Thursday, June 30, 2011

Annecy to Mougins

Tuesday 28 June
Phew what a day, loaded the GPS and it confirmed what I'd been told, a 5-6 hour journey using toll freeways, or on my GPS avoiding them, 6 hours by fastest route for the 412 km. No idea of route, just input the hotel address here near Cannes, and throw blind faith to the satellites and my electronic guide, and given the unknowns of the days task made no effort to include TdF stages in the route.
It turned out to be one of the greatest days riding I've ever had.
Petit dejeuner at Grange de Julie
Was a little pensive having to move on from La Grange de Julie, Annecy and the lake is such a wonderful place, my highlight stopover of any time or place. Can only agree with Sylvie's reluctance to let rooms for less than 2 nights, she says people return for ever longer stays year after year, not surprising. There's also the dramatic change between summer and winter adding attraction, although gathered the comment it can cloud in and rain days on end as well, so was blessed to arrive in fine temps, and given the added advice thunderstorms roll in after 2-3 days heat, probably helpful I'm leaving on a high note.
There's plenty of green and forest round here, Sylvie's cats sometimes amuse by bringing snakes inside, small ones 12-18", see quite a few lizards in my travels too, and when I commented how much I admired the forests in France she informed they have been under some form of management since the 1500's, such has been the  importance of the resource. I did notice riding through several forests what appeared to be thinning of old trees, and she said people are allowed to go into the woods to gather annual firewood needs, even knock over the odd tree, provided they clean it all up themselves, I would imagine on designated cull trunks.
Anyway, the first 100km slipped by in a satisfactory time, along tree lined roads beside new mown hay, towering montagnes either side, and I thought hooboy, this is going to be easy, twice  passing a gorgeous chick thumbing a lift and regretting being pack-laden and not carrying a spare helmet, and encountering yet another smile flashing lady sports-motorcycle athlete at an intersection. I dont carry an MP3, but am often inspired to hum up stuff from my memory bank, so this morning it's old Maurice's...,
thank 'eavun, for little girls, for little girls get bigger everyday
thank heaven for little girls, they grow up in the most exciting way
those little eyes so helpless and appealing
one day will flash and send you crashing through the ceiling......
thank heaven for little girls, no matter where, no matter who
for wizzout zem what would little boys do
amen to that...
After following a blackened water river for some kms, suspect there must be some mining going down somewhere handy
sure enough I pass a discreet sign "Rio Tinto - Alcan", humungous power sub-station, and did suspect there could have been some coal-mining
who knows what...
then the GPS turns me off into the mountains, past a sign saying "Route des Grand Alpes", holy crap, a whole list of Cols on another sign, I'm in the real deal, and didnt even plan it, the main roads go in great circuits following the valleys, and the GPS is short-cutting me over the tops.
Thought I'd never be able to find the track on a map, but I have, I've come down a road east of Chambery, through Albertville, and up over the Col du Madeleine, 1984m, back onto a highway for a bit, then up into the mountains again.
Stop for a nerve-settler breather at mountain village of Valloire for a ham sammie, half a breadstick thick with ham and buerre, what's also unsettling is the Franch roadworks, "route baree" means anything from you can sneak through, to, no you cant and a detour who knows how far, but the GPS seems to know the way around. The roads are so narrow, a reseal job means a road closure, and it is summer in the Alps, cant be done any other time.
This time its up and over Col du Galibier, 2616m, but not right to the top, there's a tunnel through it. Heaps of cyclists here, support vans following team colours out training, switchback after switchback too numerous to count, and painted roads in support of favorite heros, at one turn I spot "alle' Schleck 07" and figure the 07 TdF must have come through here.
Onto another main route through Briancon, then turn up over Col de Vars, 2111m, and now the motorcyclists thicken, 100's of them, going like cut cats, even the pannier laden adventure motos, I rail a bit at how much of the road theyre taking, but figure with no railing separating them from a 1000' drop, they dont give too much of a stuff about how much of my road they take.
Another all too short stretch of valley bottom road, then turn up into the montagnes again, this time a long climb over Col d'Allos, 2247m, and down the other side, I dunno maybe 30km of winding mountain road, so by this time its late afternoon, I stop at a village cafe for a rest and a quad header glace (sundae), and to phone tonights hotel to say I'll be late. There's a bit of a kerfuffle in the rue, cowbells and all, and a mob of sheep, maybe 3-400, brown ones with tight curly fleeces, followed by a dozen donkeys hustle through town. The cafe's full of motorcyclists, all nationalities, 20 odd bikes pulled up, most with their lady pillions, and I join the rush to photograph the sight. Never saw another biker stopping to photograph the mountain scenery, but they rush en masse to catch this theatre du ovins, have been wondering what on earth NZ has in scenic comparison, both here and in USA, but here-in's an instant answer.
The road quickens from here on, and soon I'm winding down towards Cannes on one of those mountainside fast lanes James Bond eludes the baddies, or pursues la femme fatales on.
Getting to Mougins is a bit of a shock too, you drop down through a maze of narrow, heavily built-up switchbacks, take a wrong turn and the rue you should have been on is so closely parallel the GPS dosent pick it up till too late.
I miss the turn into the hotel, distracted by the blonde in a Maserati en mois derriere, stall at the next set of lights, and have to do another km to the nearest roundabout to get the required u-turn, by which time she's gone and I look like a proper Joe Hunt anyway.
Fantastic day, I've missed dinner, but the hotel pool is fabulous, too tired to sit down and write, and I sleep 9 hours.
Advice to anyone touring France, dont plan any day on the road greater than 200km, if youre fit enough you can do it, its just that you'll miss too much in the rush, whiling away a day under a cafe parasol is the raison d'etre in these parts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Monday 27 June
Uneventful run yesterday, across from Chissey en Morvan via Autun where I cashed some Euros and filled the gas tank, through a lot of vineyards, not so much grain cropping, mostly hedged paddock land, Charolais cattle, and some red and whites, probably Simmental, to Tournus, start town for TdF Stage 7 across to St Claude, a stones throw from Geneva.
This stage section was over higher ground, alpine pasture type of place the cattle get put out to for summer, great cycling territory, and just as interesting en moto.
Sorry no pics for this traverse part, my Nokias been playing up and is flat battery today, tried my new Ideos, takes good pics, but should really be named Idiot, its another one of these system protected dicks of things that dosent want to connect to anything unless you kiss its arse, and wont do it automatically either, plus there's no instructions. Give Nokia its due, it recognised itself as a supplementary drive E: right off the stick and I can access the pics anytime.
The TravelSim chip I bought supposedly to get cheapest cellphone coverage similarly has been a crock, I keep getting a daily email cheerily welcoming me to the service, oxymoronically asking me to phone in and share with them how marvellous they are, plus I think there's also some sort of service lock I have to extricate myself of from 2 Degrees. It works by you dialling in the required number, then they call back from the central service point with the connection. I've been waiting days for any reply.
Vodafone's global roam has been fantastic though expensive and coverage is excellent, at 65 million pop there's hardly anywhere uninhabited here, and I can text direct to anyone back home straight from my contacts file, as any of you can to me.
Have been riding in 33 deg temps all day, progress on French roads so slow to create a decent draught, I've dispensed with the jacket now, and its bf hot inside my helmet. There are hundreds of bikes on the road, the standard wave is the American point to the road with the left hand. The French also have a point with the right foot which means farque-oveur, I'm coming in, lane splitting is de rigour round here, but I'm happy to stay in the traffic queue, with all the ancient twists and turns in the streets you really need to know where youre going to be so bold, plus the traffic lights arent all that prominent hanging from all sorts of odd places, it'd be easy to miss a red light, touch wood, dont think I have yet. 
You'd think this was MotoGuzzi or Ducati country, but the most common bike I've seen is a cut down short-base Suzuki, cant see the capacity but its a naked in-line 4 with a bob tail and fat back wheel, an ideal choice for these small and sometimes winding roads. A girl on a Guzzi passed me today, tanned legs in shorts, blonde locks flowing out from under her helmet, and was followed by another woman on a yellow Daytona, auburn curls under the helmet and slim in full leathers, sat on my tail for so long I started to think she was following me home, but no such luck!
Found an open patisserie for lunch, another coffee cream covered in sliced almond, plus a bun sort of thing with a big arrowmint slab confection thing on top, that turned out to be a custard pie underneath. There's always a nearby doorstep to sit on to do the lunch justice, then an espresso in an across the street cafe.
Here at Lathuile, just south of Annecy, the Lac scene is spectacular, blue, blue water and towering masifs with rocky limestone bluffs, but its a Taupo on serious steroids, the traffic is horrendous, nose to tail all the way from town to here, somewhere between 5 & 10 km, hordes of people enjoying the sun and water, fair bit of boating too.
This B&B, La Grange de Julie, is a previous old barn renovated by proprietors Sylvie and Jean-Francois into a delightful place to spend a couple of nights or more. Actually the place is so good, a couple of nights dosent do it justice.
Out of my bedroom window I can see the peaks across the lake, and watch the parapentres glide down, the thermals must be pretty good, they seem to hover for ages in the one place, then swoop off to another hoverspot before spiralling down to the landing area in a nearby open green.
I lost my way to the recommended restaurant for dinner last night, finished up opting for a roadside canopied cafe's steak, chips and salad, and a tongue hanging out for a Heineken, normally I wouldnt drink the stuff, maybe its a different brew here. I was also drawn in by a sign saying only French beef used here, but quickly brought to recollected earth, the Charolais beef is stringy. Most continental European cattle descend from draught animals and no amount of generational breeding will ever rid of the beast of burden musculature, paticularly where cross-breeding isnt a clean word, although I'll concede the milking strains may have a difference.
My old  hosts years past told me blandness was also important so the French culinaires didnt have competition for their saucieiry and flavouring, they also mentioned travelling to USA and being blown away by the size, flavour, and juiciness of US feedlot steaks.
Today, on Sylvie's advice, I rode up the peak across the lake to Col de la Forclaz, where a view of the whole lac is ensured, and a further 20 min walk up to the top gets you to the launch spot for the parapents, fascinating, think I might get one and try jumping off the hill behind my house, notice a fair number of tanned of limb women engaged in the sport too.
A couple of motorcycle cops shot past me on the way out, resplendent in their blue short-sleeve shirts, just like the LA CHiPs in their khaki ones, so I dont feel so bad putting my jacket away in this heat.
Wended my way down the other side of the TdF type road from the Col, to the old-town part of Annecy, little streets winding beside a canal, a veritable cafe/restaurant alley, the town pops around 60-80,000 depending how far out one includes, and was grateful to find a free motorcycle park handy to the action.
Saw a cafe dishing out huge sundaes, so ordered myself an "Avalanche", was a bit disappointed at its size when it came, chocolate chartreuse the menu said, till I got up to leave and felt a bit unsteady, so 6 cafes further along, I had to go inside and order a salad, beef, bacon, cheese, tomato, egg, to shut the liqueur down.
This afternoon I had a swim in the lake, there's a beach just down the way from here and a fair bit of topless around, the water was great but the bottom a bit stoney on the feet. I rode down in my shorts, doing as the locals do, gassed up on the way home, its a big day tomorrow, 5-6 hours to Cannes.
Tonight I find the restaurant I missed last night, have to fill the hump for tomorrow, campari with olives aperitif, tournedos de beuf, a nice inch thick fillet, not stringy this one, wrapped in bacon, with fried potato and veg, with a glass of house red, and here in France you cant possibly get a bad one, topped off with a couple of scoops of menthe glace. Nice place, under parasols on a 9pm evening, Queen and some gentler French balladier in the music pipe,

Chissey en Morvan

Saturday 25 June
The Morvan is a higher plateau sort of area heading east of France, toward the Beaune Valley, Burgundy area. Its heavily wooded, ravine split, limestone country, high rainfall, but not by NZ standards, 40-70".
The drought we've been reading about is a tinker, they had no rain in April, some in May, and June is back to normal, in fact for the equivalent of our Dec its quite cool here, I've been wearing my jacket every day, and towards evening its been verging bf cold enough on the bike.
The pastures are fairly summer coloured though, but the crops I've passed certainly dont look starved for moisture.
This B&B, Villa des Roches, like the others so far, is rural, and tranquility is the word I've woken up with in my head as best describing my leading impression so far. There's a couple of pheasants or chooks scratch around in the long grass section next door my room window overlooks, and I've heard a mob of sheep bleating somewhere in the dale.
Best bed I've encountered for some time too, luxury...
The large areas of wood here, and in all of France so far are beautiful, and like I thought in USA over the same, I'm left wondering what on earth possessed our Kiwi forefather pioneers to set to hacking down every last tree, they might have had a admirable work ethic, but in the aesthetics dept they were simply dumb bastards, and now when us later generations seek to redress the wrong, its done with pine, macro, or some other exotic, rather than the unique native species lost, and so slow growing in regeneration if so chosen.
Its been a fine and clear sunny day and I didnt feel like getting A into G at any great speed this morning, apart from tackling my laundry reqs, first washup since leaving home.
Host Richard gave me a local tour guide, a read through leaving me near gasping at the enormity of the task of coming to grips with the architecture of the region. Sensing my bewilderment, he scoffed in accord with his own frustration from tackling the same since arriving here 8 years ago, and had I considered the option of just taking a day off by the pool, with a beer?
I felt a bit of guilt at the thought of abandoning the tourist trail, which dissipated somewhat after a swim, (nice pool too), and after a beer, well, not too bad an idea at all.
So, the next couple of paragraphs will be dedicated to describing what I didnt see today...
This is the Burgundy area, leading across to the Jura mountains I'll go over tomorrow afternoon, not all that high rising to 6000' odd, but quite sharp in relief.
Ironmaking was the big deal around here, the Cistercian monks in the 12th century making the most of plentiful local iron ore and wood to stoke the furnaces and perfecting methods of hardening steel to earn a rep for fine blades, but human existence has  been traced as far back as 18k and 15k BC.
Some of the early ironwork is incredible, those 300 year old beams I mentioned a day or so back, supporting a barn roof, are held together with long steel rods with huge threaded nuts on the end that belie their age. The chain mail seen at Azincourt was made by drawing the steel into a thin wire, cut to little lengths, the ends flattened over and drilled, bent into a circle, threaded into the ring next door, and rivetted closed, and keep doing this till youve got a complete vest, head and shoulder piece, or horse cover. Armour making was a bespoke business, and far from being cumbersome, armour suits had methods of multiple plate limb articulation that ensured freedom of movement with protection from penetration at the joints.
These days trains for the TGV are built here, and notable sons of the area include, Vernier, responsible for the measuring system, Rouget de Lisle, wrote La Marseillaise, the national anthem, Pasteur, discovered vaccination and gave the world pasteurisation, and the Lumiere Bros, invented cinematography.
Then there's the wine, those 12C monks again, supplying it to royalty and nobility to establish the district reputation. For racing fans, Romanee Conti, the top NZ runner's name comes from the brew they made for Madame de Pompadour. The area's famous for its reds, Beaujolais in particular, and Chardonnay in the white wine dept. Pretty much all burgundy reds are made from pinot noir, a grape dating back to the 1300's.
To have a crack at the architecture history stuff I'd contemplated going back up the track to Vezelay, but after a swim and a beer, the 50km lost its gloss, I'd come through the village on my way here anyway and spotted the Basilique Ste Madeliene not knowing how important it was to architecture buffs. Founded in 800's AD on a former Roman site by Giraut de Roussillon, a count in Burgundy, it was soon destroyed by Vikings, of all people, coming down this far into Europe for a scrap and a bit of wench rapine, but I suppose a fair guess would be also to swipe the local sword-ware. It got rebuilt on the present hill where it could be better defended around 880 AD and the Benedictine monks installed. The place reached its heights mid 1100's when St Bernard preached  the 2nd Crusade, and for a century it sheltered the remains of Mary Magdelene, becoming a place of pilgrimage and start place of one of 4 main trade/pilgrimage routes to Spain and Santiago. Richard the Lionheart convened here with King Phillipe Auguste before departing on the 3rd Crusade, and St Fransis of Assisi chose this place for the first of his Monasteries of Minorities about 1217 AD.
It fell into disrepair and abandonment for some time, but an order of nuns inhabit the place now. Visitors are welcome to join in with Mass, so probably a good thing I didnt go do a fish out of water visit. One bone of Mary's is still on display in the crypt, and I've heard before from visitors to ancient holy sites that getting so close and personal gives one cause to credit all that bible stuff was fair go.
I had a walk through the local village instead, size of Turakina I guess, a mayor's office, a school, an hotel, and a chateau/castle sort of thing, huge, 2 towers plus a turret thing, surrounded by a 6' stone wall, been uninhabited for a while according to my host, but signs of people there doing renovations, which look like either a lifetime's labour of love, or a million dollar job.
I'd been a bit intrigued about the medieval infra-structure of France, villages, close network of roads etc, ideal if there's a breakdown in civilisation as we know it, but you'd have to fear the country is too modern now and reliant on cheap energy to go back to that sort of existence. The internet service is still dodgy though. 
There's also a shop, but it closes between 12.30 and 3.30pm when most of the tourist traffic goes through, in fact given any public holiday, or even the merest excuse, rural France will close down completely, in an effort to stop itself getting too affluent.
I stopped in at the local hotel for dinner, commencing with the normal 2 titbit dish starters, escargot entree, (snails for you unwashed lot), the veux main, (ox tongue boil-up with spud and carrot, the matron d' enquiring if I understood what I was actually ordering), followed by fromage plateau, selection from 15 or so varieties, and dessert du jour, a decent slab of berry pie, all for half the price of a couple nights ago, incl campari aperitif and a small pitcher of beaujolais, to remind myself what sipping silk is like.
Couple more gins back home with Richard, and je vais couchet.
He tells me the 65% contribution to the health system employers are required to make on wages paid, is rebated off your own business tax bill.
All business bank accounts are required to be registered with the Govt who have full eye-pry into account activities.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Reuilly-Sauvigny to Chissey en Morvan

Friday 24 June
Today followed two days stages of the TdF, 5 & 6, taking me from the Marne Valley to the Burgundy district, a fair step in distance and made the mistake of a late departure from hanging around captured by the breakfast table conversation, couples from England, Germany, and Australia, plus the now France domiciled American hosts, a representation of interests covering Airbus assembly plant, Du Pont sales, motorcycling, photography, hiking, to name a few. Hostess Meredith has done the Camino pilgrimage 7 times, you can follow her exploits on the internet, google ""
Not quite sure I've got my process right in tracking the tour either, by inputting to the GPS enough towns on the route to maintain fidelity with it. The GPS takes you to each towns centre, I'd rather intervene and circle round the town to resume the course outside the built up area.
Off the freeway, progress is pretty slow as it is, you hardly get up to open speed limit, and you're slowing for the next village, and lets face it, after 4 days theyre all starting to look the same. One guide I read says to allow averaging only 60kph, and I'd say that's a fair comment.
Getting further south, by late morning, the still green grain crops colour of the countryside turned to fully ripe golden brown and most fields had harvesters at work.
France has a great determination it will never go hungry again, farmers get plenty of subsidy support to buy tractors and machinery, looks like every farms got its own huge 4wd tractors, huge trailers for carting hay and straw, headers, crop-spray machinery, etc. Often I pass what look like district grain silo depots where farmers run their tractor towed grain-filled bath-tub trailers for trans-shipment.
Our Fed farmers once estimated EU farmers support was the equivalent of 6 new Toyota Corollas each a year. In NZ, farmers support the urban community to the tune of only one new Toyota each head of population, so the reason why the 30% of Kiwis on some sort of govt assistance are feeling a bit poorly on it is that us 12,000 farmers arent working hard enough.
Despite the antiquity of the villages, France really is a modern country compared to what I saw years ago. The place is riddled with roads, all paved and I've yet to strike a bad one, the cars are all pretty modern but of a smaller genre than us or USA..., Peugeot, VW, Mini, Toyota, and in the country a lot of Nissan Pathfinder and Jeep.
Havent seen many cops on the road either, did have one pull out to follow me a couple of days back, tacking on behind a couple of cars that caught me up as I slowed down. We stayed that way with me in front for 5km odd, so I pulled into a layby, let them all pass, and tacked back in behind the cop. At the next village he pulled into an alley and stopped, so I'm pretty sure he was on my derriere.
Other than that, I get the strong impression the focus is on road safety rather than policing, there are heaps of road signage, theyre clear in cautionary intent, and warn at the merest of peril, easy corners and mild down-gradients. The open road speed limit is 90kph, I've been on a couple of 110kmph freeways, but frankly round here, fast isnt an imperative. I think a nations psyche is evident in its road manners, and here, that's pretty sweet, you get smiles in response to courtesy, or in foregiveness of having made a stuff-up.
Only done one so far, in a street so narrow, cars parked facing the way I was going, but on my left, so I thought it was a one way, but when I got to the intersection at the end I tried to turn left into oncoming traffic. The lady beside me backed up, and let me roll back in, no drama.
France on the road isnt the helter skelter place you might have imagined.
By and large people dont know where New Zealand or Nouvelle Zealande is, people are quite insular and stick to their little family group, so I'm told.
At my patisserie/bakery lunchstop in Provins, the baker came out to talk to me, first they asked if I was allemande (German), which is happening all the time, but he knew enough english for us to have a yarn, he'd tried unsuccessfully to get into NZ a few years ago, but couldnt find a job for a baker. A bit of an entertaining character too, telling me with great glee the yarn about the goat and the gumboots, only here in France, Arabs are the butt of goat jokes, or any sort of ethnically demeaning quip. Was able to give him a couple of kiwi/aussie sheep jokes he could re-flavour a la Francais.
In a couple of places I've seen posters stuck up on road signs saying NON to burkhas, chadors etc and a supporting one saying something like this is a racially select area.
I didnt get in till after 8pm, Villa des Roches, where after a big welcoming gin and chat from host Richard, I didnt take long to get to dreamland, slept well but woke sometime in the night from a disturbing dream at battle with Nazis, all that death and war so evident here, moreso in the north, I'm finding pretty haunting.
Richard has a married son in Auckland.

Willeman to Reuilly-Sauvigny

Thursday 23 June
Today I joined the Stage 4 route of the 2010 Tour de France, my track for most of this grand tour, commencing with a quick run over to the city of Cambrai, a university town and considered a gateway to southern France from the rolling agricultural plains of the north.
The GPS has been great for a stranger in a, well, not so strange land, dial up the nearest gas station, or ATM, select the one in the compass direction you're heading, and away you go.
The France I want to see
Selecting "avoid toll roads" and "dense traffic" has also been a master stroke, I'm seeing the France I want to see instead of the exhausts of faster vehicles than me, or the ever looming road transporters in my rear view mirrors, as menacing here as in US, or back home for that matter. 
Its a novelty too, encountering farmers in their big, and I mean >150hp big, tractors on the roads, heaps of them, even on major roads.
So even though most of the towns I pass have some architectural/historical significance, you're not going to get much from me about that. A bike is hardly suitable for urban stop-offs with the security problem of leaving it parked for an hour or more.
Here I refer the cities of Laon, and Reims, pop 192,000, with its 12th century hilltop cathedral, coronation site of French kings from 1027 to 1825.
Sam, you'll be pleased to hear I'm enjoying the Bandit, keep it fed in the rev dept, and its got a nice light drop into the curves and corners. The seat's one of the worst I've ever had to endure though, and the constant jiggling the key around to find 'on' is enough to drive you nuts.
Would thoroughly recommend the stay at Willeman, and the homestay B&B system in general.
Due the egalitarianism of France arising from a couple of revolutions against the aristocracy and its progress to a republic, small business is well treated. Tax rates are quite high, but small business under a certain threshold are taxed on a deemed to be profit of 23% of turnover, but I dont know that's such an advantage if you're a farmer, like us Kiwi ones running losses years on end.
Rich folks have the crap taxed out of them, property etc
The health system delivery is pretty good, there's no such thing as a wait list, and if you opt for a preferred surgeon the govt pay a third. The offset of this is health taxation is horrendous, employers have to contribute the equivalent of 65% of employees wage into the health fund, which probably isnt much help to the unemployment situation. A lot of small business is family run for obvious reason.
Typical village
Out on the road had a morning coffee, you have to be careful here, coffee is often delivered in a shot glass, you gotta make sure you order the measure you want, plus the avec lait, which comes in nice creamy pottles.
I did a major deviation today in search of the places I visited and worked on years ago.
First up, a town called La Capelle, where back then, my Texel sheep breeding hosts had assembled a pavillion of sheep for a party of Scottish buyers, most of whom I'd met up there prior to coming to France. The amusing bit was my Queen's english university educated hosts needed me as interpreter from Scottish brogue to our Franglais.
Pulled up beside a convenient patisserie for my daily lunch treat, I'm getting more confident with mois francais and having a bit of fun with the mademoiselles at the counters. Over the years I'd forgotten how gorgeous they are, stuck in some off-beam impression they were a bit pasty and thin. Today's lot are decidedly healthy looking, and apart from a small percentage of dumpy house-frau and gaullic/gallic big snozz types, the majority are drop dead gorgeous in a pretty petite way.
Its their eyes. Look a French girl in the eye and a little game starts to play, I dont mean to run kiwi girls out of the hunt, but there's a bit to learn here.
And of course, France is the intrinsic home of la decollete, and theyre popping up all over the place.
I'd forgotten how much I loved this place, if reincarnation is fair go, I want to come back 20 years younger...... tomorrow!
However, no complaints about today.
The civility I mentioned about English people exists moreso with the French, but in a more subtle way, bonjour and au'voir are standard everywhere, with the women tacking on messieur addressing a male. We dont have quite the same connotation for civil, I think its something like greet a stranger as politely as you would a friend, and a friend as politely as you would a stranger.
found the little village, Tavaux et Pontsericourt where most of my previous stay was spent, I knew the farm was over a little bridge and by a process of following every lane towards the stream, eureka, there it was!
Up to the door, introduced myself, and the young lady ushered me round the back to where Joel still lives. The farm's been sold out of the family now, at 400ha it was big in its day, had a little tour round, looking in the barn I shore sheep in, or a 300 year old feed store barn where I recall the cobwebs in the hand hewn roof beams so ancient they were as heavy as blankets.
Over coffee Joel disappeared from the room and after a 10 minute rummage returned with the Coopworth ram sale catalogue I'd sent them, of a breed sale I started back home modelled on their society's operations.
At that stage they already had a country-wide, across-flock,  best linear unbiased prediction recording system, but only for lamb and meat production. Back in NZ, we got it implemented in Coopworths about 10 years later, a cut down version, and it took the best part of 25 years before we got a full-blown national system.
We need to be mindful what we believe we lead the world in..., scenery, agriculture, whatever.....
The time passed and I had to leave Joel, last of the family still around, older brother Gilles and MarieAgness retired to Bergerac in the south, and son Francois now a vigneron near Angers.
Satisfying...., another circle completed, revisiting a place of inspiration, and joy.
But onward...
Here, Reuilly-Sauvigny is in the Marne river valley, not far from Epernay, so this is champagne country, the real stuff. They instigated some copyright face-off a few years ago and were pretty much successful in having the term champagne only apply to stuff produced right here under the local appellation controllee.
I think its a good idea NZ has run with the grape variety in the bottle descriptions, as a consumer you have a fair handle on the genre of wine under consideration, and I think in a counter face-off, the french producers got seriously bagged for blending grapes from other districts under their local appellation. 
I've only been in the country a couple of days, but already I've received good comment about NZ wines. Local producers are so tight on the threat of imports that our stuff is revered in the hushed tones of smuggled goods.
My room at Marne
Am at another beaut B&B, run by American couple Bill & Meredith, Bill with professional photography background, and Meredith about to tackle her 7th 1000km Camino pilgramage, they've visited Wanganui and stayed at Operiki Homestay. There are couples here from Australia, Germany, and UK..., interesting conversations.
Had the evening meal across the road at the local hotel, fantastic, overdid the budget a bit at E75, but can say I've had real deal foie gras, which I followed with the agneau (lamb) main, fromage trolley, huge, over a dozen cheeses, the local brie and a rocquefort my favorites of the 5 sampled, completed with a strawberry dessert, plus a couple of glasses of red I couldnt identify, lighter pinot noir-ish.
This place is close enough to Paris, its always booked out with weekenders, and anyhow, I've dined worse and more expensive in Auckland and Wellington.
The room's great, the door lintel plaque says 1776, the windows are opening casement type with heavy wooden shutters, out front you look across the valley at the vineyards stretching up the hill.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Wednesday 22 June
Willeman's the village my first stop-over's in, like most of the villages speckling the French countryside, you'd need a detailed map to find it, an old church with a steeple, a handful of old farmsteads, and a few houses, heaps of charm. Theyre nestled down in little dales, hardly deep enough to be a valley but you dont see them looking over the vast roll of the croplands, apart sometimes for the steeples.
The other couple staying here are German resident English people, made for an interesting and enjoyable dinner table.
Like most of the B&B's you're in somebody's home so you mind your P's and Q's, but that's fine with me coming from my just the cat for company home-life, dogs and livestock work-day.
Road to Azincourt
Big day today, headed out after the croissant breakfast, north to St Omer, threatening to rain after a few km's so pulled off to fish out the leggings at a signpost saying Azincourt.... could that be?
And it was, Argencourt, scene of Henry V's big battle against the French in the mid 1400's, 4000 odd English outnumbered 4 to 1 by the locals.
The weather played a big part in things, Henry's lot had already suffered great deprivation losing a third in numbers from typhoid and dysentery on arriving, the French thought they had it in the bag but their armour-clad troops got bogged down in the fields.
The game-breaker was the English longbow-men, fascinating weapon. 40kg string pull, that's lifting a big bag of dog crackers with two fingers, there's a weighted rope set up to test yourself and believe me, I could do one, but I'd be flat to do 10/min, which was their fire rate, training was intense and forensic study has shown bowmen got deformed back and shoulders, they had some technique where the back muscles came into major play. This thing could outfire the crossbow at 4 shots/min, which required cranking to set the tension, each longbowman had an assistant passing arrows, range 200-300 metres depending on wind.
Suit of armour, Azincourt Museum
So, 2000 of them firing 10/min could deliver an arrow shower of over 300/second, the battle's actual rate was a heap more than this, not sure I got the number of bowmen right, and the 4" tip could penetrate 1.5mm thick armour.
Stuff being in the opposing front line, the English only lost a few hundred men, the French thousands before they took to their scrapers.
Have heard it before, but to reiterate, the origin of giving the fingers came from the French penchant to disable bowmen permanently by whacking off the English bowmen's drawstring fingers, who in turn if they were the one with the upper hand, would display their intact digits appropriately, all this as opposed to the single finger American salute which seems to indicate a more aperturely focussed predeliction. Bit of trivia for you...
The English were also professional, everybody was in pay, the French still on the old system of the local nobles bringing their rounded up contribution of not well trained conscripts.
So there was a couple of hours shot to bits, a museum well worth the visit, and a sneaking thought I might actually be tempted into pulling out Shakespeare's "Henry V" for a read when I get home, its said he depicts a range of characters involved in the battle very well.
Just down the road a few km, another village, another patisserie, dont got much Francais but a bloke can always point out what goodie he'd like, this time a burger size bun thing covered in sliced almonds, chocolat au cafe asks the girl, cafe sil vou plait je repondre, and I get this dose of coffee cream between two slabs of heavy meringue under the almond cream sliced nut coating.
Ho ho, lunchtime is going to be easy meat round this place. I get a coffee further along the way.
The dome at LaCoupole
I make it to St Omer, where nearby is my next stop, La Coupole, a 72 metre diameter 5.5 metre thick concrete dome over a labyrinth of supporting tunnel work, which was to be Hitler's secret base for preparing the launch of the V2 rockets, another 2 hours down the drain of enlightenment.
Built in a hurry by forced labour, but fortunately for Britain, never completed before war's end, the place is also a shrine for those fortunate enough, if you could call it that, to be pulled from the Holocaust camps to work here. I've never seen a more graphic photo display of those times, pretty unsettling, and my hosts here say they have heard, not a place to take young kids to, oui d'accord to that.
There's also display of rocket development and technology, Werner von Braun, the physicist brain behind most of it, later made a member of the SS, he and his staff of 100 odd being snaffled by the Americans to work on the US missile program, and to eventually be granted US citizenship in the mid 50's, and contribute greatly to the US space program. You get to see real V1 and V2 examples here.
Then on to Vimy Ridge where the Canadian forces heroically took this strategic piece of ground, and where their magnificent monument to their 60,000 fallen now stands. Theyve elected to keep the shell-pocked ground in its post-war contour, looks like a piece of mogulled ski piste.
Shelling was by far the biggest cause of casualty in the Great War, followed by disease, and the horror of "over the top boys" somewhat trailing. The front line trenches in some places were only 50m apart.
Then they were at it again in WWII, the ground here just about a human compost field when you consider the broader sweep of history, you'd need to be careful digging a post hole even.
On to Arras, where I'd hoped to take a look at the Kiwi dug cave system which secretly housed 3000 troops for an assault on the Germans, but I couldnt find it in my rapidly running out day, so had to be satisfied with carrying on towards Albert, where I found the NZ National Memorial at Longueval and had a respect-paying walk among the graves in the evening light, quite a few family names recognised, many Maori, and sadly, many simply marked Unknown Soldier.
From there, quite a rural jig-jog back to home base in the fading light, not knowing which way up, but in the general direction indicated by the now setting sun, village after village, narrow lane after another, just left it to the GPS, and here we are.
There's a chateau just along the way, the full deal, aging countess in residence, tunnels underground to another on a nearby hill, attached farm estate, managers for that and the maison.
Saw a deer on the road today too, theyve signs here depicting rampant deer, just like in the US, and in one place like in pic left, a sign saying:
L'animuax Gros
Traverse Frequent

Friday, June 24, 2011

London to Willeman

Tuesday 21 June
Today, 21 June, is the longest day in this part of the world, but UK and France are an hour apart
I think both countries do things different just for the hell of it.
In London the sun was down about 8pm I thought, and up again at 4am, so France have a bit more logic on this one being an hour later, or maybe the difference is a daylight saving thing.
Was all packed up and on the way before 7, overcast sky but took a punt it wouldnt rain and left the leggings in the box.
There's a heap of bikes in London, scooters and sport bikes mainly, everyone wearing full bike gear, even those on scooters, two main reasons I'd say,
one, it rains every half hour, and two, the chances of getting knocked off a bike look to me to be pretty high.
The English appear to be good competent drivers, after all they have that Stirling Moss, Graham Hill etc, legacy, but there's a big tendency to push the envelope with displays of skill smoothly zooming into impossible gaps.
I found myself late yesterday having to stop in the middle of a roundabout to avoid being smacked by one expert going for the slot in front of me, lucky there wasnt anything close behind.
Apart from that I'm reminded of the impression I got on my years ago visit, there's a noticeable civility in the way people conduct themselves. I recall being at Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard or something similar, people were climbing up onto the huge statues for a better look, and a bobby was going an endless circuit saying "Will you come down please", and as fast as he got one side cleared, there'd be a new lot climbing the other. Never lost his cool, patience and manners what this place is about, except if youre Stirling Moss. 
Traffic on the A2 and M20 down to Folkestone wasnt too heavy, leaving London it was all coming the other way, built up again close to Dover, which eventually split off for the ferry I suppose, leaving a light queue for the EuroTunnel.
Surprised myself coping with the auto check-in machine, pre-booked you just input your 8 digit booking code, the machine gives you a preference of departure time, press which one, and its off to the wait line. I was booked for 11.55am, but got on the 9.20am.
You ride down the quay, and Goodbye Pork Pie it straight in the door of a gussied up rail wagon, several of them linked in such a way you could drive from front to back of the whole train, and mostly double-decked as well. The train moves off imperceptibly and gets up to 140kph, so smooth you wouldnt notice, you ride in the wagon with your bike.
Took less than an hour and a chance to chat with the other 3 bikers, all Englanders, a couple, he on an MT01, she on a BMW Tourer, off to the south of France, and the other bloke on a GSX off to Germany.
Mount up and out the door onto the quay, and out the gate onto the freeway, all there is to it, French passport check on the UK side, but the vopo just waved me straight through.
Hardly on the freeway 5 km and spotted an off-ramp to the coast, sounds like me....
And then the bliss started...
little country lanes, excellent agricultural crops meticulous to the road edge, tidy little villages, and several diversions out to the seaside or cliffs, heavy with the concrete pill-box legacy of the War, most of which entranceways filled in and roses or poppies growing on the fill, the scene of thousands of deaths, hallowed ground really, with several military museums along the way.
Saw one German railway mounted 280mm Krupp gun, variable charge, with a max range of 82km at 14 shots per hour.
Fantastic amount of steel and concrete consumed in the whole coastal defence system. Had short stops at Cap Blanc Nez and Cap Griz, both figured in the wartime coastal defence system, hillsides pockmarked still with old shell-holes.
When you beat yourself to exhaustion trying to get everything done to get away for a spell, you wonder if its going to be worth all the effort, then in less than 50km it is.
Slotting into France's keep right was a cinch after the US, just the quaint give way to everything on your right, as opposed to UK's old right hand rule, keep left, just to be different.
Three other small triumphs accomplished this morning as well.
Finally got some cash off my fee-free card at an ATM in a little town the size of Marton, ditto for some fuel from a supermarket carpark, equally as beat up as the ATM, you slip your chip-embedded credit card in, wait for authorisation, then pump your gas and take your receipt, 95, 98, and diesel at the pump. Also got caught for E.70c at a freeway toll section, and managed to work my way round the French instructions at the booth, till an English language option pops up. Even in one's own language its a bit of a trial, without dismounting or de-gloving, and a queue up your derriere.
Generally, I've been able to let the GPS run the show, but we got stuffed up in a small town with cobbled one-way size streets twisting in no set pattern, it lost its way by insisting I go to the town centre waypoint, then u-turn back down a 10' wide  cobbled canyon... yeah right.
So here I am in the middle of this glorious rural scenery, 2 nights at this place near Hesdin, about 80km inland from Boulogne sur Mer, guests of Stuart and Janice Ross at their B&B. There's another couple staying here as well, drinks and dinner commence at 7. I've got the upstairs ash-beamed attic of the 200 year old farm house, couple of happy dogs, some chooks and ducks on the lawn, birds singing...., very relaxing.
Another lesson learned, stay away from roadside stalls signed up "Friteries", you get a massive pile of chips and 3x 5/8" slabs of burger beef closed in a split half breadstick. I gave up halfway through the chips, but the french bread was.... as only french bread can be.
Have to keep my eyes open rather for patisseries or french bakeries, there's one in nearly every village, or where I can get a decent coffee as well.
The agriculture here's a bit of an eye-opener alright, top farming all of it, big fat heads on the grain, a gently rolling vista of just coming ripe grain crops, interspersed with sugar beet, spuds, mustard or soy, chicory actually I remember, and you pass the occasional sugar processing plant with its multiple silos, most of France's sugar comes from the beet.
Jees, 3 weeks of this I'll be... dunno, lost for words
Most of the roads are less than secondary, 70 to 80kmph, plenty of nice curves, bugger all traffic, and the Bandit's doing it nicely. The secondaries have usually a 90k limit, and the road signage is easily understood and consistent. I've reset the GPS to avoid toll roads and heavy traffic.
When I asked the English bikers on the tunnel train for some comment on driving in France, they both remarked straight off the cuff, the roads are fabulous, much better fun than UK,
so there you go mates...  you'd love it here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

To Los Angeles & London

Monday June 20
This log opening will be quick, one because its 1.20am LA time, and 2nd, the netbook's battery is low.
I've just come to, after blacking out at 9pm, but no worries about the early hour and I can sleep till checkout at noon.
I'm at the Hacienda Hotel, El Segundo city, part of LA, same place Ken put the bike tour in last year,
still the same, toilet bowls half full of water, but hey, those upside down light switches have gone.
In their place is a thing I tried slipping the door card into in the curtained off afternoon gloom when I arrived, but found its actually a flat light switch that you push to initiate,
thereafter its a sensor that turns the light on when you walk past, and turns things off with a timer if you forget to when you leave!
Handy in the bathroom too...
Pretty warm on arrival, as opposed to 2 previous years to the Wet Coast, but the cloud rolled in at 8pm which chased the bare shoulders and limbs off the streets, but a welcome return to sunset at that hour instead of the 5.30pm I've just come from.
I felt the first pang of loneliness outside Macy's shopping mall, the hotel shuttle which was supposed to pick patrons up at 8pm never turned up, it got dark, and there was no way I was going to try walking home
there wasnt any cell-phone coverage here either, hardly 3 km from the hotel.
Riyght handy of the hotel to run a shuttle to this reasonably nearby shopping centre though, as I found I'd left my togs behind, and sun-glasses, although theyre something I find just another bloody nuisance on holidays.
Besides, I needed a feed and a mall sounded like a good place to achieve that.
I found some togs for $20, but the sunnies I passed on, like who needs Raybans or Helfigers at US$80 up to $200 and beyond, nowhere competitive with my $25 Stihl industrial glasses.
The young lady at the perfume counter just inside Macy's door kindly called me a cab, and lonely got to be a thing well of the past as the driver questioned my accent, and in response he commented NZ'ers and Australians speak somewhat the same, no?
Er, no..., as I gave him a nasal rendition of "stone the flamin crows, the feesh n cheeps'll be culled before the danss" as opposed to "eff me, the fush n chups in 'n zillin'll be colled before the dince"
But you speak good english I commented to him, actually he's Indian, as in Asian Indian,
Oh no he says, I never lost my accent in 8 years, but I grammatically am good
No problem I say, because by and large Indians do speak understable english.
Then his next question, do you like cricket?
Uh oh, I wasnt about to jeopardise my new found contact by letting on I find the game somewhat less exciting than watching flies walk up a wall, and after a tentative nod, away he went about Daniel Vettori.
So here we have an Indian, in LA, nuts about cricket. Fortunately it was only a couple of weeks ago I saw that program about the kiwi "rock-stars" playing in the Indian League, so was able to inject a few leading names for him to run commentary on.... amazing.
Writing from London hotel now...
Am pleased to say I've beaten the jet-lag associated nausea, bloating induced actually, by fasting 12-20 hours before flying.
Its funny, you feel the better for the no-food, plus its very good on the travel budget, but eating the in-flight meals no problem.
Speaking of budget, the .80c exchange rate with US is most noticeable, at the shopping mall I found myself drooling at the men's clothing, something I dont do enough I guess, and got to figuring taking one of those LA or SanFran 3-5 night packages isnt all that silly an option for a short break, given the cost of getting round NZ.
My seat mates on the plane commented on how reasonable US hotel rates are, cheaper than home a lot of the time
my night at the Hacienda US$98, not a lot over NZ100.
Indeed, was somewhat amazed at the number  of people in their late 20's, early 30's, on the plane, making a trip to LA a social expedition, how long you going for, oh a week, echoing round my section of the plane
strange anyway for a Wanganui-ite, where every second day the Chron carries front page story about increasing food-bank demand.
There's a hell of a lot of money around out there, and a lot not far from home.
Have a growing appreciation of US currency policy too, printing their own money by the truckload keeps their exchange rate down, rendering them less vulnerable to the Chinese loan exposure, and the price of imports up, which the nation dosent do too much of, stuff from China, and half its daily oil consumption.
You could begin to wonder whats hanging the place together if 30% of the local economy is tourism, and its heavy industry is pretty much run down, but had a eureka moment recently when somebody informed me that USA is the world's biggest exporter of food, and there you have it, labour intensive agriculture, no social welfare, no other restrictive employment conditions, and an exchange rate geared to exporters.
Arriving in GB makes quite an opposite statement, cant help wondering whats keeping sterling so high.
This hotel I'm in now is NZ$300 equiv a night, it was the cheapest close to the bike shop, others were up to $1200 a night,
the 1 litre "complimentary" bottle of spring water on the table is an $8 add-on, 'refreshed' each day they say.
The Heathrow express into town was 18 quid (bit over $36), only I got taken for a 1.5 quid commission I guess over the machine vended price by a couple of touts at the air terminal exit.
LA - London was on a Boeing 777-300, longer version than the same model -200, and a real nice ride, maybe the seats are a bit bigger.
The ship had full passenger load, and incredibly, looked like half the cabin length was business and first class seating!
There really is some serious dosh out there us plebs dont know about.
Leaving at LA 4.30pm, flying under 10 hours eastward through a night that flashed quickly by, the plane got in UK 10.30-11.00am ish, took an age to get through immigration, 6 cash machines wouldnt dispense cash on fee-free cash loaded cards, but would give it out for credit cards, and everybody I saw was in the same boat, something fishy there.
All airport money-changing counters appear to have been amalgamated under the TravelEx brand, but theyre still a rip-off.
My TravelSim cell-phone card has similarly refused to give me service either here in UK or USA, not worth the frigging around,
but Vodafone's global roam has done its stuff.
Quite a mission getting from Heathrow to the bike shop, then the hotel, with my 2 bags
the train system's pretty good, out here in East London in 2 train changes, but a lot of humping the bags up stairs etc
Hadnt realised AirNZ have started charging for any 2nd checked in bag, $60-70 a pop 
so in future any expedition on a rented bike should be done with one suitcase.
This time the bike rental co were so unclear about how the bike was actually kitted, I took my own top-box when I didnt really need to
and I could have fitted everything needed into a wheeled travel bag, and thence to hard-shell panniers and topbox.
The bikes fine though, Suzuki 1250 GFS, wired my GPS in simply enough
couple of cracks in the fairings, good rubber, but the gearbox flogs a bit if you dont keep up in the gears
dosent have the same real lowdown torque of the CB and I've stalled a couple of times
but the streets are so pokey here the traffic's flat to get up to 30mph anyway.
The old right hand rule applies, and it was a bit strange to have left-turners helping themselves to right of way.
Its a good rule though, and cant wait till its re-introduced back home after the RWC.
Getting gas was simple, same as home, grab the filler, fill up, go inside, swipe your card, 13 litres, 17 quid, $36 roughly, $2.80/litre std grade?
The hotel was a trick to find, there are 2 roads, one 'old' and one 'new', and a street, all with the same name, in the one suburb,
even funnier was its number, 265, being opposite about number 500 on the other side of the street.
I got 2 'up there' pointers from people on the footpath before I found it, the GPS didnt have a 265.
Off to the channel Euro-Tunnel this morning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Count Down... France 2011

Not long now, and getting organised.
Chip embedded credit card ordered and ready to pick up at the bank, pretty much universal requirement in France, for getting fuel anyway, cheapest and 24 hour at supermarkets.
Cash machines pretty much everywhere, railway stations etc.
Am getting the hire bike, Suzuki GFS 1250 Bandit, from an outfit in London, Raceways. Been a couple of horror reviews on Google about their service, so fingers crossed.
Put the Europe SD card into the GPS (Garmin Zumo 220) last night. Raceways are letting me wire in my own unit, which is blue-toothed to my helmet, taking that too. Entered my first night's stop-over in France, a village a couple of hours from Calais, and it popped up straight away, so things look cool in that dept.
Also got a Michelin Road Atlas of France off Amazon, A4 size, spiral bound so it lies flat, interesting plastic spiral binding I think will work better than metal. Its a bit bulky, and I think I only need the first 30 broader detail pages, should be OK in conjunction with the GPS.
Wiki-Travel has a great guide to motoring in France, rules of the road and other tips, and a pictorial of the road signs, so printed that off.
Accommodation's all booked. I used first off a network of english speaking B&B's of mostly rural flavour and some very charming looking places at that. Some are openly pro motorcycle tourism offering covered parking, others are indifferent, or appear targeting upper class clientile, but I've no problem with that.
Where I couldnt get a location that fitted my travel map, or the nearest candidate was fully booked, I used
Dont even know how I came across this site, probably a side-bar pop-up on an unrelated search, but its a good one. You can get a little Google map, flagged with hotels around the target locality, or just use the default listing according to things like price, wifi, or parking, pics of the hotel and bedrooms incl.
Booking is a whizz, and you can register as a user and it remembers your details, except for the credit card which you input yourself each time.
I tried Wanganui to see how good it was internationally, lo and behold it worked for here quite well too.
Helmet bluetooth all charged up, phone/camera OK, all the adaptors ready to pack, netbook too. Wifi coverage not so flash all round my proposed route.
The Tour de France is going the same clockwise direction this year, but I'm 10 days ahead of it roughly.
I bought a Travelsim for the phone, $50, and hugely cheaper than global roaming, .50-.60c/min as opposed to $2.97 but dunno... there's the inconvenience of changing sims, and a different phone number to memorise, but it works pretty near all round the world. I'm not a compulsive yap disorder person, so jury's still out on this one.
Checking the Euro weather often, it rains nearly every second day in London. Its expensive there too, and I suspect all of UK, seems to me a bit of a pariah in the topography of international currency.
Gets warmer heading south in France, and below a line through Paris, daily temps over 20C, overnight 12-15C.
Its all up to that volcanic ash cloud from Chile now...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Get a Load of This...

Can't help putting this link up.
Reminds me of the days I had a Honda 200TRL trials bike here on the farm.
Getting round hillside sheep-tracks was just as much fun and challenge, some of the trackside drops were just as awesome, even without the altitude and the rocks, but skinnier in places.

Thanks Keith for passing on the link, and acknowledgement to the stars in the clip.