Our day began bright and early in Andorra where we rode a bus up 8,000 feet into the Pyrenees, just outside of France. After gearing up with some much warmer clothing, we began the descent. There were about 20 miles of downhill to cover, all of which were through the mountains, and down tightly curving roads.
We started getting the real French feel with the little villages that began popping up around halfway down. They were all spotted with beautiful little stone houses, each tied together with the river that followed us the entire way down.
We saw our first castle on the way to Toulouse. I love how the buildings in France are built right up to the roads. It has this nice closed in feeling, with the open sky above and forests are always nearby (even in towns and cities).
Of course things never go entirely smoothly. After the 20 miles of downhill, Rob's front tire went suddenly flat on us. That took a little while to repair, and after that and a quick snack we were off again.
Our goal was to reach Toulouse before 10 PM so we could take a night train to Paris. After the 20 miles of steeply downhill, we were met with a few foothills full of ups and slight downs, and then the dreaded perfectly flat. It was about 80 more miles to Toulouse, almost entirely on perfectly flat roads. It certainly doesn't sound awful, but when you factor in traffic and constant peddling with extra baggage, the ride can get very tiring.
As a warning to future France Tourists, do not trust Google Maps for bike paths! It led us to places that I honestly cannot believe it knew existed! We were taken down driveways, only to find we needed to turn around and find a different way. (Driveways tend not to be through roads, Google Maps).
At two different points, it made us hop over railroad tracks right in the middle of them with nothing to aid our transit other than our determination to reach Toulouse. The trip was further injured when the second time we had to hop railroad tracks Rob's baggage rack bolt was snapped clean off by a jolt. It was getting dark by this point, and we realized there was no way we were going to reach the night train in time. Our phones were dying, and so with the last breath of Rob's battery, we found and booked the nearest hotel in Toulouse. With what was left of my battery, we managed to navigate the confusing back roads and gravel paths Google took us down. We reached real roads right when my battery finally gave out.
It was dark, we were very tired, and only had the faintest idea of where we were to go. We rode along until we felt we had gone too far, turned around, and happened to see a sign for our hotel. With great relief we headed down and found our hotel with only a few minutes to spare before the cut off to check in time.
The night train, as you might guess, only leaves at night. So we enjoyed sleeping in, and spent the day relaxing at the train station until it was time to board. Boarding trains is never fun, it's always a stressful experience to get the bikes and bags on the train, but a relief when it's all over. The room we thankfully had to ourselves, considering how tiny it all was.
The next morning, we woke up in Paris. We found our hotel, checked in, and then set out to explore the city.
It seemed like every corner we turned, we saw something remarkable. We took a lot of pictures, and enjoyed every bit of it. The line to go up the Eiffel tower was the longest one we stood in. Other than that, we simply wandered about.
After a long day of walking, we went back to the hotel for a good night's sleep. We ended up staying a few days in Paris, though the others were mostly to catch up on some work. Our last day we went to the Catacombs early in the morning. If you ever visit the Catacombs, go and stand in line well before they open. It's the only way you'll get in without needed to wait for 3+ hours. We arrived nearly 40 minutes before the Catacombs opened, and were no where near first in line. We waited nearly another 45 minutes to get in on top of waiting for them to open.
In a brief nutshell, the Catacombs were made when the graves were overflowing and they remembered they had all these tunnels they had carved out for the limestone. They stabilized a portion of them and filled them with the bones from the graveyards. Only around 8% of the tunnels are used as a final resting place, the rest are simply tunnels that weave around underneath Paris.
If you want a bit of extra reading, catch up on Cataphiles. They're a group of people who visit the off limits part of the tunnels, and some of them go so far as to live in them.
We left alive and unchanged, (as far as we can tell), returned to the train station, and took a ride down to Bayeux. While it is still part of France, I'm saving Bayeux for the next issue. So below, enjoy the pictures!