Day 18, 22 Sep, Meeting more ‘old’ friends in Paris.

It’s hard to imagine that Paris has a campsite located within minutes of the city; actually, make that 2 — one on the western side and the other on the eastern fringe about 20 minutes from Disneyland Paris. I was at Bois du Bologne, located next to the Bois du Boulogne park, on the edge of the Seine, on the western side. It’s a well-run and very organised campsite and caters primarily to mobile homes. This was also the most expensive of all the campsites I had stayed in.

The reception of Camp Bois de Boulogne

My little cosy corner

Other campers

Most of the campers were young student-looking types but today I would come across a trio of interesting cycle-tourers who hailed from the Ukraine. They weren’t young but their spirits were, and I had nothing but admiration for them.

Every piece of equipment they had in their possession were old, very well-used and had seen better days … probably from the last world war too. Their mess tins were the kidney-shaped type, thoroughly blackened from cooking countless meals.

But what really impressed me was their attitude. Despite their advancing age and their lack of equipment, did they care? Of course not. They never said it but I knew … and it was also a maxim that I subscribe to …

It’s not the about the bike, it’s about the RIDE.

Unfortunately, Alex was the only one who could speak any English at all, and even then we had a hard time trying to understand each other. But it didn’t matter … here we were, 4 kindred spirits living out our own separate dreams. But take a closer look at their faces — these are guys who have truly ‘been there, done that’ … and then some.

I yearned to learn more about them but I had to settle for very sketchy biographies instead. War veterans, all of them … and proud of it. But gone were the glory days, they were just 3 bosom buddies hitting the road to wherever their fancies took them.

The 3 Russian war veterans/cycle-tourers who arrived late in the night. Naturally, I made friends with them the minute I saw them. Here, I'm having a cuppa with them. The picnic table is provided by the camp.

Vasay, 72, and Alex, 71 years of age. Ancient, venerable and dignified.

The oldest boy of the three -- Genady, 74. Take a close look at his bike -- the gearing, the rear rack, the chain, the saddle, the frame -- they were all due for change about 20 years ago.

Old but still going strong ...like their owners.

That the saddle is about to disintegrate to bits doesn't bother Genady, the owner. Check out the other bike's water bottle holder on the seat post.

Alex's rear rack

Alex takes the grand prize for innovation and resourcefulness -- something I believe was borne out of necessity and the lack of roubles. This gem of a rear rack is made out of a discarded seat from the very same type of picnic table we were all sitting on. Go back and take a look again. It was held together by nothing more than cable-ties, pieces of scrap metal, and a lot of faith ... (click to enlarge photo to examine the handiwork)

Alex the proud owner demonstrating how the 'rear rack' unfolds.

Well, what can one say but ...

... sheer genius! Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Lesson to be learned here? Never say 'cannot'. I was so humbled by this experience.

Alex was also quite proud of his home-made metal pannier -- 'It a box for carrying food, and it can also double as a chair' he explained in his halting English.

Admiring a very lucky-to-have-it-all cycle-tourer's bike.

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Today, there is one more very important task I have to complete. It is one of the reasons I came to Paris — to ride the last few kilometres of the Tour de France bike race. Where? Along the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe and Place de la Concorde — a full loop that would see me riding among Parisian traffic 6 cars deep. Suicidal is one of the words to describe this adventure but as usual, good sense never prevails when this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is right here and now. So off we go …

On the way to the Arc de Triomphe

Naturally, I had to stop and had a picture of myself taken...again.

Round the Arc de Triomphe and heading towards Place de la Concorde ...

...where the obstrusive Egyptian obelisk stands. In the real Tour de France, the racers would repeat this going-around for quite a few laps before finally peeling off to a riotous finale at the finish line some distance away from here.

At the Arc de Triomphe, I decided to video my own little Tour de France. Camera in one hand, steadying the bike with the other, I had to stay close to the pavement that ringed the monument so as to avoid being a Parisian roadkill, which I was perilously close to being one, thanks to a bus.

 

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Day 16, Sun 20 Sep, Kortrijk to Roubaix to Paris.

Breakfast was a simple affair. I went to the kitchen for my tray which contained the cutlery, butter, jam and milk. The rest was on the buffet – cereals, apples and oranges, yogurt, bread, ham, cheese, and a choice of hot coffee, tea or chocolate. Not a bad spread for a hostel.

There weren’t too many guests that day so it was a nice relaxing breakfast. I took my time…in fact, I overdid it and was told by Johann that checkout was 10am and it was already close to 10.

As I readied to leave, Johann once again came to my assistance, giving me a small map of the town with directions to get out of it and, a list of towns to tick off on the way to Roubaix. Thanks Johann, you’re a godsend.

My first samaritan of the day ... all colour-coordinated, too.

You know when you're leaving town.

Just outside Kortrijk, I couldn't help noticing that things got a little automated. Drank = drink, snoep = snack, brood = bread.

Cobbled roads on the French side

From now on, I would be cycling along main roads, although still on designated sections marked for bicycles. It was faster though. It took me only about 2 hours to ride the 30kms or so to Roubaix. Somewhere in between, I’d crossed into France, and the signs had changed abruptly to French.

Another sign that indicated that one had left Belgium was the general cleanliness of the town. Roubaix was scrappy-looking. Rubbish was everywhere, and some of the houses looked drab and rundown…. even the people looked different.

I had just entered Roubaix, and at this particular roundabout over a canal, 2 opposite sections of it could be elevated to allow boats to pass through. Not the most convenient of arrangements, as traffic built up about 100 metres or so.

Not sure of directions, I asked this friendly French boy and he drew me a map to get to the velodrome.

Finally, we're getting somewhere...

I circled around a bit and finally made it to the velodrome. It wasn’t some grand piece of architecture but it was hallowed ground – having been the finishing point for the infamous Paris-Roubaix Race for the last 119 years. 250km and some of it on cobbles that were so bad, people just didn’t use it in normal times.

(Read more about Paris-Roubaix race here)

The main gate was closed but not the side gate, which was strangely open. I saw a group of cyclists already inside. There were Brits, from Cycling Club Hackney, and they were here for the same purpose as I was.

Their leader, a guy by the name of Keir, was a bit apprehensive about us all riding the track and said we’d better not, and that somebody might be watching and all that, because normally velodromes aren’t just open like that. So we just posed a bit at the trackside.

The boys were a bit cheesed off that they didn’t get to ride after coming from so far. As for me, I’d decided that as soon as they were gone, I’d go ahead and ride it anyway. After all, the worst that could happen was probably somebody telling me off, and it would be worth it, too.

I took to the track just as they were leaving and as soon as they saw me on it, they hesitated going off. I could tell the boys were telling him ‘See, it’s alright, let’s do it’. Next thing I knew, 2 of the boys zipped past me ( a fully-loaded tourer is like an elephant lumbering along while the thoroughbreds went past me like lightning).

The sidegate was open, so I went in.

So did this group of pilgrims from Cycling Club Hackney, England.

Happily trespassing and doing a ceremonial lap in the velodrome (see video below)

A giant piece of ‘pave’ at the main entrance to the velodrome

With that crossed out of my things-to-do-list while in Europe, I headed for Lille, about 20 kms away, to take the train for Paris. (I was behind time and I had no choice but to take the train other wise it would be another 3 days on the road and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Paris).

To get to Lille, one simply rides on the Grand Boulevard, an old road that has dedicated tram lines, cycle paths and a dual carriageway, all flanked by beautiful trees the leaves of which were already changing colour, covering the street below with a golden blanket. I rode a little slower to enjoy it.

On the extreme left is the road for cars, followed by trams, then a fast road cars again, then the 2-way cycle path, then another road for cars.

As I was riding along, a cyclist came up to me with the usual ‘Bon jour.’ I bon jour’ed back and we started chatting. His name was Jean Chevalier, he was on his way home from his work as a communications executive with a bicycle manufacturer, and he was another like-minded soul. He started telling me about his ambitious plans for a long cycle tour that would be taking place early next year – India and across Australia.

We chatted almost all the way to Lille and he decided that he would take me to the train station, and help me buy a ticket. I love it when I meet such people on the road. They really do make my day.

Like elsewhere in Europe, bikes inside train stations do not raise any eyebrows.

The picturesque town of Lille.

Lille's main square.

The non-stop train to Paris cost me 64 Euros (ouch), including bike, of course, and it took a mere 1 hour 4 minutes to cover the 220 or kms.

The carriage for cyclists offers a special room to store bikes, hung up by the front wheel (I'd forgotten to take a picture).

A fellow tourer (enroute to Spain) who was on the same train with me.

It felt great to be finally stepping out onto the Parisian streets --- it was busy, noisy, colourful and beautiful.

Enroute to the campsite at Bois du Boulogne on the eastern side of Paris, I stopped to take in the sight of Arc de Triomphe, basking in the warm glow of a setting sun.

Tomorrow, I do the tourist thing, along with the thousands of other visitors from all over the world.

Distance today:: 62
Distance to date:: 878

Playback today’s ride on Garmin Connect (Kortrijk-Lille)
Playback today’s ride on Garmin Connect (Paris train station to Bois du Bologne)

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