Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category

Well, they visit Dubrovnik…

One of the many benefits of cruising is that one gets the chance to see so many friends, as yet unmet: One also get the chance to see friends have already met, such as one the bartenders from a previous cruise who had already advised the staff minding the Champagne Bar that Podge & Tubbs had claimed as their haunt for this cruise, that Podge had a penchant for Laphroaig while Tubbs liked Bombay Sapphire. But that’s a by the by.

It is always fascinating to meet new friends, and so it was for Podge & Tubbs, especially on this cruise as approximately 50% of the passengers were virgins and Podge & Tubbs are always willing to shine a guiding light for virgins and advise on what’s best, what’s good, what’s not so good: Obviously such views were subjective, which they were always keen to point out. The virgins are of course first time cruisers.

On the eve of the cruise, their table companions for the evening were virgins and they were keen to hear about Dubrovnik as Podge & Tubbs had already been there before. The companions were particularly keen to know if there was far to walk to get to the town. Oh don’t worry about said Podge. The boat parks just outside of the harbour and it’s just a short tender ride direct into town.

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These pictures were taken in 2005 with a very tired camera showing the boats ‘parked’ just outside the port and a shot of the port itself from where the gate to the town is passed through.

Given the obvious frailty of a couple of the virgins, Podge & Tubbs felt good being able to tell them that all they would have to do was get onto the tender from the ship and straight across into the two harbour and town gates. If there was a better way of arriving in Dubrovnik, nobody knew.

At the end of what had been a fine evening both Podge & Tubbs retired to their quarters, Tubbs went to bed, Podge went to the balcony for one more nightcap before retiring himself.

The Boat’s Going The Wrong Way

Come early Morning, Podge, feeling groggy from his breathing but with significant improvement, got yup and made himself his early morning coffee and went out to the balcony to watch as they sailed into the port / harbour of Dubrovnik. But wait, thinks Podge, “where are we going” as he watched the Oceana sail past the old harbour and continued onwards until eventually turning to starboard, again and again and entering into what transpired to be a Cruise Terminal. Podge checked his location on Google Maps (below) and found they were parking some distance away. The information they had given to the virgins had been incorrect. The trip into town would have to be by bus. “Bugger” thought Podge. “Think I’ll lie low for a while” he mused.

Dubrovnik

The Cruise Terminal did not in any way reflect the old town that Podge & Tubbs remembered.

The Duchess was double unhappy!

Their extensive investigations and research indicated that the trip into town via the shuttle bus was around 20 minutes so they had no need to rush. And rush they didn’t. They did in fact just about make breakfast before it was shut and reopened for Brunch. Now as it happens, Brunch is almost exactly the same as Breakfast from Podge’s perspective, so he wasn’t worried anyway.

Eventually, with hunger sated, they gathered the necessary paraphernalia for a shore trip: Inhaler(s), drugs (all legal), camera, Kangaroo Poo Baseball cap for Podge, pink handbag for The Duchess and of course wallet / purse. All loaded up they joined the next available shuttle bus and set off for the town of Dubrovnik.

As soon as the arrived, their first port of call was to be ATM: Podge always likes to extract money from an ATM at every port. Nobody knows why, not even Podge: He doesn’t even keep the receipts as mementos. One can only assume that the oxygen starvation from Codgers Old Puffing Disease )Poor Podge) causes him to do irrational things. Who knows, but that’s what he does and that’s what he did this time. Unfortunately, The Duchess saw how much he had withdrawn and made a mental note for calculations during their time in town.

Money sourced, camera at the ready, cap on, wallet secured, on the opposite side to The Duchess, Podge led the way down into the town.

Might get some sweets

Coming into the Old Town from the other end was alien to Podge & Tubbs and it took them a while to get their bearings but heading down what Podge termed as the main drag, they soon enough came to the gateway to the harbour. At leat, they knew where they were. But, the walk had taken its toll on Poor Podge. Podge was struggling. Podge needed to rest but he also wanted to see around the harbour. They slowed down, stopping every few steps to admire the view as they slowly worked their way round the harbour past the Aquarium and out to the lighthouse. Here were some convenient seats to rest and allow Podge the get his breath back before they headed back to the the town centre to find a nice bar for a nice glass of local beer, just don’t ask Podge what the beer was. He can’t remember. He just knew that as he sat there enjoying his beer, that the Duchess, while enjoying her G&T , was calculating. Calculating how much had been drawn out against how much the drinks were (no food was to be allowed) so that the scale of future purchases could be calculated. Quietly, The Duchess worked out the exchange rate and was dismayed when she realised the 500 Croatian things was not much more than £50 . Bah, thinks Tubbs (the Duchess has regressed), might get some sweets but that’s about it.

Maybe not that many sweets

“Do you fancy another?” asks Podge. Humph thinks Tubbs, then thought ‘why not’. ‘OK” she says, “Just one more” she said emphatically. Podge made a mental note of the emphasis on ‘Just one more’. ‘Uh oh’ he thinks. ‘maybe should have drawn out more money. ‘Old Scrooge’ thinks Tubbs. ‘Well there maybe not that many sweets to be sourced but what will be, will be my choice’ mused Tubbs.

Eventually, their thirst was sated, Podge realising he wasn’t going to get away with a third one so up they got and away they went. Slowly, and slowly was the operative word here, Tubbs, trailed by Podge, made their way back towards the pick up zone all the time looking out for what could be purchase with what meagre funds remained. Eventually, Tubbs espied what she had been looking for and in they went.They both gazed around in wonder at the array of sweets and biskwits, sorry, biscuits. They so wanted to spend their money, what money was left that is, but they were stuck behind a bunch of, as Podge put it, ‘Squeaky Squealing Schoolgirl Grockles”who giggled and squeaked every-time they picked up an item looked at it and then put it back. After what seemed an interminably long time, they finally settled for a single small chocolate bar that smaller than a small bar that serves no purpose at all. Well, that’s what Podge reckoned anyway.

Eventually, it was their turn and they chose this and they chose that and they put back this and selected those, and put back those and select them and repeated. Eventually with some glee and air of arrogance, Podge announced that he did have some secret money so they could if Tubbs so desired, have this, that, those and them and they could event have a new fridge magnet. Tubbs was happy: Tubbs loved Podge and so Podge was happy and let’s face it, we all know that Podge loves Tubbs. Happy Podge. But, his breathing was still bad, if not a little worserer (Podge speak) and was by now struggling so the next port of call (get the nautical term?) was to be the coach pick up point and the trip back to where the boat was parked (another nautical term) and Podge just collapsed into his seat on the bus. Poor Podge.

Back on the boat at last, Tubbs knew that Podge just needed to rest so she made him sit down on the balcony where he could relax, enjoy the fresh air and have ‘small’ G&T or a chilled Chablis or maybe a beer (it was too early for Whiskey / Whisky). Naturally, he wasn’t going to be alone and soon enough Tubbs was with him with a nice G&T, Podge had opted for the same, and together they sat and relaxed.

And so, as the afternoon meandered slowly towards evening, His Podgeness and The Duchess sat and relaxed and watched as the boat untied all its strings and gently pushed away from its parking spot and head course back to the Adriatic Sea and turning right to head for Venice.

And, as the Oceana meandered her way Venice’wards (Podge speak), Podge checked out his photos. Today he had elected to take just Canon 5D with 40mm Pancake (making his digital SLR a point a shoot camera) so was interested to see how the pictures turned out. Podge was reasonably happy with the results.

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Having left Florence (from Livorno), Podge and Tubbs were now looking forward to another much anticipated stop – Naples. Not so much because they wanted to visit Naples (they really didn’t)  but more because the Duchess wanted, so much, to take a drive along the Amalfi Coast.

His Podgeness loved The Duchess so much that he explored all possibilities.

  • Option 1) – He could for instance hire a little 2-seater sports car (Maserati GranTurismo sprang to mind) and they could drive the coast by themselves with the warm Italian air rushing by, scarves blowing in the wind and some appropriate music playing in the background. But let’s be honest, the chance of either Podge or Tubbs finding their way along the coast and back in time for the ship to leave was too great to consider. Anyway, the GranTurismo had a roof: That just wouldn’t do. And it was expensive😦
  • Option 2) – He could perhaps arrange for a driver to take them along the coast in a nice drop top again with wind and scarves blowing and music playing. But when he explored deeper, he found the cost was rather more than his teeny weeny wallet could cover and so that idea was dropped
  • Option 3) – Hire a helicopter and fly along the coast! That’s just silly and Podge did of course realise that straight away and discounted it immediately. But the idea has been retained for future visits.
  • Option 4) – Hire two Vespa Scooters and simply ride along the coast at leisure cutting through any traffic that may get in the way, stop to admire views, stop to buy an Italian Gelato, yada yada. The idea sounded good but The Duchess couldn’t ride a scooter to save her life and, she wouldn’t allow Podge to ride one, given his track record on bikes and, they’d probably get lost anyway.
  • Option 5) – Book a P&O excursion in a coach and let them worry about it all: A much safer option… So, that’s what they did.

Option 5 proved to be the best option by far.

This options allowed Podge & Tubbs to enjoy a leisurely drive along the Amalfi Coast, the most famous drive in all of Italy. This gave the added benefit of allowing Podge to relax and continue to get his breathing under control: It was getting better but still wasn’t right but, it was not going to stop Podge enjoy the day.

The trip took them high into the mountains overlooking the Amalfi Coast stopping on the way in Sorrento.  After a quick visit to see some marquetry furniture being made, which, they declared,  was truly something to behold, they we’re set free to wonder at will through the lovely, almost romantic streets and of course the rather imposing Duomo.  Both Podge & Tubbs felt that this town was an absolute delight to discover.

As lunch time drew closer, Podge & Tubbs made their way back to the place from where they had been released after which the whole group was taken to a lovely little restaurant for an Italian style lunch accompanied by wine. The lunch was spinach and ricotta cannelloni with Mixed Salad and yes, believe it or not, Podge ate the lot. Naturally Podge also made rather an impression on the wine stock but fortunately the table next to them noticed their (Podge’s) love for the wine and being teetotal, gave him theirs.

Soon enough and, and not soon enough for Tubbs who was by now worrying about the bladder capacity of Podge, it was time to leave for the coach and the amazing Amalfi drive to guess where? That’s right, Amalfi. Naturally Podge had to make two slight detours on the way to the coach but once aboard, he was nice and comfortable, and very mellow.

Amalfi

The drive to Amalfi was underway and all too soon, Podge realised that for them, the Coach really was the only option: There really was no way Podge and Tubbs could have done this alone. The roads were narrow, especially for a coach and there were lots of coaches, and local buses doing the same trip in either direction. But the views were something else. NOTE: some of the pics below were taken from inside the coach so may be a little fuzzy.

It should be said that there was in fact an organised guided walk to learn of the history and architecture of this quaint town and to get an understanding of the history of the Cathedral of St Andrea and a chance to admire the Moorish and Gothic architecture. Podge however took one look at all the steps and ruled the tour out altogether. so, once in town, Podge & Tubbs were once more free to explore, so what did they do? They found a a little shop that sold Limoncellohaving tasted of course some before hand and found that it was good and so bought some. Next stop was the inevitable fridge magnet and tourist book before finding a little bar to rest and await the return drive back to the ship which again was along the mountain road before taking the motorway back to Naples and the ship.

Back on board, it was time for His Podgeness and The Duchess to head for their fivesies which inevitable because sixies before getting ready for the evening meal and finally returning to their cabin for a relaxing drink or three before giving into the need for sleep. Tomorrow was to be relaxing day as it was a sea day so all they had to do was relax for the whole day and for Podge to gather his strength.

The highlight of the day was to be passing through the Straight of Messina, trouble is, it was at 06:00 but this did’t bother Podge: He liked getting up early and moving to the balcony for his early morning coffee and fresh sea air. Trouble is, the weather wasn’t that good so the pictures were less than inspiring, a bit like the Straight thinks Podge.

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The rest of the day was just one long lovely day of relaxation as they sailed towards Dubrovnik, a great favourite of Podge & Tubbs. And so Podge just relaxed and concentrated on his breathing.

Poor Podge.

A quick weekend trip to Bruges and Saint Peter Port on the Aurora.

Podge and Tubbs had been to both Bruges, where it always seemed to rain on them, and Saint Peter Port but this cruise was a cruise with a different purpose.This cruise would elevate them to the top tier of P&Os loyalty scheme which would bring them extra perks. Such perks now included bigger discounts and, more importantly to The Duchess and His Podgeness, priority embarkation. And it started with this cruise. Oh how The Duchess enjoyed the privilege of being directed straight past all the waiting passengers and direct through to the ship for champagne and lunch.  Podge and Tubbs were well happy.

The Aurora

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It had been over 10 years since Podge and Tubbs had been on the Aurora and were looking forward to seeing her again, especially as they had been upgraded to a Mini-Suite. They weren’t sure however how she would be given her age: She had been in the service of P&O since 2000, so she was clearly built in the last Millennium.

Having boarded the ship, ahead of everybody else, eaten lunch and drunk copious amounts of champagne, The Duchess, closely followed (three paces behind) by His Podgeness made her way to their cabin, sorry, mini-suite, checking the emptiness of her ship on the way (this wouldn’t last). Oh how overjoyed was The Duchess as she surveyed her new empire. And what an empire it was with bedroom and separate sitting area, a lovely double sized balcony and a proper bathroom with his and her sinks. Better still, there was a bottle of champagne on ice waiting for them along with a nice box of chocolates. Pre-empting her command, Podge moved the chocolates into the fridge and opened the champagne and dutifully poured her a glass and of course a (slightly larger) glass for himself.

Irrespective of how many cruises one may have done, there is still the obligatory life boat drill that has to be conducted before every cruise, which must be attended by all passengers: This included His Podgeness and The Duchess. Neither of them enjoy the drill but they do at least recognise the importance and so with life vests in hand, they dutifully make their way to their allotted muster station and promptly fell asleep. Naughty Podge & Tubbs.Waking just in time to prove they knew how to don their life vests, Podge was informed that their next course of action was to return the vests to the cabin and explore the boat.

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Podge & Tubbs explored The Aurora, found the Crows Nest, a good place for G&T declared Tubbs, then moved on the The Anderson Bar, an excellent place for pre-dinner champagne declared Podge. The next find was the Gym – “This is not a good place” remarked Podge, “It looks painful, we should give this facility a miss” said Podge & Tubbs in unison. Although they are not pool people they still needed to know and appreciate the pool facilities: they were mightily impressed with the pools on The Aurora. Especially the one with the sliding roof (Crystal Pool) which guaranteed the right climate wherever in the world one might be. This was further enhanced by the provision of a fast food bar with all the sort of food that Podge loved and adored but which Tubbs forbids. Poor Podge.

Lastly, they found the Pennant Bar: This was the bar for the obligatory fivesies (Wine at 5, or 4, or 6, whatever time suited:-) ). They tried it out, the wine was good, the bar and surrounds were good. The temperature was cold. They ordered more wine and returned to their cabin where they relaxed and watched the world go by as they sailed out of Southampton, passing Calshot, Cowes & Ryde on the Starboard side with Lee-on-the-Solent, Gosport and Portsmouth on the Port Side. Podge always liked this bit. Podge was happy and if Podge was happy, then Tubbs was also happy: Podge & Tubbs were a happy and content couple.

Next Stop, Zeebrugge then Knokke.

Bruges was the official port of call, even though it isn’t actually a Port! Podge & Tubbs however have been to Bruges so many times now that they decided to give it a miss this time. One alternate option was a trip to Ghent but this had already been done as well. Very, very briefly, they considered the old folks option of a coach trip just to view the surrounding countryside and sample chocolate and beer. Much as the chocolate and beer had their attractions, the thought of being part of the Old Folk Brigade caused them to regain sense. Then they saw a trip to Knokke calling at Damme (formerly the port for Bruges in the 13th century) on the way. Damme was in fact quite a picturesque little port with coffee shops, museums and a fab church.

The visit coincided with an arts festival with numerous statues placed in and around the church grounds and two itself. After gazing a little too long at the statues of naked women Tubbs decided that it was time to take Podge to a little cafe for a coffee and biscuit, lest he got too excited. Begrudgingly, Podge followed on dragging his heels and sulking: he wanted to stay with the statues. Podge is a sad man.

Eventually, having sated their thirst, they slowly made their way back to the coach for the second half of their excursion to Knokke, billed as the playground for those with an above average standard of living.

The journey wasn’t too long and in no time at all they were making their way through the outskirts of town and ultimately onto the main drag close to the beach: Today however was not beach weather so shops & shopping was to be order of the day. The main objective was to get a birthday present for young Matthew. He wanted a watch, they knew that, but what watch. They needed inspiration so what better place to get inspiration for buying a watch than to visit shoe shop after shoe shop until eventually they found a shoe shop that had some shoes that met with the approval of The Duchess and matched the contents of the wallet of His Podgeness. Shoes purchased, inspiration must surely follow.

It was Podge who was most inspired and not just by the rather fetching young lady behind the counter of a watch shop (always a good place to look for watches) but by the fact that they sold Festina watches: Festina used to be the official timekeeper for the Tour de France so would, Podge assured Tubbs, be perfect for Matt ‘The Cyclist’. It also meant that Podge got to spend a little more ‘quality time’ with the young lady behind the counter (Podge is so naughty).

So, watch purchased, shoes purchased, fridge magnet purchased (of course), Podge and Tubbs returned to the Pink Fountain where they had been instructed to wait for the bus that was to take them back The Aurora.

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Pink Water Fountain – Just For The Duchess

Bet you can’t guess what Podge and Tubbs did when they got back to The Aurora. Yep, that’s right, they went for fivesies (fivesies are early evening drinks, normally but not always, wine that is often had at 5 pm, or 4 pm, or 6 pm – fivesies are flexible) and something to eat. And, despite the weather, Tubbs insisted they she wanted to eat, and drink of course, ‘Al Fresco’.

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I’m on a Cruise Ship, I will eat Al Fresco

This didn’t last long, Tubbs eventually admitted she was cold and they went back to their Cabin, sorry Suite,  to prepare for the evening festivities as The Aurora sailed to Saint Peter Port, a place Podge & Tubbs had no intention of visiting. Why? Because reaching Saint Peter Port would mean tendering and Podge hates tendering (see https://podgethepuffer.com/2014/04/06/bali-the-land-of-mystery/ for why).

The morning brought apparently calm seas and Podge & Tubbs were almost tempted to ‘give it a go’ and take the the tender to shore but the prospect of a late leisurely breakfast and the use of the ship almost exclusively while everybody was ashore was too great a draw to sway them. They were staying put. And, as it turned out, the decision was a good one. As His Podgeness sat upon the balcony watching the Tender boats (Survival Craft!) to’ing and fro’ing he noted that one of them had returned, engine faltering, to the mother ship Aurora. ‘That’s not good’ thought Podge. They were now one craft down so transfers would take longer. It also transpired later in the day that due to harbour traffic, there were further delays which meant that it was well past lunch before everybody had managed to get ashore. Podge & Tubbs would not have been happy. Podge and Tubbs were happy. They had elected to stay on board. How smug were Podge and Tubbs!

The remainder of the day went pretty much as planned, with Podge & Tubbs enjoying the relatively spacious and empty bars, etc. They even managed to enjoy three’sies, four’sies, five’sies and six’sies before finally packing (there wasn’t actually a lot to pack. Even by The Duchess’s standards, three cases for a three night weekend break was travelling light. Then, it was time for dinner and post dinner drinks before retiring back to their cabin, sorry, suite, knowing that they had an early start, to be sure that they were to disembark in good time so as to be sure they were back home before lunch. Podge however wiled away just one more hour on the balcony as the Aurora sailed for Southampton. He sat there listening to the sounds of the sea as the ship cut through the waves on her way home. He sat, sipping his secretly secured rather large Laphroaig and mused to himself with self contentment. They had done it. They had made Top Tier with P&O. Podge was a happy man and he knew Tubbs was also happy which meant that all was well in their world.  ‘Where next?’ he thought to himself. He knew the answer, it was to The Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights, with luck. But that was many months away, surely there was time to fit in another adventure. Podge hoped so, else Tubbs wouldn’t stay too happy for long. Podge’s next challenge was set.

Poor Podge.

After leaving Gibraltar, they had the pleasure of a day at sea where they could relax, enjoy the sea air and for Tubbs to enjoy the massage session Podge had booked for in the Spa. Tubbs believed it was because Podge wanted some quiet time but she wasn’t going to argue. Afterwards however, she wished she had argued. Apparently, the girl applying the massage was from a specialist intensive interrogation camp where pain and pressure were applied with equal measures. Tubbs was in great discomfort.

Podge had got it wrong, again.

When Podge gets it wrong, Podge pays, one way or another. Whether somebody has a direct line to a greater power or not shall remain unclear but through the remainder of the day and through the night, Podge’s breathing deteriorated.

The following morning brought Barcelona, a place both Podge and Tubbs have visited before. But today, Podge was weary and wondering how he was going to manage the excursion they had planned but Podge was desperate to do it. But, with a late start and an hour on a bus, Podge knew he would be ok for the 90 minute trip to the Montserrat Monastery which included a trip on a rack train on the way up to said monastery perched on the edge of the ‘serrated mountains’ as the locals like to call them on the basis that they look like rows of teeth.

The train ride itself was a lot more enjoyable than was first feared: Tubbs believed the train to be one of the steep vernacular railways but the rack train was actually quite a gentle and very, very scenic ride to the top of the mountain where the monastery was perched. Once off the train, the guide then route marched the group, with Podge acting as ‘Lantern Rouge’ and Tubbs watching front and back to make sure they didn’t lose touch with everybody else, up the hill to show them where the bus would be when it was time to return to the ship. Having got to the top, the guide then route marched the group all the way back down again to where everybody had got off the train and route marched them all up the other side, passing café’s and shops much to the dismay of Tubbs and, to some extent Podge also, and so the group continued up another hill.

Poor Podge: By now, poor podge was struggling.

Walking was becoming tiresome for Podge, walking uphill took all the breath and energy he had. Podge needed rest. Fortunately, the nest stage was inside the Basilica (Church of Montserrat)  where all were greeted by sights of absolute amazement wth statues and paintings every which way one chose to look. It’s hard to describe how it looks without pictures (these will appear when Podge transcribes all into “Places We Have Visited” or of course one could Google it or look it up in Wikipedia (what would one do without Google or Wikipedia?). Anyway, Podge finally managed to extract himself from the group and take a seat for some quiet time and inner thought. Podge mused, people come here in search of healing so why shouldn’t he but poor Podge didn’t know how to go about it so Podge truly was, today, Podge The Puffer: Poor Podge.

Tubbs was wise. Podge was tired.

Eventually after some rest time, Podge and Tubbs were able to continue to view the inside of this amazing church and then step outside and look out across the mountains and down to the place from whence they came and they then knew just how privileged they were to be where they where. It was truly wondrous. Podge was having another Lourdes / Santiago de Compostela moment. Podge may be becoming a little religious. Soon enough however, Tubbs once again recognised the signs and just knew that what Podge really needed was to go to the souvenir shops, to buy the obligatory fridge magnet, and then off to the coffee shop for a rest and a drink.

All too soon however it was time to take the long walk back up the hill to where the bus would be waiting to take everybody back to the lovely Oceana. It was only a 5% gradient but poor Podge really found it a struggle and was glad to finally climb onto the bus and settle down for an hour and enjoy the scenery during the journey back to Barcelona. At last, the ship came into view and within no time they were back on board and settled onto their balcony. Podge was tired but Podge was happy!

The Lizard returns!

As they sat upon their balcony, the sun came out and shone directly on Tubbs (Podge always knows which chair Tubbs should sit on) and a serene smile spread across her face as she basked in the warm glow of the sun, heating up and storing energy, just like a lizard.

And so the day ended with The Duchess sitting on her balcony smiling contently, gazing down upon the world looking as though all was good. His Podgeness however just sat there trying to breath. Podge had taken The Duchess’s cold as penance for her Massage Session the previous day. Poor Podge.

Congratulations to Pete McQuade the founder of the Paris to Hayling Cycle Challenge,

Last Friday evening Meridian News ran an article on the Hayling Island Cycle Ride reaching its 30th Birthday in July this year having raised nearly 1.5 million pounds for a wide variety of worthy causes. This is an event I feel privileged and honoured to have been part of the event since the 90s until 2005 as both a participant and also as Secretary and assisting in Support & Logistics and was even especially in Route Planning under the auspices of Mad Fred.

What started my involvement? Well, I needed to give up smoking, badly. Will power alone wasn’t going to do it: I needed a challenge. Then I saw a news article on the Paris to Hayling Cycle Ride with a picture of 3 rather fetching young ladies with their bikes. ‘That’ll do it for me’ I thought and entered there and then. That first ride was one to remember, and most of it I can but I regret to say that having reached Paris I was rather thirsty and joined other riders at the Hotel Bar in Le Defence. The following events I regret to say are a blur but the next day was my first experience in Riding in France and with so many cyclists (100+) my heavy head was soon forgotten.

Having completed the event plus two or three further events I felt it was time to ‘give something back’ and became a member of the organising committee. Among many things, this did allow, me along with my new fellow cycling buddies Mad Fred, Reg the Hedge, Hobbitt, and Marko: I for my part was named Podge the Puffer on account of age (derivative of Codge), size and hill climbing abilities (almost, a famous five but commonly known as The Reccecrew). And just like the famous five, we had many, many adventures most of which entailed us either getting Lost in France or sampling French Hospitality in bars or café. We tried to document our adventures under the title of Lost in France. An extract of such an adventure is below where we to undertake a ‘recce’ of the proposed route for the coming years Paris to Hayling ride. Naturally, this was all done by bike and naturally, we had to find refreshment stops. But, it wasn’t all easy.


Normandy in France

Recce’s – they’re a doddle, pootle over to France, eat nice food, laze in bed, drink lots of wine, write a few notes.

Well that might be the Chairman’s view but he, and you, should have been with Mad Fred, Podge, Reg the Hedge, Hobbitt, and Marko, when they went to France in March to establish the route for the 5-Day Ride.

The trip to Cherbourg was uneventful. However the weather when we emerged into the darkness in Cherbourg was definitely English ! Windy but mild, and fortunately for us a tail-wind to boot ! Recce’s sometimes mean that we have to retrace our steps and Hobbitt soon found we had to do this within 2 kilometers of the ferry port – straight back into a headwind. While the rest of us munched apple turnovers and pain au chocolate he blasted back to check what turns out to be a very well surfaced and convenient cycle track leading out of the ferry port.

The job done we tackled the first climb ‘Hobbitt’s Early Riser’ – scant reward for his efforts so far. From the top of the hill to Quettenhou the quiet roads follow a plateau and river valleys, OK and one hill, but pretty soon we reached the east coast of the Contin Peninsular and while Mad Fred ploughed on ahead the rest of us piled into a great Bike Shop (well worth stopping at in July).

By the time we reassembled in a bar on the D-Day Beaches the wind was blowing into us at 90 degrees which was pretty hairy but fortunately the roads were totally deserted.  We batted on southwards until the estuary turned us inland and into the headwind for a very painfully slow crawl to Carentan. In the summer this will be a very pretty route but in March it was hell ! Over lunch in Carentan we were all falling asleep.

Moving on after a good feed however, the wind was behind us and with the sun out it was very pleasant as we bowled along towards Bayeaux for the night. We witnessed the strange sight of a large dog bounding trafficwards in the fast lane of the route national, whether the mutt survived was never known but it caused a fair degree of chaos.

We’d picked out a river valley to lead us the last 20 kilometres into Bayeaux but nothing had forewarned us of the flooding we were about to encounter. The valley floor was a giant lake, extending as far as the eye could see with little islands dotted here and there, we pushed on through it and up onto higher ground, getting wet and taking a few photos just to prove the point ! Approaching Bayeaux Hobbitt and Marko went ahead while Mad Fred and Podge planned a route around the ring road being built around this historic town. An early night was spent in Bayeaux as we had a 7am start the next day and we were spent!

From Bayeaux to Caen is quite a nice spin and with a sunny morning it was very pleasant – even with having to contend with ‘Podge’s Puffer’ which is a nice little climb. But there’s always a ‘but’ and in this case it was a slight confusion over where we were going. Marko and Hobbitt were under the impression that they were to meet up with Mad Fred and Podge in……..(‘Lost in France bit’)…..but the latter didn’t share the same view and after an hour of ‘being lost’ we met up, funnily, in a bar (turned out we were never more than a kilometer away from each other). Ploughing on towards Caen we encountered the floods once again, only this time the water was at least a metre deep and right across the road we used to exit Caen last year on the ride to Gorron, and which this year we wanted to use to enter Caen. Podge and Hobbitt vainly attempted to cycle through it, once to see how deep it was, and after proving to themselves that you cannot do a U turn on a cycle loaded with your luggage and up to the axle in water,  once again to pose for the camera. Time to retire to the bar and plot a way around it !

Mission completed we moved on, narrowly avoiding a very serious involvement with the local cycling club who were turning out in force for an afternoon road race. Pukka bikes and riders who understandably ignored the pannier-laden Recce Crew. The skies grew darker and Mad Fred’s unfair admonishment of the French for having moved road numbers and planted a farm in the way of us only served to contribute towards the impending gloom, it was going to rain, and there was going to be lots of it !

We became wetter and colder and more and more miserable so an executive decision was made in the bar – head for Troarn, find a hotel and dry out !

Success with this raised our spirits, helped by a few bottles of red wine, glasses of calvados, and a hot supper. By midnight we felt in reasonable shape to get up at 6am and battle on towards Le Havre, but it was still raining…..!

Sunday morning at 6am and it was still dark, this was the morning after the clocks were altered and to be quite honest we weren’t sure what time it really was. We snuck out of the hotel (having paid the previous night) only to encounter half a dozen Frenchmen having an early coffee and brandy in the hotel bar.

The road from Troarn to Pont l’Eveque is as boring as hell – long, straight, slow hills, and more flooding – anywhere flat seemed to be under masses of water. Mad Fred was some way behind us when we got to Pont l’Eveque and stopped at the first bar – rule number one is if you get separated stop in the first bar and wait, leave your bikes on prominent display so they can’t be missed by the estranged recce crew member. Rule number two is that Mad Fred doesn’t know about rule number one, so we lost him, again.

Reunited we plodded on towards Honfleur where we needed to recce the route off the Pont d’Normandie (BIG bridge to you and Podge who moaned and groaned his way to the top), and onto it for the 4-Day Ride. At the top of the bridge a helpful instrument told us the wind was 40kph, and the temperature was wavering between 4c and 5c. It felt, and was, cold !

Things brightened up once we were over the bridge and pedalling along the nice quiet roads on the industrial approach to Le Havre and with an hour to spare before the ferry left we found an extremely nice restaurant for lunch. Well 2/3 of our lunch, we didn’t have time for the dessert so we’ll go back for that in July. We did have time for 2 courses, and a litre of wine each – hell we’d deserved it, over 200 miles though some pretty miserable weather, now it was time to relax !

Onboard the ship we bumped into Syme and Michelle, two former riders who’d just enjoyed a romantic weekend and now had to face reality in the shape of a hammering in the bar. We failed miserably in the onboard quiz, drank loads of Guinness, a couple of bottles of wine, and a few brandy’s, and wobbled off the ship into the Ship and Castle by the Ferryport. None of us remember much after that !


And, if you want to enjoy such adventures though with less wind and rain, and if the ride continues beyond 2015, I can’t recommend it highly enough..