People, art and ancient architecture

After the night in the mountains I cycled down to Orange. This side of the mountains the landscape changed quite suddenly and became noticeable Mediterranean. It really felt like I had cycled to a different climate which was great. Lots of good smelling pine trees, tall thin cypres trees and even cacti in people’s gardens!

The landscape looked like a Cezanne painting. 

I stayed near Orange with this lovely retired couple Joseph and Elizabeth Dalstein.

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It was nice to meet their very friendly, playful dog and remember that not all dogs are out to bite my head off!

They have joined warm showers because their son is currently undertaking a huge tour of eastern Europe with his girlfriend and they have enjoyed using the website.

More French speaking practice- Elizabeth was very patient with me and restored my confidence 🙂 And she gave me a massive bar of chocolate when I left! I liked her 🙂

From Orange I went to Avignon. This was an exciting landmark as I’ve been before but by train years ago. I stopped for lunch with this lovely view of the bridge.

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I took my time as it’s all easy downhill from here all the way to the sea 🙂

Just as I was ready to cycle off again I realised I had a flat tyre. This turned out to be a real stroke of luck since as I was fixing it I met Brad another solo cycle tourer!

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Brad is from New Zealand and has been touring through Europe for 4 months. He has beautiful photos of mountain passes in Germany, Switzerland and Eastern France. It wad great to meet someone who I could share the experience of solo bike touring with. We both agreed that it was great for meeting random strangers but that it got quite lonely inbetween these times. We’d prefer company. Brad started his tour  with a friend who had had to give in because of a bad knee. So he’s been on his own for a couple of months. Well, I was heading to a warmshower host in Arles and Brad was having a rest day in Avignon so I cycled off alone again. After just a bit of posing by the ‘Palais des Papes’

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I felt more relaxed than ever thanks to meeting someone in the same position as me who was taking it all so much in his stride. So I enjoyed sight seeing, but as I was cycling out of town I was thinking what a shame it was that Brad and I had both said we want some company and then immediately parted company! Brad was planning to get to Barcelona which is is a place I had originally hoped to get to. I had said I was heading to St Marie de la Mer and suggested he came too but hadn’t thought to immediately suggest we ride together. It was getting late and I had quite a few kilometres to go to get to Arles and my host by now I also had quite a few kilometers to get back to Avignon. So I pushed on kicking myself the whole way!

But when I got to Eric’s place I was pleased. It was lovely. It’s actually a b & b that he has decorated himself beautifully. One of the rooms is done out to be a copy of Van Goghs painting, complete with the starry night painted on the ceiling!

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I went to sleep pretty early and was all set to move on first thing that morning. Eric was shocked to hear I wasn’t planning to explore the city. He explained it was a ‘living museum’ full of ancient monuments and beautiful buildings. He gave me a map and some directions and I had a fantastic day exploring. I was so pleased I did because it was amazing! In the centre of town is a  the remains of a huge Roman theatre and amphitheatre


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I loved visiting the amphitheatre it was amazing to read about it’s history. It is under slow renovation having lost some of the original stone as it was once used as quarry to build many of the local houses.

A couple of hundred years ago it was inhabited as a sort of small fortified town.

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Because of all this some of the original seating is missing which is why there is at the moment some slightly ugly scaffolding stuff.

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There’s still plenty to look at though.

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I also realised that this was an important town for Van Gogh. His café at night painting was made here. Me and thousands of other tourists have seen the very café in question.

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From browsing postcards I learnt that he went from here on to St Marie de la Mer where he painted this:

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I love this painting and photographed it when I was in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. So I’m following in his footsteps! Which is very exciting but probably means I’ll end up penniless and insane…

By 4pm it was really time to make a move and get to the coast… I had a very tedious flat ride ahead of me but the great news was that Brad had decided to make his way to St Marie de la Mer so we could both have some company for a while. 

Which allowed me to take this terrible photo!

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What a couple of bozos…

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St Marie de la Mer!

Je suis ici! J’ai finis!

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And just in time for a beautiful sunset

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This morning I’ve had a quick dip in the sea and I’ll have a little look around the town later. First impressions are a little underwhelming to be honest but I’m happy to have made it this far. 

But, i have a lot of catching up to do on this blog! So here goes:

I left françios and Marc’s house quite early the next morning, I wanted to make up for the short ride and cover some ground.The road out from their house is initially very long and straight and flat and so didn’t feel like it was going to be a very interesting ride.

At the pretty town of Aoust-sur-Sye I crossed the river ‘La Drôme’

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Here my route took a eastward turn through fields of lavender and Happily it took me directly towards the mountains I’d seen from my picnic and that I’d been staring at for so long. It then turned into one of the most scenic rides of my trip.
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As I rode up through wooded nature reserve I decided to stop at the roadside for lunch. As I was sitting there this mantid flew into view, I didn’t even know these lived in France! The amateur entomologist in me was very excited!


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Back to the road and up into the mountains…

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It was a bit dangerous to stop and take photos on the narrow road so they aren’t great pictures!

The road kept climbing upwards in zigzags like this so didn’t get too steep. It’s one of my favourite types of ride. Slowly but surely making progress uphill through trees and then down the other side (Which I like even more!) Woodland and glimpses of mountain, riding downhill with hardly any traffic- it’s the best kind of road to be on.

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I hadn’t cycled very far but I was enjoying being in the mountains so I was really pleased to see a campsite sign. And what a great view to have from a tent!

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 I was the only one there, and though I was happy to be in the mountains it felt pretty lonely and I decided that really I’d prefer to be traveling with someone. But I had another warmshower host for the following night and the end of my trip was in sight.

A short ride

From that idyllic campsite I didn’t cycle far. I stayed to enjoy the sun and the scenery and left about 2pm in the end. I stopped for a picnic with this view:

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 I was excited to be getting closer to the mountains excited seen from a distance for a while now.

 I had taken advantage of the free WiFi at Pont d’ain and organised quite a few warmshower hosts feeling like I needed the company. So I felt a bit guilty arriving at Françios and Marc’s house after only 3 hours on the bike! 

I made the mistake of trying to explain this in French when I arrived despite the fact that I don’t know the word for ‘guilty’ or how to say: ‘I have not been on my bike long today…’ -what tense is this?! 

So with this start, my French speaking confidence and abilities evaporated and we ended up speaking mostly English for the rest of the time. It was very kind of them but I felt a bit disappointed in myself!

Anyway at least it meant I found out a bit about them! Together they run a record label for modern gospel music. Marc plays several different instruments and Françios sings. Marc spent two months cycling all the way from their home to Armenia this summer to raise money for school children there. He has a book full of interesting photos from his trip and a website about it here:

 www.aventure-en-solidaire.net

They also showed me this amazing video clip of a couplewho have spent the last 9 years exploring the world by bike and have even had two children en route!

Mundubicyclette Andoni-Alice – YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/user/mundubicyclette

They made sure I was well fed and I regretted having gorged on pack of biscuits before arriving at their house!


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Françios even gave me some speciality homemade energy cake to take with me when I left! How lovely!

Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval

Now I’m lying in an idyllic campsite in Montchenu with the wonderful sound of chirupping crickets all around me. It sounds like summer 🙂 it’s dark now but earlier from my tent I had views of rolling green wooded hills and behind them, glimpses of the Massif Central in the West and the Alps in the East. 

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Since my stove now works I’ve had loads of cups of coffee to celebrate and even had some chocolate biscuits to dunk! It’s been a great evening! 😉

It’s been a really good day altogether with great views and much prettier countryside in general  than previously. Lots of hills and woodland and lush gardens full of flowers (which have been a bit absent further North probably because no-one lives there!)

I’ve enjoyed seeing little differences that remind me I’m much further south, things like grape vines, sweet chestnut trees with fat chestnuts, groves of walnut trees full of ripe fruit and little lizards that dart away as soon as I spot them.

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I even managed some time out today to do a bit of sight seeing. I visited ‘La Palais Ideal’. So inspiring, this is a monument built by a man who was a peasant. He lost his first wife and his young daughter from a second marriage. He had no formal education, he became a postman and educated himself by reading the magazines he delivered. He devoted his life- all his available time and money, to the creation of this monument in order to leave his mark and to express his wonder and fascination with the world, mankind and it’s future.

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I loved the fact that you were allowed to go up all the little stairways! It is full of ways to climb up, into and around it.

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It was difficult not to take loads of photos because there is so much varied and intricate detail everywhere. 

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So many different influences and styles from around the world. He got his inspiration from photographs in the magazines he read.

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This is my favourite part, three giants he built to guard the entrance.

Hidden amongst all the crazy elaborate sculpture are his thoughts about the work and about life, death and art.

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I loved it!

Refresfed

I did wake up feeling better and cycled happily through the grey and drizzly day to a small village called ‘Four’ where the sun came out and shone on me while I read and waited opposite the Marie for my warm shower hosts to return from work. What a lovely family! So welcoming, inspiring helpful and laid back!

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Manu, Ghyslaine and their two sons Leo and Gaston.

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Their cat, whose name I didn’t learn.

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Gaston proudly showing his paintings.

They straight away made me feel very welcome in their beautiful house. 

I went with Leo to feed the chickens and tentatively tried some French- children are great at telling you exactly where you’re going wrong and correct you without hesitation- which is actually really helpful!

They live in an old farmhouse built in a way traditional for the area with mud walls. They renovated it themselves and have uncovered a lot of the original walls which had been covered in a less attractive layer of concrete. They have also built an extension using blocks of mud and straw packed tight to make solid. I’m intrigued by any sort of eco-housing so I enjoyed hearing about all this! 

10 years ago Manu and Ghyslaine took two years off to cycle to China. This was their first cycle tour! Amazing to hear about and very inspiring! Part of me wishes I was on a trip of those epic proportions and I really hope one day I will take something like that on. Ghyslaine kindly said she thought I was brave to do this trip on my own, this trip feels like nothing compared to theirs! But it’s a good start 🙂

We spoke almost entirely in French for my whole stay which was great! Much needed practice as well as being very encouraging to actually manage to communicate in the end. Albeit full of terrible grammar and optimistic pronunciation! 

Staying with them helped me out in all sorts of ways, I now have clean, dry clothes, a working stove (Manu and a bottle of the right kind of fuel finally helped me to understand how it works and get it going again) and most importantly they gave me renewed enthusiasm for my trip.

Rainy day…

It’s surprising how lounging around in a tent for most of the day munching on chocolate and dried figs and reading about someone else’s experience of a trip infinitely more challenging than your own (Alistair Humphrey’s ‘Thunder and sunshine’ you can download it for free on his website and it’s amazing!) can raise your spirits and get you thinking, ‘Yeah I could get used to this cycle touring thing! I like it, I reckon I’m gonna do more of it!’

So I’m hoping tomorrow I will rise with renewed strength and enthusiasm whatever the weather.

I have made it even easier on myself by organising a warm shower host for the evening. You’re meant to find out about yourself when you travel aren’t you? I have surpassed all my original expectations by showing myself to be incredibly soft and wuss-like! Well there aren’t many campsites still open, my clothes need washing, my stove doesn’t work and I need some human company! Meeting people is one of the sides to the trip I like the most, so if that means I have to sleep in a bed after a nice hot shower – so be it!

Time for a lie in

I’ve woken up to the sound of rain for the first time in over a week. I’m finally at a site with WiFi so I’ve decided to catch up with this. In the last couple of days there’s been some much more dramatic scenery as I’ve moved further into the Rhone valley. The first big climb for a few days felt really good! It’s surprising how much you can dread and enjoy hills at the same time! It must be the endorphins and the satisfaction when you reach the view. I was rewarded with this:

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This area is called the ‘Cirque de Ladoye’

Since then the views have continued to be refreshingly different and dramatic.

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First glimpse of ‘Lac de Voulgans’

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The massive dam that is the ‘Barrage de Volgans’

What doesn’t come out too much on the photo is the massiveness and the way that the water is a strange chalky blue-green colour that makes it look really unusual and striking.

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This photo is evidence that I have finally changed my shirt! 

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A viaduct always makes a valley look more impressive somehow!

So now I’m in Pont d’Ain. In another rubbish municipal campsite. But at least they have WiFi… A frustrating end to to day yesterday was running out of fuel half way through cooking dinner and having to eat it cold. I was prepared, I’d bought a new bottle of fuel which the Belgium couple had told me was the stuff I needed but my stove just won’t light. Or it will light but only with a massive unruly flame that goes out after a few seconds. I managed to make some tepid decaffeinated coffee by lighting the stove over and over again for about an hour. 

On the menu for dinner tonight is a sandwich and I’ll be lugging around a full box of couscous and vegetables until I can sort it out…