On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

On the Road – Week 2

June 1To Peronne.  Overcast but still warn. Barge left at 7 a.m. and entered a 4+ km tunnel at 8 a.m.  Took close to an hour to pass through it, arriving at another point in the middle of nowhere after breakfast.  Got the bikes off and started our daily journey.   Rolling hills (friendly) and lots of poppies growing by the roadside.

Poppies by the roadside

Poppies grow like weeds here – perhaps they are.  Every field has poppies growing on the verges and they have taken over some fallow fields. Canola starting to blossom too – their season must be a month ahead of ours.  Lunch at a former endive farm where Albert had stayed while researching the tour route last March.  Had some local Peronne beers and cider, followed by a video of how the owner used to grow and process endive.  The money went out of it though and he turned the place into a B&B last year, making more money the first year than he did producing endive! Biked into Peronne and went through the war museum.  We saw another bike shop in town but no good deals, although Robbie picked up another jersey.  This was our night to have supper in town so Albert asked locals for opinions on good, cheap restaurants.  He made reservations  at Le Saint Vincent, about a 20 minute walk from the boat. They offered 4 menu choices each of 3 courses and all looked great but no prices evident.  More than a few of us were expecting to wince when the bill came in, especially with 8 bottles of wine and a superb meal.  Total price, including tip, was 25 Euros each!  This earned Albert a round of applause.  Total biking for the day was an easy 39 km.
June 2. Peronne to Noyon.  Another fine biking day – sunny and warm, with little wind.  Spent some time on roads paralleling the Canal du Nord and spied the boat once.  Epancourt for coffee and on to Ham for lunch.  A busy and pretty little town.

Lunch in Ham

No problem with the bar owner for us taking up so many tables eating a packaged lunch, especially with the amount of beer we order.  Took to a bunch of back roads in the afternoon, dirt with lots of potholes, so slower going.  Pushed it pretty well when back on pavement though, in farm country.   Arrived in Noyon at 3:30 but Albert couldn’t make contact with the boat and didn’t know where it was going to dock.  So, what is a dry and thirsty group going to do?  Found a convenient bar and settled in until we got more news!  We had to wait for a while anyway  while Kathy had her leg stitched up from an incident earlier in the day. Finally got word from the boat, and Kathy back from the hospital, at 6pm.  Biked another 20 minutes through the most traffic we have seen to date to get to the canal and the barge.  Total biking for day 72 km, but most of it very pleasant.
June 3. Noyon to Compiegne.  Total biking 61 km.  Rained overnight and drizzly and cool to start the morning.  Stopped raining just as we were about to leave and stayed dry the rest of the day.  Everyone was dressed up in their rain clothes to start but soon shed them as we started doing a few hills.  The longest hill, between Tracy en Val (bottom) and Tracy le Mont (top) was 1 km and about 5-6% grade, so got the cardio system going but not onerous. Nice rolling countryside to start then descended into forest after the hill climb.  Not only forest, but paved bike trails! With the cooler weather and few cars to deal with, this was a fine day for biking.   Stopped at the Armastice Clearing, the site (museum now) where the 1918 and 1940 German-French armistaces had been signed. Toured the museum (Albert promises that it will be our last war stop), followed by lunch outside.  No tables, or chairs for that matter, and got a little cool.  Glad to get going again.  Eventually made our way through the forest trails, reminding me of Edmonton river valley at times (without the river), to Pierrefonds.

Pierrefonds castle

The town is the site of a huge 14th century castle, complete with battle scars (although it was demolished in 1617 and rebuilt in 1857) and cannonballs embedded in the stone walls. Some of the group took the tour of the interior but a few of us decided that beer had priority, seeing as that we were supposed to see a finer castle tomorrow.  We had to backtrack about 8 kms on our route to get to the turnoff for Compiegne, where the barge had docked for this night.  Nice bike trails through the woods still and got a great view of the palace in Compiegne from part way down a scenic viewpoint.  Albert took a wrong turn somewhere and we ended up biking right into the grounds of the palace until he was stopped by a cop who told us to get out.  Found a way to get outside the palace walls and biked through the city to the river.  Unfortunately, the palace closed at 6 p.m., just as we passed by, so we were not able to wander through it.  Pity, since this was the one day of the month with free admission!
June 4. Compienge to Creil.  Total biking 55 km.  Beautiful morning but started to deteriorate quickly after we left. Rode back up through town to get to the forest, then quiet paved trails for half the morning. The overcast finally produced a drizzle that turned into proper rain.  Once out of the forest, and shelter, we found that the wind had built up and was in our face the rest of the day.  Stopped for our first, and only, coffee break at St Jean aux Bois at a very nice restaurant – great atmosphere and a lovely aroma coming from the kitchen.

The Auberge

After that, it was open fields and tiny town after tiny town with no pub, restaurant or even a place to pee!  Eventually stopped for lunch at a large cedar bush – the only wind break around.  No place to sit so stood around eating our sandwiches and getting chilled. Good place for the guys to pee though!

Lunch/wind break

Compounding the lack of bar issue was the fact that France seems to be closed on Mondays, so even when we did come across a pub it was shut tight.  Albert finally got the library in St Fromburg to open up so that we could use the toilet.  The women were greatly relieved (pun intended).  Countryside far more rolling today with lots of up- and downhill runs.  Biking into Creil was an adventure.  The narrow roads were 2-way, the drivers impatient and no safe place to ride.  Even the sidewalks, which we normally avoid, had power poles in the middle of them so were even more of a challenge – could ride in the road with inches of space from the zipping cars or ride on the sidewalk and try to avoid the poles that could send you cartwheeling into traffic if you caught a handlebar.  A long, cold, wet, tiring day.
Albert:”Could we have a moment of silence before supper please?”
Jan:”Try to keep quiet Rod”
June 5. Creil to Auvers. Total biking 55 km again.  The morning looked promising but was cool.  After the hazardous ride getting out of Creil, the rest of the day was a piece of cake.  Only took a little over an hour to get to Chantilly palace

Chantilly castle

on good roads. Had our coffee break at a pub (L’Etrier) across the street from the palace grounds.   Unfortunately, the museums in France are closed on Tuesdays and we could only see it from beyond the gates.  I can see why the peasants rebelled, with the upper class flaunting that oppulance!  Quite an impressive place, like a mini Versailles.  Huge grounds, with large horse stables and a maze of well sanded and groomed trails for exercising the horses.  The trails looked like they used ski hill groomers, they were so nicely corduroyed!

Groomed horse trails

We rode on paved and packed dirt trails to get to our lunch spot – La Chateau de la Reine Blanche.  Beautiful little restaurant beside a lake, still on the Chantilly palace grounds.  Although still a little cool, we ate outdoors to enjoy the view.  After lunch, and exiting the forest, we spent the rest of the day on open roads trying to avoid getting run over, mostly.  The closer we get to Paris, we closer the cars get to us while passing.  Most cars still hang back while our entourage snakes through the narrow streets but there are a few that get a little too aggressive.  Still no horns blaring though,

Chateau de la Reine Blanche

much to my surprise. The drivers here are way more patient with bikes than the drivers in Canada would be.  We ended our day in Auvers, where Vincent van Gogh spent his last 70 days.  He did a lot of painting there before he did himself in and the town is capitalizing on it.  We rode up (emphasis on UP – must have been 15-20% in places) to the cemetery where he is buried.  Ironically, his and his brother’s headstones are the least elaborate there.

Van Gogh grave

On leaving the cemetery, it took about 5 minutes to get to where the barge was docked.  We set sail immediately and arrived in Conflans, at the confluence of the Oise and Seine Rivers, a few hours later.  Docked at a pretty quay, with flower gardens lining the riverside and huge flower pots of bamboo on the promenade.  There were a lot of permanently moored barges, used as floating homes, condos, cafe and even a church, along the dockside but a lot were in

Docked in Conflans

pretty decrepit condition.
June 6. Conflans to Bougival.  Total biking 30 km.  Overcast and cool morning again (dress warm) but the sun seemed to come out every time we climbed a hill (strip off).  Repeated the dressing/undressing thing a few times. Stopped at La Frette, a former (maybe current) artsy town.  Lots of art reproductions along the river road, painted by different artists who had lived there 60-70 years ago, which offered a good comparison of then and now views.  Were still there when the Feniks motored past for a photo and video op.  Continued on to St. Germain-en-Laie, where the birthplace chateau of Louis XIV is located.  Rode down the large paths to the terraces overlooking Paris, our first glimpse of the city.

Le Defense from the outskirts

Paris is huge!  We will be in the city biking for 2 days before we get to our final dockage, close to the Bastille.  Rode from Louis’s palace to Bougival, where we lunched in a park, then a 5 minute ride to the boat.  This was another supper night out and Albert found a Basque restaurant for us.  Great meal, lots of wine, and – again – total bill of 25 Euros.  Hope we can find that sort of deal when in the heart of Paris.  I have the feeling I’ll be living on frites for a week.
June 7. Bougival to Versailles.  Total biking for day was 22.9 km. Cool and threatening in morning but we only had a short ride to Versailles.  A 3 km portion of it was uphill, getting out of town, but only at a 5-6 % grade. Otherwise, an easy ride.  Albert led us right in to the palace grounds, through a gate marked ‘No Bikes’, and right up to the palace before a security guard on a scooter and another in an SUV headed us off and started barking orders.  Guess they didn’t like us breaking their rules.  They led us back down to whence we came and told us to go in through the main gates.  Nothing like a police escort through the grounds of Versailles!  Finally made it inside the correct gates, stood in line to buy tickets and stood in another line to get in to the main palace.  Only took about 40 minutes.  This place must pull in a pile of money – 18 Euros for a day pass and there were 1000’s of people there on a wet Thursday! Still, the grounds and buildings are so large that Versailles soaks them up pretty well.  The opulence of the main palace outdoes any other palace seen to date.  No wonder they lost their heads, flaunting that sort of wealth. I did enjoy all the artwork and the furniture though. It poured for a portion of the time we were there, including the time spent waiting in line for the train to Marie Antoinette’s palace and the gardens.  It was too miserable to wander in the gardens, unfortunately, but we walked through Marie’s place.  It was not so opulent as the main palace, not jammed full of artwork or paintings on the ceiling, but I’m sure she was very comfortable eating her cake there.  I have not included any pictures in the blog because 1 or 2 pictures would not do it justice.  The place is over the top with decadence. After 4 hours touring the place, it was time to ride back.  A short 1 km uphill, some reasonably quiet roads, then the 3 km exhilarating downhill into Bougival.  The barge left just after we arrived back and sailed closer to Paris, docking for the night in Puteaux.
June 8. La Defense.  Total biking for day was just 13.3 km.  Biked through a portion of the city to the NEW Paris.  Everyone was astounded at how modern this area of the city is.

La Defense office towers

This is really the downtown Paris, not the old Paris that most of the tourists see.  All the head offices are in this area, the architecture  varied – no two buildings look remotely the same – and spacious!  The open straight line between the Grand Arch and the Arc de Triumph, many miles away, is a sight to behold.  What great city planning.  If only the arena district in Edmonton could take a few pointers from here on how to create a downtown cityscape. Distinctive, attractive office buildings, huge pedestrian malls, restaurants, bars, public art, convenient public transit – it just invites people to be there. We followed the arch line pretty well back down to the Seine and back to the barge.

Towards the Arc de Triomphe

After putting all the bikes back on board, we set sail for the centre of Paris.  A 3-hour cruise took us past the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame and into the lock at Pont Morland in canal St. Martin, in the Bastille area, where we docked for our last night here.  We set out for a brief walking tour of Ile Notre Dame, and Notre Dame Cathedral, before supper. Stopped for a quick beer during a downpour before walking through the church.  Albert seemed to be in a hurry to get us back to the boat, presumably for our final “Captain’s Supper”.  There have been many highlights of this tour, and some surprises, but the biggest was what awaited us.  Two of our group had a hidden agenda that they planned to get married on this day.  Only Gordon, a minster, and Esther knew about it beforehand and the entire ceremony was pulled off to perfection as a complete surprise to everyone present.  The crew was let in on the secret at the

Charlotte and Robbie

last minute, to do some necessary preparations, but the rest of us were completely in the dark.  My ski and biking buddy Robbie did me the great honour of asking me to be a witness to his nuptials and I could not have been more pleased.  I wish him and Charlotte every happiness in the years to come.  What a great way to  end off this adventure.

Total biking for the past 2 weeks was 604.5 km.  Not bad for a bunch of 60-70 year olds.

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