Northern France is definitely not Southern France, or so we learnt today.
Our clothes were still very wet after hanging on the bridge last night, and we couldn't wait all morning for them to dry, so we reluctantly put them on and continued cycling along the canal.
But pretty soon, after a few putrid wafts we began to wonder where the stinky smell was coming from. And then we saw it, just beside the canal, a huge sewerage plant! 'Whoa that stinks' we yelled at each other.
And the smell just wouldn't go away. We're going to smell like this town Shanna yelled back at me while we were riding along. 'You already do' I yelled back, laughing. 20 kms later and we could still smell the sewerage, but maybe by that stage it was us...
Another thing we learnt today was that the canal we swam in last night has some big fish, pretty damn big for fish that swim in a river.
At a small cafe/supermarket we stopped at, the first shop we found open for 30kms we saw some photos of some of the fish that have been caught in the river, they looked almost 3 feet long, or as big as a small boy. I wonder if we'd have swam in there if we had of seen those photos first.
And then, sitting outside the cafe a thing, an event you might say happened. And I still can't work it out but we'll write about it at some point in the future, maybe when we write a book or something...
RIding towards the Belgian/France border and it begins raining, first a sprinkle and then it steadily becomes heavier. We see a camping sign, it tells us to turn right. We follow it and eventually find the campsite.
'No tents,' he says, 'only caravans and motor homes, next camp sites 30 km's away.' Wet and feeling sorry for ourselves we keep riding, and cross the border into Belgium.
Riding through the rain, desperately searching for somewhere to camp we see a forest behind some houses and make a dash for it. Is it somebody's land, maybe, but it's late and the rain won't stop. Amongst the blackberrys and the dense trees we push our bikes through the undergrowth.
'It'll do' we say to each other.
We set up the tent in the rain and eat some scraps of food inside to try and stay dry. Then we dry the tent inside where it got wet when we set up.
Laying down we can hear the rain pounding into the forest.
Exhausted and ready for sleep I struggle into my sleeping bag, but somethings not right. Somethings funny.
'Damn it, we stink like the sewer!'
We kept thinking about Paris, the comparative ease of life when you're based in one place (kind of), hot showers, easy access to food... it was a reminder of real life, and it was hard to forget.
In the afternoon we ventured away from the roads and followed a path along a canal. It was flat and protected from the wind; and mostly easier riding away from the cars and the trucks.
We rode past houses with angry dogs barking at the gates - I think they were jealous that we were out enjoying the wind on our faces and they were stuck behind a fence.
We camped next to the canal near Ribemont - and predictably bathed in the murky water... It felt good to wash away the dirt and sweat, but did we really end up much cleaner? Have a look at the photo, would you have washed in here?
Distance: 20km (on the day we left Paris)
We feel so lucky that wonderful friends - old and new - let us stay in their homes and helped make our six days in Paris memorable. To Marc, Cammi, Ali and Darren a BIG thankyou!
After three days we left Marc and Cammi's place to head to Alison and Darren's for the next three days. We spent more time exploring Paris in detail - walking down small arcades, going to the Latin quarter, tasting the world renowned ice-cream on the tiny island of Ill de Saint-Louis, visiting galleries and, of course, tasting the flan in many bakeries.
On our final day in Paris we went to Disneyland with Alison and Darren. It was a long but fantastic day on the rides. Sam even managed to survive the Indiana Jones roller coaster (only just) and the teacups! We were reminded of what it feels like to be a child - filled with the magic that comes with knowing dreams can come true, especially for disney lovers like me!!
It was hard to leave the comfort of friends and a roof over our heads, but we keep hearing strange noises in the air, and we figure it must be the road to Norway, beckoning... Either that or we are losing our minds...
Saying good bye to Paris we caught the train to Campeigne on the outskirts of the metropolitan area - a fast train that carried our bikes for free. We almost missed the station because a rude conductor told us the wrong arrival time but we managed to get our bikes and bags off the train just in time...
Thanks to Camille and Mark from lacaravaneapedales.com (check it out and polish up on your French), two local Parisians who have let us stay in their one bedroom apartment we've been able to check out the wonders of Paris these last five days.
Sometimes we can get sceptical, and when you have been on the road for seven months, new scenery occasionally becomes indistinctly post-modern, but Paris is a different story, leaving us loving almost every minute.
One of our best experiences here so far was riding bicycles around the city, the ones you can hire almost anywhere for only $1 Euro, randomly exploring it for hours, turning haphazardly in any arbitrary direction, fuzzy and itinerant, discovering a labyrinth of narrow streets, old stone churches and quaint alleyways.
A great way we found to get started here was by doing a fascinating 'insider tour' of the inner city where we discovered King Edward VIII fascinating inner sanctum (sort of), and France's first cinema.
Other highlights have been home made sweet and savory crepes at Mark and Camilles, Toy Story 3 (our first movie since China) at a cinema perched upon a beautiful canal, visits to the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Les Halles, Place de la Concorde the Avenue de L'Opera and continuing our relentless search for the nations best flan!!
A fascinating juxtaposition to Paris' romantic beauty are the homeless people, indiscriminately scattered across the city, often surrounded by rubbish and the strong aroma of urine, and left alone by the police. Sometimes we've even seen them standing next to each other, neither seeming to notice or acknowledge the others presence.
Contrary to a common myth we'd heard, we've found that food here hasn't been as expensive as we thought it would be. Riding a giant ferris wheel that looks out over the expanses of the city with an equally giant donut in my mouth that cost only a middling two Euro, really brought this point home...
On our last night at Mark and Camille's we met up with Alison, one of Shanna's old school friends who is currently living in Paris, who took us up to Le Sacre Coeur, a beautiful Church on top of Paris' highest hill with a sad and fascinating history.
Silently watching the city move down below, cold beers rubbed on our arms by African street vendors eager to make a sale, and listening to the dancing buskers on the steps underneath we came to the realisation that, as people have previously commented would happen on this blog, any preconceptions we had of the city have ultimately proved to be an allusion.
Neither of us can recall our respective pre-conceptualized renderings of Paris, but whatever they were, they've been emphatically shattered in a richly diverse and distinct way.
Well, despite the strange title suggesting my excitement at the prospect of seeing the worlds greatest basketball player team up with two other massive stars, today was a tough day for me, maybe as much as the day Shanna wrote about two days ago.
For one, the dysentery (my chosen word for the runs) returned a few days ago. If you get this kind of thing when you are at home, living in a house it sucks, but at least its manageable. When you're on a bike, generally camping in the middle of nowhere, it makes life a little extra difficult.
It seems lately that no matter how much I eat, my energy levels are really low. And running off into the bushes to relieve myself of all the food I just ate really sucks.
Anyway, we both knew that Paris was only 71km and a short train ride away, so we kept riding, and finally made it to Boutigny. We tried to work out which train to catch, and where to change, or if we were even able to take our bikes on the train at this time of day, but it was harder than we thought. And to make matters worse, the ticket machine wouldn't take cash, and refused to accept either of our credit cards.
Luckily for us, a good samaritan came along with his Physics PHD (no really) and solved the problem for us, by using his credit card, buying us the right tickets, 20 Euro less than we would have payed for the wrong ones we tried to purchase. With no change to pay him I ran to the ATM to get out some money. Turning around, my bike was gone, I coulndn't see it anywhere, and where the heck was Shanna...?
Looking back I finally saw them on the other side of the station, holy smokes, how did they get my heavy bike over there I wondered...
Running back, down the stairs and up to the other side I made it just in time to get on the train. Phewww. Whewwww!!!! We're going to Paris!!!!
An hour later, with some more help from Doctor Physics (sorry, we forget your name) we had arrived in Paris, and after Shanna ingeniously worked out how to use a public phone, our new warmshowers (a website for cyclists) friends were on there way to pick us up from the station, on bikes of course.
Riding through the beautiful streets of the city of love we...
Last night we stayed up too late talking, so today we are really tired.
Not much of significance happened other than we spent a few hours between riding at McDonalds on the free internet trying to update this blog.
So, we'll spare you the details and just leave you with some photo's of our riding through Sens and, eventually on to Pont Sur Yonne.
It would have been nice to stop for the day, rest our weary minds and bodies, but a night in a hotel was a treat and couldn't be repeated - we would have to move on, although our legs really didn't feel it.
The morning was sunny and warm and we hoped our luck had changed - please, just one day without the rain.
We started riding and the road seemed good - not too much wind and quiet roads. It should have been enjoyable riding, but for me I was struggling not to stop and throw my bike in a ditch and walk home. For a couple of weeks I'd been struggling with the idea of going home. We had been gone over six months, such a long time... My legs were in pain every day - not serious pain, just the pain that comes with pushing yourself. It was a feeling I wasn't used to in my former life, and I'm still not sure I like it.
After a long straight stretch where I fell far behind Sam, he stopped to wait for me, and make sure I was ok. A torrent of tears followed as we stopped on the side of a deserted road to talk about how tired I was, the pain of working hard and how I missed home. It was time to decide - did I want to keep going or go home?
Sam gave a speech worthy of a pep rally - about pain making you stronger, how far we've come in six months, how much I've improved and reminding me that a rest in Paris was just days away.
For the rest of the afternoon I had the strength to keep up with Sam (in his slip stream of course) and even enjoyed the pain and ensuing feeling of accomplishment at the top of many hills.
We went further than planned, trying to find an ideal camping spot. At Saint Florentin we found a shower and toilet block next to the canal and were happy to wash away the day's dirt. But we decided to keep riding and try to find a better camping spot, away from the crowds of motor campers.
At 8.30 we stopped behind some bushes on the side of the road outside Saint Florentin, both exhausted. It wasn't ideal, but we couldn't go any further.
Today we gave up.
Semur en Auxois looks great in postcards, so we hope our photos will do it some justice for you. Let you imagine for just a moment that you were there with us, in the medieval city, tired legs juxtaposed with wide eyes marveling at a town straight from a fairy tale.
Venteux Montbard was blowing a gale, so, stinky, tired, wet and dirty we pulled into the city, after only 45kms.
Montbard welcomed us with rain, pouring driving rain, but luckily we found some shelter, and cooked our packaged poulet curry riz. This time it wasn't so good, somehow it reminded me of a cold cheese burger from McDonalds, but the baguette was delicious.
Next, we found the cheapest hotel in the city, stashed our gear in the small room beside a canal of gently floating green water, and still dirty and stinky, eagerly set about exploring the towns patisseries.
Sadly, the flan we devoured just didn't match up to the reining king, although we had entertained high hopes of it replacing the champ. So we search on, marching through the patisseries of France in hope of the perfect flan!!
What about you? Ever find that perfect flan, burger, pasta, dessert?
In rained again through the night and took us a long time to dry everything enough to pack away.
But soon enough we were back riding again, and this time downhill, which was fun. We even passed a few tractors this time.
After cycling through Blighny-Sur Ouche we went up to Chazilly, followed by Creancy. Turning left from Creancy we ended up in Pouilly en Auxois, a beautifully scenic town filled with less beautifully scenic tourists.
We stopped at the local patisserie, something we've been making a habit of doing lately, and bought two delicious cakes, both even more deliciously wrapped.
Lunch was a simple affair, fresh hot roast chicken with a crunchy baguette and some nectarines, followed by our purchase from the patisserie. Wow, if only we could buy these elsewhere we thought as we bit into our deserts, smooth and creamy, perfectly scrumptious, I can almost taste the flavors, the perfect consistency as I'm envisioning them...
We kept riding, and it kept raining, so we stopped about 6km from St Thibault, and camped under a bridge next to a canal full of sea monsters that couldn't stop splashing about.
It was another cold and rainy day... but we were getting used to it. And again the gusts of wind were hammering our faces, but we weren't getting used to that.
We gazed in wonder at the small towns we rode through - Chaussin, Chemin, Seurre... They were all so beautiful! Is the whole country full of small, picturesque villages?
In the evening we rode through the beautiful city of Beaune, the gorgeous wine capital of Burgundy, near the hills of the Cote d'Or... Bigger than the towns we'd passed through during the day but still the extensive archaic centre was maticulously preserved. We tried to take it all in as we rode to the other side of the city...
Outside of town and we're riding up a hill on the designated scenic route - our biggest for days. A tractor is puffing along the road, holding up the traffic behind. And suddenly a truck driver, heading the other way, swerves onto the other side of the rode whist pulling down his pants with his left hand, flipping the bird with his right and screaming profanities, and then narrowly missing Sam. Careening down the hill, and narrowly missing me on his second failed attempt to overtake on our side of the road, I was treated to the swearing only.
We reached the top at 620m elevation and wearily started to coast down the other side. We stopped at a roadside rest area outside of Bligny-sur Ouche to cook our dinner, and decided to stop for the night.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia