The Route

The goal is to travel from Dunkerque to Perpignan by bicycle. I will be couchsurfing the whole way; for more information on the couchsurfing project, visit the couchsurfing website, or view my couchsurfing profile.


In the south of France, it is 3 kisses instead of 2. Alex and I are staying with Bernadette, a tour guide for a chateau from the 14th century. She says she gathers her inspiration from old stones. She loves to feel them, and imagine the people who used to live within the walls. She drove us to a little town in the mountains that is over 1000 years old. It is on a hill, carved out of the rock, and built with huge old stones. We went at night, and the town was lit up inside. People were drinking coffee and wine in the little terrace cafes. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

We have been eating extremely well - fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, vanilla green tea, fresh baked whole wheat bread, organic dark chocolate... Our hosts all cook excellent meals; everything is always very fresh. I feel amazing. We are less than a day's ride from the mediterranean.


We are now following the Rhone, and mountains start to rise up on either side. The attitudes and mannerisms change as we travel south. The architecture has changed from gothic to roman, and there is more diversity, due to immigrants from Spain and Africa. Patrice, a pianist, is our host. He is the first vegetarian that I have encountered on this trip. Lyon is the "gastronomic capital of the world," and Patrice takes us to a gourmet organic vegetarian restaurant for a three course meal and Burgundy wine.


Cormanche sur Saone

Alex joins me today, sporting a seductive 80's biking outfit inherited from her mother. We are staying with Florence's family, in a little farmhouse close to the river. They raise sheep and have cherry and walnut trees in their backyard. Lunch is served in a covered terrace next to the courtyard.

11 juin

The landscape has changed, from vineyards to pastures and wheatfields. In St Germain du Bois, I have another wonderful host. Gautier, an agricultural engineer, has a delicious dinner waiting for me when I arrive. It is served with Burgundy wine and followed by cheese in the typical French fashion. After dinner, Gautier plays African music and Bob Dylan songs on his little acoustic guitar.

10 juin

Adriane has left me! Now I have entered Burgundy: famous for mustard, gingerbread, and of course wine. Miles of vineyards are broken up by dense villages - clusters of wine producing estates. The roads are speckled with signs advertising the local wines, to taste and to buy. My host Katherine is out of town, but has arranged for me to stay in a dormitory for vineyard workers - empty now in the off season. I have not seen many tourists on my trip, but Beaune is thick with them, touring the town in large groups, visiting the wine caves, and buying glacés at the many little cafés.

Picture: wine bottles in one of the Burgundy caves.

9 juin

In Chaumont, Adriane and I encountered Ola, a lively Swedish children's theatre manager. He is traveling through Europe by bike for his 50th birthday. He accompanied us from Chaumont to Dijon, and told us about the crops, rivers, and history of the region along the way.

35-hour work week

French people work 35 hours per week by law. If they work more, they get additional vacation time added to their standard five weeks of holiday.
At lunch time, stores close for at least an hour lunch break (sometimes two in the smaller towns). Even the big box chains, like Electro Depot, shut their doors so their employees can relax for an hour together!
Unemployment is high, hovering around 10 percent, although I'm not sure how or if that is related to long lunch breaks!
Le moral of the story: Work less, drink more wine. (It's better for your health!)

June 5

Today we biked through the midwest of France, or so it seemed.
Gigantic and abounding bugs crawled on us and smashed into our sunglasses. The environment had changed from the cool vineyards and rolling lettuce fields of the north to a more humid valley of wheat fields and cow, sheep and horse pastures.
The road rolled in and out of swaths of dense forest, and we followed a bright green river for much of the journey.

Biking is going well. Liz has had a few flat tires, which we fixed quickly. My feet were hurting from the clip-on shoes but i've adjusted their position and loosened the pedals; they're doing better.

We stopped for lunch at a chateau with a beautiful jardin (garden) with extremely sweet smelling flowers and a maze of hedges.

France smells good for the most part. The wheat fields smell like warm dough. Village corners smell like sweet bread and pastries from the Patisserie and rich chocolate from the Chocolatier. One field we rolled through en route to Laon also smelled like chocolate!

4 juin - st dizier

Today we biked to Saint Dizier, and stayed with Giom, a sailor, mountain biker, and musician from the western coast. He was an amazing host! He prepared us a delicious homecooked meal, which was served with wine and good French cheese. He was very generous with his home and personality.

Chalons en Champagne, Sunday June 3rd

Sunday may have been the longest, richest day of my life!
We rode into Chalons en Champagne on Saturday and decided to rest there on Sunday.
Everything in town was closed for the day, including the yoga studio, internet cafe and bike shop.
We strolled into Centre Ville with church bells ringing - no resounding - and families hurrying in
skirts and dress pants to the great cathederal for service.
We started the brillant, sunny morning at a cafe in the middle of the center square, sipping tea and eating creamy yoghurt with nuts and fruit.
The rest of the day was a slow stroll - to the park, to the quiet art musuem, to our hostel for this or that.
Chalons en Champagne hosted a great circus school and it a festival of plays, comedies and acrobatic shows over the weekend throughout various parks and in tents. In the evening we saw a wonderfully comic performance that still lingers happy with me now.

We finished our evening with a delicious Dutch beer.

1 juin

From Reims we biked to Chamery, one of many little champagne producing towns in this beautiful region. Here the soil and climate are just right for growing grapes. In addition, the towns between Reims and Epernay are situated over an area containing chalk below the soil. This chalk keeps a constant, cool temerature in its interior throughout the year, which makes it perfect for storing champagne.

In Chamery we were invited to stay with the Perseval family, a small champagne producer with only 2.5 hectares of grapes. They are relatives of Emmanuelle and Vincent, one of my previous CS hosts. They gave us a tour through the entire process, from vine to bottle. At their estate they comlete every step of the process. After the tour Adriane and I helped cook dinner, another delicious 5 course meal with both wine and champagne, and vegetables from the garden. Only a couple members of the family spoke English, so we spoke mostly in French. They were very patient with our vocabulary!

The next morning Adriane and I worked for two hours in the vineyards to get a feel for the work that needs to be done in June. After another delicious lunch and more champagne, we bid farewell and left for our next destination: Chalons en Champagne.

click here for more pictures from Chamery.

31 mai

We are in Reims, drinking champagne.

Click here for more pictures

May 30

whew, i am typing on a french keyboard getting set up on my first blog - it is more difficult than biking through France!
I am two days into this adventure and it is brilliant! We are biking through small French villages where locals carrying baguettes shout out to us, "Bonjour Madame, bon voyage!" We are cycling through fields of wheat and lettucce scattered with poppies - oooh la la!
Today we stopped in Reims to tour the Champagne region and taste the bubbly! We visited the caves where Pommery Champagne is made, and wound up experiencing six varieties of champagne - oh my!
We are staying with Axel, a solar panel researcher who is incredibly hospitalable, energetic and interesting. He drove us to the vineyards today, and poured us two very delicious types of european beer yesterday.
Tomorrow we will spend the day at a vineyard with a farmer Liz met through a friend!
Bon soir!

29 mai

Adriane and I biked from Saint Quentin to Laon. Michel and Mado were our gracious hosts for the night. They have traveled all over the world, meeting hosts and houseswappers through couchsurfing and hospitality club. They cooked us a five course meal, which included fresh vegetables and strawberries from their garden, and some amazing cheese. Over dinner they told us stories from their travels.

Dinner with Michel and Mado.

25 mai

Armentières to Arras today. There are little farm stands along the way selling the most delicious fresh yogurt (putting all other yogurt to shame). My hosts for the night are Emmanuelle and Vincent, a gracious couple in a cute yellow and blue flat. They had a barbeque in their backyard garden with all of their interesting friends and neighbors. We drank delicious Belgian beer and played - of all games - Twister.

Click here for more pictures.

24 mai

Today I biked from Dunkerque to Armentières. The north of France is beautiful. Much of my route was on one lane roads with very few cars, through the countryside and small towns. The towns have old buildings, little bakeries, stone streets, and outdoor cafés serving Belgian beer. Everyone I met has been very nice, even though I cannot speak French all that well.

22 mai

Alex and I arrive in Paris together. It is much smaller and less crowded than I had imagined. My first couchsurfing host is Frédéric. He is a CS ambassador and has hosted over 150 people. When Alex and I arrive at his apartment there is a reporter from Le Monde waiting for us. She is working on a piece about the couchsurfing project. A photographer takes several pictures of us with Frédéric and his couch. People often ask about the safety of couchsurfing, but Frédéric tells me there have been only a few minor incidents since it began in 2004. The biggest incident that has been recorded thus far involved an American CSer who repeatedly borrowed money from his hosts and disappeared without returning it.

Surprisingly trusting, Frédéric goes to his girlfriend's for the night and leaves me with spare keys to the apartment.

Picture: Frédéric on a Free Hugs campaign.

Picture: My first couch.