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It’s Greece!

May 26, 2013

As you might have gathered, Spain never happened for various rather sad reasons. However, we now have an invite to Greece for next Easter and, after much deliberation, we’ve decided this must be done by bike. None of your namby pamby fly drive.
So. 1,000 miles to Venice; ferry to Greece; a week in Athens for Easter; up the Balkan coast for another 1,000 miles; then motorrail it home (or Paris or somewhere in Holland then home).
Now, this should be fun!

♪♪ Ferry – cross the Biscay ♪♪

January 23, 2012

It seems there are more options than I thought, although most are Brittany Ferries only.

The good news we can go from Portsmouth rather than Plymouth to Santander. There is an option to go to Bilbao but this doesn’t save any money.

The other alternative is a ferry from St Nazaire to Gijón which is halfway across the north Spain coast… got to get to St Nazaire first though.

Ferry Cross the Biscay

The trick is to balance the extra travelling cost in fuel and time. As best as I can figure this works out as:

Portsmouth – Santander – 24hr crossing – 2 days total travelling – 207 miles riding (to Gijón) – about £245 (each way)

St Nazaire – Gijón – 15 hr crossing – 3 days total travelling – 540 miles riding – about £250 (each way)

Think we’ll save the numb bums and sleep our way across the Biscay.

I guess this is Spain, not Portsmouth

And now for Spain…

January 21, 2012

Negotiations have concluded with an agreement on 2 1/2 weeks this time so time to start planning.

It seems the obvious route out is the ferry to Santander – an overnight in Plymouth with a 24hr crossing – which leaves 12/13 days touring (allowing for a couple of free days). Keeping it to a lazy 120 miles a day gives round about 1,500 miles.

Santander to Santiago de Compostela via the mountains is about 800 miles leaving plenty of time for exporing the coast on the way back – or vice versa, depending on the weather when we get there.

The way of the mountain

Good, that’s a plan. Now to investigate the accommodation options with paradores, hotels, campsites (only joking BB). And start saving up, of course.

Home run

September 28, 2011

Well, that’s it folks. 2,643 miles in 22 days, 6 countries (7 counting France twice) with 5 languages, glorious weather (with the occasional thunderous downpour) and a new pipe smoking altitude record of 9,000 feet on the Col d’Iseran.

(One last note about Mabel: leaving our gracious cousins this morning she actually found some hairpin bends in a departement with a maximum elevation of 300 feet. Thanks, Mabel, you’ve been a real star.)

It's all about the bike


September 27, 2011

Les cousins – have dropped the “e” the OG included as Jim wants people to know he is not female – still drink wine!

We have now moved on from Leon, through the gently undulating countryside of the Somme and into the Pas de Calais. The road surface was gently undulating too – Mabel was in off piste mode, but it was warm and sunny, so we forgave her.

We drove along the Chemin des Dames on the way to Leon and passed a couple of war cemeteries. In the Somme they are everywhere. Sometimes just a few war graves in the local village plot; at other times a whole cemetery full of nothing but the dead of La Grand Guerre. By chance we drove through Mametz and veered off to see the Welsh Memorial, thus giving Mabel a chance to exercise her recalculating skills. The memorial is down a long farm track but is fairly well sign-posted from Mametz village. Fortunately we did not meet any other traffic – this is a single carriageway with no passing places.

Mametz Wood

It was really peaceful at the memorial and very moving. Difficult to believe that about 4000 men died here, including the OG’s great uncle, fighting over a few hundred yards of field.

Memorial to the 38th Welah Division, Mametz

Anyway, on to lighter matters: today’s prize for the most bizarre Irish pub name goes to Murphy’s Loch Ness Irish Bar in Saint Kenton. No, we didn’t make this up – promise – well, only the Kenton bit; it’s actually St Quentin.

And now, the end is near…

September 25, 2011

The countryside from Troyes is very, very flat, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. It was a really enjoyable ride on, mostly (thank you Mabel), bigger roads. The anticipation of the Parc National de Montagne de Reims was palpable. They are really lovely, wooded hills, but soaring to a lofty 400 feet makes the ‘montagne’ seem a little pretentious. Made us reminiscent of the forest of Ashridge because that is apparently the highest point in Hertfordshire at 400 feet.

Laon is yet another jewel of a medieval hill top town – or even city – that we’d never heard of before. Not cheap, but we still managed the 4pm vin blanc in the sunshine. It is a stunning hill-top in a very flat plain and if your hotel, like ours, is at the bottom, a hell of a climb up the steps in the sunshine. BB was gasping like a (rest of this sentence deleted, and so was the OG – Ed).

If you can keep your breath when all about are losing theirs… (sorry RK)

But I did sneak in this pic of BB partaking of the local history.

BB as you’ve never seen her before

The Cathedrale is even more magnificent than the Church of St Martin at the other end of the hill – and that’s saying something.

Cathedrale de Laon

Oh, No 2. There was even a rally of vintage cars, of which we have many pics. But, just to whet your appetite, here’s a Talbot (the others were French and Italian, mostly Bugattis).

oooh pretty

Incidentally, and a propos of nothing else, we have no idea what happened in the France / New Zealand rugby game but, if you’re reading this, FT, all the papers said France intended to lose for tactical reasons. Well, it made us laugh…

Tomorrow we make visit with the cousines en France. I wonder if they still drink vin rouge?

You can’t keep a good satnav down – below 1000m

September 24, 2011

Happiness is a middle-aged, slightly overweight English woman sitting in the sun and stuffing a warm pain au chocolate down her gob. True. The OG had an escagot de raisin, but what does he know? Tip for those in France who find they are going to be charged mega euros for a rather small, continental breakfast: go to the local patisserie / boulanger / salon de the. Much cheaper, much better and a major sense of having got one over to boot! Anyway, this morning it cost less than 5 euros, as opposed to the 22 euros the hotel was proposing to charge on top of the cost of the room (which was very nice, by the way, and the chairs in their restaurant looked pretty good too, but I don’t eat chairs). Many thanks also to M Toussaint, baker extraordinaire of Dole, who is a genius.

Chez M Toussaint

Mabel was on top form today. Oh yes! Mabel at her very best. We meandered through picturesque French villages straight out of Country Living – and when they put the roads in it will be perfect. We even passed a real live (???) taxidermist, who presumably makes a living stuffing the motorists who don’t survive. Still, it gave the OG time to practice his cow-recognition skills. He has discovered that there is a massive hole in my education, in that I am not particularly au fait with different breeds of cow, and he has set himself the task of rectifying this sad ommision in our joint knowledge base. He can do 3 breeds of cow so far: Highland (haven’t seen any, but he remembers them from Scotland), Charolais  and Moux (think about it, chaps, it’s not that difficult).

Anyway, Mighty Mabel finally got us onto something approaching a carriageway (it had road markings) and we even saw a sign for Troyes – our destination of  choice – but that would be too easy. We turned off and headed up hill – and onto the most glorious road (try the road from Mirebeau-sur-Beze to Chatillon-sur-Seine – D959, D3, D901, D954, D996, D928 or basically straight on – how the hell do they number their roads?). Through the rolling hills at the upper reaches of the Seine, past Maisy The Duck (Maisey-Le-Duc), the Cabbage Patch Abbey (Abbaye du Val des Choues – the French can’t spell!) and down into Champagne. Fabulous – and warm and sunny (do hope it’s raining in London).

Somewhere or other (with moux cows - but you can't see them) Half a mile down the road was a sign saying 'Nowhere Gulch' - no, really

And now we’re in Troyes – allegedly once the home of Chretien of that Ilk, who as we all know was a medieval French poet and a good mate of Richard the Lionheart’s mum. Yep, another day, another picturesque old town (this one is timbered). How do we cope, you ask yourselves? Hell, it’s easy when you don’t even have to try.

Another opening, another day

September 23, 2011

And so the intrepid two left the land of the marmotte and the tartiflette and headed north into the Jura – which as we all know is a type of whisky and therefore a very good place to be. The Jura, as we now discover, is quite mountainous – although it’s pretty small fry compared to the Alps (we didn’t quite make 1000m today). But it is seriously good biking country and Mabel was behaving impecably – taking us along some interesting, quiet and mostly intact byways. For future reference, try the road from Bellgarde-sur-Valsenne to Orgelet. Lovely.

We had lunch in a small auberge somewhere or other – it probably has a name, but as the road wasn’t on our map this cannot be confirmed. Anyway, at 12.50 euros for 4 courses we were not complaining.

Onto Dole. Never heard of it, just another midpoint on a Google map. A fabulous mediaeval hill town and another home of the Templars. Didn’t see Dan Brown or any descendants of JC though and, sadly, no fabled treasure. Unless you count a Franch-Comte version of tratiflette – oh, yes.

And another discovery, Jura wine – in this case Ploussard, AC Arbois, made in somewhere called Pupillin. A cheeky little light red that goes down oh so easily. Pardon moi.

One final note – on the way into Dole we stopped for a coffee at a bar – would you believe ‘Au Connemara’? No, I don’t believe it either.


Random Ramblings of a bike nerd or two

September 22, 2011

Today was a crepey sort of day. It’s a rest day; we’re still at Annecy and, being all tarifletted out we hit the crepes. Crepes in the crepuscule, so to speak, which sounds a lot more inviting than pancakes by twilight, especially when the said twilight in Annecy in front of the old jail. The Grand Marnier and the Chartreuse which followed also added to the sense of occasion.

Clink in the crepuscule

Anyway, on to the random musings, as promised above:

1) What’s with the foreign fascination for Irish pubs? They are everywhere – except possibly Radtstadt, where we don’t think we saw one. But the Irish bar in Landstuhl is called the Blarney Stone and the one in Annecy is the Finn Kenny. Note to all none-Irish types: Irish bars are fantastic in Ireland. They are just about OK in Kilburn and parts of New York. Otherwise, like English pubs (and they get about too – there is at least one in Annecy) they really don’t travel..

2) On the subject of things English abroad: we keep finding bottles of Newcastle Brown – which is bizarre considering how hard we try to avoid it in England. It appears to be a gourmet item – along with Fuller’s Pride and other similar brands. Do explain someone. What have we been missing for all of these years?

3) Sparrows: allegedly an endangered species in England. We now believe they have all migrated south because of the smoking ban in Europe, which means that smokers who once ate inside now eat outside because it is warm enough to do so and so the food opportunities are so much greater. Anyway, there are hundreds of them round here.

4)  The British and Americans are not the only ones who can make up verbs. New french word of the moment, especially designed for students, Tiswas and the Chuckle Brothers: “entarter”: to chuck a custard pie in someone’s face. A lot more useful than the usual management speak (add value; incentivise, etc.,) and so much more entertaining at meetings…

5) And finally, random sighting of the day: man pushing Monoprix Supermarket shopping trolley around the medieval town – which is hard work in itself as it’s all cobbled – but his trolley contained a kitchen sink. Really. Which probably proves something but we’re not quite sure what. Going to sleep on it (not the sink – tee hee).

vielle Annecy

Climb every mountain – return of the bike nerds

September 21, 2011

God bless the French! I am unlikely ever to write this again so please take note.

After a pleasant evening in an Alpine chalet we hit the road again…for about 200 yards when we found someone had closed it overnight and our planned route was now no longer a possibility. Being ever resourceful – and not stupid – we rejected the sheer drop and went the other way. This led (via a coffee shop and a proper french croissant) to the Col d’Iseran, which is shown on the map as 2764m, so well over 500m higher than yesterday and above the snow line.

Bike nerds - not quite at the top

Lulu - on top of the world, Ma

Being a bit on the woosey side when it comes to heights, I freely admit that on some occasions I had my eyes closed. There are only so many sheer drops I can handle (actually, I can’t really handle them at all – I didn’t make it out on the balcony of the hotel last night as the wooden floor looked like it had seen better days). But looking up and straight ahead was usually OK – and when I could cope the view was stunning.

Stunning view - as discussed


Added bonus: we saw a real live marmot. The beneficial effect of such a sighting may not be immediately obvious as the IG omitted to mention that he is now the proud owner of a yodeling marmot key ring (his new best friend). It currently lives in the tank bag and is prone to start yodeling whenever we fill up with petrol, so all of the native think we are idiots. We are unable to confirm if the real thing actually does yodel as it took one look at the large blue motorbike bearing down on it and scuttled off down a hole.

Anyway, we are now holed up ourselves in Annecy, a rather splendid medieval town on the edge of a lake. The weather is perfect; the wine is pretty good and we are stuffed full of tartiflette, so all in Woody-world is pretty OK.

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