A tourist in London and Paris

by Raymond Parker on August 18, 2011

in Adventure, Autobiography, Cycling, Health, Photography, Randonneuring, Training

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Vancouver Airport

With a certain amount of envy, over the last weeks, I’ve observed friends and acquaintances finalize their travel plans, obsess over last minute details and say their farewells, via the BC Randonneurs forum.

The pilgrimage to Paris-Brest-Paris, the Mecca of marathon cycling, is underway.

I remember those last-minute jitters, in 2007: Have I trained enough or too much?  What clothes, spares, tools, first-aid and food shall I include in my rando kit? Do I have the right saddle?

That last doubt nearly ended my dream. Just weeks before leaving for France, I tried out a Terry Liberator saddle on a Wednesday ride. I ended up with a pinched perineal nerve that still plagued me on my arrival in Europe.

Amanda Jones and I had opted to fly first to London, visit with family for 5 days, then take the Eurostar train, through the “Chunnel” to Paris.

We hit the first snag in our plans just a kilometre from home, at Victoria Bus Station.

“What do you mean, you won’t take the bike?”

“It’s not priority baggage,” the bus driver explained.

“Well, it’s a big priority to me,” I replied. “I have a pre-paid ticket for it, and we have a plane to catch in Vancouver!”

I made other loud noises, until the driver relented and loaded the bike into the luggage compartment.

Some experienced cycle-tourists assert that it’s better to simply put your bike in a plastic bag for plane travel. That way, baggage handlers treat your prized possession more carefully.

Nevertheless, as I sat in the plane on the Vancouver tarmac, watching luggage being loaded, I was glad that my Marinoni Ciclo was wrapped in pipe insulation and protected by layers of corrugated cardboard and plasticore. A burly handler grabbed my boxed bike and hurled it into the hold.

Amanda’s parents met us at Gatwick Airport. A return trip had to be made for my bike, which barely fit in the car with the back seats folded down.

In the garage, I unpacked the bike, transferring it to a soft bike-bag for the trip to France. I’d been advised that these were preferred on trains in France.

My father-in-law, a seasoned traveller, insisted that I finalize travel arrangements for all excursions planned for our post-PBP return to the UK. Right then.

The inference, perhaps imagined, that I was an incompetent created tension.

Bicycle travel fits my style. Forward planning is foreign to me. This approach sometimes leads to inconvenience—“There’s not another ferry today?”but it also leaves room for serendipity.

I will admit, however, that happenstance is not what you want when you’re trying to get from A to B on scheduled planes, busses and trains.

The complexities of family relations soon took a second seat to a worry that threatened to sink the whole enterprise: a hemorrhoid.

Warm baths sat in for planned maintenance rides with the Horsham Cycling Club, on the winding lanes of Sussex. Saddle time was out of the question.

We were staying in a village called Christ’s Hospital, though I saw no sign of a savior.

On August 15, we made the first move towards Paris, travelling by train to London, where we were to overnight with Amanda’s sister and family.

We took a wrong turn at the Greenwich terminus and, before we knew it, were redirected by a helpful black gent, who warned us, “You don’t want to go that way.”

“That way” was one of the neighbourhoods that burned in recent riots.

On August 16, five days before the start of PBP, we boarded the train to France. Amanda’s sister, a sensitive woman, ran over to the homeopathic pharmacy next to the station and bought me a bag of medicines, including something called Rescue Remedy, a cure for stress.

From Gare du Nord Station, in Paris, we caught a crowded subway train, south to Montparnasse. This would have been straightforward if not for our voluminous baggage, including the bike bag that was cutting through my shoulder and had a habit of getting caught in train doors.

At Montparnasse, we became lost. We knew that the station for the train to Plaisir was nearby. But where?

 “Excusez-moi, pourriez vous me diriger vers le train vers Plaisir, s’il vous plaît?”

A helpful Parisian pointed us to an exit, carrying some of our bags over to a set of marble steps, leading up to street level. We dragged our burdens upward.

In daylight, we found ourselves on a busy roundabout, lined with cafés and bars. Where was the station? We walked back and forth. I tried my peu de bit de Français on passersby to no avail.

Convinced that our helper had either misinterpreted my question, or decided to have some fun with the tourists, we re-descended the steps into the bowels of the Paris Metro. Following a labyrinth of tunnels, we found another steep set of steps. Again we dragged our luggage up to street level. We now stood exactly on the opposite side of the street.

Eventually, we found someone who had better command of the English language than we did French. He directed us towards the station a few blocks away. Hallelujah!

Then the heavens opened.

Drenched to the skin, we hauled our gear to the ticket booth.

 “Je voudrais deux billets au Plaisir Les Clayes, s’il vous plaît.”

 “Merci beaucoup. Quelle quai?”

We hauled our junk over to an empty Platform 14. Meanwhile, across the way, passengers were boarding another train. Some of them had bicycles.

I rechecked the signboard at our platform. “Yes,” I reported to Amanda, “it says the Plaisir train stops here.”

Then why was our platform deserted, just minutes before the train was due to leave? Amanda insisted on trying to solve the riddle.

“Come on!” she called from the other platform. “This train goes to Plaisir!”

I stumbled over, dragging our crap behind me.

We took a taxi from Plaisir Les Clayes to Le Pavillion de Gatines, the motel occupied by most BC Randonneurs. It is located in a nondescript industrial area, on Rue Pierre Curie. The rooms are clean, and at 50€ la nuit, the choice of budget conscious cyclotourists. We flopped on the bed exhausted.

What a marathon!

Chapters: «|1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8

{ 6 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Conor Ahern August 19, 2011 at 9:45 am

It is good to see that I am not the only one who has trouble with bikes and buses in Canada. In 1994 I took a bus from Toronto to Sudbury, the next day I would go on to Marathon, where I planned to start my marathon ride, but the bus line that ran the route wanted the bike boxed. The buses to Marathon came and went and I was still at the bus station. The guy at the desk would talk to the driver in English, then they would turn an look towards me speaking French, then turn away and switch to English. Finally, at about 2 in the morning, one driver took pity on me and took me to my destination, and the rest as they say is history.


Raymond Parker August 19, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I think these things are arbitrary, Conor. That is, it depends on what kind of mood the driver is in.

I’ve never had any trouble before transporting my bike (sans box) on Greyhound. I never followed up on this particular issue, which seemed completely crazy, as I’d pre-paid to transport the bike.


Conor Ahern August 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Maybe I should expand upon it when I write the book. The wife is at me to start writing and giving lots of hints.


Raymond Parker August 19, 2011 at 2:21 pm

You should know better than to ignore hints from your wife! 🙂


Harold Bridge, again August 28, 2011 at 11:37 am

In 1975, my then wife had quit work and had an extended stay in Paris, together with her 8 year old daughter, Vanessa. In the meantime I had, I think, two or three weeks vacation due and flew from Canada to UK with the tandem, c/w “junior back attachment”. Riding from Heathrow to Enfield on a tandem that had no one sitting on the rear seat created puzzled or amusing looks. I provoked the situation by looking back in horror for the missing person! But the North Circular Road then was not as frightening as is is these days.
While details are dim by now, I do know we had a good summer and used Youth Hostels much of the time.
We toured England and had a lot of visting to do while enjoying social time with my wife’s Walsall, Staffordshire, family.
Then CTC President, the late Bill Oakley, had, by coicidence, organised the “Old Timers Run” that weekend, more nostalgia. There is more, but memory has failed. HJB


Raymond Parker August 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm

That’s hilarious! I can see their faces.

BTW, I went to Walsall market on one visit to the Midlands. Took some good photos there. Your mention inspires me to pull out the Kodachromes and scan them.


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