We caught a short afternoon flight over to Amsterdam for the Easter weekend. We flew with British Airways, which was different to our usual EasyJet, and we actually got given a drink and a snack! Lots of nice views out the windows, of the English countryside, and of general smoggyness. Saw a whole bunch of wind turbines in the ocean. An offshore windfarm. It looked quite surreal.
A easy trip in to town via the railway then the subway, to our adorable air b n b apartment, on one of the canals.
We wandered the canals in the dusk, past cute, cute little houses, and many bicycles.
I know that bicycles are a thing here, but knowing and seeing are different. There are tons of cycle lanes, which is cool. Roundabouts have a dedicated separate cycle lane around the outside. There are cycles locked up everywhere. There are plenty of cycle parks, but still, not enough. Cycles on all the front fences, cycles lined up on the footpath.
We went out to dinner at a restaurant recommended to us by our host. It was quite cool. It was well known for it’s cocktails, so we had to try, and they were delishuz. I had a ginger and pear one, and it was the most gingery drink I had ever had. Fiery as!
Dinner was delishuz, though service got exceptionally slow after our mains, and it took forever to get dessert then the bill. They also called meringue pavlova, which turned out to be very disappointing for me.
Our last day! We awoke early, and were on the road by about 8.30am. This was our last day, and we definitely had to make it to Dieppe in time for the ferry. Our map led us past another pretty cathedral, and then up a hill. A Very Big hill. Most of us ended up walking up it, coz it was quite steep! Silly hill. We decided that Rouen was kinda in a hole, so the way we were going, any way to get out was up a hill. That made us feel slightly better. We had 60+ kms to get to Dieppe, so thought we would get a nice start. Once at the top of the hill, it was pretty easy after that. Lots of cute, old houses, and even a few with thatched roofs, and grass growing on top. We found another tiny town, another patisserie, and got a bit carried away again.
All the french people seem to go out and by their breakfast from the patisserie every morning. True, that theyre mostly buying baguettes, and not all the yummy tarts and pastries, but we usually had a bit of a wait, and there was usually a line, to buy all the delishuz things.
Breakfast was a long time in coming that day, and 30km later, we found a little pull over place to sit and eat. Turns out it was the place that the local French people came to fill up their bottles with spring water, as in the half hour we were sitting there, four separate cars came, pulled out their boxes of empty bottles, filled them up at the spring, loaded them into their cars, and drove off again. We followed suit, emptying all our bottles, and filling them up with delishuz french springwater.
Lots more biking, a couple of bright squirrels, and a squished snake on the road, lots of cute houses, and we eventually made it back to the place where we had tea and coffee, near a little lake, at the beginning of our trip. Looked a bit different in the day.
We headed in to Rouen, where we discovered all shops are either closed on Sunday, or close at 1pm. We biked around, praying to find a pattiserie, and luckily we did, where we stocked up on our last lot of bread, cheese and pastries. The lady in the pattiserie looked very, when I managed to ask for everything in French, including saying ‘That’s all”. The range of response when trying to talk to the locals in French was always interesting. Pretty much all were pleased when we actually tried, though some would just talk to us in English, once they realised we spoke it. The smaller towns were always interesting, as often the locals would speak little English, if at all, so we would definitely have to try.
At the last moment on the way to the ferry, we found a little market, where we got the last of our provisions (IE cheese to take home, and drinks for on the ferry), and then headed to check in to the ferry.
Going from England to Europe, they don’t seem to care all that much. However, going from anywhere in Europe, INTO England, man, they ask a lot of questions. Who are you? How long are you staying? Where have you been? What is your job? Where is your husband? What do all your family members do? Will you promise me your first born child?
Well, not quite that extreme. But I usualy have to tell them exactly where I went, and why, how long was I away, and why I want to re-enter England, who I am travelling with.. . I think they ask more questions than even the USA did.
Anyway, again with the weird biking through customs, weird exciting. We headed onto the boat, found comfortable seats, and proceeded to spend the four hours: eating, yum, playing cards, watching the sunset, napping, reading, and being tired. Off the ferry in NEwhaven, then the bike back in the dark, along the undercliff trails, to home! Arrived about 11.30pm, all ready to go to work tomorrow.
We awoke bright and early, and finished the last of the Raclette on some baguette, (sub standard baguette, becoming bread snobs!), with the promise of buying more, better, baguette in Ry, then heading out somewhere pretty to eat it. After saying goodbye to our lovely hosts, we headed down the hill to Ry. One thing I noticed around a few places, were little shrines, just by the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere.
In Ry (An absolutely adorable little town), we stopped at the local patisserie to get (More, Again) baguettes, and pastries. This place was one that I just wanted to ask for one of everything, in a large sack, if you please! Everything looked amazing. After filling up our bags, we headed out of town, until we found another littler town, where we found a nice flat area to sit and eat our spoils.
We then pottered off towards Rouen. We wanted to arrive at a decent time, so we would have plenty of afternoon for Touristing in Rouen, and we arrived just after lunch, I think. We stayed at the Ibis in the middle of town (got a cheap deal), and quickly showered and changed.
Rouen is lovely. I wasn’t expecting anything, as I hadn’t done any research, what with being busy with other things. It is an adorable town, with streets preserved as they were in medieval times, with their crooked beams and leaning houses and narrow streets.
It is also home to Monet’s Cathedral – the Cathedral that Monet painted a series of impressionist paintings, all in different lights of the day. Google it, if you don’t know what I”m talking about. It was very impressive, so much detail and intricacies.
It was also interesting to read about the bombing of it during the war, and see some of the windows that were plain, as the pretty stained glass ones had been broken. It had been bombed by the Lancaster bombers, which was interesting and relevant to me, as we had actually seen some examples of the Lancaster Bombers flying at the Eastbourne airshow, a month or so ago.
There was also a large ornate building in town, that still had all the mortar shell holes in the sides of it. I find it very interesting to see these actual bits of history, rather than just hearing about it, or reading it in textbooks. It was like when we were in New York seeing paintings that Picasso had painted, then while on a walking Tour in the Montmarte area of Paris, and standing in front of the house where Picasso had actually painted that picture.
Anyway, Rouen! Rouen was also the place where Jeanne d’arc – Joan of Arc, was imprisoned, and then burned at the stake. There is a church and a memorial dedicated to her.
We wandered town, ate yummy things, and enjoyed the sights, before heading back to the hotel for some extra layers of clothing, and a nap before dinner. We ate at a lovely restaurant, overlooking the Cathedral, and it was all lovely.
Friday we woke at a decent time, got up, and, as you do, went to get breakfast from the local patisserie. More cheese, bread, pastrys, oh no!
It did take us a while to get all sorted and out the door, as it was our first proper morning, but we weren’t in a particular hurry, and the whole day was kind of like that, just pootling around, looking at whatever we felt like, going wherever. The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm, with just enough of a breeze to keep you cool. I imagine summer would be quite hot.
We headed back over to Avenue Vert, which turned, very suddenly, from wide, paved, smooth, to rough grass with a bit of a dirt track in the middle. It was certainly interesting, but you wouldn’t want to follow that forever. Quite bumpy. Lovely and peaceful though, heading through the farmland and trees, with no city noises or car noises.
We got back onto normal roads, then kinda lost the trail a bit, headed down a few little side roads and had a bit of a map consulting session, before we headed off down some more back roads. We saw a tiny town up on a hill, and off-roaded it up a steep hill to have a look. La Ferte-Saint-Samson, a tiny little village on a hill, with very cute buildings (tudor style, and Henri reckoned with Germanic influence), probably 15th-16th? Century. It was quiet and lovely, and we biked around for a bit.
Headed to the top of the hill to check out the cute little church, where the bells rung for midday. Whoever was ringing them, seemed to enjoy it, and they went on for quite a bit. Found a little orientation statue thing, and a very old tree, which I climbed. Carefully. It was so lovely and peaceful and sunny.
Someone at some point during the morning had mentioned that we hadn’t had any flat tyres or problems yet, so heading out of town, Henri got the first flat tyre of the trip. We went back to the pretty village square to fix it, so not a bad view to have to endure.
Finally managed to leave town, looking forward to doing some decent biking, and Dale got the second flat tyre of the hour, just down the road. There was a french horse, whom I greeted in French, although he was quite uncommunicative. He didn’t mind that I brushed all the flies away from his face though, and we had some pats, before parting, and we continued on our way.
One thing I noticed, and kept noticing throughout the trip, was that even in the peaceful quiet of the countryside, there always seemed to be some passenger plane or other going overhead. Just the sheer amount of plane traffic in the sky above Europe is amazing. So. Many. Planes. So many people going places. It is honestly a bit ridiculous.
More lovely countryside, green rolling hills, farmland, and the occasional bit of wooded forest. We had a vague destination of a local castle, though google maps couldn’t pinpoint it, and we ended up biking around in a big circle, before stopping to ask directs from a local French lady. She spoke lots of fast french words, until Henri asked her to slow it down a little, and we ascertained that we had to go down the road, left at the corner, then a few kms along, then you couldn’t miss it. I think we were a bit excited about asking and getting directions in French!
We eventually found the castle, Chateau Bremontier-Merval, which was a massive four storey thing, very pretty, which is now a school. It was on a hilltop, surrounded by lots of huge, old trees, all leafy green and knobbly.
After the castle, we headed towards our destination, somewhere to the South and West. We stopped for lunch in a little town, I think was called La Feuillie. There was one patisserie, where the lady didn’t speak much English at all, but we managed to get all we needed. We met a Brit, who had lived in France for a while. There was no supermarket, but we managed to find a couple of dairy/4 square type places (I’m not sure what you call them in England.. Newsagents maybe?) where we bought enough food for dinner and breakfast.
We had to follow some main roads, which really wasn’t as fun, but not much choice. We had a lot of trouble finding our destination – gmaps doesn’t always like French places. Eventually, our lovely Airbnb hosts came to pick us up, which honestly made me happy, as the lived at the top of a massive hill. They were very happy, as we were the first bike tour people they had had stay with them, and also the first New Zealanders.
Our accomodation was an adorable little cabin, with all the amenities, a pull out couch, and an adorable little loft bed up top. We had a quick dip in the pool, met the local ponies, goats, geese and chickens, and then got clean and dry for dinner. Henri made us a lovely, lovely dish, of layers of potato and raclette (we had this in Bordeaux, it is the cheese that is for melting, it is so, so delishuz). For the sake of feeling better about ourselves, we also had some stirfry veg. And baguette. I put the raclette/potato mix on the baguette. It was amazing. Lovely pastries and tarts for dessert, and I think we also had some macaroons.
I guess I should have felt bad for the sheer amount of food I was eating, but I really didn’t, because, hey, so very delishuz. Also, we were biking like 50km a day.
We lay out on the deck chairs, surrounded by the gathering dark, and watched the stars start to twinkle, and the bats flitter about through the trees. Bliss.
We must have seen half a dozen planes go by while we were lying there (plus one shooting star). Do they ever stop?
Another decent nights sleep, however this time, we intended to be up and gone early the next day, so we could get to the next town with plenty of time to look around.
Ferry arrived in Dieppe about 4am. It was dark. And cold. And we’d only had a few hours sleep. Uncomfortable sitting up sleep (Henri and I both had blow up neck pillows, an excellent idea of hers!). But we were quite excited about being in France, so we weren’t that sleepy. Well, a little, but in all the effort of finding bikes, getting them untied, bags reattached, and off the ferry, we managed to stay awake. Out through customs, then off down the dimly lit streets of Dieppe. It was dark, quiet, and a little bit misty. We rode beside the water for a time, then across a bridge and through the town. Nice and quiet streets, barely any cars, however it felt a little weird, not really knowing where we were… when the sun came up, we would be somewhere different!
We biked for a while found the start of the Avenue Vert (Green Avenue), then stopped by a little lake, where we put more clothes on (including jackets, as the mist made everything a bit damp), used the cooker to cook up some hot water, and had some tea/coffee and biscuits. We then rode on through the night (well, early morning, really. Was about 5.30am ish).
The first part of the Green Avenue was very easy, the first 50km is a wide, flat, paved bike trail, lined with trees on ether side. It was lovely, but easy, and more than a few times I just wanted to close my eyes for a bit. Would have ended up in a ditch. About 7am ish, the sky started to lighten imperceptibly, and every time you looked, it seemed lighter and lighter. We finally saw the sun shine through the mist, and then we started waking up a bit again.
We found a little town with a cute little castle, and with the mist and sun coming up, was quite romantic. Le Chateau de Mesnieres-en-Bray. A quick ride around the village revealed cute little houses, an old well, and lots of pretty gardens.
Our first stop was in Neufchatel-en-Bray,where we bought baguettes, delishuz pastries/tarts, and, of course, some cheese. Neufchatel is known for it’s cheese, made in the shape of a heart. A creamy, smooth, tasty, cheesy heart. Neufchatel cheese is apparently one of the oldest cheeses in France, dating back to the 6th century. It is delishuz.
We headed further along the Avenue Vert, until we found a nice place to sit and eat our breakfast, which had been a long time in coming. MMmmmmm finally, french baguettes and cheese, custartd and fruit tarts. So much better than being at work. It was also very lovely to see the sun. Henri had packed us a cheese picnic set, complete with plates, chopping board, and both soft and hard cheese knives. Perfect!
It was very interesting to call up my mum on Skype and have a quick chat, and show her where we were, and then to call Garth and Neke (who were in Fiji) and have a chat to them too.. the wonders of modern technology!
We continued along in the lovely sunshine, until we reached our destination of Forges Les Eaux. where we were staying at Hotel St Denis, in the middle of town. We gladly stored our bikes out the back, and headed up to put our bags away. The rooms were quite nice, the beds very wide, with the weird pillows that they have in France – one long pillow across the head of the bed, and then a few square pillows.
We headed out to the nearest patisserie, to get more bread, cheese and tasty treats, and a couple of bottles of cider. We had more neufchatel cheese, some emmental, and some lovely cheese complete with a layer of ash (not volcanic, it was vegetable in origin!). We achieved lunch in our rooms, and then retired to nap for a couple of hours. A good nap, to be sure. A shower, non riding clothes, then a wander around to take in the sights of the town. We ended up having pizza for dinner, with french cider and wine, and got a good nights sleep. Overall a good start to our trip, and we’d managed about 65kms since beginning.
After a busy weekend of work, getting final bits ready for our ride, and a long ride out to Faring, we counted down the final days. On Wednesday my padded seat and padded pants arrived, with no days to spare! The girls at work sent me home early, so I could finish packing, and we packed the last of our stuff, loaded our bikes, and wiggled on out the door. And I do mean wiggled: with paniers on both sides of the bike, it was a tight fit out the narrow and bendy hallway of our flat.
Henri and Alastair met us outside, where we had final passport and ferry ticket checks. A few final adjustments, and we were off! It was getting dark, so lights were on. The first thing we noticed was that the bikes were a whole pile heavier, what with moderately full panniers on the back. Very hard to lift the bike, and if you were standing, it liked to try and roll out from under you in awkward ways.
We took the waterfront trails, and then the bike route from Brighton along the coast to the east, to Newhaven, where the ferry was leaving from. Check-in was supposed to start at 9pm, but didn’t actually start till 9.30, so we zoomed back up the road to the nearest pub, so we could have dinner. Cue our first attempt at locking up the bikes and removing all the gear. It seemed to take forever. Putting it all back on again, seemed to take just as long. We hoped we would get faster at it!
It felt super weird going through the ferry check in on our bikes, with passports in hand. I have never done anything like that before, so it was quite exciting. More stamps! (for me anyway, not so much for Dale, with his British Passport).
Had to walk onto the ferry, as the ramp is apparently slippery for bikes, then we headed to the little alcove that they directed us to, where we unloaded the bikes (again!), and tied them up securely in a pile against the wall. Picked up all our gear, and situated ourselves on the least uncomfortable seats we could find, for our 4 hour ferry trip.
Wednesday – We were up early, grabbed a breakfast Panini as we were walking, and were ready and waiting outside the National Gallery, so we could go in as soon as it opened. When we visited previously, we saw there was a Van Gogh exhibition, including some of his sunflower paintings. The line was kinda long though, so we decided to come back today, as soon as it opened, so we wouldn’t have to wait. And that worked perfectly, got to walk straight in. It was very lovely, no pics allowed in the gallery though. More wandering, to see Michelangelo and Raphael, then onwards to our next stop.. coffee..
Jerome is a very knowledgeable about coffee, every time Dale needed some, would just ask Jerome what was good in the area we were in, and he would know. !
Headed out to the tower of London (NOT A TOWER, IS A CASTLE! Misleading), where we stood in line for a half hour to get tickets (sad), then went inside. I was expecting a tower, but is so much more.
Spent all afternoon there, exploring all the bits. Definitely worth dedicating a full morning, afternoon or more to a visit. Especially at the price they charge. Did a yeoman tour, where he told us stories and was very entertaining; a torture dungeon; crown jewels (so very sparkly); The White Tower (built around 1100AD!), with its armoury, then a quick walk around the walls.
Lastly we crossed the Tower Bridge (pretty!), which you need to realise is different to London Bridge. London Bridge is just your average run-of-the-mill street bridge, whereas the Tower Bridge is ornate and pretty!
We headed to meet Jerome at the London bridge station to hand over house keys. So many people. Headed to green park again, for another loop around the palace, and to examine the statues, which were gift from NZ, then a pleasant walk via Cornish pasties to Victoria station, for the train back to Brighton. Got seats which is good, as the train was very full, some people didn’t.
Tuesday – We were up a bit later than expected. We had Oyster cards, which make travel really easy. Much like the Snapper cards in Wellington, you just top them up with an amount of money, then swipe into the subway system, or swipe on to the buses.
Took the tube to Green Park, where we walked through, past the deck chairs waiting to be sat on, to our first view of Buckingham Palace.
We planned to view the changing of the guard, and had read that we needed to be there early. We arrived 45 minutes before it was supposed to start… Yet, People! People everywhere. Everyone else was also there early. We positioned ourselves at what we thought was a good spot, and hung around. Eventually they came, with their music and their horsies and their very straight marching. They yelled a lot, and marched around, and swapped places. The prim and proper guard band played some music for us, including Dancing Queen, and various songs by Abba.
Wandered up along Constitution Hill, grassy, cool, and pretty. The mounted police went past occasionally. They have horse crossings, complete with horse height buttons to press, to cross the road. We visited the Nz war memorial, the Air corps memorial, and the Wellington Arch. Briefly stepped foot into Hyde Park. Literally inside then out, just to say we’d been. I’m sure we will go back there!
Back to subway, over to Brick lane, where we wandered for ages, trying to find somewhere to eat. We walked past a lot of Indian restaurant people trying to convince you to come eat at their restaurant. Apparently we are supposed to bargin. But the thought of sitting in the restaurant while they all stare at you and rush around to serve you just didn’t really do it for me We ended up having a very late lunch + cider at a yummy burger place.
Then took the Toob to Greenwich. Large boat, cutty sark, lots of lines! Walked through the info centre, then up to the observatory, to stand on the gmt line. It was such a lovely day. Like everything else awsome that you want to get your picture in front of, there was a line to get a picture with the line. Instead of waiting, I took a picture of it by itself, then we went down the path to the side, where there also was a line, but it was by itself, so we got our picture there. Much better than waiting.
A lovely walk back across the green, then the subway back to town, to Oxford Circus. Ridiculous amount of people. A seething mass of humanity. We were meeting Jerome and Amy for dinner at a place called ping pong. We waited for them at Oxford Circus, so I got to just stand back and watch the hordes. There was a constant stream of people descending into the depths of the earth to ride the tube. Constant and never ending. Or so it seemed.
Ping Pong is my new favourite restaurant. they serve Dim sum, and amazingly, a whole vegetarian option! Mmm steamed bun, mmm dumplings. Deilishuz vegetarian, so good. Home for raspberries and icecream dessert, and chatting with our hosts.
Our first visit to London, Exciting! We got up at a reasonable hour and headed off to the train station for our 10am train. We didn’t have to catch an early train, as it is supposedly very busy in the morning, with all the commuters. We had to carry our bags around for two of the three days we were going to be there, so we had packed very small bags, with minimal stuff, so we wouldn’t have to lug the stuff around.
We hopped off the train at Victoria Station, and out into London. Almost got run over by a bus within a block, as I was staring simultaneously at the other red double decker buses, and the old stone buildings that were nestled amongst the newer, more modern ones.
A few blocks walk took us to Westminster Cathedral. Not the really big one, but still pretty big! We wandered around, checked out all the small chapels dedicated to different saints, and marveled at the sheer amount of pretty stone that was used in the building.
After that, we walked down to Westminster Abbey, which we didn’t go in to, as the line was out to the road, and halfway down the block. We did admire the outside. Walked down past the Houses of Parliament, and the House of Commons. Such a fancy building. We wandered through a park, and took in our first view of the Thames. A brownish, fast flowing river.
We walked back up the road, and past Big Ben, who chimed 1pm for us. Headed over the bridge to South Bank. There were so, so many other tourists there with us.
We wandered past the London Eye, with a conscious decision not to go on it, like the hundreds of people lined up, waiting. It was near Easter, so there were carrots in the trees, and bunnies all around.
We took more subway, via Waterloo Station, with it’s pretty exterior, and ended up in Leicester Square (hey, these places are named just like in Monopoly!), where we sat for a few moments. There were some very cool, probably super old, knobbly trees, in amongst the rush of people and bustle of city.
After our lunch in the park, we wandered an indirect way to Trafalgar Square. It was quite weird walking through near deserted streets for a few blocks, to come right smack into the middle of tourist central, hundreds of people, as we entered Trafalgar Square. We were greeted firstly by a big, blue cock, who stood out the most, on the fourth pedestal, that is reserved for changing art installments.
Trafalgar square was pretty, if you ignored all the people. Some lions, a couple of fountains, and surrounded by buildings. We had a quick look in the National Gallery, which was free. One of the paintings I saw was of Lady Jane Grey. She was Queen of England for just 9 days until she was removed from the throne, and sent to the Tower of London to be executed. I think she was only 16.
After the gallery, we subwayed to the Covent Garden Markets, which have been around for quite a while. It is quite an interesting place, back in the 1600’s was a developing area around a square, with an open air fruit and veg market. Over time it fell into disrepute, and for a while was a red light district, as taverns, brothels etc opened, and artists and poorer people moved in. They built the roof cover in the 1800’s, and was more organised after that. It has been various things, but is now more of a tourist destination, with cafes, shops, and a crafty market area. We ate at the Pie Shop, and at Creme de la Crepe, where I had an amazing, fantastic apple crumble crepe. Yum. Nearby was Punch and Judy Pub, which has been around since 1787, and is thought to be named after the puppet show that used to take place at the market.
Lastly we headed to King’s Cross Station, to see the infamous Platform 9 and 3/4 (or the representation of). There was a very big line to get a picture taken there, which I didn’t want to stand in, so I have a picture of it, just not with me in it. Maybe one day we will go back when there are no people. There was a cute little shop where you could buy scarves, cups, wands etc.
We stayed with one of Dale’s friends from back in NZ, Jerome and Amy.
I spent a few runs along the water front, in various weathers, plenty of pretty views and chalk cliffs.
One weekend we biked out to the Smugglers Rest Inn, in Peacehaven, for lunch, with Henri and Alastair. They had good bikes. We had medium hire bikes. But it wasn’t too bad. Lovely ride along the South coast, chalk cliffs, a bit of a breeze, a non nudists beach, and chalk!