Saturday 9th May
We were up early to catch the train from Barcelona back to Carcassonne at 9.25, where our bike was waiting for us. The train journey was uneventful apart from a very panicked couple of minutes where I looked at my ticket and saw the time 09.05…
“We need to run!” I said to Eric, as it was, at this time, 9.05. We sprinted into the station, and then Eric realised that what I had seen on the ticket wasn’t 09.05 but 09 / 05… as in today’s date. Duh.
We arrived in Carcassonne by lunchtime and got the keys for the house we would be staying in – it was the house of the people who had stored our bike for us. We were renting a room from them, but as it happened they were away for the weekend, so lucky for us we had the place to ourselves!
For the rest of the day we relaxed, went for a walk, washed clothes and binged on the internet (yes!!). I finally updated the blog for the first time in roughly 2 weeks.
A walk along the river:
Sunday 10th May
Today was another in-between sort of day, as we were waiting for our new trailer tyre to arrive.
I did more blog updating, we bought some camping and bike equipment from a Decathlon store, and most exciting of all, we went through our luggage and picked out things to send back home.
We have known for a long time that we have overpacked, but we wanted to hold off sending things back until the weather became warmer, so we could get rid of our cold-weather clothes as well as our extraneous items.
We have had many discussions where we have excitedly listed all the things that we can get rid of, and we had awaited this day keenly like a sort of reverse Christmas.
(If you would ever like to summon up some enthusiasm for having a clearout, just drag all your possesions around with you for 6 weeks, and trust me, you’ll feel keen!)
- 7 tops – Eric (what was he thinking ever packing these??)
- 2 long-sleeved tops – Penny
- 1 “Captain” t-shirt, – Penny, much-loved gift from friends, but nothing escapes the merciless cull!
- 1 pair of compression leggings – Eric
- 1 pair of leggings – Penny
- 1 pair of cycling gloves – Eric
- 1 pair of pants – Eric (don’t worry this is not his only pair)
- 1 pair of socks – Penny
- 2 pairs of thick socks – Eric
- 2 cold-weather hats – Eric/Penny
- 2 pairs cold-weather gloves -Eric/Penny
- 1 souvenir lion tapestry from Carcassonne
- 1 Gaudi-themed Barcelona poster
- 1 fat grip (for strength training. Unused)
- 2 spare plugs
- 1 extra gopro holder
- 1 portable speaker (broken 😦 )
- Talcum powder (nicked from mum. Unused – so mum can have it back now. Sorry about nicking your talcum powder mum)
- 1 inner liner – Eric (I’m keeping mine)
- Bag of elasticated bands (Eric: strength training)
- 1 headband – Penny
- 3 hair bands – Penny – counting the grams!
- 1 plastic wallet for holding maps (unused – we use maps on the iPad)
- 1 notebook – thought I would be using this for writing erudite observations… totally unused!!
- 2 bike padlocks
- 2 pannier mesh locks
- 1 nail clipper (turns out we had 2)
- 1 electric shaver
- 1 beard trimmer
- 2 x Beard oil – seriously Eric?!
- 1 80 litre backpack
Once we had laid this out I found it astonishing just how much unnecessary stuff we had been carrying with us. The whole lot came to just under 10kg, which is massive! We have probably reduced our weight by about 25%.
A lot of this weight (backpack, extra locks) was due to the fact that we thought we would be locking up our bike in the middle of towns while we went off for lunch somewhere, so we would have to take our equipment with us – hence the enormous backpack. But we have never done this, as it’s too much of a faff.
Having this clearout, along with buying new inner tubes and water bottles etc. was good, after our many punctures and rainy days this felt like a bit of a fresh start.
Monday 11th May
Another admin day, very productive, here’s what we did:
- sent items back home, it only cost 35 euros – the French post is so good!
- found an internet cafe to send some documents to a university (sorting out masters course for next year)
- cleaned house we were staying in and left
- went to Decathlon store as it turned out that the water bottles we bought were too big, and the camping gas we had bought was the wrong type! Exchanged these for water bottles and gas we could actually use!
- collected new tyre from the post office (we were so happy that this had arrived!)
- called up our bank as some of our money seemed to have mysteriously gone. After a phone call, two emails and another phone call we found out that a deposit of 350 euros we had made to the Carcassonne campsite (as a guarantee against damage) was still marked as a “pending” payment: so it was in our account, but we couldn’t touch it
We had checked into the same campsite, so we would talk to them in the morning.
We went to bed as exhausted as if we had been cycling all day!
Tuesday 12th May
Finally back on the road! Miles: 46
An unpleasant start to the day, as I had a stessful conversation with the campsite staff about the 350 euros that we couldn’t access.
I told them about my phonecall with the bank, explaining the pending payment situation. I asked them if they knew when we would be able to access our money again.
They told me they hadn’t taken the money.
I said, I understand this, it’s in our account but we can’t use it, because it’s a pending payment.
They told me that they didn’t have the money, I had the money. They told me it was nothing to do with them, we should take it up with the bank.
I told them we spoke to the bank yesterday, who said it was a pending payment… Should I be worried that the campsite do not think that this is the case?
They said they didn’t know, it was nothing to do with them. They had never heard of this happening before. Did I keep the receipt of the guarantee payment? They asked.
I don’t think so, I had to admit.
Well, you have to keep it! They said.
Do you have a copy? I asked.
A copy of what? They said.
The receipt! I said.
They looked shocked. No, they said, in a tone which said “Of course not you silly girl.”
Long conversation later, I asked them to write a note on headed paper, confirming that they did not want to take the 350 euros, so that hopefully if the bank claims that the payment is pending because the campsite intend to take it, we have a document which says otherwise.
Even getting this letter was an enormous struggle. I had to ask for it several times, and was told repeatedly “we cannot do a letter” and “we don’t do letters” until I said “why not?” and they looked at me blankly, before pulling out a piece of paper and pen with a grim look of annoyance.
It was a shame to leave Carcassonne on a sour note, as we had such a good time there. I felt very wound up for about an hour, but soon my troubles drifted away as we pedalled in the beautiful French countryside.
After a week off it felt great to be back on the bike. There were a few hills but nothing too difficult. We were looking out at the beginnings of a mountain range, which Eric guessed to be the Massive Centrale, though we’re not really sure that it was.
The most eventful thing that happened cycling-wise was that while going into a field for a wee I stepped in a place which definitely didn’t look at all like a ditch, but as it happened, was. It resulted in this:
We arrived at another super-cheap campsite in Capstang by 4.30, and on our way to find a supermarket came across a DIY shop. Eric had a fun time looking at tools (aren’t boys weird?) and eventually chose an iron rod which he then cut into several pieces, so that he could practice his nail-bending, which is all part of his grip-strength exercise routine. (Eric has to be making something stronger at all times in order to stop an identity crisis occurring.)
I think the above paragraph completely demonstrates why we are incapable of travelling light.
Wednesday 13th May
I actually woke up a bit sunburned today, which is obviously a bad thing, but part of me was thrilled that we are cycling in places where we have to beware of the sun instead of the rain. About time!
A great thing about today was that we finally set up the mp3 player our friends Andre and Sylvia gave us so that we could listen to it while cycling. On our recent visit to Decathlon we had at last gotten round to buying a little bag for under the saddle, which we could store the mp3 player in. Suddenly, after weeks of scenery, we had scenery + music. It was a bit like adding a marshmallow to a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate is perfectly good by itself, but the addition of the marshmallow makes it infinitely superior.
After a week off the bike, Eric’s metabolism couldn’t handle all the exercise, and he got very grumpy when I refused to stop for lunch at 11.30. (What would be next? Dinner at 5.30? We are British. We must have standards.) He also accused me of buying a smaller baguette than usual (not true). Luckily, eclairs solve everything.
Anyway… I haven’t talked about any cycling yet! The terrain was interesting today, we spent the morning cycling alongside a canal, with the occassional dodgy road surface:
Then in the afternoon we re-joined the coast, and took cycle paths which lay on a thin strip of land between a lake and the sea.
It was all very flat today. I will have to savour the lack of inclines as we are on our way to the Alps, a place where hills look like speedbumps.
We checked into the third campsite we came across, just outside of Vic-La-Gardiole. The first one was for French army personnel only (interesting). The second was 30 euros for a tent! We said thanks but no thanks. This one was just 10 euros, and included free wifi. It’s a nice place, they have horses and peacocks wandering around too!
Thursday 14th May
Another scorching day today. I borrowed Eric’s t-shirt to cover my shoulders, which are a bit burnt.
We continued along the coast, the scenery was very pretty: a few seaside towns, lots of sandy beaches, and more pathways surrounded by water.
We also saw an adder as long as a human leg on the cycle path, slithering from one side to the other. We quickly braked and I hopped off to try and get a photo, but the snake was too quick and I ended up with a picture of a patch of grass.
The terrain is well and truly that of a hot climate now: the main crop in this area is grapes, and we saw plenty of cacti and yukka plants too.
We stopped cycling at around 4, and enjoyed a blissfully cool shower at our campsite in Saint-Gilles, before spraying ourselves all over with deet. We’re in mozzie country now, they’re everywhere, and they love me! I have managed to hit myself several times in attempting to kill them.
Tomorrow we veer away from the coast. The next time we see the sea will be in Italy!
Friday 15th May
What a difference a day makes. Just in case we were getting too complacent, the bad weather reared its chilly head today to remind us that summer isn’t quite here yet.
We battled an enormous headwind all day while dodging big fat purple rainclouds. We eventually crossed paths with one at around 4.30, much to Eric’s chargrin.
We also had a trailer wheel puncture in the morning, but as it was the wheel which had never punctured before we didn’t feel too bad about it.
We are now travelling up the river Rhone, and crossed over it several times today at various points (exposing ourselves to the howling wind each time).
All the towns and villages in this area have been very pretty, and every single one of them seems to have a chateau of some sort. The biggest town we passed through today with Avignon, which looked beautiful, if we didn’t have Alps to push up I think we could have quite happily spent a day there.
We stopped off in a campsite by Laudun with a strange sort of atmosphere. The reception area was closed, and we couldn’t get hold of the owner. There seem to be quite a few people who live here permanently. We joined a few of them in a communal area, as it’s where the wifi signal is, and we spoke in very hushed voices so as not to disturb the dead silence of the other five people in the room (they were all on phones and laptops, not staring into space. That would be creepy).
We found an excellent pitch, however. It’s behind a row of some kind of pine tree, giving total protection from the wind, while sending wafts of pine-fresh scent into the tent – which is probably much needed at this point!
Saturday 16th May
The campsite reception was still closed this morning. Eric thought he bumped into a woman who was probably the owner, but she merely said “Bonjour” to him and left in her car, so in the end we put what we owed under a door marked “Privee” and went on our way, leaving the strange, closed-up, silent campsite behind.
Annoyingly, we realised that my sunglasses had disappeared, and I concluded that they must have fallen off my head while we were cycling yesterday.
Cycling out of Laudun we were almost immediately hit by an incredible 46 kph headwind, which blasted us relentlessly as we continued to cycle up the Rhone river. The wind was so strong that our average speed for the morning was a painful 6 mph.
We passed quite a few other cycle tourists, all wisely going in the opposite direction. I can see why this area is popular with cyclists, on a day with better weather the cycling would have been glorious. The towns and villages are built with a sandy yellow stone that you can picture sizzling in the summer heat, the roads are mainly flat, and take you past vinyard after vinyard, or along straight avenues of plane trees and white poplars, or crumbling grey rockfaces, or of course the big blue Rhone. It was all stunning… Just a shame about the absolutely constant, squint-inducing wind!
After a tough morning we stopped at Pont-Saint-Esprit for lunch. We had our baguette in an old bath house, which was quite interesting – and it finally got us out of the weather!
On the way out of Pont-Saint-Esprit:
As we pedalled away the wind seemed to have died down a little… or so we thought for about two minutes! We crossed the river and bam! There was the wind again. We joined a long road which took us through field after field where we were completely exposed to the roaring, howling wind, which was so strong that we couldn’t hear each other, couldn’t hear cars behind us, and often had to get off the bike and push because it was uncontrollable in the gale.
It was quite an extraordinary sight to see field after field of long grass dip and sway with every buffet of wind as if it were water. I took some pictures, but I don’t think they really capture what it was like:
I began to feel quite nervous as we were cycling and walking underneath trees which were being lashed in the wind, as well as electricity lines straining in their posts. Eric said he saw the base of a large tree moving in the wind at one point. I superstiously crossed my fingers as we walked beneath some strained-looking branches.
One good thing did happen at around 2 o’clock. As we were pedalling along we heard a plastic-sounding rattle. We stopped the bike and I hopped off to see if something of ours had fallen off the back. I couldn’t find anything, but as I returned to the bike Eric said: “Penny, come and look at this.” He was pointing to one of the panniers. I went to where he was standing, and saw my sunglasses! They were stuck between the pannier attachment and the mudguard attachment. I have no idea how they got there, but I was glad that I hadn’t lost them after all.
We decided that the wind was too strong for a long day, so stopped at a campsite just outside of Pierrelatte at 3. Finally out of the wind, we took the opportunity to do our laundry and enjoy an extra-long afternoon. The wifi was even good enough for us to watch some TV in our tent! A rare treat.
Sunday 17th May
We woke to the familiar sound of wind kicking the hell out of some trees. Despite Eric’s tempting suggestion of staying in the tent all day and watching two seasons of Modern Family, we were soon up and out of the campsite.
We had gotten a little wiser to wind exposure today, and took a flatter, more sheltered route than yesterday. The wind was still there, as we were reminded now and again as we crossed over the Rhone on bridges, but we were tucked between enormous craggy hills for most of the time, where the headwind was a nuisance, not a show-stopper.
The scenery became continuously more hilly today, with some dramatic cliff faces:
We also saw some chateau ruins clinging to the top of hills:
And… our first shadowy sightings of the Alps in the distance!
We had another 3 o’clock stop today, just outside of Beauchastel, as the next campsite would have been another full day’s ride. I felt a bit annoyed that we had to stop so early when we still had a couple of hours of cycling left in us, but after an hour and a half of lying in a sunny field I decided that stopping early might be the greatest thing ever.
After dinner we had an increasingly serious game of petonque (a game which is the national pastime for retired French people, and is bit like boules). I streaked ahead at first, with 8 rounds to me, and 3 rounds to Eric. Then Eric came back in a blaze of glory, until the score was 13-12 to me. I didn’t cave to the pressure and finally finished him off at 15-12. It’s not often I get to be better at a sport than Eric, so a bit of gloating is required (even if it is the sport of French geriatrics!).
Monday 18th May
The wind finally blew itself out today, so we had blue skies and nothing but a refreshing breeze! We departed from the river Rhone and began pedalling east.
The distant Alps gradually stopped being blue silhouettes, and by the early afternoon we were close enough to see the trees and rock faces of the mountainsides. I’m pretty sure these were just small Alps.
We were following a tributary to the Rhone upstream, so most of today was dominated by gentle inclines. After so many days cycling in a row our legs were feeling it!
We arrived at our campsite by 4 (outside of Saint-Romans) and today’s afternoon activity was… trampolining!
So much fun!! It was almost as entertaining to watch Eric flinging himself about.
Tuesday 19th May
We woke up to moody looking weather, and set off under light rain.
With just over 30 miles to go until we reached our pre-Alps location of Grenoble, we kept up a good pace, and spent the first hour and a half cycling steadily uphill.
Then it was downhill for miles… and to my relief the back tyre held. We’ve now had just over a week without it puncturing. About time!
Pretty much everywhere was a view today, and the mountains grew steadily larger and craggier. They began to be tall enough to have clouds draping themselves over their peaks. I took many wonky/blurred pictures from the back of the bike in the hope that some would come out OK. You’re seeing the best!
After stopping for a quick snack from a boulangerie, we made it to Grenoble, arriving at our campsite at just after 1PM. We had hoped to get a caravan for a few days, but it turns out they are all full, so the tent it is! At least it’s saving us some money.
We’re actually staying just outside of Grenoble, in a little town called Seyssins. It’s quite funny to see a normal French town with such an incredible backdrop.
It’s been an interesting journey from Carcassonne to Grenoble. By going south and then heading back north, we’ve seen a real difference in the environment – the south coast had a real “hot country” feel, while up here in Grenoble the climate is definitely temperate (when is the constant sunshine going to happen???).
Our plan is to stay in Grenoble for a few days and get our energy back before we push (both literally and figuratively) up the Alps.