2 more days, that’s what I expected to be home again from my Tour de France.
I had a relaxed start in Cambrai, skipped breakfast – a French breakfast doesn’t give a lot of base to cycle anyway – and was out of the city in a mere 10 minutes.
The landscape unfolded, the road followed the contours of the hills, up, down. Surprise, there was a mild southern wind to provide that extra push. Ever since I left Beauvais, the area looks more populated.
Today it was Aldi to provide my supplies, As I happen to bump into this supermarket first. At the cashier the sign read : ‘Aged 70 and plus are allowed to jump the queue’ . I did not attempt…
The Belgian border was nearing and I wondered if there would be any Corona police. Nothing.
Temperature steadily climbed, subtropical temperatures were to be expected, like a real Tour de France of which I did not see more than the posters in Mancy, for the Saturday stage.
Steering northeast the wind decided to veer a little more and became more tailwind. Earlier than expected I reached the 120 k mark, coming up Charleroi, where temperature showed 37C now! It is not my favourite place, so I continued. Conquered a few very mean hills, sweating like mad. Passed the airport, my search for a hotel in the next 40 kilometers was still in vain.I joined a RAVEL, a dedicated cycle path built on the flats of a former train track, which made me go fast.
I had only 100km to go to arrive at my own bed, so I continued, realizing I would have to cycle the dark for 3 to 4 hours. It did not worry me, I had enough niterider experience; a 200 km nightride from Amsterdam to my place, the USA. Mojave desert ride doing Route 66 and my local experiece.
I was lucky enough to find a small supermarket for more apple juice ( which I mix 50/50 with water) and yoghurt, my fuel for the evening.I biked the fields and orchards in this NorthEast part of Belgium, pretty close to my home but, I am completely unfamiliar with the area.
The air was crisp, smelled like harvest. Sunset was at 2000, from now I had to rely fully on my (Komoot) smartphone navigation, as it became pitch dark. Steering fully on instruments is still an experience; for a minute I wondered if I was doing the right thing. The only issue I was uncomfortable with was my lack of local geographical knowledge, not – at times – the eerie environment.
I was happy I arrived in Bilzen – after I nearly joined a highway by mistake. From here I was familiar with the region again and if my powerpack, feeding my smartphone, would go flat I could still make home without navigation, so close to Maastricht.
And so I did, arrived home 2330, my longest daytrip ever with 260 kilometers. For this Tour de France I biked 2700 kilometers, 18 riding days, with 2 rest days in Nîmes and Poitiers. Now I can say it went extremely well, though I did not always have that impression when fighting headwinds or struggling uphill. Never had to open my first aid kit or used any medicine – or dope.. Did not see any corona animals either..
So, great trip which served its sole purpose: riding a bike through France, the wild idea that started as a dream but quickly changed into a plan!
Most importantly however: my thanks and respects to Gabriëlle for her patience!
After 2 weeks you have settled in your routines, so it is a good moment to head home again! Left Poitiers at 8, together with a huge flow of traffic. And though the French drivers really keep an eye on cyclists, give them priority, never get impatient, don’t honk, keep their distance on passing as much as possible, it gets scary at times when those enormous trucks pass you on a 2 lane road, with a shoulder as wide as a white stripe.. Hold your track and hold your grounds! You get used to it, but when you realize you are sometimes biking the narrow or no shoulder of 4 lane roads with 110 k speed limits, you are crazy – in Dutch terms. But so the French think we bike irresponsibly with 2 kids on a bike.. I got used to this traffic, just like I got used to the many roundabouts. They work well for bikers, just keep right as much as possible. Not for long I biked again by myself.
First stop after 30 k was the obligatory Lidl for juice, yoghurt, rolls and apple pie. The road was flat as a pancake, only later I realized I was in the valley of the Vienne river.
Followed a D route for most of the day, and noticed I had not seen so many villages, restaurants and businesses along the road before. No vineyards today, lot of farmland and sunflower fields dying off.
The city of Tours was a welcoming nice city, bike friendly, bike paths everywhere, you have the same privileges as pedestrians; one way streets don’t exist for you and you just bike the large pedestrian boulevards.
Booked the hotel in Chateau Renault but arrived too early, reception only opened at 5. When it opened people flocked in and were celebrating the week (or the weekend).
They all seemed to know each other and hugging and kissing was a matter of course. And sometimes a mouthcap, corona, remember?Restaurant is actually not worth mentioning – I must be spoilt, but this was the only one around. The ice cream was good!
Had to pay my hotel bill at 7 in the morning but was blocked by a guy enjoying his first Leffe. Or he might have been a leftover from the evening before.
Biked 25k on the quiet 4 lane motorway-without-shoulders, before I entered the real country. Silence and solitude on the provincial roads, I headed for Dreux, some 60 k west of Versailles to clear red corona Paris. Pretty flat country with a lot of false flat roads where most products had been harvested. The vineyards were gone.
It felt like a bad day cycling, though I covered 150k plus. To my luck the hotel restaurant in Dreux was closed and I had to jump the bike and find dinner downtown. Passed the station.
That made my day, oysters!
On Sunday the morning routine had to be adapted; there was no breakfast available in the hotel and no open Lidl nearby. Stilll cold though, but a beautiful crisp morning.
Saturday I bought some more supplies, I only had to make a stop at the first boulangerie, a bakery, to get some sandwiches.
When you see queing people with masks on a Sunday morning, you know there is a boulangerie. I was lucky, I was early enough to be there before the queues. Had the full size bread cut in two for the sandwiches for the day. I biked the valley of the Eure, a river you probably never heard off, but which makes nice flat roads..
They even had some dedicated bike paths, but the French have the bad habit of putting up barriers, whenever a street has to be crossed. They want you to get off your bike, crossing some of these barriers while on your bike is pretty tricky, I can tell..
It was still cold when I left, <10C, so I was glad I brought a set of thermo wear. Only needed it for 2 hours, at the same time the climbs came up. I really liked todays scenery with a good mix of everything, especially nice little villages. And though I was of the impression I made good progress, I did not. The terrain really slowed down. Having said that, in the final part the 8 km uphill climb to Beauvais was followed by a 6 km downhill, so there is nothing to complain.
Beauvais was only 120 k, so I liked to continue a few more kilometers. Unfortunately, I could not find any hotel in the next 30 k – apart from the airport area – so decided to stay in Beauvais, smack in the center. There is a large plaza, an enormous church, which I all had seen on a previous biketrip in the north of France. But the cathedral, built in the 12th century, is impressive, 48 meters tall!
Next stop had to be Cambrai, known to me as an aircraft beacon only. Left chilly Beauvais at 8, not even 10C. Passed Beauvais airport which they call Paris North..
to continue via Breteuil to go shopping. Should have been easy but the navigation sent me the wrong way, through the fields. Could correct in time, well nearly..
Uneventful, the day, though it warmed up quickly and kept warming up. At 1300 I passed an outdoor sign giving 32C! Weird, as I was cycling the North of France in Mediterranean temperatures. It was not high country, 200 meter max, but hardly ever flat, so the average speed remained low. Wind did not help either, it became NorthEast, where I was heading North.
In Peronne I passed the Somme. You’ve heard the name, it was in 1916 the centre of the battle of the Somme, where 1 million people died. I did not see the real monument, but this would be an appropriate one.
The whole area is full of history, well before the Middle ages it started, here, the very old Roman churches tell part of the story. But no churches any more, as I said.. I was surprised to see so many windmills; at the start of my trip inbound to Dijon I hardly saw any and that was a relief. They do pollute the views. Not only that, they dwarf the houses and villages.
Wind veered Southeast in the afternoon, a welcome push into Cambrai rush hour.
Quite a large city, the San Quentin canal starts (or ends) in the city and this spot gave me some peaceful moments. The last ones in France, tomorrow I’ll be in Belgium!
Never been in this part of France, the connection between the Med and the Atlantic. I knew it lacked real mountains, terrain does not get higher than 200 meters and there is a large waterway connecting the 2 seas.
The waterway consists out of 3 parts: Canal du Midi, Canal des Deux Mers and the Garonne river.Canal des Deux Mers (canal of the two seas) in the midst of the 19th century, Canal du Midi, starting in Sete, got constructed in the 17th century and is also known from its unique 9 lock system, a masterpiece of 17th century technology
The Canal du Midi meanders through the country, curves like a river, following the natural contours of the environment to minimize the locks. However, don’t follow the river by bike if you are in a hurry! Be aware the path is unpaved, gravel and compressed soil. I was not going to follow it the whole run till Toulouse.
Just some pavement at the lock.
The navigation proposed to follow the next 20 k along the canal du Midi, it looked fairly straight, I could get out of the wind and followed suit. Gorgeous ride; over the years the canal was engulfed by a forest environment and looked more like a small river than a canal.
Passed the city of Carcassone, the empty airport, and struggled into the wind. I planned 5 bike days for the 600 k to Bordeaux, had my second thoughts…
The locks remembered you it was still canal. Nature at its best, cycling a river forest which shelters biking against wind and sun. Very enjoyable but slow, due to the gravel or even less, but you can’t have it all.
First night I landed in Castelnaudary, in hotel de France, a good choice as there was an Italian restaurant around the corner. Antipasta, primi, secundi, the full treat, though I did not finish the complimentary grappa. But not before I had stocked up at the Lidl next door, as most shops are closed Sundays.
Started next day with a strong westerly wind, adapted my mindset not to fight the wind but throttle up early into a high gear. Cold and chilly, but it warmed up quickly, took my sweater off and noticed the mileage done was not too bad, with this fierce wind. The feat of the day was cycling the aquaduct next to a boat, whilst we were crossing a river,
I left the track for hotel le Pont Napoleon in Moissac, had dinner in their restaurant, as there was no other choice, the whole village was closed and very dead this Sunday evening. Good dinner though!
Left without breakfast- which was only served from 8 – so had breakfast en route. A very quiet Sunday morning, France was all mine. After some 40 kilometers I moved over to the bike path along the Canal du Midi, which was now paved and ran straight into Toulouse for its last 20 kilometers.
I was not the only one, many runners and cyclists. In Toulouse people were obliged to wear masks, everywhere, even in the car when driving with open windows. Passed the masked Sunday market and the spot where the Canal du Midi ends.
Not long after I joined the Canal des Deux Mers, straight, with a bikepath and many locks and even some boats!
The route is called the Voie Verde, and green it is!
I passed 2 more aquaducts which crossed a river, but yesterdays was the best one! After 100 kilometers canal – I got bored –
I was happy I had an excuse to leave it for the Campanile motel in Marmande. Traversed the whole city, as cyclists were not allowed on the peripherique road. The motel was at the city edge, very convenient for bikers. Your own front door and my bike parked next to my bed.
Restaurants to choose from were steak or all-you-can-eat. It became the last one and I prepared myself a great 8 course dinner!
Next day I headed routinely to the first Lidl – which opens ar 0830, everywhere – for the daily supplies,
Bordeaux is a still a red corona region, so I also decided to cut the route short avoiding Bordeaux to start my 10 day quarantaine early. Though I told myself not to picture churches any more, I could not resist this one..
Rerouted via St Emillion, it made me look forward to pass all the famous wine regions.
The Pomerol, Entre deux Mers, Bergerac are also all from the Bordeaux region. St Emilion was filled with tourists, all French, I still didn’t see a Dutch registered car, not today, not in my whole trip. St Emilion is real nice, if you come biking realize it is on top of a hill.. Not the only hill in the area, vineyards are lining the slopes.
Then it suddenly comes to a stop again, countryside changes into forests, then large fields again, like the Dutch polders, all without any living soul around.
On the map I had split the distance Marmande Poitiers, halfway I found Barbezieux. I booked Relais the Barbezieux for my overnite stop. Surprise, a real truck stop, American style, reviving my best Route 66 memories.
All in one; great room, bar, restaurant at a fee. When I paid for my meal the cashier asked if I wanted to pay the parking fees for my truck. Was that a compliment or what? I had noticed already in the restaurant that driving trucks is an exclusive male white business..
The Lidl shopping stop was at Jarnac, a 30 k ride, too far to do without breakfast so I took one early, at 7. Earlier doesn’t make sense, daylight is only there by 0730, unlike on my previous Indonesian trip where I could start at 6.
Progressed well, but did not book a hotel in Poitiers. It would be a 155k ride and after yesterdays 145k it came close to my limits, so I did not want to decide too early, not sure if I would make it. Cycling 220 k Limburg Amsterdam is a lot easier..
I had Google Maps and Komoot as navigational tools running next too each other. Sometimes I play it safe; don’t expect to meet people on the way to give directions, there is simply nobody around in the French countryside. Barking dogs yes, which give me the shivers. The apps behave like partners in a bad marriage; they never agree. Left on Google means straight on Komoot and so on.
Google wants to send you the very shortest way and includes all tracks, whilst Komoot leaves you (normally) on the paved road but might send you onto roads not allowed for bikes. Today’s credits go to Komoot which got me out of the forest and guided me to Poitiers.
I pursued and by 5 decided and booked the Memphis hotel as I was looking forward to next day’s rest day in Poitiers.
I am really enjoying the non biking day in Poitiers, it is a nice summer day, great for breakfast and lunch on a terrace and writing a blog in the shade, it is a non-mask city and I am pleased to see that people don’t really care, actually, don’t give a f@#k. I am sure I’ll find some culinary restaurant for tonight.
The figures: On the road for 2 weeks now I covered 1800k, another 800 for home. Weather forecast looks good, temperature well over 20, light opposite wind, no rain, so I plan to ride home via Tours Chartres, Beauvais, Tournai and Brussels. Think I will make it, meet you for a drink!
Leaving Lyon in rush hour is no big deal as you are moving against the traffic and as I was already on the south side it went like a breeze. Still, took a while before I could join the Via Rhona, the bike path along the river.
Having seen and biked along so many rivers over the passed year you get to see commonalities.
Same here, size and nature reminded me of the Danube at times, the Rhone also gets used to generate hydro electric power. I followed the track till Valence, had a few small detours but as long as I kept sun or river in sight I moved at least in the right direction.
Hard to describe this nature, biking you absorb atmosphere and environment which even pictures can’t relay. And at times I feel I move too fast – dilemma, asI also want to move on..
All good things come to an end, and so did the Via Rhona, at least, I left it . I picked up a RN, a route nationale, classified as a D route and progressed quickly. Favorable wind – luckily no mistral – so booked a hotel in Montelimar’s centre, famous for its nougat. I did not have any… Did have an ok dinner and stayed in an ok hotel. Life is good after nearly 180km…
The distance had hit me harder than expected, the plan to stop in Nimes and take a rest day fitted my plan and state exactly. Initially I planned Avignon for a rest day, but Nimes fitted my new plans and route better.
Nimes was a mere 120 k, but whilst biking I found I was really ready for a longer break, fatigue was creeping into my bones. But sun and countryside just kept me going, vinyards everywhere – still called Cote du Rhone, though I did not see the river any more.
France became more France than I ever saw her, and although I was tempted I stopped shooting pictures, it breaks the rhythm and slows me down to much.
Entering the city of Bagnols sur Seze I was surprised to find signposted that masks were obligatory for the whole inner city. Cyclists were exempted – I think.
Arrived in Nimes, the hotel opposite the station along a nice city boulevard.
The main plaza, the arena and the city packed with shops and restaurants were only a few minutes walk. But, again, you had to wear a mask in the open – but only if you moved.
French take it off to hug and when shaking hands. I don’t believe the French fully understand the concept and function of masks, ah well..Most people were wearing them, but not endorsed, police did not take notice if you did not.
Next day I lounged, lunched, lounged more, did some shopping (my iPhone cables are a continuous pain) dined and felt well rested.
From Nimes I drove straight into the Camargue, but not before I stopped at Lidl to stock up.
Lidl, Aldi, Netto are the ideal supermarkets to get my supplies like juice (which I mix 50% with water to make it an isotonic drink) yoghurt, pain aux raisins and pain aux pommes which bring me through the day.
Not as big as the hypermarchés but they sell what I need and you find them in every city. Along the roads I bike, google will advise you. I wonder what the French think of these German intruders.
I had set my navigation to follow the coast with cities like La Grande Motte, Frontignan and Sete. Seems simple, but there is not always a road along the water; gravel yes.
And some of these roads are blocked or not allowed for traffic, but by now I don’t think bikes are considered serious traffic – or transport. I was not completely at ease when I entered one of those gravel paths, had to push my bike over a heap of dirt but the other French cyclist assured me this was the way to go. Then Google told me to continue 12 kilometers, after 2 K I was completely by myself, surrounded by water. Later I found it was called the canal du Rhone, to me it was like an inland waterway as the map shows.
After another 4 K I met a mountainbiker who enthusiastically told me I had to turn right after this road and follow the tracks through the maquis for Sete.
Good advice! So I turned left and joined decent bike path parallel to the sea and saw the Med! Time for a selfie, proof was needed.. Did not go for a swim, brought no towel..
Sete was a huge place with nice boulevard, terrasses and still quite some tourists.
Passed some trailer camps just outside Sete, beach and sea at the other side were nicer than the camps.
It became a short sea and beach experience, I veered off to Beziers and crossed the Canal the Midi, starting in Sete, ending in Toulouse and part of the waterway connection to Bordeaux, the Atlantic.
Built as a constructional masterpiece in the 17th century, as expensive as Versailles and the oldest dug canal. Tell you more later.
The hotel I booked was in the North African quarter of Beziers – and no, it was not in the description. For a first in all those years I had to negotiate on the parking fee of my bike and we settled that if I paid him cash it would be ok. Then he offered me a coffee..
As I didn’t want couscous or waterpipe I walked a kilometer uphill to arrive in France again to dine on a fine terrace near a former palace. Great French cooking again!
By now you probably understand I want to continue to Bordeaux, the countryside doesn’t get higher than 200 meters, not too hard on my bike legs. I’ll follow the canal du Midi whenever possible, then the canal des deux Mers to the Garonne river. Drawback is a strong westerly wind, see how I can cope with that. But I am getting half way!
As travel has its restrictions nowadays, I finally opted to organize my own Tour de France; no air transport needed and to me colors are just colors…
Writing this blog I am already quite a few days in my tour, but still, I’ll try to catch up.
With the decision heading south, Cap Sud, it was easy. Both Google Maps and Komoot, the other navigator app I use, proposed a first day route via Aachen to join the Vennbahn, a former railway track converted into a 120 kilometer bikepath, entering Luxemburg in Clervaux, with Diekirch and Luxemburg city next.
I was a little reluctant – have that feeling for years actually – to cross both Eiffel and Ardennes by bike. However, this seemed the moment to do it, only the first 50 kilometers of the day would be real climbing, the plateau should be ok and going down is like a reward for all the hard work, a Dutch calvinistic way of thinking.
I did not give the route much attention, until I found that the Vennbahn takes a long way to get up, these trains were only able to climb maximum 2 percent, a very steady slope. Took the standard bike path, saving mileage in return for muscle power.When the sun stepped in, the opposite wind joined too..The few people I passed were mostly using e-bikes, really suited for this area.
An uneventful day, I got interviewed by phone by Omroep Zeeland, the regional station as they planned to broadcast my film Cor & Henk again this Sunday, but realize now I completely forgot to publish this on my FB🙁
I called it a day in Diekirch, having finished a ‘mile century’, 100 miles plus, booked the hotel just before on the downhill run and enjoyed a local beer and some exotic steaks.
Second day I expected a reasonably flat ride via Luxemburg, Thionville in France onwards to Toul, for a large part along the Mosel river. I first picked up the small Alzette river in Diekirch which led me straight through the Luxemburg valley, or the Grund which you can traverse by bridge if you are up. Sweet memories, I started my air traffic control career at the school in Luxemburg, nearly 50 years back.
But then they did not have an elevator!
Left the Grand Duchy by 12, inbound Thionville, with an opposite Southwesterly wind. Joining the Mosel ( don’t recall where exactly) I had some windshade – sometimes – but the bike path was long and in the open.
I had Google guiding me, but as usual I ended up at tracks ( twice today) that did not exist and biked more gravel than I wanted. Got lost, got out of it and found myself on the provincial road to Toul. Nice, straight, little traffic and a Beaufort 4 against me. With 20 km (from 170) to go, I turned off my brain for this last part and biked on..
I called in at the ABC hotel, smack in Toul’s center. Walked over to restaurant le Commerce at the corner, put my mouthcap on, walked to their terrace, took it off and had beer and more. Tartare de canard, I will put it on my own menu!
Third day gave a delayed departure; I had to get chargers and cables which I left behind in Diekirch. No power is no iPhone is no navigation. Left by 1130, finally, everything charged for the day, facing a bright sky, wrong wind, but ready for 115 kilometers to Langres. If there would ever be a next time I skip this sector. You are cycling on a road which is like a wave, up, down, up down, with the wrong wind.
Landscape reminded me of Missouri, when biking route 66, 4 years back. You go downhill full speed and use all this inertia to climb the next hill. Works fine, but wears you out. Eventually, there is an end to every bike trip. Like a real Tour de France I reached the finish line, Langres, after a long 3 kilometer climb, a cherry on the cake 🙁
I keep a continuous eye on the weather forecasts, also to see how far they are off. You can trust the airport meteo however, so I check on their forecasts when the airport is near. And Dijon meteo told me the wind would be WNW, not immediate opposite any more. With the area to be biked, I could safely continue to Chalons sur Saone, some 145k.But, you can never have it all, so today it was a cold, chilly Sunday, as I remember from my childhood. But the wind was right, so I happily dressed in a double sweater and long pants. Before I realized I could stock on pain aux raisins at a boulangerie I passed, they open Sunday mornings.
Could keep a reasonable speed (which is 21/22 k an hour on my 30 kilo bike) and went straight through Dijon’s center by noon. Nothing special, but it had a canal!
Through the Bourgogne vineyards, not against hills but large, plain fields where the grape bushes don’t grow higher than a meter. Harvest was still going on, saw many people from Rumania, Bulgaria an Spain. That’s to say, I saw their cars..
Nuits St Georges seemed to me to place to be, I could have stayed here 2 weeks to do a couple of wine tastings daily! As Bourgogne wine happens to be one of my favorites, I’ll have to return, also to spend some more time in Beaune.
I navigated to Ibis hotel at Chalons s/S, but a final check offered me a better place in the center, close to the Saone. Under normal circumstances Ibis is fine, but with their mask policy, (the breakfast room is even closed) I try to avoid them. A short walk brought me to the Saone island, where I enjoyed a perfect French dinner.
Set next day course to Lyon, 145 km and I expected it to be a reasonably flat ride through the Saone valley. Still, got my fair share of climbs – and descends! It was hard to really follow the river, some parts had nice bike paths, but I found myself a lot on the D906. Crossed the river many times, the French must love bridges.
Traffic was slow, but by now I am used again to large trucks passing at a small distance, though they have to respect 1.5 meters from cyclists, even before Corona! And actually they do, they really take you into account. I am sure it helps I cycle in fluorescent yellow, be it shirt, jersey or coat. Even my AliExpress bag has the same color. You see, I learnt over the years…
You’ll have to stand out if you’re just a lonely biker, I met less than a handful, unfortunately not standing out. And I don’t like the alternative, you see..
Shortly after leaving Luxemburg I lost a screw from the cleat, the device on my bikeshoe sole that clicks into my pedal. I can do without, but for me it’s not comfortable – any more – as I got so used to it. However, all these kilometers I did not find any bike shop and though the hypermarches stock a lot they don’t do cleats. Bike locks they do, had to buy one, left mine at home 😦 My best bet for a cleat would be a Decathlon, my favourite store, like Ikea but for sports equipment. They’re everywhere in France, but not along my route. Until I passed Macon!My lucky day – till I found out they were out of stock. Bummer.
But the mouthcapped Decathlon guy was happy enough to go through his bits and pieces, found a matching screw and fixed the cleat. For free, chapeau!
From my car trips through France, to gop diving Estartit in Spain, or visiting festivals in Marseille, or camping holidays with my girls in Corsica, I remember the downhill run at Lyon. With a downhill, there is also an uphil which I ran into just after Villefranche. A killer climb, don’t understand why it is not included in the official tour. Got over it though, cursed – but nobody noticed – and had Lyon at my feet once at the top.
Arrived after the descend by 5 pm, and I suggest you bike Lyon at this time of the day for a new experience. It is a bike friendly city, but hectic, hectic like hell. I enjoyed every bit of it, though I was wondering how I was going to defeat the mountain in front of me. The Lyonais must have had the same problem, so they drilled a bike tunnel, as simple as that, 1.8 kilometers long. It is a beauty, it’ll be hard for Amsterdam to beat it with the newly proposed bike tunnel under the IJ river.
I stayed on the island, the spot where the Saone flows into the Rhone, I believe the Saone is the left one. Did not see enough of Lyon to say a lot about it, it is huge, the second largest city in France. Their restaurants seem to be terrific. My place in the evening was quite empty – the restaurant was good again – but I’ll remember Lyon as large and very busy. Actually not for me..
Woke up with some mixed feelings, this last biking day, did not know whether to be happy or sad I would reach my destination. The day started off promising, the last rain had just stopped and the roads in Negara were closed for all car traffic, don’t know why. I was waved off by the hotel security – the guy had guided me to the restaurant the evening before and to the last hotel beer. I owed him..
Bali opened up like an unfolding postcard, familiar paradise images under a blue sky, which you all know so well from the travel brochures.
I was biking along the Indian Ocean now as I traversed the islands and was on the south side. Antarctica in the far distance 😊
More rice fields, stunning views, even saw a span of oxes ploughing the fields, the picture I knew from my childhood.
The road was pretty much up and down, I had to use the downhills to make enough speed to climb uphill again; inertia assisted biking, as I call it. Works well, but makes you tired… Traffic was low and slow, I was moving at about the same speed, gaining speed downhill, losing some uphill.
I paused at a pondok, a shade, where 2 guys were taking a break and asked them about the route to Denpasar: should I follow the coast or go with the traffic flow? The coast, they said, then they lowered their anti pollution mouthcaps and lit a cigarette.
The route suggestion was not a very good idea, after a great downhill run, the road, merely a path now, climbed 35 degrees again and made me fall off my bike.
Pushed the bike up and passed a beautiful kampong lined with little temples and statues. After 10 kilometers I joined the normal route again. All in all I only gained 2 kilometers to Denpasar, but thoroughly enjoyed the scenery.
Denpasar started some 20 kilometers prior my hotel, located in the old part. I booked a place with pool to give myself a chance to recover before flying home. In total I had covered 1250 kilometers in 12 stages, each between 95 and 140 kilometers. The 140 was a mistake in these climate conditions.
City traffic was busy, but going with the traffic you don’t really notice; merge yourself and follow the Map’s route directions. Unfortunately I must have misread them somewhere and gave myself an extra 8 kilometer 360 turn, a nice extra city circle bonus 😦 I might have been confused by the directions I was given to the Cokroaminoto roundabout, the name now stuck in my head. But nearing my destination I could not really care any more.
The hotel was along Veteran Road, the road with an impressive fountain.
And the hotel was nice, with everything big: room, bathroom, bed, terrace, but few guests. The area was lively too with restaurants and shops, plus the market around the corner.
At the market meat and poultry were openly on display, not cooled at all, which makes you think with an ambient temperature of 33 C. You need a strong stomach not to suffer a Bali belly..
Next day I had to go after a box to pack the bike. I found a bikeshop in walking distance and they had both bikes and boxes!
Unfortunately Indonesian bikes are small, so I had to buy 2 which set me back 3 euros. Roger, my Limburg bikeman, had them for free.. Two rolls of duct tape from Alfa Mart and I was ready to start packing. The boxes were still too small, so I decided to take the bike apart and dismantled it completely. I was surprised what my carry-on toolset could do.
Then it was off for some more sightseeing, the museum was only two streets away.
Filled the rest of the days by idling and even swam, as my car crash injuries finally healed and were pool proof.Also enjoyed gourmet breakfasts at Voltvet restaurant, had the house specialties at grill restaurant Hongkong and ate more sates than I could actually handle.
Covid 19 arrived. A day ago all Bali schools closed down, as from today public offices closed and a lockdown is expected shortly. The hotel issued a notice to all guests on hygiene. So far restaurants were still open, so paid my last visit to warung Sate Plecing Ciu Ciu, with owner Agus at the grill. It was great chatting with his cycling friend and I filled them in on Dutch-Indonesian history.
He also told me of the yearly Bali lockdown, Silent Day, coming March 25. A day for family and contemplation when internet is cut, the streets aren’t lit and nobody moves.
The boxed bike was small enough to load in an ordinary cab, which drove me in 45 minutes to the airport.
I was way too early – against all my principles – and was paid back by a long waiting line. There were many last minute passengers who all wanted to exit Bali, as the future was insecure. Only here I heard many national flights were cancelled, all because of corona, flights to the Gili islands were already halted a week ago. So the East gets corona hit too, or again. The cab driver was rightly worried about all the tourists he would miss over the summer, his high season.I boarded as planned, though the check in took well over 2 hours. No complaints though, I think I was lucky KLM was still operational.
And talking about luck; apart from the car crash the trip went extremely well. And as the car crash could not stop me, I guess I was lucky too. The weather was on my side with an occasional shower, most of the rain was at night, not bothering me. The bike, as usual, extremely reliable and so were the tires, no flats! People were extremely nice and helpful, both in Java and Bali, they differ by their way of living and then I like Bali best. No aggression anywhere, no theft, no need to lock the bike – although I did. Not a real turistic route either, I did not see a single tourist or white biker.
I did not expect the heat to be that hot, I had cycled before in 35C + temperatures in Europe and the USA and I was happy with that. Now I know that the same temperature in Indonesia will knock you down, at best it will slow you down.
Would I do it again? Definitely yes, but I would give the temperature charts a closer look..
First however, I have to get used to a country which has a completely different lifestyle since I left 2 weeks ago, I was welcomed accordingly at Schiphol airport.
An early rise does not always mean an early start. Checking out in Probolinggo took ages, even at 6 as they want to check the room – even without minibar – to reimburse your deposit. Most hotels want deposits, 100 or 200 thousand roepia, 6 of 12 euro.. Then I found myself out of money and it was only the 3rd ATM that worked. Buying supplies for the day was the last delay.
Finally joined the outbound rush hour flow and I had silence on my side. East Java must be the lowest populated from the whole island, I got to see a lot more ricefields.
A detour, to circumnavigate an enormous powerplant,was another delay, it also sent the road into the hills, uphill of course. The place was so well hidden by walls and fences that I could not ( or dared not) take a picture. To make up for it, I found the first ever official resting place along the #1, it had taken 900 kilometers!
The first city names I noticed were another 50 k away, passing quite a rural area. Surprisingly, even passed a turistic area – a first – with many hotels and paid beach access. Did not see a single tourist, guess I was passing in the wrong season.
The road continued along the Javasea, real close, with a nice cool see breeze. Mangroves too, nice coastline, though the dark colored sand was not really appealing.
Had lunch on an AlfaMarkt terrace and continued to Situbongo. Traversed the whole city as my hotel was on the east side. reach my hotel. Hotel was nice, large rooms, rate was set whether the room had warm water. But none of the rooms had a window, that gave quite a cellar impression. Went back to the city later that evening; on the way in I had seen a shopping mall with coffeeshop!
Plus I needed a pair of screws and bolts to fix my bike stand, which had come off. Coffee was all right, but nowhere dinner available. The hotel could set me up, they even had beer, be it warm. Ever tried beer on the rocks?
Organized my own breakfast next morning and left at 6. Planned to make it to Bali, which included a ferry crossing. Heard horror stories about long check in procedures..
Rain had just stopped and the morning was slowly warming up. Still rural countryside.
Suddenly my bike came to an abrupt standstill, one of the bungies which kept my bag had come loose and worked itself in the rear wheel. Had to turn the bike upside down, take the wheel out and cut the bungy. Luckily I had some expert spectators.. In 10 minutes I was on my way again, the guy on the motorbike kept me company and tried to persuade me to come with him, for coffee, I could even stay at his place. I turned the offer down, I wanted to take advantage of the ‘cool’ morning hours.
Good I did, unexpectedly the road turned sharply left and started to ascend. It was my bad planning, on checking the map I found I had to negotiate a 30 kilometer mountain ridge to cross Java. Ouch. It went well, so early in the morning. Did not take pictures, I wanted to leave it behind me ad soon as possible, besides it was all green!
Called in at the ferry by 11 or so, ready to queue. But there was none!Again, I was positively discriminated, more or less taken by the hand, bought a ticket and guided through security. That was all!
The ferry took its time to board, sailed half an hour and then had to wait another 45 minutes to dock. Did not complain, my guess is you have few rights anyway when you pay 10000 roepiah, 60 cents, for your crossing.
Arriving in Bali, in Gilimanuk, is as arriving in another country.
In Bali it is mosrly hindoeism, and that means statues, temples and offerings, unlike the muslim community in Java. Bali is friendly and welcoming in a different way than Java. In Java people live to survive, in Bali they live to enjoy life.
On the bike again I was passing through part of the national park, really riding a parkway, ascending and descending. Navigation was easy, just a straight road, but I had lost internet contact as the Java sim refused to work ar Bali. Bummer. I needed it to select a hotel, did not know where to find one. At the first hotel I encountered I stopped, asked them for a room but told them I actually wanted to have a hotel a little further down the road. No problem! They advised me on a hotel and allowed me to use their wifi, so I continued happily another 20 k ( with 100 left for tomorrow) to Jembrana.
Walked into the hotel, negotiated the price and relaxed. A cool beer – the last one – and a great indo meal at the wahrung around the corner made my day.
Really the way to go, those early departures. Best time of the day for cycling, but I had to reprogram my mind to get up in the dark. Still remember when I left my ATC job, long time ago, I said: never ever wake up again early. Hated it. But.
It was gonna be a ride without sea breeze in a hazy morning, I would cut short directly to Surabaya, just over 100 k. Surabaya was of those places with a memory; in the early sixties we had singer Anneke Grönloh, who was forced out of Indonesia after independence, which we called repatriates, who was very succesful with her homesick song – and I still remember! This link might work https://youtu.be/_BKCd7_uUYk
In those days Surabaya was relatively small with just over half a million inhabitants, now 3! Other than the heat it really changed.
A pretty speedy run to Surabaya, but when I took a break this guy started asking me a lot of questions on my biking.
As I love shortcuts I followed Google’s suggestion – and got stuck in the mud. Been there, Route 66, Texas:-(
This time the sun kept shining, it became even hotter, I struggled me through and reached paved country. Cleaned the mud off with the water along the road. Time passed fast and I bumped into anotherSurabaya sign. Hard to believe, with 25 km to go, but Surabay really started here!
People seemed to have changed to, or it just the city attitude, as many women had put off their shawl covers. Traffic increased, but still a weird mix of people from a former era. They are everywhere, like the rickshaw drivers, some of them motorized now, still part of the streetscene! Or carrying fried air.
Checked for a hotel, and got a freebee from Booking.com for the Artotel, smack in the center, with great reviews, so reserved. On my way I followed the flow of motorbikes, flew over a flyover (bikers not allowed) but the passing policecar gave me a thumbs up! Without a hitch I checked in at Artotel with my 3 euro booking. It’s fine sir, they said, so I had a beer – which nailed me.
Couldn’t resist making a small city bike tour in the dark and had classic food at an ordinary Indo restaurant.
Packed my bike next morning before 6, to have breakfast just after, as people were raving about it. Not. i was on my way at 0615, completely absorbed in traffic. It lasted for an hour and a half, till leaving Surabaya city limits. The metropolitan area holds more than 10 million people! Much better organized than Jakarta, old as it was it was rebuilt after the bombing in 1944.
Chatted with a fellow biker for 10 kilometres and parted, exchanging pictures, that’s the way you do it in Indonesia.
Continued on #1, the road number which I started in Jakarta. For me this is now the largest city at Java, oddly shaped, 900 kilometers long, 100 meters wide, but everything is happening here. And there are always people – plus a single track railway..
So much to see, but never sequenced evenly, I do miss a lot of photo opportunities. Not completely, they get stored on my private harddisk that nobody gets to see. I might tell you about it.
Probolinggo is close, 40 kilometers, to Mount Bromo. Seen it, long time ago, it was hell! With the family on tour we could not find accommodation, ended up in a large bed with 5, under smelly blankets, got up at 3 to walk over in the dark to Mount Bromo to see the unique sunrise. With many, many more people. Dangerous too, we were all balacing on the rim of this former volcano. The experience was unforgettable, but I forgot if I witnessed the sunrise..
Did not take chances and booked the only multi star hotel in town. Walked around, there was not much going on. The rickshaw driver asked me to take his picture.
But now, on second thought, back in the hotel, they are starting karaoke… Glad I have a room with a view, seaview….
Though Java might look slow paced, my time flies. My 6th day cycling and little to complain. Biking conditions remained favourable – if you can tolerate the heat – the monsoon was there but saved its rain till after my arrivals.
I gave the favorable conditions a hand by leaving even earlier, at daybreak, before 6 AM. At that moment you get slowly merged into the starting rush hour traffic. Any place in Java seems to have its rush hour, with 160 million inhabitants you understand why.
During these ‘cool’ hours, till 9, you progress faster, it is still doable till 12, but afterwards it actually gets too hot for the white man.. Same this morning, but now I was looking forward to reach the coast again. Most of today’s 130+ kilometers were leading along the coast, as the map showed. First I had to pass through Rembang, interchangeable with any of the other cities I passed.
The street art was new to me.
Leaving the city I did not see sea yet, but saltpans, which I knew in this form from the Camargue and Sicily.
Traffic eased, there were shoulders for biking, road was in good condition and I had a light tailwind, All checked! The sea stayed hidden, either as I was just to far away from the road or because the view was solidly taken away by the kampongs, all bustling with life along the road.
Got my revenge on my accident a few days ago, though I have to admit It was not me who turned the truck over😜
Passing pictures which came straight from the travel brochure brought back the holiday feeling.
Still did not have fish, ikan, for breakfast or dinner, I should with so many fishing activity around, lots of fishing boats at the beaches.
And the fishing nets in the tidal rivers to the sea. The nets get lowered when the tide is getting up, they hope all the fish will swim into the river to be caught in the net when the water retreats.
Same procedure as with the Dutch anchovies, on which I produced a documentary. Just in case, here you find the trailer https://vimeo.com/229930262
Also saw the ponds growing udang, shrimp, with propellors to add oxygen to the water. These shrimpfarms lasted for kilometers, must be a large industry that you need to bake the kroepoek.
I had taken it real easy today, still progressed well but was short by 15 minutes to make it for a dry hotel arrival. This time the shade of an Indomaret supermarket came to the rescue to change still dry into raincloth. These monsoon rains start nearly without a warning, you get the best warning from the locals when they start changing their cloth.
In the Favehotel – bit like a Student hotel – I noticed that the wounds of my fall – when a truck pushed me off the road a few days back – started to infect. A GP was around the corner of the hotel, he was very friendly, but did not speak a word of English and did not take real action. He gave me more tablets and made clear I had to clean it… Can’t expect much more for a 1 euro advice in this office I guess.
Not happy with it I called upon a motortaxi who drove me to the hospital.
On arrival I was put on a wheeled bed immediately – protocols, you know, even in Indonesia – and I was attended to quickly and efficiently by a nurse. Had a nice chat with her on her visit to the pyramids in Cairo, that she biked around last year. Left the hospital with more bandage, different anti-biotic pills and walked over to the hotel through Tuban’s dark alleys.
Called it a day and decided I would take my restday here, being 725 kilometers in the trip, 500 and a bit to go.
Lounged through the morning and went for lunch at the best crab restaurant in town for a great shellfish platter.
with waitresses like green Madonnas.
Strolled the small city by foot, it was very hard to find the sea! They don’t do boulevards in Java, in Tuban they don’t have this concept of going to the beach for a good time. You had to pass through one of the many alleys and then the view opened up.
Numerous fishing vessels, people in and at the water at work – or watching the horizon..+
I felt like an intruder at this shore, but that was all my feeling. They laughed welcoming to me and invited me to take more pictures. Extremely nice people, always willing to chat, especially if they spoke a bit of English.
And so the afternoon continued and I shoot loads of pictures, just a few moe then..
After a relaxing night in Tegal, I dug up my bike from the deep hotel cellar and rode it up. No luggage, I nearly forgot how easy the bike runs without luggage and supplies, mainly water,
To make progress I had to bike at least 140 k, as there were no more hotels after the 70k mark, but this distance was also at my limit. Realized I am running a pretty tight schedule as I would also like to have 2 days ‘off’ in the coming week.
If I leave, what I did, by 0630, it would mean there were only 100 k left By 9 AM. Purely psychological, but my way to keep going. And, it gave ample time to buy my supermarkt breakfast.
It all went as planned, I already experienced that cycling in Indonesian conditions is different from European, it really takes way more effort. Anyhow, I’ll enjoy the rides, now just see if I can make the plan work out to reach destination.
Initially the flow was not there, it felt more like a struggle than biking. Still, there was nothing to complain, best of all the gods were with me; they did not open the monsoon rain tap. Sun instead but I was factor fiftied.
Took a while, but at lunch everything came together again. Found a 2 chair terrace, in front of the Indomarket, the shop (together with Alphamarkt) which had become my lifeline during biking. You find numerous franchises along the road, all of similar design, with yoghurt, water, rolls and water at the same spot. Every visit I am done in notime! Just hope the shops will really last till the very end of Java.
The road was directed away from the sea into hilly country, to last 42 k according Maps. Road was in good shape, but even better was the shoulder, my own lane now, so I did not have to concentrate that much on other traffic. People noticed me, cheering when passing, honking and turning their thumbs up, taking pictures and even film! If you are bothered by a low self esteem: go cycling Java!
I made quite a few stops in this hilly terrain, also stopped at a Bintang beersign, the first I saw at Java, posted next to a karaoke cafe.
The place was in the middle of nowhere, must be a Sodom and Gomorrah in the eyes of the locals. The bunch of nice guys with a sharp looking car invited me for a beer ( which I denied, can you believe it) and introduced me to the main karaoke singer, a girl – the first one I saw – in shorts. She was a great singer. I bet she is..
Continued 10 k of climbing and descending. I turned my mind off, that helps. Best part was the gravity assisted descend where it was my turn to overtake traffic at close to 70k. Old drivers never die 😊
Kendal was approaching, no booking made, internet connection hicked for a moment. Kendal is more than a village, looks pretty organized and unlike Jakarta they were able to solve their water problem with their canals.
When I passed Sae Inn by chance my place to stay was solved too! Showered, rested, ate and drank my first beer in a week. Bintang. Now I know why I did not miss the beer.. More fun was the entertainment offered by a few girls working on a selfies photoshoot, they turned out to be the singers of the band.
The hotel offered breakfast at 6 am, I already packed my bike and gave the breakfast a try. Nothing much to my liking, so left to look for an Alfa- or Indomarkt. Within 5 minutes I passed one and I could finish breakfast.
It was going to be a nice, flat ride, only the bridges over the numerous rivers made you climb. A good decision, to leave early, it really gets hot after 11. Heat does not really slow me down, but will cost a lot of energy. It forces you to stop every half hour to drink close to a liter.. You mainly drink for the perspiration, your wet shirt gets cooled by the wind and creates your very own airconditioning 😊 Met my first horsecart, which made me wonder how these animals survive..
The whole countryside in this area looks like being well taken care off. But also the city of Semarang, which I traversed, seemed pretty organized. Did not see the airport, just saw landing planes and the shipping port was like any big port.
The roads are better too, many lined with trees, providing a nice shade. Often the roads come even with some shoulder for safe biking. – On the side: somebody should tell the roadworkers that you don’t fix a pothole by drawing a white line around it – Unfortunately, the shoulders are also used by traffic to overtake each other. White solid lines, you say?
Next to the road the canals, close to clean, with hardly any rubbish in it. They are lined with villages and mosques and locals use the canals extensively; people take a bath, do their laundry, fish in it. I could easily produce a film on the life along these canals.. I won’t!
The canal continued to the Java Sea, I was pretty close but I had to veer off to Pati, another 30 hot kilometers. Booked hotel Safin, not special but luxurious. Hotels come at rates lower than Dutch campgrounds. Don’t make the mistake to order pasta aglio/olio.. I made up for it in the evening and had my first good Indonesian meal at Omah Cabe, Uncle Chili. Felt a bit ashamed they only charged me 4 euros for 3 dishes and 2 drinks..
And for tomorrow: early rise to bike to the city of Tuban, Tuban at Sea!