Toulouse to Paris
May 13/30, 1990

Michael J. Ferguson

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Journal Index


1  Sat. May 13, 1990, Montréal & Mirabel
2  Mon. May 14, Toulouse Airport
3  Tues. May 17, Toulouse
4  Wed. May 16, Toulouse
5  Thurs. May 17, Toulouse
6  Fri. May 18, Toulouse
7  Sat. May 19, Condom
8  Sun May 20, Cadillac To Bordeaux ...  a lazy day ...  hopefully.
9  Mon. May 21, St. Emillion to ???
10  Tues. May 22, Cognac
11  Wed. May 23, Lezay
12  Thurs. May 24, Chinon
13  Fri. May 25, Marçon
14  Sat. May 26, Vendôme
15  Sun May 27, Vendôme
16  Mon. May 28, Monnerville - Bois de la Justice
17  Tues May 29, Paris
18  Wed May 30 , Paris - to the Airport
19  Maps

1  Sat. May 13, 1990, Montréal & Mirabel

I was to be in Toulouse to present a paper at the Gutenberg Meeting, the annual conference of the Groupe de Utilisateurs Française de TEX. I also wanted to determine the current state of the new TEX 3.0 port from Personal TEX. It was buggy.

Lee drove me to Mirabel ... and we arrived in good time, only to find that the Air France computer was down, as it was the last time I flew. For some reason they were only able to assign the smoking seats. We waited for at least an hour before they started processing us. We were an hour late leaving but I had about plenty of margin before the flight to Toulouse left. It turned out that I had much more margin than I had thought. Once we got started, the service was excellent and supper, although we waited to 10:00pm was quite good. They had several different wines to try, including a white Bordeaux ... I think I like the white Burgundy better. Both the Bordeaux and Burgundy reds were very good.

My neighbour was a retired judge on his way home to India after visiting his Physics Professor son in Sudbury. He felt, as I did after my trip to France last summer during its 200the celebration, that the French revolution was indeed inspired by the American.

2  Mon. May 14, Toulouse Airport

I saw my bike unloaded from the plane in Paris ... and apparently it is still there. There were supposed to be two bikes on the plane from Paris. The owner of the other, an Economics student at UdeM, saw both bikes carted to the plane, whereupon the baggage handlers decided that it was too difficult to put them on. So they drove off again ... with the bikes in the van. They are hopefully coming in on the next plane ... a large (relatively speaking) 737.

I am about to see. It wasn't ... now they are saying 7:30 ... this time it is a Caravelle. I don't have much option but to wait.

It is now 7:08 ... I am patiently waiting for another chance for my bike to come.

It came ... without its box or handlebar bag. The handlebar bag has all my tools. I went into a major panic. The lady asked me if it was black (no) but she had seen a small loose bag on the belt. That was indeed my lost bag. The major damage was the battery pack ripped off my trip computer. I have just fixed it ... shorting out the main battery because I couldn't tell plus from minus. I think that it will be ok.

Coming in to Toulouse, now sunset and after dark, I am hopelessly lost. Although I do believe in seeing new things, I am a trifle tired and a little worried. I asked several times and discovered that I had gone so far wrong that I was not on my map. Eventually I found a city map and oriented myself. I only went wrong 3 times after that.

Dinner was one Toulouse sausage with a large number of ``patates frites'' and a salad that was larger than the meal.

I finally did find the Hotel. Tomorrow I must fix a spoke or two on my back wheel.

3  Tues. May 17, Toulouse

I rode into the Paul Sabatier University that is on the south east part of town. My small map was rather misleading. It indicated that ``Paul Sabatier (al)'' was due east of the hotel. When I asked exactly where, the concierge said that it was only ``Paul Sabatier (al)'' and that the main campus was about 20 min bike ride.

That was indeed the case. I made the final closure by following a girl on a bike ... going in the same direction.

4  Wed. May 16, Toulouse

It is bright, sunny, and pleasantly cool ... at least it is at 7:30 in the morning. I wandered north towards Place Jeanne d'Arc. The market was coming into full operation. Specialists abound. Exclusive strawberry sellers are probably not so rare but the exclusive asparagus sellers might be. There they were ... row upon row of circular towers of asparagus. The ``roller rink'' they were building yesterday in the Place de la Capitale turns out to be a huge new market. This one almost seems to specialize in used books and belts.

At the end of the day ... after my presentation we went to the city hall for a reception. The baroque hall was graced by a swift and also a statue of Fermat, with a young lady on his knee ... if they had given him one. There was a suggestion that distractions such as this might have produced his last theorem.

5  Thurs. May 17, Toulouse

I think I shall collect outside advertising names that would probably give the fonctionnaires of the ``Office de la langue française'' heart attacks.

6  Fri. May 18, Toulouse

Images and expressions of France !!

or perhaps

Toulouse was as difficult to get out of as to get in. I was going to take a small back road to the north but decided to take the easy way out ... just follow the signs to Auch. Very soon I was being forced on to an ``A'' road ...  or take the bicycle path by a canal. About 500 metres up the canal, I examined my map and turned around backwards. I was headed north instead of east ... and blocked by the A?. After going under the A? on a bicycle path. I had missed on the way up, my next reference was a sign ``centre-ville'' for Toulouse. I do believe I was going in circles. Finally I crossed the Gironne on some bridge and ended up at the intersection where I made my first major wrong turn coming in on Monday. At least I now knew where I was. I continued south of where I wanted through ``Plaisance du Touch'' and on back roads, past magpies and wheat fields towards Pujaudran.

There is not much extra room on a small ``white'' D? road with a huge Setra bus.

The small rectangular field by the road is a mélange of wheat, mustard, and poppies ... the larks are off to the side, singing but not defending their territory.

I reached Gimont by noon ... and as usual could not stock up on provisions at noon. The supermarkets all go on vacation from noon to 2:00. Gironde and Gascogny are famous for their foie-gras ... and it tends to be featured on all of the menus, even in the local roadside stops, where I am at the moment. It is not my favourite. I shall settle for pizza. I do not seem to be in crêpe territory yet.

My neighbours are having a fight over liaison or not with ``les haricots'' ...  it seems to happen everywhere.


The centre-ville is straight-up. The Cathedral rates only one star but the carving of the choir stalls rates 3. They are all unique, very lifelike and perhaps a too photographic. The old square has typical charm and is incredibly crowded ... and it's Friday afternoon. I got cheers from some kids on a bus when they saw me up here with all my gear.

7  Sat. May 19, Condom

This appears to be the major town in Armagnac. I shall wander around and see. I wonder what it means.

Yesterday, I missed Roquefort by about 3km. The name is not as unusual as I suspected. There is another about 70km east of here. I think I shall miss it too.

Some signs:

A field of artichokes ... again fighting the poppies for space. This is the first semi-commercial venture I have seen. The other artichokes were single rows, obviously intended for personal use.

Park Regionale de Landes de Gascogne

This is a huge, flat, triangular piece of raised sea bottom. For the most part it is covered with tall Maritime Pines. Perhaps it is remarkable, but there is no apparent acid rain damage. There was the occasional ``tent caterpillar'' like construction on a tree.

Bazan Cathedral Square - There appears to be a Gascogne folk celebration. The first group ... I thought the only ... was warming up with drums and flutes, or something quite similar. The men were in black caps ... a la world war one ... and blue overshirts with an oval collar. The girls looked like drum majorettes with red top hats. The rhythms were very folkish.

Cadillac I couldn't find a place to camp south of Bordeaux, and I was not about to attempt to make it there. I stopped in Cadillac, and decided, by no rational means, to stay at the Hotel Détruit ... sounds ominous. It is run by an ex Montréaler, who went to Stanislaus (I thought that school was English).

It is better than the alternatives.

8  Sun May 20, Cadillac To Bordeaux ... a lazy day ... hopefully.

Rions A small walled medieval town built around its ``bastide''.

Gascony is dotted with fortified medieval towns, each built around a square castle ... called a bastide. Although defensively primitive by Welsh standards, it apparently did its job ... for a while.

Caves de Quinsac - Vin en vrac

I stopped at the first open ``cave'' and bought ``premières côtes de Bordeaux'' rouge ... en vrac. They were a little upset and claimed that it would cost them too much to make out a bill. However, seeing my dismay, they offered to fill my bottle by hand. I emptied my St. Yoire mineral water bottle and paid them 13ff cash. I know nothing about their wine but my experience here so far is that any red they sell is better than I am used to drinking.


There actually was a bicycle path across the bridge.

Some history??:

Shakespeare apparently rescued Oberon, king of the Elves, from oblivion. Oberon had earlier helped the legendary ``Huon de Bordeaux'' in the rescue of his bride from an Emir.

Some signs:

With a name like that, and it being ``flunch'' time, I entered. It was one of the typical, semi elegant, French cafeterias. They have decent, but not very exciting food. The crêpe was tough (I didn't think it possible) and the house wine was from Provence.

I am sitting under the ``Bazar d'Agadir'' looking at he remnants of the morning market in front of the Cathédrale Ste. Michel. The market was mostly a North African souvenir, antiques, and junk sale. The city of Bordeaux obviously considers the mess normal. A flatbed garbage truck is taking part in the removal. I was here earlier, both observing and making a spectacle, while I replaced another spoke I the back wheel. Paris technology has not yet reached Bordeaux. The ``branch'' broom is real, not plastic as in Paris.

St. Emillion

It turned out not to be as lazy a day as I expected. Rather than go 15km south of Bordeaux to camp, I opted to go towards St. Emillion. This medieval town rates two ** in the Michelin guide. I am now standing on the ramparts with the town spread out over the valley below. It is also not raining. The setting sun and the drying breeze are a delight. I still have 3km to go out of town to the campground but this is truly refreshing. The underground church has wild flowers and tall purple spikes of petals on its roof ... or perhaps its entrance. Here the larks are below.

I was welcomed at the *** campground (it has toilet paper) 3km north of St. Emillion by an English couple with an offer of a cup of tea. I accepted. He had yet another horror story about unresponsive software. He was a pharmaceutical sales rep and his portable sales computer would not let him continue until he registered an appointment with the doctor. He seldom worked that way ... and found that putting in fictitious appointments to humour the system extremely duuumb. He viewed the whole experience as a disaster.

9  Mon. May 21, St. Emillion to ???

We have had low fog/cloud this morning. I suspect that St. Emillion will be enshrouded - enchanting but unknown - this morning. I am off in the fog north. There is a pleasant quietness about the countryside. As I write, at about 11:00, the sun is breaking through.

Beware of roads with a ``vue panorique'' - they are almost surely straight up.

Stainless steel appears to have replaced oak here - with the barrels becoming elements of sculpture.

Chevanceau ... wishful thinking.

This town (village?) is about 60km north of St. Emillion. The signpost on the main road through town reads Paris-Bordeaux. Obviously at the centre of the universe.

Some more signs:


The campground is not listed in my Michelin ... for good reason. It is barely open, but I don't want to go the 30km to Rouillac ... It is late. The gardien was going to charge me 30ff ... with no showers and horrible bathrooms ... but thought better of it. My penance this evening is Cognac's version of CHOM. CHOM stopped at 9:30pm.

Monday morning in France, and perhaps the rest of Europe is an extension of Sunday. It is even difficult to find an open boulangerie.

10  Tues. May 22, Cognac

I missed the opening the Maison de Pineau. It looked as though there was much interesting local liquor.

I am not at all certain where I am. I suspect that I shall be a tourist again this morning.

Some more signs:

I apparently was going in the wrong direction, according to a girl on a motor scooter. I am now back in the center of town and have discovered that there is a Vielle Cognac.

I thought that I was in the center last night. Apparently not.

This department is named for the Charante, the river that runs through the center of town, but not the part of town that they call centre-ville.

Hennessey ... 

This is one of many ``chais'' that made this town. The tours here start at 8:30 in the off season and 9:00 during the on season ... very strange.

The guides are 100 percent English, and quite multilingual. A group of German school children were waiting when I came.

I was the only one on the English tour. This meant that it was very informative and non-hectic. The barrels are critical to the cognac. The tannins in the oak give the distillate its character. Even the type of oak is important. Martell uses a finer grain oak which gives its cognacs a lighter taste.

Just as I left, a Japanese tour group entered.

Matha Lunch at Les Charmilles - the ``haricots verts demi sec'' were wonderful. They had a garlic butter sauce. The entire town came in while I was eating. Total cost - including wine -65ff.

Sadness ... I just lost my favourite blue sweater. I think I left it unattached on the bike and it fell off. I didn't discover it until 14km later.

I just entered a canopy of trees over the road. On the left, a doe stared at me, following me with her eyes as I passed ... as though she owned the place - which perhaps she did.

Lezay - about 90km north of Cognac I quit early today - at about 7:00pm because the weather was not wonderful and there was an advertised campground here ... that actually existed. I also wanted more freedom to plan my route for tomorrow. More about that later. We seem to have replaced the vineyards with mixed farming. My ignorance with respect to farm crops is unbounded. There are obviously at least two kinds of grains. Whether they are wheat, oats, or barley I have no idea. There is also a crop that looks like snow peas, or possibly green beans. Given the popularity of the latter here, I would guess green beans. Finally there is a very prevalent crop that looks as though it could be tobacco. I would know tobacco fully grown, but in its infancy, ???

11  Wed. May 23, Lezay

It is now past first light - and I am a trifle reluctant to get up. I am greeted by 6 bells, politely separated by 3 minutes, from Lezay's two churches.

It has been raining all night - continual, without thunder and lightning. I think it has now paused. There is no sun, but it seems that everything is merely soaked.

Some observations:

The country has changed from sharp hills to rolling fields, and the soil looks too good for grapes. I have just noticed a field of green beans - the only one I've seen. Given the popularity of beans and French cooking, there must be many more somewhere. The fields and fields of snow peas that I saw in Gascony, but not here, were indeed that. It looks as though that area has embraced them as a cash crop with enthusiasm. Perhaps its too early, but I have not seen them in the plates of crudités or in the markets.

Another cash crop mystery are the fields of small purple flowers, about 18in high ... It is difficult to be more specific.

Again through Nueil sur Faye, I forgot to check all four corners of an intersection for signs ... and missed the one for Chinon. This time it was only one block.

I arrived at Chinon with an incredibly black and threatening sky in the southeast. The clouds blocked the sun from bathing the castle but the view from my tent, of the castle across the Rivière Viennne, is still magnificent.

This is again the first place I meet any other bicycle tourers. A couple from Ottawa notice my bike as I register and another from New Zealand have there tent pitched beside my favourite place in campground.

They are on their way from England to Spain and Portugal - taking three months. They complain that the castles are very expensive and ask if it is worthwhile to visit Chinon. Since Chinon is primarily a ruin, best contemplated from the outside I say no. They invite me to dinner, a spicy, and tasty vegetarian dish of local vegetables. I supply the wine.

For some reason, we start discussing word meanings. ``Hard case'' in New Zealand means someone who is interesting, a convict in England, and someone difficult to get along with, among others, in North America. They were astounded by the importance of cultural interpretation.

12  Thurs. May 24, Chinon

Today is a national holiday in France - Ascension Day. All the stores have announced closure for the entire day or the afternoon. Provisioning is in the morning.

Chinon also indulges in polite hourly bells.

Some observations:

I was the first to cross the finish line for the Parcay Ascencion Day Bicycle Race ... Recorded on video tape for local television. All the routes through town were blocked.

Fishing is a passion as indicated on what was effectively a drainage ditch by the road - Pêche Interdite et Gardée

Sometimes the faith of the French farmer is touching. I saw several carefully placing scarecrows in the field. I also saw one field with half a dozen scarecrows and about 150 crows. It hadn't even been plowed. The most impressive scarecrow was a fully dressed dummy, complete with a ladder, in a cherry tree.

The plum trees are well trained.

Today was clear, sunny and very windy, which by definition means that it was blowing in my face.

13  Fri. May 25, Marçon

I am now about two reasonably easy days out of Paris and have about five to go. I think I shall go slowly to Vendôme ... with its flamboyant gothic church (only 50km away) and then decide whether to continue. We shall see

A scarecrow of note: a dead crow hanging by its legs. Perhaps it's effective - I saw no crows, or an other birds.

The V6 (V? roads are even less important than C? roads) ran along tufa cliffs with troglodyte dwellings (houses carved into the cliff) that were obviously in use. I saw a lady in deep conversation with her neighbour just outside a cliff face with a door and windows.

The V6 ended in Houssay, which had a restaurant that described themselves as a Pizzeria. There menu was half pizzas but when I tried to order, the owner said no because they had not started the fire. I left and continued on to Vendôme. I shall spend a layover day here. I am roughly one day out of Paris. There is enough time to check out their Ascension weekend fair.

Fairs or carnivals in Europe are of the type that I remember as a child. They demonstrate products of many sorts and have rides and such, almost as an addition. This fair had autos, local, and non local wines and cheeses, along with all manner of household items ... whirlpools. I tasted the wines from many locations and decided that I did not really care for the local Vendômais variety. The ``Côtes de Layon'' that I first tasted in Angers last year are still much sweeter than the California Chenin Blanc. I also tasted a sweet apéritif wine from the south ... Banyuls-sur-Mer that was quite interesting. The address of the proprietor on ``Rue des Abattoirs'' is not the best advertising.

I also supported the local JC's by having two Merguez sausage sandwiches for supper.

14  Sat. May 26, Vendôme

This will be a layover day. Although I have seen most of the ``sites'' last year, I remember it as a charming town, sliced by what looks like lots of canals, but they are really splits of the Loir around a city of islands.

I shall just wander.

La Trinité ... Flamboyant Gothic. The designers really learned to support very high walls with their gargoyled flying buttresses.

Some more signs:

The Loir has been tamed with small dams as it runs through town - perhaps too tame. The ``Lavoir des Cordeliers - fin XVième'' now has rather murky water for washing.

Ile Fisseau, behind the market, consists trees, grass, a view of the tower of La Trinité, the Chateau, some washing on a line under a wooden roofed walkway, and a couple of picnic tables.

15  Sun May 27, Vendôme

Today I am aiming for a Michelin Guide Check Rated Campground in Monerville. It should be about 70km from Paris. I will know the distance from here when I get there.

I am now in Ouzouer le Marche, 45 windy km out of Vendôme. Except for a 2km stretch of delightful woods before St. Laurent des bois, it has been head winds all the way. One part of the road, with no visible houses nearby had maples planted about every 5m on both sides of the highway. Evidently the winds put the birds at risk. I found a 2.5in nest, a mix of feathers, down, and grass by the side. A few minutes later I saw a second.

I had lunch in the Church garden with a plaque which read - `` ICI Le 15 Aout 1944 à 14 heures s'arrêtent les premiers libérateurs Américains''

The snow peas are back ... fields and fields of them. I have seen no Rape Seed. I wonder if the snow peas are the new cash crop.

This is fair weekend - in Janville -and again I seem to be interfering with a bicycle race. The policeman told me to get out of the way. Now 6 racers have passed. Perhaps I shall be able to find my way out of town. Oops ... here comes the band.

I guess that this is the right street. It is and I find D104 to Oinville-St. Liphard.

I continue to cross fields with a cloudless sky and a fierce headwind. After deciding that 5km on the N20 is too dangerous, I backtrack and circle an extra 15km to find the check rated campground. At 132km I find it ... indeed a surprise with individual sites in the woods ... decidedly non-European.

It is pleasant but I suspect I shall leave early again.

Today was unusual. There were no Mirage jet fighters flying overhead. Perhaps that was just a concession to today being Mother's day.

16  Mon. May 28, Monnerville - Bois de la Justice

20 km of hills and woods, through Guillerval and Saclas on the way to Etampes - What a delight.

It is now 100.71km later and I am in the campground at Champigny sur Marne. I was assured by someone camping last night at Bois de la Justice that it was 50km. Never trust anyone not on a bike.

This campground is quite crowded. There appear to be at least two groups of Dutch kids and possibly a British group. I have managed to find a spot for my tent with an unrestricted view of the Marne. I am convinced that European campgrounds are not for camping but rather for ``hotel avoidance''. Occasionally you get an outstanding one like the ``Bois de la Justice'' but in most cases, especially in season, which I have yet to see, it is jammed living.

17  Tues May 29, Paris

Is there a garbage strike? ... the garbage looks as though it has been thrown from the large city garbage buckets all along Blvd Voltaire - 11th district. A lady suggested that it was indeed vandalism ... that the guest workers are upset about having to go back to Turkey ... at least that's what I thought she said.

I have spent the morning, rather enjoyably, looking for a book on farm crops. I guess that it is not in great demand. I found none.

``Naf Naf'' appears to be a new trade mark launched with broad industry and possibly government support. I has a broad range of products but specializes in fresh, colourful clothes.

I just saw a poster calling for a rally to protest the deportation of Kurds and Turks - decrying the fighting and bloodshed.

Some more signs:

A new group has (partially) arrived at the campground. They are from an English school from Sunderland. Apparently a second coach is about to arrive. Their area had been cordoned off. I last saw them erecting tents and their responsable was about to cook the onions for the spaghetti dinner.

Two pigeons have been having a territorial war in my Maple tree. I continue to contemplate the Marne through my front door.

18  Wed May 30 , Paris - to the Airport

I am not certain if the distance from the Champigny sur Marne is less than the west side of Paris, but it is more interesting. There is one ridge line to climb but you get it back on the other side. This route brings you out at Le Bourget on the N2, which becomes the N17 as you pass into the next department just north of town. Unfortunately they are in the process of improving N17, which probably means that it will become more difficult for bicycles.

Department D?? roads are of course numbered by the particular department you happen to be in. On this trip there were several times when the road I was on popped in and out of a pair of departments. This was not really a problem except when I had to turn. On my way to Chinon, the road as it entered the Chinon region was D151. However, when I was looking, it was D24; there was a department change between there and Chinon.

Air France bicycle boxes are wonderfully small. I needed to take off my seat and front wheel to fit my bike inside. They also did it to me again. By the time I got to the counter there were only smoking seats available. Hopefully my seatmates were put in the same position.

The lady to my left, from Alexandria (Egypt), to visit her sister in La Prairie is not a smoker but the lady to my right is. So far I have survived.

As usual, we are late - in this case about an hour. It's not very important. I am not making connections.

In the time between movies and advertisements, Air France shows a map of the route with current speed, altitude, outside temperature and distance. I haven't seen this since we did it on the ship in 1958.

We are at 11,580m (37000 ft) and the outside temperature is -56 degrees C.

19  Maps

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 28 May 2004, 04:39.