In some respects it does not seem so long ago that I waited in Charles de Gaulle Airport for the other members of our 2015 France ride to arrive. I remember sitting in the arrival lounge anxiously looking out for each familiar face and then ticking each name off my list. I also remember the relief i felt when the final participant safely arrived and we were able to make our way to the waiting shuttle bus. At that time everyone was eagerly looking forward to the adventure that we had spent so long planning.
Now, seven weeks later, our adventure is drawing to a close. Most of our original participants are now back in Australia and, within a few days, Maggie and I will also be starting the long journey back home. Since that first meeting at the airport, we have shared countless amazing experiences as we cycled, walked, trained and drove thousands of kilometres around this wonderful country. France is not a country that you can understand in one or two days and certainly those who only see it from the seat of a bus on a whirlwind European tour, will never appreciate just what makes it tick.
It is true that the French can be bewildering in some aspects of their behaviour, it is true that many of the city footpaths are stained with urine (from dogs and men), it is true that they have a rather cavalier attitude to rules and regulations, but is equally undeniably true that they really do embrace life. I know of no other place where eccentricity is so accepted and embraced. They love their food with a passion. Their families are usually very close and the children’s manners in public are almost always impeccable. Every back street and building echoes with the voices of history dating back hundreds or even thousands of years. They love their culture and are inordinately proud of it. Their bread is better by far than anything we could ever buy in Australia. It’s little wonder that every French person is willing to line up for it twice a day at their favourite Boulangerie, I would too if it was available in Melbourne. We will really miss that superb bread.
Today was our final full day in Paris and we were thrilled that the weather reverted right back to the very best of autumn weather. With a clear sea blue sky and a temperature in the low 20s, it was absolutely perfect for us to spend the day indulging in that favourite French activity – walking around Paris.
We began by following the Seine past the Musee D’Orsay and on to the magnificent lawns of Les Invalides. Considering the growing number of cuts and abrasions that were now adorning my head (thanks to the 5 foot ceilngs in our Middle Earth Apartment), any place called Les Invalides was probably an appropriate place for my recuperation. This is a vast complex of beautiful buildings that was originally set up as a hospital for wounded soldiers, but now houses a variety of military museums, military retirement homes and the huge memorial to hold Napoleon’s tomb. One of the aspects of Paris that I adore is the way that huge open spaces have been incorporated into a grid of huge intersecting boulevards and low rise buildings. The vast majority of Parisians live in apartment buildings and they utilise these open spaces for a wide variety of activities and sports.
Our walk continued to the mansion and gardens of Rodin. This magnificent building was originally a convent but became a hotel called the Hotel Biron. Rodin and other artists used it as an artists’ headquarters in the early 20th century. Late in his life, Rodin agreed to bequeath all his works to the French nation in return for his being permitted to live in the hotel for the remainder of his life. So that is what happened. The beautiful walled gardens now provide a wonderful quiet sanctuary from the noise and crowds just outside.
As we walked back to our apartment we passed by several street vendors selling roasted chestnuts. Combined with the carpet of autumn leaves on every street and pavement, it really helped to capture the real nature of autumn in Paris.
After sundown we returned to the streets to wander with the crowds as the lights on the buildings gradually replaced the fading twilight. The air was still and warm and thousands of others were out enjoying the unseasonably warm conditions. It was a magical way to end our 7 glorious weeks in France. Tomorrow we will be catching the high speed Thalys Train to Amsterdam to begin the final stage of our odyssey.