Milan, Italy to Paris, France
Number of Kilometers: 14,587
Number of Countries Crossed: 15 (China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, France)
We left Milan with the prospect of what we thought would be the final big challenge of the expedition: the ride to Paris covering 850km in seven days with the Jura mountains in between that might be a bit snowy, it being November and all. By this stage of the trip we have become experts at deciphering one of the most unpredictable and baffling things known to mankind: the weather forecast. The outlook was ominous yet positive, sunny rain (looks like it’s going to rain but somehow remains sunny) rather than rainy sun (“naughty” rays of warmth teasing through downpours that seem as if they could break at any moment but never do) as we headed through the beautiful Aosta valley. Crossing the Alps in November is no easy task and we had chosen to attempt Le Grand St Bernard pass into Switzerland given the winter’s first big snow dump had not yet occurred. Arriving in the last big town before the pass in Aosta we were dismayed to find out the pass had been closed only a week before. The last big opportunity to narrowly escape death and live to tell the tale disappeared, we would have to take the tunnel.
Switzerland was……incredibly beautiful and insanely expensive. The view of Lake Geneva from the north-eastern shore was absolutely breathtaking. It was strange to be so taken aback by the view of the sun setting behind the huge snow-capped mountains after all the weird and wonderful places we had travelled through. The serenity and grandeur of the lake really did have a big impact on us though that is probably why it is one of the most ridiculously priced places in the world. In two days we spent almost as much as what we spent in Iran in three and a half weeks. Gone are the days of being able to negotiate a better rate in a roadside motel. The high season had also passed and so finding lodging generally was limited to only a few overpriced places who no doubt had to cover a very large heating bill through these winter months. Whilst wincing every time we put our hand in our pockets, the riding was beautiful and we finally reached the French border to an excellent rendition of La Marseillaise – much to Matthieu’s initial delight and eventual dismay Oli had learnt the French national anthem while at Northbourne Park School as a young child, though the most recent version perhaps may not meet public approval on the streets of the capital.
We pedalled through the Jura mountains through very cold weather but warmed each lunch by very good “Formule Déjeuner”. Our arrival in Paris was unusual for modern times though fitting for the occasion it marked. As the frenchman led an englishman up the Champs-Elysees to a cheering (extended) Liard family we both felt immensely proud, happy, sad, tired and ready for the cheese-wine onslaught that was to follow.