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Published: October 8th 2006
Cruising down Rue F.D.R. (the tenth such named road Ive seen), is my ticket out of Brussels, an unusually easy escape from a large city. Two autobahns make Luxembourg a straight shot. My route, less so, a two day trip took many, all the usual, bike breakdowns, wrong turns, stupid ideas. Stranded in St Hubert, two flats on one stretch of road I realized my patch glue is sitting in a field in the Netherlands where I had my last flat. I blow the second 100 meters from a bike store, suck luck, again! No, a note on the door in French seems to indicate a vacation till late October, damn. Four buses, two trains and eleven kilometers of walking gets me back to my bike with glue and new tubes and a new high of self berating on forgetting something so small but important.
A detour into Luxembourg was worth it, a green, very clean city sitting on top of two plateaus with a peaceful gorge/park cutting in the middle. Two elegant bridges make up for the third , a steel orange mistake given the rest of the city. Like the country though, you don't need much time to
The work of Paul Cezanne, native of the south of France, was shown during my visit.
enjoy and move on. To the west and the Ardeenes, flamboyant Harley riders aside, the passage was a strange contrast. On the Belgian side, tidy villages, similar in architecture, on the French a run down industrial area giving me what would seem the least scenic approach into the justifiably most visited country in the world.
On to flat farm land dotted with WWI cemeteries, I tracked into Reims only for a visit into the famous Cathedral. Home to almost all the coronations of French kings since Clovis, it stands half restored and enormous. Polished gargoyles on one side and weather cloisters on the other, inside houses remains of staind glass from various eras some missing from the toll of bombings and age. Leaving Reims put me into the Champagne region of France, gorgeous but I couldn´t help compare it to the Italian countryside and it coming up short.
To Paris, eleven million people and a big blob on the map scared me off, I jumped a suburb train on the outskirts and ten minutes on rail might have saved me an entire day of being lost. Topping my list of a city that will be visited again, Parc de
Luxembourg, Musee d´Orssay and the Latin quarter. So many areas of central Paris are best wandered into. As for the Louvre, I went on a Tuesday because it stayed open till 9pm. I tried to go through it all, failed and found myself in front of the Mona Lisa a couple of times. My hostel was filled with Aussies, not a surprise, on a late night quest for more beer, a few of us walking up a street ran into a very drunk German who had the key. Mixing up his words in German, French and English profanities, he half led us to an all night joint while we learned that his buddy got the girl, locked him out and took his phone with him.
Heading south for Orleans and a tour of the Loire valley and its chateaus, the home of Joan of Arc was elegant and quite proud of the lady. Saving the city got a few things named after her. The first chateau was Chambord, hunting palace of Francios I, double helix staircase credited to Da Vinci, 440 rooms and 365 fire places. Yes the grandest of them all. Through a network of bike trails through
Grotto de la Madeleine
Famous for its cascading pools, all manner of lights were cleverly hidden.
the old hunting forests and small villages I must have seen more than 20 large homes. Capping it with a tour of a chateau straddling a river, Chenonceau. Famous for the women who lived there, Catherine di Medici and Diane di Poiters among them. I managed to visit the complex over several hours with a huge streak of suncream on my face with out one person mentioning it to me.
I broke south from the Loire for a visit to surprising Loches, like Lucci in Italy, it is a fascinating town surrounded by more famous sites. It has a bit of fame though, Joan found and convinced the dauphin of leading the army against the English and then persuaded him to be crowned after victory. Not far was a village on the official French list of most beautiful small villages in France, Montressor. Later I saw Les Baux and Gordes had similar signs, all live up to notions of French countryside.
A couple of long distance days getting south found my wheels becoming less round and stressed. Day one, chain breaks, fair enough I fixed it three times and rode it 5000ks farther than I should of, the
Follow the river around the bend into a huge gorge, peaceful, right in the middle of town.
chain was so stretched that it meant a new cassette and chain rings. When I broke the chain it swung up and wrapped around my rear axle and I had so much momentum that I wrapped my real derailleur and ruined my dropout (a very hard piece to find.) Lucky for me it all goes to hell 100 meters from a Specialized dealer (better luck than Belgium), France is filled with small villages that are dead, nothing in them and I find dealer that carries parts to my American bike! Several euros later I'm back on the road and my luck slows down in the 'tapestry´ weaving capital of Europe, Aubusson, where bike melt down number two occurs. Maybe I pulled too sharp in my excitement for milk. Only one supermarket puts milk in the fridge, the rest of them sit the UHT on the shelf next to the cat food. I see the store and pull in and ping goes my front wheel and snap goes my back break when I jam on it hard to stop from wrecking with a bent up wheel. This time no bike shop or place to sleep, so I drink up, sleep in
Out of my route but gorgeous, I was resting along the road when I heard the unthinkable! Celine Dion, signing in French but oh so painfully unmistakable coming from a man on a Harley Davidson. The shame.
an abandoned factory and wait half the next day to catch a train back to the village with the bike shop. Needless to say, two days later, I catch a fair amount of crap for showing up at the same bike shop with new ways of breaking things.
Fixed up I rode through Le Mont Dore and down into Le Puy-en-Valey, an important pilgrimage site on the road to Santiago de Compostela. Fingers of Lava rock jut out along the city with statues and churches built on top, the ride down is dramatic as they all line up for you and a better camera than mine. Its said that the bishop, Gotescalk, made the first pilgrimage in 962. Inside the Romanesque Notre Dame is the black Madonna, a wooden carving turned black with age and possessing a presence when seen in person.
My best one day ride in France was of the Gorges of the Ardeche, a landscape like Canyonlands or Arches national park in Utah, USA. Passing by the village of Vogue (just like the name) you are immediately welcomed into the gorge with the Pont d´Arc, so said to be the only natural arch in the
The French like bikes
At the hostel in Paris I was greeted with a beer and message on the board, I had to send an email ahead asking about bike storage.
world with a living river flowing through it. Climbing and falling along the river with more vistas than you can stop at, I kept pace to visit Grotto de la Madeleine before closing. The mouth of 40 kilometers of cave, the lighting is incredible, the acoustic show a bit cheese, I heard Gollum giggle and scream throughout a choppy score. 35 kilometers later you are into the Rhone valley. France´s main region of table wine, most vineyards blend and have coop membership. When riding past a coop factory it smells bad, morning breath after a few bottles with friends bad. And around all the roundabouts spilled grapes, crushed by cars turn the roads purple.
Crossing the valley for some olives of Nyons, I notice dozens of smart looking classic European sport cars passing me. I reach the town center to see the start of a vintage rally race. Several Renault Alpines get the most stares, 007 Aston Martin look alikes. I was enjoying the scene of the 70 plus cars when a man approached me and communicated that this was his, bench. I was prepared to stand my ground till he scowled at me revealing his four lonely teeth
and scrunching up a scar on his forehead, all signs that this was indeed, his bench. Leaving with my face the same as I entered along with a few pouches of olives I left for a ride through Vaison al Romaine and Roman ruins then a climb around Mt Ventoux (Windy Mountain.) This started five days of punishing, afro inducing winds of South France, always a head never a tail. Slowly coming to Sault, famous for Lavender fields not in season, I was rewarded for my climb with a steep decent down a limestone canyon and into the village of Gordes, my favorite village since San Giamano in Italy. Perched on a hill, villas covered in stone, surrounded by stone walls and with the bright light the south is know for, magic.
Spilling into the lower Rhone, I found where all the package bike tourers were and plenty to visit. The hospital that treated Van Gogh in St Remy, Arles with its Roman Coliseum, rock outcropping and unnatural otherworldly look of Les Baux. Avignon and the Palais des Papes. An area deserving of much more time. The ever famous Pont du Gard took an afternoon before heading back into
the mountains of Cevennes where I helped a stranded German fix his bicycle. Living in a small village, he invited me for a meal where I learned that his profession is that of medieval instruments builder. Not much work for him though.
After crossing the Pyrenees, I took a shower, a real one, matted the hair back down, took some doing, and washed some clothes, twice. No bulls, just cropped haircuts everywhere. So here I write, a bit knackered after freezing my ass off in the mountains, the worlds dumbest dog followed me up the pass, 25ks from a tiny French village and into Spain. I was convinced it would get lost and die so I tried everything to get it to stop following me. Throw rocks at a dog, a sign of love? After I saw it rub its face in a pile of cow shit I gave up. Some family is probably better off. I´m waiting for Oct. tenth where I meet Emily in Madrid for some touring followed by Scott and Jessica for three weeks of Spain by car. I realize Ive driven twice in more than a year and a half, an excuse I plan
to use for getting shotgun. The bike tour has four or five days left to it, where I will pass 7000 miles. Enough cant be said of touring by bicycle, the depth and richness of a region are best on a bike, navigation is fun, getting lost, a part of it, and then just seeing if you are up to the challenge. My big mistake, among hundreds of small ones, was not having a proper touring bike for such a distance, Israel didn´t offer the choice, so here's willing a couple more miles out of it.
Tot: 2.251s; Tpl: 0.062s; cc: 16; qc: 101; dbt: 0.0616s; 2; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.6mb