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Tandem in France

based on a posting to the touring@cyclery.com e-mail list.


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by Robin Reid
edited and converted to HTML by Sheldon Brown
Spoke Divider

Hi all

Many apologies to the folk who e-mailed me requesting info on my tour in France. I've finally caught up on the backlog of mail, and here are the replies.

Kris asks:

Can you give a basic idea of what route you did, and if you only had two weeks, where would you concentrate your efforts? Do you speak the language? If not, how big of a barrier? Self-supported camping or inn to inn?

We started in Versailles and headed SW, via Rambouillet and Chartres, then more Southward to Blois, where we hopped a train to Angouleme. From there we cycled to Les Eyzies then took a train to Carcassonne, and then onwards to St. Raphæl. Cycled from there to Nice. If I only had two weeks I'd probably stick to the Loire Valley, the Dordogne region, or the Riviera. I speak some french, and it dramatically improved on the tour. Making an effort seems appreciated. We'd come across hostellers who wouldn't even try. Seemed very impolite to me. If you don't speak any french, learn your directions (droit, gauche, tout droite), how to ask how to get to a certain highway or road (Je cherche la route pour ...), how to ask for things (Je voudrais....) how to say 'I'd like to camp' (Je voudrais faire le camping.) I wouldn't let not knowing the language stop me. Have a dictionary or phrase book handy, and if all else fails, gesticulate wildly. In 6 weeks of touring, we camped all nights but 8. For those 8 we stayed in hostels.

Can you give a basic idea of what route you did, and if you only had two weeks, where would you concentrate your efforts? Do you speak the language? If not, how big of a barrier? Self-supported camping or inn to inn?

We started in Versailles and headed SW, via Rambouillet and Chartres, then more Southward to Blois, where we hopped a train to Angouleme. From there we cycled to Les Eyzies then took a train to Carcassonne, and then onwards to St. Raphæl. Cycled from there to Nice. If I only had two weeks I'd probably stick to the Loire Valley, the Dordogne region, or the Riviera. I speak some french, and it dramatically improved on the tour. Making an effort seems appreciated. We'd come across hostellers who wouldn't even try. Seemed very impolite to me. If you don't speak any french, learn your directions (droit, gauche, tout droite), how to ask how to get to a certain highway or road (Je cherche la route pour ...), how to ask for things (Je voudrais....) how to say 'I'd like to camp' (Je voudrais faire le camping.) I wouldn't let not knowing the language stop me. Have a dictionary or phrase book handy, and if all else fails, gesticulate wildly. In 6 weeks of touring, we camped all nights but 8. For those 8 we stayed in hostels.

Marilyn asks:

We ARE interested in the logistic of cycling and trains in France. we hope we can avoid shipping our bikes on a separate train in France but simply carry them on as baggage. What is your experience?

It seems to depend on the train line. We wanted to get from Blois to Angouleme with our bikes. Blois is not a huge city, so the train line was more regional. It took us 3 different trains to get there, and on each we simply (hah! how simple is lifting a fully-loaded bike onto a train!) lifted our bikes into the baggage car, which is the last car on the train. You must check the schedules, though, and see what trains allow bikes. Not all do. We were told by one agent that we could take our bikes on to the 9am train the next day, direct to Angouleme, for free. We got there and of course it was another story. Another, better informed, agent worked out how we could get to Angouleme with the bikes and wrote out the itinerary for us. Learn the phrase: 'Nous voudrions aller a .... avec nos velos. C'est possible?' Getting the bikes on and off would have been impossible without the help of the guy in the baggage car. Now, when we wanted to get from Les Eyzies to St. Raphael it was another story. We were told it was impossibly to take the bikes with us. End of story. So, we had to buy bike 'boxes' from the train station. Unfortunately, these 'boxes' were the kind that just sort of fold around the bike so we had to take all panniers off and ship them, and the tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear/stove, etc. in another box as we couldn't carry all that on the train. Shipping the bikes came to 150f per bike, and the box was an additional 90f. We also couldn't find a box anywhere in Les Eyzies and were going to construct a sort of huge bag out of garbage bags but the conductor took pity on us and found us a box. The policy about shipping bikes on these larger lines in France is that it will take 4 days, regardless of how far the bike is going. It could go 10 km or 1000, it will still take four days. Don't ask me why. So we got to St. Raphael and stayed in a hostel waiting for the bikes to show up. The afternoon of the 4th day, we went to the station and asked about the bikes. We were taken to the room where they store bikes and couldn't find ours. This was very depressing news, and we hated the hostel and were going to have to miss seeing certain towns if the bikes didn't show up. As we were leaving the baggage room I spotted a couple of bikes away in the corner and they were ours. Had I not spotted them we'd have had to have stayed another night at the hostel. So if you want to get you and your bike somewhere in France, go to the train station and pick up a schedule. It will tell you what trains allow bikes. If you're stumped, go to the info desk and ask.

Peter:

Any route guidance in this area (Burgundy/Beaujolais/Alpes du Provence) would be appreciated. Also, how did you find taking bikes on trains - is it the battle some people suggest? And did you take camping gear, would you next time?

Sorry to say we didn't ride in any of these areas. For train info, see above. Yes, we took camping gear and would do it again. The alternative for us was hostels, which we did for a few nights. The first night was great--a bed! a pillow!-- but we missed the freedom of camping very much. We found everything in France to be expensive (except wine!) and so camping helped defray other costs. Also, I really enjoyed camping--some of the campgrounds were beautiful, and the facilitites were always fine.

Phew! I think that's answered some questions. If anyone else has more, please let me know.

cheers
Robin

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