Epic European Cycle

2015-05-12 : La Véloscénie to Mortagne-au-Perche
Category Type Name Description Service Provider Cost Kms To Date Total
Activity Cycle La Véloscénie Rémalard / Mortagne-au-Perche
$0.00 61.60 61.60
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
Category Type Name Description Service Provider Cost Kms To Date Total
Activity Cycle La Véloscénie Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe / Alençon
$0.00 39.00 100.60
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
Category Type Name Description Service Provider Cost Kms To Date Total
Activity Cycle La Véloscénie Alençon / Carrouges
$0.00 31.00 131.60
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
Category Type Name Description Service Provider Cost Kms To Date Total
Activity Cycle La Véloscénie Carrouges / Bagnoles-de-l'Orne
$0.00 24.00 155.60
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
Category Type Name Description Service Provider Cost Kms To Date Total
Activity Cycle La Véloscénie Barenton / Mortain
$0.00 54.00 209.60
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
Category Type Name Description Service Provider Cost Kms To Date Total
Activity Cycle La Véloscénie St-Hilaire-du-Harcouët / Ducey
$0.00 34.00 243.60
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
Category Type Name Description Service Provider Cost Kms To Date Total
Activity Cycle La Véloscénie Ducey / Mont-Saint-Michel
$0.00 55.00 298.60
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)

2015-05-20 : Visit Mt-st-Michel and stay in Pontorson
Category Type Name Description Service Provider Cost Kms To Date Total
Activity Cycle Beauvoir - Pontorson - Mont St Michel - Pontorson
$0.00 26.00 324.60
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.

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