Down the Neckar

4/7/18. Although we had been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the cycle paths in Strasbourg they did have a tendency to fizzle out suddenly and signage was a little sketchy (perhaps because we didn’t know the names of the areas making up the city. Of course, as soon as we crossed the Rhine into Germany the infrastructure stepped up a notch, with cycle paths everywhere and signs to towns we could see on the map.  

We found our way to a nice little campsite near the town of Offenburg the only downside being the constant drone of traffic from the nearby autobahn while big positives were (a) the availability of cold beers and Apfelschörle (Christine’s favorite tipple of apple juice and fizzy mineral water) at reception and (b) decent toilets (sorry France, but you really do need to get your act together on toilets before you can truly be considered civilised!)

A short ride into town on Monday morning took us to the station where we caught the train up (altitude gain of 600 metres) into the Black Forest from where we intended cycling down the valley of the river Neckar to its confluence with the Rhine at Mannheim.

Arriving in Schwennigen we looked in vain for signs to the cycle route (we were as well prepared as ever!) but then spotted that the tourist information office was round the front of the station. A town map showed that we were actually on the route already and so off we set!

Initially it was downhill – in the first 10 km we descended more than 40 metres and only “climbed” 2 metres. However, as we approached the town of Rottweil (where we assume the name for Rottweiler  dogs comes from) the route started to go up the sides off the valley and also joined quite busy roads. Christine rapidly became ticked off at the amount of climbing. However, a few kilometres past the town we were back on quiet trails that (mainly) stuck to the valley floor passing under a spectacular bridge carrying the motorway from one side to the other high above us.

As we approached the town of Oberndorf we consulted Christine’s iPad to see where the campsite was located. A man wandered over and asked if we were lost. He told us to look out for the mini golf and ask at the kiosk which we duly did.

The campsite was similar to one that we had stayed at in another town in southern Germany when riding down the Danube 3 years ago. It was a small area hidden behind hedges and clearly intended only for cyclists and walkers there being no room for caravans, motorhomes or tents larger than those for 3 or maybe 4 people. There was a small toilet and shower facility attached to the cafe serving the mini golf which was locked once the cafe closed but we were given a key. It cost the princely sum of €5 post person and we were the only ones staying there! The local “yoof“ had decided that it would be a good location for a party but they didn’t seem to be a bad bunch, kept their distance and were relatively quiet. They even decided that 10 o’clock was time to call it a night so we had no real complaint.

We had told the man running the kiosk that we were expecting to leave between 9 and 10 o’clock so, with typical Germanic efficiency  he turned up promptly at 9 to pick up the key to the toilets even though his normal opening time was 9.30.

For the first time for, seemingly, weeks there were clouds in the sky when we set off and they became more threatening as the morning progressed. We reached the small town of Sulz and spotted a bookshop for the first time since we arrived in Germany and Christine made a beeline for it hoping to find a Bikeline book of the Neckar Valley bike route as she had been feeling bereft without a map on the top of her handlebar bag to follow our progress. Bikeline is an Austrian company that produces books of maps and route descriptions of cycle rides which fit perfectly in handlebar map cases. They are mainly in German (not a problem for Christine ) but the more popular routes are available in English and we highly recommend them as useful and helpful guides.

Success! (So Stephen thought it would be another case of “Happy wife means a happy life”!)

Just as Christine emerged from the shop clutching her book we felt a few spots of rain. They rapidly increased in intensity and so we rushed into the cafe next to the bookshop for shelter and caffeine/chocolate fixes.

Thankfully it was only a short, if heavy, shower and we were soon on our way again. The sun came out and by the time we reached our destination of Tübingen, home of one of Germany’s oldest universities founded in 1477, the ice creams from the campsite reception were definitely needed!

We spent the evening nattering to two British cyclists who were traveling extremely lightweight (no tent – just bivvy bags – and two sets of clothing – one for cycling, washed each night, and one for the evening) and then watching England play Columbia in the World Cup.Christine retired to the tent during extra time, unable to watch any more – but then followed progress on the BBC website! She felt she had suffered quite enough football disappointment already this season, and had no confidence the match would end successfully.

We spent this morning looking around Tübingen which, while beautiful in parts, didn’t strike us as particularly outstanding given our experience of Germany’s pretty towns. After that we made our way to the station where we had 1½ hours to wait for the slow train to Lake Constance. (We have decided to come a couple of days early before our sons and their families descend on us!)

Dieppe to Deutschland

1/7/18. Today was the day when we finally finished the crossing of France by cycling the few kilometres from the centre of Strasbourg to the The  Rhine and across a new bridge into Germany. But first Christine had her ‘pill day’ consisting of 2 hours sitting still before we headed to the cathedral where Stephen enjoyed a couple of coffees in a pretty square whilst Christine attended the morning service. She loved the stunning singing and organ playing in the beautiful old building.

It’s now a good time to reflect on the last 2½ weeks crossing France.

First and foremost, we have had a great time! We would thoroughly recommend the Marne valley and the Marne-Rhine Canal as a cycle route from Paris to Germany. Or even as a driving route.

It is almost two years since we were last in France, other than a couple of days in Alsace (not  “real” France quite yet, even though it is becoming less Germanic every time we visit) last year. We have visited old friends, Marie-Claire and Christian, and seen parts of the country, Champagne and Lorraine, which we haven’t been to before.

The weather has helped. We had drizzle on the first afternoon out of Dieppe and a few spots the next morning. Other than that we have had blue skies all the way and, although there have been a few moans about the wind (well, quite a lot really!) It has been good in keeping us cool when it might have become unbearably hot.

We have enjoyed the bread, the cheese and the wine. The French ambience has been great. We have found the campsites to be extremely reasonable but do fear for the future viability of some of them and most of them have toilets that leave something to be desired! (Why, oh why, do so many not supply seats and paper for goodness’ sake?)

The countryside has been generally pretty rather than spectacular, other than our brief foray into the Vosges, but we have enjoyed it. In fact it has been such a lovely cycle that Christine is already thinking how good it would be to do the ‘Velodyssey’, a cycle route from Brittany down the west coast to Spain. We passed many barges and boats and even a few cruises, but having looked at the prices will definitely stick to our bikes (>$6000 for a 6 night cruise through Champagne). We were delighted at the number of storks we saw, with the highlight being 8 in one field! We both enjoyed speaking French and felt we got more fluent the longer we were there. Now we have to suddenly flick a switch and change to German.

Tomorrow we intend to take the train up into the Black Forest, as one of us refuses to cycle up into the mountains!

Avoiding the Vosges

29/6/18. (Almost.) For those who don’t know the Vosges are a range of mountains running parallel to the Rhine that separate the main part of Alsace from the rest of France. While not as high as the Alps or the Pyrenees they are still a sizeable barrier as we discovered 35 years ago when we went over the Grand Ballon (1,400 metres) on a day ride, having left all our luggage other than waterproofs and lunch back at the hotel. This ride was memorable both for the difficulty and for Stephen overtaking a car for the first time (on the descent, of course) – exhilaration for one of us and cold shivers for the other!

We (well, Christine if truth be known) had plotted our route from Paris following the canal reasoning that it wouldn’t involve long, steep climbs. The theory was fine and had has largely worked out in practice. What we didn’t expect was a strong easterly wind. It had has become increasingly annoying and growing in strength over the last few days with the previous afternoon having been quite hard work as previously noted.

However, Stephen used extra pegs when erecting the tent last night  which seemed to do the trick and the wind died overnight! So we thought we were going to be all right.

Wrong!

By the time we got going (after the visit of the mobile boulangerie with still warm baguettes and croissants) the wind was starting to blow again. As the morning progressed so did its strength to such a point that even downhill stretches became a struggle requiring pedalling rather than freewheeling. It was tough going and we were more than ready for the mid morning snack of croissants after 20 km of battling against the wind.

The saving grace was that the route we were following was mainly very quiet country roads with the occasional dedicated cycle route – if it had been along busy roads it would have been too depressing for words.

As mid afternoon approached we were conscious that we did not have much in the food bag for dinner or breakfast and our intended campsite was not near a town so we headed into Sarrebourg to find a supermarket to top up on supplies.

Getting out of the town was a bit of a slog uphill. It wouldn’t have been so much of an issue if we hadn’t had such a tough start to the day and a slight drop in the wind’s strength went almost unnoticed as our legs tired.

One last long uphill (not really very steep but the wind made it hard work at the end of a tiring day) took us to the top of a gorge where we rejoined the canal which suddenly looked uncared for, with reeds choking the channel and lock gates missing. We realised to our amazement that we had reached the high point of our crossing of the Vosges! We were at the top of a series of 17 locks which had been rendered redundant by a high tech lift which takes boats up and down the eastern edge of the Vosges saving water and manpower (one person per lock v. only 2 at the lift) .

There was a campsite conveniently placed at the bottom of the disused locks which we were more than ready to use for the night with Christine in need of a good night’s sleep while Stephen went to the adjacent restaurant for a glass or two of Alsatian wine.

In the morning we continued our descent from the pass on the towpath alongside the canal. Although the wind had again dropped overnight, by the time we reached the wide valley floor of the Rhine at the pretty town of Saverne it was starting to build in strength and we were grateful for any shelter from trees as we continued heading east.

The towpath continued all the way into Strasbourg and, even better, it started to head southwards which made the wind more of a crosswind.

With our major objective achieved (and very limited options on campsites around the city) we decided to celebrate/treat ourselves by going to a hotel and so we headed for the one we had stayed in about 11 months ago when riding down the Rhine.

Crashing on the bed we started to crystallize thoughts we had both been having over how to fill the week before the house rental on Lake Constance with the “kids”. It quickly became apparent that both of us wanted a rest and a wander round the Capital of Europe rather than to move on the next day so we have extended the hotel reservation by an extra night.

And Into Lorraine

26/6/18. Despite having been to its “partner” Alsace many times we have not been to the second half of Alsace-Lorraine other than perhaps passing through on a train. It has a reputation for being industrial and full of (ex) coal mines but, because we steered clear of the major cities of Nancy and Metz, this has not been our experience although we have been following a number of canals which are presumably part of the legacy of the region’s industrial heritage.

We set off from Bar-le-Duc on Monday morning somewhat apprehensive about what the second half of the day would bring. This was because although we were following the Marne-Rhine Canal we knew that we were going to be crossing from one river valley (the Marne) into another (the Meuse). The canal went south/southeast for quite a long way before suddenly turning north and disposing into a long tunnel which was impassable to bikes.

We followed the superb voie verte along the towpath until Ligny-en-Barrois where we headed due east up the hill on the old road which had been replaced by a nasty looking dual carriageway full of large lorries and speeding cars. Although the road surface had deteriorated a lot in places we were more than grateful not to be on the new road.

And the hill, although long, not was not as steep as it had appeared on the route profile we had looked at. (These profiles can exaggerate low hills as they use the full vertical space to show the highest point whether it is 10 metres or a 1,000 metres up.)

Then the countryside became more rolling once we reached the top. After an excursion into a service area on the new road (unsuccessfully looking for a toilet) we headed back to the former route pushing the bikes across a grassy area when suddenly Christine felt a sharp pain behind her right knee. Although this swiftly passed she felt the occasional twinge thereafter. As the campsite for which we were headed was still some 40 km away we decided to head for the nearest town, Commercy, which was a more manageable 12 km, discretion being the better part of valour and all that.

It turns out that Commercy’s claim to fame is that it is where the little cakes called Madeleines originate from although we couldn’t find out why. Unfortunately Commercy did not have a campsite that took tents so we went for the cheaper of the two hotels, declining the breakfast at €9 each, Stephen being sent out to one of the 5 supermarkets inn the town to buy a picnic salad, Orangina and beer  for dinner, and croissants and orange juice for breakfast at a total cost of €10! (Although Stephen did take a walk into town the next morning before Christine awoke to get his caffeine fix for a further €2.50!)

Christine’s knee behaved itself overnight and she noticed it only a couple of times the next morning so we decided to risk heading back towards our original route and for the campsite we had originally being aimed for meaning that we had two days of about 40 km rather than one day of 70 km. This is not a problem as we have the luxury of time to get to Lake Constance and it was always our intention to take the train part of the way anyway!

Leaving Commercy we found that we were following the route of another canal and river valley (both called the Meuse) and, although the towpath was not rideable, we used quiet roads. It was all very lovely.

Eventually we reached the major road which we had been paralleling the previous day and again took the old road into the town of Toul. With only 10km or so to go and with the day having warmed up we headed into the centre and found a bench conveniently situated in the shade right outside a little bar which formed a very pleasant lunch stop for our baguette and cheese while patronising the local business for cold drinks.

Suitably refreshed we headed up a long drag out of town before going down a steep (13%) hill down to the campsite on the Moselle river (the wine is made where it crosses into Germany).  

The river was wide (and deep, we realised,when a large barge chugged past) and flowed very slowly, with undisturbed reflections of the wooded area on the opposite bank. The cost may have been more than double that of Bar-le-Duc at €20 (v €9) but it was worth every penny for such a glorious setting. And the tent site was in prime position right on the river bank! The only disturbance to the peaceful setting was two French air force jets practising their manoeuvres overhead and seeming to take great delight in buzzing the campsite!

We saw 4 British cars, a couple of Germans but the overwhelming majority of visitors were Dutch caravans – the lady in reception even owned up to speaking a little Dutch!

The next morning (Wednesday) we were spared the slog back up the steep hill because Christine, when going for a walk the previous evening, had found an excellent cycle path on the other bank back with a way across using the lock gates just a kilometre downstream.

We passed through the next village, called Sexey-aux-Forges which made the smutty schoolboy amongst us snigger, and on to the suburbs of Nancy where the short canal we had been following joined our old friend, the Marne-Rhine Canal. Unfortunately, the voie verte had not been developed along this stretch and so we were back on the road which proved to be a bit of a racetrack.  This went on for about 10 km although we were grateful that the traffic seemed to calm down more the further we went from Nancy.

Eventually the main road veered away from the canal and we joined much more pleasant quiet, minor road which tracked the water. The only downside was the wind which had been getting stronger throughout the day and, now we had turned a little north of east, was blowing into our faces and making even the flat road hard work on exposed stretches. (Cyclists are like farmers aren’t they? There’s always something to moan about!)

About halfway to the campsite the voie verte started up again and,with lots of trees providing shelter from the wind, Christine was content. It reminded Stephen of the old adage “A happy wife means a happy life”.

After an ice cream stop (more happiness!) we soon reached the campsite which was another gem – right by the canal, peaceful, extremely reasonable (€10.50, showers included), toilet paper – but again almost empty making us fear for its future viability.

However, if “they” get their act together and convert more of the towpath into voies vertes and then sell the route to the Germans as a cycling holiday from Strasbourg to Paris through Champagne it will be an absolute cast-iron winner assuring the future of small businesses (such as the campsites) along the way. It is relatively flat, passing through lovely countryside with attractions of both an alcoholic and historic (WW1) nature joining two major well-connected cities which are each attractive in their own right. They might even attract a few more Brits!

Bubbling Through Champagne

24/6/18. You have been spared the usual drivel for the last few days because Stephen’s tablet, on which it is mostly written, has not been behaving itself – as in, the screen keeps dying suddenly and won’t come back to life for ages despite all efforts but then, suddenly, it works for no apparent reason. Strange. Still, it is working at the moment so let’s see how long it lasts.

Thankfully the weather has cooled a little since the scorcher on Wednesday and the wind has increased – which has been a blessing most of the time but a pain occasionally.

The route has been a mixture of excellent voies vertes (green ways) alongside first the Littoral Canal du Marne and then the Marne-Rhine Canal and quiet roads which have been centrally flat or flattish as we followed the Marne valley. For a large part of the time we were going past vineyards clinging to the steep hillsides. At one point the chalk escarpment reminded us of the North Downs near Box Hill where there is a large vineyard (Denbies) that produces some fine English sparkling wine which had beaten “proper” champagnes at some tastings.

More recently the countryside has been more given over to cereals, rape, sweetcorn and sunflowers although there are still many signs announcing small producers of the famous tipple.

We have again had mixed success with finding campsites. In Épernay we stayed at the large municipal site which was pretty good although it was quite a long walk out of town – and the town was not particular inspiring unless you are in the market for buying champagne in various sized bottles (in one shop window we saw a 7 litre bottle!)  from many different vineyards.

We found the municipal site in Vitry-le-François but we were told by the tourist information office that it closed two years ago. So we had to resort to a hotel again but we’re pointed in the direction of one that was a very reasonable €51 for the night. Incidentally, the lady in the tourist information asked Stephen which departement he was from (for her statistics) and, when he said he was English, complemented him on his French! He wasn’t convinced she was being entirely truthful but was happy to take the complement for his schoolboy language skills!

By Saturday we had made our way to Bar-le-Duc where the municipal site is simply delightful! It is small (25 spaces), adjacent to the chateau and has great sanitary facilities. The showers are incredibly spacious, free and the pushing the button gives 30 seconds of hot water at a time (much better than the usual 5 or 10). And, wonder of wonders the toilets actually have seats and loo paper!!!!!! This is almost unheard of in French campsites. The only downside is that it is not very busy which makes us fear that it will go the way of the site in Vitry and close which would be a real shame.

We have stayed here for two nights so that Christine can have a “pill day” and go to church (surprisingly lively compared to other French churches she has been to) while Stephen went for his statutory bike ride which followed some of the Voie Sacré (or Sacred Way) which was the road that supplied the French defenders during the horrendous Battle of Verdun in World War 1 which saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands from both sides.

Bubbling Through Champagne

24/6/18. You have been spared the usual drivel for the last few days because Stephen’s tablet, on which it is mostly written, has not been behaving itself – as in, the screen keeps dying suddenly and won’t come back to life for ages despite all efforts but then, suddenly, it works for no apparent reason. Strange. Still, it is working at the moment so let’s see how long it lasts.

Thankfully the weather has cooled a little since the scorcher on Wednesday and the wind has increased – which has been a blessing most of the time but a pain occasionally.

The route has been a mixture of excellent voies vertes (green ways) alongside first the Littoral Canal du Marne and then the Marne-Rhine Canal and quiet roads which have been centrally flat or flattish as we followed the Marne valley. For a large part of the time we were going past vineyards clinging to the steep hillsides. At one point the chalk escarpment reminded us of the North Downs near Box Hill where there is a large vineyard (Denbies) that produces some fine English sparkling wine which had beaten “proper” champagnes at some tastings.

More recently the countryside has been more given over to cereals, rape, sweetcorn and sunflowers although there are still many signs announcing small producers of the famous tipple.

We have again had mixed success with finding campsites. In Épernay we stayed at the large municipal site which was pretty good although it was quite a long walk out of town – and the town was not particular inspiring unless you are in the market for buying champagne in various sized bottles (in one shop window we saw a 7 litre bottle!)  from many different vineyards.

We found the municipal site in Vitry-le-François but we were told by the tourist information office that it closed two years ago. So we had to resort to a hotel again but we’re pointed in the direction of one that was a very reasonable €51 for the night. Incidentally, the lady in the tourist information asked Stephen which departement he was from (for her statistics) and, when he said he was English, complemented him on his French! He wasn’t convinced she was being entirely truthful but was happy to take the complement for his schoolboy language skills!

By Saturday we had made our way to Bar le Duc where the municipal site is simply delightful! It is small (25 spaces), adjacent to the chateau and has great sanitary facilities. The showers are incredibly spacious, free and the pushing the button gives 30 seconds of hot water at a time (much better than the usual 5 or 10). And, wonder of wonders the toilets actually have seats and loo paper!!!!!! This is almost unheard of in French campsites. The only downside is that it is not very busy which makes us fear that it will go the way of the site in Vitry and close which would be a real shame.We have stayed here for two nights so that Christine can have a “pill day” and go to church (surprisingly lively compared to other French churches she has been to) while Stephen went for his statutory bike ride which followed some of the Voie Sacré (or Sacred Way) which was the road that supplied the French defenders during the horrendous Battle of Verdun in World War 1 which saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands from both sides.

Go East Young Man

20/6/18. (Or not so young man and woman!)

Reading a cycling blog, Christine had learned of a canal leaving Paris to the east which was (sort of) the direction we wanted to head and so we made our way there next morning. It was a good choice as it had good segregated bike routes and forms part of the Eurovelo 3 route (which goes from Trondheim in Norway to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Just after we passed close to Charles de Gaulle airport the main cycle route turned north (towards Trondheim presumably). At this point there was also a sign on the towpath indicating that cycling was not allowed. We decided to be well behaved and joined the road for a while which was OK.

At the next village the road came alongside the canal again and there were more “No Cycling” signs. These ones we chose to ignore as the road appeared to veer away from the canal for quite a way and Christine had read in a blog that it was cyclable. Coming the other way we met several other bikers who had obviously read the same blog or, more likely, were locals.

Climbing over a hill on a rough track took us down into the valley of the River Marne and to the town of Meaux. Neither of us had heard of Meaux before despite its beautiful looking cathedral. Unfortunately we did not have time to look around as it was 5.30 and all we really wanted to do was head for the campsite which the tourist information office pointed us towards some 5 km beyond the town.

We passed a sign to another campsite but, as it looked tatty, we thought we would keep going to the recommended site. When we got there we were less than impressed. It was mainly static caravans, many of which looked as though they had been abandoned, and there were several piles of old bikes, furniture and goodness knows what else around.

But we were tired and there was a small reasonable looking area with two other tents so we paid our €15 and settled in for the night. We had to forego showers as the water was unbearable – not cold as you might imagine but scalding hot with no temperature control – just a button that delivered a 5 second blast. We made do with using the basins where we could at least allow the water to cool a little. All in all, it was one of the worst sites we have stayed at in all of our travels (although it does have some way to go before it plumbs the depths reached by the one in East Palatka in Florida!)

The next morning (Wednesday) we were glad to be on our way, although even that was not straightforward as we spent 5 minutes trying to operate the gate! And then we joined a reasonably major road which was a bit of a racetrack with quite narrow stretches. We were very glad to turn off it onto quiet country roads that gently undulated along the valley of the Marne.

It all became very pleasant apart from the weather – someone had taken a leaf out of the campsite shower manual and had turned up the heat while hiding the temperature control! However, we found nice shady spots to have our mid morning snack of some turnovers and lunch of filled baguettes.

As the heat approached its peak we came upon a convenient little bar where we indulged in a couple of rounds of extremely welcome cold beer and Orangina (depending on your taste) while the locals watched the World Cup (Portugal v Morocco in case you’re interested).

We had been making slow progress because of the heat and our intended destination was still quite a distance away. It was time for Plan B! Stephen spotted a small campsite on the map about 5 km further on and,  as we are in no hurry, we decided to spend the night there.

The best laid plans of mice and men……!

The map might say there was a campsite but all we could find was an open field. We trudged back to the road we had been following  and headed on thoroughly dispirited. We could see no more campsites on the map for a long way ahead and so agreed that we would take the first (reasonably priced) hotel we came across.

We had just entered the Champagne region and started passing numerous vineyards and caves offering the local product. We resisted temptation and as we approached the town of Chateau Thierry, an Ibis hove into view.  Sorted!

After lovely, refreshing, cool showers we ventured to the nearby Aldi to buy a picnic tea to have in our room – smoked salmon salad washed down by a very nice sparkling wine from our favorite French area of Alsace (€5 compared to the cheapest champagne at €16 – we may be retired but our accountant instincts are alive and kicking!)

We’ll Always Have Paris

18/6/18. About 10 km from Marie-Claire’s house Stephen’s saddle suddenly went “Twang” and, on inspection, it transpired that a bolt which tensions the bit you sit on had snapped. The saddle was still rideable – just – but the resulting way in the leather made it much more uncomfortable. Stephen, being an absolute trooper(!), carried on riding for the rest of the day but ended up a tad saddle sore.

Since this was a new, relatively expensive and iconic British Brooks saddle we were hopeful that there would be a shop in Paris that could help. The Brooks website listed 8 or 9 dealers in Paris but most seemed to be shut on Mondays. However, there was one, close to the centre, which was willing to sell things on the first working day of the week so we headed for that.

The initial part of the route was very similar to that which had gone before – quiet roads with some undulations – and all very pleasant.  This took us to Cergy which is a large town, perhaps similar to Watford or Croydon. (That may be doing Cergy a disfavour – we didn’t really get a good enough look at the place to form a proper judgement!)

After Cergy, the route wiggled about a lot, as do cycle routes in London, sticking to shared paths and quiet roads including a long stretch through a wood near Maison Lafayette.

As we neared the centre, we lost the signs but could see from the map that the route joined the route path along the Seine – which is nice in theory but, as you may well know, the river meanders about a lot making the trip much further. As time was moving on (riding through urban areas is generally slow – traffic lights, stop signs, traffic, complicated junctions all take time to negotiate – so we decided to take a more direct route.

This worked out ok although it did mean short stretches on some busy roads. At one point we were headed straight for the Eiffel Tower which was an inspiring sight in front of us.

It was mid afternoon by the time we reached the bike shop and the guy took one look at the snapped bolt and shook his head. However, to his credit, he did have a go at mending the saddle and even got some grease on his nicely laundered shirt. When it was clear that he wasn’t going to be successful we decided to buy a new (cheap) saddle which was more comfortable than the saggy damaged one but not a patch on the real McCoy. Stephen is half expecting to develop a bow legged walk over the coming days!

As the time was nearing 4 o’clock it was not a difficult decision to spend the night in Paris rather than trying to find a campsite or a (probably) grotty hotel on the way out of the city. We found a reasonable (for central Paris) hotel and set about enjoying the unexpected stay. As we have been to the city several times we did not feel the need to view any particular sights and simply relished walking around soaking up the atmosphere before finding a nice restaurant.

We are so lucky to be able to do this sort of thing spontaneously!