Cycling France 🇫🇷 

Genova- Alassio 93 km
 

One of my favourite moments on the entire trip occurred yesterday. It involved a white 1.5m cubed plastic jetty floating on the milky blue rolling ocean and some perfect sunshine and mountains to frame my vision when I bothered to open my eyes while laying on that pontoon and while my real world thoughts were washed away with each wave like butter melting in a pan. Our hair snaked out in knotted tendrils and the grease on our limbs accumulated water beads while Marie and I had this tiny white island to ourselves for eternity. People tried to climb on and somehow failed; the beach was so packed with bodies and beach umbrellas and noise that we couldn’t understand why the hoards weren’t attacking us for the floating piece of paradise which seemed a world away from the human chaos, rather than fifty metres. My dream man would build me a white jetty on my own secluded beach and we would live on it happily ever after with a Cavalier King Charles.
So the ride from Genova to Alassio was incredibly coast hugging. We smiled with joy while weaving under rocks which threatened to drop with a deadly thud at any moment. They even had big nets above the road at some stages, further encouraging ideas about getting squashed. The coast is a constant frenzy of holiday makers and hotels- no wonder the inland was so quiet, the whole country have escaped to the sun drenched costa! And sunny it is. It is once again so hot that I catch myself looking at the succulent leaves of particular trees and bushes and thinking about how bursting with liquid they are. And then my serious voice comes in and tells me not to be jealous of plants and to drink some goddamn water. It’s really hot.
We stopped at a few different Sunday markets and committed one of the ultimate cyclo-tourist sins. We bought shoes. Not just thongs or sandals but full blown, gorgeously soft brown leather, cork soled wedges. This is a big no-no on an already overloaded bike, but we egged each other on and now we are facing the consequences of not being able to fit any snacks in our panniers. The sacrifices we make. It didn’t seem so hard in Albania or Croatia but the Italians are just so goddamn stylish and we are just so drab! I might feel like this as a result of wearing the same dresses for over thirty days, and maybe even more so from wearing my super elegant leopard print tights day in and day out. Anyway, we have shoes now so we should fit right in.
After riding through landscape impossible to get tired with, we eventually settled on a place to stay about 6pm. What we didn’t realise is that it’s one of the ritziest Italian resort towns on the coast. The two star hotels are 100 euro a night, and we would both rather spend our pennies on some mouthwatering gastronomical goodness than a bed you aren’t even awake to enjoy. While painting our toenails steel blue sitting on one of thousands of beach chairs that line sand, we made a decision to sleep there for the night. Glamming up with our new heels and cute dresses by doing the sneaky shimmy in an alleyway next to our bikes, we left Pos and the Phantom and strutted along the corso. Chandeliers hang in outdoor restaurants, bottles of Moët and Chandon are put out on tables for fun, and the clothes walking around possess unimaginable price tags. We were in it, and we were about to get better ocean views than all the people in their Hilton hotels. After dinner we realised the entire beach was lit up, presumably discouraging dirty, law breaking squatters. But we searched hard with our tired eyes and found a dark place. Someone had also conveniently left their blow up beach mattresses just for our added comfort! We walked back to the bikes and put on all the clothes we could, walking as inconspicuously as possible with silk liners and roll up mattresses in our arms and looking like Eskimos in layers of jumpers. We kind of lost it with the giggles and the irony of the money we were walking past. In their wildest dreams they would never imagine sleeping on the beach, so why would they think we were about to?! Especially not while we were wearing our super trendy Italian wedges. We settled into our super cheap beds and slept like babies with full bellies. Definitely contemplating buying one of those mattresses to replace mine at home. I woke up this morning and jumped in the ocean at sunrise to celebrate our final day in Italy!
 

Diary 25

Alassio- Cap d’ail 95km -Miramar 70 km
I have just woken up on a little beach to this vision of weather churned, sun bleached orange ocean, skwarking gulls using the wind for games, earth red rocks with the silhouettes of houses, and this imposing wooly beard of gold tipped clouds swaying above my world.
It was a hectic night. The wind was waging a war, throwing spears at us from every direction while we rolled around and groaned, helpless in our silk liners, shared sleeping mat and lack of warm clothing. It screamed like Voldemort while mozzies dug into our sleepy soft skin. Another world to our sleep on the beach in Alassio two nights ago!
It’s been an event filled few days on our way through the French Riviera. Leaving Alassio, we rode nearly 100km through three countries. Yes, Monaco near the border of France is a country! All two and a half kilometres of it. We smashed it out in the morning to San Remo, which makes me think of the bolognaise sauce with the little Italian cartoon man. I wanted to eat some bolognaise there but we had croissants instead. Along the way toward France, we met some downhill mountain bikers who had just ridden 120km and 3000 m in vertical exaggeration for a fun day out. Europeans really get out. Not just on their bikes, but in their caravans too. So many decked out road houses have come rolling past us, complete with kayaks, bikes and even motorbikes on the back to make the summer holiday a home away from home. It’s an awesome effort, and if I have a spare $500, 000 sometime I wouldn’t mind joining in on the trend. We passed through Monaco in the afternoon light, eyes wide to the countless red matchbox Ferraris and private ocean liners. The road actually sparkled when we got into this country. Not joking, there must be something special in the tar. As we passed through one tunnel I thought it was a hotel I was looking at when I started coming out the other side, but it was just a ridiculously over the top boat. There are so many out there that your concepts of proportion get thrown out the window. No wonder they nickname this place Disneyland, with it’s painted facade of people and possessions. An Australian woman we met who lives here while her husband is working on the oil rigs in Africa told us that beneath all the sparkle it’s very fake and impersonal. Give me Moruya any day!
We were out of there half an hour and one elevator later. A very skinny walking path along the ocean definitely not made for bikes is where we spent the last hour or two I riding, with magical white rocks and palm trees keeping us calm while we dragged the bikes up steps and through sandstone tunnels. We were trying to locate a hostel on the water, and by 8pm we actually found it. It was this divine old building which had no right to be a hostel. For only twenty euro we got to sleep alongside the ocean just a few kilometres out of Monaco in France, watching the sky set brilliantly while being served up homemade lasagne.
On our way toward Nice, I got the first flat tire of the entire trip. Luckily it was in a to die for location between sharp cliff faces and the ocean, because we spent a long time there changing one tire. And once it was done, I was actually charcoal black from grease. Arms, legs, clothes, neck- black. We were proud as punch once we got back on the road and my bike was good to go again. For twenty kilometres at least. And then the tire burst so loudly I thought it must have shredded apart. As we don’t do things in halves, it was a massive piece of glass which pierced the tire, meaning the entire thing needed replacing. We dropped Pos off at a bike store and put on some civvy clothing to walk around Antibes for three hours, browsing bakeries (no joke they’re incredible), buying more forbidden clothes and stopping for French coffee and cookies.
So the majority of the roads we endured under the wind force against us during this day were luckily bike paths. Thank god because on the real road it would be highly likely that we would get whisked up by the wind and squished into a car like a fly onto a windscreen. The bike paths are made so that you can effortlessly glide through the well known cities of Southern France. Cannes. Nice. When they made the word fancy, I think someone accidentally omitted the R for ‘francy’ along the way. Men in loafers and tight striped tees walk alongside their kids carrying a little fluffball dog which has just returned from it’s hairdressing appointment, complete with a red ribbon in it’s blonde locks. People smoke cigars while they drive their toy cars one handed and even the workers on the boats look highly polished as they shine the steering wheel of a luxury yacht. We sat down to people watch from an Irish pub on the harbour side of Cannes and somehow drank a litre of beer each, because it was just that kind of out of whack day. When we continued, we laughed alongside the traffic as they beeped because they could feel our silly excitement. I weaved through the traffic like a dart (in my mind I was like a dart anyway) until I turned to look for Marie and one of my panniers caught on a pole which sent me reeling into a concrete surrounded bush. The back of my bike went up in the air and my panniers flew up, just like the eyebrows of the drivers watching. I didn’t hurt myself a bit (muscle relaxation) and when Marie got there we both took a few breaths before continuing. Once we got past the flatlands of the day, we came to these dramatic red rocks sticking out of the ocean and decided to stop for the night. We listened to the son of Gypsie Kings and his band play in our outdoor beach restaurant and feasted on chilli and olive spaghetti before swapping our heels for warm socks in our intense camping scenario. France you expensive little cutie, I’m loving your ways.

Diary 26

Miramar- Randol 90km – Cassis 98kms – Arles 35km
A man told me something a few days ago that stuck in my mind. He told me about a conversation in a cafe with a friend. His friend looked up at a bird and said ‘wouldn’t it be amazing to have the freedom to do whatever you want. That bird can go to Germany or Jebrolta or wherever he chooses’. His companion looked him in the eyes and said ‘and so can you’.
I can’t stop thinking that we have neared the end of this epic journey that I didn’t even know was truly feasible. It has not only been possible to achieve, but an incredible, heart warming and eye opening experience in terms of people, places and exploring physical capabilities. I should probably calm down- we still have 500km to peddle! But honestly, I feel that the world is yours to do whatever you want with it. Your words, actions and perceptions. We are all as free as birds in our own world!
We just pulled into a roadhouse near Arles while the sun set dangerously low over the fields of sunflowers shying away from us with droopy faces. We are keeping the windows shut to stop the army of Mosquitos and falling asleep with bellies full of French patisserie delights.
The last few days conjure memories of drinking wine on trains with German cyclo tourists, some hardcore hills that required muscle memory to put one foot in front of the other, picnics on the beach with olives and cliffs to accompany us, crystal clear water dips and some spectacular French Riviera bicycle exploration.
Leaving Miramar toward Saint Tropez, we battled against the strongest winds we have ever experienced on bikes. My cheeks had the chipmunk effect as I tried to keep my spine upright against the force. Pretty much anyway. It was hardcore, and we were hardcore jealous of the cyclists going the other way. They were absolutely zooming along; flying up the hills without a push! Any sane person would not choose to cycle against the wind on a day like this, but one particularly lovely lady and myself are on a mission. So we chose to cycle. It was pretty, hugging the coast and admiring the blood red rocks with lots of caravans in sheltered spots to soak up the serenity. We neared St Tropez and chose to cut across a peninsula inland because we might have some chance of preventing further bashings from our friend and foe, the wind. Cutting across from saint tropez, the sun bore down and when we saw the ocean on the other side we fell into the freezing cold water and then lay on the sand smiling up at the boiling sun. We joked our way into the afternoon ride, expecting more ridiculous gale force wind blasts, but we were rewarded with sheltered mountains and had a theme park ride through this section, getting whistles and beeps from impressed holiday makers slurping icecream on their way to the beach. At the top of one mountain, I guess I had ridden a bit too hard and couldn’t remember what country I was in. It looked so different to the rest, but resembled Croatia with rocky islands just too far to kayak to. It was like when you wake up in the morning completely confused about where you are. It’s probably about time to settle down in Madrid and live in some cute little apartment for a few months methinks!
We couldn’t go past a tiny town in the mountains that just whispered for us to stay, so we found a 2 star hotel. The star system in Europe is hilarious. We have stayed in one star places with all the amenities, super expensive two stars and four star camping! We think they just whack on whatever they think they are worth, because the stars do not give you any guesses about the cost or the crappiness.
Leaving Randol, we had a huge day of cycling along paths! We were led by a geriatric French cyclist into Toulon. His paper thin legs whirred and his constant big smiles back at us signalled to follow. We always experience a lack of verbal communication, but all that you really need is a good dose of enthusiasm from both sides.
In the afternoon we cycled through buzzing coastal towns to banyul. I got the shakes for some reason and needed juice and chocolate, and then we continued up way too many mountains to end a 100km day of cycling. But the end state in cassis was so worth everything, with overhanging cliffs and vineyards framing the super steep valley. It looked like the accomodation was going to be way above our price bracket, but we eventually found a 60 euro room. They kept saying it would be a horrible room with no windows, but it was perfect. Lots of green. And only allowed to sleep on one bed because they didn’t want to wash both sets of sheets. We rebelliously put our dirty panniers on the strictly prohibited bed and walked the esplanade, grabbing wine and dips on the way to the beach to add to the melted and squishy things we had stored in our panniers for a most glamorous picnic on the beach. After dinner I stripped down and breastroked around the melted gold that was the ocean in the evening light. It’s so clear that when you look down you can see your feet standing on the boulders. Blissful times.
We left this morning and rode over some amazing mountains out of the valley of Cassis. It was our first time seeing the exposed white rock and sparse vegetation of inland France. It resembles a kind of alps, but it’s only at 400m.
A gorgeous chilled out blue eyed a French retiree we met at the top of this range distributed some great life advice in the heavenly scene. ‘University is just blah blah blah, you’re better to take a good coffee instead. Travel is the real life experience’.
With that wisdom imparted we rode into marseille to get lost in a maze of human built chaos. As is the case with most cities, the sprawling mess of the outside is like unwrapping the present to the city centre. It never fails to impress when we find the well kept heart of a place. Marseille is beautiful, and we admired it with countless other tourists by sitting on the harbour eating affordable bakery food and dangling our legs watching big black storm clouds roll over the water. Oh no! We had only ridden 25 kilometres and had just stopped at a cheapo store to buy a new bed for me. The new bed consists of five skinny cushions and a red and white striped beach towel. I look pretty loaded up now, and very non- waterproof. So we went to the tourist information store and he gave us so much advice about the province that we are experts. Because of the imposing thunderous weather, we decided to go by train up north to Arles. It’s not really on our route to Spain, but we wanted to check it out. Escaping the rain fuelled madness of the Marseille train station, we met those German cyclo tourists. I should probably more accurately describe them as alcoholic, semi cycling travellers. They are on a four day trip and enjoying the magical French Riviera and it’s natural abundance of mushrooms in the national parks. After a few swigs of their nice wine, Marie and I jumped off and I promptly snapped my front breaks. It looked more confusing than it was for the guy at the cycling shop in Arles to fix it. We organised to stay at a place 8 ks out of Arles along our route back down south, washed and changed in some awful public toilets, locked our bikes up in a safe looking place and set off into Arles in our dresses and heels, wiping the remnants of grease from each other and stopping at cute shops along the way to add some nice fragrances to our questionably smelling skin. The town was built by Julius Caesar, complete with an amphitheatre and arena for gladiators. It was home to Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, and there are still lots of traditional artists living there today. This artistic epicentre is clearly drenched in history, and lots of keen followers are checking out the current photography exhibition. We found a cafe and spent the evening enjoying the bakeries and the shops of lavender and chocolate, then jumped on our bikes and conveniently met an older couple who live along the road we needed to find. They led us there on their gorgeous bikes decked out with stylish French panniers, and we waved au revoir and then found this roadhouse in the middle of nowhere!

Diary 27

Arles- La peyrade 95km – Narbonne 105km

I am laying in the shade of a thick walled brick castle inland from the canal riddled French Riviera. The wind is trying to pick us up off the ground and take us on a journey while we just want to feast on our pate with crusty bread, cheese, yoghurt and half melted chocolate. We are fourty kilometres north (as the crow flies) from the Spanish border. Our final destination of Barcelona is only a few hundred kilometres down the coast. Exciting times.
Leaving Arles as early as we could safely do so, the sun rose behind us with a full palate of colours shooting in sparks over the sky. The morning light tinted the fields in gold, and pastel mauve flowers sprouted alongside the road for half the day. I was in riding heaven, unaware of the traffic passing, feeling no pressure to go a certain speed or push against mountains or wind. Just like a walk in the park, with huge dragonflies to match the huge seagulls and pink flamingos walking long and elegant like the clothes models of the swamp world. The bulbous white clouds and a soft sun set the smile on my face like a statue. We didn’t stop for at least 40km, when we pulled into the old town of Aigues Mortes. I drank a litre of cranberry juice as we strolled the boutique shops and then got some advice from the most resistant woman working in any tourist information centre in all of the world of all time. When we asked her a question about bike paths, she squinted with fire burning hatred and then said something along the lines of ‘Why go there? Look you idiots the map is on the wall, rephrase your question it doesn’t make sense.’ We played extra nice and left no more knowledgable, but found a bike path down to the coast between canals anyway. Returning to the coast was like arriving in one of the Gold Coast theme parks. Souvenirs galore, people plus, tacky clothes, dirty water and sticky heat. It only took us another 50km to decide that we would be heading inland to escape the summer craziness and mix up the terrain a bit. (Now I can see the gigantore Pyrenees mountain range just ahead of us and I’m not so sure we knew what we were in for). We continued through canals and then parted ways for lunch. I had a little picnic on the beach with my new bed towel and then napped while Marie got a salad and crepe at a nearby restaurant. Your body really tells you what it wants on a trip like this, and we are listening! Making our way inland to weave around the yellow algae covered swamplands, i managed to run into a pole in the middle of the bike path and then hit the concrete wall on the other side. You would think I would know how to dodge the obstacles after this long, but obviously it just isn’t settling in. A few bruises later we found a place to stay at the end of frontignan. It was half past eight and I didn’t even care about food, but Marie rode back into town to get us something and then we crashed in our studio apartment, planning our inland route for the next day. We like using google maps and pressing on the little walking man to see which way he would go. We then see if this looks compatible with our regional maps, which are like cartoon treasure maps, with pictures of castles and flamingos and lots of bright greens and yellows which we can’t tell if they represent mountains or not. When we met one guy cycling yesterday with a proper map with all of the vertical exaggeration and valleys and all that jazz, we whipped out our little play toy map and he literally laughed. Don’t laugh though people, we have made it here all the way from Greece! And why make things more confusing than they are? But little did we know that this day would bring a lot of head banging wrong turns. Cycling out of La Peyrade, we followed the coastline and were sent on and off bike paths down to a crossoint breaky in Cap’d Agde. It’s the same kind of sandy bike path just off the beach with bamboo fence up on either side that we have been following a lot in France. So we left this to go inland in Cap’d Adge with loads of cartoon maps stuffed down the back of our tights and conveniently located on the top of our panniers. They needed to be convenient because I swear we looked at every single one until we found the one we needed. We looked for the Canal du Midi we were supposed to be following and went back and forth along tracks, received loads of confusing hand directions from enthusiastic locals doing their deed of the day and assisting the confused little Aussies. At one point we followed a German holidayer who said he was going to Serignan, just the place we were also headed. He was taking a short cut so we all went together, thinking it was a bit funny that the wind was with us. It was a bit funny because we were going backwards, and we all got lost together. As the road disintegrated into bright orange clay and swamps surrounded us on both sides, our little trio asked directions from an old French fisherman and found ourselves cross crossing through a maze of vineyards. I wasn’t sure if we would ever get out. We waved goodbye to Joseph from Germany and put our heads down to push through the wind and the afternoon heat toward Narbonne. Our road was closed and we were unsure what to do, but another helpful Frenchman gave us lots of French directions which involved things like ‘camping, gravel, turn left big road’. We only rode into one big fancy driveway by mistake, but otherwise we found our way to narbonne and rolled in at 7pm to Hotel du Paris. The gorgeous little hotel manager with a very feminine voice showed us to our boudoir. The room was seriously romantic, decked out with mood lighting and touches of red everywhere. The curtains, random parts on the walls, bathroom tiles, even the toilet paper was red. And I can’t forget the butterfly stickers all over the place either. We wandered down to the square and found a restaurant where I went all out with warm goats cheese salad, Salmon with roman sauce and pistachio icecream to finish. Food, food glorious food!
We left this morning on a pretty big highway, but I am sure we are going as fast as the trucks today. The wind is with us for the first time in this country, and we are flying!

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