The end of France and beginnings of Switzerland

(Originally posted Thursday 17 May, 2007)

Day 12 – 16. Wed-Sun 2-6 May
Much needed R&R in Epernay courtesy of famille Gallois. Five weeks of consistent travel may have caught up with us! Big sleep ins, emailing, eating, diary-writing, sunning on the terrace overlooking the Marne Valley, eating, chatting, washing clothes, eating…and I haven’t even mentioned the champagne yet. Did a tour of champagne houses large and small including Moet et Chandon, Mercier and a Gallois cousin, drove a scenic circuit of sights and places around Epernay including the stunted forest of Verzy, visited Reims Cathedral and caught up with sister Jenny and children Alex and Cal who had arrived from Paris, shopped for lasagna and BBQ ingredients to make dishes for our hosts, and serviced the bicycles. All necessary tasks and timely. Many thanks Michel and Madeleine! We are restored for the rest of our Path to Rome which began for Belloc in Toul, our next destination.

Day 17, Mon 7 May – Epernay to Laneuveville-derriere-Foug (near Toul) 175km
On a rain-affected morning we hit the Marne canal towpath, a 40km stretch that had us going over dirt, gravel, bitumen, pebbles and a length of plain grass. A young deer having a dip in the canal gave us a fright, for a second I thought I was looking at a Kangaroo!
The riding between Chalons-en-Champagne and Bar-le-Duc was a long time of pushing through the drizzle. The warm tourist info centre at BLD was welcome, we had been feeling quite tired and a little bit dispirited.
The food and recess gave us some new strength, not to mention the sun pushing away the rain. We found a beautiful single-lane country road all the way to St Aubin, and the freeway. Here was a little problem, the freeway seemed to be the only road over the 2km stretch. Luckily, a harvester came by and the driver waved at us to follow him, down the farmer’s access track we went, rattling all the way. Problem solved.
Between there and our gite the weather changed tact as many times as we crossed La Meuse canal, which, over 50 odd kilometers was quite a few times.
Finally we made it; worn out but satisfied with the effort.

Day 18, Tues 8 May
The gite is at Laneuveville-derriere-Foug, a smaller town than Dartmoor, 20kms from Toul. Inside is perfect for the nine of us, and we had it packed to the rafters.
With Aunty Poodge as driver, Dad, Aunty Jen, Alex and I traveled to Verdun. Fittingly, it was in a dreary, wet atmosphere. Our visits were to the French forts built just before WWI and the Douamont Ossuary. All very somber.

Day 19, Wed 9 May
Nancy, spearhead of the Art Nouveau movement, a very good-looking city. We spent most of the day inside its Musee de Beaux Arts, admiring the multitudes of works. It is a fantastic museum for a city of such size. Cal rejoined the party late-afternoon, back from his trek to London.
Traveling with nine is a bit too much for one car, so it seems like we’ll be buying plenty of train tickets for a while. The price to rent another vehicle is phenomenal.

Day 20, Thur 10 May
Bonne aniversaire à moi! 18 at long last.
The excitement obviously had got to me, I was first awake. A party of nine family/relatives in Europe wasn’t the kind of 18th party I would’ve expected before planning this trip, but it was lovely all the same. Thanks to the family who could come, because it would otherwise have been just dad and I, and that would’ve been stretching it.
It was a very low key day, some soccer at the park and some delicious cakes from Toul, complete with candles.

Day 21, Fri 11 May – Laneuveville to Remiremont, 143 km
A freakish wind swept us to Toul, where, in the true footsteps of Belloc and Brown, we left from the cathedral and the Nancy gate. Their path is now our path as well. A Frenchman who noticed our bikes and shirts stopped to talk ask what we were doing, very kind of him. We took the hot-mix Moselle towpath as long as possible, the surfaces really do affect speed. Lunch was at Tonnoy, the sun was out but that alone does not make it a pretty town. By the time we had made it to Charmes we were both breathing hard. Checking the map we winced at the remaining 50kms. At Epinal we had some interesting times in the traffic, being tooted and cut off. I didn’t find Epinal a very nice place. Halfway to Remiremont I set our new speed record: 67.8 km/h, should stand awhile me thinks. The last 20kms to Remiremont was testing dad a lot more than me, but I was still very happy to finish and take the car to our caravan park at Plombieres-les-Bains.

Day 22, Sat 12 May
We were still resting as lunchtime came upon us, glad we weren’t cycling again!
Plombieres has certainly stuck to its early 1900’s architecture, the old-English houses stand very grand along the valley’s slopes. Each step down the hill seems to take one back another year in time. We gathered information to plan our next few days and Cal, Jordy and I managed to join in a small game of street soccer.
For my 3rd night as an 18 year old Cal took me to the Casino, I’m glad he did because I came out 60 Euros in front, a sight better than him!

Day 23, Sun 13 May – Remiremont to Giromagny 54km
Starting from the train station taught us one thing; don’t look for public transport on a Sunday, it just won’t be there.
Dad sat with his bum as far back as possible the whole two hours it took us to cycle the 34km bike path, the suspected hemorrhoid lump meant he was keen to take it slowly.
The Ballon d’Alsace is a 1200m high mountain near Belfort, its nine kilometers of ascent was our target, so that we didn’t have to worry about it the next day.
In the end, the expectation was worse than the reality, we just stuck to our lowest gear and persisted. Unfortunately, the descent was also a let down. The tight hairpin turns ruined all hope of breaking 70km/h, I only just beat 60.
The family plus Cal took the relaxing package at the bathhouse in Plombieres, I never knew a shower could hit so hard! We even sweated it out in the Roman-dated sauna. Very relaxing.

Day 24, Mon 14 May
As we drove, fully loaded and squeezed in, we decided that today is a day for traveling, not cycling. The rain was heavy and continuous. The Swiss border came and went with little notice, thanks to the country lane we had chosen to drive. Once we arrived at St. Ursanne we had a time of finding accommodation, we eventually booked into a lovely hostel-style place, 6kms away. I was not the only one to be feeling sick and went to bed clutching my painful tummy.

Day 25, Tues 15 May
Let it be declared that Tuesday the 15th of May be a day of rest.
With half of everyone being sick nothing big was going to be accomplished, until dad decided we needed to do a spot of hiking. There was a big hill that Belloc and Brown had crossed that can’t be done on bike. So we spent the next 3 hours walking from St Ursanne to Glovelier, a very pleasant yet solid trek. We timed it perfectly as we happened to be in forests both times it rained. I was surprised to find that the Swiss cows do actually have bells around their necks.

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Filed under 2007, Rotterdam to Rome

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