Our early days in France were characterised by some pretty ugly weather. In the Somme we visited several WW1 cemetaries with their rows and rows of stark white crosses. As we shivered in the icy winds it was sobering to think of the generation of men who fought and died in the muddy trenches of this area.
After three days we thought that it couldn’t possibly get any colder, but that was before we woke in Peronne to find it snowing. It seems not unusual for the temperature to double from one day to the next, but still fail to reach double figures. The most vicious Melbourne winter would be considered a pretty mild sort of spring in this part of the world.
Still, after viewing France as somewhere that we needed to go through in order to reach other, more interesting countries, it has been unexpected to find ourselves falling in love with this fantastic country. Our impressions have a lot to do with the food – how can you compare warm crusty baguettes with delicious cheese, pate and salad bought fresh every day, versus our standard Aussie outback lunch of ‘fresh’ bread from the nearest roadhouse freezer combined with ‘Tuna of the Day’?
The French people failed dismally to live up to their reputation as an arrogant, unfriendly lot (this is obviously a rumour started by the Poms). We were sitting outside the Tourist Information Centre in Laon at 4pm (having discovered that the campground was closed and that the nearest one was at least 20km further on), when we were approached by a Frenchman Bruno who had noticed our bikes with Aussie flags from his upstairs apartment just across the square.
In the blink of an eye we found ourselves enscounced in the spare room in his office building, bikes in the downstairs garage and instructions to come across to his home at 5:30pm for afternoon tea. And so we spent a delightful evening with the Dufourcq family (Hi Bruno, Mary, Florent, Tiffany and in-laws Guy and Marie-Terese!) – practicing our woeful French and enjoying a taste of French hospitality. The family had visited Australia ten years ago and we really hope they get back across in the future so we can see them again.
The run towards Switzerland meant that the legs would need to do a little work. The scenery was such that it took our minds off the climb to some extent as we wound our way along a dramatic river gorge to the source of the River Loue. The next day we headed off into dense glutinous fog, climbing slowly to cross the border near Les Fourgs ski resort.