Epic European Cycle

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.


2015-05-30 : Rest day in Amboise
Our plan for today was: café au lait, Amboise Chateau Royal, check out of the hotel, put on my new tires, then cycle to Blois. I took the plan sideways at the last minute, though, and requested a rest day to give my right foot a day off. It has been a little sore for a few days but the last couple days it has gotten quite bad. I've had problems with it since I was 21 and had a ganglion removed from the top when I was about 28. There's some kind of structural weakness in there, though, and now and then I get pain and/or a return of the ganglion. The last couple days it's been swollen on the top (the site of the structural weakness) and I think it's best if I take a day off from cycling. Brent, ever patient, is right on board. Love that guy.
We're having a rest day today, mostly so I can rest my foot. It also doesn't hurt for Bob the Bubon (aka my saddle sore) to have a day off from being in the saddle. I took the opportunity to update DAMDetails for the remainder of our trip, given the Schengen Area issues. I changed the day titles on about 75 calendar days, and moved all of the no-longer-relevant research items to my "Planning and Prep" placeholder date (April 30th). Then I had a little weep about it all. Stripping all that out really made it hit home for me how much I've researched and dreamed about certain places and things that I'm not going to get to do now (at least not on this trip). I'm heartbroken.
Brent has restricted himself to paying admission to only one castle per country while we're on this trip (unless something completely awesome comes up, of course). Today we paid to go into Château d'Amboise, which is very impressive. One thing that surprised us was that the St. Hubert Chapel is the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci, who was close to King Francois 1st.
Today Brent suggested having our "dep lunch" (purchased at the Dépanneur, a French-Canadian word, not used in France except for Brent and me) with wine out on the bench overlooking the Loire. I googled it, and drinking in public is legal in France, so we did! Viva la France!
We've had to get used to the "standard" beer size here, which is 25cl (a glass). They seem so SMALL! Today we were asked if we wanted the 24cl or the 50cl, so I thought, hey, let's have an actual PINT like at home, so we ordered the 50cl, and they look freakishly enormous! Funny how quickly perspective can change.
From Brent: Before starting this trip I had the thought that my bike was getting pretty old and at the end, rather than going to the trouble of packing The Tank up for return shipment, I would just abandon it somewhere in Europe. But sometime in week 2 of riding it all seemed to become so natural once again. Like The Tank is part of me, growing out of my butt. So I'm now considering bringing The Tank home...if it's not too much hassle.
From Brent: Did I mention that I'm managing to stumble by in French? I had given myself 3 weeks to accomplish this and we're getting to 3 weeks of riding now. It seems that I can now 1) order and pay in a restaurant, 2) check in to a hatel or campground and 3) carry on basic chat about cycle routes. And when you're cycle touring that's about all you need.
Seven days of cycling in a row is too damned much. I'm a wreck today, and oh so glad I asked for a rest day.


2015-05-31 : Loire à Vélo / EuroVelo 6 to Blois
I checked the forecast before we left this morning and it looks like it's calling for some cooler temps for the next few days and a shower later today. We flew down the trail, rockin' the tailwind, all the way to Blois. About a half hour before we got to Blois, the rain started. It never got bad enough to be really miserable, but it was enough to make us check into the first hotel we saw in Blois. Just as we got there we ran into a girl from Minnesota who is just starting her tour and riding westward. She was planning to go to Ambois yet today - covering the 45km that we did today, but in a strong headwind and rain. YIKES!
At Chaumont-sur-Loire, we ended up having the cycle trail blocked by a flea marketey market. We walked through it - it was only a couple blocks long. When we got to the end, there was a velo route sign pointing us to turn right, toward Chateau de Chaumont. We dutifully followed the sign and started climbing an evil, evil hill. Partway up there was an elderly couple walking down the hill and we started chatting with them. We told them we were headed for Blois and they started vehemently protesting that we were going the wrong direction. I, just as vehemently, insisted that the sign had pointed us this way so there must be a velo route that dekes in and out a bit. Finally Brent pulled out the map and confirmed that we were NOT supposed to be headed toward Chateau de Chaumont - that is an alternate route (with an evil hill). After all of my arguing, it took a couple minutes for me to convince the people that they'd finally gotten through to me, and we were going to turn around and go back to the proper route. When we got back down to where the market was, there was a sign that the velo route continued along the same way beyond the market... the road to the Chateau was a complete red herring. Oops. We definitely toasted the old couple when we reached first beer!!

The great thing about it is that the whole conversation took place in French - they didn't speak a word of English. There was one time, though, that the old lady gestured up the hill and said something about "mort" so I asked her if she said the hill would kill me and she laughed and said yes.
May 31st. Today is the day that Karen and Ed are in Frankfurt. I'm disappointed that we didn't get to see them, but not disappointed to be spending extra time in France. Did I mention that I LOVE France? Man, do I love France! I can't believe it's the last day of our fist month of vacation. Only five more months to go. It's flying past, but when I look through our pictures I can't help thinking how much we've seen and experienced so far. Fantastic.
I definitely recommend touring with a flag... especially when you're a long way from home. This morning while Brent and I were enjoying our first cafe- au-lait, we watched a guy come by and take several photos of our bikes. We weren't sure what the attraction was, so when he finally wandered past us, we asked. He lives down the road, and likes to come to Ambois to see the tourists and he was drawn to our bikes because of the flags. He was very excited about how far we'd come to be there.
Pretty much all the clothing I brought along was chosen for utility. I'm extremely happy with just about everything I brought, but I was tired of the brown/multi-colored sweater before we even left. Honestly, I didn't expect to use it much, and when I did, I thought I'd be using it under my shell. I thought it would be warmer here and I wouldn't use a sweater, but I'm using it ALL THE TIME. It is loose, misshapen, and just plain hideous. I don't have another sweater that I would have brought instead, but maybe I would have tried to find something new so that I wasn't walking around in this frumpy hideousness ALL THE BLOODY TIME! Oh well. OK, whinge over.


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