Toulouse and Rivel workaway – 1st to 11th Jan 2016

Toulouse and Rivel workaway – 1st to 11th Jan 2016

Friday 1st January

Today we head into town for geocaching and sightseeing. Unfortunately we struggle to find quite a few of the caches and blame our failure on the French to English translation – clearly someone/thing has to take the blame.

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Even looking in the Japanese garden next to Zen doesn’t bring us any luck.

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Failed to find 4 out 7 but at least it takes us to parts of the city we would otherwise have not visited.

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Back home we eat the famous ‘king’s cake’, it contains a favour and whoever finds it is King. And it’s me – so I get to wear the crown.

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Last night Kate and Brett told us of their engagement – this is such fantastic news. They first met on an Exodus holiday in Morocco when Brett joined us for our Xmas/New Year getaway in 2013. 2 years later – an ENGAGEMENT! Note to self: ‘Must buy hat’! We learn that the reason the French had such a subdued New Year is that they are still in a State of emergency after the Paris attacks and all planned festivities were cancelled.

Saturday 2nd January

Today we visit Carcassonne (we have a car from Drivy car – not a hire company but people lending their cars at very low prices) which has an amazing castle – backdrop of Game of Thrones. The city is famous for the Cité de Carcassonne, a medieval fortress restored by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853 and added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Consequently, Carcassonne greatly profits from tourism but also counts manufacture and wine-making as some of its other key economic sectors.

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The fortress is a complete surprise. We only noticed it when geocaching along the river despite the fact it dominates the horizon. And inside it’s like a month mini city with shops, cafes and restaurants with spectacular views over the surrounding area.

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We also do some Geocaching with much greater success than yesterday. Today is the anniversary of the start of our travels. A year ago we flew to Finland for our workaway in the Arctic circle.


Sunday 3rd January

We stay in Toulouse today and visit the Victor Hugo market – a large indoor market selling all kinds of local produce which has several bars selling wine and tapas which we enjoy.

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Kate gets chatting to an old Spaniard man at the bar and shows us another of her languages, clever girl! We are so jealous. Her French and Spanish is fluent and effortless. Later we retire to the capitol square and enjoy more wine and cards!


Monday 4th January

Today we visit Albi and Cordes sur ciel.

Albi is located on the River Tarn, 85 km northeast of Toulouse. Its inhabitants are called Albigensians. It was the seat of the Archbishop of Albi and is the seat of the Diocese of Albi. The episcopal city, situated in the center of the actual city, around the cathedral, was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2010. The town is beautiful dominated by the cathedral. We visit the Toulouse Lautrec exhibition but it’s far to say Daz is less than impressed. In fact he thinks Henri’s art is ‘shit’. Daz is a bit of an art critic!


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We also do a geocaching trail of 10 along a stream – very scenic.

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The Gothic Cathédrale Ste-Cécile of Albi, built in the 13th century in the heart of Cathar country, is the largest brick building in the world. Perched high on a hill above the River Tarn, it looks more like a fortress than a cathedral – and that’s no accident. The Cathedral of St. Cecilia in Albi was built as a defensive fortress and statement of strength after the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229), a holy war waged by the Catholic Church against the heretical Cathars and the count of Toulouse.

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Although the architectural style of Albi Cathedral is Gothic, it has none of the delicate stonework or wall of glass that characterize the style in northern France. Instead it is made of solid brick (a material both cheaper and faster to use than stone) with modest lancet windows. It features solid rounded buttresses, which were probably inspired by existing fortifications around the Bishop’s Palace (late 1200s and still standing).

The cathedral’s great mass culminates at the west end in a great tiered belfry (1355-66), rising 78 meters into the sky. The tower is roughly square with rounded buttresses at the corner; each tier supported by a rounded quarter-arch and decorated with a quatrefoil railing. At the top is a newer octagonal portion (1485-92). The tower is nearly as wide as the nave, which has no side aisles. Viewed from the west, the cathedral looks a bit like a great pink rocketship.

Along the roofline on all sides of the cathedral are white stone gargoyles, which were added during 19th-century restorations. The elaborate south porch was added by Bishop Dominique de Florence (1394-1410), incorporating an earlier round tower, while the ornate, Flamboyant Gothic baldaquin over the south door dates from the 16th century.

Based on its sober, fortress-like exterior, one would expect the interior of Ste-Cecile to to be austere, plain, and practical. But the cathedral is literally covered in religious art on the inside. The walls, vault and side chapels are richly painted, the choir is enclosed inside an ornate screen, and sculptures stand on many of the pillars. The structure itself, however, is simple – a unified space with no side aisles.

The most interesting of all this decoration is the huge (16.4m x 15.6m) mural of The Last Judgment that covers both sides of the rounded west wall of the nave. Painted between 1474 and 1484 by unknown Franco-Flemish artists, it is considered one of the most important works of art of the Late Middle Ages. The painters of the Last Judgment were contemporaries of Hieronymus Bosch and some of the horrifying scenes of Hell are reminiscent of his work.

The scene is divided both vertically and horizontally: the Blessed are on the left and the Damned are on the right; Heaven is shown along the top, with the Resurrection of the Dead below, and Hell at the bottom. Interestingly, it lacks a Christ in Majesty, an element common to virtually all other medieval depictions of the theme. The vision of the underworld stars a variety of monstrous demons and suffering humans, organized around the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins. Labeled in Old French, they depict (from left to right): Pride, Envy, Wrath, Greed, Gluttony and Lust. Sloth is missing – maybe the painter didn’t get around to it!


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The fortified town was built in 1222 by Raimon VII, the Count of Toulouse, who, though not a Cathar, tolerated what other Catholics considered a heresy.

Since the late 20th century, the village has become a popular tourist destination. Until 1993, the town’s name was Cordes, a word thought to come from the Indo-European root “corte” meaning “rocky heights.” That year, it was renamed Cordes-sur-Ciel, to indicate its height above the clouds over low-lying areas of the valley.

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Back at the ranch Daz makes a delicious spicy Zanzibar fish soup, yum. Bad news – Daz has another speeding fine!

Tuesday 5th January

A quiet day today. B&K go for run. Then we have a spending spree in Decathlon, a French sports retailer. Me ‘n’ Daz for new socks and Brett for anything that takes his fancy! We also visit the Royal gardens and do a couple of geocaches.

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In the evening we had hoped to have dinner at the Winter Gardens, a restaurant recommended by Bernadette. Unfortunately it was closed so we end up at Le Bistro instead and taste some classic French dishes.


Wednesday 6th January – leaving Toulouse – Pamiers

Distance 24.97 (should have been 70km!)

Avg 16.5 kmph

Max 45.2 kmph

Total 1137.1 km


I can say in hindsight ‘what a crap day’. We got up in, what has become, typical cycling day routine. Get up, pack bags, load bike, eat breakfast and go. Unfortunately just being outside to load the bike was enough for us to realise the weather might be against us. Initially it was just the wind and cold but by the time we’d eaten breakfast, there was heavy rainfall to add to the mix. So we thought a delayed start was in order. So we played cards for an hour and left at 10am, thinking that the skies were brighter and that the rain had stopped. Kate and Brett had planned to escort us out of Toulouse on city bikes but wisely Kate demurred – best decision of the day methinks!

So off we went with Brett as our escort and the rain soon started again. By the time we stopped at the last bike bank we were all pretty wet.

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Brett took out a new bike giving him a further 30 minutes free biking. And off we went again but the weather was foul; wet and windy. Brett bade us farewell – Bless him he’d been cycling 45 minutes and still had the return journey. I can’t believe he cycled as far as he did in such dreadful conditions and there was nothing of any interest en route to recommend it. We continued on our way but the true awfulness of our position only became apparent at Pins-Justaret! Our route was taking us onto a dual carriageway where the cycling would be grim and probably terrifying and possibly prohibited. We were soaked, cold and still had 60km to go. However the town had a train station. So after some discussion,which left us even colder, we headed for the station.

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Excellent there was a train to Pamiers, our destination, only an hour and a quarter to wait. So we headed for the village and found a restaurant. On route, we failed in our start up process at a junction, and fell over with bike on top, still clipped in! First time on this trip, lets hope we don’t get many more! We’re pretty sure the restaurant was closed but took pity on 2 miserable looking,wet cyclists. At the appropriate time we headed back to the station. To date, we’d had 2 successful train trips. The train arrived and we pushed the fully laden tandem to the closest bike compartment, but there were loads of people sitting in the entrance area. So we ran to the other cycle compartment at the front of the train (it was a short train). We got to the compartment and the doors wouldn’t open. At this point I was preparing to give up. I’d seen that each entrance way had people in the way, and that to fit the bike into this small area would be problematic. Daz had other ideas. He wanted us to go to the last set of open doors and he steered the bike straight in, at full speed. I was stuck at the back; worried about the bags and the gap between the platform and train and about the doors closing mid entry. I think my cleat skidded and next thing my foot had had slipped down between the train and the platform. My shin had smacked against the step , the bike fell on top of me and the seat bag flew off. Luckily several people rushed to assist. The bike was picked up and pushed in, the seat bag rescued from its position between the train and the platform, and I limped aboard. I had smacked both my shin and hip during the fall, and gouged a chunk from my shin. So a very painful incident.

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Our tandem was now blocking the passageway and since the only working toilet was in the last compartment, people wishing to use it had to step over our bike boom; this included the ticket inspector who we were convinced would throw us off his train. But fortunately he didn’t and we arrived in Pamiers. We had considered making another push to Mirepoix, a beautiful town and only 20km away but we were too cold and wet and miserable to go for it. We headed for our stop, the Premiere Classe, which was in no way premiere. The reviews were dreadful, but the receptionist gave us the ‘handicapped room’, the biggest room available, and told us to take the bike into the room. As the reviews stated, it’s like a dingy, motel room you see on American movies, but at least we get to share our room with our tandem. A first, how bizarre

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Thursday 7 January 2016 Pamiers to Rivel

Distance 49.37km

Avg 16.2kmph

Max 58 kmph

Total 1186.47km


A very civilised start time this morning of 10.22. Neither of us seemed keen to get up and actually after yesterday I was positively dreading the experience. But fortunately a change in the weather led to a pleasant ride to Mirepoix. A beautiful town.

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At the heart of Mirepoix is one of the finest surviving arcaded market squares – Les Couverts- in France. The square is bordered by houses dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. It is home to the famous Maison des Consuls which is decorated with around 100 carved wooden heads of animals and monsters. There is also the cathedral of St-Maurice which has the second widest Gothic arch in Europe (after Gerona in Spain). The foundation stone was laid by Jean de Lévis on the 6th May 1298. Construction continued, with interruptions, over the next six centuries. The cathedral was restored in 1858 and 1859 by Prosper Mérimée, and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.


After a relaxed sightseeing visit in Mirepoix with lunch we headed on to our destination in Rivel. We had considered using the cycle path but the tourist office suggested it was only suited to mountain bikes. So a road ride it was. Unfortunately a bizarre discussion about our pedal phasing developed because twice in recent biking excursions our chain has come off. The chain on our tandem is longer than a typical bike because it needs to connect 2 separate crank sets; one for my pedals and one for Daz. And Daz and I have a preferred position for our pedals which evolved in the months after we first acquired the bike in Jan 2014. When the chain comes off it takes careful positioning of our pedals to ensure our preferred position is maintained and on these recent occasions we were in a rush and just put it on any old how. This led, on both occasions, to a really bizarre biking experience; really bouncy and uneven. So we were discussing what phasing position had we alighted on accidentally to produce such a weird phenomenon. I believe this was 90 degrees out of phase (OOP). Our preferred position currently is slightly OOP with me leading; this means I have increased effort over Daz. When we first had the bike it was slightly OOP but with Daz leading, which reduces the required effort of the stoker (me) but since Daz also controls the gears, it always felt too easy for me.

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The whole subject of pedal position is further confused because on a traditional, upright tandem both sets of pedals are in precisely the same plane. Upright tandems are set up in phase (IP) because there’s no danger of a pedal grounding on a sharp corner and because it looks good. IP means the power stroke for each cyclist is at the same time, whilst 90 degrees OOP results in continuous power strokes; first the captain’s left leg, then stoker’s left leg, then Capt’s right and finally stoker’s right. 90 degrees OOP leads to optimum performance.

So the discussion seemed to suggest we’d only tested 2 phases. Slightly OOP led by Daz then slightly OOP led by me. Ridiculously neither of us can remember trying IP or 90 degrees OOP. So with 8km to go we put ourselves in phase – well we thought we had but we were still out so with 4km to go another adjustment and we think we’re in phase. Now we need a reasonable trial to establish what we think before we try OOP by 90 degrees!


We arrive in Rivel in the middle of this experiment. Maggie greets us and Martin arrives not long after; he’s working on a house in the village. They have a beautiful home showing the skilled work and artistic eye of Martin, a master carpenter who also has extensive experience in theatre stage creation. Meanwhile Maggie collects kimono and other Japanese artifacts and intends to write a book on kimono. We have our own private part of the house with our own bathroom. We unload, unpack and clean up and enjoy a lovely evening meal – a roast chicken dinner followed by bread and butter pudding made with brioche. Yummy!


Later as bed-time study we look more into crank phasing – yep we know how to have a good time!

Here is the Wiki article on tandem crankphase..

“Riders may choose to synchronise their pedalling through in-phase (IP) or out-of-phase (OOP) pedalling. In in-phase pedalling, each rider’s cranks are the same or opposite clock positions at any point in time. In out-of-phase pedalling, both riders have their cranks in differing non-opposite positions. This has the potential for a wide range of variation. Some tandem riders arrange their cranks so that they are 90° out of phase to produce what is called the “4 banger arrangement”. In practice, OOP setups range from a mere two-tooth phase difference between cranks to a full 90° phase difference. Generally, OOP provides the greatest benefits to the tandem team that has disparate leg-strength.[citation needed] When the tandem is pedalled IP it is possible, and often happens, that the stronger rider literally drops the pedals out from beneath the feet of the weaker rider and cause the latter to be unable to contribute meaningfully. Using OOP makes a significant difference in gearing choice as each rider has the full mass of the tandem in their power stroke, so lower gears are preferred. However, using OOP can help develop leg strength for the very same reason. Some argue that this produces a smoother power stroke, or that it reduces stress on the drive train because the point of maximum power is reduced to roughly half and distributed over the chainrings.”


We also read further articles detailed the advantages of IP; ability to pump (cycling out of saddle) (impossible on our recumbent); greater control at slow speed (we couldn’t see any logic in this); ensures pedals can be kept at a point to avoid grounding on road or kerb (not remotely possible on our recumbent) and looking good (who cares). So having put the bike into IP as an experiment it really isn’t a desirable position; we struggle enough on hills without needing an additional dead spot. So the investigation is whether 90 degrees OOP (the 4 banger arrangement) improves on our usual OOP by 30 degrees.


Friday 8th January

Day one of our Rivel workaway. Martin wants our help to retile the house roof. Originally he had insufficient romanesque roof tiles so laid them sparingly on the flexoutuile; a corrugated plate monolayer, composed of cellulose fibers impregnated with bitumen for laying under decorative tiles. However, now he’s bought the barn at the end of his garden which contained loads of roof tiles. First of all we need to get the roof tiles to the roof which means loading the wheelbarrow at the barn with 20 heavy roman tiles, pushing it to the house and unloading… numerous times!

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Outside the house is a ladder to the 1st floor balcony. Daz is on the ladder, I pass him the tiles and he passes them to Martin to restack on the balcony.

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Then there is another ladder from the balcony through a hatch in the roof and we all climb the ladders to repeat the process to stack the tiles on the roof. We had to do this at least 4 times, as the balcony could only hold about 70 tiles and we moved at least 280!!!

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Then we strip and stack the tiles which were originally laid and then relay the whole roof. This takes all day although we do have a coffee and lunch break.

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It’s very hard work and all 3 of us are pretty shattered at the end of the job. Then Daz and I borrow M&M’s bikes and cycle to St Colombe.

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In the evening, after delicious teriyaki trout followed by pancakes, we go up to Martin’s man cave where he’s built a replica of Seattle’s railway network from the 1950’s – incredible. There are buildings, bridges, mountains and the station itself which he has modelled out of plastic, cardboard and polystyrene. Really nice to see the trains all moving about, passenger, freight and shunting yard engines!

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Additional knowledge for our future property search: Bon Coin is a publication that will show all properties for sale but it’s not just for property but for everything. A sunken swimming pool equals extra high property tax, so Martin left half his above ground on the slope and doesn’t pay extra. Registering a car in France costs 350€ which is a deterrent to changing cars which means the second hand car market is depressed and expensive. But there’s no car tax.


Saturday 9th January

Today we start work on the house in the village that M&M purchased. Well they purchased a tract of land to increase their garden and a barn that was on the land… the house in the village came free with it!! The house is massive, 3 stories with about 7 rooms, high ceilings, but it definitely needs some work. Martin wants me to put another coat of paint on the shutters, whilst the boys go off to move some heavy flagstones and cut firewood but they’re back in no time; it’s raining.

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Instead they work upstairs in the top storey where there’s a loft room which has a ceiling of huge beams. But these beams are simply resting on a couple of larger cross beams. Martin wants to remove all this for his own use leaving the loft room with exposed roof trusses.

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They start moving and cutting beams but end up covered in filth that’s probably 50 years old. After our coffee break the rain has stopped so they crack on with the fire wood; Martin is our first host since Finland who doesn’t have a wood splitter, so they do it by axe.

Painting done and work moves into the garden. There’s a sunken area where their pool used to sit. Around the sunken area is decking and a gravelled, landscaped area. Martin wants this area lowered so it’s more aligned to the house level. So first I clear the leaves and weeds from the gravel whilst Daz dismantles the decking. Then we push away all the gravel and pull up all the plastic layers. Finally we pile up all the sand on which the pool was sitting.

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Finally it’s all done and after a speedy clean up we all head to town for a spot of shopping.


Sunday 10th January

Today it’s a day off and so we borrow the bikes and cycle to Puivert and then on into Nebias. After an initial long climb out of Rivel it’s great cycling with fabulous views.

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In Puivert there’s a castle. The Château de Puivert is a Cathar castle situated in the commune of Puivert, in the Aude département of the Languedoc. This building, on top a hill overlooking the village and its lake, reaches an altitude of 605 m. In the twelfth century a castle stood on this site, which had strong Cathar and troubadour links. A meeting of troubadours took place here in 1170, and in 1185 festivities attended by the Viscount of Carcassonne and Loba, Lady of Lastours (Cabaret).
The castle has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1902. The castle of Puivert is still in relatively good condition. It is privately owned, but open to the public and undergoing restoration. In addition to the castle, there’s a lake, which is apparently mobbed in the summer months and looks fabulous with the surrounding hills reflected on its surface.

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After we’ve cycled around Puivert looking for a cafe, we notice a bar and there’s a guy there and we call ‘Bonjour’ but he answers in English. He’s the landlord (Paul Bayliss, we later learn) and he’ll be open at 3pm and showing Bath V Toulon a bit later. So we pootle off to Nebias. Not much going on there and we forget to find the Labyrinth. (Hidden near the small village of Nebias, at the foothills of the Pyrenees, find the Labyrinthe Vert (Green Labyrinth), a mysterious maze of limestone, roots, and moss, and the source of many local legends. If you ever wanted to visit a place that looks like the Fangorn Forest made famous in Lords of the Rings, the Labyrinth will enchant you).

We head back to Puivert and see a chap standing by a Land Rover with British plates. We say ‘Hi’ and then end up chatting to him for 30minutes or so. He’s from Scotland and he’s renting here whilst he looks for somewhere to buy. He’s got loads of tips of places to visit locally. By the time we finish chatting it’s 3pm and bartime. The bar is fabulous – it’s actually a brewery and Paul brews all his own beers. The building is an old petrol station and inside there’s a bar and all the vats required to brew the beer.

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We sit and chat with Paul and Daz tries a couple of pints of his special brew and is very impressed especially when he also gets pork scratchings. Finally I have to tear him away; it’s getting late and the temperature will drop radically and we don’t have any bike lights. So we head home but what a fabulous day we’ve had.


Monday 11th January

Today it’s back to painting and I give all the shutters another coat whilst Daz and Martin take off more shutters and rub them down.

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Then Daz takes down a plaster and brick wall downstairs and I clear the barn where we’re going to put the rubble from Daz’s wall to bring the floor level up.

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Once I’ve cleared we push the trailer from the house to the barn and empty it. Then we go back to the house for the last of the rubble and repeat. Once that’s done we start work on the pool area. Martin wants the level lowered by around 6”. A pain because there isn’t a decent spade or shovel here: only ones with broken handles. But we make a start on the job.


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