England and Scotland

From St. Malo, France, the channel crossing meant ten hours on a huge ferry complete with bars, restaurants, a cinema, and live shows for children. Upon reaching Portsmouth I queued up with at least a dozen other cycle tourists to go through immigration. Most seemed to be headed home to somewhere in the UK after a bike trip in France or Holland. My entry into Britain appeared almost derailed as the immigration officer considered my four months on a bike to be suspicious. However, after several assurances that I did not intend to stay in the country indefinitely and did indeed have the finances to take care of myself, my passport was stamped and I rode into England.

A short trip across the harbor brought me to another ferry port where I caught a small catamaran and twenty minutes later found myself on the Isle of Wight. Where I met Lisa, my riding partner for the UK. We had run into each other a month earlier in Austria, each on solo bike tours, and decided to try traveling together in Britain. Lisa had started her European trip in Paris, ridden east to Austria and then south to Italy before catching a flight from Rome to London and then biking to the Isle of Wight. You can check out her blog at Semester on Cycle.

We spent a few days resting up and wandering around the eastern coast of the island, biking on narrow lanes and seaside cliffs and through quaint towns along the shore. Finally we caught the ferry back to Portsmouth and headed northeast toward London. We hadn’t quite worked out the distances or negotiated our navigation methods yet, so misjudged the route a bit and a couple nights later found ourselves biking through London, crossing Tower Bridge at midnight, and arriving at my friend, Osama’s place at one in the morning. Luckily Osama knows me well enough to expect absurd lateness and even had sticky toffee pudding waiting for a midnight snack. Brilliant!

After several days with Osama — including catching an Imax movie and dinner at a nearby Nigerian restaurant — Lisa and I caught the train to Edinburgh. We wanted to catch the end of the Festival Fringe and biking north would not have left much time. At King’s Cross station I was tempted to get in the line for platform 9-3/4, but in the end stayed with the other muggles on a regular train. Unfortunately, Lisa’s train experience was less than ideal when she came down with food poisoning and our arrival in Edinburgh was followed by an unplanned cab ride to the Royal Infirmary. Fortunately after a tour of the emergency room and a good night’s sleep she was back to her normal self.

Once in Edinburgh we took in several shows at the Festival Fringe of which my favorite was the Tarzan Monologues, a fantastic performance of monologues, dancing and singing by a group of Nigerian men.

We’ve now been hanging out at a campground just south of the city for a week and are about ready to hit the road again. In theory we’ll head north to brave the reportedly poor weather of the Scottish highlands before turning back toward northern England.





France: Hills and Plains

After a sunny day off the bike in Le Puy I headed northwest through the hills of the Haute Loire region. The rain returned and I spent a few days in constant precipitation followed by a few more spent trying to dodge occasional passing thunderstorms.

The roads gradually descended from the rugged hills of France’s volcanic interior to more gently rolling hills and finally open plains of wheat and corn that reminded me of the American midwest. I avoided most of the larger cities, but still got in some time in large towns and visited some impressive chateaux and castles. One of my favorite features of bike touring in France quickly became the daily (or twice-daily… maybe three times on special days) visits to bakeries and patisseries to load up on bread, pastries and the occasional quiche.

Eventually I reached the Atlantic on the coast of Brittany a few kilometers east of St. Malo to officially complete an Aegean-to-Atlantic bike tour. A couple nights in St. Malo touring the city and browsing the weekly flea market rounded out my continental tour before I caught the ferry across the English Channel to Portsmouth.





Riverine France

From Basel I rode across the border into southwestern Germany then immediately across the Rhine into France. The next several days were defined by smooth, flat bike-paths along canals and rivers as I followed the Rhine-Rhône canal and the Saône river through Mullhouse and Besançon and continuing southwest. The weather was sunny and warm for several days and I enjoyed some long, easy rides. I stayed more-or-less on one of the major EuroVelo bike routes so it was fun to see dozens (if not hundreds) of other bike tourists along the way. I biked for a couple of days with an English guy much more adventurous than I since he was riding across Europe with no money; busking, begging, and dumpster-diving to keep himself going. Fascinating trip, but not something I think I’ll try.

A little north of Lyon I turned west off the major bike route and headed up into the hills of the Haute Loire region. Unfortunately this coincided with the arrival of wet weather so the next few days were rainy, but the rugged terrain made for a beautiful change from the flat land of the rivers and canals.

I finally reached the gorgeous town of Le Puy-en-Velay where I took a day off to visit the cathedral, one of the traditional starting points for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. I had been considering walking the pilgrimage route myself, but my visa status didn’t leave me enough time in France and Spain for that and biking the route seemed somehow wrong so I decided to make that trip some other day.





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