London to Paris Bike ride first recce
An extract from my diary on our first London to Paris recce in May 2012:
Our London to Paris Bike Ride had begun well and we’d made it to the ferry on time. As we arrived at Dover we decided to get some groceries from the supermarket with a view of avoiding the overpriced food on the ferry. We bought a whole chicken each and probably put back on all the calories we had burnt getting there. We were touring again – this kind of behaviour and justification was expected. Trying to rid our hands of the ensuing grease proved to be a real problem and we perhaps should have taken off our cycling gloves as they were now slicked with chicken fat.
Ferries are strange places and this was no exception. There were few people on board and the sea was rough. A range of accents, dialects and languages fluttered around the barren seating areas. Multiple chairs were taken up by horizontal solo travellers, trying desperately to get some sleep after their long journeys. The garish red and orange upholstery made us feel like we were in a posh casino as we studied the maps, excited about finally reaching France.
The ferry arrived very late into Calais and it was getting dark. We had just enough time to find our hotel and check-in. The wind was strong as we cycled into Calais and it seemed more like a ghost town than usual. Perhaps its residents were on holiday.
At the hotel we locked up our bikes, unloaded our gear, then went to bed almost immediately. We had a long day ahead of us.
After a quick breakfast of coffee and croissants (…when in Rome…), we began cycling south out of Calais. We were using a Garmin cycling sat nav, the Edge 800. It was fantastic. Having plotted our routes online, we literally just clicked it on and followed. At times we wondered whether we needed maps at all. As a lover of maps, I see them as an essential piece of equipment giving you an invaluable sense of place and purpose. As with the e-book and conventional book discussion, there is simply no replacement for a map that has taken you from one place to another. The coffee stains, grubby fingerprints and dog-eared edges all tell a story and sometimes, better stories than a photo could ever tell.
The scenery was stunning as we crossed swathes of French farmland. We stopped at numerous villages for short breaks, soaking up the atmosphere of these quaint and pretty hubs of life.
The second overnight stop in France was in the town of Arras. Our panniers pleaded with us as we arrived on the heavily cobble-stoned streets. We had definitely brought too much but you only realise these things once you are there.
Arras is a beautiful place with two gorgeous main squares, an impressive town hall and numerous cafes. In true French style, the cafes had overflowed onto the cobbled streets where people sipped huge cappuccinos and watched the world go by.
The next morning we set off early and continued the ride south. We stopped at a couple of war cemeteries along the way and were taken back by the many inscriptions on the head stones. It was near impossible to imagine being faced with the realities of war at such a young age and standing in the place in which so many lost their lives was overwhelming.
We spent the night in the vibrant town of Compeigne. This pretty town is flanked by huge forests and has some fantastic architecture, food and streets. We checked into our hotel, had some dinner, then went to sleep excited about our cycle into Paris the following day.
The following morning we had a quick breakfast in the hotel, loaded up our bikes then started out on the final leg of our journey. The vast expanses of green farmland were soon being replaced by the urban sprawl of the capital city. Roads were becoming more busy and the drivers, more pushy. Soon we were in the suburbs and the atmosphere of small towns in the country had definitely gone amiss.
There are some cycle lanes in parts of Paris which at times were useful. On the whole however, they were rather hazardous, with pedestrians invariably stepping into the lanes and causing mayhem.
We cycled down the Champ Elysees just before lunch and headed up and onto the Place de la Concorde. Here we took some photos and avoided being crushed by huge coaches and sightseers.
The last stretch took us gently along the river to our final goal – The Eiffel Tower. Upon pulling up we were immediately approached by trinket sellers offering us rather tasteless silver items for inflated prices. We shrugged them off in no time and were soon taking photos with the famous landmark as an impressive backdrop.
The cycling had been fantastic and the scenery even better. Our London to Paris Bike Ride had been challenging but we had visited some wonderful places along the way. We treated ourselves to a chicken each and jumped on the train back to London.