Which brings up an interesting question, given I travel so much, and try to train most places I go to, isn't language a problem ? Well no. I don't speak any languages and often even have problems making myself understood in "English" speaking countries, to the point that I no longer use my own name in the US when making restaurant reservations, I use Nixon instead.
Anyway, swimming and cycling are a different kettle of fish when abroad. As I've observed before, wearing "speedo" style trunks on public beaches and public pools in the USA makes you feel like some form of sexual deviant. In the French public pools I've been to, the opposite is true, everyone wears them and "shorts" are frowned on or in some cases, banned. I've also written before, about lane discipline, or the lack of it.
Anyway, I arrive late for my early morning swim session at the Piscine Olympique d'Antigone an Olympic size 50m pool right in the middle of town. Funny thing, it doesn't open until 9.00am. So, I wait around and sure enough at 9.01 they start taking money from the people milling around. I pay, the woman at the desk is more than helpful pointing out I need a .50 euro coin for the lockers, a quick change and shower and I'm in an empty 50m lane having carefully noted that 4-lanes are reserved. 2-lanes are reserved for a club, and two for people swimming with aides(since I doubt these lanes are for politicians and executives with PA's, I assume this means floats, bouys and flippers etc.) anyway I jump in convinced I'm going to have the "muvva" of all swim sessions.
After about 6-lengths "my" lane has become rather full. There are at least 5-others in the lane, some swimming breaststroke, some, well, barely swimming, more sculling on their backs, I wondered why? Simple really, I had the least busy lane. No lane discipline or segregation at all. Oh well, even with 6 people in a lane there is still plenty of space to overtake, the session is more like "le petit bain femelle" than a rigorous workout.
On Wednesday afternoon I set off on my bike for a resort town just outside Montpellier called La Grande Motte.There seemed to be a fairly direct, main road, out of down town to get there. So, armed with a hotel style map, 30-euros, an apple and a drink I set off. Cycling on the wrong side of the road does take some adjustment, especially at junctions, lights and traffic circles. When I got out of town to the major road there was just one uncertainty, was this a motorway ?
It turns out to be non-motorway, good road surface and I was soon trucking at 25-27mph. What surprised me, even though I was tucked in on the far right, hugging the solid line at the side of the road, drivers were still giving me a full lane when overtaking. Having made my way to Point zero and out onto the Harbour wall for an apple it was time to set off back to Montpellier. Rather than take the same route I followed the "rural" route back via Carnon and Palavas. Heading back in to Montpellier I had the same experience as the outbound ride, drivers giving me plenty of room, when I went through an area being resurfaced I had to move into the middle of the lane to avoid lose stones, and no angry drivers beeping and trying to squeeze by.
So I decided. It wasn't the language but the culture that made the difference. In the pool I could pretty much work out from the signs in French what was going on even though I didn't understand the words and perhaps the meaning. Out on the roads on my bike, motorist understood as well. In a town with an active "velo" club, where you can go on organised cycling tourist activities, there is just a culture of encouraging, allowing and tolerating cyclists.
For anyone considering a cycling holiday or spring training in the South of France I've included links below, many in English! - Oh by the way, its a beautiful, natural part of the world.
[Official Montpellier site]
[La Grande Motte(French)]
[La Grande Motte (English)]