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France 2013

By Ren Withnell And Sharon Parker

This year the gf and I went to France, again. This is our tale of triumph and tragedy, misery and joy and of a great learning experience.

the gf stood next to a sign with the town name

Forming a Plan The formulation of a cunning a devious plan to take on Europe is formed in the tiny mind of our intrepid explorer...
The GF Question Do I take the gf with me to France? Can she come? Will she like it? These are all very difficult questions...
France...I wanna go but can I...?? Can Sharon make it to Europe? Will the kids survive? Will the bf behave? Is there any space for makeup? All these questions and more...
The Load Getting everything we NEED and a few items we WANT onto a motorcycle can be a problem. Now I have to work out how to get 3 WEEKS worth of gear onto the poor donkey(aka bike)
Camping In Cambridge The start of our Epic Adventure...or bike holiday around France. Cambridge is surprisingly nice really.
France - Day 1 Sharon's first day from her point of view. Cushy Cambridge and dry weather...what more could a girl want?
The Chunnel The Chunnel, I'm excited but also stressing because the bike's already broken before we leave the UK. I worry too much...
France - Day 2 - Bikes, Trains and Tents Sharon leads us through sunshine, hair issues, the Channel Tunnel and into France. But France is eerily quiet...
Here Comes The Rain Bike fixed...bike broken. Rain, endless dull roads, miserable towns and more rain. Oh the joy of travel! At least Epernay welcomed us with a huge smile :-)
France Day 3 - Crying Through The Rain The rain plays tricks with Sharon's spirit but a stiff upper lip and giving herself a good talking to see her through.
Rain Into Dijon Rain, rain and more rain. Just how long can it last? Would we be better off with a Jet Ski? Can we continue to keep our Great British Stiff Upper Lips?
France Day 4 - We Are Mustard We Are Dijon is the destination and we're surviving the rain...that makes us well mustard! We're happy in spite of the rain but how long can we keep smiling?
The Joy Of Being Lost As we head south the rain lightens but will it ever stop? I get lost which is no surprise, but lost turns out to be the best part of travelling. Are things finally taking a turn for the better? I do hope so...
France Day 5 - Biker's Paradise Sharon's day 5 in France starts out rough but improves considerably. What delights can put such a joyous grin on her face?
The Stunning Alps We are both facing a very strange situation...that of sunshine, warmth, beauty and pleasure.
France Day 6 - Magnificent Mountains Sharon shares the delights of the Alps. Sometimes life is good!
Highs And Lows From the stunning Alps to our ultimate destination...MONACO! Is it all I expected? Will it be as I imagined?
France Day 7 - Scooter Mayhem Sharon describes the best and the worst France has to offer. Ride on the back with her from the beauty of the countryside to the mayhem of Monaco
Resting And Deciding Today we stop to take a breather and recuperate. It's also time to make a decision about the rest of our journey. I used to be indecisive, I'm not so sure now.
France Day 8 - Chilling In The Pool A day off from the journey sees Sharon and Ren doing something very silly, breaking things and achieving very little. What a splendid way to spend a day!
Going West Day 9 sees us heading west from the coast. It's finally dry, but it's still windy so not too hot. The gf's not well and Ren is relentlessly lost. Overall not a bad day then!
France Day 9 - Poppies, Vines and a Wet Lettuce Feeling poorly rather spoils Sharon's day today. Still on she must go on and survive what might have otherwise been a good day.
Biggest Bridge In The World In glorious sunshine and fine health we make our way from Nimes to Millau complete with it's Viaduct. Sometimes life is good, occasionally it's great!
France Day 10 - Deflated to Elated Today is a good day for Sharon. Today the sun shines, the scenery is beautiful and the people are pleasant. Join her as France puts a smile on her face.
The Wettest Bridge In The World The Millau Viaduct ought to be impressive. It is, but nowhere near as impressive as the amount of rain falling from the skies.
France Day 11 - Grim Not every day can be filled with sunshine and smiles, even on holiday. This one certainly was not for Sharon!
False Hope Part One Ren would like to invite you to a joyous report about the delightful weather in the South of France! He'd like to. Instead it just rained and rained and rained and rained...
France Day 12 - It's Gloomy Inside And Out Sharon freezes her butt off during the night then is treated to a cold and wet ride. The Ren sure knows how to spoil a girl.
False Hope Part Two Is this the end? Has Armageddon arrived? Is this the Apocalypse? It sure as hell feels like it.
France Day 13 - Quietude For A While Sharon's report on another day of mixed weather. There's peace and beauty then there's mud and cold. Adventure...no-one said it would be easy!
Sunshine After Rain A night of rain soaked delirium. Will the day be any better? Will our travellers ever dry out?
France Day 14 - A Bit of 5 Star Luxury Sharon has a much better day on the road and a luxurious 5 star campsite. It's amazing what difference a little dry weather can make.
Back Into The Flatlands A quiet, simple and easy days ride through France for Ren. Pleasant enough but the flatlands are getting a little boring now.
France Day 15 - A Bit Of 2 Star Delight Sharon has an ordinary day and a frustrating battle with the weather.
Not Far To Chinon It's a short, easy and peaceful ride this day in France. Ren gets all philosophical too.
France Day 16 - A Historical Walk Around Chinon Sharon enjoys a hint of sunshine and the history of Chinon, France.
Shopping To Mamers Ren's airbed's leaking now. No problem, find a shop and buy a new one...easy? I don't think so...
France Day 17 - The Gift Of TIme Even though the weather is cool Sharon's heart is warmed by the people she meets in France today
Don't Go To Ault Ren has a grim, long, dull and uninspiring day in France. The accommodation doesn't help.
France Day 18 - Is This Misery Or Joy? Sharon finds sunshine, ancient caravans and ponders about hapiness.
Looking For Luxury With time on their side Ren looks for the perfect campsite for the next to night. Not finding it makes him a very grumpy boy.
France Day 19 - Campsite Conundrums Although the wind blows the sun is shining while Sharon looks for the perfect pitch.
Resting In Ambleteuse Ren philosophises too much on the final day of his trip around France.
France Day 20 Sharon's in a reflective mood on the last day of our French trip.
Back Into England Ren recalls the final day of the French Adventure. It's all over far too soon.
What Did We Learn? Ren sums up his thoughts about France and the French trip.
France On Reflection Sharon sums up her her experience of the French Trip. Damn those Alps.
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Reader's Comments

Ian Soady said :-
I originally visited your site because a Google search for Honda SLR650 turned it up, and I found those pages very informative – so much so I've now bought one!

However, after reading that particular section I then went on to browse the whole site and have just finished reading the 2013 trip to France. I thought this was absolutely superb. I loved the alternate views from Sharon and Ren – it's amazing how 2 people can share the same experience but gain different (but complementary) impressions. It's all beautifully written and I think the best thing I've read about motorcycle touring since Jupiter's Travels. I don't make the comparison lightly as both Ted Simon and yourselves have far more to say about the trip itself and its effects on you than on the mechanics of riding the bike, which is far more common. I do appreciate that his trip was somewhat longer and more eventful!

It's a shame that your experience of France was less than positive in many ways. I think that could be largely due to the weather. Many years ago Electra, my wife, & I used to set off for camping trips on a succession of elderly Nortons. It always seemed to rain; we had no money so couldn't afford hotels or meals out; and one of the high points of one trip was lying in the tent in Patterdale feeding the sparrows with bits of soggy bread.

Those experiences were enough to put her off bikes for life so since then I've done my bike touring solo. The first trip was in the early 90s to Greece and back on my 1975 Norton Commando. Electra had flown out there to visit relatives (as you may guess from the name she's Greek) and I'd always wanted to ride there so took the opportunity – travelling down through France, through the Mont Blanc tunnel (which was very scary), to Rome where I had a meeting for work (this was foolish as it put an artificial time constraint on the trip) then, after a couple of days of meetings, braving the morning rush hour to leave Rome and get the overnight ferry from Brindisi to Igoumenitsa then across the Katara pass via Meteora to Pilion where Electra was staying.

After a week there together, Electra joined me for the first part of the return trip, to Metsovo where we stayed overnight, then on I went solo to Igoumenitsa and back via Ancona instead of Brindisi as I hadn't really enjoyed the trip down through Italy and wanted to minimise the time I spent there. I suspect this was because my Italian is limited to Grazia, Per Favore and "e strada per …."? when I was lost…., whereas my French and Greek are both passable.

That makes me wonder whether your French skills may have been another reason you didn't feel too happy with the trip. Since my Greek trip I've been to France on the bike a dozen or more times and have rarely come across the unhelpful people you seemed to encounter. But I've always been able to strike up some sort of conversation. I agree the habits of everything closing on Sundays and for lunch can seem perverse and sometimes downright crazy, but to me that is just part of the charm of the country. It does mean that planning fuel and shopping stops can be tricky - but that's a small price to pay for the open, empty roads, the magnificent scenery and the incomparable food.

I also think that travelling alone forces me to engage with people even if only on a superficial level. If there are two of you there can be a tendency to close ranks when problems arise, and whilst this can be comforting it can also erect a wall against others and make you feel as though it's you against a hostile world. This may apply even more if you travel as a group and I've often seen groups of British motorcyclists in France seeming to have no connection with their surroundings at all.

Finally, I've been in the fortunate position of having enough money to be able to stay in (albeit modest) hotels / chambres d'hotes and to eat out in the evenings. This means no struggling with soaking wet tents, trying to sleep on leaky airbeds, squelching off to the cold toilets, struggling to pull on damp clothes, watching as the bike's stand sinks into the mud and the whole plot capsizes…… Even so, I've had a couple of miserable wet trips and indeed cut one short as when I watched the weather forecast one evening, all I could see were the remnants of hurricanes thundering in across the Bay of Biscay.

Sorry, this has turned out to be longer than I intended. But thanks again for an excellent read and I will now turn my attention to other parts of the site.

UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Cheers Ian.

Given the wisdom of hindsight and further experience I feel the biggest issue with France is not France but ourselves. We tried to cover too many miles in too short a time. We both have "heroes" who've travelled many miles and think nothing of popping to Bulgaria or Lithuania for a short break. I, and I think Sharon too, have to stop trying to travel like those who we read of in books and social media and start to travel in our own way.

It's a mistake I've recently repeated and due to time issues I think I'm about to repeat very soon. I think we need to limit our mileage per day and include more rest days where we can explore the area rather than just pass through it. Of course this doubles, even trebles the time it takes to get anywhere therefore limiting the places we can reach in a given time. It's a frustrating limitation but by being over-zealous with our plans we spoil our precious time away.

There's little doubt the weather had an impact. But as per the final 2 pages where we summarise our thoughts we have both grown and learned from the experience. You have to remember I am not a natural traveller, it doesn't come easily and naturally to me I have to work at it, learn things the hard way and slowly develop the craft. I am far more relaxed now than I was 10 years ago when I went to Spain - that's on here too.

We have both had some unpleasant experiences but we both take great positives from them. We are still working out how we want to travel in our way and we are both still learning what we like and dislike as we travel.

I'm glad you're enjoying reading the website and to hear that makes all the hard work worthwhile. Keep in touch. Oh - by the way - where are you from Ian?
UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Hi Ren,

It must be a lot of work to keep the site going and I appreciate the effort.

One of the reasons the blogs are so interesting is precisely that feeling that you (both) aren't just ticking off places from a list but are living through experiences and are able to convey that very effectively in words. That's a rare skill.

I'm originally from the North East but have lived in Birmingham for 45 years so now count myself as a Brummy although people still can't understand me.
UTC
Sharon said :-
Hi Ian,

Thank you for taking the time to give us your thoughts about our blog. The alternative views was something we had thought may be a more unique handle on the usual travel blog and I am heartened to hear you enjoyed it. I openly admit that the lack of "He said, She said" blogs on our travels have been my fault entirely. I do not have the discipline of Ren to sit and write as often as he does nor do have as much time or energy. I guess I also lacked some conviction that I had any real merit in me as a travel writer so the fact you enjoyed the He said, She said style has given me a good prod to do better in future and get my pen out a bit more often when we travel.

It is a shame the your wife was put off so early on by bike travel but I guess it is not for everyone. I will always maintain the rain in France did me a lot of good. It toughened me up. I no longer have to fear what the weatherman has to say. Yes sun is lovely and warm and it makes everything so much more easier and prettier. But if you live in the UK and travel through Europe you have to accept rain it will. You can learn to laugh through the rain and ok cry a little sometimes too in a cold shower cubicle, haaa but you know what I mean.

It sounds like you have some fun and interesting travels yourself. May you have many more. Ride safe and keep enjoying the wonders of the world.
UTC
 

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