Travel StoriesFrance 2013
The Wettest Bridge In The World
By Ren Withnell
It got blooming chilly again last night. After yesterday's glorious weather, fabulous roads and pleasant company this morning is coming as something of an anticlimax. John, the BMW guy and Bridget his partner, confirm they were cold last night too. Tiny sleeping bags may save a lot of weight and space but they don't keep you warm enough. Heavy grey skies don't look promising as I wake the gf. She's been cold too and she's disappointed that it may be too cold for canoeing down the canyon. Her airbed has gone down again. I'll give it a proper dose of looking at later.
So far...it's just grey...
By the time we're dressed, washed, fed and watered their are a few drops of rain in the air. I talk to the Dutch receptionist, who speaks fluent Dutch, French, English and German. She advises the "vetter" will be "vet". She is incredibly helpful and happy, giving me suggestions as to where the visitor centre for the bridge is and how to get there. I try to make notes on soggy paper to little effect. She waves me off with a joyful smile as the rain gets heavier. By the time we're on the bike it's looking really grim.
John and Bridget are off somewhere up a canyon, we're going to try and find the visitor centre for the bridge and if we've got time, at least explore the possibility of doing some canoeing. We leave and cover only half a mile before the heavens open full tilt and we have to stop to apply waterproofs over our waterproof gear. Doubling up is the only answer in this kind of rain.
In keeping with tradition I get lost and soon I find myself climbing a steep road with no bridge or visitor centre in sight. Mind you it's raining so hard I'd not be surprised if we've passed the biggest bridge in the world without seeing it. After maybe 5 or 10 miles I know I must be properly lost. I spot a lonesome bus shelter and pull in to consult my phone maps without getting the phone waterlogged. I'm completely on the wrong road heading in the wrong direction. In fact we're on the road we came in on yesterday but it looks like a different planet in this deluge. We wait a short time in the hope the rain will abate, but it does not so with great trepidation we venture out into the watery world. It's raining so hard I fear a jetski may be more appropriate.
I find the right road and find the turning to some sort of visitor centre. The leaflets back at the campsite were a little confusing as there are 2, I could not work out why but we are at a car park that's a fair walk from some kind of centre. Through a tunnel we can see the bridge and centre, there's parking closer by so I decide to get back on the bike and get a little closer. Big mistake. Back roads and and narrow lanes take us only back to the main road. More lanes become dirt track then lead us through a farm, and right back to the car park. All I have achieved is getting us even colder, soggier and now we're covered in mud too.
The visitor centre is still a walk away, and the Viaduct looks small in the watery distance.
The bridge is definitely big. Today however it is not impressive. It's grey and wet and soggy and dull. The people here are grey and wet and soggy and dull too. The odd mac shrouded body drips by, looking down through fear of drowning if they look up. No matter how hard I try I can't imagine sunshine.
We're cold and soaked. Frustrated we make the long trek to the visitor centre and inside the entrance we drip puddles onto a smart wooden floor whilst a man on reception gives us both a very dirty look. I ignore him, I'm far more concerned that the gf's OK. I now I'm not exactly happy but I'll survive, I worry that she's reaching the breaking point of her tolerance for such misery. I need not worry, she's proved herself over the wet start to our trip and she's much like me, muddling through.
This isn't the bridge centre, this is the centre that promotes Averyron, the area we are in now. As we drip around videos on a loop make the whole area look full of history, magic, castles, beauty and knights on horseback. There's no mention of rain at all, in fact there's nothing but sunshine and smiles. A few displays promote the knife industry that this area is...apparently...known for as well as the Knights Templar. The gf's taken with it all, she now wants to go to all the places shown. I remind her that it's all marketing nonsense and anyhow, we don't have time. Luckily.
The rain-soaked toilets are across the waterlogged car park. Inside I make use of the stand up "Turc" or squat toilets, easy for a bloke. I hear something funny though. 2 girls, about 18 I reckon, open a door and say in English "F####ng hole!" each time. I laugh then point them in English to the disabled toilet at the end, I'd noticed that was a real toilet. They say nothing to me directly but squeal with delight when they find it. What is it with the French and their desire for human suffering whilst relieving oneself. I make sure to mention this to the gf when she heads off.
The bridge centre is on the opposite side of the valley. I try to burn the maps and route into my mind's eye so I won't need to get the phone or map out in the rain. I find a road that leads us down into the valley and the town, through housing estates, tight junctions and the edge of town. I also find the road to the bridge centre and apart from one dead end and a very steep climb I get there without much ado. Well done me. This time we park right under the bridge and finally start to get a real idea of this massive construction.
It's still hard to percieve the size of the "Piers" even when you look up from beneath them.
The visitor centre is disappointingly just what you'd expect. A few models, a wall full of diagrams and statistics, a tat shop and a video on a loop about how it was made and how clever the French are. British architect though, so there. I'd like to espouse about the bridge and how amazing it is but I can't. Yes it's big. Yes it must have been very hard to build. I suppose the problem is in these days and times of massive everything it all looses impact. Either that or this rain means I can't see it properly and it is putting me in a negative mood.
At the Visitor Centre it all seems bigger. These are small pylons, the biggies are in the valley.
After getting lost and soaked time is not really on our side. Along with the cold and rain even the gf's given up on the idea of a pleasant paddle down the gorge. Instead we make a not very exciting stop at a supermarket for supplies and head back to the tent. I'm feeling OK, I'm not depressed or angry or sad, just a little deflated much like the gf's airbed. While the gf rests and tries to warm up I take the airbed to the pool, which of course is shut. The friendly receptionist allows me to use the foot pool to try and find the leak. It takes an age to fill the foot pool, in this rain I thought it would be full already.
I find no leak. I'd hoped to find a stream of bubbles that mark the issue and simply apply the patch that comes supplied with the airbed. Nothing. All that's happening is I'm getting soaked as well as the airbed. I guess I'll have to think of something else. I join the gf for a rest in the relative dryness of the tent. We're both cold and wet but somehow, some way we're not miserable. The rain, being a tangible part of Murphy's Law, stops. It could have stopped while we were out on the bike, when we wanted to go canoeing or while I was checking the airbed but Murphy's Law doesn't work like that. We have to laugh, what else can we do?
The French sell soup in cartons, much like skimmed milk in the UK. They're lovely, strongly recommended. After an early tea of soup and bread we head into town. As we walk around and share a packet of biscuits the rain starts again. If I ever meet Murphy and his Law I'll have more than strong words with him I swear. It's quieter in town and apart from a motorcycle and scooter shop there's nothing much going on so we head back to the tent. John and Bridget are back so we have a chat with them then retire to the room again, this time it's empty.
No matter how wet...I still think Millau is a lovely and pretty town.
We make notes in the dry but cold room and try to catch the weather on the TV. We do, but we wish we hadn't. I don't understand the weatherman's words but we both fully understand the big watery symbols on the map. What is going on!? This is France, this is the end of May and this is the holiday season so why are France, Germany and even Spain fully engaged in battle with floods and snow? I discuss my fears that the Pyrenees may not be an option if we are to avoid the worst of this unseasonal trial by weather.
This is proving to be the ultimate testing ground, I guess we did come here to learn. One airbed has failed. The brakes have worn out. The headlamp deflector required bodging, The sleeping bags are showing their age. The tent has puddles on the roof. The waterproof paperwork bag has leaked. My waterproofs socks have leaked. My visor insert has given up and been removed. Yet here we are. Cold and damp if not wet. A long way from home. I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm loving it, but I'm not unhappy or wishing I was back home. I feel like a survivor. Like any survivor I'd still like to be rescued by sunshine. It'll dry up sooner or later tomorrow.
In a brief dry spell I note the puddle on the tent and try to dry the leaky airbed. Not going well.
How wrong can I be?
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