End of First World War and encirlcement of Paris

The past three days we have covered more than 250 kilometers to rest our legs in Fontaineblue. At the moment of writing this, all our clothing is being washed, chains are being lubed and knees are given a rest.

Border crossing

Yet again we have crossed an institutional border between differenent regions in France, from Aisne to Oise. However, not to my very surprise these borders mean hardly anything on a bike. A border which was more appearent was what I’d like to call the First World War border.

End of First World War

This first leg of the journey brought us straight through the battlefields of the First World War, of which the scars are still visible in the places we biked through. In contrast what the great late geographer Doreen Mossey said about the places and their past, these places still do live their past. Countless sleepy villages we biked through had their memorial sites for entire (male) families who lost their lives on the battlefield. Usually these memorials sites were the highlight of the small village, all the other buildings were either deteriorated or hardly lived in. Once in every 20km or so we came across a bigger cementary with more than hunderd or even more graves. Besides these cementaries and memorial sites, the places were for us nothing more than agricultural landscapes. In that sense the past is hugely woven into the present identity of a place and especially for us as visitors a major part of the identity. Ofcourse for the local inhabitants the experience of such places differ greatly, without a doubt with much more meaning than the traces of the First World War.

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One of the many memorial sites, this one is a shared cementary with German and French soliders. A symbolic manifestation of the friendship between the two countries.

In this line of thinking Vic-Sur-Aisne would be called the border town, in this town the history of the place of the First World War was turned into a touristic phenomenon, with information signs in English (which is unusual we noticed), designated history routes and even tours. This was the place where the frontline ended of the First World War, also ending for us the area of the war.

After this so called border town, a new region for us started, the so called hinterland of Paris.

Encirclement of Paris

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A direction we certainly didn’t take.

Altough Paris is – if I believe travel magazines – one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, navigating through the entire city of Paris would take us too long and isn’t worth the shot at the Eiffel Tower. Instead we decided to encircle Paris all together and go round the east side. Still yesterday, day 5, it was extremely difficult to navigate through the towns near Paris. Some roads we non existent at all or were so overgrown that cycling through them was almost impossible and a tick control was mandatory afterwards. The surprising knee ache from the first days luckily faded away and the lost time because of the navigation and the many coffeestops was retaken in the evening.

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Apparently in this Jungle there is a cycling track… 

From Vic-Sur-Aisne to Fontaineblue and probably coming few days, the area we cycled through breathes functionality for Paris. It is clear that Paris is the spin in the infrastructional web and that we biked through the edges of that web. The many railways, highways and electrical grids going from east to the west (where Paris is) showed that there is a huge magnet for these functions. We were so close to the city of Paris that we briefly touched Disneyland Paris’ ground, where we were send by the navigation on desolate tracks full with garbage of the park.

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The webs of the spider.

I see this stop as the first chapter of the journey, we are somewhat halfway Bordeaux which is the end stop for Jeroen and the halfway point for me. From there one I will continue on my own over the Picos de Europe and into Portugal. I might take a longer detour to see what kind of place the Camino route is. But this is all to far into the future for now.

Let’s see what waits for us around the corner the days to come.

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