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Sep
25

We enjoyed the walk around Pau last night and discovered some lovely old buildings though a lot in a sorry state and now undergoing some refurbishment as well as a big project of the municipality in paving some streets and establishing foot traffic areas which show real promise around the old heart of the city including some lovely large public spaces with water features as well. They have their work ahead of them!



A view across to what was a palace on the river in Pau

The ride today was spectacular! The temperature remained a comfortable cool for riding for the majority of the day with hand grip warmers on low early in the day and didn’t need to remove the jacket lining until after lunch to be comfortable.

The views for the day started off in flat to rolling country with corn and grapes leading to leafy hills and this progressively changed to fewer crops and more grassy fields progressing to steeper more rugged and stony hills into the very inhospitable Pyrenees Mountains which depending on the altitude were well covered in foliage (sometimes eucalypts once we were in Spain) or sparsely covered. The foliage no matter where we looked today was a delight and looked to be dusted with gold or mulberry powder and every hue in between giving shape and form to so many different trees and shrubs and in some places we even began to get a bit of yellow confetti of early autumn leaves falling around us.

Once we got into Spain proper we started to see some magnificent views to the ocean as well as climbing up and around more mountain ranges. It seems surreal that we have moved from the Mediterranean to Atlantic Ocean in a matter of a couple of days. The Motorways have been awesome again today. They may be expensive but they get us the distance we want to go in the time we have.



A view across the beach and peninsular to the harbour in Santander

Santander was burnt to the ground pretty much in 1941 with massive bushfires and pretty much the only building surviving was the Cathedral which we might get to see tomorrow, though this was gutted, so has been rebuilt since then and is now a city of 183,000. It was a comfortable ride to our hotel and we were pleased it was on the side of the hill closest to the ocean as the area definitely looked more agreeable and we have lovely views of the ocean from our room and enjoyed a stroll down onto the peninsula and an ice-cream before we returned to the hotel.

Bits and Bobs:
Norm now has my cold bug and I’m driving myself silly with a dry irritating cough as well as a leaking tap for a nose….just delightful. NOT!

Last nights’ accommodation:

Best Western Intercontinental Hotel
2 Rue Marechal Foch
Pau France

A reasonable price and a lovely old building with beautiful old furniture and surrounds which has been well cared for though showing its age. We had a large refurbished room so they are gradually upgrading. The staff was friendly and helpful and the dinner we had at the restaurant was one of the best we have had in France.

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Sep
24

Breakfasted looking out over La Cite from the restaurant as we had at dinner last night and it truly is a fairy-tale view as you will see below. The old city was saved from demolition by the efforts of Victor Hugo and another author some years ago so now is literally a living monument to what an ancient walled city really was. Quite lovely.



La Cite – straight out of a fairy-tale

Been scattered showers today so wet weather gear on and a bit of road spray but managed to tramp around Lourdes without getting wet which was good. Didn’t know what to expect of Lourdes and the approach down a winding lane to the Basilica and the Grotto was jam packed with tourists, coaches and hundreds of tacky souvenir shops and was flat out full on hustle and bustle and I hated it but once we got into the grotto grounds and wandered around the basilica and grotto the pace and noise subsided and I enjoyed the quiet peacefulness of the surrounds which was amazing given the huge number of people. We lit a candle for family and friends past and present in St Bernadette's Chapel.



A view to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Headed to Pau independently and we arrived first only to get a call a bit later from Sharen and Ken to say their GPS refused to turn on and they were somewhere in Pau trying to find a hotel with someone at the desk so they can get a map and navigate their way here. Life continues to be a challenge! We might argue with and abuse the GPS units but we really are snookered without them.



Across the forecourt from the Basilica to the old fortifications of Lourdes

Pau is a large town, a lot of it looking pretty tired on the way in so we will have a wander and check it out before dinner. If I find anything picture worthy I will include it in tomorrow’s blog.

Last nights’ accommodation:

Des Trois Couronnes
2 Rue Des Trois Couronnes
Carcassonne France

A nice hotel with helpful friendly staff and a killer view across the river of the Ancient Walled City of Carcassonne (Le Cite’). Bed was comfortable and secure parking for the bikes so didn’t need to cover them which was good.



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Sep
23

Been a big day today and we headed off well before Sharen and Ken as we were on a mission to ride over the Millau Viaduct on our way to Carcassonne and they took the shorter more direct route. The early morning pink light gave a beautifully soft view to all we saw as we wound our way through many ancient villages and communities. We had croissants and apricot juice for breakfast at Montpezat to the amusement of the local kids on their way to school then lunch at an alpine chalet.



One of a string of viaducts which snaked around the valleys out of Nimes

Once we heard about the Millau Viaduct it became a ‘must experience’ on our list even if it did mean an extra 180 kms and 3 hours on our trip. We were not disappointed. We had a very challenging ride there some compliments of the GPS sending us on shortcuts which were a bit hairy and one we turned back on and in frustration tried to put the address of the Viaduct in the GPS which wouldn’t recognise it so finally entered it as a landmark only to discover that means you can look AT the landmark rather than ride ON the landmark! Ah well, we wouldn’t have gone to the base of it by choice but it was awesome and we are glad we did as the view was incredible.



Under the Millau Viaduct

With some perseverance we loved the ride over the viaduct but the ride to it was equally spectacular…in fact all kinds of spectacular with ever-changing countryside from olive groves, grape vines and farming to precipitous valleys and bare rock faced canyons. Incredibly beautiful!



On the Millau Viaduct

Nothing other than an Ariel shot could do the Viaduct justice so have added it below with some other statistics from Wikipedia so you can explore it further. Check it out it is just AWESOME and a must if you get to ride a bike in this region!

History
Problems with traffic on the route from Paris to Spain along the stretch passing through the valley near the town of Millau, especially during the summer when the truck traffic combined with holiday makers and gridlocked the local villages. The first plans were discussed in 1987 including 4 possible motorway alternatives and by October 1991 the decision was made to build a high crossing of the Tarn River between two limestone plateaus. After much activity the jury decided in favor of a cable-stayed design with multiple spans, the rest as they say is history.



The Millau Viaduct (compliments of Wikipedia as are the statistics below)

Statistics
• 2,460 m: total length of the roadway
• 7: piers
• 77 m: Pier 7, the shortest
• 343 m: Pier 2, the tallest (245 m at the roadway's level)
• 87 m: height of a mast
• 154: number of shrouds
• 270 m: average height of the roadway
• 4.20 m: thickness of the roadway
• 32.05 m: width of the roadway
• 85,000 m3 : total volume of concrete used
• 290,000 metric tons: total weight of the bridge
• 10,000–25,000 vehicles: estimated daily traffic
• €6.00–7.50: typical automobile toll, as of December 2009
• 20 k : horizontal radius of curvature of the road deck

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millau_Viaduct#Location

Last nights’ accommodation:

Bristol Hotel
44 Cours Jean Jaures
Avignon France

A really quirky building (actually a joining / grouping of several I suspect) in a really quaint little town within the walled city of Avignon known as the city of Popes from centuries ago. The place has many differing floor levels on the same floor level…if that makes sense. Bike and car parking under the hotel behind old timber doors we assume used to be stables.


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Sep
22

Decided to lie in bed for an extra half an hour to give the old body a bit more recovery time then headed off to explore the Palais Des Papes (The Palace of the Popes) which was pretty impressive and discovered among other things that nine Popes resided here prior to the seat of power of the Catholic Church being moved to Rome following political involvement of the Church which wasn’t welcomed by the then King Louis VIII. We had a coffee in a little coffee shop in a tower overlooking the outer surrounds of Avignon then headed for the Pont D’Avignon.



First view of the Palace of the Popes when we entered through the gates

The view of the old city was quite spectacular from the Pont D’Avignon which was a bridge initially constructed 1177 – 1185 only to have a third of it destroyed by Louis VIII in 1226 then in 1633 reconstruction was abandoned. In any case it is quite a spectacular structure and gives a beautiful view across the Rhone River which was once tidal but now has a series of 26 dams and or locks.



The Pont D’Avignon

We were supposed to do a round trip today through several villages and see some other sights but I was still not in great shape and we have a big ride lined up tomorrow so we piled into the car with Sharen and Ken to visit Arles this afternoon and I did the blog in the car then had a nap while the other three did a bit of exploring. The trip there and back was very picturesque through many olive groves, market gardens and rugged stony canyons but the town seemed very tired. The troops were surprised to discover a Roman Amphitheatre in the process of refurbishment for the princely sum of 45 million Euros. Unbelievable.



Part of the Roman Amphitheatre with old and refurbished stonework visible - Arles

Bits and Bobs:

We are glad to have survived the ‘French Riviera road experience’ in one unscratched, scraped or dinged up piece. After reading much on the area this is apparently a rare occurrence and one we were grateful of. We certainly came across plenty of crazies, but the majority of people were patient and didn’t want to be scratched, scraped or dinged up either. Needless to say there were plenty of suicide jockeys around….particularly on motor scooters but we even managed to avoid them..…not to mention the fast reversing cars and vans up one way streets they weren’t allowed to enter. Kept us on our toes. Actually it has been weird to hear so few motor scooters in Avignon after the predominance of them everywhere to this point; they have obviously been the ‘daily commute’ for people from larger towns where more were obviously walking to and from work today in Avignon.


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Sep
21

Well the waterproof and padded lining didn’t stay in the jacket for long tody before I ditched it and had a much more comfortable ride. I was feeling a bit under par today with a bit of a cold bug so the day felt big by the time we got into Avignon this evening.

Our journey started with a ride down the coast to Cannes with a stop off at the ancient walled village of Antibes which was a delight. We wandered around there then had a coffee before we headed off to Cannes which in comparison was another version perhaps of Noosa at home. A lot of very nice real estate without the tackiness of the Gold Coast. We had a nice lunch at Cannes before we headed for Avignon.



A view of Antibes with a couple of motorbikes parked up. So much easier to find a spot to park a bike than a car

The traffic on the motorways (and there was lots) flowed well and most other vehicles weren’t all that scary though I generally felt safer around the trucks as they were much better behaved and predictable than the cars. We saw some spectacular vistas of rugged mountain ranges today including a bare red stone range which would have looked quite at home in the Arizona desert.
The surrounds have gone from many olive groves and Spanish or Italian looking stone houses with terracotta rooves and has retuned now to more leafy surroundings. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.



A view across the harbour at Cannes. Big numbers of luxury cruisers and yachts in evidence here. Check out all the vapour trails. We saw a lot of planes landing and taking off from Nice

Last nights’ accommodation:

Hotel Beau Rivage
24 Rue St Francois de Paule
06300 Nice France

A nicely appointed hotel just one street from the beach and a short stroll to the old part of the town and hundreds of dining options. Considering the traffic (foot and vehicular) it was reasonably quiet. Motorbike parking outside the front of the hotel and access to public parking a couple of blocks away.


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Sep
20

After our disagreements with the GPS directions yesterday and admittedly we had the extra challenge of multiple river valleys and changing traffic conditions we tackled the maps again and headed off to explore more of the French Riviera / Cote d’Azur. The traffic this morning was reasonably quiet and we explored the little village and surrounds of St- Jean –Cap-Ferrat where there is serious money evident in both the spacious residences on land and yachts and cruisers on the water. We had a coffee looking out over the harbour and pondering how the other half lives.



Looking back over Nice as we head for St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

The water we have seen both close up and in the distance all along the coast has been crystal clear and where there is sand on beaches (very few) we could see the shadows of the boats on the ocean floor. As the depth increased it just became more deeply blue. Spectacular!

After coffee we headed for Monte Carlo in the Constitutional Monarchy of Monaco and oop a day found heaps of traffic very quickly in the maze of tunnels under the city and finally found a car park and left the bikes and came upstairs to find ourselves straight in front of the Casino would you believe!



The Monte Carlo Casino where we walked into the foyer to ogle at the spectacular building and left without spending any money so a lot richer than a lot who left throughout the day no doubt



The view from the McDonalds window (arguably the best one in the world) where we lunched, again, ahead of a lot of the punters

From Monaco we headed off again to find Eze where we sat and had a very expensive drink of juice on the hotel terrace in the ancient city overlooking all of what we had visited in the morning and varying shades of Blue Mountains disappearing in the distance in the magnificent blues and turquoises of the Mediterranean Ocean. WOW! So not what we would normally do and loved every minute of it.


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Sep
19

The old bodies appreciated having a bit of chill time yesterday afternoon so we felt ready for the ride this morning and headed out of town in the wrong direction. DUH! Selected the wrong address in ‘Favourites’. We had to continue on up the mountain for quite some distance before we found a spot to pull over and do a ‘U’ turn but on our descent the whole of Gap was laid out in front of us in the bright sunlight unlike the rain shrouded view we got yesterday. This experience more or less set the tone for the rest of the day, that is to say, getting lost, seeing spectacular sights in spite of that, trying to decide where the GPS was actually trying to send us and where the hell Roussillon which was supposed to be a via point was anyway?



On the road - Les Mees in the distance to the left

Despite all these trials and tribulations we had a cracker of a day. The scenery changed from lush mountain backdrops with the start of autumn tones differentiating tree shapes on the mountain sides to rugged limestone outcrops and bare stone mountainsides and finally rugged stunted growth between cliff and valley walls leading to olive groves and stony fields.



Looking towards our coffee stop in Les Mees which along with the rest of the village was wrapped around the bare rock of the mountain behind

After an incredible ride with views to die for to our left, right, straight ahead and in the rear vision mirror we stopped for coffee at Les Mees, where the locals seemed amused with our rudimentary French in the little bar cum coffee shop cum betting agency and town meeting place. Then we headed off through a series of glacial valleys with spectacular wind tunnels between narrow walls and broad stony valleys and everything in between. We lunched at St Andres les Alpes and again enjoyed the narrow winding streets and quaint surroundings. We didn’t need to get to where we planned….other than our hotel of course, because everything was spectacular.



An Aussie biker in France looking like a black Michelin Man compliments of the waterproofs which we needed for the chill factor today throught the mountains

It was good to get to Nice and see the ocean which is a spectacular blue though the beach looks like a building sight with great chunks of rocks and gravel..…we are clearly spoilt with our beautiful sandy beaches in Australia!



The beach at Nice - This section is reserved for our Hotel complete with restaurant bar and boardwalk

Bits and Bobs:

Was a bit of a challenge getting wet bike jeans and the like dry yesterday. To get enough heat happening to do it meant a hot steamy room so finally opted for air dry and live with the result so we could breathe. The hotel caters for motorbike riders with free parking for 'Motos' and last night with our 2 there were 43! The majority were the Lucerne (Switzerland) HOGS group and others from all over the world.....literally, not just us. There were some great bikes and paint jobs. Candy for Norms eyes.

RIP

We toasted little Peggy Bell last night at dinner as it was the first Anniversary since her death. I’m confident she would have been pretty chuffed with her daughter and adopted son this trip….as she always was. Sadly missed.

Last nights’ accommodation:

Ibis Gap
5/7 Boulevard Georges Pompidou
05000 Gap France

Another budget Hotel but very nice and a very friendly and service oriented staff who even sorted a yummy snack for us when we returned from tramping around town without finding anywhere open to have lunch. Nicely refurbished room and dinner and breakfast were also quite acceptable.


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Sep
18

There was much thunder lightning and rain overnight and the day started very dark under low cloud and it pretty much rained from when we left Annecy to our arrival in Gap. But…….the scenery was spectacular in spite of it!

Talk about sensory overload. We rode up and down mountainsides, overlooked wide and narrow valleys with little settlements drifting up from the lowlands to more rugged slopes and then forest taking over and continuing to climb to the rugged rocky escarpments, bluffs and cliff type mountain walls. We even saw evidence of some old Roman Forts which we recognised from our trip through Switzerland and parts of Italy last year. For good measure we passed a number of Lakes with some rugged glacial streams as well complete with the massive litter of rocks and tree trunks not to mention galloping muddy water.

The weather was so brutal that travel especially on the narrow winding mountain roads once off the motorways was slow and at times torturous and not at all conducive to stopping to take pictures of the spectacular views. In fact, often the views were shrouded by a gossamer veil of rain and mist and where there should have been mountain tops there were mostly cotton wool looking caps of cloud. In spite of all this, we met dozens of bikes so that confirmed again what awesome bike riding the roads provide, just a shame the weather was so rough so that very little attention could be turned to the view. In spite of that we oooh’d and aaah’d and wow’d our way through the mountains and gratefully arrived to a hot shower and got the gear off at about 1.30pm.



The only picture I took today in Gap to prove we were not the only silly people out on bikes

I thankfully stayed dry everywhere apart from the bottom of one jean leg and thermal leg…and squishy wet socks in my boots but Norm had a serious wet butt and back of thighs where he sat. Our hands had a bit of a broiled appearance from the combination of wet gloves and heated hand grip warmers. In spite of this the last of the ride in was very cold and my knees were aching by the time we got here. I was grateful for my leather vest and thermal tights and will also don my polar fleece jacket tomorrow as it is supposed to get to 0 degrees overnight and I’m sure we saw a dusting of snow on one of the Alps in view of our walk this afternoon….oh and yes, once the bikes were parked under the hotel (with many others’ I might add) it stopped raining and hasn’t rained since. Ya gotta love Murphy!

Bits and Bobs:

We actually got to within 12 kms of the Swiss border yesterday and watched the planes climbing out from the Geneva Airport as we walked across the motorway to the café for lunch.

Last nights’ accommodation:

Best Western International Hotel
19 Avenue Du Rhone
74000 Annecy France

This was a budget choice but still close to the old city. The staff was warm and helpful and the breakfast yummy but the rooms were very small and in need of a refurbish to match the nice new bed linens.


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Sep
17

We donned the wet weather gear after a forecast of lightning and thunderstorms but really only experienced road spray from wet roads so the trip felt hot and humid until we got into the Alps when the temperature was more tolerable. The ride here was wonderful and even if Annecy was a dive the ride itself would have been worth the effort. We started out through rolling fields of corn and dried off sunflowers with green leafy lines across the land where the roads snaked their way across the surface. We soon came to more hilly ground reminiscent of some of our Swiss tour last year then we entered a huge tunnel and when we emerged found ourselves launched into a massive rugged mountain range and wound our way around the mountainside on massive viaducts and more tunnels and ever impressive views. WOW WOW WOW!!!



Annecy - the old Prison - supposedly one of the most photographed sites in France

From there on we alternated between rugged mountain views, picturesque villages perched on the side of mountains and glacial lakes. What a knock out. The view you miss when you fly!
Once we arrived in Annecy we stowed the bike gear and headed off on foot to discover the old part of the town which was spectacular to say the least. The views were just beautiful between some wonderful old buildings and views down to and on Lake Annecy (the second largest Lake in France). We tramped for several hours, explored Annecy Castle dating back to the 13th Century and had a drink then had some dinner before we returned to the hotel feeling somewhat pooped.



A pretty canal view through the old town towards Lake Annecy

Looking forward to more spectacular views on our travels tomorrow but the forecast is looking seriously cold and wet……..anyone would think we were in the Alps!



Looking across lake Annecy

Bits and Bobs:



A picture for Phil and Gareth....a shop next door to our hotel. There were a lot of muso types hanging around outside a club type door as we returned to our hotel so not sure how much sleep we will get.

Last nights’ accommodation:

Hotel De La Poste
5 Boulevard Clemenceau
Beaune France 21200
http://www.hoteldelapostebeaune.com

A lovely rambling old hotel comfortably situated across the road from the moat and ancient city walls and one of the entries to the old Village of Beaune. There has been a hotel on this site since the 1660's. The staff were terrifically friendly and helpful and the rooms tastefully decorated and comfortable. The public spaces of the hotel were stately and welcoming. Great Ambience. A nice stay.


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Sep
16

We have seen some beautiful sights today of whimsical chateau’s complete with maidens towers, multiple church’s in villages and as many different versions of French cottages and manor houses as you could imagine but nothing compares to the unspoiled beauty of the little village of Beaune. It is a great credit to its people and its municipal authority. That doesn’t mean we didn’t see a lot of other beautiful things but Beaune is the pick as far as buildings go.



One of the lovely buildings in Beaune

It was lovely to see the many different varieties of grapes in the acres of vines draped across the landscape with some leaves starting to change colour and others still very green. We rode and walked around many little villages including on the back streets with lots of views of grape harvesting machinery in garages under houses and the smell of fermenting grape juice was everywhere and of many different strains of fragrance. Quite delicious really and the flower boxes everywhere were spectacular with massive begonias’ and impatiens as well as lovely leafy vine type things which were a great contrast.



Looking into the Hotel Garage (in the dark) as I kit up before we headed off in the morning

We are back at the hotel now (only a little damp) and warming up in the bar before we have dinner here. We are dining here tonight in their lovely dining room which is a series of five separate rooms made into one. Quite delightful, in fact the whole building is delightful with lovely leafy garden spaces with splashes of colour and beautiful period furniture. Yum!



Streetscape in Dijon

After setting the GPS for the Railway Station in Dijon so we could get good parking for all we discovered that they are installing a monorail (or something) throughout the CBD and heaps of the streets were dug up and railed off which meant on our way to and from we kept being directed to intersections and streets we couldn't access. Once we were out of there we then found entries to Motorways blocked off as well. At some stage we stopped at some traffic lights and Norm asked how I was doing? I told him my response couldn't be published. Fair dinkum, the fact that we don't have two-way communicatin between bike helmets has probably saved the marriage.....on more than one ocassion!


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