Cycle camping: day 0 - John C. Kirk
Jul. 3rd, 2010
11:00 pm - Cycle camping: day 0
I went on a cycle camping holiday in Brittany from 3rd July to 10th July (via Breton Bikes). I'm backdating my blog posts for each day, based on notes I made at the time.
I had to leave at 04:00, and I hadn't really started any packing by 23:00 the night before, so it was easier to stay up all night than sleep for a couple of hours. As part of my preparation, I read through the instructions for my new GPS: it's not a sat-nav, it just links to my Polar watch (heart rate monitor), so it tells me where I've been rather than where I should go. Anyway, I had a bit of trouble getting it working, until I realised that the battery would work better if I took the plastic wrapper off first!
I walked to the nearest railway station at about 01:00 so that I could recharge my Oyster card, but unfortunately the machine outside was out of action. Ah well, it gave me a chance to test the GPS, so that was useful. While I was there, a few drunk people asked me where they were. I said: "Er, you're outside South Croydon station." This didn't feel like a particularly useful answer (since it was self-evident), but I wasn't sure of the road name. As it turned out, they were very grateful, so I'm guessing that they fell asleep on the train and then got off in a panic when they didn't recognise the station. So, that's my good deed for the day!
A few hours later, I took the train/bus to St Pancras, and arrived in plenty of time to check in for the Eurostar. There were no queues at any of the gates (ticket barrier/security/passport), and there were plenty of seats while I waited for the train. Once I got on to the train, there was plenty of leg room, so this seemed like a very civilised way to travel: far better than flying! Also, I'm trying to be eco-friendly, and electric trains seem like a better bet than burning oil in an aeroplane. There was a desk selling Paris Metro tickets (their version of London Underground), and I knew that I'd need one of those at the other end. However, I could only buy a daily pass (for 1/2/3 days) or a book of 10 tickets, not an individual ticket, so I decided to wait until I got to the far end.
While I was on the train to Paris, I read "The Tent, The Bucket and Me" (by Emma Kennedy). At one point in the book, the family go to France on holiday and get caught in a big rainstorm, which then seems to follow them around to different campsites. I read that, thinking "Wow, sucks to be them", then I noticed that the train was slowing down. I looked up, and saw that it was raining outside; in fact, there were a few flashes of lightning. The train then came to a complete halt, and we sat there for a while. Apparently lightning hit one of the power generators in Paris, which knocked out power to a big section of the line, so we wound up in a queue of trains that weren't moving.
I knew that I'd have to change trains in Paris. In fact, I would have to change stations (via the Metro): it's the equivalent of coming into London at Paddington, then leaving from Waterloo. I was going from Gare du Nord to Montparnasse, and I found some very useful instructions online. I was due to arrive at 09:47 and leave at 11:00, which should have given me plenty of time. Unfortunately the 2½ hour journey to Paris wound up taking 4 hours, so I didn't reach Paris until 11:25. That meant that I'd miss my connection, but it wasn't simply a delay: I'd told the holiday company what train I'd be on, so they'd arranged for a taxi to pick me up at the station and take me to the campsite. They emailed me lots of info in advance, which I read, but I didn't bother to write down their phone number etc. because I figured that I'd get it when I arrived. (By contrast, I wrote down detailed instructions about how to change trains in Paris!) This turned out to be a bit of an error in judgment, since I now had no way to contact them, and I didn't have the exact address of where I was supposed to be going. Oops. Fortunately, shuripentu came to my rescue, by getting their phone number from their website and texting it to me; thank you again!
It took me about 55 minutes to get from Nord to Montparnasse: 15 minutes at Gare du Nord (including buying a Metro ticket), 20 minutes on the train, and 20 minutes getting from the Metro platform to the Eurostar platform at Montparnasse. Buying the Metro ticket was a bit fiddly, since I used a machine. I'm used to the TfL machines in London, so I assumed that the Paris machine also had a touchscreen, but it ignored me wherever I poked it. A French lady in the queue then came to my aid by explaining how it actually worked: you have rollers underneath the screen which you use to scroll up and down, then there are separate push buttons to select the highlighted option. I can't find any relevant videos on YouTube, but I think that would be a handy thing for tourists to know about in advance.
At Montparnasse, it then took about 30 minutes to exchange my ticket for a later train. I got a grade A in GCSE French, so in theory I should be fairly fluent. Unfortunately, that was 20 years ago, and I'm now a bit rusty. I got a bit better over the course of the week, particularly when someone used a word that I recognised so I could expand my vocabulary. However, I often had to phrase sentences in odd ways to make up for missing words. Fortunately the train staff had written something on my ticket to explain the delay, so they didn't charge me for the new ticket. I then phoned Breton Bikes to tell them that I'd be arriving late, now that I knew my new arrival time.
The second train took me to St Brieuc, and I waited around there for a while. There was someone else who was also running late, so it made sense for us to share a taxi to the campsite and split the cost. In fact, it turned out that we were on the same train from London, but Lucy (not her real name) caught a later train from Montparnasse. In the end, we reached the campsite in Gouarec at 18:30. We pronounced the name of the village as "Goo-are-ek", but the taxi driver corrected us by pronouncing it "Gwah-regg", so I assumed that this was a reflection on my poor accent. In fact, the sign for the village had two names on it: "Gouarec" on top, and "Gwareg" underneath. I thought that this was a handy pronunciation guide, but Lucy noticed that some of the other signs had completely different words, so she figured out the real explanation: there's a local Breton dialect. So, our taxi driver was a bit of an activist, like the people who insist on Welsh signs in Wales rather than using English exclusively.
We met the guy in charge of the campsite, and our tents were already set up (I assume that we would normally do that ourselves). We'd meet the people from Breton Bikes on Sunday morning, so this left us the evening free, and we went out for a pizza, and chatted to another English guy (ex-pat). There's a canal running next to the campsite, and we saw a couple of wet youngsters in swimsuits so presumably they'd just been for a swim. I was tempted to give it a go (the whole "wild swimming" thing), but after a couple of glasses of wine I decided that it would be better to wait until the following morning.
I slept very soundly that night. When I've slept on friends' floors in a sleeping bag, I normally use an airbed, but I often wake up a few times during the night to shift position. This time I had a camping mat, and I slept straight through, so I wondered whether I was better off with a harder surface. (However much air I pump into an airbed, I still find that my elbow will touch the ground if I lean on it.) However, this didn't apply to the rest of the week, so it was probably just because I hadn't slept the previous night. Still, shifting position on a camping mat is a bit quieter than an airbed, so if I share a tent/room with anyone else then they'll be better off. I didn't take a pillow with me, and that's probably the thing I missed most during the week. I used a pile of clothes as a substitute, which worked well on the first night, but then I left my jeans with my travelling bag (on purpose) so the pile was a bit smaller for the rest of the week; also, I gradually ran out of clean clothes!
The tent was a T3 Ultralight Pro. It's billed as a 3 person tent, which means that you can fit 3 people into it but then there won't be any room left for luggage. Since I was on my own, I had plenty of space, and I'd probably be fine with a 2-person tent. When I was in the Scouts, we used ridge tents (a bit like giant Toblerone bars), and the wooden tent poles looked like broom handles. This is more like a dome tent, with poles that curve over the top. The poles were made of light metal (aluminium?), and have lots of sections that clip together. These pretty much assembled themselves as I took them out of the bag, so that was quick and easy. The tent has inner and outer layers (which keeps the inside dry), and there's a gap between these layers at the front, i.e. there were front doors to zip up on both layers. That meant that I could store things like shoes in between, so they were resting on the ground but still protected from the elements. According to the tent's description, the maximum height of occupants is 2.15m (7'1"), but I'm 1.86m (6'1") and I was pretty much jammed in there. It was fine for me, but I really don't think a taller person would be comfortable.
The sleeping bag was an X-treme Lite 800: it's a "2 season" bag, so it's similar to my own, and it was comfortable without getting too hot. They also supplied me with an inner sheet (in the shape of a sleeping bag); I haven't come across them before, but it's a good idea, and presumably you don't have to wash the main sleeping bag so often. So, I'll see about getting one of them for myself.
The campsite was Tost Aven, and they charged €4 for the night. That's less than it says on their website, so it may be a special deal for Breton Bikes customers or the website may be out of date. Anyway, that's a competitive price, and it's a nice place to stay. The only problem I had is that the men's loo was a traditional French one, i.e. a hole in the ground. I'll put the next paragraph in ROT-13, so that you don't have to read the disgusting details unless you want to :)
Gur gbvyrg unf cynprf znexrq bhg sbe lbhe srrg gb tb, naq gura gur vqrn vf gb pebhpu qbja, fb gung lbh'er va gur fnzr cbfgher lbh jbhyq or ba n "abezny" (Ratyvfu) gbvyrg. Jura lbh syhfu gur ybb, vg evafrf bhg gur fgnaqvat nern nf jryy nf gur ubyr. Abeznyyl V jbhyq ybjre zl haqrejrne/fubegf gb nobhg xarr yriry, ohg va guvf pnfr vg jnf n ovg zber svqqyl. Vs V xrcg zl pybgurf gbb uvtu, naq zl nvz jnf bss, V'q fbvy gurz. Ba gur bgure unaq, gbb ybj naq gurl'q qebc ba gur sybbe, juvpu jnf jrg (ubcrshyyl whfg jvgu jngre). V qrpvqrq gung vg jnf rnfvrfg gb gnxr gurz bss nygbtrgure naq unat gurz ba gur qbbe unaqyr. Nf sbe cbfgher, V jbhaq hc fgnaqvat rvgure fvqr bs gur znexrq nern, n ovg yvxr n pbjobl zbhagvat n ubefr (be ragrevat n fnybba one). Guvf jnf n ovg cerpnevbhf, fb V gura hfrq bar unaq gb oenpr zlfrys ntnvafg gur onpx jnyy bs gur phovpyr. Va nyy frevbhfarff, V qba'g xabj ubj ryqreyl/qvfnoyrq crbcyr unaqyr gung. Vg sryg n ovg jrveq, ohg vg jnf dhvgr fngvfslvat gb trg guerr qverpg uvgf qbja gur ubyr; n ovg yvxr gur raq bs
When I came back to that campsite later in the week, I checked other cubicles and discovered that they also had a normal loo. Ah well, never mind.