Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gien to Jargeau

Another bloaty breakfast, this time the apple sauce came with apricot or raspberry - I had both. We watched the rain fall and as it clearly had no intention of stopping we grimly rode out. We rolled through the rain for 30km before we reached Sully sur Loire with its fancy pants chateau in a moat. It was very fancy.

We were wet and cold so instead of admiring its wonderfulness we stopped at The Castle Tavern, an English bar. I had four cheese pasta which for reasons unknown I ordered in Italian. The waiter flipped out when Lou went out after her meal for a cigarette. He chased her into the street as I waved money at him trying to pay from the table.

We rang Maxine and sang 'Happy Birthday' to her answer machine, then bought postcards of the pretty chateau.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Sancerre to Gien

We woke up late. Lou was completely covered in insect bites and had been up in the night to smoke them out. We went down to breakfast and I scoffed loads of my new discovery - little pots of applesauce. I'd only previously seen them on Trans-Atlantic flights before and found them odd, but they have fruit in, and that's not easy to come by.

We hurtled out of town down the hills stopping only briefly for me to panic that I had to go back for my helmet. It was on my head but the cold wind on my wet hair made me feel like it wasn't. When we got to the bottom we stopped in the pharmacy at St Satur. Lou got some anti-histamines at the chemists and we carried on, but not for long. We stopped for coffee and cigarettes and Lou complained of feeling tired.

It was cold and raining with a fierce headwind and the anti-histamine had made Lou sleepy. They also acted as a diruetic. We stopped at every bar we passed for a wee, taking ages to get to Cosne Cours sur Loire where the church was locked and the bar we stopped at had a pissour.

Sadly and slowly out of town, Lou was really struggling and had to stop in the woods to pee. She was unsteady on her legs and managed to get nettle stings on her bum.

We spotted a roadside cafe at Lere, L'Escapade, although it was slightly set back from the road. It only offered four course meals. Lou nipped in for I pee while I asked if it was possible just to have a sandwich. The girl behind the bar asked a large man who said yes. We agreed on one chicken and one cheese sandwich after a quick mime to ensure we didn't get two cheese and chicken butties.

Drinks proved more difficult. There were lots of questions and I couldn't answer them. I dug out my translation book but with no success. I finally understood as an old drinker at the bar was muttering about velos and bidons. I shouted "Bidons! Oui!". I knew what they were, so said "Non, n'est pas pour bidons, c'est pour ici". Go me on the advanced French.

The baguettes were huge and scrummy. Hurrah for L'Escapade. Boo for the church which was locked but had lovely looking windows.

The little towns here are pretty with varying awards from 1-4 flowers for their floweriness. Belleville deserves an upgrade.

It was still cold, it was still windy and it was still raining. We went along and I regularly looked back to check Lou was still awake. We spotted the rocky track up to 'Pont Canal', the entrance to Briare. Hurrah. At the top was the canal aqueduct, taking the canal across the Loire. Quite bizarre. We cycled all 662m into the 'mosaic capital of France'.

The church was richly decorated with mosaic outside. It was really impressive. We went to the tourist office to get a room before we explored. There were 3 hotels. One was closed and two were full. Lou went outside to cry. The lovely tourist office person offered Chambres D'Hotes way out east but I showed her our route, a 30km detour wasn't an option.

We agreed Gien was our best option and we'd start with as many stars as possible and work down. She got us a room in the Hotel Rivage - without a Loire view - I could live with that.

We said we'd be there in two hours, paid out E1 fee and went off to explore the church which was as mosaiced inside as out. We took photos and accepted pitying glances as we sadly set off out of town. It took a few minutes to cross over the Pont Canal this time on the other side which had a nice tarmac road up to it, which I wish I'd known when I carried my bike up the dirt track.

I kept myself going through the now familiar 1,2,3,4 counting system, getting up to 8 when I felt stronger against the wind and rain. Lou shouted that my panniers were wobbling. I stopped to look. It was hard to see through the rain dripping off me and the bike but the rack had lost its retaining bolt by the gears. I effected an emergency repair by putting three cable ties in its place. It would get us to the hotel on the flat, but wouldn't withstand a descent.

It was late Saturday evening, bike shops would be closed until Tuesday. I worried about what to do as we pedalled gingerly on. We could see the massive Chateau in the distance, which would be impressive if water wasn't squelching from my shoes as I pedalled.

I spotted our hotel on the other side of the river, but we had to cycle on to the bridge into town and back to it. Lou smoked in the archway as I dripped in the palatial lobby. The chap came and unlocked the 'box' for the bikes which was a shed/cellar. Lou ate all the sweets on the desk as we checked in.

We walked down through freezing drizzle to a bistro we'd seen on the way in. Two grannies shouted something like "You'll catch your death dressed like that, silly girls", it was like having our mums there, but we were wearing all the dry clothes we had. There was a pizzeria but it didn't open until 7 so we sat and had a beer in a bar. I 'read' the paper whilst Lou did the Sudokos.

I had an achovy and olive pizza, while Lou had pasta and we drank rose. It wasn't enough though. We explained we'd cycled there before I had another pizza and Lou had steak and chips.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sancerre


We headed to the tourist office but spotted a sign to the St Martin Hotel and decided to stay there. We locked up the bikes in a courtyard and went to our grotty room. We couldn't be bothered to get properly changed, just put on fleeces and went for a stroll.

Sancerre was small and we visited the church which was lovely - very simple. When we came out we walked past Maison des Sancerre - like Cadbury World only for Sancerre. We went in and I tried to get the attention of the attendant who told us we couldn't go in. I waved my E10 but nothing doing. They closed in half an hour so we wouldn't have time to enjoy a visit, and no, we couldn't rush a visit, that was not a decision a visitor was allowed to make. We were banished. I really wanted to cry, but didn't.

We walked back to L'Esplanade where I planned to add the rejected E10 tour money to the wine budget for dinner. We went in and I asked the spotty youth for a table for two. He conferred with the owner who after looking us up and down agreed we could sit inside. Cheeky blighter!

I decided to have Sancerre a pichet and save my money for a more welcoming hostelry. I did have fabulous shellfish and rice and I wanted local goat cheese for dessert, but ordered "Fromage Cheveaux" - 'Hairy Cheese' by mistake. It was quickly sorted out after some hilarity and we headed back to sleep.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nevers to Sancerre

I woke with a start after sleeping like a baby. It was 7am and already light. We got ready and went down for breakfast. I had pain au chocolat with added Nutella, fruit salad, apple sauce and prunes, yes prunes - I'd been suffering. We paid up and headed out on a small road to Marzy where we stopped at the post office. I confidently asked for 'Cinq timbre pour carte postal pour Etat Unis". They pretended not to understand, but I was unwavering and they repeated what I said and gave me the right stamps.

On to Marseille les Aubigny where my legs felt like pudding and we stopped for Tracker bars. The wind was strong and we were in rain gear, so it was hard work along the canal and past factories, quarries and agricultural co-ops.

We made it to Charite sur Loire in good time and parked up outside the Landsdowne Road Irish bar for lunch but it was closed. We went into the abbey which was impressive, but a little soul-less, before strolling around town in search of lunch. The options were poor and we chose a bar for baguette and chips. The bloke opposite me ordered steak and chips, but as he had no teeth he put most of it in a bag to take home.

We headed out of town back the way we came as far as Herry where we stopped at Herry's Bar for juice. The had a giant TV showing American daytime soaps dubbed into French. Onwards towards Sancerre, Lou had been bitten several times by insects. I have three lumps on my forehead but she is totally covered. They're gross.

Gentle hills led us there but our guidebook promised us a steep 10km climb. We could see Sancerre high above usand at the 10km mark we stopped to eat fruit and organise ourselves for the climb. It started to rain. All encompassing cold drizzle and we set about our task, cheering every kilometre, but they weren't steep until the last three which were hairpins through the vineyards.

I stopped to take photos on the way. We were there much sooner than planned as the climb wasn't what we expected.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Nevers


Our room had its own loo, bath and TV – luxury. There was porn on the TV! The big news was a terror plot and chaos at Heathrow. Loads of family members were flying around Europe and across the Atlantic this week so I worried a bit. We cleaned up and washed lots of clothes, then headed into town.

We sat in the main square and ordered baguettes and chips. I had lots of tomato juice to boost up my tomato intake. During our lunch we had a change of waiter and the new one just wanted to charge us for drinks. I didn’t have the language skills to explain the mix up but ‘Un autre addition pour le mange s’il vous plait’ worked OK. He touched my arm in recognition. French people touch me a lot. The wind picked up and it was cold, we stopped back at the hotel to check our washing was still secured to the balcony and to pick up fleeces.

We headed to the Basilica St Cyn. It was really quite impressive. The RAF had bombed it to smithereens on Bastille Day in 1944, but they’d rebuilt and were steadily adding stained glass windows. The light in the church was fabulous. We strolled around town looking for an internet cafĂ©, we found several boarded up ones but not an open one. We mooched about looking for pasta. Yes, I know I’m in France, but I don’t eat veal which seems to be the only food choice. Bad buskers rendered parts of the city no-go zones. The main square was the best option.

I had salmon pasta and some Touraine Sauvignon Blanc. Scrummy. The waitress was running back and forth acrooss a busy road to a family we could only assume were Mormon polygamists. Our Dutch chums from earlier in the day were eating in the square. She was glammed up in a suit, he was not. That explained her huge panniers and his tiny bag. We strolled back to bed.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Decizes to Nevers

Got up fairly leisurely and had breakfast at the Bel Air bar. We had to head back through town to rejoin the route and onto Avril Sur Loire where Lou was desperate to pee. No-where was available, we spotted an older Dutch couple sitting by their bikes and they confirmed there was no loo, and the bloke helpfully pointed to some bushes. Lou was not amused. I took a look around the church to see if I could get in but the only open door led into the graveyard.

We rode back on to the canal path to Fleury sur Loire which had a bar-tabac-restaurant but it was boarded up with a tarpaulin roof. The post office was open and had a loo – hurrah!

There were roadworks on the way out - swinging drainage pipes across the road. We waited behind a truck before pulling off. Lou took the lead, it was fabulous, n pedalling required for miles. We stopped for apples and nectarines before a short climb to Sermoise sur Loire.

I took over as Lou is scared of cities. The ride into Nevers wasn’t too bad, we went for a good couple of miles along strip malls, outlet stores and motels before crossing the Loire into the city.

We followed the signs – and St Jacques Street! – to the tourist office. They gave us an accommodation list. Our first choices were all out of town so we re-chose. The Campanile was as fancy as it got. I went back into the office to ask them to book it for us but the lady explained at quite some length that if she booked it she’d have to charge us lots of money, far too much money, so much she couldn’t even bring herself to tell me how much. She could however call and ask if they had any rooms available for two English women with bikes who might walk in in ten minutes, just as a general enquiry. They did, so she gave us a map and we set off.

The map didn’t highlight the flight of stairs in the street or the idiot Korean on them, but other than that no problem. The hotel was opposite the station and we had to walk up the road past kebab shops to a controlled car park to put our bikes in bay nine. We locked up the bikes and headed to our room.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Digoin


We stopped at the first hotel we saw, The Agriculture – part of the Logis de France group. Lou held the bikes as I went in. An over-heated little waiter acknowledged my presence then scurried off. I waited then went into the restaurant – a firm “Oui” from him and I waited some more. This went on for a few minutes before I went behind the counter and checked the register myself. All 15 rooms were accounted for.

We went into town, walking out the other side without spotting a hotel. We asked some teenagers who didn’t know of any hotels but suggested we try a bar or restaurant as they may. They didn’t.

I spotted a small road sign on the bridge to the Bel Air hotel. We cycled out of town and across the Loire on to a long road with auto repair places and residential homes. It didn’t look promising but we didn’t have any other options so kept going.

I saw a Les Routiers sign – hurrah! I tried to explain what Les Routiers was as we climbed a short hill but by the time I had we were at the Bel Air. It looked closed, with shutters down, but it was two buildings and the sign said ‘open’. We went in and a woman wearing orange tie-dye trousers showed us into the hotel.

The room was tiny with a double bed. The loo and shower were down the hall. We washed our hands and went down for dinner in smelly clothes. The starter was a buffet – tuna, veg and what I thought was pasta and peppers but it turned out to be baby squid. I had a rose and Lou opted for beer.

The main course arrived – meat on aubergine. I scooped off the meat and gave it to Lou whilst she slid her aubergines onto my plate. We’d done it all surprisingly loudly and a small crowd had gathered to laugh. I was so embarrassed. The chap at the next table took pity and said “C’est comme maison” and kindly traded an aubergine with his wife to make us feel better. We had cheese but having eaten so quickly we had no room for pudding and coffee. The bill, which included the room, dinner, drinks and breakfast for two was around E50 – fabulous.

Lou asked the woman where she could buy cigarettes and the orange trousered lady said “Avec moi”, leading Lou out to show her whilst I polished off my wine. Lou came back in, bright red. The woman had taken her outside and bummed a fag off a fellow customer, explaining that we’re all family here.

We paid up and left, walking the two mile round trip to get cigarettes from a shoe box above the bar. There are clearly some odd rules about cigarette sales here.

Another glass of wine on our return and after declining the offer from a trucker to go back to his room for drinks we went to bed and slept soundly, dreaming of the strange Johnny Halliday memorabilia that filled the bar.