Week 1 – Home to Chanez 1


Index for this trip HERE

At last, our ninth major trip is underway!  We’ve actually been away for almost 3 weeks in the UK before we left for this trip but due to some consulting work leaving to Europe was delayed.  But as I write this, we’re now in Europe, in Tournai in Belgium for our first stop.

Its unreal really how things change – once you get into France and out of Calais, the traffic frees, the roads are better and everything is instantly chilled.  We used to take the p*** out of Belgium roads as when you crossed from France to Belgium they started getting rough. But now, the UK roads are so bad that even Belgium feels smooth!

Our route to the alps is via roads we’ve never used just so we see different places.  Our first stop in Tournai in Belgium shows why – as it was a random and unknown stop simply because there was an aire (which has great facilities) and close to Calais (90m).  But really the town (city?) is very impressive – a UNESCO cathedral, pretty river, buzzing square and a bizarre park where they had free range chickens… 

Of course, the first things to check are:  Is Belgium beer good (answer = yes – though I was the only person with pint glass in the town square) – and does the free 3G work on the Kindle:  Yes!  I can now get free email via 3G in Europe!  What a bargain.

After a great nights sleep, we headed to Charleville-Mézières which is another town a few hours away where we planned to meet some friends who are on their way home (haha!).  A lovely free camping area meant we could have a good BBQ overlooking the Marina as well as explore the quite charming town which had a fairly impressive square and side streets.  Lovely to catch up and swap good locations, and good to have a BBQ as sharing one with veggie Mel isn’t quite the same…

Our “new route” continued as we headed via Montmary to see the citadel (okay to walk around but not the best example) and old town (not worth stopping for) to an aire at Dieue-sur-Meuse next to a little canal.  Great spot, with free water and electric hookup and a picnic bench for tea!  Just starting to chill – takes a while to get out of UK mode…

Overnight the weather turned to typical British, so our friends who are just going back to UK have taken the weather with them!  This is a shame as Dieue-sur-Meuse has a load of mountain bike routes leading from it of all colours.  Instead of getting the bikes muddy we opted for a morning run which almost killed us! 

On leaving we went to an aire in Thaon-les-Vosges where there was a promise of a party and fireworks – but the weather seemed to put a damper on things and the fireworks weren’t exactly London standards, so we made the most of the time trying to remember our French!  The following day we headed to the old city of Besançon which has a lovely old feel to it, but due to it being a bank holiday (Bastille day?) – it was pretty much closed up.  We weren’t sure if there were any city celebrations so opted to stay the night just in case…

After tea we ventured into the once quiet old town only to find the place packed.  There was some sort of (very boring) ceremony that was reminiscent of either a Carry-On film or a Monty-Python film – where everytime someone tried to speak there was a bit of canned music.  Quite weird and even the locals ebbed away.  Afterwards there was a procession of army and emergency vehicles which seemed to be getting an annual “thank you” from the crowds.

When it got dark there was indeed a huge firework display and pretty much everyone had carrier bag fulls of bangers and fireworks that were being thrown far too close to people. Reminding me of one of my early business ventures selling French fireworks at school.  Amazingly we saw no kids with fingers missing.  Guess Bastille Day is the French Bonfire night.  Clever how they are all staggered to allow the firework companies a smooth revenue stream…

We’ve decided there is a tough line between “chilling out” and “wasting time” – as we’re both itching to get to the mountains and get the bikes off, but we are enjoying chilling and reading – already we’ve read more than the previous month.  So when does chilling out reading become wasting time…. Hmmm…..

With that thought in mind, we headed towards our Alps target of Valloire and as we were deliberately taking the slower and more interesting roads, we got tired before Chambery and aimed toward Chanez on the edge of Lac du Bourget.  There was an aire, but loads of area near the canal for staying the night.  Chanez looked an interesting and pretty little town and there were some mountain bike routes, so we opted for a cycle day!  Hurrah – bikes off the back and we went off into the hills…  Not a long ride (though my speedo seemed to think so – b****y eBay tat!), but it was very hilly and our legs burned and we’re glad we’ve got good brakes!!  We’re sure we could smell the pads burning when we eventually got to back to camp.  Such a pretty location!

We decided to have another day in Chanez so in the morning we went for a longer and flatter ride.  Pretty much half way, at the furthest point, I got a puncture.  Being fully prepared, I did have a repair kit and tools but they were left at the van!  DOH!  Fortunately the phone GPS and maps were superb so we were able to walk to a road and then I took Mels bike back to get the van.

So a flat end to a lovely week – and we are looking forward to heading to Valloire shortly

 

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