Gardanne - Grenoble ... 14/04/08 to 30/04/08
We leave Gardanne on Monday afternoon, quite late. We are not sure we will find a campsite on the road and we won't reach our original first stop tonight ... good start!
After about 20km, we stop in front of a big house and ask for a campsite or even a field for the tent ... but there isn't anything around here.
Luckily, Michel and Clarisse generously open their door for us and we camp on their lawn. They also invite us for dinner and we have a great time with them and their 3 children ... we go to bed at 1am! The next morning, they invite us for coffee.
Tuesday night, we stop at Rognes where Laurence and Olivier let us stay in their small house in the middle of a pine forest. Olivier isn't here but Laurence spoils us: she joins us for dinner and comes back the next morning with coffee and croissants! Those first 2 days are a great start for the trip!
We then cycle along the Durance, little villages of stone houses on the top of rocky hills above the river. We had forgotten about lunch time in France, the shops are closed between noon and 3pm here! Too bad, we have to eat pizzas ;o)
We camp in Cavaillon, not so great, next to a big noisy road. We leave quickly the next day and arrive in Vedène where we have decided to stop for a rest.
We meet Catherine, Klaus-Dieter, Cyrille and Fabien, and their little dog, Fanny, on holiday here for a week. They come to see us, intrigued by the bikes. The next morning, they invite us for breakfast ... we have a good time chatting and eating. They then go to visit Avignon and for us, it's laundry time ...
The weather becomes really bad, wind and rain and we decide to pack everything in the panniers. If we are flooded we can take all our stuff quickly to the showers building. Ben and Klaus-Dieter go for some shopping (food is soooo important when you cycle!) and then we all have dinner under their big tent. Worried by how bad the weather has become, we go back to our tent and prepare ourselves for a sleepless night, there is already some water at the door ... Klaus-Dieter arrives very soon after and suggests we put all our stuff in their car. That way, we don't have much to carry if we have to leave. Luckily, the weather forecast was pessimistic and the rain stops during the night.
On Saturday, we finally meet the Rhône and we also enter a new department, the Gard! We seem to have gone very fast suddenly! Cycling along the river is great, especially when we are on small roads, a bit less when we are on the 'nationale'.
The wind turns very strong and the rain comes too ... in Viviers, we can't find a camp site so we carry on to Chateauneuf du Pape. Someone there tells us there is actually a camp site in Viviers ... grrrr, we do a U-turn and carry on under the rain!
Warm welcome from the owner. He tells us to camp under the shelter next to the office ... there is a concrete floor, light and tables, wonderful! Everything can dry during the night.
The second week, we cycle along the Rhône on small and big roads. We meet a lot of people along the road, cyclists say hello and wave, truck drivers flash their lights and people on the pavement look at us either puzzled or interested ...
On Friday, we take the train in St Rambert d'Albon for Grenoble where we meet Albane (Sylvie's sister), Benoît, Yann (Sylvie's brother) and Karolien.
Hard time at the station: while we are waiting for our train, another train comes in without any warning and passes in front us at full speed. My sleeping bag rolls on the platform and goes under the train ...
From Grenoble, Ben goes to Lyon and buy me a new one (Valandré Blue 600). Someone at the Vieux Campeur (great hiking shop) helps him repair our stove ... everything is sorted!
We are now waiting for our new wheels. There have been a mistake on the hubs so we had to order again, thanks a lot to Rando-boutique in Paris for their help!
Grenoble - Lake Constance ... 14/04/08 to 17/05/08
We leave Grenoble on Thursday afternoon, we start with a beautiful 6km descent, what a great way to get our legs in shape! Sylvie breaks a record with a peak at 40km/h. Ben is a little more cautious, he still remembers the fall of Olivier with the trailer. As the idea of crossing Lyon cycling is not very attractive, we take the train to Villefranche s / Saône a city just a little bit further north, and we spend the night camping along the Saone. The train journey is epic, as usual it is not easy to change platform within 10 min with 2 bikes, 6 bags, and a trailer… fortunately, people often take pity and help us!
The next day we cycle along the Saône, it is a beautiful day, we use the track along the river in more or less good condition but at least we are away from the cars. The Saône is more pleasant than the Rhone, no major hydro-electric dams, many fishermen and cyclists… At Crèches sur Saône, Michel, Sylvie’s uncle, that leaves further up in the montains, comes with his truck so that we can load the bicycles directly, it is much easier than the train! we spend 2 very pleasant days with Michel and Myriam his wife but most importantly Ben can eat a massive piece of meat (blue of course for those who know me!) thank you Michel !
We then beat another record, our distance this time is 64km from Pruzilly to Tournus! We are reassured, we will be able to keep our average 55km/jour. Tournus is a nice little town along the Saone. The camping site is managed by an Englishman (where are we going :o) ), he is almost a compatriot! The next day we “cheat” a little and take the train to Dole. We are trying to catch up with the Jolivots (http://5-bicyclettons.over-blog.com), a family of 5, who left for their world tour 2 days ago from Dole. The journey goes quickly, one of the train controllers is passionate about our trip and we chat almost an hour! When we get to Dole we can really see that we have changed region, houses are different and churches have multicolored tile roofs like the one in Beaune. When we get there, the Jolivots are already 80 km away! We need to speed up …
Dole is for us the beginning of the long “Eurovelo 6” cycling route (www.eurovelo6.org), it runs from France to Romania following as much as possible the Danube River (at least from Germany on). We also change river, we now cycle along the Doubs. The road is more or less reserved for cyclists, what a pleasure! The only slopes are small bridges or locks. We are beginning to meet traveller-cyclist, people like us with paniers and even trailers! Near Besancon, a store opened a year ago when the cycling route was opened. Relais velo rents “normal” bikes as well as recumbents and even trikes! Warm wellcome by the owner, we are his first long term travellers of the season!
We are finally catching up with the Jolivots. Big reunion, they have fresh beers: Yes Yes Yes I will get a bit of my beer belly back! and they invite us for dinner: sausage, cheese and potatoes yummy. We spend the night exchanging tips on how to get better at packing, cycling etc.(Traveller-Cyclist stuff basically). This is their first week and 2 of their children, Jules (12 years old) and Faustine (9 years old), are riding with their own Bags. They managed to ride between 30 and 50km a day. Marick (only 4 years old) does not cycle yet and ride with his father on a special tandem. We ride the next 3 days with them, Florence and Joel are in front, Sylvie and Faustina are exchanging gossips and behind Ben and Jules are exchanging all the jokes they knows. It is more difficult to get 7 people started up than 2, there is always one person that is not ready! But it is also more fun!
The last day we cross the border with Germany together and stop at a fantastic campsite. The site looks more like a summer camp: bar, mini-golf, swimming pool, small shop… We decide to take our rest day here! We are celebrating our first border crossing at the bar (that’s one thing that will keep me going for sure).
We say goodbye to the Jolivots the next day, they go down the Rhine and we go up towards Basel. We are very impressed by the German and Swiss infrastructure for cyclist: Signs along all cycling routes (and trust me there are a lot of them, it looks like you can go anywhere by bike) with directions and distances. The bike paths usually go through fields, woods or, sometimes run parallel to the road but at a safe distance. For the long weekend of the 8th of May, it seems that the whole of Germany is on bicycles: Families with children on small bikes or in a trailer, groups of friends, couples, retired people… Cycling is a mean of transport on its own here; people do their shopping, go to the swimming pool, to work, at school, on vacation…
The architecture has changed too. Basel in particular seduces us with its high, narrow and colored houses, its small cobbled streets, and its cool water fountains. The left bank of the Rhine is full of outdoor cafes, where people can enjoy the sun. Even with the route signs it takes us a while to cross Bale; Cities are always more complicated when you’re on a bicycle!
The Swiss villages look very traditional with their white and red half-timbered houses and their wooden chalets. The German villages are more modern but equally peaceful There are no high walls around the houses, only small well-kept gardens with small wooden fences to demarcate the land, it seems to give a sense of space and unity.
The road along the Rhine passes through Switzerland and Germany. We frequently cross the border between the two. The customs officials don’t seem to be stopping anybody any longer. They are probably very bored as, as we were passing through the lovely (actually very lovely) village of laufenburg, 2 of them were checking, with a metre rule, the length of the table cloth on a restaurant table to make sure it was not too long or something like that: Weird !
We are a little astonished by the Swiss patriotism: flags floating in front of caravans, in gardens, on cars… Swiss and Germans on both sides give us a warm welcome and even if they look at us a bit curiously, they at least don’t greet us with some: “Lasy People”, “Don’t fall asleep etc. We wish we spoke German, several people approach us and we try to communicate with them using a mixture of English and German but mostly signs… Actually it works quite well!
Just after Schaffhausen, that Ben knows very well for having worked there for more than 6 months (it was strange going back there, if Avishai, Tsvika or Pav read this they will understand), we have the great surprise of meeting a couple riding on Streetmachines, the same bike as ours! We start chatting on the road under the astonished eyes of passers-by; 2 recumbents is already bizarre but 4 woawww… We end up talking in a café for 2 hours; luckily we had planned a short trip that day. For those who look at the pictures, the massive guy that looks like Schwarzenegger on the recumbent is not me (unfortunately), if riding a recumbent was doing that I guess there would be more Streetmachines on the street…
By the time we get to our camping the sky has darkened, we just have enough time to put up our tent and throw all the bags inside. Ben strengthens the tent by adding stakes in case of strong wind while Sylvie sets up the inside of the tent. By the time everything is finished Ben looks like a very wet rag, we have to setup a special area in the tent for him to undress. At least we don’t need a shower tonight; we even have a cold dinner: German sausage, mackerels on a delicious German bread. It rains throughout the night but in the morning, we are awakened by a lovely sun, the sky is clear, we can go.
Ben is very eager the whole day, we are supposed to meet Dave, a colleague and best friend of Ben. He specially drove down Belgium for 8 hours to meet us (luckily he has a lovely Audi A6 which means he goes faster than we do). As Dave arrives late and does not have a tent we manage to rent a Caravan, wow luxury for us!!! We spend a great weekend together: canoeing on lake Constance, touring in the A6 (God I love that car), and of course eating and drinking German food and beer. Thanks Dave, you are and remain the true and only Minister of Fun.
The next day, we have to leave Dave with regrets, he has to return to Belgium ( I know his work is important there so …), at least he is in his lovely Audi while we have to cycle to Tuttlingen, our first city on the Danube, under the rain!!! It is probably our toughest day yet, a lot of hills and with the rain and the wind we only manage to reach 5 or 6 km/h. It is very depressing especially since for the first time there are no signs and no cycling path as we are crossing non-touristy areas (some would say: “better get use to it”, and we will), it is also our longest leg so far, it feels like we can’t see the end of it. But the thought of a hot shower helps us to hang on. Unfortunately when we get to Tuttlingen there are no camping grounds as indicated in the guide. It’s 20 o’clock, dark and raining, we are soaked and tired and of course now very depressed. We realise that we have just passed a 1000km today a good reason to celebrate and therefore to get a hotel :o) We are very lucky the owners of Rosengarten hotel are great, they lived for 12 years in Namibia setting up there own farm and B&B. We talk until 11am... We would have stayed longer but the Danube is calling us ...