hop on the good foot

This blog is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.


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Hop on the good foot…on two wheels!

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It’s 11am on a Sunday morning just outside Montpellier. After a fully indulgent French wedding. Ollie feeling a little worse for ware. Myself, feeling pretty hyped up…probably still drunk.
“Why don’t we ride across France on our bicycles?”
Cue Ollie’s look of weary hungover indulgence/pity… at me and my silly ideas in general (I know this look, it’s not my first time). I decide to work on her later and go back to quietly googling what a pannier is and the idea in general.

Seed planted and hangover subsided we start to question if we can really do this…then we have our 5 o’clock beers and go to work on planning what we need.

• A destination
• Kit for the bikes
• A route
• General knowledge on bikes (we only knew how to ride them and take them to the shop when they stop working)

Come 9pm it’s a definite!

Disclaimer – after travelling together for sometime now, we have realised many things about each other. Mainly and most importantly, I can be a little over-enthusiastic in the grand ideas department . As in, not really thinking things through and then arguing the silly idea obstreperously by simply saying “Why not?”
Where as Ollie has a tendency to be a little more cautious and think things through in detail; whilst coming up with the ‘snags’ in my plan. She will clearly lay out the facts and say things like,
“This is why not you silly manchild!”
Luckily, this is the ultimate combination for a travelling team as it results in things actually happening and it has worked thus far.

First of all, we decided to become volunteers via workaway.info in the south of France, near a town called Lodève. Quick sign up, few emails, bit of Skype action and boom…destination sorted!

All the rest was going to be tricky. Bike stuff is expensive. So, reeling from Tom’s blog and his wonderful post on putting together a virtually free tour bike, we sent out a begging email…no one replied. There are other methods, but we only had a week to get ready so had to turn to the wallet.

Luckily we had one of these!

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Ollie’s Dad is Mr Bike, with many bike tours under his belt, a literal shedload of parts and a mind full of knowledge to boot. He donated his time (and some spares) to getting us road-ready.

First of all, before we thought about fancy panniers and shiny jerseys, we needed to look at the bikes. I needed to replace my chain, cassette, brake pads, adjust brakes, adjust gears and very nearly replace the tyres. Ollie had a similar list. Together with fitting new parts such as racks and pedals, we learnt how to repair and fix the basics. Valuable road knowledge. As we would find out, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong on the road!

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Next a route. What can I say, Les helped us out again after we had an idea. We decided to sail overnight from Portsmouth to St Malo, ride to Poitiers, train to Bordeaux and then ride the rest of the way. In two weeks. Les was happy to plan the first section for us. Very important as he knew what the roads (and, crucially, inclines) would be like by looking at the map. Something I would not have been able to do. We would sort the rest of the journey out ourselves. Must remember maps!

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So what’s the point of this blog post? There’s nothing in it about how to prepare for a bike tour or the planned route?

Well firstly, I’m a firm believer in continuity, and even though I’m pretty sure only about 7 people actually read this blog, I feel it’s necessary to bridge the gap between backpacking and bike touring.

Secondly, look at this guy’s blog for all your budget bike tour planning needs; it’s fantastic really, not just about bikes, but for ideas on how to live better:

http://tomsbiketrip.com

Thirdly, the Coast to Coast route will come, in later posts, with pretty pictures. But essentially we planned to ride from St Malo to Beziers.

So, why do it at all? The reason…why not?! (my favourite argument)

So many people see the world in different ways and after (an amazing) 8 months of bus travel through the Americas we felt it time to see a country differently and who knows, maybe carry on afterwards…

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Toulouse – Fine French fayre, an old castle and exploring the Ville Rose

Guest post – Rob Cussen

“Where are you traveling to sir’? asked the unusually friendly security man as he took out my toiletries bag for scanning at Gatwick. ‘Toulouse’ I replied, ‘ah, no time to lose’ he responded, smiling and nodding at me. I smiled. ‘Not many people get that’ he said. ‘I bet’ I replied.

The Capitol - Toulouse

The Capitole – Toulouse

‘No Time To Lose’ had immediately popped into my head once arrangements had been made with Richard and Ollie and I had watched the clip of that Monty Python sketch (linked to the Kamikaze Highlander Regiment sketch) and realised it was a lot funnier to the 1973 version of me. Nostalgia eh?

Toulouse is the capital city of the department of Haute-Garonne, in southwestern France. It lies on the banks of the River Garonne, 150 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea, 230 km from the Atlantic Ocean, and 580 km from Paris. More facts at Wikipedia and elsewhere on t’interweb.

Why Toulouse? Why not is the short answer. The long is that our intrepid travellers were originally going to be off to New Zealand after stopping off in France for a family wedding in Montpellier. They would stop off in Barcelona and catch up with some friends there and I wanted to see them before they went down under. Originally Perpignan was considered for me but flights and airport arrangements for them made that difficult so Toulouse was decided upon.  The NZ plans changed but Toulouse remained on the schedule.

The streets of Toulouse - or the 'Ville Rose' as it it is known.

The streets of Toulouse – or the ‘Ville Rose’ as it it is known.

Thankfully, they met me at Toulouse – Blagnac airport and it was lovely to see them both again after nearly 8 months. Their blog, instagram and Skype have been fantastic; reassuring as well as really interesting but I had missed them both and my regular lunches, drinks and chats with my boy.  Seeing them in person again was wonderful.  Also this old chap would have been forlornly wandering around gazing at bus timetables for hours and eventually getting lost without the two chicken bus timetable experts who, it seemed, had worked out the city transport links within minutes of their arrival the day previously.

I was there for 5 days, 4 nights and we stayed in a very VERY bijou 2 bed apartment on the Rue Gambetta, behind Bar L’Impro with the now famous greyhound cross ‘Eddington’ and around the corner from the impressive Place du Capitole, a huge pedestrianised square where the impressive Capitole can be found. A fantastic public place in a city where, around every corner it seems, is a public square, large and small.

During the fantastic, very warm weather, the citizens of Toulouse could be found enjoying their 2 hour lunch breaks and excellent French working hours in the full bars and restaurants.

From what I saw, Toulouse is a very busy, vibrant and interesting city and well worth a visit. We mooched around the centre mostly and found it to be a safe place with a pleasant atmosphere late into the night.

One day saw a drive west of Toulouse to the middle of nowhere near a small hamlet called Belmont in the Gers department in the midst of the Côtes de Gascogne wine region near the sleepy town of Vic Fezensac (worth a Google). I drove, the other two lunched well…. very well. Richard kept me in the right lane throughout. Fantastic countryside and great roads.

Another day saw a trip by train, despite the best efforts of the unions, to Carcassone (again worth a Google) a fantastically restored medieval fortress, now a tourist trap but some great views to be had but I enjoyed the view of the castle from the ‘new’ city, chatting and people watching during a couple of beer stops in warm, busy squares.

We ate out in some really nice places, one the ‘Au Bon Graillou’ one of the fantastic restaurants that run the length of the first floor at the impressive Marché Victor Hugo (the largest covered market in the city – and what a fantastic market it is) a superb lunch ‘formule’, great atmosphere and nice friendly staff.

Another great meal, dinner this time was at the Le May restaurant on Rue Du May. Great steaks, nice atmosphere and again really friendly staff.

The Bar L’impro was the venue for an evening of cards and beer and on one occasion, after our visit to Le May, a father/son chat accompanied by a glass or two of Jameson.

Eddison - Watching over proceedings at Bar L'impro

Eddington – Watching over proceedings at Bar L’impro

Day 5 arrived and after another nice lunch in Place St George, it was time for me to depart back home. Richard and Ollie took me to the bus stop for the airport, put a sign around my neck giving my flight number in case I got lost and damn if I didn’t get something in my eye again!

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During my time with them, Richard and Ollie were planning ahead and I’m sure we’ll be reading all about it on this fantastic blog!

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Grácia – A gentle European transition

Barcelona - Why not?  There's a reason it's so popular!

Barcelona – Why not? There’s a reason it’s so popular!

“Do you think the foie gras is overkill with the chorizo, four kinds of cheese, olives, aioli and bread? “ We had suddenly found ourselves back in Europe. With access not only to luxury items such as toasters, hairdryers and sofas but also to delicious foods that we have been dreaming about for several months whilst eating peanut butter and crackers in an effort to save cash. Being our two year wedding anniversary as well we decided that not only would we have all the delicious food, but a few bottles of wine would be acceptable also.

Supermarket binge

Supermarket binge

Barcelona is a city that many visit for city breaks and I have always wondered why it is one of the most popular destinations in the world each year. A little flat in the Grácia neighborhood set us back about 60 euros a night, which when compared to the outrageous price of dorm beds is a pretty sweet deal.

Catalan flags hang from most of Barcelona's balcony's.

Catalan flags hang from most of Barcelona’s balcony’s.

Enter Europe: phase two of our journey. It turned out that Grácia is the perfect spot to reintegrate into European society and get a sense of ‘normality’ as it were after 7 months riding around on chicken buses and sleeping in hammocks. After deciding to not wash our clothes with us while we showered as per usual and use the washing machine instead, we headed out to explore what was to be our little home for the next five nights.

Streets of Gracia

Streets of Gracia

“I want, tapas, in a square, with a beer whilst listening to the faint sounds of a strumming guitar as the sun goes down!” Not an unreasonable demand I thought, seeing as we were in Spain, so into the warren of narrow streets we went, each one lined with handsome five story balcony clad buildings. After finding initial refreshment in a little bar called El Otro (which was immediately designated our local) we tried to find some food. Initially unsuccessful in my demands for sundowner tapas with a Catalan soundtrack we went into a restaurant…but left shortly after when we couldn’t understand the diagram ridden menu. Feeling miffed at the lack of success we wandered towards home, and then stumbled across Plaça del Sol, which offered the sound-tracked tapas dream that we had been looking for. A handsome little square surrounded by bars serving small things to eat and cold things to drink, positioned perfectly so it gets the last of the sunshine…of course, being so near the equator for so long, we were not used to the sun going down at 10pm! The square was filled with people just sitting around enjoying the weather; some with guitars, some juggling, but everyone just chilling.

It wasn’t all sitting around squares, drinking cañas (draft beers) and cava; we ventured out to see the city a bit too. First stop was that strange construction project called the ‘Sagrada Familia’, Gaudi’s 100 year old ongoing project that is probably one of the most visited sites in the city. I find it hard to describe this thing creatively and there are many other more poetic people out there who could definitely do a better job so I will sum it up in one word…mental. Ollie described it as “like a castle in a child’s nightmare”. Here’s some photos of it, but they don’t do it justice.

Gaudi is a legend in this city and his works/influences can be seen all around the city. Including of course ‘Park Güell’ which we decided not to enter as felt the 8.50 Euro entrance fee was slightly steep seeing as you had to share the experience with thousands of other tourists. It irks me when you are forced to pay to enter public spaces such as this, so we didn’t pay it and retreated to a plaza for a beer. ..money better spent!

A stroll down La Ramblas showed us the touristy side of the city, but gave us the opportunity to see a fantastic market in La Boquería. After drooling over various products in there, we headed for a wander round the Gothic quarter, before sniffing out a delicious lunch at Bar Del Pla on the recommendation of our friends Sean & Fi. A menu of squid ink croquettes, ‘octopus bombs’, foie gras on crispy beef and a couple of drinks at the marble bar was an affordable and indeed delicious lunch. Thanks Faun! Walking off the lunch back towards Grácia we decided to go via the Arc de Triomf and up the wide avenues.

The hustle and bustle of La Ramblas is soon forgotten as you hit Grácia, where we decided to celebrate our anniversary by getting our second of course of ink for the day, this time in tattoos at the 19:28 parlour (can’t recommend it enough, Dani was a legend!). Not matching ones…no names, just a little something each to remember the trip by.

We quickly fell in love with the city (well, Grácia mainly.) The area is so very chilled, and we both agreed that we could live there, in fact agreeing that when we make our millions, we will buy a little flat there. Maybe even the one we rented off Sergio. The narrow streets, beautiful buildings draped in Catalan flags, boutique shops, little markets, pretty plazas, fantastic eateries and friendly little bars make for a top get away to the city without the tourist masses bothering you. Sadly five days sped past and it was time to leave. Not far though; we headed back to Barcelona airport to meet some buddies and hit our palatial villa on the outskirts of the city…

Villa Crew!

Villa Crew!