Having failed to get past the security on Monday morning at Le Bourget COP21 site (hardly surprising with Barack Obama, David Cameron, et al. arriving at the same time), Ricky and I headed back into Paris. Meeting the Climate Guardian Angels was a wonderful experience - so inspiring to see young people so committed to achieving change! Packed my bags and loaded my bike and cycled to Gare St Lazare to catch the 13.45 train to Caen; the train was able to cover what took us three days a little over two hours. That's modern transport for you! Had a weird experience at Gare St Lazare; was just walking past an advertisement for The Netherlands (Pays Bas in French), when I noticed in the picture a white campervan which looked like mine. On closer inspection of the registration plate, it was mine! The photograph was of the causeway across the Ysselmeier which closed off what was the Zuider Zee in the 1930s. The picture must have been taken in June this year when Nona and I were en route to Scandinavia and had decided to drive across the causeway in northern Netherlands. How strange was that?! Anyway, the rest of the trip back home (ferry from Caen to Portsmouth, train from Portsmout to Penmere) was straightforward. Now it is down to Ricky, and everyone else at COP21, to help reach a meaningful binding set of climate change targets! Slight feeling of sadness at not still being in Paris to experience the daily unfolding of events as the world's politicians grapple with the task of attaining climate justice and equality for all - including future generations, and all species, not just humans!
As everyone knows, after the dreadful events of two weeks ago, all mass demonstrations had been banned in Paris, which was a bit of a setback as that meant that there were Climate Rallies taking place in major cities all around the world - except Paris, where the Climate talks are about to start! Well, fortunately, that was not totally true, as there has been the virtual rally in the Place de la Republique, where thousands of shoes (including donations from Pope Francis and Ban Ki Moon) were placed to represent the people who would have been there had the authorities allowed. And there was the human chain which had been agreed by the authorities along the Boulevard Voltaire here at noon today (Sunday 29 November). So Ricky and I (the two surviving Climate Vision cyclists) travelled the Metro to Charonne Station and on emerging to street level found several hundred already getting in line. As midday approached, more and more emerged and joined in until there must have been 5-10 thousand people strung out along the boulevard. Ricky and I found ourselves alongside Jenny Jones (Green Party representative in the House of Lords), Christine Milne (former leader of the Australian Green Party) and a number of Green MEP staff. It was all incredibly positive, and peaceful. It was just good to be with so many people of determination and goodwill. And there was not a single policeman or soldier in sight. After an hour and a half, the human chain gently melted away. Apparently, some people went on to the Place de la Republique to gather where, unfortunately a small number of people bent on provocation also went. And so followed a confrontation with the police who were a little too diligent in trying to stop the action - all too predictably, people were attacked, tear gas fired and around 200 people arrested. All we knew about it was when we were travelling back from the human chain, our Metro train did not stop at Republique Station and, as we passed through, I could see a couple of dozen armed police on the platform and people being held back from the platform. Unfortunately the media, ever-attentive for a dramatic story to tell, will doubtless focus on the violent few and ignore the peaceful many. Nevertheless, they can never take away the abiding memory of all those wonderfully motivated people. One other extraordinary experience was when Ricky and I, reaching the end of the human chain along Boulevard Voltaire, found ourselves in front of the Cafe Voltaire, where one of the attacks took place two weeks ago. Along with the other people who were paying their respects, I found a white poppy in my pocket and was able to place that with the flowers and candles. And to offer a prayer for peace.
If you have been following our blog on www.pedal2paris.uk you will know that Roger, Ricky, Ewan and I have had a rather challenging cycle ride to Paris - the weather was wet, windy and cold for the most part. However, the camaraderie of the four helped us all along and on Thursday 26 November on a bright sunny day we caught our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as we cycled into Paris! On Friday, the Federation of European Greens held a series of talks about how to finance the changes required to move from fossil fuels to a renewable future. It was very positive and exciting, and during the meeting we were able to hand over a number of copies of Luci Isaacson`s Climate Vision report to a number of national representatives and MEPs.
In the afternoon, I decided to see if I could deliver the letter that I had carried all the way from Looe in my cycle pannier bag. I walked to the Place de la Concord and along the street to the Elysee Palace; as expected, there were metal barricades up around the Palace and armed police in considerable numbers. I spoke to a young black policewoman saying that I had a letter to deliver to the President. She instructed me to stand on the street corner, in clear view, and to not move! She then crossed the street to consult with her senior colleague. He came over, listened to my request and asked to see my passport. They then both escorted me to a side door to the Palace and told me to wait with the junior officer whilst the senior officer took my passport through the side door. A moment later, one of the Palace police, resplendent in kepi and gold braid, stepped out of the side entrance, accepted the letter, gave me back my passport and thanked me most courteously for the letter. And that was it! Considering that the whole of Paris was on high alert, it all took place in an easy and quite straightforward manner! I had visions of not being able to get within half a mile of the Palace!
So, job done! I must say it was an honour to be able to carry this important message to the President and the people of Paris and France.
Below left: I receive the letter for President Hollande from the Mayor of Looe.
Below right: A view of the Elysee Palace just before I handed the letter in to the Palace Police!
After all the rain, hail, wind, frozen fingers and feet, our last day`s ride into Paris was wonderful! Our amazing AirB+B hosts, Francois and Laurence, after feeding us royally the night before, and furnishing us with a hot coffee and splendid chunk of real chocolate to fortify body and spirit, launched us on the final leg of the journey. As a free-lance tv camera person, Francois filmed short clip of our departure which should appear in some media site somewhere; and then off we went! It was a beautiful bright morning with a rime of frost on the grass as we pedalled through gently undulating countryside for the final 35 miles to Paris. The only negative experience was some wally driving a badly-tuned diesel car that emitted clouds of black smoke in our faces as he cut us up. Wove our way through the outskirts and then, suddenly, as we arrived in St Cloud, we caught our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower - magnifique! Cycled across the Pont St Cloud, stopping for quick lunch of mushroom soup, bread and a coffee before heading through the city, mostly on designated cycle lanes, sometimes shared with buses(!) and finally arrived at our AirB+B in the 18th arrondisement, handily located next to the Riquet Metro station. The B+B consisted of what was originally a one-bedroom apartment on the third floor which now contained one triple-bunk, two double-bunk beds and two sofasd that could be made up into beds. Very snug! Oh, and one toilet, one bathroom and a compact kitchen. Basic, but enoough for our needs and the other inmates, whoops, sorry, residents seemed very good-natured and kind. After settling in and showering, we headed off to meet Molly Scot-Cato, MEP, who treated us to supper before we all moved on to the evening`s ClimÀrt event, put on by the Federation of European Greens. The talks and poetry were all in French so I got the gist but not the detail; however, the music, provided by African father and son playing gourds strung with many strings, was amazingly beautiful. The captain of the Tara expedition (an aluminium-hulled sailing vessel which has spent the last two years sailing the oceans and monitoring the impacts of climate chage; and had sailed across the North Pole!) also gave a brief talk. A lovely welcome to Paris.
Monday 23 November - sunshine filtered through a heavy mist onto the frost-touched grass. A fine day! Breakfasted packed and on the road before 09.00, pedalling into cold misty countryside, but at least it was dry! Crossed the River Orne and headed more or less east, weaving around various country roads to make sure we did not get on to any of the busy main roads.As we were on the Plain of Caen, the hills were not quite as steep and the valleys were more gentle, which made for very pleasant cycling. Even by midday we were still spending some of our time in freezing mist, then emerging into sunny patches. One of the nicest stretches was after a 1-2km ride up a hill then through a beautifully managed woodland of sweet chestnut, oak, beech and other deciduous trees where a huge buzzard lazily flapped its way ahead of me, then perched on a branch to get a better look at me; deciding I was inedible, it then drifted off into the woods! Arrived into the town of Lisieaux at 15.30, checked into our AirBnB which was in a fourth storey 1960s apartment - luxury of luxuries, we each had our own bedroom with a double bed (which explained why it was the most expensive of the B+Bs). Set out to explore the town, including visiting the relatively new (20thC?) Basilica with an impressive dome and attractive modern frescoes adorning the walls. Lit a candle for peace. Shopped for provender then returned to our billet for home-made supper of bread, cheese, pastries and wine. Continue reading Sunshine Supermen!
After our two days of wet, windy wending our way eastwards, we had the luxury of spending Sunday with our hosts Pierre and Bea at their lovely farmhouse and gite. It had rained much of the night but the morning dawned dry and clear. After a leisurely breakfast Pierre drove us into Caen to visit the Memorial Museum of WWII, an impressive and well thought out presentation as to how 1914/18 set the stage for WWII. No heroics, but just sober assessment of not just the fighting, but more difficult issues such as the business of collaboration with the enemy, resistance movements, etc. No glorification. And it didn't end there, as there was a gallery devoted to the Normandy Landings, as one might expect, and also about what happened after 1945. It rang so true especially considering our apparent headlong plunge into war once again, this time with Syria. "When will they ever learn?" as the song goes.... Pierre picked us up and brought us back for a late lunch of lovely homemade soup, bread and cheese. Then we hosed down our bikes with a jetwash to remove the mud. dried them and oiled them ready for the road tomorrow. A rest followed, then supper and bed - tomorrow, back on the road!
Saturday dawns a nice bright day...until 09.00 when the rain-gods turn the tap on again. Ah-ha! We fooled them! We didn't leave until 09.30, by which time the rain-gods had got fed-up with waiting for us to get under way and turned the tap off - for the moment! Hurtled downhill out of Avranches and turned off alongside a river to trace our way over minor roads in an easterly direction. Roger's magical deflating tyre trick was getting to wear by this time - poor lad, he seems to have drawn the short (puncture straw)! Pleasant amble along river valley to village of Brecey, where it clouded over, wind picked up and occasional rain fell (horizontally). As we progressed onto higher ground, our hands, feet, and faces got wetter and colder, but pushed on to Vire, the halfway point where we stopped for lunch of omelette and chips at 14.00. Another hard push, albeit with the rain abating, across elevated granite plateau before an impressive 3.5km drop down into the town of Aunay-sur-Odon, where we stopped for a life-reviving coffee and shared (squashed) snack bars excavated from the bottom of my handlebar bag. The descent into Aunay was rendered slightly more dramatic by a gendarme car hurtling past us on an emergency call (probably that his dinner was ready). The last stretch in the gathering gloom necessitated cycle lamps. We must have been 5km form our host's place when we saw a cyclist coming the other way - what other mad individual was out on a bike at this time of night? It was our host, come to meet us and guide us in to his residence! Thus we arrived at Ricky's friends, Pierre and Bea, place, at 19.00, tired, wet, cold, but relieved to have made it - just over 90km! Hot showers, hot supper, warm friendship, warm bed - what more could four weary cyclists want? Merci beaucoups, Bea et Pierre!
This trip is proving to be a meteorological experience...Canon Lynda Barley's blessing seemed to only work as far as Plymouth as the weather from Truro to Plymouth more or less good, compared to what the rest of Cornwall was getting at the time. We cycled off the ferry at St Malo into a driving drizzle first thing Friday morning and rode east along the coast, more or less, to the little village of Le Vivier-sur-Mer where, as it was noon and we we wet, we'd break for lunch. Two hours and three courses later, we were warm, dry, fed and watered and ready to get wet again. Setting off down the road, and stopping as we do at each junction to check direction, we found we were missing one of the four - Roger. No amount of texts and phonecalls could raise him, so the three of us pressed on to the town of Pontorson. Phoning and texting still failed to raise him, so decided that, after half an hour, we would continue to Avranches, our final destination for the day and, jus as we started out, Roger appeared! He'd had a puncture, which he'd mended, and his phone had been disconnected by his provider, hence the lack of communication. Ah, the wonders of technology, only to be scuppered by the phone providers! The rest of the ride took us within sight of Mont St Michel, then on to the ancient hill city of Avranche, where the final ride up the hill into the city was a real challenge. Then to our AirBnB where Luci welcomed us to the apartment right in the centre. Nearby launderette provided tumble driers for us to dry out our clothing, with a handy bar where we could drink in comfort and watch our clothes tumbling. Then to S Marco's Pizza Place for, well, you guessed it, pizza! And so to bed....zzzzzz.
After a full breakfast at the Molesworth Arms, your intrepid cyclists headed out of Wadebridge along the Camel Trail to Bodmin. There were patches of blue in the sky and birds sang as we followed the old Southern Railway trackbed alongside the River Camel, thinking that this part of the journey would have been even easier if the trains still ran! Arriving in Bodmin with time to spare before our next engagement we had a cup of tea at the aptly-named Folly Cafe. Continue reading Wadebridge to Liskeard
First of all, we are still going to Paris, despite the events of Friday night, as you will have read from the announcement from Climate Vision. And apologies to those of you who might have tuned into Radio Cornwall expecting to hear Luci and me being interviewed by Donna Birrell - again, the events in Paris overtook us all. On the eve of our departure, my bags are packed, and I am listening to the wind and rain blowing around outside. Hopefully, it will blow through tonight and our departure will not be too wind-blasted! Anyway, I am looking forward to getting under way and to meeting our various well-wishers as we head for Plymouth. I think the Cornish leg of the journey will be the more challenging with all those hills; from St Malo to Paris is less hilly but further, but we have factored in enough time to allow for possible delays. Just had an email from Helena from Truro who is in India at the moment and she tells me that the children at the school she is at are all switched onto the Climate Change situation. Good to be able to share with them in this pilgrimage of hope! Next update - once we are on the journey!