Cycling out of France

Our plan for the next week or so was to cycle from Paris to London along the Avenue Verte which is a 406km long cycle route. We started cycling from our Paris apartment at about midday and it felt like we continued cycling through Paris’ suburbs for the whole afternoon. The areas we passed became cheaper-looking and more industrial as we pedalled but it never really felt like we left the city. We ended up in a campsite only 20 minutes by train from the centre of town which didn’t feel like a lot of progress. However the first day had been surprisingly challenging after a month’s break from cycling.

A sign! We’re officially on the Avenue Verte!

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In search of Vermeer

The next morning we went to take a look at Montmartre and the Sacré-Coeur Basilica which we could hardly miss when they were so close to our apartment. The basilica was impressive and the view of Paris from the hilltop was pretty but it was insanely crowded. I was also a bit thrown when we passed through a group of guys who wanted to give us bracelets “for Africa” and physically grabbed us as we tried to go past. I’m sure Andy was wondering why I had brought us to such a busy, touristy spot.

Sacre Coeur + tourists

Once we wandered over the other side of the hill, however, we were able to appreciate why Montmartre is such a famous part of the city. The buildings were all very old and pretty, you could see views in the opposite direction and there was even a small vineyard. We happened to be able to eavesdrop on a guided tour group and learnt that they do indeed make wine there but apparently it is very expensive and doesn’t actually taste that good. It seemed like people buy it more as a collector’s item than anything. Each to their own.

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A couple of classic Parisian activities

Our train into Paris arrived late morning and had a bit of a cycle to our Airbnb apartment in the 9th arrondissement. To pass the time until check in we stopped in a park partway to sit and read our books. We also spotted a local Parisian mouse. We were sitting in front of some garden beds and every 30 seconds or so it would scurry from one side to the other. We must have looked a bit crazy, sitting there reading and not talking to each other but both cracking up laughing every 30 seconds.

The first native Parisian we encountered

Our apartment was on the 6th floor and serviced by the tiniest elevator I have ever seen. Which was an appropriate prelude to our tiny apartment, all nine square metres of it. When I first opened the door all I could do was laugh, it was just so small.

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And relax…

With the combination of the Tour du Ruan and the Tour du Mont Blanc, Andy had just completed 18 consecutive days of hiking. I had done the same except for my two-day break in Geneva. We really needed a break.

As much as we liked our hotel in Les Houches, we (especially me) were pretty keen to leave the Chamonix Valley. We scouted around on Airbnb and ended up booking a place that was really cheap in the town Passy, right next to St Gervais Les Bains which is only just out of the valley. We caught the train and cycled to the apartment which was the lower storey of a French lady’s house. It was pretty sweet setup and we spent the next two nights there doing very little. It was exciting to be able to cook in a proper kitchen (with a gas stove even) and we were able to get through our mountain of laundry. A washing machine has very quickly made it onto our list of non-negotiables when looking for Airbnb houses.

Somehow whenever we have access to a proper kitchen we always end up making nachos

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Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc: Part 3

Our first day in Switzerland was also meant to be the easiest day of the TMB. Most of it was sidling or downhill. Although everyone’s knees might have been a bit happier if there was a bit less downhill. We stocked up on food in La Fouly then kept heading down the valley. Along the way we passed the same kiwi couple that I had met while walking backwards a few days earlier. When we passed them for the second time a while later the guy asked “is that Brittany?” It turned out to be Dan who had gone to the same hall of residence as me. With our sunglasses and hats on, neither of us had recognised the other, although I had been thinking that his voice sounded eerily familiar. Dan had also been cycle touring so it was great to catch up and compare notes.

We came out of the bush and passed through a cute little Swiss village that appeared to be deserted except for several old men, each sitting by themselves in their front yards. My personal highlight was the property with an extraordinary number of garden gnomes.

Two of the many gnomes

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Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc: Part 2

For only the second time this trip it was time for Andy and I to split up for a few days. Andy kept walking around Mont Blanc while I gallivanted off to Switzerland to hang out in Geneva.

Andy’s experience

That’s right folks, yet again Andy was flying solo…along with four other hikers (Hank, Parker, Hannah and Rowan for those who need a wee reminder). We left Refuge Robert Blanc after a fairly standard European breakfast (slightly sad bits of bread with butter, jam and plenty of coffee). After saying farewell to Brittany, we set off toward the Col de la Seigne which marks the border between France and Italy. The route towards the Col skirts beneath the ‘Glacier des Glaciers’, affording fantastic views of both the glacier face and the down the Tarentaise Valley.

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Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc: Part 1

Straight off the back of the Tour du Ruan Andy and I were off to do a second even longer tramp. The Tour du Mont Blanc (or TMB) is a pretty well-known hike which circumnavigates Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, while passing through France, Switzerland and Italy. It’s 170km long and you do about 10,000m of climbing along the way.

On our half day back in Chamonix after descending from Refuge de Loriaz that morning we were lucky enough to see some of the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc runners finishing. In about 45 hours these guys had just run the route we were about to spend 12 days walking. And they were the ones at the tail end of the pack.

UTMB finish line

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Hiking the Tour du Ruan: Part 2

The morning of day four on the Tour du Ruan we awoke to more rain and fog. After so much indecision the day before, we had a new problem to contend with – the ladder section. A whole different level from just a chain section. Once again I went to discuss our options with the refuge staff.

The ladder section covers 80 vertical metres and the people in the refuge basically told us it wasn’t a great idea if it was raining. Their proposal was that we avoid the ladders by taking a different route, however this would add an extra day to our trip. We didn’t really have an extra day, Andy and I needed to get back to Chamonix on schedule to start a second tramp the day after (we’re a bit crazy).

The staff didn’t seem thoroughly discouraging so we decided to just go for it. The day before that approach had worked out well for us. The weather was meant to get worse in the afternoon so we were advised to leave sooner rather than later, they also gave us some tips on the route once we hit the high point on the Swiss border. In the fog we might not be able to see and the signposting apparently wasn’t very clear.

Ready to cross the fog into Switzerland

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Hiking the Tour du Ruan: Part 1

After spending a day on logistics in Chamonix (map-buying, outdoors-store-visiting, pastry-eating) we met up with our NZ friend Corde who used to work with Andy back in Christchurch. It was great to see him again and also to get a bit of news about how Christchurch and our old office are going.

Our plan was to do the four day Tour du Ruan which is an alpine circuit we had found online. With no car available we were also tacking on an additional two half days to access and descend from our start/end point of the circuit. It had been surprisingly difficult to find information online about the trip and we maybe hadn’t done the best job of preparing Corde for what was to come. Initially we had told him we would be doing an easy three day hike then once we’d changed plans we hadn’t really made it clear how much more difficult the new walk was. “So it’s a six day trip… and the days might be quite long… and there’s about 4800m of climbing…. plus 800m to access the route… oh and apparently there’s a ladder section. But it’ll be fine.”

Once reunited with Corde we hopped on the Mont Blanc Express to take us up the valley. We got off at Vallorcine, just before the Swiss border, and took the requisite ‘starting tramp’ photo. Then I checked the map. Oops, we were meant to get off one station earlier at Le Buet. Sorry guys.

Ready to start the trip

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Three days in Lyon

We had planned three full days in Lyon to rest and recuperate and visit outdoors stores. Visiting outdoors stores seems to be a constant feature of our trip.

Typically after a period of cycling or tramping it takes us a while to get moving again. Lyon was no exception, by the time we sorted out washing and food and where to go it was about lunchtime before we left our Airbnb apartment. We set off in search of various gear we needed – a new tshirt for Andy to replace his current ever-holier shirt, new inner soles, shoelaces and socks for his feet, a new little bottle to hold dishwashing liquid since I seem to have a knack for breaking Nalgene bottles of all sizes. We headed to Au Vieux Campeur, an outdoors store that seemed to have a couple of different shops near each other.

Turns out there are seven Au Vieux Campeur shops in one street in Lyon, each one specialising in a different outdoor activity. We visited them all: clothing, water sports, triathlon/trail running, kids (we didn’t go inside that one), boots and cooking, climbing and skiing, and books and maps. We thought having seven different shops was outrageous but apparently in Paris there are thirty. The range was really good though and we got everything we needed.

Important food break while shopping

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Strange encounters in rural France

And we’re back! After 18 days of hiking we’ve got our laptop back in the land of wifi and can end our blogging hiatus.

The next major town we cycled through was Chalon-sur-Saône which I’m sure is a nice place but we only saw the industrial zones that the cycle signs directed us through. Then we were finally on the fabled (in my mind at least) 70-odd kilometre long voie verte (greenway) between Chalon-sur-Saône and Macon. It was certainly very pleasant cycling although I had forgotten that just because it’s an old railway line it doesn’t mean it’s completely flat so the uphill sections were a bit of a shock. We did get to pretend to be trains each time we passed an old station though. “Chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga chugga CHOO CHOO.”

The Andy-train

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