Our ride on the final day was very short, just 12 miles to reach the ferryport. And the ride was mostly on the cyclepaths that ran on both sides of the river.
Our route on a short stretch of road running from our campsite along the coast was marked by a poignant series of vertical banners hung on every lampost, each of which featured a portrait of a soldier who had been killed during the fighting associated with the capture of the Pegasus Bridge. In fact, along many of the roads within Ouisterham itself the lamposts were similarly decorated.
We crossed the river at the famous Pegasus Bridge, renamed after the war after the pegasus emblem of the regiment that managed to secure this strategic crossing across the river. This bridge, whose capture by parachutists arriving from gliders in the latter days of World War 2 in Europe, was an important part of the strategic preparation for the D Day landings.
The current bridge, however, is not the original wartime version but a more recent replacement whose design still allowed the passage of ships and barges to and from Caen, some 12km to the south in order to reach the English Channel.
And then, after a satisfying lunch of galettes accompanied by local cider in Ouisterham, we made our way to the ferry port’s waiting area in preparation for boarding our ferry back to Portsmouth.
And so our journey is almost over.
We have pedalled across Northern Spain from Bilbao into France. From the Atlantic coast in France to the Mediterranean and across to the Rhône estuary. Our return ride from Paris to the ferry port of Ouisterham took our mileage to over 800 miles (around 1300km) with lots of hills climbed and many memories generated.
Together with our rail, ship and bus journeys we must have travelled around 3,000 miles in all, not so different from our previous long distance tandem travel to Istanbul and back!
After breakfast, whilst doing the pre ride checks before setting off, the gear cable decided to break off inside the changer. Being an indexed device I was unsure how to access the innards of the changer without having the whole piece of machinery completely disintegrate.
‘Professor YouTube’ came to the rescue, and it soon became clear how to do the necessary and open up the changer to fit the replacement cable. It was fortunate that the cable was amongst the various spares we carried. However a cross headed screwdriver was needed, and additionally a cable or wire cutter was also required, neither of which was in the tool kit (note to self – include these in future!).
Fortunately the neighbour to where we were stayingwas able to provide the necessary equipment and soon all was fixed for our onward journey to the coast.
Most of the day’s ride looked on the map to be fairly flat apart from a section which involved climbing up out of the river valley near Pont l’Éveque to reach the relatively flat countryside nearer the coast. We appeared to have the option of either having a long steady climb, at a reasonably graded rate on a not too busy “D” road, or an even longer more circuitous route along unclassified roads involving ups and downs some of which seemed to be quite steep according to our mapping app.
We chose the busier route! But before we braved the climb we decided to take advantage of a Creperie and have a quick treat. We discovered that ‘gallettes” are invariably made out of ‘ farine de sarassin’ (buckwheat flour) and therefore were naturally gluten free . Given that Crêpes are very much part of the cuisine of Normandy it was nice to be able to enjoy such offerings and we chose some sweet flavoured versions.
After our brief stop, it turned out that the climb was not nearly as fearsome as we thought it might have been, although it had started to rain.. We were soon bowling along to the coast and the campsite we had selected for the night that was within easy reach of Ouisterham and the ferry port to catch our ferry to the UK.
As we reached the coast the rain had stopped so it wasn’t a wet weather pitching experience!
Having pitched our tent we were soon easily able to find a suitable restaurant where we had galletes again, this time stuffed with flavoursome vegetarian fillings.
Our last night of our journey on the continent was rounded off by a beautiful sunset over the sandy beach that was right next to the campsite.
Since we had no tent to pack up we were able to start our journey from Evreux bright and early, just as the market stalls were being set up in the central square.
After buying ingredients for our breakfast we pedalled up a steep route to where the ‘Voie Verte’ started heading north west. And what a lovely route it was, threading through woodland high above the town with a decent tarmac surface. A little way along we stopped at a convenient bench to have our picnic breakfast of (gluten free) sweet biscuits, yogurt, banana and fresh fruit. Not far away was a small viaduct that presented an attractive view over Evreux.
Our route for almost the whole morning was along the voie verte for almost 35km, mostly flat with small inclines, gentle curves, tree-lined vistas and a profusion of birdsong.
Stopping at around midday we reached a small town, Le Neubourg where it was market day. After refreshments at a busy cafe overlooking the market stalls, we walked our fully laden tandem through crowds looking at the various stalls, buying fresh ingredients for our picnic lunch as we went.
Our tandem provoked lots of interest and we had plenty of brief conversations about where we had been, where were from, where we were headed for etc. and invariably ending with “bon courage” or “bonne route”!
Having booked airbnb accommodation with cooking facilities we also wanted to buy ingredients for our dinner later in the day. Our route out of town looked as though it would take us past a small supermarket where we thought we might be able to assemble a suitable collection of ingredients for our meal.
Not to be ! With a sign up in the window saying it was closed for the day we needed to find somewhere else . However, just a bit further along the street there appeared to be another food shop, so after looking inside it turned out that it was a specialist far eastern shop full of unfamiliar foods. Fortunately, and guided by the shopkeeper, I was able to purchase an interesting collection of gluten free and vegetarian ingredients for our dinner.
As we pedalled on, we passed lots of typical Normandy style buildings once we had turned off the ‘voie verte’ onto small “D” roads that criss cross the countryside and connecting lots of lovely small villages.
Our lunch spot today was in the shade of a lofty railway arch which crossed a beautifully clear and fast flowing river – ‘La Riviere Risle’. Our picnic was made special by the brief appearance of the vivid blue flash of a kingfisher darting into the river to catch its meal.
The day’s ride continued along small lanes to reach our accommodation for the night which consisted of a nicely fitted out wooden cabin situated in a large garden of a house set deep in the countryside. We had a peaceful night!
Once we had climbed the long haul away from the River Seine we entered relatively flat farming country with fields of ripe wheat, flax and rapeseed all awaiting harvest over the next few days.
Having started out early from Pierre’s home, by 10am we had reached a pretty picnnic breakfast spot overlooking a village tucked into a fold in the hills amongst golden fields of wheat.
After a breakfast, it wasn’t long before we joined what appeared to be a disused railway track that had been converted into shared use path. The decent surface and gentle gradients meant that we made good progress towards Evreux our next overnight stop.
We reached Evreux in good time by late afternoon when we checked into our accommodation. This time we we had booked a room in a small family hotel that offered a good room price for our overnight stay through the booking.com website.
Once showered, we started to explore the town and locate a place to have our dinner. A tapas restaurant fitted the bill nicely and we were easily able to assemble a suitable mixture to suit our dietary needs and preferances.
Sauntering back to the hotel we passed a suitable bridge to play poohsticks, so of course, we had to play a single challenge. A passer-by, out of curiosity, asked us what we were doing. So we had to explain (in French) the principles of this funny little game before handing him a small sprig of rosemary to challenge Molly. He was rather pleased to be the ‘vanquer’ and walked away with a big smile in his face!
We were up and ready nice and early to start our ride and by 9.00 we were on the road heading west along the Seine to follow the potentially flatter and thus more enjoyable route towards Caen and the coast.
Initially we had a few stiff climbs to reach the select residential area of St Cloud in order to miss out a huge S of the River Seine. On reaching the top at Parc St. Cloud we were able fo find a good spot to stop and have our picnic breakfast. The bench where we had chosen to stop was around 110mtrs up and had the most magnificent view across central Paris over to the well known landmarks of the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre.
Just as we finished our breakfast we noticed that three horses had come to view behind us, together with their driver. They were harnessed to a piece of machinery, which, after it was unfurled revealed itself to be a mower! They then proceeded to pull this mower behind them to begin mowing the long grass of the park. A bizarre sight in central Paris!
We followed the Seine for most of our ride, mostly on decent quality riverside shared use paths, but occasionally climbing over a few of the numerous meanders of the Seine as it flowed to the sea.
We passed a number of attractive small towns and villages as we made our way westwards until we reached the small town of Mantes-les-Jolie.
Our Warmshowers host, Pierre, lived here with his family and had agreed to host us for the night. Turning off the riverside path we turned off to climb up the short distance to his home. He had helpfully left a small flag propped by his gate to show us where he lived.
We were rather touched that Pierre and his wife had agreed to host us that night, since it was quite a busy time domestically for them. They were already temporarily hosting their daughter who had a baby and a 3 year old with her, which the following day, would be cared for by her grand dad. Pierre’s son was also temporarily staying there as well!
They kindly offered to share their dinner with us, and we were taught how best to eat and enjoy artichokes. A first for us two! Conversation round the table was in a mixture of French and English, with Pierre keen to practice his English language skills with us. Various travellers tales were told, interspersed by exploration of our respective backgrounds and life experiences.
We had a good night’s sleep that night which set us up for the next day’s ride climbing out of the Seine valley and further towards the Normany Coast.
Having spent an enjoyable few days with Abi & Guy in the Italian Lakes it was time to start our journey home together with our tandem currently packed away in its two bags plus our various additional panniers and bags.
Abi & Guy needed to get to work on the Monday so we decided that it was best we headed for Martigny in Switzerland, which was on their route to Morzine This small town had the benefit of swift and convenient direct train service to Lausanne (also in Switzerland) from where we were able to take the TGV train to Paris, together with our packed up tandem and various bags. A total of 11 pieces to keep track of.
True to form, the Swiss train service to Lausanne arrived on time, and departed exactly three minutes later, arriving exactly on time in Lausanne.
The route to Lausanne was very pretty and skirted the northern bank of Lac Genéve where there were attractive views of the French Alps to the south behind Evians Les Bains which is the spa resort on the lakeside of what the French call Lac Leman.
We had a decent amount of time before our TGV direct train to Paris was due to leave, so we were able to move all of our bags to the correct platform and be in position ready to board.
We had booked seats on the upper deck of the double decker train, having been informed by the Man in Seat 61 website that this was the best way to make the journey and would give the best opportunity of a good view of the attractive countryside we passed through en route.
Arriving in Paris Gare de Lyon on time, we then had to re-assemble our tandem on the arrival platform in between train arrivals and departures with curious passengers looking on. About 75 minutes later we were all loaded up and we wheeled our steed out of the station to be on the road to head for our Warmshowers host Alexis who had offered to put us up for the night. He and his wife Valentine live with their baby in Meudon, a suburb of Paris situated around 15km to the west.
Riding in the centre of Paris was surprisingly easy and unstressful, apart from the odd occasion when a red light was missed or there wss a “déviation’! Like the Italians, French drivers are amazingly forgiving to pedal powered people, generally giving us a decent passing space as they overtook us.
Just before we reached our hosts for the night we had to climb a sharp hill for about 1km and we reached Alexis’s home rather puffed and hot and sweaty. Their flat was on 3rd floor, so by the time we eventually sat down and relaxed we’d had a real workout. Our warmshowers on offer were very welcome.
Bizarrely, we were invited to order an Indian takeaway which our hosts Alexis and Valentine were thinking of ordering for dinner, so we added our choices from the menu, recognising familiar names of dishes offered on the french language menu..
Having eaten and exchanged many travellers’ tales we settled down for a good night’s sleep to be ready for the ride out of the urban area of Paris situated on the Seine to the west.
Arriving at around 9am at Bari left us some time to explore the city a little before catching our train to Milan due to depart at 12.45. Having stopped to enjoy some coffee and fruit juice, we meandered around the old town exploring its narrow streets, cool in the hot morning sunshine for a little while. We were struck by the profusion of little shrines lovingly decorated and dedicated to a variety of saints related to the area.
Heading slowly into the newer parts of the city which grew up nearer the station we were struck by the handsome wide boulevards lined by palm trees, giving welcome shade in the heat.
On our way we looked out for fruit & veg shops and ‘alimentari’to buy provisions for our long train journey to Milan, covering almost the entire length of Italy. A journey that was to take around 9 hours!
We reached Milan in the evening but in time to check in to our airbnb host, Stephania, who welcomed us to her beautifully presented home around 30 minutes walk from Milano Centrale station.
A little time in Milan then up to Lago di Como
For a long time I have wanted to see some innovative buildings in Milan called ‘Il Bosco Verticale’ (vertical forest) situated a short distance from Porta Garibaldi station. Since our train to Como departed from that same station it was an ideal time for an explore.
These two blocks of flats, completed in 2014 were designed as a template for sustainable high density city living. Their defining feature were a series of balconies on each floor especially strengthened to take the weight of fully grown trees. These are watered by an irrigation system utilising rainwater collected in huge undergound tanks. Solar pv panels supply power to the buildings and at the base of each building a large secure compound for bicycles of those living in the building.
The trees not only have a significant cooling effect on the apartments in the building, but they have been found to significantly improve air quality in the immediate surroundings. As reported in a number of archtectural publications, the residents love living there. You can read further about the buildings from this link to the RIBA international awards website
The whole area is very attractive with lots of trees and specially planted areas managed as wildflower meadows.
Not far from this oasis of greenery was the amazing area around the Garibaldi station which is also worth exploring, including an artwork installation that incorporated trumpets and corresponding listening tubes installed down the sides of an atrium area going down some 5 floors. We first saw this on a previous trip in 2009 when we passed through Garibaldi station so we were able to say hello again.
Also there, was the first ever “Eataly” store to be set up, featuring a huge variety of the glorious food available from Italy over three floors. This now international chain celebrates all the best ‘slow food’ that Italy has to offer and apparently there is now a branch in London.
Catching one of the many local trains running to Como was very simple, especially since the TrenItalia app we use generated virtual tickets to use on the train on our mobile phone.
However, Abi & Guy had located a campsite for their mobile home at Dongo some 30km up the lake from Como itself, so we needed to catch a bus to get there. Normally this would be no problem since on weekdays there is an hourly service and frequent ferry boats ply up and down the lake.
We discovered that the online ticket site for the lake ferryboats had sold out on tickets for the day, so a bus it had to be. We then discovered on Sundays that the bus frequency drops down to one bus every 2 hours. And there were an awful lot of people who were gathered in a melée outside the station.
Once the bus arrived there was a real scrum to board, but Molly’s crowd-weaving skills came to the fore and she managed to get in to the bus to claim our two seats. Being a little less assertive I was some way behind in the crowd, but just managed to climb aboard before the last few standing places were taken.
I pitied the poor bus driver who had to manage all of this as well as turning a bit of a blind eye to the supposed maximum capacity of the bus. Off we went, passing lots of frustrated potential passengers as the bus whizzed by, filled to the gunwales and unable to squeeze anybody else in.
A few days on the shore of Lago di Como and Lago d’Orta
We arrived at Dongo approximately on schedule and got off at the road that led to the campsite where Abi and Guy had booked 3 days with their motorhome. The campsite led directly into the Lake Como and it was lovely to be able to swim in the clear water of the lake, being able to float and gaze upon the mountains surrounding the lake.
Lake Como has a reputation of beauty and it didn’t disappoint. One can understand why it is such a tourist honeypot. Fortunately, this time of year was not considered high season and it didn’t seem over crowded at all.
Abi and Guy had a paddleboard with them, packed away in the ‘garage’ of their motorhome. Once inflated, it meant we could all enjoy the sensation of precariously balancing on a floating platform whilst paddling on the lake. Abi and Guy had both acquired the skills so were quite proficient at stand up paddling, but I never got above paddling whilst kneeling. Molly, after a few practices learnt how to stand whilst paddling without falling off!
We had a lovely two days at Dongo, before moving on to another lake not far away, that had been recommended to us by friends of Liz (from Rezzo) whom we stayed with a few weeks before.
Lago d’Orta is smaller than Como, and is much less well known, although arguably more attractive. We stayed at Petanasco, a small village approximately half way along the lake to spend a couple more enjoyable days exploring the area.
Orta, nearby, is a beautiful old town, situated on an isthmus jutting, thumblike into the lake. It is also the major terminus for the various ferryboat routes that serve the towns and villages up and down the lake. We spent a happy day exploring its old narrow streets and walking up to the top of the hill that lay behind and above the town.
We also managed to take advantage of the ferryboat that serves Orta, as well as calling in to Isiola San Giulio a tiny island that boasts a nunnery, a school a few homes and a small souvenir shop all linked by a single street that circles the island.
After three relaxing days at Lago d’Orta it was time to head off northwards and make our way in the motorhome northwards through Switzerland and to France.