01 July 2010

More tips on traveling to France with a bike

More Tips on How to travel around France with ease

I am receiving good feedback from those cyclists heading to France for their own bike trips. So to continue with some travel tips:

Water while you are riding a bike in France:
Many small towns have a central water spigot or fountain. It will be recognizable by a metal spout and a brick basin or pond. Some are free flowing, other need to have the knob pulled or pushed. The water is drinkable if signed "eau potable", don't drink it if it is labeled with a non potable sign. It is good, enjoy the water for free. Otherwise a coke at a small shop works well, or buy an espresso at a cafe and fill your bottles in the restroom. (This one is in Saint-Marie-de-Campan on the way up to La Mongie on the east side of the Tourmalet).

Don't drink the water you see flowing from the mountain side or from random creeks, or if it at all looks like farm animals drink from the source. If you have a concern, ask a local. If you are really desperate for water, ask a camper or a person in a RV for help. >

Bikes outside of cafes:
In small towns it is fine to rest your bike (velo) against a wall and sit and have a coffee or a drink or lunch. Bikes are generally safe in small towns and at the top of the Cols. Do not leave your bike unattended in the large towns or cities. Not even to rest them against a post when you are sitting nearby having a drink. It simply is not wise. Also do not leave your purse, laptop, or bike visible in your car. We buy an inexpensive blanket and cover them up, or try not to travel with them in the car.

Good roads to ride upon:
Avoid the Red roads, Yellow is okay if scenic, White is the best. Watch for no bike signs and don't go there. Expect to get lost around Argeles-Gazost. It is simply confusing, to nearly everyone. I wrote a post about understanding bike signs in France in June 2010.

Peage/Tollways in France:
Not all tollbooths are created equal. You will receive a ticket at some and be required to pay at others. The open lanes are marked by a green light. If you pull your car up and a ticket comes out, pull it out and save it safely, drive on. At the next station you come to, insert the card and then your credit card to pay the required amount. Retrieve your card, and drive on.

If you arrive at the booth and see only a coin bucket or a due amount showing, toss in the coins, or use your card. Using a credit card is much easier at all tollbooths.

Parking Lots in France:
Parking in City Centers are often fee parking marked by a Blue square sign with a white P. These blue signs will lead you to the public parking lots. Whenever you see the Blue P Public Parking Lot, drive up to the gate and push the button to collect your card. Park your car and take your card with you. Go shopping, eating, touristing, whatever. Upon return to the lot. Locate the parking payments kiosks/machines. You pay upon return, get back into your car, and place the card in the gate booth upon exit.

This order is important. Also many of these parking garages close at 10:00pm (22:00). They'll lock your car in. One time we happened upon a great outdoor country music concert in Pau and decided to stay and listen, only to return to find our car was locked inside the garage. We had to take a taxi home and ride a bike back into the city the next morning. So much for wild nights in the Pyrenees.

Beware some open air parking is also marked as payment required. Payment will be painted on the asphalt or signed. Locate the small pillar/booth and purchase a timed parking pass to be placed on your front dashboard.

Food after your ride:
If you finish your ride after 2:00pm, look for Boulangeries (Bakery), Bouceries (Butcher)/Charcouteries (Deli), they should be open. If you are like me and enjoy protein after a ride, the Charcouteries have meats and salads, the Boulangeries have quiche, small pizettas, and perhaps ham and cheese sandwiches. Or look for small grocery stores in the towns where you don't have to leave your bike unattended. Buy some food and sit outside and eat it.

Watching the TDF coverage on TV:
Then look for a Bar/Tabac or Cafe Bar. They will serve you a cold drink (no food at the hours the TDF will be on so eat up at the bakery). The Bars will allow you to watch their TV so you can catch up on the Tour de France when it is in the part of the country where you are not. Bars often have the large TVs. Greet the Bartender kindly, "Bonjour Monsieur", you may ask the bartender nicely "pouvons-nous regarder la TV?, le Tour de France, si'l vous plait? (may we watch the Tour de France, please) pointing to the TV. Then settle in to watch the race and be sure to buy a couple of drinks. The World Cup is on right now, so it might take priority, but the French love the Tour de France as well. Say thank you and goodbye upon leaving. "Merci, Au revoir Monsieur".

Routard Guide Book Ratings:
Many establishments in France will carry the sign of Routard outside their restaurant or hotel. The symbol is of a hiking man with a backpack and walking stick. They are about 8"x10" in size and will be hanging by the front entrance. Look for these plaques. They are regarded as recommendable. Usually they will lead you to a truly French experience. If you are roaming through a town looking for a place to stay or eat, select a Routard recommendation.

Paying with a credit card at the Super Market:
Again our USA credit cards do not have the required chip as is customary in France, and so I always simply hand my credit card to the cashier. The are very understanding about running the card for you. Sometimes they will swipe it in a different machine. Again show that you are grateful for this added service.

I purchase an Atlas of France before leaving home. I cut out the individual pages where I will be traveling. I highlight my proposed routes on the pages. I bring a small plastic baggie. Every day I select the page that contains my route of the day and stick it in the baggie, and place it in my jersey pocket. This keeps the map dry and readily available.

I purchase the individual Michelin LOCAL paper maps of the areas where I will be traveling. I use these for large scale planning, for driving, and to see the entire route of one stage of the Tour de France. Be sure to buy only the Local Michelin maps, when you are on a bike, you will need that much detail. These are the traditional size maps, and are too large to carry with you on a bike, that is why I prefer the individual Atlas pages instead.

Map #s: *342, 338, 340, 343, 344, 335

Trafic Signals:
You should stop for red lights in a car and on a bike. The lights are often 2 meters to 5 meters before the intersection. Be sure to stop before the light so you can see when it changes. We are used to driving directly up to the intersection to look both ways, if you do this you will be stuck in no-mans land wondering when to go. (A flashing yellow light, means to proceed ahead slowly.)

Oui Oui Oui:
In the countryside of the Pyrenees, oui is not pronounced as "wee", but as sort of a combination of "waih or weuh", you will hear this a lot. The sound of "wee" is of the north, of the big city, of more formality. A positive response sounds something like: "yah way" (they are not telling you to go away).

Chip n' Pin Credit Cards
Update July 2012: After spending 18 days in France, I can report that my American based chip card worked well in restaurants, markets, shops, E.Leclerc gas stations (CB card signs), autoroute gas stations, Tollbooths with the CB card signs (only!!). It did NOT work at standard tollbooths (I kept coins ready), parking meter pay stations, and unattended gas stations (without the blue CB card logo), and some small retailers. It was however very convenient to have, since most credit card machines are not swipe machines but insert your card machines.

Also read my earlier post with additional tips: Getting around France with ease

Alright, there you go, more of "more than you ever dream to know" about traveling around France with a bike. Also I'm going to be giving some TDF fan tips coming soon. Happy travels!

A picture out my backdoor from today. (This is looking south down the Vallee d'Ossau to the Pic du Midi d'Ossau. The Col d'Aubisque is up to the left, the Col de la Marie Blanque is over to the right). Heaven!!