Day 4 promised to be slightly more special than the other days, and so it proved to be, in some ways which were expected and some others which most definitely were not expected.
The first special activity involved what we pretty much always do on a Saturday morning – Saturday is parkrun day. The nearest one to us was at Bois de Boulogne – a mere 25 km away on the outskirts of Paris. The drive there involves a brief flirtation with everyone’s favourite road, the Boulevard Périphérique, which is somewhere in between a massive car park and the world’s largest dodgem attraction. Even at a shade before 8am on a Saturday at Easter it was a bit frantic, but at least I’d pre-planned the route and knew what signs to look for and which lanes I’d need. I had Ami operating Google maps on my phone, just in case I made a wrong turn at any point.
Anyway, Google reckoned it would take much longer than it actually did, and we were there sat in the car park at just after 8am. We sat there for quite a long time wondering when the run director would actually turn up. I hadn’t checked average statistics for this parkrun to see how many people normally turn up. If I had done so I would have been less worried about the apparent lack of competitors and marshalls at 8:45. A few people did eventually appear, and so a parkrun was duly constituted and deemed to be quorate.
The French apparently abandon their capital city at the first sniff of a public holiday, so we were entirely unsurprised to find most people speaking in unaccented English (or at least, in accents belonging to native English speakers). There was a family from Poland, a handful of French, and probably half of the field were British. The field was 48 strong by the way, including the tail runner, who had a North American English accent. One of the British groups was a family from Leicestershire who normally run our “adopted second home” parkrun at Conkers. How weird is that ?
The run itself was good – the course is quite wide and has no significant gradients, so despite having spent three full days on our feet we managed to finish in a very creditable 29:30 with 32nd and 33rd places. We set off a bit faster but Ami realised half way round that her head was making promises that her legs couldn’t deliver. The post-run cafe was a small roadside affair on the other side of the Bois de Boulogne and it’s fair to say that the place would struggle to cope with demand if any more people went.
By the time we got back to the car it was approaching 11am and we had some caching to get on with, so we drove back to the hotel for a quick change of clothes and to pick up all the caching gear. While we were there we encountered one of the unexpected surprises for the day, namely that the toilet in our room wasn’t refilling properly or flushing. That, unfortunately, required a visit to reception to sort out. Unfortunate in the sense of it taking some time, but not in terms of the outcome. The guy on duty came upstairs for a look, and poked and prodded a couple of things before deciding to offer us a different room. I said fine so long as they had a similarly sized one on the same floor. He went to sort it out while Ami and me stuffed everything into our suitcases and got ourselves out of the one room. When the receptionist did return he placed us into the room right next door, so all we had to do was to wheel in all the bags and then jump straight in the car to start the caching. Result !
For caching we parked up in Hérouville to attack the difficult looking southern loop. Part of the reason why it looked difficult was that it involved a long stretch at the end that we’d already walked along on Thursday. There was no way to avoid walking that section again, especially as I’d checked the bus timetable and there weren’t any on a Saturday. We’d just have to live with it.
Our walk took us on a big clockwise route through woodland down to Auvers-sur-Oise and then back across slightly more open but still hilly countryside back through Ennery and Livilliers, where we ran out of caches. We’d also run out of energy, enthusiasm and drinks by that point, but had a mandatory walk of nearly 4 km to get back to the car. By the time we had finished that stretch we were both completely exhausted. We’d walked 20.25 km in just over 6 hours and had found 74 caches. Thankfully we now knew that the drive home was quick and easy, and we took the opportunity to stop at a garage on the way back and buy drinks for the following day.
Dinner was an in-hotel affair again, although I have no recollection of what we actually ate.
The caches we found were :
Well, you’ve just got to, haven’t you ?
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home.
Forum Les Halles
It’s been completely rebuilt since the last time I was there.
From the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe
A brief downpour then some beautiful spring evening sunshine to end our day out.
What’s that about then ?
Ami and I were spending a week or so exploring the countryside to the north of Paris searching for bits of tupperware, however it was Ami’s first time near Paris, so we had to take at least one day out to go to the city and do some touristy stuff.
This was that day.
We began fairly early in the morning with a substantial breakfast at our hotel before dashing down to Pontoise Station to catch an RER C into the big city. We managed to get tickets that allowed unlimited travel on RER trains and metros, which is good. The amount of time we spent attempting to buy them meant that we missed a train by 2 mins and had to wait a further 28 minutes for the next one. After all, it was Good Friday, so somewhat reduced service was operating on the suburban lines.
Our first stop was the Champ de Mars station, which RER C goes directly into, so we could attempt to get up the Eiffel Tower. I say “attempt” because their website sold out of tickets for both levels of lift several months in advance, so we were gambling with availability of the “on the day” tickets. The form was that everyone had to queue up for a security check before being let underneath the tower itself for the ticket offices. We decided to go for the tickets that force you to walk up to the second level and then queue for the lift up to the top. The decision was based mainly on the length of the respective queues.
So all in all it took us about an hour to get to the point where we were actually walked up the tower. We decided to go up to the second level as soon as possible and have a look at the queue for the lifts to the very top. When we got there, we found a remarkably short queue for the top level lifts and decided to join it straight away.
The view from the top is quite impressive. The tower is considerably taller than any other structure in Paris, and the view is quite spectacular. It was a little chilly though, as it was quite windy at the top. While we were up there we found the office containing the waxwork model of Gustav Eiffel so that we could claim a virtual geocache ( At the top of the Eiffel tower ).
The lift down was quite uninspiring, and from the second level we attempted to count the steps down to ground floor. After about 400 or so Ami and I managed to get out of step so I gave up counting. Ami counted a shade over 700 steps.
By this time it was nearly midday, so we availed ourselves of some fizzy drinks and unhealthy snacks under the tower and went over to the riverside to eat them. From here we crossed the bridge into the Trocadéro, where we found a couple of cunningly hidden geocaches as well as another virtual ( VIRTUAL REWARD 2017-2018 : TOUR EIFFEL ). This one requires you to pretend to be taller than the tower, and therefore involves the photography sitting on the floor to get the right angle.
We hadn’t really planned much for the day other than “walking around a bit” and I had it in my mind we might be able to walk all the way along the Seine to Notre Dame, so with this in mind we set off walking upstream towards the Pont de l’Alma, the site of another virtual cache ( Liberty’s Flame ). At this one it’s necessary that you post a photo of yourself with the flame, and also requested that you give yourself a moment of quiet contemplation. It’s at the location where (in the tunnel beneath) Diana, Princess of Wales was involved in the car crash that resulted in her death. The monument called Liberty’s Flame was not originally built in her memory, but has become a bit of an unofficial memorial to her.
From here we crossed the river and walked along to Les Invalides, where I’d solved a couple of wherigo caches. We didn’t bother with going inside though, as it’s a big site and neither of us is really a museum kind of a person.
The distance around to Notre Dame looked a bit much for walking all the way, so we decided we’d get a bit more value out of our all day metro tickets rather than walking the 3km between there and where we were.
We appeared out of the Cluny_–_La_Sorbonne_(Paris_Métro)Cluny – La Sorbonne Metro Station and headed north towards the river. Before crossing we thought we’d earned ourselves a short break, so we sat for 20 minutes in a totally stereotypical streetside cafe and got ourselves fleeced for the value of a coffee, a sprite and a piece of Apple Tart. They were nice though, and we needed a rest for a bit.
If we thought the queues and the security checks at the Eiffel Tower were long, those at Notre Dame were a whole new world of pain. We were really, really glad that we weren’t bothered about going inside. We’d have been there for hours. All we in fact wanted to do was to get a photograph of our own feet for another virtual geocache. There’s a metal disc in the floor which marks the point from which all distances to Paris are officially measured.
This was about as much as we could stand at this particular location. It was absolutely heaving.
From here we made our way further north in the general direction of the Pompidou Centre and then on to the Forum Les Halles. This had been changed somewhat (OK, “completely”) since my previous visit by the addition of a massive new canopy roof over the top. Most of the insides seem to have been reworked too, and the characterof the shops had completely changed. In the late 1980’s early 1990’s, when I previously visited, it was a series of little boutiques. It can now be described as being pretty much like any other shopping centre in Europe apart from being underground, and in Paris. It did have quite a cunning geocache for us to find though.
The next stop on our whirlwind tour was to be the Louvre museum, so we could peer at the big glass pyramid. Obviously, once again, we had neither the time nor the energy to actually go inside. It was also “heaving”. On the way there we got rained on, but it was quite a short shower, and when it finished we were greeted with a bright blue and near cloudless sky for the first time since we arrived in France. This made for a very pretty couple of photos of the wet cobbles with the sun reflecting off them.
Just along from here there were another couple of virtual geocaches ( VIRTUAL REWARD 2017-2018 : LE LOUVRE and Who is She? (Paris) ), which took our tally of virtuals for the day up to 6. The one at the Louvre requires you to stand in such a position that you can see all the way along the straight line from the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, across the Place de la Concorde, through the Arc de Triomphe and on (eventually) to the Grande Arche de la Défense.
The rest of the day from here got increasingly wearisome the longer it went on.
We’d sort of planned to walk through the Tuilleries and then along the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe, taking in some dinner on the way, before heading home. We were both getting quite tired and our feet were aching, but neither of us was hungry. As we were walking along the last bit of Champs-Élysées we decided we’d rather go and look for pizza a little closer to home rather than stay out in Paris. So we continued our slow hobble up to the Charles de Gaulle – Étoile station and grabbed an RER A train. This was much quicker than the RER C we’d taken in the morning, but dropped us off at the somewhat less than glamorous Cergy Préfecture station. Nothing especially wrong with it, I suppose. It’s just that it’s in the middle of a concrete monstrosity of high-rise housing.
Nearby was a little pizza place that we decided we go to for dinner. Aside from the lack of alcoholic beverages it was fine.
The walk back to the hotel was somewhat less than fine. The concrete high-rises were a bit of an urban jungle and both of us felt distinctly uncomfortable walking through them. When we did emerge onto a road it was one which couldn’t make it’s mind up whether to have footpaths or not. We blindly followed google maps and made a couple of probably quite dangerous jumps over concrete barriers to get to where we needed to be, and eventually we made it back to the hotel none the worse, albeit rather tired. We’d been out of the hotel for 13 hours, so all we wanted to do was to get some sleep.
As we drove back out past this road in the morning we saw where the footpaths actually went………
Anyway, over the course of the day, the geocaches we completed were :
Day 2 began with a significant amount of breakfast at the hotel. We didn’t start particularly early because it had been a long day the previous day and I didn’t have the heart or the energy to force Ami to get up early, so when the alarm went off I switched it off for an extra 45 minutes to let her sleep a bit longer.
We got out of the hotel at around 10 and were parked up in our chosen destination, Livilliers, by about 10:15. We really weren’t very far away from the caching zone. I wish I could have this many caches to find this close to home. I suppose I used to have exactly that, until I found them all.
Back at the plot, we parked behind the church and I had a few scares while we were getting ready because somehow the car alarm kept setting itself off. I think it must have been some dodgy combination of button presses that I’ve never before done, but there was a point where I was thinking we should sit still for 15 minutes to see if it happened again.
We decided not to wait, as we’d got some caching to do.
On the radar today was a loop on the MTVO series that contained about 95 caches, and then a few more drive-bys if we had time. Like complete numptys we’d failed to acquire any soft drinks beforehand, so we set off without carrying anything to drink apart from various half-bottles from the previous day. Given the length of the walk this sort of concerned me for the first couple of hours, but as time marched on it concerned us a lot less, because we just weren’t getting either tired or thirsty until nearly the end.
My main problem was that I was getting very dry skin on my hands from handling caches (I think one of them had some agricultural “stuff” on it which drained all the moisture out). Anyway, I was getting very cracked skin on my fingers. More of that later.
The walk was 19.25 km long and took us 6 hours, during which we found 95 caches, of which all bar two were from the series.
At this time we decided we really needed a drink break and to go buy something for my hands. We spotted a shopping centre near Génicourt which appeared to fit the bill, so we spent 5 minutes driving there and parking. Once there, we got drinks, cakes and some hand cream, spending about an hour there before deciding to go attack a few more in the car. For drive-bys we headed through Livilliers up towards Vallangoujard, where we found a few more that required a park-and-walk strategy.
Just before 7 pm it started to rain a bit, so we finished off the stretch we were on and headed back to the hotel a little earlier than the previous night, having completed a total of 128 caches. Another personal best. They were :
Here are today’s finds in glorious smiley-on-a-map-o-vision.
This was going to be a bit of a monster post, as I hadn’t taken enough photos for there to be sufficient visual interest to sustain a blog post per day, and anyway I thought most of the days would just be along the lines of “got up, did loads of caching, ate dinner, went to bed”, which wouldn’t be particularly interesting. When I sat down and thought about it though, I ended up doing one a day anyway.
So the objective of this rather substantial sortie into northern France was a massive series of puzzle caches called the Mystery Trail du Val d’Oise (or MTVO for short), which lie just to the north-west of central Paris above the new town of Cergy-Pontoise. There’s just over 600 caches plus a few outliers, and together they form a geo-art picture of a big heraldic shield.
I allowed a week to do them, arranging to travel down very early on a Wednesday and return last thing at night the following Tuesday.
My caching buddy for the trip was Ami. As she’s getting older she’s more able to cope with being away for longer, and she becomes more useful in the front of the car for things like navigating and paying motorway tolls, which is handy. In this case, she’s never really been to Paris and she was on Easter break, so we could afford to take our time. Easter seemed a good idea because I know the French like to abandone their capital to tourists during the holiday, and it meant we could get in 7 days of holiday whilst only taking 3 days off work.
The morning began very early, with Ami and me having tried to sleep downstairs on the new sofabed and failing miserably. A part of that was excitement. Another part was that Izzy had been ill. Kas took her to the walk-in clinic on Tuesday night and they got back home at a time when Ami and me were just getting settled into bed.
The alarm was set for 2:30am, which meant we’d got just under 4 hours to get up, drive to Folkestone and check in for our train. I always allow this much time, as you never know if there’ll be traffic issues, but as is often the case we found ourselves at the Eurotunnel Folkestone Terminal well in advance of our train. So far in advance, in fact, that we were offered a train 30 minutes before I booked. We played my now usual early-morning game of driving through passport control well before we’d been called, safe in the knowledge that the Folkestone terminal doesn’t really segregate incoming cars according to the train they have a place on, so more often than not you can bump yourself forward another train.
All of this placed us in France at about 7:45am French time, over an hour earlier than expected. We’d planned to make a stop for breakfast at the Aire de la Baie de Somme, near Abbeville and we got there before 9am. This place had been a source of much amusement as we deliberately mispronounced the name as Air Dilly Bay Dilly Somme (Dilly). It wasn’t quite what I remembered from a previous visit, however we managed to extract a decent breakfast sandwich and coffee from them and also managed to find our first cache of the trip. It was also our first ever in the Somme Department. We didn’t manage to grab any drinks or snacks for the day though, because the shop looked poor and the petrol station was being rebuilt.
We were therefore forced to stop at the Aire de Hardivilliers, about 60 km further on. I didn’t mind stopping though, because it also had a cache and was also a new Department ( Oise ). I took the opportunity to fill up with diesel while we were at it. It was a much better service station.
From here we were pretty much into the caching zone. We had a further 50 km to drive to reach Méru, from where we got off the motorways and headed into the countryside. I hadn’t really completely decided where to start caching, so we pulled over at Amblainville to complete a puzzle cache I’d solved and to make a decision. We decided to attack the north-east corner and have a go at some driving and walking caches near to Frouville. This was the first obvious bunch to hit, as it was closest to our arrival point.
We started with 15 or so done as drive-bys down the access road to Frouville and then parked up by the church to have a bit of a walk. It proved to be a bit of an epic walk. We did take drinks and chocolate mini-eggs with us, which proved to be a good thing, because we were away from the car for 5 hours and found about 60 more caches. We also managed to get completely and utterly soaked in a massive downpour and then get dried out again in the subsequent stiff breeze. By the time we got back to the car it was after 5pm, and we’d already completed many more caches than I thought we would, but we were far from finished, so we decided to head off for a few more in the car. A “few more” turned out to be 42 more. The drive-bys were really very easy, and this became a running theme for the trip as we were able consistently to hammer out masses of caches with minimal effort at the end of each long walking day.
At about 7:30 we decided enough was enough, so we got Google maps to give us a route to our hotel – the Campanile in Cergy-Pontoise – and we were relieved to see it was predicting just a 15 minute drive. We were therefore checking into the hotel at 7:45 and made an immediate decision to eat in the hotel. It had been a long day and I didn’t want to go out again.
The room was right up on their third floor, but we realised pretty quickly that the third floor rooms were the biggest ones. We dived in for a quick shower and change of clothes and then headed for some well earned dinner.
The restaurant was functional and did about 5 daily specials as well as a small “standard” menu. It also had this excellent idea of “unlimited starters” and “unlimited desserts/cheese” that you could help yourself to from the salad bar. Ami had steak and unlimited puddings. I had a chicken dish of the specials board and unlimited cheese. I also had too much beer, but you don’t really need to know about that part.
I tried to start processing caching logs on my little laptop in the restaurant but it wasn’t having any of it, so I ended up doing them in the hotel room afterwards while Ami got an early start on some sleeping.
In the final reckoning, we’d somehow managed to do 120 caches in total, including a fantastic 117 from the MTVO series. This was by far and away a new personal best for us both. The caches we did on this day (in the approximate order that we did them) were :
And here they are in all their glory.