On a Monday morning in September we handed the keys of the flat to our landlord. ‘I’ve cycled in Vietnam in the early 90s’, he said.‘It was the hardest and the most rewarding thing I have ever done.’ Then he snapped a picture of us and waved goodbye while we set off with all our remaining belongings stuffed in six panniers.
The sun was beaming while we cycled past Greenwich leaving the outer boroughs of London behind. Because England, it didn’t take long for the skies to open up and welcome us with heavy showers on our first day. Cycling in the rain along the Thames, it didn’t seem to make any difference if we are next to or in the water.
I’d like to think it was London’s way to say goodbye, as it stopped after we passed the circular M25 motorway, the cities quasi-border and we enjoyed sunny mornings wild camping during the next days.
Surprisingly, great spots can be found only 1–2 days away from London. We saw lakes, castles and many, many apple trees.
We reached Dover, where we stayed with Rebecca and David, our lovely Warmshowers hosts, munching Risotto around the dinner table.
The next morning we raced down to the station, just making it in time for Lucy’s train. Here we split up for the next weeks. She traveled back to Liverpool to take care of her dad, while I continued to the ferry taking me cross the channel to Calais, France.
There was only one other cyclist on the ferry and because being squished between lorries connects, we started chatting: He was 73, but easily looked twenty years younger. Started in Switzerland, he has spent the last six weeks cycling through England and Scotland. Since he retired, he figured, why not discover one European country each summer?
We cycled into Calais together, where I soon lost him to take a picture of this bar, which seemed to be the true border between the UK and France:
I hadn’t made any arrangements for accommodations and was hoping the lucky streak of picturesque wild camping spots would continue. I was wrong! Thin lines of trees dividing fields would be the dominant landscape for the next week and I had to look for hours every evening to find small patches of forest to pitch my tent.
A few days in I stayed in a yurt together with my first French host François and his girlfriend. They have been building the yurt in their free time over the past two years before finally moving in this April. It still has the distinct new yurt smell.
After enjoying an evening of cheese and card games, I set off to Abbeville to hit the river Somme and continue along the banks towards Amiens. The ride was mostly flat, especially once I reached the river, although strong winds and cold nights (about 4C) made it not as pleasant as it would be later in the south.
I could see Amiens cathedral long before I arrived in the city. The building is massive, the 19th biggest church in the world I learned later. And there are a lot of churches in the world.
From Amiens, it was a short trip to Paris. I found some nice camp spots. One, in particular, stood out, located in the midst of a forest, at the end of some green corridors.
In the morning I was woken up by loud bangs. After a few seconds of confusion, I realized what was going on: Hunters had set off in the early morning hours and were shooting around me. I packed my stuff in record time and cycled off.
After ten days I was looking forward to my first rest day which I spend with my friend Diane. After we have been living together in London for over a year she had moved back to Paris and I was excited to see her and her new place. For the day I planned a long walk through the city but found myself sleeping for the most part instead. I learned that ten days on a bike does take its toll.
I left Paris in the early morning hours along the Seine on the EuroVelo 6, one of Europes 17 long distance cycle-paths, spoiled by its perfect tarmac, completely traffic and hill free.
The Eurovelo is fun and you can easily fly 100km per day along the river. But it lacks in variety and after a few days, I was missing the villages I had seen the week before. Other cyclists and hikers told me because of this approachability the way would be very popular and getting busy during the summer months.
My course was set towards Lyon and two days prior I had the pleasure to meet another Warmshowers host, Chantal. It was a rainy day, so I cycled fast and got to her house in the afternoon. I only knew the street, but it didn’t take me long to find her house:
Before retiring, Chantal worked as a craftswomen. She loves building things with wood and has been keeping herself busy transforming an old farmhouse she bought in 2010 into her stunning new home. Every room oozes detail, from door-frames made of painted tree barks, sculptures of smoothly polished roots, up to drawer knobs looking like small hedgehogs, painted by burning the wood with a soldering iron. That’s what she does, collecting scrap wood and pallets and creating things in her workshop.
While eating dinner she showed me the Warmshowers folder, a guest book, in which everybody had left a page with thank you notes, pictures, and drawings. It goes back over 3 years. I was #73. The next morning I left a poem and chocolate in the folder and headed off towards Lyon.
The last leg took me over the highest hills I had encountered so far. As much as my legs were aching when I finally arrived in the evening, the views freewheeling down into the valley were absolutely worth it.
I had arranged to spend a rest day in the city and Alex, brand manager of a local craft beer company and cycling enthusiast, had agreed to host me. Upon arrival, we had no time to lose and met his friends at a bar which (surprise!) was serving all available types of Alex’s beer Ninkasi. We had a great evening which might or might have not ended in a German beer bar. It’s all a bit blurry.
Three years ago, Alex crossed the US together with a friend in seven weeks. They even got a front page and a long article in a local US newspaper as […] these two crazy French adventurers for the trip. In the summer he had cycled to Athens, but much faster and lighter than I am planning to. While I am carrying accommodation and kitchen with me, he packed his credit card and bought all necessities on the way.
Leaving Lyon, I followed the Rhône through the valley, which must be one of the most beautiful rides in the country. Surrounded by mountains with villages hidden by hectares of wine grapes, a wide and flat cycle path is rolling through fields, over bridges and country roads. The mediterranean climate was getting closer and I switched jumper and jacket for sun cream.
One evening I met another cycling tourer: Dirk, a history teacher, cycled from his hometown Bern in Switzerland to the Provence as he had a few weeks off.
We both had set eyes on the same spot for the night but after chatting for a bit we both agreed to skip it and to cycle to the next village, Tain-l’Hermitage, home of some of the best Cote du Rhône wine and Valrhona chocolate, instead. We agreed that this was calling for another rest day.
It was the only rainy day for a while and therefore the perfect excuse to eat tons of free chocolate at the museum and finish with testing all local wines surrounding the area.
Together we cycled to Avignon, where we waved goodbye after a couple of fun days and an excellent cup of coffee, and I continued towards Marseille. It has been hot over the past days and I was desperate to finally jump into the sea.
After being spoiled over the past week, I expected an easy last day ride, only to find myself stuck in an industrial area on the coast surrounded by oil refineries and big petrol trucks overtaking me on motorway-esque roads. This area should be marked with a big skull on every cycle map, it was grim. But finally…
I had been looking forward to waking up in the morning and jumping into the sea my whole trip and it was fantastic. It felt great to have cycled all the way for this morning dip and I forgot the stress of the previous day instantly.
Now it was only a short ride to Marseille, my temporary end of the trip. Climbing over a big hill the city opened up in front of my while I rolled down the road along the coast.
I stayed with Katja and Oliver, a lovely cycling, swing dancing, German-French couple, which would not only take me out dancing but would also introduce me to Velorution, the monthly cyclists revolution. Together with about 100 people (it was a lame evening according to Katja), blinking lights, music and drinks, we cycled through the city.
The local bike workshops had brought out their extravagant bikes. One had fit a dog bed including a dog on the handlebar, another a second bike welded on the first one. I couldn’t not have a go.
This unexpected and funny ending to my trip perfectly summed up the past weeks in this wonderful country. Next up will be Italy and finally, Lucy will join me again.