When we still lived in the UK, I took part in a charity bike ride. The ride was from London to Paris and was in aid of the Royal British Legion. Spread over 4 days, the first leg was from London to Dover and over on the ferry to Calais, the second leg was from Calais to Abbeville, the third was Abbeville to Beauvais and the last was Beauvais to Paris. The first leg was not a lot of fun. Eighty miles through the south east on some busy roads when you were pretty much left to your own devices was not too relaxing. The trip through France was a totally different story.
For our whole ride through France we were escorted by motor cyclists. It was like being in the Tour de France. As we approached, the traffic pulled aside and the motor bikes cleared our path. Red lights and stop signs meant nothing. In each town at which we stopped, the town would turn out to provide us with food and wine (not a good idea when there is a big climb straight after lunch) and entertainment. Everyone was unbelievably welcoming and we were constantly being cheered along by anyone we passed.
Each town we stopped overnight in would have a parade. The remembrance ceremony each time would be a really well supported event and I felt like I knew the Marseillaise by heart by the end of the trip. The first two days were eighty miles each, the third was a slightly easier seventy miles and the last day was under sixty. I had always thought of northern France as quite flat. I will never make that mistake again.
The final day was pretty impressive. We rode through the outskirts of Paris coming through areas I had heard of before but never visited. Then we were running in to the center of the city itself. The run up to l’arc de Triomphe with all of the traffic was an amazing feeling. The whole group together with our police escort stopped Paris traffic. We rode around the monument before parking our bikes and then walking up the Champs Elysée before holding a final remembrance ceremony under the arch itself. Quite an impressive event and one that really meant something after the effort to get there.