In 2019 a group of riders from the Australian Ghostriders Cycling Group are travelling in France to complete a cycling adventure in Provence, followed by a four week ride along the Loire. You are invited to share the trip with us.
  • Packing in Pakenham

    August 16, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 11 °C

    While I always love travel, I have never actually relished the packing process beforehand. Somehow it is always daunting to face an empty case and then try to fill it intelligently with only the things you really need. It is a known fact that half of the things you pack, you never use during the trip. The problem is that you never know which half to leave out.

    At the current time it is still hot in Provence, quite hot. That could suggest that I could safely leave out all the cold weather gear and only pack a few shorts, shirts and sandals. On the other hand, anyone who has travelled in Europe would know that the seasons can change quickly. A late hot summer can quickly shift to a cool autumn and an even colder early winter.

    Since we will be in France for two months, perhaps I had better include the jackets and jumpers after all. And while I'm at it, better toss the umbrella in as well. European towns offer almost no cover from rain, hence the necessity for a brolly. And how many shoes do I need ? If one pair gets soaked on the bike, what will I wear ? Those are just some of the clothing considerations, the electronics bag is much more complicated. By the time I add cameras, chargers, batteries, adapters, assorted cables, memory sticks, phones and my notebook computer, there is not much room for anything else. But of course I also need all the cycling gear - helmet, jersey, knicks, gloves, glasses, etc. I either need a bigger case or else something that I can pack like Dr Who's Tardis (bigger on the inside than the outside).

    With only a few days to go before departure, I am still surrounded by an ever growing pile of gear spread out over the family room floor. But that is exactly the same way that every previous trip has started and somehow everything turns out all right in the end. At least I think I know where my passport is. Maybe the rest of the packing can wait till later this afternoon. Or maybe this evening while I am watching the cricket.
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    Traveler

    Start with coffee!

    8/15/19Reply
    Traveler

    ☕️ good 💡. There is always a Plan B😉

    8/15/19Reply
    The World on Two Wheels

    I wonder how many times Plan B will be adopted in France ?

    8/16/19Reply
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  • Day2

    The Long Day's Night

    August 22, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

    There is no getting around the fact that it is a long way from Melbourne to Europe. A really long way. There is also no way of skirting around the fact that, unless you are comfortably ensconsed up the pointy end of the plane, you are probably going to absolutely hate the interminable time spent in transit. In spite of that I have also discovered time and time again that the pain is worth the pleasure that follows when you have arrived.

    We left our home in the middle of the night and also in the middle of a miserable Melbourne winter. The only advantage of having a 5 am departure is that the drive to Tullamarine can be achieved on relatively quiet roads. It is a strange and wonderful feeling being able to drive on the Monash Freeway without feeling that you are about to be tail ended by a huge speeding truck sitting about 10 cm from your rear bumper.

    In spite of the terrible weather, the drive was actually surprisingly easy and we arrived at the long term parking about an hour after leaving Pakenham. We were the only ones there and were met by a rotund young fellow who seemed grateful to have something to do. He explained where to park the car and then ushered us to a large shuttle bus to take us to the airport.

    About 10 minutes later we were dropped off at the Departures section and our adventure was about to begin in earnest. As our small group of travellers started to assemble, we passed the time happily chatting and drinking coffee - we will be doing a lot of that over the next few weeks.

    By 2 am the checkin was open and we were soon on our way through security and immigration. In spite of Carol's persistent requests for an upgrade, none were forthcoming. Apparently such airline largesse is no longer practised. You have to pay for anything. Actually we had already paid for something - exit row seats.

    If I am going to sit in a steel sarcophagus for 14 hours, I might as well at least have enough room to straighten my legs from time to time. It might not be business class, but it really does make a little difference to the level of discomfort.

    The plane took off right on time and soon the combined effects of a very long day and a slightly rocking plane sent my eyelids in the downwards direction. When I awoke I was a little surpised to find that 4 hours had passed by. It was a great start and I was also pleased to find that a DVT had not formed in my leg while I had been asleep.

    After a few hours of watching movies and listening to audio books it was time for the next major challenge of the flight. Eating your meal from a rickety foldout table about the size of a postage stamp is never easy. There is always the ever present danger of watching your fork disappear out of sight into that bottomless abyss between the seats or knocking your glass of juice right onto your lap.

    I thought after many long haul flights I was at last getting a little more skilled at eating and staying sane. My self confidence might have been a little premature. Somehow I managed to finish the entire bowl of beef ragout (or something like that) without any major catastrophes. It was only when I stood up that someone pointed out that most of the beef and gravy had somehow deposited itself on the front of my clean shirt. What followed next was a lengthy time spent in the dwarf toilet trying to launder my shirt with water and tissues. It almost worked.

    After fourteen hours we finally touched down in Dubai, to be immediately welcomed by the furnace like heat and dust haze that makes this place one of my least favourite locations on earth. Forunately we only had a 90 minute transit and we were soon ushered onto the second A380 which was to complete our journey to Paris.

    Although six hours is better than fourteen hours, it is still a long time. A problem with the headphone socket meant that I had to hold the plug in the socket if I wanted to hear anything while I was watching a movie. It was a relatively minor inconvenience, but it did irritate me. I decided to watch the flight animation instead. Watching a little cartoon plane slowly crawl its way over Iraq does not make for gripping viewing so I tried to sleep a little longer.

    It seems to be a requirement of modern long haul flights that the shutters are kept securely closed for the entire flight. This means that, even if you have a window seat, you cannot even amuse yourself by watching the clouds pass by. Instead you are locked inside a black prison where time seems to stand still, punctuated at regular intervals by additional food spills on various items of clothing. Flying really is fun.

    Finally, after about 24 hours of travel, we touched down at Charles de Gaulle airport. It was 8 pm local time and the outside temperature was a delightful 25C. That was the rotten bit over, now we could look forward to the enjoyable bit.

    It took another hour or so to clear immigration and collect our baggage. I had booked one night at the Ibis Airport hotel and they promised that a free shutle would collect us from terminal 2C. It was just a shame that we waited at the wrong pickup point and missed the first bus. After a bit of research we discovered the correct bus stop and finally crowded onto the bus for the short trip to the hotel.

    Although it was supposed to be only 2 km away, the bus trip seemed to take forever. By this time we were all at the edge of exhaustion. Fortunately the hotel was expecting us and the friendly young man directed us to the phone box that was to be our room for the evening. Actually the room was smaller than most phone boxes, but it was clean and the bed worked. There are few things in life more joyous than the feeling of being able to lay your head on a pillow after such a long time of turmoil. It is like going to heaven.
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    Traveler

    Have a wonderful time and I’m looking forward to reading about your adventures!

    8/24/19Reply
     
  • Day3

    The City of the Popes

    August 23, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

    After the gruelling flight from Melbourne, it was glorious to finally lie horizontal, even if it was only for a few short hours. The Ibis Budget Roissy is hardly a luxury hotel, but it certainly was a welcome refuge, albeit if only temporary.

    By 6 am I was wide awake and gazing out the window at the slowly lightening sky. It looked like we would be in for another warm and cloudless day in Paris and the advance weather forecasts were promising that it would only get hotter in the week ahead.
    The breakfast at the Ibis was surprisingly good for a budget hotel, but maybe that was because the price of the breakfast was almost as much as the price for the room. After savouring my first French baguettes of the trip I returned to the room to “pack” my bag. How could the contents have swollen so much since I left Melbourne ? That was a mystery I would have to solve some other time, I was happy to just cram everything back in, and then give thanks when the zipper finally closed.

    Our original plan was to catch the shuttle back to the airport, then catch another complex sequence of trains to get us to Gare de Lyon station in Paris. It not only sounded very complicated, it was also going to take nearly two hours and cost over 10 Euros per person. There had to be a better way, and there was. When I asked the concierge about the price of a personal mini bus to take us direct to the station, he replied that it would cost about 60 Euros. When we divided that cost between 5 people, it actually worked out cheaper than the horrible alternative.

    By 9 am we were all comfortably seated in the luxury mini bus and speeding our way towards central Paris. Not only was this the perfect means of travel, but it also meant that we arrived in plenty of time to sit outside the magnificent Gare de Lyon Station and enjoy a coffee while we watched the Parisians go about their business. We had about 90 minutes before we needed to board our train and somehow I managed to spend about half of that time looking for the toilets in the station. When I eventually found them I figured that I had walked about halfway back from Paris to the airport. The relief that I experienced at the end also cost me 90 cents.

    Unfortunately Gordon and Sue had made a “small error” in their hotel bookings and had managed to find themselves in the “wrong” Ibis hotel at the airport. Considering that there are Ibis hotels on just about every street corner, it is not too hard to get them mixed up. This also meant that they could not join us in the luxury mini bus and therefore had to take the longer and much more expensive train option instead. They finally arrived at the Gare de Lyon with only a few minutes to spare. In the meantime the rest of us had enjoyed a lovely time soaking up the atmosphere and savouring our coffees.

    The high speed train from Paris to Avignon takes a little over 3 hours and spends much of that time silently moving along at between 250 to 300 kph. We sat in the comfortable first class seats and watched the beautiful French countryside fly by outside the window.

    The train pulled into the impressive Avignon Centre Gare at around 3.30 pm. We stepped out of the air conditioned carriage into a blazing 34C. It was quite a contrast to the Melbourne winter we had left about 48 hours earlier. Fortunately I had skilfully booked another Ibis Hotel just next door to the station, so we only had a short walk to transport our luggage.

    It was only when we went to check in that we discovered that Gordon and Sue had once again somehow managed to book the “wrong” Ibis. That would not have been so bad if it had not been on the other side of the city. We last saw them forlornly dragging their bags out into the sun for the long walk to the “other Ibis”.

    Later in the afternoon our group met together for a walk through the lovely historic old city centre of Avignon. The history of this place is extraordinary and between 1309 and 1376 it was actually the seat of power for the entire Catholic Church. It is still referred to as the “City of the Popes” and the huge Palace of the Popes dominates the centre of the city.

    Maggie and I had briefly visited this city in an earlier trip, but had very little time to look around. We had enjoyed a delightful al fresco meal near the Hotel de Ville and looked for the same place to introduce it to the rest of the group. Once the sun had lowered in the sky, the temperature moderated and it was a perfect ending to another eventful day.

    Although the few hours of sleep I had enjoyed the previous evening had rejuvenated me a little, by this time my batteries were quickly starting to run down and I was glad to be able to return to our hotel for some more sleep. Tomorrow we will have more time to explore Avignon, before we head out of town to a small nearby village called Caumont Sur Durance. That will be our home for the next 7 days.
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  • Day4

    A Hot Time in Avignon

    August 24, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

    There is no doubt that it has been a hot summer in Provence and it is not showing any signs of ending any time soon. The forecast is for a never ending succession of temperatures in the mid 30s – not exactly ideal conditions for a group of elderly Australians who have freshly arrived from the middle of a bleak Melbourne winter.

    At least our hotel room was very nicely air conditioned, allowing us to enjoy a very comfortable night’s rest. We arrived at breakfast just as a large group of lanky (and obviously very hungry) teenagers had devoured everything in sight. They had even used up all the crockery. For a while I thought I would have to eat off my breakfast tray, but managed to persuade the serving girl to bring out some extra plates. Catastrophe averted. Breakfast saved.

    We had previously decided to spend the morning exploring the city before the temperature soared too high. It did not take long for us to realise that we were too late. Even by 10 am the heat was almost overwhelming. Our group staggered down the main street while the women took every available opportunity to stop and take pictures, mostly of inane things like doorknobs and cracked windows. The men found a sign promising “Roman Ruins” and slowly walked in that direction. When we got there the ruins turned out to be rather underwhelming, leaving us wondering why we had wasted the energy. We could have just sat in the shade instead.

    We continued to walk past the very imposing Palais des Papes and even managed to climb to the highest point in the city. Although it gave a panoramic view down to the Rhone River and the famous Pont d’Avignon, we were all too hot and bothered to take much notice of it. We did what any intelligent person would do in similar circumstances – sat in the shade and had lunch at a lovely little restaurant by an ornamental pond.

    For the next seven nights our home will be the small village of Caumont Sur Durance. Our initial plan had been to spend a week pretending we were genuine French people. After searching the internet we thought that Caumont looked like a typical village and then looked for a suitable house to rent for the week. There were five of us who would be sharing the place, so it needed to have sufficient space for us all. Maggie conducted some research and found a likely looking place (at least the pictures looked good), so we made the booking. We had arranged to be at the property by 4 pm, but had no idea how we were going to get from Avignon to Caumont.

    Since we had had such a good experience with the mini bus taxi the previous day, I asked the hotel to organise a similar bus to take us all to Caumont. Although it arrived on time, we soon found that it was not really quite big enough to hold all of us AND our luggage. What followed next was a period of prolonged pushing and shoving by the driver as he tried vainly to cram all our bags into the rear. After many unsuccessful attempts to shut the rear door, we told him to pile the extra cases on top of Gordon instead. So that’s what he did.

    With no less than seven of us jammed inside and with Gordon helplessly pinned under a huge suitcase, we set off on the next stage of our adventure. The map had promised that Caumont was only around 10 km from Avignon, however it really seemed like much further than that, especially for Gordon who had lost all sensation below his belly button.

    We finally arrived at the small hamlet and went in search of our rented house. The entire town is a crumbling collection of old stone houses with tiled roofs. The meandering streets were only barely wide enough for a small vehicle and we initially felt like we were lost in a giant maze. At least we knew that our house was near the church, so we used that for a landmark.

    We were happy to tumble out of the minibus. Gordon was the happiest of all as he worked hard to restore some circulation to his lower legs. We went in search of number 11, Rue Mademoiselle de Perverts (or something like that) and started knocking loudly on the door. A few minutes later it was opened by an elderly Frenchwoman who proceeded to talk nonstop for the next twenty minutes, telling us all the things that were forbidden in her house. Of course we could not understand more than about 4 words of what she was saying. We just wanted to find our rooms and have a rest.

    The house itself is spread haphazardly over about 7 different levels, with rooms branching off in completely random order. The owner had added to this confusion by over decorating it with a profusion of mismatched odds and ends, all of which were eagerly waiting to be either broken or tripped over. She seemed very surprised that we had not brought our own sheets and towels with us from Australia. “If you want me to supply them, you will have to pay for them”, was the message. We also found that we would have to pay for everything else – soap, toilet rolls, gas, detergent, electricity, cleaning, etc, etc. Nothing was provided for free. But it would be our responsibility to water the pot plants. When the landlady finally left, we made ourselves at home by promptly breaking two glasses and almost breaking several other items. I also made an impression on myself by walking into one of the low wooden beams as I was walking down the stairs. I certainly won’t do that again.

    Maggie and I found ourselves in a room on the ground floor. Although it had its own toilet, it was certainly impossible to take a seat and close the door at the same time. Even getting into the toilet required the skills of a consummate contortionist. Once inside you were kept company by a massive collection of starfish and other marine memorabilia. It was going to be an interesting seven days, but that was the aim of this part of the trip. We knew it would be challenging and interesting at the same time. The heat also added an extra degree of difficulty as there was no air-conditioning. We also found that the biggest challenge of all was that the house had no Internet connection.

    I should have mentioned that Gael and Gerry had also learned that we had booked a house in Caumont and thought that it sounded like a good idea. They found another rental home nearby. For the next week there will be seven Australians wandering this place. I wondered if the town would survive.

    We had been assured by several different locals (including our landlady), that there were no cafes in the town, however Google stated otherwise. It showed that there were several within easy walking distance. Can you guess which source of information was correct ? The locals or Google ? If you said the locals, you would be wrong. After the heat of the day had subsided, we went on a walk around the town and found that there were indeed several eateries, a boulangerie and a supermarket. Perhaps the locals had never explored past their own front doors. Strange but true.

    We found a tiny pizza shop that was obviously doing a brisk trade and ordered three pizzas for dinner. An hour later they were ready. At 8 Euros each they were excellent value and were so big that we could only eat about half of them. They would have been even easier to eat if they had been cut into slices. We did not know if the lack of cutting was an oversight or a peculiar feature of this region.

    After the frenetic pace of the past few days it will be lovely to spend tomorrow doing almost nothing.
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    Traveler

    We have an appartement in Lyon. Much smaller than we expected and 97 more stairs than we would have liked. Thanks Dennis for making us feel so much better.

    8/25/19Reply
     
  • Day5

    A Cricket Catastrophe in Caumont

    August 25, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

    Today was our first full day of our stay in Caumont. Being a Sunday it was also the day in which nothing is open. It was just as well that we had found our way to the Supermarket yesterday. That gave us a chance to stock up on supplies and to ensure that we would not starve before the shops reopened on Monday.

    After a long hot night the group slowly started to stir at around 7.30 am. A glance out the window showed what we already knew was going to happen – it was going to be yet another scorching and cloudless day in Provence. After a leisurely breakfast we spent some time just chatting and making plans for the next few days. Gael and Gerry had already invited us to visit their accommodation, so that we could compare the two houses.

    They arrived at our house in time for a shared lunch, before leading us up the hill to their place. As soon as we walked in the door we could see (and feel) the stark contrast between the two houses. Firstly their place was almost new and ultra modern. It was also cool, delightfully cool, due to the very efficient air conditioning.

    Because it was at the top of the hill it also had panoramic views out over the surrounding rolling hills of Provence. We also discovered that the elevated position meant that Maggie could actually get a mobile phone connection for the first time since leaving Avignon. But the greatest wonder of all was that this place was also fitted out with high speed Internet and wifi. Everyone immediately produced their electronic devices and proceeded to catch up for lost time on the net.

    I suppose we could have happily stayed there all day, but we had to pretend that we were keen to get back to our own place. The mid afternoons are the hottest time of the day and the burning sun seemed to be bouncing off every surface as we struggled our way back down the hill. I had already decided that I would spend the rest of the afternoon listening to the coverage of the Third Ashes Test. The game was poised at a very interesting stage, although Australia was clearly in the better position. No one seriously gave English a chance of pulling off such an unlikely win.

    It was only as the afternoon wore on that it became clear that the result was not as guaranteed as we might have believed. As Stokes belted his way to a century and kept going, we could feel that the momentum had shifted away from Australia. Although the result was a shock to us, it is certain that this match will go down in history as one of the most remarkable ever played.

    While the rest of the group went out to dinner at the best restaurant in time (actually the only restaurant in town), Maggie and I decided to stay at home and enjoy a bowl of cereal instead. We will have plenty of opportunity to sample the fine French cuisine over the next two months and we did not want to peak too early.
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  • Day6

    An Early Start to the Day

    August 26, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Planning a week long stay in Provence in August was always going to be something of a risk. Although you can plan most aspects of a trip, there is one important factor that we have absolutely no control whatsoever. I have learnt from my previous experiences in Europe that the weather can throw up a complete range of conditions – from scorching heat to freezing cold. Before this trip is over I expect that we will have the opportunity to experience them all.

    According to the laws of long term averages, September is usually the best time for active activities (such as cycling). In France, as in much of Europe, August is regarded as the holiday month – the time when many shops and businesses close for their summer vacations. It is also often the hottest time of the year. Since we had already timed the start of our cycling for the beginning of September, we had no choice over the dates for any additional time in Provence. It would have to be late August.

    As it turned out we happened to arrive right at the end of a prolonged extremely hot summer. In many parts of Europe new records had been set with temperatures soaring into the 40s. Although we had been hoping that the worst of the summer might have passed before we arrived, this was not to be the case. Provence in particular had suffered from an unbroken succession of hot and rainless days. Gardens were dying while the locals sought refuge inside their stone walled houses. Since we had just arrived from the depths of a very cold Melbourne winter, the shock has been enough to leave us wilting. Although we tried to do a little exploring of the village, the relentless sun soon sent us returning to the relative cool of our home. For that reason we decided that the only way we were going to be able to wander the town would be to do it in the very early morning, right on sunrise.

    At 7 am the air was still pleasantly cool and fresh. It was delightful to be able to walk up and down the steeply sloping streets without breaking out in a lather of sweat. When we first arrived here, just two days ago, the place seemed to be a complete mystery of tangled alleyways, now we were able to navigate our way about with relative ease. It certainly helped that the we always had the towering steeple of the ancient church to guide us home.

    During our walk we noticed that there was a nearby rocky hill that dominated the village. We decided that it would be worth climbing to the top before sunrise the following day so that we could watch the sun rise over the Vaucluse Plateau. In the distance the towering silhouette of Mont Ventoux dominated the landscape. This is the mountain that breaks the spirit of many a Tour de France rider and was also the place that the English cyclist Tom Simpson breathed his last. The combination of the thin air and a lethal cocktail of performance enhancing drugs was more than his body could take.

    Our walk eventually took us to the familiar sight of the local supermarket, where we set about emptying their shelves of just about everything in sight. I thought that we might need to recruit a team of Sherpas to help transport it back to the house, but somehow we managed to do it unaided. We even managed to get the precious baguettes back home without flattening them too much.

    Back in the cool of the house breakfast somehow blended into lunch. The baguettes were stuffed with cold meat and ham and washed down with a little cider. A truly French tradition. After lunch the temperature outside was probably hot enough to melt iron. We decided to stay indoors and partake in some serious talking instead. The challenge was for each person to share something that they had never told anybody else. This always makes for interesting conversation. Carol took the opportunity to reveal some incredibly dark secrets of David’s. It was just as well that David was back at home in Australia, performing medical experiments on their poor cat, and had idea of what was being revealed on the other side of the world.

    While on the subject of the cat, apparently the resultant vet bills were of such incredible magnitude (and growing by the day) that David would have actually saved a huge pile of money by joining us in France and leaving the poor beast with a professional housesitter instead.

    Gael and Gerry decided to invite the rest of the time to join them in their air conditioned penthouse for dinner. It gave them an opportunity to simultaneously show off their residence and Gerry’s culinary skills at the same time. I must admit that the pasta was delicious and it was a lovely way to end the day. We were even able to stand on their huge terrace and admire the views. Way below us the lights were just starting to come on and the slightest suggestion of a cool breeze made the spectacle even more beautiful. I guess that is why we made the decision to spend the week this way.
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  • Day7

    Sunrise Over Caumont

    August 27, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    It’s amazing what a difference a few hours sleep and a few degrees lower temperature can make. Yesterday we all made the significant discovery that the best time to explore the city was in the wee small hours of the morning, well before the sun rises high in the sky and the place starts to feel like the inside of a pizza oven.

    Buoyed by our early morning foray of yesterday, we made the decision to rise even earlier and head off well before dawn. At 6 am we were underway. The air was still deliciously cool and the evening stars were still twinkling overhead as we walked through the narrow stone alleyways, past the familiar Chapelle de Penitents Blancs and towards the nearby rocky mountain that we had seen the previous day.

    The only problem was that, in the pre dawn gloom, we had difficulty seeing where we were going. I was just hoping that we would be able to successfully avoid planting our feet right on top of one of the many dog turds we had seen in the walkways. While I think we avoided the canine booby traps, finding the path to the top of the mountain proved a more difficult task. After a few tentative attempts, we eventually managed to find something that could have been a path. Or then again, it might not. It was hard to tell, since the entire side of the hill was covered in a type of rocky scree that would have made it very easy to slip and fall. We also had the added difficulty of having to make our way through patches of prickly briar, that scratched our legs at regular intervals.

    By some miracle of navigation and good fortune, we somehow all made it to the summit without suffering a catastrophe. From the top of the mountain we could look down to the village and identify the now familiar landmarks of the large central church, the cemetery and the supermarket. Further in the distance we could see the rugged outlines of the Alpilles, the towering shadow of Mont Ventoux and the closer Vaucluse Plateau.

    We gathered and waited for the sun to finally rise behind the Vaucluse. The sky lightened ever so slowly and the light from the (still obscured) sun illuminated the nearby clouds making them look like molten lava pouring forth from some huge distant volcano. It was certainly a highlight of the trip so far.

    After watching the sun finally make its appearance above the horizon, we carefully made our way back down to the cemetery and to the second large church in the village. It was somewhat fascinating to see the way that the graves were covered in a plethora of small plaques and statues, many of them bearing photos of the deceased.

    By 9 am we found ourselves back in the centre of the village and headed to the Boulangerie to buy some fresh baguettes. To our horror the sign informed us that the shop would be closed until September 2nd. This was yet another reminder that August is the holiday season in France. To our relief there was a “Baguette Plan B” – the local TABAC across the road was acting as a temporary baguette supplier while the regular baker was closed. I am not sure where they were coming from, but the baguettes were still warm when we bought them – and they certainly were delicious. It would have been a crime to wait till we got back to the house before we ate them, so we started to attack them straight away.

    What transpired next was a very pleasant hour spent outside the nearest coffee shop, drinking coffee, eating baguettes and croissants, and happily chatting. The cooler weather had brought out the locals and the entire town was buzzing with life that we had not seen since we had arrived last Saturday. It was agreed that this was a ritual that we must repeat each day for the remainder of our stay.

    After the time at the coffee shop it was time to return to the house to sit out the hottest part of the day. Most of the group decided that an afternoon siesta would be a good idea. In this sort of climate it makes eminent good sense. Gael and Gerry joined us for dinner and by 9 pm it was time to call it a day. It had easily been the most enjoyable day we had had so far, but we were conscious that our time in Provence was passing rapidly.
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  • Day8

    In Search of the Durance

    August 28, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Following our previous successes with early morning starts, we decided to once again head off at 7 am. This really is the very best time of the day for any sort of physical activity, and the cooler air at that time of the day is delightful.

    Our walk first took us to the cemetery that we had explored the previous day. The entire region of Provence is liberally dotted with Roman ruins, and Caumont Sur Durance is no exception. We had previously noted a couple of signs pointing to the “Jardin Romaine”, so this morning we thought they might be worthy of further exploration. As it turned out we were standing right in front of them. Even more surprising was the fact that, even at this time of the morning, the gates were unlocked.

    We then spent 30 minutes or so wandering the sprawling ruins of what was obviously an impressive garden in Roman times. The main feature was a huge tiled pool, extending maybe 60 metres or more in length. Even after 2000 years you could still see the amazing handiwork of the tilers who must have laid millions of tiny tiles over the full length of the pool. It was also possible to see traces of the original frescoes that must have covered the sides of the pool.

    There was one other major feature of the town that we had not yet seen – the Durance River. Although the name of the town translates to “Caumont on the Durance”, a more accurate name would have been “Caumont somewhere in the vicinity of the Durance”.
    We have seen no sight of the river anywhere near the town, but knew it must be somewhere around. Since water mostly travels downhill, we decided to follow a small stream to see where it led. I confidently told the group that it must lead us unerringly to the river and so, off we went.

    We found a lovely shaded Chemin (path) that followed the stream. Unfortunately the water in the stream looked quite putrid, inspiring me to suggest that maybe this was the town’s sewer. “Maybe all it will take us to is the town’s sewer treatment plant”, I added. At that time it was meant to be a joke.

    Along the way we were barked at furiously by large dogs which seemed to be a feature of every home. Fortunately the fences were high and the dogs could only snarl and growl at us through the wire. After walking for about 2 km, the path started to degenerate into a bit of a bush bash. A group of French council workers were busy cutting back some of the undergrowth that had blocked the way. We bade them a friendly “Bonjour” and continued fighting our way through the brambles, stinging nettles and briars. I began to feel like Burke and Wills, trying to reach the Gulf of Carpentaria. One prominent facility that we did succeed in reaching was the local sewer works. My earlier prediction had proven uncannily accurate.

    The path finally led us under a large bridge and into a dangerous pile of large rocks. This was getting quite ridiculous and there was still no sign of the Durance. Risking life and limb, some of us clambered over the rocks, but the others had already had enough and turned back to the town. The reduced group did eventually catch a glimpse of the mighty Durance, but it was on the other side of a very busy highway and there was no easy way to get across. Besides it was time for coffee ! We headed back to the town. Sometimes the explorer’s lot is not an easy one.

    Soon after 9 am we were all gathered outside our new favourite coffee shop, eating chocolate croissants and drinking coffee. Thanks to the magic of modern technology and the wizardry of What’s App, we invited David to join us at the table. Of course he was still thousands of miles away in Melbourne, nursing the ailing cat and its ever growing list of severe injuries (all of these cruelly inflicted by a person or persons called David). We propped the phone in the middle of the table and showed David how much we were enjoying ourselves. I suggested that he should take the cat on a nice holiday, just to apologise for what he had done to it. My friendly suggestion was met with muted silence.

    By the time we returned to the house, according to the GPS we had walked around 7 km. It was time for a rest. The remainder of the day was spent in much less active pastimes – mostly talking, doing crosswords, playing “Who Am I ?”, eating – and an afternoon siesta. It’s a tough life.

    In the cool of the evening we walked to Gael and Gerry’s penthouse and had a wonderful dinner out on their terrace. It was a magical experience to be able to enjoy a meal surrounded by the rolling hillsides of Provence. As the daylight faded, the scene progressively became dominated by the gentle sepia coloured streetlights of the township. It was picture postcard perfect and none of us will ever forget the evening we dined al fresco in Caumont.
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    Traveler

    Hello Dennis Maggie

    8/29/19Reply
    Traveler

    Hello all----Loving/laughing at the blog Dennis--(though I am absolutely horrified re the situation with David and the cat!!?? ) I will follow your blog/journey ---and from tomorrow----when I fly out of Tulla I will be following it from Italy as I ride from high in the Dolomites to the Adriatic sea--- 2 weeks of cycling---hoping its not too hot...Take care all ----Mary KinchXX

    8/29/19Reply
    The World on Two Wheels

    Hi Mary, it is always great to hear from you. It sounds like you will be having your own wonderful adventure as well. We will have some stories to share when we see you again.

    8/30/19Reply
     
  • Day9

    Feeling At Home in Provence

    August 29, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    It is amazing what a difference a few days can make. When we firsr arrived in Caumont, just five ago, the tangled web of narrow medieval alleyways looked close to imprenetrable. It felt like we had been dropped right into the middle of a giant maze.

    Over the past few days the village has become progressively more familiar to us. Using the central elevated Church of the White Penitents as our landmark, we can now confidently wander the entire town, withoput any danger of becoming lost. Even the faces of the locals are becoming familiar. Each time we walk the alleyways, our wanderings are punctuated by numerous "Bonjours". We are even starting to feel that the locals are starting to accept us as aa non threatening addition to their way of life.

    We have now established a daily routine. Each morning we set out at 7 am for our morning walk. This is well before the cauldron is turned up and the heat makes any sort of activity almost impossible. We walk for around 2 hours, before returning to the centre of the village. The first stop is the TABAC (General Store), where we buy our baguettes and pains chocolates (choclate croissants). We then walk the short distance to our favourite coffee shop (actually the only coffee shop) and settle down for at least an hour of coffee drinking and croissant eating. It would not be hard to get used to this way of life, in fact it's takern us less than a week and we are already feeling at home.

    After our daily sojourn at the coffee shop, all we have to do is walk back up the hill to our house, find our favourite arm chair and settle down for a quiet sit in front of the fan. In the afternoon it is customary to rest the eyelids for an hour or two. There is a very good reason why the siesta is an integral part of life in this region of Europe.

    When the sun is low in the western sky, it is time to make our way further up the hill to Gael and Gerry's penthouse. There we can enjoy the airconditioning, the high speed internet and the lovely outdoor terrace. Life does not get much simpler (or better) than this. It has proven to be a wonderful way to start our adventure and I am sure that we will all be a little sad when the time comes for us to hand back the keys and bid Au Revoir to the little town of Caumont Sur Durance.
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    Traveler

    It has been a great week 😎🤗🤸‍♀️

    8/30/19Reply
     
  • Day10

    A Fireworks Fuelled Friday Finale

    August 30, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    When the weather forecast promised us yet another day in the mid 30s we knew that any active pursuits would be done in the early morning. After almost a week in this region, we have learned that the stifling heat of the afternoon is only suitable for resting and/or sleeping. Carol seems to have perfected this to a point where she now spends almost the entire day fast asleep, waking only for long enough to eat a chocolate croissant or two.

    We knew that this would be our final early morning walk so we looked for a route that we had not yet explored. From Gael and Gerry’s elevated terrace we had previously seen that there was a large new housing development on the outskirts of the town and we thought that this would be an interesting place to explore. Not only did we find an extensive development site with dozens of nearly completed homes, but we also discovered a brand new school as well. It is clear that there are major plans underway for this town.

    Along the way we met a couple of elderly Frenchmen who were walking their little dogs along the stream. We stopped for a chat and a pat of the dogs’ heads. One of the little creatures seemed tempted to follow us, but eventually turned back and caught up with its owner.

    After walking for a couple of hours we made our way back to the Tabac for our morning baguettes and chocolate croissants. This has already become a cherished tradition for us and we could see no reason why it should change. We then settled in at our favoured table outside the coffee shop for our morning coffees. We almost feel like we are well on the way to becoming locals.

    By 9.30 am the heat was already beginning to build up. It was time to return to the relative sanctuary of our house. There we stayed for rest of the morning and entire afternoon. Carol led the Ghostrider sleeping team on an extended afternoon siesta and finally emerged about 6 pm. She entered the lounge room, yawned loudly and then said “I need another rest, I am tired”. If Australia ever enters the Olympic sleeping competition, Carol would certainly be the captain and coach.

    By 7 pm it was time to make our way back up to Gael and Gerry’s for our final dinner in Caumont. Although it was still warm, the gentle breeze makes it a perfect place to enjoy an al fresco meal together. Later in the evening we became conscious of some explosions in the distance. To our delight we saw that they were coming from a fireworks display, far away in the south. We had no idea of what the celebration was for, but we convinced ourselves that it probably to welcome the Ghostriders to Provence. Whatever the reason for the fireworks, it was certainly a memorable ending to an incredible week that we had shared together.

    Tomorrow we will pack our bags and say goodbye to the village that has been our home for the past week. It will be time to return to Avignon to join the rest of the team for the first part of our cycling adventure. It is also fitting that tomorrow morning the town will be holding a Roman festival, complete with parades, displays and Roman themed activities. It promises to be a dramatic way to end our stay.
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    Traveler

    What a wonderful rest you have had before the real holiday begins. Carol should be raring to go🚴‍♀️. Hope the weather cools down for you

    8/30/19Reply