Author Archives: babyonatour

Further plans – London to Southeast Asia with Dianna, looking for another family to join us!

All of us loved this trip very much. It is something that is going to stay with us forever. It was an opportunity to bond with each other, with Dianna, and at the same pursue an activity that we both like. It was an adventure from which all of us learned a lot. We supported each other, shared baby duties, planned our days together. It was an escape from the usual baby routine. Before we set off we thought that the routine will bring in a hassle, but far from that, it brought joy.

We were thinking about doing another trip and decided to plan an long trip, a trip that we won’t be able to do once Dianna reaches school age (at least not for another 18 years from that point). First we were thinking about crossing the Americas. This idea quickly became moot as I am still unable to get a visa into the United States.

The obvious alternative is to cross Eurasia, starting at London and finishing somewhere in Southeast Asia. It is much safer than crossing the Americas (Northern South America as well as Latin America is not considered safest cycling destinations) and the distance is substantially shorter. We plan to attempt this once Anna is done with her studies at Westminster Uni.

We are planning to cycle from London via France and Switzerland to Brindisi in Italy, cross the Adriatic into Greece and continue via Turkish interior towards Georgia and Azerbaijan. This part of the trip should take around 3 – 3.5 months. Leaving in June we should make it to Baku in mid-September, leaving 2 more months until Central Asian winter kicks in.

From Baku we plan to take a ferry to Atyrau in Kazakhstan and cycle 400km towards a station along the Kazah – Uzbek railroad where we are to take a train through the Kara khoum desert to Namangan in Uzbekistan. From there we plan to cycle to Tashkent, through Bukhara and Samarkand. In October/November it will be getting cold in the region and passes should be snowed in, making it impossible to continue. We will either stay in Tashkent or go back to the UK until Spring kicks in the April.

In April, we will continue towards Osh in Kyrgizstan and cross the Tiang-Shan mountains into China, descending to Kashgar where we will board a train to Urumqi (I can’t imagine tackling 800km of desert with a child, maybe I will by the time we are there). From Urumqi we plan to cycle towards Chengdu in Sichuan and then to Kunming in Yunnan province. In Kunming we will decide upon where the finish line will be, depending on the month that we get there. If we get there early enough we might continue through Laos to Thailand, if not, we will finish up in Hanoi/North Vietnamese coast.

We are looking for another crazy family to join us on this 😉 We are not certain on the plan and we can still make adjustments in terms of the route and departure times. We believe that it will be more fun if 2 families will be doing this at the same time. Safety-wise it would also be better for the group to be at least 4 adults of more. If interested contact us via the Blog!

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Day 29 – Guillaumes – Gorges Daluis – Entrevaux – Nice, 100km – Total 962km

Having arrived in Nice we were so busy settling into our rented apartment that I didn’t really have time to do this last entry into this blog. However, the 2 days cycling from Guillaumes to Nice were so amazing that I remember every minute of the 100 kilometer downhill ride to the Mediterranean coast.

The only downside to the downhill adventure was the extreme heat of the Alpes Maritimes. It seemed (and it really was) that it is much much warmer here than anywhere else we’ve been. It’s also warmer in the alpes then on the coast. Leaving Guillaumes we had a thought to do a loop through Varberg. Anna (and myself to tell the truth) did not want to do any more climbing, especially in this heat (Varberg was 800 meters above Guillaumes) and we headed straight for Entrevaux through the spectacular Gorges Daluis.

The Var river takes it’s waters from above Estenc, just below the Col Coyolle and snakes down the Alpes Maritimes all the way to Nice digging in to form a spectacular red gorge – Daluis Gorge. The road follows the gorges for around 20km. It is one of the most spectacular sights that any cyclist can experience! The gorge is deep (the road snakes at around 400-500 meters above the river bed), the rocks are of a dark red colour and the vertical drop on the right side makes your heart pound on fast descents. There is no way to describe the beauty of Gorges Daluis. It’s a sight that all cyclists need to pay a visit to 😉

After the Gorges the road drops 300 meters to Entrevaux, the views of the much wider Var valley are surreal, as is the heat. The 300 meter descent is gentle at 2-3% which makes the ride very enjoyable. At Entrevaux, a medieval fortress (worth of a visit), we spent a night in a local auberge before continuing to Nice (70km left). The road to Nice gets busier as we approach the eastern end of the Var valley. We turn due South and get hit by a cool headwind blowing from the sea.

An hour later, after a scary experience of a four-lane motorway (which turned out to be the only way into Nice) we cycled onto the Promenade des Anglais.

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Day 28, Bayasse – Cayolle – Guillaumes, 41km – 862km total

A simple Gite pasta and soup dinner left a hole in my stomach that I couldn’t really fill with breakfast consisting of homemade bread and jam offered by Gite’s hosts 🙂 We departed at around 10am to avoid the cold morning hours. Italian riders warned us that it is bitterly cold at the passes. The lady at the Gite was surprised that we asked for breakfast at 9 as most walkers/horse riders leave much earlier. We only had 10km ascent to the top from where it was 31km downhill. I wasn’t worried about the ascent as the effort keeps you warm, however, the descent promised to be chilly.

The initial section of the climb to the pass is steep at 10%, it than flattens out to about 4% for 2km and after that the switchbacks start, averaging 8% (nowhere it was less than that). The air cooled down and the altitude made it hard to push up 8% slopes with a 40kg load. I had to make frequent stops. The surroundings were marvelous. The road existed the pine forests onto an alpine meadow with waterfalls, streams and towering peaks of the alpes maritimes above us. I was moving so slow that the flies could catch up with me and that was becoming really annoying.

We reached Refuge de Cayolle, 2200m in around an hour and a half. It was almost exactly a year ago when we stayed here with Dianna in Anna’s tummy 😉 Now she see what she missed. The weather is exactly the same, bitterly cold as a year ago! We change into warmer clothes and continue up the pass, summitting 15 minutes later. It was very cold and windy, we didn’t spend much time at the pass and started our descent towards Guillaumes. The road from Col Cayolle is basically downhill until the coast, 2300 meters of downhill. Without Dianna we could have tackled it in one day. However, the scenery en route is one of the best in the Alpes and we decided to take it slow.

The descent was fast through and endless series of switchbacks bringing us to Estenc (1800 meters and considerably warmer) and than to Guillaumes (31C).

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Day 27 – Barcelonette to Gite Bayasse, 20km – 821km total

Today we started ascent of the Col de Coyolle, the highest point of our trip. The road from Barcelonette to the Col is 30km long and rises 1250 meters to 2326 meters in altitude. With approximately 40 kilos of weight attached to by bike there is no way I could make it to the top in one go. We decide to spend a night halfway up, in the small hamlet of Bayasse, 20km into the climb at the altitude of 1800 meters. The road to Bayasee is remarkably beautiful. For the first 15km it follows the spectacular Gorge of the Blanchard river, rising very gently 600 meters over 20km and thus allowing us to enjoy the scenery without pushing the pedals up 6-8% slopes.

Once pass 1400 meters, the air started to cool down considerably. It must be not more than 15 degrees (30C in Barcelonette). We stop at the first village, St. Villard for drinks. Dianna dips her little feet in the village fountain (coooooold!).

Towards the pass the road is getting steeper, the air thinner and cooler. Arriving at Bayasse exhausted at around 4pm we find a Gite ran by a family of three with a 10 month old boy! Dianna is happy to see another baby, she loves babies. Also resident are two dogs and several cats. Our room is a for 4 people, but luckily, we are the only ones in it. Shower and toilet are shared with other guests of the Gite, who soon arrive (a group of French walkers, very noisy and 4 Italians traveling from Italy on horseback).

We sit down outside to have dinner with the Italians. They are from Piemonte and speak Piemontese, a very weird mix of French, Spanish, Catalan and Italian. Criticizing awful French vine offered by the hosts they offer their own, Barbera d’Alba, which is excellent compared to anything we’ve tried in France.

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Day 25, Le Lauzet-Ubaye to Barceonette, 20km – total 801km

After a fruitful day in Le Lauzet, first 2 day stay in one place that was really fun, we left for Barcelonette. The road followed Ubaye river and was only slightly undulating while offering dramatic scenery of the Ubaye river valley and the surrounding mountains. With a very strong tailwind we made it to Barcelonette in under 2 hours, which is quite good taking a 250 meter climb into account.

In Le Lauzet Anna went for rafting while I stayed with Dianna, and the next day we managed to find a nanny for her while we took on canyoning!!!!! Canyoning was a lot of fun. While torrents in the Ubaye river don’t offer jumps and slides, the canyon where we were taken was spectacular, with 10-15 meter abseils, some with ice cold water gushing down on your while you try to keep your feet on the rock while abseiling down a waterfall. We were told that canyons close to Nice offer jumps and slides as well as abseiling. We will definitely explore those once we get there.

Barceolnette is a very interesting town. Ubaye valley was, as it turned out, a centre of emigration to the Americas in the 19th century. Emigration was mostly to Mexico. Many have since returned with the wealth and Barcelonette is full of Mexican-style villas. We stayed 2 days in one of those villas (Villa Anita). The Villa is also a home for the Mexican Consulate in Barcelonette!! Amazing.

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Day 23 – Chorges to Le Lauzet-Ubaye, 38km – 781km total

After a day of rest (which turned out, again, to be rather pointless) we departed the strange French club resort in Chorges for the Ubaye valley. Today we had to climb 2 passes, first – Col Lebraut, 1120m second, unnamed pass near St. Laurent. The first climb began straight out of the hotel’s door, from 840 to 1120 meters. It took us about 45 minutes to get up the pass. It’s quite hot now in the alps, get’s up to 31C in the day time. We wanted to start early, but ended up leaving at 10am.

A fast descent brought us to the shores of the Serre-Poncon lake. One of the largest man-made lakes in Europe was created by installing a dam into the mouth of the Dorance and Ubaye rivers to protect Gap valley for devastating floods. The lake fits perfectly into the mountainous terrain of the area. However, since the valley is flooded, the roads around the lake are quite hilly (not following the valley floor, but jumping over the ridges that go down to what used to be the valley). We descended through a short tunnel past the dam to around 600 meters and started out second climb of the day.

The South side of Serre-Concon lake belongs to department of Alpes du Haute-Provance, we are getting closer to the coast! The second climb was long, not too steep, but in the heat it really wore me out. Even above 1000 meters it was still very very hot. Dianna’s Chariot was heating up as well and that started bothering her. At one point I forgot to take it off the parking brake and cycled around 1km up a 6% hill with that on. About 2 hours later we were at the top of the climb, at 1120 meters enjoying a marvelous view of the Serre-Poncon lake and the Ubaye valley.

I was totally worn out. 850 meters of climbing is probably the limit for me with Dianna tied to my bike and the luggage on the racks. At one point I thought maybe I should start walking up 😉 A quick descent brought us to Le Lauzet and the lake. The hotel we are staying at is right on the lake. We went for a swim right away! The water is about 20C, very fresh after the ride we had today. Dianna went into the water as well 😉

Tomorrow we will head for Barcelonette, a large town at the end of the Ubaye valley. From there we will start ascent of the Col de Coyolle.

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Day 21 – Corps to Chorges, 48km – 743km total

We headed out of Corps at around 10:30am on the N85. Lot’s of traffic and after a short descent we were climbing again. Shortly after Corps we crossed the boundary of Region Provance Cote’d Azur, departament Haute-Alpes (high alps, no s**t!!!!). Still quite a way from Cote’d Azur, but still, made the climbing feel a bit more rewarding 🙂 We were heading towards Col Bayard or Col de Mense. I was going to ask locals about which of the two is more cycle friendly.

Shortly after the sign, we turned right onto a side road running parallel to the N85 through L’Gaizile (D57L). Beautiful road running along the Drac torrent. Climbing very gently towards L’Gaizile to around 950 meters and than descending sharply back towards N85. Back on the N85 started to look for a pique-nique spot, raced with a Belgian caravan towards an empty table (we won). We ended up having lunch together at the same table. Dianna sat in the Ortlieb rack pack and loved it!

Locals at the Bar/Tabac advised to go for Col De Mense and they were right. The road towards the Col (D14) was quiet and not to badly inclined (Col Bayard promised 12%). It was still a slog, up to 9% for around 4km. Finally arrived at Col at around 4pm and stopped at the nearby Refuge Napoleon for drinks. There I realized that it doesn’t make sense to do a sharp descent into Gap when we could do a gradual descent into Chorges – the town we are going tomorrow, and shave of 20km of the busy N94. Brilliant idea it turned out to be, N94 is horrible. The route was 17km longer than expected, however, at least 13km were downhill.

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Day 20 – From La Mure to Corps, 25km – 695km total

Don’t be fooled by the short distance from La Mure to Corps. It was a proper full day of cycling for the three of us 😉 with some 600 meters uphill, some on a very steep hill from under La Mure. It was however much easier than yesterday. Today we rode on the N85, Route Napoleon, a busy national road from Grenoble to the coast. There are not a lot of options to follow through the Alpes and we will have to cycle on this road for a part of our route. It started out as a descent from La Mure where we lost 200 meters in the space of 4 kilometers. The road from La Mure is in a bad condition so the descent was not very fast (rather bumpy, Laos-style descent). The road than went on to climb out back from the river valley, twisting and turning at grades in excess of 10% for another 4 km.

Almost at the top of the climb we turned right onto D212, a side road that ran around the hills almost parallel to N85. It turned out to be a much nicer road with no traffic and gentle gradient. It passed through a beautiful village of St. Pierre (many villages named St. Pierre in France) and continued to rejoin the N85. The rest of the route was undulating with a short climb to Corps in the end. Tomorrow we are heading for Col Bayard and Gap.

Crossing this part of the alpes is an adventure of it’s own and can’t be compared to the other rides that we were doing, both effort-wise and scenery-wise.

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Day 19 – Grenoble to La Mure, 41km – 670km total

Today was our first encounter with some serious mountains. The relatively flat terrain of the massif central (which seemed quite hilly when we cycled there) is nothing compared to the Alps. The route today was short (I was expecting 800 meters altitude gain and was realistic about the time that it’s going to take). We started out of Grenoble at 11am. The first 15-20km from the hotel were completely flat, which alarmed me to what can we expect later on. I knew that it’s 800 meters, however, I thought that the climb will start out of Grenoble and be somewhere around 3-4% in gradient.

The climb started at St. George de Commiers (2km short of that village), in blistering heat. It was a long, relentless slog up a very steep hill (6-10%) on D529 towards La Mure through some breathtaking scenery. The river Drac, or an artificial lake created on the river was somewhere 300 meters below us filled with turquoise waters. The mountains all around, the fresh wind and picturesque (although empty) villages all compensated for the hilly D529 that set out on a task to get us back to Grenoble 😉 When we passed around 600 meters mark, the air cooled down considerably.

We stopped by a water fountain and Notre-Dame Commiers which literally saved me from a meltdown. As soon as we stopped a stuck my head in the water, the feeling was so great! Dianna had a little dip in the cool water of the fountain as well. We stocked up on water and continued towards Le Mott.

After about 5km of the climb, I’ve offered to tie Dianna’s Chariot to my bike as it was too hard for Ann to push on. We continued in this setup until La Mure. Around 5km from La Mure there was a Col (unmarked but noticeable) at about 970 meters (we started from 230 meters in Grenoble). From there on it was a long downhill ride from the Col to our hotel.

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Day 18 – Cluny to Macon and train to Grenoble, 25km – 629km total

As I have posted before, we decided to shave off some 150km off the trip by skipping the boring and busy portion of Rhone-Alpes between Macon/Lyon and Grenoble. Out of Cluny, we took a voie verte for Macon where we were to board a train for Grenoble with a change in Lyon.

The voie vertes are supposed to be designed with an average cyclist in mind – by French standards, no more than 3% gradient. This VV head a few short climbs in excess of 15%. It followed what used to be a railway line from Cluny to Macon (roughly along the high-speed TGV track) to a tunnel now dedicated to cyclists. It’s around 1.5km in length and is in a very good condition. It’s an approximately 200 meters of climbing to get to the tunnel from Cluny and it’s downhill almost all the way to Macon Ville from the tunnel’s exit.

We boarded a train for Lyon at 3pm. There are no lifts at the station and I had to carry all of our gear 2 flights of stairs down and up to get to our platform. Same in Lyon to change to the platform for Grenoble. Trains are not Dianna’s favorite mode of transport. She couldn’t settle down, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat and just kept on crying and screaming for a 2 hours. All our efforts to calm her down were useless. We were relieved to finally get to Grenoble (broken lift, 2 flights of stairs) and put her to bed in a hotel that was conveniently near the train station.

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