France - Southern France (September 21st - September 25th)
(St. Affrique - Lunas - Frontignan - Salin de Giraud - Near Marseilles
Distance biked so far: (2,643 km)
I stayed 2 nights in the small town of Albi to recover from a cold and it was a perfect place to do just that. Albi is about 100 km's northeast of Toulouse, France's 4th largest city (after Paris, Lyon and Marseilles). Albi is famous for yet another Cathedral, St. Cecile.
The Albi Cathedral looks out of place in this small town with red clay bricks and is the largest brick Cathedral in the world. It took 100 years to build and from the outside looks more like a fortress than a place of worship. The inside is quite spectacular with Italian paintings covering the nave of the entire building. The clay was dug from the River Tarn that winds through the picturesque town.
I have mentioned a few times the number of Cathedrals in France and I suppose it is somewhat ironic that I have never actually seen any of them used for their intended purpose. France is largely a secular society that has a dubious past in terms of its relationship with Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. Today, the buildings sit idle with most being used as tourist sites charging admissions and selling candles. In Ireland, one of the Cathedrals I visited had a mass but none here and based on the weekly programs listed on the front doors, there will be some choirs and concerts, but no church programs. Statistics as late as 2006 show that only about 4% of the French public attended weekly mass despite the majority identifying themselves as Roman Catholic. If you ignore the reasons for the absences, it is still disturbing to see the magnificent buildings with very little purpose.
I put in 6 hours on the bike on Tuesday September 21st but only managed 90km. If I was able to break down the time it would be 5 hours at 8 km/hour and 1 hour at 50 km/hour, or to put it another way, I was either going slowly up or quickly down. Here is a sign I almost kissed.