Travel StoriesFrance 2013
Biggest Bridge In The World
By Ren Withnell
The gf's is feeling deflated. Oh, don't get me wrong after feeling rough all day yesterday she's feeling much much better. Her air bed is going down though. She's got a sore hip presumably from lying on the hard floor rather than the comfy air bed. I'd blown it up a little for her in the night but there's obviously an issue of some kind. I blow up the air bed as firmly as my lungs will allow but I can't hear any hissing or feel any air. Damn.
I'm not in a rush today. The plan is to go to Millau and according to my best estimates it can't be much more than maybe 100 miles away. I'm certain I'll get lost but with that kind of short run it ought not to matter too much. Firstly I take a walk around the campsite while the gf rests a little more. It's not a bad place really, it looks a little better in the warming sun. There's the foundations and pipework for a small swimming pool, a new toilet block and a playground. It does not look likely that it will completed this year but it might be quite nice by the next.
The construction of a pool and play area are underway. It looks quite promising.
After waking the gf with another brew and more chocolate granola we go for a shower. The good thing about the site being quiet and the genderless shower block is that we can share another shower together. The water is hot and the gf is perky after her down day so we have a laugh without crossing too many moral boundaries. Outside the sun is shining but there's something not quite right. It smells a little of sewage.
The reason becomes clear as we start to pack. A lorry with tank on the back appears and two workers jump out, remove a drain cover and start to push pipe into those places that take away the unpleasantness our bodies produce. This seems like another sign the campsite owners are expecting an influx of holiday makers anytime soon. I have to move the bike to allow the truck access to another drain close to the tent. It's not a job I fancy but the workers seem at ease with their labour, except at one moment when a jet of "something" blows out of the drain. I hold my breath for as long as I can.
With the sun beating down on us I'm getting too warm. I know it's getting hot, there's a very simple measure you see. The gf has removed her thermals. Apart from the showers and maybe a little romantic interlude I never expect to see the gf without thermal leggings and top while we travel. Yet here she is, using the bags as a sun lounger, spread out with pants pulled up to her hips, top rolled up to her breasts, sunglasses on just soaking up the rays. Oh dear, I fear she may never move. I've got my top off and as one of the young French girls passes by I suck my stomach in...even more.
It's hot. This is practically naked for the always cold gf. Look at her big smile!
She does move eventually. Nimes is a name I've heard of and the gf's heard it's supposed to be a nice city. The towering buildings and industrial estates we'd seen in the distance yesterday promise nothing special but it would be a shame to not at least ride through it, it's sort of in the right direction for Millau. I've lost the pin number for the campsite barrier and I dare not ask the receptionist to let us out, she'd ignored the driver yesterday who I now figure must have lost their code too. Instead I squeeze by on the ever-present gravel that the French use as footpath. We've escaped again.
It's an odd place is Nimes. Compared to the other large towns and small cities we've seen it is actually quite smart and tidy. There's neatly trimmed lawns and modern crisp buildings. A boulevard with kerbs and paving not gravel. The old meets the new in sharp contrast as we ride down a street, to the left crisp glass and steel offices and to the right old houses and apartments. Students of all nationalities hang out while French ladies shop and business types look business like. There's nothing that makes me go "wow" but it does feel different from the other French towns.
Of course as the rider this is the ONLY image of Nimes I capture. I'm sure the GF has better.
It still has a perplexing confusion of traffic, poorly marked junctions and un-announced crossings. As is my way I'm soon lost in back streets and dead ends. The high-rise landscape mostly blocks the sun which makes navigation even more of a challenge, as does not recognising the town names on the suggested routes. When we finally do pop out of the centre I find I'm on the wrong side of the city and we end up almost back at the campsite before I get to a road that will take us to Millau. Time is on our side so a detour like this is not an issue.
I find the road to Le Vigen. Aaaaaah this is much more like it. We're heading back into the hills now so the road is starting to twist and turn in a most pleasing manner. The hills are covered in forest, I don't notice but the gf assures me there's all kinds of trees, a proper mish-mash where my woodland friend back home would enjoy telling me each and every name and life cycle. We're also back to the small towns with local shops and tabacs. In this clement weather a few people, mostly middle aged and older men, sit outside the cafes sipping coffee or something stronger.
We roll into another small town called Ganges and I stop for a stretch and a drink of water. It is still warm but cooler now as we're a little higher up and the wind is removing the chance of sweltering. There's a bridge across the way and a river bed, but no river. We can't decide what's going on, there's surely been enough rain here to keep what looks like a fair sized river flowing. The bridge looks old so perhaps the river has long since redirected itself or been redirected. I'll have to do some more research when I get home. I love a puzzle like this, but then I get frustrated when I can't find an answer.
So...come on...where is all the water?
After Ganges the road changes from rolling undulation to twisty, gnarly and fun! This is the D999 and I'm sure it must be on some "best biking road" list somewhere. Twist after corner, turn after sweeper this road is as much fun to ride as the Alps...it just lacks the snow capped mountains to make it perfect. Damn those Alps again. I'm still remarkably impressed at how well the Fazer handles herself under this enormous load. The power is down but still there, pumping and driving us forward. The brakes require more force but they're doing the job. I can still flop the bike down low, the bright yellow side bags touch down from time to time. The weather is perfect. Oh sweet joy.
Mile after mile of sweet tarmac joy. It's not a bad place to be really.
The edges of your tyres are evil. They must be punished. This is the place to do it.
Sorry...had a moment from "Performing Berks" then.
It's all over far too soon. After the dull straight roads of the north this is a complete contrast. I'd spent ages preying for the road to end back then, now I'm preying it never ends. I'd hoped to keep off the motorway but another wrong turn has lead us to the A75. A quick glance at the sign suggests this is not toll so I hop on, I can't be bothered to work out another route. At the next junction we get off as the signs point to Millau. The road leads us over high moorland then down a steep hill into more twists and turns.
I spot a parking sign mentioning "pont", bridge. I work out it's a viewing area for the Millau bridge, I'm excited, I can't be far away. My friend SL had told me to come here, of how impressive the bridge is and how good the roads are. Well he was completely right about the roads, lets see if the bridge is up to scratch too. I roll off the road into the parking area and before me lies a most impressive sight.
What you see from the viewing point. The Viaduct is in the far distance, look closely!
The bridge is there, in the far distance, from here it doesn't look all that big to be honest. What's most impressive is the view down down down into the valley. All around hills, maybe mountains, surround a large but not too imposing town. It looks all the better for not suffering high rise buildings and being nestled in greenery. The weather of course makes anywhere look better and although there's a haze across the bridge and the wind is firm we are warm, dry, bathed in sunshine and most of all happy and healthy. I have often warned myself not to judge a place too harshly, mood makes a big difference.
Using a little zoom you can appreciate the enormity of building such a bridge.
After the obligatory pictures we roll, literally, down into the valley. My map indicates there are 3 campsites on this side of town and they're easy to find, next to the river. For no real reason we choose the "Cote Sud" campsite and we're greeted with a warm smile, a €13 bill and a €20 deposit for a card that opens the gate. Fair enough, I'd best make sure to return the card that's all. The site is fine with plenty of properly manicured grass, the toilet block is clean enough and the showers are indoors. There's also a room for the use of. The forecast isn't too good, I hope we don't need to use it.
We pitch and as we do I notice yet another GS1200 BMW with UK plates. In the glorious sun I finish off drying the clothes that have been bungeed over the tent and make yet another brew. My mood is up. It's dry and warm, the campsite is pleasant, the gf is feeling better and happy and all is well with the world. The bike is running right, the brakes are done, the load is proving to be manageable and the roads have been excellent. I'm starting to relax. I'm starting to feel at home on the road. I'm even managing to adjust to riding on the wrong side and deal with the crazy French roads. The weather forecast bothers me, but how could it possibly rain when it's so beautiful this afternoon?
We're hungry and it's tea time. The campsite is well located and it's only a 10 minute walk into the town centre. I like Millau. It's large enough to have shops and a little hustle and bustle but it's not an overwhelming city. Being a little late on Monday evening I'm somewhat worried about finding somewhere open that's selling food at a reasonable price. We're out of tins and food to cook so if we don't find anything it could be a hungry night. There's plenty of costly restaurants but we can't find a supermarket. Yikes!
Full of character I like Millau. Big enough to cope, small enough to care.
I spot a sign, baguette with drink and coke, €3.99. That'll have to do, not too expensive I suppose. Inside a bright young man with a big smile sells us his last ham and cheese baguette, a cookie and a can of coke when I point to the sign. We sit outside and break the baguette in half. Being hungry it's tasty, but nowhere near as delightfully sweet and scrumptious as the caramel cookie. My half melts on my tongue and makes me heart pound for more. The gf groans in pleasure as she eats her piece. Before we leave I have to go and thank the young vendor, he smiles and offers a warm "Merci!"
Feeling re-energised we walk around some more and finally find a small shop where we get some more supplies for the morning. As we walk back I spot 2 bikes with UK plates complete with their owners. I say "Hi" and we start to talk. The ZZR1100's 2 up, a tall chap and his parnter, the VFR is one up. They like us have been soaked to the skin and the ZZR's rear brakes have completely warn away. I've enjoying practising my French but I tell him our tale and it's good to speak English and have a casual laugh with new friends. Bikers are all different but we share something in common, bikes.
I spot the BMW owner outside his tent. I wander over to say hi. John's a big friendly chap and is happy to talk bikes with another random camper. As we talk I mention replacing the pads and my fears of reliability. He tells me the tale of last years trip. He'd purchased a nearly new GS complete with BMW warranty and set off with his partner to explore the Swiss Alps. Sometime in the trip the front end developed a terrible judder under braking to the point he did not want to continue. He, being an ex-mechanic, suspected nothing worse than front wheel bearings, an easy fix.
BMW UK told him to take it to BMW Switzerland, any BMW shop. They did not think bearings, in fact they weren't sure, ABS? To cut a long story short they spent 2 weeks messing, waiting for parts, camping nearby and finally getting a hire car to return home to get back to work. BMW eventually gave him his money back for the bike AND covered ALL his costs, expenses and car hire. It goes to prove even a nearly new low mileage bike can go wrong. Both he and I were disappointed with BMW's inability to fix the bike, but impressed with the payout and service.
John and another biker looking at the vultures overhead.
By the time the story's told the gf and John's partner, presumably wife, have joined us. We spend another happy half hour enjoying the sun and swapping tales and tips. He teaches at a prison in the hope of reducing the risk of re-offending and I wish him the best of luck with that. Later we're joined by an unusual, socially awkward but perfectly friendly English man who rides a Triumph 1050 and works as an A and E nurse. It's been a really good day today.
As the sun goes down behind the hills the temperature cools, but it's a little too early for bed just yet. The gf and I retire to the room to write some notes and have a think what we're to do tomorrow. Inside the TV is on, quite loud, and a few French campers stand around and talk. They smile but they're "closed" into their conversation and the TV, so we keep to ourselves. The gf wants to go canoeing, white water rafting and exploring the canyon tomorrow, it all sounds great but also expensive. We catch the weather, it's not good. Damn and blast.
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...
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, 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!
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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Travel StoriesFrance 2013