An unexpected turn of events sent me to
Europe. Usually my route takes me on a continuous path from
country to country. I was very excited to make the major leap
from South America to Europe. My struggle for a
Schengen visa forced me to book myself
onto an organised tour. I was therefore in the fortunate
position of being able to cycle with a group of cyclists for an
entire month!! Not only would I be lucky enough to have my
panniers transported and food provided, but I would also have
loads of company. There’s always a first time for everything!
1 June 2011
I was itching to get back on the bike. A
whole month of doing zilch except eating, drinking and smoking
had made me very restless. I was ready to zoot off to Paris
where I would meet the rest of the cycling group. I hurriedly
piled all my worldly possessions into a single bag (except for
the bike, of course). I’m quite convinced that I must be one of
a very small group of people: those who can fit into one bag all
their earthly riches. I was getting slightly nervous. The
company I was going to be cycling with for the first few weeks
clearly stated that we could only bring 2 x 90 litre bags. All
my stuff fits into one bag (mainly because I only have one bag).
That made me wonder what the heck the other people were
taking?? I guessed I would find out soon enough what should
have been in my bags! Damn that bag was heavy! OK, maybe I
should have taken two bags…
I said my final goodbyes and was in bed
early, ready for my early morning wake up call.
2 June - Cape Town, South Africa – Paris,
At last I was
on my way to Europe via Abu Dhabi, and from there on to Paris.
It was a rather uneventful flight - just the usual sitting,
sitting, sitting, waiting, waiting, waiting!
3 June - Paris
I arrived at
my hotel in Paris, dead tired as usual. There I was in Paris,
located on the River Seine and home to Chanel, Dior, Louis
Vuitton, Yves Saint-Laurent etc. I didn’t, however, have much
use for any of these stores. I was wondering if I would even
have time to visit any of the famed touristy places i.e Notre
Dame, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe etc.
I soon met the other cyclists, all busy
reassembling their bikes after equally long flights. With the
help of our bike mechanic, Gergo, my bike was soon in tip-top
shape. My bike lock seemed to be the only thing of importance
that I had left behind. Marion and Barry (from Australia) kindly
lent me one of theirs until such time as I could pick one up
along the way. Together with David and Edna (also from
Australia), I had an early bite to eat and then it was off to
4 June - Paris - 35km
Early the next morning the entire group left
the hotel and cycled down the road to the city centre. The
traffic was light and we had a great ride through the streets of
Paris. Past the Eiffel Tower, around the Arc de Triomphe and
down the road to the Louvre. We had a quick coffee stop and then
it was back on the bikes along the River Seine, and back to our
hotel. Ricardo, Miles and Gergo gave us a short briefing on the
low-down of what to expect on the tour in the following days.
Everything seemed to be extremely well-organised so it appeared
that I was in for a relaxing month ahead. I found a bike shop
and invested in a helmet and bike lock and was as keen as
everyone to get out on the bike, and see what Europe was really
5 June - Paris – Chenoise - 71km
At last I was back on the bike and could not
have been happier. We left Paris in a group ride and I felt a
little silly as all my fellow cyclists were dressed in full
cycling gear, and there I was in my usual shorts, sandals and T-
shirt. It was a very easy ride through the French countryside
and past very tiny villages. We stopped for lunch under some
trees before we did the last few kms into Chenoise. We arrived
at the campsite in Chenoise quite early and everyone fiddled
with their tents and gear. The campsite was on a farm in the
countryside with a very French-looking farmhouse and loads of
horses, donkeys and ponies.
6 June - Chenoise – Troyes - 90km
It got light really early and the farm
animals made sure that no one overslept. After a good breakfast
we were ready to cycle down the road. At Provins we turned off
the road to explore the old walled city with its castle and old
houses. Then back on the road through the countryside, past vast
farmlands, poppy fields and small villages. These villages were
really tiny and extremely French-looking with its stone-built
houses and windowsill flowers. Things are so organised
and orderly in France that from time to time these villages
resembled ghost towns, as not a peep came from any of the
houses. Even the “riot” in one of the small villages was so
peaceful it resembled a well-rehearsed play.
On arrival in Troyes I was pleasantly
surprised to find an extremely comfortable hotel waiting for us.
What luxury I was enjoying. Troyes is known as the historic
capital of Champagne, and I was looking forward to some really
7 June - Troyes
We spent the day in Troyes, famed for its
wood-framed houses and the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Word also has it that The Order of the Knights Templar was
founded here in 1128 by the Council of Troyes. I was keen to
find out more about this mysterious history. Unfortunately
however, I met no one belonging to the Order but found loads of
Champagne and thoroughly enjoyed the day in Troyes.
8 June - Troyes
– Val de Meuse - 140km
After a hearty breakfast at our fancy hotel
we were all ready to get on the road. A nasty surprise awaited
us as the (locked) bicycles belonging to my fellow South
Africans, Evlyn and Alf, had disappeared from the hotel’s
parking garage. I now have the greatest respect for them as they
took it all in their stride without making a fuss. Off they went
to the bike shop, bought two new bikes and got on the road.
The rest of us set off on a beautiful ride
through the countryside with numerous stops for coffee and
pastries. Although fairly cold, it was an enjoyable day out on
the road. Needless to say that when Evlyn and Alf arrived at the
campsite on their new bikes, it was to great applause for their
strength of character and the way they handled the whole
situation. A good few bottles of red wine were consumed, partly
due to the cold and partly to celebrate the new bikes. At 3
Euros a bottle, we felt no guilt in opening a bottle or two.
9 June - Val de
Meuse – Plombieres-les-Bains - 88km
I was reluctant to get out of my warm
sleeping bag as it was still bitterly cold in the morning. The
sun threatened to come out from time to time but to no avail. At
lunch we had some awesome cheese and bread (something there is
quite a good variety of in France).
Plombieres turned out to be a fascinating
place with narrow straight-up houses built on the mountain side
and known for its thermal baths. After a cup of coffee in the
village we cycled the 2 km uphill to our campsite and reached it
just in time before the rain came down.
10 June -
Plombieres-les-Bains – Munster -
We left our campsite in freezing cold weather
and sped downhill into the misty valleys of France, past
vineyards and quaint villages. One long climb brought us to a
ski resort (fortunately it’s summer) where we had lunch and
coffee in one of the coffee shops. We sped downhill for about
18km to the small village of Munster where we arrived with
frozen fingers and toes. Two people in our group got half-lost
but fortunately found their way back onto the right road again.
We arrived at our campsite fairly early and
had enough time to wonder through the streets of Munster, eyeing
the storks nesting on the rooftops. At camp we (once again) had
an excellent supper, accompanied by loads of local wine.