D-34 Antibes (F) – (MC) – Ventimiglia (I)

Camping and traveling by bike is one of those things that keep you very busy without seeing quick results. I spent all morning arranging things, storing stuff, and getting myself ready. A lot of work to have everything just as it was before, no improvement or anything to be seen. The kind of work that cleaners do, the best case scenario is to see no difference, otherwise something is wrong.

I finally get ready to ride myself towards the entrance of the camp site and find the owner with her daughter and company having lunch. They invited me to sit and have lunch with them but I was eager to cycle to my next destination. We started to talk and they were interested on my trip, I gladly talked about it now with a home made sangria on my hand. The camp site was built in the 50’s and now it was the 2nd and 3rd generation that was taking care of it. This was the typical, “I left my office job to take care of the family business at the beach”. We had a nice chat, shared some pictures and they were nice enough to not charge me for the night.

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I kept thinking about the 80 year old painter I met yesterday. It was a great example not only because of his age but the courage it takes to go to very different countries by only speaking French. I did not consider myself much of a traveller to do all what he has done on so many countries. I don’t enjoy much being a tourist, if there is something I really want to see about a place I do it and then flee from the area as soon as I can. Otherwise I’m fascinated by being a local person wherever I go.
At my age and with what I’ve gone through, I’m not embarrassed to recognize this, when I arrived to Bruges I left my stuff in the hostel, bought food and a white cloudy local beer. I ate and then took the beer and a book to sit at one of the main plazas, it was a bit cold but very sunny, the perfect combination for everyone to come out. A couple sat next to me with a camera, a map, a bottle of water, and that particular rush tourist have to see everything around them even if they haven’t done a tenth of that at their own hometown and even if they will forget everything they learn the very next day. They asked me how long I’ve been in town -expecting me to live there and being able to give some advise-. “3 hours” I ventured. They looked at me as if I was pouring my money down the drain by just sitting there. The fact of the matter is, I don’t enjoy much been a tourist, I just like to be a local everywhere I go. I have itchy feet and I like to relate to the culture I’m traveling too. So many new countries like the ones the old painter visited involved a lot of learning, maybe I’m just too lazy.

I had great weather before I got into Nice.

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I got into the city where Chagall and Matisse came from and started to rain right away. If you’ve been following my blog you will know by now that food quickly climbs up in my priority list. It was raining and it was a good opportunity to sit hopping for a clear sky. I did not feel attracted to the good restaurants, instead I could not resist stopping at a hidden rundown for-sale shop that sold sandwiches, pizzas, and sodas on a corner. The other three corners had shops that carefully thought on displaying their products nicely: a fine bakery, a gourmet ice-cream place, and a local branded body-shop. I don’t normally intend to be in the spotlight, I don’t mind if I have to or if I’m in a territory I’m comfortable with, like talking about my trip. It was rainy, I didn’t want to talk or meet people, and I was enjoying my simple vegetarian sandwich observing the people around which walked right in front and barely noticed the shop where I was or not at all. It was perfect. I’m sure even the must attention needy person dreamed to be in this situation. I changed a few words with the Iran owner and sensed two emotions competing with each other in his mood. One, I don’t care about this place cause I’m selling it, and two, I do want to do a good job selling this so I can be with my family in Sweden as soon as I can. I can tell he felt pity for me traveling alone, not having a family on my own, and not knowing where I was sleeping tonight, just like any other day for me. I liked his reaction, it matched the weather and the rundown place, the same way I saw people walking by I observed a tremendous emotion of sadness coming close. It was like watching a movie, stuff was presented to you, but it was your decision to allow that sadness affect you or enjoy it for a moment as a visitor and let it go. I shook my legs and arms to warm up, and wore my water proof jacket in the absence of a clear sky.

Monaco was a nice country to ride through but somehow difficult with all those little roads full of cars and not allowing much time to decide where to go. I followed what it seemed to be a bicycle path but became very narrow, short barriers protected the road. One from the cliff that lead to the see, and the other from the speed demons of the road. At some point salsa did no longer fit with the panniers and the last thing I wanted is seeing them fall to the sea or ran over by a car. I could not go back, so I pulled the panniers out and carried them to the end of the road and then pushed salsa. A couple of times I ended up inside a tunnel with narrow lanes. I passed by the start line where the Grand Prix just occurred and then checked out some nice yachts. The owners waved happily next to their crews when I stopped for pictures.

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The rest of the road back to France and then to Italy offered some great views of the towns and sea. The rain did not stop and I was a bit tired definitely not willing to camp. I found a hotel that ended up being at the tip of a hill, but was worth the climb. The receptionist -and very likely owner- reduced by half the rate after knowing where I came from. The dinner at the hotel was great.

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D-33 Puget-Théniers (F) – Antibes (F)

Si estás leyendo esto y estás pensando en viajar en bici, puedo confirmar que casi constantemente se recibe ayuda, no es para no estar preparado, pero el universo jamás va a conspirar en contra tuya para que salga todo mal. Las primeras dos noches de camping me prestaron un martillo para clavar las estacas y anoche el vecino me puso una carpa sobre mis cosas porque el clima amenazaba con tormenta mientras estaba afuera. Le di un regalo del camino de Santiago, di una buena última nadada, preparé mis cosas y emprendí el camino.

En teoría este iba a ser un tramo corto y fácil. Todo a lo largo del río y hacia el mar, lo cual implicaba plano y hacia el mar. Así fue excepto que el viento siempre estuvo en mi contra.

Creo que ya no me gustan los fines de semana, la gente sale debajo de las piedras y todos los lugares atractivos se conglomeran como si nunca más estuvieran ahí. Me detuve en un lago a comer y pude presenciar un sábado cualquiera en familia. Llegué a la playa y me quedé un rato frente al mar, el color muy parecido al del Caribe pero la playa tiene piedrecitas en lugar de arena.

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Llegué a Antibes, un pueblo playero o ciudad bastante pintoresca y con mucha actividad. Mientras platicaba con unos mexicanos que se deleitaban con unos mejillones llegó un señor pintor que vendía sus propios cuadros en el puesto de al lado. Me hizo varias preguntas sobre mi viaje y la bici. Resulta que tiene 80 años y sigue viajando en bici, cosa que ha hecho desde 1948. Su equipaje pesa 6kg en total, pero claro que tiene que lavar diario, no usa iPad, ni iPhone, ni paneles solares, ni bocinas, ni lámparas de 350 lúmenes, ni maquinita para cortar el pelo, ni herramientas, etc. Ni nada de esas cosas indispensables que uno lleva. El señor ha viajado por todo el mundo a pesar de sólo hablar francés. Esta emocionado porque quiere estrenar su tienda que acaba de comprar y que pesa 2kg.

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Llegué a un campo y que tenía muy buenos ratings y más que un camping era una ciudad. Tiene restaurantes, bar, tiendas de todo tipo, alberca, etc dentro del lugar. En el espacio que aparté podrían caber fácil 10 tiendas de las mías. Las estacas no se clavaban en el duro suelo por lo cual tuve que amarrar con agujetas y ligas la tienda a los árboles de alrededor y a mi bici.
El clima está perfecto, un poco de calor y bastante soleado.

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D-31 Barcelonnetta (F) – Puget-Théniers (F)

Lo bueno de vivir en un departamento chico, o en mi caso, una tienda de campaña pequeña, es que todo te queda a la mano. Desde mi cama abrí la puerta y esta era la vista.
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Otra de las cosas que tienen los camping sites, además de tener que traer tu propio papel de baño y no tener tazas en los escusados, es que las regaderas solo tienen una llave. Alguien decide de antemano a que temperatura te quieres bañar y el termostato se queda ahí para todos. Te metes y el agua está helada, al cabo de unos minutos pasa por tibia y luego esta hirviendo. O te congelas o te quemas.

Arreglé mis cosas y salí mucho más tarde de lo que acostumbro pero ya le estoy agarrando a la empacada acampando. Mi ruta hoy fue hacia Niza acampando a la mitad de camino. Al empezar el camino me di cuenta de dos cosas, una que la ruta iba derecho hacia los Alpes y otra que los rayos de la llanta de atrás empezaron a sonar otra vez.

Me pare como 4 veces para ajustarlos, según yo sonaban porque la tensión era demasiado alta pero creo que nunca encontré el punto ideal. Seguí subiendo esperando que no se rompiera nada.
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Después de varias horas llegué a la nieve, donde por fin paré a echar el lunch y unas fotos.
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A falta de fuentes y de agua en la botella metí varios de estos hielitos para el camino.
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Finalmente llegué a donde se dividen los dos valles.
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El otro lado de los Alpes fue bastante más amigable. Ajuste mis frenos delanteros porque aprendí que después se ponen muy calientes y emprendí la bajada. El paisaje cambió de nieve, a piedra negra caliza, a piedra roja, a vegetación un poco más tropical. Encontré un camping bastante decente con regaderas donde sí puedes ajustar la temperatura, puse mi tienda, y me eche una muy buena cena celebrando que mi hermana tiene nueva chamba.
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D-30 Savines de Lac (F) – Barcelonnetta (F)

Cycling, rafting, and camping in the French alps is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Today was my first camping wake up, as mentioned yesterday I got my camping gear from decathlon, one of these sport shops that you enter thinking you’ve got everything and once in you realize how much you are missing. I got an Italian 1kg tent, the lightest of their range, a 1kg Queshua (decathlon brand) sleeping bag, and a really good inflatable irish 360gr mat (the most expensive item of the three).

I had a great night, I could feel it was cold once I pulled an arm out of the sleeping bag but did not feel like 4degC inside the tent as it was outside. So the sleeping bag worked pretty good and I still discover hidden internal pockets for passport and wallet, etc. the mat was excellent in isolating the heat and was very comfortable too.

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Ok, enough of the rosy side and let me get to more of the real experience. As said, the gear is great to actually sleep or lay down, the problem comes when you pretend to do stupid things like taking a pee in the middle of the night. The single act of sitting, needs to be done by crunching your back and keeping your head down to avoid having your head touching the inner with the outer layer of the tent, so that condensed water (very cold in the alps) do not find a path to your head. Doing this movement requires advanced yoga postures which I don’t master, particularly when I happen to be asleep.
Around 8am I decided it was time to wake up and demobilize my circus. I started by letting the air out of the mat I was laying on. First mistake. Now I could feel on my back a very cold and stony floor. I got myself out of the sleeping bag, or rather the other way around, I pulled the sleeping bag out of my body cause I had nowhere to go, and tried different technics to put it back in its cylindrical bag. The most recommended one by camping experts is not to fold it but simply push it in the bag, but about a third of it was still hanging out by the time the bag was full. I tried the technique of folding it nicely and it took me long time to make it fit ending up with a ginger shape instead of a perfect cylinder. I gave myself a break stretching my back and head and had some more cold drops gravitating down from the condensed ceiling. Lesson learnt, I had plenty of cylindrical shape bags on my panniers and needed something to fill in the gaps. The sleeping bag is the perfect candidate, it will not go in its own bag, instead it will be pushed in the pannier once the other cylinder bags are in. I give kudos to the designer of the tent for selecting the right materials and size to make it 1kg weight. But I wonder if he or she actually camped on it, forget the idea of whether that person travelled by bike.

I feared the tent wouldn’t fit in its bag either, but the bag was quite forgiving and allowed for some non perfect folding. If the process of traveling in 4 panniers was challenging the camping aspect made the whole thing way more interesting. I remember the days when this process was reduced to handing the key at the lobby and wishing the person at the counter a nice day.

The weather was perfect, blue sky, not too windy, not too cold. The blue lake, the alps, some rivers along the way, and the rather clear roads. I stopped for lunch around km 30 contemplating the river and the alps and then kept going until I saw people rafting at the river. I needed to do that. I kept cycling until I found the business who did that, I saw a couple waiting outside and wondered if there was space. I stopped, asked and was just in time to join the next group to go rafting. We got a bit of water battles with the other boat but then everyone got in the water by jumping from a rock next to the river. The taste of the water wasn’t bad, at the end this is supposed to be the evian water, right? Finished with a sauna, a shower and back on salsa to Barcelonnetta for dinner and camping.

My second camping site was much better than the first one, great views, nice flat grass, toilets clean, etc. I learned that non of the toilets will have a seat nor toilet paper, it wasn’t just the previous one.

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D-29 Corps (F) – Savines le Lac (F)

El desayuno no fue tan impresionante como la cena de ayer pero el pan dulce lo hacían ahí mismo y no tenía abuela. Salí relativamente tarde, como en los últimos días, ya que me dormí como a las 3am haciendo el blog.

El cielo estaba azul pero no duraría mucho, me apuré y poco después de entrar a la carretera me encontré a las productores del documental ‘Amitié’, o amistad. Platicamos un rato para ver a donde iban y hoy nos dirigíamos al mismo lado, al lago Serre-Poncon. Me tocó granizo, nevada, lluvia y viento, pero hasta ahora todo bien. Yo iba a pasar al decatlón de Gap a comprar mi equipo para acampar que amablemente me patrocinó mi hermano Rafa.

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Primero vi tiendas de acuerdo a tamaño y especificaciones, con luz interior, con ‘patio de entrada’, etc. Pero al final me guié simplemente por el peso. Así qué compré la más ligera y cuando la termine de armar… Me di cuenta que en efecto era la más ligera y que apenas cabría yo con mi sleeping. Espero que quepa aunque sea una alforja -fotos mañana-. Salsa y demás alforjas se quedaron guardadas en el garaje.

Hice una fuerte depuración de cosas que ya no necesito y que le pueden servir a otros peregrinos que pasan desde aquí al camino de Santiago. Saliendo de decatlón hasta salsa se quejó con un rechinado del peso extra, con esta depuración espero que regresemos a lo que teníamos antes.

Busqué en el lago a mis amigos del tractor pero ellos llegaron después que yo a otro sitio para acampar, ni modo. Esto de la acampada le está dando otro tono al viaje ya que se necesita mucho más trabajo, pero vale la pena por los lugares y por el precio que es como 20% lo de un hotel. Vamos a ver como amanezco mañana. El lago increíble entre las montañas pero un poco frío para meterse.

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D-28 Saint-Ismier (F) – Corps (F)

Tell me why… I don’t DO like Mondays! (Adapted from Boomtown Rats)

I don’t like to rate my days, but yesterday was just perfect, great weather, the road dominated by cyclists and when not, drivers were tamed to be alert just in case a two-wheel machine hinted entering the alps surrounded path.

Today it was a different story. Weather forecast apps and every single person I talked to assured me rain will continue during the next days over the area I will be traveling to. The morning was almost clear of clouds and I decided to hit the road as quick as I could before the promised showers made themselves present.

Previous countries I crossed had dedicated stoplights for cyclists, France was different, and in my short experience cyclists just kept going through the red lights. So I did that this morning and the police pulled me over. The conversation went on and I realized this would be a relatively easy but fun battle to win:
– Bon jour. She says.
– Bon jour. I replied with an unavoidable foreigner accent.
– Parlez-vous français?
– Pas français, parle espagnol?
– Do you speak English?
– A little bit, but I can make an effort. I replied.
She explained with a tremendous effort I went through two or three stoplights. Great I thought, her English wouldn’t take us too far. I apologized myself and explained why I did that and thought about not pushing too hard the fact that France wasn’t as developed as central and Northern Europe as far as cycling went with dedicated stoplights for cyclists.
She asked for my passport and if I lived in France followed by how long I was planning to stay here. I could tell by the look in her eyes how this was slowly becoming more difficult for her to take any action against me. So, I decided to ask her a few rules about the road and showed her my plan for the day and if cyclists were allowed all over my route. Her companion advised this was more or less ok but it was kind of rough on the elevation. We talked for a while on what I’ve done over the last days but they did not pay much attention and continued saying this would be hard to do it by bike. I thanked them for the advise, apologize again and kept going to Grenoble.

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This was a beautiful city but I wanted to keep going before the rain came and hopefully make it all the way to Gap. After two hours and 30km on the log I was going to take a break for food but I thought to reach 40km first. My lunch rule was either three hours of riding or 40km, whatever happened first. The road deviated a little towards the mountain and became a bit hilly. I thought I would stop after the hill was finished but encountered this:

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This was the toughest hill I’ve found so far, not only the high elevation on short distance but also the lack of space for cyclists and the exhaust gas of the cars. I stopped once close to a SOS station for some food, chocolate and water and kept going. I finally found the top of the road which culminated at a town called Laffrey, not far from the tip of the snow mountain, where I stopped for a hot chocolate while my phone was charged. The path I started to follow this morning is the inverse of the Route Napoleón. Apparently not very far from that point on 1815 happened this:
Only the King’s army would stand between Napoleon and Paris. Six days after landing in France, he confronted a regiment of infantry ordered to bar his way. Napoleon advanced alone to meet them: “Soldiers,” he cried, “if there is one among you who wants to kill his general, his Emperor, here I am.” Suddenly, the soldiers began cheering wildly, “Long live the Emperor. Long live the Emperor.”

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The rain finally came in to stay for the whole day, I looked for shelter under a bus stop and had lunch there. Changed my shorts to waterproof pants, wore jacket and covered my phone with a plastic bag. I did not mind the rain too much but not been able to read the map while riding was quite a pain.

During the trip I’ve met all kind of people with different reasons for traveling. Some are similar to mine, an anticipation of a midlife crisis, others range from finishing high school and taking a break before knowing what to study, to people on their 70s who do not want to be the richest guys in the cemetery (phrase borrowed from Steve Jobs) and with not much life experiences and wanted to do some traveling. Walking, cycling, motorcycling, and cars were the preferred methods. But what I found on the road today was new to me.

I felt a heavy car was about to pass me on the heavy rain while climbing a long hill. Time passed and ‘it’ was still there. We rode the hill side by side for some time until they finally passed me. This was a tractor pulling a small caravan that had a drawing on the back of the path they would follow. From the town nearby in France to Olympia, Greece at a maximum speed of 25km/hr.

When they passed me I believe he offered me a cup of coffee but with the rain, my head cover and my poor French I thought he meant something else. I kept wondering what the hell was that until I saw them parking at a rest area. The beauty of this way of traveling is that you could be silent for 8hrs of hard work and only talk IF you wanted to the person that YOU wanted, or on some cases needed to.

I parked next to the caravan and someone came out making a nice conversation. To my surprise they two did not speak any other language than French. They were both retired and were donating all that farming gear to some countries on the way to Greece as part of a donation program from an association they belonged to. They invited me again for coffee and accepted tea instead inside their tiny kitchen and eating area. Oh yes, and all this was filmed by two other people. One was carrying a professional video camera and the other a still camera. They did speak English and explained they were doing a documentary about Friendship and if I minded been filmed. I said that’s ok. We had biscuits, tea and nice conversation with whatever language I was speaking. My mind had clear that it wasn’t Spanish or English so it tried to pull French words assisted with some German and Italian, which none of them spoke anyway.

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Between the hill, the rain and the last stop it was impossible for me to make it to Gap. It was 6:30 and thought looking for a hotel it was my priority. I passed a small town and could not find one, I saw a sign called Corps, and thought this had to be it. I found a few options and decided to stay at one which had very reasonable prices for accommodation and dinner menu too. Had a shower and thought to eat the food I had on my panniers. I saw a lot of meat on the menu and didn’t mind the bread and cheese but this was’t going to be enough, so decided to check the menu again.

The waiter said he could modify a little bit the menu to make it fish only. This started with a paste of trout and salmon with bread. The second course was a lobster and vegetable salad. The third was a combination of a bigger salad with couscous, prawns, rice, and vegetables. The fourth was fish with mushrooms, potatoes and vegetables. All this was accompanied with wine from the region. The dessert was a combination of icecream and a selection of cakes. I would have to sell all my belongings to pay this meal in Switzerland, but this town in France was great!
I was very happy to leave the cheese, chocolate and bread on my bags.

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And my blisters from yesterday are doing better.

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