A week in London

In London we were staying with Andy’s friends Sam and Nicole who lived in the suburb of Tooting. They shared a flat with eight other people, including I think three other kiwis but honestly I struggled to keep track of who lived there. We were doing the classic kiwi thing, sleeping in their lounge.

Tooting turned out to be full of different ethnic restaurants and we quickly managed to tick another item off our Typical English Food list – an Indian curry. Various flatmates enthusiastically recommended Mirch Masala which is allegedly the favourite restaurant of Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. I briefly tried to fact check this and couldn’t conclusively confirm that it was his favourite, but it was pretty delicious and the first proper Indian food we’d had in a long time.

For our first day in London we eschewed the central city and instead went for a walk/run to Richmond Park which is home to 630 deer. That’s right, there are herds of deer roaming around a London Park. It’s so epic. We were there during the roar (mating season) and it was the first time I’d been able to watch deer while they were booming or roaring or grunting or whatever it’s called. It was fascinating watching some of the male deer protecting their harems. Such a cool park.

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The best Airbnb in the world

England! The land of our forefathers! The homeland! We had made it.

Our initial welcome consisted of the immigration officer giving me a massive grilling. How long are you going to stay? How will you support yourself? Are you planning to undertake any work, paid or unpaid?

Entering the UK with a stream of campervans and freight trucks

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The end of the Loire?

Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire will be remembered for its long name and the huge electrical storm we experienced there. We hadn’t even thought it was going to rain but during the night we got to enjoy another European-style storm. The thunder was particularly impressive, crackling and spitting like gunshots.

The calm before the storm – lovely campsite with a huge tent field

From there we rode towards Nevers (pronounced neh-vair), sparking many renditions of that old classic song as we cycled along:

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How (not) to visit a castle under construction

From Orléans our next stop was Châteauneuf-sur-Loire. The most exciting thing we did here was go to the local Super U hypermarket. Hypermarkets are the next step up from supermarkets. We bought food, pumped up our bike tyres, washed our bikes, recycled our old gas bottle and bought a new one. I was stoked to discover that my stove – the MSR Superfly – works on both standard gas bottles and strange-European-specific ‘campingaz’ bottles. Hopefully that will make it easier to buy gas in future.

We had an awesome tailwind that day

Onwards to Bonny-sur-Loire via a ‘pont canal’ (canal bridge). There was literally a bridge for a canal so that the canal could cross the Loire River. It was a very impressive structure way up above the Loire and we even got to see a boat going past. Although even walking our bikes we crossed the bridge faster than the boat.

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Oh you’ll love the Loire Valley

Oh you’ll love the Loire Valley! – Andy’s parents

[The Loire Valley] will be romantic and relaxing – Brittany’s mum

These are the quotes that were running through my head as we biked through the rain after leaving Amboise. This was actually the first proper rain that we’d had to bike in all trip so really we shouldn’t complain. However very quickly I rediscovered how much I dislike cycling in the rain. Everything gets wet and gritty and cold. I wasn’t loving the Loire Valley very much at all.

Cycling in the rain

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Would you like a gin and tonic?

From Gensac to our destination of Lezay was about 200km so we decided to spread it over four days. It looked like we could follow the Eurovelo 3 cycle route for at least the first half.

The first day was surprisingly difficult due to the heat and hills and the fact that we’d just spent ten days eating and drinking and lying in deck chairs. We didn’t quite make it as far as our intended destination but ended up at a lovely campsite which was right on a lake. There were lakeside sun loungers and everything. Plus our tent site came with its very own private table, what luxury.

Lakeside comforts

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Touring the Vanoise

We set off bright and early to start our tramp, kicking off the day’s walking by… getting in a taxi. What a life. Mum’s group had organised a minivan taxi, a bargain at only €30, to drive us up to Refuge de l’Orgère. This saved us about 800m of climbing and turned a nine-hour day into a six-hour day. Totally worth it.

Modane from above

Our group was seven people in total. In addition to Andy, myself and my mum there was Christine and Peter, a couple from the Tararua Tramping Club that I have known forever, Jo who is also a member of the TTC but who I had never met before, and Mimi, Jo’s friend from France. They may not appreciate me explicitly pointing this out but Andy and I lowered the average age of the group significantly. The others were pretty excited to have some ‘kids’ joining them for a few days.

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Ciclostrada Val di Susa

Our home in Turin was a one bedroom apartment organised through Airbnb (and paid for out of the leaving gift my former work colleagues gave me – thanks team!) It was a really nice apartment and super good value, costing us about the same as a hostel would have. Unfortunately it was super hot and not air-conditioned. Neither of us slept particularly well while we stayed.

Square in Turin

Once again our trip enjoyment was plagued by logistical planning. To be fair, once again having bicycles was causing us headaches. Bicycles are great when you want to cycle but they can be a real pain when you want to travel by other means. This time it was our connection from Modane in the east of France where we were meeting my mum to Bordeaux in the west where we were meeting Andy’s parents. There was a high-speed TGV train (via Paris, not kidding) but it was €300 which seemed like a lot of money, especially when Andy described it as over half the cost of one of our bikes. It felt like we investigated every possible option, from either Modane or the nearish big city of Lyon. Flixbus once again let us down with no bike carriers on the Lyon-Bordeaux route. We investigated taking a series of local trains like we had in Germany but this didn’t seem so easy in France and wasn’t necessarily that cheap. There is a low-cost alternative to the TGV but bikes need to be in bags. We thought about cycling part of the way but we didn’t have enough time to make this work. The endless discussion and research of options was creating a lot of angst.

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Cycling from Pavia to Turin three ways

The Italian ‘Vento’ cycle route runs in part from Pavia to Turin, roughly following the Po River. However this route is a little bit theoretical, some planning and feasibility studies have been done but it is by no means a completed route in this section. Other parts of the Vento cycle route are more developed and the whole thing is part of Eurovelo 8, one of Europes long-distance cycle routes. There is no signage on the ground but there is a map of the planned route available online so we figured we’d still be able to follow it.

The distance from Pavia to Turin was about 210km so we decided to spread it over three days.

Italian countryside

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A second visit to the patron saint of cycling

In 2014 I went on a holiday to Europe which included cycle touring in Italy. I started out in the area around Lake Como and stayed at a really awesome hostel in the town of Menaggio. From here I undertook my first big cycle climb with panniers up to visit the church of the patron saint of cycling, Madonna del Ghisallo. A ‘pilgrimage’ seemed like an appropriate start to my first ever cycle tour.

Three years later I was keen to return to Lake Como to show Andy since I had enjoyed the area so much. Andy isn’t into pilgrimages but was keen for the climb up to the church for the bike ride if nothing else.

We caught the bus from Zurich to the town of Como and that first evening aimed for a campsite only about 10km away. That seemed pretty achievable even with an arrival time into Como of 6:30pm since it was going to be light until 9 or 10 pm. Unfortunately we hadn’t counted on the elevation gain of 200m.

Italian village

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A day in Zurich

I don’t want to reinforce any stereotypes, but my Swiss friend Vincent was super organised and precise when it came to planning our short stay in Zurich. Prior to arrival we received a short itinerary of the activities that he’d planned, most of which meant nothing to us with our limited knowledge of the city.

We started with a classic European breakfast of bread, spreads, cheeses and coffee. Vincent had purposefully bought a range of traditional Swiss breads, like croissants cooked in lye water so that the surface was like a pretzel (side note: does anyone know what lye water is?)

Then it was time for a walk up the Uetliberg with Vincent, his girlfriend Anne and her dog. It was a pretty hot day and a reasonable climb up the hill but we were rewarded with a view out over the city and beers at the top. There was even a tower so that you could climb just that little bit higher up.

Andy, me, Anne, Vincent and Anne’s dog at the top of the Uetliberg

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