It's been two weeks now and I'm worried about Neda. She has been motionless on the couch for all this time, Kindle in hand, and if weren't for the regular tapping of the "forward" button, I'd have to check for vital signs. We are holed up back in the same apartment that we stayed in over Christmas in Calella, just outside of Barcelona. There has been no movement, either by bike or by foot. The last few months of travel have knocked the winds from our sails and we are suffering from travel fatigue big-time.
Two weeks ago, the ferry spilled us onto the sunny port of Barcelona and we rode out into the glorious arms of Europe, and more importantly into the land of Español, where Neda could freely communicate again. I was more than happy to relinquish the reins. The plan was that we would stay somewhere familiar and recuperate, and then as the spring slowly thawed the north, we'd venture out and see if the snow had melted.
At least that *was* the plan. Normally Neda only needs a few days of rest before she gets ants in her pants and is raring to go. But it's been two weeks now and she's only left the apartment a couple of times only to shop for groceries. *THAT* was very unusual. Honestly, I didn't feel like pulling up the stakes either, but we had a team meeting and debated the pros and cons of staying or going. Even though we're still not feeling 100%, there seems to be this frustrating pointlessness to just sitting around and waiting for... what? The weather reports seem to be encouraging. How long will it take for us to feel ready to continue on? We have to acknowledge that our journey is now heavily influenced by four seasons instead of one.
Perhaps we needed to force ourselves out of this lethargy. Otherwise we'd be stuck in Spain in this comfortable little apartment watching the summer slip away.
Skirting east of the Pyrenees mountains, which would most certainly be snow-covered this time of year
It's a slow chore to pack our bikes and we wistfully waved goodbye to Calella in our mirrors for the second time. The warm, sunny microclimate of the Barcelona region had given us a false sense of weather in Europe as the grey clouds of south-west France greeted us at the border. I am acutely aware that I am now back on language duty again. Not much of a break... and Neda won't be happy that she is incommunicado yet again.
We are both second-guessing the decision to leave Spain.
Perhaps the still-stark-naked vineyards of Southern France are trying to tell us something...
And so castles in the rain...
We didn't get to see Carcassonne last year because of the weather. So we headed up there. And it rained...
The citadel of Carcassonne is a huge medieval fortress set on a hill above the vineyards of south-western France. The architectural plans look like they were lifted straight out of a Disney fairytale movie, although in reality it was probably the other way round. With the dark clouds roiling in the background, you really felt like there could be a magic mirror on the wall that could tell you who was the fairest of them all.
We'd settle for just an accurate weather report...
Cacassonne is France's second-most visited tourist attraction behind the Eiffel Tower
The inside is filled with souvenir shops and pricey restaurants
There is a traditional dish in southern France called cassoulet, which is a casserole with pork and white beans. Almost every restaurant inside the citadel served it. We window-shopped the food, but were reminded just how expensive everything is in Europe, so we held our appetites in check until we hit the grocery store on the way back to our AirBnB.
This is something that's going to take some getting used to again after our relatively cheaper sojourn in Morocco.
The fairest of them all
Another major difference that we've noticed in the south of France (which we do make a note of everytime we ride here) is that most drivers are very laid back. Such a contrast to the chaos in Morocco or the aggressiveness of Italian drivers. Most people drive under the speed limit and seem to be in no rush at all. It's actually nice riding down here.
I wonder if maybe there are very stiff speeding fines here. We still remain invisible to photo radar because of our Ontario plates, but really, we're in no rush either and the roads are still slick with freezing rain.
This gargoyle is straining to listen to our incessant whining
Did you know that gargoyles originally were used to divert rainwater away from the building? Spouts were routed through the throat and out the mouths of these creatures. The French word gargouille is derived from the Latin for "throat" or "gullet", and it also sounds like "gargle". If there is no spout in a gargoyle and it is purely ornamental, then the correct architectural term is a chimera, not a gargoyle.
We're departing Carcassonne on a cold, but sunny day. At least the weather is finally co-operating. Today, the plan is to ride through the Regional Park of Haut-Languedoc and play in the mountains in nearby Cévennes National Park.
We ride through many quaint and tiny towns inside the park
Stopped for lunch at Le Caylar and spotted this neat castle (Castel Roc) overlooking the town
The rest of the afternoon was spent criss-crossing the many twisty roads in Cévennes National Park
Within the park's boundaries are several mountains and nestled in the valleys between are these amazingly twisty roads. It's the middle of the workweek and we have the roads all to ourselves. Strange that we haven't seen any bikers around though...
As we climb up one of the mountains, we see some white stuff on the ground. Uh oh.
At this point, I had to put the camera away for fear I'd slide off the road!
We're getting the idea that our departure from sunny Spain might have been a bit premature. It seems most of the French bikers still have their motos in the garage. We tip-toe up the mountain and breath a sigh of relief as the descent melts the snow around us. Neda radios me and tells me the temperature has dipped to freezing at the peak of our run. *ugh*
Passing through more picturesque towns in Cévennes National Park
Every small French town has a church, which is typically the highest building
The road winds above the gorge and we duck in and out of holes blasted through the shale and granite of the area
Leaves left over from autumn last year
What a pretty part of France! I'm glad that we got to explore this region, it's actually a lot more scenic than the the Côte d'Azur. It's too bad that we are here early in the season, it must be beautiful in the summertime! Being out in the nature and tackling all the twisty roads here have visibly improved Neda's mood. Despite the freezing temperatures, I think we made the right decision to get off our asses in Spain.
We spent the night in the northern edge of the park in a small town called Balsièges and in the morning, we headed straight for Lyon about three hours to the north-east. Going to do some sightseeing tomorrow!
But first, we need some Euros. Drive-thru ATMs are very popular in the US.
We're introducing this concept to France...
We are actually staying in a small suburb of Lyon called Saint-Priest because the accommodations downtown are too expensive. That's the nice part about having the bikes in Europe, we don't have to stay in the touristy areas but when we get there, parking is free!
Neda is trying out something new. She's found a volunteer organization of city guides and has organized for us a free tour of Lyon! We always like it when a local shows us around town.
This is Jean-Jacques, our guide around Lyon!
We met Jean-Jacques in one of the main squares in the centre of Lyon, Place de Terreux. He was very helpful and asked us what we'd like to see in the city. We definitely didn't want to see any more old buildings and museums, so we told him we liked photography and asked to see the uncommon things that only the locals knew about. He nodded his head knowingly and proceeded to show us the Insiders Tour of Lyon! Cool!
Government buildings at the Place de Terreux
Lyon is built at the confluence of two rivers, the Saône, Rhône. The old city is built on the shores of the Saône
One of the many bridges that cross the Saône, this one is pedestrian only
Lover's Locks on the bridge. These are commonplace everywhere in the world!
Jean-Jacques shows us one of the city's official bouchons
A bouchon is a traditional Lyonnais eatery, not a fancy restaurant, but a place where you can nosh on deliciously prepared portions of meat - specifically pork. There are only about 20 official bouchons recognized by the city, and they are tucked away on side streets that many tourists would not otherwise give a second glance at. We take note of a couple of Jean-Jacques favorites.
Murals of Lyon
Lyon is also well-known for its murals painted across many of the buildings in the downtown and the old city. They're not really that old, but there are enough of them scattered all over the place that they give the city a very artistic vibe.
Some of the murals are very lifelike!
Vieux Lyon (Old town) is full of cafes and bistros lining its cobblestone streets
There is a hidden city within Lyon. There exist these mysterious passageways known only to locals that go through the ground floor of some of the buildings in the old city. There are many streets that run parallel to the river, but not many that run perpendicular. These passageways called Traboules allow pedestrians a shortcut to get between the parallel streets without having to go around the building to the next block. Kind of like entering the lobby of a building from the south on 1st Street and then exiting on the north door to get out on 2nd Street. Except much cooler... because these are secret!
Exiting a Traboule to get out onto the next street
Beautiful architecture that reach up the height of the buildings inside the narrow enclosed courtyards of the Traboules
Traboules were initially built in the 4th century and allowed the inhabitants to get from the river to the hill more easily. The doors are not marked at all and unless you live here, you need some kind of map or guide to show you where all the Traboules are. This played a huge role in WWII when the local resistance fighters would evade the invading Nazis forces and prevent them from completely taking over the city
All are welcome to use the Traboules, but they need to be quiet and respect the residents who live above them
Traboule entrances also double as the entrances to the buildings themselves
Jean-Jacques shows us more cool architecture inside another Traboule
The interior world of the Traboules really reminded me of the movie Dark City
with the claustrophobic buildings that changed configuration every night!
Lyon is world-renowned within the silk and textile industry. Long before WWII, these traboules were used by workers to transport their goods from the mills and workshops at the top of the hill to the merchants near the river. In fact, Jean-Jacques was in the textile business before he retired. As we walked around the old town, he weaved together stories of the history of Lyon with his own life story of growing up in this city. It made it so much more personal.
We're not sure what we want to do when our trip ends, but being a tour guide sure seems like a lot of fun!
Back out in the old city, a cruiser roars past us on the cobblestone roads
Hanging out at Place Bellecour with Louis XIV looking down upon us
Jean-Jacques also pointed out on the map this great viewpoint that is in a little park hidden away on one of the hills overlooking the city. There's a plaque up there that informed us that Lyon is the sister city to Montreal! A Canadian connection!
We had done a lot hiking today, so we took a nap on one of the benches and woke up to a great view of the city.
Statue by the foot of the river
During WWII, this building was hit by a bomb that didn't explode, but left a scar on its face instead
Palais de Justice, right on the river bank
Lyon also has an amphitheatre! Of course, Neda has to investigate and report her findings back to the city officials in Pula.
Lyon is a really picturesque city. We are getting a much different impression of France than the one we got when we skirted the French Riviera last winter. It also helps that we've got a local to help guide and organize what we are seeing. I think part of our travel-fatigue stems from the effort needed to research all the things we want to see and do.
Brilliant, bright blue day above the old buildings of Lyon
We picked an amazing day for sightseeing! Yesterday's ride and today's weather gave us a bit of a boost to our travel-weary spirits. I'm wary that our moods do seem to be on a bit of a roller-coaster, but perhaps the warm season ahead in comfortable surroundings will give us a bit of an even keel.