It has been three months since we arrived in Lagos, schlepping our heavily loaded suitcases up the steep hill to our apartment. This time the the suitcases are even heavier and we have an epic time with RyanAir at the airport, getting the excess bags to the right place and stuffing more gear into them to avoid being charged twice. I have a senior moment with boarding passes (hint- take a screenshot) and we are sent to the end of the line like errant schoolchildren. Thankfully Karen is a great packer and we get it all sorted in time to board.
In Marseille we leave the bags at the train station and spend the night at a nearby hotel. The next day we get an early train to Sisteron. Sisteron is in northern Provence at the edge of the Alps. It's a beautiful small town in an incredible setting. The cliffs rise up above the town and our truly ancient apartment is a few steps from the Durance River. We are here thanks to the generosity of friends Don and Nancy from Boise. Nancy owns a place here where we can stay and stash our gear while traveling in Europe. We have a new bike coming for Karen and it is being shipped here.
We have stayed here before with Andy and Bev in the summer of 2013. It is a lot colder now and we miss the sun in the Algarve- along with easy access to the internet. Getting a SIM card and access to Wifi and data is problematic and bureaucratic and very French. Fortunately, Nancy and Don introduce us to their friend Constantin who can assist us. He has been incredibly welcoming and helpful in our first days here.
We reacquaint ourselves with some local rides and are now spending a few days in Aix en Provence, wandering the streets and shopping for new clothes after wearing the same things for 3 months. Aix is an incredible town and the market here reminds us of why we love France. They say that the French are arrogant and unapproachable but in our short time here we have met with warmth and kindness from strangers as we mangle the language.
It is not quite spring yet; the trees are bare and there is often a cold wind from the north. I wonder what we were thinking since we left the beaches of Portugal to ride through these barren hills wearing three layers of bike clothes. But the scenery is incredible and the side roads of France are empty of cars. We remember the colors of Provence in July, but they are muted for now- except for the food at the local farmers market. We have been looking for cafes with seats in the sun since November and here in Aix we jostle with others doing the same.
We are on hold, waiting for the bike to arrive and making plans to ride the Canal of Two Seas across the width of France from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. With luck we will take a train to the start next week.
Although there is lots of down time for us Pensioners, in this style of travel we don't spend a lot of time looking back. Selective memory kicks in and we are already thinking of the next ride and the next few weeks, rather than what we did in Portugal. We are left with impressions of that time, printed on the rather less sensitive emulsion of our minds:
The sound of barking dogs, American rock ‘n’ roll music blaring in the countryside, sheep with bells on, the wind in our faces and the big trucks gearing down to pass us. The taste of cod fish (bacalhau) and boiled potatoes, fresh squeezed orange juice every day, pastries and bread and grilled squid and day drinking. Our English breakfast cafe and Portuguese/Mexican food at the Green Room. The beautiful coastline with grottos and the percussive thump of surf and spray when the waves hit the cliffs, extreme fishing and extreme wind. The white tile buildings, the drains that trap our tires and coastal red dirt. Clear blue skies and sand and sun in the dark winter months. Memorable family time with the kids, evening card games, surfing, biking and castles.