22nd November 2010
Day 41 - Compégne to Paris 55km + 30km Train

What can I say. A total disaster. In the space of about 1 hour I managed to break my rear gear cable, snap the rear axle, and render the bike totally useless... After the gear cable broke I wasted over an hour trying to find a screwdriver of the right size to open it up (hoping to fix it myself) only to find it totally wrecked. I then cycled on stuck in 1 gear (hardest to pedal - only possible going downhill, not even on level ground) and then the whole back wheel broke. I had managed to actually snap the rear axle that runs through the wheel.

I pushed the bike for about an hour until I got to a town with a railway station. It was already about 3pm and the only way to get into Paris before dark was to reluctantly take a train for the remaining 30km. Once at Gare du Nord I walked the bike for an hour to my hotel. Feeling pretty miserable now.

23rd November 2010
Day 42 - Paris

After much hunting I found a place to repair my bike. The guy told me to come back the next day and it would cost about €50, so not the end of the world. So, with 2 days to kill I'm gonna have to be a tourist!

First stop! The Eiffel Tower of course! Feeling pretty damn fit from all this cycling I decided to take the stairs up to the 2nd level (115 metres) and then the lift up to the very top. It was surprisingly easy going so the bike ride is certainly helping my general fitness, and it was quite amusing to see everyone else gasping for breath as I calmly ascended :-)

The view was absolutely stunning! I took quite a few photos, and although it was quite a cloudy day the sun did me proud and popped out just at the right time :-) Afterwards I went for a little walk around the area and then headed back to the hotel.

24th November 2010
Day 43 - Paris

First stop today was La Défense and the Grand Arch. It was designed as a 20th century version of the Arc de Triomphe, but for humanitarian ideals as opposed to military victories. It is a stunning area of Paris, with its high rise glass fronted office buildings towering above, and the Arch itself glowing in the beautiful morning sunshine.

Next was the Musée Jean Moulin - a museum dedicated to French Resistance during the Second World War, and one of its key figures, Jean Moulin.

Although a small exhibit, it tries to cover the full history of the resistances movements that sprung up all across France after its occupation by the Nazis. They would sabotage German supply lines, train routes, communications, repatriate allied pilots shot down over France, and also counteract the collaborating Vichy régime.

I spent the evening relaxing and planning the days ahead. Snow is forecast which will ruin everything...

25th November 2010
Day 44 - Paris to Pithiviers 105km

Getting out of Paris on a bike is not something I would ever recommend... The traffic was hell and everyone drives like a total idiot. As I finally cleared the city the clouds rolled over and it started to hail. I though that this was the end of things for me, but luckily the weather eventually cleared up a little and the rest of the journey was long, cold and tiring, but ok.

I got into Pithiviers just before it got dark, and settled down in the hotel with precooked cous cous from the supermarket (I threw in a scorching hot Moroccan chilli to spice things up) and collapsed into bed at about 9:30. The only issue was that in Pithiviers it had already been snowing, hence I'm a bit worried about tomorrow... If it snows I will be stuck, and paying for hotels until it clears. I think the only sensible (and financial) choice would that if it snows I should take a train past it all. It would be disappointing for the sake of my adventure, but would at least get me closer to the warmer weather of the Mediterranean, and avoid paying for unnecessary hotels. I am quite worried about running out of money before I get to the end.

26th November 2010
Day 45 - Pithiviers to Orléans 55km

Luckily it had not snowed in the night, but it was bitterly cold at minus 1 degrees when I left the hotel. Within about 15 minutes my hands were totally frozen, even with good gloves on, and a little while later I nearly couldn't feel my feet. I have never cycled in such freezing conditions, and had to stop fairly often just to get out of the cold. There was a bit of wind as well which really reduced the temperature even further.

I honestly don't know if I can cycle much more in this cold. My body is physically in pain when I have to move my legs. I never seem to get warmed up, so the muscles are working when stiff, and this is really not good. In Germany, Holland and Belgium it never went much below about 5-7 degrees, and I could deal with that, but this is different. I can also feel the road is different. I am much more nervous when I am cycling, worried about hitting some ice and taking a fall.

When I reached my hotel just outside of Orléans it was such a relief. I will be checking the weather a lot tonight. Even if it doesn't snow the weather will get colder, going way below zero at night. It is looking more and more likely that I will have to take the train maybe all the way to Clermont Ferrand. With this cold I really cant do more than 50-60km a day, and the places which have Hotels are about 100km apart. Its over 300km to Clermont Ferrand...

27th November 2010
Day 46 - Orléans to Clermont Ferrand (Train 320km)

At first I had my doubts whether or not to take the train today all the way to Clermont Ferrand. There was sunshine and beautiful blue skies, and not a trace of snow when I left the hotel. However the temperature was just below zero, and there was a slight wind which made it bitterly cold to cycle in, so I made the decision to try the train.

It was a good decision! Only about 20 minutes out of Orléans station the snow started to fall. Within a few more kilometres it was totally white and the snow continued to fall most of the way to Clermont Ferrand. As the nearest bigger town with somewhere to stay was about 100km south of Orléans I am sure I would have had to turn back.

It took three different trains to make the journey, two on TER and one TEOZ train. The TER have dedicated bike racks inside and really easy access with large electric doors, which means I could simply push the bike straight onto the train. The TEOZ train was a whole other thing though. The train is ridiculously high off the platform (4 or 5 steps) and had a tiny narrow doorway to get the bike through. After 2 minutes of struggling (and nobody offering to help) and brute force alone I managed to get the damn thing through the gap. Getting the bike off the other end was equally as hard as the train conductor who was leaving through the same door as me refused to help...

I'm staying here in Clermont with an old clarinet playing friend of mine, Helen Williams - of Fantasmagoria fame. We went out that night to check out a local jazz trio with a great trumpeter. For the first time in my life I have heard a trumpet playing through a mute who didn't sound like he was strangling a cat! Awesome!

28th November 2010
Day 47 - Clermont Ferrand

A nice lazy morning was spent editing photos I have taken for a particular photo project I have been making. Using Adobe Lightroom to edit the RAW files makes life so much easier. In the afternoon we took a drive higher up into the mountains to pay a visit to another musical reprobate (and member of Fantasmagoria) Sebastian, who is currently renovating a beautiful house with a stunning view across the snow topped hills of the Massif Centrale. The view was almost the same as I had when I lived in Monteacuto Vallese, high up in the Appenino mountains of Italy (those who came to visit will know exactly what I'm talking about :-)

The evening was very well spent talking about clarinettists (Peter, I introduced Helen to Gabriele Mirabassi!), drinking vin rouge and eating spaghetti.

29th November 2010
Day 48 - Clermont Ferrand to Limoges (Train 270 km)

I desperately want to visit Oradour Sur Glane, the site of a SS massacre during WW2. An SS unit murdered every single person in that village within one day, and the whole village has been left completely untouched ever since. Rusting cars sit in the street, doors still open from when the occupants were dragged out and shot on the spot. The whole village is like an enormous memorial, and left to decay since that very day - as nature slowly eats away at what is left.

However, as it is about 270km away, and totally out of my direction of travel, I have decided to travel lightly and take a rucksack, mountain bike, and jump on the train for a 2 day excursion.

It is a big risk however, that the snow will stop me again. I am staying tonight in Limoges, and at sunrise tomorrow morning I will cycle the 25km or so to the village of Oradour. The weather forecast is for snow, which would make life hell getting out there. There is virtually no public transport to the village, and a taxi would cost me a small fortune, so this really is the only way. If it is snowing in the morning though, that will mean I will have wasted about €100 making a round trip for nothing. I cannot cycle along mountain roads in the snow, so I would have to just explore Limoges before heading back on the train in the evening :-(

I really hope the roads are clear enough for me to cycle there. I don't have my heavy bike bags with me, so cycling will be a lot easier. But even so, its still far enough out of Limoges to make it impossible if there is snow... Fingers crossed tonight! I will just have to wait until morning and see what happens...



30th November 2010
Day 49 - Limoges to Oradour Sur Glane 55km, Train to Clermont (270km)

What a cold day! I was really lucky in that there was no snow during the night. The temperature when I left the hotel was -2 degrees and the frost and ice made the roads super slippery.  The cycle out to Oradour took about ninety minutes, and I froze all the way.

I started off at the visitor centre. It is dug into the side of a hill and the only way now to get into the old village (a new village of Oradour Sur Glane was built in the 1950's right next to the one that was destroyed). The exhibition was good, but is mostly geared up for school visits, so the emphasis was on the occupation of France by the Nazi's, and the establishment of the SS - rather than just concentrating on the massacre of Oradour.

Before I left for the ruined village I took a little look around a temporary photo exhibition from Bosnia. The work centred around the conflict in the 1990's, and was fairly graphic - strong visual documentation of the horrific atrocities inflicted on the Bosnian people by the Serbs (bodies lying in sniper alley, blown up houses, armed Serb Militia posing for the camera...)

The village itself is quite surreal, simply the ruins of what once was a quaint little place. The village has been left untouched since the actual event occurred - 10th June 1944. In response to the abduction of an SS officer by local members of the French Resistance (he escaped anyway) several hundred SS guards and officers encircled Oradour Sur Glane on the pretence that they were searching for weapons, even though they knew fully well there was none. They took everyone captive, split the men from the women and children and executed them all - over 600 people.

The women and children were herded into the village church. The SS then opened fire with machine guns, and threw in hand grenades to finish up whoever might have survived the carnage. the building was then burnt down. The men were split up into smaller groups and taken to various different parts of the village. On a signal, the SS shot them all simultaneously. They would return the next day to burn the village to the ground, and burn all the bodies in an attempt to hide the massacre.

I guess the photos speak for themselves...

The cycle  back to Limoges was dreadful, with heavy rain and a bit of snow. By the time i reached Limoges station I was a shivering wreck. It took the 4 hours on a warm train back to Clermont to dry me out. I arrived to find Clermont Ferrand under 10cm of snow.

1st December 2010
Day 50 - Clermont Ferrand to Montpelier (300km by Train)

The trip through the mountain was beautiful. Thick snow covered everything until only about 40km north of Nimes. The Massif Centrale is certainly somewhere I would like to visit again, but in summer! The train slowly twisted its way through the now long dormant volcanoes. I spent most of the journey editing photo's and reading an excellent book on the history of the First World War.

I finally rolled into Montpelier, thoroughly sick of trying to get the bike on and off trains. It was hell! The space inside the trains reserved for bikes was ok, but the doors to get into the trains were tiny! So it involved a lot of hassle... Got to the hotel at about 8:30, only to find no places to eat nearby, so dinner was vending machine canned drinks, biscuits and chocolate... Well, it is my birthday tomorrow!