2000 KM "Bonne Route"
Already during the autumn of the previous year my fellow-worker Rainer B. takes a glance on the map of Europe within North Cape and Southern Italy. My former bike tours lead in various directions out of Brunswick. One branch leads to Paris, where years ago I started a journey along the canal-coast, Belgium and Holland finally to Leer (Ostfriesland). This branch could be continued on to the other direction, visiting the Loire, the Atlantic coast and further to the south.
Some reasons stand for it: a night train with bicycle transportation runs directly from Brunswick to Paris and France is a beautiful site for biking. Date: after my birthday (the x0 th) end April, so one can quit the official obligations. Naturally for this occasion new bicycles are announced. Rainer chooses a bike from Kildemoos and I fall in love with a fire-red coloured trekkingbike from Kalkhoff named Tramper. Of course I cannot wait to buy the bike until my very birthday, for I must get used to it before the big tour (so I say to my family).
At one of our sport-evenings I tell my friend Thomas G. of the plan: "I come with you" he says without further comments. So we will be three - OK! Finally we visit a slide-performance of beautiful pictures of the fascinating countryside of France.
Then Bahncard, tickets and reservations are booked. The last problem is the transport of the bikes to France. Usually they must be sent as baggage before, but we trust in the baggage car of the train.
The evening before the big start Thomas is suffering of a serious influenza, but he will not quit the tour. We hope on the fresh air and the physical training during the trip.
At Wednesday, 27.4. at 22.30 we start at the dark from our village heading the railway station. Thomas has no lights for he has choosen his racing bike. After some hundred meters he figures out, that he should take with him a raining coat, so everyone retour again. Marianne, Thomas' wife, will bring the rest of the baggage to the railway station by car.
At the station we meet Rainer, staring proudly at his brand new bike. The train to Paris coming from Warschawa arrives in time. At the baggage car we ask the official server if everything is OK with the transport of the bikes. She (it was a woman) agrees. So we enter the couchette (I got this word from the dictionary - it sounds French, doesn't it).
Rainer has a surprise in form of a bottle of Baujolais (sounds French too). We do not loose much time until the bottle is empty and we get tired. Anywhere within Hannover and Bielefeld we we wind ourselves into the chaos out of sheets and blankets and fall into a restless sleep.
As we rub our eyes next morning we find ourselves in France already. Thomas is totally sweat from his influenza, he does not feel very well.. At 9 o clock we arrive at Gare du Nord.
Now panniers and bags are strapped until the equipment is complete. We leave the railway station, welcome to the sun of Paris.
To see the first sensation we enter some streets up to the church of Sacre Coeur.
Across a park we push up, the church white in the sunshine, Paris below in the morning-haze. Now the trip really has begun. Thomas awakes from his dilirium and leads us to the Centre Pompidou.
At this place we enter a restaurant and get the first contact to croissant and cafe au lait. A sparrow concerns itself about the crumbs under our chairs, the sparrow of Paris (nickname of Edith Piaf). Rainer enters a near exchange bureau. Thoughtfully he comes back, the exchange rate seems to be less than the German one I got at my bank some days ago. After some calculations he figures out a loss of 10 per cent. The barkeeper meanwhile greets a guest with a short song - this is typical Paris as it should be.
We now enter Notre Dame at the Ile de la Cite. With our packed bikes we are not as flexible to do more than a superficial sight. On the other side of the Seine we head towards Versailles, passing lots of traffic lights. We pass the Tour d' Eiffel, he spreads his mighty feet above the swarms of tourists.
We change across a bridge back on the opposite shore of the Seine again and use the avenue de Versailles, obviously this is the right route. Somewhat later however we find ourselves lost amid bewildering traffic-shields. Easily one ends up on a highway or long-distance-street. We do not know where we are now. Rainer and Thomas pick up their reading-glasses to add their wisdom concerning the map of Michelin. Someone passing by speaks English and feels with our little group shouting and gesticulating, soon more observers are standing around.
Finally the matter is cleared up. Passing the Pont du Sevres we reach Meudon and now straight ahead reach Versailles. Thomas sweats like at a sauna, we other two do as well. In sight of the Versailles Palace we enter a restaurant. Now early in the afternoon we didn't make much distance yet.
Some time later we push the bikes through the entrance of this famous palace that one must have seen. Groups of yellow coated Japanese stroll towards the big building.
But we are told by an officer that we and our bikes are not allowed to stay here. Shaking his arms he shows us the way to the park at the backside. We start up and soon bike through the park along creeks and lakes. You can rent a boat and paddle around or better drop to the green and watch the historic scenery. A more comfortable manner to see the park is to use a little train. But there the Japanese tourists fill the seats already.
We leave the park and finally leave Paris. At Dampiere we have a rest. Apart from Versailles we see the first castle nearby. In a little shop we can buy something to drink. Some time later the shopping ladies of Dampiere press their noses to the shop window watching Thomas while he changes his wet sweat shirts.
The destination of the day is now ahead: Ramboulliet. On a small road we pass a sweet little valley, in the bushes the nightingales sing their songs. We pass an old Abbey on the right. The last part of our way is a bike trail through the forest of Ramboulliet. We enter the Hotel St. Charles, Thomas is powered out. Aside the hotel there are barracks and a military-band plays smart melodies. May be the peace all over the world is made by this.
A walk around - we find a castle and a big park.
A big iron fence is built around the castle to keep bad people away from official meetings. Now we look for a restaurant. The French meals are not familiar to us by now, so we enter a Chinese restaurant. We order three different meals and have a probe of each. Only Rainer has the skill to use those Chinese chop sticks.
Time goes by before we can start. Shoot a photo of the castle at first. Then the other two start shopping and buy drinks, vegetable, and baguette. Rainer heads for a bank again to change money and to get rid of the frustation the day before. Thomas tries to phone and fails, Rainer offers his assistance and a discussion comes up. I stand around in the sunshine or walk to and fro.
Finally Thomas succeeds in his conversation, but now he looks for a toilette. To get the proper legitimation for this a coffee must be ordered at a bar. I stand around in the sunshine or walk to and fro. It is 11 o'clock now and at last we can start.
But we miss the right way again and find ourselves at a four laned freeway. Then we find a smaller road at last leading along rape fields. Thomas is a master in finding objects on the way, this time there are CDs with classic music on the pavement and in the grass. One after the other is dropped inside the panniers.
The last way to Cartres we run against a head wind but in high speed. It is Rainer who makes the pace. Soon we see the Chartres Cathedral far in front, so the way is right. The town is romantic, houses of the Middle Age, an old fortification and then we head up a hill where there is the famous cathedral on its top.
Now we go to the south. Down to the valley of the Loire we have to pass a countryside of flat land. We find small roads, can drive side by side and chat.
At Tournoisis we find the first board showing the famous attractions of the Loire valley. The village is small but we find a hotel at a junction. We hesitate but then think to have made it for this day. So we enter the Relais St. Jaques.
The host is very friendly and leads us up some wooden stairs to a room beneath the roof. You can see the timbered construction of the roof inside this thoroughly restaurated room.
We have succeeded to find an old post station of former times, where they changed horses and took a rest over night. So we do except changing the horses. But that is why the name Relais comes from. Down in the foyer we find an album and documentation of the restauration activities.
We use our shampoo and the shower bath, change our clothes and appear in the dining room well dressed. Monsieur is waiting already amid a festive set of tables, but it seems we are the only guests tonight. We enjoy in consumation of the served menus, hungry as bikers are. Salad, egg, steak, curd cheese and dessert run their way. Red wine, coffee and finally a cognac up to it.
Though we are the only guests all tables are prepared for other guests. We ask what's about it. "Une catastophe" is the answer of Monsieur. So if everyone reads this story, enter this site, though I do not know if meanwhile this beautiful hotel still exists. Now the tour is long ago, but the Relais St. Jaques holds the first place. Thomas cannot resign in using the FAX to send a message at home. Next morning we got the answer as well.
Having a splendid sleep we enjoy the bright morning. Soon we reach Meung at the Loire. We enjoy this town, but Thomas tries in vain to get some money with his Credit Card of the Bank Lyonnaise. So I am proud of my Visa Card and laugh at it.
To Bourgency there is a bike trail at the shore of the Loire. Nice views and picturesque villages at the way.
At Bourgency we cross the mighty bridge of the Loire. We head to the Chambord where there is one of the most beautiful castles of the Loire (though Chambord is not located at the Loire directly). On the route leading through a forest we suffer from the midday-heat. An original village-pub we spend a pleasant rest again.
Through a huge park-gate we enter the park of Chambord. After a long dead straight road we finally see the palace to the right. Especially impressive is the large number of chimneys. They must have pretty work if all stoves are heated. We prefer a shady place aside the admirable splendour.
Then I start to explore the inside of this estate. At first you enter a foyer, there are lots of shops offering every kind of souvernirs related to the Loire castles. I would like to buy a big sheet of paper to build a model of the building with all it's yards, wings, and chimneys. But it would be difficult to pack this sheet into the panniers.
At the passageway to the palace-patio a pretty but resolute Mademoiselle exposes me: "Votre ticket s'il vous plait". So I prefer to retreat.
Outside Rainer strolls around the castle shooting photographs. Thomas strives towards a near by Cafe. There we all meet again and afterwards are wondering about the price of coffe and ice-cream.
We then continue back to the Loire. Crossing a bridge again we reach Blois.
We find a picturesque old town. Like everywhere at those places lots of travelling entertainers try to catch a couple of coins from the observers. A larger family offers music, dancing, or juggle with balls and rings. A toddler sucks at its bottle. Another one goes around with a cap to get the coins.
In front of the Blois castle we buy something to drink and then leave this busy town. Between railway-dams, a graveyard and new built houses we stroll around. The roadmap is misleading again. My friends enter their reading glasses, no good signal for me. We finally reach a big wood, several ways lead into it. Thomas determines to choose the way leading to the north. "Here we go". We follow in doubt. I declare to be rid of any responsibility, Rainer inaudibly grinds on his teeth.
Now it is the time to tell that no one of us feels to be the leader. But I am the only one who is able to read the map during riding the bike, for I have multifocal eye-glasses. So sometimes I am stressed by this responsible job and then my companions feel to be more intelligent of the matter, may be they are right. But they have to fix their reading glasses first... .
This time we success to find a big place within the forest. It is an Etoile, that means lots of ways leading to all directions. We choose the southern one of them all. Soon Thomas has to push his racing bike, we can hardly manage to curve around the stones and holes on the way. Finally we reach the edge of the forest and find orselves and the location at the road map.
Now green landscape is around, the way leads up and down, but at last down back to the Loire. We reach Onzain and enter the hotel Pont de Ouchet. Everything OK, in the evening we order a French menu again. One final course of the meal is fromage (cheese) in several variations. I fall into a Fauxpas and try to cut off some stripes of cheese by myself. But this is the wrong way. The elegant fashion is to tip with it's finger towards the desired kind of cheese and then let the waitress cut off a small stripe of it. And three different kinds are the maximum.
No cars are allowed and the streets are full of strange stuff. If we had more room in our panniers we could spend a whole day at this place. So we continue. Soon we join to a group of bike-racers but they do not ride at a high speed. So Thomas sets the pace from the head - seems he feels better now. At Amboise however he must enter a drugstore and buy some eye- drops. He is delighted at the pretty pharmacist. We buy a set of Michelin road-maps and then head towards the castle of Chenonceau.
At this place there is a huge crowd probably because we have Sunday today. We do not want to neglect our cultural senses and annoyed pay a high price for admission to get a glance of the castle which is hidden in the park. Sightseeing of the castle however is an impressive experience worth the money. We wander through the magnificent rooms, a paper available in German - and English as well - declars the historical facts.
A peculiarity is a building complex built over the river Cher where one can reach the opposite shore. We are happy to watch a group of swimmers dressed by rubber suits. Soon this group disappears beneath the castle. Finally we admire a famous portrait of Louis XIV and have a visit to kitchen and cellar sites. We return to our bikes bearing all this culture in our mind.
Now first disagreements come up. Two participants of our group feel displeasured while the other one slowly changes his clothes. Some time later another participant runs far ahead and misses a junction. He has to return having climbed up a hill in vain. With a coffee parts of the displeasure are flushed away.
Another castle is announced: Azay le Rideau. So we drive south of Tours along the river Indre. At Veigne a boy with his canoe tries to climb up a wave at a dam and we watch at him for a while. As he gets aware of us he throws away his paddle and moves the boat by his hands alone.
We ask some walkers for the next road because there is a building site. "Oui - Oui!" they say. Starting again I come out of balance as my foot stays fixed at the pedal. As felled by an ax I fall down just in front of the people. I feel like "Now he comes from the far Germany with big luggage and is not able to drive a bike. In a rush we disappear around the next curve.
At Montpazon all roads are torn and under construction, that is why the road was closed before. But we push the bikes and have no problems. Near Ripault we pass an industry-terrain. Any nuclear researches may be practised behind electric fences in a military fashion. May be they have a guilty conscience with those safety devices.
We reach the next castle: Azay le Rideau. But this time the entrance is closed. The palace is invisible behind the trees. So we enter a restaurant at the marketplace and enjoy coffee and cake. Strange faces as we have to pay - the price of a piece of cake is twice as high as usual (DM 9.-). On our protest we are shown the price-list, there actually is to be read this impertinent sum. We leave this place in rage. In addition the photo of the backside of the hidden castle is worthless later on.
We then reach the green meadows of the Loire again. The next castle of Rigny-Usse now lies just in front of us.
Two poplars unfortunately obstruct the optimal panorama. In front of the palace a helicopter is parked on a meadow. There one can start for a round flight- not quite cheap as well. As we stay there in astonishment a lady speaks to us. She is Dutch and married to the pilot. So we can chatter for a while about the things around. The castle is visited by some hundred thousand people every year. As well she tells us some tales of their helicopter-job.
Next we climb up a mountain to the village Huismes. There is a sign offering a panoramic view. Rainer turns on the main road but fails to watch of the sidestone. Now it is he to lie on the pavement. Some native persons in front of a bar fall in laughter. We disappear around the next corner and try to find the panoramic view up a steep hill. But there is not any. So we run down again but avoid the center of the village not to pass the native persons laughing at the bar.
Soon we reach Chinon and try to inform about the local gastronomy. We decide to cross the river Vienne and go to the hotel St. Jaques. We have dinner at the elegant restaurant Boulle d' Ore (Golden Ball). Thereafter one (or two...) beers at an original bar near the marketplace.
At the hotel the host with a strange looking expression on his face stokes around in a brown pouring gully. We better keep some distance and pack our bikes. We let any flood behind us and start for the trip of this day.
We pass extended wine-cultivation-areas, shields everywhere with hints on "Cave de Vin", seems to mean "Wine Cellar". Those cellars are built deep into the porous stone of this area. Sure they offer optimal temperatures for the maturity of the noble drops. Many of these subterranean systems shall have the extension of miles. One tells that many tourists of the Loire site forget themselves staggering from one wine-probe to the next (tourist guide).
At Candes-S. Martin Thomas insists on shooting a photograph of the place's name and me for it is my first name. At this place the saint St. Martin is told to have died in 397 p.C. A pretty long time ago we think.
We find ourselves on the national route towards Saumur. This is not very impressive, so we soon enter the vineyards aside. No busy traffic around here but soon we fail to orientate again. They pick up their reading-glasses... Finally we find the road to Saumur. So now we succeed just to arrive at the castle of Saumur up on a hill high above the town.
Rainer and I shoot photographs, Thomas enters a cafe. As we join there we find three cups of coffee - but all of them are empty. You will never find out if they have been empty before or if he has drunk them all by himself.
We rush down into the town but do not stay there. We find some curious ways out of the town instead. Once a roe deer runs parallel to the street alarming near beside us. Some time later our common way separates however. At the left shore of the Loire now the utilization of the deep caverns has changed. They grow mushrooms in here. There is a fungus-museum. Our hope on a delicious fungus-pan remains unfulfilled. At a restaurant at Gennes we only get a cheese-sandwich.
Now we cross the Loire, wide and still meanwhile and go on at the shore on the right side.
Much traffic now, it is a nice landscape yet but the wide asphalt does not spend much joy to the biker. So we prefer a higher speed, Rainer sets the pace. We reach the big city of Angers with building sites, traffic lights, and much traffic in companion with the burning sun in the afternoon.
While Rainer and I stop in the pedestrian area of Angers Thomas has totally disappeared. After some time Rainer gets angry. Finally Thomas appears again, he felt urgent to buy a couple of pears. Now he is placed in the middle of the crossing amid the roaring traffic. Rainer's mood does not improve.
We look for a pastry shop (Patisserie). Cake is cheaper than we had found at Azay de Rimbaud. The saleswoman looks like the Maria Callas in her young years. An elderly woman passes by, leaned on her companions, her head hanging backside. She sits on a chair and seems to feel better.
We enter a place with the ancient half timbered Adamhouse, the cathedral located nearby. I enter it for a short visit. This is a huge vault, the widest nave in France, pretty glass windows and old portraits.
We then head towards the river down on stairs. Around some fountains the culture of the modern time hangs around in the form of strange individuals. The main stuff of their food is passed around hidden in paperbags. Better to leave this place soon.
This time we succeed to jump off this city. Soon we reach the desired road along the Loire again. It is even hilly, sweat pours as well. We find ourselves on a dream-route, with back-wind on the dike, the villages and meadows fly along. We look for an accomodation now but a couple of kilometers are done in a great way.
But now a special chapter of the story will come up. We quit the tour of this day at Ingrandes. We find a modest hotel and book a single and double room. Beneath the windows the Loire murmurs at a splash below a bridge.
We look for a nice restaurant and enjoy the menu. But the subsequent discussion now runs out of control. At first there are medical themes, then they enter political topics. The Minister of the Interior of Lower Saxony is suffered to be done an autopsy - there are opposite meanings everywhere. And now the discussion turns to escalate."Madman" "Idiot" and so on (difficult to translate...).
Meanwhile the waitress has ducked behind the bar table to avoid flying wineglasses. Well, no one flies around but the voices have arisen. Like a cascade the the frustration of several situations until now comes up. I catch my Visa Card and settle the bill.
Finally Rainer absolutely says: "I was happy on this vacation, now I am not willing to accept any destruction further on." He is willing to make his own way further on.
And what's about me? I am sitting between all those chairs. I made the proposal to be three of us hoping to arrange a harmonic affair. Is it me to be responsible to the understanding of each other? And how we will continue now?
As soon as the opponents have wiped out the froth of the corner of their mouths we return to the hotel in silence. I start to commute from one room to the other and try to find an arrangement. After all Rainer is determined and is not willing to quit his plan. But I have to go with Thomas for I convinced him of this journey. So at last we should sleep over it. "Will be a difficult chapter of your report" Rainer finally says. (And so it is - difficult to explain and to translate).