Friday, 5 October 2007
We cycled into Vitré and had a look around. What an awesome place; tiny medieval streets, a huge chateau and myriad other little features and adornments that make the place fascinating. Set off pedalling on a route that would have been fairly challenging if the wind was not blowing in the right direction.
We've seen the soil rocks change from limestone, to chalk, to slate, and now it is a mixture of granite and sandstone (which affects the look of the houses and walls, giving everything a slightly greyer, more angular look). Brittany houses tend to be solid, square and pragmatic with less florid gardens. There is still an incredible attractiveness about the place though, and some of the churches are incredible.
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Went down to a lovely breakfast served by our gracious hosts. We were joined about half way through by this fascinating couple from Berlin. They now have a small lifestyle block about 60km outside of Pottsdam, but previously he was from East Germany and she from the West. They told us about their lives at the time around the wall was built, as well as talking about their professions (he was a physicist in the area of R&D around the effects of welding on various materials and joints). It was all fascinating and we prolonged breakfast until nearly 10am chatting with them.
Today's cycling was in warm sunshing with, at long last, a following wind. Undulating roads wound around and through ancient farmland peppered with manor houses, chateaux, and impressive looking farm estates. Also passed through an area famous for its horses, especially thoroughbreds, and have been treated to a fine display of equines. Le Lion de Angers had a huge race course - nearly cycled into several passing cars as I gaped at the set up there while pedalling past.
A slight miscalculation meant that we did 90km today but it was not too bad due to the friendly breeze and the glorious day. Spoke to Linda last night - am really looking forward to seeing friends and family again.
|St Malo Marina|
1 Polish haircut (very short)
147 mosquito bites
4 snake sightings
8 major rivers
3 Romanian hunnies rollerblading in bikinis (i nearly fell off my bike)
1 foot massage
36 rainy days
75 days in total
50 days in the saddle
1 great journey ....
Woke at 8.30 which meant a bit of a slow but very relaxed start. We'd done most of the packing the day before, and, to our pleasant surprise, the sky was blue - although there was a brisk breeze in our faces as we set off! Said goodbye to the splendid proprietor of the hotel and set off along the river, both of us celebrating how good our legs felt after a rest.
As we cycled along we got to thinking about some of the people we've met along the way, some that are truly inspirational. For example, Bruce, the 81 year old Canadian who regularly cycle tours around Italy, France, Spain and Germany with some friends. He was in Saumur on holiday with his daughter and son-in-law, and they had just spent the day cycling 40 odd kms around the vineyards. He looked as fresh as a daisy!! Today we also met an English couple, he a keen cycling enthusiast (60 to 65+), with hiswife who, after 40 years had just decided that cycling wasn't so bad after all! He was chuffed to bits, and they both looked incredibly happy and fit.
The cycling today took us out of the more touristy regions of the Loire and toward places where huge sand banks stretch along the river, often lined with great flocks of migrating birds. The villages are tucked in at the base of sheer chalky walls for some of this route, often with caves burrowed into the rock.
After lunch we said our goodbyes to the Loire and headed north; still into a rolicking head wind. Passed through some delightful rolling farmland full of stone mansions, working farms and late flowers. Skirted Angers as big cities are a nightmare to navigate and despite the wind, thoroughly enjoyed the undulating road and surroundings.
|La CROIX d' ÉTAIN|
The day was made extra peachy by our first adventure into staying at gites (avoided until now because of our awful French). John bravely rang the bell and our gracious host and hostess were patient, kind, and very helpful. The house is an old mansion, and has gorgeous gardens...one of the best places we stayed: La CROIX d' ÉTAIN (http://www.anjou-et-loire.com/croix ; Jacqueline & Auguste BAHUAUD; 2 Rue de l'écluse - F - 49220 GREZ NEUVILLE Tel. : +33 (o) 241 956 849 - fax : +33 (o) 241 180 272; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Friday, 28 September 2007
We've thoroughly enjoyed some R&R in preparation for our final leg up to Saint Malo where we are catching the ferry to Portsmouth on 3rd of October.
Following the cycle route we then headed away from the Cher (yes, John did all the jokes and the singing) and the Indre, back to the Loire. Next was a 14 percent climb (which we managed to cycle up) followed by an 18 percent climb - which we pushed our bikes up. Yes, both of these are indeed on the official cycle route. Gorgeous view from the top; crap decent into Saumur.
We managed to get out by 10am including getting fuel for the stove. First we climbed the hill out of the town then turned the corner into the howling head wind. It was going to be a somewhat challenging day! We actually changed direction 3 times, and each time the wind remained in our faces. Initially we had 20km across a plateau with little to shelter us. We then headed off on our detour to detour Tours, and were peeved when we ended up doing a detour of the detour as a brand new (ie no cars yet) road had been built across some of the little roads we were planning to use.
Lunch was not picturesque - eaten by a large grain storage barn so that we were able to shelter from the wind and the rain, it wasn't our best to date :-)
There were high points to the day though such as cycling over the brow of a hill to see an incredible cloud scape towering above us, or pqssing through what was obviously very old oak forest.
Great campsite at Savonnières though with an uninterrupted view of the river. Had a glass while watching the sun set.
Lunch was taken on a rather elegant bench overlooking the Chateau Chambord with its collection of ornate, lofty chimneys perched on grey-tiled towers. All is supported on a huge white stone edifice (shown in one of the pictures on this Blog). Amazing, especially as it was such a folly. The surrounding parkland is partially a wildlife reserve and is open to the public; Great for walking and cycling. After our picnic we headed off toward Chiteau and 'made it up', bowling along forest roads surrounded by the sound of falling acorns.
We pedalled into Chaumont, and because John had an infected gnat bite we decided to call it a day. We popped the tent up in the pretty camp site beside the river qnd then mooched up the hill to see the local chateau and the splendid view from the top.
Thursday, 27 September 2007
There was intially pleasant cycling along the levee alongside the river. The trees have gone pqst autumnal russets to dark browns and many are totally leafless. The smell of late autumn is everywhere, and now, instead of harvesters, there are tractors ploughing.
We followed the somewhat confusing and annoying Loire Valley Cycle Route for the first part of the day. It's a route full of surprises - sometimes you can be bowling along and suddenly the route ends - no warning. Or there's a bridge missing (and there may or may not be diversion signs!), or the surface disintegrates so much that it is actually easier to cycle on the grass. On the whole though, the concept and the opportunities it will offer are excellent.
As the rain came down and we skirted the numerous potholes on the path John sang a medley of rain themed songs. Even when I begged and pointed out that it was in fact raining all the harder, he continued to warble...by the end of it I was howling with laughter!
We cycled into Orleans (made easy by following the cycle route) and were lucky to stumble across the Festival of the Loire. It was perfectly timed for lunch so we stopped and sampled the many gorgeous cheeses, and filled up on hot food. We met with further encouaqgement for our endeavours, and left with wishes thqt all our hills be down from hereon in.
We cycled on through Meung-sur-Loire (scenic and with an engaging town centre complete will little, steep, cobbled streets). I was feeling a bit under the weather so we just cycled on to Beaugency where we booked into the expensive, but very helpful, L'Ecu de Bretagne. Had an awesome meal at a little restaurant in town and discovered the joys of the set menu. Strolled back through the medieval streets and enjoyed the lights reflectected in the rain laced cobbles.
We finally set off at 10am and puffed up the hill back into town. Looked into the 12th century Romanesque church (Saint Etienne) later embellished with Gothic extras, before pedalling off into the hills.
The route we hqd chosen basically followed the route of the Loire meandering through towns and villages. We were often taken aback as we crested hills to see a fantastical chateau looming on the horizon. Sully-sur-le-Loire was particulqrly memorable.
We finally got going, and began to thaw out on the bikes as we headed out of Nevers. We passed by ore picturesque villqges, often with a grand old chateau thrown if for good measure. Lunch was idyllic. Stopped on a grqssy gnoll in the sunshine beside an apple tree. We lay in the sun for our repast, entertaining a couple of guys who drove past. Motorists were again friendly and encouraging giving friendly waves or tootles as they drove past.
We had a quick cycle around the pretty little town of decize which seems to have incorporated the ancient city wall into a lot of the buildings and houses. Had a quick coffee and thawed out our toes and fingers before setting off into brilliant sunshine. It was an easy 40km to Nevers with winding roads through lovely country villages, and the head wind, although making itself present, was not too bad.
We stopped to look at a 12th century chapel in the middle of a cow paddock! Wonderfully simple and peacful inside, but with a turbulent history.
Spent the evening in the tent listening to owls serenade each other. Nevers was disappointing; overrun with traffic and with no atmosphere. The campsite is splendid though with an uninterrupted view of the river and the cathedral.
Met a great Dutch couple who were cycle touring from across the Pyrenees bqck to Holland on a tandem.
The sun made a couple of guest appearances, and lunch was by the Loire. We bumped our way down a steep little track to the river bank where there was a wooden platform jutting out into the water. A perfect spot to relax. After pushing our bikes back up the hill (doh) the rest of the ride from thence on was just hard work with one of us cycling in front for about 10kms each, with the other drafting, swap positions...repeat. Decize finally hove into view, and the riverside campsite was a gem. Celebrated cycling over 3,000kms.
We hoped on the Green Route along the Canale Centrale. Saw a huge luxury barge complete with swimming pool and staff negotiate a lock...hmmmm. The day was very still qnd the route that we took allowed us to enjoy the mesmerising reflection of the autumn trees and passing countryside. Saw a lot of wildlife too including lizards, herons, a shrew, birds of prey, and multiple insects. Also saw a couple of chateaux. One in particular had slate grey ogee topped cylindrical towers and was situqted in manicured gardens. Of interest too were the mining and canal communities that we passed through.
Almost killed myself on a slippery corner - lost the back wheel, nearly lost the front, righted everything, and continued with shaky legs and a pounding heart; John was in front and did not witness this near catastrophe :-)
John suffered his second puncture in as many days so we decied to change the inner and the tyre. Efficiently he changed the necessary while I mended the puncture, qnd kept us fed with fresh hazelnuts from the tree under which we were working;
The final part of the day turned into a sprint to try to outrun the rain. We failed miserably. The thunder clouds caught us and made locating the campsite in Paray le Monial a bit of a mission. Lovely campsite though; peaceful and well-equipped.
It has been blissful. John cycled off into the village for croissants for breakfast (just needed the beret...) and returned with a big smile and lots of pastries. Sitting in the sun having made coffee on our rather splendid stovetop coffee pot watching the long morning shadows on the hills was just blissful. After breakfast we dawdled our way up to the local windmill. There just happened to be one of the gys who looks after the windmill (built in the early 1800s) up there, and he very kindly gave us a guided tour and run down (in French) of how the grain is milled. Amazing how much you can understand from context, a patient speaker of the language, and a smattering of appropriate voacabulary.
Once back at the campsite John set up a shade. A Dutch couple watched this until the bike that was holding the tarp up fell on my head, and then came over with some tent poles that they leant us for the afternoon. I spent the afternoon sketching the hills, while John does what he really enjoys - snoozing, reading, and eating.
Today we encountered a lot of encouragement from other cyclists qnd from motorists ranging from friendly waves to fanfares of car horns;
We are now in a fantastic campsite. Santenay is a pleasant village from which the smell of apples and wine emanates and stone buildings are surrounded by flowers and old wine presses. The view from the tent is fabulous with hills covered in vines. I am now off to sample the produce of said hills :-)
We woke to light fog that mean that everything was dripping wet, especially the tent. The failure of us to locate a supermarket yesterday also meant that breakfast was a little meagre, although Tobiqs kindly shared his bread with us. He decided to accompqny us as far as Dole, and then continue on from there.
The cycle was mainly along the canal on a sunny day that was almost perfect except for the head wind. Headed into town stopping at a place zith a fascinqting blocky church with one of the multi-coloured tiled rooves that are fmous in this region. Dole was a wonderful surpise. Chalky grey stone buildings built on a steep hill, narrow alleyways, and all topped with a cathedral. The campsite was a lovely place on its own island and we could see the whole town right out of the tent doorway.
People have been friendly and helpful in France in the last three days - they are lovely! Had a delightful meal in town by way of a change, and, clutching our phrase book, managed to do all the choosing etc in French!
Doing what we do best, eating cake.
On the Loire. The river is dotted with mediaeval (never could spell that word) towns with great bridges. Most of them had lovely little campsites by the river looking up at the castle/chateau/cathedral.
Rain in Orleans. Looking happy despite the weather.
Chateau Chambord. An absolute folly built by Luis or Phillipe the something-or-other as a hunting lodge. It has hundereds of rooms ands was supposedly designed with the help of Leo DaVinci. The guy who built it stayed there for less than 50 days in total.
From here we head north and into britany for the last few days of the trip. The next posting will probably be made from the ferry as we return to the UK. Booo.
The hills were sometimes steep but never uncycleable with a load, and a lot were edged with great avenues of plane trees covered in vines just on the turn and coloured russet, red, burnt umber, and yellow. The villages we passed through were 'real' old farm houses with chooks charging around the yards, while others are colourfully painted. A couple of ladies sat with baskets of fresh walnts, relaxing in the sun. Many of the trees were rustling wildly as we cycled by as people attempted to dislodge various nuts and fruit. At the camp site in the evening the lovely lady there came up and gave us a couple of huge handfulls of fresh walnuts - delicious.
Tobias found us at our coffee stop and joined us for the day's cycling. We cycled into Besçancon (busy, trqffic-filled, but with interesting narrow streets ad great tarte au citron) qnd then cycled out onto a cycle route beside the river Doubs. The campsite, apart fro, its close proximity to a gravel pit, was restful and, after a chilly dip in the lake, we cooked up on the picnic benches while watching the sun set.
The sun was out in full glory as we threaded our way out of the city and over the border. The architecture gradually changed as we set off on some of the best cycling we have done to date. Mainly quiet, or almost deserted, , rural roads wound their way through countryside with many copses, fields of assorted crops, and paddocks with doe-eyed white cows. The hills were rolling, and the wind followed us, making what would have been a very tough day a little less demanding. The climb from Basel was, overall, gradual and we were helped by the many things to look at, as well as the fact that the temperature got up to aournd 25°!
Flowers seem to qbound in the tiny villages we cycled through, spilling out of window boxes, over fences, lining bridges, and hung in great clumps from baskets. Lots of small brooks gugled through the centre of villages and this delectable kitchiness was complemented by the sight of a couple of immense eagles very close by.
The campsite was huge, well8equipped, by the Doubs, and just about dark enough to look at the stars. Our 'neighbour' is a friendly German chemistry student called Tobias and who is cycling to meet his mates.
On Monday we sought out the maps that we need for France and marked our route on them. We also hopped on a tram out to the local hypermarket to pick up some white gas, and some of the excellent handle-less Sigg thermal mugs that we have been searching for ever since we saw them in Pottsdam.
In the evening we went to Basel's vegetarian restaurant, before heading back to a heavenly little wine bar just behind our hotel. We chatted about the future; our dreams and aspirations, and how undertaking the sort of journey that we currently are is so good for removing you from day-to-day "white noise" and giving you the time and space to really think what you hope for in life. Wine bars of this ilk seem condusive to such discussions :-)
Tuesday we decided on a together/apart day where we both go off and do our own thing and then meet up to talk about what we have just done. John headed off to one of the local art galleries (and to do some other chores), while I found a bench beside the fast-flowinfg Rhine in the sunlight and hooked out my sketch pad to try and capture a sense of the jumble of diffent buildings of different heights, widths, colours, and styles.
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Fun was also to be had with the number of other cyclists who were out and about on a "Ride the Rhine" event. A fully laden touring bike is quite formidable, especiqlly at full pelt, but a couple of guys still nearly tried to run us off the track. The trick is to hold your line while the dogs whine and scatter, children cycle screaming to their parents, qnd old ladies throw themselves into the verges (I am joking, really I am).
We worked well together even though the 70km flat day turned out to be an 88km undulqting day. Basel, as indicated in all the guide books is an amazing place. Quite lqrge and set on two sides of the river, architecturally it looks like the sort of Medieval town a cartoonist might draw; it has real character. There was also a festival underway, so we soaked up some culture strolling alongside the river listening to African drumming, a particularly good funk band and soaking up the carnival atmosphere. We ended up at a superb little restaurant where we enjoyed some excellent galettes, and discussed some of the issues in the book that John is reading called The God Delusion. Got pretty heated at times....
I think we are going to stay a couple of days in Basel to rechqrge the batteries a bit, and also do justice to the great chocolate shops that are all over Basel.
We had discussed the idea of dropping on to the more demanding Route 3, but due to a bit of a late start, when it came to the point to make the turn off (or not) we decided to return to the Rhine on Route 18. As such we had a mixed day of cycling, including one 17percent ascent over & and a half kms; Lung bursting and leg quaking. The countryside at the top was superb though. More rolling hills qnd the suggestion of the magnificent Alps etched into the surrouding clouds. A scenic cake stop for sure, although if nature had seen fit to open up a little of the cloud cover, that would hqve been even better.
We skirted Zurich taking in the sights, sounds and smells of q very large quarry, Zurich airport, and a sewerage works. At times we knew not where we were or where we were heading, but we finally found our tun toward the Rhine, and headed off. Time for dinner now....
Monday, 17 September 2007
The houses are distinctly different and there is a definite sense of industriousness in the fields and orchards.
The route climbs quite seeply at first, but then levels off, although there was a pretty steep climb on gravel at one point. Love the place, people, route, and cycling though...
Thursday 6th September (Day 51): Lindau to Arbon (Germany, to Austria, to Switzerland in a day (57km)
While pedaling along today we discussed a few top tips/observations and will be posting them soon (rather tongue in cheek, but based on experience).
We made the transition into Austria (welcome back cycle route signs), and then again into Switzerland. Oh my - do these guys know how to sign a cycle route!! Place names, distances, reassurance markers, the whole lot, and on big signs you can even spot if you are myopic.
The camp site we rocked up to is fantastic. There is an area set apart just for tents, right beside Bodensee, and in spite of being beside a railway track, there is no major motorway, or a halogen lamp burning down on the tents. We had a superb evening sitting by the lake, scaring the ducks, being scared by the swans, and watching the sun go down.
Complicated route finding on the way to Bad Tolz at the foot of the Alps in Germany
When not drinking beer on rafts, Bavarians spend their spare time painting murals house fronts. Mostly religious, but this one has a more contemporary theme. Sadly, we did not find a Harry Potter house, but i am sure one exists.
The Alps. We only got close enough to look. Maybe next time, when our bags are lighter, we will go over them.
Why do we do this? The only reason i can think of is so that we can eat as many cakes as we like. This was taken in Switzerland. The trip from Germany through Switzerland poduced some of he worst weather so far, including hail and temperatures of 9 deg!
As far as i can see, the country is actually designed for cycling. Great little roads through glorious countryside with hardly any traffic. Any drivers that you do encounter are courtious to cyclists. Campsites are great and they are among the cheapest we have found on route so far. Also, the French are great fun. I recommend this country to anyone - based on 4 days experience...
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
Our route through France is, roughly, Basel > Dijon > Orleans > Angers > St Malo > Roscoff. Wiggling along rivers to cross East to West then heading North into Brittany.
France is relatively unknown to me so I am looking forward to this bit. Sadly, though, i dont think the cakes will be the same as the carbo loaded confectionary heart attacks we have been enjoying for the past few weeks.