Two weeks of cycling on a barge and bike tour from Paris to Bruges…..with my parents!
Facebook is useful for some things.
Facebook reminded me recently that 7 years ago (we – as in myself, the Mathematician, and my parents) had just finished a two week cycling tour from Paris to Bruges.
It’s these sorts of memories that hit me hard these days, given that Dad passed away just on a year ago. He often said it had been one of his favourite holidays – which was a big call considering all the travelling dad had done in his life. Dad had seen many places in the world in his life in the Australian Navy, followed by his and mum’s midlife backpacking trip across Europe including adventures on the Trans Siberian railway, followed by his years as a travel agent with his own business. There weren’t many places in the world he hadn’t seen.
How did it come about that mum and dad, in their early 70s, joined the Mathematician and I on this epic two week trip?
Oh and did I mention that dad had Parkinson’s Disease at the time?
It was the year of my 50th birthday, and believe me, I made sure I had a full year of celebrations that year! Family get-togethers on a beautiful tropical island, a fun combined 50/60 party with a great friend as well as the everyday general 50th birthday celebrations. It’s not every year you turn 50 when all is said and done.
But I had always wanted to do a cycling tour in Europe.
I managed to find a 2 week trip starting in Paris and ending in Bruges, in Belgium, which combined barging and biking, with just a small group. Coming from a small rural town in Australia, it was the trip of a lifetime and a dream come true.
I put the call out to my parents and sister, inviting them to join me. Two of our daughters were living in the UK, and the other daughter was travelling in Europe at the time, so it was the prefect opportunity to make it a big trip!
They said YES
Completely unexpectedly my parents took up my invitation. They were in their early seventies at the time and dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a year or two beforehand.
Once it was decided, dad was determined to do the trip, so mum arranged for a personal trainer to get them ready. They met with their trainer a few times a week and she built a program around their needs. She also took them out cycling each week to improve their fitness. She was thrilled they had a goal to work towards and was undaunted in implementing her training regime. Cycling was considered a great exercise for Parkinson’s patients and having a goal was just the incentive dad needed.
In what was a magnificent feat of organising, we managed to travel from Birmingham UK to Paris by train with our daughter and boyfriend at the time (now husband), to meet up with my parents, my sister and our eldest daughter for a few days before our cycling tour started.
Somehow I had managed to find the BEST accommodation for our multi-generational family near Sacre Couer in Montmartre and we all enjoyed the late Indian summer temperatures of Paris, sightseeing and just being together. We also had a visit from our Exchange Student daughter, Sophie from Denmark, she travelled all the way to Paris just to see us!
Mum and dad had been to Paris before and they were determined that we would all go to Moulin Rouge together for the dinner show, so dad made all the bookings prior to us leaving Australia. It was a night we’ll always remember, mainly because dad enjoyed it so much.
We walked the city, we caught buses, we sat in cafes, we tried to speak French, we ate French croissants each morning and we had an absolute blast together.
We were farewelled at the Port de Arsenal, by our daughter, my sister and Sophie and her boyfriend – who all came to check out our barge and watched us cycle away on a practice ride around the closed-to-traffic Paris streets.
Life on board Elodie
The Elodie was a reasonable sized barge which meant once we boarded we were able to unpack and relax with a small contingent of other travellers. We cycled between 40-60kms each day, with a guide and then found the barge waiting for us in the afternoon. Everything was provided for us, good quality bikes, helmets, panniers, drink bottles. The chef on board spoilt us with amazing meals every evening, usually featuring local produce. We would make and pack our own lunch each morning after breakfast. During the day of cycling we would take the opportunity to stop and sample local delicacies at cafes and patisseries along the way. It was a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace, burn some calories and have an active holiday.
We started in Paris sailing down the Seine and it felt completely surreal to me, seeing landmarks I’d only ever dreamed about. Once we disembarked and started cycling it became more real. Mum and dad decided to sit the first day out as it was quite hilly in places and they didn’t want to wear themselves out at the start of the tour. Being on the barge enabled them to rest and enjoy going through the various locks along the way.
In total dad cycled about 260km of the 506km trip and mum did 220km. They took rest days when they felt they needed to. It was so much fun having them with us and it truly was a holiday to remember forever. I missed only one day of cycling, a really wet day when only a handful of riders went out looking at War cemeteries and coming back soaked to the skin! I cycled 462km of the 506km, which I’m very proud of 🙂
The other travellers were friendly and encouraging at all times, particularly to mum and dad. They ranged in age from early 50s (I was one of the youngest) to mum and dad in their 70s. We were a group of 16 made up of Aussies, Americans, and Canadians. Our guide was a big Dutch guy called Onno and he was fabulous with everyone. The Captain Adrian and his wife Luce and Sander the chef, were also Dutch. After a day of leading us along the cycling trails, Onno would take us out on a walking tour of whatever city or town we were in. He was full of information and local knowledge.
Every night we all sat down to a delicious and healthy 3 course dinner, and chatted with our fellow riders, getting to know them better. We are still in touch with some of them today, all these years later.
The riding had been described as undulating, but in some places it was deadset hilly! And windy – the Mathematician rode as my personal windbreak on many occasions. We rode on forest paths, busy roads with the most courteous drivers I’ve ever come across, cobblestones, bike paths, lanes and nearly everything in between. Have I mentioned that it was a lot of fun??
The route had to be changed due to issues with the locks, but we didn’t mind or even notice. We just got up everyday, got dressed in our bike gear and got on the bikes. Everyday someone volunteered to be at the back of the group and I was the only female to be the tail-end Charlie – I picked one of the hardest days as we entered the city of Lille, with lots of traffic, lights and people!
Along the way we visited towns and cities of interest including:
Versailles, Conflans, Auvers Sur Oise (Van Gogh territory), Chantilly, Creil, Compiegne, Pierrefonds, Port L’Eveque, war cemeteries, Peronne (which was a welcome rest day), Douai, Lille, Kortrijk, Gent, Damme, finishing in the beautiful city of Bruges. I had never heard of some of these places but was so pleased I managed to see them, especially with mum and dad.
This was our first ever ‘proper’ cycling tour and since then we have been on tours of various kinds in Australia, New Zealand’s North and South Islands, Croatia, Amsterdam – with me even writing a post on tips for those interested, but unsure, of what a cycling tour actually entails – How to save a sheep and other useful cycling tour tips
So what was started with a simple Facebook memory, has now evolved into the telling of a very special trip with my parents back in October 2011. And I get to share some lovely family photos and stories on this special occasion.
This has been very appropriate and it has been good for me to write down the story, as we prepare to remember dad’s passing a year ago, back in January 2018. I will be with my mother and my brother, for this first anniversary and we are taking mum away for a few days. Due to my sister’s recent surgery, unfortunately she is unable to be with us, but she was instrumental in planning the few days away. I know she will be with us in spirit.
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