France, The Final Word! So many friends continue to comment on the Anti American sentiment in France that I must say, one last time, and I promise, I mean one last time, THERE IS NO ANTI AMERICAN SENTIMENT HERE! Yes, there is some Anti War sentiment but they have endured so much war, death and destruction on home ground that it is understandable.
Tour de France, The Fifth Win for Lance! Not only was it exciting to ride the Tour Route and see the Prologue as well as the 16th Stage, it is great to see other adults cycling. Sure, the adults who cycle the Tour de France are half my age but, they are adults. And, to be here and witness the 100th Tour, the 5th win for Lance and Tyler Hamilton winning at Bayonne despite a broken collarbone was truly fantastic!
How HOT is HOT? Cycling from Paris to Madrid during the hottest summer on record was a melt down, a real scorcher of an adventure. We met a lot of other “crazy” cyclists on the Santiago del Compostela Pilgimage Route. The Pilgrimage is a wonderful experience to witness and feel a part of. Thousands of people have been making the journey for more than a thousand years.
Here’s hoping you enjoy the READ!
Sunday, July 6, 2003
Paris to Etampes
Hank called at 8:30 AM and asked if we were ready to go. Far from it, we hadn’t even had breakfast. I told him to take his time, it would be 10:00 before we would be loaded. Perfect timing on our part and Hank was there just minutes after we pushed out the front door of Hotel Elysees. He had been studying maps and has sort of chosen a route out of town.
Our first stop was the Trocadero for one last picture of the Eiffel Tower. This one was for a promise I made a year ago in Wisconsin. Remember the day we rode into Sullivan, Wisconsin, USA and slept in the park? I promised the boys of the East Troy Trojans that I would take a picture in front of the tower, wearing the baseball cap that John Silbernagel had given me. (I forgot to bring it along yesterday.)
From that point on we were in the hands of our “Guide’ par excellence”. We wound our way south through a variety of neighborhoods. Hank stopped often and checked his map. Like our pal Alex in Russia, he also asked, asked, asked. We did pass and enjoy the view of Chateau le Parc. Hank and Lucienne are having a picnic later this afternoon here, if the dark clouds don’t begin to weep.
He led us until we were on Highway N2 and saw signs for Etampes, our goal for today. We got a picture, hearty hugs and promises to communicate often and get together in California in the fall of ‘04’.
Alone and on our own again! We fell into the traffic, tried to ride the sidewalk then back over the curb and into the flow of cars. Traffic is heavy, no trucks because it’s Sunday, yet a lot of cars and they are moving fast. N2 became almost a freeway. It was pretty much a no fun ride.
We bought sandwiches in a Shell Station Mini Market and found a park bench in a playground. The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the moment. Shortly after we got back on the road Cat began to feel some stomach problems. Urgency, the search for a toilet failed as we passed through the next small picturesque village. They virtually close every business on Sundays here. It was back to the bushes and yes, the dreaded diarrhea was again visiting WorldRiders2.
Inside Paris we climbed and rolled down some pretty steep hills. That remained the ride until we decided to take a turn into the countryside at Arpajon. This new route gives us less traffic and it is moving slower. It also gives us an additional 13 Km to ride. The rural road was flat and often slopping down. Then it was pay back time and we had to climb. We were in a leafy forest, tall trees lined the road and created a tunnel of green. Though the climb was long and we sweated profusely it was enjoyable. The summit brought sunshine and rolling plains. It was like being in South Dakota or Minnesota again.
Déjà vu en Francais
Studying the map, we came up with an alternative, Highway D449 wanders off to the east/southeast to the village of la Ferte Alias. There it connects with Hwy D191 and ambles back to the west, into Etampes. It will add 13 or 14 Km but diminish the traffic by 200%. It was a tough decision because time was already fleeting due to our late start and slow city riding. As we cycled up the off ramp and exited N20 we experienced a rare moment of dispute. I wanted to go around the corner before crossing to give cars in both directions a visual on us. Cat wanted to get across and questioned the decision. Then, when I did make the dash I found that we were trapped on an island with traffic coming fast from the same direction on each of the two lanes. Cat expressed her frustration by saying that this was stupid. I took it personally and yelled out, the decision is made, go for it. We made it across thanks to a kind motorist who stopped for us. On the other side I told her to take the lead. We must either lead or follow, we can’t hold a conference every time we make a decision. I was also disturbed that she called me stupid. She explained that it was the idea she thought was stupid. She apologized then I admitted that it was a bad decision and we rolled on.
An interesting aside, as we topped out we came upon a guy, definitely a French guy, on a bike. He was stopped and working on it. We pulled up and I asked if he needed help. His hat looked like a beret but had a small bill. He had a mustache and small goatee. His coat was a ¾ length and it looked like it would be hot. He rattled off something in French, between us we decided that he was saying that the bike was okay but he had run out of steam on the hill. His bike was held together with bubble gum and bailing wire. A homemade clamp held the handlebars in place and the seat was pretty much Duct and packing tape.
Finally, what we thought would be a 49 Km ride ended up at 71. The extra was due to the zigzag course Hank chose to keep us safe and out of terrible traffic and our countryside ride. We rolled into Etampes a little after 5:00 PM and turned into Auberge de France, the first hotel we saw. It was priced right, offered a nice room and they stored the bikes in a Conference Room.
Some of the comforts of home including CNN on our TV. Dinner was good, dessert was great. The stomach problem kept Cat running to the toilet.
July 7, 2003
A day of Toil and Toilette in Etampes
The night was full of trips to the toilet for Cat. I got a banana and juice for her to see if she might start to hold food before we went to breakfast. She didn’t make breakfast. I ate and brought her a few morsels that she had a tough time looking at, much less eating.
I stayed chained to the computer and she the toilette, most of the day. Hunger set in for me late in the afternoon. I checked the Hotel but all they offer mid day is dessert. They suggested MacDonald’s or a Chinese place across the street. I tried the big Mac but nothing looked edible. They had a buffet at the Chinese Restaurant but not for take out. I decided to eat there then take some soup back to the ailing Cat.
She was worried because I had been gone so long. She loved the noodle soup and got over the lonelies, quickly. Since she has eaten nothing and had a steady stream of escaping fluids, the soup hit the spot.
I worked on the pictures of our Berlin to Paris experience while she slept. At dinner we both chose the fish plate. She finished hers then trotted back to the room. I did the entire Prix Fix including dessert.
The pictures were all in the computer by 11:30 PM. Cat had been in and out of dreamland for 3 hours.
July 8, 2003
Etampes to Orleans
The decision to ride was in Cat’s hands. We had breakfast and she had an appetite. In fact she only had one bout of the big ‘D’ during the night. We had almost finished our eggs when she was hastily called away. I finished my coffee then went back to check on her. She was packing and ready to ride.
As we prepared to push off I spoke with a guy who had been typing at breakfast both days. I asked if he was writing a book or doing bookwork. Noriyasu is here from Japan with his company, they sell cast iron teapots. He is well traveled and his best friend lives in Los Angeles.
We pushed out and loaded then as I checked out another cyclist came into the lobby. Peter’s from England and he’s headed toward the Mediterranean. We won’t see him again because he rides 120 Km a day. Well, we may catch up because this is only day 3 and he admitted that his Butt is really sore.
Up the main street, looking for Highway D49, we stopped and |I asked a Policeman for direction. He spent a lot of time and wrote directions for us. We followed then turned where he said we should but felt lost. The Bar Tender at the corner Tavern told us we were on the right track so we pressed on, only to find a Deviasion. (Detour)
Turned out that we almost backtracked to where we met the Policeman then turned south and onto the route to Orleans. It was mostly a climbing morning. Cat felt better and better with each hill? At the tiny village of Autruy we found a Patisserie with fantastic bread. We had to climb back up to the Charcuterie we passed on the way in, to get cheese and ham.
About 4 Km out of Autruy, we picnicked in the warm sun, at the side of the road. Maybe because the Tour de France is in day three, or maybe the French just love bicyclists, but we were showered with honks, waves and well wishes. We laughed because they may have been saluting us for not getting in their ways?
The terrain flattened and dried at that point. Fields of grain that were green were now golden and being harvested. One great expanse of Sun Flowers brought thoughts of Vincent to our minds. They seem to raise their heads and look toward the sun as it travels across the sky. It was almost hot but the wind was with us and most of the ride was slightly down hill.
Orleans was ours by 3:30 PM. We rolled into the Tourist Office and got maps and info. After a quick stop at the CarreFour Market across the street we went seeking a Hotel. Our first choice was completely booked. Shocked, I went across the street and found that they had a room but no room for the bikes. Just down the street we saw a cute two star, the Hotel De’l Abeille. Although we had to carry the bags up two flights, the price was only 49€. They were good about the bikes, storing them in a hallway in the back.
We watched the Second Stage of the Tour but understood little. They have French TV only.
After showers we took the Managers advice and walked through the Jeanne de Arc Square for Pasta. Good fuel food and a bottle of vitamins, minerals and LIFE. Apres le Diner we walked to most of the sights. The statue of Joan of Arc was cordoned off with plastic tape and little signs that we couldn’t understand. As we sauntered past a group of young girls who were sitting at the base of the big statue, walked toward us and tore down some of the tape and sign. I had to ask, most of them just stood there but one cutey spoke up, in English, and told us that they were just rebels. The signs were a sort of protest about an event of art and music but she didn’t know why or who had sealed the area off. She and her friends didn’t seem to care, either.
MPlatitudes in Orleans
Picturesque, as we shot pics, the swallows swooped and screeched. We headed home at 10:00 PM. It had been a long day for us and we were ready to relax.
July 9, 2003
Orleans to Beaugency 31 Kilometers
A day of Frustrations
The plan developed over breakfast was to try to camp this afternoon. Cat set out for to mail our excess things home and get groceries. I went to the Internet Shop. My first frustration was that the slip of paper given us by the Tourist Info clearly stated hours, 9:00 AM to 21:00. The shutters were down and the door locked tight. I stopped at an Insurance Agency and the nice lady called but no answer? She said, “I think they oversleep, maybe they no open today?”
I hoofed it across town to the Poste and caught her there. The lady at the Agency had suggested an Internet Machine at the Poste. Cat was in mid process of the mailing. She said it had been tough, waiting in line then trying to communicate and learn, once again, the process for mailing packages. We bought a 7€ card and I went to the machine. It wouldn’t work? It said the Carte was Muette, dead? The nice lady gave me another but it wouldn’t work, either? A young man came out, tried to get it going then got his card and finally, after re-booting twice, that the machine was broken.
At the young man’s suggestion I hoofed it back across town to the Grand Poste. The machine there had a large red X across the screen and wouldn’t even try to open. He checked with someone in the back then popped his head out and said, “Sorry!” in that sweet, thick French accent. I asked for our 7€ back but he laughed and said a lot of things in French, none of which sounded like he would. He got the point across that I should go to the other Poste. I argued and told him that I just came from there. Then a nice older woman, probably my age, said, “Let me help you.” She took me to the steps out front and pointed down the street giving explicit directions to another Poste. I fast walked there and stood waiting to talk to a Postal Clerk. The window girl shook her head, she didn’t understand but another came out and gave me the bad news. They didn’t even have a computer at this branch. I was about to go Postal, as we say in the States.
As a lost resort I zigged back to the Internet Shop and found it was open. We have several things that need to be taken care of. One of importance is taxes, we filed for an extension and aren’t sure when we must get the information completed or if our accountant has everything he needs to file for us. There were more than 120 messages. Apres weeding out the junk there were still 94. I would have loved to sit and answer but felt pressure so only got to a few of them. Read all of importance then fast walked back to the Hotel.
Cat was in the street with both bikes and the bags. She had to clear the room, check out time was 11:30 and the girls had suggested that we might have to pay for another day. They were actually really nice and even helped with some of the bags.
We loaded then they let us sit at a sidewalk table, in the shade, and eat the picnic goodies that Cat had picked up. It was getting warm, we watched as workers unloaded furniture from a 2nd story apartment, down a ladder elevator. They were really sweating.
It was after 1:00 PM before we got on the bikes and rolled. It was easy to see why they had been sweating. City traffic was typical, we got on a wrong way and had to backtrack then rode for a while along the levy above the Loire River. We had to take to the street then a very narrow bike path. It wound around and crossed under the Expressway then into a small village. We saw a sign with the picture of a bike and the word, Beaugency. We didn’t realize that was a city name until we caught the sign for the opposite direction with Orleans on it.
That took us into a small street lined with wonderful old French homes. Then, we were suddenly out in the country and on another levy. This one had a small paved road with virtually no traffic. This 10-15 kilometers would be the highpoint of the day. Riding high above the farm fields we looked down on greens and browns, even a huge field of sunflowers. As the rapture of that ride ended onto a busy highway we were treated to a view of a huge church in a tiny village off to our left.
I thought we were rolling into Beaugency but it was only Meung-sur-Loire. Another wonderful place with narrow cobble stone streets and old buildings. There was a camping area but it was open space with few trees. They do offer pool, spa and a dozen other features like a resort hotel. It was only 3:00 PM, too early to stop. We found a Tourist Info and they helped us make a decision to ride on, down the National Highway, N152 to a Super Marche then another 8 Km to Beaugency where there is a camping place.
As we started off Cat had a catastrophe. The chain seized and she couldn’t pedal. It was easy to see the problem, difficult to see a solution. Somehow when she shifted gears the chain slipped between the small and mid gears on the front derailleur. I tried to pull it free and only succeeded in turning my fingers black with chain lube. It was hot in the sun, we moved to the shade and continued the struggle. Finally, I used a wrench handle and spread the gear rings just enough to work it loose. Another half hour frustration but it did feel good to work it out, a small win in an otherwise, thus far, winless day.
N152 was tight and tough. We rode on the dirt along the side until we reached the SuperU. I went in and got a few missing supplies and a bottle of wine. The ride into Beaugency was tight, in traffic heavy with trucks, campers and motor homes. The good news, we were with the wind.
Our first attempt at camping was thwarted by the style of Campgrounds these French offer. They have sights but no tables or fire pits, not even a barbeque. There were a few tents set up but they were either in an open field or next to a camper. We really explored the table thing, they suggested cooking on the ground then bringing the food to an area where they serve, like a barbeque. After surveying the situation we decided that we would ride on.
There is a wonderful looking Abbey at the north end of the bridge. We stopped there and Cat made a hasty dash to the nearby Restaurant Toilette. She is much better but these moments of urgency remain. I checked on the rooms. It would be great to experience a night in the Abbey. A little old man, in disheveled clothes and house slipper got up when I came through the door. I asked about a room and he said, “Oui, 93€.”
I tried my hand at French and said, “Velo avec luggage.” And pointed out the window. He said, “Do you mean bicycles with bags?” then took a puff on his cigarette and wheezed.
I looked at the room but it was up 2 flights of stairs, then inside, it was a townhouse with the bedroom and bath up another flight. We declined and rode, up a steep hill to the heart of the village. With two Hotels there to choose from, Cat struck out because no one could understand her and my attempt ended when the nice young guy called the boss, trying to figure out where they could keep the bikes.
He pointed on down the street and we ended up at Hostellerie de l’Ecu de Bretagne. An old place with a barn for bikes. There were 8 other bikes, French bikes, parked inside so we felt okay about leaving them. Carrying bags was tough, the sweat really poured. They offered a choice of rooms, the big one was 78€ and Cat said it was nice but, we’re only here for tonight. We took the small, 48€ room but it has a window overlooking the courtyard and barn. No AC and it could use some. The room was hot but opening the window helped and as the sun set behind the barn roof it did start to cool.
Cat walked the neighborhood and decided on the spot for dinner while I showered. It is a Bistro with several tables on the wide sidewalk. Cat had Pizza and I went for the special, a veal dish. We also had some Loire Valley wine. As we ate we began to hear English and French being spoken at the table next to us. A wonderful family, some from Maryland, USA and some from France, were seated there. We started talking and became family, for an evening. The French, Bernard, Monique and Charles are parents and son. The Americans are Kevin, Candice, Jack and Celine. Monique is Kevin’s aunt, her sister is his Mother. Kevin and Candice both lived in CA so we had something in common. The kids, Jack, age 11 and Celine, age 6, played games, even hid drink umbrellas on me and did the “You’re getting warm, hot,” well you know the game. Cat worked on getting Charles to speak the English that he’s studied but seldom has the opportunity to use. Ultimately I convinced Monique and Charles to do the French version of “You’re riding your bicycle around the world?” It is always so great to connect with someone local and a real bonus when some of them speak English. The best part of this meeting was the US and French family connection. Kevin says that they, like us, have not had any bad times with French people. We agreed that the problems lie mostly in the minds of our fellow Americans.
“You Must Be Crazy” French
Our time with this family from two different worlds eased an otherwise very frustrating day. It was after 11:00 PM by the time we got back to our humble abode.
July 10, 2003
Beaugency to Blois
It was back down through the cobbled streets, through a small square in front of a Middle Ages Church, past the Abbey, to the river and over the bridge. Strange, the same green grain fields that we were wondering at in Poland and Germany are now brown here and being harvested. We took a turn to the left onto D 112 toward Chambord. The farms suddenly gave way to a walled wooded area and the road, D 112 became Francois I. Now we were winding through a forest and there is little or no traffic. At a small round about we saw a woman walking but she was wearing cycling gloves? Then we found the reason, her companion had one of their bikes turned up on its back and was struggling with a flat tire. We stopped and offered help but they were doing fine so we cycled on.
All of the signs pointed straight ahead but we caught a glimpse of a huge house off to the left. The road leading to its front door is blocked to cars, caravans and trucks but was easy for us to enter. What a wonderful feeling, riding toward this fabulous work of art. Of course, we must always remember that it is only a house. A house that was built for a King. Francois I chose the site because it was an easy two day horse or carriage ride from Paris. Though Francois was King for 32 years he only stayed in Chambord for 42 days. Royalty has its privileges. The building kept 1,800 workers busy for 15 years. (Chambord was built between 1520 and 1535.)
It’s Just a House
Hungry, we had a sandwich under a tree where we could still see the Chateau. There was a huge pile of Horse manure nearby. We hope that the smell isn’t always part of our memory of Chambord. Whether it is or not, one good memory is meeting Piet from Holland. He rode up on a bike then was joined by his wife Marja and daughter Lara. He has done several cycling trips with his wife but is now traveling in a car with his bike on a rack. We talked for quite a while, telling about our ride through Holland and hearing of his trips around Europe.
We rode around the perimeter of the Chateau but decided not to take the tour of the interior. We have seen so many museums with the same kinds of furniture that it wasn’t interesting. I would have liked to see the interior architecture but not at the expense of leaving the bikes outside, unguarded.
We rode on, to Cheverny. This would be a two Chateau day. Cheverny was disappointing in the sense that it is walled and not visible at all from the road. They charge 12€ for a tour and 5€ just to visit the grounds. We thought about one of us going in just to get a few exterior pics but decided not to split up.
Our best memories will be of meeting Are Vee (Harvey) and his girl friend. They have cycled from Marseille. It was difficult to talk with them because they don’t speak English and Cat’s French was having a hard time getting through to them. As they rode away a guy with a thick Scottish accent struck up a conversation with us. Angus and Valerie are also traveling on their bikes. What a story he had about their visit here. His family name is Nimmo, not very Scottish but his name, anyway.
During a visit to a Palace here they came upon a story that he says, “Made the hair on his arms stand up”. Back when Mary Stewart, the young heiress to the British throne was sent to marry French Royalty to link the two countries. She lived in France for a short time then slipped back into Scotland. She was Catholic, England was not. She became Mary, Queen of Scots and was a prisoner of her own family in the castle at Edinburgh. The revelation that Angus discovered was that her French servants were all named Nimmo and accompanied her when she made the clandestine night time trip back to Scotland.
Angus, “You must be Crazy” Scotch/Irish
Rode into Blois and found the Ibis right in the center. Got settled, then down the street to a touristy corner Latin restaurant for Margaritas and some form of Mexican food. We then ventured out to see the sights including the Chateaux and House of Magic, which was lit up in purple lights. The evening was warm and the sun still out, so it is so comfortable to walk around. Another late night.
July 11, 2003
Blois to Amboise
I found a bike shop and had a new shifter installed. The technician, spoke no English but seemed to know his business. The shop was in the basement. I watched and tried to supervise. He was trying to be fast and I was trying to keep up with him. The other guys all had to come look at the Auto Shifter.
Cat went to the Poste for Internet but it was not working? She went up the hill to an Internet Bar that opened at 7:30 a.m. When I got back from the bike shop the desk clerk told me where I would find her. The place reminded us of local bar at home, The Rudder Room that opens at 6:00 AM and is full of locals all day long. The Bar Tendress was in control and you knew it. She smoked, talked, poured and snarled. The customers seemed to like it or at least take it in stride. We cleaned up most of the messages and watched her antics during the almost 2 hours we were there.
The wooded route to Chaumont is on small country roads. I needed a cold drink and found it at the Service Station. As we stood talking a young guy filling his tank said, “Hey, you’re Americans”. He, Mathew, is from Maine. We think his wife Pauline is French, they live in Paris. They loved our stories and took our card. He explained a little about Chateaux Chaumont, they had just visited it. They thought we could ride up the hill, the chateaux is overlooking the Loire River Valley.
After goodbyes we rode around the corner and tried to go up the walkway that the arrows told us went to Chaumont. Super steep, it was tough to even push up. Near the top we met a couple who told us that we could have cycled up the road fairly easily. Oh well, we don’t ever do things easily? Once you’ve seen Chambord it’s easy to be let down by chateaus. Chaumont is under reconstruction with one of the round towers enshrouded. Between not wanting to leave the bikes and not wanting to pay the 7€ each, we enjoyed the grounds, took a couple of pictures and rode the road back down.
Back on the route along the Loire River we came upon caves, real caves in the white cliffs that have been used to store wines for centuries. We stopped at Caveau Leonardo da Vinci. They are called Troglodytic dwellings, caves in the limestone hills in which people still live today and they have wine tasting in them, too. Though we didn’t taste or buy any wine we did enjoy looking around. Most of the big opening is a tasting room, the storage area is like a small tunnel reaching deep into the cliff. I took a couple of pictures then a couple from England asked and I took pics of them and the sales lady using their camera.
Why Leonardo? As we rolled into Amboise we saw lots of places named for him. It came to pass that he spent his few final years here thanks to patron Francois I. He arrived here in 1516 and died 3 years later at age 67.
The village, Amboise, is quaint and of course, picturesque. The Chateau hangs ominously above the road as you enter. Cycling in circles, we finally found the Hotel de Ville. (City Hall) Cat went in to see if they have a Tourist Info Office there. She came back with a woman who had her in tow and she wasn’t sure why? The woman, her name was something like Echy, spoke little English but kept insisting that we follow her. Voila, she wasn’t a huckster or hustler, she was just a nice lady helping some nice folks. She led us directly to the Tourist Office, asked for nothing and even shied away at first when we asked for her picture. Another lesson in human nature and trust!
The Hotel we chose from the list they hand out wasn’t much but it was the closest one to the T.O. A fair deal for 40€ with tiny shower and toilet in the room. We did have to leave the bikes down in an open carport but the area is locked and used only by staff.
Dinner would be at a lovely Italian Restaurant we had seen near the Hotel de Ville. They have courtyard seating, we took a table with vines around it. The leaves and small grape looking things fell in and around our food as we ate. Though it was outside and shaded it was still warm, muggy warm
Amboise & Art
The Chateau is just across the street, but it was closed. We wandered around, took pictures and enjoyed Amboise. Even found an Internet place and spent the evening checking e-mails until 11:00 PM.
July 12, 2003
Amboise to Tours
I had made a new disk of the pictures that were missing from the website and we went right back to Internet this morning to e-mail them to WebMaster Wally. We had some problems, but the owner, Regis, is very good at the computer and said he would email them for us, but it would take some time. Over 5 hours later, we were still there. We had a lot of emails so we worked on those as Regis worked on our email. A couple of guys Lucas and Yintan, from Chicago came in and I talked with them for over an hour about their Chinese and Polish heritage. They are just roaming around for 2 weeks, checking out the sights of Europe.
It was after 3:30 PM by the time we finally got away from the Internet. That sealed our decision regarding where we would ride to this afternoon. Vouvray sounded good, we enjoyed a nice bottle of Vouvray with dinner last night. However, we never saw a sign for the turn off. It was hot, we rode straight in to Tours. We made a good deal at the Best Western Hotel, across the street from the train and bus station.
The day seemed to have escaped us. We ate our first Salad Gourmande for dinner. Normally we need more calories and substance if we are riding the next day, but we will take tomorrow off to do complete the journal and get a little rest. This salad is a very popular French dish. It is filled with chicken, tuna, salmon, corn, grilled potatoes, beans, eggs and lettuce. Good tasting and it felt good to eat a lighter meal, since it is still hotter than hot this evening. We didn’t do too much walking since it was late by the time we finished eating. We did stop at our favorite for desert, McFlurrys at McDonalds.
Sunday, July 13, 2003
Day off in Tours
Sunday is a good day to take off in France since most of the French take the day off, too. Shops and businesses are closed. Cat called the family that she stayed with during her post college graduation trip almost 30 years ago. They live in Matha, a small village near another small but better-known village called Cognac. She was glad that their son, Hubert was there. When Dr. Fievet answered Cat stuttered and stammered trying to talk with him. Hubert (UU Bear) is a pilot with Air France and he speaks great English. Cat was able to make a plan to visit them when we get near, in a few days.
Cat did laundry, while I finalized the Berlin to Paris portion of our journal. When she returned the clerk told us that we would have to change rooms. They didn’t understand that we would stay for two nights. I talked with him on the phone and reminded him that he had given us the big room as a sort of bonus. He asked me to come get a key and see the new room, he was sure that we would like it. In fact, the new room was larger, better located and we loved it. They just needed our old room because it had 3 beds
I typed, Cat went out to get sandwiches. We had a working lunch together. I went right back to typing and stayed chained to the computer for the rest of the afternoon. Cat found an Internet Shop and cleaned up the few new messages. She returned at about 4:00 PM. We watched the Tour de France, it was a very intense stage. Lance Armstrong did take the Yellow Jersey. His lead has now shrunk to only about 1 minute.
During her wanderings Cat found the Cathedral. We walked back to the area and took some good photos. It is located in a crowded, international, neighborhood. We saw restaurants with Russian, Indian, Turkish, and Italian food. You guessed it, we ate Italiano. Dinner was OK, but lacking in volume. As it worked out, the sauce was so rich that we were glad they served less than normal sized portions.
There was a group of people seated across from us who would struggle with French then break into English. Most spoke the British style but one guy was definitely from the US. He even told stories about living on the desert of California. The thing that they all have in common is school. They are here attending an intense French Language course. We enjoyed listening to them and talking, even after we finished eating we walked down the street together. As we listened we thought of our friend Annette and her cooking school. One of the things I did today was copy the pictures we took while with her so that we can mail them to her.
As has often happened, we walked around and stumbled upon a treasure, the local celebration of Bastille Day. A big crowd had gathered at Hotel de Ville, the City Hall. There was a reviewing stand and lots of military, young and old. We joined in the cheering as a parade of Gendarmes, Bombieres and Military Men passed in review.
After another stop at McDonalds for ice cream we went back for more computer time. Cat sat with me and reminded me of stories that were missing from the text.
July 14, 2003
Tours to Chattellerault
The National Holiday will affect our ride today. We planned for an early start but it was 9:30 before we pedaled away from The BW Le Grand Hotel. We took the big breakfast then got the bikes and bags into the lobby. Frederic, the front desk manager was friendlier this morning. He had checked our web site and now had a better understanding for our Odyssey. He only charged us for Continental Breakfasts and I asked for two sandwiches that he billed at 2€ each. Then he spent time drawing a map and making a list of cities that we should look for on the road signs. He suggested some small roads but we would be setting out on Highway N 10.
Just breaking free from large towns always feels good. We were in farmland and open space. Climbing slowly we both spotted a shade, the kind that you put in your car window to cut the heat and light of the sun. This shade had the face of a cat on it. We had to stop, it found a place on the back of her bags and looked great there.
Though Frederic’s directions were perfect we chose not to turn off N 10 because the Holiday traffic that we hade feared would appear was non-existent. The road surface was excellent and the terrain flat to rolling. We were making great time.
A short stop for cold drinks in St. Maure gave us the chance to sit in the shade. It is hot, how hot? They’re saying 30 C. that’s about 86 F. The down hills always feel good when the sweat from the up hill pulls cools. We were half way to Chatellerault and feeling strong. The guy at the Station Service as they say here, had the Tour de France on his TV. It motivated us to see those guys giving it 110%.
We pressed on, another 19 Km and stopped at another Service Station in Dange to eat our sandwiches. Sitting inside, under a fan, the temperature was at least the same as outside. We ate and drank then I had a huge Popsicle. We were back out in the sun in just 30 minutes. Cat was in a trans as we climbed a hill in the heat or she has been watching too much Tour de France. We both heard the buzz, her front wheel was running against my back wheel. An adrenalin rush then laughter!
The final 15 Km flew by and we were in Chatellerault by 2:00 PM. Of course we then had to find a place to stay and food. I saw a sign for Ibis and it had the word, Climatize. That means Air Conditioning and it sounds pretty good to us! The place is a ghost town, virtually no one on the street, very few cars. We stopped at a Patissirie, found a cold Perrier drink that really hit the spot. The lady there confirmed our feeling that the Hotel was just ahead.
Pretty amazing, we were out of the heat, bikes parked and off loaded, cool showered and watching the final 50 Km of the Tour by 4:00 PM. This is the 9th Stage and it will be remembered as the one where the Basque rider, Joseba Beloki was sprinting ahead of Lance Armstrong on the downhill to the finish and his rear wheel went out from under him. He fell hard and Lance swerved left to miss him and hit the dirt. He sensed that he couldn’t get back to the road so he continued to roll through the field the did a great long jump across the ditch while carrying the bike and got back in the race in time to save his yellow shirt finish. We have no idea how Joseba is doing? They may have said but we only get about every 12th word, thanks to Cats French lessons.
Dinner at the Hotel Restaurant, and it was great. Cat chose salmon, remaining conservative wither meals. I opted for the Pork Knuckle. How could Knuckles pass up a Knuckle? (It was at least as good as the first one I ever tasted, in BernKastel-Kues while driving Lil’ Scotty up the Mosel.)
July 15, 2003
Chatellerault to Melle
94 Kilometers, 94 Degrees F.
Our early start plans were again thwarted? We dawdled with breakfast and loading but did get out by 9:00 AM. Well, that’s pretty early for us! The air was fresh and cool but we knew that would change. That’s what the weatherman’s map with those little suns and numbers read, though we have no idea what he said.
The old N10 was a far cry from yesterday. We had to dodge trucks and cars just to get across in front of the Hotel. The ride to Poitiers, 34 Km, was pretty uneventful until we got close to town. The highway became a freeway. We now had even more traffic moving even faster and we had to contend with on and off ramps. Yes, we shouldn’t have been out here but, we don’t have any alternatives on our map and there are no signs forbidding cycles. Okay, I know that some of you will send messages telling us not to be stupid but, we were stupid for about 20 Km.
There were fields of Sunflowers, even a couple of vineyards. One of the off ramps, a popular one, led tourists to a theme park called Futurescope. We could see the interesting buildings but that was as close as we wanted to go.
In the midst of the Super Highway we stopped at a Service Station and had soft drinks and cookies. As we ground our way up the hill and away from the air conditioning we heard that familiar buzz again. Cat had gone to sleep at the wheel or should we say handlebars, again. Another phenomenon, the clouds were barely visible but we started to feel raindrops. The best thing about the moment was that it did cool things a little.
Finally about 10 Km out of Poitiers we made a right onto N11. It was much less traveled by car and truck but narrow with no shoulder. We did stop at a Super Market, I stood the guard while Cat picked up lunch. We rode on for maybe 10 Km then sat on a bridge rail and ate our turkey, cheese and bread. Maybe because of the “Tour”, or maybe these French just appreciate bicycles but we got a lot of honks and thumbs up as we ate. Seated in the sun, we were glad when the cloud cover thickened. The shade and a gentle breeze along with the well wishes really made our lunch.
N11 sort of hooks around Lusignan and we took a turn to the right, again, onto D150. It looked like we would be out in the middle of nowhere and in a sense, we were. The area is all agriculture. There are small villages but no services, no cold drinks or Popsicles.
A swoop down followed by the usual slow drag up and we were in a tiny village called Chey. There was what looked like a tiny store so we parked and walked across the highway. It was cool inside, not AC cool but the deli case and freezer let a little air slip out. Cat went for a cold bottle of water, I had Bitter Lemon. The lady was very nice and spoke slowly enough for Cat to understand her. Melle is another 15 Km and according to Madam, it has two Hotels.
More farms then, voila, an Intermarche and the city sign for Melle. We pulled across and I went questing for a Popsicle. The AC in the store felt good but, no Popsicles. A nice girl in the Tabac/Café next door confirmed that there was a Hotel and pointed the directions to the Centre Ville.
Of course there was another big downhill followed by a tough pull up. We circled the Ville then Cat spotted Hotel ** Bar** Restaurant, Les Glycines. She took a look and approved the room. The guy pointed to a place in the lobby where we could leave the bikes but offered not to help get them in or get the bags upstairs. Yes, they have no elevator and we are on floor 2, remember, in Europe that is the third floor. This is the same Hotel Group, Logi de France, as the wonderful little place where we stayed in Arles. The room is modern but the building doesn’t have the same charm and character. We missed the nice family in Arles who seemed to really care about their guests, too. The manager did tell us that we had his most private room. When we pulled the drapes back we were pleasantly surprised to find a small balcony and courtyard below but no windows staring back at us.
By the time we washed the sweat away it was 8:00 PM, and we wanted food. There is a pizza place somewhere in Melle but neither of us felt like exploring so we took seats in the dining room. The menu is very French and very expensive. We chose the lowest priced prix fix, plate du jour menu. Not a lot of food but what there was of it was tasty. An interesting looking woman, red, red hair and flowing dress in the lobby as we checked in had caught our attention. She was seated in a little sidewalk café across the street. As we ate she came back across and went up the stairs. Her dress, a different long flowing white, and a scarf that almost reached the floor made her stand out. Partly because of the unique look and also because it looked pretty uncomfortable in this heat. The dining room isn’t air-conditioned, there is a lazy ineffective fan that slowly oscillates but we were out of its range. The humidity and heat did little for the ambiance or the dining experience.
We took a very short stroll around the village square and it was 9:40 by the time we returned to the room. From the balcony we see a church spire and the gathering clouds of a storm promised earlier by the French weatherman. I decided to get a video as it rang out the 10 o’clock hour. Waiting, the skies darkened and began a show of lightening and thunder. We were disappointed when the bell failed to toll ten but Mother Nature showered us with sound, light and huge drops. We left the balcony doors open and lay, watching and wondering.
July 16, 2003
Melle to Matha
The rain poured and the skies were alight then huge claps of thunder followed for most of the night. We slept with the doors to the balcony open. A few drops hit the hardy looking carpet but the cool moist air was too good to pass up. We even had to pull the blanket up during the night.
Cat called Dr. and Madam Fievet, we estimated that we would be in Matha by 12:30 or 1:00 PM. They invited us for luncheon so our plan was to spend some of the afternoon with them then cycle on another 22 Km, into Cognac. They had indicated that they couldn’t “lodge” us, which fit our plans pretty well. It has been 28 years since Cat stayed with them for a week after her college graduation. They also stopped by her parent’s house for dinner when they were visiting California years ago but that is the extent of their relationship. Cat is anxious to see them, she has wonderful memories of her week with them.
A guy from England shared our area at breakfast and we exchanged stories. He is here, house hunting. They made and offer on a place near here but got over bid so he is back and having a tough time making a decision even as to where to buy. He has 3 kids and they can get twice the house for half the price of properties in Yorkshire.
The wet and wild hadn’t completely run its course so we rode out in drizzle. It’s down at first then up a steep one, away from the little river that had carved the valley over the eons. The road is fairly narrow and at times there are curbing and upright barriers in the center. This slows the traffic, really slows them if they’re behind us in one of those areas. They just have to fall in at our pace and wait.
Out in the countryside we were faced with small rolling hills. As we crested one a car pulled past then pulled over and the guy jumped out and ran back toward us. In guarded mode we continued to pedal as he took a position behind a sign and pointed something at us. The size of the lens was the give away. He was shooting pictures of us. Nitto is a pro photographer from Tokyo. He and Anna, from Holland, are following the Christian Pilgrimage Route, writing the story and taking pics along the way. We had a fun time talking with them. He asked if we were pilgrims and we told him, yes, pilgrims of the world. They were both enthused about our voyage and wished us well. I held up my right hand and made the peace sign. As they drove away he was almost hanging out the passenger side window yelling “Peace,” and holding up his two fingers.
We didn’t get very far beyond there because my wheel started making strange noises. Stopping in front of a couple of farmhouses, I found through the process of elimination that the setscrew on the small pulley to the shifter had come out. How could that happen? I only pondered for a few minutes as I searched our tools. I still had the old shifter we had just had changed out and could use the screw from it, but -- we didn’t have an Allen Wrench small enough in our tool kit.
An Allen wrench, my kingdom for an Allen wrench. Sound familiar, that was back when the King or Commander-in-Chief led the troops into battle. What would the battle of Little Big Horn have been without General Custer leading the charge? Who would even know who he was if he had just sat in Command Central and ordered air strikes? For that matter, what about Geronimo, Chief Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Could they have led from an office in Washington DC? Don’t you think that the Generals and others, who play the dangerous game of War, as Jacque Brel put it, should get a real feeling for the life and death of it? Maybe stand guard duty at night on a dark street in Baghdad? It might change the way we think about that dangerous game, No?
Day dreaming won’t get us back on the road. We found a farm wife picking haricot vert (green beans) and explained in Cat’s best French, what we needed. She immediately went inside and returned with two pathetic looking bags of tools. She had fewer real tools than we did. The neighbors pulled in and she asked them to take a look. The man seemed to want to get away from our problem and us. He headed straight for the barn. She rushed inside, probably in need of a toilet, then returned and applied blush to her cheeks as we talked, or tried to.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about the man. He re-appeared and shook his head, he didn’t have any that small. He talked with the neighbor and his wife then they indicated that they would take us into town in their car. Of course that wouldn’t work, we would never get the bikes in their small car. Somehow they came to the conclusion that they would drive me in to Brioux, 5 km south, and find an Allen Wrench.
They had to re-arrange the junk to make room for me in the back seat. She drove and she wasn’t shy behind the wheel. Fast and furious, enough so that I dug around between the seats, found the seat belt and buckled up. They drove down the main street and turned into a dirt alleyway. There at the end, was a motorcycle/bicycle shop. The young guy there had a hard time understanding that I just needed to borrow the “petite Alain”. I offered to leave a deposit, I’m not sure that he got that but he handed me the wrench. I took it, turned and jumped back into the back seat and we were off to the races, again.
Amazing what having the right tool can do. Within minutes I removed the setscrew from the old shifter, tightened it into the pulley and we were ready to roll. After a pose together for photos we shook hands and mounted up. The two ladies and the man stood waving and saying, “Bye bye, bye bye,” in unison as we rolled down the driveway. (The farmer and his wife are Yves and Annette, we didn’t get the neighbor ladies name.)
Back in Brioux we returned the wrench and Cat thoroughly thanked the guy in her best French. Across the street, the InterMarche would fill some food needs for us, too. As Cat shopped I stood by the bikes. A guy sort of sidled up and looked the bikes over. Dr. Potts has a home nearby. He is retired and they live part time here and part of the time in their hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon. In his very British accent he invited us to stop for a rest, spot of tea or soft drink. We were so far behind schedule that we feared being late for our lunch with the Fievet’s. He was almost insistent, suggesting that we could use his phone to call Dr. Fievet. We really hated to pass up his kind offer but he lives out in the forest, a couple of kilometers off the highway. We thanked him but decided that we had to try to get to Matha by 1:00 PM.
Time was fleeting, we were heading toward gathering clouds and into blustery winds. By the time we pressed up the hill into Aulnay it had begun to pour rain. It was now 12:30, and there was no way that we would be in Matha by 1:00. Cat found temporary shelter in a phone booth and called. We felt that, with only 20 kilometers to go, if the rain and wind didn’t get any worse we should be there between 1:30 and 2:00. Madame Fievet was worried about us being out in the weather but told Cat not to worry, they would save lunch for us.
The wind didn’t let up, the rain finally did. Then the hills, we turned off D 950 onto D 121, a smaller road that rolled up and down with the farmland it traversed. A breakdown, wind, rain and now, large rolling hills. There couldn’t be many more things that would slow us. Then the wind really picked up, maybe 30 Km per hour. We were doomed to being really late.
We found Matha by 2:30 but couldn’t find the Fievet’s house. A gal at the Tourist Office pointed back up the street and told Cat that they lived there. We learned from her that there is a small hotel here and she would help us get a room. Even with fairly concise directions we still couldn’t find Fievet’s. Finally a guy on the street pointed to a commercial looking building. Madame Fievet rushed out and hugged Cat. It was like old home week. They even accepted me as though we had known each other for years.
Dr. Fievet invited us to take the bikes to their back yard. The drizzle of rain had returned so he had us park in their pool house. Cat chatted with Madame while the Doctor and I sat trying to communicate in his den. When the ladies came in Cat told me that we would stay with them tonight. Jules, we were now on a first name basis, told us in French/English that their children had spent the weekend and they hadn’t been able to dry the sheets because of the rain. They did find a set of sheets though and wanted us to stay.
The Tour de France route passes right in front of the Fievet’s house. We were astounded but when Cat asked about it Maryvonne said, “Yes, we are eeeating zee dejeuner and cycles go by, I say, Zhere goes zee Tour de France. Jules says, "Oui," zhen we eat.” Well not everyone, not every Frenchman is a cycling fan.
We had tea and cookies, I usually have a problem with the taste of tea, my Mother always made us drink it when we were sick. I relate the smell tea to the flu. This was one time when it tasted pretty good. It and the cookies was the only food we would have before dinner. They probably thought that we had stopped for lunch? The time was a wonderful chance to hear about their lives and their children. They have two sons and three daughters. We saw lots of pictures and heard lots of stories.
We were treated to a Tour de Matha with Jules. He drove us around in his big new Chrysler and pointed out highlights. At the old Roman Church we ran into Dr. Henri Coker, now retired, he had been a partner of Jules. He was so excited that he left his family car to his family and joined us for a Tour de Churches. He is a plethora of knowledge about the two old Churches here in Matha. During the tour a girl came in who is planning her wedding at the Church. She fell in and we all listened to our expert tour guide. After thoroughly explaining the statues, carvings and stained windows, we drove by his home and he picked up a folder of material about the other, older Church.
Henri’s Church Tour
not as picturesque the old Church did hold some great Dr.
Henri stories. He held the close up photos of the
carvings up and explained their meanings. Like one with
two tongues, chiding those who talk out of both sides of
their mouth. What a treat for us and probably for him. He
was as anxious to share, as we were to hear.
Back at Chateau Fievet, we had Pineau, the local aperitif, in the study and learned a little about the region. Those tall green vines we have seen all day bear grapes destined for Cognac, the king of brandy. In fact Jules, at one time, owned a vineyard and was involved in the production of Cognac. He says that grapes from Cognac, 20 kilometers to the south, make the best Brandy, to the north of here it is not as good and in Matha, they are in the middle.
As we entered the dining room Bernadette the Fievet’s eldest, came in and joined us. That was a good thing for us, not just to meet and get to know her but also because she speaks English. I should explain that Maryvonne has a pretty large vocabulary in English but it is a struggle for her to talk and understand. Let us also say that the more we talk with her the better her English skills get.
Bernadette is about the same age as Cat. They had a great time comparing notes about the time Cat spent here in 1975. Maryvonne served a wonderful meal that included tomatoes stuffed with mussels. Jules poured some lovely, local wines and explained the differences as well as the taste he enjoys most. One story was of how wine regions run together. He told us that the second bottle he opened, Beaujolais was from a vineyard that is adjacent to the northern boundary of Burgundy. Thus, according to Jules, it is either a lesser Burgundy or one of the best Beaujolais.
Apre dinner we sipped Cognac and looked at our pictures on the computer late into the night. They enjoyed it and we found as much pleasure in telling of our adventures as Dr. Henri did in sharing his knowledge of the Churches.
July 17, 2003
Matha to Montendre
Jules made a list of cities we will ride through. We talked about life and our journey. When we referred to ourselves as CRAZY Jules said, “No it is we are crazeee.” They have a wonderful family and a good life yet they seem to wish they could or had done more. We’ll probably all feel that way at 80? They have contributed in many ways and though Jules often says that he is an old man they both still enjoy life. He is on the cusp of 80, she is mid 70s. He just had successful angioplasty and has found renewed energy. Maryvonne is full of energy and Cat says that she always has been. Even now she swims every day and either walks or rides her bicycle rather than driving to shop.
It was 10:00 AM by the time we pulled the bikes around front and gave each other the wonderful kisses on the cheeks that are so French. There was a moment when we were almost tears. As we rolled out Jules went to the center of the street as though to stop traffic. When I rode close to him I put my hand out and he grabbed it and clasp tight for a moment. I reeled to the side, almost fell, but loved the feeling of the moment.
As we rolled away the flags above the street fluttered almost impatiently, waiting for the Tour, knowing that our over weight bikes weren’t a part of it. Most of our ride today will be on the 17th Stage route.
Rolling hills amongst lush vineyards, that’s what the boys of Tour de France can expect when they pass this way. The region of Cognac surrounds the town that lies 22 Km due south from Matha. Cognac, the village, will be one of those memories from the cycle seat. We rolled right through without stopping.
Continuing another 21 Km, we stopped for lunch in Archiac. The restaurant, Le Petite Champagne, was local food and drink. Even the crowd was locals only. The food was imported, we ordered Pizza and salad. The salad was local but the Pizza had been shipped in, frozen. It may have been frozen but it was filling and we were hungry.
Apre Pizza it was just head down, up and down and hot sun for 37 kilometers. The hills and heat were taking their toll. We stopped for juice at a bar, the gal served then when asked, told us that Montendre was only one more Kilometer. It turned out to be a little farther and hillier. We stopped at the Intermarche for essentials then slowly made our way up the hill toward the only accommodations in town, Les Chambres D’Hotes Du Jardin. A note on door had a phone number to call. Cat walked around the corner to a fireplace shop, borrowed their phone and called. She thought that the owner was in route because it sounded like he was on a cell phone. He told her that he would be there at 7:00 PM. We sat on a park bench in the back yard, a huge yard, and drank our wine while we waited.
Francois, our host, walked around the corner of the Petite Chateau at 7:00 and said, “Bonjour”. We were shocked. Had he been inside all along? Was he resting? Was he working? Well none of that mattered, he was here and we were in. It wasn’t like we could go somewhere else. He led us to a door and we parked the bikes in his garage. Once past the first few minutes we really liked the place. Once we had our bags up the three flights of stair we really loved the room.
Francois suggested what he called a typical French Restaurant then insisted on walking with us a way in order to point out the direction. Interesting, how so many French do that. On the way around the corner he stopped and yelled at a guy who was working inside a house. The guy, Roger (Row jay) was manager of the PX, Post Exchange on the nearby American Army Base for 11 years before it closed. He did well and has been buying and fixing up property since then. He was working on a new stairway in the house we stopped in front of. We think Francois wanted us to meet him because he spoke English.
We had pasta with a French twist, it was loaded with moules (muscles) and it was good! After eating we walked up a steep hill to the old Chateau. There was a dance performance that was scheduled to begin at 9:30. We waited outside the fence until it did finally get started after 10:00 PM. We waited, it was well attended but only a so-so show. We held out for the first number then left.
July 18, 2003
Montendre to Bordeaux
Francois served hearty coffee and crunchy bread, the kind that Maryvonne dipped in her coffee, and called “grillade”. We had arrived bananaless yesterday so had to make due with what was served. He hovered over our table at first then sat and told us about his family and life. The B&B is his wife’s domain, he works in Bordeaux, takes the train in daily and commutes to and from it on bicycle. His Father is a farmer growing grapes, distilling fine Cognac and blending other local product like Pineau. The vineyards have been in his family for several generations.
Our plan to spend a night in St. Emilion faded as Francois confirmed what we had heard earlier, that every Hotel was booked in advance there. He felt sure that we would have no problem getting a place in Bordeaux. He got out his map book and wrote down the towns that we should be looking for along his proposed route.
He walked across and together we chatted with Roger. What a super guy, he is traveling to Louisiana later this year to visit a friend who was stationed here during the reign of Roger as manager of the PX. He works a lot, today he is finishing a stairway in one of the several houses he owns. He has bought many of the homes on the street and built or re-built his own place there. It’s hard to believe that he is 78 years old. Francios calls the street Rue de Roger, since he owns most of it.
Just up the street, the Champion Market drew us in for pastries and bananas. We needed more food than the grillade pain offered. It was a cool but sunny morning and Francois had said that we would see temperatures above 30 again, today.
Francois’s route was again a ride in reverse of the Tour de France course. He was correct, the signs announcing closure of the road were prominent along the route to St. Savin. It was a treat to be there in the countryside, forest, and farms, with the colors of summer surrounding us. The sign and flags for the Tour de France route veered off to the left there and Cat suggested that we go with them. Francois’s route had us going south to Bourg then across to St. Andre. Sure it would be a little longer ride but he told us that we would see some of the most famous vineyards in the Bordeaux region.
We rolled into Bourg, found a small store open and had a picnic in the market place building that is open air and vacant on this Friday afternoon. The scenic tour through famous vineyards was just that and more. It was hilly, very hilly. We coasted down at 25 Kmph then crawled back up at 5. The average may be 15 but each up took a little more out of our legs. Then too, there was the sun, that hot French sun. Finally we passed through St. Andre then over the Dordogne River. I remember the name because it was a famous, very bloody battle area in WWI.
Crossing the Dordogne
Twice we almost cranked out into the slow lane of the A 10. The first was stopped by a motorist who honked and waived his finger, no, no. The second time we were at the ramp but could see no alternative so were about to ride when a guy pulled up and jumped out of his car. He spoke only French but got the point across that we couldn’t enter A 10 then he outlined the best route for us. He used slow French and hand signals to get us around and down next to the river then in toward Bordeaux. As he turned back toward his car I took my wallet out to get a card for him. He thought I was going to offer money and said, “No, no,” then started to run. I held the card up, he stopped and came back. Cat explained, he took the card but said, “ I speak only French.”
Cat caught some green and white cycle route signs with arrows and the word Bordeaux on them. We followed into a seedy neighborhood and followed the railroad tracks into town. The bridge was under re-construction, the river Garonne was swirling and muddy, so much so that we could smell the scent of wet earth.
Bordeaux greeted us like most large cities, traffic and strange streets. There were two additional handicaps here, heat and construction barricades. We circled along the main street, asked a Gendarme for the Tourist Office and he sent us onward. Lost, I pulled up and asked a taxi driver. He got out of his cab to show us the route and tripped over a cement barrier. It was a long legged dance and side step but he saved himself from falling. He suggested going around the block but Cat was calling to me. She had a visual on the T.O. We pushed through the construction and up to the door.
There was a line so while I waited she ran across the street to Hotel Normandie. I got a city map, book of events and one with Hotels and price ranges listed. When Cat returned she felt that though the Normandie was nice it was too high priced. The desk had quoted 100€ per night. Checking the book we found that it was listed in the 3€ sign category with rates from 50-70€. We went back to the desk and got a nice young girl to help us. She called a place that was listed at 35-50€, they told her that they had a room for 47.50€. I asked her to call and find out why the Normandie was so far off the mark compared to the book. She resisted then gave in. We were all surprised when the manager came across and tried to explain the problem. We apologized, I hadn’t meant to cause problems but I did want to know how accurate the book was in the event that we didn’t like the small priced place.
After fast-talking, the Manager told us he did have a room with shower and air conditioning for 86€. We were tired and tired of the battle. He was a pretty nice guy, after all, so we took his deal.
The room is nice, large, cool and private. We parked the bikes in a locked hallway then got the bags up, showered and relaxed. Though we had talked about Mexican food we shifted back to French and took seats at an interesting Bistro on Rue Catherine. Interesting because we were in an annex across the small cobblestone street from the main restaurant. Also, the kitchen was on the first floor, and the waitress would take orders then shout them up through the window. Great salad and good main courses.
July 19, 2003
Day off in Bordeaux
There is a stand up coffee/brioche café across the square. Getting there is an obstacle course of concrete and barriers due to new trolley tracks under construction in many streets here. We chose to sit inside and watch the crowd as it ebbed and flowed, surging toward shopping bargains. The Normandie provided a fresh Herald loaded with news in English. The front page is smeared with questions about Dr. David Kelly, a weapons expert in England who had been under pressure for having talked with the BBC about what they call, “Sexed up”, intelligence reports. He appeared before a Parliamentary inquiry then went home, went for a walk and killed himself. Oh Lord where will this terrible soap opera take us?
There was a piece about moral among American troops in Iraq on BBC. The young guys on the ground there are disillusioned, even spoke out suggesting that Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld should resign. A General, covered in epaulets and medals, said that no one who wears the uniform has the right to question the Secretary of Defense or the President. Easy to say when you’re half way round the world from RPGs and bullets. But then, I note that war is usually contrived and controlled by older men who never put themselves in what they call, “Harms Way”! Why don’t we draft only people over age 55 to fight? They have less to lose and seem to be the ones who want war.
This is an original Pattersonism!
Okay, back to Business. We walked to the Internet Shop but it won’t open until noon. Back to Rue Saint Catherine where we looked for summer cycling shorts. No shorts but we did pick up some powdered sport drink. Looked at cameras but only bought a package of blank CDs.
There is a fountain, a wonderful fountain with horses, sea horses with webbed hooves that spray a mist from their noses. A great story, too. Back in 1942, after Germany took charge of France, they formed a non-ferrous metal commission to confiscate metal for use in weapon production, we assume. It disappeared then in 1944, after WW II ended, it was found intact and re-installed in 1982. It’s a wondrous work of art.
Back at The Normandie, I spent most of the afternoon working on the Journal while Cat did laundry, Internet and picked up food for an in room picnic. Late in the afternoon we walked in the heat and crowds to a sidewalk stand Cat had seen in her travels. They sell bicycle clothing and supplies. We bought sunglasses with 3 lenses, dark, yellow and clear. A good value, we hope, at 25€.
As we cycled in I caught a glimpse of a huge gate, I thought, down one of the side streets. I had also seen a picture of it at the Tourist Office. We walked and looked and walked. It was almost 7:00 PM and the temperature was still clinging to 30, or 86 depending on which system you speak. We talked with a bus driver and woman passenger, well we communicated through signs and Cats French. They were kind and tried to be helpful but didn’t understand what it was that we were looking for. We finally gave up and went to dinner, Pizza, French Pizza.
Sunday, July 20, 2003
Day off in Bordeaux
How French of us. We walked to Place Gambetta as advised by the desk clerk. Strange, very French, the shopping streets that were packed with bargain buyers yesterday were deserted this morning. We sat on the sidewalk and enjoyed Café au Lait, Croissants and the look of locals as they shook the sleep from their eyes. Two guys and a gal sitting across from us were enjoying a little hair of the dog that bite them, so to speak. They were smoking, drinking beers and vacillating between laughter and argument. When they left they left behind a sidewalk strewn with wooden matches and cigarette butts.
A stroll through the empty streets of the Latin Quarter then back to our Hotel Normandie. Voila, there was a small market open so we picked up bananas and some lunch picnic things. Back in the room, I typed and we BBCed, more news and a piece about Elizabeth, the virgin Queen of England. Interesting, they said that it was she, not James, that ordered the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots. (Remember, Mary was married to a French King at age 16 in order to tie the two nations together. She was Catholic, Elizabeth Protestant and so just a part of the ongoing struggle that continues even today!)
Cat has heard of a Sunday morning Market down by the riverside. We sauntered down the Quai along the La Garonne, past the old French Navy Cruiser, Croiseur Colbert. Now a restaurant, its only battle these days is getting dinner out on time. The market was great fun. We bought a bottle of 1998 Chateau Grand Brun, Haut-Medoc from the vintner. We rode through the vineyards when we came in to Bordeaux. Before you jump to a conclusion that we blew budget on wine, you must know that it was only 7€. We saw a wonderful looking guy in black robe. I walked past him then back, trying to position for a picture. Finally I just walked up to him and asked. He said, “Oui, but I’m not a curiosity you know!” Friar Colombo is an Orthodox Monk from Cognac. He is here, living with and helping his Mother who is now dieing.
Haut-Medoc in hand we headed back to the Hotel for lunch and Le Tour de France on French TV.
As we watched the Tour De France, we munched on our typical bread, cheese and ham. After a little rest, we walked over to Internet and stayed there until 6:30 p.m.!! Back to the room, we typed a little more before heading out to dinner. We just walked around the corner of the hotel and found a typical French gourmande, big salade with grilled potatoes and smoked chicken. Great! Of course we needed another McDonalds dessert fix, then back to the room and early sleep. We know we have a big ride down the Tour de France road tomorrow.
Bordeaux to Sabres
Leaving wasn’t easy, it never is in big cities. We got the cart and took the bags down then made our usual spectacle, loading them in the lobby. The gal from Cincinnati stopped and talked for a minute then offered to let us use her map book to find our way out of Bordeaux. That was helpful and so were the guy and gal at the front desk. They even made a copy of a map and high lighted the route.
We rolled out, over the temporary walkway, past the Tourist Office and to the Brioche de Ore, the same little stand up we sat in day before yesterday. In fact, the same booth! It was spitting down rain as we sipped and munched. Poor bikes and bags, they had to weather the elements while we basked in the aroma of rich coffee.
Starting out was slow, we chose to ride down the pedestrian street. There were quite a few bargain hunters and late for workers that we had to work our way through. Winding our way along, Rue Saint Catherine does that slow change from upscale to lower south side in about 3 Kilometers. Once on the street we pushed our speed up then stopped at a Poste to mail CDs to Web Master Wally. The line was almost out the door and slow as escargot. Forget it, we rolled on.
Like all cities, they don’t give up easily and when they do it is a slow transition. Chic Commercial gives way to run down commercial then comes industrial. Finally, patches of open space and small junky homes. Then around a round about and we were in Chateaux and Vineyard territory. This is the Region Grave de Bordeaux. The vines look crisp and the rows straight. Everything is green and fresh smelling thanks to the recent rains. We watched a tractor run up and down the rows of vines, mowing and shaping. Awe, to be in vineyards and on the route of the Tour de France, what a treat.
Like all good things, the vineyards end and corn takes over. Well, corn, rains and other crops for French Folks. Forest and ferns took their turns at lining the road, too. We stopped at a wonderful little cheese, wine and meat stand for picnic supplies. The guy sliced everything by hand, some very well and some pretty thick on one side and thin on the other. He apologized but I told him it didn’t matter once we started eating. He didn’t get it.
Rare, two cyclists with bags came riding toward us. They seemed more interested in getting from point A to point B than in talking. We yelled out a big “Hello,” then they turned and one said, “You speak English!” I said that we did but a different brand than they were used to. James and Paul are from England, they started riding in Bilboa, Spain. They are roughing it, sleeping in the bushes in what they called “Bivvy Sacks.” I told Cat that it was probably a derivative from the word, Bivwac, a military term for an encampment. Nice young guys, on holiday from school and seeing a bit of Spain and France. They loved our story but questioned where we got the money to live the way we do, on the road. I told them to pay attention in school, learn there lessons well then work for 35 years and save a little money along the way. It worked for us!
Another 10 Km and we found a log to sit on and a tractor plowing the field for effect. A lizard zipped up and around a stump and limbs. We ate, waived at the tractor driver and watched le Liz. Good food and a show, what more could we ask for?
Our target for the day, Sore, was too small to even have a store. A friendly guy did tell us that Sabres, the next village on the map, had a Hotel. We put our heads down and cranked. It was just after 5:00 PM and we were thirsty so we hit the Elf Service Station for soft drinks and assistance, first. We had seen the sign for Auberge des Pin but decided to take a look around before leaving the main square. The Elf lady thought the Auberge was booked. She began trying to help us in spite of the language problem. Two other gals joined in then they all called out to another who was just walking in. Danielle speaks English and she knows about places to stay.
She got on the phone but told us that she thought everything was full today in Sabres. Danielle owns and operates a B&B but her place is leased for the summer season. After trying for 30 minutes she finally invited us to ride 5 Km and campout inside the house she is borrowing from a friend. We decided to try the Auberge first and if it was fully booked we would ride out to her place. It’s a 5 Km back track then back here in the morning but it’s a wonderful gesture on her part.
The lady at Auberge was just a little less than friendly and confirmed the fact that they were had no rooms. I asked about camping in the back and she waived her hand toward the right and said, “Camping”, something in French then, “pool”. I didn’t get it and asked Cat to come in and try. She got the message, there was a campground just down the street, across from the community swimming pool.
Okay, if we have to or want to, we camp. This was a combo deal. We sort of had to if we didn’t want to cycle another 5 Km to Danielle’s. We sort of wanted to because we need to practice setting up and tearing down the tent and other equipment. By the way, this is a ***, three star Camping Experience. They have a pool, tennis courts, even a bar with disco music. We were ready to rough it.
We chose a spot close to the toilets and set about setting up. Surprisingly, it only took an hour to get camp in order and get through our showers. We walked back down the road to Auberge des Pins for dinner. There is a group of musicians staying here and they were seated near our table. I was tempted to join in when they started playing “name that tune”. One of them started humming a tune then the other sang, “When we’re dancin’ cheek to cheek.” At that point they couldn’t remember the rest of the word and they were all in my mind. “Heaven, I’m in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak, and seem to feel the happiness you I seek, when we’re out together dancin’ cheek to cheek,” and on and on. Why do we remember trivial things like that? Why didn’t I jump up and break into song? Cat and I could have danced across the room like Fred and Ginger?
Back to reality, Danielle, the gal that we met who invited us to stay came in so we invited her to join us. After explaining our need to practice with the tent and our need not to cycle another 5 Km just to turn around in the morning and ride back, we had a nice talk. She knows Morocco, she has friends in Morocco, she was raised there. She told us that she would get names and addresses and let them know that we are coming. We made a date to have coffee in the morning at a café in the village.
Dinner was disappointingly tiny and the price was disappointingly huge! We ate a lot of bread trying to get the calories that we need. We were pretty burned out when we got in tonight.
Back at Camp Pericat, we brushed and crawled in at 11:00 PM.
July 22, 2003
Sabres to St. Lon-les-Mines
I heard the church bell ring 2, 3 and 4 times. Cat heard the 5, 6 and 7:00 AM bells. I was awake but lazying. We got moving, to beat the crowd at the toilets and sinks. We also have a date for coffee with Danielle at 8:30. The tent was down and everything in the bags by 8:35, I wound up the packing while Cat went to check us out. I met her at the office, it was closed. We rode back toward the village and there was Danielle, honking and waving in front of the Auberge. The café in town is closed, she rousted out the chef and we had coffee.
Danielle’s Father was a Doctor, he recently passed away but in his prime years he practiced in Morocco. She mentioned last night that she had friends there and would introduce us to them. True to her word, she had a list of three contacts with phone numbers. Even a couple that won’t be there but have full time help who will receive us, anytime, according to Danielle. She is intrigued and enthralled with our Odyssey.
After handshakes she jumped into her little car, honked and waved again then we departed in different directions. What a nice person. She has owned her B&B for 3 years. It is leased for the entire summer giving her time off. She does teach English to French students. Her son either lives with her or nearby. He is helping her replace the computer that burned out in a power surge. She mentioned a daughter but not by name and no details. She is lively and personable.
The road is flat, we rode. Through farms and forest on a very narrow Route D27. We were in Morcenx, 20 Km down the road in just an hour. A cruise through the square and a stop at the little grocery store and we rolled on. Laluque is just a wide spot in D27 but the little park with a table under a tree was perfect for our picnic.
The corn is as high as an elephants eye, stalks at least 8 feet tall. The forests are farmed, trees of various ages in rows, planted with a future in mind. Some are fairly mature and others just starting their 30-40 year life. We saw, from the corner of our eyes, a machine like a shovel, grab a full-grown tree and just bite it out of the ground. They don’t even use saws anymore? Also of interest, this is a National Forest and Parc. There was a big sawmill in the midst of it and it had the familiar name, Weyerhaeuser on the signs. (Weyerhaeuser is a huge lumber firm on the west coast of the US. They build houses and loan money for Californians to buy them with, too. Makes us wonder if they were originally a European firm?
As we reached N 124, the Expressway, we were forced to zig and zag looking for a way to get across. The town is called St. Vincent-de-Paul. We wondered if there was any relationship with the second hand stores that are so active in California. They pick up usable items and run Thrift Stores to raise money for poor families. Then we saw the church, we had to check it out. Yes, it is St.-Vincent-de-Paul, one and the same. St. Vincent had the idea and it has been expanded upon and exported all over the world. They have a small museum and gift store but both were closed so we shot a pic and rode on.
Dax is 60 Km from Sabres. We rolled in at 2:00 PM. After a struggle getting through town we spent half an hour at the Tourist Info stand. The nice lady estimated that we still had 60 Km between us and Bayonne. Damn, that may cut in on my dream of being there at the finish of the 16th e’tape of the Tour. I want to get there ahead of the cyclists and get a picture of us crossing the finish line then watch the finish. She did find a Chambres d’Hotes along our route and a Hotel in the village of St-Lon-les-Mines. We tried to call but our phone card ran out of time and the phones won’t accept coins. We looked at each other and said, almost in unison, “What is, is”. Then we rode on through Dax. We did try to get a cold drink at a Tabac but they limit merchandise to cigs, cigars, magazines and a few candy bars. The guy motioned toward the store next door but said that they don’t open until 4:00 PM. It was 3:00, we were out of there!
It was only 13 Km to Mines, we thought we would be there in less than an hour. Surprise, we found what Daniel called the tail of the French Pyrenees. At first they were just rollers then, a real pull. We ground and ground then walked and sweated. This was a big tail! Finally topping out, we coasted down to Mines and stopped to ask direction at a Pharmacy. Yes, the Hotel Le Fronton was just ahead on the right and we could get cold drinks at the Boulangerie across the street. They even had a bottle of white wine so we grabbed it for only 2.40€. We were set.
The Hotel was easy to find but hard to get in to. Closed until 6:00 PM, we wanted to make sure we could get a room or move on. There was a phone number but no phone. We walked the neighborhood, even flagged down a car and asked, to no avail. There is an Escole de Musique next to the Hotel. Cat knocked on their door while I stood guard. The couple there teach but they don’t teach music, they just live there. They thought the people who run the Hotel were sleeping so instead of calling them the man pulled his shirt on and ran through his back yard to their back door. They were in and would meet us out front in just a few minutes.
The wife greeted us, showed Cat the Chambre with Douche and Toilette down the hall. Of course we took the deal, 57€ for the room, dinner and breakfast. Where to park the bikes with some of the bags on them created a small trauma. They didn’t have space inside but we could put them under a lean-to roof in a fenced area. We checked it out and decided that would be better than lugging all of the luggage up the stairs. Interesting, the place is pretty much booked up. A group of men, working somewhere near by are staying here. We hustled to get through the shower before they came in.
There is a handball court across the street and a spirited game between four guys filled the air with hoops and hollers. When it was finished they came straight over to the bar and bought each other drinks. Now that’s the kind of sportsmanship that we love to see!
What a difference a day makes. Last night we had a miniature plate of lobster in crepe and the meal cost 78€, with wine, of course. Tonight the meal started with soup, fantastic turkey vegetable with lots of potatoes. They brought a big pan to our table and we ate every drop along with half a loaf of great bread. Next a salad with some kind of chopped meat, lettuce and pickles. I ate the meat and pickles, Cat took care of the leaves. Then they served turkey ala-king, turkey in gravy over rice. We waddled back to our chambre after paying the extra 11.40€ for our wine. That is 10€ less than last night, it includes the room and we aren’t going to bed hungry!
July 23, 2003
St-Lon-les-Mines to Biarritz
The guys that we beat to the showers started coughing and toileting at 6:00 AM. Cat said it reminded her of Dorm life in college. Traffic seemed to start at the same time. We relaxed but couldn’t sleep. French news seemed to be saying that US soldiers had captured or killed Sadaam’s two sons? At least it looked like a small war was waged around the building.
Breakfast was the usual, good coffee and croissants. We brought all the bags down and had the bikes loaded before we ate. This was a fast start for us. Our plan is to get into Bayonne in time to see the finish of Stage 16 of the Tour. We decided that we would push for Bayonne then try to take the train to Dax to see the start of Stage 17, Dax to Bordeaux.
Danielle had said that we would be going through the foot of the French Pyrenees. We hit the little toe then a middle toe within 7 kilometers. At that point we left the D road and followed a small un-named country lane toward Port-de-Lanne and the big highway, N117. It rippled along the landscape then narrowed and we hit a wall. Yes, up about 2/3rds of the way we had to dismount and push. The area is quaint in a very local sort of way. Once on N117 we swooshed down, across a bridge then crawled up the other side. The decision whether to stay on the big road or take the turn to the left that the Dax T.O. lady told us about was an easy one. We hated the narrow shoulder and fast traffic.
Most of the ride through villages Ste-Marie de Gosse and St-Laurent de Gosse was pretty much a downhill run with occasional ups. In St-Laurent we stopped and took pictures of the same kind of wall we had watched the local guys play handball against in St-Lon-les-Mines. It had a date, 1948, near the top. If that was the last time they won a championship here it has been a long dry spell. As we were leaving the village we came to a dead end and didn’t know whether to turn to the right or left. A guy chopping weeds with a scythe leaned on the handle as we asked for directions then knelt and used blades of the freshly cut grass to show us how the roads run and what our options were. A great way to communicate when there are two languages involved.
Once down the hill we fell onto the small road, D 74, the one that the Dax T. O. lady had mentioned. There is a bridge over the river L’ Ardour near the intersection. We were undecided whether to continue on or go to the south shore. A sports cyclist sped past us then stopped and turned back. Cat called him over and we shared map info. The three of us decided to stay on the north. Johan is from Holland, here on vacation. He has ridden from Biarritz. Really a nice guy, we chatted about our experiences and his family. After enjoying him and the river for about 5 Km he bid us goodbye and sped away toward the beach.
It was a pleasure, riding along the river then across the bridge to Bayonne. We had to climb to get to the bridge then rolled down and into a wonderful old town. Cat had read that the biggest most historic event here occurred in the 17th century. Warfare was evolving, hand-to-hand combat was being replaced with the range of the long rifle. Of course once the lines broke down the riflemen found themselves defenseless against the sword swinging hordes. Thus an inventive fellow from Bayonne invented a weapon still used today, the Bayonet.
We continued to follow the Tour de France signs into the heart of the village. Cat stopped a couple of guys with Press Badges and asked them where we would find the finish line. They used hand signs to indicate, across the bridge and up the hill. We rolled around the corner into traffic and dilemma. The driver of a van waiting to turn across our paths called out, asking if we needed help. He again confirmed that we would reach the finish line by going on up the hill. I gave him one of our cards then he really got excited, dug around and found a sticker in his glove box. He said, “I have traveled over zee world, too”. His website is www.Arobask.com/ping , give it a look. The sticker has the picture of a Penguin on it. He said something like, “I leave zeez sticker all around zee world”!
At the top of the hill we found the stage and press trailers where the awards will be received later. Once there we realized that we needed video tape if we wanted to get some shots of the falderal and finishers. That led to a rough ride around town, on the busiest roadway, then lost we asked a guy, Peter, gave us pretty specific direction to the Carrefour Super Market. We were soon lost again but got a visual on the store. We rode against traffic then had to dash across an oncoming lane but finally made it. As we parked the bikes Peter walked up and said, “If Lance Armstrong isn’t any faster than you he won’t win the Tour”. We all laughed, he is from Germany but has a place here. We asked if he was going to watch the race and he said, “Yes, on TV.” He insisted on leading me into the large shopping center to the store. Another helpful fellow among so many we have met in Germany, Holland, Belgium and France!
Along with the videotapes I picked up sandwiches. We sat on the ground and watched the crowd as they passed by and stared at us. Refueled, we rode back and found a spot as close to the finish line as we could. They have the usual VIP area right at the finish but we were pretty close. Fearful of leaving the bikes unguarded we pulled them up as near to the crowd control barriers as we could. There was a French family already in place and we sort of crowded them a little. The Grandmother was friendly but wouldn’t give up any space. She was holding the spot for several more of her family members. We were next to an indentation where the Gendarme would stand when the cyclists race past. However, before the race the opening became a point of illegal crossing. People would climb over or come around the end of the barriers then across and climb over or through the Gendarmes station.
A group of cyclists rode up the route dressed in US Postal Service cycling cloths. We wondered but there was little or no fanfare. Then a guy, their guide, came to the fence and told them they’d have to lift their bikes over. He wore Butterfield & Robinson t-shirt so I asked. Yes, they were a tour and had ridden the route for about the final 20 Km, to the finish. He did tell us that anyone can ride until 2 hours before the expected finish when all streets are blocked. The tour members were consumed with their problems, one did tell us that most of them are from Dallas, Texas. That is Lance Armstrong’s home area and they signed on to experience some of his pain and exhilaration.
This would be one of those hours of boredom followed by moments of shear exhilaration. We spent more than 4 hours standing, taking turns taking a turn through the crowd and waiting, waiting, waiting. The family next to us filled in and we became pals. The two Grandsons, Fabrice and Jeremy even sat on our bike seats for a photo. A few minutes later a guy walked up and asked, “Are you actually riding bicycles around the world”? I was taken by surprise and asked, “How do you know about us”? He laughed and said, “It’s on the back of your shirt.”
Robert is British but has a place in Biarritz. He walked here, a 40-minute hike. He doesn’t have a car so he either walks or rides his bicycle. Concerned that we wouldn’t find a place he offered his bed to us. Though his place is just a studio, he volunteered to sleep on the floor and let us have his bed. What an extreme and kind gesture. He gave us his address and insured us that he was serious. We may have to take him up on the offer!
The same entourage of commercial floats that we saw at the Prologue in Paris began to flow past. What seemed to be a never-ending stream did relieve boredom. The Super Cyclist had a fight with the Gorilla. The Coeur de Lion cheese girl wore little packages on her boobs. Just a lot of falderal to take up time but it was better than the earlier 3 hours of waiting had been.
When the moment arrived it began with hands pounding on the boards of the barriers. Next we saw Police motorcycles with lights flashing followed by a lone cyclist. The excited announcers voice made sense to most of the crowd but we were in the dark. Then he flashed past and someone said, “Tyler Hamilton, the American”! Wow, that only hyped our exhilaration. This is the guy that fell during the big crash in the first stage and broke his collarbone. He was almost 2 minutes ahead of the next riders.
By now the crowd was crazy out of control, the pounding, screaming and yelling filled our ears and drowned out the announcer’s voice. The level of energy was incredible. We were swept away in the moment. I tried to set up for a picture of the Pelaton then a change to the video mode to catch them passing us. Everything happened so fast the camera couldn’t reset quickly enough. We didn’t believe how fast they ride. When the bulge of the Pelaton passed it was like standing next to a stampeding herd of mustangs. It was over so fast that we along with the rest of the crowd, just stood and looked at each other. A strange moment, almost reverent, then a hush as the energy level of the crowd came back down to earth. Within minutes the awards ceremony created and another reason for the crowd to roar.
Lance Armstrong took the yellow jersey again. He clings to the one-minute lead. Hard to believe that these 200 or so cyclists just rode a hundred miles of killer hills and finished in such a huge pack. Speaking of a huge pack, we were crushed by the crowd. Trying to push the bikes around was a real challenge. During the pushing and shuffling we met a family, the Beckwiths, from Switzerland. They like to ride bikes and want to take a trip them. Not around the world, they made that quite clear, but at least a vacation on bikes. When they heard that we didn’t have a map of the area they immediately offered theirs.
Ride the Route
As the Tour riders drifted to their giant motor homes and Hotels our next challenge was trying to find a place to stay. The Tourist Info Center was of little help. They could only offer a list of Hotels. We chose to try the Best Western because it was near by. The clerk told us that they were completely booked. He checked his computer then even called a couple of other places all to no avail. He finally found and booked a room for us in Biarritz. Don’t take this next issue as not being thankful but I asked if they had a toilette. He said, “Yes but only for guests”. I couldn’t believe it, we wanted to be guests but he didn’t have a room. That wasn’t enough to qualify me for the toilette?
Cycling the busy road, N 10, was terrible. The traffic was horrendous and flowing past, fast. Though it is only 7 Km it seemed like an eternity, we wished that we could ride as fast as the boys of the Tour. Even the streets of Biarritz weren’t that friendly. And to top it off, they were hilly, steep hilly.
We found the Hotel President, took the bikes up to the crowded little room, showered and went to dinner. On the way, we stopped and took a picture of The Casino, a great looking building right on the ocean front. Mexican food, well sort of like Mexican food, nothing like Sal’s in Oxnard but the Margaritas were great!
July 24, 2003
Biarritz to Cambo-es-Bains
Late, lazy start. We didn’t get much mileage yesterday but the ride and the waiting for the Tour had taken its toll. A walk to the Poste to mail shirts and hats to the kids then coffee in the village Marche. We felt like locals, sitting at the café bar, eating croissants with our grande coffees. Back again to the Poste and a frustrating hour on their terrible computer. That damn card, you remember the one and the frustration on the day we bought it in Orleans? It was just as bad when it worked today. Slow, kicked us off line 3 times and ran just 1 hour for the 7€ cost. Bad deal, definitely not a bargain but we either had to use it today or throw it away. We hope to be in Spain tonight.
The Tourist Office had a regional map but it doesn’t really show the small roads that we hope to find. They suggested a store near the Casino. We wanted pictures of the beach and hoped to get them from the deck of the Casino. It is a real Casino with slot machines and tables. We went to the front of the building and looked out on the beach but couldn’t get out on the deck. Back to the doorway to the gaming room, we walked in but the guard stopped us. We weren’t properly attired. Guess they don’t get many cyclist gamblers?
Down to the promenade, we got pictures of the sunbathers and beyond, in both directions. There were the famous French women, topless in the sun but I suppressed the urge to take their pictures.
The store did have a good map of Spain and we picked up one of Morocco, too. Back at the Hotel, it was checkout time. I moved the bikes while Cat stood the guard. It is always tough, standing them on the rear wheel in the elevator. The spring-loaded door on our room amplified the struggle. A pretty plain Jane room for the money I might add.
It was an up start, and I made a wrong turn. We had to back track to get on the road to Bayonne. Yes, you read it right, we are not going down coast for two reasons. The first is that the only road is N 10 all the way. The second, both the gal at Tourist and the Desk Clerk at Hotel President agreed that the best cycling route would be highway D 918 up to St. Jean de Port then D 933 down, into Pamplona. This means that we will sleep in France for 2 more nights. This means that we will still be in France for the finish of the 100th Tour.
Getting back into Bayonne was a struggle. In fact, somehow we got turned around, got off N 10 and rode right down to the same Carrefour Supermarket we bought the videotapes from yesterday. I shopped for lunch and looked for help with directions. The first person I asked looked at the map and couldn’t even figure out where we were? I wondered how she got to work? Then the second said, “We are in Angle, your map is only for Bayonne.” We sat on the sidewalk and ate our sandwiches in the shade. There is a cool sea breeze but in the sun it’s hot and it feels humid.
Confused, we cycled off down what we thought was the right direction. Really confused, we stopped at a bar and asked. These French are just great about trying to help and they always stop whatever they are doing and come outside to point the way. Good thing we stopped when we did, we had passed our turn almost a Kilometer back. Once we hit the right direction we climbed. Cat dropped into low and the chain came off. We got it back on, I adjusted the derailleur and we pushed to the top. On the next hill, another steep one, I dropped the chain when shifting down. We pushed again, to the parking lot of a commercial kitchen store. I had to pee so bad that I couldn’t think about the problem. Without even asking, I walked right in, found the toilette and, what a relief it was.
Back out in the sun, I had the bike running again in no time. We pedaled the rest of the way, some times at speeds so slow it was hard to balance. The road goes from a great bike lane to no shoulder at all then back to bike lane. Traffic was heavy at times and of course it was warm when climbing, plenty of sweat.
Cambo-es-Bains is only 18 Km from Bayonne but it took almost 2 hours to get there. We are definitely at the foot of the Pyrenees, now. As if to add insult to injury, Cambo is up a very steep climb from the highway.
We checked in at Tourist, they had a list of Hotels and the girl had just finished calling them. She marked each one that had rooms available and showed us where they were located. We cruised down, into the main part of town and stopped at Hotel Trinquet, the first one we came to. They let us park the bikes in their private garage and the room was big, twice as big as last nights at the President. The price was only 1/3 as much. We loved the place.
Once in the room Cat hit the on button and we learned that Lance had maintained his lead of 1 minute, 7 seconds and taken the yellow jersey again today. What a guy!!! The news of the 17th stage was, as usual, in French but they did have a nice piece taped inside the US Postal Service bus and the guys were speaking in tongues we could understand. The announcer covered a lot of it with French overdub but we got the gist and loved it.
The camera had two batteries going down so we plugged one in to charge and headed out for dinner. About two blocks from Trinquet we realized that this is about as scenic as it gets so I retraced my steps and got the camera while Cat got a table in the local Basque Restaurant. The sun was perfect for photos, hope you’re looking at some of them as you read. Between the farm fields and river below, it looks like we were shooting from a helicopter.
Dinner was really good, not quite as good as the Basque meal we had back in Elko, Nevada but good. It made us think about the picture of the mural, the boy looking at the tree here and wondering when he would come back to it, and home. He probably never did!
July 25, 2003
Cambo-lesBains to St. Jean-Pied-de Port
Down for breakfast and ran into a couple from Holland who are cycling the mountains from Narbonne on the Mediterranean to Biarritz. They have been out 14 days and are taking the small country roads, which add to the mileage and difficulty factor. Small roads are more picturesque, we’ll give you that, but they also tend to run with the lay of the land. Obviously Paul and Greta want challenge. She has a 3rd degree sunburn on her arms. They will make it to Biarritz tonight but it will be a much longer ride than ours was on highway 918. Talking was enjoyable then we got the bikes out, all four loaded and took a photo.
When we walked to dinner we saw a bicycle shop with a collection of antique bikes. Many of them have been ridden in the Tour de France. We pumped up the hill toward it while they rolled away, into the Friday Marche to get food for the trail.
Our time with the owner was typical of conversations when Cat is straining to extend her French and Henri Breuille speaks no English. He did get her question about the best route to Pamplona and immediately set about making a map that included all three possibilities. Fortunately a family came in who are French but living in England. They helped us learn that the antique bikes were his personal collection. Also he was a Champion Cyclist some years ago. We don’t know if he rode the Tour but he has a yellow jersey signed to him. In fact he has a lot of jerseys and other vintage things in his collection. Even several Motobecane motorcycles that are almost 100 years old. He now makes a living selling and repairing bicycles but his main business seems to be power lawn mowers. As we were leaving he took the map he had drawn and signed it. What a nice touch.
It’s only 35 kilometers to St. Jean Pied de Port. We figured it would be and easy day until we turned the corner. We weren’t even out of town yet and were faced with a formidable climb. It must have been a 9% grade, straight up. We pushed the second half and it almost psyched us out. Once on top we were treated to our first glimpse of the Pyrenees. About as beautiful as it gets, wooded areas midst farms and pasture. We had worried for naught as it turns out. We had one more long hot climb but the rest of the day was flat to slight ups, but manageable.
We passed through a hauling out spot for river rafters. Route D 918 follows the Nive River upstream. The water looks too shallow to raft in but there were plenty of them out there paddling. This really is a beautiful valley we have ridden through today!
The bread and coffee of breakfast burned away fairly quickly. We stopped at a Pizza place at 12:00 noon and had Omelets. They served a large one that we shared. It took two baskets of bread to help fill our tanks.
The rest of the ride was actually a pleasure. Wide shoulder and the traffic was light and friendly. We were in St. Jean by 1:30. The hunt for lodging led to a stop at a nice looking place. The price, a little higher than last night, was okay. The problem was that they wanted us to leave the bikes on the sidewalk until the restaurant closes at 10:30 tonight.
Thinking we would probably take the deal, we cycled on through town looking for a Grocery Store. Most of the stores and shops are closed until 2:30 or 3:00 PM. As we rolled down the main we ran into another cycle tourist, Albert, from Holland, another of those traveling Dutchmen. He pulls a trailer and carries a lot of things with him. We enjoyed talking with him. He has just finished cycling the Santiago-de-Compostella Pilgrimage route across the north of Spain. He was so enthusiastic about it that he tried to convince us to take an additional three weeks and ride it. When I told him that I wasn’t religious he said, “I have no religion but it is fantastic to meet so many people from all over the world.”
Albert took a big spill day before yesterday. He was rolling down hill at about 30 Kmph in side winds. A truck passed and the buffeting sent him out of control. He whipped back and forth 5 times before he lost it. His knee, elbow and forehead have big skinned up places confirming a three-point landing. He did share a medical hint, he puts baby powder on the wounds and leaves them open to the air. All three are covered with scabs, look clean and look like the injuries occurred more than just two days ago. I had to ask how this Road Warrior supports himself when not on the trail. “Oh,” he answered matter of factly, “I’m a Bio Chemist and an expert in bad breath.”
Strange, the store is completely dark at 2:29 then suddenly, the lights come on, the doors are flung open and those of us waiting seem to rush inside. All except one little old lady bent over so badly by scoliosis that it took her all of the 30 minutes we stood and talked with Albert to get down the street and to the door of the store. The years and her slowly progressive affliction have taught her patience. She couldn’t lift her head but she would turn her face, smile and say, “Bonjour” to her friends and the clerks.
Hotel Central has a garage area where we could store the bikes. The price is the same as the first place but we like the locked area for the bikes. We were home for the day!
We had to tote the bags we take to the room up three flights but the room overlooks a waterfall. The sound is cooling and soothing.
I typed and watched the Lance get the yellow jersey while Cat shopped and explored. When she got back we walked the main and the tiny side streets in the Citadel. This town is full of tourists but retains its flavor of earlier days. The surrounding mountains give it the look of a movie backdrop.
Dinner under a tree with view of the main and mountains, could it get any better? Yes, the food was great and affordable. We loaded up for our big pull, tomorrow. Cat has read that “Pied-de-Port” means literally, “foot of the pass”. We will cross the Pyrenees through famous Roncevaux pass. If tens of thousands of pilgrims could do it since the Middle Ages, WorldRiders2 will take it in stride!
To help with the digestife we walked to the Fronton, we have wondered what that word meant since staying at Hotel Fronton in St Lons les Mines. Fronton is the high backboard used in the Pelota games. Pelota is handball, they also play with scoops and just as in Mexico, it's called Jai Lai. They were having a strong man of the Ville contest. We looked into the stadium but decided not to stay. We’ll miss the cart-pulling contest that is similar to a tractor pull back home except using only muscle of man, not horsepower.
July 26, 2003
St Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Auritz-Burgueta, Spain
3,000 Foot Climb in 15 miles!
Breakfast and loaded by 9:00 AM. We met a couple from Germany who will cycle up to Ronceaux today, too. They are from Keel, Germany and have ridden bikes here to start the Pilgrimage Route, the one that Albert talked about. She, Margaret, shared their map and info with us. We met Hans and took a photo in front of Hotel Central. They said that the Pilgrimage Information told them NOT to ride on Highway 933. We talked about it for a few minutes then I told her that we are on a different kind of trip and would make better time on the main road even though it has traffic. They waved and rode off on The Camino de Santiago and toward a climb to 1400+ meters. We turned the corner, stopped for meat, cheese and bread then started our own climb.
The road out of town was steep then leveled and ran along a small river, perhaps the headwaters of the Nive? The water ran toward us and we climbed, sometimes ups and downs but always a little more up than down. Before long we were at the ankle of the Pyrenees; and it was all up from there. Progress was slow, we probably pushed 1/3rd of the way.
As we struggled up one fairly steep hill we passed a group of Pilgrims coming toward us on our side of the road. One guy stopped Cat and asked questions about whether we were Pilgrims and where we were going. The rest of the group spoke Spanish but called for one gal who spoke some English. She hurried down toward me and asked, “Are you okay”? Very nice, she insisted that we take it easy, not get too hot. We think she may have been a nurse? The group is from the Canary Islands and are walking the route together.
We stopped at 12:00, sat in the grass under a shade tree and watched the cars struggle upward or race down toward St Jean. Lunch was good, we had our water laced with the sport drink powder to wash down the ham and cheese. The best of it was the Gateaux Basque, Basque Cake. I bought two, one with a jelly filling and the other the standard almond taste. Three cyclists without bags passed us by and urged us onward and upward in French. Sparkling water pouring out of the mountainside felt great when we splashed it on our heads. We crossed into Spain without any fanfare, not even a welcome sign. El Sol began to take its toll. A lot of the route was shaded but in the sun the sweat poured. We were with a slight wind that felt great when we stopped but made it feel completely still as we struggled upward.
At last, the summit and a change in wind direction. The final kilometer was a long straight pull against heavy head wind. We ended up pushing to the top, as though drawn slowly toward the wooden church, giant cross and clouds. We were setting up to take a picture at the 1057-meter marker (3,500 feet+-) when a young gal pulled up on the other side of the road and said, let me take the picture for you. We were surprised to hear American style English, introduced ourselves then asked her to be in the picture. I set the camera on our little tripod and ran back toward them but the howling wind blew it over.
Ashley took a picture of Cat and I then I got one of the two of them. She is from Salt Lake City, Utah. She’s here with her boy friend but he is on business so while he works she cycles. The biggest surprise for us was that her last name is Patterson.
We had a nice talk but she had to hurry on because she wanted to get into St Jean in time to see the Tour de France time trials. She’s even more addicted to the Tour than we are.
Even pressing against the blustery wind we flew down the hill passing lots of hiking and cycling Pilgrims. We shouted out, Hola and they returned the salute. The first village on the Spanish side of the montanas is Orreaga Roncesvalles. We stopped, Cat checked with the little Tourist Info Center while I tried to get a soft drink. The bar was full of loud, smoking and drinking Pilgrims, I decided to seek solitude and forgo the drink.
Cat learned that the only choices we have are to stay here, go another 2 kilometers to Auritz-Burguete or 45 more up and down Ks to Pamplona. We chose the 2 K deal, though we’ve only come 25 Kilometers it was the 900 meter climb that took the starch out of our legs. The village is quaint, we stopped at a café next to the old Church and I got my lemonade. The Hotel just down the street was fully booked for tonight. They thought everything would be because it is high season for Pilgrims. Just across the street is a cute looking Hostel. We decided to give it a try and hallelujah, they had a room. It was cute, the floors of wood glistened. The good news, it was a bargain, 25€ for the night. The mediocre news, shared bath. That really doesn’t present a problem for us as we get in and get right into the shower. This would be our first home in Espana!
Dinner at the Inn that had no room for us. It was better than good. Salmon for the Cat and a Veal Stew Para me, even a bottle of darn good Vine Blanco, all for only 24€. This is Espana and we are back. Our server, a short dark skinned woman asked where we were from in her limited English. When we told her California she said, “America, I come from America, Ecuador.” Funny, most people from any Country other than the USA rarely say they are from America.
Sunday, July 27, 2003
We both heard the Church bells at 4:00 AM. I awoke at 6:50 and thought I would just lay in until I heard them chime seven times. When I opened my eyes and checked it was 7:05, we had both slept through the 7 bells hour. The street was alive with walking and cycling Pilgrims. Most flowing up toward Roncesvalles or it would be Roncevaux if you were coming up the French side of the hill. We’re very happy to have that side of the Pyrenees behind us. Our legs and backs are stiff and sore. We know that we rode a tough road yesterday!
Breakfast was pretty plain but we did enjoy watching the only other couple there. Not so much her but we couldn’t believe that he drank half a bottle of Rose wine. Our landlady wasn’t quite as friendly, maybe she just isn’t a morning person? Cat paid the 25€ which made her smile. It made us pretty happy too, a good bargain. Again, we had to walk around the building and wait at the back door. We pushed to the alley along side the Hostel and loaded there.
Auritz-BurgeteWhat a Difference
Down, yes the word of the day is down and a good word it is, too. It was cool as we rode through the village and out into countryside. We took the advice of the Tourist Info lady and turned left, on to NA 172. She told Cat that it was only 3 kilometers longer but the road was flat or down. As we cut the corner Cat noticed the sign, it was 53 Km compared to 42 on N 135. A moment of indecision then on down the road.
She was right, we rolled down or flat, in a verdant setting along a beautifully noisy creek. Several sport riders passed and hollered “Hola” as they pushed upward. I was taken by a scenic hillside and pulled across the road to shot a pic. Cat yelled out then I caught a blur off to my right. A sport cyclist crankin’ hard down the hill had sneaked up on me. He had to slow and I said, Sorry”, but he didn’t look very happy about losing his speed.
When we ran out of the forest we ran out of mountain green. Now we’re in a semi arid place. It reminded us of the valley we cycled out of Reno Nevada. Farms clinging to the water but dry land and scrub brush beyond. As dry as the hills looked we were soon riding in a steady drizzle of rain. The down and flat ended at about the same time the heavens opened. We did get a couple of slight reprieves, there were two tunnels that took us out of the rain and through the mountains. Three of the uphill pulls were memorable. One even had us walking the last 100 yards.
We stopped near the City Limits of Pamplona to take a picture of a grove of cranes, more than I’ve ever seen in one place. A young guy from Germany, Chris, pulled up and we traded stories. He, like Albert, isn’t religious but is interested in the Santiago-de-Compostella and is cycling the route. He will meet his Brother in a few days and they will complete the ride together. His most interesting story was just a few kilometers back when he hit the rain. Seeking shelter he pulled into a Church parking lot. People were coming out, he thought that Mass had just finished. He went inside and took a seat. The woman that he thinks cleans the Church came and asked if he wanted to pray, she thought he was a Pilgrim. She knelt and he told us that he did pray, for better weather. He looked up toward the clearing sky and said, “It worked”!
For some reason we seem to always find ourselves on a freeway as we enter larger towns. We passed one on/off ramp then decided that it was too dangerous to continue. Two guys and a woman were standing at the top of the exit. It looked like a huge Real Estate Development and we thought that one was a Salesperson. As we pulled up they all spoke up simultaneously, “Thees street no go through.” Then they all pointed toward what looked like the on ramp and the Freeway. Disappointed, we started out but were happy to see that we were headed away from the fast traffic. Pamplona was to be the simplest City we’ve cycled into. The signs to Centro led us directly to the old town. We were following the I sign for Tourist Info.
Not sure, after a turn, Cat pulled up and asked a Policeman. He gave her good directions then asked, “Pilgrims a Santiago”? She just shook her head not wanting to disappoint him. T. I. Was very helpful with directions and a list of Hotels. She recommended one but it was not near the center. We felt that maybe Hotel Europa would have English language TV, something we have missed these past few days.
Across Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza Consistorial and the Town Hall then through Plaza del Castillo which was completely devastated by construction. The Hotel was really okay but we will have to drag the bikes up a long stairway to the lobby. The girl offered to let us store them in a conference room. The only thing left was CNN or BBC. She proudly told me that they do have CNN. I checked the room and liked it then just for drill, I turned on the TV. They did have CNN but it was Spanish language, too bad. Cat likes to have something to watch while I bury myself in the journal.
We had ridden past Hotel Maisonnave. It looked more expensive than the 62€ that Europa offered. Surprise, it was only 66€ but the gals at the desk called and confirmed that they didn’t have English language TV. We were hungry, starved in fact. Disappointed, we decided to have a sandwich at the bar. Cat went to look at a room, as we were ready to give up the hope for a TV station we could understand.
The sandwiches arrived just as Cat came back with the television schedule in hand. The room was good, we could store the bikes in the laundry room and best of all, they do have Sky News, Euro Sport and best of all, CNN in the room. This will be our camp for the next 3 nights. We have a lot of business to take care of while here and we want to see Pamplona, too.
Big Tour Finish
While I worked journal Cat checked e-mails. As she came back toward the room a voice called out, “Hey Cat”, it was the guy from the Canary Islands who had stopped her yesterday as we climbed. They are staying here, too.
The dilemma of dinner was unusually typical. Cat asked the desk about a place to get pasta. We both feel a need for carbohydrates. He told her that many restaurants around the Plaza would have pasta. We searched but found only the basic Spanish menus. We liked the looks of one old, high ceiling, wood rafter place. The young waiter told us to take a seat. It was 8:30 and they were serving. Oh, by the way, when you travel here leave your appetite behind until at least 8:30 PM. Most locals eat dinner at 10:00 PM. We waited patiently then were told that they don’t serve white wine. Not to be snobbish but dinner is always better with a glass of white. We walked on down the street and chose a great little place full of early eating locals. Good Spanish white wine, chicken and fries. We have felt depleted but this helped to get us back to normal.
July 28, 2003
Day Off in Pamplona
A lazy start, I finally went down to get coffee at 8:30. The girl at the bar told me that the Desayuno is served in the restaurant. I checked the buffet, it looked good and but was 8€ each. The fresh fruit drew me in. I went back and told Cat about the spread. She was still dressing so I went back down and was surprised to find Pilar, the gal from the Canary Islands there. She told me that they are staying here for 7 days and will go on their Pilgrimage walks in segments, dropped off each day and picked up at night.
Then another real pleasant surprise, Hans and Margaret were seated and eating, too. We had a nice re-union and I told them of how we had thought of them as we climbed the steep hill. They asked if we had to push, we all laughed about that. They pushed a lot, the path has rocks and potholes. They are moving on this morning. Margaret told us that they wouldn’t take any days off. This is the first cycle trip they have taken outside Germany and they love it. As they were leaving I said, “See you in the World, or on the World Wide Web”. Just as they left the room I yelled out, “Maybe in California”? Margaret popped her head back around the corner and said, “Maybe you come to Heidelberg”?
The buffet is vast and they have the big green melon that we loved and have missed so much. After gorging we walked and explored Pamplona. A very Spanish town, not as big as we thought it would be. Cat worked on getting clothing washed while I dug the water purifier and sent a message to them requesting information and a new filter or two. I also sent a message to the Ortlieb Dealer in Austria requesting four 2-liter water bags, a patch kit with English language instructions and 2 clear map cases that snap to our handlebar bags. Ours have pulled loose from the Velcro strip.
Cat explored the narrow streets while I chained myself to the computer, again, to play catch-up on the journal. In the late afternoon we walked the streets, visited the now quiet Plaza de Toros and got a picture of the statue of Ernest Hemingway, the guy that put Pamplona on the map. In fact his first book, The Sun Also Sets, written here, is the impetus for hundreds of thousands of tourists that flock here to see the spectacle. I used to have a desire to “Run With the Bulls” but think I’ve gotten over it. Especially when I see the pictures of guys under the hooves or on the horn of some pretty angry looking fighting bulls.
Dinner in a small, typical Bar and Restaurant. The Tapas are lined up on the bar top and the smoke is thick. We got there just minutes before 8:30 and waited. Amazing to us that most folks here can wait until 10:00 PM, eat, then take their full stomachs home and sleep? The food was terrific, again. I had a piece of fried veal, Cat did the Salmon, again. We took our full bellies back and had no trouble falling asleep.
July 29, 2003
Another Day Off in Pamplona
No trouble sleeping, either. I stirred at 7:00 but lay in until 7:30 AM. We need and want a lazy day, this one is it. Coffee and croissants downstairs then a walk together through the streets. As we exited we came upon a couple loading their bikes. They are riding the Pilgrim’s route from west to east. Mauro and Roberta are from Trieste, Italy and this is the first time they have experienced a cycling vacation. After 8 days on the road, they love it and are looking forward to a lot more cycle touring.
We looped out onto streets we’ve not yet explored. The street near the Bull Ring drops down toward the Rio Agra and a beautiful shady park. There is a very old looking bridge with a steady stream of Pilgrims walking, stick in hand, over the arch. What a bright and sunny day to be walking toward Santiago de Compostela! We followed the trail back up and into the old town. A map we picked up at the T. O. shows the trail follows Highway N 111 to Logrono. We’ve been undecided on which route to take, this made the decision for us. Albert was right, you meet some interesting people and it’s wonderful to be a part of the Pilgrimage, even if we’re not Pilgrims.
Back at camp Maisonnave, we checked for e-mails then asked the girl at the desk for help finding haircuts. She called a place and then told us to go over in 15 minutes. We slowly sauntered there only to find that the one stylist was swamped. She asked us to come back at 1:00. We took our disappointment back to the room and picnicked on last night’s leftovers.
There are a couple of British guys hanging around the Hotel. Cat struck up a conversation while we were on the computer in the lobby. They are traveling in a 1972 VW Van and it has broken down. The slightly older of the two owns the Van and has traveled in it a lot. The other is just tagging along on this trip. We have a hard time understanding their English at times. The owner f the van is worried, they towed it away and he doesn’t know where they took it. He sits in the lobby, smoking and waiting for a call. The other sits some and smokes some then fast walks around town. We’ve run into him several times as we journeyed the cobblestones.
Haircuts, real short haircuts. The stylist was still swamped but squeezed us in. Cat had forgotten to take her mid day heart pill so she went back to get one. I went to the chair first while she was gone. We both wanted short hair, it is going to be hot through Spain and Morocco. We got short, I saved the tail on the back of my head that I’ve worn for the past 10 years but Cat didn’t like it? The stylist and a guy in the next chair gave it the thumbs up so it stays.
I went back to the keyboard, Cat waited a long time for her hair cut. She made the run for our laundry. Tired of our computer, I went downstairs to check the e-mail for a message from either the water filter people or the Ortlieb dealer. It is a short walk to the Internet Café and I needed to know. Well, nothing from either of the needed suppliers but what a pleasant surprise, Webmaster Wally had posted the latest issue, Berlin to Paris. I scanned down through it and was extremely pleased. It is the best chapter we’ve done. I loved the way Wally mixed the photos, just like the magazine
effect I wanted to achieve.
For dinner we walked around until tired of walking then chose a place. We couldn’t have chosen a worse place if we had tried! The young guy who waited on us really tried hard. The wine was fine and the bread was great. That’s where the good stopped and the tough meat, small portions of salad and potatoes began. This was the most expensive and least desirable meal we’ve had since we can remember. To top it all off, when we gave him our Visa Card he took it then returned and said that the machine was broken? I told him that we would come back tomorrow to pay, when they get the machine repaired. He said he would ask the boss. When he returned he said that the boss said okay, come back tomorrow and pay. Disgusted, I gave him cash. As we walked out past the bar I learned that the big guy behind the bar was the boss. I told him that he should change some things. The young man translated, the boss asked what was wrong. “Too many tables for one guy, your salad and potato plates are too small and the meat is tough. Then I turned to the young guy and said, “We know it isn’t your fault.
Running a little high on energy, maybe from all that chewing, I worked on the computer until midnight.
July 30, 2003
Pamplona to Estella
Late dinner, late night, late rising. I struggled to open my eyes and was surprised to see that it was already 8:00 AM. So much for the early start. We had breakfast down stairs, loaded up on fresh fruit, eggs and bread. As we pushed out Glyn of Roger and Glyn, the two stranded Brits, came out to give us a send off. They still don’t know when their ‘72’ VW Van will be roadworthy.
Conforming to our usual exit of cities, we took a turn for the worse and soon were lost. Studying the map we wound our way back to Highway N111. We had tried to follow the Pilgrim signs. Once on the highway we stuck to it. Pretty heavy morning traffic. At a stop sign we pulled up in the turn lane. A guy two cars back honked then yelled out the window. I bellowed back that we were going straight. He pointed and yelled, we know he wanted us to move over so they could go on around the corner. We pushed to the left and prepared for confrontation. As he passed he smiled, waved and gave us a big thumbs up. Frustration dissipated, we smiled and waved back.
There is a steep swoop out of town then a steep climb. Our legs were feeling strong and we pedaled right up. Cresting the summit we were disappointed to see the same scenario ahead. In fact it was to be a day of climb then roll, climb then roll. Since it was 10:30 by the time we got to the outskirts of Pamplona we were soon riding in the warmest part of the day. At one particularly steep pull traffic was lined up for half a kilometer. A truck had stalled out about two thirds of the way up. We pushed past the stopped trucks and cars and got lucky. We passed the truck when there was a lull in up and down hill traffic. We made the top and it was definitely an 8% up. It did heat us up and take some of the vim out of our legs.
Up To the Sky
Puente de Reina was ours by noon. It really looked, smell and felt like a small town in Mexico to us. We stopped and asked four old guys along the walkway for a Super Mercado. They all spoke at the same time and pointed in the same direction. We pushed through an archway into the village square that has been converted to a temporary bullring. There was a small Tourist Office where we got a Xerox copy of a map and directions to the market.
We had been stopped, taking a picture on the downhill just out of town when two touring cyclists swooshed past. They called out a hello but didn’t slow down. Margaret and Mart from Holland, were buying groceries so we had a chance to get acquainted. They are riding the Pilgrim Route to Santiago de Compostela and hope to arrive in twelve days, for her birthday. They are stopping in Estella, we hope to go on to Los Arcos or Logrono so we wave and they rode away.
Down the little streets, we happened upon music and a sort of parade. The kids and most of the adults were dressed in white with red bandanas. I grabbed the camera and ran after them. There were two giant figures, a King and Queen as well as several other large headed members of the parade. The two big heads near me had soft pillows on a rope that they would hit the kids with. Some of the little ones were pretty scared. The whole entourage was headed for the bullring. What a wonderful opportunity for us to see and enjoy.
On the modern bridge you can see the medieval stone arched bridge. We got a picture then decided to go back and find some shade to sit in while we eat. Shade was scarce, we had to share with two old gals and a guy. The ladies chattered like magpies. The guy sat solemnly, hands on his face, almost covering his ears. Cat got as tired of their babbling as the guy obviously was. Surprise, Margaret and Mart cycled past and waved as we ate.
Onward into the heat and over more hills. As we rolled down a small knoll we caught sight of several Pilgrims and a van off to the right on a side road. It was Pilar and the group from the Canary Islands. We pulled up, turned and joined them. They were huddled in the shade of a tree and it was obvious that some of them weren’t exactly happy Pilgrims. They pulled up early because of the heat, there was only one van available and it couldn’t take all of them back to the Hotel. We wanted a picture, Pilar said it might not be a good time. With the bikes leaning on each other Cat got in the middle of the fray and I yelled out, “Hey, look here, I want a picture”. They stopped the discussion, looked up and I took the shot. I also got one of Pilar and Cat.
A couple of cycle touring Pilgrims passed us while we were stopped. They were carrying light loads and we never saw them again. The hills felt steeper, the heat felt hotter. It was all sixes and eights, that is to say, 6% and 8% grades. That’s pretty steep but some of the corners of the switchbacks had to be 12% Cat felt exhausted, we began to make alternate plans. It was obvious at the Estella turn off that we had done all we were going to do for this day. We rolled down to a service station. I slurped down two Popsicles while Cat worked on info about lodging. We decided to go on into Estella, down, into Estella. When you have worked hard to climb you always hate to go down, knowing that you will start the next day climbing back out.
Working our way to the center we found the Tourist Office on a tiny cobblestone street across from a 500-year-old Church. Cat got info while I stood the guard. We would stay in the only Hotel here. They do have some Pensions but we opted for the privacy. Hotel Yerri, is across from the Plaza de Toros. People were lined up, buying tickets, we hoped that there was going to be a show there tonight.
The girl working the desk at the hotel speaks great English. She was an exchange student in a small town in Michigan back in the nineties. I asked about the Bullring, she explained that they are having a Fiesta of the Bulls this weekend, those people are just buying tickets in advance. We took a room, I wrestled the bikes into the elevator, on their rear wheels, one at a time then we relaxed. It was already almost 6:00 PM.
Dinner down was another trial in languages. Cat wanted a nice juicy piece of pork the girl assured she had it. I tried a cod dish that I thought would be like baccola, the salted cod we ate in Portugal. Neither of us got what we wanted but mine came closer than Cat’s. She got four pieces of boneless pork all right but it was breaded and fried. She was so hungry that they and the French fries were soon gobbled up.
I typed, Cat watched TV and snoozed. Another day in the lives of the WorldRiders!
July 31, 2003
Estella to Islallana
Even as light as the room was we still had trouble waking up. It was after 7:00 AM by the time we started moving around. Though we were down for coffee by 8:00 we somehow failed to get away by 8:30. Cat fears the heat and the hills. We know it will be hot today, almost 40 C. (100 F.) but we don’t know how many or how steep the hills ahead will be?
Estella is larger than the map would lead one to believe. We had to retrace our route to exit. Water was on our minds, we wanted good clean water to help with the hills. A small store had 5-liter jugs for only 80 cents. What a bargain when we consider how much designer water sells for in California.
It was a strong pull out of Estella then an even steeper climb away from town. It was nice and cool, the terrain, mountainous and beautiful. Once over the summit it was a long easy decent. The wonderful road we had been on for almost two days shrunk to a thin strip of paving without shoulders. Dangerous, no doubt about it but the traffic, especially the trucks, was pretty good about giving us room.
Decision time at the junction of the N 111 and the NA 112. The map shows that N111 is 4 kilometers shorter but NA112 looks like it will have a wider shoulder and will drop to the river then parallel it into Logrono. So off we went and the thinking proved to be true, good shoulder and down for the most part then level into town. Somehow we found ourselves on a major freeway as we rolled into town. Finally we escaped up the off ramp and out of harms way, as they say.
It was noon and we were hungry, it was noon and it was hot! We stopped at a service station and shared a cold Gatorade. Rare to find those here and we could see why, they charged 2€ for the small bottle. There is a café/bar attached, we had 4 chorizo and egg sandwiches. Great tasting but we fear they will return as we ride. Wanting to know about the road ahead we backtracked into the heart of Logrono. The square was tree and flower lined. We caught the Tourist Info Office just as they were closing. They offered a map of the region, we have left Navarre and are now in La Rioja. It has symbols for restaurants and hotels. We decided to ride on 18 kilometers to Islallana, the digital thermometer blazed out 39 in bright red numbers. Our attempt to call the Casa Rural ended with a message machine. We couldn’t tell whether it was open but I caught, leave message call back. I left our name and anticipated 4:30 arrival then we pushed off, up and into the blast furnace.
The road was up, not rolling, just slowly up and the road was straight as a string. (Where do sayings like, “as straight as a string” come from?) Another Service Station stop for drinks and directions. The guy there spoke great English, he had lived in Australia for 9 years. He told us that the village we were looking for was just 5 kilometers further.
Islallana straddles N111 and squats between massive cliffs in a valley carved over the eons by adjacent Rio Iregua. Cat asked a guy who stepped out of the Bar for directions. He spewed Spanish and pointed, even made her look down his arm to see the turn, down toward the river. He somehow got the point across that we would sleep down there and come up here for dinner.
It was steep and the Casa Era was right there at the bottom. Our hostess, as wide as she was tall, spoke only Espanola and she spoke it fast. She brought us cold water, we sat at a rattan table in the shade of a tree. We thought she was telling us that the restaurant would have meat, finally she got her point across, she wanted one of our Passports to check us in.
I asked a guy, her husband we think, about leaving the biciclettas in the casita, a small shop building. He really spoke fast but was easy to understand. NO, no problema to leave out. Okay, we leave out.
Our room has a spectacular view of the sandstone towers. We are just over the river, the sound is soothing and cooling. Cat hit the shower, I hit the computer.
As we started to dinner a flock of sheep came rushing down the hill. We felt like we had missed a real photo op. Even on telephoto the sheep were lost in the scenery.
We walked out
near the river and across the bridge then headed up the hill to dinner at 8:00 PM. There was a card game going on in front of the Rosa’s Café and they weren’t too interested in having customers. The guy, in the stripped shirt told us that the kitchen would open at 9:00 PM. We moaned and groaned then he said, Ocho y Media, 8:30. He did have white wine and poured us two glasses. It is the local wine and it is pretty darned good.
Dinner in Islallana?
We sat on the plastic chairs, drank our wine and watched the local comings and goings. Cat was starving so I made a run to the local market. As I stepped through the door a young guy pushed me aside and stopped then rang a door bell. I asked him if this was the Mercado and he said, “Si”.
The door buzzed, he opened it and we were in a tiny space at a counter. The rest of the store and the big, heavy owner, was behind the counter. The guy bought two kinds of lunchmeat and the heavy weight sliced it. Now, my turn, I asked for queso, cheese. He said "Si" then pulled out a round of white cheese and held up his knife. I chose the spot where he should cut and he weighed it, wrapped it and wrote down the price. I asked for pan, bread, and he said, no. I tried to ask for crackers but something was lost in the translation? I finally took a package of cookies and the cheese.
Back at the diner, the lady looked at our cookies and cheese and asked, “No pan?” When we explained in sign language that the store had no bread she disappeared and came back with several slices of baguette. We drank the wine and enjoyed the bread and cheese as well as the local comings and goings.
Papa came back riding a tiny tractor. He parked in a garage across the street and carried two buckets and a bag back toward us. He had fruit, and left a dozen pieces on our table. Dinner was interesting, Pork again for Cat but this was not deep-fried. I had Breakfast at Denny’s, fried eggs, potatoes and ham, that great dried ham. All in all we had a wonderful time watching the sun set on the mountain and the family go through another evening together. Cars and trucks go by and honk, everyone knows this family. The Mom, Rosa, and Dad have six kids. When we said, “Bonita familia”, she said something like, too fat, to much appetito. This is what our trip is about, we loved being a part of their lives for just a moment or two. The stripped shirt and the blue shirt boys are twins. The look so much alike but it took some work to get that fact from the family. The one who was playing card with Mama Rosa and his sister is married. His wife came and joined the table. The other brother has terrible teeth? We have seen that same problem on other young people. Makes you wonder how twins could end up at age 25 +- with black, snaggled teeth? Makes you wonder, too, how twins could be raised the same, eat the same, learn their personal habits from the same people yet turn out so differently. One of what we think is a sibling, a blonde gal, older than the others, has spangles on her sandals, long light purple finger nails and wears make up. The others are pretty basic, all nice but basic.
As we walked back a shepherd and his flock came cascading down, out on to the highway and across, in front of us. What a way to end a tough cycling day! It is all worthwhile!!
August 1, 2003
Islallana to Vente de Piqueras
43 Kilometers, 1,000 Meter Climb
It was a disappointment when Madame de Casa la Era told us that breakfast wouldn’t be served until 8:30. We woke up and at 7:00 AM, took turns in the shared toilet then carried the bags down. As I began to load the bikes Cat leaned out the door at the top of the stairs and said, “She has breakfast ready, right now”, it was just a little after 8:00. We left the bags on the ground and ate. Typical juice coffee and bread but Madame also brought a handful of the same fruit that Papa had given us last night. They are green, they are plums and they are sweet. We made short work of them.
A couple from France appeared, as we were finishing. It’s their first anniversary and they have returned to the place where Honeymooned, at least that’s what we think Madame told us? The girl spoke some English, she had lived in Minnesota as an aupeurre for a year. Though she hasn’t practiced the language in some time we did have a nice talk. I asked if her experience was good, I told her about the girl in Sweden who had a bad time with a family in New York, they were very demanding. She felt that her American family was demanding but they were good to her so it was a fair trade off. She has stayed in touch, in fact the American Mom was her Matron of Honor for their wedding.
We pushed out the drive and up the hill to the highway. A fellow who has had a tracheotomy held his finger on the hole in his throat and asked in Espanol, where we come from. He acted shocked when we said California then told us in squeaky Spanish that he was local. He called out a good luck, as best he could, as we headed up. And up was to be the word of the day, again today.
We really didn’t know how mountainous Spain was. Riding up, we stayed in the saddles until 11:30 then stopped in the tiny village of Padilla. They have a Tourist Office and it was really helpful. Onward, just 1 kilometer and we stopped for lunch, well Tapas, tiny ham and cheese sandwiches, five of them, and soft drinks. We took seats outside in the shade, the owner, an old guy, came out and dropped the awing so that we had lots of shade. It felt great. We exchanged niceties with a Mom, Dad and son. They had bicycles on top of their car, he caught the back of our shirts and commented. We gave them a card, they tried to pry the boy away from his game boy or some such electronic time consumer but he acted shy and chose not to say hello.
The up really gets to be up from that point onward. The hot was really hot, too. Sweat feels good when we catch a little of the breeze on corners. We are blessed or cursed with a slight tail wind so that at our speed the air feels completely still. The sign called it indicates water fountain but doesn’t say whether it is potable or not. It was a cooling off place for us. The water runs steadily out of the side of the mountain through two large faucet heads. It runs out of the pool below them and down into a large concrete area at road level. We splashed our heads then our bodies, wetting our shirts a soaking the back of our necks. Extremely refreshing and we needed refreshing.
Somewhere behind us we had passed a restaurant, Meson Los Angeles. Now we were bypassing a village called San Andres. Both are names familiar to us and to anyone who lives in California. LA is the largest city and San Andres is the big fault that causes most of our earthquakes.
A dam holds back the precious water that will feed agriculture and sooth the thirst of those below. As we climbed the switchbacks we could se the face of the dam. At the base a plume of white water gushes up into the air with a roar. This is a tribute to man’s efforts to tame nature. Our climb is in a way, another tribute to the effort of a man and a woman to conquer Newton’s Laws of Gravity.
The bells on some animal’s necks seemed to beckon us. The steep was even steeper and we were tired. Just 4 kilometers from the summit we chose to pull up for the day. It would take us at least an hour, maybe more to climb the last, long winding road in this heat. Venta de Piqueras is an old church, a restaurant and hotel. It was 3:30 PM, they had cold drinks, ice and a room for us.
Hotel and restaurant Venta de Piqueras is a total family operation. Beatrice is the gal, daughter who greeted us, got cold drinks for us, checked us in and even fed us dinner. They have only us in the Casa tonight.
We walked around a little, took pictures of the horses and buildings. There was a group, a family we thought, sitting in the shade, drinking coffee and relaxing. They were not staying, just having lunch and drinks here. They did their best to talk with us and loved the thought of our Odyssey. After chatting and handing our cards they drove away and we settled in for a glass of vino with bread and cheese. To top it off, I ordered coffee. Unusual for me but I have felt drowsy and want to type a little.
Venta de Piqueras
Down for dinner at 8:00, we sat alone in the bar, ordered salad and pasta. They don’t have pasta as a main dish but we convinced them to make it for us. Beatrice delivered a dish of penne pasta and asked if we wanted another dish. We said yes then realized that she meant an empty dish for sharing. Sign language and our best pigeon Spanish and we soon had a second heaping dish in front of us. We needed carbohydrates, we loaded up for the big hill, manana.
August 2, 2003
Venta de Piqueras to Soria
48 Kilometers, 400 meter (1320 feet) in 1st 6 Kilometers
Thanks to Beatrice for accepting us as guests, the only guests last night. We think her Father was unhappy about her taking us? Breakfast was a lonely affair, we carried down and loaded then hit our favorite table. A new person served us eggs and ham. If she is family she has to be an Aunt?
We pumped hard up the 1 Km roadway to the N 111. Once we turned it was all up, up, up. Beatrice told us that we would face 6 switchbacks. Well, she didn’t really tell us she made the back and forth motion with her hands and said, "Seis." We lost count but there were at least six or more ups, around the steeper corners then more up. It took an hour and 20 minutes to ride the 6 Kilometers.
The obligatory photo at the sign, 1710 meters then the brake burning decent. We could see for miles out across the plain. It was all sun and heat despite Henry Higgins words, “The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain”. It is Saturday maybe that’s why all the little villages look like ghost towns?
We stopped at a Service Station for Kas, Limon drink then didn’t stop again until we hit the outskirts of Soria. Another Service Station, a peach drink. As we stood in the shade a guy, Chris came over and started talking with Cat. He is from Florida but was born in Salamanca, Spain. His friend, Hakim who said that it is a Hindi name. They have been friends all their lives, Chris is here to walk the Pilgrimage from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago del Compostela. A very nice young guy, I guessed later that he may be a priest? It was obvious that he is quite religious. He just got out of the US Army but remains in the reserves. He did say that he’s going back to school. Right now he is concentrating on the Pilgrimage and Hakim is driving hard to get him to St. Jean then get back for work on Monday. I said that he got out of the military at a good time. He said something about receiving casualties and that the moral was pretty low among the troops.
Hoping for level or down, we had a long hot pull up, into Soria. Our decision was to find the Tourist Office then a Hotel. The girl there was very helpful. We got a map, hotel listing and some details about the few things going on this weekend. The Hotel Alfonso VIII was just around the corner. The info said rooms ranged from 60€ to 96. Cat checked then came back out and said that the rooms are 96? I hated to just walk away, it felt like the deal in Bordeaux. The girl said, "We were a three star now we’re four." I tried but it was an exercise in futility, she was just a young girl who works here.
Off we went, on a search. Up a steep climb then back down. A really tacky place with a not so friendly clerk had a flight of stairs between the room and us. We rolled to the next place on the list, fully booked? The next place was in a tiny Plaza called San Clemente. The Hotel, Posada, was also fully booked. It was 3:00 PM and we needed food. Sitting in the shade, eating a salad, we decided to go back and take a room at Alfonso. They would have air conditioning, maybe even BBC or CNN?
I didn’t have to eat crow, entirely. I told them that we wanted to take the bikes to the room. The one seated, the one who told us, on our first try here, about a Hotel around the corner that wasn’t there, said, “No!” I asked why not and that caused a big discussion then the young one turned to me and said, “It’s okay to take bicicletta to room.”
It is a nice room, Life is Beautiful! Once again, RATE has its privileges.
Cat found that the Internet connect here is FREE, she checked our e-mails while I typed journal and showered.
We walked back to the Tourist Info Center and asked about the routes to Madrid. We have four possibilities and the girl couldn’t help us, much. Well, she has never cycled to Madrid. She did provide a regional map with some Hotels, but it also showed us clearly that if we don't go to Segovia we’d have to climb over 1800 meters. No decisions today, we can make them on the fly.
For dinner we wanted carbohydrates, we wanted pasta. The girl was quite cute, telling us that they used to have an Italian Restaurant but it closed. We walked just across the street to Parque Alameda de Cervantes just to see what was going on there. The first part was pretty much older, retired people sitting and talking. Then it spreads and the crowd thickens. It is filled with all ages and levels of life. We loved watching a group of elder ladies playing a game they call Bolles, like bowling. They were so full of vigor and life, we loved just being there, soaking it all up.
Our concern about dinner was allayed by one of the open restaurants along the pathway. We were like locals, there were a couple of wedding parties nearby. Families doing what families do everywhere. Eating, drinking, having fun and bringing another generation into place.
Pollo in Oilo
Our food was awesome, a guy seated at the bar sort of understood our questions, told us to take a seat then served us. The food, a whole chicken, fries, pepper and salad was scrumptious. We sat, observed, enjoyed and ate. There was a party across the way, a truck with mobile DJ crankin’ out the tunes. We drifted across, took pictures of the party, another wedding, even caught a little dance on the way out.
Party SoriaSpanish Dancers
Back at Alfonso Central we found that the Internet connection was semi dismantled. No keyboard and what was left was hidden behind a door now open to a huge room of partiers. The girls at the desk told us that the computer was finished for today. Then the blonde one asked if we needed to see e-mails. “Okay, come back at 10:00”
We watched a great story about Lance Armstrong, his cycling triumphs and battle with testicular cancer. It added another layer to the already huge admiration we have for him. I thought again about the signs many in the crowd had, “In Lance we trust.”
Cat snoozed off while I went down and ran through the latest e-mails.
Sunday August 3, 2003
Soria to El Burgo de Osma
56 Kilometers, HOT, HOT, HOT
The disappointment about Sunday breakfast starting at 8:00 AM was ill placed. We had a hard time getting our tired sore bodies out of bed. Breakfast was typical, we did heat up Tortilla, the wonderful potato omelet and definitely ate our share of the bounty. I wrestled the bikes into the elevator and down as Cat checked out.
Late, 9:45 by the time we rolled out. The sun was bright and blazing a warning of heat to come. It was nice to start. We chose route N 122 toward Segovia and can decide later, whether to go the distance or not.
The traffic was light, the road bike friendly with a stripped off lane the entire way to El Burgo de Osma. We had a couple of small climbs but most was flat or slightly down. We did pass a sign proclaiming altitude 1080 Meters. The landscape is desert spectacular. High desert, with scrubby trees and plenty of hot weather farming. Sunflowers seem to do well. The grain has already been harvested. The hills, maybe mountains beyond, are wonderful examples of sedimentary geology.
Spain’s High Plains
A few photo stops, two Service Station stops for toilet and soft drink, even a road side stop to eat an orange we swiped from the buffet. Most of the 4 hours was spent in the saddle. One bad thing happened at a photo stop. Cat’s new bright yellow sunglasses we bought for both of us in Bordeaux broke in half. We paid $30 each for them, because they had the yellow and clear lens, so it was quite disappointing to happen so soon! Oh well, she reached in her bag and got out her old standbys that she kept “just in case”. Just another trial of the trail. We were off again. The one hill we didn’t need was the last. With just 3 kilometers to go the road reared its head upward and like a dragon, it send hot breaths of firey air in our direction. That was a struggle. We had planned to go on another 10 kilometers but this climb and the heat took the wind out of our sails.
We rolled down, into El Burgo de Osma, stopped at a restaurant but it seemed too nice for two stinky cyclists. They told us that there was a Hotel just down the street. It, Hotel II Virrey, has an old Spanish feeling and AC. We needed AC, then we found as a bonus that we had BBC and, they let us use their computer to clean up our e-mails. We were in for the afternoon and out of the scorching sun.
Sandwiches in the bar and we tossed down 5 limonadas between us. Dry is not even a good descriptive of our need to re-hydrate. Time on the Computer at the Front Desk, we took turns while we alternated showering.
A long walk, marking time, the restaurants don’t open until 8:30 PM and there are few other shops open at all on Sunday. We took pictures and enjoyed the local folks. They all seem to be out, sitting in the shade watching us and others stroll by. Cat sat next to two guys and an old gal. I took their picture. They were a little standoffish at first but when they saw the picture they wanted to adopt us. The younger guy, Alejandro, did most of the talking, the older two just smiled. We understood the smiles better than all of Alejandro’s words. He was intent on giving us his name. We thought that he was writing all of their names but when we took the paper it was only Alejandro. I watched him as he wrote, he may only know how to write his name?
El Burgo de Osma
Tourist Info opened for the afternoon at 4:00 PM. The guy there, Fernando, was the first English speaking person we have met in two days. He was helpful in our routing to Madrid. The road we have been thinking we would ride is like a super highway and he feels that we should go on, into Segovia then across the mountains into Madrid.
Dinner in a local place, we chose it because their sign says that they have Climatezation, air conditioning. I had Oxtail, Cat tried the Venison. Both were very tasty.
We were ready for bed, in fact Cat was already down, when an orchestra began to play in the square. The music filled our room. I had to have pictures. Amazing, the square that was almost empty earlier was full of fans of the band. I took pictures then went back, lay down and listened to their music until sleep took me to dreamland.
El Burgo Concerto
August 4, 2003
El Burgo de Osma to Riaza
59 Kilometers 39 C, 100 F.
Great breakfast, fresh melon, green plums, even an orange and peach. Yogurt, juice bread and coffee, too. A couple of cyclists came in and sat next to us but Spanish, from Barcelona, and they spoke no English. They are here to follow the trail of El Cid. We didn’t even know that there was an El Cid Trail? They did look at our maps and convince us again, to go to Segovia. The National Highway, 104 es muchos coaches y camions. No biciclettas.
The guy at the front desk tried to charge for the breakfast but Cat stood her ground and told him over and over that the lady told us it was inclusivo. Finally he waved his hand and took it off the bill.
We were off, Cat said that she thought we would go up and over. She was right, I think it goes back to my old theory when cycling across the US, towns are usually established in low spots so you cycle down then up and out in the morning. Must be something to do with ground water levels?
The terrain is rolling, we had another real slow burner climb then it leveled and rolled. Farms seem to be grain that has now been harvested and some sunflowers that are getting close to harvest time. We heard a report that sunflower growers in France were losing their crops to the heat. In fact the news today said that Paris would hit 38 C. That’s right up there at 100 F. Awe poor Parisians, we are out here cycling in the same temperature but this place is dry.
Speaking of news, Charles Taylor, the about to be Past President of Liberia set a time when he would leave the Country then sort of backed out again. I only mention it here because Liberia is in the way of WorldRiders2’s route down the Gold Coast of Africa. If peace doesn’t come pretty soon we may have to miss Monrovia, if they don’t get the peacekeepers on the ground there soon. What a shame that our government doesn’t place the same urgency on the death and destruction going on there as they did in Iraq?
When we passed through St Esteban de Gomaz we made a stop at the Tourist Office there. By the way, almost every little town had a Tourist office and when you travel day to day like we do they are an invaluable resource. The guy there tried to be helpful but had no maps of the Provincia de Segovia. He pointed us in the right direction and we were off.
The peach was shared on a hillside as we watched a huge black beetle struggle up and over the rocky hillside above the road. It gets drier and drier as we go west/southwest.
Farm fields circle round the hills but rarely top them here. The hilltops remain natural, with low growing brush. As we got set to saddle up, Cat’s old standby pair of sunglasses broke, so now she had to wear them with only one ear holder, so they kept falling down her face.
Ayllan, our lunch stop was so beautiful that we wished we were spending the night. It is a maze of tiny streets that have felt footsteps for over 800 years. As we rolled in, lost and seeking food for a picnic, a young guy, Luciano, stopped and in perfect English said, “Can I help you?” He sent us up one of the narrow, cobblestone lanes. We asked an old guy sitting in a chair, in the shade, for the Super Marche and he pointed to the next building. Luciano had been correct, we just stopped too soon.
Fontana de Ayllon
Turkey, cheese, bread and Limonade on the steps of a cross monument next to the old church. It was fun to watch and hear the comings and goings. Several mid aged to older women took turns sitting on a bench in the shade of a tree and yakked. One in particular had a high pitched, piercing voice. She came and went several times.
Leaving we stopped in the square for a photo. As I rode up six young guys cycled past on my right. The last one was so intrigued with our bikes that he hit a wire barrier. For some reason the Plaza is roped off? We took pictures then ran into Luciano, again. He invited us to the Hotel where he works but it is out of our way. He sounded so Spanish that we were surprised to learn that he is from Romania. I told him that I had cycled through Romania in 1989. He almost apologized, the 80’s were bad years there. I asked if it is better now. He thinks so, but he is so young that he may not remember 1989? He’s here working, studying Spanish and the Hotel business.
A lot of sweat, that was our afternoon. It was so hot that we even continued to sweat on the downhill runs. With just 7 Km to go to Riaza we stopped at a Service Station for cold drinks. When I mention these Service Stations, I want you to know that there aren’t dozens of them along the road. In fact there are so few that we usually stop when we pass one. As we exited we agreed that we would stop in Riaza, check with Tourist and see if there was a Hotel 10 to 15 Km further sown the road, toward Segovia.
The turn off to Riaza sent us off to the left, and up a tough hill. We stopped in a patch of shade and agreed, this would be it for today. It was just too hot!
The village is pretty plain, contrary to Luciano’s assessment that a lot of people with money live here. He has probably never been here. The place is very plain, especially when compared to Ayllon. We tried the Tourist Office but it is closed until 5:00 PM. There is a Hotel in the Plaza, Cat checked and they want 55€ but the only place for the bikes is up stairs. She went on a mission, looking for a room, I sat in the shade, sweating in the shade, and ate the orange from Desayuno. Lots of people eating snacks and drinking beers. Cat jokingly said, “Have a pitcher of Sangria for me when I get back. I tried every bar on this side of the Plaza, none of them would make Sangria?
After a hot tour of the area Cat chose an Apartmento, it was 59€ but had a kitchen. We could cook in, and the clerk there suggested that we could program the TV. We rode over in the now scorching sun and started to check in. I asked if the room was air-conditioned, “Frio”? The girl hated to say no. We hated to leave, but we did.
No, we couldn’t go back to the original place, we checked every place in town. One was too far out, one fully booked but it looked like a long term residence Hotel. We ended up back at the one with the stairs. That part was tough, we had to pull and push and there was a turn mid-stairway. Once settled in we really liked it. We have a view of the Plaza and the AC is totally COOL!
The idea of Sangria was still a good one so we walked across the square and ordered two glasses. The girl, Berta, told us that we had to order a whole pitcher, so we did. Very refreshing, sitting, sipping and letting the warm wind blow around us. Our next stop, the Tourist Office, failed, they never came back from siesta? A scheduling problema? Cat shopped for groceries and essentials, I went back, showered and typed journal pages.
We began watching the goings on in the Plaza from our small balcony window. The town drunk staggered across the Plaza, a group of cyclists pulled in and started celebrating their very hot ride. It’s now 7:50 PM, we decided to go down and try to say hello.
Goofy Guy and Cyclists
We’re in luck, two of the guys speak English, and a couple of others understand and speak some. Those who don’t rely, just as we do, on those who do. They had heard from the desk clerk that we were going around the world and were excited to hear about it. Paco from Madrid is the spokesman. He is a jolly, laughing, happy guy. As we talked he introduced each of them and told about their relationship or how they became involved with the group. These same nine guys have been cycling together for the past seven years. No, they don’t ride together regularly, just once a year. In 1995 they got together and rode the Santiago del Compostela. They loved it so much that they did a different ride the next year and it has continued since.
“You Must Be Crazy” Basque“You Must Be Crazy” Catalonian
Two of them are Basque. I immediately told them about our languages of the world and asked if they would say, “You must be crazy.” I had given up on any possibility of getting Basque language into the site. In fact, except for two Tourist Office people we haven’t met anyone who speaks English since we left Pamplona. As he watched another of them asked, “Do you have anyone saying it in Catalonian?” So, we really scored on languages. During the discourse they convinced us to try Coca Cola and Red Wine. Not bad, it tasted sort of like the Sangria.
We were tired and hungry. Our decision was to eat pasta, try to carb up for another hot ride, tomorrow. They invited us to join them for a typical lamb dinner but, as Paco said, “We will eat at nine half.” That sounded funny until I remembered from my Spanish lessons 49 years ago, 9:30 is Nueve y media, nine and half. Cat was so hungry that we told them we would probably just go with our original plan. There is no way to explain how only those who cycle distances can relate to others who do. These guys have been together as cycling buddies doing a trip every year since 1997. Their first trip was along the Pilgrim path to Santiago. They don’t see each other regularly but are all, somehow related. They are all from or related to someone who is from a small village in the Pyrenees. We got involved in more conversation and again they asked us to join them for dinner. This time we looked at the watch and it was 9:10, we switched plans again and accepted.
Cut With a Plate
The plate was a local specialty, baby lamb. It was wonderful, they serve an entire quarter on each plate. The waiter cut pieces with a saucer and served with his hands and the plate. What a terrific time we had with guys that understand why we’re cycling and love the idea. One, a Doctor whose specialty is working with stroke victims spoke excellent English. He is angry to the point of emotional about the war in Iraq. He even considered sending his Diploma from the US University that he attended. Also, he is in the midst of divorce, separated from his wife for more than a year. I thought he was probably burned out from treating the untreatable? Like he said, “It is a tough job working with people who are dying, know that they are dying and know that it will take a long time.”
We were so tired yet we wonted to stay and talk. The group drifted back to our Hotel and the guys ordered drinks. Cat left us, opting for sleep. I stayed and had a Fanta Limon while the guys drank Gin and Tonic. What a wonderful way to end a wonderful day.
August 5, 2003
Riaza to Segovia
74 Kilometers, 40+ Degrees
With 74 kilometers and 40+ degrees facing us, we knew we had to get an early start. A fairly sleepless night, perhaps due to the anxiety of early arisel? We loaded then muscled the bikes down the slippery stairs. We had some bananas and bread and were surprised to find that the café 2 doors down was open. The guy at the Hotel told us that we would have to go to a Hostel, the one that was fully booked, to get coffee this early. Strange, in Spain, the Hotels don’t serve breakfast until late. This place was the latest we have stayed in, yet.
As we sipped and ate our bread Paco, one of the leaders of the cyclists came out. He had seen Cat and wanted to say goodbye. A couple of others drifted out, the rest stood on the balconies and wished us well. Paco even took a turn on Cat’s bike. He has toured with bags but nothing this heavy. We rode away, waved from the other side of the Plaza then were on our way to Segovia.
Up on the bumpy cobbles then through the construction area and the rough street there. At highway N 110 we leveled off and rolled. A little down then we got the first real up of the day. Must have been 2 kilometers at a 5 to 6% grade. Though it was still fairly cool we were dripping by the time we crested the summit. Level, down and then the next up.
It's 14 Km to the point where N 110 intersects the Autovia, N1. Our map says that we have to ride 5 Km on the N 1. Remember, we had thought that we might ride it to Madrid until given advice and warnings from lots of friends. The wind kicked up just to prove it could increase the difficulty factor. Plenty of traffic and the trucks closest to us draw a trail of tumultuous air along that buffets us around. The only good news is that the shoulder lane is wide. At about 2 Km we crossed a bridge over an arroyo that was like a wind tunnel. We survived but the experience really brought home the point that we would not ride the N 1!
The road along N 1 through Cerezo de Abajo, the town on the west side of the road, did extend to the place where N 110 heads west again. The trade off was that though we would have missed the trucks we would have had to ride to the bottom of the arroyo and back up.
The bread and coffee was long gone, we cycled to the only food available at Hotel. I wanted a tortilla, eggs, ham and potatoes but they only offer ham and cheese sandwiches. We ordered two and two glasses of orange juice. Somehow he or I got the order wrong. He delivered one cheese and one ham, the OJ was really half a glass. We decided not to try to bridge the language gap so we shared and exited.
The wind was from our left side and it was howling. We had the same problem with passing trucks, fortunately there are a great deal fewer on N 110. The land is arid, some dry farming and pasture but more and more just native plants that survive without water.
A Service Station stop, I bought a sticky sweet roll and a 2 liter bottle of Fanta Limon. Couldn’t pass on the bargain, 1.50 €, the small bottles usually cost 1€ each. Of course it was too much to drink in one sitting and it was a big load on the back of my bags.
Onward, we stopped in the next village and bought ham, cheese and bread. As we pushed off I told Cat that we would find a nice park with a bench, in the shade. We rode 10 Km, up and down then into another small town and voila, a shady green park, a bench and a community fountain with cool water. Our first act was to splash ourselves with the water, it almost made us shiver. As we ate we just watched and enjoyed the comings and goings of a small town. There was a red truck with a loudspeaker two villages back. We thought it was a political party or, maybe a bus that goes from village to village. It passed us and turned in to the next village and began the loudspeaker message again. As we enjoyed the village and our food the red van rolled in and began blasting out its message. We got it, melons from Malaga, they were selling melons, big green melons. He didn’t seem to be making many sales, but kept driving around the streets blasting out the same message. We made one last pass at the fountain and watered ourselves down and also filled my Fanta bottle with water for a later dousing down the road.
Cat thought Segovia was still 25 kilometers from us. I had been calculating the distance, using the Km markers. She was surprised when she saw an 18 KM sign. The hills have calmed down but the heat turned up, real up! We used the water from the fountain on our heads and shirts. It really helped cool us down! With 8 Km to go Cat spotted a big church. I didn’t think it was Segovia, she did. She was right, and before we knew it we were there. It was 3:30 PM as we rode into the shade of the Roman Aqueduct that dissects the center of the old town. The Tourist Office was just around the corner. They gave us maps and walking tour info. As usual, they won’t recommend a Hotel but provide a list with prices and location. We had seen Hotel Acuiducto as we rode in, it’s just off the main square. The price was right, they had AC, and CNN, we were home, again.
Cat showered up and went out on a search for sunglasses and an Internet place. While she walked the clouds that had been gathering send a small shower down upon her. By the time I joined her it was like a sauna outside. During her quest she found an Italian Restaurant that opens at 7:30 instead the usual 8:30 PM. The Internet shop across the square was on the second floor. A hot walk up and a hotter session, they had no AC. Sitting, sweating, we worked with our e-mails until a little after 7:30, then walked across to our early dinner. It began sprinkling again so went inside the restaurant. Talk about hot and steamy, we decided to sit outside. They have patio umbrellas and opened one for us to keep the drizzle away. The rain didn’t last but the sky stayed dark and the air sultry and tropical feeling. Cat had pizza and I pasta, neither was very good. Spain just doesn’t do Italian food the Italian way. Tired from the heat and ride, we went straight back to the hotel and to bed.
August 6, 2003
A Day Off in Segovia
Our legs definitely need a day of rest away from the mighty mountains of the Sierras Madronas. We slept in then made our way down the street to a coffee shop that reminded us of Starbucks in a local sort of way. The huge coffee cups in the window that brought us in were not to be. They are only for sale, not for serving us coffee. This is definitely THE popular local place. Service was a push and shove competition at the bar. Slow service and when we finally got our small cups of coffee it was more milk than coffee. Look at us complain, it was nice to escape the usual hotel buffet and our Hotel has only limited items at expanded prices.
So, full of fresh OJ, café con leche and sweet rolls, we set off on our walking tour of the old city. This is a great city to walk through and feel two thousand years of past lives. We passed so many wonderful sights, we fell in love with Segovia. We’ll let the pictures lure you into a love affair, too. There is an exhibition in the Cathedral called “The Tree of Life.” Great works of art of the Church, most concerned with the Crucifixion. Dozens of figures on crosses and paintings centered around the Crucifixion and Resurrection. The Cathedral was packed with art and people enjoying it.
Further up the hill is the Alcazar, the fortress. A guy at the Hotel told Cat that this is the Castle that Walt Disney used as a model for the Castle at Disneyland. Our Grandkids are going soon, we’ll let them judge that one. The façade is impressive but the general condition is lacking in some ways. Maybe we’re still spoiled by the Alcazaba in Seville. This place dates back to the 12th century but most of the construction we see today was completed in the 1700s and 1800s. However, it was from here that Isabella left to be proclaimed Queen of Spain in 1474.
The climb to the top was tough. There is only one stairway and it is a narrow spiral with only chain handrails. Worse still, it is used to go up and down so we had to press against the wall and stand as others passed downward. Once in the fresh air of the top deck the view was worth the discomfort.
We walked back down the path of the Barrio and found a great place for Tortillas (omelet’s). After the light lunch we worked our way back through the small cobblestone streets to the main square. Cat went to Internet site and finished cleaning up the emails. I went back to the room, the computer and our journal. It was the hottest part of the day, so a perfect time to spend inside.
After an hour and a half I walked because I was falling asleep. Cat was still at the Internet shop so I joined her, even though they have no AC there. With most of the messages and junk cleared from the e-mail we set out on a quest, looking for sunglasses, a must for tomorrows ride. We found a small shop that sold everything from soup to nuts, and we bought two pair for $2.60 each! What a bargain!
Ye Gods it is HOT! We headed back to the hotel and air conditioning and relax for a while. The next thing on our agenda is the Goya Exhibition that opens only in the evening from 5:00-9:00 PM.
The exhibit was small but interesting. We weren’t familiar with Goya’s work. It runs the gamut from religious to nudes. We liked the oil that they used to promote the exhibition. It is of a group of figures that seem to be partying, at least some of them are. I wanted a picture of it but cameras weren’t allowed. The nice lady there understood my desire but couldn’t allow the picture. Instead she gave us one of the posters and I took a pic of the portion of the poster that I like. It is a group of four guys and one is pouring wine for another. They look like they are having a great time.
Our search for breakfast food was a bust. The markets were already closed. WE wanted bananas and bread because we want to start early and can’t wait for the Deysauno to begin.
We had scoped out a restaurant that opens at 8:00 PM. It’s a great looking place and it’s been operating since 1895. Cat really stretched and tried Pheasant and Catalonian soup. I ordered two first course dishes, Salad and a plate of vegetables with large pieces of that wonderful Spanish ham. We both enjoyed it very much and left feeling we were energized for tomorrows ride over the hill to Madrid. Back to the room, to bed and sleep instantaneously.
August 7, 2003
Segovia to Villalba
Our earliest start since back in the heat of South Dakota and Minnesota. Our wake up call was a half hour late. I woke up at 5:40, lay in until 6:00 then rattled around until the Cat was awake. We loaded and I did the elevator rear wheel trick, ginked my back a little but got the bikes down as Cat settled up with Hotel Acuiducto. Breakfast sitting on the curb at the CMPSA Service Station next door. Peach nectar and a sweet roll then we rolled, slowly up the cobblestone street. It was a long pull. The thing about getting underway early is that the temp is still filled with nighttime cool. 7:30 AM doesn’t sound early but the sun doesn’t wake up until about 7:00, here.
This is the one that Cat has been dreading. We climbed steadily, not so steep that it was ultra challenging, but up. One of the problems with climbing a mountain like Sierra de Gaudarrama is that we have been looking at it for 2 days. As we rode into Segovia it was a constant companion, off to our left. When we walked the streets of Segovia it was always there. Somehow it begins to psych you out.
It took 2 hours to climb 19 Km. We decided to continue to San Rafael before stopping for food. Kind of funny, we passed through Los Angeles de San Raphael but still had 9 Km to go. The main street of San Rafael is busy. Lots of trucks and cars all taking the small old road just to avoid paying the toll for the new AutoPista. It includes a tunnel under, instead of climbing over. I think that the drivers are given money to pay the toll but pocket it and take the climb. They don’t seem to care that the fuel and wear and tear on their machine gives back any perceived savings.
Cat took a number and waited for a butcher
then bought turkey and cheese for a picnic.
I had scoped out a restaurant across the
street but Cat didn’t want to back track so
we pushed up the sidewalk and found a
Bar/Cafeteria. The guy was nice, they had a
toilet that we needed and the Tortilla was
great. We sat on the sidewalk and watched
the trucks go by. We were ready to go and
the guy behind the bar wanted to wash and
fill our water bottles with fresh cold
water, and another guy sitting at the bar
wanted to draw us a map of the elevations
going up and down the Puerto. He said we
were at 860 meters now and we were to go up
to 1680 meters at the top. We were ready to
go! It started out right from the café, up,
up and more up. It was ride able but
definitely not easy. WELL, just turn that
next corner and the incline became 11 %
plus and we had to push, and push, and
push. We stopped a lot along the way, even
poured water on our heads to cool down.
The road was crowded, trucks and cars that we weren’t expecting because they could take the AutoPista. To add to the stress, the shoulder thinned to minimal. We stopped to take a drink and pour water on our jerseys again when a tough cyclist rounded the curve. He was at 110% effort, we clapped and cheered for him. As he wobbled on up a huge truck came pedal to the metal around the curve and up behind him. The driver laid on the horn then swerved out around him and back into the lane, quickly. Cheapskate, he won’t pay to have a wide road that doesn’t allow bicycles but will complain about bikes that are here, where they should be.
The grade leveled, we rode and cheered, we had done it! There is a Casino on one side of the road and restaurant on the other. A picture at the top, with the signs, Pto. Guadarrama 1511 meters and Madrid on red with 7 stars then the beginning of a long steep down hill run. It was so steep that our hands cramped from holding the brake levers. We stopped several times to shake our hands out and give the tires and brake pads a rest. We left the pines behind and were soon in scrub brush, dry grass and heat territory.
The road finally got beyond the 12% grade and flattened. We continued to drop but ran through a series of little ups. Shortly we were in the small village of Guadarrama. Originally we thought we’d stay there but decided to that we could go on. Villalba is 15 Km further downstream. As we rolled in we passed two HUGE shopping centers, one with a Tony Roma’s Restaurant, the other a Carrefour Supermarket.
The first Hotel we saw was the only Hotel in town. It is across from one of the shopping centers. After checking in, we walked in extreme afternoon heat to the Shopping Center. A place called “Fosters Hollywood” American Restaurant looked like home to us. They don’t open until 8:00 PM.
Though we thought we’d be having burgers and fries, we discovered that they have fajitas and burritos on the menu, so we went Mexican! Of course Mexican food needs Margaritas. I asked if they could make some the waiter wasn’t sure. He did say that they had Tequila, so I went to a kiosk bar around the corner in the mall, and bought a frozen lemonade. A shooter of Tequila with some salt and lemon and I had concocted my own Margie! As I savored the bartender served a glass of icy fluid with a flourish. He had put together his idea of a Margarita. He called it his first and his now signature Margarita. It was delicious!! He came over and told us what was in it, which included not only Tequila, but a little Gin and……… WOW!
August 8, 2003
Villalba to Madrid
Wake up call at 6:30, we wanted to beat the heat into Madrid. Surprise, no headache from the tequila and gin. Packed and ready for breakfast we carried the bags down and started to load up. I couldn’t get the cable lock open. It gave me a little problem when I locked it last night and now it won’t recognize the combination. We both tried several ideas to no avail. We went to the desk and asked for help. The clerk, Paco, is concerned but feels that it will be 9:00 AM before he can find anyone with tools. The maintenance man for the hotel doesn’t come in until 10:00.
We went to breakfast, a limited buffet in a hot room. Two other couples came in ate quickly and left. Back out front, I talked with a member of the cycling team to see if they have bolt cutters or a hack saw. He said that the mechanic was still sleeping. We got the rest of our things out of the room and saw through an open door that one of the cyclists must have crashed. The team Doctor or Trainer was bandaging his knee. I walked to the Renault Dealership next door but it wasn’t open yet. I even asked a guy who was weed whacking in the median strip. At 9:00 straight up a young guy appeared at the desk and Paco said, “This man will help you.” I followed him down to the garage and showed him the cable. He went next door to the Renault Service Center and came back with a hacksaw. I held the cable taught while he sawed. The material is tough but finally fell victim to the saw. I thanked the guy, he smiled and hurried away. I wanted a picture with him and although I looked, I never saw him again.
We finally got underway about 10:00 and the temp had already climbed to 35C, that’s 95 degrees F. We had to take the smaller road, which took us 20 km out and around the direct route into Madrid. The road leading out of town was a good pull up, and we had to stop and pour water on ourselves and drink Gatorade to replenish our fluids. Once up out of the town, we got on a nice road and our pace picked up quite a bit. We also had the pleasure of finding a wonderful bike path that was right on the highway in the far right lane. The cars actually have to give way to the bikes at the on and off ramps! It was fantastic and we were going downhill at the same time. We were flying!!
Freeway Cycling IFreeway Cycling IIMiddle of Freeway
We could see the skyline from a distance and couldn’t believe how fast we got there. Now came the end of good cycling. The path seemed to run out and there were no signs directing us toward town. We just followed the Autovia (freeway). After a wrong turn, we had to circle back then take what we thought was the way to Madrid. Doing fine, we finally had to turn back again as cars were coming toward us and we knew that we were on the wrong side of the road. Another backtrack, damn we hate to have to backtrack. Up and over a pedestrian and bicycle overpass and we were on the right track, again.
Now we were thrust back onto a small path an overpass to the right side of the road, and back on to a small bike lane on the big road. There was a lot of traffic that drove us off at the first ramp we came to and into a gas station. The girls were very nice, even drew a map for us. We followed their directions and saw the same strange structures we had seen from a distance. Two buildings that seem to lean toward the center of the street. We had arrived in Madrid!
Without signs for the Tourist Information Office or even Centro Ciudad, we stopped at a hotel to ask directions. The Cuzco is a Four Star so we felt that it would be above our budget. Also, we had hoped to find an apartment where we could cook rather than eat out every night. Big cities are always a great deal more expensive than smaller places. When I asked the front desk for a map they sent me to the Concierge.
Angel is a guy with a twinkle in his eye and a quick smile on his lips. He pulled a map up onto his counter and asked what I was looking for? When I explained our idea of an apartment he readily gave me the area we should ride to and take a look. He also volunteered to give me the best rate possible here in the Cuzco to use as a benchmark when shopping around. He left the desk then returned with that same twinkle and smile and said, we can make you a special of 75€ per day. What a silver haired, silver tongued devil. He knew that I was tired and 75€ was a good deal. I thanked him and told him that we appreciated his help.
Outside, in the heat that now registered 44C (111 F), when I told Cat the news she quickly said, “Lets take this deal!”
As I re-entered the lobby Angel waved, smiled and I told him that when I told Cat the rate she said, “Do you want to cook?” He laughed and informed the desk of our deal. We were impressed, the regular rate for the room is 195€ per night. We were quite a spectacle in the lobby. They don’t see sweaty dirty cyclists in the lobby of a four star everyday, you know. Then another four-star feature, the bellman insisted on helping move the bikes to a luggage room and bring the bags to the room for us. We have gotten used to carrying up stairs so this was really a treat!
The room was really cool and we aren’t just talking nice. The AC was pumping out so much cool that we had to turn it down. Our first goose bumps in weeks. Another bonus that we wouldn’t have found in an apartment, CNN, and we have it here as well as Euro Sport. Angel helped us find a 24-hour Internet shop just a block away and a small super market that was even closer. We showered up, hit the Internet and checked out e-mails, made a run to the market and then stood at the door of the Italian Restaurant across the street, waiting for the witching hour of 8:30 PM. The food was our first small disappointment since meeting Angel. Oh by the way, Angel didn’t recommend the place. We decided that when in Spain, eat Spanish food.
This was the hottest cycling we have down since last year in South Dakota. The BIG difference was the BIG mountains here. We love France and suggest that if you can only visit one City in the world in your lifetime, make it Paris. Everything is bigger than life, the monuments, the buildings, the museums. The food is French, very French and the WINE!!!!!
The Pyrenees are the tallest mountains we have faced since the Rockies in Wyoming. Though only half the height, they make up for it in steepness. We called it the big PUSH up the Pyrenees.
Though we spent time in Spain during the winter we didn’t develop a close feeling for the land and people. It was as cold then as it was hot now. Spain is proof that traveling by bicycle is the best way to feel a place and meet its people. The heat didn’t affect the temperament of those we met. Even the drivers, trucks and cars, were generally kind and courteous. Both France and Spain are so rich in history and culture.
If you’re still counting we have rolled up 13,190 Kilometers or roughly 8,180 miles. Yes, we are still on the same LandRider bikes and they continue to shift automatically and roll along.
Stay tuned, we are currently completing our Euro ride and anxious to get
going in Africa. Though behind our original hoped for schedule we think we will
set sail for Morocco before September 1, 2003
SOOOOO You keep reading and we’ll keep on riding!
Pat & Cat