Sunday, 24 September 2023

From Chablis to Champagne

 After much discussion we decided not to partake in the 325€ per head tour and tasting in Reims, choosing instead some very smooth drops from the local Intermarché for 7 or 8€.

We arrived in Reims via Decathlon where I took the opportunity to replace my two pairs of incompetent nicks with two new pairs. I also found a new saddle seeing mine is cracking up. Funnily both nicks and saddle looked alright in the winter light of Maryborough.

We’re riding back to Maastricht rather than going further and training back. Getting a loaded bike into and out of several trains and negotiating a ride through Paris didn’t appeal. Besides, Liz, John and I have ridden up the Champs Élysées and round theArc de Triomphe so we don’t need to do it again.

The country, although still growing maize, sunflowers and grains has changed as have the villages. Greater prosperity is evident every where. Nevertheless village life is ghostly as we rarely see the inhabitants. One place we rode through must be the cabbage capital of France. Field after field, tractors, trucks and conveyor belts, then no more. We did dine on cabbage that evening, however ours was from a can in the “regional specialties” section of the store.

I’m always on the lookout for Wildlife. I’ve noted myriad grey herons along the canals, the ubiquitous corvid, a couple of squirrels and a dead badger. A gaudy kingfisher with its orange underbelly and turquoise wings flew along part of a canal as I trundled behind it. Cattle, sheep in small numbers, donkeys, horses, chooks, geese, goats and ducks watch as we pass by. And dogs bark a welcome, or is that a warning?

We’ve travelled 1098kms in sunshine and now cooler temperatures. We’ve had one flat tyre and a fair bit of skirmishing arriving in and departing from cities. Spirits are high and there’s a little smugness as we navigate our way along canals, country roads and the odd goat track. It’s fun to spend hours each day outside observing how the world ticks over.

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Northern Burgundy

 Amazingly we’ve ridden more than 17 days covering more than 750kms, skirting the Champagne and Burgundy regions, and not until today have we clapped eyes on a single grapevine let alone a vineyard. But that changed today in Chablis. Vineyards and wineries galore. 

It’s harvest season so there’s gigantic tractors and cutting equipment driving up and down the narrow streets bringing loads of Chardonnay grapes in to be pressed. On our 1km walk to the supermarket we passed three wineries and to get out of the rain on the way back we went down into a cave and tasted some Chablis.

To celebrate Des’s birthday we planned a cute looking lock turned into a hotel with restaurant evening. Things did not pan out as planned. Instead we dined on sardines, terrine, salami and local cheese made by a woman with six cows. Madam who owned the alternate bistro,

went to a concert so dinner was delayed until 9pm. 

The hotel was shambolic. The charge was 85 euros per room. I said I wouldn’t pay more than 50 euros so that was what we paid. No wifi, a bathroom door that got stuck, a downlight that leaked water onto whoever might be using the toilet. Oh, and the door didn’t lock either…A birthday to remember we agreed.

French farmland is gorgeous. Patterns of colour, spinneys and free-range Charolais cattle and the odd sheep. And massive farm machinery. Right now there’s maize and sunflower harvesting and ploughing and sewing green crops taking place.

Generally our accommodation has been fabulous, especially the Airbnb places. We’ve cooked delicious meals, relaxed on comfortable couches and washed clothes. Perfect.

The ride is going well. We begin riding north after this rest day, back to Maastricht. So far 843kms of lovely canals, forests and farmland dotted with villages. Finding a morning coffee is not always possible as many of the villages seem largely empty. But it’s always interesting to find a bar where the people are drinking wine and beer and betting on horses and numbers. We may scoff, but they’re out socialising rather than sitting at home in front of television.

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

A Dijon

 What a beautiful old city this is So far, no moutarde has passed my lips but there is a shop nearby only selling jars of the stuff for tourists not on bikes. We’ve wandered around town today, partook of a delicious lunch and got acculturated at the Musee Des Beaux Arts.

Four days of riding since our last rest stop in Verdun. We’ll, not quite the full four days as we discovered that Neufchateau to Langres was panning out at more than 100kms, so being sensible we went to the railway station and bought tickets to a town close to Langres.

We enjoyed the walking tour of Langres, walled and perched high on a hill. Merci beaucoup for an e-bike.

The trip to Dijon took us along a canal lined with trees showing their autumn colours. A house on the edge of the copious locks. Seemed like a pleasant and not too taxing career.

We’ve loved the riding and the extremely pleasant conversations with locals serving coffee en route. The farmland is well-tended but in serious need of rain. The sunflowers have drooped and the maize has dried off. Although we came across one sunflower field that had been planted later. The steers are fat and the silage is being honed.

So far we’ve come 626kms and will take off for a semi-circular ride in north Burgundy before joining the Loire.

Friday, 8 September 2023

Very sunny France

 After six days on the bike, we have arrived in Verdun a very pretty city on the banks of the Meuse river.

We have cycled along the river, its canals, and quiet country roads, where the views of the Charolais and the sheep are close-up and come with accompanying aromas. 

Yesterday some people were frolicking in the river and jumping off an old steel bridge into the water. Looked very inviting indeed..

I’ve enjoyed some friendly encounters with the locals. Asking questions in French is one thing understanding responses is another altogether. One friendly woman prevented me from pouring custard into my coffee. I thought cream anglaise would be just plain cream. Obviously, I haven’t read enough French cookbooks.

The stand out accommodation was faulty towers the night before last. Checking was meant to be at 5 pm but I had messaged to ask if we could check in at 2 pm. Yes came the response that would be possible however when we arrived Madame shouted goodness knows what Harris and pull the blinds down. We found a shady spot at the back of the hotel and Des went off in search beers and came back with ice creams. Unfortunately for us the supermarkets do not have refrigerated beer only mountains of cheese, cold, cuts and yoghurts. Anyway, our hosts continued in their faulty ways by banning entry to the cool part of the dining room, where we might sip on our beers when the bar was finally open, not opening the dining room until 7 pm, and then being astounded that we wanted our bikes and check out by 8 am. We were in some industrial complex with three huge supermarkets around us, but no houses.

We are almost 400 km away from Maastricht and intend to ride to Dijon after this rest day where we will spend three days before exploring the Burgundy region. Life on the bike is grand.

Tuesday, 5 September 2023

Along the Maas / Meuse River, upstream

 This time we’re riding e-bikes. Ye-gads! It’s taking me some time to adjust as they are heavy, I am heavy and the panniers can get ver heavy when I need to lug them up two flights of steep narrow stairs. Good cross training though. 

Left Maastricht in lovely weather, a relief after the rain the day before when the bikes were delivered. It was so wet that we went to see Barbie. Lots of things to think about in the movie and laughs galore.

Day 1 ended in Huy, then onto Dinant and today in Haybes. So far 176kms. Getting through cities can be challenging but otherwise the path is generally benign.