It won’t feel very French until you order your first baguette
This weekend, Team Svelte is cycling from London to Paris in 24 hours. A well worn route linking two of the largest cosmopolitan cities in the world. Enough of a challenge, with enough time to enjoy the scenery.
Claire Tayler gives us her top pointers for arriving in Paris unscathed.
1. Do not take the scenic route.
From London, go direct to the ferry at Newhaven. There is a direct route down the roads and there is another that utilises the best of British cycle paths. Sadly we’re not Copenhagen and this second route will take you round more the houses, parks and tram lines than you ever thought was possible. Hop on a road and get straight out of the city instead.
2. Ferry meals will never taste so good.
Clattering around the ferry deck in cleats, wielding a large plate of pasta tops one of my top pasta moments of all time (a highlight contested list).
3. Make friends with the ferry floor.
On the 11pm ferry, every ditched the chairs and the footwells turned in to beds - that is to say, we lay in them on the wooden floor. Somewhere between the hum of the ferry, passengers moving about and the blinking alertness of your own adrenaline, try to get some sleep. Sleeping on a ferry floor is very cold and the air conditioning is not your friend but you can get around this by layering everything you own on top of you like a human pass-the-parcel.
4. Waking up to dirt cheap hot chocolate from the machine is the best.
Sorry coffee. I know that’s not normally how cycling trips work.
5. Never follow someone else’s route.
Even if one of your new French ferry friends says that they’ve just spent the last year cycling around Europe and suggests you join forces. Trust your gut and your planned route. Two wrong turns after following the new guide and our London-Paris buddy's suggestion of "let's leave them for dead" is the right call. Polite British excuses made. Back on the road to Paris.
6. Abandoned railway tracks at 4am in the pitch black are special, creepy and quiet
Our London to Paris ride could be broken down into different chapters. The section that leads from the ferry port, down an abandoned railway line through to stretching, rural France would be titled ‘deep life bonding.’ It would also include safety cliff notes about remembering to charge your bike lights properly.
7. It won’t feel very French until you order your first baguette.
The first bakery stop makes it suddenly feel real. Stop for fresh bread in Forges-les-Eaux as they open their doors at first light for your first human contact. It’s the first time it feels as though you’re actually in France. Despite all the road signs, it’s not until you’re trying to execute some bumbling French that it really feels like you’re on your way. After that, opt for as few breaks as possible and avoid stopping for anything more than a couple of minutes at the side of the road.
8. Find a good soundtrack for flying through the endless French roads.
The empty roads are beautiful for a while, sure. Then having music to break up the silent views and make it you feel as though you’re in your own personal adventure film is important. Personally, I didn’t plan for this in a world with patchy 3G and so cycled hundreds of miles through French countryside with just two tracks loaded on my Spotify. Subsequently, having listened to it for three hours solidly, Fleetwood Mac now magically transports me back to zooming through beautifully wide roads surrounded by French fields thinking ‘I’m in France! I’m in France!’ After hours in the saddle my six minutes of music on repeat really broke up the monotony.
9. Find a route that doesn’t go down the death tunnel.
For unknown reasons most route planners seem to insist on directing you towards tunnel where Diana and Dodi crashed. This is a terrifying road, and probably illegal for bikes (thanks Garmin!). Divert. Divert.
10. Paris cycling takes some balls.
Be brave, safe and stay on guard. I’d never cycled around Paris before and it takes attention. Cars turn without warning, completely disinterested in looking out for anyone else. We decided to go with it and went for a victory lap around the Arc de Triomphe on a busy Saturday afternoon. We then banked on the roundabout for a quick snap before getting chucked off by police with guns who questionably suggested that trying to wield a bike above our head posed was a security risk. Then go and recover with a pint that you’ll fall asleep in front of.
Serial adventurer, dedicated writer and in her own words, from an "outdoors, not outdoorsy" world. Claire's brilliantly funny and honest Detour blog provides the perfect insight in to riding in and around London, and explores further afield for those looking to discover something a little more than their standard fifty mile route. For Svelte, she explores other cities as well as rounding up what's going on in the Capital.