Tag Archives: Provence

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.