REHUMANIZE THE P.I.G.S. (July 2010 Part 3)

June was about to end, same as my stay in Barcelona. While watching the sunset at the harbour I said to myself: “Would you take a ferry back to Greece if there was one?”. “Maybe...but not this time” I replied. Therefore, my trip hadn't come to an end yet. Next destination: Toulouse, France.
I start early in the morning trying to skip the heatwave and I hardly manage to load my bike before I become full of sweat. I take the C55 heading North without anything special on the way. Via C16 I continue North and fortunately I leave the heat behind as I go up the Pyrenees.  After a point though as I was approaching the beautiful “Cadi-Moixero” National Park, I started feeling cold as I was wearing nothing under my summer jacket. As I started thinking about making a stop to wear something more I entered a tunnel that I hadn't noticed earlier in the map.  Actually it was a fridge about 5 km long where I almost froze to death and felt like it took me an age to pass it following the speed limit.
I continue on N152 in a pleasant and flat scenery with nice contrasts of white and blue in the sky. The architecture of the houses shows me that I must be close to France and a bit later I pass the French border at Bourg Madam. It is time for the Ν20 now to take me North and while the weather seems to get worse with dark clouds in the sky the route gets more and more beautiful following a river for a while. If you are not in a hurry after Porta don't do the mistake to continue on N20 and enter the toll tunnel. Take the N320 instead which follows a much more scenic route going up the mountain through Porte Puymorens. I made one more deviation a bit later and took the Ν22 in order to go to Andora. This road leads you high up to Pas de la Casa at 2400 m high, which is the watershed of Pyrenees. Interesting route but not on  heavy raining conditions like the ones I was facing. This was the reason that I soon took the road back to Toulouse.
Here I am on the N20 again, leaving the cold rainy mountains behind for a more friendly landscape. After a lot of km in flat cultivated fields without any bends I arrive at Toulouse.

This city is really very beautiful and personally speaking maybe she was the one who touched me most.  Could be the old part of the city to blame for this, or the nice parks, or even more the    Garonne river with the amazing lighting at night that you simply feel a love at first sting when you visit it. What I know for sure is that Clement Riguet did his best to make me feel better than home there. Still have not enough words to thank him and his father who was providing me his best beers whenever he saw me. The Riguet family owns a very nice Youth Hostel (www.gite-compostelle-toulouse.com) in the heart of the old part of the city. One night walking around there I saw cars with flags of Ghana waved by screaming passengers who wondered why I don't join them. I continued walking indifferent and relaxed instead. Next day I learned that Ghana had won USA in football so I could finally understand partially their excitement. The world football championship was still going on and I was experiencing screaming fans from town to town but this was the last thing that I was interested in.
What really interested me was the way the sunset made me feel at the Pont Neuf Bridge of Garonne river. If you ever visit Toulouse don't leave before you see the sun go down at one of the beautiful bridges of this river. Be sure you'd love to stay forever there even after the sunset as the smart lighting of the bridges makes the view just magical.

My days in Toulouse were over and one of the last mornings of June I find myself leaving her back, heading east on D888. I was enjoying an easy route with low traffic while lots of trees on both sides of the road were providing precious shadow on a sunny and hot day.

The route was crossing lowland fields and beautiful villages for long but later the scenery changed, especially when I left A75 on exit 39 to take the N88 driving east.

Higher altitude, more trees, less heat and the first dark clouds appeared in the sky. N106 was next. This road crosses the Cevennes which is a very beautiful forest making the route more exiting. Somewhere in the middle of this forest I heard a thunder so loud that it felt like it was aiming my head. This was the starting gun for a heavy rain that didn't allow me to enjoy the whole scenery as much as I wanted to. This went on for  quite a few km when I finally left the mountain and the cold back for more friendly lowland places once again and via D6 I arrive at Pont St Esprit where I decide to stay overnight.  This town was by far the less attractive I visited in France. I had already a lot of km on  my back and some of them under heavy rain so I decided to rest there. I stayed at a mediocre hotel and when I asked the owner for a place to park my bike he lead me to his house's yard where his cute kids where playing. Fortunately they didn't play with my bike so I was able to leave that place next morning.
New day, new destination, perfect weather. My goal was to make it up to La Mutaret, a village North East of Grenoble. The first km didn't have anything special to remember except some fields with nice colours where I stopped for the necessary photos.

Next interesting moment was after Puy Saint Martin where D6 follows a very beautiful route that goes uphill and after some bends behind the trees I see a forest of wind generators. I experienced an even greater surprise later on D70 after Mirabel et Blacons. This is a relatively narrow road that crosses a full green forest where you drive partially under the shadow of the trees which is really a joy on a hot sunny day.
Grenoble looked nice to me on first glance while crossing it without a long stop and few tens of km later on D525 the landscape is once again full green and nice. After Saint Pier d' Alevard I make a stop at the lake Bassin du Flumet where it is needless to propose this to you cause you'll just do the same thing if you ever go there. The reason is simple: it is an ideal place to rest your eyes exposed to this view.

Few km later I was at La Mutaret, in a wonderful place where I was welcomed by the wonderful family of Simon and Estella plus their two kids. I can't thank them enough by writing just a few words about them as they did their best to make me feel better than home including an invitation for a BBQ that took place in a nearby village up at 1000 m where I tried  delicious local food.

I had to say goodbye to these great people the next morning.
The weather was perfect, Simon is staring at my loaded and ready to go bike and I can read his mind that he would like to ride his as well (he hadn't done so for the last 2 years being a busy father). My new target is Troistorrents, a Swiss village close to the French border.
Driving on D1212 heading North-East the landscape becomes more interesting after. Once more I ride my bike in a forest with rich vegetation while various tunnels make the road even more scenic. The pleasant experience on D1212 is complete after I pass through Megeve which is located at a nice spot with great view. Next km where pleasant as well but the exceptional spot was on the E25 close to Mont Blank tunnel. Crossing the tunel is not the best thing to do especially on a bike but this spot on E25 close to Less Bossons gives you the chance to picture the snow and the Glacier of ice that goes down the mountain like a sculpture river.

Unique and unforgettable -  a stop there is a must.
I get closer to the Swiss border and after beautiful but touristy Chamonix the D1506 takes me to Switzerland in the most pleasant way, following the Arve river and going uphill on nice full green bends.  After the borders the road 203 is as scenic.

Few km later but few hundreds of meters higher I reach the Col de la Forclaz which lies just over 1500 meters altitude. One stop there is not a bad idea at all. I was lucky enough to see some antique cars that made it up to the pass and their owners kept them in immaculate condition making the whole view there even more attractive.

A few more km after Forclaz though there was an even more impressive view waiting for me. The first curves going downhill unveil little by little, each one from different altitude, the valley – plateau where Martigny is located. This is totally a must see place and the only bad thing is that you can't choose which spot is the best one to take your photos.

I leave Martigny behind and via 21 I go North till I arrive at Troistorrents, a beautiful village in a great location but this is something typical for Switzerland as it is well known for the beauty of its countryside.

This is where Tobias and Arianne hosted me. A really hospitable couple form Germany who shared their house with me for a couple of days. They both did everything possible to make my stay there a great rejoicing pit stop and I really needed one as I was already 2 weeks on the road. The BBQ we had on the same night was very tasty and with a little help from the red wine I had a sweet deep sleep.
Next morning my hosts proposed me a trip to St. Bernard and of course I couldn't say no. We take the 21 back South and after Martigny we are once again riding in another gorgeous mountainous route. The higher we go the colder it gets and after passing a few tunnels we see more and more snow as well.

The view of the lake at St Bernard pass, slightly under 2500 meters high is astonishing. On this nature's mirror you can see the reflections of the snowy picks surrounding the lake.

Lucky as I was,  I saw the famous St Bernard dogs without even paying the fee, as they took them out for a walk when I was passing in front of the entrance of their houses.

We return North, this time in order to visit the Geneve lake. No toll roads of course and no regrets doing so as the route (especially some parts) is very very nice. The lake is very famous so I won't make any more comments about it...especially after St Bernard's cold it looked like a warm hug with its calm water making a very relaxing view close to sunset.

On our way back to the house at Troistorrents we met a heavy rain with drops as big as hazelnuts. With a little patience under the roof of a gas station we skipped part of it.
Next morning I would say goodbye to Tobias and Arianne with the best feelings for them, continuing east crossing the rest of Switzerland. My impressions were becoming more and more exiting and I was so curious to see what's coming next. When I asked Tobias about the best route to make it to the east Swiss border without using any toll road he replied “...then you are obliged to pass through fantastic places!”

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