Archive for the ‘France’ Tag

Reminiscing on a First Tour   Leave a comment

It sure doesn’t feel  like very long ago but I’ve  just been realizing that it was 30 years ago this week (i.e the first week of May in 1982) that I set off on my first major cycle tour – a 4-week ride with 3 cycling buddies, primarily through the Loire Valley and Normandy. We flew in and out of Gatwick Airport south of London, so there was also a bit of time spent in southern England as well as a few days in Paris before heading to the Loire.

We flew out of the Edmonton International Airport on a Wardair charter flight – it was an evening departure, taking off at something like 10 PM. That flight was my very first time flying! What a way to start – on a long haul flight in a 747 (then the absolute creme de la creme of aircraft) Fortunately I enjoyed the flight (loved it actually, especially the acceleration at take-off!).  Wardair was also a real gem of an airline – first class service, including a decent in-flight meal served on real china with silverware. What I loved most about WardAir was how simple it was to transport a bike. I believe there was no extra charge for the bike (it just counted as one of the two pieces of allowable luggage and all of my panniers and other gear was stuffed into a big canvas dufflebag). We didn’t even have to worry about having the bike in a box or a bag! To prep the bikes for the flight, we took off the pedals, turned the handlebars sideways and let the air out of the tires – so simple!

Sunrise on flight to the UK

Another thing I remember so clearly from that flight was the descent into Gatwick. As we broke through the clouds and could see the English countryside I was struck at how green and lush the patchwork countryside was. When we had left Edmonton, the trees had not yet leafed-out and fields were still brown. All of a sudden it felt like cycling season!

Preparing our bikes in Gatwick Airport

We arrived in England mid-morning, went through customs and picked up our bikes and bags. After straightening out our handlebars, putting air in our tires, attaching out pedals and packing all of our gear onto the bikes we were ready to hit the road – a bit groggy and jet-lagged from the overnight flight, but definitely excited by the adventure head of us.

For more posts about this trip, start here.

Posted May 6, 2012 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Touring

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Cycling the Loire Valley – More Chateaus   Leave a comment

[This is part 6 of my story and pictures of a cycling journey years ago in the Loire Valley and Normandy. The story started here]

On our second day in the Loire valley we left out camp at Amboise on the Loire River and cycled south to the Cher, one of the smaller rivers that flows into the Loire. There, on the Cher we found the magnificent Chateau de Chenonceau.

The Approach to Chenonceau

A Garden on the grounds of Chateau de Chenonceau

Chateau de Chenonceau over the River Cher

While the Chateaus were certainly architecturally amazing, historic and the reason we were in France, I still found plenty of things of interest along the way between castles.

Sharing the Road

Cobbled Street in a French Town

On the L’Indre river we visited the Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau [map] , a fairy tale style castle:

Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau

The next chateau in the Loire valley that we visited was another that was again not on the Loire itself but 10 kilometers away on another of it’s nearby tributaries, the Vienne. This was the site of the massive Chateau de Chinon [map]. It was from this location that Joan of Arc gathered her forces back in 1429 (so much history!)

Dear in the Moat at the Chinon Chateau

This was mid-may that we were cycling through the region, so spring showers were to be expected. We experienced a light rain on occasion and ran into at least one good afternoon thundershower(but these memories pale against the marvelous thing we saw.

Our Bikes Sheltered from Some Rain (while we visited another chateau)

Not all of the chateaus that we visit were restored, museums. some were delightfully in a state of partial ruin which really served to hammer home just how old they were:

Cracks and Crumbling in the wall of an old French Chateau

Old Stone Steps

These few days in the Loire valley were a lot of fun and I have given only a briefest description of our experience but hopefully you get the idea. Next we would soon be making our way north to the Normandy coast – stay tuned for more photos and stories.

 

Cycling the Loire Valley – Chaumont and Amboise   Leave a comment

[This is part 5 of my story of my first bicycle tour in France. Click here to see the previous post]

Our Camp in Orleans

This May day was the start of the prime reason we had come to cycle in France – to see the famed Chateaus of the Loire Valley. There are many monumental building through this valley and our goal was to visit two or three each day as we cycled 80 to 100 Km.

Bridge Across the Loire

From our campsite in Orleans, we packed up our tents, loaded our panniers and hit the road. There is a main highway that runs along the North side of the Loire River but we chose to cycle the smaller, quieter roads on  the south side for the most part. while most of the sites were on the Loire  itself we did visit one chateau on the Cher, a tributary of the Loire.

The first stop was a couple of hours ride from Orleans at Chaumont-sur-Loire, with it’s cylindrical fairy-tale turrets.

Chaumont-sur-Loire

As we were to discover, the attraction of the chateau is not only their magnificent architecture, and inspiring  gardens but most allow visitor to see the interiors with historical artifacts.

Window from the interior of Chaumont

Back on the bikes and another hour or a so down the valley, we turned a corner to see an imposing structure:

First view of Chateau d'Amboise

We toured the inside of this the Chateau d’Amboise, which interestingly enough is the site of the tomb of Leonardo de Vinci.

Inside the Chateau d'Amboise

There was a great view of the town of Amboise and surrounding countryside from the top of this chateau.

View from Chateau d'Amboise

We camped this night right in Amboise  at a campground right on the Loire river. It was the most amazing setting I have ever camped in. Our tents were set up facing the magnificent castle which was lit up at night. Although not a great photo, this one shows what I saw as I laid in my sleeping bag to go to sleep.

Chateau d'Amboise - View from the Tent

The view not withstanding (and the inability to keep my eyes open while sleeping), sleep was needed because we’d had one good day of cycling and there would be more road to ride and more chateau to visit the next morning.

Chartres to Orleans – a good day’s ride   2 comments

[This is post #4 of my recollections of a cycle tour through the Loire Valley and Normandy in France. The story starts here)

It was a morning in mid-May a few years ago, that we loaded up our bikes to begin day 2 of our ride from Paris to the Loire Valley, this day from Chartres to Orleans. We didn’t hit the road until after we had stopped off for breakfast at a local boulangerie. It would be pretty typical for me to start the day with a croissant and perhaps a pain au chocolat (and quite likely pick up a baguette for the road – to be snacked on, with a big bar of dark chocolate).

A Flat Tire in the French Countryside

The riding this day was very much a continuation of  the riding from the day before – quiet, flat country roads. The weather to was again very comfortable – warm without being hot and sunny with a bit of cloud (particularly building in the afternoon).

On these peaceful roads there was not much in the way of hazards or debris but of course flat tires sometimes just happen. This is what happened on this day – Frank was the unlucky one.

Fortunately we were well equipped with spares and patches so while I snuck into the field to get a photo, the others took care of business and got us back on the road.

A Rest Stop on the Road to Orleans

The rest of the day’s ride was uneventful – just a beautiful ride in the french countryside. After arriving in Orleans that afternoon,we set up at a local campground then set out to centre ville for dinner.

At dinner, I recall I made a classic faux pas. It seemed like a steak and french fries would be  a good dinner choice – satisfying and one which I could easily understand on the French menu: Steak Tartare et Frites. I did not know what Steak Tartare was. I would normally have a steak cooked “well done”. Well, needless to say I had a bit of a shock when they brought the dish out. Thankfully Chuck, who had the best french of our group, explained the situation and they took it back and cooked it for me.

Also while in the centre of Orleans we came across a local cycling race. That of course meant some more photo opportunities before we headed back to camp. Our anticipation was high because the next day we would be starting what we had came there for – to cycle down the Loire Valley and see the historic chateaus.

Cycle Race in Orleans

Orleans Racers

Posted May 15, 2011 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Touring

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Paris to Chartres   1 comment

[This is my 3rd installment of my memoir of  my first cycle tour in France. This ride with 3 friends was focused on the Loire Valley and Normandy]

It was early on a Sunday morning in May that the four of us left our small hotel on Boulevard de Magenta and cycled out way out of Paris. We were headed south and our route took us down streets we wouldn’t have dreamed of cycling upon during most times of the day and week. We rolled down the Rue de Rivoli and even went part of the way around Place de la Concorde. Beyond that our route out of Paris is a blur. I do recall there were short stretches of cobblestone streets that we had to ride and that it was a very rough an challenging ride with fully loaded bikes.

Before long we were out of Paris, into the countryside and some smaller villages. We came upon this boulangerie in one of those village and the scene just screamed “FRANCE” to me:

Sunday Morning in France

– a crowd lined up outside the local bakery, a guy on a bike and older gentleman in a beret – cliches perhaps but wow, I felt like I was in the right place!

The exact route we took that day from Paris to Chartres is lost to me but I know it was something like 80K of cycling and virtually all on small, flat departmental roads. The weather was great, the riding was easy – what a great start.

Between Paris and Chartres

Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of photos from this first cycling day in France. I guess I was just too blown away by the beauty and the magic of actually being there. Another factor might have been that since this was in the era before digital photography, every press of the shutter was precious and I was probably subconsciously saving my film for the chateaus of the Loire .

My Apollo in the Grass

The destination for the day was the town of  Chartres. The Chartres Cathedral is a marvel of 12th Century gothic architecture. We spent what was left of our afternoon exploring this structure and taking lots of photos.

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral detail

Chartres Cathedral Tower

The next day we would continue our ride south, to Orleans, the start of the prime destination of our tour – the Loire Valley.

Posted May 11, 2011 by Randy Talbot in Cycle Touring

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Paris – a Prelude to a Tour   Leave a comment

Warning: there is not really any cycling content in this post but it is a necessary link in this series, where I am looking back to my first “tour de France”.

My earlier blog post On the Road to France covered the arrival of me and three friends in London, our cycle across southeastern England, followed by a hovercraft and train transportation to deliver us to Paris.  Before we would start our real cycling part of our tour we had three or four days to explore all of the sights of the French Capital.

The train from Calais delivered us to the Gare du Nord. Anytime I am separated from my bike on a tour I am a bit anxious (so much could go wrong). Therefore I was relieved when we got off the train found the baggage claim area and there were our bikes. I remember being struck, as we left the train station by sights and sounds and smells that all seemed so foreign. This was my first visit to Paris, in fact the first time I had been in a city of this size. Once we caught out breathes it was time to take care of business – the business of finding a place to stay. We loaded up our bikes and walked them down the Boulevard de Magenta, asked at a couple of small hotels and found one that could take us.

The next three days were pretty typical first-time-tourist-in-Paris days: lots of walking, seeing all of the must-see landmarks, language challenges, getting around on the Metro, sitting at cafes and having the world’s best croissants for breakfast (no matter which boulangerie they came from). Oh, and taking lots of photos! So I’ll let a few photos tell the story of our days in Paris.

Bridges over the Seine, from Notre Dame

Big Petanque Game in the Tuilleries

That Tower-thingy

My cycling buddies - also avid (read crazy) photographers

Bringing Home Baguettes

a Parisian Market

Beside the Seine

a Paris Night

The only downside to our days in Paris was when Frank left his camera at the restaurant where we had dinner one day – by the time we realized it was gone and got back, the camera was gone (or so they said). Our Paris adventure ended early (7-ish?) on a Sunday morning, when we loaded up our bikes and rode through the quiet and sometimes cobbled streets of the city – on to Chartres.

On the Road to France (Gatwick to Paris)   4 comments

It’s the first week of May and something in the air has got me reminiscing. I am thinking back to years ago when I set off to Europe on my first extended cycling tour – four weeks, mainly in France, from Paris, through the Loire Valley, up across Normandy and back to London where we flew in to and home from.

Frank, Chris and Chuck, near Gatwick

When we (me and three buddies from the EBTC)  left Edmonton, the landscape was in transition as is typical for this time of year. The grass had started to green-up but the trees had not yet leafed-out. Our flight took us to Gatwick, south of London and I remember as the plane landed, looking out at the luscious green landscape – lovely! The flight was an overnighter, we arrived in England in the morning and I think it was around mid-day when we had our bikes ready to hit the road and begin our adventure. The first day’s route took us from Gatwick, across the countryside of southeastern England to Dover, where we stayed overnight before catching the hovercraft to Calais in France the next day.

It was such a delight cycling through the quiet, lush English countryside. It was of course a challenge to to ride on the right side of the road (by which of course I mean the left side). Particularly difficult was navigating a roundabout – I remember it requiring considerable concentration not to just follow my instincts. On the first day we would see  castles and churches, countryside and lambs and even the famed white cliffs of Dover. The details of that first day are pretty fuzzy – blame it on jetlag and a number of years (the photos are fuzzy too – we’ll blame that on poor scans of old slides)

Adjusting the Load on an English Country Road

A Lamb Keeping an Eye on Canadian Cyclists

Riding on the Left

Stopping to Visit a Historical Site

English Town

Peaceful Countryside

White Cliffs of Dover

We spent our first night in a hostel in Dover. The next morning we made our way down to the Dover HoverPort for what I recall was a quick but rough ride (vibrations, not waves) across the Channel.

Hovercraft

On the other side I set foot in France for the first time – Calais. We explored the historic city a bit that afternoon

Bell Tower at Calais' Hotel de Ville

The next morning we loaded out bikes onto a train headed to Paris. I was so impressed with how easy it was to take bikes on the train

Arrival of SNCF Train in Calais to take us to Paris

We would spend a few days exploring the City of Light before heading out on the road for the real beginning of the cycling adventure. Stay tuned for further posts as I reminisce and retrace  our route.