Day 20 Friday – The beginning of the end of France

Today with the temperatures thankfully waning, we cycled 104 km from Baume-les-Dames to Carspach. We cycled most of the day beside the Le Doubs river and Canal du Rhone au Rhin.

At one stage in the morning the Veloroute moved away from the river and we had some very hilly kilometres but then calm was restored. We had a lovely afternoon with the wind behind us and a lovely flat cycle along the Canal du Rhone au Rhin. Denis uses the Strava app each day to record our cycles. It’s interesting that the above was my general comment on the day’s cycle. However when I look at the Strava record – below is what it showed. I hadn’t realised that the day was a continuous, gradual uphill climb. The total elevation gain in the day was 695 metres – not nothing. The wind in our backs probably helped us more than I even realised.

We are nearing the eastern border of France – tomorrow we should reach Switzerland.

Today we came upon a bicycle shop in the village just before our stop for the night. We had hoped to get the bikes serviced but that was not possible. I bought a new basket for my bike and I feel like all my Christmases have come. The front basket I had was old and difficult to attach. My new one feels luxurious! We have so little with us on this trip that the few things we have, have to work well.

Though we each have two panniers on the back of our bikes, I find I can work out of one, and the other contains stuff that’s spare now e.g. no cycling jacket needed these days, no jacket needed for the evening, spare shoes. Everything is packed in ziplock bags which make unpacking/packing the one pannier I’m using daily so easy.

The front basket contains the stuff needed during the day while cycling (suncream, snacks, phone, etc )

Life is so simple with so few things. Sometimes we over complicate life with stuff! Marie Kondo would be very happy 🙂

Having so little means that getting out in the morning is also simple. We got faster at this in the hot weather when we wanted to get on the road early. We can now do from alarm going off to ready for breakfast in half an hour, (with bikes packed ready to go).

The list of requirements for our accommodation however is increasing. Denis is now looking for accommodation where there are no hills to make his evening run easier 🙂  He’s half in earnest about this but it is tough when we get in after a long day’s cycling to find that the accommodation we have booked is up a massive hill! It’s happened twice – in Sancerre and in Baume-les-Dames last night. So our needs are now increasing to: food available in the evening +good wifi + air conditioning if it’s hot + no hills!

Speaking of good wifi – I’d like to introduce a new sign for hot or cold wifi! Many, many years ago travelling around the countryside in Ireland, one would see signs for B&Bs stating hot and cold water – yes running water and especially hot was worth stating on the sign outside – Hard to believe nowadays! Most accommodations where we stay on this trip have wifi but boy, some of it is so cold. Normally people are worried about download speeds, I’m much more interested in upload speeds for uploading photos. Upload speeds at some accommodations is very, very slow. Yes I’m thinking of that sign for hot or cold wifi!

We stayed at a beautiful hotel (with air conditioning) and had a most delicious dinner. Yet if I was there still I wouldn’t have uploaded a single photo – the wifi was so slow. I even moved down to work at reception to be nearer the router but no joy there either. It’s funny that particular hotel was much nicer than our ‘Fawlty Towers’ on Wednesday night but ‘Fawlty Towers’ had super fast wifi. There’s no telling!

We’re in the Alsace region of France and it’s interesting to note the Germanic twist to place names. Not surprising really in Alsace since this area oscillated back and forth from German to French control. We’re staying in Carspach, other places nearby – HagenbachHirtzbach.

Now some photos from today:

Breakfast at our lovely accommodation in hilly Baume-les-DamesIMG_3486

And the town itselfIMG_3488

These past few days we have travelled through valleys with very rocky sides.IMG_4878

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Still stunning views as we cycleIMG_3512

I love the haze that can be seen in the early morningIMG_3514

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This is the sign we meet when we have to share our cycle route with cars

 

 

 

 

 

 

Machine at work cleaning away vegetation from the waterIMG_3523

Loving these ‘flattened’ variety of peaches!

Up close and personal with a car transporterIMG_3530

Lovely hot dinner in our cold wifi hotel IMG_3559

Good night Carspach!

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Day 19 Thursday – If you can’t stand the heat …

Our Basil at our Fawlty Towers mentioned at breakfast that last night was the warmest night in France in over one hundred years. I can’t vouch for the veracity of that statement but I can vouch that it was warm overnight!

Today in fact was a bit overcast so the sun wasn’t beating down as ferociously, though the temperature still hit 33C in the afternoon. Tonight we found accommodation in Baume-les-Dames with air conditioning which should make sleeping easier.

Another lovely day’s cycling from Rochefort sur Nenon to Baume-les-Dames, 94 km in total. 

According to the Strava app which records our actual cycling, we have cycled 1,366 km over 16 cycling days, an overall average around 85 km per day. We are meeting friends next week and will cycle with them from Passau to Vienna. Passau is 681 km away according to Google maps so we still have ground to cover.

We had breakfasted and were on our bikes by 7.30am – Sunrise is 5.34am so don’t think we are up too early. IMG_3414

I was confused by a double lock on the canal today so Denis took me off my bike and gave me a lecture on double locks and locking and canals and rivers and water and and … Now I can explain every single lock! In fact if Canal du Rhone au Rhin need a guide, I’m your woman!

Mosquitoes are the bane of our lives these days but we’re so focussed on cycling that we haven’t even thought of a deviation to a pharmacy.

This tunnel at Le Doubs was really interesting. A tunnel on the bike route beside the canal. We are cycling through very varied terrain!IMG_3430

Today’s route was in a valley between two ridges. The sides were quite rocky. We knew we were in a hilly area but because we were following the river bed, we were protected from the worst of the uphill. Or so we thought! After two hours cycling we made TWO detours to nearby villages to get morning coffee and that was a mistake. A big uphill climb and no coffee. We were feeling sorry for ourselves! (We always have snacks and water so we will never starve!)

Coffee-less we arrived in Besançon at about 11.30am. The French are sticklers for time – lunch does not begin until 12. We were beside a few restaurants in a line together and chose what looked like the nicest to see if we could get coffee or anything before curfew was lifted. The nicest was a ‘no go’ zone. We asked the man next door who was putting out tables and chairs, when – realising that he was second choice he waved at his empty restaurant and said he was complet! Served us right for asking next door first. The third welcomed us and served us coffee and food. Did we love them.

We cycled on for the afternoon and arrived into Baume-les-Dames. Our accommodation was lovely overlooking the equally lovely town. The fact that it was air conditioned in this heat added to the bliss.

We had a beautiful dinner down town. The two waiting staff in the restaurant seemed under pressure – there were lots of diners. I don’t think it was the many diners that were the cause of the pressure – I was sorry that my French wasn’t good enough to understand the chef because we could hear him shouting from the kitchen and he had a lot to say! I think the two waiting staff emerged to an oasis of calm once they left the kitchen. No pressure from the many diners in the restaurant, we are pussy cats compared with the tiger in the kitchen! Having said that, that tiger can cook! Dinner was really delicious.

We had a beautiful air conditioned sleep in a very warm Baume-les-Dames.

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Day 18 Wednesday, the longest day

I can vouch for France anyway when I read the headline – Extreme heat grips Northern Hemisphere. It is very hot here in France, 36C has been the highest afternoon temperature we have had but what’s most unusual is that it is still extremely hot throughout the night.

We set off early again to avoid as much of the hot sun as possible and cycled 102km from Chalon-sur-Saône to Rochefort sur Nenon.Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 18.05.02

I’ll bore you with how beautiful the countryside is.IMG_4581

IMG_4586Veloroute 6 is also known as the rivers route. Today the Veloroute first followed the river Saône and later the Canal du Rhone au Rhin. The latter connects the Rhine and the Rhone and thus the North Sea and the Mediterranean. IMG_4612

FullSizeRenderIMG_4723IMG_3348

I smiled at this church in Labruyère. Instead of a cross or something religious on top of the steeple, there is a rooster – well it is one of the emblems of France. Speaking of steeples, they really play a big part in our cycle – a steeple in the distance tells us we are nearing the next village/town, they really are wonderful landmarks for us. And when we get into town, we just follow the steeple for centre ville.IMG_3352

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Swans going the same way as us!IMG_3364

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The bridge at DoleIMG_4715

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When stopped for lunch today we booked a hotel for later in the small village of Rochfort-sur-Nenon which would give us the right distance for the day, (we’re aiming for 100 km per day this week). Plus the Veloroute goes through Rochfort-sur-Nenon so we wouldn’t be adding to the journey. We’re using booking.com for booking many of our accommodations. We decided to call the (very small i.e. seven rooms) hotel directly believing that it’s better for the hotel to get a telephone booking rather than through one of the bookings website. I called and the gentleman, who spoke good English, said the hotel was full.

I then immediately went back to the booking.com site and booked that exact hotel!

Our confirmation said arrive anytime, We arrived at 4pm to see a note – reception didn’t open until 5pm. (Though when I relooked at the confirmation email it said both – arrive anytime and arrive after 5pm!) Nor was there anything else open in the village. We sat on the terrace of the closed bar and played scrabble while we waited, we were very happy to be off the bikes and relaxing.

People at a nearby house spoke to us and said the hotel was now closed and didn’t take guests, this unnerved us a little. After cycling 102 km we did not want to have to cycle a single one more – this was the only accommodation in the village. At 5pm we went to the hotel and the owner was there and checked us in. I later mentioned that someone had said that the hotel was now closed. He asked “who said that – was it a small woman – I bet it was my ex wife – of course we are open”. There’s a lot of big and small politics in France these days!

The hotel had a little of the Fawlty Towers feel to it and though basic it was very clean. And we had a very good dinner in its restaurant, the only restaurant in the village.

Maybe we’ll change tactics tomorrow though and look for somewhere a little bigger than a population of 565.

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Day 17 Tuesday

In true Willie Nelson style this morning…

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

After a lovely breakfast this morning we set off just after 8am and cycled 105 km to Chalon-sur-Saône, arriving at approx 4pm. 

Horses in the early morning

And early morning hay cutting – there really is nothing to beat the smell of freshly cut grass.

We are seeing lots of Charolais cattle, a breed associated with this area

Passing the beautiful entrance to the Château de Digoine at Palinges

And the beautiful castle itself

We made a brief stop at Palinges. (In my opinion, the clock on this church seems to be a later, peculiar addition. It spoils the decoration over the right hand window which mirrors the left.)
Returning the school football

The initial part of our cycle today was quite hilly but after that it was lovely and flat along Canal du Centre with its many locks. The fact that the going was flat allowed us to get a good few kilometres covered.

It is very hot in France this week with temperatures reaching 35C. We are trying to get our cycling done as early in the day as possible and are drinking plenty of water.

Though we are in the Burgundy region of France, famous for its wines, we are not passing vineyards, it’s mostly still mixed agriculture. Except for the area around Sancerre, we haven’t really seen much grape growing on our trip so far. Whilst I’m very interested in the food of the region, my knowledge/interest in the wines of the region is much more limited. I’ll remember lots of details about the food but don’t ask me much at all about the wines. That’s not to say though that I’m not drinking any!

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Day 16 Monday

Though we always have a plan, we still try to stay flexible – for various reasons we ended up taking a rest day today.

Leaving Digoin, we also leave the Loire – we continue east whilst the Loire continues south.  (As we cycled east, if we wanted to check if our direction was correct – we just had to make sure that we were going up, not down river.)

I had meant to include some brief facts on this great river before we leave it… Rising in the Massif Central, the Loire is the longest river in France at 1,102 km and drains more than a fifth of France’s land area. Denis and I agreed that when we were learning the rivers of a country in say primary school, we had absolutely no appreciation for the difference a river makes to an economy – think Loire or Mississippi or even much smaller rivers. Rivers were just something we had to learn but at that stage their importance meant little to us. While cycling, you really appreciate how significant they are – especially large ones – in defining how regions develop.

As we travelled along the Loire we noticed its extensive levee system. Many times the Veloroute was on the levee itself. If I’m reading this paper correctly, there are at least 600 km of levees. The photo doesn’t really give a good feel of the height of the levee over the surrounding ground.

I was interested to read here that there are more than forty bridges across the Loire. Though it states more than, I would have guessed far more.

Enough Loire facts.

When we take a rest day, we always stay in the same place for the second night. We would have loved to stay another night in Digoin but the hotel was closed for the next two days so we had to change. They suggested a hotel in Paray-le-Monial, we were fine with that.

I feel that I have been neglecting writing about the gorgeous French food! This was dinner in the restaurant of this small hotel in Paray-le-Monial. Denis had mentioned that the hotel was packed at lunchtime, we thought that was a good sign…

Eating dinner on the terrace

With its disused well shaft 

First up their amuse-bouche

We both had gazpacho, beautifully presented with fig bread

Again we both had fish 

Cheese for D

Dessert for L, (as you would expect, all homemade) 

Dinner cost €26. This is why I love rural France – the quality of the food served in the small villages and towns is just amazing.

The hotel itself had some old sections, here a beautiful stone staircase

A beautiful old door

After dinner we went for a walk to see a little more of Paray-le-Monial

Good night Paray-le-Monial!

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Saturday and Sunday Days 14 and 15

This weekend John was in France and was joining us on our cycling trip, we were very much looking forward to seeing him. We had hired a third bike for him in Sancerre.

We were up early and had another lovely breakfast. Realising that I was very interested in the unusual jams/jellies, Giselle mentioned last night that she had a small amount of a special jelly this morning that I might be interested in. It was a coffee jelly and it was divine. I’ve shown it opposite, though not a great photo – it was very dark brown as you’d expect. I asked her for the recipe – 1 litre of hot coffee, Add 500g of sugar and dissolve well, Add a teaspoon of agar, (I’m thinking gelatine) and allow it to set. I will be trying it when I go home. I was surprised how little cooking was involved. She also had another new one – a jelly of red wine. Homemade strawberry and raspberry will seem very ordinary after these new ones…

We left our lovely accommodation and once again email addresses were exchanged.

We met John as planned in Sancerre shortly after 9am – it was so wonderful to see him. He was ready for cycling and we set off to Decize, 93 km according to Google Maps. It was another glorious day. It was great to chat and catch up with him as we cycled along. John set a faster pace for the day so I didn’t bother taking too many photographs!


We had lunch sitting at a table outside a boulangerie, the only option when we needed to stop for lunch. But again the quality of what we had was excellent.

After cycling a fast 100 km we arrived tired into Decize, checked at the very first place we came across and yes they could accommodate us. L’Hôtel De L’Agricultue was a very simple but clean hotel, however its restaurant was excellent. We had a super dinner. We were chatting so much that I forgot to photograph the food, such excellent food in a most modest location.

We had a great sleep after our long day’s cycle. John suggested an early start for Sunday as he had to be away by 3pm. We were back on the road shortly after eight. Our goal was to get to Digoin and he would leave from there.

Denis and I hoped to revisit a lovely place in Digoin where we had stayed before on our north to south trip in 2012. We checked earlier and yes they could accommodate us and would be serving Sunday lunch.

We arrived into Digoin by 12.45pm after a fast 75 km and just one coffee stop. We were showered and ready for lunch without any delay – we were hungry.

We were sorry to see John leave after lunch – it had been great fun to cycle and chat and catch up and slag etc. We were so lucky that he was nearby on dates that matched our cycling trip.

We rested/relaxed for the evening – well D’s rest includes his daily 5 km run – I did the resting for the two of us!

It was a great way to spend Father’s Day.

 

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Friday the 13th day (of the cycle trip) – Maybe just as well a rest day!

Yes today is a lovely rest day. We cycled five days then took a rest day, then six days and today is our next rest day. We need a rest day – John is due to join us tomorrow and we plan two long days cycling with him.

In eleven days according to the Strava app which records our actual distance cycled, we have covered 893 km, (81km per day over 11 cycling days.) If I put in our direct routes on the google cycle app it states 825 km. The 8% difference is due mainly to 1) The Véloroute being less direct than the google cycle app. 2) We go off piste to go to get food, drinks, see something interesting. 3) We make mistakes and have to retrace our steps. Knowing the difference between the google cycling app and the actual is very useful for us when planning the next day’s cycle.

We reckon that the whole trip will take us about forty days – even for us non-believers, there’s something biblical about forty days!

We are staying in a lovely B&B in Sancerre run by a very nice couple who speak good English.Breakfast was with a Japanese and English couple. Again the breads and jams were all homemade – strawberry, rhubarb, apricot and jelly of white wine, the latter is a new one for me. The honey was a local one. I tasted all and they were great.
(I loved having breakfast with the map of the world as a backdrop – reminds one of lots of places yet to be seen!)

Sancerre is set on a hill with beautiful views over the surrounding countryside. Obviously we are are beginning to see vines growing now.

Sancerre itself is a very old historic town.

There were plenty of options for dinner in Sancerre including à la maison. We opted for the latter since the food here was lovely and Phillipe and Giselle, our hosts, spoke some English and were very sociable. They told us another couple, a French lady and her Dutch husband, friends of theirs who were visiting, would also be having dinner.

Dinner was gorgeous, Phillipe had done the cooking and he served it with local Sancerre wines. Everyone spoke some English so between mostly English and some French, we had a lively conversation until late. Jaap, the Dutchman, was a cyclist and had many interesting stories.

 


A gorgeous sauce to go with the pork


It was beginning to get dark. Dessert was a lovely frozen strawberry with egg white combination, served with homemade biscuits.

Good night Sancerre!

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