January 1, 2011

Prologue, Planning, Packing

2009 was my first visit to France, to Europe actually, and my first cycle tour there. Oddly enough, this text is written after my 2010, second, solo trip in the Cevennes.

Luberon landscape
My husband Roy wanted to go too: he cycles some and it would be his first cycle tour anywhere. I spoke a bit of French and thought I could learn enough to get by, but he wasn’t interested in learning any. I wanted to see the country, its landscapes and cities, but the details weren’t important to him. It was my trip to organize and plan. I needed to define the route, improve my language skills, and accommodate our tight budget and my limited vacation time. 

Street scene Aigues-Mortes
Memoirs and the little bit of history I’d read easily decided me on the south of France, but just where? I wanted to see the land that produced a cuisine I am so fond of: Provence, with its olives, fish, wine, almonds, cheeses, fruit. I wanted to see a much older history than we have in the US: Roman and medieval France. I wanted to see the Mediterranean. Of course, I wanted to see Paris, but that was not a part of the bike trip.

French training: having no intention of being one of those visitors who expects everyone they encounter to speak English, I studied French daily: working with CDs, beginning with Lesson 1, CD 1. Unhappily I remembered only the most basic of basics, as I had never used the language outside of a classroom setting. It wasn’t rusty, it was next to non-existent. Cycle training: the New England winter with its icy roads and frequent snowfalls demanded that cycle training start indoors, in January, on a stationary set-up. By mid-March enough ice was off the road to move outside.

White horse in the Camargue
In planning I read journals posted on Trento and Crazy Guy on a Bike. For a specific route I relied on Michelin 300 series (Local) maps, and referred to Google Earth. This would be essentially a visit to several very famous, old cities, linked together by rides through the countryside. I wanted to visit Avignon, Orange, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, the Camargue and the Mediterranean coast. Catherine, a friend here in the Berkshires, grew up in Toulouse. Her description of the city, along with cycling journals of the Canal-du-Midi, led me to finish the trip in Toulouse. This was a good decision, but it meant less cycling in the Luberon, and missing Nîmes, Narbonne and other places I’d love to see someday. Another trip.


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