FIRST TIME FRANCE

Cycle-touring, Expeditions, Adventures, Major cycle routes NOT LeJoG (see other special board)
User avatar
georgew
Posts: 1484
Joined: 27 Jan 2007, 4:23pm

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby georgew » 18 May 2014, 12:44pm

+1 to the above re the Michel Thomas course as it is in my opinion the most effective way to equip oneself with enough language to get by when in France.

It's a pity that the main meal in France (and the cheapest in restaurants) is the one sold at midday as this is not usually suitable for tourers. After three courses all I wanted to do was snooze.

brianleach
Posts: 309
Joined: 14 Jul 2007, 2:10pm
Location: Winchester, Hants

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby brianleach » 18 May 2014, 1:08pm

I wouldn't recommend Le Havre for a first timer. In my view it is by far the least attractive port and the cycle out and trying to cross the Pont de Normandie is not a great introduction.

Either Ouistreham(Caen) or Cherbourg pitch you straight into much more appealing cycling terrain.

I did a couple of camping tours from a single base as an introduction.

I soon found however that this restricted what you could see because the distance to anywhere was effectively doubled ie there and back. I now always do a linear but circular route and you can see much more. This year it's a short one out via Le Havre (despite what I said) and back via Ouistreham as youngest son and I are doing two weeks in Spain later in the year. Which incidentally is also easily accessible from Portsmouth although much more expensive of course being a twenty four hour crossing.

Rather tempting fate here but I have only once had a problem with bikes on a ferry and that was on the LD Lines crossing from Le Havre. Would never use them again. Otherwise no problems.

User avatar
Graham
Moderator
Posts: 5957
Joined: 14 Dec 2006, 8:48pm

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby Graham » 18 May 2014, 3:16pm

brianleach wrote:Rather tempting fate here but I have only once had a problem with bikes on a ferry and that was on the LD Lines crossing from Le Havre. Would never use them again.

Interesting and unexpected comment. What was the problem ??

brianleach wrote:I wouldn't recommend Le Havre for a first timer. In my view it is by far the least attractive port and the cycle out and trying to cross the Pont de Normandie is not a great introduction.

It is a long time since I have been to Le Havre and would concede that the first few kilometres to get out of the centre are not particularly pleasant. However, you don't HAVE to go over the Pont de Normandie.
My route was always along the Route des Falaises - flat, easy going - to the Pont de Tancarville, then on across through the Marais Vernier to the valley of the river Risle. All very pleasant.
The valley of the river Eure is brilliant and can take you all the way down to Chartres.
Come to think of it the valley of the Seine itself has a lot of interest ;- historic, scenic and the little ferries across at various points are good fun.

brianleach
Posts: 309
Joined: 14 Jul 2007, 2:10pm
Location: Winchester, Hants

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby brianleach » 18 May 2014, 5:34pm

All but the last cycle and motorcyle arrivals were directed to the lowest deck. Consequently all other cars and freight had to be unloaded before the deck could be opened for us to disembark. It took some time ads you can imagine.

I see the ship has been taken over by Brittany Ferries and I am booked on it again this year so there may be some issues. I shall certainly refuse to descent to the derpths again.

As you say you don't have to go over the Pont de Normandie but this was suggested by an earlier poster so I thought worth mentioning and I still prefer the other two ports but I agree it's a personal choice.

somebloke
Posts: 60
Joined: 24 Apr 2013, 10:09am

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby somebloke » 18 May 2014, 7:13pm

DevonDamo wrote:No one else has mentioned it yet, so: keep an eye out for restaurants in towns with lots of white vans parked outside them around midday on weekdays. These are likely to be serving a fixed-price meal for workers, and it's excellent value. It will say something like 'Menu Ouvrier' or 'Menu price fixe'. Last time I was over there, I had 4 courses, and as much wine as I could drink for 11 Euros. (The real workers tend not to drink the wine, as they're driving, so I didn't feel too bad about caning the already-open bottles on the table.)

Re language: I used the 'Michel Thomas' French language course ages ago and I thought it was excellent for two reasons. Firstly, it's all on CD, no writing, so you learn French how it's spoken rather than how you think it should be spoken - this helps a lot with comprehension when you are trying to talk to someone. Secondly, he gives you a few stock phrases which can be customised to allow you to say most things without having to get involved with too much complicated grammar or extensive vocabulary. Some of the other courses people have mentioned might be just as good, but this is the only one I've tried, and I'd definitely recommend it as an incredibly fast way of giving you enough language to survive. As has been mentioned, the moment you make a decent attempt at the lingo, people will tend to do their best to help you - so much so that I never really got a chance to practice my French as everyone jumps in with their English.


Thanks for both of these bits of advice.

User avatar
simonineaston
Posts: 2309
Joined: 9 May 2007, 1:06pm
Location: Bristol - work in... Yate!

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby simonineaston » 18 May 2014, 7:24pm

Agree with earlier posters both about Michel Thomas and Le Havre as a destination. Almost anywhere is better than Le Havre as a choice for a port that's good for a first time cycle tour. Big, charmless complex-to-navigate and you have to share the first few miles with Euro-Trucks.
ttfn, Simon in Easton
(currently enjoying a Moulton TSR & a nano Brompton...)

somebloke
Posts: 60
Joined: 24 Apr 2013, 10:09am

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby somebloke » 18 May 2014, 7:26pm

Once again, many thanks for all who have responded with so much help and enthusiasm. We are going to HAVE TO go for it now.
I'm still considering camping as this would reduce costs considerably. However, hotels sound like a better prospect. We will need to keep costs down if we can and we do have some decent camping gear, panniers, etc. Hotels still sound better though.
I'm going to look at one of the suggested language courses. Probable date of this daring expedition will be September.
Please keep all the stuff coming, it's really helping with my research.
Thanks.

brianleach
Posts: 309
Joined: 14 Jul 2007, 2:10pm
Location: Winchester, Hants

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby brianleach » 18 May 2014, 7:39pm

One of my first trips was camping at Luc-sur-Mer which you can almost see from the Ouistreham ferry port. It's only about 9 miles but plenty of easy cycling from there. If the weather is fine I wouldn't worry about camping. I was about 60 when I started!!! If the weather is rotten of course you"ll wish you'd gone for the hotel!!

hamster
Posts: 3219
Joined: 2 Feb 2007, 12:42pm

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby hamster » 19 May 2014, 1:35pm

brianleach wrote:All but the last cycle and motorcyle arrivals were directed to the lowest deck. Consequently all other cars and freight had to be unloaded before the deck could be opened for us to disembark. It took some time ads you can imagine.


I'm never bothered about the others going off first - for me there is nothing worse than 150 HGV's overtaking me in the first half hour.

brianleach
Posts: 309
Joined: 14 Jul 2007, 2:10pm
Location: Winchester, Hants

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby brianleach » 19 May 2014, 1:44pm

I'm never bothered about the others going off first - for me there is nothing worse than 150 HGV's overtaking me in the first half hour.


A good point but I usually find I am not going the same way as the HGVs!! And certainly not at Portsmouth when you heading for the railway station.

tatanab
Posts: 3788
Joined: 8 Feb 2007, 12:37pm

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby tatanab » 19 May 2014, 2:38pm

If considering camping then I will suggest Le Bois Coudray at Cuguen, 40 km from St Malo so not far to carry the kit if you are not used to it but far enough inland that you have options for rides. It is a small private campsite, not a municipal, and the owners are English (Channel Islanders but that's near enough). I think they provide meals if asked for. Booking - they will take a cheque in sterling and give it back to you on arrival. I stayed there last year when I popped over to see Le Tour. http://www.vacancebretagne.com/index.html

ericonabike
Posts: 330
Joined: 24 Apr 2008, 4:05pm

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby ericonabike » 26 May 2014, 3:52pm

Just look for two star hotels. Basic, cheap and friendly in my experience. And very welcoming towards les cyclistes. Will cut your cost considerably and act as an introduction to les Francais. Took my son [aged 23] on his first tour in 2012, from St Malo to Calais over a week, and he couldn't believe how much nicer it was to cycle there, rather than here. Definitely better, IMHO, to do a tour, no matter how short, than a fixed base trip. You get a real sense of achievement at having travelled somewhere other than back to where you started!
Motorists' mantra: Cyclists must obey the law and the Highway Code AT ALL TIMES. Unless their doing so would HOLD ME UP.

Weimarunner
Posts: 108
Joined: 19 Apr 2014, 2:58pm

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby Weimarunner » 26 May 2014, 5:59pm

Really enjoying this thread, thanks OP!
Tatanab - that campsite looks ideal, thanks for the link.

jimt
Posts: 16
Joined: 4 Dec 2009, 12:51pm

Re: FIRST TIME FRANCE

Postby jimt » 5 Jun 2014, 2:46pm

A couple of years ago my brother and I cycled from Dunkerque to Ouistreham ( the port for Caen) and then spent 3 days exploring Normandy beaches before returning to Portsmouth on the sea cat from Ouistreham (about 3 hrs). We stayed in Ouistreham and had one day cycling into Caen down a dedicated cycle way which passes the famous Pegasus bridge (about 30km round trip), one day circular route along the coast to Arromanches - much on dedicated cycle paths to see Mulberry harbours (the museum is an absolute must) and back by country lanes skirting Bayeux (about 75Km) and a third rather over ambitious trip to Omaha & Utah beaches which involved a couple of train rides (about 130 km cycling plus trains) and finishing in the dark. I can email you some maps if you like.

Ouistreham is a very bike friendly port compared to Dover, Dunkeque and Portsmouth. My experience of sea cat has been great. We were first to embark and disembark. At Portsmouth we were out of the port before the first car had disembarked!