France Tour Log Part 2
Wednesday 9/29, Talais to Blaye - 45 miles on the trike
Another early departure as we have to reach the ferry port at Pointe de Grave. After paying the toll we wait in line with the cars (and meet a couple who had seen us at the bistro the day before), load up, and enjoy a short ride across the estuary to Royan.
The eastern shore of the estuary features a bit more topography, so we stay close to the shore to avoid the worst of the climbs. One turn takes us down by a canal - with the tide out, the boats are grounded. Realizing that we've hit a dead end, just as we backtrack, a group of French cyclists spy us, and we end up visiting for a while.
Grinning from our visit with the French, we head out - immediately to the wrong road (we have to ride on at least one dirt road per tour). Uncertain as to our exact position, we continue in a southerly direction, headed toward Blaye. Not long after crossing paths with some of the French riders, who were also a bit lost, the trike suddenly begins to exhibit signs of serious malfunction in the transmission. (The 72-speed gearing system of our trike includes a 3-speed hub system. The hub bearings failed and several pawls were sheared off, resulting in a total failure.)
As we stood by the road, contemplating our next move, who should appear but the support van and chase car of the folks we had just met. In an incredible act of hospitality, the van driver (and documentary videomaker) found an available rental car in Blaye, some 15 miles away. Jayne and our luggage will ride to Blaye in the chase car, and I will limp the bike to the next village and wait for rescue.
Luckily, the next village was close by, and it had a bar. Then "Gaston" and two buddies passed by - they were running late because they had to have a post-lunch cognac or two (note: that's Gaston with the wine bottle). Of course, they had to stop and commiserate - over a drink or three. In less than two hours, Jayne arrives with our new transport: a Reneau Kangoo. Though not the sportiest (or cleanest) rental we've ever had, the Kangoo had plenty of room for the partially disassembled bike and other gear, and it's little diesel sipped gazoil (1 eu/liter or around $4.80/gal).
Though our French friends were unsuccessful in getting us a room at their hotel - located inside the medieval citadel at Blaye - we were able to find accommodations at a 2-star hotel/restaurant. After having a simple dinner in the bar, we strolled over to the Citadel Hotel and crashed the cyclist's dinner. They were glad to see that we had made it to town safely, and greeted us with cheers and applause. After a short visit, we returned to our hotel.
Thursday 9/30, Blaye to Beynac-et-Cazenac
The morning starts with a return to the laundromat for Steve (who has become quite adept at operating Euro-style self-service laundry) while Jayne revises the itinerary to reflect our new transportation. Since climbing is no longer an issue, we decide to head back east and explore the hill country.
Though it's only 9 km from Sarlat, Beynac-et-Cazenac, is from another time. The small village on the Dordogne is dominated by the massive chateau perched on the cliff above the village. It's a steep climb up to the 12th century chateau, but the views of the Dordogne valley (and the 3 castles across the valley), and the chateau itself are worth the effort. Click here for more about the chateau.
After touring the chateau, we take a walk through the village and as we approach our hotel, we notice a small terrace restaurant ( Cafe de Lariviere) that has an interesting menu.
After meeting Hamish, the expatriate Englishman who owns the combination restaurant/gite, his wife, and sons, we decide to stay for dinner. When we tell him that we're from Texas, Hamish says "There's a lady from Texas coming in for dinner tonight. She owns the castle across the river." The clientele here is international, with Canadians, Australians, English, and only a few French packing the place. Dinner is fine and the atmosphere convivial.
After finishing dinner, Jayne steps into the restaurant and introduces herself to the lady from Texas. When Sue Newell is not at her castle, she lives a couple of miles away from us here in San Antonio. Over an after dinner wine, we make a new friend.
Friday 10/1, Beynac-et-Cazenac - Day Trip Rocamadour
Descriptions of the village of Rocamadour emphasize both it's beauty as well as it's position at the top of a hill - one of the considerations when we chose to return to the flat land around Bordeaux. We take a walking tour of the city, but pass on climbing the grand staircase up to the chapels perched high on the cliff above the city. Unlike the pilgrims who climb the stairs on their knees, today's tourists can take an elevator for a nominal fee.
We spend the afternoon cruising through the hills and valleys of the Dordogne, though it's a shock to cruise through a village, insulated in our Kangoo, missing the interactions - the cheery bonjours of ladies hard at their gardening or a hearty allez from the crowd at the local cafe.
We had such a good time (and good meal) at the terrace restaurant last night that we return for an encore. Another friendly international crowd helps us quickly pass the evening.
Saturday 10/2, Beynac-et-Cazenac to Castelmoron
We're ready to come home. We'll meander our way west towards Bordeaux and explore a few interesting places. Our first stop is at a bicycle museum in Cadouin where we see some historic predecessors to the bicycle. There's also an interesting church/abbey, a central market, and a shop selling local delicacies. Since weight is no longer a consideration, we stock up on a complete French meal kit (fois gras, confit, wine, and brandy).
Onward to Villereal, another bastide town, it's market day. Again another collection of everything from fresh vegetables and meats to cheap sweaters and CD collections of the Captain and Tenille's greatest hits - in French (ok, not really - but there is a certain flea market aspect to these market days.)
We bid a fond farewell to duck with one last confit cassoulet at a bistro on the square in Monflanquin, our last bastide town. We strike up a conversation with a couple from Belgium, and begin to consider destinations for our next cycling trip.
Castelmoron is not much of a town, but it's close enough to Bordeaux to allow us to make an early entry into town, without having to get up at the crack of dawn. A small hotel on the banks of the Lot will suffice for the evening, and we slip into a McDonalds on the outskirts of Villeneuve for an American food fix.
Sunday, 10/3 To Bordeaux
Breakfast and off to Bordeaux, for once we get on a major highway, and we're back at the Hotel Tulip before noon. Jayne returns the Kangoo to the airport while I pack the bike.
We spend a few hours wandering central Bordeaux, searching for a Mexican restaurant. It's not open for lunch, so we have a bit of curry at an Indian place, then head back to the Tulip to finish packing. As we're trying to stay awake, we hear a band outside the hotel - there's a 12 piece brass band busking on the street. They're playing jazz and pop standards very energetically. Of course, we have to check out the action. After a half hour or so, the band slips on down the street and the crowd of 100 or so disperses.
At dinner time, there's no sign that the Mexican place is going to open, so we opt for pizza. It's nothing fancy, but will serve the purpose.
Monday 10/4 Home to San Antonio
The taxi arrives at 4:45 (9:45pm San Antonio time) and we're off. Air France accepts the bike box without comment, and no extra charges. The return trip is uneventful, though the Customs lines in Atlanta were quite long. Our flight to San Antonio arrives a few minutes early, and we're home before 8 pm.