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  • Day23

    Things go Downhill Rapidly

    September 12, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    I suppose that there are several ingredients for a great ride. These would include favourable weather, amazing scenery, good friends to share the ride with, an absence of punctures and a glorious downhill. Today's ride had all of these things. It also had another ingredient that I would rather we had gone without. That unwelcome ingredient was a crash. To make matters even worse, I was the one that crashed.

    The day began well enough. We left the hotel and climbed back up to the main sqaure of Sancerre where the cafe had agreed to make us baguette sandwiches for lunch. When the whole peloton had obtained their lunch supplies, all we had to go was head down the same very steep hill that had almost done us all in yesterday.

    At first I started walking the bike, but I am not the most patient man in the world and thought it would be better to ride instead. I started to scoot the bike and tried to throw my hind leg over the seat. It was at that point that my life started to flash before my eyes. I managed to get the leg partway over before the seat of my cycling knicks caught on the saddle. With the combination of the very steep descent and the fact that I was involved in some sort of macabre embrace with the bike, things quickly escalated. Although I tried to maintain some sort of dignity and control, after a period of bicycle contortions, I fell over the handlebars and crashed heavily to the road. It was not my finest hour.

    I lay on the road for some time, trying to disentangle my arms and legs from the wheels, chains and handlebars of the bike. Somehow we seemed to have become fused together. Gradually I staggered back up to my feet and examined the carnage. I had taken a large impact to my left knee and managed to collect some of the road gravel in it. The rear of my right thigh was also scraped and I had other assorted cuts and abbrasions over the rest of my body. Not such a bad result under the circumstances.

    The bike had also taken a hit and the front light had been smashed right off its bracket. We managed to secure it witgh a motley assortment of bandages and tape. I tried to assure the others that it was "only a flesh wound" and that I was fir to continue the ride.

    I did manage to complete the rest of the ride, but by the time we reached our hotel in Briare I was conscious of the fact that my left knee had completely stiffened up. This is the same knee that had given me grief in the Baltics and it had taken several weeks to get better again. It now appears that I am back to square one.

    Apart from my unfortunate early malfunction, the rest of the day's ride went without a hitch. The cycling was some of the most delightful any of us had ever experienced. The early focal point was the huge nuclear power plant that we had been able to see from the hilltop of Sancerre. One of the massive cooling towers was blasting a continuous jet of steam high into the atmospehere. No matter how you feel about nuclear power stations, the jet of steam was certainly an impressive sight.

    The towers themselves were so huge that it was very hard to tell just how far away they were. It seemed to take us most of the morning to reach them, but we finally reached the power plant surrounded with heavily armoured perimeter fencing. Large signs warned that taking photos was prohibited (but we cheated ever so little on that point).

    We also managed to find perfect spots for morning tea and lunch. Even more remarkable was our find of a lovely little cafe for afternoon tea. The owner had obviously been celebrating for most of the day and seemed more interested in dancing to his loud music than in serving us. We also discovered that he could not speak French - only Spanish. He did manage to rip me off for about twice the normal rate for a bottle of water and a coke. Such is life.

    Late in the afternoon we reached the beautiful town of Briare, best known for its elevated canal over the Loire. We also discovered that the streets and bridges of the city are liberally decorated with lovely flowering plants. Since I cannot keep any plant alive for longer than about two weeks, I was amazed that the flowers throughout the entire town were all flourishing.

    In the evening we all dined al fresco at the Le Clos des Aromes restaurant. This is one of the very best restaurants in the town and we quickly learnt how they earned that coveted accolade. Their food was simply divine.
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  • Day53

    A Long Trying Tour to Tours

    October 12, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    We knew it was always going to be a long day. With around 400 km of driving on unfamiliar roads to get back from Sarlat to Tours, I had not exactly been looking forward to the challenge, especially considering the propensity the Peugeot's GPS seems to have to keep directing us into the narrowest roads in France.

    Although we checked and rechecked the route on Google maps, the first 75 km was still rather tortuous. On the positive side of the ledger, the difficult roads rewarded us every few minutes with absolutely delightful scenery. If at all possible, the autumn colours seem to be changing by the day, and the colour palette that is displayed is amazing. Although we have often travelled in Europe at this time of the year, we have never stayed around long enough to witness the full cycle as the trees shed all their leaves for the coming winter. Maybe one year .......

    It was not until we finally hit the first toll road that we were really able to make up for some lost time. I wound the cruise control up to a little over 130 kph and was finally able to see the km start to fly by. We also started to see the first road signs pointing the way to Paris and counting down the km. In a way we felt like we were already heading home.

    The next long section of road was even better - not only did it have a 130 kph speed limit, but it was free. The GPS told me that there would be no turns for over 200 km. It was a little boring, but we needed to get to Tours before 5 pm to return the rental car.

    All was going very well until we saw a flashing light by the side of the freeway. It warned that there was a traffic accident ahead. On went the brakes (hoping that the cars behinds were equally alert). We were soon stationary in an endless line of vehicles. I was quite impressed that the GPS display on the dashboard had already turned red, indicating that there was a big delay on this road. I am not sure how it worked, but it was interesting to see technology in action.

    For the next 30 minutes we sat there. I started to have visions of us still being there at nightfall, but eventually the line of cars started to move and we were on our way again.

    It was then that another problem started to raise its ugly head - we needed fuel. Although we were still on that 200 km section of freeway, they do have "Aires" every 20 km or so. These are large rest/fuel/restaurant stops that are frequented by the huge tour buses. Every few minutes one of these awful buses pulls in to disgorge their bored passengers to make a beeline for the toilets and to buy some horrible plastic sandwiches. What a disgusting way to have a European holiday, but that is the way that millions of people get to experience France.

    It is always a confusing process to purchase petrol. We have had this problem before, when for some unknown reason, many petrol stations do not seem to recognise our VISA cards. We thought we had hit the jackpot when we discovered that this one was happy with our card. It was a pity that we could not follow the rest of the instructions. I should have felt the inner feeling of foreboding doom as I happily filled the car, but I was just relieved to hear the fuel sloshing into the tank.

    After filling the tank, I looked again at the instructions. The bowser already had our credit card details and I wondered how I was meant to tell it that the transaction was finished. I stood staring at the little images, until Maggie yelled at me from the car to "Get going". Maybe she was already needing another toilet stop. I climbed back in the car and continued the drive. It turned out to be an expensive mistake.

    The next couple of hours went by without incident (apart from several more toilet stops for Maggie), until we were on the outskirts of Tours. Since we needed to return the car with a tankful of petrol, we needed one more petrol station. We found one without much trouble, however this one would not accept our card. In such circumstances you have to resort to "Plan B".

    We noticed a friendly looking Frenchman at the next pump and indicated that we needed help. In a mixture of fractured French and sign language, we explained that our card would not work. He agreed to use his card and we immediately paid him back in cash. He seemed happy and so were we. It was another example of the fact that most human beings will treat you well if you are friendly and smile a lot.

    All that remained was to safely navigate the final few km into the centre of Tours and return the car. The rental depot was right at the train station and we happened to arrive at the same time as a major train. The streets near the station were jammed with cars trying to pick people up from the station. On top of this we had no real idea of where to return our car. The stress levels started to soar again.

    Fortunately I managed to find a blind alley and decided to leave the car there while Maggie walked to the rental car office. I figured that I had got it safely this far, they could figure out what to do next. A few minutes later a friendly young fellow came out, checkout the car to make sure we had not written it off and then bade us "Au Revoir". It was another chapter of our long adventure which had been successfully completed.

    All that remained was to catch a train to the Gare de Tours station and then find our hotel. When we emerged from the huge central station we immediately felt home. On our left was the huge Grand Hotel which had been our home about three week's earlier. The sky was clear and the temperature was in the mid 20s - it was delightful.

    A few minutes later we were searching for the nearby Hotel Linxa. We were a little underwhelmed to find that it consisted only of a door with a tiny sign. The door was firmly locked. We pushed the tiny button and eventually a middle aged guy came out to meet us.

    The listing on Booking.com proudly announced "We speak your language", however this must only be true if your language is French. The guy spoke not a SINGLE word of of English. In a country where we have been told over and over that all the children learn English in school, they must all be shocking students since most of them forget everything they learn as soon as they walk out the school door.

    Even more daunting that his lack of English was the fact that hotel had no lift, only a very narrow and very steep staircase leading to our room on the second floor. We were both tired and this was almost enough to break us. We dragged, pulled, heaved and lifted our luggage and then both collapsed onto the bed. This type of holiday is hard work.

    A little while later, when my breath had returned, I decided to check the on line banking to see that the day's transaction had been processed correctly. To my horror I found that the petrol station had charged me over $200 for the petrol I had used. Since the car could not hold a fraction of that quantity of fuel, I have to assume that whoever used the pump next was able to fill up on my account. It was another example of the perils of petrol purchasing in a foreign country.

    Although it was a rather unpleasant discovery, it was not the end of the world. We had survived the long drive, we had enjoyed a wonderful holiday and we were back in Tours. Tomorrow we will be in Paris. In the overall scheme of things, losing a $100 or so is a rather trivial matter. Perhaps we will regard it as a learning experience, in the meantime I can gain many brownie points by continually reminding Maggie that it was her fault, and that she will have to greatly reduce her spending for the rest of the trip.
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  • Day24

    The Chateaux are Starting

    September 13, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    The crash I suffered yesterday had obviously done something horrible to my left knee. All night whenever I rolled over in bed I was awakened by the pain involved in having to relocate my leg to somethingf approaching a comfortable position. I started to have serious worries about how I would cope with the cycling over the next few days. The problem with this type of trip is that there is no "Plan B" - each day it is our responsibility to get ourselves and our bikes to the next hotel. On the other hand I have discovered that you never really discover what you are capable of until you are put to the test.

    The day began promising enough. A glance at the sky showed that we would be in for another absolutely cloudless day. It is incredible that we have not seen a drop of rain since we arrived in France over three weeks ago. One of the locals explained it like this "We need rain, but we don't want it". A typically French attitude.

    The town of Briare is an absolutely picture perfect treasure. No town has a right to be this beautiful. It makes it impossible to travel more than a few metres without stopping to take a picture. Russell had been chosen as our ride leader for the day, a task he took to with enthusiasm. It was not really his fault that he managed to lead us into a dead end within 5 minutes of leaving the hotel. These sorts of things can happen to even professional cycling guides.

    The undoubted early highlight was the Pont Canal. This ornate iron structure carries the water of the Canal Lateral de la Loire over the top of the Loire itself. For a long time it was the longest such elevated canal bridge in the world, but it has now been exceeded by the new canal bridge in Magdeburg, Germany.

    As we made our way across the pont bridge, my main concern was to avoid falling in the stagnant waters. I was having great difficulty in starting and stopping and had to evolve a completely new (and absolutely unsightly) method for getting my damaged body onto the bike. To my relief I did discover that, once I was underway, I could pedal without too much discomfort.

    Once we found our way out of the town, Russell caught the wind in what was left of his hair and raced ahead. That guy is a real pocket rocket when he decides to be and he was obviously relishing his new job at the front of the peloton. I was also relishing my new role somewhere at the back of the group. It was good to be able to just follow the rider ahead without worrying where we had to go.

    The next amazing sight was the huge medieval city of Gien. Although we did not cross the wide arched bridge to enter the city itself, the view from the opposite bank of the Loire was superb. We also found it to be an ideal place to stop for coffee (actually two, as it was so good). Gordon also found it an ideal place to stage his own crash. Apparently he had been so captivated by the view on the opposite bank, that he missed seeing the curb and performed a slow motion pirouette into the bitumen. A few minutes later, the women had managed to bandage his bleeding elbow and make him look like a cycling leper.

    We then found ourselves riding within clear view of another massive nuclear station. This one had not two, but four huge cooling towers, three of which were belching clouds of white steam into the air.

    Russell somehow managed to find a lovely spot for our picnic lunches, complete with seats and a water view. After lunch we completed the ride along a lovely sealed bike path on an elevated levee bank.

    Our destination for the day was the town of Sully Sur Loire, dominated by the huge Chateau de Sully Sur Loire. It was our first taste of a genuine castle and a great foretaste for the large numbers of such building swe will see over the next week or so.

    After checking into the very comfortable Hotel Burgevin, we had plenty of time to explore the local area and have a closer look at the Chateau. My knee had survived its first real test and I was hoping that things would improve from now on.

    Our evening meal was at the stangely named Aux P'tits Oignons restaurant. It was a tiny place, run by a French couple. He did all the cooking and she did all the serving. Neither of them spoke a single word of English, but the food was sensational. On the way home we walked the silent streets of Sully under a brilliant full moon, It might have been Friday the 13th, but we felt like the luckiest people on the planet.
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  • Day30

    Rest Day in Amboise

    September 19, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    On any extended ride rest days are something to be eagerly anticipated as they approach, and enjoyed when they arrive. I had especially been looking forward to our time in Amboise, partly because I knew how much the group would enjoy visiting the beautiful Clos Luce (the final home of Leonardo da Vinci), and partly because of the opulent accommodation we would be staying in.

    Since this was my third visit to Amboise, I decided not to return to the home of Leonardo, but to visit the imposing Chateau d"Amboise instead. This towering building dominates the centre of the city and is reached via a long sloping walkway. Although the external appearance is rather uninviting, I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful it actually is when viewed from the inside.

    The Chateau d'Amboise occupies an prominent location that affords glorious views down to the city of Amboise and the River Loire. Unlike Chambord, the chateau is a much more aesthetically pleasing building and the rooms are of a more modest size. It is surrounded by spectacular lawns and gardens. If I was a king of France, I know which place I would choose to live in.

    The Chateau is only a short walk from Leonardo's home. During the time of Leonardo's three year residence at the Clos Luce, a secret tunnel was constructed to join the two buildings together. This meant that Leonardo could meet his patron Francois 1, without having to venture in the open spaces of the city. Leonardo's short sojurn in Amboise ended in 1519 when the great genius died, most probably as a result of a stroke.

    Maggie and I spent the afternoon wandering the streets of the old city and we ended up in a quaint Salon de The (coffee shop). As soon I entered the place, I had a feeling of deja vu. I remembered that I had enjoyed a cup of coffee in the same place, back in 2013. It is amazing how strong some recollections from the previous trips can be. Events that I thought I had completely forgotten come flooding back as if they were yesterday.

    Our evening meal was held at our hotel. It developed into quite a celebration as we all knew that it was the final night that Carol and Samantha would be with us. Tomorrow they will be leaving the team to make their way back to Paris, and then home to Australia. We will all be sorry to see them leave as they have been such a valued part of the group.

    Tomorrow our reduced group ofd 14 riders will continue to Tours.
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  • Day32

    Villandry and the End of the Pies

    September 21, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌧 23 °C

    Despite the severe risk of becoming repetitive, I will begin with a comment on the weather at the start of our ride. Once again it was absolutely perfect, without a single cloud to blot the sky. Although this is great for us, it is not so good for the locals who are becoming increasingkly concerned about the lack of water. Much of France is now suffering from strict water restrictions, and the rivers are only a pale shadow of what they normally would be at this time of the year.

    Our first challenge was to navigate our way out of Tours. This was made even more difficult by the fact that large sections of the main road were being torn up. We eventually made it to the bike path and were able to start making real progress.

    The main highlight of the day was the famous Chateau at Villandry and its even more famous gardens. This place really is quite beautiful and the gardens are sensational. The only other garden that comes even close would be Lothar and Celia's famous garden at Pakenham in Australia.

    Of course, while we were riding, we were also very conscious of another significant event taking place on the other side of the planet - the preliminary final football match between Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney. I could well imagine all those tattooed and toothless Collingwood supporters shouting their abuse at everything and everyone, and we could only hope that Collingwood would lose the match and put them all out of their misery.

    Towards the end of the last quarter we pulled aside to listen to the commentary. When the final siren sounded the death knell for the pies, there may have been tears of grief from the magpie army in Melbourne, but a resounding cheer went up from the Ghostriders thousands of km away on the Loire.

    We spent a couple of hours admiring the gardens and chateau at Villandry and marvelling over the fact that it is actually privately owned. By the time we were due to leave, the temperature had risen to around 30C and we were not relishing the thought of another 20 km in the hot sun.

    Although the path along the river was really quite beautiful, there was a challenging succession of climbs on the outskirts of Azay le Rideau that really made us sweat and sway as we climbed. When Gordon stopped to wipe the sweat from his face, Russell told him that there was really no need for him to cry like that. I guess that's easy to say when you only weigh about 50 kg.

    We were all very happy for the ride to end, and we were even happier when we realised that we had been booked into the very comfortable 4 star Grand Monarque Hotel. This building was built in the 18th century as a staging post, but it is now a lovely hotel. Our rooms were huge, probably the best equipped we had stayed in for the entire ride so far.

    Azay le Rideau is also home to a beautiful chateau, but it was a little distressing to see how the lack of water had reduced the water in the moat to a stagnant puddle. We happened to have arrived in the middle of a fete, complete with various performers and bands.

    Our meal was arranged for us at the hotel, where we had a private room exclusively for us. We are beginning to feel like royalty. We were even sent off to to sleep with a fireworks display.

    Finally, it is worth pointing out that today marked the official end of summer in Europe. Tomorrow will be the first day of autumn and also the first day that some rain is predicted to fall. It will almost be a relief from the continual sunshine we have had up till now.
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  • Day27

    What a Difference Sunshine Makes

    September 16, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    All those who took part in our 2015 ride from Orleans to Le Croisic will never forget the first day on the bikes as we rode out of Orleans. It has been indelibly etched on our memories as one of the coldest, wettest and darkest days we have ever spent on our bikes.

    On that occasion the rain fell continuously from the moment we left the Oceania Hotel in Orleans, the temperature never left single digits and the punctures came in regular bursts (pardon the pun). It was a indeed a bleak day.

    Forur years later to the day, the conditions could not have been more different. The sunshine was unbroken for the entire day (actually it has been unbroken for the entire time we have been in France). The temperature hovered in the mid twenties and as for punctures ? We don't know what punctures are any more - these bikes are unbreakable. All of these factors made for a very enjoyable (and relatively short) ride.

    Our first challenge was to get out of Orleans. I had made the foolish decision to allow the women some shopping time before we got on the bikes. Since most of the shops had been shut yesterday, they were showing definite signs of shopping deprivation. I gave them definite instructions that they would need to be back to start the ride by 10 am. That must have gone straight over their heads as they started to slowly (but happily) drift (or is it doidle ?) back with their bulging bags of treasures.

    As least the women were happy, but their husbands almost certainly won't be when they get the credit card statements. Sometime around 10.30 we were finally ready to leave the city. Maggie had said that she knew a good way to reach the bike path, so I handed her control of the peloton. To my surprise, her route actually worked and we were soon all safely back on the Loire a Velo bike path.

    As we made our way along the bike path it felt good to be back on somewhat familiar territory. I had ridden this part twice before - in 2013 and 2015. It felt even better to be able to enjoy it in perfect conditions. The kilometres quickly slipped by. The riders happily chatted together as they rode along. After our rest day in Orleans it actually felt good to be back on the bikes and resuming our ride along the Loire.

    I guess the only somewhat sad note to the ride is the low level of the water in the river. It is painfully obvious that the lack of rain has severely reduced the flow of water and the usually majestic Loire River is only a much reduced version of its normal self.

    Since we had a short ride, our plan had been to stop in Meung Sur Loire for morning tea and then continue to Beaugency for a late lunch. The only problem was then we arrived in Meung, most of the shops were closed for Monday. (Yes Monday is a bit like a second Sunday here). We searched for coffee in vain. Just as we were about to give up, we were spied by an elderly lady who asked in very broken English what we were looking for. Apparently she had not spoken English since she had been in school, but she did reasonably well.

    When she realised that we were looking for coffee, she explained that she knew a place. We were instructed to follow her. So off we went.

    "It's about 100 metres", she explained. (That was a lie). We went up and down hills, through narrow alleyways, around roundabouts, etc, etc. We looked at each other, wondering just where she was taking us, I just hoped that she wasn't the famous poisoning Frenchwoman who was leading us all back to her house.

    "You will have to forgive me, I am very old" , she explained. I thought that she must be at least 90 or so to be making such slow progress, but she went on to add "Yes I am 71 years old ". Crikey at that rate she would have been one of the youngest in the Ghostriders. We shuffled on and on. I was just glad that Maggie and I had both updated our wills before this trip started.

    Just when we were all about to give up, she finally led us around a blind corner and VOILA, there was a cafe. Although we were told that they had no milk at first, all came good in the end and we were able to enjoy our cappucinos after all. Crisis averted and another wonderful insight into the French psyche. It will be recorded in our memories as one of the highlights of the ride.

    Our home for this evening is the L'Ecu de Bretagne" Hotel. It is the same place I had stayed in twice previously, although it was the first time I had the doubtful privelege of having a room on the top floor. With no lifts in the place, scoring a top floor room is like being allocated a poison chalice. After dragging our suitcases up the narrow winding staircase I felt like the mythical Sisyphus who was condemned to spend all eternity rolling a massive stone to the top of a huge hill, only to see it roll down to the bottom again every night.

    In the evening we all shared what will surely become the most memorable dinner of the trip. The restaurant had set up a huge outdoor table for us in the central part of the town. We watched the sky change colour from blue to pink to purple as we ate and chatted together. The food was amazing, buit it was the location that was pure magic.
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  • Day28

    Goodbye Leonardo

    September 17, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    Five hundred years ago, in 1519, one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever known breathed his final breath. In the same year, a short distance away, work began on a hunting lodge for the reigning king - Francois the FIrst. That lodge is now known as the Chateau de Chambord, the largest of all the chateaux in the Loire Valley. Although it is the largest, it is certainly not the most beautiful.

    When I first laid eyes on this building in 2013, I thought that it looked like the work of a manic imagination. I have now seen it twice since and my opinion has not changed. There is no argument that it is a collosal work of engineering, but the scale and opulence do little to make up for the sheer lack of any sort of good taste.

    It took many years and an incredible amount of money and resources to construct, but it is worth noting that Francois only spent a total of 7 weeks there. After his death it was left abandoned for 80 years. It proved to be unpopular and highly impractical for either a hunting lodge or a place of residence and it is easy to see why.

    The enormous rooms were impossible to heat and all the furnishings and decorations were taken away whenever the king was not in residence. Its existence is just another example of the way that French royalty lived in a profligate fantasy world, completely removed from their poor subjects. The sheer ego and arrogance of Francois is reflected in the way that his iniitial F is prominently displayed everywhere in the design.

    And what exactly was the role of Leonardo da Vinci ? The scholars seem divided on how much input the aging Leonardo had in the design of Chambord, but the consensus seems to be that the distinctive double helix staircase was his idea. It is certainly the most startling feature of the building and one that would be worthy of the creative genius of the great man himself. The architects who designed the rest of the monstrosity have very little to be commended for.

    Our ride today took us from Beaugency to Blois and the Chateau de Chambord was the most significant highlight of the day. Earlier in the morning we had ridden past our third nuclear power station of the trip so far. This one had the same huge cooling towers that we have become familiar with, although it was a little disconcerting that it also seemed to be leaking steam from the base of one of the towers as well.

    Perhaps it was because of the excellent navigational skills of Gordon, or maybe it was because we are all getting stronger each day. Whatever the reason, we managed to complete the day's ride without even raising a sweat. We were also pleased to be staying in the modern Mercure Hotel, right on the banks of the Loire. When we stayed here in 2015, our hotel had been unkindly situated right at the highest part of the city. We were very thankful to be spared that final climb.

    Blois (pronounced like Loire, but with a B at the start) is a beautiful city with a lovely old bridge spanning the river. The most striking feature of the inner city area is the huge staircase that has now been decorated with a reproduction of the famous Mona Lisa.
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  • Day31

    Goodbye Sam & Carol

    September 20, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌙 18 °C

    Our time in Amboise had been a highlight for all our team. The spirit of da Vinci is everywhere, especially as this year marks the 500th year since his death. Our accommodation at the historic Clos D'Amboise had also been memorable. After all it is not often that you get the chance to stay in a 400 year old mansion.

    The morning dawned crystal clear but quite chilly. Our riders began the day decked out in jackets and jumpers - a far cry from those scorching hot days that we shared together in Avignon, just three weeks previously.

    We had not gone more than a km or so before we found ourselves in the middle of the weekly market. Once again the temptation was just too great for the female members of the group and they quickly disappeared with their purses in their hands. I stayed to watch the bikes.

    About 30 minutes later Maggie reappeared. "There is a great hat shop that you should look at", she demanded. It was useless to debate the issue, so I meekly followed her like I always do. About 10 minutes later I was the reluctant owner of a newsboy cap. I suppose I should be grateful that it only cost me 25 Euro, and not the $65 Euro that Gordon and Gerry had paid for theirs. I had to admit that it was a bit of fun wearing it and I did feel a little more French than before.

    The ride soon meandered into the vineyards of the Montlouis region where we rode through a succession of vineyards and past a series of underground wine cellars. Wine is obviously a big deal in this region, but as a non drinker, the big mystery to me is why anyone would actually pay money to drink the stuff.

    We also encountered some of the biggest hills of the ride so far. Of course the ebike riders sailed up with huge smiles on their faces, while the rest of us huffed and puffed in their wake. Yvonne had decided to take up the ebike previously used by Samantha, so she had an extra reason to be enjoying herself.

    We rejoined the path along the Loire on the outskirts of Tours and then crossed the river on a bikes only bridge. It was a glorious way to be introduced to this substantial city of some 400,000 inhabitants. Our hotel is the appropriately named "Grand Hotel", situated right next to the amazingly beautiful Gare de Tours railway station.

    The Grand Hotel was once one of the city's luxury hotels and it still bears the wonderful Art Deco style that was so popular during the 20's and 30's. Although the hotel now feels like a grand old dame who is now enjoying a stately retirement, we were thrilled to find that the room was spacious and looked directly out to the front of the railway station.

    In the evening we enjoyed a "Private Soiree" at the Petite Cuisine. This was a remarkable experience as we were the special guests at what felt like the owner's house. We were all seated around a large table while the owner and her assistant cooked our dinners in the fully visible kitchen. It was another unique dining experience in our culinary odyssey.
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  • Day22

    A Test of Strength in Sancerre

    September 11, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    After our late start yesterday, we were all keen to get rolling on our bikes as early as possible. I had previously instructed the team to be down for breakfast by 7.30 am, so that we could get started on our ride at 9 am. Since a peloton rides on its stomach, it is always important to begin each day with a hearty repast of cereal, juices, baguettes, yoghurt, cheeses, fruit and of course coffee.

    Buoyed by the lovely meal we had been supplied with the previous evening, we all entered the breakfast room of the hotel with eager anticipation of what glorious delights would be waiting for us. Our spirits soon took a dive when we saw the meager assortment that was waiting for us.

    Not only was there barely enough food for 6, let alone 16 hungry people, but there was almost no cutlery or crockery either. The cereals ran out in the first couple of minutes. This was perhaps just as well as there were no bowls left to put the cereal into. The six slices of ham did not go far either. Although there was still some orange juice, the glasses were smaller than an egg cup, meaning that it was all gone in a single swallow. The owner simply did not seem to appreciate that anything was wrong, even when people had to resort to eating from dirty crockery.

    We looked at each other, wondering whether we were about to witness some sort of miracle of the loaves and fishes. Unfortunately miracles were in short supply and so most of the group went hungry. The owner even struggled to supply us with hot coffee - our staple heart starter for the morning. If it had been an episode of Masterchef, I would have scored the breakfast a 2/10. The only pleasing thing was the lovely crunchy baguettes.

    Although the breakfast was a letdown, our group was in high spirits at the prospect of a lovely ride along the Loire. The early morning weather was cool and fresh, a far cry from the scorching days we had so recently spent in Caumont.

    On the way out of Charite, we stopped at the local Boulangerie to buy some sandwiches and cakes for a picnic lunch by the river. At least we then knew that we would not go hungry during the day.

    The first part of the ride took us out of the town and back across the Loire. The most obvious feature of this part of the city was how neglected the ancient buildings were. Most of the houses looked like they had been deserted, giving the place the feeling of a ghost town.

    We were soon comfortably cruising along an elevated levee bank. We had no real need to hurry as the day's ride was relatively short. It was wonderful to be able to just savour the moment, stopping for pictures along the way. We knew that there would be very few opportunities to purchase food or drinks along the way, however the guide book promised that there would be a cafe at the little town of Pouilly.

    Although we initially rode a short distance past the turnoff, we did eventually make our way across the long bridge and found the promised coffee shop. It gave us a wonderful chance to chat with a group of fellow travellers and laugh with the owner. He asked where we were riding to. When we told him we were going to Sancerre, he rolled his eyes and pointed upwards with his hands. It turned out to be a very accurate prediction of what lay ahead for us.

    After our morning tea stop we continued for another few km, looking for a suitable place for our picnic lunch. We were very happy to discover a lovely spot, right on the river bank. It was the perfect place to eat our baguettes and enjoy the rising temperature.

    When we caught our first glimpses of Sancerre we could see that the final few km were never going to be easy. The city was prominently situated, right on the crest of a distinctive hill. A very steep hill. The ebike riders were not daunted, the rest of us shook our heads in fear and dismay.

    Although the early climb was modest, the road took an abrupt left hand turn, sending us directly up the side of the mountain. The gradient would have been at least 16% or more. I could have risked a heart attack by trying to ride up it, but I could think of no good reason to do so. I stopped and started to walk. When I looked back I found that almost everyone else had done the same thing. As it turned out only two of the ebike riders (Maggie and Sue) had managed to complete the first part of the climb without dismounting, the rest of us decided to ride "Shank's pony" instead.

    As we walked our way slowly up the climb, the views opened up behind us. Although it was really hard work, the location was breathtaking (yes, literally breathtaking). A short time later we reached our hotel - the Clos St Martin, and were able to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring this beautiful hilltop city. Once our heart rates had settled a little, we all agreed that the effort was really worth it. How priveleged we were to be able to experience such a glorious part of the world.
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  • Day25

    In the City of St Jeanne d'Arc

    September 14, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Ever since we first arrived in France, over three weeks ago, one of the main topics of conversation has been the lack of rain . Paris has had no rain for almost a month and large areas of the country are suffering water restrictions. In a country where floods are far more common than droughts, this has created some degree of anxiety among the locals.

    The lack of rain might not be so good for the people of France, but it has certainly made our cycling easier. We have not had a single wet day, and it is looking like there will be no rain for at least the next week. This is a huge contrast to the last time that the Ghostriders were in this region, back in 2015.

    On that ride we endured one of the toughest days in the saddle that the Ghostriders have ever suffered. The rain started before we rode out of our hotel in Orleans and continued unabated for the entire day. The temperature was in the single digits, meaning that we were all in danger of severe hypothermia. I remember that David Yate's face and hands had turned an interesting shade of blue and we all began to wonder whether he would actually survive the day.

    The most memorable event occured when we were gathered in an open cornfield, trying to repair one of the many punctures that were also part of that incredible day. We heard a noise coming towards us like the sound of a hundred speeding locomotives. It was a most dramatic squall that was cutting its way through the field and heading straight for us. We were already as wet as we could possibly be and about as cold as a mountain climber on the summit of Everest, but the approaching storm filled us with dread.

    Riders huddled together, trying to find protection from the sleet and freezing wind, as the storm front roared right over our heads. It was something we will never forget. When we arrived at our hotel, we all sought any means possible to restore some warmth to our bodies - sit in the bathtub, stand under the shower, cuddle the radiator, etc, etc.

    It is clearly obvious as we ride alongside the, greatly reduced, Loire River, that we are are in no imminent danger of saturation or frostbite on this ride. The fields are much browner than usual and each day the sun shines from a cloudless sky. Any form of rain seems a very remote possibility.

    Yesterday we rode from our overnight stay at Sully to arrive at the major city of Orleans. Although it was long ride, the favourable weather conditions made it not as tiring as it should have been . The day was also notable for the fact that I made the bold decision to put the leadership duties in the hands of two women - Sam and Kay. I would have to say that they actually did a great job, and we found that we got lost no more frequently than we did when a man was leading.

    Carol and Maggie took on the role of "tail end Charlies" and seemed to spend most of the ride laughing together and taking pictures. They did observe that Vicki was the best behaved rider when riding in heavy traffic. She was awarded a special "safe rider" award at the evening meal.

    Orleans is a large city of around 400,000 people. It is most famous for being the home of the famous Joan of Arc. Nowadays her name and image is everywhere throughout the city. This is where we will also have our first rest day during our Loire Ride. I have well learned how p[opular and vital these rest days are to restore morale and energy during extended rides.

    In the evening we dined at the L'Ardoise Restaurant. We had been allocated an upstairs room, presumably to stop us disturbing the other diners. Our waitress was a lively young lady who was wearing a very short skirt which amply revealed a pair of very long shapely legs. The men folk all began wishing they were fifty or so years younger. That was until we heard the way she regularly yelled strings of obscenities at her hidden husband in the kitchen. She also spent the entire evening running up and down the long narrow staircase, carrying dishes to our 16 diners and also to the 30 or so downstairs patrons as well. It was a herculean effort in anyone's language.

    Dining in France is always something of a theatrical experience. You cannot apply the same assessment criteria that you would in Australia. Sometimes it is best to just relax and learn to live by their rules and customs. After all, that is why we came to this country in the first place. The food itself was superb, but it was the entertaining performance of the waitress that we will all remember, long after the trip is over.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Centre-Val-de-Loire, Centre, Centro, Regione Centrale, 상트르

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