France is a hard country to summarise. It’s the most familiar country since Japan. It is a country we have travelled to throughout our lives, childhood holidays, Andy working numerous seasons, being the country we met in, and the country we first went on holiday together in. The place we are geographically closest to (especially living in Worthing), with which we share a lot of history, and I think the culture is most similar to ours. The language is the easiest for us to understand, me listening but Andy is very proficient (even though he would disagree). It has meant we have been able to communicate more with people and start to understand more. Of course we are always learning and for me spending just over 2 months here I have learnt far more about the country I think is so familiar to us.
June 16th to 22nd. 245km
Before leaving Arromanches we went for a walk on the beach at low tide. The sea had retreated to reveal more of the pontoons from the Mulberry harbour that was set up there to land many of the troops and supplies for the D-Day landings. In the setting sun it was a beautiful sight and very hard to imagine how things would have been in the same place 73 years previously. For the next couple of days we were riding along the beaches where the Allied landings took place. The many flags, monuments and museums reminded us that they weren’t just big sandy beaches with people swimming and sunbathing, but an important part of Europe’s history.
June 7th to 15th. 382km
Our night in a hotel turned out not to be as restful as we hoped. The bar over the road was pumping out the tunes until about 3 in the morning, so we didn’t sleep too well. I suppose that’s what we get by going for the cheapest room in town on booking.com, I far prefer a nice quiet forest! Leaving St Nazaire, we left the ocean and headed north, past the airport and Airbus plant, avoiding the big bridge. More by luck than any real planning, once we were away from the centre, we joined a path running next to a disused railway line. This gave us a flat and traffic free ride for about 20km, until it got a bit overgrown and we headed back onto the roads. We were up into rural Brittany now, on very quiet farm roads, some paved, others dirt, but all very quiet, and easy to find a place to camp. We were early to bed and slept very well, both tired from the lack of sleep.
May 25th to June 6th. 540km
Leaving St Medard en Jalles we rolled straight back on to the cycle path heading towards Lacanau. It was an easy, but not exactly exciting ride, the path followed a dead straight line through thick pine forests pretty much all the way to the coast. Just before reaching the sea, we went around the Lac de Lacanau which had a public beach area which was super busy as it was a public holiday. It was a really warm day so we went for a paddle ourselves. We managed to wade out quite far as the lake seems to stay very shallow. From further out, we could see some much more secluded areas a little way around the lake shore, which looked perfect for camping. So we took the bikes down a sandy track about a kilometre away from the public beach and found a place to sit out in the early evening sun. The sun is setting really late now, and even after 8 o’clock, it was very hot in the direct sun. We rigged up a tarp with the tent poles to give us some shade and had some dinner.
May 17th to 23rd. 313km
On our last night in Toulouse, Tim and Claire took us up to a hill overlooking the city for a picnic. A beautiful spot for a sunset and a really nice way to round of our time with them. The sun is setting after 9 o’clock these days, so it’s been great to take advantage of the longer evenings. The hill also overlooked the airport, and the huge Airbus assembly plant. The plane nerd in me enjoyed watching the aircraft on their final approach to landing, probably taking a few too many blurry photos. We’d been in Toulouse for 10 days, and were definitely ready to get moving on to the final leg of our trip. Our stay turned out to be quite productive for me – I had a few Skype interviews and now have a job, related to cycle touring, starting a couple of weeks after we arrive home. It makes our return feel all the more real, but it’ll take a lot of stress out of setting up and living in the UK again after 7 years away.