Pedal to Paris and twin town Vitré: Diary - Tuesday 16th July to Tuesday 30th July 2013
Tuesday 16 July
Left Lymington on the upright Thorn tandem in the afternoon and took the ferry to Yarmouth. Thence along the Island to Fishbourne with a following wind, so we got across on the next ferry to Portsmouth in plenty of time for the overnight ferry to Ouistreham. Usual waiting around in line with a few other cyclists but not raining, which is the most important thing standing on these bleak dockside areas. Finally got on board, stowed the tandem in the bike area and headed straight for our cabin and bed.
Wednesday 17 July
As usual we were woken early by soft music, but still had a rush for breakfast as the British Army was on board in force and all having the full English to set them up for their day’s work. Then off, through immigration and away down the canal-side cycle path towards Caen on a lovely clear sunny morning – it is such a wonderful start to a trip to France. At Pegasus Bridge we turned eastwards towards Troan where we bought sandwiches and pains au raisin (hereafter known as PARs). Pleasant quiet roads to Mezidon-Canon where we had coffee and our PARs. It got a bit hillier and hotter after this and we found some long steep hills worth walking up before and after lunch. Having nearly missed the tiny village of St Pierre, we backtracked a few yards and descended steeply to find a small bar. We ate our sandwiches sitting on a wall, then crossed over into the bar for cold drinks, where John topped up with a cheese French bread sandwich and we both had an ice cream.
A strategic re-route avoided a short but near vertical drop into the valley (yes, we had to walk up out of it later) and having completely failed to find a village with a bar, we perspired our way into St Victor de Chretienville and lay on the grass under a lime tree for a rest. From there it wasn’t far (and happily downhill at the end) to St Aubin Le Vertueux and the Moulin Fouret.
We were greeted with a pleasant welcome, nice room, good shower, excellent washing line, and a very posh if rather over-rich Normandy dinner. The sound of the mill stream lulled us to sleep.
Thursday 18 July
Zigzagged our way through the cornfields and then the lane came to a halt in a field, with no more road in sight. A short re-trace solved the problem and only added a couple of kms. We bought lunch and had coffee and PARs in Conches-en-Ouche. A workman in the bar was a bit twitchy about Chris Froome’s lead in the TDF and indicated in mime that drug use might be involved! But, we decided not to respond nor mention Virenque. On through hot cornfields. The tar was melting on roads and went pop as we cycled over it, although John tried to steer for the least soft part of the road. Stopped in St André de l’Eure for lunch on a bench and a cold drink in the bar just behind in the oblong square.
Up and over to Houdan where a slightly roundabout approach brought us to the Hotel La Crepuscule on the edge of town. Greeted by a friendly receptionist, but no washing line. Received a phone message via Reception from Nathalie that her phone was broken and giving us instructions on how to get into her Paris apartment block.
Walked 10 minutes into town and after a bit of searching found just one restaurant open, the Tir Boulon (corkscrew) where we had a simple but acceptable supper. It was quite busy, being the only place open.
Friday 19 July
The day started hot but our route-finding went okay and we hit the Paris ‘banlieus’ with cycle paths alongside main roads including the hectic N10. Not a lot of fun but it worked and got us into the edge of the city. It was fun to revisit the Hotel Pavilion Bleu, where we stayed for John’s Paris-Brest-Paris Audax ride in 2003, and we had coffee and PARs (purchased en route) on the patio. Then we reached Versailles and managed to pick up sandwiches for lunch at a side road kiosk, and found a free shady bench in the centre of the wide Avenue St Cloud to eat them.
A pleasant speed-restricted road, the Route de l'Impératrice, through the delightfully named Foret de Fausses-Reposes in Marne-la-Coquette gave welcome relief from the sun even if the speed humps were a nuisance. We soon came to the Parc St Cloud high above the Seine, and found our way through easily until the end where a bit of thought and the GPS helped us to find the correct steep walk-the-bike-down zigzag shady path leading to our exit gate. Further walking along one-way streets and a very short pedal brought us to the viaduct leading to La Passerelle, a pedestrian bridge over the Seine. We were delighted to discover that no steps impeded our journey at either end and we paused on the bridge to take photos of the Paris skyline. Then we entered the Bois de Boulogne where the route led us successfully along more nicely shady cycle paths. We had some trouble finding the right way across a junction over Boulevard Periphique but made it eventually and started the last stage along busy roads, often with bus/cycle lanes or dedicated cycle paths, mainly down the tree-lined centres of wide boulevards. There were plenty of cyclists about, lots of them on Velib, the Paris equivalent of Boris-Bikes, and the nimble local solo-riders wove in and out of the traffic. Passed the Folies at the Pigalle and soon reached our hotel.
Warm welcome, ideal little courtyard for the tandem, and gloriously air-conditioned room with plenty of clothes drying facilities within. Supper at an Italian restaurant just down the road – too tired to explore further!
Saturday 20 July
Very hot. Decided to find a café for breakfast as 13 Euros seemed a bit steep for the hotel version. Not too difficult as there was a café just round the corner and less than half the price. We became regulars for the duration of our stay. Wandered on foot to the Rue de Rivoli (vital loo stop at the end of the Tuileries for Sheila – it just opened up in time) and then back to the Champs Elysées to find the TDF boutiques still setting up. Rather vaguely advised by a gendarme we found a cafe some distance away and returned to buy a TDF T-shirt for Sheila. Since they had no yellow TDF caps for John (who was looking for a bright coloured new cap for use on the trike), we went back to a shop in the Rue de Rivoli where Sheila had spotted one and got it okay. Then crossed over to walk through the Tuileries and along the Rue de Rivoli towards Samaritaine (with rooftop terrace lunch in mind) only to find it closed permanently for re-development. Went to look over the embankment at the beaches of the delightful Paris-Plage and then headed up towards Les Halles (also being refurbished) for a lunch of galettes in a corner cafe.
Back to the hotel to watch the Tour and eat chocolate. John has a nasty blister on his heel by this time. Went by Metro to Nathalie’s for lots of alcohol and nibbles and a fish fondu. Her studio is tiny but in a pleasant mixed development very handy for the Metro and she has nice neighbours, some with families. She drives southwards out of Paris to work.
Sunday 21 July
Extracted the tandem from the courtyard and initially retraced our route of two days before to meet Nathalie at the Trocadero. She had planned to ride her borrowed bike from home, but a basement flood and the need to alert the caretaker delayed her. Being Nathalie however she persuaded the woman on the Metro to let her take her bike on it (highly illegal) and she arrived only five minutes late. Took photos of us and the Eiffel Tower while waiting, then walked with our bikes to the park for cold drinks by the Aquarium. Nathalie insisted that I visit the Trocadero Metro Art Nouveau Ladies Loo – well worth it. We then headed down to the Avenue Foch by about 12 noon where after a false start we were admitted into the waiting area quite quickly and collected our T shirts. Nathalie kindly did a second tour and got T-shirts for Steve and David with the paperwork I had taken, and a spare for herself! It was extraordinarily hot waiting in the sun. We ate our lunch and eventually, being beside the barriers, leant our bikes on these and hopped over to the shade of a tree. An oompah band played in the distance and a PA system roared out encouragement to wave our arms and sing. John chatted with some other UK cyclists, and we spotted some Union Flags, a few tandems and a triplet. Quite a few riders had helmet-cams.
Approaching 2.30 p.m. we were allowed to ease forward, at first walking and then scooting ourselves along up to the Arc de Triomphe where it gradually became possible to cycle. Very crowded and John had to be very alert. It was okay for me to take photos from the rear, but seeing all the solo riders doing so with their phones was rather unnerving. Nathalie shot up and down like a photo-journalist taking snaps with her borrowed phone – nice as she got some of us both. Waved to some of the crowd already assembling on the roadside for the real thing to follow us. We enjoyed every minute of the quite slow ride, and were sorry when we got back and collected bottles of water and chewy bars. We sat under a shady tree and nibbled stuff. Nathalie then went off to cycle home and we returned, quite expert on the route now, to the hotel for a shower and rest. > la Randonnee du Tour slideshow
Took the Metro to the Assemblé Nationale and after a lot of argument with a gendarme and nearly having walked away, we saw him give in to the charms of some younger women and we raced back to cross the Pont de la Concorde over the Seine to find a fairly shady but still very sun-warmed wall overlooking the Quai des Tuileries. As our bottoms baked gently we waited with the crowd to see the ten circuits, at increasing speed, of the peloton. Saw a rider in white having a puncture – didn’t realise it was Cav until we got home to Lymington and watched the action replay on ITV Player. As everyone moved off we asked someone and discovered that Kittel had won the stage – poor Cav.
Feeling hungry we wandered up to the Rue St Honoré and found a café on a corner which served up a perfect omelette and chips. We then wandered back towards the Champs Elysées thinking that there were to be fireworks. No policemen had any idea but we finally asked an ITV staff person who said no fireworks, just the Arc de Triomphe light show. However as they had not yet taken down the barriers along the Champs Elysées we couldn’t get into the road to see this. Footsore and weary now we walked to the Franklin D Roosevelt Metro to get back to the hotel.
Monday 22 July
Bought and washed some cherries after breakfast. John’s blister being an issue, we strolled gently to the starting point of a Paris open-top tour bus (posting T-shirts to Steve and David en route) We planned to use all four of their routes to visit familiar and less familiar parts of the City – very worthwhile and we didn’t have to wait too long anywhere when changing routes. No elevenses but the juicy cherries were great. Paused at the Place des Vosges in the Marais for a nice salad lunch in a café. Then back to the hotel, resorting to the Metro for the last short stage when the final bus wasn’t forthcoming. Showered and changed, and off to Nathalie’s to take her out for supper outside a nice little Italian place near the Place d’Italie – rather appropriate. Quite a noisy corner but that doesn’t seem to worry Parisians.
Tuesday 23 July
Set off early and crossed the Place de la Louvre on our way to Montparnasse. The route worked well and we seemed to have missed most of the traffic. There we picked up the Coulée Verte cycle route southwards out of Paris. The frequent road crossings and constant getting on and off the tandem drove John a bit mad, but as the traffic was building up by this time it was better than being on the road. The ‘corridor’ is like a long thin park with the cycle path sometime shared with pedestrians, grass and trees and the occasional children’s play area or benches. It finally popped us back onto roads, sometimes with cycle paths alongside, and at Massy Palaisseau we bought sandwiches, cold drinks and PARs in a supermarket and sat eating the PARs and drinking the cold drinks on a bench by the station and a small fruit and veg market.
Continued toward Rambouillet with more trees and greenery when a small thunderstorm caught us. The rain being heavy, we stopped and took shelter behind a thicket of tall bushes, putting on our waterproofs. Finally it gave up and we set off, only to find a perfect church porch with bench inside some 500 metres further on! And when we reached Rambouillet a couple of kms on, there had been no rain. Nonetheless we ate our sandwiches in a bus shelter just in case, and chatted with two older ladies waiting for their bus. Rather a café shortage after lunch, but finally we found a little one at Hanches where we had cold drinks, shortly before arriving at the Hotel du Cygne in Maintenon rather early.
A plain little hotel with our room on a rather noisy street, but okay and cheap. The woman proprietor kindly opened up early for us and we rested before finding supper in one of two cafes, with lots of people arriving for a sort of Son et Lumière at the chateau opposite.
Wednesday 24 July
The day started cool and cloudy. Back into the town to buy lunch and PARs, then on our way. Cold drinks, and coffee and PARs in the Bar St Hubert in St Arnoult-des-Bois. A fairly easy cycling morning across cornfields again, but hillier in the afternoon as we crossed the Perche region, where the hilltops reach 1000 feet. Walked up a short 16% hill in Condeau and up several longer hot hills afterwards too. The day got hotter and hotter. Cold drinks at the Café de Paris in La Loupe then lunch in the shade on the Town Hall steps, next to a UK wall-hung postbox given by their twin town, Royston. Good idea.
Stopped for water in Nocé as no café. Then continued to arrive at Bellême early before the Logis hotel opened. By this time Sheila was in trouble with an imminent UTI due to the heat and cycling. Visits to the pharmacy first produced some homeopathic remedy then the address of a local doctor. The pharmacist failed to raise him on the phone but said we could just present ourselves there, which we did, and after a wait and a brief examination he prescribed a one-dose antibiotic and some soothing cream. Back to the pharmacy and Sheila took the antibiotic at once. It worked like magic!
The hotel room was well-appointed but Madam was a pain, not letting John put the bike in the private garden himself but saying Monsieur knew all about bikes. This made us anxious as we feared how he might move it with the drag brake on. Sheila later needed the route sheet holder off the bike to prepare for next day and had to press Madam hard to get this brought to us. Excellent supper but Madam avoiding our eyes. Sheila didn’t sleep well worrying about the bike.
Thursday 25 July
Woken early by baby crying in the room next door. Breakfast in the conservatory which was high over the steeply sloping garden. Sure enough John caught Monsieur dragging the bike across the garden and tarmac to return it to us. John grabbed it crossly, making it clear how displeased he was. Backtracked slightly into town to the only open boulangerie, which we had checked out the previous evening, for PARs but no sandwiches.
Very hilly route most of today (walked up some) and cloudy at times but no rain. Stopped for sirops (French equivalent of squash and very refreshing) in Courgains. Diverted into Fresnay to find lunch and Sheila located sandwiches for purchase in a small café. Then had coffee in market square café (chatted in English with man with dog); and then ate sandwiches under the modern Town Hall arches.
Rather a busy exit road to start with, but soon back on the smaller lanes. Mid-afternoon sirops (2 for John) and apricot tart and ice cream after walloping downhill into Bais (lady at the Le Lion bar/café was very friendly indeed). Less hilly after Bais, and a short walk up an N road brought us to our Logis hotel by the river at Moulay. Very pleasant large hotel with various buildings. Lots of Brits there, and the tandem lived with hotel hire bikes in a huge subterranean store room.
Friday 26 July
The day started with a lovely shady 15 km run down the tow path alongside the river Mayenne. Saw a water rat towing a pile of grass across the river, and a few ducks and cyclists. Rather hilly after this but we only walked up a few of them. Coke and sirop and PARs in a café overlooking the church in Andouillé. Bought sandwiches at a Super U in Le Bourgneuf and ate these on the war memorial steps by the church in Bourgnon. John spotted a cat stalking and then pouncing on an unfortunate mouse – no respect for church mice. After a hilly bit and the second ‘route barrée’ of the trip, arrived at Guy and Marie Annick’s at about 3pm to a warm welcome.
Monday 29 July
Set off up the now rather busy D794 and felt that, like so many roads that were once delightful and quiet, it had been upgraded and changed since we first used it (note – don’t use it again). But it was a fast way to get some kms under our belts, and we rolled up and down the undulating road quite satisfactorily. Bought PARs and sandwiches at a ‘Huit à Huit’ in Sens de Bretagne after a woman spotted us searching for an open boulangerie. Ate the PARs in the square on a flower-planter-cum-bench. Tried to find somewhere for lunch in Combourg but there was a huge and busy market so we went on to Lanhelin for a café stop and picnic lunch afterwards on a stone bench by a war memorial.
After Combourg the route used quieter roads but rain threatened and we stop briefly three times. Each time we managed to find shelter – first in the Lanhelin café, then behind a gas terminal box under a shrub outside St Père, and then in a bus shelter in Chateau Malo. In spite of missing the GPS, Sheila managed to follow the instructions and map to bring us into St Malo.
The Logis hotel turned out to be the same as we had used last time, although this time the tandem lived in the garage not the laundry room. Outside our first floor window was a good marine mural to replace the missing view as we were below the level of the town walls. Had a wander round the old town and walls and later pasta for supper in a nice little pizza place.
Tuesday 30 July
A really boring day sitting on the St Malo to Portsmouth ferry, but managed to get off quickly as there was only one other bike. Took the long way round Portsmouth partly on the road – it is hard to stick to the cycle route coming back – but still made the Portsmouth to Fishbourne ferry with 15 minutes to spare. Then sped flat out in top gear along the Island into a head wind (all 3 sets of traffic lights were green) and caught the second last Lymington ferry from Yarmouth with just 5 minutes in hand (Note from John: I can’t remember when there was so much power coming out of the rear tandem motor). So home in time to buy milk in Tesco, i.e. before the departure of the last ferry of the day from Yarmouth at 10 p.m.