Cande-sur-Beuvrons (April 18, 2015)
What a difference 24 hours make. After having one of the best riding day thus far, we endured a rain shower right after we got into our tent and through the night. The rain came in steady and consistent and was actually very helpful in putting both of us to sleep. It was the wind that woke us up. It rattled the tent at 1AM and I took the opportunity to go to the restroom.
The air turned cold. Really cold.
We struggled to get up the next morning but made sure we did as we went to visit Leonardo de Vinci’s home in Amboise called Chateau du Clos Luce. Harry is a big Leonardo fan and I’ve enjoyed his work as well. Without him, there wouldn’t be Robert Langdon, right? 🙂
We were actually the first ones there. We paid 14 Euros each and explored his home. He actually lived there from 1516 to 1519. He had passed away at that house. We walked in and out seeing what his bedroom, dining room, and basement filled with models of his inventions. His garden was also spectacular as it contained plants with Leonardo’s own drawing to help document them. In other parts of the estate, there were life size replicas of some of his inventions like one of the first tanks.
We actually left about 10 to go back to camp to pack up before our 11am check out time. We beat that by 10 minutes and was rewarded with a visit over the bridge to a boulangerie (bakery). It is customary to buy fresh bread everyday here in France. Harry insists that we do as locals and so we have a baguette or two everyday to help supplement our breakfast for calorie intake. Harry gets a kick out of carrying the baguettes in his front pannier.
The day then turned frustrating as we pointed towards the East on the North side of the Loire River. We were traveling on the D952. The head wind was constant. We were averaging a paltry 7 mph while getting constantly passed by cars, trucks, and RVs. Not fun at all!
It was not until 2PM when we reached the town of Chaumont-sur-Loire which featured a great looking chateau (castle). Instead of checking out the castle, we decided to grab lunch at a restaurant in a really high-end hotel. We ended up having a deliciously expensive lunch feeling a bit out-of-place but we both didn’t care. We just laughed it off later.
Chaumont-sur-Loire was located on the South side of the Loire. The idea was to go there to see if the wind would died down. Surprisingly enough, it did help! We enjoyed the early afternoon following the La Loire a Velo signs until we got lost in the town of Les Montils. It was there that we rain into a carnival of kids dressed in costumes while a marching band played music to their delight. We even met an ex-pat who talked to us about the town. She was from upstate New York. As we left the carnival, the band entertained us with the American national anthem. We had a big kick out of that.
As we followed the signs out of Les Montils, it all disappeared into an unmarked road. By that time, it was 4PM and we were desperately looking for a camp. The goal was to make to a campsite called “Le Grand Tortue” which we dubbed, “The Big Torture” as it was torture finding it. Tortue actually means tortoise as we found out when we got there but I’m jumping ahead of myself.
As it turns out, we rode an extra 10 miles when we really didn’t need to. Oh well, lesson learned! Pay attention to those La Loire a Velo signs carefully! We finally ended up at “The Big Torture” at 6PM. Paid an expensive 22 Euros for the site and WiFi access for both of us.
Beaugency (April 19, 2015)
Harry was the first to get up in the morning. All packed up and ready after I was done with my morning routine. I had to play catch up (but not too far behind). He found some plastic patio furniture at the “cabin” next door. I say it’s a “cabin” because it was obviously fabricated to look like one. No body rented it out so we took advantage of the furniture on the porch. On a side note, European campsites lack benches and tables like American ones. We often found ourselves sitting on the floor having a meal.
We ate our breakfast of PB&J on baguette with some coffee that Harry had brought over compliments of Starbucks. The idea was to cut some costs so this was a perfect substitute. We took off before 10AM and found ourselves retracing our route through a town that we were at the day before. It was an eye-opening experience as we both realized where we went wrong. There was a sign pointing to Blois (the city we should have reached instead of Cande-sur-Beuvron). One sign was all it took to derail our entire day. We both vowed to be vigilante in looking for “La Loire a Velo” signs carefully.
We navigated our ways through Blois into Chambord. There were times where the signs were hidden but we patiently looked and found them. We navigated over to Chambord where we saw probably the most beautiful chateau of the trip. It was surrounded by a moat and a plethora of tourists admiring the beautiful structure.
We spent about an hour or two there and found our way out of the property, which took a few miles to do. We eventually found our way back on the Loire past my first active nuclear power plant in Avaray. It felt unsettling to think that if there was a nuclear melt-down, the both of us won’t stand a chance. Kind of morbid, I know but I also heard France has the most nuclear power plants of any country. Most of them are on the Loire. *Gulp*
We rolled into the municipal campsite in Beaugency past 6PM this time. The office was apparently closed with someone in there. He didn’t collect our money because it was closed. The attendant told us to come back in the morning to take care of the tab. We pitched our tent in a very popular part of the site with RV campers. There was a party happening next to our site with a BBQ and blaring music.
In the spirit of saving more money, we cooked a spaghetti dinner for the first time on this trip. Not a bad way to end the day as we both drifted into sleep while our neighbors took their party into the night.
Chateauneuf-sur-Loire (April 20, 2015)
The next morning, we navigated across the bridge over to north bank of the Loire and continued our trip east. Our target town for the afternoon was going to be Orleans. I merely stated to Harry that Orleans would be the most direct town south of Paris. He gave it some thought and said if it was an hour train ride, that he would hop on the train and go for a day and come back. The idea was intriguing and I dwelled on it as we enjoyed the morning swapping from gravel to paved roads through the North bank of the Loire river. We eventually made it to the South bank and enjoyed the ride all the way through to Orleans. Head winds was certainly an issue this day as we pushed our ways through to the city of Orleans. This was the Orleans that Joan of Arc, The Maid of Orleans was named after. What we experienced was a busy city which featured several mixed communities and construction on the north side of town. We were in search of a sporting goods store to buy some chain cleaner and leg warmers for Harry.
After we shopped, we stepped into our first McDonalds of the trip. I have to say a very strange experience. The McDonalds required that you order from a kiosk before paying the cashier. They had the Big Mac (no, they did not call it Le Big Mac) and all the typical things you would see in an American McDonalds. The kiosk seemed very unnecessary as we still had to wait in a line to pay and wait for our food. Another observation is that McDonalds is doing very well in France. The line was long and the people were hungry. After we enjoyed our food and complimentary WiFi, Harry and I toyed with the idea of staying in Orleans and taking the train up to Paris. We spent about an hour mulling over the idea and reaching out to Warmshowers hosts. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be as we didn’t get any hosts responding. I mean it was the middle of the day on a Monday.
So we decided that we just move to the next town down which was supposed to be Sully-sur-Loire. Because of our minor delay and we were lost for 30 minutes in Orleans, we did not make it to Sully-sur-Loire. Instead, we ended our journey for the day at Chateauneuf. We got to camp but they didn’t register us again. Instead, they asked us to pay the next day. We quickly setup camp and decided to walk to the bar in camp. Unfortunately, they were closed. So we decided to walk over the bridge into the town. The town was quiet and empty. We asked around to see if any restaurant was open. We were directed to a Chinese restaurant, “Lotus D’or”, in the middle of town. So we went in and to our surprise, the whole place was busy while the streets were empty. I tried my best to communicate as they spoke Mandarin and I didn’t. It was really funny because we were juggling between 4 languages: English, French, Mandarin, and Cantonese. I did get the water ordered correctly, thank you very much. 🙂
After our meal was over, we walked back to our camp site satisfied from our diverse meal option and a quiet walk in near darkness. There was no other cars on the road so Harry and I walked over the bridge out on the street. Quite an interesting experience.
Gien (April 21, 2015)
In this particular campsite at Chateauneuf-sur-Loire, there was a community center. Harry had the brilliant idea of having breakfast in there. So we fired up the Jetboil to brew our instant coffee and had our usual baguette PB&J. After we were done, we paid for camp and rolled across the bridge once again. We followed the cobblestone road down to the path that took us along the Loire once again.
Our ride was superb again. We navigated through gravel roads in farm areas and through parks and car free pretty much the entire time. We finally made it to the town that we were suppose to stay the night before. We were there about 11 and we were both hungry. So we went to the boulangerie to get a sandwich and soda. We brought our lunch over to the chateau that was just south of the Loire. Before we even started on our lunch, a couple walked over to talk to us about our bike tour. They were British and was apparently doing the same trip as we are doing. They were both on their way to the Black Sea but was taking 6 months to do everything.
We exchanged phone numbers and said we would meet at Saint Satur’s campsite to have wine tasting or dinner. It was certainly a pleasure to meet other people who are doing the same pilgrimage as we were. We instantly bonded and joked with Iain and Donna. We couldn’t wait to hang out with them again.
After lunch, we continued our way through the beautiful country-side of France and enjoyed rapeseed fields (not mustard) and more nuclear power plants. This time with 4 exhaust stacks! We had our first dose of rolling hills combined with head winds this day as we rolled through the towns before we reached our destination in Gien.
We got into Gien at 2:30 which is the earliest that we have ever gotten into camp since we were in Biarritz. Our campsite was beautiful situated along the Loire beach facing the beautiful chateau and arced bridge. We setup camp, oiled our bikes, showered, and walked over the river into town to have drinks and dinner. It was a great time to be in the moment and enjoy it. We were both starting to feel the need for that day off in 2 days. We got into camp before the sun was completely set. We were both in our tents well before then and went to bed as dusk settled in.
Saint Satur (April 22, 2015 – April 23, 2015)
Leaving Gien was challenging physically for the both of us as we were on our 6th day in a row of riding. We needed 1 more day before we can take a day off. The proverbial carrot for the day was to get to Saint Satur so that we can finally start our “weekend” drove us forward.
This day was more challenging as the terrain changed. We found us climbing more hills than we have done since we started on the Loire a Velo. It wasn’t anything too bad but we were pretty much up and down through a few towns until we got to the Briare. That was when saw our first aqueduct canal running above the Loire. A marvel to look at to see what engineering was required to get something like that to work out. We rode along side the canal and stop banks all the way out-of-town into Bonny-sur-Loire where we had lunch.
I normally don’t talk about food but this town had the best kebab place. Their chicken kebab plate which had fries, rice, and a salad was so delicious that I still think about it days after. Simply the best lunch I’ve had so far in France.
We got out of Bonny-sur-Loire and started on a fairly new section of the path right after we crossed over the bridge to the South bank before Belleville. The sign seems to be sparse and few as we tried to navigate into the town. Then the signs disappeared as it pointed us towards yet another nuclear power plant. We asked for directions a few times and saw us nearly a few yards away from one of these massive nuclear power plants. Intimidating to say the least, I hustled myself away as quick as possible as we found the path once again going towards Saint Satur.
We got to witness a boat in a lock where they would drain or fill this dammed up section with water to move boats in and out of the Loire to the local canals. A very cool and manual process as we watched in amazement. It’s the little things, right?
We finally made it into camp after trying to decipher a campsite called “Flower camping”. Try explaining that to a French person. It’s not exactly called “Fleur camping” but was literally called “Flower camping”. We finally just followed the signs into the only campsite in town. Luckily this was the place. So we are here for 2 nights.
The first night, we met a couple from New Zealand who was on their 18 month tour around the world. We hung out with them with a bottle of wine as we talked about our cultural differences and views of life. Baden and Shelley were filled with energy as they were starting there journey this month around the same time as we did but they are doing thing 6 times over. You see, there are people out there doing what we are doing. Catch their journey at http://howareyouwhereareyou.com or in Spanish http://comoestadondeesta.com. You can find them on Instagram at @BadenCycling and on Twitter at @BadenC.
The next day, we spent our time enjoying some breakfast which consisted of scrambled eggs and coffee. We then did some laundry as we caught up with some housekeeping work. We are trying to load some maps onto our Garmin with limited success. We are trying to use Velomaps as suggested by Baden. I’ve got all the software installed and maps downloaded on Harry’s laptop. I have to work out some kinks and get it on our Garmin (which apparently does not work in Europe except for tracking purpose).
We had a cab to take us up to Sancerre for some sauvignon blanc tasting in town. They are famous for that in the region as their hills were farmed out just to cultivate grapes for this famous type of wine. It felt weird being in a car again after a few weeks. Our taxi driver was efficient as we swung around roundabouts and continued to climb up to the town of Sancerre. We got off and visited a store that seemed to have the wine for us to taste. The shop owner was gracious and offered us whatever we were interested in without charging us anything. We thanked her and went a few stores down to the restaurant to have some lunch.
After lunch, we walked around the town but everything seemed to be closed. We finally found more tasting rooms to enjoy more wine. We decided to visit a few more tasting rooms when I noticed one named Alphanso Mellot. This was the name a gentleman gave me the previous day when he rode next to me on his road bike to ask me to leave my email address at his store in Sancerre. His worker then proceeded to gift us a bottle of Sancere wine! How amazing is that? We are so blown away and gracious. Big thanks to Alphanso if he’s reading this entry.
Needless to say we were happy as we got into camp. Harry tried to nap as I backed up my photos and videos from our trip so far. Then I recognized Iain and Donna from the day before. They had made it into camp and was going up to Sancerre to taste some wine. We met up with them when they got back. We had 3 bottles of wine between us. We polished away 2 before we left for dinner which went on until 11PM. Everyone had a great time as we got to know each other and joke about each of our country’s good and bad tendencies. We crawled into bed tuckered out from the great day and the great people we have been meeting on this trip.
Fourchambault (April 24, 2015)
On this day, both Harry and I was in sync. We both got up before 7AM and was packing up our stuff and was read to roll out 20 minutes earlier than our 9AM departure. We stopped by the local boulangerie for some breakfast and our baguette. It took some time to figure out how the Loire a Velo routed us out-of-town but we eventually got on our way East.
The weather was chilly in the morning as gray skies loomed above and the sun didn’t break until we were done with our ride. The bike path took us through lonely farm towns and eventually brought us to a canal city in Beffes. The path then somehow disappeared and took us on an offroad excursion where we navigated between 2 roads separated by a patch of grass between them. We inevitably found the path after retracing our tracks and found the bike route out-of-town which was located a block North.
What we learn by the Loire a Velo, they’ve done a great job posting signs every 50 meters. This means that if you wonder around long enough, you will eventually find a La Loire a Velo sign somewhere. If not, asking a local about it can help or you can just hop on a local road to the next town. After about 2 weeks of riding on this path, they have done a fantastic job in keeping you away from the cars and touring through the small villages. All great as we are visually stimulated everyday.
We eventually crossed the Loire to find the camp grounds located immediately after the bridge in Fourchambault. The place is a little run downed with old mobile homes parked here that seemed to have been here since the 80s. The bathrooms are definitely not as nice as our previous campsites but they have shower accommodations. That’s one thing to count on for French campgrounds, they always have included shower facilities. I do miss the fire pits that American campsites normally provide you. Would have been great to cook something over the fire but no French camp grounds offer a fire pit.
The campground also offer free and reliable WiFi thankfully. I enjoyed some streaming music while composing this post entry sitting on a dirty old bench in 61 degree weather sneezing my guts out. The pollen has been killing me these past few days. Thank you Spring!