Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sun, passport renewals, biking and the Eiffel Tower

This morning before work, I went to the Canadian embassy to renew my passport.  The last two times I renewed it, I had plenty of problems, including:

  • The employee at the passport office not believing that the picture of my previous passport was actually me.
  • Rejection of my student ID card as a valid supporting ID card (even though I called before going to the office to make sure it would be ok.)
  • Rejection of my photos because they were "too red" (since then I always take them in black and white).
  • Rejection of my references because they didn't live in the same country as I (even though this requirement is not specified anywhere).
  • Rejection of my Declaration in Lieu of Guarantor document, because, as any normal person, after living in a certain country for four years, I must obviously know a doctor, lawyer, or accountant, in that country, who has known me personally for over two years.
This time, I was so happy to see on the government of Canada website, that they have a new simplified process!  Even for Canadians living abroad. If nothing has changed since the last passport renewal (name, address, etc), then you don't need to get a doctor/lawyer/accountant to sign your photos.   I filled out the simplified form.   For the photos, I went to one photographer who could not produce photos for the Canadian passport because the specification is apparently a strange size (70mm x 50mm).  I went to a second photographer who was able to do this format.  However, there was a doubt about how zoomed in my face should be.  The specs say that the face should be between 31mm and 36mm, but the doubt was whether this dimension should include the hair or not.  I insisted that the photographer take two shots, just to be sure.

This morning, simplified application and photos in my backpack, I biked over to the embassy.  Taking the metro would have been a bit faster (10 minutes faster), but I figured I would take advantage of the beautiful weather.  It was already warm around 8am, with blue skies.  You really need to take advantage of this in Paris.  The ride to the embassy was about 8km.

Arriving at the embassy, a security guard would not let me park my bike in front of the building.  I had to park down the street. Once I got in the embassy, I saw a poster saying "Canadians living abroad currently do not qualify for the simplified passport renewal process".  So, I was sure that my passport application would get rejected again.  However, they accepted my documents and photos!  I hope they will be processed ok.  It should take three weeks.

I then biked to work, about 8.5km.  I saw the Eiffel Tower on the way, and had to stop to take a picture with the Eiffel tower, the Seine river, and my bike.  Part of the path from the embassy to work went through La Coulée Verte, a bike/pedestrian path in the south of Paris. 

Including my usual ride home from work, this makes for a total of 23km today.  Not bad to fit 23km of biking in beautiful weather, on a work day :)

Il fait beau !

La coulée verte

Friday, April 19, 2013

France cycling trip recap

Thanks to everybody who followed along with me on this trip. It made my day to read your comments :-) Felt like you were right along with me on the road. I replied to most of your comments, but I don't know if you're notified of my replies. If not, you better go back through each post to see my replies! (kidding)

My variety of experiences included:

  • Weather ranging from:
    • In the north: freezing cold to the point I was wearing every piece of clothing I had, and I couldn't feel my toes, to 
    • in the south: scorching hot to the point that cyclists were riding shirtless
  • Winds ranging from: 
    • Nice 15km/h winds pushing me along allowing me to do over 80km without getting tired, to
    • gusts of wind almost knocking me off my feet while just standing, making me take 3 hours to walk 15km.
  • Hotels ranging from:
    • Hotel rooms without a bathroom, or a bathroom which smelled like piss, to
    • a castle with a restaurant which served a classy, multiple-fork meal, and a wine list several pages long.
  • Roads ranging from:
    • Long flat roads without a bend or hill for kilometers, to
    • the beginning of the Pyrenées, with tough climbs and winding roads along the coast.
  • Scenery: Farms, forests, major cities, small villages, beaches, lakes, rivers.
  • Animals: Horses, cows, chickens, sheep, poneys, dogs, cats.  No bears.
  • Transportation: 
    • bicycle (obviously...)
    • train (to get to Dunkirk and to return from Hendaye)
    • ferry (from Blaye to Lemarque)
    • car (to go to an ATM in Maroueil)


Here is a list of the different cities I stopped in, with the distance traveled that day as reported by my gps. Click here for an interactive map (which is based on driving directions, not my actual path). You can click on the distance for each step, to see an interactive map of the actual path I took for that day.

A) Day 1 - Dunkirk
B) Day 1 - Veurne (Belgium) (28km)
C) Day 2 - Hazebrouck (47km)
D) Day 3 - Maroeuil (62km)
E) Day 4 - Maroeuil (rest day)
F) Day 5 - Amiens (64km)
G) Day 6 - Beauvais (64km)
H) Day 7 - Magnanville (64km)
I) Day 8 - Chartres (72km)
J) Day 9 - Mondoubleau (75km)
K) Day 10 - Tours (83km)
L) Day 11 - Richelieu (62km)
M) Day 12 - Vouillé (51km)
N) Day 13 - Maisonnay (58km*)
O) Day 14 - Cognac (68km)
P) Day 15 - Margaux (78km, ferry, 10km)
Q) Day 16 - Biganos (70km)
R) Day 17 - Mimizan (79km)
S) Day 18 - Capbreton (88km)
T) Day 19 - Irun (Spain) (63km)

* The distance for day 13 to Maisonnay is estimated, since I didn't have my gps on for part of the day.

That's a total of 1186km. To put this into perspective, some similar distances are:
  • crossing California from south to north via the 5 freeway is about 1280km. 
  • driving from Paris to Madrid is 1263km.
  • driving around Paris in circles 34 times would be 1191km (driving the boulevard périphérique)
  • in 2011, a dog, Fadiddle, was found about 1200 km away from his Salt Lake City Home, in Oceanside, California.  The dog had been wandering around for about 8 months.   I don't feel so slow now.


Here are some interesting and less interesting numbers about the distances, times, and speeds during this trip.
  • Total time on the road: 133 hours, 3 minutes, 32 seconds (5.54 days)
  • Total time moving: 91 hours, 46 minutes, 52 seconds (3.82 days)
  • Total break times: 41 hours, 16 minutes, 40 seconds (1.72 days)
  • Average speed (including break times): 8.9 km/h
  • Average moving speed (excluding break times): 12.9 km/h
  • Average distance per day: 65.9 km
  • Average time on the road per day: 7 hours, 23 minutes
  • Average time moving per day: 5 hours, 5 minutes
And some charts:


I had difficulty including videos in this blog from the road.  So now that I'm back at a real PC, I can share them!

This speed radar shows how fast I was going.  

For much of the trip, the scenery was open fields.

The first forest I cycled through was Chef-Boutonne.

A video on my last day, as I neared the end of the forest bike paths, before entering Bayonne.

Now that I'm back

Things that I'll miss from being on tour:
  • Being outside in nature
  • Getting some exercise by riding through a variety of landscapes and roads
  • Sharing my trip experiences
  • Eating full meals (starter, main course, dessert) to replenish my body
  • Having hotel staff clean up after me every day
  • Reading comments from people on my blog :)
Things that I'm glad to return to:
  • My boyfriend
  • Real laundry
  • A PC with a real keyboard (no more thumb typing!)

What next?

This trip, I was very focused on "finishing" the trip.  I had a goal to cross France from the Belgian border to the Spanish border.  I think the next time I go on a bike tour, I will simply choose some nice bike paths, and just plan to spend X days in the area, without a specific goal of a destination to reach.  I really enjoyed the long distances of bicycle paths in the forest, in Aquitaine, so I might think about coming back to that area.  But there are surely many other similar possibilites in France or not too far.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Day 19 - France cycling trip: Capbreton - Irún

I made it! I am writing this blog from Irún, Spain.

What a day. The first half of the day, from Capbreton into Bayonne, was much like the previous two days: cool enough temps and bike paths through forests, in a zen environment surrounded by flowers and chirping birds.  As soon as I arrived in Bayonne, the forest paths ended, the sun showed no mercy with its scorching heat (some male cyclists were riding shirtless), the streets were full of traffic and the topology suddenly became very hilly.  It was a tough ride through Bayonne and Biarritz, but as I arrived in Saint Jean de Luz and neared Hendaye, I was rewarded with beautiful views of the beach.

Two different things about this hotel compared with all the French hotels I stayed in:

1) they asked for id here. They actually scanned my passport.
2) they don't have a buffet-style breakfast.

I wonder if these differences are unique to this hotel, or if all the hotels are like this in Spain. One good thing: checkout is at noon :-) I think it was usually at 10am in the French hotels, but I'm not sure since I was always out before 9am anyway. I might sleep in tomorrow. My legs are extremely tired from all the climbing today, so I'm sure they'd appreciate a long rest.  My train is at 2pm.

I passed the milestone of finishing the Aquitaine foldout map. I also passed the milestone of finishing the France map, but alas, I threw it out early on during the trip to lighten up the load, so no "DONE" picture for that one.

Keep tuned for tomorrow or the day after, as I'll post a recap with an overview map of the itinerary, some stats, and some videos I couldn't upload from my phone.

Also a shout out and a "Feliz Cumpleaños" to my dad today! He taught me to ride a bike. I think I was a late learner, around 9 or maybe even 10 years old. But I guess starting out late doesn't mean anything :-)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Day 18 - France cycling trip: Mimizan - Capbreton

Another day with perfect weather for cycling. Over 90% of the ride today was on isolated bike paths, mostly through the forest.

I had a hard time finding the start of the bike path this morning in Mimizan. I've posted a screen capture from my Garmin gps of all the detours I did looking for the bike path. I asked a nice guy on a bike how to find the path, and he led me to it :-) I had another detour an hour or so into the trip, at Contis plage, where I got lost again. Yes, even with a gps, a smartphone with Google maps, a foldout map, and maps posted in the forest, it was still possible to get lost! Note that the second detour resembles a certain body part.

I only saw the bike paths on my foldout map. My gps and Google maps were useless at finding them. It's strange, because for these paths to be on the foldout map of the whole Aquitaine region, I would think they would be important enough to be on my gps or Google maps (this map is a normal road map, not a special hiking or biking edition)

Anyway, other than these small detours, it was easy riding the whole day.  :-)

My bags and I got dirtier than usual today.  I think the dirt is actually wood dust. You can see a photo of my bag full of the stuff.

I saw many cyclists today. In the forest, I saw guys riding racing bikes as well as a couple of guys who must have been on tour as well, with even more bags than I had. They were probably camping as well.  As I got closer to Capbreton, I saw more families and couples just cycling to have a nice stroll.

My hotel is just a couple of minutes walking distance from the beach (like yesterday). I had dinner at a restaurant on the beach. I ordered "moules frites"  (mollusks and fries) with a glass of red wine and a waffle for dessert. :-)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Day 17 - France cycling trip: Biganos to Mimizan

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about. A perfect cycling day! The weather was slightly overcast and the temperature was just right. The first half of the ride was on long, straight, flat highways with light to moderate traffic. Easy to power through.

In the middle of this first half of the day, I rode into the Etang de Cazaux et de Sanguinet: a huge lake. I then arrived in Parentis-en-born. From here on, the entire ride into Mimizan, over 30km, was on isolated bike paths, a large portion going through forests. This is what I was expecting in Aquitaine :-)

Between Parentis-en-born and Mimizan lies Gastes, a small city on the side of another huge lake : the Etang de Bicarrosse et de Parentis.

At the end of the ride, I arrived at Mimizan-Plage, on the beach of the Bay of Biscay.  My hotel is a couple minutes walking distance from the beach.

Most of the ride was flat, except for the last few km before the beach.  Tomorrow, a large part of the ride will be on more bike lanes through the forest near the coast, so I guess it will be hilly again. We'll see.

I tried to take a picture of some grazing cows today, but as I stopped, a few of the cows stopped eating to look at me, and one of them seemed to be flaring its nostrils and starting to stomp the ground. So I just left. Excited cows scare me. :-)

After several days of fast food, I finally had a real meal in the hotel. The starter was a seafood salad with shrimp, salmon, and guacamole. The main course was linguini with vegetables and beef, and dessert was a slice of apple pie. Yum.