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Archive for the ‘2008 France’ Category

2008 France

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After an almost 7 month separation, team orson was able to reunite for a three week tour of France. The trip began with a one day layover in Amsterdam, where I took the time to browse the shops and visit the Van Gogh museum. This would come to have later repercussions on my trip.

The next day, I flew into Bologna and hopped on a train to team orson world headquarters at Moto Guareschi in Parma. One day later I was packed and on the road. Not wanting to delay, I made the tough decision to slab it to France under clear blue skies. Not such a hard decision though as the Autostrada passes through the Maritime Alps to get to France.

The Autostrada scenery

Along the Autostrada, they have electronic message boards used to flash warnings to motorists about road conditions. The message it was flashing in Italian was saying something about a “National Holiday in France. Avoid at all costs”. Oh boy. 😦

Rhones-Alpes / Languedoc

With its excellent roads and hilly terrain, southeastern France is motorcycling playground. Dominated by the Massif Central, the region is littered with excellent riding opportunities and the amount of motorcyclists on the roads attests to this. I usually don’t take my trips this early in the year and right away, I saw the effects of this decision as several mountain passes across the Maritime Alps were still closed, sending me further north than I had planned on. Chalk that up to poor planning.

Finally, I managed to find my way heading south towards the Mediterranean. Sure enough, I began to encounter the effects of this “national holiday” as many gas stations and even some hotels were closed. I began to sweat it out, wondering if I would run out of gas before finding an open station. Fortunately, I always seemed to find one when I least expected, although, once, I was running on fumes. The stress of worrying about being stranded made me decide to try to fill up when I had about half a tank left. Visions of the “end of oil” danced through my head, although there was no shortage. That’s just the way the french sell their gas. I tried asking a few people what the name of the holiday was, but it had a long name I couldn’t make out. Some sort of religious holiday. Dang festive festival people with their 90 holidays per year!

Filling up at half a tank seemed to allay my fears a bit and I managed to find a hotel in Nimes. Nimes is the site of the Pont du Gard, the Roman viaduct used to provide water for Nimes.

This is an impressive structure to say the least. That a provincial backwater such as Nimes had such a mammoth structure built for it really drives home the power and the strength of the Roman Empire.

From Nimes, I headed north to the Gorges de l’Ardeche. This is an impressive gorge created by the Ardeche River cutting through limestone rock. The road along the river is quite scenic, but not a place you want to try to get a knee down.

The famous Pont d’Arc over the Ardeche River.

I continued westward past hilltop villages…

I can see why the south of France is such a popular place to live for the British as it’s dotted with picturesque farm houses…

The road meanders along a river…

Continuing westward, I took the road through the Gorges du Tarn. While not as famous as the Gorges de l’Ardeche, I thought the Gorges du Tarn was just as impressive if not moreso.

Midi-Pyrenees / Limousin

After spending a day touring the Gorges du Tarn, I decided that I’d better make tracks towards Brittany, my final destination. The hilly terrain began to taper off slightly, but the French roads never failed to inspire…

This area impressed me with its rugged terrain that somehow reminded me a bit of the American southwest.

I tried to keep to the backroads as much as possible, running through small villages along the way.

The closer I got to the west coast, the more the terrain changed to gently rolling hills.

I was very impressed with the competency of the French drivers in general. If the speed limit was 90 kph, everyone drove 90 kph. There were no dawdlers crawling along and slowing things. Most made an attempt to scoot over and let you by when they saw a motorcycle in their mirrors.

The French moto culture is also impressive. With roughly the same population as the UK, France has twice as many motorcyclists. Almost all of them riding sport bikes or nakeds and of those, almost all of them had their bikes modified with aftermarket goodies or a spiffy paint job. I did see a handful of full dressers and Harleys, but the vast majority were into sporty mounts.

Brittany / Normandy

I arrived in Brittany and found a nice, friendly hotel in Vannes along the south coast. Near Vannes is where you’ll find many megalith stone structures similar to Stonehenge, but on a smaller scale. The most famous of these are the Carnac stones, an array of stones whose meaning has been lost to the mists of time.

After almost a week of perfect weather, as soon as I reached Brittany, the weather turned cold and damp, as is fitting of a region bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. Brittany is inhabited by descendants of the Celts, who came here from Ireland and Cornwall. Up until the time of World War II, there were still a few Bretons who spoke no French, despite the French governments attempts to squelch it. Nowadays, there’s been a revival of Breton culture with Breton music festivals drawing musicians from Ireland, Wales and Galicia in Spain, another Celtic homeland.

The setting sun silhouettes rocky islands just outside the harbor of Roscoff…

As in Galicia in Spain, the westernmost region of Brittany is known as Finisterre, or Land’s End. For some reason, I am always drawn to these end of the world type places. The Finisterre is where the Breton culture is more predominate. One of the delicacies of the region is a butter cake known as Kouign_amann. If you know how delicious the center portion of a cinammon roll is, it tasted like that. As far as I can tell, it is made with lots of butter, flour, eggs, sugar and more butter. I was lucky to escape before my Roadcrafter suit burst its stitches 🙂

In the central part of the Finisterre region lies the hilly Monts d’Arree, evocative of the Yorkshire Dales in the UK. Millions of years ago, they were as tall as the Alps, but over time have been worn down to rounded stumps covered in gorse moors.

The treacherous Breton coastline is dotted with sharp rocks that have meant the end of many ships over the years, the most famous being the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz in 1978.

The Brittany coast is also where famous lighthouse photographer Jean Guichard took some of his most memorable pictures.

An idyllic cove

Heading eastwards now along Brittany’s north coast, I came upon the impressive Fort de la Latte. If you’ve seen the movie, “The Vikings” starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, you may recognize this as the castle they stormed at the climactic ending. It’s notable in that it has not one, but two drawbridges. That probaly scored points down at the country club 🙂

The road along Cap Frehel. Brittany had some impressive tides, leaving wide swathes of beach as it receded.

Brittany lies at the same latitude as Victoria, B.C. and Newfoundland with similar weather patterns, mostly cold and wet. I never had the vents open on my stich the whole time.

The picturesque medieval town of Dinan lies on the Rance River and has winding streets full of timber-framed buildings..

Two monuments to European engineering…Le Mont St. Michel and the V11 Le Mans. One of them is the most photographed object in France…

A shot by itself…

Viewed from the north, Mont St. Michel is but a bump on the horizon…

Leaving Brittany, I entered Normandy and headed for the beaches of D-Day. I passed through Ste-Mere-Eglise with its famous chapel from which a U.S. Army parachutist dangled on D-Day. If you look closely, you can still see him there.

Utah Beach. The tide was in so it doesn’t resemble the pictures from 1944.

The sand bank on Utah Beach that protected so many soldiers from enemy guns on that fateful day.

The cliffs viewed from Pointe du Hoc, scaled by the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion on June 4th, 1944

I saw many a white haired fellow, looking down at the ground, seemingly deep within his thoughts

Where armies once clashed, today children bathe on Omaha Beach, next to a sculpture dedicated to peace…

The U.S. Cemetary near Omaha Beach. There really are no words I can contrive to give any semblance of a description. I was impressed by the amount of French school children on school field trips to the sites. Despite of our taunts of cheese-eating surrender monkeys, the French have not forgotten the price of their freedom.

I continue eastward to the Cote d’Albatre, the alabaster coast, which resemble the white cliffs of dover across the channel. The Falaise d’Aval is an amazing rock sculptured by the ocean waves over eons.


From this point, I turn south and start making my way back to Italy. After viewing some of Vincent Van Gogh’s work in Amsterdam, I suddenly decide that it would nicely tie up lose ends if I get a picture of his gravesite. Brilliant! The only problem is that the gravesite is in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, within the 100 km of Paris, the so-called “ring of death” around big cities that I usually try to avoid due to their intense traffic. For some reason, this didn’t phase me.

I made my way to Auvers and manage to track down the village cemetary. Sure enough, there lies Vincent or “Ici repose Vincent” next to his brother, Theo.

Just a few feet away from his grave lies the wheat field he painted in “Wheat Field With Crows”. I dunno…I think Vincent was putting more on the canvas than he was actually seeing. See if you can spot the similarities…

Leaving Auvers, I am hit by some curse as I run headlong into 5 consecutive red lights. It’s a rather warm day, and sure enuff, the Guzzi begins to overheat, coughing and snorting its displeasure. I find a shady area to park and consider my alternatives. This was supposed to be a pleasure trip and suddenly, the prospect of finding a tow truck and a motorcycle shop looms as a non-fun outing. I begin to curse myself wondering why i don’t spend my vacations on beach resorts like normal people. Eventually, cooler heads prevail and after a twenty minute cooling off period, the workhorse Guzzi fires up and is ready to go. Crisis averted, although the cloud over my head will take a while longer to disperse. Part of the problem may have been that I hadn’t taken a rest day up to this point. I usually try to take a day away from the bike after 10 days or so, but this time, it didn’t happen.


South of Paris, I enter Burgundy, the region famous for their wines. They take their wine making very seriously here. The terrain of gently rolling hills may not make for the best motorcycling roads, but the beautiful setting makes for a photographer’s playground.

Rhone-Alpes / Provence

As I make my way south, I re-enter the Rhone-Alpes region dominated by the Massif Central. The wonderful French D roads make me forget the problems encountered near Paris and all seems right with the world. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The French are master road builders although, every now and then you’ll find a harsh surface.

The foothills of the Alps come into view near Valence on the second to the last day…

Making my way towards Italy on the backroads of the Vercors Regional Park.

It was on the second to last day of the trip that I would stumble upon probably the best road of the trip. The D-518 south of the Col de Rosset. While I normally hate working my way thru switchbacks, this one had a wide assortment of tasty twisties between each switchback making it thoroughly enjoyable.

I must make it back for this one!

One last gorge

On the way home

The final day of the trip would be another slab dash from France to Parma. The weather had a nasty surprise in store for me with torrential downpours in my path. As I made my way to the Italian frontier, I began to notice rivers swollen with torrents of brown water. At one point the police had a section of freeway closed, diverting traffic to side roads. It was touch and go there for a while, but once I made it past Turin, the rain began to decrease. By the time I reached Parma that afternoon, all my riding gear had dried off. However, Turin wasn’t so lucky as on the news that night, I heard they suffered flooding and one death.

To recap, despite the overheating problems and a weak battery that made me wonder if the bike was going to start each morning, I really enjoyed France this time. I even failed to encounter any of the infamous French stuffiness, as everyone I encountered on the trip was pleasant and helpful. Of course, I stuck to my high school French until, exasperated, they asked me to speak English 🙂

Riding Days- 21
Rest Days- 1
Distance- 6650 kilometers
Gendarme interaction- 1
Bee stings- 0
Deer encounters- 0
Tire replacements 1 front / 1 rear

Route Maps