Friday, 2 August 2013

London to Paris - part 4 - Criel to Paris...

Saturday July 20th 2013

We slept remarkably well - basically because we're knackered! So the prospect of just 50 miles or so into Paris provided a cheery start to the day. Breakfast was basic - as expected really - but enough to get us fuelled up and ready to roll - carrying the bikes and bags down was just as difficult as getting them up yesterday - but we managed and soon we are ready for the off.

We ride in a group through the outskirts of Criel and the first
Gary - preparing for the off
upward drag of the day - no warm-up for this one so it felt harder than it really was, then we had some flatter terrain and smooth roads before a series of rollercoaster up and downs.

We headed into Chantily - with a pretty face and a pony-tail, hanging down - we saw a group of around 10 cyclists, part of our entourage, heading back out towards us - they were looking for the route through town and said it was back the other way - Dave checked his GPS and disagreed - we decided to trust his machine - so far it had proved to be extremely trustworthy - and it proved so again. Soon we were riding through an archway and onto a cobbled road - we had been told about this - a section of road that has been used as part of the Paris-Roubaix classic race - after 50 metres I felt I had been shaken and stirred - the bike would soon drop to bits with this type of abuse - I have no idea how they race on this type of surface but like everyone else I got off and pushed the bike for the rest of the section.

The waterstop came early - I hadn't drunk anything since setting off, so no need for a bidon top-up, I enjoyed a banana instead. A few more miles and it's the lunch stop - everything is coming early today - when we arrive we are amazed at the amount of cyclists already congregated - we were towards the front of our group - how did this lot get past us? Then we find out this final stop is a joint affair with another group who had been riding in tandem with us on a different route - I wonder if their's was easier than our's - we find out that they had been more consistent with mileage - 75 miles per day - whereas we had two long hard days and then two easier ones - we decide ours was the best option.

On the outskirts of Paris
It is the last time we will be treated to the excellent food of the mobile catering team - we make the most of it and give them a round of applause at the end - then we're off again - only another 20 miles or so to do.

We start to look out for the Eiffel Tower, a beer for the first one to spot it - as we get towards the outskirts of the city the traffic gets heavier; there're lots more obstacles, lights, roundabouts etc - it seems we are stop-start-stop for miles - then there is the obligatory roadworks - it's not just the UK. But bikes are great for weaving through traffic and we are soon on the other side and speeding up. We meet up with another group consulting their map - but we're following Dave's Garmin GPS system - so far it's been doing a good job - we speed off with them behind us - a couple of their riders join on - we spot the tip of the Eiffel tower peeping between some new high-rise office blocks - this is it; we've made it; we're here. We speed up now, incentivised by the the sights and the sense of achievement - we zoom like madmen through the busy streets - we pass through red lights with careless, reckless abandon, drunk on adrenelin. We're moving along at 26mph - the two riders can't keep up and we quickly lose them.

Outside the Louvre
As we get closer to the centre a local cyclist joins us - 'You have cycled from London?' he says
'Yes' we reply
'When did you set off'
'This morning'

Now we're in the heart of Paris - some people outside a cafe stand and applaud as we pass. We negotiate the busy traffic in the centre - taking a bit more care now at traffic lights - then, through an archway and we're outside the Louvre - that's it we've done it!! We congregate on a corner looking out for our organiser - but we realise he'll be stuck in the roadworks and traffic - we find a shady spot and take a breather. It's unbearably hot again but the emotion of the day has left us unaware of any problem, physical or meteorlogical. Then we're off again - we have a route to the foot of the Eiffel Tower via the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triumphe - we head back onto the busy streets, but the traffic is cycle friendly here - cars seem to give way to us - they flag us by at roundabouts and allow us out of junctions - can't imagine this happening in the UK. We make our way up the Champs - its a steep rise up to the Arc de Triumphe and the road surface is bumpy - cobbles with bits missing and broken - we are hindered all the way by a continual series of red lights - the traffic is busy - we wonder what will happen at the Arc - one of the busiest intersections in Europe with cars whizzing round from every direction. Suddenly we're there and edging out into the traffic - once again the traffic slows and stops - they let us through - the traffic parts like the water of the Red Sea - there are people clapping through car windows and peeping horns in a friendly congratulatory way. We enjoy it so much we go round again - then off and down the Champs Elysees - next stop the Eiffel Tower.

As we approach there is a traffic-free section and we can see crowds of people up ahead - Dave and I sprint towards them and they let out an enormous round of applause - we're in front of The Eiffel Tower, our organiser has a table with banners set out in the perfect spot - we take some photo's and are presented with a plastic beaker of Champagne and a finishers medal. It's an emotional moment - here we are in the heart of Paris, under one of the world's iconic landmarks - and we've pedalled all the way from London. We relish the moment and take a few more pictures.

After half an hour of contemplation we need to get to our hotel - we've another 5 miles to go - but it will be easy. We set off smiling for the final leg. After about three miles we spot a typical Parisian corner cafe/bar - I shout to Gaz that we should stop - we do and take a seat out of the sun close to the street corner. The waiter duly arrives - he looks the part, waistcoat, white shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbow and one of those stripey aprons. We try to tell him we need two beers - large, 'deux bier, grande, pression, silvous-plait' - He speaks fairly good English (better than our French) 'Ahhh you want large beer' - Moments later he is back with two of the biggest beers I've ever seen - massive stein affairs, the sort you might find at a German beer festival. Ideal.

The celebratory beers
We sit sipping the beer and enjoying the moment. Then a couple of our group cycle past - we shout out and raise our steins - they laugh and acknowledge - but carry on. We decide to try to get people to join us, we're on route to the hotel so everyone will be passing. The next few riders pass by - this time we're on our feet, holding up the beers, shouting to them to stop and join us. Soon we are building a collection of tired but elated cyclists at this small roadside bar - we take all the seats, our bikes are piled up and spilling into the road - any cyclist who passes by is greeted with a huge cheer and encouraged to stop and join us - if they pass by the cheer turns to a boo. Across the road is a small area laid out for Petanque - Gary and I go over and challenge the two people to an 'International Tournament' - France vs England. The two guys accept and we buy them a beer to seal the deal. It's starting to get silly.


At the bar we have all the outside seats - more are brought out from inside - our bikes are piled up taking space in the road, there are people sitting on the pavement, on the grass across the road, all over - the atmosphere is electric - we are losing at Petanque but it doesn't matter. Every few minutes there is a deafening cheer as another cyclist arrives. It is one of those unplanned moments that make a trip extra special. We get chatting to various riders and plans are made to meet up later. Meantime another tray of beer arrives...

Suddenly a van pulls up - it is Martin, our tour guide and organiser - he tells us that we have to get to the hotel - there is a lorry waiting to taking our bikes back to England that has to get to Calais tonight - we're holding up the schedule - a boo emanates from the crowd - but we realise we will have to go. We drink up and make our apologies to the French Petanque team - we have to leave and will, on this occasion, concede the match. A pity, we'd met a Frenchman in the bar, apparently a champion, who had agreed to play for us!

The tangle of bikes is gradually unthreaded and we make a slow, wavy line in the general direction of the hotel - it's follow the leader time - I have no idea where we're going. But we make it back okay and get our bikes onto the lorry. The hotel is the poshest one of the trip - The Pullman - apparently it's over 200 euros a night to stay here! - Our room is great, a double bed each, big air-con unit, lovely bathroom. We shower then it's time for supper.

The restaurant is packed for the last supper - it is buffet style, lots to choose from, prepared with more style and flair than we've experienced so far this trip. There's even a cheese board with some perfectly wonderful soft, smelly varieties. It's not long before Gary has ordered a bottle of wine for our table - it lasts about 5 minutes - then someone else on the table - Jonathan - offers to reciprocate - however he insists on popping out to the offy, reluctant to pay Pullman prices - 15 minutes later he's back, but the stakes have been upped. Instead of a bottle of wine, Jonathan saunters in with a bottle of Napoleon Brandy - neatly presented in an Eiffel Tower shaped bottle. I begin to think this is going to be a long night; and a painful morning.

After supper our party consists of around 10 of us - Amazingly one of the riders, Julian, has my email
address in his phone - his family own a printing company in Norfolk. It transpires that we've worked together on a project in the past, both employed by the same client but working independently. We are out on the streets now - someone says we need a blues club - we ask a chinese taxi driver who has no idea. Then someone spots a Jazz club - we make a beeline but its 30 euro's just to get in - we try to negotiate a group discount but to no avail. We're back outside wandering, we come across a bar and settle for that - we sit at the pavement tables drinking draught heineken and reliving our experience. Some Americans approach us - they are lost - they need to get to The Pullman Hotel - no problem, I offer to walk them round in the interests of Anglo-American relations. They're from Chicago, at least that's the nearest city - they're 'doing' Europe, they had already been across to the UK to trace back ancestors who originated from Cornwall. When I get back Julian suggests we move on to a club as the bar is about to close - It's 1.00am. I don't fancy it but agree to go along, thinking we'll never get in dressed ib shorts/tee shirts etc. My theory holds out until club number 3 - the doorman lets us in. We're in a dark dingy bar area, loud dance music, expensive drinks - I find a corner to hide in - Gaz takes to the dance floor!

It's 4.00am when we emerge - Gaz looks like he's been for a swim fully clothed, he's soaked through from tip to toe. Now everyone is hungry - it's Pizza time. After that we try to figure out how to get back. Gary and Julian walk off to find a Taxi - I'm with Dave who is wandering around in an alcoholic haze. Somehow we all get split up - and I've got Dave's phone - no sign of anyone? - I call Gaz but it's Dave who answers - he's around the corner and has found the route to the hotel, the others have gone.

I get back to the room at 6.00am - its light and Gaz is in a coma. Can't believe we've been out so long - and can't wait to get to sleep.

Statistics:
Max speed: 31.6
Height gained: 1699 ft
Max temperature: 104f
Miles: 57.98
Calories: 4698
Beer drunk: Loads!

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