The final day of the London to Paris bike ride was the longest, in riding terms and in hours.
We set off from the country town of Gournay-en-Bray in glorious weather. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t so hot that the cyclists were melting away. This is what it should have been all week, ideally.
Although we had the overnight stops pegged down from information we’d picked up from the web, and had pre-booked all our accommodation, we were working out the meeting points during the day as we went along. Ideally we wanted somewhere not too big that it made it difficult to find each other, but big enough to have at least a cafe or restaurant so we could grab a coffee and use their restrooms. We managed to get that sizing badly wrong on the last day.
Our first stop was in Gizor which looked, on the map, to be a small enough town to make it easy to locate each other. We chose a street to meet in, and the cyclist set off ahead of the drivers. By the time we arrived in the car, the town’s market was in full swing and it was utter chaos. Parking was almost non-existent and when we finally found a place that looked just big enough for the car and were lining up to start moving into it, the unpleasant little man parked in the space ahead, switched on his engine and very deliberately shifted his car a foot backwards ensuring that he had plenty of space in front of him, and the space was now too small for us to fit into. His defiant stare at us as we sat in jaw-dropping bemusement that someone could be so small-minded, was evidence that this was an intentional move. For the first time, I encountered a French man who lived up to the reputation given them by the English – that of being rude and selfish.
We recovered from our annoyance when we found the cyclists in a cafe and realised that the market would be an ideal place to gather lunch. They set off and we shopped. Lunch was superb! One of the best meals of the trip – and not a pizza slice in sight. We ate our French market picnic in a park in the next village we had selected. Perfection. Our only misjudgement was that this place was so small it only had a butcher and a baker. Parking was ample though. Knowing that the cyclists would need to use them when they arrived, I went to ask if there were any public facilities in the village . ‘Oui’, said Madame Boucherie, and directed me to behind the boulangerie. ‘Non!’, said Madame Boulangerie. So I practiced my Gallic shrug and searched no further.
We motored on to Poissy and checked in to the apartment we’ve booked for the weekend. Then made a mad dash to the supermarket to get coffee, tea and sugar (and returned with three bulging bags of food).
After freshening up, having a cup of tea and dumping any extra weight, left the car at Poissy and all four of us set off on bicycles to do the last 28km into the centre of Paris together. We were pleasantly surprised by the ease of the ride. The cycle paths which run more than half the way in, were easy to follow and in good condition. And when we hit the main streets of Paris at the tail end of evening rush hour, we found drivers to be very cyclist-aware and considerate. There were a few terrifying moments going round some of the notorious insane circles with no lane markings, but even there, the drivers paused to let us through. We saw surprisingly few other cyclists so perhaps the Parisienne drivers were simply stunned at the insanity of what we were doing.
We reached the Trocadero (our chosen finish point) at 8.30pm, 11 hours after the starting time that morning.
Would we do it again? Yes, probably, but perhaps over more days so there would be more time to explore the French countryside. This has been an amazing adventure.
If we have the energy, we’ll visit Versaille today and hope to manage to see Monet’s garden on our way back to Calais tomorrow. It’s a place I’ve wanted to see for years.