Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Fridays' Tour de Normandie 2015 -- Day 1: Brix to Bayeux

Posts about other days on this tour: 

On Saturday morning, we needed to be ready to leave the Ibis Hotel at 8.15am. Gordon and Martin* would lead us all to Brix for the Official Tour Start at 9am. 

We woke at our usual time of 6.15am and set about showering, dressing and packing. We had found out the night before that breakfast options in the hotel would be severely limited (i.e. only croissants, which I can't eat) so we would need to seek out breakfast elsewhere. Also, our bicycles were locked in the beverages storage room in the hotel, a factor we had to account for as we packed. 

At 7am, we presented ourselves to the McDonald's next door, to find the driver of a delivery truck the only sign of life. Aha, the sign on the door said it opened at 7.30. Half an hour is an awkward period to fill, when you are mostly packed up but can't retrieve your bicycle yet to finish off and load up. So we watched a little television (what?!) and then went back. 

Three cyclists were inside, having already ordered and sat down. Ironically, they were the only ones in the entire group I did not know at all**. We exchanged nods and smiles. Our main focus of attention however was this -- 

Yes, McDonald's has done away with the ordering counter -- and the staff needed to run it.

Adam said this was introduced some time ago but it's the first time I've seen it -- I never go into McDonald's except when I'm looking for a toilet! (Usually past midnight on my way home from a concert, when everything else is closed.)

As always happens, the 8.15am deadline loomed all too quickly, with a last minute scramble to get bikes out of locked storage rooms, complicated by the hotel's morning receptionist not having been told about the arrangements and our attempts to explain being hampered by the language barrier. I had hoped to photograph the group before we set off, as it was I was nearly left behind. 

The first half mile involved negotiating a double set of roundabouts on a dual carriageway. The Fridays Wayfinders smoothed the way. A lefthand turn through a still-under-construction industrial estate ('business park' for the Americans) including unfinished roads, then another left followed by a quick right and we were quickly and safely into countryside, punctuated by small hamlets. 

(c) Adam Bell 2015

(c) Adam Bell 2015

We were climbing the high street into Brix (as of course all these French towns are built on top of hills) as the clock in the church tower struck 8.45am. Soon we were all gathered in the town centre outside the boulangerie. There was just enough time, for those who wished, to grab a baguette and use the public facilities -- clean, well kept and, crucially, unlocked!***

My first encounter with "sauf" - a word I came to appreciate and seek out,
as it often accompanied a bicycle symbol!

The church in Brix

The town hall. (Public toilets were in the building slightly behind and to the left here.)

We were on the road on the stroke of 9. One of my favourite memories from the day was the long sweeping descent out of town -- unfortunately one of those experiences you cannot capture in a photograph while actually there doing it. Suffice to say, the roads were smooth, sight lines good, traffic non-existent -- you could really let yourself go. And we did. 

We navigated a few short section on 'main roads' (i.e. single lane each direction, with painted centre lines and in some cases 'fog line') but mostly we were on country roads with virtually no motorised traffic. In fact, the vehicles we did encounter on the lanes were notable enough to be photographed i.e. classic cars and tractors! 

As always, every junction was marked by a Wayfinder showing us the way. Riding with the Fridays, you truly don't need to carry a map or any navigational devices and can take every junction with confidence that you're going the right direction. (Many of us of course did carry GPS devices, but I think mostly driven out of curiosity to see afterwards where we had been.)

(c) Adam Bell 2015

(c) Adam Bell 2015

The first (and only major) mechanical problem of the tour struck mid morning, when the Shimano Sora rear derailleur on Claudine's brand new Kaffenback dramatically exploded. TEC extraordinaire Olaf (with Adam, Simon and Adrian assisting but not interfering once they saw what he was about) shortened the chain and rendered the bike ride-able as a singlespeed. Claudine, strong high-geared masher that she is (and I describe her as such with awed admiration), had no problem with this, other than finding the need to spin somewhat disconcerting. 

While waiting, I spotted Martin's Coffeeneuring badge -
cunningly stitched onto the hip of his gillet. 

Claud smiling and back on the road

Our first "sightseeing" stop was just after Claud's mishap, the Batterie de Crisbecq. Gordon gave a little talk explaining the site's features, history and the role it played during the war. I missed this, treating the stop as a chance to use the toilet -- of which, it transpired, there was none. My real regret though is in not realising what an enormous complex this was until I was researching it for this blog post. We really only saw the structure shown in the photo below, and a wooden hut serving as the ticket office for the museum. I thought at the time it was odd to charge for tickets to see one building. Little did I know. 

(c) Adam Bell 2015

Here's an aerial shot of the Batterie site (taken from the Internet via Google image search). It looks well worth visiting if you're interested in WWII history. 

From the Batterie, it was a swift descent to the beaches.

We saw many horses in fields we passed. Amongst the most intriguing were these 6, all being led out for their daily walk by one man in a tractor.

(c) Adam Bell 2015

Another sighting (very nearly missed) were the trotters, just leaving the road as we approached, off to train on the sandy beach. 

The roads got a lot busier around the access points to Utah Beach, especially around the museum. 

(c) Adam Bell 2015

But within minutes, all the tourist traffic melted away and we once again had idyllic roads all to ourselves. 

white wisteria

And when we did see cars, they were interesting cars!

Broken down and phoning for assistance.
The gentleman doffed his cap to each of us as we cycled past.

On arrival in Carentan (just before 1pm), Claudine made straight for the bike shop. Over lunch, Adam fitted her rear derailleur as well as a new chain (having discovered that the two links removed by the roadside to render the bicycle singlespeed had been left there).

And speaking of lunch.... all I can say is.... Wow. 

Charcutier starter

Claud's egg with freshly made mayonnaise

Uta's amazing salad with hard boiled egg, several meats, several cheeses.
Incredible portion size -- she didn't finish all of it! (Nearly though. She's a cyclist!)

My Steak haché - tender and tasty.

At 2.30pm, we reconvened at the rail station.

(c) Adam Bell 2015

The sun had come out and the air warmed up. Arm and leg warmers were shed, sunscreen applied.

Curious donkey (His 5 pasture mates were unfazed by 31 cyclists going by.)

Re-grouping at the next turn off -

A typical countryhouse, with large courtyard, circular drive, garage and other outbuildings. Oh, and dogs. Everywhere, there were dogs barking as we went by.

(c) Adam Bell 2015

(c) Adam Bell 2015

(c) Adam Bell 2015

(c) Adam Bell 2015

Just 3km from Bayeux, we found roadworks blocking our planned route. Our detour involved a steep hill which was followed of course by a nice descent and a relatively short, simple run into the town centre.

We pulled up at the centre of Bayeux outside the Bar d' Europe. Simon issued brief instructions for the morning: "Be back here tomorrow ready to depart at 9am sharp!"

(c) Adam Bell 2015

Before we dispersed, attention was diverted to the little "train" trundling by. I'd never seen one before, but Adam told me these are common in France and we would indeed see another one on Monday in Rouen. 

Adam had put a "point of interest" tag on his GPS route, pinpointing the location of our accommodation for each night. On leaving the rest of the group, we cruised gently through quiet residential areas just off the town centre, skirting around the Cathedral. 

Which -- as you can see -- is rather impressive.

As was our B&B, at its southeastern corner!

Le Castel Guesthouse. (c) Adam Bell 2015

Le Castel Guesthouse. 

Le Castel Guesthouse: the first floor sitting room, with four bedrooms leading off. 

Our room

Our balcony, overlooking the front garden

Very nearly a Cathedral view

No baths, only showers, everywhere we stayed.

Showered and changed, we set off to have a leisurely look at this stunningly beautiful and historic city. 

We do not know what this signifies -- do you? 
Mystery solved: it's all about the tapestry.
Which until 6 months ago, was the only thing I connected with Bayeux.
Then, weirdly, the tapestry did not cross my mind even once while we were actually there.

Out of all the shop windows, this one caught my eye. I'm not 'into' hats but it seemed to me to be a rather "French" thing for a boutique to specialise in. 

One of many buildings in this style.

Looking eastwards down Rue Saint-Jean.

Anticipating we could have similar difficulties again tomorrow morning finding non-bread breakfast food, we stopped by Le Bas Charcutier Traiteur (butchers) just as they were preparing to close for the day (8pm).

We had dinner on the outdoor patio at Le Garde Manger, the restaurant at the Hotel Reine Mathilde on Rue Larcher, on the southeastern side of the cathedral. 

We had a charming visitor hoping for a hand-out. (I took quite a few photos of this little chap but had no idea I had a video until I was preparing this blog post. In fact, I did not even know that the pocket sized Lumix camera I had chosen to bring on this trip has a video function!)

We had baked camembert for our starter -- a dish we had discovered last year on Skye, believe it or not. We love this and Adam prepares it at home from time to time. It was especially good here in Normandy, where camembert originates -- the texture is a bit denser and the flavour just a bit more intense than what we find in shops at home. 

Our main course was chicken with cream and mushrooms and, as you can see, something chopped and green which I've forgotten -- fresh chives? It was the kind of delicious that makes you groan with pleasure. 

Strolling the short distance back to our B&B, this caught my eye. I think the boys are releasing the dove -- a symbol of peace and hope. If otherwise, surely the town would have removed the mural? It's very much in the Banksy style but I've not been able to find out anything conclusive about it since returning home. 

The view of the Cathedral from the path down the side of the front garden (leading to the guest entrance at the side of the house). 

This is the main front door. 

Tired but replete, so ended Day 1 of the Fridays Tour de Normandie, 2015.

* A pair of experienced, adventurous souls who play off each other like a comedy duo and who are organising our September tour (dubbed "The (not the) Fridays Low Countries Tour"). On this trip, Martin often rode towards the back of the group while Gordon worked more like a roving reporter. They each had a walkie talkie. I don't know how it started (Martin may have coined it himself) but they were dubbed Hinge & Bracket and addressed each other as such (interchangeably) over their radios. It was impossible to determine which was Hinge and which was Bracket. Gordon himself said he wasn't sure. Nonetheless, they brought a great deal of levity to each day's adventures, as well as contributing to our appreciation of the WWII sites we visited with their wealth of knowledge and storytelling abilities. Oh yes, and capable, reliable, organised and kind. All round good companions.

** Julie, 'young Chris' and Peter. They were part of a group of five, the others being Louise and 'old Chris' (!). Louise (and I think one or two of the others) had been on a few FNRttC rides and at least one previous Fridays tour. Over the course of this tour, I fell into conversation with each one of them and learned their names and faces -- at least well enough to not be confused as to which one of them was overtaking me, as they were all strong riders. 

*** Public conveniences in English towns are usually none of these things.

A note about knees. Given their gradual 'deterioration' over the days that followed, it is difficult in hindsight to recall exactly how things were on Saturday, the first day. I remember them hurting intermittently but not severely. As the afternoon wore on, fatigue of the supporting muscles and tightness down the lateral side of my right lower leg made everything worse. However -- as I had been doing throughout the week leading up to this tour -- I took ibuprofen regularly, used Voltarol rub each morning and evening, and stretched thoroughly and carefully each evening. At this stage (end of day 1), I didn't feel too bad. I was able to walk around the town in the evening without sudden onset of that 'dislocated' feeling I often get at the end of a long day. Looking back, if I had been able to get a sound night's sleep in Bayeux (and preferably also the following night in Honfleur, but Bayeux might have been the more critical), I may have made the entire distance over the three days. Even then, there's no guarantee I would have, given what my sports therapist found once we got home. Lessons learned.


  1. Sounds and look lovely. We haven't cycled in France but you are certainly wetting my appetite.

    1. It's wonderful! We went over to Calais for just one day, in April, and that was fabulous, too - worth the 4.45am start and midnight finish. For you & Gill coming from further north, I'd recommend 3-4 days if you can co-ordinate the days off.

  2. First and probably least important (but it's going to bother me until I ask), are those cats hanging on the back of yours and Adam's jerseys?

    Now that I can move on from that... what beautiful scenery and architecture you were able to see! I think this would be difficult for me as I'd want to stop at every building and investigate for long stretches of time. Somehow, I think I'd end up being abandoned somewhere along the journey.

    Looking forward to seeing more in the second part.

    1. Cats? Yes!! :)

      Simon's Cat:'s_Cat

      Probably the most famous animated clip is this one:

    2. With regard to stopping often to gawk and photograph... yes, this is the one downside to touring with a group, to someone else's itinerary and timetable. When we plan our own, we aim for just 30-40 miles a day so we have plenty of time to follow impulse.

      On the third day in France, I "bailed" early on and Adam and I left the group to do our own thing. While we still had the challenge of getting to where we were booked that night (and reuniting with the group), and admittedly we spent too much of our 'free day' getting lost in a town that was of obviously no interest to us, it was indeed refreshing to do as we wanted, when we wanted. It was the first thing Adam said to me actually, when we split from the group: "Now we can pootle... which is what we really want anyway". :)


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