See the section for Europe of the Trento Bike Pages.

London to Rome, Part 2: France

By Wayne Wakeman (wakeman@lamar.ColoState.EDU), September 1995
This is part 2 of the report of a tour Wayne Wakeman did in the summer of '95.

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12 July 95

Brighton to New Haven was 18 km. Made it w/o any problems. My front tyre was a bit low when I was at the hostel but I filled it and it seems okay. BTW Newhaven is the home of the Parker pen factory and the ferry port but is overall a dingy place. I just met three persons from Oxford cycling to Grenoble.

Rouen, FR - I have now cycled France. I did 30 km or so on the busy N27. Then a smaller road intersected it. I decided I wasn't here to tour the Highways of Europe so I took the small one. I found out soon after in Auffy that I lost my Kryptonite lock key. Merde! I had it in Dieppe! Oh well, I bought orange soda and animal crackers at the supermarche because I really didn't know what to buy and I had to hurry because my bike was unlocked.

I was starting to get mad because I could never figure out what road I was on. I finally figured out to not worry what road it was and just follow the signs pointing to the next town. Although I wanted to stop earlier, I pushed to Rouen. Looking at the Berkeley guide, their useless map wouldn't tell me how to get to the youth hostel (Auberge de la Jeunesse). So I picked a cheap hotel (100F or so) and headed that direction. On the way there, I saw a camping sign. What the heck, might as well. Although I thought I had lost it, it wasn't far away. 26F, not bad. I hope it isn't cold tonight.

I have a new idea. Ride to Versailles? tomorrow. On Bastille Day take the train to Paris and spend the night sans velo. I might not even sleep. The only problem is where to put the bike. Youth hostel? Bike shop?

The ferry had a Pontoon (Blackjack) table. It is 21 with screwy rules. I laid my #11 down (#1 min.) and went to work. (1) Dealer takes pushes. (2) Any 5 cards wins. (3) Dealer only takes one card until after everyone has concluded their hand. Bizarre! I lost quickly. Down to #1 several times. Then I built back up to #10.50 but lost it all after that. Oh well, it was fun.

Well I tried to use my French. I went looking for something to eat. EVERYTHING is closed. It isn't even 9:30. I found a bar. Hoping they had food, I went in. I got beer (F8.50) and tried talking to the barman. He was nice. He asked if I was German. All right. I said I was American. He was Algerian. We tried to talk. It went so-so. i left to look elsewhere for dinner. I finally found a little market and bought some briochettes, fromages, and a Heineken. Et voila, diner.

Okay, two more things. This town has the absolutely longest traffic lights in the world. I've started running them just out of boredom from waiting. Ending ODO = 257.9 Today = 102.6 km

13 July 95

Frustrated. The day started great but then it seemed I could never really get where I wanted. The worst was at Magny-en-Vexin where I realized I had been going north a bit instead of SE. Also I was needing water really bad and all the Patisserie lady could think of was mineral water (5 F each). I was so thirsty that I paid for water. At Magny, I lay down in frustration for 20 min. I got up and could not find a suitable way out of this town. I said 'What the Heck' and hit the N14 freeway. I had a tailwind and made great time but riding on a freeway with no shoulder sucked. I took an early exit and wandered, wondering if tonight was the night I would have to find a secret spot to rack in. I hit Meulan, which seemed like a pretty big city. I started to leave but after a few km, I knew it wouldn't get any better. Downtown, I finally found an ATM, and found a hotel for F85. Not bad for a private room. It is on the third floor above a bar. I carried my bike up the narrow circular stairs and then took a shower in the sink. I splurged a bit on dinner (Lasagne Boulognaise) and went to the Bar/Hotel for a beer. I spoke to the locals about my adventure and one man even bought me a beer. Vive la France! Then I went upstairs. OH, I also bought a map of France. I hope it helps. Cool things that happened today (that almost cancel out the bad parts): After taking some small road that probably led nowhere, I ran across (5 time Tour de France winner) Jacques Anquetil's chateaux. Whoa! There was a monument. I got a pic. -Also rode by Claude Monet's house in Giverny. There were many people there. -The other customer in the restaurant who saw I had a map and offered to show me where I needed to go. -My french is great when it works. Otherwise, they stare as blankly at me as I do them. Odometer = 384.1 Today = 126.16km

14 July 95 Bastille Day

I did it. I planned something and it worked. I rode to Versailles with only a little dallying in a banlieue (Paris suburb) and found L'Office du Tourisme. They showed me where the camping was and here I am. Now I take the train to Paris. Odometer = 438.9 Aujourd'hui = 54.8 km

I just got back from the feu d'artifice (fireworks). It makes me so proud to be Fr... err, I mean they were very cool. They played this hardcore classical music even before the fireworks began. And then everything was totally choreographed splendidly. Really was a good show. For me, it was the 4th of July since I missed mine.

Today was the opposite of yesterday. Started out bad - ended great. I had a little trouble getting here. Even then jets were flying overhead in formation. Then I got here, got set up and took the RER into Paris. Saw the Eiffel Tower, bien sur. It was so big, it was hard to get a good pic. Had lunch at an outdoor cafe. Le prix fixe. I had the plat du jour - spaghetti? Saw the Arc de Triomphe. Very cool. Walked down the Champs-Elysees. Even stopped at McDonalds, HA! Cheeseburger & Large Shake 17 francs. They did call it a Royale Cheese and you could buy beer there. Weird. Saw the Place de la Concorde. It began to rain so I headed for the Louvre. Saw many fine things including ... Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Nike (Winged Victory), and 'Liberty Leading the Masses'. Got kicked out because it was closing time. Hung out at Pompidou center. Took train back to Versailles.

I unloaded the bike and road into town (off the computer). Had a sandwich jambon (ham) and vin rouge at an outdoor cafe. While I was eating, I saw two Mormon missionaries walk by. I talked to them. They were from Florida & Utah, of course. Weird. Then fireworks and bed.

Bonus entry: My Manchester Football shirt worked again. In the Metro some huge guy walking past, taps me and goes, "OY! Great team!" He wore a football shirt also.

15 July 95

Hallelujah! I was in Paris today and it rained hardcore. I knew when I got back everything would be soaked. Wow! This cheapy little tent kept everything totally dry. Paris I went to La Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise and saw the final resting place of James Morrison (The graffitoed bust had been removed but it was still pretty cool; 2 guards; Best quote of the day: 'So what did he sing anyway' 'Omigod, don't even talk to me!" Were they American college girls or what? Also at Pere Lachaise: Moliere, Honore de Balzac, Eugene de la Croix, Victor Noir (a 22 yr old gigolo shot to death - His tomb has a statue of him. Apparently it is good luck to run the bulge in his pants. I didn't.) and Oscar Wilde (On the same subject, someone had broken off the symbolic stone penis from Oscar's tomb.)

Next stop - disappointment. My idea of the ideal gothic cathedral, Notre Dame, was not the great. First, it was covered in scaffolding. I climbed to the top of one tower on a Very Narrow Circular staircase. Up top many gargoyles were covered. Nevertheless I saw some gargoyles, the great bell (Quasimodo), and a good view. Then I went inside the nave with EVERYbody else. It was nice but had none of the history? beauty? of Westminster Abbey. C'est ca.

Escaped the rain in a quiet brasserie then headed for L'Institut Pasteur. The museum was closed today but I got some good pics.

Took the metro to the Eiffel Tower. Paid F12 to climb to the 2me etage, then F17 to take the lift to the top. It IS so Big! On the ride up, I kept thinking 'Okay, we are almost there' but we kept going up. At the top, ears were popping. Worth going up if you have the time to stand in line on the 2me etage.

Took the RER back to Versailles. I figured I should get back early to deal with all my wet stuff. Ha! Ate diner at the same cafe (discovered the Croque Monsieur) and biked around Versailles chateau.

Other notices -All around Paris were people who wanted to write my name on a piece of rice (for a small fee) That is not something I want. -Was B-I-N-G-O the dog's name or the farmer's name? -I like kilometres better than miles because they tick away quicker and it sounds like you went further.

16 July 95

I turned a short day into a long one. Got up at 8:30. Showered and paid F28 to run through Versailles and get some snapshots. It was neat and I would have regretted not going. Packed and headed for Chartres. Got a bit lost in an area that reminded me of Tualatin for some reason. Eventually got on track and got some miles down before it started to rain. Twice I had to hide in a doorway but never for very long. Made it to Chartres despite the wind. I could see the cathedral from miles away. I found the youth hostel and put on some pants to check out the church. I made it in time for the organ recital. It was very cool. The cathedral is huge. It is like Notre Dame but impressive. It also did not have all the tombs and what not of Westminster Abbey but that was alright. It was very dark and a little chilly or maybe that was just the sinister organ music that filled the nave. Looked around a bit, took some pics and headed back. There are several other bikers here. I had the dinner they offered for F30. I think it was duck, and though it totally looked like canned dog food, it wasn't bad. My table has an excellent view of the cathedral. Try for Blois tomorrow.

Other notes: -Saw the National Institute of Agricultural Research in Versailles (where I was going to work but it never worked out) -Saw another monument to Jacques Anquetil 1934-1987. Odometer = 538.9 Today = 100km

17 July 95

The windy day. I don't understand why the Loire is considered such great cycling country. Except for Blois, where I am now, and one small forest it was all flat, windy, wheat fields. It looked like Eastern Oregon with small stone buildings every 5 km. The wind was mostly at my right side until the last 10 km which were awful. But I made it and got to the hostel 2 hours before lock-out was up. Time for my witch book (The Witching Hour by Anne Rice). Another guy just cycled in. Chuck, from Vermont, is cycling from Spain to Paris. My right knee is swollen. I hope it holds up. ODO = 658.4 Today = 119.5

18 July 95

What a good day. I had planned to ride to Chateauroux and hope for a campground. Instead, I found a place 25 km before Chateauroux but just as close to the next stop (It is due west of Chateauroux). So I got here and got set up early. Actually the camp office didn't open until 2:00 so I grabbed some lunch. I had lamb and white beans. They weren't very good but then I asked for cheese and brought out a tray of 5 cheese. Mmmm, cheese. I don't know how much was an appropriate amount to eat but I ate alot of each. Wonderful. It wasn't terribly expensive either.

Another bonus - a swimming pool next to the campground. I put on bike shorts and headed over. Only they wouldn't let anyone in w/o the appropriate maillot. Which means I had to go buy one of those cheesy Robin Leach bikini suits. (F65) I spent a couple hours swimming and trying to get rid of my bizarre tanlines. ODO = 762.1 Today = 103.7

19 July 95

Another great day. I talked to my camp neighbors in the morning, a retired couple from Southampton, UK. They were SO impressed with my ride and kept wishing me well. I started riding and everything went really smooth. The terrain is getting prettier, a little more hilly and lots more green & foresty. After a short easy day, I saw a campsite at Lac du Mondon. It is gorgeous. I put on my bikini and headed for the lake with everyone else. By 4:00 there were even two topless women. Whoa! Odo = 841.1 Today = 79 km

Would you believe, not that I paid F90 ($20) for dinner, but that my dinner was well worth F90? I had a little seafood platter. I didn't really know how to eat it and made a mess. I had a wonderful beef, onion, potato, and sauce dish, another cheese wheel. (She cut some for me, instead of leaving it all) and a mousse a l'orange with plenty of Grand Marnier in the bottom. It was fabulous except they wouldn't bring me the bill. I finally called for it. Bon nuit.

20 July 95

I am so lucky. Okay, it was a short day anyway, but very hilly. I was most of the way to St. Junien anyway, but as I was going up a hill, this old guy honks and starts speaking to me. I thought he was going to two me up the hill. But he stopped. We loaded my bike in the back of his 4X4 and off we went. He didn't speak any English but we had a pretty good conversation. He rode mountain bikes, raised horses for equestrian, and played rugby for France when he was young. We went to his house in St. Junien and his wife fixed us a wonderful lunch. He even had me take a shower before. For lunch, we had cantaloupe, some fish in vinaigrette, beef and baked potatoes, cheese (roquefort & brie), Bordeaux wine, fruit juice and this ice cream/cake dessert. Everything was incredible. After he took me to his son's leather factory and showed me around. Interesting. And then he drove me to the youth hostel. That is the way to tour France! I got a newspaper with Tour info. Everyone is buzzed up about it. Odometer = 909.1 Today = 68 km

21 July 95

He did it! Lance Armstrong, 24, of Texas won the 18th stage of the Tour de France in grand fashion. A solo breakaway for a long time. Last 1/4 of the race? I was bursting. This is why I came to see the Tour. It really doesn't matter. Indurain retains the maillot jaune. (There was an entire young Spanish contingent singing his praises the entire day.) But to hear my country mentioned as the best of the day was great. And to see a guy with a background not too far removed from my own made me happy. I will probably never win another cycling race. He (likely) will never get a microbiology degree but we each are doing pretty good in our own fields.

Limoges is a big city. I got in and was pretty much lost. I floundered my way to the Office du Tourisme and they set me up with maps, directions, everything. As it turns out, the finish was very near the camping. I rode by early, while everything was being put together, then did laundry (finally), ate lunch, and came back. We waited for 3.5 hours in the hot sun. I was 26 metres from the finish line. There was a huge TV that broadcast the race live and a parade of sponsors down the course. I got cycling caps from Champion supermarkets and Coca-Cola. I was waiting for Novell to throw floppy disks.

The ride to Limoges went good except for one rear flat. I got up early to beat the sun. (When I stay in hostels, I get up at 7:00, in campings, 8:30. I don't know why the difference.)

Extra: -The latest fad must be these dumb-looking white canvas shoes with thick soles. I swear I can tell if a girl is attractive just by noticing if she wears these ugly shoes or not.

Odo = 977.7 Today = 68.6 km

22 July 95

It's raining today. I'm not going to ride the 40km to Lac du Vassiviere to see the time trial; I might not even go into town. Instead I am just going stir crazy in my tent.

Took the bus into town and watched 'Batman Forever'. I thought it would be subtitled but it was dubbed in French. I didn't understand much. Of course the visual was enough but I drifted off a little anyway. Funny to see all the Americans speaking French. Sometimes it worked, sometimes (Bruce Willis) it didn't. Odo = 977.7 Today = 0

23 July 95

Today started out fairly bad but got much better. As always, I had a hard time finding my way out of Limoges. It is always like that coming out of big cities. Immediately, there were two LONG hills; they weren't terribly steep but they went on and on. I figured the whole day would be hills like those but that was the worst of it. The rest was hilly, but after I had shaken off the lethargy of the previous few days, I caught a rhythm and couldn't be stopped. In Brive, the campground and youth hostel were close, so it was just a choice. I took the hostel. (Oh..the camping in Limoges was only F40 for 2 nights!) This hostel = F65 including breakfast.

I finished my book tonight. 1042 pages. I started it on the airplane. It ended, or rather didn't end, horribly. I don't know if I will read the next one or not. ODO = 1100.9 Today = 123.2

24 July 95

Oh man, were there a bunch of mountains today. It always happened like this...I would go along and then hit a long downhill into the next city, cross the bridge, and have to climb out of the little valley. It was hard, but today was a good cycling day. I went really far.

Tonight's youth hostel must have been some kind of dorm. I have my own small room with bed, dresser, desk, and sink, and heinous flower wallpaper. Yesterday I ended up with my own room also. ODO = 1238.9 Today = 138 km

25 July 95

The Massif have broken me. 3 things; A hard wind from the S and E; Always uphill; my damn chain is messing up. I made it to Rodez, the closest town big enough to have a gare(train station), and got a ticket to Beziers near the coast. I know I could have made it in 3 more days like today, but I was not enjoying it and vacation is to be enjoyed. Also I feel like I need to get to Italy. I just feel like everything would be much better if I could get away from these mountains.

There must be a university in this town. I have seen many young people and my room is like the 'College Inn' in Corvallis. It is nice - a toilet and shower in my room. ODO = 1316.3 Today = 77.4 km -Also, maybe I pushed too hard yesterday? -Okay, this is pretty funny. I went down to the TV room, watched some game show for a little then turned to the Family Feud, only it was called 'A Family in Gold'. After that I found a video channel playing old Rolling Stones, but they followed with Bon Jovi so I left. The French love Bon Jovi, I cannot understand why. -It is so weird talking to people who know about as much English as I know French. It becomes this bizarre mix of both languages yet it seems to work.

26 July 95

Today has been so completely different than any previous day but that is what I wanted. Took a bus from Rodez to Severac Le Chateau, then the train to Beziers. Although I anticipated the worst, the bike was no problem on either one. We got to Beziers just before 4:00pm. I knew I should stop for water but wanted to get out of town so bad I didn't stop. I could do the 30-40 km to Sete. Well, it was flat and the bike was working a little better, but the wind was truly hardcore against me. I started to wonder if I should just stop at the next camping. But I caught up to a guy on a trick Mt. Bike. We started working together and were doing 30 km/hr in a heavy wind all the way to Sete. I had forgotten that drafting really works. In Sete we split up. I had to get some water. I didn't stop during the way because I knew I wouldn't make it w/o this guy. Sete is a great city. It is on a narrow slice of land between a huge lake and the Mediterranean. It is full of canals and, of course, right now everyone is on vacation there. I stopped at the Office du Tourisme and finally ran into the July/August crux. There were no rooms or campsites to be had anywhere. I ended up riding 8km back the way I came to an absurdly expensive campsite (F115, more than I have paid for any hostel or hotel room). It is huge and is right across the highway from the sea. These people must make a fortune in the summer.

I made reservations at the youth hostel in Sete for tomorrow. They said get there before noon. I will be waiting when they open. I got here too late to hit the beach today but will do it all day tomorrow. Good thing I have my little bikini. I also have an air matress since the Therma-Rest deflated.

A couple people helped me today, just out of the bleu. When I was setting up the tent, a boy stopped by and asked to help. And when I was blowing up the raft, the mother across the way brought over her air pump. I was impressed. Odo = 1383.3 Today = 67 km Okay, this is weird. I just went to the beach. The water was a little chilly because it is late. Should be really nice tomorrow. Anyway, they have a sand Zamboni: a tractor that goes back and forth and smooths the sand out.

27 July 95

What a great town, Sete. I absolutely lost track of time today. I got up and rode the 12 km or so to town. The hostel is up a giant hill. I rode most of it but ended up pushing the last few, just because I couldn't get my cleat in on such a high hill. I showered again because I was dripping in sweat and headed for the beach. I spent just about all day there alternately applying sunblock, lounging, and swimming in the sea. Tonight I plan on dining (Indian, I hope) and losing some francs at the casino (not too many). Odo = 1399 Today = 15.7

-I had a great Indian dinner but the casino must have just opened. All they had was some game similar to roulette but not roulette. Just as well. Walking back a motorcycle wrecked just behind me. The two passengers were fine but it was a little scary. I'm not surprised it happened. There are so many little motorcycles going so fast in and out to traffic. I walked around downtown. It had really come alive. Everyone was at a restaurant or a bar. I went into the Simp'son Bar. It was decorated with pictures of the Simpsons. Cool, but expensive. I had a beer and headed up the hill.

28 July 95

Got up early and rode the 35? km to Montpellier. The hostel was full and the camping was back at the beach so I found a fairly cheap hotel room (3me etage) and went to the gare. They wanted to ship my bike separately by way of Paris. It would be at least 5 days before it caught up with me. No. I broke it down and wrapped it in the space blanket with lots of tape. I hope it works. I am Very nervous about it. -Didn't do much in Montpellier because I was stressing over and preparing the bike. At night I finally went out again. As it happens, I was in town for the Petanque tournament. Wow! They are worse than golfers, always checking their lie and replacing their divots. That was in the Place de la Comedie, a huge square where everything was going on. It was great and my hotel is just down the street. Had a gruyere crepe. Wonderful, and I had almost gone to McDonalds for a cheeseburger.

My train leaves at 2:00 heading for Nice. At Nice I change to a train for Milan. Then at 1:30 in the morning, I get a train to Florence. If everything goes right, I arrive at 5:30 Saturday morning. I am so nervous about it. Odo = 1439 or so Today = ~40 km

Montpellier - Nice 1:55 - 6:12 Nice - Milan 6:25 - 11:00 Milan - Florence 1:35 - 5:14

29 July 95

It seems to be working so far. I managed to load my bike on and find my way to my seat. It was really crowded. I had to kick someone out of my seat. I sat with my big shopping bag on my lap to Marseilles. Just out of Marseilles now (I looked for Le Corbusier's apartments but couldn't see them). The guy next to me got off so now I have some room. I think the hardest is over but I do have a 13 minute connection in Nice.

-Part two was a little more adventurous. At Nice I ran to make the connection - barely. It looked like people were standing anyway so there probably wasn't room in the compartments. No problem. I stood near the door, keeping out of people's way. People got by, the conductor punched my ticket, no problems. Then 3&1/2 hours into the 4&1/2 hour ride, some guy starts giving me shit for having a bike. He is talking about kicking me off at the next station. I just keep telling him that is not possible; I can't do that. He finally gets around to it that it is OK if I put my bike in one of the compartments. Well, why didn't you say so? It is less crowded now and I find some space in one. In Milan now, and worrying about the final leg. I can't believe it will be a problem. The train leaves at 1:30 in the morning. Who will be on it? -Extra notes: -You could tell when we crossed into Italy. Everything looked a little dirtier and poorer(Of course, this coming directly from the Cote d'Azur). -Either I'm getting used to paying alot or money does go further here. I just bought a ham & cheese on Focaccia at the station and didn't feel like I got ripped off.[NOTE: I was getting used to paying more; Italy wasn't that cheap.] -Ever since I've gotten to the more touristy places, I have felt a little less safe (not for me as much as my luggage and fanny pack).