Monthly Archives: August 2015

27 & 28 August 2015 – Trieste, one night in Slovenia, and on to Croatia

Couple of fairly big cycling days as I bid arrivederci to Italy, spent a night in Slovenia, and then pedalled over some significant hills into Croatia. Routes and stats below.

–> 27 August – to Trieste and into Slovenia
Today was  long day; 134km km pedalled in about 8 hours, so pretty quick for me. After a good night’s sleep at Altanea Camping in Duna Verde, I was ready to try to pedal to Slovenia, albeit with potential campsites identified before the border should I be delayed for any reason; ice-cream stops, beer, beaches etc.

I was a bit slow packing up, but got on the road by 09.00 and cycled to Caorle. I’ll have to think about starting earlier again soon as the daylight hours get shorter, especially on my way back to the UK post Istanbul. After Caorle I had to head North to circumvent an estuary. I ignored some signs for the Eurovelo route, which hasn’t really been very helpful for the tour so far. In this case I think it would have taken me down to the coast and then back up again, adding miles on to the day’s ride. The EV routes will be great once they’re properly realised, but they stop and start too much, and for the most part I don’t see signs for them at all. I’m finding it easier just to make my own way, choosing routes that are efficient, and diverting when tempted by something.

I joined the SP42, then the SS14 which would take me all the way to Slovenia, with a few quieter country roads thrown in for good measure, just to keep things interesting and avoid the traffic for a bit. Thankfully, although the roads are busy, Italian drivers are for the most part polite and considerate around cyclists, with a few exceptions; one van driver did nearly clip me going through a town, however that can happen in any country, and is probably more likely in the UK.

After passing through low-lying marsh and farmland, I made it to Cervignano del Friuli for lunch, and managed to find a Tarte du Jour equivalent. It looks like the ‘Tarte du Jour’ feature might become an infrequent one, depending on availability, however I shall attempt to persevere; need the calories!

Tarte du Jour, acquired in Cervignano

Tarte du Jour, acquired in Cervignano

Today’s tarte was more go a sponge cake, loaded with cream, and alcohol of some description, but lacking a bit in flavour. The alcohol did do wondrous things for easing aching limbs, and made for a relaxed start to the afternoon’s ride.

On my approach to Trieste I passed another cycle tourer, emerging from I assume a siesta amongst the grapevines. I’m sure I’ve seen him before, near Nice; he’s pedalling in jeans without a lot of stuff, but making good progress. If I see him again I’ll have to stop for a chat; we waved at each other in any case. Always interesting to hear other people’s stories.

As I got closer to Trieste I started to encounter hills again, which actually made for a nice change after the route being flat for the last few days. I started up a big climb and noticed two wolf-like creatures standing guard at the top of a cut through beside the road; they had me going for a few seconds but turned out just to be wolf statues near a war memorial. I’m still worried about danger from dogs when I get into Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey, but have been told by loads of people that as soon as you get off your bike they stop chasing you – think that’ll be pretty hard to do the first time, rather than just pedal faster, might get a big stick just in case!

After a nice long descent into Trieste I paused for a break, stopping in the Piazza Unita d’Italia where a webcam opportunity presented itself; I waved to the stalkers at home who duly spotted me. Trieste is a bustling city and port, and there were loads of tourists wandering about, randomly walking out in front of me. I’m sure there’s a lot I could say about the city, however you’ll have to look it up on Wikipedia for more info. One thing – think Trieste used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and some might still feel it shouldn’t be part of Italy at all, not sure.

After cooling down a bit, and drinking lots of water (it was very hot), I pedalled to the Slovenian border tackling a very steep 150m climb over from Muggia in the process. There was no official border crossing building, but I did find a sign to tell me I’d left Italy and entered Slovenia.

For some reason I immediately felt more relaxed in Slovenia. I’m not sure why, maybe the roads were quieter, or the atmosphere a bit sleepier, or perhaps it was because I’d made good progress and passed another milestone. The scenery was certainly picturesque, with the hills very much continuing, lots of grapevines, and a pretty coastline.

I stopped for the night at Adria camping (Ankaran), at the  bottom of the descent over from Muggia. It’s a big campsite but was very welcoming, and relatively cheap too at €15; long may that continue. After setting up I had dinner a the campsite restaurant, feeling in need of a big meal and a sit down somewhere comfortable; the mixed grill was excellent, as was the sunset.

I also met up with a Hungarian family spending a few days in Slovenia; Árpád spoke great English, and had recently returned from working in Ireland. I loved his bright red German van, converted for touring purposes, and it was great to have chat. He mentioned how much he enjoys watching programmes like Coast, Country File, and other BBC productions; made me realise the BBC must do very well out of selling programmes aboard – I guess Top Gear is a great example of that.

Tomorrow it’s off to Croatia; I think there might be a few hills in the way first though.

–> 28 August – to Croatia and Selce
I rode 115km today, and whilst the total distance was less than yesterday it felt like more, due to the hills; over 1,500m ascent, which is like climbing Ben Nevis.

I left Adria Camping in Ankaran in good time, after saying goodbye to Árpád and family; they were off to see a castle and caves before travelling to Lublianja. Árpád reckons Slovenia beats Croatia from a scenery point of view, however I’ll have to check for myself. I’ve been skiing in Kranjska Gora and it’s definitely a stunning country, and the people very friendly; good for cycling in too as the hobby is very popular, and excellent cycle lane coverage. After a chat about genealogy and how closely related we all are, and about the origins of the Hungarian people (gonna have to read more on that one – they were nomadic originally but settled in what is now Hungary, in the Carpathian basin, as it was the land of Attila the Hun), I pedalled off and up into the hills. Hope the rest of your holiday goes well Árpád, and maybe see you in Hungary!

It was a slightly complicated route to get to the right road to the Croatian border, avoiding motorways and the busier roads. After an initial warm up climb, and saying hello to a lot of road cyclists, I made it to the route up into the mountains, and to a climb that rose to about 800m over perghaps 30km, with a few flat bits providing some respite. It was tough going, however the scenery was amazing. I pedalled up to the border surrounded by mountains, valleys and forest, with hardly any traffic on the road. I think encountered about 4 cars before the border; there were more birds of prey than vehicles.

At the border I had to show my passport to get out of Slovenia, the first time I’ve used it for border crossing purposes since Gibraltar, however there was no-one stationed at the Croatian post and I pedalled straight into country number 13 (I think it’s number 13 anyway). The climb continued for several more kilometres, through more thick forest, however there were more villages to look at, plus slightly more in the way of people around and farming activity. At one point I passed what looks like a war memorial from the Soviet era, reminding me that this all used to be behind the iron curtain.

I finally started to descend down towards the coast again, albeit with the occasional upwards jaunt over more hills as I followed narrow twisty roads, avoiding the main roads. At one point I was slightly startled by the approach of a very noisy engine, as a large and slightly antiquated farm truck appeared and roared past; looked like it might be soviet era itself.

I made it to Rijeka and immediately sought at ATM to get hold of some Croatian Kuna; they don’t use the Euro here. Getting cash out was easy as there is no shortage of ATMs, however it’s a shame I had to use my Lloyds debit card rather than my Caxton FX prepaid card; this is the first country I’ve passed through where the currency isn’t available to load onto the card, however they’ll a few more like it shortly. I’m going to withdraw some back up Euro in Montenegro, before entering Albania and Macedonia, just so I have something to exchange or use in case I can’t find a handy ATM. Hopefully the cash machines will be working in Greece!

After grabbing a sandwich and a brief chat with 2 German cycle tourers going the other way, I continued down the coast to Crikvenica, through various small towns and ports, and the occasional beach with people enjoying a cooling swim; the water looked very inviting. The hills weren’t done with me yet, with the road continuously rising or falling, hence the 1,500 metres worth of climbing today, and sore legs.

I stopped for the day in Selce, just past Crikvenica, at the town’s campsite. Selce is a small and pretty town, and another tourist hotspot, but tastefully put together. The campsite is decent, with free wifi near reception, and a small supermarket that sufficed for dinner. There’s an on-site bar and restaurant too however all I really wanted to do was lie in my hammock.

Hammock time in Selce

Hammock time in Selce

I could have walked down to the beach for a swim, but there was a risk I might not make it back up again, so I relaxed, read my book, and ate a simple dinner of bread, cheese, ham and fruit with a few beers and some biscuits. It was still hot, reminding me of the conditions in Spain, however the hammock and shade helps a lot; you get a nice draft underneath you in a hammock, which is good when it’s hot, but won’t be so good when cold.

Tomorrow’s plan is to continue down the coast and hop on a ferry for the short crossing to the island of Pag, which runs parallel to the mainland and should be interesting. I also need to find a new charging cable for my iPhone, as the my backup cable is now fracturing; the first one went in France somewhere. iPhone charging cables definitely aren’t built to last, however I guess I do stress them a bit when charging my phone from my dynamo; moves cable around a bit.

Got to get into the sea tomorrow too!

25 & 26 August 2015 – Verona, Vicenza and reaching the Adriatic

Starting to get more and more excited about Croatia now, with only one more day left in Italy, before crossing briefly into Slovenia and continuing down the Adriatic coast. Think it’s going to be ace.

Routes and stats for the 25 and 26 August below:

–> 25 Aug – Two A Gentleman smelly cyclist and his Lobster in Verona, and on to Vicenza
I covered a sedate 97km today, taking it easy with a stop for some sight-seeing.

Do you ever hear things go bump in the night? I was awoken in the early hours of the morning not by a bump, but by rustling and some snuffling/snorting. The noise came from just the other side of my inner tent partition. Somewhat tentatively I unzipped the inner door, and glanced out; hedgehog…again…about the 3rd time I’ve been visited by these lovely creatures on this tour. The hedgehog was busy snuffling about for crumbs, but had somehow got wedged into a crisp bag I hadn’t got around the throwing away. I carefully upended the varmint, releasing him/her from his/her predicament; the hog made a swift exit. A great encounter, but on a serious note it reinforces the problem plastic packaging presents to the natural world. Creatures are always getting stuck in plastic bags, or ingesting bits, or in the case of the film clip I saw recently breathing it in; a turtle had a whole plastic straw stuck up its nose and down into its lungs – the rescuers got it out but it was pretty horrific. Plastic takes a very long time to decay, and we should all be more thoughtful about how much we use. For example do we really need to use plastic straws with drinks, for instance at fast food chains? (if you’re squeamish don’t watch that film clip, but brings it home – say no to plastic straws!)

It was still cloudy and damp when I packed up on the shores of Lake Garda, so I didn’t hang around, instead cycling the approx 25km to Verona. I unfortunately passed about 3 squashed hedgehogs on the way, not unusual, but sad after my earlier encounter; more routes needed for animals to get under/over roads.

Verona is a lovely small city, with some spectacular buildings including a huge amphitheatre that dominates the centre; the Grand Arena, built in the 1st century AD, and which now stages shows, operas and plays. No history lesson today, however needless to say the city goes back a long way. It’s also the setting for at least 3 Shakespeare plays including Two Gentleman of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew (loved the modern film adaptation), and of course Romeo and Juliette. I spent an hour or so looking around, and grabbed a Calzone pizza for lunch. Unfortunately I failed to find a suitable Tarte du Jour, but I did get caught on webcam by the Norwich MI6 branch; good work.

I was slightly confused by all the Egyptian paraphernalia located around the Grand Arena, however it’s the time of year when Verona hosts an annual opera festival, and the props were for Aida; always wanted to see that and must be superb in the amphitheatre – I’ll put it on my list of things to do when back in the UK.

Me in Verona - you have to look quite carefully as in a crowd

Me in Verona – you have to look quite carefully as in a crowd

After being a tourist for a bit I pedalled East towards Vicenza. I decided to put my fate in my Garmin’s hands, and followed its route to my campsite for the night. It took me what was probably a longer route, avoiding some main roads, but they were a lot quieter and I rode through some nice farmland – nice grapevines. I had to detour when confronted by a bridge that no longer existed, however I can’t really blame Garmin for that; it looked like it was being rebuilt. I can blame Garmin for trying to take me through a military base just prior to the campsite; a definite no go area which I had to circumvent. This isn’t the first time it’s tried to do that; happens frequently in the UK around Thetford.

A few miles before the campsite I rode with an Italian cyclist for a bit, out for an evening’s ride. We spoke in French (he was born in France), as I related a brief summary of my tour to date. He’d recently completed the Camino de Santiago by bike. It was good to have a chat and we shook hands as he pedalled off; people very friendly in Italy.

I made it to the campsite and set up, discovering that it was infested by mosquitoes, therefore liberal application of repellent was required; seemed to work reasonably well, although the Tiger Mosquitoes are pretty persistent. I hadn’t heard of Tiger mosquitoes before this tour, but the name suits; they’re definitely stripey.

Campsite in Vicenza; under siege from mosquitoes

Campsite in Vicenza; under siege from mosquitoes

I met a German couple at the campsite, from Berlin, touring Northern Italy for 3 weeks by bicycle. It’s there first big cycle tour and they’re loving it so far; best be careful, its addictive. We discussed Ortlieb panniers at great length, as they were keen to extol their virtues; can’t say I disagree, mine have been brill so far. I also bumped into a Japanese cycle tourer briefly, on his way South, but didn’t get to chat for long as he was off for dinner.

I spent the evening attempting to plan my route through Eastern Europe to Istanbul, and think I have a rough idea of where I’m going now; Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey. I’m still a bit nervous about it, but a lot more confident than I was; thanks to Tim Moss for a few tips (

Off toward Venice tomorrow, although I’m bypassing the city as cycling is forbidden in much of it; I’ll cut up North and then down to the Adriatic.

–> 26 August 2015 – to the Adriatic and Duna Verde (Camping Altanea)
Campsites are definitely merging into one; when writing my journal for today I had trouble remembering where I’d stayed the previous night! 123km pedalled today, so a fairly long day, but all flat.

Packed and ready for the off in Vicenza

Packed and ready for the off in Vicenza

I set off on my way East, not entirely sure of the route past Venice, however I figured as long as I pointed my bike in the right direction and headed towards the Adriatic it would all work out. The cycling proved easy, as there were no hills to speak of, just lots of farmland and frequent small towns to negotiate.

I passed around the top of Venice by several kilometres, not wanting to get embroiled in dual carriageways and autostradas, then headed down to Jesolo and the Adriatic coast. After some busy and pretty boring roads it was nice to reach the coast again. I thought I might find a campsite in Jesolo, but they were all  very busy. I pedalled on looking for either a wild campsite or a quieter site. On my way further East I had another chat with an Italian roady, albeit it in rather hesitant English; he was enthusiastic about my tour and wished me bon route before pedalling off to Caorle. As I mentioned yesterday Italians have been nothing but friendly.

I made it to Duna Verde and discovered Altanea Camping, a ‘green’ campsite. I decided to stop there, as they had a simple field with trees I could pitch my tent in, and also use my hammock; it only cost €19 too, which is cheap for this time of year on the coast. Free wifi too!

Hammock time in Altanea Camping, Duna Verde

Hammock time in Altanea Camping, Duna Verde

After turfing Lobster out of my hammock, I enjoyed a siesta, before catching up with my parents and doing some admin. I also checked in to see how a poorly friend is doing back in the UK; get well soon JJ, thinking of you and hope recovery is swift – I recommend long hours in a hammock for convalescence purposes. I also discovered I needed to sort out a new washing machine for my tenants at home, the old one having given up the ghost. Why don’t modern appliances last longer?! This one is only about 7 years old.

I decided to eat at the campsite restaurant, enjoying red wine and mixed fried seafood; very nice it all was too. My dinner was accompanied by some Europop, from the adjacent ‘disco’ area. It wasn’t too loud, just amusing; the Macarena featured – used to know the dance for that from back when I taught foreign students English, and had to take them to the disco in the evenings.

Fried mixed seafood; good energy for tomorrow

Fried mixed seafood; good energy for tomorrow

On to Trieste then possibly Slovenia tomorrow, before heading to Croatia.

Note: Blog a couple of days behind – I’m now in Croatia after a few long legs, and making great progress.

23 & 24 August 2015 – Po River and Lake Garda

Onwards, ever onwards. I was reflecting today upon how long I’ve been pedalling for. Longer than my Bike around Britain tour, by nearly a month, and still just over 2 months to go. I’m starting to feel it now, so whilst I’m still very much enjoying it, and looking forward to the route ahead, there are things I’m starting to miss more; friends and family, curry, roast dinner, a pint of ale, absence of mosquitoes…

However I know I’ll be back before I know it, so am trying to focus on the now and to keep on having a great time. I should have enough time to cycle to Istanbul, then pedal back to the UK  via the Danube, unless something unforeseen happens, and even if it does I can always get a train to speed things up a bit. I think I’ve got about 3,300 miles to go, in total, so it might be a bit tight, however the Norwich Beer Festival is still a possibility, as is Halloween, then back to work I suppose. When I get back I must set some time aside to try writing this all up into a book, and not just dive straight back into long working days; work life balance and all that!

Enough rambling, here are my routes and stats for the 23 & 24:

–> 23 August – a whistle-stop tour of Genoa, then on to the Po River
My longest day for a while, covering 139km after a very slow start due to pedalling around Genoa, then heavy rain delaying play. I had a bit of a lie in after a slightly broken night’s sleep because of enthusiastic neighbours, and it was Sunday after all, so I reckoned an extra 30 minutes in bed, or lying on the ground as it were, was worth it.

I made a spur of the moment decision to have a cycle around Genoa, rather than miss it by cutting North immediately; the campsite staff recommended it, claiming Genoa is the second oldest city in Europe, which I’m slightly dubious about. It is very old, the Greeks having been present in the 5th and 6th centuries BC, and the Etruscans before that. It was an independent state or republic for a long time, along with several other Italian states such as Venice. It was also a Crusader base, and the Genoese crusaders brought back what they thought was the Holy Grail from the Levant. Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, and the Bank of St George, one of the oldest in the world, was founded in Genoa in 1407; this explains the St George and the Dragon paintings on some of the buildings. France annexed the city in 1805, before a revolt in 1815 brought it into Piedmont (kingdom of Sardinia). In 1860, General Giuseppe Garibaldi embarked on the conquest of southern Italy from Genoa. So an interesting place, with loads of history, and definitely a powerful industrial and economic centre dating back a long time.

Anyway, my detour was probably a mistake, as it added several miles on to an already long day, and it was raining so not really sight-seeing weather. I took some photos, but they’re not especially good as I was avoiding getting wet, and also trying to avoid Vampires; reckon there are loads of them in Genoa, and it was a dark cloudy day – or maybe I’ve just read too many Anne Rice books. I did manage to grab some breakfast on the way in; two chocolate filled croissants and a slice of pizza did very nicely, and the croissants counted for my ‘Tarte du Jour’ entry.

My handy tourist map of Genoa got soaked on the way round the city, so I have no idea what most of these buildings/sights are; bit of random commentary instead.

After my whistle-stop tour of Genova I headed North on the SS35, crossing the Ligurian Apennines on the Passo dei Giovi; a reasonably long ascent in the rain, which at times forced me to take shelter under bridges or bushes. The water was flowing down the mountain road in streams, leading to quite damp feet. I also opted to forego my waterproof, as it was hot and humid, so whilst the rain was refreshing I got quite damp.

The descent down the other side was fun, and quite exciting due to my brakes not being quite as good when wet, or since the shop change them to Shimano blocks rather than the longer Aztec pads I’m used to (still got my old mounts and I’ll swap them back at some point). The rain stopped on the way to Tortona, with the sun threatening to come out, and my clothes drying off.

The rain, as well as my tour of Genoa, had delayed me, and I still had a long way to go if I wanted to make the Po River, and hopefully a good wild camping spot; I couldn’t find any campsites in this part of Italy. After Tortona I started pedalling through miles of farmland, enjoying flat terrain for a change. Voghera came and went, as did a McDonald’s stop as I tried to link to some free wifi (didn’t work). I passed through many towns and villages as I rode West, finally turning off the main road at Stradella, and very happy to leave the traffic behind.

The Po River arrived, as did a little track alongside it, which I followed passing a few fishing huts and little else. I think the rain and threat of storms were keeping everyone else away, and besides, it was late on a Sunday evening. I found a great little spot to camp, next to the river, at about 19.30. My wild campsite was actually better than most of the designated campsites I’ve stayed at for the last couple of months, with soft ground, shade, and peace and quiet; the only drawback was the mosquitoes, however my repellent seemed to be working okay.

After setting up and a quick dinner of bread, cheese, salami and fruit, it started to get dark, so I decided to have an early night. My slow drift into a deep sleep was accompanied by the rhythmic noise of ribbeting frogs, and thankfully no whining drone of mosquito wings. Another long day expected tomorrow, as I pedal on to Lake Garda.

–> 24 August 2015 0- to Lake Garda (San Benedetto di Lugana)
I must have slept for solid 8 hours, completely undisturbed, in my wild camping spot next to the  Po River. I was awakened by my alarm going off at 06.15, about 30 minutes before it was officially dawn, however it’s always best to be up and away early when wild camping, leaving no trace of your passing, so as not to annoy anyone, and out of general respect.

It must have rained pretty hard overnight, as it was a very damp morning, and the outside of my tent was very wet. Thankfully, it had mostly stopped by the time I got up, however I did have to pack my tent up damp which is never pleasant. No additional mosquito bites to report though, which is a win.

After a swift breakfast of bread, cheese and fruit, as well as some yoghurt, I pedalled off under grey skies, with the occasional light shower keeping me company. I had to backtrack briefly when my route ended in a road closure, which hadn’t been signposted (I blame Gremlins), before I joined the main road and made it to Piacenza. My next target was Cremona, and after negotiating a few confusing roads and quite a bit of traffic I made good time, covering nearly 80km by midday.

Cremona is a picturesque city, with some nice buildings, and was the home of the violin maker Antonio Stradivari (born 1644, or thereabouts).

The riding was fairly flat for much of the day, through farmland with lots of sweetcorn being grown. The route from Cremona took me North East, through a succession of smaller towns, and eventually leaving the busy main road as I crept over a few small hills, and through vineyards to Lake Garda.

I tried to find a bakery in Asola for lunch, but everywhere was shut for siestas, so ate some fruit and carried on, covering 139km by the time I reached the campsite; same distance as yesterday, and putting me well on the way to Slovenia and Croatia.

The heavens opened in San Benedetto di Lugana, on the shores of Lake Garda, just as I finished putting up my tent.  The rain was torrential for about 15 minutes, with streams of water running down to the lake. Thankfully my tent stayed dry, however I think I might invest in some waterproofing spray before much longer, just to be on the safe side.

During a pause in the rain I nipped to the local supermarket for supplies, also acquiring a ‘Tarte du Jour’; a pleasant little number, with fruit and chantilly cream, but not beating anything from France. I grabbed  takeaway pizza from the campsite restaurant, then relaxed, updating my blog and reading a book for a bit; an e-book that is, proper books a bit to bulky and heavy, but I do miss them.

I also did a bit of route planning, plotting a short ride to Verona, then on to a campsite near Vicenza tomorrow, with hopefully an early-ish stop. I need to have a proper think about my route to Istanbul, as it’s still over 1,300 miles away if I go via Albania, Macedonia and Greece. I still think that’s going to be the best route, but it leaves me a bit tight on time for the return leg to the UK.

With any luck it’ll stop raining tomorrow!

P.S. Don’t go camping in tourist hotspots in high season unless you’re happy to pay €30 a night for relatively little, with wifi often costing extra. I expected it to be the case but it still grates.

21 & 22 August 2015 – into Italy and on to Genoa

Routes and stats for the last two days below, as I leave France for Italy, on my way to Istanbul.

–> 21 August – into Italy (Imperia)
Hurrah, I made it to Italy, country number 11 I think, or 12 if you count Monaco, and to a decent campsite (De Wijnstok) near Imperia. What’s more the campsite has a nice little bar and pizzeria, so whilst writing my journal I enjoyed a cold beer, and got to listen to a guitarist play a few classic numbers; Eagles, Dire Straits etc

That was the end of the day, so I’d better go back to the start. Despite a few glasses of wine the previous evening I was up in good time, and away from Camping de l’Argentiere by 08:45, pedalling on to Cannes.

Cannes was busy, thronged with cars and tourists, and the harbour area packed with expensive boats of all shapes and sizes. I didn’t spot any movie-stars, but it was still early.

After dodging through both pedestrian and vehicle traffic I pedalled on to Antibes, which was a bit quieter than Cannes, but looked equally expensive; several Maseratis roared past me as if to reinforce this. Then it was along the coast to Nice via a cycle path.

Nice was…urrr…nice, but I didn’t feel like hanging about so I cycled along the seafront, forgetting about the webcams in my haste. Next up was Villefranche-sur-Mer, then Beaulieu-sur-Mer, passing some stunning scenery, before arriving in Monaco.

I almost missed Monaco, due to being routed through tunnels running underneath or alongside   bits of it. As a result I didn’t see much, which didn’t overly bother me at the time as I was hungry and looking forward to lunch and the prospect of a ‘tarte du jour’ in Menton.

I’m not sure I’d like living in Monaco. It’s just too cramped and felt slightly claustrophobic, with loads of tall buildings, and enclosed by a ring of mountains; I doubt I could afford a one bedroom flat anyway!

After Monaco the road climbed out of Monte Carlo and back into France. I stopped in Menton, the last French town before Italy, and found a great boulangerie. Today’s tarte was raspberry, and very nice, but not as good as yesterday’s tarte-au-citron. At this point I have grave concerns about whether Italy will be able to compete.

The border crossing into Italy is just after Menton, so I bid France ‘au revoir’ and pedalled over; as usual didn’t need to stop or show my passport. I immediately noticed a change in the style of architecture, as well as of course the language being different; don’t know much Italian but I’m sure I’ll get by. I passed through several towns on my way to near Imperia, including San Remo. One long stretch was on a cycle path, along the route of an old railway track, with several tunnels providing entertainment, and the sea and beaches just to my right. The cycle route went on for several kilometres, all the way to San Lorenzo.

The tunnels were great, providing a break from the sun and heat; lovely and cool, and lots of echoes –  potential goblin hotspot too!

The cycle route stopped just before my campsite for the night; De Wijnstok, near Poggi and Imperia. I had arrived in relatively good time so set up my tent and relaxed for a bit, before spending some time updating my blog.

De Wijnstok camping

De Wijnstok camping

De Wijnstok camping has its own bar and pizzeria, so I indulged myself and ate out; after 121km I didn’t have the energy to pedal to a supermarket, and besides, the campsite was pretty good value, even if I did have to pay for the wifi. The owner and staff all spoke at least some English, so no issues on the language front, and everyone staying on the campsite was friendly, saying hello, and in one case wanting to have a chat about my cycle tour. Marvellous; think I’m going to like Italy.

On to Genoa tomorrow, before heading inland and across towards Lake Garda and Venice.

–> 22 August 2015 – to Genoa
After a good night’s sleep I was up early and keen to get on the road, continuing my way down the Ligurian coast to Genoa.

After passing through Imperia it was a simple case of sticking to the coast road, through a succession of towns, and past a lot of beaches; lots of other cyclists out too, confirming the hobby’s popularity in Italy.

The road was very busy, but easy riding with only mild hills. I bumped into a couple from Brittany in Savona, also bicycle touring, making their way from Nice down into Italy, and then intending to take the ferry over to Dubrovnik. It was good to pause and chat for a bit, and I might bump into them again as they pedal up the coast from Dubrovnik.

Savona looked like an interesting place, with a big old fortress and roman ruins; think I spotted  hyper-caust or two. I continued down the coast through more towns, this being a very built up area – but not with high-rise abominations like much of the Costa del Sol. After a late lunch (kebab), and a failed search for a ‘tarte du jour’ I made it to the outskirts of Genoa and my campsite for the night; Villa Doria. On the tarte front, I need to remember to stop off in the morning when the relevant bakeries are open, and not having a siesta, which can go on for a long time in Italy; I’m not even sure if some of them open again in the afternoon.

Before setting up my tent I paused at the campsite bar for a cold beer. It was delicious; they taste so much better when you’ve thoroughly earned it. I chatted to a grandfather/grandson duo on a motorcycle tour down from Kent, taking in a bit of Italy before returning home via Switzerland; funny hearing strong South East accents again, and great to swap a few stories. The grandson was about to celebrate his 21st birthday, and wanted to do something to remember the year by; a month’s motorcycle touring in Europe should do it. His grandfather had decided to accompany him, as it was the grandson’s first time touring abroad, and they both seem to be having a great time or it; it’s all about filling your life with great memories, and as few regrets as possible.

I spent the rest of the evening doing a bit of planning, needing to plot my route over to Slovenia and Croatia, via Lake Garda and northern Italy; quite a long way to go with a  bit of wild camping  required due to lack of campsites. Still haven’t quite decided on my route after that; advice welcomed!

Hopefully ‘tarte du jour’ pics will resume tomorrow. Bonuit.

19 & 20 August 2015 – Toulon and Mandelieu-la-Napoule

I think I’ve been pedalling along the Cote d’Azur; not sure where it starts and finishes, but it’s definitely around here somewhere. It’s pretty too, but very busy, and expensive. I’m enjoying it but also looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet at some point, perhaps when I head inland towards Venice, or in Croatia. Here are my routes and stats for the 19th and 20th.

Two entries for 20 August as my Garmin turned itself off, as it is want to do sometimes when being charged off the dynamo; when the charge stops it thinks it better go to sleep.

–> 19 August 2015 – bike service and to Le Pradet, Toulon
Leaving Marseille was actually quite hard, as I’m slightly anxious about the route ahead, and this is probably the last set of friends I’ll stay with until I’m back in the UK. It’s been brilliant meeting up with several of them, and has made me realise how much I’ve missed everyone and the French lifestyle; will have to plan a return visit soon, and will make sure is coincides with Stephane being onshore.

Smaug looking a bit sorry for himself; needs some attention

Smaug looking a bit sorry for himself; needs some attention

I was also worried about my bike, which still needed new tyres and a service. It’s proven difficult to find touring sized tyres (26×1.35), perhaps because it’s the summer and they’re selling out quickly, as was suggested in one shop (bit dubious about that). I should stop worrying really, as my head knows it’ll all be alright, it’s just my heart being silly; I’m prone to a bit of anxiety from time-to-time. I have everything I need on my bike and can wild camp if there are no campsites, and it’s not like the rest of my route is devoid of shops! Gotta keep pedalling and having adventures, plus raise some more cash for the Big C; donations welcomed here (helps with the motivation) –

Thanks to Sophie for hosting me for a couple of nights, and good luck with your future plans! I hope you’ll all be able to come and visit me in the UK soon, but best to wait until I’m back in the country, and have found a permanent abode; my house is rented out until May next year, so thinking of moving out of Norwich into the countryside. I might even buy a couple of chickens, and a dog, always wanted a dog. Of course I’d need of get a trailer for aforesaid animal to go cycle touring with me; the dog, not the chickens, although…

After bidding goodbye to Sophie I was packed and on the road by 09.30, and had a couple of bike shops on my radar to try for tyres and a service. Thanks to Nick Paton for assisting with a few technical questions and shop locating, appreciated; he also phoned Oxford Bike Works to double-check what tyre sizes I could fit on my rims, marvellous support, and Richard from Oxford Bike Works always very helpful. Anyway, back to the cycling.

It was a long climb out of Marseille, from Pointe Rouge up past Luminy and over Les Calanques to Cassis. I just put Smaug into a low gear and pedalled slowly, being passed by a few roadies who all shouted encouragement; love that about France and Europe in general, all cyclists very friendly – saying that it’s often the same on the UK. It turned out to be less of a challenge than anticipated, so either my legs are a lot stronger than I thought, or the hill isn’t as big as I remember; probably a bit of both. There were some lovely views on the way.

The descent to Cassis was lots of fun, even if my brakes were slightly dodgy, however I had to slow down rapidly close to the town due to the sheer volume of traffic on the road; loads of cars trying to get into Cassis and down to the seafront. I decided to give it a miss, not wanting to get embroiled in the chaos and sour my mood.

I pedalled on to La Ciotat, where I stopped at a boulangerie to grab an early lunch; needed to replace energy burnt on Les Calanques. French boulangeries really do make for great food stops, and I hope they have similar in Italy and down into Eastern Europe.

After riding past several beaches, and dodging around quite a lot of traffic not moving very fast (always satisfying), I made it to Bandols, then on to Sanary-sur-Mer where I turned up towards Ollioules and my first possible bike shop; Oki Bikes. I had to wait for them to open at 14.30, so have to admit I nipped to a McDonalds a few km away to take advantage of their free wifi, and also mange a cheeseburger or two; nowhere near as nice as boulangerie fare.

Unfortunately Oki Bikes couldn’t help, but they did direct me to another bike shop just a few hundred metres away; Velo 83. Upon entering Velo 83 I immediately got a good feeling about the place; well-appointed workshop, lots of spares, great range of bikes and stock, and customers just kept on arriving. Luckily I was there just as they opened after lunch, so managed to get Smaug straight into the workshop. They didn’t have exactly the right tyre size, but they had some that would do the job, fitted my rims, and didn’t rub on the mud-guards; XLC Malamut – 26 x 1.75, so a bit chunkier than my last set but that might be handy as I travel down through Eastern Europe. This being the third bike shop I’d tried I thought it prudent to go with what they’d got, especially as my Marathon Plus were looking extremely worn. Ideally I’d like to put another set of Marathon Plus on Smaug, however these will probably do me until I’m back in the UK, or perhaps Germany where they might have some that are the right size for touring (26×1.35). I also got my brakes changes, and gears re-aligned; I can now use all my gears again, which hasn’t happened for a while. It turns out the bit of my frame on which the rear deraileur sits was slightly bent, probably from when the bike fell over with all the panniers on it (heavy fall), and needed straightening; they had a handy device for doing just that.

After a few complimentary figs and a chat with Romain, the owner, who is very enthusiastic about bikes which always gives you confidence, it was time to get back on the road. As a parting gift they gave me a new cycling top; my current one does look a bit shabby now, so it was probably well-timed. I’d recommend Velo 83 if you’re passing that way and need something done; excellent service and friendly staff.

New cycling top; Luc Alphand is a skier turned motorcyclist from Serre Chevalier

New cycling top; Luc Alphand is a skier turned motorcyclist from Serre Chevalier

Getting Smaug serviced and new tyres fitted was a big weight off my mind, however I still had some pedalling to do to get to a campsite. I rode onwards to Toulon, passing straight through the busy city before stopping at a campsite in Le Pradet. The campsite turned out to be a bit expensive, but as it was late (19.00), and I was tired, I decided to stay.

After eating a bit of pizza I’d bought the boulangerie earlier, and a can of baked beans, I was ready for an early night, although I had to evict a hornet type varmint from my tent before I could sleep peacefully; hornets slightly more dangerous than the voles I encountered Vittangi, that put holes in the bottom of my tent!

I pedalled 85km today, but it was a long day due to the bike shop stops. On to near Nice tomorrow, so getting close to Italy.

–> 20 August – to Mandelieu-la-Napoule (near Cannes)
Today was a longer day distance wise, covering 135km in about 7.5 hours. I don’t ride particularly fast, so the fatter tyres don’t really matter, but I can ride quite a long way when I want to; relatively speaking, nothing close to Mark Beaumont’s distances. He just rode the North Coast 500 non-stop, that’s nearly 840km in 35 hours and 41 minutes, a pretty astounding feat of endurance. Stats here.

I was very comfy in my tent when I woke up. It’s so much easier camping when it’s not as hot, and you’ve got a bit of grass to sleep on. Hilleberg Akto are great tents, but not as cool when it’s hot, compared with other makes. I’d still recommend them though, as mine is going strong after nearly 4 months on the road this tour, and 3 months back in 2013 on my Bike around Britain tour, plus a few weekends in between.

I set off from Le Pradet at about 09.00, immediately joining a cycle path (Littoral route) that runs all the way to Bormes-les-Mimosas. This was a definite bonus as there was a lot traffic on the road again, which can only be expected at this time of year on the Côte d’Azur. It was nice and flat to begin with too, giving me a chance to ease into the day, and say hello to lots of other cyclists going both ways.

It proved to be a very scenic day, riding along the D559 up to St. Tropez; I didn’t actually go into the town as it would have been rammed. I passed countless beaches on my way to Ste Maxime, then up to Frejus. The water looked very inviting, even if the beaches were packed. I’ll have to make an effort to go swimming in the sea again soon, but will wait for somewhere a little less busy; it’s a bit tricky stopping for a swim in the middle of a day’s touring when you’re on your own, and don’t want to leave anything unattended for too long.

I stopped for lunch in Sainte Maxime, enjoying a baguette and Tarte-au-Citron from a boulangerie; I’ve decided this tour needs more in the way of tartes, so will be sampling them as much as possible forthwith – there may well be a tarte of the day posting on twitter.

Tarte-au-citron in Sainte Maxime

Tarte-au-citron in Sainte Maxime

I must have passed millions of €’s worth of expensive yachts and motor cruisers today, as well as a lot of pricey looking and sounding cars; Maserati, Porsche, Ferrari etc. There’s obviously a lot of money on the Cote d’Azur, however it almost feels a bit too decadent to me, when there so many problems in the world needing urgent attention. I know people have the right to spend their money on what they want, but it would be fab if more donations could be made to causes trying to tackle climate change, threats of extinction, educating children in worse off countries, or feeding people in need etc etc. For the moment I’m trying to minimise my spending, but it’s tricky in this but if France as everything is expensive, especially the campsites; again to be expected in August.

There followed a lovely coastal stretch up from Saint-Raphael to Mandelieu-la-Napoule, near Cannes. I’d already cycled over a few big hills, and the day finished with more, however I didn’t notice too much as the scenery was stunning; loads of coves, little beaches that can only be accessed easily from the sea, and red rocks (must be iron ore).

The roads were again heavy with tourist traffic, so I had to be a bit on alert, but made it safely to the campsite in Mandelieu-la-Napoule; Camping l’Argentiere. I stopped for supplies before the campsite, however found it quite tricky to get to the shop; there were cars parked everywhere, and had been all along the route today, jammed into every available space. I’d passed a lot of police looking slightly hassled in the heat and traffic, and several doling out parking tickets; must be a very good source of revenue down here.

Camping l’Argentiere is a nice site, and worth a mention, it being slightly cheaper and with a friendly owner who was playing his guitar when I rolled up. He found me a small space to camp in, despite the site being nearly full, and I was able to take advantage of the free wifi which is a rarity in this part of the world. I enjoyed a few glasses of wine, it being my last night in France, with a blog update and some planning, before turning in, feeling more confident about the route ahead.

Italy tomorrow! And I’m almost up-to-date with this blog (only one day behind). Going for a cold one now, and to listen to a guitarist.

17 & 18 August – Marseille

Here’s my route and stats for the ride from Saint Martin de Crau to Marseille on the 17th. No stats for the 18th as I only used Smaug to pedal around Marseille a bit, and to visit Luminy and Les Calanques.

–> 17 August – to Marseille
Today’s ride turned out to be a bit longer than expected, covering 99km through some lovely Provence countryside and along La Cote Bleu before reaching Marseille. It’s been about 17 years since I visited Marseille, so I was pretty excited.

I'm excited about pedalling to Marseille; Lobster is worried about Bouillabaisse

I’m excited about pedalling to Marseille; Lobster is worried about Bouillabaisse

I set off in good time, keen to meet up with Sophie on her electric bike at 15.00, near where she works at the Brasserie David on the Marseille seafront. I met Sophie 17 years ago, on a return visit to Marseille to see Christophe and Stephane. She and Stephane have since married and have two lovely children; I met up with the latter at Stephane’s parents in Ruoms, great kids.

I pedalled to Istres, listening to a bit of Red Hot Chilli Peppers to distract from the noise of passing lorries, then on to Martigues next to the Etang de Berre. Martigues is a pretty town and harbour, with lots of boats. Unfortunately I passed an accident on the way through; a pedestrian had been hit by a car and was lying in the road, however the police and ambulance were quick to arrive so hope they are alright. It’s always sobering seeing an accident, and reminded me to take extra care with all the traffic; sometimes holiday traffic can be a bit random, with tired drivers, or worse – distracted drivers looking out of the window and chatting.

From Martigues the road climbed, along with the temperature, up and over to Sausset les Pins, then it was a ‘simple’ case of pedalling along La Cote Bleu to Carry-le-Rouet, up a long climb to Le Rove, before descending to L’Estaque. The climb up to Le Rove was pretty tough in the heat, however I received several encouraging shouts from road cyclists, and passed a few cycle tourers going the other way; waves and ‘Bon courage/routes’ were exchanged.

It’s not that easy to get into Marseille from the West, due to motorways on which cycling is not allowed, so I had to wiggle around a bit to make it to the Vieux Port. My Garmin helped for a change, although it did send me via some slightly dubious looking neighbourhoods, and I had to take my panniers off once to fit through a narrow gate; lucky I’ve lost some weight on this tour! I paused for a break in the Vieux Port, which looks as lovely as it used to, and slightly different to 17 years ago with the waterfront having been widened. I took quite a lot of photos.

After being spotted on the Vieux Port webcam by the ‘stalkers’ from home, and a few friends from work, I grabbed Steak/Frites baguette, before riding around the coastal road to meet up with Sophie. The ride brought back loads of good memories from my student times in Marseille, studying Oceanlogie at the Centre d’Oceanologie de Marseille, and at Cite Universite based in Luminy. Marseille has a wonderful coastline, with lots of little beaches and small islands just off the coast; looked great in the sunshine.

In case you’re wondering Chateau d’If is an old fortress and more recently prison, that’s the setting for Alexandre Dumas’ Le Compte de Monte Christo. I stopped off in Endoume, cycling down to the Foreign Legion base then around to the Centre d’Oceanlogie for a look; it’s still there and seems to be going strong. Sadly the little bar where we used to have the ‘odd’ beer is now closed; there was a sign suggesting the closure was due to a fracas – not that surprising since loads of legionnaires also used to drink there.

From Endoume it was a short ride to meet up with Sophie, then on to Pointe Rouge and their flat. Unfortunately Steph, being a ship’s Captain, is away at sea at the moment and not back until the end of September, so I’ll just have to come back next year to see him! It was good to hear all their news from Sophie, and a bit about their future plans. It was also quite amusing looking at a few photos to see how we’ve all changed; like me, Steph has less hair now, or hair that has migrated from head down to chest! All this talking in French is definitely helping me remember how to speak the lingo; when I get back to the UK I’ll have to find some French people to speak to so I don’t forget it again.

After a relaxing evening over a few beers and good food (Sophie is a chef, but I helped make the pastry/anchovie thingamyjigs and didn’t completely ruin them, win!), I slept very well, in preparation for a day off in Marseille.

–> 18 August – rest day in Marseille
Sophie had to go to work early in the morning, but left me some keys, with helpful arrows noting which ones were for which doors. Unfortunately, being a bit of an idiot at times, I picked up the keys before I noticed the arrows, thus making them completely redundant, but was able to muddle through.

I spent a great day in Marseille visiting a few old haunts, as well as a bike and camping shop. Unfortunately the workshop at the bike shop was closed, so I couldn’t get a service done, and they didn’t have the right tyres in stock so I drew a blank there too; found another shop near Toulon which I’ll try tomorrow. I had more luck in the camping shop, finally finding a hammock, along with a map of Slovenia and Croatia which will come in handy. I’ll need to pick up some other maps of Eastern Europe however hopefully I can get these in Croatia; gonna try and just use my GPS and sense of direction in Italy, with the phone as back up.

After grabbing a sandwich I headed off to Luminy and Les Calanques in the afternoon, for a bit of a walk; nice change from cycling. I used to live on the Cite Universite campus in Luminy, back in ’95/96, so the visit brought back yet more great memories. We used to spend a lot time not studying, and instead walking into the Calanques to go climbing, or down to the beach for a swim or party. I might not have been studying but I did learn to speak French well, and reckon it was a cultural learning experience!

The walk also gave me a chance to test out my hammock, which works superbly; I took at 30 minutes siesta to try it out properly. The hammock will come in very handy whilst it’s still warm, as supplies me with a seat as well as a bed, as long as I can find two suitable trees. It gives me more wild camping opportunities too, as a tent isn’t always practical, and a hammock much quicker to pack up should the need arise.

After a taxing day with lots of wandering about, and a few Desperado beers to aid with muscle recovery, I met up with Sophie back at the flat. We watched an old video taken in Tahiti back in ’96, when I stayed with Stephane and his family, along with Christophe and another friend, Delphine, for a few weeks; hilarious video and I must dig out my copy when I get home, we all look so young, and happy, with lots of tom-foolery going on.

The evening was spent at a beach party down on the seafront with a few of Sophie’s friends, several glasses of wine, and good company; chatted to Greg, a kite-surfing instructor, and might learn myself back in the UK, with my brother – they teach it at Hunstanton, just down the road from Norwich, but bit chillier in the North Sea. Gonna be hard to leave Marseille in the morning, however I’ve got a tour to finish, and I’ll definitely be back next year to visit again.

12 to 16 August 2015 – a break in the Ardèche

I haven’t done a lot of cycling since my last post, but did manage to get back on my bike today, and to drag myself away from Chris and Carole’s wonderful house and farm in Salavas. Here’s my route and stats for the 16th; pretty swift for me so must be fully recovered and legs raring to go:

–> 12 to 15 August – chez Christophe et Carole’s a Salavas
What a great break! It’s been brilliant to catch-up with Chris after nearly 17 years, and to meet his lovely wife Carole. Staying at their house in Salavas has given me more recovery time after being a bit poorly, and allowed me to mentally refocus on the route ahead after Spain; I felt like I was slightly adrift after some punishing legs, and since finishing my primary goal of pedalling from Nordkapp to Tarifa. I still think the hardest thing about long solo cycle tours is the mental rather than physical aspect, at least it is for me. Saying that, it’s not often that I’m down for long, and if I am I just remind myself that I’m not sitting in an office having to attend countless meetings, answer the phone, and generally stress about things.

So I spent several days in Salavas, helping out on the farm, chilling and catching up after the last 17 years. The farm, Le Champ de la Riviere, is all organic, growing a variety of vegetables including lots of different types of tomato, all delicious. Aside from tomatoes they grow melons, aubergines, carrots, courgettes, salads, butternut squashes and a load of other produce; needless to say I ate very healthily. I helped set up an automatic water system for the chickens, with water coming from the Ardeche; seems to work alright despite my slightly dubious DIY skills, although we did have to fix several leaks in the hose-pipe.

Everything got a bit wet due to stormy weather, however it was quite refreshing to have some heavy rain, and I’m sure the pig enjoyed it. The pig’s days are possibly numbered as winter gets closer, however she’s had a good life on the farm, and will supply lots of meat; every part of the animal will get used.

Friday was open farm and market day, which saw loads of visitors arrive to have a look around and buy some of the wonderful produce on offer; eggs, goat’s cheese produced by Chris’ Dad (Bernard), jam, and loads of fruit and vegetables. It was a great to see loads of locals turn up, as well as several campers from the nearby campsite; good business but also a lovely close-knit and friendly community. The main attraction, aside from stocking up on fresh produce, was probably the hog.

Another surprise was in-store for me when we went to visit some ‘friends’ in the nearby village of Ruoms on Thursday evening (sorry, I’m getting the days in the wrong order). They turned out to the parents of Stephane, another friend I haven’t seen for a long time; Chris and Carole kept it a secret until we arrived. Steph is away at the moment as he’s a ship’s captain, however it was great to meet up with his parents, children and family; I haven’t seen them since staying at their house in Tahiti in 1996 for a few weeks – a fantastic holiday that I’ll always remember. Francois, Steph’s Dad, even had some Tahitian beer for me to sample; Hinano, which brought back some memories. Great pizza too! They still laugh about me taking frequent ‘petit siestas’ when I stayed with them; think it must have been jet lag!

After being introduced to the art of chicken whispering, I also experienced pig wrangling when le cochon escaped. She was in a bit of a playful mood, however we managed to stop her rampaging through the vegetable fields. Having a determined looking pig charge towards you, at speeds approaching 20km/h, can be slightly intimidating, especially when the beast weighs in excess of 200kg. Luckily she isn’t aggressive like a wild boar, and can be wrangled, as long as your willing to stand in her way! The electric fence had to go on after that to keep her contained.

Saturday is Chris and Carole’s day off, so with some other friends we took a trip to Labeaume, a picturesque village on a tributary of the Ardeche. A lazy picnic and siesta next to the river ensued, along with throwing stones for a very happy dog (Tina) to chase; she loves water. After lazing about for a while we thought we’d better go and find some ice-cream – very important to keep energy levels up. We sat in the square watching a fiercely contested game of Petanque; my ice-cream really was very good – chocolate and vanilla with a chestnut sauce.

It was a full house in the evening with more friends arriving, and a great meal with produce from the farm, including nearly the last of the previous pig! All this good company and chat has done wonders for improving my French, and whilst I’m not as fluent as I used to be I can at least understand most conversations now, and make myself understood, even if I do forget the odd word here and there; replacing it with the English version seems to work usually. It’s also been great to play some guitar again (Christophe has several); just like he old days.

Forgot something; there were some very noisy wild board in the field next to the house one evening – think they must have been fighting. There are lots of wild boar (Sanglier) around here, and also crosses between pigs and wild boar, which are apparently called Cochonglier; a new one on me.

With my blog mostly up to date, a bike shop located in Marseille, and feeling well rested I thought I’d better get back on the road lest I end up staying until winter! Onwards to Marseille.

–> 16 August 2015 – to Saint Martin de Crau
I was sad to be leaving Chris and Carole after a great break, but was keen to get riding again as I’ve still got a long way to go; to Istanbul then back to the UK. It’s been great to catch up after so long, and fantastic to spend a few days doing something other than pedalling; life on the farm is definitely hard work, with long days, but rewarding. I think it would do anyone who works in an office a lot of good to go and work on a farm for a few days, to help get a sense of perspective and clear the mind.

Chris had to get up at 05.15 to prepare for the Salavas Sunday market; I heard him go downstairs but decided to have a lie in until 06.45. Then it was back to the routine of packing up and loading my bike, remembering to fill up my water bottles, and finding the right page on my map. After a decaf coffee I was ready to go. Carole supplied me with several hard-boiled eggs, peach, melon and tomatoes to keep me going on the road, and after bidding her and their other guests goodbye I pedalled off to Salavas, stopping at the boulangerie for a pain-au-chocolate or two; will miss boulangeries when I leave France!

On the way out of Salavas I paused at the market to say goodbye to Chris. It was already bustling despite it being Sunday and only 08.30; loads of artisan produce, however unfortunately I really didn’t have room for a lot else. I promised not to leave it another 17 years before I come to visit. Hopefully I’ll make it back next year to see what new projects they have started; perhaps by car or train next time, but who knows, might do another lap. Again the hospitality of my French friends, whilst not unexpected, is wonderful, and it’s been so easy to pick up where we left off despite the 17 years.

From Salavas it was uphill to Barjac, and then on to Rochegude and Tharaux, retracing some of my route from last Tuesday. Then it was a long climb up to Mejannes-le-Clap, alongside or being passed by a lot of other cyclists out for a Sunday morning ride; I chatted to a few on the way up – everyone was happy about the tailwind. I passed through some lovely countryside as I left the Ardeche and entered Provence.

There followed a fun downhill stretch to Uzes, and a break at Pont-du-Garde near Remoulins. Pont-du-Gard is a huge Roman aqueduct and bridge crossing the Gardon river, built in the first century AD and still standing. It was used as a toll bridge after the fall of the Roman Empire, so was maintained. Well worth a visit if your passing, although expect lots of other tourists; it was packed.

From Pont du Gard the road took me to Beaucaire, where I munched my way through some hard-boiled eggs and melon, then over the Rhone, which is very wide, to Tarascon. After passing through a few villages, I ended up in Saint Martin de Crau for the night, at a very reasonably priced campsite (€12 makes a change).

Not only was the campsite good value, but it also had a swimming pool and free wifi, marvellous. Despite having covered 116km, I’d arrived in good time, so after relaxing for a bit I did some route planning for the legs ahead; I’m considering changing my route to Istanbul to pass through Albania and Greece, as my return route to GB will take me through Bulgaria and Serbia etc, so I won’t be missing out on any countries. I also had a look at my tyres; think I’ll definitely try to get some new ones in Marseille, to be on the safe side. I use Scwhalbe Marathon Plus, and these ones have done over 6,000 miles. They’d probably be fine for another 1,000, and might even get me all the way home, but I figure it’s not worth the risk. As long as the bike shop can accommodate me (I’ve emailed them) I’ll also get a service done in Marseille; brakes, gears, cables etc.

Current tyres have done well but replacements required

Current tyres have done well but replacements required

Tomorrow I’ll reach Marseille, where I’m staying chez Steph and Sophie’s for a couple of nights, before pedalling on towards Nice and Italy, and then Eastern Europe; best find some new maps in Marseille too. Legs are feeling great and morale high after my break. Now if only the mosquitos would go away.

I’ll end on some random thoughts on being successful. I reckon most successful people are also decisive people, able to make decisions easily, or at last make them, even if they turn out to not be good ones all the time. Too many people, including myself, dither at times, letting opportunities slip by because they’re afraid; afraid of taking a chance, leaving their comfort zone, or of making a mistake. I am going to endeavour to be more decisive and take a few more risks when I get back to the UK, and try a few new things to continue to get satisfaction out of life and build a bank of great memories and experiences. I don’t need loads of money to be happy, just enough to have the odd adventure and to enable meeting up with friends and family,  and have new experiences/fun.

05 to 11 August 2015 – back to France and seeing old friends

Wow. Been a little while since I’ve managed to get a blog post written; warning, this is a long one and probably best consumed in chunks. This is partly due to having been a bit poorly, but also some long days riding on the way out of Spain, and latterly meeting up with old friends from when I lived in Marseille many years ago. I’m in Salavas now, a little town next to the Ardeche, staying with Chris et Carole on their farm for a few days; it’s very tranquil, although I might have to go and collect the eggs in a bit.

Here are my routes and stats for the last week. My Garmin crashed a few times, or turned itself off randomly, so some days have multiple entries, sorry!

If all the above links are a bit too much (they are for me), the summary is I’ve pedalled around 5,700 miles since Nordkapp and the beginning of May, over 9,000km, completed phase 1 which was the northernmost point of Europe to the southernmost point, and am now en-route to Istanbul, before returning to England. Still got around 4,000 miles to go, and it’ll be different again in Eastern Europe and Turkey, so lots of adventures to come.

–> 05 Aug – a long day to Pals
I covered nearly 172km today, one of my longest days to date, and the sort of distance I should really split over two days. It wasn’t entirely intentional; my carefully planned route had to be ditched due to encountering roads which I wasn’t allowed to cycle on, despite my Garmin planner telling me that I could. This meant I had to head back down to the coast after pedalling inland, then back inland, then wriggle around and over some hills; all pretty tiring!

I was happy to leave the hostel after another broken night’s sleep; I prefer my tent, despite the lack of bed. It was a simple exercise to extricate myself from Barcelona, along the coast and seafront using a cycle path. I rode past countless beaches and coastal towns, packed with holidaymakers enjoying the sea and sun; lots of nudist beaches too, seems very popular down here.

I made it to Malgret de Mar as planned, on the N11, then turned inland intending to head to Girona. It was all going well as far as Vidreres, up a few big climbs which woke me up a bit, however then I encountered a sign that informed me I was no longer allowed to cycle on the N11. This was a bit of an issue as I couldn’t see how else to easily get to Girona, and a campsite I’d found about 20km away. I saw one road cyclist just ignore the sign and carry on, however I didn’t know how far he was going and don’t want to get arrested, so turned off and had to head back down towards the coast. Needless to say I was somewhat miffed by the whole experience, with my plans in tatters, however after shouting at the wind a bit I made it over the hills and down to Lloret de Mar via the GI680. Oh, and my Garmin Edge crashed too, which didn’t help matters.

I followed the coast to Tossa de Mar, then on to Saint Feliu de Guixols. The change of route proved a mixed blessing, doubling the distance for the day, and with some fierce climbs, however the scenery was fantastic and on reflection I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. The coastal route is absolutely fantastic, even if I did have to climb over 1,600 metres as I pedalled from cove to cove; my legs felt pretty strong though, which was a blessing.

I passed a cycle tourer going the same way, struggling slightly with a trailer on his bike. It was well over 30 degrees and we were both exceedingly sweaty, so it was good to pause and offer mutual encouragement.  A bit later on I encountered a couple of Recumbents going the other way, then another cycle tourer with the same set up as me, so the number of tourers is definitely increasing.

After a garage break to refill water bottles I made it to Palamos, but then had to turn inland due to lack of cyclable roads…again; I’d hoped to join the C31 to Pals. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way to cycle up the coast, which left me feeling a bit hot and bothered, however swallowing my frustration I headed back inland and up into the hills, dealing with a long climb through a verdant forest, accompanied by the sound of nearby shotguns, and being passed by a couple of cycling clubs.

After climbing 600 feet it was a lovely long descent down to La Bisbal d’Emporda, however by that time I was feeling pretty tired and thought I’d better find a campsite. The nearest one looked to be next to Pals, rather than back towards Girona, and by the time I got there I wasn’t in a fit state to pedal any further, despite it costing over €45 to stay the night; most expensive campsite ever and not one I’ll go back to, ridiculous for a small patch of earth of a few hours.

My expensive small patch of earth - campsite near Pals

My expensive small patch of earth – campsite near Pals

At least they had a supermarket, and free wifi, albeit only for 5 minutes. Unfortunately I started to feel pretty queasy, and thought I had a migraine coming on, so after a yoghurt and some fruit I settled down for the evening; I hadn’t finished cycling until 19.00 anyway. On to France tomorrow, touch wood.

–> 06 August 2015 – vive la France, Argeles-sur-Mer
Despite the exorbitant price paid for a spot to pitch my tent I didn’t sleep too well, due to a migraine and upset stomach. Consequently I didn’t really feel like eating very much in the morning either, but decided to carry on and felt better once on my bike with a breeze in my face.

I was keen to get back to France after being in Spain for over a month, so set off from Pals across a large plain, before reaching the mountains once again.

It was definitely a ‘significant’ climb over to El Port de la Selva, then on to Llanca, ascending over 1,300 feet whilst still feeling below par. The scenery was great and I made sure I kept drinking lots of water.

After a few more ups and downs I reached Portbou, with one final climb to go before France.

It felt great to cycle across the border into France, especially after a fierce last climb during which lots of passing car drivers gave me shouts of encouragement; ‘bon courage’ etc. Looking at a map of the Southern coast of Spain again I realise just how long it is, so I’m pretty chuffed to have made it up from Tarifa and back into France in under 2 weeks, and am now well on my way to Istanbul.

It was only a short ride to Ceberes then on to Banyuls-sur-mer where I’d hoped to stay the night, however unfortunately the campsite was ‘complet’ (full), the first time that’s happened to me whilst cycle touring, ever. Banyuls-sur-mer looks like  a very nice town, with a small harbour and aquarium, and had been recommended by my friend Tom who stayed there a few years ago, however with no campsite I was forced to move on.

I continued pedalling up the coast, past Port Vendres, then Couliere, all lovely looking coastal towns with old harbours, beaches and castles. Then I finally made it out of the hills and down to Argeles-sur-mer, a massive tourist spot with loads of campsites; I’d already passed several others than were ‘complet’.  It was extremely busy in Argeles however after visiting the Tourist Information Office I managed to find a campsite on the outskirts; an island of calm in an otherwise hectic town. It was very much a relief to find somewhere to stay, as I was feeling pretty wiped out due to the migraine, and not in small part due to the hills.

After re-taping my handlebars I relaxed for the evening, eating some bread, cheese and salad, and chatting to an Italian cycle tourer who turned up just after me, having also had trouble finding a campsite. I think I’m going to have to avoid the coast for a bit as it’s just too busy, however I’ll have to check route possibilities.

Good luck to Stefano in tackling the Pyrenees up to San Sebastian!

–> 07 August – to Port La Nouvelle
My journal entries get a bit sketchy for the next couple of days, due to being a bit more poorly than I realised. I still managed to make progress, however felt pretty wiped, and realise I must have picked up some kind of stomach bug, perhaps from bad water somewhere. My appetite was non-existent, and I felt pretty dehydrated despite drinking loads, so was looking forward to some downtime.

I rode around 70km today, and some of it was on Eurovelo 8, a route that goes all along the Mediterranean coast if you can find it. To be fair the route is mapped, it’s just not realised everywhere as yet, however it was good to cycle the bit of it that was signposted. The EV8 signs continued as far as Leucate, with the path avoiding a very busy road which was a relief. There were loads of other cyclists using it, but not as many waves as in Spain; probably because these were mostly tourists out for a bimble and not tourers or roadies.

At Leucate I rode over the bridge and channel between the sea and lake, then on to La Palme. Unfortunately the campsite at La Palme was already full, however after a short ride down the road to Port-la-Nouvelle I found plenty of space at the Camping Municipal, and it was only €10 a night which was a win.

I absolutely had to do some washing, and was feeling a little better, so hand-washed a load of stuff including my sleeping bag, which after a couple of months was sorely in need of a clean! Handily it was hot and everything dried quickly, however my top tip for the day is to not drop your sleeping bag in the sand just after you’ve washed it…d’oh!

Laundry completed I had a cycle around town and then did some planning, arranging to meet up with French friends over the next few days, and hopefully my second cousin and her family tomorrow.

I forced myself to eat something, but still wasn’t really hungry, and think in hindsight that was probably an error; passed a rather uncomfortable night between my tent and the toilet!

–> 08 August – to Laurens
Hopefully you’re still with me; bit of a long blog post however good to catch up, and easier to do it in one. Might have to take a break in a bit to go help on the farm!

I rode 76km today, and thankfully it was a lot cooler and there were clouds in the sky keeping the sun off. I even had a bit if refreshing rain at one point. When I woke up I was in two minds whether to have a rest day or carry on, however in the end I felt sufficiently recovered to continue, which was probably a mistake.

After stopping at a Pharmacie and acquiring 3 sets of pills to help with my various ailments (French Pharmacies really are very helpful), I rode alongside the Canal de la Robin from Port-la-Nouvelle to Narbonne. It was a windy day however at least the path was flat, if a little bumpy.

After Narbonne it was on to Beziers, on some busy but manageable roads. I had thought I might  stop for lunch but still wasn’t feeling very hungry, and frankly had endured a pretty uncomfortable ride all morning due to my stomach aching plus feeling a bit sick.

The ride up to Laurens was accompanied by a bit of rain and a few more hills, riding through vineyards to my second cousin Richard’s house, where his daughter Sarah and her family were staying. I was feeling pretty weak by the time I reached Laurens, but didn’t think much of it until during a pause in the town square the world suddenly went a bit sideways. It felt like a big head-rush, a feeling akin to a massive migraine attack, and the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor next to my bike having briefly passed on. I must have slid down the wall as I tumbled as my helmet has a good scrape down the side. Two passerby helped me to my feet and I spent a few minutes sitting in the bus shelter before doing anything else. A weird and worrying experience but probably not that surprising having been ill and not eaten very much.

Cycling helmet a bit scraped but all good

Cycling helmet a bit scraped but all good

Thankfully I was only about 200 yards from my cousin’s house, so it was only a short walk to sanctuary for the night! I felt a lot better once I’d met up with Sarah, and Dom, and their children Indy and Briony, had a long drink of cold water, and later on some food which didn’t react badly with my stomach; good old cottage pie, peas and carrots! It was a good evening to spend indoors, with a big storm hitting and lots of rain. Great to catch up with everyone too, after several years; must stop meeting up with extended family only at funerals! A very relaxed and fun evening was had, and I slept very well.

–> 09 August – to Laroque
What a difference a day can make! After a solid night’s sleep, inside, out of the rain, and in the cool, I awoke refreshed and not feeling sick or with a stomach ache. Indy had been down to the boulangerie and returned with croissants for breakfast, which were most welcome with a bit of marmalade; excellent to have my appetite back.

After bidding goodbye to my excellent hosts, I left Laurens about 10.30, so a bit of a late start. I pedalled over the hill to Roujan, then up to Clermont L’Herault; riding was so much more comfortable today, again making me realise how under the weather I’d been, which I’d not really appreciated. The hills were biggish, but climbing them felt so much easier than yesterday, despite a slight headwind and the occasional ambush from goats or sheep.

I passed one particularly worrying sign, warning of sheep with wings; evolution gone crazy! It’s not a zombie apocalypse you need to worry about, it’ll be the flying sheep that get us for sure. Despite the sheep and their new allies, goats, it was lovely cycling through small French towns today, with the smell of baking bread drifting from boulangeries, and people nattering to neighbours from their balconies, having a lazy Sunday.

After Saint Andre de Sangonis I started up the Gorges de Herault, alongside the river Herault, taking in some great views. The gorge was packed with people relaxing by the river on rocks, canoeing or kayaking, or just swimming in the cool river. I had to deal with a long climb at one point, however it was all a pleasure now I was feeling better. I stopped for a break to watch people diving off rocks, and in one instance a high bridge, into the river.

The road continued on to Ganges, whereupon I turned left to Laroque and Camping Tivoli, to meet up with my friend Jean and his family; I hadn’t seen Jean for at least 17 years! It was great to finally catch up, and meet with his family; Noisette, Camille and Paul. Once I was set up it was down to the river, which runs next to the campsite, for a swim and a bit of Tarzan action on a rope swim; very refreshing after a hot ride.

A fun evening was had catching up, which did wonders for improving my French, even if I keep forgetting the odd word and replacing it with the English version; seems to work alright.

–> 10 August – day off in Laroque
I spent a couple of nights at Camping Tivoli in Laroque, with Jean and his family, so had a relaxing day off for some much-needed rest. We visited the Cirque de Navacelles, by car rather than  bike, and were able to look down upon it from atop a mountain.

Panorama of Cirque de Navacelles

Panorama of Cirque de Navacelles

The Cirque de Navacelles is an interesting feature, created by the river, and the surrounding area steeped in pre-historic history. People arrived in the area over 5,000 years ago, finding water up on the plateau in limestone caves, and carving out a simple agricultural existence, mostly involving sheep by the sounds of it. In contrast we were also passed by 4 Mirage jets flying down the valley, but at our level, and very close; an amazing sight but too fast to get a photo.

After a morning exploring, including some blackberry foraging, it was back to the campsite for more relaxing next to the river, and a bit more Tarzan action! We were joined by friends of Jean and Noisette in the evening, along with their children, so a bit of a party ensued. French hospitality is, as always, excellent, and I passed a very pleasant evening in great company. Sadly tomorrow it was time to leave, however only as far as Salavas for another break with friends; gonna take me a while to reach Istanbul at this rate.

–> 11 August 2015 – to Salavas
I was sad to leave Jean and his family, however I’ve promised not to leave it another 17 years before I return; Eurostar to Marseille is easy these days, so a visit is on the cards for next year! I was also looking forward to seeing Chris and Carole; haven’t seen Chris for about 17 years either, since our days in Luminy, Marseille; very happy times.

After fixing a puncture on Camille’s bike, packing up, and bidding everyone goodbye it was about 11.00 by the time I pedalled off, feeling relaxed and refreshed; thanks again all 🙂

Today’s ride took me through some lovely countryside, as well as more towns and villages; feels more hospitable than Spain, or at least easier to deal with, cooler too. From Laroque I rode up to Saint Hippolyte du Fort, with a few hills keeping things interesting, and with a few other tourers to say hello to. The road took me to Durfort, then Anduze, Bagard and the city of Ales; I pedalled straight through the latter and then up a valley passing lots of pretty villages.

Bananas and a quick baguette stop at a boulangerie kept me fuelled as I pedalled on to Tharaux; a slight diversion to this small village for another pause.

From Tharaux it was on to Barjac and into Ardeche territory, before arriving in the village of Salavas, prior to the town of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. Salavas sits right next to the Ardeche, and Christophe and Carole’s farm right next to the river. I stopped for a cooling Fanta break before making my way to their farm, finding it next to a campsite (could be handy for the future); only took me one phone call to locate the right gate and avoid an electric fence.

It was amazing to meet up again, and Chris hasn’t really changed very much. It was also great to see what he’s done with the farm; Le Champ de la Riviere, which he and Carole have built from scratch. They have over 1,000 chickens now, as well as a huge pig, fruit trees and loads of vegetables growing. Everything is organic, and very tasty too I might add. I am always slightly in awe of farmers and how hard they have to work, and seeing the effort that they’ve put into building up Le Champ de la Riviere left me feeling the same. I work hard in an office, with I guess different kind of stresses, but a farmer’s life is physically demanding too; although I can’t help feeling it must be more rewarding seeing things grow and being able to put food on people’s plates. I helped collect the eggs , not a small tasks when there are 1,000 chickens, and watched the pig get fed, then it was back to the house for a hearty pork casserole, with all the ingredients coming from the farm.

I also got to taste some particularly smelly local cheese; nice, but perhaps an acquired taste, and I get the impression Chris tries it out on all his guests! Another relaxing evening ensued, with some guitar playing, just like old times, and a glass of rum to finish off the evening. I think I’m going to stay here a few days to restore energy levels, and to get some planning done for Eastern Europe; although when it comes down to it I’ll just end up heading East then down to Istanbul, and see what happens along the way – not worth over planning.

If anyone knows of a good bike shop in Marseille let me know. I’m going to have a look on the Internet anyway, as Smaug could do with a service before going on to Italy; probably not leaving here until the weekend anyway, we’ll see. Time to go and help collect the eggs again now.

As always any donations to the Big C gratefully appreciated, and will help keep me motivated, otherwise might just stay here:

03 & 04 August 2015 – a break in Barcelona

It was only a short ride from Camping 3 Estrellas to Barcelona, however here’s the route and stats in case anyone else needs to work out how to cycle into the city from that direction – about 24km:

I didn’t do any cycling on 04 August, opting to walk everywhere for a change.

It was a slightly convoluted route to get into Barcelona, avoiding a few autopistas and getting over a river or two. I followed a few local cyclists going in the right direction, and asked a couple of others who pointed me towards the right roads. Once I was in the outskirts I joined cycle paths which took me all the way into the centre.

I pedalled down to the waterfront, spotting a giant lobster which I’ve since learnt was created for the 1992 Olympics, and a monument that looked suspiciously akin to Nelson’s Column, complete with lions, but was in fact built to commemorate Columbus. The port area looked lovely, and I’ll visit it again if I have time, however to get to the hostel I turned away from it and up through the old gothic area.

I stayed at the St Christopher’s Inn Hostel for two nights, which is pretty much in the centre of Barcelona, not far from the Placa de Catalunya. It proved very convenient for walking to several of the city’s attractions, as well as being comfortable and laid back, with a restaurant attached which was very reasonable; 25% off food if you’re staying at the hostel. Once I’d arrived I had to wait until 14.00 to check in, time well spent enjoying a large salad and celebratory pint; reaching Barcelona felt like quite a milestone, with only a couple of day’s riding required to get to France.

After food, checking in, and a bit of a siesta, I went for a wander around the Old Town, complete with its many gothic buildings, and La Rambla street which runs from the Placa de Catalunya to Port Vell; a tree-lined pedestrian walk that runs down the centre of the street with lots of stalls, restaurants and street performers. There were lots of very talented buskers taking advantage of the great acoustics created by the high stone buildings and winding narrow streets; a horn player near the Cathedral gave a wonderful rendition of Ave Maria. I took a look around Barcelona cathedral, meeting the 13 famous geese, and taking a pause in the cool interior; a moment of reflection.