Acoustic Motorbikes or Le Tour de France

As you know, I will venture to France again for more walking soon, and while I’m at it, another marathon effort will be undertaken by lots of crazy cyclists in the feat known as the Tour de France.

Someone asked me this week whether my route will take me anywhere near the race, so I checked. It doesn’t, thankfully.  Finding accommodation would be mission impossible if the Tour went even close to my route.  Instead, I’ll just be competing with thousands of holidaying French walkers.

It was such a treat to be able to see again the lush, yet brutal, Triplets of Belleville, at the Adelaide Festival in March 2018, with Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville conducted by Benoît Charest live on stage. I’m hoping this year’s tour entrants don’t have the same kind of family background, training regime or become the victims of gangster kidnappers. It seems this is as close to the T de F as I’ll get for 2018.

However, the route goes to several places I have visited on my many travels, and I thought it might be nice to re-visit my diaries and provide some guidance to Tour entrants about the must-see things to do (after their brief and completely non-exhausting daily rides – ha ha)!

Stage 3, July 9: Cholet – Cholet (TTT), 35km

Should there be any tour entrants with Huguenot ancestry, I can thoroughly recommend the Le Musée de La France Protestante De L’Ouest, in the middle of nowhere (like Cholet, incidentally and near to it).  I can also highly recommend the train and two buses it takes to get there from Angers. My friend Seb called it ‘deep France’. The connections will be perfect – a train, bus then if you’re lucky like me, you’ll also get a lift from a helpful stranger, when you thought you were going to walk to the chateau. While in nearby Angers, make sure you visit the beautiful Apocalypse tapestry.

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Stage 7, July 13: Fougères – Chartres, 231km

Chartres cathedral has to be visited because it holds the ancient labyrinth, on which the Sydney Labyrinth in Centennial Park is modelled and which I wrote about here on my way to my last walk.  So if the riders are still able to walk, and the design is not covered by chairs (which it sometimes may be if you visit at the wrong time), then a lap through it would probably put competitive minds at ease or make them dizzy, depending. Or it could be considered a warm-down. Devotees used to do it on their knees – that’s also an option after an invigorating ride of 231kms.

 

Stage 8, July 14: Dreux – Amiens Métropole, 181km

Whilst I’ve been to Amiens, I have not visited the notable cathedral there (gothic and UNESCO listed), but just saw it in transit on my way to visit Villers-Brettoneux to visit the ancestors commemorated in the famous Australian memorial park there.  The Richards brothers both got their names on that list for lives they gave for God, King and country.  The memorial is a big drawcard for Australian WW1 tourists these days and ANZAC day services are held there and our armed forces bands play. My advice, don’t go in April.

Rest day, July 16: Annecy

One year, I did French lessons at Alliance Francaise, and one night we spent the whole lesson learning about directions in a little town called Annecy.  They always like to make the exercises practical, so by the end, we all pretty much knew our way around this cute town in the mountains near the Swiss border.

One of the wonderful benefits I had of hosting many Couchsurfers, was making friends who I have visited on my French trips.  One such lovely visitor was Celine, and I was thrilled when I was going to meet a person who came from that charming town. I visited her at Christmas time and she put me up for a few days and introduced me to the wonders of this pristine town.  We drove up to get the view of the lake from above, where snow had fallen – only one of the few times I’ve seen snow.  The swans on the lake, the museum/chateau and a traditional fondue dinner in wooden-chalet-type restaurant are all lovely memories.  It is great the riders get to rest in Annecy – it is worth soaking up.

 

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Rest day, July 23: Carcassonne

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Carcassonne – a place I had built up so many idealised versions of, only to find when I got there on my 2015 trip, that it made me feel a little sick.  I don’t know whether it was the commercialisation, the difficult accommodation experience I had, being there on THE busiest national monument day of the year, Assumption, or a past life as a Cathar nun, but it disturbed me.  The ancient (but heavily re-built) medieval cite is spectacular and would look right at home in the Game of Thrones, but playing the boardgame is as close as I want to get until I walk the GR78 Voie du Piémont.  I don’t know how much rest the pedallers will get, I just found the whole thing unsettling.

 

Stage 18, July 26: Trie-sur-Baïse – Pau, 172km

Pau is a most interesting city.  With a balustraded promenade that overlooks the Pyrenees, which on a humid day, look hazy in the distance. There is a tangle of subterranean roadways that make you feel like you’re in an Escher  picture. It is full of history – being the place Henry IV was born. I didn’t get to see it, but would have liked to visit the Chateau. What I did see was one of my favourite things on wheels, a funicular – very short, very steep, and straight to the point – breakfast. It is a a great entrance to the next town on the list, just a short trip away by train. I passed through Pau three times on my Via Tolosana adventure – here, here and here. Jemais deux sans trois. Never two without three.

 

Stage 19, July 27: Lourdes – Laruns, 200km

I wonder whether any contestants will take the healing waters in St Bernadette’s town? Maybe there will be masses in their honour.  There will certainly be a premium on accommodation – it is difficult enough when there are just pilgrims, but add in the entourage of en velo support crews, and the deep peace of the place will likely be thrown into chaos. Lourdes is second in tourist popularity only to Paris, quite a Mecca – excuse the mixed religious metaphor. I also wrote about Lourdes during my Via Tolosana adventure and reviewed the film here.

 

Stage 21, July 29: Houilles – Paris Champs Elysées, 115km

I’m a bit of a strange Paris tourist – I’ve not spent any time at the Arc de Triomphe or much on the Champs Elysees, although I have walked along parts thereof once or twice. Probably the closest I’ve got to the feeling of being on it was singing Joe Dessin’s version at French classes at Le Café Flo. Does that count? Probably not.

So I’ll leave you with a sound-track for your consumption of le Tour de Fromage, the best arm-chair drone/helicopter tourism you will ever experience courtesy of Luka BloomThe Acoustic Motorbike.

Pedal on.

And I’ve never known why they’re called pelotons, not velotons. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

Enjoy the trip!

The wonder of an A380

I can remember several years ago when I shared a house in Camperdown with two gorgeous young things, who educated me about the world through Sex in the City, yes really, amongst other things.

I was working at the time at Trinity Grammar School, and was really looking forward to going out one night to see a play that the drama students were putting on.  At the time, I didn’t own a car, and hadn’t yet discovered Goget.  It was one of those really stormy Sydney nights, so I was waiting for a taxi to get me to the school.  I got ready, and kept an ear and eye out while perched on the sofa, watching a documentary about the new A380 Airbus.  I was enthralled.  The designers needed to make a plane whose wingspan didn’t take up any more width than the current runways would allow, but at the same time be quiet and have more carrying capacity than any other aircraft ever built.  I was really impressed, however more than a little skeptical.

When I moved to Summer Hill, I had the pleasure of getting up close, and personal with most airline’s aircraft as their take-off flight path included my apartment.  I could always tell an A380 was coming. Their engine sounds much quieter and slightly higher pitched than other aircraft.  Having always loved watching planes fly, and stopping in my tracks just to behold them, I’d test myself out by running to my back porch or a window just to make sure I had detected the right sound.  I have now travelled on three flights in these planes, and I’d have to say they are fantastic.

After taking in some traditional Korean music played by a quartet of musicians (the singer/gayageum player reminding me more than a little of Saraswati, minus the swan) I ambled to my gate over an hour early.  I plugged my technology in and set to work writing.  Meanwhile, just outside the window, the large pastel blue foreheaded A380 sat patiently waiting for it’s passengers to assemble.

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Blue A380 behemoth

I am lucky that my time can pass fairly quickly because I always have lots of writing to do, however on this occasion we were plied with sweet peanuts and orange juice as we were delayed with take off.  I whipped out my aptly chosen postcard of Ganesha to encourage removal of the obstacles (apparently busy Chinese airspace), and we did eventually get flying after a 45 minute delay. You will note my journal and peeping morning pages notebook – yes, they’re still with me. Although I think I’ll need to purchase another part-way through the walk.

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Ganesha – remover of obstacles

The ride in one of these aircraft is extremely comfortable, and the quietest of any flight.  To add to either your panic or exhilaration, you can choose to watch from front, downwards or back tail camera. The latter makes one feel quite like a bird I found.

Snazzy camera tricks

Snazzy camera tricks

Farewell land of Gangnam Style, Samsung and face lifts, hello Joe Dassin, Peugeot and cheese.

PS: yes it did feel like a movie, when on landing at Paris, Charles de Gaulle airport, the lovely Korean woman (who it turns is a piano teacher and travelling with her husband), and I started singing Les Champs-Elysées and Edith Piaf.  It seems I am not the only one completely besotted with France.

 

The final pack

I have enjoyed taking the opportunity to explore an area of Paris I previously haven’t spent much time in, the 12th arrondissement.  It was quick and easy to catch up with my early music buddy, Jerome and his wife, Laurence, who live close to Colonel Fabien metro in the 19th – one change at Nation.  When we’re together we exchange early music tidbits and Youtube clips and indulge or mutual love of Kate Bush. They kindly agreed to caretake my luggage until I finish my pelegrinage.

The day finally arrives. I get to let go of my little carry-on suitcase and pack up my backpack. This is the real thing now.  I’ve attached the little shell (actually quite big shell) to my pack so it will be obvious I’m a pilgrim (I think that is good thing?). A lovely Couchsurfing hostess in Dijon gave me her St Jacques Coquille shell when I rode part of the Vezelay route in 2011.

All the necessary

All the necessary

The view from my apartment took in the gorgeous five and six storey apartment buildings so characteristic of much of Paris, radiating out along six spokes. I had the useful pleasure of mounting the 121 steps each time I came home and could then look down on the Place to watch the fountain or the old men who gathered on the park benches to pass the time.  It was only after surveying the landscape a number of times that I noticed that the roundabout wasn’t round. It is coquille-shaped.

St Jacques roundabout

St Jacques roundabout