Thursday, October 20, 2016

France - Cheese Cheese and more Cheese!


Our last night in Switzerland was in a forest north of Geneva. It was beautiful and we woke to the pitter patter of rain... good reason for a sleep-in (also Emily's birthday). The rain didn't stop but we didn't let it dampen our spirits so we rode into Geneva. The huge fountain was only partially obscured by rain and was still impressive! We decided setting up a wet tent in the rain wasn't going to be a fun evening so we spoilt ourselves with a motel. 40km out of Geneva... just 2hrs said Tim... Pity about the road work detours - eventually made it inside and dry many hours later!

The weather improved so we continued cycling - out of the Rhone Alps and down into Bourg-en-Bresse. We discovered that Monday is the special (annoying) day in France when few shops open... missed out on trying the local speciality - fancy fat chickens that we watched roaming around in paddocks.

We watched enthralled as the local farmers delivered the grapes to the wine co-operative where each tractor/trailer load was sampled, weighed and dumped. No tasting wine although Emily did have a rookie accident, ending up on the grass with her bike on top of her... maybe she had been indulging?

We stopped at our first Chateux - Cormation - and did the full tour in French! Similar to the insides of other royal buildings and we were impressed by the garden maze, the moat and also the kitchen gardens (provided the herbs for our Ratatouille that night).

Rather than stick to a plan of going to Paris directly we looked at the weather and decided to ride down the Loire River. We were spoilt with private campsites, flat open roads and cycle paths, great French food and lots of sunshine! Even official campgrounds were well-situated on the river, had grass, hot showers and were reasonably priced.

Tim was suitably impressed by the amount of nuclear power stations - safe, efficient, clean energy! Further on the technicality of the canal systems with locks for raising/lowering boats was impressive and interesting for both of us to watch in progress.

The famous Chamboard Chateau - they had gone for the Coober Pedy look (construction zone).

Sully Chateau - another amazing lunch spot. Tim found a path... not really a touring cycle route but more a single track Mtn bike path. Finally found the official cycle route as well as a plastic bag on the path full of 50+porn... some things don't get better with age!

Stayed at campsites in Blah (Blois) & Blur (Blere) - giggle giggle! before reaching Saumur... Here the tourist info office offered a visit to a kangaroo park for only 45 euro! We headed off instead to the mushroom cave - saw all the colours/varieties and tried to learn how they grow etc.. Fascinating!!

We ended our Loire River cycle journey in Nantes... Was raining so we caught a train to Dol-de-Bretagne on the Brittany/Normandy coast. The initial purpose of visiting the north coast was to see the castle featured in a favourite classic movie 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'. It turns out that it was not actually the castle they used in the movie but Mont Saint Michel was a great place to visit. The day we arrived, 1st October, the bridge was open for cyclists... Yes!

Next we headed north along another bike path to the D-Day landing coast = memorials/museums/cemeteries. First stop was the German cemetery (22,000 dead) then the US memorial on Ponte du Hoc and the US Normandy Cemetery (9,000 dead). We continued on to all the beaches - Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

Found out what they used all the apples for - Calvados! We were able to sample apple cider and liqueur... Yummy after our previous attempt at trying calvados...

After all D-Day'ed out, we headed down to Caen, caught the train to Paris and cycled to our hotel - through most of the red light district lined with shops and clubs and finally Moulin Rouge - only to discover we'd booked the wrong night!! The Grand Turin Hotel was great!! Found us room down the road, stored our bikes... Staying 2 nights, we decided to make the most of Paris and booked in to see the Moulin Rouge... Lights, sequins, ridiculous costumes and very corny choreography but was 2 hrs of pure entertainment including a bottle of real French champagne and lots of breasts!

Wandered around Paris the following day ticking off the Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame cathedral, the Pantheon, the Louvre and lots more. Then after a hot bath to revive Emily's muscles we cycled the sights at night and had wine and cheese under the Eiffel Tower. Trying to get around the Arc de Triomphe at night will not be lanes, no rules! Oh boy, was the adrenaline pumping!!?!

We then cycled to Melun to stay with some WarmShowers friends who stayed with us in Australia. Typical French food (snails, tartiflette, steak tartare, calf head, Bordeaux deserts & Chartroix) and a great ride through the forest where Monet (and other less famous artists) got their inspiration.. Very pretty! Then returned back along the Siene River.

Next stop was north to Amiens and the Australian WW1 War Memorial. Then, a day on the trains to bounce across Belgium to Cologne in Germany.

France! - we have loved your food!! Cheese, cheese and more cheese... Terrines, pates, pastries... Everything except the envelopelle au porc (rolled intestines smeared in fat) poor choice! -even Tim didn't eat it!!
Majestic churches with high-arched ceilings left unpainted and stained glass windows.
France has definitely embraced cycle pathways and the infrastructure to generate tourism $$$. 

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