This year Odette and Jerry travelled in France from May 22 through June 2. They packed the tandem and flew to Paris, took the TGV to Avignon, spent six days biking a loop starting and ending in Avignon and passing through Arles. They worried about the train strike interfering with the trip back to Paris but it wasn’t a problem. They spent four days walking around Paris and then flew home. Their flight had engine trouble over Greenland and diverted to Reykjavik where they spent a night and most of the next day as Delta had issues getting them going again. US Customs and baggage claim was a breeze by comparison.
The planning for 2018 was less intense than in 2017 or 2016. While in Whistler we agreed that we would do another self-guided tour in France, but we didn’t settle on the exact destination until late spring. At that point Odette arranged coverage for the last couple of weeks in May, and we needed to lock in a tour quickly. Without much debate we decided to use Discover France again and to extend their “Best of Provence” route on into Arles and then back to the start in Avignon. That gave us time for three or four days in Paris and we agreed to stay at the same hotel we’d used the last two years.
Given how late we were in booking, Odette realized that there wasn’t any hope of using Alaska Air miles – and after our experiences on IcelandAir she decided to fly direct to Paris. Coincidently, Air France announced a new direct Seattle-Paris flight, but Delta was less expensive and there were other issues with the Air France schedule, so we bought tickets on Delta. Payment to the tour agency still required a phone call to the bank, but wasn’t as complicated as it had been before.
The first issue that came up was a series of national strikes involving SNCF. We didn’t pay any attention until we realized that one of the days of action was the day we’d be returning to Paris. Six weeks before the trip we asked Discover France what the chances were that it would still be an issue when we were traveling, and got this response:
Yes, thanks for bringing up the train strike. Here is the schedule for strike dates. So you could be affected on the date of your return to Paris. Within the link I just sent, there is a link to the daily update for which trains are running. Check the afternoon before your trip to see if you need to change your plans. My understanding is that only a portion of the trains are cancelled. If there are 3 trains each day running Avignon > Paris, they will only cancel one. So if your train is cancelled, you can still get one of the other two trains running that day though you may not be able to have a seat. You can try to sit in the dining car or you may have to just play musical chairs. But for certain you can take one of the other trains scheduled the day of your ticket.
It left us feeling uncertain, but reasonably confident that we’d get to Paris.
Along with the SNCF advice, Discover France sent us TCX files for each of the six routes we’d ride. I loaded those files into RideWithGPS so that I could see them on the map. I converted them to routes, but discovered that I couldn’t get queue sheets without upgrading my RWGPS account. Eventually I upgraded (which I’d done once before for our Wallowas tour in 2015) and learned that in the premium version the conversion was done by retracing the ride, and that the resulting queue sheet incorporated small maps with the turn-by-turn giving a nice package but a very long queue sheet. We didn’t decide we wanted the turn-by-turn until about a week before we left and then didn’t realize that without Garmin’s map of Europe what we got was just a blue line without context. I did print the conventional queue sheets and brought those along (and I had PDFs of the expanded queue sheets on my iPad.)
We packed for the trip the night before and couldn’t find european electrical adapters so in the morning before we left for the airport I took a short bike ride while Odette ran out and bought adapters.
The flight to Paris was smooth and without problem. Customs at CDG was a cluster, but we cut the line and got through without much delay. The train to Avignon was noteworthy only in that we could probably have caught the one from CDG and saved ourselves a cab ride and a long wait at Gare de Lyon. I assembled the bike on a marble floor at the hotel in Avignon and got it done in time for a 6:00 orientation meeting with the guy from Discover France.
Discover France provided us with a pre-loaded Garmin but the guy demonstrating it couldn’t get it to work in Avignon. Odette eventually fiddled enough to be able to select routes, but it always seemed to want to route back to the beginning. We figured that we had enough electronic and paper navigational stuff to get by so we didn’t take them up on their offer to replace it. Then on day 2 the on/off button fell off. I figured out how to operate the switch with a key, but in the process the maps for the last two days, the add-ons to the standard tour, disappeared. Discover France had a replacement delivered to our hotel in Arles so that we had working Garmin for the ride back to Avignon where Odette figured out the train situation while I broke down the bike.
In Bedoin we stopped at a wine cooperative and tasted several Cotes de Rhone. They were good and we wanted to buy, but the place didn’t ship to the US because the wines weren’t expensive enough to justify the cost. We bought a couple of bottles anyway and then spent the rest of the trip worrying about how to get them back home.
The first night, in Avignon, the front desk told us that their restaurant was closed for a private event so we ate at a neighborhood place called Balthazar which wasn’t bad. The next four nights we ate at the hotel. In Gordes and St. Remy the establishments told us the meal was covered by Discover France (our paperwork said it shouldn’t have been covered in St. Remy and that was later confirmed by Discover France.) All of the hotel meals were surprisingly good. In Arles we ate at a place called Criquet which was exceptional. Back in Avignon, the hotel restaurant claimed a staff shortage as the reason for not being able to give us a reservation, so we ate at a place called Cour d’Honneur which was pretty good.
In Paris we returned to several of the places we’d eaten at before – Christines and Boutary were great again, Chez Fernand was way too crowded and touristy. We also went to a new place, Sequana, which was very good, very expensive, and very empty. We’ll see if it is still there a year from now.
Highlights of Provence included Chateau Neuf de Pape (where we bought a case of wine to be shipped back to the US,) Mt. Ventoux (which we didn’t climb,) the pass over Les Alpilles where the buildings were carved out of limestone cliffs, the Abby at Montmajour and the Roman ruins at St. Remy and Arles. On the last day of riding we ran into a small construction site (“route barre”) where the guys insisted on lifting our tandem and carrying it across the hole for us. In Paris we did waking tours from Odette’s guidebook, revisited the Musee d’ Orsay and Pompidou and discovered the Musee des Arts et Metiers.
Overall the biking was great with really beautiful routes and interesting scenery. The towns were not too difficult to navigate and the people were really friendly. The food at the places we stayed was good but not pretentious. The weather was not too hot but the thunderstorms predicted for every afternoon gave us an incentive to ride fast. (We got caught in really drenching rain on the way to St. Paul but we had raincoats and it wasn’t cold. In Paris we weren’t so lucky the night we ate at Boutary…)
Then we headed home. The cab ride to the airport was easy, marred only by the night guy at the hotel who convinced Odette to give him 20 Euros as a “city tax”. The check-in at the airport was smooth and we found that putting two bottles of wine in the bike case brought the weight up to just barely over 23 kg – close enough that the airline didn’t charge for it. We got through security with no hassles and eventually settled into seats and started the last leg of the trip – only to make a u-turn over Greenland. It turned out that one of the engines had a problem and the crew decided to head for Iceland:
|By Simon Hradecky, created Sunday, Jun 3rd 2018 21:34Z, last updated Sunday, Jun 3rd 2018 21:34Z
A Delta Airlines Boeing 777-200, registration N867DA performing flight DL-35 from Paris Charles de Gaulle (France) to Seattle,WA (USA), was enroute at FL360 over Greenland about 500nm west of Keflavik (Iceland), when the crew decided to turn around and divert to Keflavik due to an engine (Trent895) losing oil. The aircraft initially descended to FL350 for the diversion but needed to drift down to FL200 about 10 minutes later when the crew needed to shut the engine down. The aircraft landed safely in Keflavik about 80 minutes after leaving FL360 and turning around.
A replacement Boeing 777-200 registration N709DN was dispatched to Keflavik, resumed the flight as DL-9895 and reached Seattle with a delay of 28 hours.
The occurrence aircraft remained on the ground in Keflavik for about 45 hours, then positioned to Atlanta,GA (USA) as flight DL-9979.
We got to watch them dump fuel and the landing was pretty hard, but no firetrucks or anything so we didn’t really appreciate the gravity of the situation. We sat on the plane for a while until they determined that they were going to need a different aircraft. We collected our bike cases and went through customs (with 300 other passengers) without any real guidance from anybody. Eventually busses appeared and we got taken to a hotel for the night. We got up at 6:00 in the morning to get bussed back to the airport and then found that the system for checking in and assigning seats was broken. The check-in lady had us take our bike cases to oversize – which didn’t seem kosher. We eventually got through check-in and security only to have the estimated boarding time delayed again and again as they struggled with catering and staffing and who-know-what other issues. Eventually word spread that Delta was handing out vouchers for lunch but no Delta representative was anywhere to be found and nobody knew what was going on. The group in the waiting area got pretty rowdy, but with nobody from Delta around it was hard to figure out who to be mad at. Almost seven hours after we got to the airport they bussed us out to a replacement plane and headed for Seattle. (We were only allowed on the bus in priority order and after Odette passed another swab test to verify that she hadn’t picked up any explosives after clearing security.) I got stuck in a window seat for a seven-hour flight and they didn’t have much food and there were no USB ports – but it was better than being in the ocean.
We got to Seattle and our luggage popped out on the conveyor – both cases this time! We took a cab home and despite construction blocking I-5, traffic wasn’t too bad. The wine in the bike case survived intact. We ate at 74th street ale house.
Some observations drawn from this experience:
- having our own Garmin with turn-by-turn capability would be a really good thing
- a GPS track without a map isn’t very helpful
- we need to go back and ride Mt. Ventoux
- the Chinese bluetooth helmets we got are the best intercom we’ve tried yet
- the bike worked really well out of the box with no particular adjustments required
- no flats with Schwalbe Marathons that have accumulated maybe 1,500 miles
- still need to rethink the SLR camera
- could have done with fewer clothes and fewer chargers
- we’ve soured on the Hotel Dauphine after the night guy’s con job
- I wouldn’t pay anything extra to fly Delta
- should have bought more wine
Here are my photos
Here are Odette’s photos
Here are the maps:
5/27 – Arles to Avignon. Here’s the (partial) map. 43 miles
5/26 – St. Remy to Arles. Here’s the map. 19 miles
5/25 – Gordes to St. Remy. Here’s the map. 33 miles
5/24 – Bedoin to Gordes. Here’s the map. 42 miles
5/23 – St. Paul to Bedoin. Here’s the map. 44 miles
5/22 – Avignon to St. Paul. Here’s the map. 53 miles
Here are the premium Queue sheets:
Day 6 – Arles to Avignon.
Day 5 – St. Remy to Arles.
Day 4 – Gordes to St. Remy.
Day 3 – Bedoin to Gordes.
Day 2 – St. Paul to Bedoin.
Day 1 – Avignon to St. Paul.
Here is the itinerary from Discover France:
Best of Provence – a big title really considering all the great aspects to be found and experienced in this enchanting region of France ! This tour is a combination of several of our tours with some longer riding in between in order to give a little bit of different places : Drome Provencale, Vaucluse, Luberon, Alpilles, Gard, and Rhone River areas. Discover some great wines, some amazing historical villages, pass through lavender fields, olive groves, and visit castles and art museums.
Place of departure is Avignon from where you have a superb central location to visit all the historical sites of the old city of Avignon. Looping through the charming countryside you finish back in Avignon near the Palais des Papes. Your itineraries are studied with care and patience ; they avoid the traffic and look up the highlights.
We offer a standard and very deluxe version of hotels, both options are great !
- Day 1 – Monday 21-May-2018 : Avignon
- Day 2 – Tuesday 22-May-2018 : Avignon – Côtes du Rhône – Chateauneuf du Pape – Serignan du Comtat – Rochegude – Saint Paul Trois Châteaux
- Day 3 – Wednesday 23-May-2018 : Saint Paul Trois Châteaux – Vaison la Romaine – Mont Ventoux – Bédoin
- Day 4 – Thursday 24-May-2018 : Bédoin – Fontaine de Vaucluse – Senanque abbey – Roussillon – Gordes
- Day 5 – Friday 25-May-2018 : Gordes – Cavaillon – Eygalieres – Saint Remy de Provence
- Day 6 – Saturday 26-May-2018 : Arles – Montmajour abbey – Les Baux de Provence – Saint Remy de Provence – Arles
- Day 7 – Sunday 27-May-2018 : Avignon
- Day 8 – Monday 28-May-2018 : Avignon – Paris
- Day 9 – Tuesday 29-May-2018 : Paris
- Day 10 – Wednesday 30-May-2018 : Paris
- Day 11 – Thursday 31-May-2018 : Paris
Arrival in Avignon, which is easily accessible from Paris by TGV. Make your way to the first hotel on your own. After checking in at your hotel, you will have the opportunity to explore the many sites of Avignon.
- Orientation & bike set-up at your hotel :
Our local guide (French native & English speaking) will meet you at your hotel in the evening of your arrival day (or morning after according to the time we will plan with you). He will bring your bicycles, road-books, GPS and touristic information.
An expert of the region, you can ask him all the questions you have about your trip. Then he will adjust your bike so you feel comfortable riding.
- Hotel : Night at Hotel Cloitre Saint Louis.
- Included: Orientation with a local guide, bedroom and breakfast
In the morning, ride through the vineyards of the renowned appellation ‘Cotes du Rhone’ de Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and then continue on to Serignan du Comtat, then Rochegude before reaching St Paul in the lavender country.
Distance : 77 Km (48 mi).
Elevation : 380 m.
- Hotel : Night at Hotel Villa Augusta.
- Included: luggage transfer, bedroom and breakfast
Today the ride is somewhat long but over flat to rolling country and will bring you in the village of Visan ; then to Vaison la Romaine, built in the Middle Ages and with original Roman ruins of an ancient Roman village. Then to Bedoin where you will stay at the foot of the imposing Mont Ventoux. If you have the legs and desire, you can climb Mont Ventoux from Bedoin – the classic climb ! 21 km to the top and min 2 hours round trip for strong riders.
Distance : 56 Km (35 mi).
Elevation : 690 m.
- Hotel : Night at Hotel des Pins.
- Included: luggage transfer, bedroom and breakfast
Ride to Gordes with an option to ride to Roussillon and back to Gordes. This itinerary will bring you through the village of Fontaine de Vaucluse before climbing to Gordes, your final destination. If you choose to go to Roussillon, you can discover the famous ochre colored soil that is mined and used in pigment to color homes locally and far away.
Distances : 50 or 69 Km (32 or 42 mi).
Elevation : 720 or 990 m.
- Hotel : Night at Hotel Carcarille. (Your hotel is located 5km away from Gordes and there is a steep climb to reach the Village)
- Dinner included : Dinner included at your hotel.
- Included: luggage transfer, bedroom and breakfast, dinner (no drinks)
A ride from Gordes to Saint Remy de Provence. You leave Vaucluse to join the Bouches-du-Rhone department with an itinerary that will take you via Coustellet with its lavendar museum to melon-town Cavaillon. A short steep walk (or ride) will take you the top of the village of Eygalieres, a panoramic viewpoint from where you see the Durance River valley, Alpilles mountain range and the rock of Les Baux de Provence. Then finish your ride in St Remy de Provence, the epicenter of Provencal culture, native town of Nostradamus and residence of Vincent Van Gogh.
Distance : 51 Km (32 mi).
Elevation : 210 m.
- Hotel : Night at Hotel de l’Image.
- Included: luggage transfer, bedroom and breakfast
Custom Route: Saint Remy to Arles
Distance : Approx. 29 Km (18 mi).
Elevation : 461 m.
- Hotel :
Night at Hotel le Calendal with access to the spa.
- Included: luggage transfer, bedroom and breakfast, Access to the Spa
- Custom route: Arles to Avignon (no cue sheets)
Distance: Approx 40 kmHotel : Night at Hotel Cloitre Saint Louis.
- Included: luggage transfer, bedroom and breakfast