Today I went grocery shopping, an activity fascinating enough on its own, but it was the travel involved that makes this story especially memorable. My gracious hosts Christine and Hagen were heading out on errands and offered me a ride to a giant Carrefour not far away. I immediately had the idea of taking my bike and riding back, but considering my difficulty on the highway a month ago – the hills, the wind, my physical shape – I wanted to know exactly what I’d be getting into. So I commenced researching every aspect of the prospective voyage.

  • Weather: sunny, cool, light winds from the northwest. Check.
  • Distance: about 12 miles. Hmm, depends.
  • Terrain: generally flat but there would be no room for error. On a Google map you can click a spot and learn not just its longitude and latitude but the altitude as well, so I clicked every hundred feet for 12 miles, looking for anything beyond the most gradual inclines. Looked safe. Check.
  • Physical condition: lots of hiking and running lately. Check.
  • Route: just a couple of turns. Straight shot. Check.

All systems were go, so off to the store we went, bike in the back of the Kangoo. The Carrefour chain offers stores in a wide range of sizes, from small city-center shops to what we Americans would consider supermarkets to the hypermarché. Today’s Carrefour was of the hyper variety.

Start with TVs, appliances, kitchenware and apparel, then add rows and rows of the prettiest food you can imagine. 200 cheeses. Wine for days. A jaw-droppingly gorgeous seafood department, with 50-ish kinds of whole fish, eight or ten varieties of oysters, shrimps from fingernail-size to as big as a 10-year-old’s forearm. The produce was all perfect. Large sections of Spanish products, Japanese products, Indian products, Halal products, British products, Mexican products. (I actually put an Old El Paso Soft Taco Kit in my basket, just to be able to say I had, but returned it later when I saw how expensive ground beef is here. Veal is half what we pay at home but hamburger is double. Go figure.) The meat! Pretty, nicely trimmed. A dozen cuts of horse. Every organ imaginable. They had everything.

A stout mustachioed woman offered samples of her Spanish sausage. As she cheerily nudged nuggets into customers’ hands she called out, “Saucisse CataLANE! Saucisse CataLAAAANE!” I wondered if she used her rich alto to drown out the squeals of slaughter time. I chose a peppered link.

It was like shopping in the Louvre. I made my rounds, admiring far more than buying because everything had to fit in my backpack. And then I headed home.

As we all know or have read, smartphone maps are not perfect. Still, armed with both an Apple map and Google Maps, I felt confident.

One quirk of these maps is that, when they provide directions from one point to another, they ask whether you’re driving, walking or using public transportation. Bicycling doesn’t yet rate.

I’ll let the diagram do most of the talking here.

The driving directions sent me to a road where bikes aren’t allowed. The Apple walking directions sent me into the parking lot of a Go-Kart (le Karting) center. The Google walking directions, my last hope, took me through vineyards, over two miles of rough, muddy gravel roads. I saw many lapins. There was also an excellent view of Canigou (elev. 9137’).

Finally reaching the D900, it was a fairly easy trip back to Fitou. I was even able to capture a picture of some of the flamingos that live in the étang. I had seen them from trains or while driving but here was my chance to channel Marlin Perkins.

As I pressed on I sensed early-onset saddle sores so I stopped at a restaurant/place of assignation (rooms by the day or hour) for a pizza.

Once back in Fitou I was able to admire my haul. In addition to beef, pork, pasta and cheese, there was this assortment of wonderful prepared meals and high-fiber cookies.

I can hear the scorn already. (And people think I’m a food snob!) The dishes on the bottom of the picture, by the way, do not require refrigeration. I love that.