Flight Palaver with Air India, Followed by Idyllic Family Cycling in France
A final farewell in Bangkok, Thailand
Post Author Christina
We waved goodbye to the busy city we had grown to love, with it’s friendly draw, familiar feel and thriving tourist trade, and loaded the taxi with our boxed bikes and panniers for our 4am ride to the airport. We drove into the sunrise and boarded the plane to the dawn of a new day, and the start to the next and final part of our cycling adventure.
Boxed Bikes on The Plane
We were not the only ones on our flight with large luggage. It seems that the thing to do is to buy large plasma TV’s in Thailand and fly them over to India. The boarding queues were filled with Indian families lining up with their giant plasmas of various ridiculous sizes.
‘Excuse me, I had to ask, are they televisions!?’ one excited Indian man asked us in the queue, peering at our giant rectangle boxes with wide eyes in amazement. ‘No, these are bicycles.’ we corrected the now disappointed looking man.
To our surprise and excitement we were not charged for our extra luggage. Our boxed bikes, and panniers were 66kg. 6kg over our allocated travel allowance.
We walked away feeling as though we had somehow cheated the system, and it felt great. They probably thought it best to let us off the additional charges in the hope we don’t put in for flight delay claims seeing as our second flight was 13hours delayed.
‘Should have brought a TV’ Hattie said.
Flying Bangkok to Delhi, Delhi to Paris – with Air India
The flight went smoothly, and we soon arrived in Delhi airport. Our passports were then collected, and we were whisked away to the transit hotel just outside the airport. We were then all checked into our rooms for the day, and told that a buffet lunch would be served within the hour, and then dinner again at five.
The buffet was all traditional Indian curry with a selection of desserts. It was brilliant; we were having a great time. We even were offered a tour of Delhi by the tour operator at the hotel.
To go on a tour of Delhi without an Indian visa, passport or permission to leave the confines of transit would of course have been irresponsible and should probably have never been offered to us. Not to mention risky without the relevant jabs etc for India travel.
But of course we delighted in going ahead anyway, and made sure we took our cameras for what promised to be a great photo day, courtesy of Air India.
A Day in Delhi
We visited India Gate, and the beautiful Qutub Minar, the tallest minnnaret. We were fighting off the crowds as we walked around the sites. At times we had familys queuing to take our photo, it was really something else. I found it all quite awkward but Hattie of course loved the hilarity of it, and found my reaction even more amusing still.
I’m sure from their amazement to our pasty white flesh and western appearance that we must have looked rather unusual to the Indian families we passed. It was not like in Thailand where western TV shows were common place, to the locals here we were even more unfamiliar still.
There were lots of men on bikes transporting goods, families on foot collecting recycling for cash, and others working varying stalls and surveying the crowds. The heat was intense and the air thick, humid and dusty. The day went quickly and was in our eyes an exciting last minute free addition to our Asia trip.
Our flight from Delhi, it turns out, had been double booked on our ticketed seats. Luckily we beat the other ticket holders to the unlucky spot and before we knew it we were in midflight eating yet another delicious curry that had been thrust in front of us.
Arriving in France After Flying With Boxed Bikes
Some sort of family team building exercise of bike maintenance, in the centre of an airport, next to a picture of the more appropriate scene setting, seemed somehow comic in itself.
We set out with our restored bikes to Annette and George’s (family friends from Southsea) via train, and were able to store them safely away whilst we eat some good French pastries, washed up, and got a few hours kip before heading out for a nice European meal.
Jet lag soon caught up with us and we wound up sleeping off our meal, cola and tinnitus in the guest room of Annette and George’s very enviable – brand new – homely, but yet incredibly immaculate French apartment.
Cycling Versailles to Dreux – France Day 1
Setting off on the bikes followed suit to the beginning of any journey with the Garmin – especially in a new country with confused satellites – a hugely fumbled anticlimax.
‘Goodbye! Farewell! Orevour!’ we all declared as we waved our way out of the apartment car park, minutes before waiting around the corner for half an hour, waiting for the Garmin to find satellites.
Ruth had already long set off by the time we got ourselves together, eager to get on her way probably (understandably) wondering what all the GPS fuss was about when we had good old fashioned maps. We finally managed to find Ruth, after a panicked start, and it was not long before we were all flapping about the best way to get out of the city.
It was no longer ‘Hat nav’ it seemed, but instead we had three very keen navigators, and myself, who kept out of it, and played with the Garmin. The £300 GPS mapping device.
Ruth did not want to cycle on the roads in the city, so every time a cycle path disappeared she was back onto the pavement – which did get confusing and a little nerve wracking. All of a sudden having to consider other group members, we felt like we had been thrown back into family life in full swing.
After our initial confusion over which way was out, we finally got onto a road that took us further and further from the city. We soaked in the rewards as the city pulled away from us and the sun came out to push us on into the beautiful French countryside.
The Destination or The Journey?
We all got a little nervous as we all knew what was coming. With Hattie’s mum’s aversion to cycling on roads, or with cars, we knew we were pushing our luck here, but just kept going not wanting to fall further behind schedule.
Our average speed was a painful 5mph coming out of the city.
‘STOP!’ Ruth called out, and soon enough we turned back to see she was walking her bike back the way we came.
‘I am not going that way it will be terrible!’
And to be fair she was absolutely right, it would have been, but we were behind schedule and looking to be in danger of needing our lights by the end of our 50miles. Being used to completing our 50miles before lunch, we were somewhat alarmed to see what touring as a group really meant.
Hattie, Ruth and John all peered down at the map flapping in the wind in the middle of a quiet road we had turned off onto. I admittedly at this point had so much faith in everyone else’s abilities to navigate, I rather lazily took the decision to keep out of it for the entire trip. I no longer felt like an intrepid explorer and cycle tourer, but instead a child on holiday with the family.
It was brilliant. The family fighting over the map, the sun high in the sky, and roads just waiting to be cycled.
Whether anybody appreciated my secret decision to stay out of route planning or not remains to be said, however the new quieter roads that Ruth proposed were just perfect.
Hattie and I gave credit where it was due, and admitted that at some point we had lost sight in our journey perhaps of what was important, the destination or the journey? Having just two roads to choose from in Asia most of the time, I think we lost sight of what good route planning can bring when cycling in Europe.
L’Escargot tours (snail’s pace) as Ruth has aptly named our new cycle group, was certainly the best way.
John and I set the pace, he kindly humoured me and let me go in front, whilst Ruth and Hattie trailed off at the back, Hattie taking the wind for her mum as they chatted about all things nice in the serene country setting.
We stopped for lunch and ordered the four cheese and tomato baguettes that they didn’t have on the menu.
Drinking my Orengina, wolfing down my cheese sandwich – with my legs mentally swinging from the bench imagined to be twice the size – I was sent back to my childhood as I soaked in the French ambiance from this chocolate box family holiday scene.
After getting a laugh or two for our order choice, we set off again on our way.
There were a few hills in the afternoon (that Ruth took in her stride, but never breaking a sweat), I did of course, but only so I could double back and have another go in the time. Then we climbed into Dreux. That last hill was one I would NOT be double backing for, it was intense for everyone, and when Ruth caught up with the crew we were all extremely proud, as was she, of the dramatic climb we had managed.
‘And with a load!’ Hattie would remind us all.
The hotel was basic (although not inexpensive I suspected), and the staff were very friendly and accommodating with our bikes, that were safely stored in the seminar room. Dinner was the ham omelette – without the ham... times four, along with some chips. Got another laugh for that I suspect too. Crazy English.
Cycling Dreux to Bernay – France Day 2
We had an awesome continental buffet breakfast, sneaking our cheese sandwiches wrapped in napkins for later, as is customary when on a family holiday.
It’s Your Birthday – Here’s a Puncture!
The puncture was not as quick as normal to fix as the breaks needed tweaking, strangely so did Hattie’s, and her Mum’s mudguard seemed to be rubbing. Hattie came to the conclusion bike issues were contagious as it seemed once you spot one, another seems to arise.
I think it is probably more likely that when our bikes were moved (which were all awkwardly locked to one another in true British style) the breaks, and so on, were knocked. But that’s just a theory.
We finally got set off, and the day was 60 miles in total, and sure enough the wind did cross us after lunch. But the gusts were not as dramatic as forecast.
It did rain off and on throughout the day though. Taking our jackets off, putting them back on again, taking them off again and so forth, made up the majority of the cycling. It was wet windy and for the second part slow, but I would not have changed a thing.
The surroundings were idyllic, and as I grinned to myself like an idiot in the rain I reflected upon how lucky I was that I had a family (in law... sort of...) that were also mad enough to enjoy this with me on my birthday.
After our day of beautiful countryside cycling, which seemed a world away from some of the busy roads in Asia, we arrived at the picturesque town of Bernay, and soon were outside the quaint cobbled courtyard entrance to our hotel.
We were again able to store our bikes in a locked room, we didn’t lock them this time. Then we took the stairs up to our rooms. Ruth and John came to see how ours was, and it was beautiful. Everything spotless and yet full of character and European feel.
We had an amazing five course meal at a recommended (pretty much the only) local restaurant, which did have brilliant and friendly service, and obliged our four courses of salad with a smile.
We got our goats cheese and leaves fix, and I had a chocolate desert that was to die for. After five months in Asia where chocolate is rare, and good chocolate is even rarer, this was the perfect birthday treat for me, a self professed chocoholic.
After presents, we headed back to the hotel to sleep off the new weight, the wine, and the windy cycling.
Cycling Bernay to Caen – France Day 3
The cycling was tough in parts, but some of the descents into forests and valleys along the way were breath-takingly spectacular, even when compared to some of the tear-jerkingly beautiful moments in remote Laos.
We were faced with a good few hills that were so steep Ruth would have to get off and walk, we were also faced with downhills that threatened to push you off your bike with the windy gusts. Ruth walked these too.
Despite all the walking, and the painstakingly slow final stretch across an incredibly windy flat plain over to the port, we had plenty of time for a drink and an ice-cream at the lovely bridge side Pegasus war memorial café/bar.
We sat out looking onto the still waters as we chatted about the rest of the family that we were looking forward to seeing, and reflected on the amazing adventure we had near completed.
Ferry to Portsmouth
Most of the overnight night part seemed to be the waiting in the dark. We lined up in our shorts like kids on sports day shivering, whilst the French lady, who was conducting the streams of traffic around us onto the ferry, took a great deal of pleasure in making us wait in the night air.
The Parke’s family attitude to this was lovely. Hattie and John delighted in having a good old laugh with one another like naughty kids, poking fun at the hieratical system quietly amongst themselves, largely amused by the power hungry bossy lady with the radio. ‘We’re all cold and we don’t care!’ determined to not be put down.
I am a Gyles however. So I stood miserably giving her daggers, dreaming of warm trousers for the 45minutes.
Cycling Back to Southsea and Reality
We cycled off the ferry, and along the cycle path that took us safely out of the port and across the busy roads along to the smaller ones of Southsea.
All these cycle paths were in danger of making Portsmouth look like a half decent cycle friendly town, I thought to myself with a smile. We arrived at the house with an anticlimactical cheer and photo pose that was perfectly timed to the end of John’s cameras battery life.
Next thing the door burst open and we were excitedly greeted by an uncontainable Leo (Hattie’s 5 year old nephew) and Hattie’s sister.
My family were on their way over already for a celebratory breakfast, and we were quickly and rather surreally settled back into family life at the bike shop that is now Hattie’s parents’ house, with our five month trip seeming almost like a distant memory slipping away like Koh Tao sand out to The Gulf of Thailand.