Thursday, 31 May 2007

Day 8 - Orleans

Leaving Paris was worse than I expected with both my map and the signposts proving to be useless. I ended up just following a compass bearing of SW which involved going over the odd footbridge. I eventually found the D906 thqt I was after but it brought me to a roundabout with motorways on each exit, so back to the compass. I was getting a bit cheesed off but it was getting a bit more rural and at last I found the D906 further out of Paris. I stayed on it all the way to Chartres, where I found the local campsite and got set up just before it started raining.

Had a leisurely start today and visited the cathedral in Chartres, a really impressive Gothic structure that can be seen for miles around as it sits on top of a hill. Inside there are 130 stained glass windows and was well worth the visit.

I then set off south into a headwind, but at least the sun was out from time to time. It became dead flat and exposed with a large area of wind turbines and massive overhead irrigaters. I was mind numbingly boring, like Lincolnshire but worse, if that is possible. The French are good at town planning with impressive cathedrals qt the end of long streets, but out in the wilds is another thing. There always seems to be a massive eyesore in view in the shape of water towers. I stopped a random and could generally count 4 or 5 in view at a time today.

As I neared Orleans the clouds blackened and the heavens opened with lots of thunder and lightening and pretty soon I was soaked. It is a much bigger place than I expected and with no sign to campsites and the rain still coming down I made for a hotel. It's different to say the least. The showers is a stand alone unit, the likes of which I have never seen before and the loo is in the corner of the room with no partition. You can sit on the loo and look out of the large window straight down the highstreet. A loo with a view.

I am only going about 30K tomorrow as Caroline, her brother and sister in law are driving north from Barcelona and are stopping at a hotel there, so hopefully we will meet up. It's better than cycling in this bloody weather! Can you get trench foot on a bike. (This keypad hasn't got a question mark!)

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Day 6 - Paris

Well I may not have been on the bike, but my legs and feet are aching after 2 days of walking around the streets of Paris. Thankfully, today has been dry and the sun even showed itself a couple of times. First stop was the Museum d'Orsay, a fabulous art gallery in an old railway station, and it's always a good day in my opinion when you get to see a Van Gogh. There were plenty of Monet's work on display as well as many other impressionists along with sculptures and furniture. Actulually the furniture display felt a bit like Ikea, but with second hand stuff.

Next stop was the Eiffel Tower and more queueing, however it was well worth it as the views from the top were outstanding. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the various sights such as Arc de Triumph and Champ Elysees etc.

Two has not been enough in this fine city but tomorrow I move on in the vague direction of Chartres. I am a bit concerned as it will be the first day without navigators, so the fun really starts.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Day 5 - Paris

OK, who switched qll the keys qround on this keypqd?

Well, I have got off to an excellent start.

I left my sister Aoiffe in Aylesbury last Thursday in glorious sunshine, but thankfully by the time I passed through central London it was much cooler. My map wasn't up too much so I had to follow my nose through Westminster and it went in roughly the right direction. I arrived in Croydon at 5 ish and spent an enjoyable lqst evening in the UK with the wonderful hospitality of Tim and Pauline Wainwright. Having had a tour around the immaculate garden we ate dinner on the patio in lovely warm weather.

After breakfast qnd armed with a list from Pauline of the sights to see in Paris, I set off with Tim for Newhaven. I was thankfully guided through the tricky route away from Croydon and after a couple of hours Tim turned back as we was riding a 600k Audax the following day. He recommended a cafe at Ditchling which I used and whilst leant against the wall it was spotted by a tandem couple. They were Simon and Danni riding from Big Ben to the Eiffel Tower for charity and we were on the same route to Newhaven, but they were on the 18:00 ferry whereas I was about to discover I was aiming for a non existant 15:30 ferry. I set off first but they soon came steaming past me and we met again at the terminal. Not only did my ferry not exist, but as it was a BH W/E the next one I could get was 18:00 the following day. We said our goodbyes as they boarded the ferry and I spoke to a young girl, 11 year old Leanne who with her father Tom were touring for a few days in France. About an hour later I enquired at the other terminal and they managed to find me a place. I chatted with 2 more cyclists as I got on and as I left them I heqrd my name being called. It was Leanne and she directed me to Tom, Simon and Danni. The crossing was a nice sociable mix most notable for the amount of texts coming in on Danni's phone, lqst minute sponsors she assured us. We got in at 23:00 and I took up S and D's offer of floor space qt their hotel, which was out of town qnd tricky to find but Simon's maps and Danni's map reading were spot on and we got there without a single mistake, but by having to go the wrong way down qll the one way streets.

I decided to stick with S qnd D the following day and there route was top notch. The first 40k was along a cycle track that had been a railway line, so there wasn't even a hill. At the town qt the end we had a coffee and bought a picnic lunch. We sat at the deserted roadside qnd had our bread, cheese, pate, salad and followed it with delicious fresh cherrys which resulted in a game to see who could spit the pips the furthest. I was crap qnd came last. The afternoon was spent on tiny little lanes with very little traffic to speak of. Navigation was again spot on and the black clouds behind us never caught us. We checked in qt the hotel in Gisors and then went out in search of a resturaunt. Our chosen one said they were full but S was convinced they didn't like his flip flops, but they recommended another. It was way out of town down an unlikely residential road and S and D's stamina for the hunt was far greater than mine. It was worth it though as the food was good and we were later joined by D's husband and two childen and they were accommodated without any problems.

I decided to join S and D all they way to Paris. Their route continued to be excellent on tiny lanes, but they couldn't be held responsible for the weather and rain set in from midday onwards. I had a go on the back on the tandem, the first time I have ridden one, but Danni didn't appreciate the saddle on my bike. The route into Paris was tricky and having seen the Eiffel Tower from 50k out we didn't see it again until the last 1k. We picked up a local cyclist on his way home and he took great pleasure in showing us the route and we were soon underneath the tower waiting for S and D's families to come down. The wait made us all cold and after the tandem had been loaded into the car we went out seperate ways. S and D and their families were wonderful to me and wouldn't let me pay for anything, hotel room, meals the lot. I think I bought a coffee at some stage. I don't think I really said thqnkyou properly, so I will say it here, thanks, you are very kind and generous people. I knew I would meet and ride with people along the way but I never expected to get on so well with 2 people so soon after I had left, they were great fun and great company, but they declined my offer to join me all the way to Australia. Once we left it was hard to warm up again and I installed myself in a grotty little hotel in the centre of Paris.

Today has rained too, and a wet B/H in Paris is no fun as everbody heads for the museums qnd the Le Lourve was more like a busy railway station than a gallery. The queue for Notre Dame went way to the back of the big large square it sits in. I seemed to time it badly all day as it only seemed to rain when I was outside. Paris is fantastic though and I could easily spend a week here, but I will go after tomorrow and save the rest for qnother trip.

If the French think their cuisine is so good why are there so many Macdonalds in Paris? Actually their food is great, so why do people eat that stuff?

Thanks to you all for your comments. I was surprised and pleased to even see one from Caroline. I enjoyed reading them all but please forgive me for not replying to them as it would tqke and age, especially on funny keyboards.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Aylesbury - Still one day to go!

Well, nothing much has changed, but at least I have left home. Cyclists always complain of a headwind and true to form as I cycled away from my house it was into wind and rain, the only thing missing was a puncture.

I paid visits to four people and only one of whom was there and they were just on their way out. I wouldn't have been so suprised if they knew I had been on my way around.

I felt shattered having only gone to bed at 04:45 and got up again at 06:15. As expected things were a last minute rush. I stayed with a friend in Witney and it wasn't long before I was falling asleep in front of the cup final.

On Monday morning I spent more time socialising with friends near Witney before setting off to stay with sister Aoiffe in Aylesbury, where I will spend a couple of days sorting out one or two last minute details. The ride over was uneventful apart from the shock of the weight of the bike causing a considerable reduction in speed, but it does go down hill pretty quickly.

Tomorrow is the real start of the journey. I head off across London to stay with my Audax friend Tim Wainwright in Croydon and from there I will hopefully have his company down to the south coast. The plan is to take the 15:30 ferry on Friday from Newhaven to Dieppe.

It has been hard to say all the goodbyes and it still hasn't really sunk in that I will be away for a long period of time.

Next time this blog is updated I will be in France and there will hopefully be a little bit more to say as I settle in to my new lifestyle.

Friday, 18 May 2007

One day to go

I’m not very good at goodbyes, especially to large groups, especially when it doesn’t feel as though I am leaving. That’s how it was with my friends, the Woodstock Bell ringers last night. It just felt like any other night. It was only in the pub afterwards as I was questioned about the trip that I thought “Blimey! I suppose I had better start packing”.

It has been a week of goodbyes, some by email, some by telephone and some in the flesh and yet it still hasn’t really sunk in. Perhaps it’s my defence mechanism kicking in to stop me getting all emotional. It’s probably something to do with the fact that I leave home in just over 24 hours time and I still have so much to do. People have been so nice though and said such good things, and I am not even dead yet!

My sister Cathy and Caroline have continued to work tirelessly on cleaning my house this week. I would never have got in all done without them although I think it’s been a bit unjustified with amount of times they have used the word “filth”. I still blame the dogs!

Anyway, the next time I update this blog it will be for real and I wont have 101 other things I should be doing.

Monday, 14 May 2007

The dream becomes a reality

In just 5 short days the dream I have had for a few years now, will no longer be a dream.

We all need a dream and if we fulfil one we replace it with another. My previous dream was to cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats and I have ridden that twice now. Once this one is over I am a bit concerned as to what the next one will be!

There has been so much to do over the last 2 months that I have hardly given the trip itself much thought. Renting the house has created a lot of work. The garden has been tidied following the normal winter months of neglect, all the wooden surfaces have been painted or coated in wood stain, broken green house glass has been replaced, broken fence panels repaired, leaking radiators replaced, the list goes on. Then there are all the formalities of renting the house out, sorting out the finances not to mention the purchase of bit and bobs for the trip such as tent, stove, water filter, suitable clothing etc. There still is so much to do, the clock is ticking and I shouldn’t really be sat here writing this when there are so many more pressing issues that need my attention.

It hasn’t been easy either. Every corner I turn I am faced with more problems, more expenses. More than once I have questioned why I am doing this, is it really worth all the hassle? Friends who have recently travelled around the world said they suffered the same problems and emotions, so I guess it is naturally going to happen when you are going through such a huge change in lifestyle.

I had always envisaged spending hours planning out routes, researching countries and acquiring visas, but in reality it just hasn’t happened. I really only made the definite decision to go on March 9th this year so there just hasn’t been time. Over the years I have thought about the countries I would pass through and that is basically the way it is going to be. I wanted to go North around the Black Sea rather than through Turkey, but the difficulty of getting a visa for Russia proved a problem and getting a visa for Iran is so much easier in Turkey that I decided to take the route of least resistance. Actually, I rather like the idea of little planning as it makes the route far more flexible. If I meet another cyclist I can ride with them if I wish without heading off route and it also stops me for making any schedules, I can just go with the flow.

I have been greatly encouraged through all the support I have received from family and friends even down to offers of sending out spares when I need them and financial support should I get into trouble whilst I am away. There are too many people to mention here, but thanks to you all, it has been uplifting.

But I have to mention my dear friend Caroline who has just been brilliant over these last few months. She even spent the whole of this weekend helping me clean the house and the kitchen now looks cleaner than I can ever remember. I am really indebted to her and like all true friends she can’t see what all the fuss is about and can’t see what she has done. Mind you, she keeps making more work for me and is bringing a carpet cleaner around during the week and that is a job I hadn’t intended doing. I am going to miss her so much whilst I am away. It’s going to hurt. But I am sure that when times are tough on the road and I am feeling down, a few words of encouragement from her will be enough to set me off in the right direction again.

So what can you expect from this blog? Well I hope to update it roughly on a weekly basis with accounts and anecdotes from the journey but I also want to express my emotions, to give a feel of the highs, the lows, the joys, the fears, the depression that is bound to surface from time to time, the despair and anger to name but a few. I suspect that they will all arise and probably be forgotten about unless I keep a diary. It’s a long journey, but it’s also a journey of self discovery. It was never meant to be that way, the dream was just a dream, but as the day fast approaches I realise there is more to this than just getting on a bike and pedalling romantically off into the sunset, it has the potential to be life changing, even if I don’t want it to be. Anyway, by the looks of it when I pedal romantically off into the sunset I am going to get very wet!