Epic European Cycle

2015-05-10 : La Véloscénie to Illiers-Combray
Yesterday we bought a book describing a route called La Véloscénie. We had seen that book in la Maison de Velo near the train station in Chartres but they only had one copy - not for sale. How disappointing. So, we went walkabout in Chartres and stopped in at a book store and they had one copy of the same book. Yay! I'm so glad we got the book. La Véloscénie is a very well-marked cycle route and the chosen route is awesome. Today we rode about 35km to get to Illiers-Combray and it was beautiful, scenic, and used a great selection of cycle paths and small side roads.
Illiers-Combray is a very small town and not much is open on Sundays. We found the hotel locked/closed, but the info office was open and the lady directed us to the camp ground (which was also in our book) and advised that she thought it would be open. It is, and it has wifi... thus today's DAM Details update.
The camp ground Le Bois Fleuri is really nice. It's small and there are no picnic tables or fire pits at the sites, but it's well-maintained and decent privacy for a small public campground. I'm especially impressed with the wash building, which has:
- Men's and ladies toilet stalls
- One central TP dispensary (sonofagun)
- Showers
- Men's and ladies sponge bath rooms
- Small tubs for... uh... washing your kids and/or dogs?
- Washers and dryers
- Regular and over-sized sinks
Gear changes for today:
- Left behind the duct tape. I'd brought it along for bike box repair enroute, but the boxes didn't need repair and it's no longer necessary to haul the tape.
- The no-rinse body wash and shampoo have got to go. I forgot I had them when I bought the large bottle of camp suds.
- We picked up a couple of small, folding disposable spoons when we had yogurt in Iceland. We kept them and have been using them almost daily. Good addition!
-I brought some old yoga pants which were supposed to be my "throw away after Iceland" pants, but I've hung onto them and I'm glad I did. I've been wearing them almost every day! Once things warm up I'll probably get rid of them, but for now, they're essential gear.
From Brent: Sometimes the French are almost too helpful. Paris is a rat's maze of streets. Even with a map it is easy to get lost. The easiest way to get around is the Metro (subway) but you don't see anything that way. Walking is better and there is something new to see every block or two; which is about how often we had to check our map to make sure we kept going where we intended. And just about every time we pulled out a map someone would come over and offer help. A couple of times we gathered a small crowd, each person offering their own opinion. In Paris, most people offered help in English (I guess we look like tourists), once out of town French becomes the rule.


2015-05-11 : La Véloscénie to Nogent-le-Rotrou
TMI Alert - don't continue reading if it's going to traumatize you!
For this tour, I bought a bra with pockets in it to stash important things. I keep my orthodontic appliance in one pocket, and some plastic in the other. I call it the "boob safe".
Thanks to the boob safe, I have cleavage for the first time in my life, and man, is my skin ever PISSED about it! I am sweating up a storm while riding, and sweating into my poor squashed-together boobs. The swath in between them just doesn't know what to do with itself. It is red, angry, and covered in acne. Ugliest cleavage in the world! Maybe I need to start putting foot powder on it or something...
We got a reply today from the Schengen area folks. They confirmed a number of things, and provided a few surprising details:
- There's not really any such thing as a visa for Schengen longer than 90 days. If you get a longer visa for a specific country, it's only good for that country.
- There are two types of Schengen 90-day visas. Single entry and multi-entry. As Canadians, we didn't need a visa to enter, and we are considered multi-entry.

The final result is that we should spend no more than 90 days in the Schengen area. We will be in the area until mid-June (45 days) when we head to the UK, returning in mid-July to meet Laura. We'll be in the area again until we reach Budapest approx. 30 days later. That will give us another 15 days to figure out what we're doing next, and that is:
- If we're not done with the bikes yet, we will simply continue on EuroVelo 6 through Romania and Bulgaria to the black sea.
- If we're done with the bikes, we will ditch them and then either fly back to the UK for the remainder of our trip, or fly to Turkey and spend some time there.

It's all good. YAY!
I've had a tough few days trying to get into the groove of riding. I should have been wearing a heavy pack and put the trainer on a higher setting when I was riding at home over the winter. I have felt very weak and wimpy so far.
Today was finally better. I'm starting to feel a little stronger and a lot happier. I am looking forward to riding again tomorrow instead of wishing for a day off. Thank goodness. :)
Poppies along the side of the road. Sonofagun.
Rural France has some amazingly nice public washrooms... and at least one amazingly nasty one. Overall so far, top grades.
Our route today took us through some great countryside. Farmland and forest punctuated by gingerbread villages that made me think of Margaret Anne Elliott all day!
La Véloscénie is a fantastic cycle route! I highly recommend it, but if you do, be sure to get the book because if you try to figure it out yourself, you'll never find the streets and trails from the route, which are amazing!
We had a harder ride today, including a few significant hills. On the bigger hills, I had to do a bit of pushing, but, as Brent so lovingly pointed out, we're riding La Véloscénie, not La Velo-Sissy, so I'd better toughen up. Just kidding... I'm the one who came up with Velo-Sissy, but I thought it would be funnier coming from Brent. <3


2015-05-12 : La Véloscénie to Mortagne-au-Perche
Most of our trip today was on a decomissioned rail bed, which meant we were in a beautiful green canopy most of the day, but saw pretty much nothing of the countryside and villages. I prefer the route on roads where we can check things out more - this was more of just a bypass day, which is disappointing. The trail was good, hard-packed pathway most of the way, but when we got within a couple of kilometers of Mortagne-au-Perche, there was a section, probably less than a km, which was washed out and extremely rough. We had to push through most of that section - we couldn't ride it - which was a disappointing slog at the end of the day.

From the book it looks like most of tomorrow will be on the same rail trail, but then before we reach Alencon, we'll switch back to roads for a while.
The trail doesn't take you all the way into the town of Mortagne-au-Perche - it bypasses it to the south. When we got there we realized why. The town was built on the tippy top of a steep hill. Of course we had to take our bikes all the way to said tippy top in order to find an info centre, and a map showing where our hotel is. The hotel is a little ways town from the tippy top, but not much.
The hotel (Hotel du Tribunal) is, coincidentally, in the Logis line, which is the same as the place we stayed last night. It is great. It's very old, and first thing when we got there, they offered to put our bikes into the courtyard, which was fantastic. They have a bar and restaurant on premises as well.
Another gear addition for today: A corkscrew.


2015-05-13 : La Véloscénie to Alençon
Map - Paris to Alençon - our trip so far. The section from Maurepas to Chartres was by train. The rest has been cycling.
Terrible experience trying to get into our Air BnB reservation. We went to the address, which said "Flexible Arrival Time". The building was locked. Our host only speaks French, but she had told me that she wouldn't be there, and that Sebastien would be there to check us in. I've been trying to reach her via phone, e-mail and text. She sent me Sebastien's phone number so I called him but he speaks no English, and he mumbles so we couldn't understand a word each other way saying. I kept asking him to open the door and he said he would. Brent walked down (we're at a restaurant nearby) and stood by the door. Sebastien insisted he was at the door, but I could see Brent, and there was no one else there. Finally a random guy came buy and helped make a phone call. Apparently Sebastien is at an address on a completely different street - an address that we were not given. Brent is, I think, with him right now getting things squared away. I hope so. We're almost out of cell phone credit, and laptop power. SHEESH!
Most of our ride yesterday was on the old railbed (Greenway), which provided only limited scenery. Today was intended to be a lot more of the same, but La Véloscénie is intersected by various local cycle trails, one of which provided a great diversion from the monotonous Greenway. At La Mesniere we left La Véloscénie to follow local Boucle cyclable n8, La Mesniere - Le Mele-sur-Sarthe. It added about 10km to our ride for the day, which honestly, I really didn't need, but it was still enjoyable to get off the Greenway for a while.


2015-05-14 : Rainy bike repair day in Alençon *Ascension Day
The conclusion to our terrible experience. We were sent to an alternate property. That was in my messages, but I missed it because I was trying not to use up my limited free wifi. When we got to the alternate property, there was no wifi, and there were two cats on the premises. The house stunk of litter box and my lungs started closing up right away. I told him I couldn't stay there because of my allergies. In the end, he phoned the original host and she told him to bring us back to her property, which is a very nice little hostel-ey place, but was not ready to receive guests. It has sat all winter unused. There was a stink in the bathroom, no hot water, and, of course, no wifi.

We had a fitful night there and then moved to Hotel le Normandie for tonight. It is better, cheaper, and has (limited... slow) wifi.

Now that I have more wifi, I see that they received a review already along the same lines... bait-and-switch... instead of a studio, it is a flop-house room in a place which stinks of cat and is full of cat hair. If I'd had better wifi yesterday I would not have booked into this property. Very bad service. Here's a translation of the other review from this past March: "the room made ​​available is equivalent to a maid's room in the attic. No pane, no curtains , bedding deplorable , musty odor , cat urine and the presence of cat hair . A dirty bathroom and bad odor , a kitchen squatted by cats and fur ground . " I will leave something similar when I'm able.
Aside from avoiding riding in the rain, our main goal for today was to get some maintenance done on Brent's bike. Sadly, none of the velo stores are open today. Maybe they don't open when it rains? Maybe during off season they don't open, or don't open til afternoon? We'll try again a little later.

Oops. It's Ascension Day. Who knew!? Except for everyone in France except us, that is...
Notes at the time:

We finally found the guy. He was at a different address. Brent went to talk with him while I manned the cellphone and email.

Brent came to get me. We're supposed to stay at another address. A quick check of email confirms this. I'd missed it earlier because of the limited wifi at the last hotel.

We go over to the other property and it is a flop house. The apartment is disgusting and the building has a cat box and cat condo in it (right outside our intended bedroom door) and strong odor of cat. I take a few moments to think about the predicament and wonder if I can stay in the building.

The guy phoned the host and put me on the phone with her. She insists that the cats are only ever in the yard. The guy says no the listing says there are two cats on premises. I say no our reservation was for a different property with no cats.

We use the translation app on his phone and I tell him I'm having an asthma reaction already to the cats.

He makes another call to the host and then finally says that hell take us to another property with no cats.

we follow him on his bike... right over to the original property.

The room is better. It's a complete apartment. The building is essentially empty. We don't know why they didn't put us here in the first place. brent speculstex tht thry are developers trying to turn a buck while they do renox. i think thryve jut done s bsit snd switch on us. msyne they dont wsnt english cutimerd we sre here fir kne night. well move tomorroe to a diferent place.
It's kind of funny being in France. When we get to other countries with other languages, the signage will just be completely unfamiliar, but in France, everything is familiar. Familiar enough that Brent and I keep catching ourselves looking for the "other side" (ie. flipping a package around in the grocery store) to find the English version.
I have never used pay-as-you-go phones before, so we had a bit of an adventure trying to recharge our phone. The only instructions provided are in German, so that wasn't helpful. We tried to use the text code provided, but Brent figured out after that that was to be used if you've already paid for a scratch card. Once we got back on WiFi we visited their web site and successfully recharged that way.


2015-05-15 : La Véloscénie to Carrouges
Today we had every intention of going all the way from Alençon to Bagnoles-de-l'Orne, about 55km. The first part of the day, to Carrouges, would be mostly uphill, and then the second part would be mostly downhill. The day was cool, and threatening to rain most of the time (it did rain a little bit). The "climb", though, was so up-and-down, by the time we reached Carrouges, I was really pooched. I was afraid that the "downhill" portion would be all up-and-down as well so I cried uncle and Brent and I stopped in Carrouges. The hotel was "full", but when I cried and begged, they magically found a room for us... ok, not really... but they did initially say they were full and then found a room when we promised to stay only one night. There's a great big three day cycle event going on in town starting tomorrow, so they need us to vamoose. I am soooooo grateful that they let us stay. I don't know that I would have been able to make it to Bagnoles-de-l'Orne. That is now our destination for tomorrow.
I am really excited and happy that I am making noticeable progress in my strength. Day by day I am getting stronger. The hills I climbed today... well, I wouldn't have been able to do them last week. I didn't ride up all of them continuously, but although I stopped to rest several times, at no time today did I stop and push. I rode the whole friggin' thing. Uphill with a headwind. Yay me!
I am still really disgusted with the experience with the Air BnB person in Alençon. So far, Air BnB has been ok, but I'm finding that we can get hotels for the same price or even less, and with a hotel the experience is pretty consistent. We haven't encountered any Air BnB places that actually provide the nB. Only the B. Brent says they should call the web site AirB. Because there's never any nB.


2015-05-16 : La Véloscénie to Bagnoles-de-l'Orne
There was enough up and down today to make me glad that we didn't try to make it to Bagnoles-de-l'Orne yesterday, although we did reach the town extremely early. We walked around, had a meal, and saw the never-ending outdoor flea market. We saw lots of old lead figurines, a small, very old foosball table, a very large bottle of wine shaped like a musket, a "L'oncle américain" game which was kind of Monopoly-esque, and a scary spikey bra. This evening we're going to walk up the hill and hopefully see the Sacre Coeur lit up for Pierres en Lumières dans l’Orne.
Nemo has tried to escape several times. A couple of times Brent has had to go back to find him. Today, I wasn't sure we'd find him again, but Brent came through. Then he rigged up a safety pin connecting a couple of Nemo's fins together for me to rope the bungee cord through so that it doesn't happen again. We can't spend ALL of our time in Europe Finding Nemo!
Nemo has tried to escape several times. A couple of times Brent has had to go back to find him. Today, I wasn't sure we'd find him again, but Brent came through. Then he rigged up a safety pin connecting a couple of Nemo's fins together for me to rope the bungee cord through so that it doesn't happen again. We can't spend ALL of our time in Europe Finding Nemo!
My new favorite phrases:

Ensuite, je dois d'autre choix que de vous torturer avec mon français.

Je suis un humble canadienne avec une habileté douteuse en français. J'ai faim. S'il vous plaît me nourrir.

S'il vous plaît excusez mon français. J'ai utilisé toutes mes cellules du cerveau apprentissage de la géométrie.


2015-05-17 : La Véloscénie to Mortain
We left Bagnoles this morning with some uncertainty about where we'd stop for the night. Domfront was too soon, Mortain was a good distance, except it was a few km off our main trail, and likely to be on the tippy top of a mountain. St-Hilaire seemed too far. We ended up opting for Mortain, but trying to find our way into town efficiently proved to be a chore. We took a cycle trail that looked like it went into town, when, in fact, it bypasses town on the wrong side of a gorge. We got some directions from a verbose French man who spoke no English at all and figured we had an idea. We kept going along the trail and ended up at Le Neufbourg. There was a map there so we had a look and figured we might know where to find the campground, so we set off along a road back toward Mortain. Brent thought the campground was down a 20% grade hill, but I wasn't convinced. He went down the hill and didn't find a campground, so he came back up. I suggested going into Mortain which was a left-hand turn at that point. We did that and ultimately found the campground. It's right in town, but still pretty nice. It cost 8E for the night, and included full washroom facilities and a short hike to Petite Cascades, which has two steep entrances - one from the campground side and one from the side where Brent went down the hill. We ended up cycling 57km today, which was lots.


2015-05-18 : La Véloscénie to Ducey
We went to bed last night while the sun was still up. We were in the tent and it was so warm that neither of us could conceive of having to get into our sleeping bags. During the night that changed... boy did it change. We woke up cold and we've been cold pretty much all day. We rode only as far as Ducey. It was cold, at times drizzly, and sometimes windy. I was weak and wimpy from the big cycling day yesterday. The forecast for the next couple of days looks even rainier. Ugh.
The more tired I am, the less I feel like speaking French. I am completely exhausted right now. I don't remember ever being this tired before. Wow!
Note from Brent: Our campsite was practically in the middle of town and I thought that there would be lots of light for us to find our way around the campground after dark but, no. I'd forgotten that European cities don't leave the lights burning all night as North American cities do. (Quite wise, really). After dark the sky was a blaze of stars, very pretty without light pollution to interfere.
Note from Brent: Getting back to Mortain; it isn't really on the Veloscenie route but the route passes nearby. We were getting near the end of a longish day of riding and Mortain was shown on the map as having good facilities and being only about 3 Km off the rail-trail so we turned and started to climb. But first a bit about topography: The land that we have been travelling through since leaving Paris has been mostly rolling farm land crossed by hundreds of slow-moving streams. We cross at least 20 every day and I have been at a bit of a loss as to where all of the water is coming from. The land is very green and reminds me most of the lower Fraser Valley. The streams are mostly small (1 or 2 feet wide) to medium (8 or 12 feet) and flow along nicely from low hills, but until today we really hadn't seen any rain since we left Paris. Mortian is on a sizable hill, and quite steep. The map we have shows a cycle route going passed the town then looping around behind and coming in from the opposite side. Unfortunately it's not very detailed. We met a nice lady who didn't speak much English and managed to get her to understand that we were looking for a camp site. She stood silently for 2 or 3 minutes, I could see her brain working. She gave us a couple of sentences in pretty good English that helped us along our way. I think it was all of the English that she could muster. A bit later, when the bike trail diverged from the roadway, and our map showed one direction while the road sign showed another, we met a man who spoke no English at all. He was more than happy to talk to us and talk to us and talk to us. However he did eventually point in the direction of the bike trail as being the right way to go to Mortain. We passed through Romagny, which is really only about a kilometre from Mortain and biked about 3 K's to town. The 2 towns are on opposite sides of a very steep gorge and although there is a road that links them, few people are stupid enough to try it on a bike. I saw one sign advertising a 20% grade.
Note from Brent: Directly below the campsite are Le Grande Cascade and Le Petit Cascade. Rhonda and I walked down the steep path to check them out. Le Grande Cascade is on the larger of two creeks that come together in the gorge. The creek is only about 6 feet wide and was dammed at one time to provide a mill-pond for some sort of factory. The stone- and earth-works are still there, as are portions of the flood gates, but the system is no longer used and much of the mill-pond looks to have been silted in and grown over. About 30 feet down stream from the dam the smaller stream joins in. It's small enough to step across but Oh So Magical. There is a tiny dale surrounded by towering stone cliffs. Walk up stream about 100 feet and and the steam curves, there are a series of waterfalls, stone cliffs covered with flowering plants. All so different from the rolling farm land that we've been travelling through and so tiny that Rhonda and I both thought that it looked more like a movie set than something real and living. That little unexpected view of Le Petit Cascade made the side trip worth it. Everything else was a happy extra.


2015-05-19 : La Véloscénie to Beauvoir
I miss my rug bread! Brent and I have not bought Volkenbrot at home, but since we found it in Iceland we've been buying it and having it pretty much every day. A few days ago, we stopped being able to find it. We think we've just gone too far west (away from Germany). We've left the Volkenbrot coverage area! I'm looking forward to heading east again and finding some more.
Thankfully we didn't get thundershowers today like they were calling for, but I did climb the neverending 25km wind hill from Ducey to Beauvoir. It was supposed to be longer thsn that, but at one point, during the never ending wind hill, there was a sign for Mont St Michel for cars, this way, 9km, and a sign for Mont St Michel for bikes, that way, 18km, so, being the savvy cyclist that I am, I suggested taking the car route and shaving 10km off the wind hill. I'm sure the bike route would have been more scenic, but at that point I really didn't care. As soon as we got to town, a wind and rain storm blew in, but it only lasted about an hour.
Seeing Mont St Michel from a distance is quite the sight. The coastal countryside is very very flat plain, and for miles around you can see the Mont jutting up into the sky. We're both really excited about going there tomorrow to check it out up close.
We had to kill some time before we could check into our B&B so we had a glass of wine, adjusted our plan for the upcoming couple weeks, and went to Alligator Bay to see all the reptiles.
Almost without exception we have been having great experiences with the people of France. I haven't found anyone to be rude, in fact, everyone is so friendly and nice that I can't really imagine where the rudeness reputation came from. Even the "exceptions" aren't awful... just "less nice". I am really liking it here, and the people are one of the main things that make it enjoyable. Yay for France!
Map of first leg of trip: Paris to Beauvoir (near Mont St. Michel)


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