Paris to Porto on six wheels – the first day
Two years ago we enjoyed our long-distance cycling trip through the Balkan so much that we wanted to do it again. The question was where to go and how to get the bikes there. We love the Mediterranean and Spain is an old favourite for all three of us. Then I found out that Flixbus takes bikes for a friendly amount from Hungary to lots of European destinations, including Paris. The last time we saw the Seine was fifteen years ago so the starting point was fixed.
When it came to planning the route, I relied on my memories again. The huge waves on the Atlantic coast by Labenne in France, the excitement of walking the Camino Santiago in Spain all came to my mind. And although we have travelled a lot on this continent, we have never put our feet in Portugal so I set the ambitious goal of cycling all the way to Porto.
First of all, a few words about our experiences with Flixbus. Well, we had mixed feelings but I must quickly add that I’ve never been keen on travelling by bus. We were supposed to leave at 10.20 am but the bus was nowhere even at 10.40 and nobody could tell us why. In the end we left half an hour late. No big deal compared to the 22 hours of the ride. But when we asked the driver a few hours later in Vienna if we had a few minutes to buy some food for us the answer was we were already late so we had to hurry. Luckily, we could grab some döners on the German border so we were no longer condemned to starve to death.
They put the bicycles on racks outside the bus in the back, which can be a bit worrying if it rains or when we stop at bus stations at night. We lost a bicycle computer on the way. On the plus side, the seats were comfortable, the staff was friendly and the toilet was OK. And we arrived in Paris on time.
It took us about an hour to fix all the panniers on the bikes and change in the filthy toilets of Bercy bus station. Our plan was to ride around the city and show our son the iconic sights in about 4-5 hours before heading south to a campsite out of the capital. We started from Bastille Square, from where we followed the canals north. It was interesting to see how this area has turned into a yachting destination.
After a short detour to a Decathlon store (we replaced my son’s bike computer), we headed to Montmartre to look around from Sacre Coeur Basilica. Then we rode along some of the avenues and boulevards of Paris past Pigalle, Moulin Rouge, Madeleine and Place Concorde. It felt fabulous to turn into Champs Elysées and join the myriads of cars towards the Arc de Triomphe. I really missed this Paris experience.
By the time we arrived at Trocadero to soak in the view of the Eiffel Tower, it was 3 pm so we were a tad late. It took us one more hour to finish our loop at Napoleon’s mausoleum and another one to find a gas cartridge for cooking. And we still had 45 km to do that day. We hardly stopped after that. There’s a convenient system of bicycle routes in and around Paris so we could ride through shady parks most of the time. Then came the surprisingly provincial small towns. Only it was getting late. Very late. By the time we arrived in the last village, it was 10 pm. The campsite was another kilometre away. There was a notice on the gate announcing that the council had closed the site permanently a year before.
It was a shocking moment. What can you do at 10 pm as the sun sets if you are travelling by bicycle? Even the closest town seemed too far for us. Anita decided to ask someone in the village, where we saw a small shop. The young woman in the shop tried her best: she phoned nearby hotels but all were full. In the end she offered that we could put up our tent on the concrete surface of the back yard and leave the bikes in the shop. We were happy to accept that. Just as we were about to unpack, she came and told us we could sleep in their storage room next to their house. That looked much more comfortable and there was even an old sofa. Ten minutes passed and she was back saying her husband let us stay in the house itself and we could use the bathroom and the kitchen, too.
Like a dream! To put it short, in the end we had dinner together around a bg table, we shared stories and Aron played Jimi Hendrix on the kids’ guitar. A great kick-off for our journey!