Month: September 2011

The Loire – Montargis to Rogny

Just realised that I forgot to put up the post for this part of the journey (day 3).

I’m calling these posts the Loire, when we’re nowhere near it and we’re now on the Canal de Briare.  Well anyway, Rogny’s full name is Rogny les Sept Ecluses (Rogny of the Seven Locks).  It’s a very, very pretty little place.

The locks were built in the reign of Henri Iv in the 1600s and in use until the late 1800s – it’s an amazing piece of engineering.We stayed at the Auberge des 7 Ecluses – arriving when the owners were mid-argument.  The woman didn’t realise we could understand French so was talking about giving us the garage.  And it was literally the garage, slightly modified.  It didn’t matter; we were tired and hot after a long day’s cycling.  The weather had become really warm (into the 30s) and a storm was forecast.  ‘Rubbish’, we thought.

Dinner was a slightly bizarre experience.  The owners were clearly still fighting but trying a ‘pas devant les clients’ approach.  Our request for a table was met in the usual French manner with surprise and annoyance (why?  there was nowhere else to eat in the village).  Service continued in a rather tight-lipped vein with Monsieur clattering the pots in anger in the kitchen and Madame doing the French pouty thing of being really, really annoyed at having customers – especially non-French customers.

I don’t want to be bitchy …. oh, why pass up a good opportunity??  Of ‘traditional build’ – in the Botswanan rather than the Parisian sense, she should not have been wearing such an under-engineered summer dress.   Definately more ‘free-range’ than ‘caged’.   Neil was agog of course, but even he thought it all veered more to the unfortunate than the alluring.   Or at least that’s what he said.

The food was fine – even though we hadn’t come very far, we have tipped into Burgundy so both the wines offered and the menu changed significantly.   Regional means regional.  Intéressant, non?

The Loire – Sully back to Orleans

Today is the last day of cycling.  After 4 days without suspension and in the sit-up-and-beg position, I have a seriously numb bum.   We’re also a bit over it all as well as in ‘why are we doing this?’  The fun has gone out of it.

Last year we did the 250km Canal du Midi – Toulouse to Sète on the Mediterranean – so we had ‘something to cycle to’.  This trip is a circle, so we are only going back to Orleans, with which we were both underwhelmed.

We decided to cycle 20km and then take the train for the rest of the way to Orleans.  Unfortunately it wasn’t a passenger train station – goods only – so we had no choice but to do the last 30km by bike along the banks of the Loire.  This sounds idyllic, but after 5 days, we just wanted it over with.  It was a slog.

A kind Frenchman gave us directions at one point and was quite horrified that we were going to cycle this way – ‘le chemin n’est pas sympa aux vélos’ – the path isn’t great for bikes.  And this was the Loire à Velo trail.  Not amused.

We felt much better after a shower, some soothing kirs and dinner.

Next stop:  Paris for the flight to Bangkok.

The Loire – Rogny to Sully sur Loire

Hmm, cloudy this morning.  Yesterday’s scoffing about a possible storm was perhaps a bit over-confident.  Set off after breakfast (fed up with croissants by now) and decided to take the fastest possible route to Sully just in case it rained – we had minimal waterproofs with us.

There were a few showers on the way, until it really started raining just as we reached a tiny village.  Abandoning the bikes, we shot into the only place open – the bar.  The locals were knocking back kirs and pastis and, judging by the looks of astonishment we got, they don’t get much in the way of passing tourist trade.

Two coffees and hot chocolates later, the rain abated enough to allow us to belt down the road to Sully without getting soaked.

The path came out right at the chateau which was hosting a fete. Dumped the bikes at the hotel and went back to see what was going on, ignoring the light drizzle that had started. The fete turned out to have an Irish hunting theme – no idea why but there were lots of Irish flags, packs of hounds yelping in their cages, pony rides, stalls selling hunting horns, plastic deer (what for?), plastic ducks with wings that moved up and down, hideous woodcarvings, shooting equipment, country clothing, 4×4 cars etc etc.  It was huge.

Unfortunately the drizzle turned into a massive downpour and we got completely soaked.  I spent the evening trying to dry out my only pair of trousers with the hair dryer.

Sometimes there’s not much glamour in cycling.

The Loire – Lorris to Montargis and Fontainebleau

Today was a short cycling day.  Set off from Lorris and got to Montargis by noon. Managed to lose the cycle path, or rather it petered out and turned into knee-high grass.  This was too difficult to trek through, so arrived in Montargis via an unscenic and very busy main road.  The town is very pretty in the centre though.  

Checked into the Ibis and decided to go and spend the afternoon in  Fontainebleau, taking the bikes on the train. 

I used to live in Fontainebleau when I worked at INSEAD.  It’s a pretty French town with a wonderful chateau with massive grounds – great for cycling round.   

The chateau (not where I lived):This is where I lived – 17 rue Grande, literally 100m from the chateau:

My room (a mattress on the floor of  the sitting room) was the small window in the roof – a garret is the correct term.  On the night of the INSEAD ball, my flatmate slid down 4 flights of bannisters in a ballgown because the entire stairwell had just been varnished so we couldn’t get out.  I lowered her handbag down to her on a piece of stringThose were the days.   

At the back of the chateau is a large pond where I’d come on a Sunday afternoon if I was bored witless and had nothing else to do and no money – a fairly common occurrence. 
The entertainment was provided by enormous carp which fought to eat bits of baguette you chucked in the water.  Simple pleasures. 
 
The photo is also the exact spot of my 1989 worst-ever hangover due to (i)  not eating all day – the well-known ‘not eating all day’ diet and (ii) spending the evening drinking Champagne Napoléons (champagne and mandarin liqueur).  Quite a lot of them. 
 
Oh dear. Not recommended as a way to lose weight.  
 
Also in the chateau grounds is the site of my first ever attempt at jogging:   
I must have been nuts.  We cycled round it – I hadn’t realised it was so huge; no wonder I struggled (and gave up). 
 
Went and shared an ice cream in a cafe then back to Montargis on the train. 
 
It was great to go back and see Fontainebleau again.  I’ve been back a couple of times since I left but this was the best visit yet because we were on the bikes.  In the past, we had the car which was no fun at all – it’s very busy and crowded – and of course it’s hard to park.  This way we got to zoom around the town, INSEAD, the chateau and the grounds.
 
An absolutely brilliant day – one of the best yet 🙂  :).

The Loire – Orléans to Lorris

Cycling along the Canal d’Orléans for the next 5 days.  We were going to do part of the Loire à Velo cyclepath but a lot of it seemed to be on main roads – the canal is all on cyclepath and takes you through lovely countryside along an unused canal.

Orléans is a bit of a strange place – there was some bombing damage in WW2 so it’s a mish mash architecturally, going from ugly post war blocks of flats to beautifully restored old buildings – but it’s also got a strange atmosphere. Or maybe a lack of atmosphere.  After St Chapelle in Paris, the church was nothing special – but then not much would be :). 

We hired bikes – I got a sit-up-and-beg type of thing without any suspension.  I was a bit concerned but Neil said it would be fine.  Neil has a proper hybrid (with suspension).  This wasn’t important on Day 1 but would be by Day 5. 

La Loire Nucleaire

Cycled 50km along the Loire and then the canal to a little place called Lorris.   All day we bowled along either by water or through the deserted countryside – beautiful. Lunch was a tarte aux lardons and a patisserie, by a canal lock in the middle of nowhere.  

In Lorris, we stayed at the Auberge au Sauvage, the only hotel in town.  Dinner was a steak with a foie gras sauce and a St Nicholas de Bourgeuil.

Conked out immediately my head hit the pillow to be woken at 5am by the local council out watering the village flowers in the dark, followed by beer lorry deliveries, followed by garbage collection.  It was charming, sort of :):)

Two Days in La Rochelle

La Rochelle is on the Atlantic coast of France, in the Bay of Biscay.  It’s been around since the 9th or 10th century and has always been an important trading port.

The objective of this part of the trip was to have a look around the town, cycle round the Ile de Ré, visit the famous WW2 German submarine pens and to do some cycling up and down the coast.

The harbour area of the town is very pretty, very French and very old. It’s also stuffed full of tourists and yachts – I’ve never seen so many – millions and millions of euros worth of boats.

We set off to cycle to the Ile de Ré, just off the coast.  I thought Neil meant cycle to the ferry to the Ile de Ré.  But  no.

It’s probably clear from the photo that I was traumatised from cycling over that sodding bridge in a gale.  The ride back wasn’t quite as grim, only because the wind was with us.   As compensation, I later had 2 boules of my new favourite thing in the whole world:  salted caramel ice cream.

Next day we cycled south but gave up after an hour as the wind was difficult and the countryside wasn’t very attractive.  Although La Rochelle itself is stunning, it’s surroundings are a bit industrial and generally unlovely.

Fought our way back to La Rochelle against the wind and headed to the Tourist Office to find out about visiting the submarine pens.  I was told:  ‘Zey er nut upin’.  ‘But why?’  ‘Zeh urmee steel yews erm’.   ‘Not open at all then?”  ‘Ner, nivair’.

Instead, we spent the rest of the day eating patisseries and salted caramel ice cream.

The next morning the weather had changed and we left La Rochelle to it’s grey Atlantic, the cold and the rain.  Glad to go – too much like Scotland 🙂

Next stop Orléans.

Paris – the last day :(

This morning was quite sombre;  rain last night and grey, cloudy skies added to the end-of-a-great-holiday feeling. 

After breakfast, we wandered over for a look at the Place des Vosges just as Dominique Strauss Kahn arrived back from the USA, so it was a riot of television cameras and paparazzi. 

Came back to check out of the hotel and had a quick last coffee in Le Grizzli. 

We say au revoir (not adieu) to Le Grizzli

Headed off to the Gare de Lyon to meet Neil off the TGV from Geneva.  Decided to have a final lunch before going our separate ways – Margaret back home to Scotland, us to La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast.  

Le Train Bleu (the name of the train from Paris to the Cote d’Azur) is a famous restaurant situated above the platforms in the station.  It’s a wondrous piece of French, completely over the top, bonkersville Belle Epoque fabulousness.  We had a superb lunch of a warm smoked salmon terrine with fennel, cucumber & chives – Neil chose the pistachio sausage baked in a brioche. And of course we had a healthy amount of decent rosé wine.The recurring theme throughout our Paris break has been ‘things can’t get any better’.  But they started off brilliantly and just kept getting better  – and the Le Train Bleu lunch topped off the whole experience.A big thanks to Neil for indulging Margaret and me – he  bravely gave us the choice of Le Train Bleu or the rather grim brasserie downstairs when he knew the havoc that could be wreaked with his sporran.  Havoc was duly wreaked, but he bore it well.

Margaret and I had a fantastic time.  Paris had on it’s best dress for our stay – even the Parisians seemed a lot less surly and obnoxious – we had only 2 Franco-Scottish international incidents over 4 days which must be a record :).

Sad to say goodbye but will definately do something similar next year – already looking forward to it.