2015-07-28 Les Marches – Saint Rambert-en-Bugey

Today’s photo shows a Ferrari parked at the entrance to the Tunnel du Chat above Lac du Bourget in the Savoy region of France. This was the only Ferrari I saw throughout my trip around France so I was incredibly lucky to get this shot.

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Today – 80 km. Total so far – 1730 km. Just short trip today as I had to go through Chambery and also faced a tough climb up to the Tunnel du Chat.

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Swimming pool at Camping Ferme du Lac. I would have loved to have stayed longer at Camping Ferme du Lac and tried out their swimming pool but to get to London by the 8th August, I would need to average over 100 km per day.

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Old style baling machine in action near Les Marches. It is mostly round bales you come across in France and these old style square bales are very rare. To come across this scene where the bales were being loaded onto a trailer just like 20, 30 years ago was a stroke of luck.

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Typical French vineyard. This part of France is just stunning. I could have stopped to take a photo every minute today.

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House with solar panels near Chambery. Feed in tariffs in France for solar power were as high as 58 cent per unit of electricity in 2010 but have since been reduced. Consequently, solar panels are not as common in France as they would be in Germany or Italy.

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New house being built near Chambery. New houses being built were a rare sight in France but I came across loads of houses being built and renovated today. This house seems to be a timber frame built on top of a concrete basement which is then clad in stone. There were about half a dozen vans parked outside and quite a few tradesmen working on this house when I went past.

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Water well alongside the road. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the tap to work to try and taste the water but the spigot sure looks cute.

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Irish style bungalows being built near Chambery. Most houses in France have terracotta tiiled roofs but these houses were very similar to Irish bungalows with their block walls and dark black/blue tiled roofs.

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The cycle-path into Chambery was right beside the motorway. There is an extensive cycle path network around Chambery and some of the cycle paths even have lanes.

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Croix du Nivolet overlooking Chambery. The Croix du Nivolet or the Cross on Mont Nivolet is one of the the landmarks in Chambery. I love the way this apartment block has been built in a similar shape to the mountain in the background. Kudos to the architect and all involved in its design and construction.

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O’Pogues bar in Chambery. Myself and Noel didn’t come across any Irish bars in Grenoble but here is one in Chambery.

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Office block in Chambery. Full size palm trees were being grown inside this office block.

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Lac du Bourget with the spa town of Aix-les-Bains in the distance. Lac du Bourget is the largest and deepest lake in all of France and is 145m deep at it’s lowest point. It actually is as deep as the Irish Sea between Dublin and Holyhead despite being only an average of 3 km wide.

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Ferrari at the Tunnel du Chat above Lac du Bourget. I tweeted this photo of a Ferrari (with Belgian number plates) above Lac du Bourget. But I made a mistake in the tweet by stating the lake in the background was Lake Annecy. Lake Annecy is 50 km to the east of Lac du Bourget but it shows Irish people’s grasp of French geography that nobody picked me up on my mistake. Incidentally, about an hour after this photo was taken, the Ferrari overtook me near Belley. When your cycling along the road your ears get attuned to the noise car engines make and that Ferrari had the sweetest noise of any car that I heard in France. The engine really purred as it glided past me as if it was idling and not going at over 100 km/hr. The only other car that went past me and also made me go “wow” was a Tesla S near Chalons-en-Champagne. Remarkably, the noise of the electric motor in the Tesla was very similar to that off the Ferrari engine; as to whether that is by design or is just a co-incidence I have no idea.

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Mont Semnoz. Another shot of Lac du Bourget with Mont Semnoz in the distance. Semnoz was where Quintana won the last Alpine stage in the 2013 Tour de France and was the only time he dropped Chris Froome in that Tour. Remarkably, the 2013 Tour was very similar to this year’s Tour with Froome first, Quintana second and Contador fifth but whereas the gap between first and second in 2013 was 5 minutes, this year it was only a minute.

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Entrance to the Tunnel du Chat. Notice the signs saying cyclists and pedestrians are banned. There were no warning signs on the approach road to the tunnel saying cyclists were banned just trucks over 7.5 ton and vehicles above 3.5m. I had used Google Maps that morning to plot my route and it clearly showed you could cycle through the tunnel. That is why I fitted both front and rear lights to my bike and trailer and tweeted that I was ready to tackle the Tunnel du Chat. So when I got to the tunnel entrance I was faced with a dilemma. The tunnel is over a km long, with a slight gradient uphill but is not too dark inside as there is a lot of lights in the roof. If the tunnel had been busy, I would  have turned around but because the traffic was light, I decided to chance it. The lanes are narrow so any car that overtook me had to cross over onto the opposite lane. In all, about 20 cars overtook me in the 5 minutes I was in the tunnel, but  only 2 of them beeped. I like to think the rest of the drivers appreciated the plucky Irish cyclist giving it a lash, a bit like their forefathers did during the French Revolution.

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New safety tunnel being dug alongside the Tunnel du Chat. To be fair to the Transport Department in Savoy, the Tunnel du Chat is dangerously narrow and I can see why cyclists are banned. They are spending €40m digging a safety tunnel alongside the main tunnel for drivers to use in the event of a fire similar to the one that killed 38 people in the Mont Blanc tunnel in 1999. When the safety tunnel is finished in 2017, cyclists and pedestrians will also be able to use it at any time.

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Road bridge across the Rhone. I was amazed to discover that the Rhone flows through this part of France. I had last come across the Rhone in Valence exactly a week ago after getting the train from Montpellier. Even here, in this remote region 300 km from Valence, the Rhone is quite wide. The source of the Rhone is in Lake Geneva 200 km to the north. From here in Belley, the river flows 200 km west to Lyon and then another 600 km south to the Med.

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Departement de l’Ain. The river Rhone marks the border between Savoy and the Ain. The road surface today was the best of any day I spent in France. In l’Ain especially, the roads were tarmaced beyond the white line leaving a good gap between you and the traffic. In other parts of France, the roads are only re-surfaced to the white line leaving a grass verge forcing you to cycle in amongst the traffic. There are 96 departements in France with 96 highway agencies and 96 budgets for road maintenance. In some departements, roads are obviously low priority (cough, cough, Aisne) whereas others such as l’Ain and Savoy deserve awards for their road network. In l’Ain in particular, nearly every road was extra wide to accommodate cyclists yet ironically, I didn’t come across many other cyclists. Further north in the Aisne which gets a lot of cycle tourists visiting the Somme their roads are just terrible and in some cases have not been repaired since the First World War.

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Camping de l’Hermitage. It was after 7 when I arrived at Camping de l’Hermitage near the town of Saint Rambert-en-Bugey. The campsite is lovely with an incredible mountain backdrop but the facilities are very run down. The campsite was the only one in France where I came across squat style toilets. The showers though were fine and they even had 240V charge points at each pitch. The campsite was very quiet with only another 2 or 3 occupants and was ideal for a good night’s rest after a tough day’s cycling.

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