… is what I´d fully expected to see, after the show stopping thunderstorms on the way out. Here´s a snap from the motorway in Holland, dry for a change, with what one might consider to be a spontaneous Volvo 7/9 meeting. BTW, my car (guess which one it is) topped the 420.000 km mark during the hols.
But no, the weather was wonderful all the time, and the friends we visited live in a very picturesque part of Normandy. Cycling was great too.
St Germer is a French village in which time seems to have stood still. Don´t know what the inhabitants think of living in a god-forsaken corner of France (our friends´ sons made some remarks in this direction), but I just love it.
Doesn´t this somehow remind one of Champion´s grandmother´s house in Les triplettes de Belville?
The affiche really was still hanging near the church last week. You can´t say that people are hurried in St Germer. [“No, we´re not taking it down. We want tourists to think that we´re not hurried in St Germer.”]
The next day, we were off to Paris.
In French trains, bikes travel free, which was helpful. We boarded at neighbouring Gisors, and after just one and a quarter hours we arrived right in the middle of Paris at St Lazare station. My family wanted to have a detailed look at a certain exhibition in a modern arts museum, but especially on the bright day it was I couldn´t imagine not being on the bike, so I took mine. It fitted right into a corner in the entrance area of the double decker rolling stock, and while this meant that I couldn´t go upstairs, the folding seats quickly were taken by families with prams, and I got talking to a father of a wonderfully active and bright two year old who was fascinated by the red chronometer seconds hand of my watch.
Having arrived at St Lazare, this is the first thing one sees (and hears):
Hardly had I left the station, when I saw my first classic bike. When I think of Paris, of course one of the first things that come to mind of a subscriber to Bicycle Quarterly is Wonderful French Bikes.
This one was a little less than wonderful, and the picture would stay that way. While I have had the pleasure of seeing one of those Wonderful French Bikes right out in the open about 15 years ago (see post), this time there was no such luck even in Paris. What abounded were users of those rather doubtfully designed Vélibs.
These are found absolutely everywhere in the inner city, and it´s really cheap to use them. An annual subscription starts at 19€, and with the first 30 min of every trip being free of charge, for most short trips this is all it will cost. If you use the bike any longer than that, an hour is a Euro, with rates increasing with the length of time you use it. The rationale behind it might be a high frequency of change, and consequently less bikes necessary.
If you want to use a Vélib`, all you need is your subscription card, which you swipe over the top of the parking pod, a large magnet will let go of the bike, and you´re off.
Having just said all you need is your card, I have to correct myself. For me at least, the cost in nerves it takes to cycle in Paris traffic would be far higher than the few Euros Vélib`rent. In theory, there are pistes cyclables everywhere,
but in a traffic jam, or the normal peak hour madness, life for a cyclist can become very dangerous indeed if he/she insists on using the piste. The problem are not so much parking cars, not even cars in use, but the ubiquitous motor scooters. They don´t care a hoot about anything and will literally push you to the side.
So there I was, in the middle of Paris, with an afternoon off, and of course, where does the beginner visitor go first?
The cup was given to me by a bench neighbour who had no intention to take it home. He was one of two people I got talking with while feeding on my bananas, the other one being a guard, who professed that he had become quite used to the Tower which now was nothing special for him.
Right, next. Le Jardin des Tuileries.
What precisely the attraction of a min. 25€ tour in a brand new, re-painted Ukrainian motorbike can be escapes me. But then, perhaps, people might think it´s the real thing? Who knows. The website mentioned on the sidecar doesn´t open because it´s regarded as “attacking” by my browser.
Paris and movies – an endless story. Here´s the next chapter.
There´s such a lot of money everywhere in Paris. The cars you see which are there only for the show – unimaginable. What do you do with a Lamborghini or a Ferrari in the middle of a capital city? Or with an Aston Martin Volante Superleggera?
Before not being able to use it for what it was built, you have to have it brought into the city centre on a flatbed. The flatbed man must have discovered an economic niche I wouldn´t have dreamed of being there at all. He said he was very happy being able to work with cars like this. As the owner of the AM, what do you say to him? Don´t drop it?
What do you do if you want a photo like this and if you want to pay hommage to the eternal flame under the Arc de Triomphe? Easy, either take the pedestrian tunnel under the Etoile, or your life into your hands and cycle there. In light mid-day traffic it takes one round of the Etoile to work your way into the middle, or out again.
Time for a break. While approaching the somewhat more distant parts of Paris, like Levallois Perret, you will be able to find loads of bakeries selling wonderfully fresh sandwiches based on French bread. While consuming your bread at one of the tables on the sidewalk you might even be asked by some elderly coffee sipping Jewish gentlemen about your bike, and how life is in general, and the pretty saleswoman might also join. And do you know that there´s a cycle shop just around the corner.
So you carry on over the Boulevard Périphérique,
pass by this road sign
Would you say “the little old house where time has stood still”? Oh no, because it hasn´t. Victor´s new bike for instance is equipped with Campag ten speed. The difference to usual cycle stores is that time has stood still where development has reached a peak, as in framebuilding. It definitively has moved on in areas in which there is room for improvement.
When walking though the door I was greeted in a most friendly way, even although everybody was quite busy, even preparing a PBP bike. I was allowed to lean my Ellis-Briggs bike to the counter, where it was looked over with interest, I then was explained the ins and outs of the shop, shown a second hand randonneur, and the atmosphere in general was relaxed in a way which comes from absolute mastery of one´s metier and the seemingly effortless superiority it gives.
In a way, this old and battered sign, which must be the understatement of the decade,
is a good reflexion of the whole shop. It´s not the exterior that counts. To top everything off, I was actually given written instructions on how to find another cycle shop.
area, I was told it was not possible because the shop was busy. Would I mind waiting outside. Is this the difference between the letter written “dealer in beautiful bikes” and the old, battered cardboard sign? You bet.
What else was there in Paris? So much I don´t know where to start.
Next to where I ate my second sandwich I happened to see a spoon lying in the road. Tending never to let anything useful go to waste, I had nearly picked it up when I noticed that its underside had been blackened by heat, and there was a residue of some white powdery crystals on it.
Back in St Lazare, I had to wait for the train, and looking around I suddenly got an idea where to cycle to the next day:
After about 35km, I arrived at Les Andelys and was greeted by this panorama.
The chateau dominates the Seine and its chalk cliffs, and looking down one has a feeling rather like flying.
Lastly, the London to Paris cycle route, the “Green Avenue”.
It´s a project shouldered by the départements and Dieppe harbour society on the French side, and Sustrans on the British side. If you don´t know what Sustrans is, look it up on the net – it´s great. The Green Avenue wi(e)nds its way through picturesque Normandy countryside, branching at St Germer, offering two routes to Paris after that village. It seems that the French at least care for the lives of their tourists:
Part of one route to Paris is the Trans´Oise (Oise being the name of the local département) bike track on a disused railway line. If you thought that carrying a bike on the train can be boring, try the Trans´Oise track.
First, there´s a Stop sign for the cyclists at every crossing with motorized traffic, signalling to cyclists that they´re still not taken serious on an advanced level. Next, there´s a complete absence of any roadsigns, excepting the ones telling you you´re on the track, which you´ve probably known for ages. There´s one or two giving the distance to Beauvais, but if you want to go from Beauvais back to, say, St Germer, you´re stuck, because there are hardly any identification points in the green hell of the nearly straight track and you don´t know where to turn off.
So you´ve got this slight decline into Beauvais, for 30 km or more, and you zip along at about 40, your cadence only broken by the Stop signs. Of course you´re a tourist, and you´re clueless about the locality, and then the track ends here:
No signs whatsoever telling you where to go. So, for those of you who will be in the same situation like myself: Turn left here, follow the road up a slight hill, past the Renault truck dealership, until the next major crossroads (500m, perhaps). Turn right, and you´re pointed towards the cathedral – that´s what you´ve probably come for.
Before this, however, there´s a surreal experience to be made. The tunnel-like green suddenly stops, and St Paul fun park appears. When cycling along the track, I began to hear children screaming through the near-total silence, then mechanical noises, wondering what was wrong with me, and then saw this:
A gate not unlike Lübeck´s Holstentor, and of course the magnificent cathedral is the reward for having mastered the Trans´Oise track. On the way back you have about 30km´s worth of finding out what a false flat is.
The short holiday had already come to an end, and after a pilgrimage to Vera Brittain´s fiancée´s grave, covered with violets, at Louvencourt,
the Nécropole Nationale de Notre Dame de Lorette,
and Vimy Ridge Memorial
on the way back I have to hope for next year.
This was my twohundredth post. Who´d have thunk it would come to this, and more than 54,000 views too. Thanks. Taking a break now – no idea how long it will be.