This post is a mishmash of odds and ends about September’s cycling trip in Provence.
The Roads: French roads come in different flavors. From major, controlled-access, interstate/autobahn-type autoroutes to the single-lane chemin, barely wide enough for one car. We rode the smaller ones. There are also some really nice bike paths. (Trivia: In France, if there’s a bike path parallel to a highway, cyclists are obliged to use it.) Here are some photographs of the roads we traveled.
Our VBT tour leaders said that their main consideration for picking roads is traffic, which means that occasionally we were mostly on a network of teeny-tiny roads and made lots of turns. We had cue sheets for every ride, and some of them ran for 4-5 pages. I wonder how long my regular rides would be if I had to describe them for other people. Of course, we also saw a lot of rustic French scenery because we were on said tiny roads.
“There is a rumor that French drivers are bad,” said Pascal, one of the tour leaders. “This is not true. French drivers drive quickly, but we are not bad drivers. We will always wait to pass cyclists until it is safe.” This certainly seemed to be the case—except for that one delivery van driver.
The French also love rotaries/roundabouts. So do I! They’re much better than traffic lights, and they really help keep traffic moving. They present new challenges when you’re on a bike, but by the end of the trip, even Mom was getting used to them.
Basically, I liked riding on most of the French roads, but I wouldn’t mind using the slightly more traveled roads. After all, what’s a little traffic? This leads us to . . .
The Crash: I don’t know why people say that “everything slows down” when you crash. In my experience there’s usually very little time—mental or actual—between when I think, “Oh, Shit!” after I realize I’m likely going to fall and when I groan as I’m picking myself up off the deck and checking the damage. Sometimes it’s just the space between the sensation of the tire losing traction in the rain and the moment of realization that the ground is approaching too fast. All that “time slows down” business just seems like wasted decision-making time that I could be using to keep myself upright.
On the first real day of riding—from St.-Rémy-de-Provence to Arles—I had just enough time to realize that the slow-speed characteristics of the bike were different than the one I ride at home and that I wasn’t going to get my feet out of the pedals in time before falling. It happened as Mom and I rode into Arles on a suddenly busy backroad. I had glanced down to check the next direction on the cue sheet, and I looked up to see traffic stopping at the same time that the road narrowed. Now, while I like the Shimano SPD pedals I bought so that I could simultaneously have clipless pedals and shoes that I could walk in, I didn’t have much practice with them, and they have different “clip out” tension than my Speedplay pedals (which I love—seriously, best pedals ever). So, yes, I saw it coming, but not in slow-motion. If anything, it felt accelerated. I was still working on getting unclipped as I fell, cursed, immediately got back up, dragged myself out of the street, checked for any damage, and continued on.
I don’t fall very often—*touch wood*—and I’m kinda glad that (if it had to happen) I fell on Monday. I knew one thing going into the trip: I was not going to wear shorts in Paris. It just wouldn’t be fair to the Parisians. (See “fashion,” below.) Open wounds might put a kink in my sartorial prerogatives, though. Fortunately, a couple days later I was healing nicely. By the time we got to the City of Light on Saturday, I only had a wee bit of discomfort whenever I sat down. By the time we went home, everything was fine, if not completely healed.
On the trip I learned that the French don’t really understand bandages. You can get small, “Zut alors! I cut my finger” bandages or the larger “Oh, mon dieu! I seem to have cut my thumb” size. That is to say, you can’t really get anything big enough to cover an open wound on your knee . . . at least not at the pharmacy I went into. I ended up using some of the Tegaderm dressings that I usually put over my CGM sensors, which had the benefit of (a) being flexible and (b) not sticking to the wound, but it also was (c) transparent enough to induce winces when my fellow riders saw them.
This was also the trip where I learned why men who race shave their legs.
Laundry: The key to not overpacking for any trip lasting longer than 5-7 days is to do laundry. Unless you feel like spending a lot of money—or are in India and are totally fine with other people doing everything for you—you, my friend, will need a laundromat. By the way, the way to say “laundromat” is «laverie libre-service».
As with American launderettes, it’s best to bring something with you to keep yourself entertained. Books, magazines, iPads, other people, and stray kitties are all reasonable choices for accompaniment.
Fashion: “France” the very word exudes style.  Paris Vogue makes American Vogue look like a Macy’s catalogue. Walking down the street is a fashionista’s delight. And then there are the shops. Everyone says Rue St.-Honoré is the place to window shop—or actually shop if you have money—but I recommend Avenue Montaigne. Seriously.
But it’s not just the well-heeled who look good. Many more French people look more put together more of the time than anywhere I’ve ever been. That’s the way it should be. Of course, as with anywhere else, there are exceptions, and women always tend to look more with it than men. (We first noticed this in Australia, and now I can’t help but see it everywhere.)
Food: I will confess that I ate a lot on the trip. I’m not a foodie—well, not yet—but I appreciate good food. And I like the way that traveling gets one out of a rut by forcing you choose something different. The food on this trip makes me want to learn how to cook. Maybe. I’ll keep you posted.
French food isn’t always perfect, but the things that I managed to pick off the menu were (almost without an exception) fantastic. Turns out, I’m a big fan of bistro fare and café culture. I wish France were closer. Although Lisa and I have been known to go to Montréal for a food booty call, Paris (or London for that matter) is just a bit too far for the weekend food splurge.
The thing that struck me most about the food on this trip—the Provençal part, in particular—was the freshness of the ingredients. I love going to the weekly (or daily) market to get a few things, and I love that France has a culture that values the market and food enough to rearrange the opening hours of other shops to make it possible for the market to continue to flourish.
Just in case you weren’t hungry enough yet, here are some pictures.
À bientôt, muffins!
1 — Although, seriously people, why do we have to mispronounce “France” so badly? We worry that we’re not saying Qatar the same way a Qatari man does, but we’ll pronounce France like a hick. What gives? [Back . . .]