A journey through the present and the past

 A bike ride in France 2007  3300km - 29 stages

The Col du Tourmalet, the valley westerly towards Lourdes.     


The start of a cycling holiday, is the beginning of a different way of life.

The world is limited to your body, the bike, the environment and the weather.

You experience the ride in the present; in the evening, when you stop, a new day starts.

You are constantly looking for the right road; the final destination is all that is certain.


 Day 1 (Nuth > Houffalize 113 km)


 It is June 30, 2007. The bike is loaded with bags, as I ride off the sidewalk; I wave to wife and child and ride into the wide world.    

On this tour I use routes described by the " " . These books are: "Along old ways" I and II, the "Cathar Basque Route" and the "Green way to the Mediterranean Sea" II and I. An advantage is, that you have a lot of information about the area where you are riding. Just riding around does not always bring you in interesting places. Besides cycling , I visit historic monuments and sites. This creates a picture of the history of the country and its inhabitants. That history is, like that of all countries, a story about power, violence and money, in short: politics !  At first I ride through central France to the Pyrenees and then to the Mediterranean. The way back goes through the Rhone Valley. My turning point and highlight is the Col du Tourmalet. I tell most people, that I ride to Lourdes, which lies at the foot of the climb. Actually my aim is a little closer to heaven. 


The first part of the trip goes along "old ways". These ancient roads were also used by mediaeval travelers: the Pilgrims.  It is noteworthy that there are still numerous references to the pilgrims madness of the Middle Ages in the towns and villages I am cycling through. The Saint Jacob shell, the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, is seen in the city arms, buildings and street names. At the height of the pilgrimage, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, there were tens of thousands of worshipers on daily pilgrimage. They were on the road for months or years, mostly walking, on poor roads, ravaged by war, famine and disease. It was also an economical problem because they had no income; only a few were wealthy enough. Monasteries and churches offered them shelter and food. The main purpose of the church, who promoted the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, was keeping the north of Spain and Portugal under Christian influence and the defeat of the Moors. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem also led to problems with the Islamic rulers, and this led to the organisation of the Crusades. Some of these crusades even took place in southern France, the fight against the Cathars.


After a windy, wet and fresh first day through the Ardennes, I put my tent at a campsite near Houffalize.




Day 2 (Houffalize > Montmedy 108 km)


The next day the weather remains the same: wind and occasional showers. Because of the wet weather, there is a snail infestation. The road is littered with flattened snails. Crossing is simply dangerous work for a snail . Striking is the large number of living snails on the edge of the road; at first I think that they mourn their fallen brethren. But after careful observation, I conclude that their visit is of  consumptive nature. These snails are often traffic victims again; it looks like recycling: pulp thou art, and thou shalt return to pulp.


I ride through Bastogne and the beautiful valley of Orval to the French fortress town of Montmédy.


Montmédy is one of the towns in northern France where the French King Louis XIV had a fortress built, to reinforce the northern border. During the French Revolution his successor Louis XVI in 1791 was fleeing to Montmédy, when he was recognised and arrested by revolutionaries. His flight abroad was seen as treason and he lost all support of the people. Although his predecessors were more to blame for the looting of the treasury, the king is adjudicated by the National Convention and, as usual in those days, decapitated by the guillotine; the queen underwent the same fate a few months later.



 Entrence of the fortress of Montmedy 


 Day 3:  (Montmedy - St.Menehould 85km)


The next morning I still am riding southwest, against the wind , alternately with and without rain.  At Dun-sur-Meuse I arrive on the battlefields of the First World War. War memorials for thousand men here, ten thousand men there; silent witnesses of the massacres. 


"l'Abri du Kronprinz" in the woods at Varennes, is a bunker complex from the First World War, where the German crown prince commanded a fairly insignificant part of the front. Officially, he was commander in chief, but the Pruissian generals never let him make important decisions. He got some elite troops to launch an occasional attack. Hundreds of dead here, hundreds of dead there: childs play!


Early in the afternoon, I have enough of wind and rain; I stop in St. Menehould. This is a sleepy French country town; it's only claim for world fame, is fact that father Dom Perignon, the inventor of the champagne, was born here.


< Attack! La Grande Guerre decimated the French male population considerably.



Day 4. (St. Menehould > Dommartin-Lettree 86 km)


It's raining again the next morning, when I am riding into the direction of Chalons-en-Champagne . The war monuments are increasing in numbers, especially in Montfaucon was fierce fighting and the Americans have achieved an important victory here (at the expense of many victims). For the first time during this holiday there is a fellow cyclo-tourist coming from the other side. We stop and talk; he has turned around, heading home due to the weather. He can't stop the rain, but he does have the wind behind him now.


This region was not only a battlefield in the First World War; in 451 there was a major battle  at Chalons-en-Champagne,  between the Romans and Attila the Hun. The Roman general Flavius ​​Aetius won, but Attila escaped and retreated across the Rhine. For Aetius this was actually a good solution; the Roman emperor was afraid that the commander was becoming too powerful and could take his place. When Attila died two years later during an orgy, Emperor Valentinian found his general unnecessary and had him murdered.


In addition to the wind and the rain, it starts thundering in the afternoon. At three o'clock , soaked , I am drinking a cup of coffee in a cafe, and decide not to ride any further. In the evening I am watching television with the old innkeeper, and we see images of a village 10 km away, where the cars are floating through the streets.



  Day 5 (Dommartin-Lettree - Ervy-le-Chatel 109 km)


The next day I ride through the beautiful city of Troyes, to Ervy-le-Chatel; the wind is westerly, not always dead against me. While I am in the hamlet of Mont Moret on top of the hill, I get a magnificent view over the Seine Valley and the city of Troyes. While I'm looking, I see a grey haze pulling over the city. I recognise the phenomenon; I  sigh, and put on my rainjacket again.


Troyes was already an important town before the arrival of the Romans, and remained so throughout the centuries. In 1420 a treaty was signed in Troyes, which played a major role in the 100 years war. Actually, the wife of the French king Charles VI "the madman" gave the right to French throne to the English king. Her daughter married the English king Henderik V, but her son Charles VII, was the natural successor as king of France. The British occupied a large part of France above the Loire, early in the fifteenth century. After that they were driven back by the military successes of Joan of Arc; even Charles started to believe in his kingdom. But he did not help her when she was captured by the English and ended up at the stake. The many wars and the plague demanded a high toll of the French population; it was halved between 1350 and 1450.




Day 6 (Ervy-le-Chatel – Vezelay 105km)


Through Auxerre to Vézelay : today is the first day without rain. Auxerre is a lively old town with a beautiful bell tower. Vezelay is also nice, but more like a monument; it has a touristy character and lives in the past.


Vezelay was the starting point of the third crusade. The great princes of Western Europe went to war, to make the occupation of Jerusalem and the Holy grave undone. In 1190 they gathered at Vezelay: the armies of the French king Philip II, the English king Richard Lionheart and the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The emperor went overland towards Palestine, but drowned while crossing a river in southern Turkey. The German armies retreated then. The French and English went by boat; but with two commanders and big egos, it was not for long. Fillips retired with his armies after the conquest of Acre, because he had an argument with Richard. First home, he tried to  to help Richard's brother, Prince John Lackland, on the English throne. Richard could not conquer Jerusalem with his limited forces. A kingdom Acre was proclaimed that has existed for several decades. Through diplomacy and not through war, the Christian pilgrims were then able to access the holy places. On the journey back to England, Richard was imprisoned in Austria. After paying a ransom, he returned home in 1094.




< La Tour d' Horloge in Auxerre



< The bridge over the Loire at Nevers.


Day 7 Vezelay - Nevers 96km


After the first dry day, there is a very wet day: it rained till 15.00 H.  I arrive in Nevers on the river Loire. The landscape is hilly and forested; I don't suffer from the wind.


Nevers was the main crossing of the Loire in the Middle Ages . This is a typical rain river. In the summer the crossing by ferry was easy, but in the fall, and in spring when the snow melted in the Massif Central, the river could be nasty. Many boats capsized and lots of pilgrims drowned. Pilgrims could get a pardon (forgiveness of sins) in Vezelay; so when they died on the journey, they had earned their place in heaven.


The construction of a stone bridge over the Loire took from 1770 to 1832, with many setbacks while working. It is said that the architect was so desperate that he promised his soul to the devil if the bridge was finished. The construction proceeded smoothly now; when the bridge was almost finished, he did not put in the last stone. The bridge is still not finished and he tricked the devil (the Faust motif).




< The bike on the channelbridge over the river Allier


Day 8.( Nevers - Chateaumeillant 109km)


 The first day under the Loire is a summer day, sunny, 25 degrees and little wind. At the crossing of the river Allier, I cycled over a beautiful aqueduct.


During the heydays of the French kingdom, water was the most conveniant way, to transport anything that was big and heavy. A major problem is the fact, that most rivers are "rain rivers".  A mountain river like the Rhône, gets melting water from the ice caps of the Alps during summer.  Rain rivers have a too low waterlevel for boats in summertime. Therefore, they dug a "lateral" channel parallel to the river. These lateral channels are hundreds of kilometres long, and if there is a lot of fall, there will be many locks. The canal along the Allier is a good example. The old towpaths of the barges are nice low-traffic bike paths. In order to get boats on the other side of the river, a channel bridge ( aqueduct or pont-canal) is built with very high locks.





Day 9. (Chateaumeillant - Mourioux 122km)


From Chateaumeillant to Mourioux, it was cloudy all day, but not too much rain (one hour). The terrain is hilly, with river valleys and forests.


Chateaumeillant is a very old town; it was known as Mediolanon in Celtic times . The ancient Roman Peutinger map shows Chateaumeillant as Mediolanum. Throughout the centuries there has been constant fight over property and of course dominance. Despite its rich history, it is just a village nowadays, with 2000 inhabitants 



Day 10. (Mourioux - Uzereche 102km)


There were some rain showers today, but the wind has turned to NW and now I even have the wind behind me. At 16.00h a thunderstorm gets near, and I decide to stop. The campsite of Uzereche is located near a water mill; there is plenty of space for my tent near the water, but I chose a spot on higher ground. This was not necessary, but I sleep better that way.


Since Vezelay, an important starting point for the pilgrimage to Santiago, I see more and more walkers on the roads. The walking and cycling route intersect frequently. In the seventies and eighties pilgrims were individuals; from the nineties, it has increased significantly. The trail requires a fine network of places to sleep. In the Middle Ages mainly monasteries and churches provided shelter. Nowadays there are sometimes hostels affiliated by the church, run by volunteers, with dormitories and bunk beds, where the pilgrims can go. Often there is also an opportunity to enjoy a cheap meal. Many small inns in rural areas have been closed in recent decades, due to the expensive investments that must be made to retain the licence (e.g. by European regulations). The number of shops and cafes has fallen sharply. The new shops are usually found on the industrial estates in the larger cities. Because of increasing travel distances to shops, schools, etc. , the French move exclusively by car ; after nine o'clock in the evening it looks extinct everywhere. The village pub is closed; in the countryside there are only some farmers, watching TV and going to bed early. It is no wonder the youth moves away ; an exodus which reinforces itself.



< The bike in Martel.  


Day 11.  (Uzereche - Rocamadour 104km)


   To Rocamadour via Martel; there was a lot of rain again, especially in the morning.

   Charles Martel was the founder of the Carolingian dynasty, in the early eighth century. He managed to unite the fragmented Germanic peoples in Western Europe. Until then it was common that an army was assembled just before the start of a campaign. He formed a permanent army of well-trained soldiers, with the support of the local auxiliary forces, to fight battles throughout the country (roughly France, Germany and the Netherlands).  He got the greatest fame, for stopping the Saracens (Moors), who invaded France from Spain . Many of the Saracen campaigns were focused on looting and not really territorial expansion; this also applies to the Battle of Poitiers in 732. But five years later he defeats a large Moorish army at the Battle of the Berre, laying the boundary between Moslems and Christians in the south Pyrenees. This has been a very important battle for the growth of Christianity, especially the Catholic Church. The missionaries Willibrord and Bonefatius were working at that time to convert the northern Germanic tribes (such as the Frisians). He supported them, and they supported him, even though he led looting and killings throughout the empire. God works in mysterious ways. The church as an institution, does a thriving business here ; especially when the popes and bishops get worldly power too under the Carolingians.                                


 <  Rocamadour is a town against a mountainside.                                                                                   


Rocamadour is the most important pilgrimage town in France after Lourdes . The sword Durandal, which has supposedly been used by the Christian hero Roelandt, a vassal of Charlemagne, is sticking in the rock here! In elementary school I learned that he had fallen in the battle of Roncesvalles against the Saracens.  According to modern historians, a Basque army chopped the rear of the troops of Charlemagne, who had just been on rampage in northern Spain. Well, even the great Charles was to reward his lords, with money and goods in order to gain their loyalty. Despite the wars against the Moors, there was also admiration for their culture; there are clearly recognisable Moorish influences in the architecture of the town of Rocamadour.



Day 12. (Rocamadour - Moissac 125km)


In the morning I visit the cave of Pech-Merle. When I come out again after eleven, it is raining. Because I'm wet and it keeps on raining, I don't stop in Cahors (in retrospect always wrong). On a roundabout in an industrial area of the town, there is a beautiful girl under an umbrella. My friendly "Bonjour" is not answered. Apparently wet cyclists are not seen as potential clients.


Pech-Merle is one of the few caves where you can still see the original drawings. In many caves, such as Lascaux, you only see a copy, because the presence of light and human emissions is affecting the quality of the drawings. For this reason, the number of visitors in Pech-Merle limited to 700 per day and a reservation by phone is recommended. The drawings are about 20 thousand years old; the most famous pictures from this cave are dotted horses and handprints of primal Frenchmen: the Cro-Magnon man.



Day 13. (Moissac - Montesquiou 117km)


Today there is little wind and good weather .  In the afternoon I am riding along with Frans, a Dutchman on his way to Santiago. Suddenly we are overtaken by many compatriots on racing bikes without luggage. They were participants in a three-part version of the 100 Cols by Cycletours. In the evening I camped near Montesquiou; the campgrounds belong to a hotel with a partly Dutch management. There was the possibility to sign in, for a big dinner in the open air, with hotel and camping guests. It was cozy and very tasty; that night I talked a long time to a Dutch Free Mason.


Freemasonry was one of the breeding grounds for the French Revolution. The lodges were a group of intellectual middle class, such as engineers, professors, administrators and merchants. They were not revolutionary, but the fact that they do not all enjoy the privileges of the church and the nobility, still gave an urge for emancipation; especially in the time when the Sun King, with his constant wars, had increased the tax burden enormously. The wealth of the nobility and the church was always borne by the middle class and the people. Freemasonry and the period of "Enlightenment", undoubtedly inspired the revolution : Liberty, equality and fraternity . The Revolution put an end to the domination of Church and nobility at the expense of many victims and destruction. Bizarrely, it ended with a new elite, who founded an empire, lived in opulence, and conducted senseless wars.


After ten years the dream falls apart. France is exhausted; the men and the horses are dead, the economy broken. And then you would think that the culprit was tried. That was disappointing, a half-hearted exile to a holiday island. When he returned within a year, the French people put him on the throne again. After a few months this bubble was also shattered; this proved that things still could go worse in France.

The island of his next holiday, is located much further away 




< The basilica of Lourdes.


 Day 14.  (Montesquiou - Lourdes 92km)


After riding away this morning, a ferocious barking peasant dog bit my rear bag; proud and satisfied, he went back to his yard. On top of the first hill I get a view of the Pyrenees. It is 90 km to Lourdes; today is a short but hot day.


I find a campsite near the large basilica on the western edge of the city. While I'm sitting in front of my tent, two girls on racing bikes with camping gear, arrive on the campingground. I chat a while with these Swiss twins; they have been on the road for weeks and ride around 150 km per day. They are very interested in the cold bottle Pied Boeuf table beer, that I occasionally take a swig of. When I tell them that it comes the camps grocery store, the tasks are quickly distributed ; one of them runs to the store.


The town of Lourdes is very old; in neighbouring caves there are many finds known from Cro-Magnon time and later periods . The highest part of the town, was already a Basque oppidum in one century BC. The Romans built a castellum, and in the Middle Ages there was a castle with fortifications. In 1216 the town was able to withstand a siege by the crusader Simon de Beaufort.


Apparently the city was on the side of the Cathars, who had many followers in the southern and eastern part of France. The brutality and fanaticism of the Roman Catholic Church persecuting dissidents, was shocking. The crimes committed by the Catholic Church and their supporters in the name of God, can only be compared to the persecution of Christians in the Roman period. The Crusader army that occupied the town of Beziers in 1209, was under the command of the abbot Arnaud-Amory. Of course, not all residents of the city were Cathars; many were Catholics. The abbot let God make the distinction. "Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own"; all residents, 20,000 people were massacred 





< THE HIGHLIGHT: on top of the Col du Tourmalet


Day 15. (Lourdes- Col du Tourmalet v.v. - 78km)


It is Saturday, July 14th 2007, the French holiday Bastille Day. Today I climb the famous Col du Tourmalet; because the local spring water seems have miraculous powers, I fill my water bottle. Fortunately this water is not on the doping list. The climb itself is tough, but I have good weather and the water of the holy virgin does wonders indeed. The rest of the day I look around in Lourdes.


The pilgrimage site of Lourdes is a peculiar mixture of devotion, kitsch and commerce. If you're not superstitious, it is difficult to assess the state of affairs. I think in human terms, the sick, stretcher-bearers and escorts, look back with satisfaction on such a pilgrimage, even though there have been no miracles.


At the request of my old bicycle mate Jan Willemsen (who had cancer and knew that I was cycling to Lourdes), I buy a silver-medal Mary, blessed by the bishop. Unfortunately for him, no miracle happens, and a few months later, a life in which the bicycle played a leading role, ends .



Day 16. (Lourdes - St. Bertrand-de-Comminges 90 km)


At night there is a big storm, but by 9 am morning it is over, and I have a very hot day ahead to St. Bertrand-de-Comminges. Although it is hilly, the climbing is not too bad. Of course, there is a certain training effect now.


When you ride through the valley at the "foothills" of the Pyrénées ,  Saint-Bertrand de Comminges is noticed mainly because of the massive cathedral, that lies on top of the first hill. The city was founded in Roman times, as a colony of the general Pompey and counted 30,000 inhabitants as a maximum .


After a devastating visit by the Vandals early fifth century, the Burgundy have completely razed the town to the ground late sixth century . Five centuries later, they appointed a new bishop in the region, and this Bertrand de l'Isle built  a church and a monastery on the hill. The church was developed into cathedral in the fourteenth and sixteenth century ; impressive and nice to watch. A bit large for a village where only 250 people live nowadays .




< The cave of  Mas d' Azil.


Day 17. (St. Bertrand-de-Comminges – Montségur 124 km)


The next day the weather is nice, it is not so hot. I ride through the cave of Mas-d'Azil, this is a natural tunnel; the river and road come out on the other side of the mountain . From Mas-d'Azil I ride D1A and D1 to Foix; a brilliant way ! And then to Montségur; certainly that last part goes uphill. Fortunately, the campsite is located in Montferrier well below the ruin; the luggage remains there.


The ruins of the castle Montségur can be seen from afar. The name is especially associated with the fall of the last stronghold of the Cathars in 1244. The Inquisition did his best to also eradicate the last heretics, through the proven method of torture and burning ; 215 people were burned at the stake ; the castle was demolished .


In recent times, there are adherents of New Age religions, who believe that the Holy Grail would be hidden somewhere on or near the mountain; extremely vague stories and theories. Only the souvenir industry profits by selling treasure maps. Many people do not realise that the ruin is not the remainder of the Cathar castle, but  of a castle built two centuries later, in order to protect France's southern border against the Spanish



Day 18. (Montsegur - Carcassonne79 km)


Today I ride through Lavelanet and Mirepoix Carcassonne. Mirepoix is a nice town; Carcassonne too of course, but the upper town is very touristy, and the thin walls look cheap.


At noon a group of technicians is in the process of setting up a stage for a big rock concert. At night the beat of the concert rolls over the campsite; the funny thing is, that I recognise it vaguely. Then it must be very old; after fifteen minutes the penny drops: Kiss ! They will keep me awake for another hour.


   Carcassonne was occupied by the crusader Simon de Beaufort in 1209, without any resistance offered. Twenty kilometres away at Lastours, lay a large castle complex, the castle Cabaret, where the Cathars defended themselves successfully in 1209. After the winter Simon continued his conquests in the region. When the town of Bram offered resistance, he selected 100 random citizens, to announce his coming to Cabaret. He had them cut off the nose and lips, and protruded their eyes; they were put in chains in a row, and had to walk 30 km to Cabaret. Only the first of the group was spared an eye, to ensure that they were on the right way. The wailing row of skulls did not miss its effect ; the Cathars fled and the castle surrendered without a fight .




Day 19. ( Carcassonne - Allingnan du Vent 112km)


Today I ride to Allingnan du Vent above Beziers; it is a hot day. 


The vegetation becomes suddenly desert like, with succulents and cacti. This area lies in the "rain shadow" of the Pyrenees. According to a local farmer, there is even less rain in recent years, a sign of climate change. That the earth is getting warmer, is clear. As a result, moreover, there will be more energy in the atmosphere. That energy will create local storms and floods. In combination with the higher water levels, this could threaten the population of delta's and lowlands like the Netherlands. Despite all the treaties on reducing consumption of fossil fuels, energy consumption will continue to rise globally. The oil becomes scarce; this permanent scarcity applies to many more commodities. Through "fracking" the oil supply is stretched several decades. But instead of using it for the transition to a green future, they use it, to put to the prices of oil and coal under pressure.


The Club of Rome in the early seventies warned humanity for a threatening permanent scarcity, but nothing has been done about it. Our posterity will inherit a crowded and plundered planet. The ideology of consumerism has been devastating for the Earth. The disaster begins to unfold, but humanity simply continues on the same path: "Après nous la déluge" (after us, the Flood).




Day 20. (Allingnan du Vent - Vers Pont du Gard  159 km)


Today was hot too; I rode 159 km to the Pont du Gard. Most campsites are "complet" (full).  Due to fatigue and annoyance, I lose my concentration, and I hit a pointed stone. This means the first flat tire. At the third campsite I try, they found an open spot for my tent.


The Romans left fine examples of architecture in France; the Pont du Gard is undoubtedly one of the most important. The building is actually a water pipe. The channel atop the third row of arches, transported fresh spring water to the major city Nimes . The total length of the system is 50 km, and the total fall over that distance was only twelve metres. In the city itself, the water came in  at a height of sixty metres; more than enough to keep pressure on the water supply system in town 



Day 21 (Vers-Pont du Gard - La Begude de Mazenc 125 km)


I ride to La Begude de Mazenc, it's cloudy and cooler, but dry. Today I crossed the Rhône in Mondragon, about 20 km above Orange. Near Valréas I ride through the wine region "Enclaves des Papes", a reminder of the times the pope was living in Avignon.


Around 1300 it was not going well with the government of the Catholic Church in Rome. The city itself was in a major crisis; the population dropped to the level a provincial town. The residents lived among the ruins of the ancient Roman capital. The board of the papal state was weak and divided; corruption and power struggles were rampant. When a Frenchman was elected pope in 1307 , the French king Fillips IV persuaded this pope Clement V, that he would be better off living in Avignon. The pope came to be strongly influenced by the French kings in the 14th century. In 1377 Pope Gregory XI went back to Rome. When he died a year later, Urban VI came to the Roman chair. This did not please the French king, and he had Robert Geneva proclaimed as pope in Avignon. At the height of the dispute, there was even a third pope on stage. The popes banned and excommunicated their adversaries, including their supporters. Each made new rules, which were undone by their competitors. In 1417 this papal soap ends ; it was an important breeding ground for the Reformation, which rejected the institute pope.



Day 22.( La Begude de Manzenc –Hauterives 110 km)



 Now it is due north; unfortunately, the wind is coming from that direction too. Today I even rode a real col: the Col du Pas de Lauzens, an offshoot of the Vercors. At the end of the day there is some rain, but then I am already at the campsite in Hautrives, near the Palais Idéal.


The "ideal palace" in Hautrives is a lavishly decorated pavilion (26 m X 12 m without usable spaces) built by the local postman Ferdinand Cheval. It is an example of naïve art and especially shows the perseverance of its creator. The good man has put 33 years of his spare time, and all his creativity into it .





Day 23 .(Hauterive – Pont d ’Ain 123 km) 


It is Sunday, good weather, little wind and hilly roads. After a few kilometres I have to get of the bike, because they organised a fleamarket ("brocante") in Le Grand-Serre.  After I pushed the bike through the masses and the stalls, I climb steadily up the hill. There are fierce dance music sounds somewhere in the woods. Apparently there is still a party going on in the wild, since yesterday evening .  A girl walking on the side path, asks me the road to civilisation. I tell her that there is a bustling flea market 5 km away. Joyfully she walks that way; the pills are still working properly.


Brancantes are French flea markets; they look a lot like Dutch flea markets. But of course they offer  French clutter, and that can vary with the stuff that you see offered by overhere; French vases and furniture, books and records with old songs. Sometimes you have those "once in a lifetime" moments; I see the first three LPs of 'The Stooges' plus the first two solo LPs by Iggy Pop, offered for 50 Euros. But then, how do you transport these on a loaded touring bike  



Day 24. (Pont d ’Ain - Poligny 130 km)


   Today I ride through the foothills of the Jura: beautiful lakes and climbs. Here I get my second flat tire ( a thorn). During the afternoon the clouds built up and at the last climb of the day, a thunderstorm erupts.

Soaked I arrive at the campsite in Poligny.


In the Ice Age this region was the edge of the ice cap in the Alps; there are still many traces to be found. One of the most spectacular forms hereof is the "kettle-valley". In France it is called a "cirque" ; examples along this route are the Cirque de Baume, and the Cirque de Ladoye. A cirque is usually relatively small (100 - 500 m in diameter) with three steep sides and a low side. The valley is sometimes as deep as it is wide; hence the French word cirque, that means circus or amphitheatre.


They are found in places where long action of freezing and thawing occurs; often at the end of a glacier on the north side of the ice. Due to lack of sunlight, the snow remains longer here and especially in limestone rocks, where the water can easily get inside cracks, the depletion of the rock goes fast. When the rock has become rubble, it is flushed away with the glacial water in summer.




Day 25. (Poligny - Pont sur Saone 128 km)


The next day there is some occasional rain, but I'm never soaked. I ride through Arc-et-Senans to Pont sur Saone.


In the town of Arc-et-Senans there is an eighteenth-century salt factory, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1982. This "Saline Royale" was a royal project, entirely in accordance with the ideas of the Enlightenment period. It is one architectural whole with workshops, labourers houses and an executive residence.

The brine was raised in the village Salins-les-Bain; wood for burning the evaporation boilers came from the nearby forest of Chaux. The complex style is neo-classical; the intention of the whole was idealistic: a good and healthy living and working environment, will lead to good and healthy people.



Day 26.  Pont sur Saone - Lunéville 145 km


To Lunéville, good weather, wind at my back; I made a lot of km's.


Luneville is a small town with 20,000 residents, but it has a real palace, and in the eighteenth century a real king lived here: Stanisław Bogusław Leszczyński. That does not sound very French, and he was n't. He was of Polish nobility; his daughter was married to Louis XV. He was chosen king of Poland twice. They had no hereditary monarchy in Poland; after the death of the reigning monarch, there was a round of elections for a new king, the major aristocrats gathered in the Polish Diet. Those meetings were legendary for their chaos. All neighbouring countries, Russia, Sweden, Austria and Prussia, had their own candidates. These countries were even willing to fight a war to get their candidate on the throne. Stanislaw was supported by the Swedish king in 1709, but Swedes lost the war against the Russians; Russian candidate Augustus the Strong came on the throne. When he died after 24 years of reign, Stanisław was chosen again (1733), but the Russians came back with another army , and an August III was put on the throne in 1735 .

As a consolation prize for Stanisław, the Vienna Convention decided in 1738, that he would get the vacant Lorraine duchy and was allowed to keep the title of king. The only condition was that the duchy would revert to France after his death. And he lived happily ever after, one might say, because he died in 1766 at an age of 88 years; exceptionally old for that time. 



 Day 27.  (Lunéville - Bettembourg 155 km)


Today is a long day through the empty rural Lorraine. It's good weather; the wind is SW and I ride 155 km. I leave France, passing by the large nuclear power plants near the border with Luxembourg in the direction of  Bettembourg.


The Lorraine region, becomes part of the German Empire after Franco-Prussian War of 1870 . The end of First World War in 1918 is the time for the French to reclaim the area. Then Hitler freed (?) the Lorraine again in 1940. There wass little fighting in this region, because the French had built the Maginot Line here . The Germans wanted to avoid trench warfare and marched through the Netherlands and Belgium, around the French positions. When the French government had capitulated, the fortifications were handed over without struggle.


The Lorrainers promoted to Germans in 1942 and had to help, as conscripts in the Wehrmacht, to invade Russia. In 1944 the big cities like Nancy and Metz were liberated by the Americans; closer to the border, the Germans held ground until March 1945



Day 28.  (Bettembourg - Troisvierges 120 km)


  The following day shows that the main road through Luxembourg is not ridable for cyclists anymore. The heavy traffic is so threatening, that I start following the river valleys. The 60 km as the crow flies to Troisvierges turn out to be 120 real kilometres.


The prosperity of Luxembourg is clearly seen in their homes and cars. Yet a 150 years ago, Luxembourg was no more than a small poor country with agriculture as a means of livelihood. The development of the steel industry after 1870 brought some prosperity.  But the steel industry has been in decline since the iron mines were exhausted; the industry has become somewhat more diverse, but the employer's share is relatively small. Trading and retail have increased considerably. There are many shops and service stations along the border, because the excise on petrol, tobacco and alcohol are low. Today, the significance of the agriculture is less than 0.5 % of the economy.


There are many European institutions in Luxembourg, but the banks and administrative offices are the backbone of the economy nowadays. Due to the fact that taxes are low and the banking secrecy has been maintained for a long time, it has attracted a lot of capital and "letter-box firms". To push around big money is more profitable than working




Day 29. (Troisvierges - Nuth 118 km)


Heading home ! This morning at departure, it is raining again. From the plateau I ride into the Ourthe valley to Vielsalm through the Ardennes. In Stoumont, around twelve o'clock, it is dry. Then there is a steep climb to the Hautes Fagnes; the rest of the route is mainly downhill to the Dutch border region.


During this tour we pretty much followed the history of France. It's been the Romans who determined the direction of this history; they were conquerors, thriving for power and money. The French kings were no better. The mediaeval church was not a group of Saints, who promoted charity. They acted like Romans and kings. The role of the church in politics, was reduced after the period of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, but people still have a need for spirituality. This is also the driving force behind many modern pilgrims, whom I met on the way. For them, Lourdes or Santiago de Compostela is the highlight of the trip; those who believe are saved. This also leads to  followers of New Age religions and pseudo-history at Montsegur.


In our modern society, everyone has the democratic right to their own religion. As long as one preaches tolerance, this is OK. But certainly the Montsegur is a symbol of intolerance. The misery arises when one believer designates all other believers as sinners. To question the God of this believer, is already a sin and a deathsentence. This form of madness appears to be frequently organised in religion and ideology.

The state of affairs in the world is not really encouraging.  According to an optimist we live in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true ......


At Slenaken I cross the Dutch border. One call home to make sure the coffee is ready, and then the final climbs and kilometres. After four weeks and 3300 km on the road, I'm home again.

I ride the bike up the sidewalk : it is accomplished.



A cyclist relies on his own strength, he chooses his own way, and not always the easiest; because that is only going down the hill.