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

Posts tagged ‘Peronne’

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
Peronne

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
Paris

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
Paris

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
Paris

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.

Summary

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.

 

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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