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Carpentras – Piegros – Lyon

5 Jan

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We cycled in the dark, as most days these days, got a little bit lost, then finally reached Carpentras where Nico’s relatives were waiting for us. After 6 months apart, it was with some emotions that we got greeted by the mum, uncle, little brother and his girlfriend in the house they rented for a week.
After the initial hugs, stories and lots of good food, we spent the rest of the evening next to the pool. A bit of luxury can’t harm, you know! The next day was a typical day in south of France : dry sausages, petanque and apero’s were on the menu, but no cycling. We took a day off before getting back on the saddle, heading towards Piegros, where we had a ‘plan’.

cycling furtherPlaying petanque helps to relax!

cycling further

And swiming pool as well.

It needed us the whole day cycling to get to Piegros, more than 100 kilometers up north. The weather forecast were really bad, as storms were about to hit the area. Nevermind. Nico volunteered in Piegros’ castle few years before and we gave it a try, reaching the castle after climbing a huge hill…where Nico broke his chain after forcing on the pedals. We were luckily close enough to continue walking in the dark. “We’ll try to fix the chain tomorrow”, we thought. The castle was magnificent, overlooking the whole area…in pole position for the lightnings of the storm. We knocked at the door, but nothing happened…just a cat seemed to live there, despite some lights on in some rooms. After half an hour of shouting and knocking, we gave up, and start setting up the tent just next to the castle. Pity, the castle seemed to have enough room for 2 guests! We were without water but we looked around and managed to find a source nearby, where we filled our bottles.cycling further

The magnificent castel of Piegros

We camped as close as possible from the walls of the castle, as the wind was already about to blow the tent away. We got very lucky with the weather : the night stayed more or less dry, and we woke up on a dry ground. We quickly started fixing Nico’s chain (first time for both of us). It wasn’t the easiest bike repair we had to do, but somehow, it worked. We then hurried to go as the sky was threatening, cycled few kilometers then rain started falling, and falling, and falling more. We had the luxury to be near a big enough city, and we decided to take the train for the ride of the day, instead of cycling the storms.cycling further

Chain fixed time to go.

We arrived in Lyon in the evening, where the weather was as bad as it was in Piegros. We got in contact with Julie, the daughter of Alain, who hosted us a couple of days before, in Cote d’Azur. She welcomed us in the flat, where we could dry our clothes, take a shower and have some tea. Having a roof when it rains is a luxury we tend to forget, but this time we got to feel its true value! We clicked with Julie, who brought us out for some food delicacies in Lyon in the evening, and whom we spent two great days and nights. We had a pretty good feeling about the city : lot of arts, friendly, young people, good food, mountains and see at equal distance (2 hours drive), and great cycling paths! What else could we ask for? The second day, after a pretty fancy dinner made on our own (so good to have a kitchen at disposition!), we went out to have a feel of Lyon alternative music scene, with a Bass night in the basement of a little club. It wasn’t the most exciting venue, but good enough to keep the three of us alive until late in the night. The day after was about to be a hard day…but who cares?cycling further

good bye picture with Julie

From Azur to Provence

18 Nov


La Côte d’Azur is a nice region. Too developed, from a touristic point of view, though. It was hard to find places to camp easily, as every square meter belongs to someone, and most beaches are not wild at all. The roads were good, the weather as well, so we couldn’t complain too much. Also, we could get to the sea at all time. And there is nothing better than having a swim to wake up! We had a quick stop in Nice, where we met art teaching of Nico’s high school, whom we visited the old town with, and ate some of the delicacies, including salade niçoise.

With Brigitte

Nice, old town

We said goodbye to the sea and started our ascension towards the north, cycling through vineyards. Vineyards, everywhere. And at the right time : it is vandanges time, meaning that the grapes are ready to be picked up and start the wine making process. We spent a couple of night sleeping among the grapes, and found friendly winemaker who, beside letting us sleep on their land, always gave us bottles of wine from their production, as well as some of their local products : tomatoes, dry meat or pâté have been our daily meals.
We found out about a small music festival in Aix-en-Provence, Zik Zac, and decided to go there…which allowed us to have a relaxed day in Provence. We cycled by the Sainte Victoire mountain, and observed locals playing ‘petanque’ in remote villages.

Camping in the wineyards

Sainte Victoire

am I closer???

We arrived in the late afternoon at the festival, where we found very friendly atmosphere. Musical discoveries of the day included Isaya, the -local- band of 2 twin sisters singing folk ballads, and Dabi Toure, a Mauritanian singer.

We gave one of our Kyrgyz hat to a bar tender, and got free drinks all night. Talking about hats, we gave one as well to a friendly cap collector who was hanging out with us, and he was so happy about the story that he started crying of joy when we gave him! Unbelievable. We ended up with the organizers at the ‘VIP party’ -where there weren’t that many VIP’s-, and enjoyed this warm night of late summer until the early morning. We got to sleep at some random place in the area, under the big bridge of Aix en Provence.

Making Zig Zag at Zik Zac Festival

We weren’t too fresh the next day, but had to get to Carpentras to meet Nico’s family, which was taking some days off. A slight downhill lasted for dozens of kilometers, which made it hard to not fall asleep on the road. Coffee breaks and music in the ears helped us getting there still awake 🙂

Al Eze

17 Nov

We had a first great surprise at sunset : a motorcyclist started riding with us and chatting on the road. He was also a keen cyclist and traveller, and asked us few questions about our project. After few minutes chatting with Nico (Yves was ahead), he hit the accelerator and left us. But then, at the next traffic light, he was there, waiting for us. “Where do you stay tonight”, he says. “We don’t know!”. “Ok, come to my place if you want. It’s up in the hills -a place called Eze, I have some wine, bread and saucisson. We can have dinner à la bonne franquette’”. “Sure, excellent. Let’s go!”. We followed him in the sinuous road for a sporty ride, looking at all the fancy houses, then arrived to his place, beautifully looking over the sea, with palm trees and all joys of the french mediterranean region. “Not bad for a first day in France”, we thought.

We are somewhere there

The view from the terrace

We relaxed on the terrace and started chatting with Alain, who is a security agent. Modestly, he explained us that he was the bodyguard of Chirac and Mitterrand while they were presidents of France, and told us, around a bottle of red wine, plenty of incredible stories of intimate moments shared with them : all the Christmas spent together, travels all around the world, protection of Mitterrand’s hidden daughter or support during the terminal phase of his sickness. Captivating. Then we learned about the area : “This is the highest concentration of wealth in the world. You see that peninsula there? It’s Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. Multibillionnaires from Russia, Ukraine and China are buying everything. I am working for one of them…whenever he goes somewhere, we are 25 around him”. Being described the lifestyle of those guys didn’t give us too much envy of becoming an ukranian billionnaire, though.

don’t move 😉

One of the good thing in France…Food!

After an evening of great stories, typical french food and wine with Alain, his wife Edwige and their son, we crashed on the sofa’s and woke up the next morning, looking at the sunrise on the sea. Pretty sweet place to live, we thought.
Before leaving, while eating delicious croissants and pains au chocolat, Alain gave us the contact info of his daughter Julie, who works and lives in Lyon, where we’d pass by few days later. That may be useful!
Thanks Alain, you rocked on every possible level! All the best with your future cycling trip 🙂

Good bye picture

Arrival in France

17 Nov

Our night in San Remo was the last one in Italy. Yves feeling better, we left our BnB in the early afternoon, and went from the top of the hill down to the coast, then following the road until Monaco, meeting more and more fancy cars on the road. We had the chance to cycle on the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix race, ride the famous tunnels and take some pictures on the starting line. There was a boat exhibition on the sea, where we’d think we’d stop by to have the most expensive coke of the trip. This had to be done 🙂

H5……Touché!

In Monaco, Coca-Cola in a cafe cost about 5 euros. So with some advanced mathematical skills, you realize that it is slightly more expensive than the one from Uzbekistan. 5€/0,25L = 20€ per liter, versus 0,5€ per liter in Uzbek Chaihanas. Mmmh, this coke 40 times more expensive. Not bad at all! We didn’t stay too long there, posh places have never been our cup of tea. Back on the road. We officially entered France late in the afternoon, a bit skeptical about what we had ahead. French people do not have a good reputation abroad…so let’s see if they are true assholes!

Got the pole position 🙂

Ligurian coast

2 Nov

We spent the next three days on the ligurian coast, following the road, next to the sea, which wasn’t too interesting : lots of building, and not much room left for nature and empty spaces.

At least we could enjoy some swiming time in the Adriatic sea heading up to the french border. Nothing else to say excepted a camper almost crashed us about 4 am! Right, we were sleeping on reserved camper parking but still… it hit our bikes but fortunately not our heads! and only some little damage on the bikes. The day after we slept in a nice BnB up hill Sanremo as Yves was boarderline ill (most likely due to the seasonal change) and got ready to go to France, and see what kind of adventures were waiting for us in the last country we would visit before getting back to Belgium.

Genova

2 Nov

Entering the city has been quite complicated, as it is divided in two parts with a motorway in the middle. We struggled to get into the center but finally made it. A guy in his worker’s outfit started talking to us while riding his scooter. He seemed to like cyclists and cheered us when we told him where we were coming from. We then asked him where was Piazza Alimonda, where we had to meet our friend Giacomo, and he got emotional. He kindly invited us to his flat, and explained us that his dear friend Carlo Giuliani got shot during the G8 in Genova, right where we were about to go.

Piazza Alimonda

David and his french speaking girlfriend told us a lot about the tensions between the youth and the police in Genoa, and the confrontations they were having with the authorities since the G8. We were having a nice little talk about political activism but already had to go to meet Giacomo, as we were going to sleep in his flat. David and Francesca invited us for dinner the day after, as there was a big (activists) party going on somewhere in the hills. We then met Giacomo and his flatmates, all involved in the music/arts business, and spent a pretty cool evening with them in the center, hit some bars where Giacomo’s friend were playing music, then spent the rest of the night in the streets of the city center.

Giacomo

The rest of the week end has been epic :  after dinner with our activists friends, we went high up in the hills to enjoy Genova’s landscapes, then David drove us and friends to a squat, full of punks, rastas and rudeboys, where there were politically engaged hip hop concerts, cheap beer and horrible sound. And a great atmosphere. On the way back, at around 3AM, he offered to drive us to a free party in an abandoned fort on the top of the hill, on one of the highest point of Genoa. We obviously accepted and spend the late night/early morning there, enjoying the sunrise over Genova with the sound on minimal techno. Unreal week end it was!

A good way to get ready

On the way to the top

Revolution has to rise up

Some mountains before Genova

15 Oct


Our next appointment in our “schedule” was with Giacomo, a friend from Genova we met few weeks earlier in Outlook festival. We wanted to be there for the week end, to have some proper time together, which meant that we had two days to cross the Apeninos, small mountains between Piacenza and the Ligurian coast. The ride was a fabulous one, through small old villages and vineyards.

Sunset color makes it magic

We cycled until sunset and stopped in the only town in the area, Varzi, for food and accomodation. We tried the same technique as the day before, but even with the help of the locals, we couldnt get a bed…you cannot always be lucky. With our new friends, we even tried to wake up the monk to see if we could sleep in the church, ut apparently, he was in his deep sleep. We then decided to go camping somewhere, even if it was getting cold. Few hundreds of meters after having left our guys, the cops stopped us on the road and asked our passports. 2 guys cycling at night lost in the mountains apparently looks suspicious. After a good 15 minutes of check with the central office, they gave us our passport back, and told us : ‘You’re travelling a lot, aren’t you?’. ‘Yes, we are indeed!’. They let us go without even asking where we would sleep that night, so we kept cycling in the hills, where we found an abandoned farm to set our tent. In the morning, the old people living there were amused by those 2 guys with the bikes, and offered us coffee and biscuits, instead of moaning that we slept on a private property.

This was a nice camping spot

Our friendly morning neighbours

Wherever we are, we always find great people in the countryside. Day 2 in the mountains was as scenic as the first one, and gave us pretty long downhills -around 30 km in total-, and incredible landscape, as we could see the sea from far, far away…and next to it, huge snowy mountains.

It might be the “Mont Blanc”

At some point, We were about to turn left, following our dear Google Maps GPS, when we stopped to ask a local if it was the right way to Genova. He told us we had to be crazy to go that way, as it goes up and down on unridable little mountain paths, while the road on the right was certainly longer, but much faster. We listened to him and didn’t regret to do so, as we cycled 30 km downhill on a nice road, under the sun. Many kilometers later, in the late afternoon, we got close to Genova.

After 3 months, back in the rain.

15 Oct

Sylwia was working in the morning, while we were sleeping like babies in her flat. We slowly woke up and decided we would cook for her when she would come back from work, at lunchtime. We got some pesto and pastas, then started cooking. She arrived, and put her pinch of polish salt into the meal. Pesto cooked together by belgians and polish was a great success, and gave us the energy we’d need to start cycling…around 3PM.

What a beautiful ceiling

It was cloudy and the forecast was talking about rain, a word that left our vocabulary 3 months earlier. We just rode few kilometers when the first drops hit our faces, but we kept on riding even if the rain was getting stronger. ‘Ok, let’s put our K-ways, it should be somewhere buried into my bag’. But then it became stormy and we got soaked, like in the good old times in Romania. We stopped just 30km further, in Piacenza, as we wanted to dry, and get warmer. It was also already late, so we’d have to think -again- about accomodation, as we didn’t want to camp in the rain. We thought we would be as lucky as the day before, then started asking people around, and sending couchsurfing requests. It didn’t work, and we seriously thought about going back to Sylwia’s flat in Cremona. She was concerned about us having a roof for the night, and totally up for us to come back. Unfortunately, no train nor buses could handle our bikes, and coming back cycling in the rain was out of question. We gave up and found the address of the cheapest hotel in town, around 50 euros for a double room. We stopped in a cheap chinese restaurant for food and roof, and that’s where the magic started to happen. On the table next to us, a group of moldavians, ukrainians and romanians was eating, drinking and talking, mostly in russian. We left the table around the same time, and started talking with our basics of Russian.

Mika, Sergei, Dani and Niko

It felt good to practice the language that followed us through most of the trip, with people from countries we all crossed. They were bluffed with us talking about small villages they knew about, and say a few words of each of their languages. ‘Davaï piva!’ one said, and we all went to the sinister bar in front of the restaurant, for a round of beer together. Prostitutes had meetings with their clients in the bar, and we saw few weird people around…but anyway, we were all excited by this unexpected meeting, and stayed there for a while, always an eye on the bike to make sure they wouldn’t get stolen. The drunkest of the group -the romanian one- was living closeby and offered us to stay at his place, nearby. We went with the guys to his place on the bicycle, but, arrived there, he couldn’t walk, nor talk, and hosting us was not possible anymore. We stayed with the others, who were very sorry about what happened, and wanted to lead us to the hotel, and go for another beer. It stopped raining, and we were in a good mood, so we went for a last beer next to the last bar opened in the city. After an hour or so of advanced russian chatting, we thought we’d go somewhere and camp in the fields, as the sky was clear, and it didn’t feel like raining for good few hours. After goodbye hugs with our best friend of the night, we cycled for about 15 meters, when we heard people speaking french. ‘Some Frenchies’ I said, loudly. ‘Yes, we are! What you doing here?’. ‘We’re cycling, coming back from China!’. ‘Really? Where are you sleeping tonight?’. ‘We don’t know…we’re about to go camping somewhere in the fields’. ‘You kidding? Ok, you two come to our place, we have a flat in the center!’. ‘Wouhou! Sure, let’s go!’. We got the address, and met the students in their flat, had some talk, and gave one of our remaining Kyrgyz cap to one of them, who had a cap collection. He got terribly happy. Then we went to bed.

3 am accomodation with Nilse

She always keeps an eye on us

Cycling down the real Italy.

13 Oct

After a first  meeting with Italy that did not meet all of our expectations, we cycled down south, and left the touristic area of Lago di Garda, happy to stop seeing campings, Macdonalds and aquaparks everywhere. The road became more interesting in the south, as we cycled by several fruit exploitations, smelling peaches, apples, melons and kiwis -that were not mature enough yet, damn!-. Grabbing the fruits and spending some time with the farmers were the enjoyable breaks we were looking after during the hot afternoon.

Loving those peaches

We reached the little town of Cremona around 6, and had a break there in the lovely city center : car free, full of cyclists and old, beautiful  stones. Later in the evening, we would learn that it is the hometown of Stradivarius, now full of students learning how to craft violins, which gives the city some artistic and relaxed vibes. Our mission for the evening was to find a screen displaying our soccer game, Belgium VS Croatia (special game for Yves, who belongs to both countries). We knew we wouldn’t make it to any other town afterwards, so we started looking for sports pub in Cremona. As both teams were not interesting enough by italian standards, we couldn’t find one, but we still managed to get a wifi network in a bar, and stream the game from our little computer. It was a draw, not too exciting.

Cremona here we are!

Having a beer, watching a game

After the game and a few pints of local beer, we had to find a place to sleep, and didn’t want to pay for an hotel. Western prices for ho(s)tel are just ridiculous, we thought. We had sent a few requests via Couchsurfing but didnt get any answer, so we decided to cycle to some fields outside the city to set the tent. We arrived somewhere quiet and dark, but Nico didn’t feel like sleeping outside yet, and was determined to find a place by asking people if we could sleep at their place. With a bit of diplomacy, everything is possible 🙂
We then head back to the same place, and chatted some people on the terrace, approaching them asking if they knew a place to sleep for free, hoping they would invite us at their home. It didn’t work that well, but we ended up talking with two friendly students on the terrace. They couldn’t host us, but advised us a good camping spot in a park. We were about to leave when I received a call, past midnight. It was Sylwia, a polish couchsurfer living there, offering us to stay at her place right in the city center. Her flat was in a beautiful, very old building, and she was extremely friendly. Bingo!

Back to western europe

13 Oct


After a enjoyable stay in Motovun, we had to continue our way towards the west, even if we didn’t really feel like going back to our world so soon. From Motovun, we cycled to Slovenia, then Italy, on the same day. In Slovenia, we had the pleasure to meet cycling paths again, a luxury that does not exist in many countries, and we entered Italy through one of them -without going through customs!-.

Crossing the border on a cycling path 😉

The first big city we would cross in the west was Trieste, an industrial town in the north of Italy. Our first impressions were weird : homeless people in the streets, busy teenagers checking their smartphones, messy graffitis on the walls, busy traffic, expensive coffees, and many people who did not seem too happy to live. Anyway, we didn’t stay long in Trieste, as we had a meeting with our old friend Brieuc, travelling in a camper with his girlfriend Georgia. After a night in a touristic, tasteless camping together with the couple and a polish cyclist we caught on the road, we put our bikes in the camper and went for a 200 km ride west, and we got back on our bikes in the beautiful area of Verona.

With our friends Brieuc and Giorgia

Verona

Wedding diner on the Romeo and Juliet square

We decided to cycle until Lago di Garda and camp there, unaware of what was Lago di Garda about. Arrived on the coast, it was full of campings, and full of germans…we didn’t find the wild beaches we were looking after. Every square meter of beach belongs to someone, and it is forbidden to stay on the beach after midnight. The security guards told us wild camping wasn’t an option there, and that we’d have to find a spot in an official camping site, which we did. At least, we got electricity plugs, and neighbours interested in our story. Last but not least, we had the privilege to go to the aquagym lesson in the morning. What a wonderful world!

Lago di garda

Aquagym in the morning makes you ride until the evening!