Sunday 31 December 2017

2017: That´s a wrap!

Things that worked well in 2017

Cycle tour to Northern France
Cycle tour to the South of France
Skiing the Sella Ronda of the Dolomites
Ski trip to Chamonix and Courmayeur
Riding with Hull Thursday Club and Yorkshire Lass cycling club
Riding with the Wiggle High5 ladies
Crops from my allotment  - nasturtium, courgettes, corn, beans
Some interesting copywriting projects

Things that were a bit sketchy

Not managing to take an NCTJ module due to a last minute change
Having to divert my Cycle trip in the North of England due to high winds
Not completing any more crochet projects other than a couple of hats
A very convoluted copywriting projects
Losing my phone

Oh well, time's up, that's a wrap!


Hello New Year!

Things that I hope will be better in 2018

All copywriting projects running smoothly
Staying injury free, including completing the Paris Marathon 
Completing the Etape du Tour and not being swept up by the broom wagon!
Staying on top of the housework - maybe getting a cleaner!
Getting more involved in London life
Going on trips with friends and family 
Learning to relax at home
Completing more NCTJ modules
Write more articles 
Finishing my 52 Cycling Voices series
Taking decent photos and maybe a video.
Keeping a good blood pressure and BMI
More grow your own, more yoga, and more bike rides, of course! 

Happy 2018!😊

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! - Part 3: Chantilly

After a well-earned sleep I was ready to do the final part of my Paris ride.

After a hearty breakfast I started my ride from Beauvais. Firstly, I did a mini circuit of the town. It wasn´t anything to write home about as I had seen the best parts the previous day. What I saw today was the part that I had seen on the last time I was in Beauvais, just over a year ago. I had been on a mad dash to get a train to Paris on a Saturday evening after a tedious day on the road. I recognised the road around the train station and the industrial area that I had taken, though at the time I was so focused on trying to catch the train that I didn´t notice the delights of the various factories and DIY stores. Today I had the chance to appreciate the water treatment works, the Nestlé factory, and even Carrefour in their full splendour!

After a tour of the grey side of Beavais I was into the green and pleasant roads that would take me to the Pays de L`Oise, and Chantilly. Rather than ride along the main road with traffic I was able to ride along a traffic-free cycle path that started from Therdonne, just outside Beauvais, and went parallel to the D12, going to Hermes, and towards Bury. I kept thinking that these towns might be in the first instance quite chic, like an expensive handbag or perfume, and then in the second instance, a bit industrial like an industrial city. But no, they were neither - just quaint non-descript villages in Normandy.

Quiet lanes through the woods in Normandy
The nicest town in the area though, was Saint-Leu-Esserent, which was quite old, with a gothic church and a bridge. Soon I was into practically deserted roads that just had woodland to guide me along the way. It was all very nice, though I was looking foward to getting to Chantilly.

And once I got there it didn´t fail to disappoint. I have always known Chantilly was famous for its race course, having seen the Prix de L´Arc de Triomphe on Channel 4 racing a few times. I didn´t know just quite how chic it was. Chantilly being twinned with Epsom, home of the Derby should have given me a clue. On entering the town, a signboard describes it as the "capital of the horse". It made me wonder if that also meant you could get decent horsemeat from their local butchers!

Though I think really, Chantilly is still more upmarket than the London suburb in Surrey - not that I want to cause offence to the people of Epsom!

Chantilly - the horse capital
The high street definitely reeks of wealth, with it´s designer shops, and expensive cafes. It is also heaving with pollution, as the roads were just choc-a-block with audis, mercedes, BMWs and the odd Bentley. On this day there were loads of cyclists too, as a triathlon was taking place at the Château and many athletes cycled back from the castle to their lodgings. If only I had known this was on, I would definitely have entered.

It was an extremely hot day, and the open water swim in the lake around the Château would have been lovely - maybe not the run though! In any case this race, part of the Castle Series is definitely one to note for next year.

Nice setting for a triathlon
Talking to the security guard in the grounds of Chantilly castle he talked about all the events that people could look forward to, including the Prix de L´Elégance, which was due to take place in a couple of weeks time. That sounded about right for this place, which is the epitome of style. It made me laugh that he was telling me about an event all about style, as I stood there all bedraggled and sweaty in the 30+degrees heat!

I then sat in the park and ate my packed lunch before pushing on - a lot later than planned. By this time it was going to 4pm, and as I breezed past the lovely gated mansions along the tree-lined avenues I comforted myself with the fact that I was in the department of Ile de France, which for me, means the Parisian region.

Chantilly wins the prix de l'élégance!
So I would be at my lodgings in the 11th arrondissement within an hour or two. Er, not so! I was 30 miles away, so yes getting there in aound 2 hours was about right. However, I had not factored in stopping to go shopping, taking photos or even getting lost in the suburbs - which was bound to happen as I was no longer following the Avenue Verte route.

The other important point for me, was that I was not taking the direct route. I had wanted to take in a little bit more forest, so ended up on a convoluted route that took me through Gouvieux, Royaumont Abbey, Forests at Carnelle, L´Isle Adam, and Montmorency, before entering Paris via Argenteuil, and Asnières sur Seine, and then onto Arc de Triomphe via Boulevard Malsherbes and Avenue Wagram.

By this time it was around 8pm! Whoops! But hey, I had seen a real specturm of places en route - industrial parts of Normandy, historic bits, the upmarket suburbs of Paris, as well as some dodgy looking areas of the northern "banlieues" of Paris.

Pont d'Iéna - tense, terse, tourists
In another variation, my ride through Paris did not involve Champs Elysées, for once! This time I opted for leaving the Arc de Triomphe roundabout via Avenue Iéna, which took me straight to the bottom of Trocadero and right into Champ de Mars, where the Eiffel Tower is. It was also more difficult to get a stranger to take a photo of me down here than when I was at the Arc de Triomphe. It was like they had become mistrusting of everyone - which I guess is not surprising, given recent events. Having said that, it didn't stop people from photobombing my pics with silly faces and waves. The tourists at the Eiffel Tower definitely seemed a different breed from the polite folks up at Charles de Gaulle Etoile!

After a spin through the streets of the Left Bank, and down Boulevard St Germain, I crossed Henri IV Bridge to reach Bastille, my favourite area.
Finally, I arrived at my lodgings, another Ibis Hotel off rue de la Roquette, near Père Lachaise, and was ready to celebrate my arrival with a moules frites and a good wine at the nearby Cafe L´Artiste.

My route into Paris on Strava

Related posts
Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 1 - Avenue Verte

Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 2 - Beauvais

Paris en velo! Arrivee fictive

Friday 15 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 2: Beauvais

Arriving into Beauvais at lunchtime knowing that I had finished my cycling for the day was quite a nice feeling.

Hell, I had started my bike ride at roughly 5 am so I deserved to finish at 1pm! It was a warm, sunny day, lots of people were out, the shops were open, which is not always the case in small French towns at this time of year, and I felt quite fresh.
As the day was still young I knew I could take my time with things. So I spent  a bit of time admiring and photographing the very imposing cathedral.

The mighty Beauvais cathedral

I had never really considered Beauvais to be a touristic town, but then again Ryanair do fly there – they even call it their Paris destination! So I imagine a fair few people will stop by and admire this “lovely surburb of Paris” before heading properly into the city of light.

And there were many people in Beauvais, looking at the St Pierre cathedral and the nearby Mus̩e de l'Oise. Some folks were British. Where else could they have been from Рthis couple that spoke to each other in thick Liverpudlian accents?!
I then moved on to reach my hotel. I hadn’t quite expected it to be so far out of town, or that it would be up a hill. Gee, I had just come down a big hill to get into the town, and here I was already climbing again just to reach my rest and recuperation spot!

I guess nothing good comes to you without putting in a bit of effort first! And that good thing came in the shape of the Ibis Hotel, Beauvais. Yes, a big-chain hotel that may have been lacking in style. But it had everything I needed - friendly receptionists, a decent sized bedroom and bathroom, strong Wifi connection, a bar, and even a room for my bike - a room, not an alleyway outdoors at the back of the building or a leaky shed. An actual room that was on par with my bedroom minus a telly, a bed and a bathroom!

And it didn't stop there - they were serving meals, but there were a number of restaurants nearby also doing the same. There was a hypermarket about a mile away selling everything, including bike bits, and, hold onto your hats - they had Decathlon and Intersport right opposite. Who says you can't have a good time in Beauvais!

After an afternoon nap I went out for a walk in the local area. It was nothing to write home about. Just your typical neighbourhood on the outskirts of a town near an airport, with yoofs in a skateboard park and ladies of various ethnicities in housecoats gossiping over the garden fence. Think more Hounslow than Richmond!

There were a number of other cyclists staying in the hotel too, and I saw them sitting out on the terrace discussing their ride. I said hello to them and exchanged a few words as cyclists do. They were also riding to Paris, though at a more leisurely than me, by stretching their trip over 4 days.

The London-Paris cycle ride is a well-beaten route for many cyclists, including organised touring groups and charity bike riders, of which this group were a part. This is probably the fifth time I am riding to Paris, and I have yet to do the ride as part of an organised group. In a way I must admit I feel quite relieved to not be part of such a group because the people I meet who go on these rides can only say "I went from London to Paris by bike. Get that!" That's all very well and good, but then all they know about is London, and about Paris. They don't know the names of the places in between, including places they stopped at. All they know is the fact that they followed a ride leader through some rather nice countryside, ate some good food and ended up at the Eiffel Tower. And they probably didn't interact with a single French person along the way!

That's rather a shame, but then again maybe that's how it should be. But hey, when did I ever travel in the way it should be done!

And with that thought I went to bed feeling satisfied, after a hearty meal at La Boucherie.

Related posts
Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 1: Avenue Verte

Paris en velo! C'est parti!

Sunday 10 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! - Part 1: Avenue Verte

Earlier this year I cycled to Paris. I did a similar trip last year, and I thought I would like to repeat the experience hopefully this time without the hitches.

I would love to do the full monty right from Central London by bike, riding all the way to the Ferry terminal at Newhaven. However, time constraints and annual leave from work meant that my cycling didn't actually start until I reached French soil. So strictly speaking I did a Dieppe to Paris trip!

On the way to Dieppe again!

I boarded the 10pm ferry from Newhaven, and arrived in Dieppe at around 4.30am. By the time I had rolled off the ferry and gone through passport control it was almost 5.30am.

That was handy for me because I hadn't booked any accommodation in Dieppe, figuring that at that time of the morning it would be feasible to start cycling immediately. However, it was late August, the roads were still dark and I was slightly apprehensive about how tricky it may be along the unlit Avenue Verte. Furthermore, this rail trail, being in bowl, meant that there may be a hanging mist. The prospect of riding through the woods in these conditions didn't really excite me.

So for me, it was handy to just saunter through Dieppe up to the start of the trail in Arques la Bataille. Helpfully, by the time I got there the sun was just breaking through, so it wasn't pitch dark. I was looking forward to the sun coming up completely in a hope that I might a bit warm as well. Because this part of the Avenue Verte colllects morning dew and dampness it tends to be a few degrees colder than the immediate surrounding areas. In any case, it was cold and I had dressed for the occasion by wearing two waterproofs on top of my cycle jersey, as well as a high vis gilet. It sounds like overkill, but I needed it!

To be on the Avenue Verte or Not to be on Avenue Verte - That is the question

It was lovely and peaceful riding through this part of France with no one else around, and just the trees and the birds for company, and the odd car passing by on the adjacent D1 minor road. I always like that early bird feeling where you get to see the daybreak before anyone else.

As it happened I wasn't the only person cycling along the disused railway line. A group of four or five riders who had been on the same ferry as me also took the Avenue, though I am not sure whether they were going all the way to Paris, or if they were just looking for a nice night ride in Normandy. They weren't carrying much luggage and they were just on hybrid bikes, so I can't imagine they could have been going that far. In fact when I saw them they were already having a snack stop and we were less than 10 miles into the ride!

As the time drew to around 7 o'clock I saw a number of riders going in the opposite direction, and they were mainly French. I am guessing there must have been a 8am or 9am ferry due to leave for the UK. So it seems that this ride is as popular with Londoners wanting to go to Paris as it is with Parisians wanting to come to London.

Next, a few other people who passed me slowed down to ride along for a short while.

They were a couple that looked quite fit, and it looked like they were riding with a mission as they were hoping to get to the suburbs of Paris by the end of the day, and they were hardly carrying any gear on them.

So along the Avenue Verte to Paris it seems you can meet a variety of cyclists out on a bike ride, and at a variety of times too.

Avenue Verte was a nice as ever once the sun came up, and was lovely and peaceful. At this time of the morning, rush hour, there weren't loads of cyclists on the trail, and in fact there were quite a few vehicles on the various roads that crossed the cycle path.

I took an initial breakfast stop at Neufchatel-en-Bray along the path, where there were benches near a pretty church, and toilets further along the way. There were also residential houses that backed onto the path, and I noted an old woman who didn't seem too impressed to open her curtains and come face to face with my mug! I bid her good day, and the old hag scowled back!

Once the traffic free path ended at Serqueux I stuck as much as possible to the waymarked signs for Avenue Verte up to Forge-les-Eaux. This meant I did quite a pleasant run-in to the village via some quiet residential streets and through some parkland. Forge-les-Eaux was another stopping point to stock up on food and have more breakfast.

A Mustang to COMPlement my ride

I had considered stopping by and saying hello to the guy in the local bike shop where I spent a fair bit of time and money on inner tubes last year. That bike shop had been a godsend. It wasn't open at the time that I passed through, so I pressed on with the next phase of my ride.

For my part I had set out to complete the ride over two days, in a change from last year (and even previous years). So my destination was just going to be Beauvais, a place I passed through very briefly last year. It was the scene of a mad dash to get the last train to Paris in an attempt to avoid being stranded in deepest Normandy after dark!

Like last year, I was riding a Raleigh Mustang gravel bike and carrying panniers. But this time, rather than being on the Mustang Sport, I was testing the upgraded version, a Mustang Comp. This bike comes complete with hydraulic disc brakes and just a single chain ring, complemented with dinner plate sprockets to get me up any hills. The Comp is less weight than the sport, even with my panniers mounted on the bike . I'll take that!

All change at Forge-les-Eaux

It is quite possible to look out for, and follow the characteristic green and white arrows all along the way and end up at Ile de la Cité opposite Notre Dame Cathedral in Central Paris.

The quiet roads and traffic-free paths guarantees that you won't be riding along busy roads. After Forge-les-Eaux I chose not to follow those arrows though, and make up my own route.

That part of France has so many minor ("d" and "c") roads that you can choose any of them and end up on a quiet route. On this Friday morning in August people may well have been on holiday. Otherwise they were hard at it in their offices, their farms, their homes or just shopping. Basically, they were anywhere but on the road! So I had the pick of lot in terms of which route to take, and so I eeked out my own itinerary to Beauvais.

From Forge-les-Eaux the road dropped downhill into the area known as Pays de Bray, where lots of towns called "something or other -en Bray" seemed to pepper the landscape. I don't know what Bray means, but I guess it must be something like "lumpy roads and steep lanes" based on the terrain!

Gerberoy village (from website)

Hills aside, the landscape is pictureseque with undulating farmers fields and very old villages. Of particular note were the villages of Songeons, Buicourt, and Gerberoy. Apparently Gerberoy is billed as one of the prettiest villages in France. It's certainly a nice place to be, but I wouldn't want to square up to the Mayor of Giverny or one of the many villages in Dordogne and say that!

Rain rain go away!

The weather was very pleasant and sunny, but somewhere I had seen a weather forecast for rain at Beauvais right at the moment I was due to reach the town. So although I was enjoying my ride, I had a nagging thought that sooner or later the sun would turn dark and  I would get drenched as the heavens the opened. Although I was equipped with wet weather gear, I didn't relish the prospect of having to bounce around through puddles and not be able to see the nice view through the dampness. I just had to comfort my self in the fact that my journey would soon come to an end as I was only going as far as Beauvais.

In fact, my ride ended up being rain free. I was even lucky because on the approach to Beauvais the roads were wet like there had just been shower. So France Meteo hadn't been wrong, it was just that I had timed my ride into Beauvais perfectly! Once in this town with its medieval buildings and cathedral I celebrated with an extra large swig of water and and  a Clif Bar (that was all I had left!) before tackling the climb to get up to my hotel in the outskirts of the town.

It had been a pretty ride, with a few famous landmarks along the way. But after having had just two hours' sleep, I was ready to crash out in my hotel room.

My Strava route from Dieppe to Beauvais can be found here.