Shoko and I had quit our jobs (again) in 2001 to take care of some unfinished business, namely a good, long trip in Europe. After warming up with a one-month walk across Spain, and a few days assembling our bikes in Chichester, England, we landed in Cherbourg, France for what would turn out to be a pivotal point in our lives, I guess. This five-week ride is probably the reason we are living in France now. I just asked myself afterwards how it would be possible to be satisfied with anything less, in terms of cycling possibilities. I used to be a Buddhist, which helped with procrastination (Ah, just do it in my next life…), but I’ve since given up that comforting belief, so better get it done now!
Back to the point of this entry. So we landed in Cherbourg, and spent the first few days riding along the hedgerows of Normandy, camping near the D-day beaches a couple of nights. This is me at Utah Beach, trying to cook something on our first evening in the tent.
This was the beginning of June, and other than it being a tad cool in the north of France, it was an excellent time to cycle. The campgrounds were nearly empty, as were the roads. This is a poppy-filled stretch in the south of Normandy someplace.
Our first rest day was in Chartres, with its amazing cathedral and equally impressive campground. We stayed there for two well-deserved days to clean up the bikes and play tourist. This is the little river on the way from the campground to the cathedral.
And a bit of the big church.
After Chartres we hung a hard right and headed towards the Loire Valley, filled with vineyards, wheat fields and stupidly giant and ornate chateaux.
From the Loire we headed south, then west, through the extreme, but beautiful rurality of Limousin (bring lots of food with you, those things that look like towns on your map are something a little less!) and into Cognac, where we somehow ended up staying nearly a week, deciding what to do next. In the end we thought we would skip ahead and hit the south. So, we stupidly took a local train down to Bordeaux (wildly crowded, but still not a peep out of anybody when two loaded bikes were crammed into the carriage), and a regional one to Nimes. This is Bordeaux station and all our gear.
And here is Shoko, dwarfed by the Roman temple of Nimes.
Something changes once you arrive in the south. The air is clear and dry, it’s hot, and you start to see a lot of pastel! We found it very agreeable, I have to say. Maybe that’s why we now live only 50km from the temple in the picture above. Anyway, the south was one pleasant surprise after another. The first were the endless fields of sunflowers as soon as we left Nimes and entered into Provence.
Another was the smell (and look) of the lavender fields of the higher elevations. I will never ever forget the first time we encountered one. We had just spent the better part of a day rounding the northern fringe of Mt. Ventoux (mythical Tour de France monolith), and after a short descent we broke out of the narrow valley we were in and were rewarded with a deep-purple field of lavender. The smell absolutely filled the air.
After a couple days in Sault (the middle of a very large lavender-growing region) we turned towards the south which, after this little pass, was mostly downhill all the way to Aix-en-Provence.
I love this next shot because it brings back those long afternoons in the campsite, going through our guide, calculating our daily expenses, and planning our next day’s route on the Michelin. Although now that I see this picture again, I wonder if I’m being a little too romantic. The ground looks really grotty…
We spent two weeks or so cycling the hills of Provence, winding our way towards Nice, and The End. I didn’t actually scan any pictures of that End, but here is one taken at a snack break pretty close.