France | St Ours - Sault - Salavas - Portes - Arlanc - Troyes - Epernay - Lille - Calais | 24th April to 21st May | 24,021km
From the first pain au chocolat dipped into an enormous bowl coffee we immensely enjoyed remembering France’s customs, the change noticeable immediately after arriving from Italy. The physical and cultural challenge of the tour had been winding down since we left the Balkans, but we were happy to embrace the new challenge of finding a reasonable boulangerie each morning. Luke knows enough French to express genuine provençal outrage at the proposed €1,40 croissants for sale in the ski towns we passed through on our way to lower altitude. Bagged some small cols on the way to meet Hugo, who we last saw in Hong Kong, in Sault before riding together along the gorges de la Nesque, a stunning balcony road with views of Mont Ventoux. Crossed the Rhone and staying for a fews days in the Ardeche at his family place being schooled on how the chill out south of France style.
We’d been looking forward to France as it was a chance to stay with people we knew and as such the route planned itself. Pedalled across to stay with our friends parents who had moved to the Cevennes to take on a mammoth house restoration job. The result was one of the nicest places we’ve ever stayed. Eventually turned north through the massif central towards le Puy, finding much more acceptably priced croissants and staying with Nat’s (as in Louis and Nat, who we met in Almaty) family. Touchingly, it felt like the whole village was waiting for us and what news we had of them. Best cheese and leek tart we’ve tasted and a takeaway bottle of vinaigrette, as they were shocked that we were travelling without any!
Dried out from a drenching in the centre of Medieval Troyes before entering Burgundy and the french canal system. Spent two afternoons under bridges in very British drizzle, embracing the last feelings of living outdoors. Treated ourselves to not the second but the third cheapest bottle of brut in Epernay, capital of the champagne region and sat drinking it defiantly in the rain, Flo pleased to have found some (British import) salt and vinegar crisps. A bloke questioned us pretty thoroughly on how we felt about the ‘le Brexit’, reminding us that we are out of touch with what’s happening back home. After le Brexit, most want to know who on earth Leicester City are.
Gave our bikes a final beating though the trouée d'Arenberg on our way to Lille, where Luke had lived for a year. Stayed with the super chilled brothers of Thomas, who we’d met briefly the day after Flo’s birthday in Sary Tash, on his way to China. Lille was the first place that felt familiar, an odd feeling, and as such very homely as we were taken out for a Belgian beer with Nico and Yvan, part of the MS world tour team we last saw in Sydney. Led out of the city by a small peloton we took a brief excursion into Belgium to eat a bowl of mayonnaise with a few frites on top before heading to the French coast. We're used to this kind of 'chance' now but it never ceases to amaze us - we met Gregiore through a highly recommended warmshowers host Francois who took us out of the rain in Saint-Omer. Gregiore's family kindly offered put us up for the week as we rode in and out of Calais to volunteer at the refugee camp there. Being in 'The Jungle' was very thought provoking and not something we’re able to put into words yet. Unexpectedly though we were able to find what was probably some of the most authentic curry in northern Europe at the camp’s small Pakistani cafe, one thing off the list of 'Foods we're looking forward to'. All too quickly, our return tickets were booked after 555 days on the road. Revised 'Foods we're looking forward to' list: 1) Ale 2) Scotch Egg (Luke) 3) Percy Pigs (…Also Luke). In Calais we were 2 degrees East, Penrith is 3 degree west. 5 degrees from home.