In 2019 a group of riders from the Australian Ghostriders Cycling Group are travelling in France to complete a cycling adventure in Provence, followed by a four week ride along the Loire. You are invited to share the trip with us.
  • Day47

    Back to the Loire

    October 6, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    I must admit that we all felt quite emotional. It is not easy to say goodbye to friends you have shared so many experiences with over the past few weeks. It was also something of an acknowledgement that our time in France was inevitably coming to an end.

    Kay and Annie were catching an early train from St Malo to Paris airport. In a few hours they would both be on their way back to Australia. A couple of hours later we were farewelling Gael and Gerry as they headed off to spend a few days in Paris. That meant we were down to just the two of us. And where will will be going ? We will actually be heading right back to where we were about a week ago.

    It was time to pam (ie cram) the suitcases again for another train trip. With bulging zippers we said goodbye to the girl at the desk of the Beaufort Hotel. It had been our fourth stay at this hotel and we told her that we both hoped it would not be the last.

    As soon as we started rolling our way towards the train station, we started to miss the sound of the ocean. That continuous white noise of the waves and tides really does work its way into your subconscious. It is certainly a magical way to drift off to sleep.

    Our plan was to travel back to Nantes - the place where we had seen the giant automated elephant and dined like royalty at La Cigalle. That meant catching the train from St Malo to Rennes and then getting a second train to Nantes. Although the French make amazing trains that can cross the nation silently at 300 kph, their station design leaves a lot to be desired.

    It is apalling that so many of their stations still have no lifts or escalators. There is often no alternative to manhandling suitcases up and down long flights of stairs. I cannot understand how anyone with any sort of physical disability would manage. It is bad enough for people of "senior years", like us.

    Even if you successfully manage to get your luggage through the station and on to the correct train, there is almost no storage room on the trains for suitcases. We have often had to jam the case into the same seats we were sitting on and then have an extremely uncomfortable journey as a result.

    At least the train to Rennes was only partially full, enabling us to grab a couple of spare seats for our luggage. We then sat in fear that additional people would board the train and demand those two seats. Fortunately that did not happen and we made it to Rennes without incident.

    With only a few minutes to catch the next train, we performed the "suitcase two step" between the platforms, arriving exhausted at the Nantes train. In the process I think I also managed to do more damage to my back and knee. This really is the not so glamorous part of travel.

    Although the Nantes train was more densely populated, we somehow managed to find a tiny piece of space for our luggage and sat down to enjoy the wonderful scenery outside. An hour later we were getting off the train at Nantes. Ity almost felt like being back home again as the place was familiar. It was also significantly warmer than it had been in St Malo, so we were soon discarding our coats.

    After checking into our hotel we wandered back into the streets of the centreville. One shop caught our attention. It was an optical shop with a slogan "10 Euros in 10 Minutes". And yes, it is true. They can make you a pair of glasses for 10 Euro in 10 minutes. Everything is highly automated and done in front of your eyes. You don't even need an appointment OR a prescription as they can do a high tech eye test on the spot. It seemed an incredible concept and we would have gone inside and given it a try if it had not been a Sunday and if they had not been closed. I could do with a spare pair of 10 Euro glasses.

    Tomorrow we will be colelcting our hire car from the depot and then heading further south to the Dordogne region.
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  • Day46

    A Day in Dinard

    October 5, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Reached by a 10 minute ferry trip across the Rance River from St Malo, there lies the interesting township of Dinard. Apart from the impressive collection of subdtantial "old money" homes, the other dominating feature of Dinard is the large Casino.

    Since we had no other definite plans for the day, five of us decided that it would be good to get a little sea air and take the short cruise to DInard. Another advantage of taking this short trip is that it also provides another vantage point to view the old city of St Malo.

    When we arrived at the ferry terminal we noticed that two massive passenger liners had moored in the harbour. A steady relay of transfer boats were busy transferring people from the ships to St Malo. Gerry took one look at these multistory people transports and asked "Why would anyone ever want to get on one of those ?" Since I could not think of any rational answer to his question, I replied "Damned if I know".

    Soon we had crossed the Rance and were walking along the waterfront walkway to the town centre. Since we had arrived at lunchtime, it was time to buy a baguette and coffee. Maggie recalled that the last time we visited this place her lunch had been stolen by an aggressive seagull. Not only did it pinch her raspberry tart, but it also managed to empty its copious bowels on us at the same time. It was not a happy memory.

    Fortunately this time no avian attack took place and we were able to eat our lunches without incident. It was then that the ladies discovered that it was market day in Dinard. That discovery was akin to pouring petrol on a bushfire. Within seconds they had disappeared our of sight, leaving me to snooze in the warm sunshine.

    Sometime later in the afternoon they reappeared, laden with fresh shopping and trying to justify the spending by some sort of lop sided logic about how much money they had saved. Maggie is the only person I know who seems to think that spending money can somehow actually save money that she can then spend on something else. Yes it makes no sense whatsoever, but she believes it like a fundamental law of the universe.

    It was near 3 pm when we realised that the return ferry must be about to leave. Since we did not want to get stuck in Dinard, we fastwalked to the port and just managed to clamber on board as the ferry was leaving, The timing was perfect.

    Another ten minute trip took us back to St Malo and a long walk took us back to the Beaufort Hotel. The tides had repeated their daily performance and the locals were back during their aquatic workouts.

    At the end of the day the "St Malo six" went out together for our final dinner together. Tomorrow morning we will all be heading in different directions. Maggie and I will be heading back to the Loire to revisit Nantes and to collect our rental car.
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  • Day45

    Watching the Tides

    October 4, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌧 16 °C

    It's a strange feeling walkin on sand, knowing that in a few hours time, it will be 10 metres under the sea. But such is life in magical St Malo. Life in this city is intimately connected to the daily cycle of the rising and falling of the tremendous tides. Just watching the process is a truly hypnotic experience.

    As we left our hotel this morning the tides were at their highest. Although it is now a couple of days past the monthly maximum, the variation between high and low water levels is truly extreme.

    As the waves crashed into the sea wall there were loud thumping noises as the reflecting waves collided with those coming in. Regular sprays of foam were thrown high into the air. Crowds of people had gathered, just to watch the waves.

    Later in the day the sea had retreated many hundreds of metres, revealing a vast expanse of clean sand. This sand becomes a daily playground for a diverse range of activities. Dozens of wind surfers were also making use of the stiff breeze to race back and forth on the water. At the same time, the late afternoon sun was making a bashful appearance from between the clouds to cast an eery light on the Citadel. It really was quite a spectacle.

    In two day's time we will be leaving St Malo and heading back to Nantes to collect a hire car. From there we will be spending a few day's exploring the Dordogne Region. It has been a remarkable trip but our thoughts are starting to turn back to those waiting for us in Australia.
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  • Day44

    The St Malo Citadel

    October 3, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    Apart from watching the never ending performance of the rising and falling of the huge tides, the other major attractions of St Malo are walking the huge sea wall and exploring the so called "old city". With such monumental tides and damaging waves to defend against, the city requires a very serious barrier to prevent their buildings being destroyed by the marine onslaught.

    The major part of these defenses is a gigantic stone wall that has been erected along the Atlantic coastline. Not only does this wall provide a primary defence against the huge waves, but it also gives the people of St Malo a perfect place to walk, jog, cycle, roller skate or walk the dog. At any time of the day you will find a continuous passing parade of people and dogs moving past.

    The old city (aka "The Citadel" is an impressive walled city that was home to a German garrison in WW2. The commander of the garrison refused to surrender and this resulted in nearly all of the original structure being destroyed by allied shelling and bombing. It was a complete waste of a priceless historic relic. An intensive 12 years rebuilding plan from 1948 to 1960 resulted in the construction of the current reproduction of the original city.

    On our first free day in St Malo we had no ambitious plans, apart from walking to the city and then wandering the full length of the sea wall. So that's exactly what we did. We even got to see a couple of dolphins cavorting near the water's edge. It was a perfect day and an ideal way to relax after our long days on the bike.
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  • Day43

    Hello St Malo

    October 2, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    It is a great feeling to complete something that has been anticipated for such a long time. It is an even greater feeling when you have been able to share the experience with a group of like minded people. Unless you have actually done something like this, it is very difficult to convey exactly what it is like.

    After being through so much together, the members of the group really do begin to feel like some sort of extended family. That always makes it somewhat difficult when the ride eventually finishes and the time for farewells starts.

    Although the "official" trip finished this morning after breakfast,, the final time the whole group was together was at dinner last night. Several had to leave early this morning to catch trains to various other places. By the time we sat down for breakfast, we knew that our group was already beginning the process of breaking up. We will surely miss the fun and camaraderie that was an integral part of every day of the past 5 weeks.

    For six of us, the adventure will continue a little longer as we make our way north to St Malo. This is a wonderful coastal city in Brittany that we fell in love with several years ago. We have been back many times since then and never fail to be mesmerised by the place.

    St Malo has a rich history, being home to numerous privateers (state pirates) from the 16th to 19th centuries. It was also the site of a very important German naval base in WW2. When the German commander refused to surrender at any cost, it meant that the original old city was almost completely destroyed in the allied bombardment. It was then rapidly reconstructed in the 1950s. At first glance the city still looks medieval, however on close inspection, you can see that it is a brilliant reconstruction of what was originally here.

    There is another natural phenomenon that makes this place special - the super tides. The coastline in this region is home to some of the most extreme tidal variations on the planet. In fact the variation between high and low tides can regularly exceed 10 metres. In order to protect the city of these huge tides a massive stone sea wall has been constructed. Even with the impressive wall, at times of the king tides, the huge waves can go over the wall and crash into the waterfront buildings. At such times huge crowds gather to watch the spectacle.

    We had all had a marvellous time in Le Croisic, so much so that several of the group started to dream about how good it would be to retire there. But now the time had come for us to leave. Along with Maggie and me, there would be 4 others travelling with us to St Malo. This included Gerry and Gael and also Annie and Kay.

    The trip to St Malo meant that we would have to take three train trips. First we had to travel to Nantes, then take a second train to Rennes, and finally a third train to St Malo. Such trips can be much more exhausting than cycling, especially when you have to rapidly drag your luggage up and down numerous staircases in a very limited amount of time. It is at times like this that everyone decides that their luggage is too heavy, but no one ever remembers that when the time comes for their next trip.

    Somehow we all managed to survive the trains and we finally arrived at the Gare St Malo at 6.30 pm. Of course we still had a very lengthy walk to the Hotel Beaufort. It must be quite a comical sight seeing six old people dragging their suitcases over cobblestoned steets, vainly trying to dodge the dog poo and avoid snapping the castors off their bags each time they bounced over a curb.

    Eventually six exhausted seniors arrived at the hotel. For us it felt like we were back home. The hotel is situated right on the ocean front and the views are priceless. The manager explained to us that we had arrived right at the time of the "very dangerous king tide" that would arrive in just two hour's time. In order to help protect the hotel they proceeded to fasten wooden shutters and armoured glass panels to the seaward facing windows. I had always wanted to witness the king tides, but had not realised that it was due on the very night of our arrival.

    Although the tide rose right on time at 10.38 pm, the sea was quite peaceful. No waves came crashing through our first floor windows. I was just slightly disappointed.
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  • Day42

    Final Rest Day in Le Croisic

    October 1, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    After the continual frenetic activity of the previous few weeks it was a relief to finally know that there would be no riding today. There would also be no need for packing, moving bags, finding hotels, etc. In fact we had lots of time and very little to do with it. It was heaven.

    The breakfast room of our hotel was actually across the the road in the waterfront restaurant where we had dined the night before. You could not imagine a more spectacular place to enjoy your morning baguettes and orange juice. The building is situated right on the edge of the Atlantic and has panoramic windows on the ocean side that offer continually mesmerising view of the ever changing waves crashing outside. It was the sort of place you could spend hours, just watching the ocean.

    Of course, there was one essential task that had to be done. Our bags were bursting with laundry that urgently needed the services of a washing machine. We already knew that there was a coin laundry, only about 1 km away from the hotel. So that's where we headed. The next hour was spent watching the clothes do round and round in the washing machine, then in the dryer. It was nowhere near as exciting as watching the waves, but it was a soothing feeling to know that you would finally have clean clothes once again.

    One incredible feature of this part of the world is the huge tidal range. At low tide the water recedes so far away that you can no longer see it. At the fishing port all the moored boats are left sitting on the sand. It is quite a sight to behold, especially when the tide turns and the water starts russhing back in again. Over the space of 20 minutes I sat and watch the entire scene change before my eyes. Boats that were stuck firm are lifted from the sand and start bobbing away in the water.

    Le Croisic is very clearly a holiday location and, at this time of the year, most of the houses are already locked and shuttered for the winter. It does seem like quite a waste seeing so many magnificent homes being left empty for so many months at a time.

    In the evening we met for the final group dinner of the ride. We had been booked into L"Estacade Restaurant. This is a Michelin restaurant that is rated number 1 out of about 50 in Le Croisic. We discovered that this rating was richly deserved. The food and service was simply superb. It was a magnificent way to end an incredible trip.

    After dinner we had a lengthy walk back to the hotel, but the evening was mild and the wind had dropped. It was a magical feeling, walking back through the narrow streets, lit by subdued sepia lighting. I suspect we were probably all a bit noisier than we should have been, but it really didn't matter much since the place was almost deserted.

    In the morning our group will disperse to places all over Europe. What an unforgettable time we have shared together.
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    Traveler

    well done everyone... Steve and i have loved following your journey. Hope the knee is ok Dennis. Now to go shopping for your new Garmin. Enjoy

    10/2/19Reply
     
  • Day41

    Mission Accomplished

    September 30, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Although we had already ridden to the mouth of the Loire at St Brevin, our ride was not yet fully completed. We all know that the Tour de France is not completed until the riders enter Paris and ride around the Champs Elysees. That final day for the Tour de France riders is something of a formality, the maillot jaune has already been effectively won in the final day on the mountains.

    If yesterday was something of our final day in the mountains, then today was our epilogue. While we had achieved our primary aim, we still had to continue our way westwards to the wild Atlantic coast at Le Croisic. It still had the potential to b e another really challenging day, especially as the weather forecast was for more rain and very strong winds from the west. This would not be an ideal way to complete our ride, but we would have to accept whatever was thrown at us.

    You can imagine my relief when I awoke to find that the rain had stopped. So had the wind. That was a very promising development. We donned the cycling gear for the last time and went down to attack the breakfast buffet. The breakfast itself was in keeping with a large casino hotel, so I took maximum advantage of what was on offer. I then gathered the group together for a group photo in front of the hotel.

    Then it was time to begin our final day. The first challenge was to safely get across the huge bridge across the Loire to St Nazaire on the right bank. This bridge was built in the 1970s and was for many years the longest bridge in France and the longest cable suspended bridge in the world. At 3.4 km long, it certainly would take a brave cyclist to try to ride across it, especially as there is no bike lane and the wind at the top would be horrendous.

    We had arranged for a mini bus transfer of ourselves and our bikes to the other side. The only problem was that it could only transfer 7 of us at a time. This meant that the first group would have to wait by the side of the road for 40 minutes, until the others arrived. I did the right thing by volunteering Maggie and I to join this first batch. Another 5 people reluctantly joined us. We took the bus trip and then waited. And waited. I got tired and decided to sit down, unfortunately right in the middle of a puddle of water I had not seen. Result - a wet backside.

    When the group was finally complete, we were glad to see that the wind was still lacking and the rain was absent. It was ideal for riding. Russell and I had also done a little research and found that the route could be "fiddled with" in order to save us quite a few uneccessary km. I call it a stroke of genius and the rest of the peloton seemed to agree.

    Although we had been expecting a flat final day, we did manage to find quite a few moderate sized hill and one big one along the way. It made us happy that we had excised those extra kilometres.

    One surprising feature of the houses in this region were the lovely thatched roofs. They almost made us feel we were cycling in the UK.

    The final major attraction was the impressive medieval walled city of Guerande. Not only is it fully surrounded by a massive stone wall, it even has a moat as well. It looks like it has come straight out of the Dark Ages. We were also somewhat surprised that it was very quiet. Although we had expected it to be full of tourists, the place was almost deserted. Not only was it a Monday, but we arrived right in the middle of the siesta time. Fortunately a couple of the cafes were open, so we were able to get some sustenance before the final leg to Le Croisic.

    After leaving Guerande we immediately found ourselves riding through the famous salt pans of the region. Here salt is harvested from the sea water in a huge array of interconnected shallow ponds. It is quite a spectacle, but it is also highly exposed to the wind. As we drew closer and closer to the coast, the headwind started to blow in our faces as a reminder of what might have been if the weather bureau had been correct.

    With our final destination almost in view there was a feeling of exhileration in the group. The route had been changed since we last rode this section and the revised version gave us a lovely tour of the city before we began the final cruise to the hotel. With the waves crashing on the rocks to our left and the magnificent stately homes on our right, it certainly makes for a memorable sight.

    When I announced that the ride had been completed, everyone dismounted and hugged each other. We had shared so much together and it is an indescribable feeling to have achieved something we had been anticipating for over a year. It was also time to do what we always do at such times - take a group photo.

    We noticed a lady walking towards us and asked if she would take our picture. She entered into the spirit of the occasion with enthusiasm, almost getting run over as she stood in the middle of the road. She also told us that we had arrived just in time for the next king tide. It would be there in just a couple of hours. How is that for perfect planning ?

    All we needed now was a hotel to stay in. We had previously stayed in the nearby Les Nids Hotel, but is was now closed and boarded up. The replacement hotel was Les Vikings and I have to admit that it looked absolutely dreadful from the outside. Large pieces were missing from the facade, the paint was peeling, it looked derelict. I was more than a little worried. It would not be a great way to finish such an epic ride if we had to spend the last two nights in a dump.

    Our fears dispersed as soon as we entered the front door. Apparently we are the final guests to be housed here before the full restoration takes place. As soon as we leave the place will be closed so that the builders can start. We were thrilled to find that, not only were our rooms huge, clean and modern, but they all faced the ocean. We ran back and forth from room to room in a silly game of "you show me yours and I'll show you mine". I knew that I had a very happy peloton.

    That evening we had dinner in the oceanfront "Restaurant de L'Ocean". You could not get any closer to the water than this place and we looked through the panoramic windows at the setting sun and the huge waves crashing against the rocks below us. It was a night to remember.

    Yvonne Parsons had spent some time collating statistics of our ride along the Loire. This is what she calculated. Total time in the saddle - 57 hours. Distance ridden 812 km per person. The total vertical distance climbed was over 4,000 metres. Of course this does not include the riding we had already done in Provence. I could also add another very important statistic - Number of punctures ZERO. It truly had been an epic ride in every sense of the word.

    We now have a free day in Le Croisic, before we all begin to make our own ways back to Australia.
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  • Day40

    A Hard Day at the Office

    September 29, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    On every extended ride there is usually one day that is remembered as "the day of suffering". On our 2019 French Ride, today was that day. Not that we can complain, up till now we have enjoyed an uncanny run of glorious weather. I guess that really had to come to an end sooner or later.

    We all knew that the day was not going to be easy. All night we had heard the sound of rain falling outside the hotel. I had also been kept awake by the seemingly constant progression of drunken knobs walking past the hotel at all hours of the night. I don't mind them walking past, but why do they all want to yell at the tops of their voices as they do so ? Nantes is indeed a lovely city, but I was already seeking somewhere quieter.

    The rain continued as we assembled with our riders - a more comic bunch of umpa lumpas you would be hard pressed to find anywhere. It seemed that everyone had managed to find even more wet weather clothing than Horatio Hornblower would have worn in an Atlantic gale. And thus the ride started.

    The first major challenge was to navigate our way out of Nantes, without the aid of the GPS. Finding the Loire was easy, the rest was not so easy. I asked the entire group to help by keeping an eye out for those little green bike signs. We made a couple of minor errors before making a major one. By the time we realised that we had missed the turn, it was too late to double back. The brains trust (aka Russell and Gordon) came to the conclusion that we could get through anyway. And we did. It turned out to be an inspired mistake that probably actually saved us a little time.

    Like all big cities, Nantes has an outer ring of ugly industrial complexes, storage facilities and the like. When you combine this with the still pouring rain, we were starting to look a little ragged before we had even made the first 10 km. And did I mention the head wind ? Well I should have. It soon became evident that we would be pushing into the teeth of a stiff westerly wind all day. At times the wind was so strong as to almost bring us to a standstill. Considering that this was also going to be our longest day in the saddle, it was not a prospect to be savoured.

    Somehow, by sheer force of will and bloody mindedness we made it as far as Indre. At this point we had to cross to the south bank of the river by catching a ferry across the Loire. There were two good points to this crossing - it gave us a short break from our labours and it was free.

    When we were deposited on the opposite bank we all knew that we still had another 45 km to ride. The rain was still falling heavily. The head wind was still blowing. And my severely compromised GPS had to be completely relegated to the pannier. In fact I could hardly see through my wet glasses. Our strength was failing. On the positive side, at least we had left the busy roads behind and were able to ride on a quiet, albeit waterlogged, bike path.

    "This rain will really help the Loire", I said, trying to think of something positive.
    "Who cares about the river ?", was the consensus response.

    It really was hard going, but just as our strength was failing, Yvonne made a wonderful chance discovery. She spied a large cafe, right on the edge of the bike path. Before I could say or do anything, she had already dropped her bike and was making a bee line for the front door. We weren't far behind her.

    Over the next hour we ordered coffee after coffee and galette (waffle) after galette. Our morales started to improve as we warmed up and dried out a little. Things improved even further when we noticed that the rain had finally stopped and the clouds had started to thin a little. Perhaps we could make it after all.

    We finally suited up again and started off. Our destination was St Brevin Les Pins, situated at the mouth of the Loire. Although it was still a long way off, it certainly made for more pleasant riding when we no longer had rain finding its way into every part of our anatomy.

    The final twenty or so km really seemed to take for ever, but our chance encounter with a large group of Citroen 2CV drivers added a welcome diversion. They seemed just as glad to see us as we were to see them. They all proceeded to salute us with a caucophony of horns, hooters, tooters, klaxons and whistles. It was another of those unplanned events that makes travel so incredibly addictive.

    As we entered the outskirts of St Brevin, we got our first glimpses of the famous massive bridge that spans the mouth of the Loire, although it was somewhat difficult to see through the mist. The route become a winding labyrinth of twists and turns that made me glad that I had been able to resurrect the GPS, just long enough to guide us to the hotel.

    By the time we finally reached the large Spa Du Beryl Hotel and Casino, we were all near to our physical limits. It really had been a hard day, but we had now reached our primary objective of reaching the mouth of the Loire. Tomorrow's final ride to Le Croisic would be a wonderful epilogue to an incredible cycling experience.

    The hotel however was not my type of place. Although the rooms were comfortable, I find it hard to take pleasure from an establishment that grows rich from the stupidity and weakness of others. I watched the people in the casino as they mindlessly gambled away their hard earned money. I noticed that not a single one of them was smiling as they just kept pushing the buttons on the poker machines. With every push of the button, a little more of their future was robbed from them. Every external door of the place was surrounded by a clump of smokers, trying to pump a little more nicotine into their systems, before returning to their gambling.

    The location of the hotel was right on the Atlantic coast. I guess we would have had a wonderful view if our rooms had been on the other side of the building. The view of the car park was not quite as exciting as the view of the ocean would have been.

    Tomorrow we will be donning our cycling gear and climbing on our bikes for the very last day as we complete our ride to Le Croisic.
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  • Day39

    Les Machines de I'lle

    September 28, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Although I have been to Nantes twice before, there is one sight that I had not yet seen. Nantes is home to one of the most fantastical collections of automated giant creatures that you could ever find. The giant creatures are an homage to the creative mind of Jules Verne - Nante's most famous son.

    Towards the end of today's ride from Champtoceaux we made a special detour to visit Les Machines and we weren't disappointed. The most famous of these creatures is the giant mechanised elephant. This huge construction can actually carry up to 40 passengers as it walks around on its huge wooden legs. The highly articulated trunk regularly soaks bystanders with jets of water. None of us had seen enything like it, in fact the place was so special that I thought it warranted its very own footprint.

    It truly was the stuff of dreams and imaginations.
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    Traveler

    I have enjoyed re-living through your trip diary the trip we did in 2015. Janna

    9/30/19Reply
     
  • Day39

    I Lose an Old Friend

    September 28, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    I am the first to admit it. Although I have travelled quite a bit, sometimes I can be directionally challenged. While some people seem to have been born with an inbuilt compass in their heads, sometimes I am inclined to lose all orientation. At that times I can find myself heading in the entirely wrong direction.

    Fortunately, in this wonderful age of technology, there is a little gadget that can be a real lifesaver in these situations. Some years ago I purchased a Garmin Oregon 650 GPS and it has been my almost constant companion on every trip since then. It has faithfully kept a record of hundreds of rides, both in Australia and all over the world. It has been with me on the Inca Trail, the Camino, all the way along the Danube, across the UK, Turkey, Scandinavia, the Baltics, Russia, etc. That little companion has travelled hundreds of thousands of km with me and has proven to be my faithful pathfinder wherever I have been.

    You coan therefore imagine my horror when the little helper finally reached its end in Champtoceaux. When I tried to turn it on, the entire switch collapsed, leaving a big hole in the outer case. My distress was not only for the loss of my hitherto faithful GPS, but for the fact that we still had three more days of riding to complete. Up till now the Garmin had indicated every turn in the road - all I had to do was follw the little black line and I could not go wrong. Now we were really heading into unfamiliar territory. How on Earth can people navigate using primitive paper maps ???

    After some further experimentation, I discovered that I could sometimes trigger it to turn on by plugging it into my external mobile phone battery. Perhaps all was not completely lost after all. Before we began our rider out of Champtoceaux I rigged up the GPS on the bike with a lead running to the battery in the pannier. What could possibly go wrong ? The only thing that could make it go even more pear shaped would be rain.

    There is an old adage that "what goes up, must also go down". Since we had climbed up a steep incline to reach Champtoceaux, we knew that our day's ride would start with the same steep descent. It was a lot easier than the ascent, I can assure you of that. But the drizzle was a bit of a worry. I stopped to wrap the GPS up in plastic to keep the water out. The only problem was then I could not read it through the wet plastic. Oh well, someone once said that life was not meant to be easy - just fun. And we were certainly having fun.

    Although the day's ride was not going to be long, it certainly was eventful. The bike path along the Loire was simply beautiful and the cooler weather made the riding easy. Can it be just a few weeks ago that we were all suffering in the heat ? The carpet of fallen leaves is getting deeper every day and the colour of the trees changes with each passing day. It is amazing to watch this take place before your eyes.

    Although we went looking for a coffee stop for morning tea, a search of a likely looking town failed to discover any open shops. All we did almost succeed in doing was to lose Andrea as she was sent in search of coffee. We decided to forget the coffee and push on to Nantes instead,

    A short distance further on we found ourselves surrounded by dozens of other riders and joggers. We had stumbed our way right into the middle of a mass participation cycling event. There were people of all ages and sizes wobbling their way along on a variety of bikes. Somewhere in the middle of them all was a group of 14 rather surprised riders from Australia. When people saw that we were from Australia, there were lots of friendly greetings.

    On the outskirts of Nantes the bike path widens into a lovely smooth sealed bikeway that was a dream to ride along. Since we were still a little early early to check into the hotel, we decided to take a detour to see the huge animated creatures (Les Machines de l'lle) that are housed on the large island in the middle of the Loire. These creatures were designed to capture something of the imagination and vision of Jules Verne. He was the famous writer of works such as "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". "From the Earth to the Moon" and "Mysterious Island". Verne is Nantes most famous son and the city has embarked on an ambitious plan to keep his memory alive.

    The most famous of the animated creatures is the huge elephant. It really is enormous and can carry around 40 passengers on its wanders around the park. To the delight of the onlookers, it also regularly sprays everyone with torrents of water from its trunk and massive squirts of wee from its rear end. It really is a sight to beyond.

    We finally checked into the Hotel Graslin about 4 pm. The hotel was in a superb location, but the rooms were about the size of a pocket handkerchief. It was a serious struggle to get our bags into the room and an even harder struggle to climb over the top of them to reach our bed. It was another example of the principle that the larger the city, the smaller the hotel rooms.

    A short distance from the hotel is the Pommeraye Arcade. We had visited this incredible shopping arcade back in 2015 and wanted to see it again. It dates back to 1840 and gives a glimpse into what fashionable shopping used to be like before the days of Westfield shopping centres.

    The undoubted highlight of the day was our dinner at La Cigalle Restaurant. This is surely one of the most iconic restaurants in France. It opened in 1895 and the sumptuous and flambouyent decor is still wonderfully preserved. It is also a spectacle watching the well disciplined staff work together to serve the clients in the quickest possible manner. When we arrived at the door, there was already a long queue of hopeful diners, all trying to gain admission. Of course we were the guests of honour and able to bypass the masses to proceed straight to our table.

    Although the experience will never be forgotten, the food itself was not up to the same high standard. It was a case of "fish, fish or more fish". At least the desert was excellent.

    It had been quite a day.
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