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Archive for the ‘Biking’ Category

Biking From Bruges to Paris

The second leg of my European trip in September was a re-do of a bike-and-barge trip that I had done previously in 2012. I enjoyed that trip so much, probably because it was my first bike-and-barge and my first trip back to Europe since 1973 (!) that I decided to do it again. This trip was with a totally different group of people, though I had biked with most of them for years with our ski club’s biking group, and on a different barge. The destinations each night, where the barge would moor for the night, were pretty well the same as before but I was sure that our daily routes would vary, simply because there are so many bike route options in Belgium and France.

Saturday Sept 7
Bruges, Barge

We spent the morning walking around Bruges. We couldn’t get on the barge until 3 so just sightseed until we could check in. I have been to Bruges twice before and have visited all the top tourist spots so I was fine with the wandering. While walking on the bargeweg, the area where the barges dock, in the morning, we said hello to the captain as he was getting it ready for us. He looked concerned that we might want to board but we assured him that we were only curious and would be back at the proper check-in time.

With only a 20-minute walk from the hotel to the barge, we all dragged our suitcases down the streets instead of taking cabs. The captain met us as we climbed on board the Zwaantje at 3 pm, helping us heft our suitcases down the steep, narrow stairs to the cabins below deck. We were introduced to the crew: Martijn (captain), Andre (guide), Bo (hostess), Gabriel (mate), Frank (cook), and Michael (engineer). We checked out the bikes for proper sizing and made a few adjustments but didn’t do any riding. The last 2 times I left from Bruges, our check ride was out to the town of Damme, a few km out of the city. I guess Andre will just eye us up tomorrow to see what sort of riders we are.

Sunday Sept 8
Bruges to Ghent

It rained during the night and over breakfast but lightened up as we left and didn’t rain the rest of the day. We had a few opening day incidents – the batteries on Susan and Brian’s e-bikes lost all charge after just a few kms. Andre had to get the boat to send out 2 charged up spares. A few hours later, Susan got a flat. Took longer than usual to change it because Andre wanted to patch it instead of just removing the wheel and replacing the tube. That proved unsuccessful – the patch wouldn’t stick properly – so he eventually changed the tube anyway. Don’t know why he didn’t do that to start. Maybe he was more used to dealing with internal hub bikes where removing the wheel is a pain in the ass!

We stopped at the SAR (South Alberta Regiment) memorial, then at a herb garden, where I managed to hit myself in the teeth with the bungee holding my pannier down. Cut my lip and sore but teeth all right, thank goodness. I thought that I had broken a tooth, it hit with so much force. Lucille and I were quite the pair – her with a black eye from her fall on the hike and me with a fat lip!

Made it to Aalter for lunch just after noon. Stopped at a bar in the town square so coffee and/or beer could be ordered to supplement our bagged lunches and to make use of their washrooms. This will be our plan for most days, especially if we don’t stop for coffee in the mid-morning.

Got to the Ghent town square around 3:15. Walked around the old downtown area, visiting the churches. Paid €4 to see the Ghent altarpiece again. Didn’t get the audioguide again though. A group of us then went to a bar before getting back to the square by 5pm, when Andre led us back to the boat. Had another beer on deck, a shower, washed my jersey, then supper at 6. Went for short walk after supper, followed by a game of Farkel. To bed a little after 10. No internet in the cabins ☹️ so I couldn’t do my French lessons. I’ll have to take time during the mornings to do them in the lounge before breakfast. Total riding for day was 57 km.


Didn’t take us long to get our first flat! Unfortunately, this was a common occurrence over the next 2 weeks 😦


The Belgian version of a corn maze, though no one got lost.

Map of the day’s ride: Bruges to Ghent

Monday Sept 9
Ghent to Oudenaarde

Started off at 9 again with sunny skies but cool temperature. Made our way through the outskirts of Ghent to country roads and forest trails, wonderful for biking. Stopped for a break in Huise. We stopped outside Oudenaarde at the archeological park in Ename to look around. The park has the remains of a Benedictine Abbey that existed from the 11th to 18th century before falling into ruin. All that exists now are the outlines of the foundation walls. We then went into downtown Oudenaarde to visit the biking museum, hoping to be able to buy some souvenir biking shirts. The museum was closed but the store was still open. Lots of pricey jerseys on display but no XXL shirts to fit me! I tried on a L but it was a club fit and waaay too tight for this recreational rider body.  Lucille and Susan, both being small, had better luck and bought the nice black and yellow Flanders lion shirts. Back on the boat by 4pm after 59.6 km of riding.

More of the wonderful Belgian trails


Oudenaarde city hall. Also a tapestry museum.

Map of the day’s ride: Ghent to Oudenaarde

Tuesday Sept 10
Oudenaarde to Tournai

Another sunny day and quite warm for a change. Didn’t take long until we were down to just jerseys. We rode to the city hall for a tour of it and the tapestry museum within. I had seen the tapestries last time but not the collection of silver and gold tableware and fine cabinets in the attic. Impressive collection.

After a coffee on the square, we headed off at 11:30 – an unusual late start for our riding day. After about 15 km, we started to climb up out of the valley – this time on cobblestones! The Oude Kwaremont is a section of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, one of the professional spring classics. One website describes it thusly: ”Since 2012, the Oude Kwaremont has been part of the finish for the pros. It’s the penultimate climb challenging the pros. Just as in previous editions of the Tour, this climb may well be the deciding factor. The steepest kilometre has an 11% gradient”. The maximum grade shown on my Garmin was 8.9% but I believe the website. Damn that was hard work – the cobblestones made it seem so much steeper! The e-bikes ate it up, though the rest of us needed a little recovery time once at the top. A little taste of what the pros have to endure, although we had suspension and bigger tires to better absorb the teeth-rattling cobbles.

Not long after, we entered a wooded trail that followed the border between Flanders and Wallonia, the same one we took 7 years ago. I rode behind Andre and he sped along pretty good, and we eventually left everyone else behind. Not sure if he was testing me because I passed him going up the Oude Kwaremont or maybe he was just enjoying the ride. We waited for Carol, who was next to show up, then I waited as a corner as everyone else made their way through the forest. We passed by the restaurant that we ate at 7 years ago (it appeared closed) but stopped at another one a few km beyond. After lunch, we got to do a really nice downhill to make up for that brutal climb.

The stretch into Tournai is a flat towpath beside the Canal du Nord that was a joy to ride. We caught up to and passed the Zwaantje as we rode into the city. Stopped in the square for 45 minutes to look around the Notre Dame church and have a beer, then back to the boat. Total riding for the day was 47.5 km.

With 24 riders, we tended to overwhelm most restaurants that we stopped at, especially the ones with only 1 employee on duty (like this one)!

Map of the day’s ride: Oudenaarde to Tournai

Wednesday Sept 11
Tournai to Bouchain

The barge started cruising at 7 am and moored at a temporary spot outside the town of Maulde at 9:30 to let us off. We started riding in light rain, but it didn’t last too long and it was warm enough to be comfortable. Al and Susan chose to stay on the barge for the day to rest their legs. It was a pretty easy day as the route was flat all day and we made more stops than usual.  We actually disembarked the barge in France, rode back into Belgium and then back into France 8 km later at a little “customs stop” at Rumegies. We stopped for a coffee at 10:30 and lunch at around 1 pm, complete with huge bowls of French fries for everyone to share. We stopped at the mining museum at Lewarde, which I had enjoyed 7 years ago, but we couldn’t get a guided tour for 2 hours so decided to just have another coffee break 😦 That was very disappointing, as I was looking forward to doing the tour again and I was sure that the others would really enjoy it too! Andre knew that we would be going there and should have phoned ahead to ensure that they would be ready for us. Poor planning on his part.

After 15 more km, we met the barge in Bouchain then cruised for another few hours to our evening dockage in Arleux. Total riding for the day was 58.7 km.

Me giving the “customs inspector” a wet willie.


Lucille having some fun with the customs guy. He seemed unperturbed.

Map of the day’s ride: Tournai to Bouchain

Thursday Sept 12
Arleux to Havrincourt

We started biking in Arleux at 9 am. After only a km, we stopped at a garlic market in town for a look around and pictures. The town is well known for producing garlic, both raw and smoked. A braid of 10 smoked garlic heads went for €8. They smoke them over peat for 10 days before putting them out for sale.

A little further on we stopped at lock number 1 on the Canal du Nord and watched while the Zwaantje went through. The whole lock system is an interesting process and works very well. Obviously, the barges have to be narrow enough to fit but many barges, like the Zwaantje, have to reduce their height as well. The transom house is the highest part of the barge and most are fitted with mechanical or hydraulic systems to raise and lower the walls as required.

Biking through a small town, we noticed something that we had not seen in Canada – a bread vending machine! Our guide told us that it is a law that every town in France is required to have a bakery to provide fresh bread for its citizens. Obviously, there must be a loophole as the town we were pedaling through did not have a bakery but did have that vending machine to provide bread from a nearby town. There was a proviso though – a sign on the machine said that the bakery is closed on Monday and the bread within was from Sunday!

We continued biking on through hillier countryside to Cambrai where we had lunch and a walk around. Very nice cathedral (Notre Dame de Grace de Cambrai) and worth visiting. We stopped at a Cistercian monastery further on, but it was not open for visitors.

The countryside here is more rolling and we ended up doing more climbing (476m) than previous days. Lots of turns and, with the slowdown on the hills and me generally in front, I ended up being a “corner” numerous times, i.e. waiting for the group to catch up so I could show them where Andre went. Once the sweep was in view, the corner could rejoin the flow of bikers. Whoever happened to be behind Andre when numerous turns were made would be the next “corner” person. I liked doing it because it gave me a nice workout getting back up to the front.

We met the barge on the Canal du Nord pretty well in the middle of nowhere. We will stay here the night and cruise through a long tunnel tomorrow before resuming our biking, ending up in Peronne. After supper, Martijn walked us over to lock number 7, a short distance from where we were docked, and explained the process of how the locks work. Interesting concept with the surge pond to accept the first half of the water when lowering the lock level and then feed that water back into the lock when raising the level again. Total riding for the day was 54.4 km.

One of the garlic shops in Arleux. Pallets of garlic braids ready to be shipped off.


The Swaantje entering Lock #1 on the Canal du Nord. Tight fit!


A bread vending machine, selling fresh bread daily.

Map of the day’s ride: Arleux to Havrincourt

Friday Sept 13
After tunnel to Peronne

After breakfast, we cruised through the 4.3 km long tunnel. We had to wait to enter for 3 other barges to exit, then took about 40 minutes to get through. Docked just after and started biking from there. Stopped at the South African memorial at Deville Wood, a very impressive commemorative site with museum, cemetery and expansive grounds on the site of the battle. This must be their version of our Vimy Ridge memorial. We stayed for about an hour then biked a km or so to a bar in Longueval for lunch. It started raining lightly just before lunch but finished by the time we did – great timing! Another cemetery stop at the Necropole Nationale in Maurepas, a French one this time.

After that, we did a lot of rolling hills before getting to the bike trail beside the Canal du Nord for the last 5 -7 km. Total riding for the day was an easy 52.8 km.

Leaving the barge, after exiting the tunnel, to start our day.


The South African memorial at Deville Wood. A very sombre place for quiet reflection and an impressive memorial and museum.

Map of the day’s ride: tunnel to Peronne

Saturday Sept 14

Today was our, and the crew’s, day off. No biking or meals, except breakfast, so we headed over to the large WW1 museum in town. Spent 4 hours wandering through the museum and the market. I have to say that I am getting pretty tired of seeing the always depressing results of war, especially WW1. So much suffering, destruction and death, only to serve political purposes. Which, I suppose, is the whole point of these memorials – not to glorify war but to serve as a reminder that humans have to do better at resolving conflict or risk repeating history.

After a nice group supper at one of the higher rated restaurants in town, Le Bistrot d’Antoine, we broke up into smaller groups and wandered around. Chris and Susan heard some music coming from the St. Jean-Baptiste church, went in and there was a string sextet practicing for a concert next month. Four more of us followed, after getting permission to sit quietly by. They also had a choir and the enormous church organ as accompaniment. That was a nice treat and the acoustics were incredible, with no electric amplification needed. Another unexpected highlight of the trip! No riding today.

The war museum in Peronne.


The giant organ in the St. Jean-Baptiste church in Peronne. You can just see the top of the organists blond head below the centre pipes. Glad to have heard it perform in the evening.

Sunday Sep 15
Peronne to Noyon

Headed out at our usual time on a sunny and warm day. We stayed beside the Canal de la Somme on the towpath or on nearby roads, for quite a ways, eventually stopping for lunch in the town of Ham. Found a patisserie a few blocks away to supplement our packed lunch and succumbed to our sweet tooth (teeth?) with a nice dessert. Damn, I’m going to miss good bakeries once back home!

The route the rest of the day was mostly flat and restful – country roads, little traffic, sunny, warm and gentle breezes. Great riding day! We rode into Noyon and spent an hour or so poking around the large ancient cathedral, originating from the 12th Century, and its grounds. Still lots of evidence of war damage in the form of bullet holes and chips in the foundations, possibly left unrepaired on purpose as a reminder of the destructiveness of war. One poignant area was a stitch of bullet holes, positioned at chest height, on a wall in an interior courtyard.

Total riding for the day was 63.7 km.

Rolling along the quiet secondary roads in France.


The war damaged church courtyard in Noyon showing an ominous line of bullet holes at chest height on the wall.


Old and older and still surviving. If those walls could talk…

Map of the route: Peronne to Noyon

Monday Sept 16
Noyon to Compiegne

Left the barge at 9am. Cool again to start but people were shedding after the first hour. Everybody was anticipating the hill between Tracy le Val and Tracy le Mont, based on what I had told them the night before. I had climbed that hill 7 years before and remembered it as long with a steeper section. It was actually only 1.5 km long and maxed out at 5.6%, kind of like Groat Road North back in Edmonton. No one had any problem with it (maybe because I had sold it as something worse).

We stopped at the Abbey of Ourscamp for a look around and pictures. Old ruins but still a functioning abbey. After the hill, we rolled on up high on country roads with great views of the area. Eventually, we cruised joyfully down a long winding hill to Bitry, the town at the base, and stayed low the rest of the day. Stopped for coffee at Vic sur Aisne, followed by a flat tire by Doug just as we started off again. Andre led us along a path beside the river that was interesting in its, um, closeness. That is the narrowest single track that I’ve been on, ducking and weaving to avoid the branches the whole time and only occasionally successful! This was followed by a really nice rail trail, but it led onto a busy and dangerous main highway for almost 5 km. Andre almost got hit by a semi and informed us that he will not be leading his return group along it!

We had lunch at a grocery store in Rethondes, then a short ride to the Clairiere d’Armastice, where the 1918 armistice was signed. Spent an hour there going through the museum but I am “warred” out. The €7 admission fee was not well spent as I took no enjoyment looking at more war mementos. The ride from there to the dock in Compiegne was quick and pleasant. Total riding for the day was 58.5 km.

More French country roads on a sunny day.


One of the wider areas on the single track. Usually the branches stretched across the whole trail.


The train car in the Armistice Museum.

Today’s route: Noyon to Compiegne

Tuesday Sept 17
Compiegne to Creil

Started off at 9 again, warmer but cloudier than the past few days. Stopped at Compiegne palace for a few minutes for a look around outside then started off through the woods. Great paved trail for 10 km at least, then headed off to Pierrefonds castle. We stopped for 45 minutes to let people check it out and have a coffee/beer and pastry just off the town square. It is still the best looking castle we have seen, like a movie set.

We had a few minor uphill sections over the day, but it seemed like most of the riding was downhill for some reason. Nice weather, great trails and lots of downhills! What more could a cyclist ask for 😊.

We did a stop at the abbey of St Jean aux Bois (open for mass on the 4th Sunday of every month), as we did on my previous tour, and then at a picnic spot in the woods for lunch. Rather than riding through the traffic-filled streets of Creil, the barge picked us up at Pont Ste. Maxence and cruised down the Oise the rest of the way into Creil. The highlight of the day was John breaking out in a version of Chantilly Lace in the evening 😁🎶 in anticipation of our ride tomorrow.

I was surprised to see the barge that I was on for my Bruges to Paris tour in 2012, the Feniks, docked right behind us in Creil. It was on its way in the opposite direction to us, towards Bruges.  It now has a new owner/captain and has undergone a few very necessary renovations – increasing the room sizes (badly needed) so that it now houses 14 passengers instead of 18. The captain said that they will add air conditioning for next year., also badly needed.

Total riding for the day was 55.2 km.

The lovely bike trail out of Compiegne on the way to Pierrefonds.


Our first view of Pierrefonds Castle. Like a movie set.


Not all trails are paved but most of the dirt ones are in good condition and fun to ride.

Today’s route: Compiegne to Pont Ste. Maxence

Wednesday Sept 18
Creil to Auvers sur l’Oise

Interesting start to the morning. Around 2:30 am, some thieves cut the cable securing the bikes on the boat. That set off an alarm in the crew cabins, so Andre and Michael ran upstairs and chased them off before they got any bikes. Last year, 6 bikes were stolen while in Creil. Not a good place to dock apparently. The people who went out for a walk last night said that the location was pretty sketchy, and they did not feel as safe as at the other towns that we docked at.

The day started cooler than it has been, around 6C. I wore gloves and a jacket to start but quickly peeled off once up the hill out of Creil. After getting out of the city, we rode on the lovely forest trails to the Chateau de Chantilly. We spent 2.5 hours there roaming the museum (€17), the stables and having lunch. I never got to see it the last time through as it was closed that day, and I am glad I got the chance this time. The place is like a mini Versailles with 100’s of paintings, other works of art and the furniture and accoutrements of life in a palace. The library is also impressive: “The library of the Petit Château contains over 1500 manuscripts and 17,500 printed volumes, that is part of the collection of over 700 incunabula, and some 300 medieval manuscripts, including one page of the Registrum Gregorii (c. 983)” – Wikipedia

After leaving the chateau, we again hit the lovely trails through the forest around Chantilly. Saw a couple of horses being run on the sandy, well groomed, horse trails. Some of our bike trails were a little sandy too, forcing us to pay attention in some sections.

The rest of the day, which turned out to be a nice temperature, was spent on bike paths, busy roads, in busy towns, and single track. Passed through a unique, somewhat diabolical, gate intending to keep motorbikes off the trail in a regional park. Probably 80% of the day was good biking and the remainder required plenty of concentration! Total biking for the day was 59.9 km.

The Chateau de Chantilly.


One of the many art-filled rooms in the chateau, like a mini Versailles. The Musee Conde contains one of the largest art collections in France.


Part of the vast library, containing books and manuscripts dating as far back as 983.

Today’s route: Creil to Auver-sur-l’Oise

Thursday Sept 19
Auvers to Bougival

Our last day of cycling. Blue skies again and the promise of warmth. We started by riding to Van Gogh’s house in town then up to the cemetery to see his grave. The hill wasn’t nearly as steep as I remembered! We headed back down but took a meandering route through the town to get back to the Oise and the bike trails. After going 14.5 km we stopped for a stretch and realized that Lucille wasn’t with us! Andre called the boat and was told that she was at the tourist office, so he rode back to get her. Don’t know why the boat didn’t call Andre first, as soon as they were aware of the situation! Apparently, there was a miscommunication and Lucille went down to Auvers a different way than we did. She handled the predicament perfectly though – going to the tourist office, calling the boat (which had already departed) to let them know the situation and getting maps of where our lunch stop was scheduled. Andre got back to her just as she was going to leave – good timing.

We all waited in Pont Cergy, having coffee (€4 – welcome to the outskirts of Paris) and relaxing in the sun on a beautiful day. Once they got back, we continued on to Conflans where we had lunch. Conflans is where we docked for the night 7 years ago. Then on bike paths, paved and dirt trails, to St. Germaine, the site of Louis XIVs palace and with a view of Paris in the distance. We stopped for a refreshment and then on for another 7 km to our dockage on Ile de la Chaussee, near Bougival. Total riding for the day was 47.2 km.


Fun hard-packed dirt trails after leaving Conflans.


Our first view of Paris from St. Germaine.

One of the life-size sculptures in a park near our dock on Ile de la Chaussee. Very well done!

Today’s route: Auvers to Bougival

Total route: Bruges to Paris

Total riding for the trip was 614.4 km

FridaySept 20
Bougival to Paris

Left Bougival at 7am to cruise down the Seine into Paris on a nice sunny morning. Although we were not that far out of Paris, all the bends in the river made it a longer trip than we anticipated. We got to La Defence at 10am and the locks around 10:30. Got to the bridges and Eiffel Tower at 11:30 and our dockage at Port Morland around 1pm.Went for a walk with Lucille, John and Brian in the afternoon. Walked to Notre Dame but the perimeter was completely sealed off as they work at the extensive renovations. Took a few pictures but no good perspective through the fencing and scaffolding. Stopped at a bar on the river walk on the way back for our first, though not last, expensive Parisian beer!

Entering Paris on the barge. View of the Eiffel Tower and mini Statue of Liberty.


Mike and the Eiffel Tower.


Notre Dame from the Seine.

Saturday Sept 21

We had on final breakfast on the barge, finished packing, then we all left. Andre had arranged for 3 taxis for 9am and they all arrived on time! Our taxi, with 5 passengers, was €38 to get to the IBIS Opera La Fayette hotel. Brian, John, Lucille and I then went for a walk to check out the sights. We walked down to the Louvre, then through the Tulleries gardens to Place de la Concorde. It was completely sealed off by riot police, anticipating problems from the yellow-vesters, so we headed across the river, past Musee d’Orsay and to the Eiffel Tower. The lineup was too long to waste time in and no one wanted to climb up the tower except for Lucille and me anyway, so we went to a side street, had lunch, and headed back towards the Arc de Triomphe. The closer we got, the more cops lined the streets, many dressed in riot gear. The Arc was sealed off by police, with no entry underneath let alone up top, so we started off towards the Champs Elysees. That is when we got hit by the tear gas. The yellow-vesters had co-opted the climate change demonstration and the hooligan cohort were vandalizing cars, stores, etc. The cops were using tear gas to disperse them, and it wafted up to us. Not a pleasant experience! I can see why the professional demonstrators wear ski goggles to protect their eyes, as well as masks. We made a wide berth around the problem area and finally made it back to the hotel after a much longer walk than we anticipated. It is interesting to note that Lucille and I walked through a climate demonstration in Oslo just a few weeks before. It was completely peaceful – just speeches by the coordinators – and, though the crowd was large, it was more a party atmosphere than confrontational and destructive.

The riders and the crew.


Notre Dame from the opposite shore. Couldn’t get close to it due to the construction barriers.


Didn’t want to wait in the long lines so took photos of the tower from outside the barrier.


The Arc de Triomphe guarded by police. NO access allowed 😦

Sunday Sept 22

A group of us walked to the Louvre, where we all went our separate ways according to our viewing priorities. Spent the day, from 9 to 3, there and were pretty much museumed out by the end. The place is just too vast, with so much to see, that it is impossible to give it justice in one day. But one day was all we had, so… Mona had been moved from the room she was in 7years ago, due to renovations, to a temporary display area and the room was packed. Guards cycled everyone through in airport security fashion, giving people about a minute for pictures before making them move along. The chaos and jostling disappeared once we left the Mona room. Unfortunately for all the other artwork hung on the walls, none of it was admired, or even able to be admired, by the throng. They only had eyes for Mona Lisa. In our 6 hours of walking around, at a tiring museum pace, we were still able to see almost everything on our list.

The hoard of people trying to get a view of Mona Lisa.


The closest I was able to get with an almost clear view.


The rest of the museum was far less crowded. Couldn’t use a flash but the guards had no problem with pictures being taken throughout.

Monday Sept 23

We wanted to go to the Musée d’Orsay but it was closed on Mondays so we decided to take a free walking tour of Montmartre. As usual, we walked from our hotel to an area across from the Moulin Rouge, about 20 minutes away, to meet the tour guide. There were about 15 people in our group, so a little crowded to always hear what the guide was saying, but it was still an informative tour of a pretty area of Paris. From what used to be a low-rent, bohemian district, it is now one of the priciest and sought-after, certainly gentrified, places to live. Our guide took us through many of the side streets to show us examples of present-day art, also pointing out the old studios of masters like Degas, Van Gogh and Picasso, among others. I love the idea of the Love Wall, where “I Love You” is written in over 100 different languages. Her recounting the tragic love life and death of Dalida, when showing us her former house and the statue erected in her honour, showed us that fame doesn’t always bring happiness. The tour ended at Sacre-Coeur which, she stated, was hated by most Parisians, a carry-over from when it was built in the late 1800’s. “It is only loved by the tourists” was her comment.

Later in the afternoon, most of us changed hotels to be closer to CDG airport. Most of the group had early flights to catch on Tuesday morning and didn’t want to fight Paris traffic to get there. We went for a final supper as a group at a restaurant near the hotel, enjoying our last night together.

Our guide in Montmartre beside the statue of Dalida. The breasts are buffed bright because touching them will supposedly bring you good luck in love (much unlike Dalida’s life).


The “I Love You” wall.


Although the bike/barge trip was enjoyable, I did not have the same level of enjoyment as 7 years before. For the most part, the weather was great, the barge was comfortable, the crew of the Zwaantje was outstanding, the routes were interesting and my fellow passengers were a hoot. No complaints in that regard. My main disappointments were that we didn’t get to visit Versailles or La Defense or take the “underground” tour of the Lewarde mine, which I knew that everyone would have enjoyed, even though I had seen all those places before. But the same feeling of wonder and discovery that I had on the initial visit wasn’t there. Somewhat similar to “you can’t go home again”, because it will never be the same. In future, I’ll stick to visiting places that I have never been to before and just savour the memories of the places I have seen already.


2018 Coffeeneuring Compilation

Back to Coffeeneuring again after missing last year due to my bike trip to Portugal. This fall, the weather in Edmonton has been abysmal for biking. Almost the whole of September and early October has been snowy and cold. Lucky for me then that I spent most of this time on a bike trip in PEI and Newfoundland, on Canada’s east coast, where the weather was far more conducive for biking. I arrived home just in time for another dump of snow but, by the official start date for coffeeneuring, the snow had melted and the air temperature smartened up a bit. So here goes my attempt to get in my 7 rides in 7 weeks for 7 coffees!

Coffeeneuring #1

Where: To Big Lake, just outside St. Albert, Alberta

When: Sunday, October 14, 2018

What: A latte at Sips & Sweets (also known as La Crema Caffe), St. Albert

Distance: 16.8 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28727307

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. Three bike posts across the street but nothing in front of the cafe itself.

Weather: Sunny, 0C to start my ride but warming to 5C by the time I got home. Nice day for riding.

Duckweed on the storm ponds frozen into pointillism-like swirls.
The trees are mostly bare now. No fall colours here.
I love the frozen duckweed patterns in the ponds. Very artistic.
A very humdrum latte. No art here! But it was warm inside, sitting in the sun.

Coffeeneuring #2

Where: Edmonton Garrison, Namao, Alberta

When: Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip muffin at the Tim Horton’s on the base.

Distance: 51.81 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28806351

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No bike racks, have to lean bikes against the building, but pretty safe.

Weather: Sunny, 10C when started at noon but warmed to 20C by the time I got home. Abnormally beautiful fall day.

Leafy trail through the woods on the way to the base.
On the bike trail to the base. Field finally harvested after all that snow in September.
Small Tims coffee and chocolate chip muffin – my usual treat at the 38 km mark.

Coffeeneuring #3

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Sunday, October 21, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip cookie at Good Earth Cafe, 130 Bellerose, St. Albert

Distance: 26.61 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/28929473

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No bike racks but lots of bolted down steel chairs to attach a bike to on a large accessible patio. This place is one of our “go-to” stops on our club rides in St. Albert, when 40-60 of us show up.

Weather: Sunny, 5C when started at noon but warmed to 10C at finish.

The Sturgeon River in St. Albert. Not much greenery anymore but no ice yet.
Nice enough day to have my coffee outside in the sunshine, although I was the only person on the patio.

Coffeeneuring #4

Where: My usual route to Big Lake, just outside St. Albert, Alberta

When: Friday, October 26, 2018

What: A french press coffee at Cerdo Tacos & Tequila, Perron Street, St. Albert

Distance: 16.0 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29058214

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. One bike rack, which can accommodate a few bikes, on a common patio for the shops in the area.

Weather:  An overcast 8C with a cool north wind. The coffee was a nice warm-up.

The only coffee they offered was a french press and I was not allowed to take it outside on the patio. Afraid of me running off with the press I guess. My bike just visible through the window.

Coffeeneuring #5

Although I went to the gym for a stationary bike ride and a workout, I needed to get this coffeeneuring ride in while the weather was still nice for riding. So I just did a short ride over to Juntos, a nice coffee shop in the Campbell industrial park. For a change, I rode up Poundmaker Road, a dirt road on the edge of St. Albert. It had been recently graded and sprayed with calcium and, although a little slick, was not bad to ride on. If I didn’t have to get back home to prepare for the trick-or-treaters (carve pumpkin, get treats ready, etc), I would have done a longer ride.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

What: A coffee and chocolate chip cookie at Juntos Bistro, St. Albert

Distance: 8.1 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29189397

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks at all even though our bike club takes up to 40 riders there on our rides in St. Albert. Gets kinda crowded in the parking lot with bikes strewn everywhere. I was the only bike there today though so just leaned it up against their window.

Weather:  An overcast 5C. Not much wind so it was really pleasant for riding.

An only mildly bumpy Poundmaker Road but still shook the camera enough to fuzz up the photo 😦
Coffee and cookie, with my bike patiently waiting outside.
It has been dry enough, finally, for the fields to be combined.
Bare trees but clean trail. Flurries in the forecast for tomorrow so it was good to get out today.

Coffeeneuring #6

After 2 weeks of roller coaster weather – snow, followed by a partial melt, followed by frigid temps (-20C wind chills), then more snow, and repeat ad nauseum – I was finally able to get out for a ride. The streets and paths had melted off enough to ride, although I took it pretty slow going around corners. It started out sunny and +5C and ended up overcast and +4C by the time I got home, but still felt great to get the bike out again. Took advantage of the “coffee shop without walls” rule.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What: A coffee on the Poole boardwalk in Lois Hole Provincial Park, St. Albert.

Distance: 16.1 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/29542484

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks, it being a boardwalk through a wetland and all, but lots of observing areas to park a bike and um, observe.

Weather:  A sunny then overcast 5C.

Critter tracks on the frozen ponds. Probably a fox looking for any waterfowl that got caught in the last freeze.
My bike on the snowy, though melting, observation boardwalk. Nice place to sit and have a coffee.
The path was wet but not icy. Yet. That skim of water will turn to slippery ice by the evening.

Coffeeneuring #7

It was touch and go whether I would be able to complete the challenge this year but a few days of thaw enabled me to take an embarrassingly short ride out to the gazebo at the north end of the Red Willow Trail in St. Albert. With no fat bike or studded tires, I took it pretty carefully on my completely iced up residential street. The main roads and the Trail were mostly ice-free but it still required my full attention to make sure that I stayed vertical. There were still a few sneaky ice patches lurking in the shadows ready to do me harm if started to get complacent! My target destination was the final rest stop that we use on our weekly road rides in St. Albert – a gazebo at the north edge of town. This ride approached it from the opposite direction from what we usually do and after a considerably shorter ride. The city had not cleaned off the trail in that part of the park and it was mostly glare ice for the last few hundred metres but doable with care. There is no coffee shop anywhere nearby so this was another “coffee shop without walls” ride.

Where: St. Albert, Alberta

When: Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What: A hot chocolate at the gazebo in Kingswood Park, St. Albert.

Distance: A paltry 4.1 km

Ride Link: No link this time. Hardly worth it 😦

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. No bike racks but lots of room to lean bikes on the gazebo and bushes surrounding it. Our summer rides have had as many as 12 bikes comfortably and safely resting.

Weather:  A partially sunny 4C.

My icebound street. Sidewalk was mostly ice free but the street needed my careful attention.


The gazebo – a dry island in a field of snow and ice.


The approach to the gazebo was a little slick. That is solid ice, not slushy at all. Slow riding.


My thermos of hot chocolate and coffeeneuring patch from a few years ago.


The Sturgeon River ice-free again. Has been frozen and thawed multiple times already this season with our roller coaster weather.

2016 Coffeeneuring

After almost a year of not blogging about any ski or bike trips (or anything else, for that mater), the annual  Coffeeneuring Challenge has shamed me into action. You can read all about it in the link provided but, in a nutshell, the challenge by biking blogger Chasing Mailboxes is to visit 7 different coffee shops between October 7th and November 20th, with a maximum of 2 visits per week. I normally park the bikes once the snow flies and, since I live near Edmonton, Alberta, the snow usually flies early. So my challenge isn’t to find different coffee shops, it is to beat winter! There are a few more rules to follow but all are quite doable, especially for a retired guy. I completed the challenge in 2013 and 2014 but missed last year while in Italy and Slovenia on organized bike trips at the time (planned bike trips are ineligible). So this is my official documentation for 2016.

Coffeeneuring #1:

Hot chocolate on a chilly day. On the viewing deck on Big Lake.

Hot chocolate on a chilly day. On the viewing deck on Big Lake.

When: Friday, October 7, 2016

Where: Lois Hole Provincial Park, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada (Invoking the “Coffee Shop Without Walls” rule).

What: Hot chocolate from a thermos

Distance: 16.0 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11411648

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. A 3- or 4-bike lockup post just off the deck but rarely used unless people wander off out of sight.

Weather: -2C, overcast and windy.

Leaves littering the trail through the wooded area.

Leaves littering the trail through the wooded area.


Coffeeneuring #2

We got hit with, what I hope, was an early season snowfall on the 8th and 9th. Not a lot of snow, about 10 cms (4 inches) total, but the ground was cold enough to retain it on the greenery (brownery?). The roads and trails, thankfully, managed to retain enough summer heat to melt off after a while so I was able to venture out today without worrying too much about the traction. I did my usual ride out to Big Lake then veered off on a part of the trail that has been closed for over a year due to nearby condo construction. I  circumvented the concrete barriers that still bar the trail (is the city ever going to remove them?) to visit Good Earth Cafe. This is the go-to coffee shop for our club rides in St. Albert in the summer, mainly because of the large common patio just outside it’s doors. And having decent coffee and treats. A little too cool to sit outside today though.

Warm inside but snowy outside.

Warm inside but snowy outside.

When: Monday, October 10, 2016

Where: Good Earth Cafe, St. Albert

What: Black coffee and praline brownie

Distance: 16.5 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11457311

Bike Friendliness: 4/5. Few bike racks but plenty of space to park bikes by shop.

Weather: -1C, overcast. Snow lingers on ground from recent snowfall but trails are clear.

Two days after our first snowfall. Trails are clear though.

Two days after our first snowfall. Gotta watch out for slippery leaves!

The Sturgeon River in downtown St. Albert on a damp, -1C day.

The Sturgeon River in downtown St. Albert on a damp, -1C day.


Coffeeneuring #3

After last week’s early snowfall, we had yet another 10 cm dump on October 14th. So much for starting week 2 of coffeeneuring on a high note :(. The temperature has hovered between -4C and +2C all week under cloudy skies so not much melting has been going on. Thankfully, the city has plowed the trails and they are mostly ice-free. Today’s excursion was my usual route out to Big Lake again, with a side trip to the Glasshouse Bistro. I imagine that it gets it’s name due to the fact that it is housed in one of the largest, if not the largest, greenhouse/garden centres in the Edmonton area.

Latte and a chocolatey muffin on a cool day.

Latte and a chocolatey muffin on a cool day.

When: Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Where: Glasshouse Bistro and Cafe

What: Latte and double chocolate muffin

Distance: 18.6 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11564541

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. One bike rack (although it holds ~6 bikes) about 100 feet from the entrance. I have locked to it many times but today I just chained my bike to a fence by the door.

Weather: -1C, overcast, with a penetrating dampness.

The trestle rail bridge on a gray day.

The trestle rail bridge on a gray day.

The viewing deck at Big Lake, complete with snowman on the picnic table.

The viewing deck at Big Lake, complete with snowman on the picnic table. Glad that people are having fun with this early snow 🙂

My requisite picture of the trail though the woods. Looks much the same as a week ago.

My requisite picture of the trail though the woods. Looks much the same as a week ago. Fewer leaves on the trail though.

The beavers doing what beavers do, munching down trees near the river.

The beavers doing what beavers do, munching down trees near the river.


Coffeeneuring #4

The weather has finally changed to more bike-friendly, and biker-friendly, conditions. After almost 2 weeks of snow and temps hovering around 0C, we are now having “normal” fall conditions – normal for here being sunny and 5C to 10C. The city kept most of the trails swept clean during the cold spell but the thaw has meant snow melting during the day, flowing across the trails and freezing at night. A thin layer of melt on top of the ice patches is perfect for unseating an unwary cyclist 😦 The trails were actually in better shape when it was cold!

I went on my usual ride out to Big Lake, in Lois Hole Provincial Park, around lunchtime. Although my wife saw some trumpeter swans out there in the morning, they must have been hiding by the time I got there. Lots of Canada Geese and various ducks though. The temp was +2C when I left home and I’m glad that I dressed in layers as I was forced to shed a number of times during the ride. Nice to feel the heat of the sun again! The snow has pretty well disappeared, except in the shadowy and north-facing areas. Still some ice on the ponds and puddles though.

After my out-and-back to Big Lake, I decided to head to the north end of St. Albert. There is a new commercial development out by the Costco, which includes a Tim Hortons that I have not visited before. Not that I am a big fan of chain coffee shops – I would rather patronize the independents – but there are also some nice trails at that end of town that make for a reasonably scenic trip. But no independent coffee shops 😦

Coffee and very chocolaty muffin at Tims.

Coffee and very chocolaty muffin at Tims.

When: Saturday, October 22, 2016

Where: Tim Hortons, 1075 St. Albert Trail

What: Coffee and chocolate lava muffin

Distance: 26 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11617660

Bike Friendliness: 3/5. Three bike posts outside the coffee shop and another 3 about 50 feet away, so good for 6 bikes. Other than that, would have to lean bikes against walls or windows. Could be much better since there is adequate space for more posts but, being in a “power centre” where bikes are not the normal mode of shopping transportation, I suppose it is adequate. Typical for Tims though.

Weather: Sunny (yay!!) and +2C when I left home. +6 by the time I returned 90 minutes later.

Snow mostly gone from bush (compare this to the previous entry).

Snow mostly gone from bush (compare this to the Coffeeneuring #3 entry above).

Trail through a park by a decorative, but functional, storm water pond.

Trail through a park by a decorative, but functional, storm water pond.

Still snow in the shadowy areas but trails clear.

Still snow in the shadowy areas but trails clear.

Some nice trails in the north end of town - backyards on one side, bush on the other.

Some nice trails in the north end of town – backyards on one side, bush on the other.

I think the remains of a snowman on the trail.

I think the remains of a snowman on the trail.


Coffeeneuring #5

Taking advantage of the sunny weather while we still have it, I went out to the garage to prepare for another coffee ride. Well damn! A flat front tire! Thankful that it didn’t happen while on the ride, I put a new tube in and set out. My plan was to ride out to Big Lake (again) and check out a coffee shop in St. Albert that is now under new management, complete with a new name, on my way back. As I noted on yesterday’s ride, all the melting during the day has resulted in a lot more icy patches to contend with after the overnight freezes. It was down to -6C last night so I expected the usual wet areas of the trail to be a little treacherous. After the first 7 km, my front tire was feeling squishy so I added more air. It had me concerned though – I had filled it up adequately when I changed it earlier. Did I miss a tiny wire or stone poking through the tire? I had felt all the way around inside the tire and didn’t feel anything. The hole that I found in the previous tube was just a pin prick so it was definitely something small that caused the flat. I had wanted to do a little exploring today but, preferring to have to change the tube in the comfort of my garage rather than in the cold (it was 0C when I left) I headed for the coffee shop.

As I anticipated, the normally wet areas on the trail were now covered in sheets of ice. I managed a little skid on one of them when I was forced to make a slight steering adjustment but stayed upright. One helpful walker even offered a warning of ice ahead around a bend, which I appreciated. I checked my tire again at the coffee shop and, sure enough, it was down again. I pumped it up again, had a quick coffee and muffin, and boogied off back home.  The Sips and Sweets Cafe – formerly La Crema Caffe, formerly St. Thomas Coffee Shop…) seemed to be no different from it’s previous incarnation, just with a new name on the inside. All the La Crema signs were still up outside. Can’t really say that I noticed any difference at all but I only go there once or twice a year. The latte was passable but the barista was evidently not trained in coffee art. Doesn’t affect the taste, of course, but helps with the presentation!

Once home, I pulled the tube and put in my third tube of the day! Still can’t find the hole though. Some days, biking is just like that.

Latte, muffin, and a slowly deflating front tire.

Latte, muffin, and a slowly deflating front tire. And my Year 2 Coffeeneuring patch (2013, I think).

When: Sunday, October 23, 2016

Where: Sips and Sweets Cafe, St. Albert, AB

What: Latte (nothing to rave about) and blueberry muffin.

Distance: 15.8 km, on a flattening tire shortened day.

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11632695

Bike Friendliness: 4/5. Three bike posts (good for 6 bikes) across the street and a wrought iron patio fence, good for another 6 or so.

Weather: Sunny, 0C when I left home, +2C when I got back. Nice day for trail riding.

Too much of a hurry to get home so no other pictures from the ride.


Coffeeneuring #6

After a wet, dreary week I was finally able to get back in the saddle and continue my quest for 2016 coffeeneuring success. Although the weather still wasn’t the best – typical of late October in these parts – it had been a week since I was last on the bike, so off I went to search for new and better coffee experiences. One of the aborted aims of last week’s ride was to find the location of a new coffee shop that I had heard about. Not wanting to just meander last week with a slowly deflating tire, I instead went to a centrally located cafe. This week, after my usual trip to Lois Hole Provincial Park, I cruised around to try to find the hole-in-the-wall location of DaVinci’s Cafe. It turned out to be hidden in a back lane in an industrial park near the park. The place is just a gem though – a small family-run independent shop with great coffee selections and a yummy looking lunch menu. They are actually a gelato making operation and the coffee shop is a new, and very welcome, addition. Thus it’s location in a bay of the gelato plant.

Even cool, grey days can generate some internal sunshine! Glad I went out today.

Treats, coffeeneuring patch and part of my rear tire through the window.

Treats, coffeeneuring patch and part of my rear tire through the window.

When: Saturday, October 29, 2016

Where: DaVinci’s Cafe and Gelato, St. Albert, AB

What: Latte and chocolate chip muffin

Distance: 16.9 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11710550

Bike Friendliness: 1/5. No bike racks, nothing to chain up to, and even limited vehicle parking due to it’s back lane location.

Weather: +2C (36F), misty and damp but no precipitation.

The ever changing patterns of the duckweed on the wetland ponds are always intriguing.

The ever changing patterns of the duckweed on the wetland ponds are always intriguing.

Kind of like a monochromatic pointillism that changes with the meager current.

Kind of like a monochromatic pointillism that changes with the meager current. One of these times I expect “The Scream” to appear!

DaVinci's location in a refurbished bay of an industrial building. Pretty well the only place I could park my bike, with a giant ghost guarding the other empty spot.

DaVinci’s location in a refurbished bay of an industrial building. Pretty well the only place I could park my bike, with a giant ghost guarding the other empty spot.

The trees are almost leafless now, waiting for the white stuff.

The trees are almost leafless now, waiting for the white stuff.

The Sturgeon River from the Woodlands/Oakmont foot bridge.

The Sturgeon River from the Woodlands/Oakmont foot bridge.


Coffeeneuring #7

October was an abysmal month for biking – cold and snowy when it wasn’t cold and rainy – with only rare glimpses of sun. November, however, has broken all sorts of records around here for warmth! Instead of turning the clocks back an hour, like we have to do tonight, it seems that the weather gods have turned their clocks back a month or two. I wasn’t able to make use of the nice weather earlier in the week (highs of 18-20C) but got out today for my last coffeeneuring ride. Not my last ride of the year though, I hope, with the good weather forecast to last at least for another week.

I did my usual route out to Big Lake, stopping at the waterfowl viewing platform and walking the boardwalk through the wetlands. Not a breath of wind was rippling the water – it was the calmest that I have seen the lake for some time. Still some ducks and geese hanging around and I was able to watch a muskrat swimming back and forth gathering food for future use.

It was a pleasant ride and there were lots of people on the trails taking advantage of the nice weather. I like seeing people enjoy the trail but having to avoid all the dog walkers who think the trail was made for only them and their dogs on 8-foot leashes gets frustrating after a while. But that’s what I get for going out on a sunny Saturday.

I had a surprise at the coffee shop. They rotate their urns through the usual Second Cup offerings and I normally get whatever medium roast is displayed. Today it was “Holiday Blend” WTF?? It’s only the beginning of November, not even to Remembrance Day, and they are already flogging their Christmas offering? Sorry – Holiday offering. It’s akin to stores putting up their Xmas decorations as soon as Halloween is over. I told the barista that I thought it was a tad early but she just shrugged it off. Maybe I was just getting owly after avoiding all the dogs :/ At least it was nice enough out to let me sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

Able to sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

Able to sit outside for the first time this coffeeneuring season!

When: Saturday, November 5, 2016

Where: Second Cup, corner of Bellerose and Inglewood, St. Albert, AB

What: Coffee (Holiday Blend, whatever that is) and lemon-poppyseed muffin

Distance: 16.4 km

Ride Link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/11802151

Bike Friendliness: 2/5. No racks but an iron patio fence to chain up to, good for a few bikes.

Weather: Partially sunny but +9C (50F) and dead calm. Ending the challenge on a high note!

Not a ripple in the wetland ponds, mirroring the boardwalk and vegetation.

Not a ripple in the wetland ponds, mirroring the boardwalk and vegetation.

The trail through the woods, now snowless and dry as well as leafless.

The trail through the woods, now snowless and dry as well as leafless.

A beautiful day for November in the north. Great for getting out in the kayaks and enjoying the Sturgeon River.

A beautiful day for November in central Alberta. Great for getting out in the kayaks and enjoying the Sturgeon River.




Cycling Slovenia – Oct 22

Our final day of cycling in Slovenia :(. At only 2.5 km after leaving the hotel, hardly enough time to get our legs warmed up, we had to climb up a 15% hill. Well that warmed us up! We didn’t realize that we would see even steeper hills later in the day. Shortly after we reached the top, Lucille – whose legs hadn’t had enough of a workout, apparently – decided to climb a cell tower beside the road. Only Paul was crazy enough to go with her. She said that the view was fabulous. I was glad to take her word for it.

At the top of the first hill of the day.

At the top of the first hill of the day, a 15% grade.

Lucille and Paul getting a panoramic view of the countryside.

Lucille and Paul getting a panoramic view of the countryside.

After a few kms on the top of the hills, we descended back onto the plains with flat roads and pretty trails. Eventually we reached the Ptuj reservoir, riding beside it for 5 km into the city of Ptuj.

As we have found almost everywhere, the cars are very patient and respectful of cyclists. They rarely zoom past.

As we have found almost everywhere, the cars are very patient and respectful of cyclists. They rarely zoom past.

Riding beside the Ptuj reservoir.

Riding beside the Ptuj reservoir.

We stopped at a café in one of the town squares where we had lunch and then set off to explore the castle on the hill above us.

JoAnn negotiating the narrow street, construction and those pesky pedestrians.

JoAnn negotiating the narrow street, construction and those pesky pedestrians.

Lunch in the town square. The Indian busker (left background, in white) earned a few Euros from us with his entertaining drumming and chanting.

Lunch in the town square. The Indian busker (left background, in white) earned a few Euros from us with his entertaining drumming and chanting.

A sunny lunch in a pleasant town.

A sunny lunch in a pleasant town.

Ptuj castle is yet another Roman relic, though it was expanded and rebuilt many times over the centuries. We climbed the narrow alley and stairways leading up to the courtyard. On a whim, Lucille and I dropped a stone down the well in the courtyard. I couldn’t see the bottom and wondered how deep it was. The count was 4 seconds before we heard a plunk – over 250 feet! I’m glad the well has a substantial metal grate over the top.

Narrow alley leading up to Ptuj castle.

Narrow alley leading up to Ptuj castle.

Another trail up to the castle, displaying the fall colours.

Another trail up to the castle, displaying the fall colours.

Paul had a few more hills in store for us, including 1 at 18% and another short 20% brute. Chris and Paul were the only ones to make it to the tops of those without stopping. Even the ebikers had to get off and push on the 20% one. (Note: the elevations on the ridewithgps map are NOT accurate, since they do not show the true grades of those last hills. I also uploaded the same file to Strava and it does show the steep grades.)

Back in wine country. And more hills.

Back in wine country. And more hills.

Al did not enjoy this 18% grunt. He wasn't the only one who had to push the bike up.

Al did not enjoy this 18% grunt. He wasn’t the only one who had to push the bike up.

We ended our day at the Firbas family farm, another working farm that takes in guests. They are not a winery – they get the wine they sell from their neighbors – but they do grow other produce and meats. They welcomed us, as usual, with wine and homemade apple juice. The owner, Bojan, turned on his CD player to serenade us with Slovenian accordion music. It ran continuously for hours, through supper, until I couldn’t take it anymore. During our nightly game of Wizard, which we played in the dining room, I switched off the CD, retrieved my phone and turned on one of my playlists. Enough with the accordion music!

Domacija Firbas, our home for the night.

Domacija Firbas, our home for the night.

Total distance for the day was 59 kms. And some beauty hills.

Map of our route here.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 21

After yesterday’s long ride, Paul said that today was going to be a short day but a hilly one. He was right. We left Hlebec’s, sadly, and started with the hills right away. We were still in wine country after all! There were a few 10-12% climbs that made our lungs and legs pay attention but they were short, less than a kilometre, and Paul always stopped at the crests to let the stragglers catch up. At one particular crest, we stopped outside a house where a farmer was working in his garden. It was a good hill and the group was pretty spread out, so we ended up waiting for longer than usual. All of a sudden, the farmer comes out to the road with a bottle of wine and a bunch of glasses! Slovenian hospitality strikes again! If you linger too long in any one place, someone will offer you wine!

Back to grunting up the hills.

Back to grunting up the hills.

Slovenian hospitality knows no bounds! Offered wine by a complete stranger, we could not refuse.

Slovenian hospitality knows no bounds! Offered wine by a complete stranger, we could not refuse.

The views of the countryside were breathtaking. The vineyards, the fall colours, and the rolling topography (breathtaking in its own way) really make this a special area to ride in.

Neat vineyards, fall colours - a lovely area.

Neat vineyards, fall colours – a lovely area.

Hill after hill after hill in wine country.

Hill after hill after hill in wine country…

...but the views are worth it.

…but the views are worth it.

And vineyard after vineyard.

And vineyard after vineyard.

We stopped to peruse the souvenir items in a tourist office after 12 kms. and stopped for lunch after 15 kms, so got lots of breaks on this hilly day. The tavern at which we ate, at the top of a hill of course, had great views and a nice comfy atmosphere. A fellow was setting up musical equipment for a birthday party later in the day. “Whose birthday?” we asked. “Mine!” was his reply. He asked where we were from and knew of Edmonton as his aunt had moved to Calgary many years before. True to form, the owner gave us complimentary glasses of his wine with our lunch. Slovenians are rightly proud of their wine!

Nice restaurant for lunch and more free wine.

Nice restaurant for lunch and more free wine.

After leaving the tavern, we had a few more kilometres of rollers followed by a 4 km exhilarating downhill onto the plains again. Woohoo! We rode on for another 9 km to the Bioterme hotel and spa, our home for the night.

On the way to Mala Nedelja and the Bioterme.

On the way to Mala Nedelja and the Bioterme.

And nice flat roads for a change.

And nice flat roads for a change.

After getting our room reservations sorted out, we all had a bite to eat in a mediocre, at best, cafeteria, then ventured into the hot pools. Or, I should say, warm pools. Neither of the spas we stayed in had pools even remotely as hot as the ones in Jasper or Banff. They still felt good though and we soaked for an hour, joined by Paul and Julie. Lucille, JoAnn and I went up to the coed sauna area but on seeing the sign saying that bathing suits were not allowed, we chickened out. Unknown to us, however, Al was already in one of the saunas! He didn’t stay long though, not being that comfortable with the nudity.

After leaving the sauna, Al went for a half-hour walk up the hill to scout out the small town of Mala Nedelja. We didn’t want to eat at the hotel cafeteria – the only choice there – and Al reported back that there was a restaurant in town. So we all trooped up the hill, found the place and had a tremendous meal. There was only one employee there when we entered, and no other customers, but she must have phoned for reinforcements. Soon there were 3 of them providing us with jugs of wine, cooking and serving. I think the place was the Gostilna Slekovec Marija. We walked back down the hill in the dark, happy and full from the meal and the company.

Total distance for the day was 30 km.

Map of today’s route.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 20

It was cool in the morning but no rain so it’s a good day to ride! All the wine last night didn’t seem to affect our riding. Paul’s plan was to do much of our riding in Croatia today and we soon crossed the border. A migrant processing camp had been set up at the crossing and there were a bunch of cops there as well as a few migrants milling about. It looked like they were preparing for further arrivals. The UN or other agencies must donate clothes because there were piles of discarded clothing and other refuse scattered around waiting to be picked up by a garbage truck.

Paul being Paul. Energetic and slightly batty tour guide.

Paul being Paul outside Hlebec’s. Energetic and slightly batty tour guide.

Slovenia/Croatia border migrant processing camp.

Slovenia/Croatia border migrant processing camp.

One of the piles of discarded clothing and other items at the border crossing.

One of the piles of discarded clothing and other items at the border crossing.

Croatia is a poorer country than Slovenia and isn’t quite as well kept, though most of the areas we rode through looked no different from over the border. They are now part of the European Community but not yet on the Euro. We rode past a large reservoir for 8 kms but it was surprisingly low on water, even after all the recent rains and flooding in other parts of the country. There must be other controls further upstream. Paul even had to make a 7 km detour at one point because he feared that the cycle path would be washed out by swollen rivers and streams.

On the open road again, this time in Croatia.

On the open road again, this time in Croatia.

Nice assortment of trails, both paved and dirt.

Nice assortment of trails, both paved and dirt.

Riding along the reservoir east of Varazdin. Pretty low considering how much rain we've had recently.

Riding along the top of the reservoir east of Varazdin. Pretty low considering how much rain we’ve had recently.

We stopped for lunch at the Prepelica restaurant in Prelog where errors in communication scored us some wonderful apple cake along with our coffees. Later on, we passed through the much larger town of Varazdin. After a few wrong turns, Paul found the main square and we stopped for a coffee which he paid for as penance for his misdirection. Even though we had gone 70 kms so far, most of the day was flat and no one was tired, especially since we hadn’t ridden yesterday.

Had lunch at this restaurant in Prelog, Croatia.

Had lunch at this restaurant in Prelog, Croatia.

A large corn crib beside the road. Most of the corn is used for biofuel and the rest as animal feed. I suspect this is the latter.

A large corn crib beside the road. Most of the corn is used for biofuel and the rest as animal feed. I suspect this is used for the latter.

We returned to Hlebec’s late in the afternoon, having to climb hills to get there of course. It was a good day of cycling.

Vineyard views on the way back up to Hlebec"s. Very pretty area.

Vineyard views on the way back up to Hlebec”s. Very pretty area.

Total distance for the day was 101 kms.

Map of our route today.

Cycling Slovenia – Oct 19

Cold and raining heavily in the morning so we decided to forgo riding for today. Gwen and Chris tried to text Paul with our decision but got no response so I emailed him. We wanted to get a hold of him before he left home at 8:30 to make sure that he had the trailer. Thankfully, or we would have had to ride in the deluge, he got the email in time. He picked us, and the bikes, up at the hotel at 10 and drove us to the Hlebec tourist farm, a winery and guest house in the Jeruzalem area, near the village of Kog. Upon arriving, the owner served us all a complimentary glass of his winery cognac. We are the only guests staying here so we were all given our own rooms. Nice place! And we are here for 2 days 🙂

The lobby of the Hlebec farm. It is an artist colony for a period of the year and the walls and yard are full of paintings and sculptures.

The lobby of the Hlebec tourist farm. It is an artist colony for a period of the year and the walls and yard are full of paintings and sculptures.

The dining room at Hlebec. Very cozy.

The dining room at Hlebec. Very cozy.

The common room, where we did a lot of card playing. The internet only worked here and not in our rooms, so someone was always out here getting outside communication.

The common room, where we did a lot of card playing. The internet only worked here and not in our rooms, so someone was always here getting outside communication.

My bedroom, unshared for a change. Nice view of the vineyards when the rain lifts.

My bedroom, unshared for a change. Nice view of the vineyards when the rain lifts.

We were supposed to ride into Hungary today, leaving from Lendava, but where we are now that route is now out of the question tomorrow. So today is an R&R day, catching up on reading and washing a few clothes (that won’t dry in this weather).

Even though it was still raining in the afternoon, Lucille and Chris went out for runs and Al and JoAnn for walks. Lucille had a bit more of an adventure than the rest, after somehow ending up over the Croatian border without her passport and unsure about retracing her steps. She managed to make her way back, with help from a priest who picked her up and directed her which way she should run to get back to Slovenia and avoid a manned border crossing. She ended up running 35 kms and got back just as we were about to send out a search party :/ She is training for the Athens marathon in a few weeks and damn near ran the distance in the rain and cold and lost! Oh yeah – she claims that you are never lost if you know where you want to go. However, that only works if you first know where you are.

Supper was great, with many tasty courses and lots of wine. This winery is where we really discovered how good the Slovenian white wine is. We started with 1 litre of so-so red then tried a litre of Riesling. Then a second litre. Then a litre of chardonnay. Then another litre of chardonnay while we played cards after supper. I’m not usually a white wine drinker but those wines could make me a convert! It was a fun night.

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