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. 


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.


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.


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.


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



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

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.




I loved it!


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!


Manu, Ghyslaine and their two sons Leo and Gaston.


Their cat, whose name I didn’t learn.


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:


This area is called the ‘Cirque de Ladoye’

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


First glimpse of ‘Lac de Voulgans’


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.


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


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…


I had meant to explore Gy but there was some weird magnetic field between me and the bed which I just couldn’t overcome despite the fitness levels I’ve attained over the last week or so. So not much to say about it…

…apart from that I treated myself a lovely hostel 🙂


It’s the building behind the fountain.

The ride was pretty, along the Saone river.


With some impressive canals cut through hills.


No idea what this was doing there but anyway at least I don’t need to cycle to Paris now 🙂

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I met these two guys when we were all trying to find an alternative way along the river- one section of it was blocked. So we cycled together for a bit. I thought I was really unfit as they zoomed up hills ahead of me with no effort. I had more luggage but I didn’t think I was that slow! When we stopped to eat I saw their bikes had little motors!


They pointed out that a lot of the houses we were passing were empty. I had been wondering at the crumbling plaster, the sleepyness of the villages, the lack of shops and lack of any obvious places people could work except on farms. Some places have become holiday homes but most are just empty houses with people having moved to cities. Even the cities or rather large towns I’ve been through have a bit of a ghost town feel. It’s a bit of a strange place!

Two lovely days :)

Two days of beautiful woodlands and peaceful campsites ahh! Perfect to make up for the misery of municipal campsites and ‘leisure park’s. The first was cycling through a really beautiful deciduous woodland just outside Darney. Deep into the woods is a site with some historical interest too in the form of an old forge, chapel and farm. It’s been taken over hippies who I had been looking forward to meetIng. Unfortunately, by the time I climbed the massive-feeling hills to get there the only things on my mind were finding out where the toilets were, where the showers were and where I could put up my tent so I could finally get some dinner on.  However the lady I met, being oblivious to the fact I’d been on my bike for 8hrs, was full of inner peace and calm and wanted to take me though the procedure of signing in the the campsite v….e….r….y slowly! So I had a little wander around in the morning instead.

They have lots of people working on site who I think must live there too. They grow lots of food, keep goats to make cheese and make all sorts of natural beauty products that they sell in an unmanned shop with an honesty box.


They obviously have a campsite, and they run classes in the busy months for visitors. Classes include things like mosaic making, organic agriculture and yoga. There’s also a gorgeous looking swimming pond but it wasn’t really the best time of year. 


(there is more open bit of water around the corner with a platform to jump in off)

Mornings are so misty and beautiful!


This shows the road leading down from the campsite. A lovely area.

The next day though, I was really tired and only traveled about 30km.

My bike felt so heavy and my legs just didn’t warm up. So I chose a campsite not too far away near Amance and called it a day. I’m so glad I did because this has been the perfect sunny recovery afternoon! Finally a campsite that costs less than 5 euros and just lets you pitch wherever you want.

I was even allowed to help myself to plums and hazelnuts from the trees 🙂


Peace and quiet. Not another camper here! Sometimes that’s exactly what I want!

Here are some pics en route: 



I wanted to try to show some of the typical villages of the area. But these don’t quite show it. All the villages are very similar. Buff coloured houses with shutters and plaster falling off around the windows. A church which rings out every hour or more and if you’re very lucky there’ll be a shop. But it’ll be closed.

Sunshine! :)

The party went on till 2am last night and I was treated to musical delights such as the Macarena and that sickly song from Dirty Dancing that gets stuck in your head if I tell you which one you’ll be singing it for the rest of the day… 

…’I’ve had the time of my li-i-ife…’

Ugh! I should have asked for my money back really! 

Anyway all has been much better since then! Was a beautiful warm sunny blue sky

The warmest yet, I think it got to 25 degrees in the end. I decided to take it easy today and do a long day tomorrow to end up at a recommended campsite. So I took my time and enjoyed the weather 🙂 


I thought crocuses came out in  Spring? Anyway what a beautiful field!


While I was eating lunch here I met another couple going the other way. We chatted briefly. They were seasoned bike tourists and in the past took a year off to go through India, Cambodia and New Zealand! I’m quite jealous but inspired! They were both smoking rollies and eating cake! I have become so health conscious since starting all this cycling I was quite surprised. I’ve no idea how people who smoke can climb hills with a fully loaded bike! Anyway they seemed to managed just fine and I spent the rest of the afternoon seeking out a patisserie but it’s Sunday so everything is closed. I will definitely treat myself tomorrow. I’m now in town called Lunéville which has this grand building in the centre but is otherwise quite run down. (sorry for the bad photo! It was to bright to see the screen!)


Believe it or not I am starting to enjoy myself 🙂

More sun!

Today is Tuesday and despite staying in the strange tiny campsite in Lunéville (which is just a couple of strips of grass at the edge of a park and they have the cheek to charge 14 Euros!) I managed to sleep enough to be up and on the road by 8.30! To be honest I was looking forward to getting on my way again. Another very misty and cold start but it felt lovely to be out in it. I could feel the mist soaking me but could just about see blue sky so I knew the sun was on it’s way and would dry me off. All the roads today have been so quiet and calm and since the sun came out it’s been really warm too, just a bit cooler in the shade but a perfect temperature for cycling.

I did treat myself to some patisserie and waited till I had I nice view to gorge on it 🙂


I’m afraid I haven’t got anymore photos because I just cycled like crazy today! I didn’t mean to go so far, I’d missed out a whole page of map when I planned my stop!

Covering ground

Since I last wrote I have crossed the border into France. The first border with a sign declaring itself. Almost as soon as I was in France the weather became sunnier and the temperature warmer. Up till then I had sometimes been riding up hill with a feather jacket and a wooly hat. But now the weather is much more as I hoped it would be. The scenery has not been particularly special. Just lots and lots of farm land, very small villages and very few shops. These cooling towers are mentioned in the guide which gives you an idea of the lack of points of interest! Mind you the size of them was quite impressive when I was cycling right by them a bit further on.


At the camp site that evening I met a couple who were also bike touring. Haans and Annie. We spotted each other straight away! They are following the same route as me but South to North. This was great as they tipped me off about a few campsites- ones that they recommended and ones that they’d found were closed.

They suggested I plan my stops carefully to make sure I could always find somewhere that was open and suggested staying in youth hostels later in the season. They were so friendly and helpful, Haans was servicing his bike so he offered to look at my bike too. He ended up cleaning the chain and replacing my brake pads for me! 


They thought now was a good time as I had lots of hills coming up! 

Another great thing about today was that I reaped the benefit of traveling at this time of year! 


Lots of wild hedge row fruit and it’s so delicious and free! Apples, pears and plums! Yum!

I’m now at a campsite in Vic Sur Seille. It’s probably the rowdiest campsite so far! Everyone around me is talking very loudly and enthusiastically and some bad music is drifting over from the party they’re having at the reception to celebrate the end of the camping season. Even the rooks that just came home to roost are making loads of noise. It is saturday night I suppose, so I bought myself a small beer. Just so I could join in instead of feeling bitter!

I would so much rather be in a quiet field or woodland somewhere. Annie had said that she wasn’t brave enough to camp wild and that some woodlands have wild boar roaming them! It turns out I’m not at all brave enough either which, now my beer is finished and the music is getting louder and worse, seems like a big shame.

A brief but lovely glimpse of Luxembourg

I cycled a long way yesterday! I set off from South Belgium at a record early time at 9.45am. The sun was only just burning off the mist.


Because I’d rested for a day to sit out the rain I really wanted to make up for it and cover a lot of ground. 

On this ride I was, for once, aware of roughly where the border was, this is what it looked like:


Nothing particularly momentous!

I had a huge climb up to and through the town of Wiltz which seems to have recently had a lantern festival. The lanterns were still hanging in the trees and the street lights were made to look like flowers


A little further into North Luxembourg it was hilly, forested and beautiful. There were quite a few tough climbs but also one massive, long, zigzagging descent through the woods down to the valley and then along the Sûre river. This was the best bit of cycling on the trip so far.


I pretty much followed this river all the way to the city.

There were lots of chalet type houses nestled in the trees on the steep sides of the valley, it looked like a really lovely, if quiet place to live. I haven’t got photos though because this road was really, really long and I was very pressed for time. I had arranged to stay with another warmshower host in Luxembourg . Getting lost in a city is bad enough, getting lost in a city in the dark is something I really wanted to avoid so I was really pushing myself to keep a good pace. I’d worked out roughly that I should just about make it in time.

I was so proud when got to the outskirts! It was only 6pm so I had two hours of daylight to find the house. I had a quick look online for a Google map of the address and realised she was right the other side of the city. Google thought it would take me an hour and a half. Google is always a bit optimistic! Just into the city things were beginning to get complicated and my Dutch instructions were getting very convoluted! I managed not to panic and tried to have faith that I was on track but just as I was being over taken by another cyclist I had the urge to check with him that I was on the right road. After an initial bit of confusion over which language we were going to be speaking we settled for English (no surprize!) I explained my route and by amazing coincidence it was exactly where he was heading! He offered to ride with me despite my slower speed- amazing! Just when I needed it! Unlike when I was in Rotterdam, I felt totally at ease accepting his help. I’ve obviously made a lot of progress in relaxing! I didn’t get his name and he didn’t tallk very much but he showed me the way and told me a bit about his life which was based in Belgium at the weekend with his family and Luxembourg during the week for work. Because he wasn’t around the city at weekends he said it was really hard to establish a social life, hence having lots of time for cycling. This was his daily commute to and from work. It took us on a whistle stop tour of the city. So I saw high city walls, attractive houses and flowery allotments and then finally a long stretch of cycle path through tall trees and along the river. He left me just two mins from my hosts house (and the municipal campground that I really hoped I wouldn’t need)

Christine hadn’t answered any messages or phone calls and I was slightly worried I might have the wrong number and would not find her house, the same old anxious feeling beginning to rise up.

But. I thought, I could try, and the worst is I camp again which is not ideal when it’s about to get dark and I’m really ready for food and a shower and a bed, but it’s not the end of the world either.

Just around the corner and I was ringing the doorbell to Christine’s house and there she was. All ready and expecting me. Her phone had been on silent since work and she hadn’t checked it, just waited for me to arrive. Phew! Just minutes before night fall. Everything was fine again.

Christine is a nurse in Luxembourg. She loves nature and she loves cycling. She has taken her bike to Sri Lanka and traveled around the island staying in guest houses and surprising everyone by climbing massive hills on her bike instead of catching the buses! She started me thinking about future trips…


 A house and company was really good for boosting my morale and making the 110km (!) ride worth it. I was so relieved and pleased at the distance I covered. 6 pages of map! It had been my favourite day so far and I was closer to my goal of getting to the south and the part of the route everyone tells me is the highlight. The only thing left to worry about was whether I’d be able to walk in the morning!

Is this Germany now?

Not quite Germany, but I’m near the border, some signs are German, people speak it too as well as dutch I think, I can’t be sure. When I stopped to buy lunch earlier everyone was definitely speaking French in the shop and here at the campsite they definitely don’t speak French. It’s very confusing! Everyone can speak English though so I get to feel like an ignorant fool all over again!

Today has been characterised by rain and hills but improved by the fact I’m in the most beautiful countryside so far. I’m camping in a national park on the Ourthe river and it’s lovely but it’s chucking it down making it very unappealing to cook dinner. So I’m eating an apple…

Haven’t met anyone today just cycled. Maybe I’ll meet someone tomorrow. Meanwhile here are a couple of photos.



These were in the sunny morning.


this is now.

It’s now Wednesday and the rain hasn’t stopped and shows no sign of stopping so I’m having a rest day, I’d rather be cycling but my waterproofs aren’t waterproof enough so it would just be miserable. Hopefully I’ll be able to cycle a long way tomorrow after a good rest…