An Awful Day

Mike patching bike for fourth time. Start of awful day.

What an absolutely awful day.  Mike and I have continued our long distance bike riding this week and, yesterday the plan was to join the ride from our campground to our previous ride south to the Mediterranean.  We rode to the local train station.  We were really pleased to know that this was the last time we would have to carry our very heavy e-bikes up and down the stairs to get across the tracks at this station.  I am so disappointed in southern France’s train stations and their lack of any assistance such as elevators, or ramps, or even a channel on the side of the stairway to help getting bicycles across the train tracks.  This day was planned to be a nice ride, not too long, through multiple villages and beside the southern end of the Canal du Midi.

We stopped for lunch at an American Diner called Memphis.  It is always interesting to see how much they copy from American diners and how much they change.  About 5 km (3 mi) from the train station Mike’s bike went flat almost instantly with no warning when he rode over a sharp stick.  There was nowhere for him to sit comfortably, as you can see from the picture above.  Luckily this has happened before and Mike carries a complete kit for patching inner tubes with him on all our rides.  Sitting on the asphalt path in the hot sun for about 20 minutes wasn’t fun but Mike did get it fixed and we rode on.  Less than 5 minutes later the same tire was flat again.  Sitting back down on the same path Mike discovered that, in addition to the large hole he had fixed, there was a tiny pinhole in the rim side of the inner tube.  He patched this and starting riding and knew straight away that it hadn’t worked.  Sitting down on the path for the third time we found out that the second patch hadn’t taken properly.  Mike replaced it with a new patch, put the tire back together, filled it with air and watched the tire go flat.  At this stage he agreed with me that we needed to replace the inner tube because the pinhole was in a location that got stretched as the tire was inflated.  Mike started walking his bike the 5km back into town while I rode past him to the closest bike repair store to see if they could fix the bike.  I got there only to discover that the store was closed for four days.  I gave Mike the choice of heading for the train station or another bike store further away.  He selected the bike store.

On my way to the store a driver looked really unhappy with me as I crossed at a crosswalk in front of him.  The crosswalks have very thin poles with white balls on top to protect them.  I turned around to glare at the motorist and my handlebar clipped the top of the pole.  How bad could that be?  Well I went flying.  There was blood all over the place, which turned out to just be a sliced finger but I didn’t know that for a while.  I had landed quite hard and was not in good shape.  A driver came with a first aid kit to help try and clean me up.  Apparently there was blood on my face and glasses as well as all down one arm and on both hands.  It was almost unbelievable that this was from one finger.  Her car was blocking traffic so she couldn’t stay very long but she was helpful.  After all this my bike wouldn’t start.  This was probably a good thing as I was really too shaken to ride it in town.  I did try and start the e-bike a little while later and it was still dead. I called Mike and we arranged to both continue walking our separate bicycles and meet at the train station.  I tried following Google’s pedestrian map to get there.  What a disaster.  Normally I love Google maps but this day it kept saying things like Turn Left and the pedestrians I asked, two of whom were police officers, would say straight and then turn right.  Mike arrived long before me at the train station.

Mike installing new inner tube and rear tire

We bought a ticket, rode back to Agde, the town where we were staying.  We were back in the train station we had hoped not to see again, carrying the bikes down and then up the long stairs.  The good news was that my bike did decide to start this time.  That had been a concern as we were 4km from the campground.  Mike then rode my bike back to our camper, got our car and came back and picked up his bike with its 4th flat tire and his wife.

Obviously neither of us felt great that evening, I felt bruised everywhere.  In the middle of watching a TV show our TV died.  We couldn’t believe the day.  Mike checked the fuses and everything looked good.  He worked on the problem for another 15 minutes and couldn’t find a solution.  Luckily, a few years ago, Mike had set the TV and computer circuit up so that we could press a button and switch them from requiring external power to running off our camper batteries.  We watched TV on battery for the rest of the night. 

The plan for the next morning will be for Mike to find the electrical problem and change the back tire and inner tube on his bike.  He says that replacing a front tire is relatively easy.  The back tire, with the motor and brakes and all is much more difficult.  I am sure that he will get it all done.

Unique black sand beach

We are now staying in a proper campground in the town of Agde which, to be honest, we had never heard of before we arrived here.  It turns out that Agde is known as “The black pearl of the Mediterranean” and is the third oldest city in France.  The black is from an ancient volcano. We are on a river about 1.5 km (1 mile) from the Mediterranean.  It is a lovely little ride along the river to the sea for coffee or ice cream.

All that you can see of the old volcano is a hill just a few hundred feet high.  Mike and I hope to take a bike ride up the hill before we leave.  The Cap d’Agde point was formed as a result of a number of volcanic eruptions, both on land and underwater.  In the summer an underwater (0 – 5m) trail is marked using buoys and signs to showcase some of the volcanic slabs, mini canyons and more.  Mike and I will  have left before this is setup for this year.  One of the circular beaches is a black sand beach, from an old lava flow.

Agde wall mural, what is real?

While cycling around town we came upon these buildings.  We went back a few days later to see how much of my picture was “real” and how much was simply “art”.  It turns out that we think it was 100% artwork with no real windows or doors at all in the picture.

The town itself is a maze of alleys with many buildings built with black volcanic stone.  Some of the streets are just about 1 metre wide.  We downloaded an app recommended by the tourist office.  It was supposed to be in multiple languages and you could choose your language.  Obviously we chose English.  All the instructions were then in English.  All the information about what you were seeing was in French!  I checked other cities covered by the app with the same result.

Awful bells from bell tower

One of the less attractive features of Agde were the very loud, very non-musical church bells. The bells make a clanging sound, much like you might expect to hear in a foundry, only louder. It seems that they play for about seven minutes every half hour.  If you are ordering or having lunch at one of the many restaurants at the foot of the bell tower it is awful. When ordering you need to point at the items you want to order on the menu and restaurant staff acknowledge your order by nodding their heads.  Our campground is a good 3 km from the church, and you can hear the bells from our campground.

The tourist office told us that we should visit the town of Pézenas.  Mike and I drove there one day.  It was a lovely little town, full of artisan shops and restaurants with really small, winding streets.  Mike and I are really bad tourists.  We didn’t go into a single store and for lunch we shared one meal.  That is pretty typical of our explorations.  The other thing that we both do that isn’t appreciated is start talking to restaurant personnel with a question.  Once Mike went into a restaurant to ask if food was being served and a few times I have asked about a toilet.  In multiple cases the local has stood there and waited for us to say “Bon Jour” or “Hello” as a greeting before  asking any questions.  Sometimes, they have to lead us in the direction that they want since we didn’t usually have a clue why they aren’t answering.  We are learning, just slowly.

Pézenas, a lovely small town

On one of our rides, in the middle of nowhere, we came upon a tourist office with tour buses and people beside it.  We were quite surprised.  We walked inside where there was a group of school children being instructed.  We tried to find out what was important about this spot.  It took a few people to be able to understand that we had no idea why the Tourist Office was here and what the attraction was.  The agent with some English showed us a model of a train tunnel, and just a very few metres crossing above the railway tunnel was a second tunnel for the canal.  We had just ridden on the train through that tunnel.  She told us we could ride 2 km uphill for a great view of a lake that had been drained in the middle ages.  We rode up the hill of Ensérune to see a lake that didn’t exist and took the picture below. What we didn’t know until I researched it for this article was that we were right next to the archaeological site of the Oppidum d’Ensérune, a National Monument and one of the most important Gallic villages in the Mediterranean South.  We missed it!

I figure that things have to get better after yesterday.  We still have a few more bike rides to do in this area, including the previous one we didn’t complete.  There are a few towns with audio tours on our phone that we are looking forward to walking around in.  We have been here one week and I expect that we will be here at least one more week, possibly longer.  Bye from Agde, France.

Lake drained in the middle ages

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