Via Francigena, 1000 Km, Emotions

Greetings EyeCycled Friends,

quick post just to let you know that I did not abandon the Blog… 🙂

I am working on writing Via Francigena content, editing the videos and sharing this experience with you, but progress has been slow due to life’s demands. Please, subscribe to be informed of new post or like our Facebook page.

On the 12th of August 2016, the 14th day of cycling between Canterbury and Rome, I completed the 1st 1000 Kms of daily bike riding of my life.

I know, compared to cyclists that cycled around the world, some of which with 100s of 1000s of Kilometers in their Odometers, just is just a drop in the ocean, but for me it was a pretty special moment in a nice location.
The pilgrimage has ended now and I am back in the UK to my “normal” life. I end up having cycled 2,043 Km when I arrived at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome. Was an experience I will cherish forever, but I somehow don’t think it was the experience of a life time. Not ready for the grave yet… 🙂

New challenges are definitely on the horizon.

Thank you your time!

Please rate this post by clicking on the desired star (1 = Awful, 5 = Excellent)
[Total: 4 Average: 2.5]

Via Francigena, Days 12 and 13: From Besançon to Pontarlier (FR) and Vevey (CH)

Day 12, 10th Aug (Wednesday): From Besançon to Pontarlier (77.73 Km)

The day started with a French breakfast in the hostel’s cafeteria in the company of Nathalie, whom I met the day before. Breakfast done, goodbyes said was time to get all the mess sorted, take the bike out of the bike garage and move on. Was great to get to know Besançon, but at this point I was still concerned in not taking too much time in one single place so I had enough time to fix things if anything went wrong. At this time the crossing of the Great  Saint Bernard was still an unknown challenge to me.

The next destination was Ornans, stage 41 on volume 2 of the Lightfoot Via Francigena guide.

The ride started with going back to the centre of the city and riding a few kilometres alongside the river Doubs which crosses Besançon.

As I was taking pictures of the Citadel from the river side I remember thinking, thank God I don’t need to ide up there and then I looked at the route Google Maps traced and that was exactly what it was suggesting me to do. I spent several minutes evaluating the maps and could not see a suitable alternative, as other routes appear to required me to climb up there anyway, just from different directions. So, in for  penny, in for a Pound and the British say. Little did I know at the time I would have to go much higher and in a distance of just 4 Km I probably had to climb 350 m of very steep roads to Chapelle des Buis, some of it I had to dismount and push as the angle of ascent was more akin to a staircase than to a road. The view from up there was quite nice though.

After Chapelle de Buis Google was directing me to take a dirt track and not to make mistakes of days past I decided to ask for directions from some locals who were walking up the road. They said “No, No… tout a droite” and directed me to continue downhill on the road I was on and always keep to the right. Yeah, that also proved to be a mistake or I didn’t understand their instructions properly. Took me at least 45 min to get back on track and I had to partially ride the hill up again and push the bike on a steep dirt track up as a bonus.

As I arrived in Ornans I wanted to post some pictures and then I realised the credit on my French SIM card had expired. That meant no Internet. Since I believed this would be my last day in France, I decided not renew the credit and rely on Garmin for navigation, what proved to be a mistake later, which made me ride in circles at least 15 Km more than I needed to.

Ornans is a nice little town. The river gives it a somewhat Venetian feeling. After I got my pilgrim’s credentials stamped at the tourist information office and had a little snack break, the next destination was Mouthier-Haute-Pierre.

The road from Ornans to Mouthier-Haute-Pierre is beautiful and surprisingly flat. It already had a definitely Alpine feeling. As I couldn’t find any of the normal places open, I got my stamp from a Hotel I passed as I arrived in Mouthier

After Mouthier my destination was Pontarlier and I had planned to ride to Jougne this day, the last French town before getting to Switzerland. The problem was that I was, as I had no internet connection on the phone and had not downloaded the offline maps for the region in Google Maps I had to rely on my Garmin Edge for navigation. I was riding on the D-67 road up to that point and Garmin was instructing me to take the D-41, even though the road signs were indicating I should stay on the D-67 for Pontalier. I decided to follow Garmin’s instructions and must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, because somehow I found myself back to the same point I had passed about 8Km before. The navigation mistake was as large as the distance I would have ridden to Jougne (about 15 Km), so as I arrived in Pontarlier I decided to stay there, in a F1 Hotel, which a friend said could be an option for cheap accommodation n France before I left UK.

It wasn’t as cheap as a pilgrims’ hostel, of course, but at €31 with breakfast included, it wasn’t bad. The hotel itself appears to be built of several containers put together. You get your own room, but have to use collective toilets and bathrooms.

Day 13, 11th Aug (Thursday): From Pontarlier, France, to Vevey, Switzerland (94.11 Km)

Before riding to the town centre of Pontarlier to get the stamp on the pilgrim’s credentials I met another cycle-tourist, Joshua (may be mistaken on the name as I forgot to write it down) from Belgium at the hotel. He was cycling to Mount Blanc (I believe) for a climbing holiday.

Once I got my credential stamped, I set off to the next destination, Jougne, stage 44 in the Lightfoot guide and the last town in France. The day started with a “victim” though. I forgot my Gore Windproof cycling jacket at the hotel. I only noticed I had left it there when I arrived in Jogne, 24 Km away. The weather was definitely cooler than that what I had experienced days before. Wasn’t cold, but going down was a bit “fresh”, hence the reason I looked for the jacket and realised I no longer had it. There was nothing I could do at that time. Going back 24 Km certainly wasn’t an option, so I accepted the loss and decided to buy a new jacket in the next town, which was Orbe in Switzerland, stage 45 of the Lightfoot guide and the 1st town in Swiss soil.

Crossing the Swiss border was a milestone in the pilgrimage I was very happy to have arrived this far with the power of my legs.

As I arrived in Orbe the first thing I did was to look for a clothes shop in the hope find something to replace the Gore Windproof cycling jacket. The best I could find was a sleeveless jacket for 60 Swiss Francs which wasn’t cheap for what it was, but it proved to be necessary and sufficient later on in the journey. Once that was sorted, I got my stamp in the Tourist Information office did a little coffee break at local cafĂŠ and moved on as I wanted to do ride longer this day to compensate for the navigation errors of the previous day.

The next destination was le-Mont-sur-Lausanne, as the name suggests, very close to Lausanne. As I understand le-Mont-sur-Lausanne is more like a part of Lausanne than a town on its own, so I could not find a place to stamp my Pilgrim’s credentials (asked at a restaurant, but they had no stamp), so I simply left to the next destination Vevey, stage 47 of the Lightfoot guide.

I was really looking forward to cycling this stage, as I knew I would eventually start cycling alongside lake Geneva. I wasn’t disappointed! The views of the lake and the mountains are simply magical. Switzerland is a really beautiful country. Simply had to stop several times to take pictures.

As I arrived in Vevey I went straight to the Tourist Information Office, which, unfortunately due to the late hour (was about 6:00 pm) was already closed. I looked into the Lightfoot guide for the list of pilgrim accommodations and decided to stay at a pension which was very near the place I was, as at that point I had done already more than 90 Km, so I was pretty tired and didn’t want to go looking for alternatives.

The owner of the pension was very kind and gave me a map and a lot of information about Vevey and surroundings.

Vevey is the town where Charles Chaplin lived the last 24 years of his life and he is buried, so I had a mission next day: To go visit his tomb, pray for him and thank him for the wonderful hours of entertainment he provided us throughout his years. I know that as a person he was a considered a controversial figure, but that was really irrelevant to me. He was different and through his way of being he made a difference in the world.

So this concludes the report for days 12 and 13, but as usual before I thank you for reading this far, have you consider making a difference today? You don’t need to become Charles Chaplin to do so. A small contribution to Mind UK, one of the UK’s leading mental health charities might make a difference to quite a few people. Consider this… you also have the power to make a difference, not only through money, but through many other ways (money is a good option, though, if you can afford it 🙂 )

Thank you!

Please rate this post by clicking on the desired star (1 = Awful, 5 = Excellent)
[Total: 4 Average: 3.8]

Via Francigena, Days 10 and 11: From Langres to Gy and Besançon

Day 10, 8th Aug (Monday): From Langres to Gy (94.86 Km)

Day started slow, with me having breakfast in the hostel with the items I had bought the day before. Coffee, sugar and the basics were all available in the kitchen already. Was a beautiful day outside and from the kitchen window I could see the tower of the cathedral. I also took the time to photograph every page of the guest book for later reading as I did in previous hostels. Some of the messages are really nice

I had to cross the town which gave me plenty of last minute photo opportunities, so it took me a bit longer than usual to leave.

The first destination of the day was Torcenay, stage 35 in the Lightfoot guide. As per the road route given by Google Maps I would have to go back several kilometres and then turn to Torcenay only to have to ride it all back!to get to Champlitte (Stage 36) after arriving in Torcenay. I am sure the walking route makes a lot more sense than the road one I took.

The ride to Torcenay was pretty uneventful and flat. Few small hills to climb on the last 2 or 3 kilometres before the town. Torcenay is a small village and as I expected there was nothing open to get my pilgrim’s credentials stamped… except the post office 🙂

So, I got my stamp from the local post office, no complains.

There wasn’t anything really worth looking at, to be honest, so I headed out of town just to find that the water fountain I had seen as I rode into town wasn’t potable. What a shame! Thankfully I still had a full bottle, but it would have been nice to be able to refill.

Next destination was Champlitte as mentioned before. The route traced by Google Maps had about 80% road and 20% dirt tracks. Most of the dirt tracks were OK, but some 5 Km of them were really challenging with a lot of stones / rocks on the ground and sand, which made me have to dismount and push the bike several times as there was no traction in places.

Champlitte is a lovely small town and as I arrived one of the 1st things I saw was the impressive museum of the town (no sure what the museum is for). Unfortunately the tourist information office was closed, but I managed to get a stamp from a Bar/Hotel/Restaurant over the road.

I did a little break in the town to eat an apple and drink some water before leaving to Dampierre-sur-Salon.

It was about 3 Km after Champlitte, that something quite unexpected happened. I was riding downhill, doing perhaps 40 Km/h and gaining speed to tackle a big climb I could see ahead in the road, when I felt something biting me on the inner right leg. In one of those split second moment reactions I just tapped the insect away without even looking at it properly, I was afterall riding down quite fast on a busy French D road. Could have been a bee or a wasp. The event almost knocked me out of balance. Thankfully, perhaps due to my quick reaction, whatever stung me apparently did not have time to do a proper job, so it did hurt for about 5 min and then was OK.

Upon arriving in Dampierre-sur-Salon I went straight to the tourism information office, which thankfully was open, got my stamp and continue to pedal. I did take a few pictures, but I did not find a lot of pictures worthy things to capture.

The next destination was a town called Gy (yes, that is no type, simply Gy), stage 38 in the Lightfoot guide. The route Google Maps traced took me to some small single roads that , although narrow, had good tarmac. The route had also an unexpected surprise though. At some point Google instructed me to leave the road and take some dirt tracks following alongside a little river. At some point the dirt tracks simple ended and there was also a big barrier which made it impossible to cross even of the tracks continued. I analysed the map and could not see any alternative other than going many kilometres back the way I came, however I decided to stop at a impressive property I had seen just before leaving the road to ask for directions. The (presumably) care takers of the property were very nice and told me there was an alternative way to get to Gy. They also said that it wasn’t the 1st time this had happened as 2 years earlier some people on horses were also attempting to get to Gy and made he same mistake. If I understood them correctly apparently these horse riders were also doing the Via Francigena.

After the detour I was finally able to reach Gy, with my Garmin Edge 810 freezing up on the last 2 Km before reaching Gy and making me lose all statistics for the day (thankfully the GPS track was capture by my backup GPS watch).

I had ridden almost 95 Km at that point and was pretty tired, so I decided to give myself a treat and stay in the lovely Hotel Pinocchio, which was apparently was the best hotel in the town. If you have to blow the budget, do it in style, so the dinner that followed was also great 🙂

Day 11, 9th Aug (Tuesday): From Gy to Besançon (38.85 Km)

After a wonderful night at the Hotel Pinocchio, the day was a bit cloudy with a light rain shower as I left. I first went to the Tourist Information Office to collect my stamp, as it was closed when I arrived the day before.

I then left in the direction of Cussey-sur-l’Ognon, stage 39 of the Lightfoot guide. Like in days before Google Maps traced me a route that included some dirt tracks within forests. The difference with these though was that it:

  • 1st, it had been raining, so there was mud on the tracks making it quite challenging to pedal on a 50 Kg bike.
  • 2nd and most difficult, the tracks started to thin out and being taken over by the forest until they eventually disappeared altogether. At that point I had ridden far too much into the forest and wasn’t willing to give up and go back to the muddy tracks I had just ridden through. I could see the faint traces of what possibly was a track before, so I just followed that in the midst of some quite dense forest. I thought to myself, this is supposed to be an adventure after all, but I would have preferred not to have go through that experience. I eventually landed on some proper tracks and then back on a minor road. I was relieved when I saw the road. Riding through the forest on a loaded touring bike was a bit stressful.

After the adventure of going through a trackless forest on a heavy touring bike, I was happy to arrive in Cussey-sur-l’Ognon. I took a few pictures of the village, but could not find a single place to get a stamp from, so no stamp from Cussey-sur-l’Ognon on my pilgrim’s credentials.

So I continued to Besançon, stage 40 and the last stage of Volume I of the Lightfoot guide. The closer I got to Besançon, the greater the traffic on the road was. I also took a wrong turn somewhere and ended on a busy dual carriage way for a while, until I found a way to leave it.

As I arrived closer to the city centre I started looking for the Tourist Information Office and Google made me do a few unnecessary rounds and turns as it was following the directions appropriate for motor vehicles. As I finally arrived at the tourist information office and got my stamp I felt pretty tired from the stress in the middle of the forest earlier on and Besancon looked like a very interesting place, so I asked them for cheap accommodation and they suggested the city’s youth hostel, which was a different concept of a hostel for me. The first I stayed that offered me a single room with a private bathroom, a luxury in terms of hostels and with breakfast included for just €29 I thought it was a bargain for what it was.

An interesting story that developed as I arrived in Besancon, was that as I was leaving the tourist information office another cycling tourer was arriving. I tried chatting with her, but she just said she didn’t understand English and I left in the direction of the hostel. As I was checking in the hostel, she also arrived, so she obviously received the same advice I did. We smiled and said “hi” to each and I left to lock the bike in the hostel’s spacious bike garage and take my stuff to my room. After a shower and some rest and with the info provided by the friendly reception guy I went to the bus stop closest to the hostel to catch the bus to the city centre and as I was there waiting for the bus, there she came also. That was Nathalie and with all these coincidences it was just right that we became friends and explored the city together. Nathalie lives in Basel, Switzerland, and works as a nurse. She told me she cycled every day to work, but that this was the 1st time she was trying long distance cycling. Her destination was Nantes in the south of France, a trip of over 1,000 Km by bicycle. Not bad for someone’s first cycle-touring experience. It was a  wonderful night in an interesting city and in the company of a new friend, perfect!

This concludes the post about days 9 and 10 of my Via Francigena experience. Although, as I write this, I have already arrived in Rome a week ago, I will continue to write as time (and WiFi availability) allows.

To conclude, as usual, have you made your donation to my chosen charity, Mind UK, one of the UK’s leading mental health charities? If not, why not? It wold be a good way to pay forward the effort I am putting here in reporting my experiences and you will probably not miss ÂŁ10 or ÂŁ20 in a month, right?

Thank you for your contributions, your support and your patience as I get through these posts.

Please rate this post by clicking on the desired star (1 = Awful, 5 = Excellent)
[Total: 3 Average: 5]

Via Francigena, days 8 and 9: From Brienne-le-Chateau to Arc-en-Barrios and Langres

Day 8, 6/Aug (Saturday): From Brienne-le-Chateau to Arc-En-Barrois (80.52 Km)

After leaving the pilgrim’s house, which I am glad to say wasn’t haunted at all (or the ghosts were out on holidays) I went back to the Tourist Information Office to return the keys to the house.

I then cycled on pretty flats and straight line roads, some with a nice tree line, all the way to Dolancourt.

Dolancourt is a small village, so no wonder as I arrived there I found no place where to stamp my pilgrim’s credentials. One interesting fact was that as I was having a moment of rest in front of the town hall I could hear screams from time to time. The type of screams children (and some adults) do when having fun. I then found out there is a theme park in Dolancourt called Nigoland, right in the middle of town and the screams were coming from one of the park’s attractions, a vertical thrill ride.

After a few minutes of rest I moved on to the next destination which was Bar-sur-Aube, Stage 30 of the Lightfoot guide.

Few kilometres later I met a Dutch family on a cycling holiday having a pick-nick at the road side (Mum, Dad, daughter and son).

Bar-sur-Aube has interesting river views. As I arrived in the town the Tourism Information office, which I often sought for the stamp on the pilgrim’s credentials was closed, but it would open 20 min later, so that gave me an opportunity for a snack break (I often had a sandwich or some fruit with me).

With the stamp on the credentials, the next destination was Clairvaux, more specifically Clairvaux Abbey, where I found indications and signs of the Via Francigena, which in France is not that common. Time for some rest, pictures a quick prayer to thank for the strength and protection this far and then on the road again.

Châteauvillain was the next destinations. Châteauvillain looked like an interesting village. Had a little water break and took some pictures. As I could not find any of the traditional places to obtain the stamp for the pilgrim’s credentials I went to a Newsagent I found open. They often have stamps of their businesses with the name of the town in them.

As it was close to 17:00h already as I got to Châteauvillain I had to decide if I wanted to stop for the day or ride a little more. I looked in the guide and the next step was Mormant, but from the description and available places to sleep it looked like a really small village. The few options of accommodation the guide was suggesting were in Arc-en-Barrois, 15 Km away from Châteauvillain, which is along the walkers path of the Via Francigena, so I decided to try my luck there. As I arrived in Arc-en-Barrois I got confused with the directions my Garmin Edge 810 was giving me and ended up cycling 5 Km more than needed 🙁

A good part of the ride from Châteauvillain to Arc-en-Barrois was on dirt tracks through a forest, which was a bit tiring and stressful as my phone decided to stop working and I couldn’t get Google Maps back on. I used the Garmin Edge for navigation the rest of the way, which thankfully had in its database the same small dirt tracks Google was guiding me through.

Thankfully the Tourist Information Office of the village was still open and I got the stamp and some advice from a friendly man working there. One of the 2 Gites he suggested was closed and the other was a bit out of town in the opposite direction. The only hotel I found in town was a bit out of my budget, so as I

Had seen a camping ground as I arrived in the village I decided to setup camp there.

The information given by the tourist information office was that the cost for camping would be between €2 and €3,so I was surprised when 2 ladies “knocked” at my tent the next morning demanding €9 for the night. I told them what the tourist information office had told me and the price “magically” went down to €3.20. It pays not to be quiet. The camping had good shower facilities, but there wasn’t much around. As it was late, I was hungry and had no food with me I decided to go back to that hotel I had found expensive and have dinner there.

The night ended with me back in my messy tent.

Day 9, 7/Aug (Sunday): From Arc-En-Barrois to Langres (46.29 Km)

The next day didn’t start well. I didn’t have a good night sleep as my asthma decided to show up. In the darkness of the tent I could not really see what was going up, but the next morning I realised a lot of condensation had built up inside the tent. The inner wall of the tent (or inner skin as sometimes refereed to) was soaking wet and that is likely what triggered my asthma during the night.

It was a slow process to dismantle the tent and get everything ready as I wanted to let the tent dry a bit under the sun and this resulted in me leaving the camp site quite late (around 12 noon actually).

As the day before, after clearing the urban area Google Maps took me to dirt tracks through forests. Something a bit odd happened in the middle of the forest which to this day is still puzzling me. As I was on one of the dirt tracks in the middle of the forest, I saw a Dachshund dog (the “sausage” dog) alone by himself. The had a collar and looked a bit scared and disoriented. At 1st I thought it’s owner was in the forest somewhere and continued cycling, but kept an eye on the dog in my rear mirror. I was already 200m away and no person, so I stopped and got off the bike, and started to walk towards the dog. As I got near him he ran into the forest and I could not follow him. I was I did try whistling to see if the dog would come to me, but after a few minutes I had completely lost track of the dog. I honestly hope he wasn’t lost and that if he was he was found later on. I hate to think there was something more I could have done and didn’t.

The dirt path had some closed barriers and most had a clearance on the side which enabled me to get by, except one. Thankfully there was a bit of clearance between the barrier and the ground and I could lay down the bike under the barrier and get through without having to take the panniers off.

As I arrived in Mormant I confirmed that the decision to stay in Arc-en-Barrois the day before was the correct one. Mormant is a tiny village with just a few houses. There used to be an Abbey where Sigeric presumably stayed during his pilgrimage, but it is now in ruins. There are Via Francigena signs in the ruins.

Few kilometres after Mormant I met Nicholas, one of the few Via Francigena pilgrims I had met at that point and the first from Britain. Nicholas, is from Lancaster and had left Canterbury on the 11th of July. He expected to arrive in Rome by the end of October.

He told me that after his brother died, a few years ago, he walked from Lancaster to Canterbury in his memory. When he got there some people asked, “why don’t you walk to Rome?”, and that got stuck with him.

As the Lancaster to Canterbury walk was in memory of his brother, the pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome he is dedicating to the memory of his niece, who 40 years ago was abducted or went missing right after birth. He says that even after all this time, his sister is still grieving for the loss of her girl, so he is taking her little hospital blanket with him to Rome. Just one of the many interesting stories along the way.

After Mormant Google guided me to a point where the path was closed, so I had to find a way around it, and that meant a quite substantial detour of several kilometres.

Like in Laon, Langres has a substantial hill to climb so you can get to town. As I arrived in Langres I was feeling very tired, from the bad night sleep, so after getting my credentials stamped at the tourist information office I asked for pilgrim’s accommodations and they sent me to the L’Abri du Pèlerin, offered and maintained by the Catholic church, right beside the Cathedral. It is a small place, only 2 rooms. One room has 2 beds, the other 1 bed. It has a bathroom and a kitchen and it cost €10 a night (no WiFi). There was a couple from France staying in the room with 2 beds and I was alone in the room with a single bed.

Thankfully, after a shower I was still in time to get the local mini-marked opened, which enabled me to buy some food to prepare in the hostel.

I had a good night sleep there.

That’s it for days 8 and 9 of the pilgrimage. Have you contributed with your donation to my chosen charity already? Anything will help.

Thanks a lot for your time.

Please rate this post by clicking on the desired star (1 = Awful, 5 = Excellent)
[Total: 2 Average: 5]