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.
Thursday, 6 September 2007
This afternoon, John replaced the brake blocks on all four brakes on our bikes while I came and updated the Blog and checked emails. There was a brilliant email from SJS Cycles from whom we bought our bikes and most of our gear. They are being extremely proactive in helping us with pannier failures and problems. Really chuffed.
We also bought a book of bike routes across Switzerland and are planning to follow the highly recommended route 5. Tomorrow we are heading around Lake Bodensee (Constance) toward Switzerland...let´s hope the rain goes, and the temperature rises.
Tuesday 4th Septmber (not December-thanks Aniket!!) 2007 (Day 49): Rettenberg to Lindau (83km, average temperature 9° centigrade)
We were, however, dressed in our rather splendid waterproofs (North Face trousers, Sprayway jacket, Goretex gaiters (can´t remember the make) and Sealskin waterproof socks). As such, we were warm and feeling rather rufty tufty, although the extremeties were somewhat chilly. The wickedly steep hill (not shown) did provide an opportunity to warm our feet up, though, when we ended up pushing the bikes as the surface was fine, `skiddy' gravel.
Between downpours we had a couple of heavenly, sunny moments to enjoy the landscape and our surroundings. The mountains were looking their best, with tendrils of clouds shot through with sunshine twining around the slopes and peaks.
The final few kilometers into Lindau were a bit of a mystery tour as there was no sight of the lake or the town until we were alomst there. Lindau is another of those fascinating Medieval towns with houses built topsy turvy beside each other, tiny alleyways, and frescoes beautifully restored on many of the buildings.
There was no dissent between us when it was suggested that we book into a guest house. After trying a few places we found a superb´`Bett und Bike' place called Hotel Schreier (Fabergasse 2, D-88131 Lindau, Bodensee, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.hotel-schreier/) where we even have a mini sauna in the room, something we made immediate use of. The staff are friendly and helpful too. No cycling tomorrow!
We had a couple of fabulous hours climbing through steep sided valleys with tiny well-kept villages, all with the wooden chalets, red geraniums galore spilling over balconies, cow byres, and neatly stacked wood-piles, all with a mountain backdrop. Coffee and cake (a large, seed-filled pastry, with a light custard filling) was indulged in overlooking these self-same misty mountains..´sigh´...
At the beginning of the day we had said goodbye and thank you to our cycling expert friends from Denmark and had another chat about cycle touring with Brompton folding bikes. One of the guys had just bought himself a Thorn bike (like ours), and is hoping to drum up more interest in them in Denmark as an ultimate touring machine. We had nothing but praise for the bikes, apart from a couple of tiny quirky points, most of which were with the Rohlof hubs.
Our luck was in. The first town of the day had a cycle shop (Martin´s Cycles) which stocked spokes of the correct length for my rear wheel. So, no longer did we face a marathon push to try to get to a bigger town to get spares. There was also an excellent bakery around the corner where we were able to pick up lunch and other refuelling necessities! (By the way, we don´t survive entirely on pastries and bread, there is a healthy amount of salad, cheese and fruit consumed alongside, but the former is much more interesting.)
There was a splendid 12th century wooden church with an onion shaped dome in one of the little villages on the route. Rather weathered but very different to the white, square-towered churches prevalent in this region.
After our second cake stop, and another climb back up to ski-lift height, we decided to look for a guest house, especially as there were huge, bruised rain clouds heading our way. The rain started with a vengeance just as we got into Rettenberg. After booking into a rather non-descript pension, we showered snoozed, and headed out for käse späetzler (sp?) - potato noodles and cheese - a salad, and a couple of beers. The landlady informed us that the rain was going to continue the next day, that the temperature would remain below 10°, and that there would be snow...we thought she was joking!!
An excellent cycle through woodland, was followed by farmland with huge green pastures, which gave away to trees and then mountains covered with chasing cloud shadows. Lunch was in a picturesque stop where we watched paragliders throw themselves off the tops of the mountains, put to shame only by the eagle that was also soaring on the thermals.
We were both pleased to realise that the castle that we could see on a distant crag was Neueschwanstein, a startling folly of turrets, towers, and crenellations.
The campsite had amazing views of the lake surrounded by mountains. It made John´s job of replacing yet more of my spokes a heap more pleasant. It also just happened that a couple of guys who cycled in after us were bike journalists and mechanics, so they very helpfully checked John´s handy work, and gave us a top tip for cycling in Switzerland. They had just been to a huge bike expo (Euro Bike I think it was called), and one of the guys (Torben Finn Laursen) has his own Web site (http://www.cykelportalen.dk/) which is in Danish but has some excellent links on it. The other guy who helped us with the wheel - I´m afraid his name escapes me, but I would like to say thanks anyhow. The bike has been great so far...fingers crossed.
We found a pleasant spot for coffee and cake beside a water meadow covered in reeds and daisies. It wasn´t raining! We then wound our way along country tracks dotted with wooden hay barns. (I was particularly impressed with one equine set up that had a great, brand new cross-country course!)
Headed into countryside where you almost expected Heidi (attired in a suitable waterproofs of course) to come skipping down with a couple of goats. All the livestock around here wear bells, so cycling is accompanied with musical accompaniment.
The 5km climb up into Bad Kohlgrb was fine until the last 1km where it was incredibly steep. We decided that we needed a little bit of pampering and booked into a lovely guest house (balcony with a view of the hills) - Gästehaus Bauer, Schmiedgasse 3, 82433 Bad Kohlgrub, email@example.com - run by a friendly, very helpful guy.
The cycle route took us up through some heavily wooded areas (Grünwald) and we started the first real climbs and decents of our journey, and on a fairly demanding surface too. The surface meant that while twiddling up the steeper sections, pebbles and rocks piong out from under your wheel, and either bruise the person cycling beside you, or set the steering off to one side or another at the most inappropriate moments - also making decents slow. It did however, warm us up (the 16-18° menat that we wore fleeces to cycle in for most of the day, poor weeds that we now are after spending so long in Dubai).
The route skirted most of the towns, often taking us along delightful lanes where streams ran totally clear and clean. During our coffee and cake stop a reef of rafts loaded with beer kegs, Bavarians (some in traditional dress), bands, and brezels floated by on the river beside us. It was superb, if a little odd.
Bad Tolz was very pretty, but even better was the landscape which is beginning to look and feel quite alpine. The hills now climb steeply around vibrant green pastures full of cows wearing bells. Some of the tracks we were cycling on were more suitable for mountain biking, but, they were certainly peaceful and we saw very few other people.
We camped in a site outside of Bad Tolz, inexplicably located by a huge main road (again!). Another ear plug night. The folding stools that we picked up in Munich are awesome, and keep our backsides dry while cooking.