Fantasies in France
7 Pages: You may want to copy and paste this into a small document and print it out on scrap paper in draft mode for some bedside or bathroom reading. It's more like a chapter of a book than an update ;)
When I look back on my 17 days of bliss in France I can only be filled with the warmest yummy feelings. I came into France fresh and rested from a personal “hibernation period” I took in Luxembourg to fend off the travel burnout bug and was ready to fully dive into new experiences in France with my mom Carol, aka Mamacita, who was my guest of honor for almost 2 weeks in France.
I’m happy to say my mom, aka Mamacita, and I have a very healthy and positive relationship and she has been such a huge supporter of this project since Garryck and I dreamt it up in the 1990’s. She’s come out to adventure with me in Japan, India, Thailand, Australia, Kenya, Uganda and now it was time for a taste of Europe in France! Unlike previous visits, she was coming out without a bike and without the intention to do much riding due a blow-out of her knee that happened just weeks before coming to meet me. But, like the trooper she is, she showed up anyhow with a shot from the doctor and a few painkillers to get her through her time in France. Go Mamacita!
We also had another special guest for our adventure named Carina from Sweden. Carina was our Nanny in California 29 years and she and I met up for a pedal in Gothenburg, Sweden and it was time for her to reconnect with Mamacita. If all this was not good enough, we were also hooked up big time with a complimentary luxury apartment rental from a close friend from university Drew and his company Cobblestay. Score!
We had planned to stay in Paris for 5 days but the Peace Pedalers Surf Rainbow that has been blessing me with great waves my entire trip was working up alternative plans. By the time I arrived in Paris the report was calling for perfect surf conditions and divine weather in the next few days lasting for a whopping 5 days! Mamacita, Carina and I had both been to Paris several times so it was not a difficult decision to cut Paris short and make our way to the stunning northwestern region of Bretagne (Brittany) to meet my good buddy Mathieu in his home country—finally!
Mathieu and I first met in Benin in Central West Africa, a tiny sliver of a country next to Nigeria. Mathieu got word that a globetrotting cyclist and surf nut was in town and hosted me for several days at his pad near the beach in Benin. We built a great friendship while I took a few weeks to learn some French in Benin and he ensured me that when I hit France he would take me out on the famous waves where he’s from. We bumped into each other out of the blue in Berlin, Germany a few months ago that led to a 2-day cycling adventure together so we were destined to connect again!
And boy did the heavens have a treat in store for us later in the week! But first, back in Paris, I had plenty to do to get my broken bike and camera equipment sorted and start sucking in the lovely Parisian experiences with Drew, Mom, Carina and crew before our departure west. Thanks to Mamacita lugging a brand new wheel out for me from USA all I had to do was change tires and the bike was sorted. But the 2 broken Sanken microphone wires were another challenge.
But thanks to the most gracious efforts and world class soldering abilities of one Antoine Malnati at a small firm Areitec in Paris my microphones were all running perfect in less than 24 hours! And, the best part of it all, they did all the work for free as they loved the Peace Pedalers project! Bonus! So with my bike and camera kit sorted, I was free to enjoy some of the world class food, wine and company of my loved ones. I was also happy to able to reconnect with my bro Drew from my university days and catching up in a small Paris café--bonus!
We hit the road Thursday afternoon to meet Mathieu in who not only was excited to host me, Mamacita and Carina, but who also managed to get Friday and Monday off of work to give us 5 days of surfing, adventuring, cooking and great times in the sunshine. Everything seemed to be going as planned but somehow we got off at the wrong station and ended up having to rent a car to get to Mathieu’s in time for an epic sunset surf session followed by Brittany cider and one of Mathieu’s amazing meals. We were off to a great start!
Mathieu lives in the a tiny town called Plozevet about 2km from the ocean. By the time evening rolled around we could hear the pounding swell coming in, the offshore winds were picking up and there was not a cloud in the starry sky. The next day we began an almost daily ritual of blissful activities that went a bit like this: Wake up late with no alarm clock, have an epic breakfast of fresh bread, croissants, fruit and oats, pack the boards on the car, hit the world class surf for the first 2-3 hour session of total perfection, have a huge lunch in the sunshine, rest, head back out for another blissful surf until the sun went down, drink yummy cider and wine, eat home-cooked meals, take a bath, hit the hay, repeat next day…a dream come true! And having mom and Carina there was the icing on the cake as the got along like peas and carrots and positive energy was moving all over!
Carina sadly had to return back to Sweden but there was no time for sad faces to set in since the exact day she had to go back to Sweden was the day that another close French friend of mine Sophie was free to adventure herself! Sophie and I met almost six years ago in Goa, India where we built the foundations of our friendship and even did a ride together on the tandem in southern India. We had kept in very loose contact since then but clearly our escapades together were far from over now that I was in her stomping grounds of France.
Just like my bro Philippe in Belgium and I, Sophie was a lifestyle and freedom addict and choose to work as little as possible and celebrate life to its fullest. It did not take her long to accept the invitation to come to Brittany for a few days and it was so great to see her again. So, just like that, we had a new partner in crime in our Brittany crew and life was good, very good!
The routine continued with perfect sunny days, divine surf sessions, unforgettable meals, fine wine and cider and connections with Brittany’s spectacular Nature that none of us will soon forget. But Monday the 13th finally came and, after 8 long surf sessions over 5 days in 7 different locations, it was time to move on. Mathieu had to go to work and we were both totally exhausted with every possible surf muscle sore to the bone. But we were glowing and neither of us will ever forget one of the best 5 days of life we have ever had.
It was hard to leave Brittany—it’s truly a magical region of our planet. But Mamacita and I wanted to explore a bit more and possibly do a day or two of riding so we went with Sophie to the train station but had no plans of where exactly we were going to go next. We said our “see you next times” to Mathieu and sat in front of the Lonely Planet and some maps until the next plan of attack presented itself.
Turns out that Sophie did not REALLY have to be back up in her home town of Lille just yet and she was up for some riding too. So we picked the town of Angers as a base camp for a new set of adventures in the Loire River region of France that nobody in our crew had properly explored. So, just like that, I teleported the slightly injured but ever-enthusiastic Mamacita and the fellow vagabond travel addict Sophie with me to the Loire!
We had intentions to ride that Wednesday and Thursday but Mother Nature vetoed the Wednesday ride with heavy rain and cold temperatures. We opted for a day of sightseeing, eating, strolling and relaxing in the most charming town of Angers with its huge Chateau, dazzling architecture and vibrant student population bringing a positive buzz around the town.
Thursday was an entirely different situation and we woke up to crystal clear blue skies, a brisk westerly tailwind, and three excited pedalers ready for action! We discovered a bike lane that would take us about 70km from Angers to Saumur and, although 70km is a tough day for even the most healthy athlete, Mamacita was up for the challenge. Sophie rented a bike for herself and we hit the road in the early afternoon for a glorious day in one of France’s most beautiful regions.
I’ve ridden with Mamacita many times and have seen her cry from pain and frustration in Australia, almost get killed by a truck in Kenya, conquer 80km days in 100 degree days in Uganda and fear for her life in Thailand. Add to these memories the fact that she had a nasty crash back in San Diego and had not been on a bike since and you see how I admittedly was quite stressed when we took off as I did not want her to suffer. I took a bit too much responsibility for her well being from the get go but as the kilometers of glorious riding clicked on by my mood got better and better as I realized she was strong and going to make it with flying colors!
The day was simply divine with gentle riverside riding along the Maine and Loire rivers, darting off into villages lined with mansions, cute farm houses, shops and great eye candy in every direction. The last 10km were the toughest into steep hills that made it difficult to put our head up and see the wonders. The weather ranged from bright sunshine to threatening thunderstorms but we managed to roll into Saumur dry, happy, strong but quite ready to get off the bike indeed.
We found a perfect budget hotel overlooking a castle for only 35 euro a night with a big garage to park the bikes. Just as we arrived the skies opened up and released all the rain it held off for us the second we stepped foot into the hotel. We were all filled with a glow of gratitude, pride and awe of it all. To top it off, we got a hot shower and headed out on the town for the very best Saumur had to offer.
On our last night together we celebrated with another divine French meal at a small bistro and wine bar. Saumur is world renowned for its wine and boy did we score with cheap glasses of unbelievably good wine accompanied by the best food in the world, by far. I’ve been dreaming of finally eating my way through France and boy did we go big with meats, veggies, cheeses, sauces and desserts that almost brought tears to our eyes. The food and wine in France IS THAT GOOD---come and try it for yourself!
The next day mom and Sophie departed on their own journey together back up to Lille where mom eventually returned to Paris to baby-sit Drew’s son. I was off to explore the Basque Country of France, which was a dream of mine for years. The Peace Pedalers Rainbow was calling me back to the beach for more sunshine, perfect waves and more friendly French people in the coastal beach town of Biarritz. I arrived at about 5PM and got a call from one of my couchsurfing hosts Vincent inviting me to have a drink overlooking the water. I liked Vincent from the moment I saw him—very cool, laid back and smiling ear to ear when we connected.
We sat at a beach café watching surfers rip up the perfect waves in the sunshine and were soon joined by my other couchsurfing host Margo who would be hosting me that night. It was another festive Friday night and the weather, surf and people helped me get over the temporary loss of my mom and Sophie who I just adventured with. Margo took me to her place, we dropped off my gear, grabbed some nice wine and food, and geared up to hit the town that night in the charming Bayonne.
Margo and her boyfriend Mathieu were amazing hosts. Both are still in college and the youngest hosts I’ve ever had both at about 21 years young. I knew their idea of a night on the town might me a doozy but I was ready to relive my youth. Before I knew it I was as a college happy hour party drinking 2 for 1 shooters until all of us were in rare form. I met some great people and the night was full of laughs and interesting chats with the locals, mostly in French (my French seems to get better after a few drinks).
The next day it was time to hit the surf and I was blessed to meet the owner of the best adventure outfitter and rental company in Biaritz named Benoit at Takamaka (www.takamaka.fr) just near the beach. He's beyond cool and has bikes, boards and tours so check him out! He set me up with a board and wetsuit for the next few days and so I was set. For the next 24 hours it was all about the surf with three amazing sessions, including a morning session where I was first in the water getting countless glassy waves as the sun slowly rose, casting perfect hues of light on all the lovely rocks and building—truly unforgettable.
Oh, almost forgot, somewhere in between all that surf I was invited to yet another professional rugby game where Biarritz, one of Europe’s best teams, demolished an Italian team as the sun was setting and the crowd all fired up. After the game Vincent got me into a VIP party where we had free food, drinks and met several of the players, fans and more cool locals. Thanks Vincent!
I was all surfed out after three long sessions and that Sunday evening Vincent and I made our way to his place in Anglet, another cool town just north of Biarritz with amazing beaches, world class surf and an even more laid back feel than Biarritz. Vincent cooked me up a bachelor’s meal of rice, coconut chicken and a few sweet Desperado beers to wash them down as we chilled at his condo just on a golf course. Vincent is a super cool cat and we had a lots in common so it a pleasure to spend time with him
The next day the sun was out and it was time to ride! The plan was for Vincent to come out and ride for the morning and have Melanie, my French friend I met in Morocco, meet us both somewhere along our ride. I was super excited to ride with Vincent but when riding time came he decided to change plans and bail on our ride. I was a bit bummed at first but luckily Melanie was on her way to Bayonne and Vincent decided to accompany me there and do a bit of sightseeing together before we said goodbye.
It had been seven months since I first met Melanie in Morocco and I had no idea what to expect so I just decided to expect nothing and let it all flow as always. We had only spent a few hours together and really did not know much about each other except the fact that we are both travel addicts. She had been following my ride online since we met and since she was only a few hours away at the time and had time off of her job in the tourism industry she decided to come out for a ride.
About ½ hour after I said goodbye to Vincent Melanie arrived all tanned, smiling and ready for adventure. She had a big, heavy backpack so I hopped she had some good legs. Fortunately she had done some bike touring in Cuba and was stronger than most of my riders and I knew she’d carry her weight. We grabbed some lunch, toured the town, ran some cameras and hit the amazing bicycle route outside of Bayonne into Basque country at about 4PM with perfect blue skies, warm temperatures and good vibes flowing!
After an epic ride along the river and through charming Basque villages we finally rode to a riverside spot called Pas de Rolland. We landed the most free perfect campsite ever right on river surrounded by mountains. We enjoyed an epic sunset dinner, some Bordeaux wine, Basque cheese, yummy treats Mel brought from Spain and life was good! The stars came out in full force that night but the clouds were making their way in and the forecast was for rain in the next 24 hours.
The next day we slept in late, relaxed by the river and finally hit the road at about 11AM. We had some mechanical issues that delayed our actual ride until after 2PM but still managed to get some incredible kilometers through the charming Basque region before the clouds came in heavy and eventually opened up with heavy rain just as we rode into the small village named Bonloc. We strolled into the only restaurant in town totally drenched, freezing cold and ready to get off the bike for a while.
Melanie did not have foul weather gear with her and, based on the torrential downpour and cold temperatures that were clearly there to stay, we were considering calling Bonloc home for the night. However, the only hotel in town was full and camping in this weather would have been a nasty proposition. So we both put it out to the ole Universe to provide us with a local host and proceed to relax, read, dry our clothes, have a few drinks and chat up the locals.
Melanie was the first to meet a friendly Basque man named Jean Michel and I heard them chatting away as I sat reading. When I went out to join them I was informed that Jean Michel had offered to host us for the night and he just was as excited as we were! He lived 5km away from the restaurant and the rain was still quite heavy so the cool owners of the restaurant offered to keep the bike for the night and allow us to go up to Jean Michel’s in his car so we were set!
The feeling that evening was festive and jovial and as the hours rolled by the locals all started to warm up to us. Several rounds of beers were purchased for us and we befriended several cool folks that evening before finally making our way up to Jean Michel’s. From there it only gets better! Jean Michel clearly had never hosted strangers before and he was so excited he went out shopping for amazing food, wine and treats for the special occasion.
The temperature dropped quickly that evening and was close to freezing so we were so grateful for Jean Michel’s hospitality. Our evening together was truly unforgettable and filled with a jolly vibe from all the great food, amazing Bordeaux wine, Jean Michel’s air guitar performances to Joe Satriani, cranking Basque music, loud chats in three different languages and much more. Jean Michel has such a warm heart and we became like family that evening.
The next morning the weather was still quite nasty. But the forecast was for clearing and evening sun so we were optimistic. Before we left Jean Michel insisted he drive us to his favorite spot on top of a huge mountain where we were able to capture his feeling and thoughts on the video while sucking in every bit of the stunning Basque scenery together.
Mel and I hit the road after the owners of the restaurant treated us to a hot meal and our entire crew came together for a lovely farewell photo and even a nice scene for the show. Jean Michel almost cried when we said goodbye and it was a touching farewell. I know I’ll see him again one day!
Our destination for the day was Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, which was only a 40km ride or so, but hilly as hilly gets. We were warned of steep climbs and constant hills, but we were ready! The scenery was nothing short of spectacular and yes, there were some brutal hills. We managed to pick up a tail wind, the sun was trying to shine and we were clicking the kilometers along slowly but surly through the dazzling mountains.
We arrived in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port about an hour before sunset and landed a sweet hostel for 10 euros a night, dropped off the gear and headed out on the tandem all ready for a rolling interview through this truly magnificent little town. Just as we started our ride the sun finally came out and we managed to do one of the most picturesque and impactful rolling interviews ever. With the sun casting the perfect light on us and all the surroundings we chatted away for about 30 minutes and Mel shared her dear heart with the world—you’ll love it when we finally get to editing!
Our last night together we shared with a Canadian cyclist named Celine, several cool locals and Mel cooked me up a yummy meal at the hostel before getting to bed early. Mel missed her morning bus but was able to hitch a ride back to Bayonne in a few minutes and before I knew it I was solo once again. I was quite sad saying bye to Mel as we got along so well and had really built a wonderful friendship. Neither one of us wanted to say goodbye. But fortunately bright sunshine made me feel much better and I decided to take a day in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to explore and hopefully find another guest rider to come with me to San Sebastian, Spain.
I spent several hours looking for guest riders and was persistent in my search. I asked the owner of the bike shop, employees of the outdoor shop, folks at the bar and café and more. I finally have up and decided to run it solo so I was up at the crack of dawn when I cranked the Ipod and pedals over 100km through some of the most striking scenery I’ve ever ridden. As the sun rose all the mountains shone a rich red color that almost matched the red trim of the huge Basque white houses. This region is a must visit for those who treasure epic rides in beautiful scenery.
I had one more picnic on the ocean near the border of Spain and eventually left the quiet French back road and was rudely dropped into a major Spanish motorway. I immediately missed France and, although I was happy to explore a new country, I was sad to say goodbye. I felt more at home in France than I had in a while and quite welcomed, understood and appreciated. And the friendships I made and fostered in France will never be forgotten. I will be back!
In closing, forget what you might have heard about the French being rude or arrogant. I think this is nonsense. If you invest a few hours of time to learn some basic French, have the confidence and courtesy to at least try to communicate in the local language, and don’t act like an idiot you will love it in France. I know I did!
Over n out from Faro, Portugal where I’m heading my way north to Lisbon on the last country of my European tour. Wow, can’t believe it’s almost over here in Europe! It’s been pretty darn dreamy!
Live Big. Give Big. Love Big.
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