Friday, May 22, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 5 (La Inseine)

Day 5 - Boisemont to Paris (May 6th, 2015)
42.5 miles +/-, 1928' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

After a very good nights sleep, in fact almost too good since we all slept through the alarm, and had about 30 mins to get ready for breakfast. 30 minutes may sound like enough time, but when there is only one shower/bathroom, it's not long. Like a military operation we all rotated using the bathroom, and ended up only being 15 minutes late for breakfast. The breakfast had a slightly more "English" flare to it, boiled eggs, toast, local jams, and cereal - but very good still, the strong French coffee was much needed!.

The weather looked promising, some cloud cover but no sign of rain or wind, and pretty mild temperatures. The last leg of our journey had finally arrived, and it was exciting but also sad at the same time. From the Ferme Rose Gite to Paris is only about 20 miles as the crow flies, but our route today using Donald Hirsch's directions would take us into Paris from the West, for about 42 miles total.

The view looking East from Ferme Rose

So off we set from the B&B straight up a steep paved path (for pedestrians), but quickly joined the main road. We did not quite realize how much of a hill the Ferme Rose sat upon, until we got going on the main road and descended for 3 miles to the Seine. So our first real taste of Paris came at only 3.5 miles into the days journey, we were in the Suburbs, and it was quite a shock having been in the countryside for the past 3 days!.

Donald's route from hereon has alot of twists and turns, I had loaded the route on my GPS, and also made a paper copy of Donald's route guide. The GPS worked well for the most part, but there was the odd occasion I broke out the paper guide too, mainly for specific guidance on how to join particular trails etc. The paper guide became useful at mile 4.7, where we had to take a short paved trail that connects to the first major bridge over the Seine for the day. This was the first of 5 crossings of the Seine we would make today, and possibly the least scenic crossing along a 4 lane highway. After exiting the highway, negotiating our first big roundabout, and me nearly biting the dust trying to read the GPS whilst ploughing into the curb, we were back onto quieter lanes.

We followed the Seine on quiet roads for about 3 miles, which was very pleasant after the initial shock of the suburbs. But at mileage 9 the fun began, and the Hirsch route started to get associated with a few choice words. Instead of continuing to follow the nice flat Seine valley, the route takes you up and over some steep hills, and winds its way though burbs and five of the Paris forests and parks.

One of the forest sections in the Saint Germain area

Another forest section before Versailles

Besides the numerous hills associated with this route into Paris, the forest sections really were exceptionally nice and peaceful, and made you forget you were within the boundaries of a bustling international City.

After several forest sections we reached Versailles at mileage 23, a very busy area understandably with tourists and buses everywhere. There is no entry fee for bikes to get into the grounds, so we decided to pedal through and see if we could see the Palace. You can only get so far on a bicycle, before they require you to lock it up and walk - as we found out after unknowingly (well partially unknowingly) breaking the rules. We did get a glimpse of the palace though, but after 30 mins we were getting people overload, and decided to continue on.

Palace of Versailles

For the next 10 miles or so of the route you drift in and out of suburbs and forest parks, never really getting a sight of central Paris, or even a clue you were getting close. But finally at mileage 32 you get a glimpse of the City, and a true sense the end of your journey is getting close.

a glimpse of Paris from Parc de Saint-Cloud

You leave the forest parks behind really at Saint-Cloud, and the city riding really begins in earnest; but 7 miles of city roads out of 42 for the day is not bad really. Paris is certainly not flat though, and one last sting greeted us at mile 33.5, a short steep hill that takes you up to an old aqueduct called the Passerelle de l'Avre, now a foot bridge that crosses the Seine. It was actually at this point we had to break out Donald's paper guide again, my GPS had mapped the route taking us UNDER the aqueduct, with no obvious way to get up onto it. We eventually figured out the only way was up, up another hill, and then we found the access point to the bridge, and also our first sight of the Eiffel tower!.

Eiffel tower as seen from Passerelle de L'Avre

The old aqueduct was a wonderful way to cross the Seine, and even though it is supposed to be for pedestrians, we did not have any issues cycling across it.  The bridge ends across the Seine opposite the Hippodrome de Longchamp (horse racing course) in Bois de Boulogne. The route takes you right around the edge of the race track, there must of been an event or race meet the day we were there, since it was mighty busy outside the entrance.

Old windmill next to the Hippodrome de Longchamp

From the race track our route started to follow cycle paths running parallel with the main roads heading into Paris; although we were clearly in the hub of the City now, at least we were out of the traffic. With one mile to go though (from the Eiffel tower), we did have to merge with Paris traffic, and take our own lives into our hands. The road surface was slightly damp from a quick heavy passing shower, and traffic was hectic, being on a bike was scary to say the least!. We had survived the journey though, and reached the end per Donald Hirsch's route - the Tour Eiffel!.

Eiffel tower

The official Avenue Verte route actually finishes at Notre Dame, since it comes into Paris using a different route. We decided we would also make our way there to "officially" conclude our journey by bike, so we had another 3 miles of Paris traffic to deal with, in fact slightly more since we also had to drop off the bikes at Gare du Nord!. Well, we had not anticipated that the roads running parallel with the Seine from the Eiffel tower to Notre Dame, are One directional (depending which side of the Seine you're on). Lets just say, we had to do some bike and hiking.

Pont des Arts bridge

We crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts bridge (pedestrian bridge), a tourist attraction in its own right due to all the "love padlocks" attached to the railings. Having crossed the bridge, we were now in a position to cycle on the road in the direction of Notre Dame. We noticed that the bus/taxi lane was also the designated cycle lane - scary thought having a bus up your backside, but what was even more worrying, was that Parisians were ignoring the fact that the "separated" lane was for buses etc ONLY. Little more walking was involved again, and a bit of scooting along on the pavement (sidewalk), much to the annoyance of bucket loads of tourists. We eventually got brave enough to ride in the bus lane, and make it in one piece to Notre Dame.

Cathedrale Notre Dame

The area in front of the cathedral was heaving with packs of tourists, probably a mecca for pick pockets I would imagine. We scooted our bikes through the chaos as fast as we could, and found a bridge to once again cross the Seine. Our final destination was Gare du Nord, which fortunately was a straight shot from Notre Dame, and fairly well signposted. We only had 2 more miles of crazy Paris traffic to negotiate, but even that was enough to encounter more kamikaze scooters, weaving taxi drivers, and buses up your backside.

We opted to use the Geoparts Eurostar courier service to transport the bikes back to London, they put the bikes on the next available train, and you collect them at St. Pancras, all for only £25. The trick we found was actually finding the Geoparts office at Gare du Nord, not even the station Gendarmes knew were it was. Luckily, good ole Donald Hirsch had some directions in his route guide, so for only the the 3rd time that day I used my printable copy. We found the office, unloaded the panniers, paid the fee - our cycle journey had officially come to an end!.

We had skipped lunch, mainly due to not actually finding anywhere to eat (we'll blame all those darn forest trails), so we were starving by now (late afternoon). Now bike free though, our first stop was the Buffalo Grill opposite Gare du Nord; we ordered large beers and burgers, and toasted our accomplishment.

We had decided when we planned the adventure, that we would spend one night in Paris, then get the Eurostar back to London at lunchtime the following day. So we took the Metro to our hotel, which unknowingly we had actually cycled past on route to Gare du Nord earlier. The hotel was a typical VERY small boutique hotel, with a lift the size of a postage stamp - the 3 of us with panniers in the lift was VERY cozy!.

We picked the Chatelet-Les Halles area to stay in, knowing it was a little less touristy, and had more of a everyday Paris feel to it. Although, Notre Dame and the Pomidou centre both were within easy walking distance. 

The view from our room at Hotel des Halles

John aka the Kebab Kid had busted his razor a day or 2 before, so had started to look a little like Grizzly Adams by now. I think he figured since we were now in slightly higher class surroundings, he better shave before dinner; luckily the little convenience store opposite the hotel sold razors, and wine too of course :). After a little chilling in our hotel room, showering, and John juggling with soap dispenser in the bathroom, we were ready to take a wander and check out options for dinner.

We did not have to wander far though to find "restaurant row" as we named it, every restaurant packed with locals. After checking out a few menus, we were coaxed into a restaurant by a couple of local girls sitting outside drinking wine, they assured us this was the best restaurant. We chose to sit outside to soak up the atmosphere, forgetting that almost every Parisian smokes; so I think all 3 of us smoked a pack of cigarettes each that night. The 2 girls, whom were sitting 2 tables away, spoke very good English, and told us Brits NOT to drink Beer, and told Pete the American NOT to eat a hamburger :). So taking their advice we ordered a carafe of red wine, snails (a little gritty for my taste buds), shrimp, salmon and Frogs legs (for the Kebab Kid). It was a fabulous night and great end to our Journey through southern England and northern France.

Sacre Coeur the morning before we boarded the Eurostar

Back on English soil

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