Epic European Cycle

2015-05-20 : Visit Mt-st-Michel and stay in Pontorson
We stayed in a BnB last night - the first "real" BnB (ie. not a "just B" through AirBnB) and it was great. The room was small, but nice and comfortable. The highlight, though, was the breakfast. In addition to some fruit, yogurt and cheese, our host had wonderful homemade pastries, and homemade jams and marmalade (I particularly enjoyed the rhubarb).
After we left the BnB we rode the "wrong" direction from Beauvoir to Pontorson to take care of some business before visiting Mont St. Michel. We left our baggage at our hotel then went and bought our train tickets to Nantes before riding out to Mont St. Michel. OH MY GOD riding my bike without all the baggage is amazing. It feels like riding a feather!
Mont St. Michel was really interesting. We left our velos at the near end of the causeway and took a free shuttle bus over to the island. The island apparently is only still and island because the people diligently scoop out the silt deposited by the over-enthusiastic river that empties into the ocean right in front of the island. We walked all around the Mont. It was full of little restaurants and shops along the bottom, but then just really interesting history and scenery above.
Today wasn't a particularly strenuously day. 20 or so easy km on unburdened velos. So, at dinner time (in France, restaurants don't even open until 7PM), Brent and I set out in search of some lighter sustenance. There was a place around the corner that had snacky things posted on their menu. We circled the block and looked at a few other places and Brent decided he'd like the snacky place (said it was slummy enough for him). I think he may have been slightly traumatized by a couple of the fancier dinners we'd had to contend with lately (we won't say anything about him throwing his wine at me the one night). So, we went back to the snacky place, which was called Le Train Bleu. They had an extensive drink menu, and a small, hand-written food menu. We ordered drinks, looked at the food menu, and I asked if they were serving. Our server said that they were changing their menu, and she ran to get a big poster with pictures of the food items offered. There were three things on offer, a lasagna, mac and cheese, and something else. Brent ordered the lasagna and I ordered the mac and cheese. After the server left, Brent joked that the meals may be TV Dinners. Annnnnnd... life imitates art (and sometimes Brent's jokes). Several minutes later, our meals arrived, in their cardboard containers, with bits of plastic cover still stuck to the top of the cardboard containers. It was awesome. Who would have ever thought that such a thing existed... in France! The Train Bleu was playing the standard (for France) radio station filled with bad covers of old English pop tunes and had tonnes of posters up on the wall of live music acts they'd had play there. The most recent looked to be from 2012, but a lot of the posters didn't have years on them, so maybe some were more recent. In the back there was a pool table, which, oddly, seemed to be a pretty much normal-proportioned pool table, only smaller (including the balls). We finished our experience with a very poorly played game of pool and a good time was had by all.
Something I'm finding really interesting is that, in spite of how hard I'm working each day, and how tired I feel, I actually have way more energy already than I did before the trip. Before the trip I was crashing early every evening, and sometimes taking afternoon naps. None of that for me anymore. Now I would struggle to go to sleep before 10:00 and I'm waking up by 6:00. A nice, solid 8 hours. Before the trip I felt like a wreck if I didn't get at least 9 hours. I've known that I've been depressed living in Edmonton for a while now, and I can't wait to move away from there... it's interesting to feel the depression start to lift for real (and not just in an "ok, I'm not going to be depressed anymore", mind-over-matter unrealistic way).


2015-05-21 : To Nantes
We had a smooth train trip from Pontorson to Nantes via Rennes today. Bikes are allowed on the regional trains without being packed up (on the bullet trains, bikes need to be packed up). You just have to be careful to get on the right car... the right car has a bike icon on the door, which indicates there's a space on that car for bikes. The trains run faithfully on time and you don't have long to get on - the train pulls in, you leap on, and away you go. So, it can be a little stressful to watch for the train (which isn't always anywhere near as long as the platform), then figure out which end of the train has the bike icon, then get to that door, and pile on.

On the first leg of the journey, we kept the bikes on the floor and Brent held them in place. On the second leg, there was no room for them on the floor and we had to hang them up. It was kind of an ordeal to get them vertical and get the tires looped through the hooks. We thought it would be worse getting them down, but it was actually easier.

Another interesting aspect was dealing with the elevators to get them up and down from the various platforms at the stations. At Rennes, there were "walkways" from one train platform to another, which looked like they'd be real easy to just walk the bikes over the tracks from one platform to another, but of course, the public wasn't allowed to use the walkways (with trains coming in from different directions). So, we had to go up to the main level, then back down to another platform. They only give you 20 minutes notice as to what platform your train will be on, so we had to make sure we were ready to get the bikes up to main then back down to the next platform. We had considered just staying on our arrival platform (1&2) in hopes that we wouldn't have to move platforms (there were three other platforms), but with only 20 minutes, and busy elevators to share, we decided to take the bikes up to main right away. Dewey fit into an elevator sort of turned in on himself, but sitting on the ground. Brent had to raise The Tank up onto his rear wheel to get him to fit into the elevator. We did end up having to switch platforms anyway, so it was a good decision. When we got to Nantes, the elevator wasn't an option. Brent pushed The Tank up the ramp. I wanted to take the lift, but the door wouldn't close properly so I ended up having to push up the ramp as well.


2015-05-22 : Day in Nantes
My first 'craving' to report for Lana: English movies and French music. We have been to a lot of pubs and brasseries which all seem to be playing the same radio station, with a theme of 'bad covers of English hits'. Brent has speculated that it may have something to do with differences in copyright. I hate it. Not only are the covers bad, but they're all songs that I was finished with years ago. I want to hear something new, and I would like it to be in French. I have always enjoyed trying to decipher French lyrics. Last night, in Nantes, we walked past an enormous theatre with something like 24 screens and I started hankering to go to a movie, but I really didn't care to see one in French.
The Nantes tourist information book provides a number of walking tours indicated in the city by green lines painted on the ground. We walked a couple of "green lines" today - the one for Isle de Nantes Quarter (where we saw Le Grand Elephant), and the one for the Bouffay Quarter (where we saw the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne and the Jardin des Plantes. A highlight for us, which isn't part of the tourist book was an apartment that was covered in gardens - on every balcony and on the roof.
One thing we saw while walking around Nantes today that was really cool was a building that had a bunch of strips of metal "art" encasing it. As we passed the building, we noticed a continuous metallic chirping sound that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, and realized that it was the holes in the strips of "art" that were making the chirping.
Once again we were unsuccessful at getting Brent's bike serviced. The first time, in Alencon, we didn't realize it was a national holiday on the day we tried and all the velo stores were closed. This time we found some open velo stores, but they're booked solid for the next couple of weeks, so Brent just bought some grease and has decided to do his own bike maintenance as the spirit moves him on our journey.


2015-05-23 : Loire à Vélo / EuroVelo 6 to Ancenis
Map of our intended Loire Valley route
Cycling east from Nantes has proven to be extremely easy so far in comparison to the trip in the l'Eure river valley (La Véloscénie route). It's flat, well marked and the trail surfaces are great. We could see the 14th century tower of the Château d'Oudon (in Oudon) from several kilometers back. After a cafe au lait stop at Restaurant Le Port du Moulin in Champtoceaux we detoured over there to have a look. As I had sort of expected, we ended up in Ancenis for the night where we're camping at "Camping de l’île Mouchet".
Cycling in Ancenis itself has proven to be less easy. It is the same kind of France tight narrow streets going in all directions that we've gotten used to, but just about every street is a one-way (going the opposite way of where we want to go), and bikes aren't allowed to go the "wrong way" here like they have been everywhere else. We went the wrong way down a one-way and got stopped by the cops. One officer was giving me heck, but I didn't understand what he was saying so I asked him if he spoke English. He replied "oui", but kept lecturing me in Francais! Hehheh. Oh my.


2015-05-24 : Loire à Vélo / EuroVelo 6 to la Possonniere
Last night we stayed at a really nice campground that was quite tranquil... until... the hoard of wedding revelers from the hall next door decided they were all too drunk to drive home and descended on the campground at around 3:00 or 4:00AM. Ugh. Thank goodness for ear plugs. A high point for me at breakfast was seeing the guy who camped out in his suit. There's nothing worse than getting drunk, sleeping out, and waking up the next day in your suit. Hehehe.
The awesome thing about our campground is that we met Maryvonne and Valerie from Les Sables D'Olonne. Maryvonne is an experienced cycle tourist and she set up a long weekend cycle tour for Valerie's son who was celebrating his 16th birthday. Such great people and I got my first "French style hug" from Maryvonne. Yay! As we cycled today, we "leap frogged" them several times as we all cycle at about the same pace. Hopefully they'll come visit us in Canada some day and we can take them cycling in the Kettle Valley Rail Trail.
Today was another easy day of cycling. Kilometers and kilometers along very flat dikes. My favorite part was cycling on Ile de Chalonnes.
We're camping out tonight at Camping Du Port in la Possonniere where we met Mark from the Netherlands. He is touring France as an alternate to Ireland which proved to be too windy for a tour right now. It worked out well for him since his folks are camping in the south of France, so he will tour down to where they are and then catch a lift back home with them.


2015-05-25 : Loire à Vélo / EuroVelo 6 to St. Mathurin-sur-Loire *Whit Monday
We got a bit of an early start this morning when it started drizzling shortly after we woke up. We packed up quickly and got on the road. We got drizzled on a little bit but it turned out to be a great day for riding - beautiful weather.
We took a detour at Ste-Gemmes-sur-Loire to find a grocery store before it closed (short hours on Mondays). We're having to plan around the business hours for Sundays and Mondays... there have been a couple of times we've run dangerously short on food and nothing is open. After we found the grocery store we had another detour near les-Ponts-de-Ce. We had gone a ways on the main road to find the grocery and then had to figure out where we were and how to get back on the velo path. We missed a small bridge and ended up on a greenway that we thought was "the" velo path but turned out to be just "a" velo path. We were a few hundred meters north of our path... on the wrong side of a body of water. With a little back tracking and sleuthing, we managed to find out way back onto the path.
We're camped tonight at Camping Port La Vallee in St-Mathurin-sur-Loire. It's our third night in a row camping, and our second night in a row without WiFi. We've decided to camp as much as possible for the next little while. We probably won't have our tent in the UK, and after we return it may be too stinkin' hot for camping so now is our camping sweet spot.
Thankfully we survived the May long weekend in France. I was quite disappointed the last couple of nights with the long weekend celebrations... folks in France have absolutely no more class than Canadians. Drunken debauchery until 4AM both nights, and last night was even complete with a late-60s Ford Mustang being revved at 4AM by the enthusiastic inebriated owner. This morning we cycled through a park that had garbage and empties strewn about everywhere and spilling out of the trash cans. Who would have guessed.
For the first couple weeks of this trip I wondered why I had lugged the ukulele along. I never had the inclination to play it - it was just extra stuff to worry about... not that it's heavy, but inconvenient because I was always worried about it getting squished. At about week three, the urge to uke returned and I've been happily uking at least once a day. It's good. At last night's campground, Brent caught a camper from a few doors down singing along while we played and sang Hallelujah. Awesome.
The backpacking wine carafe. I had stricken it from the list of gear to bring. Brent brought it along anyway. That's why Brent is the smart one.


2015-05-26 : Loire à Vélo / EuroVelo 6 to Saumur
Brent's butt has disappeared. We might have to rig him up some suspenders because his belt is completely useless now. Either that or he's going to have to start walking like a gangster to keep his pants up. Not that he had much of a butt to begin with, but now there's nothing left to hold up his pants. I have lost a little weight, but my butt certainly hasn't disappeared!
Brent and I are tag-teaming on the French conversations. It's awesome. He remembers and recognizes different words than I do. He's also better at listening and understanding than I am. Most of the time when one of us understands what is being said, the other has no idea. So, I can respond half the time and he responds the other half, and together we approximate one person who can bumble along in the language.
The terrain was a lot bumpier today than what we've had the last three days. Oh well... I knew the flat couldn't last. Oh my legs!
When we were staying in Paris with Pierre, he asked why we put flags on our bikes. He said that Canadians were the only people he knew who did that. I said that it was an invitation to conversation. He said that others told him it was so that we wouldn't be mistaken for Americans. I said that was part of it too. Well, my own answer has certainly proven out. We have been greeted and stopped for conversation so many times I can't count. I wonder if people from other countries started doing it if they would be stopped more for conversation as well, or if it's just that people are that amazed that folks would show up from Canada to cycle here. In any case, I'm really glad we have our flags - they really are a great invitation for conversation and lots of folks take us up on the invitation!
Brent and I have been missing having picnic tables and fire pits at the campgrounds in France. The first time or two I thought it was just one of those things, but consistently, our campsites have been table and fire-pit-less. Last night we were camped near some Brits and in our conversation I mentioned that we're missing those things. They seemed genuinely surprised that Canadian campgrounds provided tables and fire pits at essentially every single camp site. Apparently that just isn't done here. Huh. Too bad.
Today we decided to stop in Saumur to stay in a hotel with a proper bed, private bath, WiFi and nearby laundromat. We are staying in Hôtel Anne D'Anjou in Saumur, in a room overlooking the Loire. It's beautiful! On our way into town, I decided that we should follow the signs into town rather than staying along the velo route. After going down a few little confusing streets, we stopped and I was collecting my thoughts when we were approached by a French couple who spoke very good English and spent several minutes talking to us and explaining some of the history of the town. They were very enthusiastic and it made me very enthusiastic. They live across from a B&B which, unfortunately, is closed for some maintenance right now - they very enthusiastically recommended it. They recommended another B&B next door to the hotel we're in, but B&Bs open later, and we didn't want to wait around for check-in... we want to go walk-about in search of sights and the laundromat.


2015-05-27 : Loire à Vélo / EuroVelo 6 to Chinon
When we stayed in the hotel last night I almost couldn't stand to be in the room, and I didn't want to try to sleep there. I had to swing the windows wide open in order to sleep. I'm losing my taste for being indoors! I need to be camping!
Today was NOT a fast moving day. We had a cafe-au-lait stop first, then breakfast, then more cafe-au-lait before we even made it out of Saumur. We finally got underway and then the trail took us into Souzay-Champigny, a crazy crazy town built into the caves east of Saumur. Brent and I took forever going through them, and when we were finally done, we climbed a hill into vinyards as far as you can see, which we also had to spend a lot of time appreciating. Once out of the vinyards we had to stop for ice cream at Parnay. We still hadn't gone 15km and the day was half over. After that we started making better time and actually finished our 41km to reach Chinon.
We bought some Munster cheese yesterday. Man is it tasty, but it smells like ripe feet, so after we're finished eating some, my fingers smell like feet and Brent's beard smells like feet. Charming.
We decided to take a detour off of the Loire a Velo route (velo trail 38) and stay in Chinon along la Vienne river (instead of Loire) tonight because it looked like nothing but teeny tiny towns at approximately "Rhonda stops for the night" kilometers on the real route. We're camped at Camping de l'ile Auger.
We often eat dinner out, but we're making good use of the plentiful groceries for our other meals - breakfast, second breakfast, and sometimes lunch. Our mainstays are yogurt (preferably Danio), rug bread (aka Volkenbrot), fruit, cheese, pre-fab crepes, pre-fab chicken breasts (packed in jelly which is, oddly enough, not offending me) and chocolate (Milka bars, please).
Our campsite for tonight is the first one which has provided us with a picnic table. They have a special area for velos and hikers. Yay!


2015-05-28 : Loire à Vélo / EuroVelo 6 to Savennières
This was another real slow-start day. It was cold when we woke up, so we layed around for a while, then had breakfast at camp. We were going to leave our gear at the site to dry off and go into town for cafe au lait, but it started to look like rain, so we turned back to pack up. We packed up and headed into town, as the weather warmed back up. We had our cafe, had a quick look at Forteresse Ville Haute and then decided it was time to go. We weren't sure where the route was - the side routes are not as well marked as the official Loire route, but we thought for sure it couldn't possibly be the route that winds through town, up the free elevator to the fortress, and then up more hill from there. Turns out we were wrong. Brent says "when you have the option of taking the elevator on the velo route... take the elevator!" We ended up going the long way around on the highway, including one of the most evil climbs we've done on this trip. After we finished that, we had some undulations to make it to Huismes where we had lunch, and then beers with a couple from New Zealand before returning to the Loire velo route.
We are staying tonight in Camping de la Confluence in Savennières which is a nice enough campground, but the dryer is broken so we decided against doing a laundry, and the WiFi is working for the attendant but not for me.
I had a shower when we got to the campground and discovered that my dreaded saddle sore is starting to develop again. I'm glad I brought some moleskin along specifically for saddle sore management. Hopefully it won't affect the trip too much.
Grocery stores here do not give out free bags - you're expected to have your own bags. They do sell bags at checkouts and we have our bag that we use each time - we're event remembering to bring out bag in with us each time.
I finally saw another bike with a flag on it today - a France flag. I am curious to know if he will experience it as an invitation to conversation like I've found with the Canadian flag.
And just like that - there it was. My first squat toilet. And just like that - there it was. My first squat toilet trauma.
Just before we reached Savonnieres today we rode on about 500m of cobblestone. 500m doesn't sound like much, but trust me. 500m of cobblestone is a freakin' lot of cobblestone. I can't imagine how the Tour de France guys do it.
One thing I love about restaurants in France is that they offer "menus". they have prices for all of their appetizers, main courses and desserts, but if you order them together, you get a price cut. They offer "menu" prices for appetizer plus main, main plus dessert, and appetizer plus main plus dessert. It's brilliant.
Another thing to like about French restaurants... they use old wine bottles to bring water to the table. You don't have to ask for water... they automatically bring a glass for everyone, and a lovely old wine bottle full of water for the table.
In the rural areas, a neat thing is that people greet each other all the time... including when they enter a restaurant. I've seen lots of situations where people entering a restaurant greet everyone who's already IN the restaurant when they come in (including us, so it's not just because they know everyone).
Something I discovered before leaving Canada is that it's not necessarily a good thing to have a "good" accent in a language you don't really speak. I went to Sushi Boat a few weeks before we left, and our Japanese server said something to us. Her accent was so good that I assumed she spoke English and launched into a bunch of questions for her. Her response was a "deer in the headlights" stare. I realized that she didn't really speak English at all... but the little bit that she did speak, she spoke with a really good accent. Aha, I thought, I don't want to speak with too good of an accent any place in Europe lest I be mistaken for someone who can actually speak the language. As Brent and I spend more time in France, both of us are developing a decent "accent" for the few things we know how to say, and we are, indeed, experiencing the same phenomenon... people hear us say "bonjour" and assume that we can actually speak French, and then we have to apologize and explain that... we don't.
When we had our beers with the Kiwis the lady mentioned that she'd been to France once a long time ago and people then were very rude and dismissive, but now everyone is nice and friendly. That explains why I've had such pleasant experiences here - things have changed for the better! Yay!


2015-05-29 : Loire à Vélo / EuroVelo 6 to Amboise
Cycle touring in France is awesome. I can't believe how different it is from cycling in Canada and Australia. There's no fear of the traffic - there's no need. There are roads to avoid, but they're easy to avoid and so many great alternatives. The drivers are courteous... almost to a fault... it's kind of freaky. Cycle touring without the fear is, well... AWESOME! I am finally experiencing the joy of cycle touring.
We got an early/fast start today because of some morning drizzle. We had 17km behind us by the time we reached Tours, and before we had our first café au lait. Then, we had a long layover in Tours as we finally got the chain replaced on Brent's bike... something we'd failed to do a couple weeks ago. Then, with the help of a strong tail wind, we made the remaining 30km to Amboise in record time.
While we were walking in Tours today, we saw something I've never seen before. Brent and I have been speculating about how people would move furniture in and out of some of the apartments around here with their impossibly tight narrow staircases (and no elevators). Today we saw a moving truck with a freakishly long ladder up to the top apartment with an electric lift on it with a mattress that they were moving.
I was slightly perturbed with the city of Tours for putting their weekend market right on the EuroVelo route. I mean right ON the EuroVelo route so we couldn't ride on the route - it was blocked off for the market. We had to detour around, and although it was a short detour, it had a lot going on at once for us to navigate.
When we were walking around Tours waiting for the work on Brent's bike to be done, a young couple stopped us. The young man recognized us from PARIS! We had been standing on Rue Jean Juares with a map in our hands feeling lost, when he had come over and offered us directions. He had traveled down to Tours, and recognized us thanks to the flags and Brent's beard. We had a nice "reunion" chat with him. How crazy is that!? Another reason to love the flags.


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