Monthly Archives: June 2013

Nothing Toulouse

Go to a city in France on a Sunday and you have the place to yourself. Go on a Saturday and you share it with the world. At its heart is a square surrounded by a maze of streets. A tour by bike located the major sites and I opted to visit the Museum of Toulouse, which housed an assortment of objects from the city in no particular context from Roman times to the 1900’s. Of interest were some old photos and the house that hosted the collection.

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Folk dancing from around Europe

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Toulouse space centre
One of the few sunny days and I spend it indoors in an air conditioned building. Its a sizable collection of outdoor exhibits and indoor interactive displays. The 3D Imax cinema is great. I felt let down by the exhibits and the content.
The exhibits
Mostly crude mockups. Solar panels printed by inkjet printers, fake panels slapped into places that looked blank.
The content
First question on a multiple choice about satellites.
Q: ‘Can satellites help blind people feel their way through space’.
A: True (but somewhat misses the point in my view)
Also, a whole room about applications of satellites made no mention of the military use or how technology found its way into civilian use.

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Ariane 5

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Models of the generations of Mars rovers

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So there does it plug into?

Spokes update:
Still having the odd spoke breakage every 2 to 3 days, although now is a 3 minute repair job. I don’t even take the bags off so I’m not that bothered now. All part of the challenge!

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Following the Canal Garonne Southwest

South from Bordeaux is the Canal du Garonne and a perfect route for clocking up miles away from the cold and wet mornings. Built in the 1860’s, it arrived just in time to be made obsolete by the railway that now runs alongside it for most of the way. The towpath is sheltered from the elements by lines of densely packed mature plain trees. Cycling a 100km is a day is effortless on this surface, a stark contrast to the tens of thousands of people that must have laboured for years to cut or raise its waters through this landscape.
At one of the many campsites on the way I passed a pleasant evening with a family following a similar route. They had two children, the eldest being four. Situated in the shadow of a crumbling old chateau, it was a fine setting to share my wine purchase from Jean-Marie. Finished off with Port wine and stumbled back to find the tent.

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Roadkill.. Lots of these about.. Is it dangerous? I've been warned about little shakes in trees..

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This one next to my Galaxy S phone..

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Passenger in the morning sun

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Canal crosses the river..

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Couldn't resist!

The hardest thing about this trip is keeping all my gear in one place. There are a number of rules, lanyards, clips and routines for making sure I dont leave anything behind and today my first major casualty, my camera tripod. As usual, it it involves a major backtrack to where it was last used, in this case the tower in St Emilion. A 3 hour round trip back to the tourist information office yielded nothing.

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Following the canal I rolled in to La Reole, my final destination. Staying here was not an option as the campsite had been flooded and the ground was ‘contaminee’ according to the posters. 8km later I was camped next to a French tourer on a recumbent trike. He was delighted to show me how he zips a hood to enclose the whole seat and luggage area. “It is very useful in this weather we are having”. He’s not wrong there!

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La Reole, where the campsite was flooded

Moissac is worth a visit for the street scene and Abbey. The carving on the entrance is amusing, the rich man on his death bed with the demons taking his soul and purse while his wife weeps.
Chatted to an Australian couple, Ginny & Geoff from Sidney, Ginny originally from Cornwall. We were even joined by a Californian couple who, get this, didn’t own a car! A very pleasant afternoon and a welcome break from the canal.

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Although the canal makes a great route, it predominantly features, well, a canal lined with trees. Sometimes a tree is missing, mostly not. Locks and not many boats. Roll on Toulouse

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Canal, lock, lock house, boat and trees. You've seen it all now

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Inventive alternative to locks, a boat lift powered by two full size locomotives. I wonder if you need two drivers?

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Bordeaux and wine country

Long after the pyramids have turned to dust, there be still be a lasting reminder of our existence on this planet in the form of the U-boat pens in Bordeaux.. With a roof made from reinforced concrete as thick as a house and space for 14 U-boat docks it is huge. The local authority wanted to demolish it, but a quick survey showed it was going to cost a very large sum to do so, so they turned part of it into and exposition centre and the rest lies unused. Its out of town in a very grotty area surrounded by squats, gipsy camps and hostels and not the sort of place tourists are encouraged to go. Although closed on Mondays the front door was open so I just walked in and looked around without a soul about.

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Then into the town centre for a tour of the sites. Again, being Monday, lots of places are closed so I cycled the backstreets searching out the gems. Back on the campsite I spent a plesant evening with Burkhardt and Uschi, IT workers from Stuttgart. They too had braved the weather from La Rochelle where we had previously chatted sheltering from the rain.

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Coming to Bordeaux and not tasting thr wine is like going to the pool and not getting wet. St Emilion is very pretty village nestled on the side of a hill overlooking the prime winegrowing area of Bordeaux. A climb of the clock tower requires the key from the tourist information desk and I was the only one up there. The views over the town and surrounding vineyards are stunning.

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The large chateau wine houses line the roads in and out of St Emilion, but my eyes were set on something a bit smaller and run by someone with a passion for wine, not just an employee. On a country lane I noticed Chateau Bonesperance and sounds of work from the rear. At once the owner and proprietor Jean-Marie Fritegotto had me tasting the offerings. I purchaced a bottle of his 2011 and 1.5 litres of the 2012 from the tap. Total bill, 5.50 Euro.

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Rochefort and down the Atlantic Cote d’Argent

South of Rochefort is the pretty walled town of Brouage. Its a super-mini version of Lucca with a walkway along the wall. The barracks hosts a display on fortified towns around the world, plus some history about this one.

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Royan is the next large town on the Atlantic and my next stop but a spoke breakage cut the day short. Made a quick fix and limped to the nearest town which just so happens to have a huge warehouse / repair centre. The mechanic had it repaired in no time and sold me a handful of spokes that fit my rear wheel. Result.

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The couple on the campsite next to me were debating to cut short the holiday and return to the UK where it is BBQ weather. My information on a few more days of cold and drizzle to follow ended the discussion. A friendly couple, also had stories to tell about their past expeditions.

Marks of the second world war are everywhere on the coastline. Its a sobering to think what it was actually like to live there at the time overlooking a continuous line of gun emplacements, or for those tasked with mounting an attack.

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The Ferry from Royan to cross the Gironde to the next stretch of coastline was braved by only 2 other cyclists. ‘Velo Oddesey’, the main Atlantic cycle route gets very little traffic in these conditions.

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The weather
Rows of cafe restaurants with no customers, board staff and worried owners staring blankly at the rain soaked streets.
My waterproofs are good, so I can ride the whole day and be completely dry, including shoes and socks! Its when I stop and visit places, the damp and cold creep in. Thats why its my preference to keep moving, spokes permitting. On the whole, when cycling through the desert furnace in Egypt or Ethiopia, I’m sure to look back on this with fond memories..

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Cote d’Argent
Here the coast is exactly like Formby in Merseyside. It has sand dunes, pine woods and no red squirrels. Infact with the cold and mist, it could well be Formby. The difference being the 100Km stretch is punctuated by a handful of small surfing resorts linked by an easy bus ride from the city of Bordeaux. A couple of bars, restaurants, guest houses, a campsite with pitches for tents and small rentable bungalows but in most abundance is a vast empty shoreline with giant Atlantic breakers rolling in. A surfer haven with lots of surfer dudes.

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First ‘wild camp’ in the pine woods miles from anywhere. Perfect spot just where where the pine trees stop and the dunes start. If you are reading this now it means I managed to find my way back the the cycle track!

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My last glimpse of the Atlantic at Le Porge-Ocean then east with the wind and rain pushing me effortlessly to Bordeaux.
When I had visions of entering the city it was through sun drenched vinyards, not sheltering from the wind and rain in a supermarket carpark feasting on bread, pate and apple juice.
The route into the city follows a disused railway line that leads to the campsite. A pleasant place where nobody complains about the noise from their neighbours as any late night music and shouting is completely drowned out by the racket of thousands of toads croaking in the whole night. Spent the evening feasting with fellow cycle campers.

The forecast says its the last day of rain and cloud.. so looking forward to getting some sun at last!!

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La Rochelle to Rochefort

Stormy weather adds drama to the landscape and makes a good photo. In cities however, it seems to leech beauty right out the place. Entered La Rochelle from the north past oyster and muscle farms in varying states of operation, had the smaller family run ‘tasting’ shops been open I would have happily wolfed down a plate of them.
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Made a few photo stops in the city but the rain and cold compelled me to press on.

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Stopped in the old cafe advertising wifi and was sheepishly told it wasn’t working, I nearly choked on my over priced panini! South for as far as the spokes held, which wasn’t far and soon I was sheltering under a bus stop with the toolkit out.

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Friendly locals once more offering tools and directions to the nearest campsite.
Next Rochefort, a once wealthy ship building city with many relics of the past. Its also a city with many modern day problems. It seems to have lost its civic pride. When the Marie (mayors residence ) is over grown with weeds and bad tarmac, you know there is something seriously wrong because that’s just not normal here in France.
Camping Municipal has a special pedestrian / bike rate which is rare now in France. Most of the time you pay the same price for the ‘placement’ this is the same for a motorhome, caravan or bivvy bag.

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Next day I was outside the museum for 9am, however its didn’t open till 10 so I went off hunting for sweet delights from the bakers. These where insufficient to ward off the cold and soon I was compelled to start moving to get the circulation going.
South from the city is ‘The Transporter’, a moving platform that takes you from across the river. It is surprising similar to one I rode on a few weeks ago somewhere between Cardiff and Newport. I must check wikipedia about which one was first as they are identical. The usual band of hardy cycle tourers braved the misty rain and cold continue their journey south.

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A French Swear word.. Rayons..

I’m at the leg to the journey to From Nantes to La Rochelle through the Vendee countryside. its very much like the Southern English countryside without the traffic and with the wine. (slurps another glass).
I’m trying to beat the weather. Its 2 days journey time max and i’m now on day 7, and still a days ride away from La Rochelle. Why? Rayons. Thats French for spokes.
My exit from Nantes was broken by sightseeing at the Dukes palace and a haircut.

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I’ve visited Nantes so didn’t feel like hanging around. Heading south I came across my first vineyard, worthy of a photo..

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Municipal camping was closed, which means the gate is down, showers are closed, toilets open and its free. The one other camper is a French scooter rider. He asked for help pitching his tent and I soon realised why, so pissed he could hardly stand up, although friendly enough. After he pitched his tent he scootered off again, presumably to find a bar tabac as I didn’t see him again until the morning.

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Next days promising start came to and end with a boink. Rayon. I came to a halt with a row of houses to my right. Immediately a yappy dog ran to the gate and started barking continuously without pausing for breath. I sighed. Knowing if it would take me 2 hours to sort out the problem it would still be barking with the same ferocity, I wheeled the bike to a side road and fixed it there. From the front, it didn’t look like a house, but soon I was joined my a kitten, who after feeding it a scrap of bread was my friend for life. The couple who owned the house came out to enquire about my problems and soon I was invited in for breakfast of sweet bread and apple juice with the family. The most pleasant mechanical breakdown I’ve had.

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On the road south I was flagged down by a Journalist who interviewed me about my trip.  She was from the Journal Ouest France. I’ll post a link if it makes it to an article.

At 2pm travelling through Mareuil sur Lay Dissais I heared the dreaded Boink. Another spoke had broken opposite a sign pointing to the campsite. A pretty town so I thought about stopping, how lazy.. I thought.. On the way to the campsite.. boink. another broken spoke. My heart sank. Worst case I return to the UK with the rear wheel and get it sorted out.
After pitching the tent I replaced the spokes, but the whole wheel was buckled. Walked around town aimlessly looking for a bike shop that I knew wasn’t there with the rear wheel skidding as it rubbed on the brake. Being Sunday the whole place was deserted; Through traffic, yes. People, no. Monday all bike shops are closed even in the nearest bigger towns. That makes 9 days from Nantes to La Rochelle.
There is only one thing I can do and that’s fix it myself, so I did. over a period of 2 hours I worked out how to re-true a wheel. Which ones to tension, which ones to slacken. Its perfect. All spokes have a similar tension and the wheel is perfectly true. When applying the breaks there is no ‘intermittent’ rubbing. No bike shop needed and tomorrow La Rochelle, despite the forecast storms. My Lidl Crivit waterproof trousers have been replaced by Vaude multi technical miracal pant dryers, but what else would you expect for 100 Euro!

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Nantes: The French are on strike

Not that this would affect me normally, but when waiting for spare spokes to be sent priority air it does! Still, its not raining all the time, I’ve got a nice pair of woolly thermal socks, gadgets I’ve yet to fully play with and a Wifi connection in my tent so its not that bad after all.
The spare spokes we sent Tuesday afternoon with a 2 day target. I’m not holding my breath, and why should I when there is a great indoor swimming pool next door, shops open all hours and quite a number of chores to do.
The first is the gremlin tent eater. Yes, a gremlin is eating my tent. Holes appear when it is packed away so a number have now been patched up. I’m packing poles and pegs separately now and it seems to have stopped.
Next is the blog.. in progress, but more about using the software and mini keyboard to do it on.
Then mount my light and make a lanyard, I’m running out of space to hang things of the bike.
Lastly charge cables to for gadgets.

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The spokes arrived Friday 14th June, and are being fitted now. Weather has improved and its now bordering on warm! Looks like I’ll be making a dash south tomorrow.

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Brittany to the Loire

Waited for the rain to stop and continued along the railway path. I was chased by thunder and lightning before finding a campsite for an early finish. Met up with Malcolm, a friendly Scott, fed-up with the summer mists and rains of his home country and had decided to come to France. “At least its warmer here”, he said as we sat in the misty rain. Cyclist are a positive bunch. You have to be.

He pointed out something I had not seen, a broken spoke. I remember it happening. I rigged a lanyard to attach both my rear panniers together so I’d know if one of the fell off. I left it dangling it pulled one of the spokes clean out. Boink. Will get it fixed in Nantes.
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Nantes
The ride today was smooth.  I only dropped one thing, a charging cable which I soon found. I also found a rhythm that carried me the distance all the way to Nantes. Being Sunday the roads where nearly empty and it was a delight to take the bigger roads without having to share. I passed through forests and stopped to chat to some mushroom pickers. “Its too cold, the pickings are not good” one of them mumbled.

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Reached a pretty chateau and pondered over stopping at the campsite in the grounds. With spoke to be fixed and no traffic I decided to press on. A mistake, as this is France and bike shops  are closed Mondays. Paf.

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Overnight to France

A relaxing day in Gosport with Stuart spent cycling along the coast stopping for ice cream. That means going to Iceland (the shop), purchasing a box of Magnums and scoffing the lot. Set out for ferry port stopping off at the Toby Cavery and took the Gosport ferry back to Portsmouth.

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To Lambelle (40km east St Malo)
Cycled off the ferry and picked my way out of St Malo to the quiet country lanes. How those old Edwardian cars managed on the roads of their day I’ll never know, not very well I guess. The boat have over 30 of them, real horseless carriages filling the surrounding countryside with chugging spluttering popping machines. Some even struggle to overtake me!
I’m not comfortable with my kit yet. I keep losing things in the bags, leaving things behind, the panniers don’t feel secure and there is no flow. Its normal I guess at this stage and with a bit of adjustment and reorganisation that can be fixed.
Arrived in Emilys local village. Given a rural address the only way to find it is to ask. The person I asked made a trip to the Mayors office to obtain a photocopied sheet with a map of the surround area showing the `residences`. La Richards was there. Street name, house number is not the French way. Emily passed me by chance on the way to the nursery and rescued me. Back at the ranch we settled in for kids feeding time bed time, a meal time, wine time and wind down time. Next day looks promising, buts Fred’s prediction of weather to come was ominous..

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Lambelle to Porcaro
The morning mist burnt off and soon I was wheeling along quiet country lanes through small villages where the only thing that dominates is the noise is the chirping starlings. Thats when the rumbling started. Then the wind. Then the rain. Its not a good time to realise my quality pair of waterproofs are boxed up in the roof space. Imagine my horror as I unfurled my Lidl Crivit waterproof trousers that are about as waterproof as net curtains. I pondered my options and stupidity.
Then there was a ‘donk’ and a ‘thud’. Then it started hailing. When I say hailstones, I mean marbles. Luckily being stood under a conifer tree I looked up to see them raining down through the dense nest of wooden branches. A very surreal experience. I carried on following a disused railway line with the sensation of cold water creeping into my shorts. Found a deserted campsite with no apparent owner, only the number to the local mayors office that was shut today and tomorrow. I adjusted kit and repacked bags.

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Oxford – I’ve now officially started

1st June 2013: Reading to Oxford
Waved off from Thomas and Monikas for the short ride the the train station to meet Rachael and James. A sight to lift the heart of a traveller with a long road ahead. Thoughts turn to more immediate concerns such as where and when  is the next pub stop. Wheeled our way through the Oxford countryside to Reading under perfect conditions and company.

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Visit Computers 4 Africa
http://www.computers4africa.org
Its a big operation. Pickup points around the UK, including Worthing. They all end up here in Maidenhead where the are wiped and processed and put onto pallets ready for container shipping.

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Had a superbly entertaining evening at Andy’s house.. The winged monkeys fly once more (our pub quiz name).. Wine and conversation flowed. Apologies for the short notice.

Gatwick to Worthing
Followed a well ridden route from Gatwick to Horsham to West Chiltington to Worthing. A long stretch of which is just delightful. The biggest bowl of cheesy chips I’ve ever had was scoffed down en-route. Arrived in Worthing around 3 where I met up with Sue and Dennis (neighbours)  who fed, watered and stock me up with advice for the journey ahead. Then to Portsmouth to see Stuart. With a tent pitched in the garden we ploughed our way through a bottle of rum and slept under canvas, I remember looking up Nicholas Nicolby for some reason..

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