Our next aim was Annecy region where we had arranged to meet two good old friends that also previously lived in Lisbon and were now living in Germany. To get there, we planned to pass by Grenoble using some of the existing cycling routes along the Rhone and the Isére rivers.
The upcoming days would change dramatically the initial impressions we had experienced as we crossed from Spain into France, maybe because we had the opportunity to interact directly with some people beyond the sharing of the same road space.
Along one of these cycling routes, we contacted a warmshowers host we had found in hopes of a good night sleep after committing the terrible mistake of camping next to a train line for freight trains that crossed, our sleep and what seemed our tent…, all night.
We hoped also for some closer interactions with some local people before entering the big city, because we realised that most of our encounters had been through road sharing and supermarket checkouts. The warmshowers profile we found suggested friendly people with cycling touring experience… And it wasn’t wrong. Séverine picked us up in the local train station with her own bicycle and directed us towards her home through the local villages.
After a quick stop on the impressive nearby bridge to admire the view, we headed to their house – up one last steep hill. In the garage as we parked our bicycles we saw their own fully prepared touring bicycles in the corner and then, just after the door leading to the house, a huge map of Ireland that Sarah quickly recognized.
Séverine and Yannick had cycled almost entirely around the island of Ireland in what they described as harsh, wet and hilly conditions. They went on to describe how this harshness was counter balanced by the beauty of the country and the kindness of the people they met.
A tour around the house (dark room included!) and the garden and a shower later, we sat outside for dinner together with Phillippe, a nearby friend and warmshowers member himself, who was also staying at the house that night.
The dinner was delicious and contained entirely ingredients grown in their own garden. We learned about new vegetables, such as purple beans that turn green when cooked and that in France it’s common to use the leaves of a type of thistle as a Christmas speciality, and that chard (acelgas) is called blett.
After an introduction to the local cheeses as dessert, we dwelled over a map to discuss the best road to reach Grenoble. We fancied a scenic road instead of a boring flat and busy road and planned to be brave and climb up the Vercors mountain range that surrounds Grenoble (one of them… there are three!).
We spent the remaining night discussing the most scenic possible route counter acted by the steepness and required effort and commitment for the heavily load cyclists to accomplish it, only to find out that the chosen one, said to be possibly the most expensive road of France, was closed for further maintenance… A small detour was then decided and later on equally appreciated…
We left the next morning after breakfast with Phillip, having slept one of the best night rests of the entire trip.
The way chosen to Grenoble, even with the detour away from the main gorge, did not disappoint in anyway. In the beginning we marveled at vertical houses above a cliff that seemed almost suspended in the air; the constant climb was tough but well rewarded with amazing views over mountains, gorges, a wild river and once on top, an amazing green flateau (aka flat plateau ;p).
Once on top we had our first glimpse of Mont Blanc and amazing snow covered mountains. The views over and around Grenoble were and are amazing…
After stopping for a while for such contemplations, we only had to slide down to the city which proved more difficult than it seemed given that:
1. The descent was such that our brakes warmed up so much to the point of becoming more and more useless except to send out an unpleasant and scary burning smell…
2. Sarah which had recently replaced her front brake pads as we stayed over Séverine, had accidentally missplaced the screw holding them in place, which resulted in then jumping off the bike just as we started descending… 😐
After a brake pad readjustment and a stop or two to let the brakes cool down, we finally made our wiggling way down to the city and to Clementine’s house.
Clementine was a friend I had met during my PhD back in Lisbon and let us invade and stay overnight in hers and Arturo’s house. We parked our bicycles in the bicycle cupboard next to Clementine’s electrical bicycle… and quickly squatted their living room with all our panniers as their tatami judo mats became our bed..
We all settled around the kitchen table as we were treated and introduced to the French custom of “apéro”: small aperitifs or starters of cheese or pates before the main meal… A custom we tried to keep in our remaining time over France… 😉
Bellies full, we went to our tatami bed for a good night rest before spending the next day in town acquiring some gear to keep us going in the upcoming times… Climbing shoes for our Annecy stopover and warmer and sturdier shoes for the colder Winter time…
After our day in town we chillaxed back at the house, doing some planning for the future cycling, over a curiously flavoured cup of tea that Clementine later insisted we should take with us… Unfortunately our tea collection was already quite full (since we left Lisbon…) so we had to leave the tea behind…
We joined again in their cozy kitchen for a food full dinner with tosta mista veggies and other treats, finalized with a tasting of Portuguese água ardente (aka fire water) and Mexican tequila (the real stuff!).
As we left town the next day, after saying goodbye to our super cheerful hosts, we dwelled into the possibility to cycle up again another of the Grenoble surrounding mountains… However, the decision was made easy as we could see from the city the clouds building up on the mountain we would been climbing up, so no views reward…
As we cycled away from Grenoble along the much flater alternative of the cycling route towards Chambéry and later on Annecy, we were overtaken by a fellow cyclist that greated us with enthusiasm for seeing touring cyclists.
As it happened, Lucille had just came back from her own cycling adventure, from Croatia all the way up to Finland…
A few pedals along, after us having explained a bit our plans and ambitions and after sharing some experiences between ourselves, fellow cycle-tourists, Lucille kindly invited us to join her for lunch with her parents whose house she was cycling towards.
Her parents kindly recieved as if it was normal to bring home two strangers in cycling spirit. In fact they themselves had joined Lucille in the final stretch of her adventure with their own bicycles.
Their house had a wonderful garden full of fruit trees, where among other things, figs were out to dry… There was even a small pond to welcome the local insects which apparently some frogs were also keen on occupying..
Lucille dad’s appeared with a collection of green vegetable leafs and a bowl of plums, all locally picked, while her mother greeted us with a bowl of couscous enriched with some nice salad and veggies.
We shared lunch exchanging views on cycling and the region and left their house most thankful with tips on where to head next and to potentially spend the night. Just as recommended, we ended up camping next to a rather quiet lake surrounded by mountains where we had yet another swim…
The next morning we left fully recovered to do the last stretch of the cycling route to Aix-les-Bains, just before Annecy, where we ended up meeting our friends for the next adventures…