By Kaleb Smith
I have always wanted to go to France. Chalk it up to romantic movies and my own limited “research” with French tourists. When I was asked to assist on a bicycle tour through Provence I jumped at the chance. Getting onto the airplane was easy enough. The flight attendance spoke a mixture of French and English and I thought, “This must be what it’s going to be like IN France”
As I entered the terminal at Charles de Gaulle I soon discovered differently. The Parisians may speak English but reserve the right to do so! Nevertheless, I managed to purchase a train ticket to Avignon. Once I arrived at the station I decided to walk to the hotel. It was only a few blocks. The fresh air cleared my head and I mentally reviewed our 8-day itinerary. We’d bike through lush French countryside, enjoy French restaurants and sleep in quaint French hotels.
At the hotel I found that a few other guys on the tour had arrived early. One had left me a note asking if I’d like to join the group for an outing later. I decided to take him up on the offer. I was pleased to find an eclectic mix of ages, skill levels and personal temperament. After some yummy local fare we decided to explore the main square of Avignon. The city is clean and safe with lots of local hangouts, bookstores, antique shops and cozy cafes.
The early birds returned to the hotel while Dan and I sipped wine on the promenade. The night unfolded as we watched the flow of people before deciding to see gay life in Avignon. I googled ‘gay bars in Avignon’ and we headed to the nearest suggestion. The alley was empty but as we got closer we heard the faint sounds of Lady Gaga. We had found our people!
A small vestibule led to the main bar and dance floor with a smaller bar to the left. Mirrored walls gave the impression of expansive space. As we approached the bar to our left a tall drag queen said something in French. I replied, “parlez-vous anglais?”… Not so much. Dan and I ordered 1776 beer because we could just point to the tap. The place filled up as the night went on. Finally, there was barely enough room to dance unless we wanted to get up on the blocks with the fashionable, French twinks. The best part of this night was getting to know Dan. He’s a smart, funny guy with an interesting story. We became fast friends on our journey through France.
The next morning Avignon was a bit hectic due to thick traffic. Our guides, Pierre and Charly, were experts and we biked, safely, single file out of the city. As we ventured toward the country the air became cleaner and fragrant. The French villages dotting the terrain were exactly as I had pictured, classic architecture with undulating terra cotta roofs.
The mountain top views were amazing and a welcome break as we took a moment to catch our breath. The anticipation of the breezy, relaxing ride downhill was a treat.
Each site was unique and had its own little treasures to sell.
The hotels along the way were accommodating and clean. Our guides were knowledgeable and friendly. And the food! Each meal was more delicious than the next. I tried escargot for the first time. Not my favorite but I couldn’t leave France without giving it a go.
I learned a lot as well. The most important lesson: enjoy right now or carpe diem (seize the day). Sometimes we race to the finish only to realize we missed the amazing road along the way. The journey, if you will.
My advice to anyone going on a bike tour in a foreign country, besides learning the language, is to SLOW DOWN. Enjoy the food, the sites, the culture and history, but most of all, the people. The friends you make during your travel may last forever. Have fun and enjoy the ride no matter where it takes you.