1. Eurovelo 1 is rarely signposted in The Algarve, and 2. not shown at all on Google maps. We use Locus Map Pro, an inexpensive offline mapping programme, with GPS, that shows all hiking and biking trails as well as contours, street details, it’s from openstreetmap. Not only is EV1 difficult to find without Locus Map pro, but 3. it often follows sandy trails! There are quiet alternatives!
We are cycling from Faro to Lisbon following Eurovelo 1. It’s a pleasant quiet coastal route, some tricky rough sandy sections, and some steep gradients, but we are traveling slowly and enjoying ourselves.
I am rather surprised to hear so many English voices: until I read a local ex-pat newspaper. One can retire to Portugal (183 days/ year) and not pay any taxes whatsoever on your pension income (lump sum or regular income) for 10 years. Then you begin to pay minimal Portuguese taxes. Nicknamed ” A Golden Visa” The EU want Portugal to tax ex-pat residents in line with the rest of EU, but this will harm Portugal’s booming residential sales and ” grey pound” income. Interesting. But maybe an immediate financial gain will backfire as Portugal’s ageing population demand health care. Retire to Portugal for sunshine, sea, golf and one’s inevitable death!
Click on the map to zoom in on the route
WELLS TO PORTSMOUTH
Day 1 Depart Wells Friday 25th May – Overnight Salisbury =76.5km/ 47.5 miles
Day 2 Saturday 26th May- Salisbury to Portsmouth = 75.7km/ 48 miles
Portsmouth to Le Havre overnight Ferry
LE HAVRE TO PARIS
Day 3 Sunday 27th May Le Havre to Evreux=107km/66 miles or Le Neubourg +83km/52 miles or campsite near Evreux
Important shorter option!! This is a long day (107km/66 miles) but 43km is on Voie Verte, a former railway line so mostly flat. There is a shorter option. At Le Neubourg (+83km/52 miles) there are36 hotels on Booking.com ≤ £43 and 227 hotels between £43 – £87 but no campsites. The group could separate so the campers cycle +26km (mostly flat) to Camping Les Sapins outside Evreux and meet the hotel group at Evreux in the morning
Or the hotel group can cycle all the way to Evreux where there are 3 hotels on booking.com ≤ £43 and 5 hotels between £43 – £87. The hotels are not near the campsite.
Day 4 Monday 28th May Evreux to Vernon +31.6km/19.5 miles Campers must first cycle into Evreux (flat) to meet those staying in hotels (+10km). Those who stayed in Le Neubourg must cycle on the Voie Verte cycle path (flat) to Evreux (+26km)
Day 5 Tuesday 31st May Vernon to Norte Dame +87km/54 miles Many hotels in the area on Booking.com but not many in the centre of town.
We have almost finished our tour!! (There’s a bike shop 40km away with two spare boxes for our return flight from Chennai airport on Tues). Right now we are in Mahabalipuram, a small seaside town and UNESCO World Heritage Site. From dawn till dusk, the cutting drills squeal like manic mosquitoes transforming granite into sculptures.
The workers spend their wages on wood alcohol full of methanol ( makes you go blind), but the British sculpture we met, Mark, makes sure they purchase brandy.
We have found another quiet hotel, lovely pool and great food nearby. The pool is necessary: women pick up litter from the beach daily but not the human excrement dotting the shoreline every morning. I know, I know, every time I flush my waste enters the sea untreated, but at least there it is diluted.
The are four types of monuments in Mamallapuram, the open air elephant family reliefs at Arjuna’s Penance, brick built temples at Shore Temple, and the man-made caves and rathas (procession chariots) carved in situ from single boulders. Oh and the Butter Ball straight out of Indiana Jones!
Wow! We have finished. And such a pleasant ride, beginning with a cloudy sky and a tailwind, Sunday cyclists trying to keep up, serious cricketers (thwack, cheers and clapping), there’s always something interesting. Charles has discarded his front box stone for errant drivers – those that force us off the road – he has progressed from dogs! Right now he is dismantling bikes in the cool of early evening (32’). A day in Chennai, then we fly!
Pondicherry was fun. There are 5,500 French nationals living here (total pop of Pondy, 1.25m) but also a strong community of Indian citizens who are descended from French settlers. Bollywood dance classes, cookery classes, fine dining… We danced with a reggae band, and a swing band, both from La Reunion, but also enjoyed Indian classical music and traditional dance. It was like Glastonbury without fleeces!!
Six days in one location!! But the music, and daily visits to the pool filled our days. Here is a description of our route to the pool, more for myself really, so I never forget!
From our hotel we turn right onto the seafront promenade – the gentle roll of waves, blue sky, pale granite and rustling palms – the brightness is dazzling! Traffic increases further from the coast but the roads are wide and lined with shady rain trees. At the five ways junction we take the second left – easy – then bounce over the railway lines onto a leafy boulevard lined with crumbling mustard coloured colonial buildings – a lycee, un travau public – behind tall gates. The road curves round to the right over the stinky canal ( hold your breath!), then a clear run for 2km, past the squatting fisherwomen, always squabbling, and our fruit vendor, his produce spilling over into the road. Immaculate school children wait patiently in small groups for buses. Girls wear maroon baggy pants, tight at their ankles, long pink tunics and a maroon scarf. Behind their ears, pink ribbons fix the loop of their long glossy plaits. The boys wear maroon trousers, pink shirts and stylish haircuts. These identical children wear sandals, they look healthy, expectant, radiant smiles show perfect teeth.
In contrast, there’s the skin and bone old man, wild hair and beard, nearly naked sitting against a wall.
Occasionally we overtake a bike or moped, one passenger carrying a large pane of glass (no gloves), the honey man on his rusted bicycle laden with baskets of honeycombs and of course mopeds on the inside driving towards us! India is never dull!
The next 300m is horrible. Still wide, 5 motorbikes wide, but incredibly noisy and busy. Machinery workshops, populous tea stalls and potholes force us into the road. I hunker down, concentrate. Two major roads join from the right, buses swing into our path with the divine assurance given by a little Hindu icon sitting on their dashboards! We take the third right, check behind, check again, breathe, then go, right arm extended and flapping for attention! I make sure my back wheel is tucked in waiting for a gap to cross the other side.
Another km and occasional palm leaf huts show that this narrow road was once a village. Women sweep a dusty strip between house and road, some recognise us from their doorstep and wave, weathered walnut faces melting into smiles. But I am complacent. Ahead motorbikes slow to see a stationary 4×4 and a completely crushed moped. Subdued, we continue to the pool, now on a quiet lakeside road, water buffalo wallowing in the shallow water.
The next day a slow funeral procession comes towards us; a loud marching band, then a coffin on a small open truck covered with fresh flowers. Behind woman scatter flowers and petals. By the time we reach the site of the crushed moped women are already sweeping away the petals from the road
Sadly every tourist will have to use India’s roads, in a taxi, tuktuk, hire car or (God forbid) bus. And the roads are dangerous. We can enjoy rural roads but we face the traffic when we enter towns to sleep, so even on a bike you must be careful.
We manage to cycle into Pondicherry on delightful quiet rural roads, avoiding the truly horrid highway 32 (we were forced to use it to cross a river yesterday). Farmers are struggling in drought conditions. In Tamil Nadu rainfall for the most important NE winter monsoon is 62% short of normal, and last summer’s SW monsoon was 19% deficient. Most of the step wells are dry, amazingly there are fish struggling in the shallow rivers. They look like they are trying to escape from the polluted waters and who can blame them? Pondicherry is the worst. Open sewers feed into concrete ‘rivers’ and the stench is truly awful.
Pondicherry is as chaotic as any other Tamil town but in the central “Ville Blanche” (a nod to colonial racism) next to coast the quiet leafy boulevards are delightful. This is not Nice, during the day the seaside promenade, has the forlorn look of an out-of-season French resort – to be fair the 2004 tsunami damaged many buildings, and the occasional waft of sewage doesn’t help – but it’s nicely designed, perfectly laid cut granite slabs, and newly planted palms. From 6pm the seafront is closed to traffic and the effect is remarkable! I gasp, arrested by the hushed sounds of footsteps and chatting voices. In all urban areas my ears are assaulted by the pervasive honk of horns (Charles thinks they all need a good slap!) We stroll, smiling at policemen in De Gaulle-style képis, sit on the black basalt boulders watching the waves…. an old man sits near us, then asks us if we are still cycling, apparently he met us in Hampi two months ago!! How many people in India? 1,326,801,576 people (UN figs 2016) projected to be 1.7 billion by 2050 yet or paths cross.
Google suggests a rooftop cafe for salad so we find it and begin to climb the stairs, alongside two American girls. They coo over a pair of newborn puppies asleep on a step … ‘Didn’t know puppy was on the menu’ jokes Charles. No response, yet he persists ‘Wouldn’t they make a great pair of moccasins!!’ Now a stony silence. I am struggling to suppress my laughter as three people who speak English fail to communicate!
I ate a typical English salad and chips with French bread and quiche using a knife and fork – proper cutlery for the first time since Rajasthan last December. And I did enjoy it, but not as much as the delicious masala dosa, plain mango milkshake (it means no sugar) and giggling ladies at breakfast. Women want to communicate, share stories and laugh out here. It was fun.
Boutique heritage hotels and chic cafes cater for French tourists, Pondicherry is rather like Galle in Sri Lanka, and it is wonderful! Charles celebrates his birthday with food: french bread, real coffee, apple pie, coconut lime cheesecake, dinner in a pretty garden villa.
I look for the swimming pool where Piscine Molitor Patel or Pi learnt to swim (Life of Pi, Yann Martel). There’s nothing at the point Google maps suggest but a woman sends us 2km further down the road suspiciously close to a river- surely she doesn’t think we plan to swim there? Then there it is!! Eight 25m lanes of crystal clear water surrounded by palms, and only ourselves. A joy! Greenbank pool with coconuts!! A Parisian pool is used in the film.
Brihadeeswarar is a really impressive Hindu temple, dedicated to Shiva in Thanjavur. The central gopura is 60m tall, no wonder it’s called “Big Temple” on road signs! It was built by Rajaraja I (985–1014), a powerful leader in the Cholas dynasty (these were the guys who ruled southern India for over 1,000 years). Rajaraja’s military campaigns spread Hinduism to the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Java, but he also encouraged literature, painting, sculpture, traditional music and dance. This is one of my favourite temples: I like that its solid granite is exposed, beautifully carved and not painted. We sit cross-legged in the shade reflecting on our trip, smells of incense, monks chanting, pilgrims worshipping, and I feel so calm, so chilled.
It doesn’t last: the traffic in Thanjuvar is particularly bad and I am foul-mouthed again! There is no concept of ‘Give way’, the rule is do not hit anything in front, which is why drivers rarely glimpse to the right when they turn left and pedestrians walk with their back to the traffic.
The Nayaks ruled after the Cholas, so we cycle to see their royal palace and the Chola C10-13th bronzes sculptures. I like them, and it is lovely to chat to two English ladies (I could chat all afternoon, I’m starved of female company!) It’s really hot and Charles has had enough so we retreat to our hotel pool, yes a small swimming pool with clean clear water.
The next day we visit Airavateshwara Temple, built by King Rajaraja II (1146–73) in a small village called Darasuram. Another favourite. I’m struggling with the multiple names for the same deity. Most temples are devoted to Shiva, the supreme being who creates, protects and transforms the universe. At this temple, Shiva is called Airavateshwara because he was worshipped here by Airavata, a white elephant. I know that Nandi is Shiva in bull form.
But it gets very confusing trying to understand Brahmins in Sabhanayakam Temple in Chidabaram. In a legend, King Hiranyavarman made a pilgrimage here from Kashmir, to cure himself of leprosy by bathing in the temple’s water tank. To show thanks, he enlarged the temple and brought in three thousand brahmin priests from the Dikshitar caste, distinguishable by top-knots of hair at the front of their heads. Young men always have beautifully styled hair. Today the temple Brahmins wear the same top-knot, but jauntily angled to the right. We are allowed to wander throughout this crumbling temple and the young Brahmins are keen to chat, and anoint us. There are identically carved massive granite columns lining tall shady passageways, and smooth cylinder columns of black basalt.
What is the concept of Brahman?
“It is the pervasive, genderless, infinite, eternal truth and bliss which does not change, yet is the cause of all changes. Brahman as a metaphysical concept is the single binding unity behind the diversity in all that exists in the universe.”
How can one begin to understand Hinduism? I see grave, inapposite Europeans, dressed in white Indian robes on spiritual quest and I know that will never be me.
Road signs show that Chennai is only 350km from here – so close!! We will detour through settlements from Pandyas, Cholas, Vijayanagar (kings of Hampi), and Nyak dynasties (yes Charles, yet more temples) and hopefully a beach resort or two! While I anticipate the pleasure of family and friends, and my own bed (and 6 nations rugby) I’m actually aware of just how special our lives have become. Today for example. Well maybe not breakfast – a local millet muesli with water (no milk available) served in a tin mug is not particularly appetising but at 6am food is fuel. Post dawn the roads are blissfully quiet and the light is magical: hills of weathered pink granite lie like slumbering elephants behind the palms. This is the geology of Hampi, part of the Indian Craton. Most people wave, some old women scowl, children cheer, mopeds slow for a chat. Our route crosses the Cauvery plain, an arid landscape second by bunds waiting for the Monsoon rains in May. We stop in a village bus shelter for shade. There is absolutely nothing here to entertain the crowd of young people who come to check us out. They are fascinated by my tablet, and my blue eyes. Between them they produce a single mobile phone for a selfie. It would be too unkind to eat our small snack in front of them, so after 20mins we cycle again.
Another village proudly displays is bull stockade. After many protests, on Feb 1st 2017, Jallikattu “bull taming” was reinstated as part of Tamil village culture. The zebu bull is tormented, then released into a crowd of men who attempt to grab the large hump of the bull with both arms and hang on to it while the bull attempts to escape. Every day we read of dozens of fresh injuries, and some days, death. In one village a viewing platform collapsed, was repaired and collapsed again sending another crowd off to the hospital! Without a doubt this is cruelty to bulls.
But are we guilty of cruelty to dogs? In a hamlet, Charles disappears around a corner to buy water. The silence is disturbed by dogs barking: do I pick up a stone and help or leave him to it? There’s a yelp as a foot meets snout and the dogs scarper. Any cyclist who follows our route will wonder why the dogs are so aggressive!!!
We arrive in Trichy, and cycle through the heart of the city to lavish Sri Ranganathar Swamy Temple. First we are on the main road where not one vehicle turning right actually goes around the roundabout! Then through bustling markets on narrow lanes barely wide enough for the delivery tricycles. There is so much interest, colour, traffic and noise, more exciting than any fairground ride! By the time we reach our pilgrims’ hotel I am buzzing and breathless: we are still alive!!
Which is no joke for the homeless man asleep near the temple. Beggars are drawn to the free meals and shelter in the temple, and the occasional generosity of pilgrims. He was pitifully thin, barely clothed, but when I approached him with some rupees I saw that his eyes and mouth were covered in flies. He did stir, not dead then, but dying. This morning he was gone, but at least he was old. Last year in Mexico we met two young Australian surfers: five days later they were shot dead in a robbery. Life is cheap on our travels. More than anything I am so utterly grateful that I was born in England!
Every hotel, cafe, restaurant has the most marvellous marble floors!
We bounced along a levee and found quiet lanes to reach the large city of Madurai, one of the oldest cities in South Asia (2,500). It’s river, the Vaigai is a smelly struggling stream in a wide, littered river bed waiting for the Monsoon rains (the current drought is the worst since 1901 ‘India Times’ so rice prices are at a record high – r56/kg). Our hotel on Lake View Road overlooks a field!
I read that Madurai was described as “the Athens of the East” as far back as 302 BC. It was the capital city of the stable Pandyan dynasty for over 1,000 years. The city’s silk, pearls and spices were traded as far as Rome: a lucrative trade that enabled then to erect the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple. The 14 tall gateway towers (gopuras) are covered with multicoloured mythological figures, lovely against the bright blue sky, but the temple is surrounded by a sea of modern concrete cubes and noise and unsympathetic markets selling tourist tack. It’s difficult to date the temple, Wikipedia writes the temple was originally built in the 6th century BC but its present structure was built between 1623 and 1655. We read that some restoration work happened as recently as 1963. Undeniably, it is hugely important to devout Hindus: praying, anointing powder paints, wedding blessings… Temples devoted to a female deity are rare.
Meenakshi is an avatar of the Hindu Goddess Parvati, the goddess of fertility, love and devotion. The museum in the heart of the old temple is worthwhile, full of Hindu sculptures (there are 33,000 in the temple). My favourite represent Sri Boodevi, but what is it with men, even Pandya females are portrayed as Barbie dolls.
Politics dominate the newspapers here. The woman voted by her peers to lead their party is to be chief minister of Tamil Nadu. But V K Sasikala must wait for the Supreme Court verdict next week in the disproportionate assets case against her before she can sworn in. Her caretaker minister O Panneerselvam is popular with the people and is gaining support her party. Articles write of accusations, intrigue and abduction!
Can you believe this? A candidate in a minor local election is charged with the murder of his brother and his brother’s friend to gain sympathy votes!!
Suicide dominates the news, usually farmers, mostly by poison. Today we read of a couple in their 50s and 19 year old daughter, their textile business failed. Another man found his wife had killed herself and did the same…