Markets, Mosques and Marrakech!

After a lovely break from big cities we caught the bus back to Meknes, which for a big city has a really relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Normally we find we walk miles to avoid the hassle of arguing with taxi drivers! Meknes, however instantly feels welcoming as the taxi drivers are lovely and really helpful!! The souks are busy but hassle free so once again we were wandering though mountains of spices and sweets and into the maze!

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The smell of all the spices is amazing and much more pleasant then the meat sections of the market!

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During our trip was the build up to Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice. Families go to the markets to choose and buy a sheep, this caused much entertainment for Mia seeing sheep in cars, on buses and in wheelbarrows!

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Meknes Medina.

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Enough sightseeing, time for some Peppa pig on daddy’s i-pod!!

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Our next stop, the capital Rabat. Showing ted the views from the train. An easy 3 1\2 hour journey right into the centre of town.

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The Kasbah des Qudaias, the site of the original ribat and citadel of the Almohad, Merenid and Andalucian towns, it has a strange feeling of being in a village inside a capital city.

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 Rabat. More blue walls…

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And cobbled streets!

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Nice and shady in the Kasbah des Qudaias.

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Morocco is all colour and patterns everywhere you look. On doors..

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…on drinking fountains….

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..on cloth covering bread…

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..and the beautiful patterns in Arabic script.

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Hassan Mosque, Rabat. The Mosque was started in 1195 but never completed, the huge minaret can been seen in nearly every view in the city. Had it been comlpeted it would have been the second largest mosque of its time.

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Hassan Mosque.

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The Mohammed V Mausoleum.

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On holiday!

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After the narrow streets and covered markets of the imperial cities, Rabat felt open and spacious with its big wide avenues. We had only planned to spend one night, just to break up the 8 hour train ride to Marrakech, but we really enjoyed the city with its fantastic cafes and hassle free streets, so we spent an extra day and night and could have easily stayed longer!

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Potions of all kinds in a health shop.

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The spice grinder!

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Mint and other wonderful herbs and flowers.

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 As vegetarians the food in Moroccan can be quite repetitive, lots of veg tagine or veg and cous cous. But with lovely fresh fruit and delicious almond biscuits we didn’t have to resort to snails!!

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Waiting for the train, Sunday was not the best day to travel with fewer trains they were really busy, but after half an hour we got a seat. A hot five hours to Marrakech but with the help of other passengers Mia was kept amused and entertained!

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Marrakech here we come!

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 Marrakech, is an overload of the senses, sights smells and sounds. We found a room and after a long day time for some food. Waiting for our supper at one of the many stalls that fill the Djemaa el Fna in the evening.

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Another maze of a Medina, Marrakech was much busier with tourists than the other cities and as a result there was a bit more hassle, but Mia was a good distraction.

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Unfortunately not many people took any notice of these signs and where we had become used to wandering in traffic free zones we were now having to jump out of the way of scooters. With Mia that made it not so enjoyable.

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Escaping the medina, the beautiful and peaceful Majorelle Garden, created in the 1920s and 1930s by the French painter Jacques Marjorelle and later owned by the designer Yves Saint Laurent.

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 Moroccan colours. Posing in the gardens!

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View of the city from  El Badi the ruined palace of Ahmed el Mansour.

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Dancing with her shadow!

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Stocks nesting on the roof of El Badi Palace.

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Riding into the square, a princess in her carriage!! Definitley a high light of the holiday for Mia.

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Sitting in precious shade in the heat of the day!

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The Djemaa el Fna. This square was made a Unesco site in order to protect the tradition of a need for a place for people to gather and socialise,  a cultural space, for storytellers, musicians, snake charmers  and performers to express themselves. It really is a great place to be as the sun sets, the whole square comes alive.

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People watching in the Square.

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 Listening to the call for prayer from the Koutoubia Minaret, the oldest of the three great Almohad towers, (the others The Hassan Tower in Rabat and the Giralda in Seville) completed around 1150AD.

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We have only explored a tiny bit of this great country, A really fun place to travel with a toddler, easy to get around and very friendly and welcoming people.

The labyrinth of Fez.

After a lovely breakfast of honey pancakes and mint tea, we wandered down to the bus station of Chefchaouen, knowing there was a CTM bus leaving at 1pm we got there early to buy a ticket, but as we arrived a rickety old bus was just leaving with the shouts of “Fez Fez Fez” so we hopped on and payed less than £2 for a four and a half hour journey. It turned out to be more like five and a half hours with the rickety old bus breaking down before we reached Fez but luckily with some space on a passing bus we reached Fez in daylight, which suddenly appeared after miles of dry sunburnt fields and tiny villages of mudbrick houses.

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Bab Boujeloud, Fez. The old Medina of Fes el Bali is walled by impressive ramparts and then these beautiful gated entrances, which lead to a town still lost in some distant time.

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The only traffic beyond the walls is horses, donkeys and pushcarts.

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The old town of Fes el Bali.

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We stayed in the heart of the Medina, so as soon as we walked out of the door we were straight into the market and into a barrage of sounds,  beautiful colours and not so wonderful smells!!!

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You can buy anything and everything in the market. Shops and stalls are full to the brim.

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mountains of olives….

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piles of dried fruit…..

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beads in every colour….

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and beautiful Fez pottery.

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In the heart of the medina you find the Tanneries, which you smell before you see, although vegetable dyes have largely been replaced by chemicals ,  pigeon dung is still used to treat the leather.

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Vats of dye and pigeon poo. Little has changed here since the sixteenth century, workers pass down their specific jobs from generation to generation, Hard work and with more chemicals being used high health risks.

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Fassi leather from these tanneries is some of the finest leather in the world and founded the city’s wealth from the tenth to nineteenth century.

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Racks of animal skins drying on the rooftops.

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Refreshment break!

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And maybe a donut or two!!

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The donut man! It was fascinating to see how fast he made them, and people would buy 5 or six and they would just be threaded onto a piece of twine and taken away.

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“Please can we take this donkey home?” Once again Mia was like a celebrity, showered in kisses, hugged by everyone from little old ladies to shopkeepers and children on their way home from school.

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Life in the Medina

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Still plenty of cats to chase!!

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 In the old town you find fancy shops of leather or carpets next to people selling a few bunches of mint, or cupfuls of grain.

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The real maze of the old town, the covered souk, once inside you lose all sense of direction!

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After a wrong turn, lost in the backstreets, a little disconcerting not having any idea where you are. But luckily there is always someone to point you in the right direction!

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Relaxing after a busy morning shopping! In the lovely Riad Hala. Where we spent two very peaceful nights, as soon as you enter into the courtyard the noise of the streets is gone and it’s like an oasis of calm!

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Playing Hide and Seek in the the Cafe Clock. Another good place when you need a break from the busy streets. With really delicious food on the menu!

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On the rooftop of the guest house, with five mosques a stones throw away, the call to prayer was incredible. In Mia’s words “that man up tower singing”!

We really enjoyed Fes, it is busy but without any cars it is easy to walk around, and you really do feel like you are lost in another world.

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The next stage of travel was by rail we were not sure what to expect but the train was great, it was simple to buy tickets for the next train and it was just a short ride, 40mins to Meknes. We were there by 10.30am so decided to head to a small town called Moulay Idriss. An important town for pilgrims, as the tomb of Morocco’s most revere saint lies here. A trip to Moulay Idriss is worth a fifth of the hajj to Mecca.

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Much to Mia’s delight donkeys are the main transporter of everything from building materials to livestock, she was picked up for a free ride!

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Moulay Idriss. Although the shrines here are restricted to Muslims only, and there is little for a tourist to visit, it was a really relaxing place to be and sit and people watch!

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This gentleman was so lovely he wanted Mia to ride on his donkey so it would be a lifelong memory of Morocco for her.

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From our rooftop. Until recently is was forbidden for non-Muslims to stay overnight in the town but as this ban has now been lifted we stayed in the very welcoming guest house La Colombe Blanche.

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Relaxing on the roof after a hard day of donkey rides!

Making our way to Marrakech with Mighty.

 Time for our first adventure on the road with the  Mighty Mia. Two and a half years has flown by and we have very itchy feet! We were undecided weather to take the bikes, and in the end we chose a taster of backpacking with a toddler!! With short and cheap easy jet  flights we decided on flying into Gibratar and out of Marrakech.  We have often met people travelling with young children on our travels, but when it came to our own trip we were surprised how nervous we felt about a simple two week break, but flights booked and bags packed we were on our way to Morocco.

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An easy flight and we arrived in Gibraltar, we were not sure how quick it would be to cross the border into spain, but a short walk and we were over the border and at the bus station, waiting for a bus to Algeciras.

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 Ted safe in the backpack, we were on the Ferry to Tangier, It was easy to buy a ticket when we got to the port in Algeciras and luckily a delayed ferry was leaving at a good time for us.

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 Africa.

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 Tangier, beyond the Green tiles of the  Grand Mosque, the view from our room, so an early wake up call from the Muezzin.

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 First things first, mint tea in the Cafe de Paris, once a favourite spot for secret agents and more recently as a setting in The Bourne Ultimatum.

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  Just around the corner, so a happy Mia.

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The tiled floors of the kasbah.

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Patterns in the kasbah museum. From floors to walls and doors.

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 We really enjoyed Tangier, it was easy wandering in the medina and with plenty of cafes and places to escape the heat. We could see why people have so often been drawn here, and you can still feel how it may have been in the days of the Beats.

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Tangier.

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 After a couple of days in Tangier we took the bus to Chefchaouen.

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A couple of hours on the bus and although a bit hot a good time for a nap!!

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We had read that Chefchaouen was a blue town and it really was!

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Blue blue doors of Chefchaouen!

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With no traffic at all in the medina this was a perfect place for exploring, and we had a really friendly welcome, while playing on these steps the doors opened with very friendly faces, although Mia was a little nervous of the beckoning hennaed hands she was very happy with the cake she was given!!

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Opening her cake, the first of many presents, including lots of sweets, a rose, a postcard and rather randomly a sweaty wrist band!

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other medina residents!

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Some colour amongst the blue.

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not so sure about the animal print ones!

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more colours below the blue walls.

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trying to get a “good price”!

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Chefchaouen, trapped in a fold in the mountains, once very anti-european and autonomous, now a welcoming and laid back town.

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At the top! Just in time to hear the Call of Prayer echoing off the mountains.

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Back down in the blue alleys.

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Quiet streets. Morocco is slow to wake up in the morning, but with Mia as an early riser it was a good time to be out exploring.

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too much exploring!

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Holidays!

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Much to Mia’s delight cats rule the streets.

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Waiting for food scraps!

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flower power!

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It was really easy going here and a great place to waste days wandering, drinking tea and getting the feel for Morocco. But we had to make our way to Marrakech, so onwards to Fez………

The new trailer!!

Two years have flown by and although we have no real plans yet for a big trip, we have lots of dreams, and with our new chariot trailer have had some good bike rides!

 

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                         Luckily Mighty Mia seems pleased with her new trailer!!

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She is keen to help out too, hopefully we will have her pitching a tent soon!!

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For now it is just day trips and hopefully when the summer finally comes a few weekend trips. So we will keep posting on any new adventures!

 

Homeward bound……

Cycling the last stage of our trip, both a happy and sad feeling, we are excited about seeing old friends and families again and the start of a new adventure, but we know we will miss the freedom of the bikes and our life outdoors.

We had a very relaxing time with my Mum, but it felt good to back on the bikes and the sunshine stayed with us!

A good view from the tent, the Chateau at Falaise.

The cobbled streets of Falaise.

Field after field of sunflowers.

Normandy is known for its wet weather, but on a sunny summers evening it is really idyllic.

The ferry home, and luckily a nice calm day!

England! Shame we didn’t bring the sunshine with us!

Russ and his Dad, who came to meet us and ride the last two days back to Bath with us and check we were on the correct side of the road!

We followed the sustrans cycle route for most of the way, which took us on some lovely back roads and cycle paths, however sometimes the signs would suddenly disappear which lead to bit of back tracking!

Not sure if this is the right way, but it’s very pretty!

Down to the ferry landing to get a little boat across the Humble, we just managed to get the three bikes on the tiny bright pink ferry that came across.

Seashore decorations!

Even so close to home, we still rode through little villages and hamlets we never knew were here.

The back roads!!

Back in Somerset.

Home! Back at Russ’ parents house.

We have had such a great time and we can’t say a big enough thankyou to all the people who have made it such a good experience, all the hospitality and kindness we have been shown. Also the lovely company of the people we have ridden with. Hopefully this blog has shown something of a great journey, thanks to everyone who has followed us and shown interest in our travels.

Rolling along the Loire

Riding along the Loire has had all the best bits of cycle touring, perfect picnic spots, trails through the vineyards and beautiful chateaux. The weather has stayed sunny for us and it has felt like a really good end to the trip, a chance for us to enjoy the summer and get ready for going home, which is both a very exciting thought and also a little scary!

Wild flowers along the Loire.

 Bicycle graffiti along the route, this is a very popular ride for cycle tourers and for day-trippers. With great roads, either quiet secondary  or cycle paths, making very pleasant riding.

There is always a chance for some off-road as well….

With some great swimming spots!

The fairytale Chateau at Ussé.

 

Good when you going down, not so fun to ride up!

Waterlilys in the gardens at Chaumont.

Saumur.

Our only problem along the Loire, after over 10 000 miles this tyre had enough, and made an impressive bang when it burst! Luckily we weren’t flying down the hill!

A side trip from the Loire to La Vienne at Chinon.

We didn’t make to the vineyards of South America this time but we are definitley in wine-growing country here. 

One more chateau picture! They are just too picturesque. Chaumont sur Loire.

Inside the Chateau at Chenonceux.

Lovely copper pots in the kitchen…

 ..and a selection of knives not needed by a vegetarian! 

We are now taking a lovely few weeks off in the Cave (Lorely’s mum’s troglodyte home) in Luynes.

 Helping out with a few summer time jobs.

Happy painting windows!

The Loire. 

 

 

 

La Route en Vélo……..

We have arrived in France, a cyclists dream with miles and miles of cycle paths, campsites everywhere, some with a discount for people arriving on bicycle, and you can’t beat the bread and cheese picnics. After a few rainy days in Spain,  crossing the border we have had day after day of  sunshine. So we have really enjoyed a good few weeks of very laid back cycling!

Cycling past field after field of sunflowers, even with a head wind it makes you smile.

Our last day in Spain, we arrived in the small town of Hondarribia to find ourselves in the middle of a medieval fair!

 Everywhere was in full Medieval style.

Watching the surf in Biarritz.

Cycling the coastal bike route , you can ride the whole coast on trails, which is fantastic. However, we did find ourselves needing days on the roads as well due to the  monotony of miles of pine trees!!

Rows and rows of pine trees and piles and piles of wood!

We have really enjoyed the long evenings,  after so many months of early sunsets.

Dune du Pilat, near to Arcachon, the highest sand dune in Europe and good fun to run and slide down.

One of the many oyster huts at Arcachon, we stayed near here with a lovely family who stopped by us on the side of the road and invited us to stay for the night and for dinner. The whole trip it has been amazing the kindness people have shown towards us.

Waiting for the ferry over to Cap Ferret.

Some of the bike paths a little bit narrow!

We still enjoy the fresh fruit and veg at the markets and we were lucky to pass a lot of farmers markets in different towns.

Fresh herbs.

Even when we left the cycle tracks the roads were quiet and lovely for riding.

Map reading but a good photo chance! The little villages and towns in France are lovely for cycling, passed beautiful old farmhouses and barns.

The Transporter bridge into Rochefort, built-in 1898 and now used by cyclists and walkers to cross the Charente river. It is a movable bridge with a gondola slung from a huge metal frame,  fewer than two dozen have been made and now only twelve of these bridges are still in use.

The harbour entrance of La Rochelle.

La Rochelle, we were lucky to be here on the summer solstice which in France is celebrated with live music in the streets.

La Rochelle.

Birthday boy, 30 years young!

Le Velo.