Travel StoriesFrance 2013
False Hope Part One
By Ren Withnell
The rain continued on and off through the night. The morning only offers light drizzle and no signs of something as delightful as blue sky. I make sure to say goodbye to John and Bridget and in a rare dry spell we manage to get the tent down, pack and load the bike. We're not making the same mistake as we did yesterday, we're already in our full wet gear before we leave the campsite. I make sure to return the barrier card and retrieve my €20 deposit. It's a good site the "Cote Sud" and the staff are most helpful, I just wish they could fix the weather.
As we climb out of the valley and onto the open road the rain closes in ever harder. I grit my teeth and stare as hard as I can through the misty visor into the void that hopefully is a road. We pass through Rodez which the Aveyron visitor centre promised us was filled with knights and castles, only to find sodden shops and drenched fast food chains. Cahors we were told would be filled with ancient beautiful architecture but con only offer more washed out car parks and retail outlets. Even the good roads are behind us now, just grim drab black top that wanders aimlessly. I keep on telling myself it's the weather that makes it seem so unimpressive. It's not working.
More god-awful tea in the only dryness we can find. So much for the "Historique" Aveyron region.
Hope comes in the form of lighter clouds in the far distance. Not blue skies but white clouds. They seem so very far far away and every town and every turn doesn't bring them closer, they seem to remain just out of reach. As we're tormented the rain varies between drizzle and downpour. This can't last all day can it? There's not that much water on the planet.
Then it happens...it stops raining. We're not talking glorious sunshine and nary a cloud in the sky but the precipitation stops and that is a relief at least. The roads are still wet and as treacherous as they've been all day. As I ride I daydream of the Alps and the Millau roads. Yet here I am on a soaked slab of black tarmac that merely undulates from time to time. At least it's no longer raining.
The plan today is to get to the River Lot region. The gf stayed in this area about 5 or 6 years ago and although it rained on her relentlessly that time too she recalls it as a most picturesque area. Perhaps she wants to see it all again but this time in glorious warm sunshine from the back of a motorcycle. I can fulfil the motorcycle part but not the sunshine it seems. As we finally get to the River Lot region I'm waiting to be impressed but the gf seems to recognise nothing. I fear there may be some confusion going on here.
Villeneuve-Sur-Lot is the town we're heading towards but after what has been a long wet ride I'm starting to look for somewhere to camp. In St Sylvestre-Sur-Lot I spot a camping sign and follow it off the main road, down to a supermarket then behind that to a small campsite beside the river. It seems all campsites are next to the river, just the right place for a flood. I think this campsite makes sense for today. It's close to a shop which means we don't need to go out and search for food. It's right here before us and I've not seen too many other sites along the road. The gf seems unimpressed, she's not getting that Bergerac or River Lot beauty she remembers and it's only 2 star and looks, well, basic at best.
The River Lot. Look at the clouds rolling back in.
She "ummmms" and "eeerrrrs" as do I but I don't want to go much further so she agrees to stop. At €8.50 per night the price is right but the camping is not the best. The grass isn't really grass it's trimmed weeds with rain-soaked patches of dirt between. The toilet block is covered but not sealed and very dark in this leaden sky. We're the only tent campers, the rest are in campervans. We spend an age deciding where to pitch, the only spaces are at the far end away from the toilets and the ground is not good. Eventually we pitch, just as the rain starts again.
We're joined by a tall elderly chap, smart and slim with white hair. He's English. He spends 6 months here in France and 6 months back home in the UK. That's fine, what's odd is that although he has a house just across the river, 3 minutes drive and maybe 15 minutes walk away, he stays here on the campsite in a tiny little campervan. Why? Because he and his wife enjoy the social aspect of the campsite! The gf thinks he's crazy, especially in this weather. I understand, he gets to hang out here with the campers rather than sit around doing nothing. I bet he still goes back to his house for a nice warm bath though.
We need a shower and a warm. As the rain falls hard against the tent we set off with towels and shampoo into a heavy sky. The showers offer no comforts other than cold hard tiles in dark browns to add to the despair. There's not enough room to share a mortician's cubicle so I go next door. Undressing is terrifying as the wind whips under the door and over the vacant space of the roof. My shower is tepid at best, the gf laughs in despair as she tells me hers is just plain cold. She wants to cry. She wants to be teleported to a warm hotel or a sunkist beach. She laughs, we both laugh as there's no choice, no hope. I suggest crying in the shower is OK as no-one can see your tears.
More like a concentration camp the showers offer no homely comforts or warmth.
She survives, we survive. With food from the supermarket we dine in the tent. In the "porch" as we call it there's no ground sheet and the weeds are combining with the dirt to form mud. I'm reminded of tales from the Glastonbury Festival as I squidge and squelch every time I move. The gf wisely takes refuge in the "bedroom" but even then she notices there's puddles UNDER the groundsheet. I prey to god we don't puncture the groundsheet, that would be a disaster. Fortunately by the time we've dined and washed up it's late enough to make going to bed seem worthwhile.
The start of what will become the misery of the quagmire.
As I lie in my sleeping bag I wonder and despair somewhat. We'd survived 2 days of heavy rain and another one of drizzle at the start of the trip. We'd kept our spirits up by sheer willpower and the hope that the south of France would be dry. Luckily it had been dry but we'd not enjoyed warm sun or sunbathing conditions much. We've just had another 2 days of heavy rain and this time the forecast has nothing to offer in hope. We've got another week to go. We could make it to the Pyrenees but it would mean lots of miles and the risk of snow in the mountains. It's looking very...very...very doubtful. I try to sleep.
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