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Big Adventure - Week 1 Report

Brighton - Newhaven - Dieppe - Rouen - Paris - Brive la Guillard - Chaumeil - Lyon - Zurich

1023 miles

Got off to the wrong kind of flying start in rainy Newhaven - new hiking boots had zero grip on the wet deck as we boarded and I side planted; now bearing a remarkably detailed imprint of said deck in a bruise on my left hip... doesn't hurt much compared to the ribs, hence not much hoop action yet.

At least they gave us a free cabin for the crossing, and I'm hoping to get free ferries for life!

From Dieppe we got the train to Rouen...tasty dinner, early night, and a half hour bag drag to see the cathedral in the morning, and same back to station. Thank heavens for the wheelie rucksacks!

Then on to Paris, where our phone passes didn't work at the Paris St. Lazarre exit barriers and we had to wait at least ten minutes to be let out of the station. Lots of steps up and down in the metro, stopped to convert to backpack mode, and arrived at Paris Austerlitz just as our train to Brive la Guillard was departing. Two hour wait for the next train and a snootily indifferent response from the station staff to my plea for a free reservation change - week one's low point for me.

We were so delighted to be met at Brive at 9pm by our lovely friend Claire and whisked back to the cosy farmhouse that her great grandfather built in the tiny hamlet of Chaumeil, near Boliauex sur Dordogne. Claire and Lee have been organic farming there for about 20 years; bringing up two gorgeous young people - Logan, 20 and Kyrian almost 9 - and throwing fabulous themed intergenerational fancy dress parties. We were so very at home with them, and cannot imagine a better place to pause and regroup... delicious home cooked, home grown food... morning yoga under the walnut treeson their hill top farm with views of the Massif Centrale in the distance, bird song, insect life and wild plants abounding in an area untouched by industrial agriculture... swimming in the clear, bracing waters of the Dordogne... seeing Kyrian score his first ever try in his first ever rugby training session...a last night dinner ten minutes down the road in Brivezac with Tot and her book group who had just arrived at her place where I visited in November 2021. Tot and her family are renovating their ancient house and have created the most resplendent bathroom I've ever seen.

Early start on Friday morning to catch the 6.45am school bus back to Brive, and then a Bla Bla Car lift share to Lyon...poor Jefris half buried under our bags in the middle of the back seat, whilst I dozed most of the way and the other Bla Bla passenger up front seemed to be really hitting it off with our driver. I would love to know what happened after they dropped us off at the station!

After finding out way in the pouring rain, first to the wrong Ibis hotel and then to the right, budget one, we freshened up and headed out to find somewhere to watch the rugby, everywhere we went was heaving with Welsh fans in town for Sunday night's world cup match with Australia. After a sumptuous dinner in at Brasserie George, we headed to Vieux Lyon in search of live music - a side mission is to catch some in every country! After asking around and escaping a piss up with the men from Windsor in red berets and bad jackets, we found ourselves in an Irish bar where a valiant Frenchman with a guitar did his utmost to engage an international crowd of drunken revellers with his catalogue of over 200 covers... much singing along...Jefris doing an impromptu ballet dance with a very enthusiastic rotund Welshman...three Korean gents nodding along and looking like they'd love to let themselves was a heartwarming moment when the Welshman got them on the dancefloor. We left fearing for his safety as he pogo'd perilously close to an eight inch step.

After very disappointing budget hotel breakfast we headed across town by tram to catch our train to Geneva and then onward to Zurich, where Chris George, who we first met as rugby parents, met us at the back of the huge 44 platform station. Back to his flat in notorious Langstrasser for champagne, crisps & chilli con carne and then out to Zurich's oldest pub - established 1970 - to be atmospherically enthralled by Ireland v South Africa. Despite being gripped by a truly thrilling game I was so tired I nearly toppled off the bar stool at least once. Langstrasser was just getting going when we made it home around midnight, rather like falling asleep at a festival, very comfy on Chris's vast and very comfy sofa bed.

On Sunday we headed to Lake Zurich, out on a boat trip, and then a wander around the city centre, climbing the steps to St Peter with Europe's largest clock face, an outdoor photography exhibition and a hilltop petanque and chess park. Quick nap, finished the champers (it would be rude not to) some yummy Thai food at Chris's local and then to another Irish pub to watch Wales hammer the Wallabies. Nodding off again towards the end of the match I left the boys to finish their beers and headed back to Chris's to begin repacking in preparation for today's early start.

By the time our packed lunch was prepped and Chris had furnished us with some last minute useful bits and bobs - hippy tea and coffee bags, better chargers, noise cancelling ear phones - it was nearly 1am. Alarms set for 5.30, there was the inevitable insomnia, borne of anxiety about how little sleep we'd get. Even Jefris took over half an hour to drop off, and we needn't have worried about the alarms as they started smashing the road with pneumatic drills at 4.30am. Even so we ended up running to the station for our 6.38 train. Lots more miles travelled today, we're doing the last of them as I write this, I'll endeavour to report next week!

Love to all our friend and family! xxx

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