France’s second city and I have been here before for a conference. Les Lyonnaisse dress themselves with haute couture as do the Parisiennes, so we will surrounded by expensive parfumerie, coiffure, and attitude. I have not brought my full wardrobe and so the oil bespecked T shirt, dusty shorts and road sweat will have to be the yin to their yang. And if they want attitude they will getting in spades if Grant and Kirsten don’t eat soon. It is now lunch time. Food is on the agenda. Personally, I could forego lunch and visit a museum or an art gallery. I don’t think a glass of wine is needed either.

Lunch of carpaccio of beef, saucisson chaude and escalope de veau was served with a petite carafe of rosé. And beer. There is a narrow cobbled street in the old part of Lyon which is nothing but restaurants, so it was a case of take your pick A gentle stroll along the river Rhône and crossing the bridge into the old town made us thirsty.

We crossed a bridge which again reminds everyone of history. The inscription simply stated that this bridge was rebuilt after being destroyed by the Germans. Note, not the Nazis or the ‘Brutes Hitlerien’ but by the Germans. I wonder what it feels like being a German tourist? Do they feel a certain ‘schadenfreude’ at the French predicament vis à vis the euro, or do they feel a little ‘sang froid’ at being blamed for so much destruction?

Lyon lies at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône which are both big rivers in their own rights. Think of the Thames in London and you have the size of both, so two Thames joining as one. We sat and ate lunch and people watched. Even in the city the pace is slow, the heat helps to slow things down to a pace that would make a snail shrug with disdain. London by comparison is always rush rush rush, we are so busy rushing around in the UK that maybe we are forgetting what the point is. Maybe we confuse means with ends while the French seem to have only one end: food and wine. Their reputation for sex eludes me as it is either too hot, or closed, or Sunday to be doing with nooky. Maybe they save the sex for winter when one needs a bit of stirring up to stop the blood freezing. I doubt if any of the coiffured women I have seen today would want sex anyway, in case it spoiled their look. Can you have sex while remaining aloof? I can imagine Madame looking in the mirror, fixing her make up, adjusting her lippy, while Monsieur is fixing and adjusting something else for which no mirror is required (unless you have an over ripe imagination, in which case is a mirror is not only ok, it is de rigeur).

It is now nearly 1800 hrs and I am sat on the hotel balcony in the summer heat of 29 degrees. ‘Ansum.

I am having déjà vu: after the rendezvous at the restaurant, whose ambience had a certain je ne sais quoi, and where we had a little tête a tête resulting in a entente cordial which were not without a few double entendres and which indicated an attitude of laissez faire, we were then au fais with our sejour and avoiding any faux pas and engaging our savior faire could plan a soirée, with entrees and aperitifs after a repose back at our pied à terre. Thinking of a couple of bon mots for the sois disants entre nous, I write this in plain english, au contraire to my other melange of scribblings, which would be the bête noir of proper travel writing and perhaps a bit risqué. Pretentious, moi? Ah, well, c’est la vie! All of which adds a little cachet to our joie de vivre.

After a snoozette it was time for an evening stroll and perhaps a little something to tickle the taste buds. A few blocks from the hotel was a very nice bistro. Only the three of us and party of 6 were eating. This part of Lyon is like New York, laid out in grids with the surrounding apartment buildings reaching upwards for perhaps twenty stories, no more. Unlike New York the buildings are of modest height and unlike New York there are very few Americans or burger bars.

Malay to Belleville

We had eggs again for breakfast. I think Msr Le Presidente Hollande has pre-empted my letter and ordered toute la France to serve eggs for breakfast. At this rate I will be laying the little hard shelled bastards myself. It is oft said be careful of what you wish for. We did get a Iittle smile from the waitress this morning. It lasted for about 3 seconds or so. I think she then had to go for a lie down and rest after expending the day’s bonhomie all at once. 

The route took us straight onto the voie verte. This is something we could learn from and copy. It is about 70 kilometres long with a beautifully finished surface. We flew along it passing old houses that were once railway stations. They were marked with the villages’ name still on them – Comertin, Cluny or Plissé. The old railway platforms were still in place, the only thing missing was the rails themselves! The countryside was now rolling hills on either side as the railway track followed the valley floor. The vines at this point had gone and been replaced by the usual crops and cattle one would expect. The sun was warm, the sky was blue and the grin factor was up to 10. This has to be some of the best cycling in the world.

Soon the TGV line came into view on our right and began to run parallel to our track. I mentioned to Grant that it is said that the TGV sounds like a jet engine as it comes near. Just at that point, and on cue, one appeared sounding just like it has been described. Its silver and blue livery shimmered in the morning sun as it literally flashed by. That was not the last of them. The voie verte runs alongside the TGV for many miles and we got to hear and see many TGV zipping to Lyon or Paris. Spotter heaven!

After a short stop for coffee we continued onwards towards the tunnel of the Bois St Clair. This is a straight 1.7 km tunnel, lit, paved for cyclists and inhabited by bats in the winter. One could see the other end as one enters. The temperature dips but was not cold. Another exhilarating ride and saves a huge climb. At this stage the what look like limestone hills that had been threatening to close in on us actually do and so this tunnel was very welcome indeed. When one comes out of the other side the vines reappear and we are again in hilly farmland, and Beaujolais country. It would be hard cycling but we cling to a valley floor still on the voie verte.

We met Kirsten for lunch as the voie verte ends. The old station house stills stands at the point on the path and one gets a feel as if at a terminus. We also got speaking to a Frenchman who had spent time in Liverpool and so (funnily enough) could speak English. I would have thought that anyone spending any time in Liverpool morning. It lasted seconds or so. I had to go for a lie after expending bonhomie all at straight onto the something we and copy. It is kilometres long finished surface. passing old once railway were marked with still on them would disqualify themselves as English speakers. Hey ho. I took the opportunity to ask him what the french was for “my rear wheel is f** cked”, turns out it is ‘rou’ for wheel, arrière for rear, and something that sounds like vooee for f**cked. He also said that this could be caused by anything such as a broken spoke which redistributes the tension and so f**ks the rou. I think that’s what he said. I considered asking him in scouse, but wheels in Liverpool don’t get f**ked, they only get nicked. Armed with this knowledge and knowing that at this point nothing could be done, I thought of the new bike sat at home which in all probability had both wheels which were pretty far from ‘cassé’ (that’s another french word for f**ked).

Suitably fed, we set off for Belleville along a busy, for France, road. Feeling strong in the heat, we had kept up the fluids and it was not long before our destination was in sight. As we had discussed at lunch the issue of the buckled rear wheel, a stop at a bike shop (if we were to bump into one) would be welcome. And so it came to pass that Kirsten had found one right on our road, no need for diversions. Madame La bike shop owner said that husband had gone shopping and so if we could wait his return we could discuss the wheel.

Following successful negotiations the wheel would not have to be replaced. Msr looked at it and shrugged and said ‘1730, ce soir’.

This gave us enough time to pop into the hotel, shower and visit a village called ‘Fleurie’. Go to your local wine shop or supermarket and you will see wine from this village. We visited a wine shop and 7 bottles later we discovered that there we were over 100 wine producers just in this village’s area. The countryside here was again a range of hills rising to our right, a flat in valley to our our left for miles. The tunnel had led us through a bottleneck in the hills.

The village of Fleurie sat up in the hills and we drove further up for one of the best views in France. We walked up a driveway with chased a contour for a few yards and then stopped at a viewpoint. The valley dropped below, the village church spire was lit by the evening sun below us. The chap who owned the house on the side of the hill whose drive we walked up was gardening and stopped to talk. I asked what the blue hills were on the horizon. The Alps was his reply, you could see Mont Blanc, and in winter mornings the jagged mountains were fringed with fire from the rising sun. All around us and below from our high vantage point, vines covered the land.

Time soon passed and we had to pick up the bike. It was repaired and in fine fettle. Msr charged 10 euros to replace a broken spoke and ensure the wheel was aligned. Job done. I can now cycle to Montpellier without fearing the rear end exploding in a mass of metal and sparks. I can’t vouch for other rear end explosions.

Back to the hotel for an early evening Fleurie in the sunshine. Dinner: pizza for K and I, beef for Grant.

The CI: started as a 1-2 settled to a 0. This is beginning to look like a pattern. The GF was a deffo 10 at many times. Tomorrow is an easy 30 miles to Lyon and if things go to plan then we lunch in the gastronomic capital of France. We might even see more TGV’s.

Nuits St George to Malay

Today is Sunday in France.

Today should be 51 miles which at some point is also halfway. I will mark reaching the halfway point probably without much ceremony, in all likelihood it will be head down and peddling. The day has started with bright blue sunshine and the forecast for Lyon is 23 and sunshine. This will be a day for lots of water and sunscreen. The heat could make the 50 miles feel longer. The weather map for France is sunshine all the way so ‘L’été est arrivé’ ! The BBC are saying that the jet stream may be moving north, and means southern England will get sunshine as well. Let’s hope so.

We forgot to have a carafe of water with the meal last night and I think the sun got to our heads. The mixture of bonhomie, beer and bravado made for an uncomfortable night. Forgot to get water and so had to motivate oneself to get out of bed to get it. I even dreamed of water at one point so my wine dulled brain was being told to get its act together to replenish fluids. I have dehydration powder and electrolytes tablets for the southern French heat but I need British common sense for French southern drinking. Note to self and others: do not underestimate the seriousness of dehydration and the need for water in the heat.

Big Jesus has gone. The huge crucifixes that adorn every village and entry to villages that were prevalent in Pas de Calais and Picardy have been replaced by far more modest crosses which look like they are fashioned out of wrought iron. We did stop at one large cross which had been hacked out of the local limestone. At over 10 feet tall, it was a prop from a horror film, designed to scare the living bejesus out of unwary travellers. I think that in the wine regions the populace no longer needed Big Jesus on the cross to remind them that they are wretched sinners. They are neither needed and/or they did not work. The church had lost the heart and souls of the local population to the produce of the vine. Who needs Jesus when you have champagne! The church instead reminds people of their sins by getting the peasants to build magnificent cathedrals such as the ones in Reims and Dijon. So one is a sinner on a Sunday with a service in church to allow one to repent with some wine (I bet the French invented that) and then back to tending vines during the other Sundays of the week. Thus: 1 day for Big Jesus in the church and 6 days for thinking about drinking wine, preparing for drinking wine, working at producing wine, harvesting the produce for wine and then drinking wine. It’s a wonder the French get anything done. They have the TGV but I bet it was built on promises of getting to the wine faster than being on donkey. How can Jesus compete with that?

The road out of Nuits St George was magnificent. If you can imagine a ridge of hills rising to your right hand side, a bit like the ridgeway at Watlington Hill, or Carn Brea rising above Redruth but then stretching on for 30 or 40 miles then you have an idea of what the Côte de Nuits looks like.

There are villages perched upon the hills and acres and and acres of vineyards. The slopes come down to the roads and flatten out. To our left the land gently slopes to the flatlands which stretch to the horizon for what must be 50-60 miles. The views are just stunning.

The road to Baume is flattish and we zipped along at nearly 18-20 miles an hour. I entered the town with a Grin Factor of 10. This is Bourgogne country. White wines still a favourite here, we pass Montrachet and Pommard which boast very fine wines indeed.

If the CI is an indicator of pain, then the GF (grin factor) is a measure of pleasure. 0 would be ‘it’s ok I suppose’, 5 would be ‘this is quite nice’ and 10 would be ‘how bloody marvellous is this!’ I reserve the 11 for special occasions, of which the descent to Dijon yesterday would have to qualify. Many many miles today would have a GF of 8-10. It is a matter of debate exactly when the GF cancels out the CI. Is it possible to have say a CI of 5 or 6 while having a GF of 8? Today though surely proves grin factors win hands down.

Making good progress through a small village called Tielly we were passed by a peloton of 4 cyclists all in the same colours. Grant was behind at this point and saw them pass me at speed. At the rear of the peloton was a lady cyclist with a very nice rear, apparently. I sped up to catch the peloton as it overtook me. Grant’s version is that I sped up because of the lycra clad rear at the rear of the peloton. My story is that having been passed by a peloton on the first day and having no energy to catch them I thought I would try to catch this peloton to see if my fitness levels have improved. It has. I caught them up but in so doing we missed our turning. So, I am fitter, and if there was a nice rear at the rear, that is purely co-incidental. You decide which version of the event has more truth value.

We stop for lunch at a pretty little town called Givry. We ate fresh crusty baguette, charcuterie and cheese in the sunshine. About the only sound was the chirruping of sparrows. Cars were noticeable by their absence. The tiles on the roof of the town’s medieval entry gate again were of various colours and glistened in the sunshine. The afternoon temperature reached 28 degrees. The corn is being harvested and so the fields are full of rolled bails of hay. Bucolic is the word.

Leaving Givry we cycled on to find a ‘voie verte’, a cycle path this time converted from an old railway line. The surface was smooth tarmac and again we were able to up the pace. We were making such good progress that we forgot that a rendezvous had been arranged with Kirsten in a place called Buxy. So, arriving in very good time at our destination, we of course discover that Kirsten has been waiting in Buxy for quite some time, ready with her camera to catch an action shot of ‘deux fous’ entering the town. Which of course did not happen because the two fools were enjoying a cold beer at the hotel.

The hotel is in a very rural location. We have cows for company. Thats it. Luckily the last day of the Tour de France was on telly and we could watch Bradley Wiggins win the damn thing. This is the first time a Brit has won it, with his teammate Chris Froome in second, and Mark Cavendish winning this Paris stage for that fourth time. Bodes very well for UK cycling. My bike’s rear wheel has been ok today but I think if I can, I will change it for a new one. I can’t let team GB down.

When Kirsten eventually turned up we were forced to drink more beer and then pastis as an aperitif in a nearby village called St Gengoux. This was after a brief visit to a chateau nearby. If you have seen one chateau you have seen them all. Ho hum, deadly boring (not). The waiter at the cafe in St Gengoux asked us what country we were from, only to be given the reply ‘Allemagne’. Maybe it is the blond hair, maybe it was driving a BMW all day, something made Kirsten think of Germany.

The waiter saw the BMW and said “ca c’est correcte” which I think means ” Oh, more bloody Germans”. He waved us off cheerily which suggests that French are enjoying the current euro crisis more than the Germans are.

Dinner tonight was a rare steak for Kirsten, salmon for Grant and I had what turned out to be pike. It said ‘filet de brochet’ on the menu and I took a chance. This being France it could have been anything. It was listed under poissons and so I guessed some form of fish would appear. It was delicious. The wine was from near here, a white Macon Village Chardonnay. Now, I thought only Mancunian girls on a knicker to ankle clinging hen night drank Chardonnay. But I was wrong. It was lovely. The waitress had been taking smiling lessons but I guess had failed the final exam. There was a good Gallic effort at ‘bonhomie’ (don’t you think that it is strange that the French have a word for bonhomie when often they display so little of it….God, I love stereotypes), but I think in the end the effort was a bit too much. Just right now she might be having a lie down after expending all at effort at smiling for 3 grin factored up foreigners.

There is a new moon tonight as the sun dips below the ridge of hills to the west. The sky is edging salmon pink across the green fields and hedges. I took pictures of white cows earlier because Ann likes to see cows. Ann would like this scenery, she would like it a lot. Can’t wait to share it with her.

St Seine L’Abbaye to Nuits St George (via Dijon)

This is a rest day of about 37 miles. The day started brilliantly because there were eggs for breakfast. Madame boiled 2 eggs each. Heaven. So in addition to cereal, ham, cheese, yoghurt, orange juice, coffee and croissant there was eggs! In addition there was sunshine and blue sky. After yesterday’s trial by cloudburst this was a very welcome sight.

We had a little diversionary fun getting the bikes out of the garage. The hotel has quite a secure garage which has doors that open only with a wireless key that you aim at the door and press a button and then Voila! the door opens. In England we call these things ‘automatic doors’, and I have one in Carbis Bay. No keys are needed, no ‘hands on’ pulling or pushing on heavy doors required. And certainly no pushing on buttons, be they red buttons or buttons that have been covered in yards of masking tape to prevent them being pushed. For if pushed, certain buttons lock down the doors and require someone with the savoir faire to come and unlock the garage doors. And so it was that when the wireless key fob failed to open the door madam enquired if the button had been pushed. I could, with all innocence, answer no, and so could Kirsten.

Finally, when Monsieur turned up to remove the tape and do something with the button that should not be pushed, we were able to retrieve the bikes and be on our way. Madame was not amused.

The road out of St Seine went straight up hill but due to decent weather, 6 days of cycling and a bloody good breakfast, it felt as if it was flat. The hills rose either side and we could see across the valley to the hairpin bends of the road that enters the village. Today was going to be a good day. We had plenty of time to get to Nuits St George in very fine weather, blue sky with little fluffy clouds.

The morning’s ride was an absolute belter. We had gained an elevation of about 1600 feet and could see for miles around. Again fields of golden sunflowers and wild meadow flowers were everywhere. We were heading for Dijon. After about an hour or so the road dipped into a wide mouthed valley and we could see it sweeping down into it. It was not very steep at the top, just a gentle curve downwards. Then, shortly after, the road dipped and swerved steeply into the valley and the speed shot up. We were into hairpin bends before we knew it and flying down. No cars joined us, so we had the road to ourselves. Just a touch of the brakes to negotiate the bends otherwise it was head down arse up and fly. The road was marked with symbols of the polka dot jersey, the ‘King of the mountains’ jersey, as well as names of riders and encouragement for road racers. This was obviously a road race route and may have been used by the Tour de France at some point. Grinning from ear to ear we flew down the road for 9 kilometres and dropped 1000 feet. Then we picked up a cycle path beside a canal into Dijon.

This was another ‘voie verte’, a flat route straight into the city. We found a cafe for lunch in the city centre, where I troughed a lovely Salade Niçoise. The cathedral roof in Dijon had tiles of various colours; ceramic with a gloss finish, as if to say, ‘look how ferkin rich we are, we can afford coloured tiles you peasants with your thatched roofs of straw’. I exaggerate as we have not seen thatched roofs at all. The French peasants can’t afford thatch. They can afford cheese, but not decent roofing.

Dijon is the capital of the Burgundy region. Home to the Dukes of Burgundy from the 11th to the late 15th century making it a place of wealth and power, of art, learning and science…and of course mustard. As such, it played an important role in the development of early modern Europe, while we were burning cakes, catholics and witches and trying to invent football.

After leaving Dijon we find a road called the ‘Route de Grand Crus’ the clue really is in the name. This is the Côte d’Or, and as with Champagne the hillsides are replete with vineyards of Grand Cru Bourgogne quality. The views are stunning as away to our left we see the Jura mountains far in the distance (I am guessing) while to our right the hillsides rise above us laden with vines. We cycle through village after village each with their own vineyards and domains and chateaux, the houses are all of local stone vying for prettiness. One thing we have noticed is that that each village throughout France takes pride in its village entrance. The sign that announces the village you enter nearly always has flowers to decorate the sign. Often they are Rose bushes. Roses are planted at the end of the vines as ‘canaries in the mine’, i.e, to pick up signs of diseases. If the roses are not healthy then the vines will not be.

We finally wheel into Nuits St George. I am forced to drink pastis, then beer and then wine with the meal. We are then forced into buying a bottle from here. Life is hell sometimes. Grant and I talk franglais bollocks with the wine merchant and are again forced to taste. My French is improving, I can now say ‘bugger me I’m pissed’ in perfect Dijonaisse.

I have found out why the bike feels like the brake is on. Grant thinks the wheel is buckled. When we check; the back wheel does not free wheel. It stops with every revolution. This is a distraction, but I am not changing it now. It has got me this far, and as I am British I will get to the Med or my name is not Gungha Din.

Dinner tonight was coq au vin, or chicken that has been run over by a van. Then fromage to make your ticklers melt. We also had some wine and unashamedly laughed at a party of fat Belgians. They were so fat they looked liked Germans, they looked as scary as Germans. And they smoked. It feels great to be superior. I thought they could be from Manchester, but people from Manchester don’t come to this part of France. This is too posh for Mancunians. It is too posh for me but I can wing it because I can say ‘encore un fois’. A great sport to be had is feeling superior to foreigners even though you know they build better cars (Germany), great beer and chocolate (Belgium), fantastic wines (France) and can afford to fight more wars (The United States).

Tomorrow we are having eggs for breakfast.