Can a bike trip be a bike trip without a bike? We were left to ponder this deep philosophical question after we arrived in Moulins, a city in the Auvergne region famous for its Cathedral, but one sans bikes. I had a list of four, but two were long gone, one sold motorcycles and about three bikes and the fourth had a limited selection. Don't panic, I told Susan - we'll figure something out. It's a big country, there have to be bikes somewhere.
Secretly, I too was a little worried. I have been planning this trip for years - and not being able to find bikes was not part of my intricate planning. So, off to Riom, about 70 miles south of Moulins. As I walked through town (Susan waited at the gare with all our bags) looking for a hotel - voila! A bike shop, Cycles Blanc, loaded with lots and lots of bikes. Whew...
Monsieur Blanc didn't speak a word of English, but we managed to make ourself understood and three hours later rode off on our new bikes. OK, I know everyone, especially Bryan, Howard and James are wondering how much - and I'll tell you: 1200 Euros, which converts to about a million dollars due to the weak dollar. So, now and officially, the bike trip begins. And perhaps, tomorrow, we will ride by a tree in the forest just as it is falling and will be able to finally answer this philosophical question as well. Tomorrow (Thursday) we'll go for a ride to test out the bikes and the day after we're off to Thiers, a town famous for something - probably a big, old cathedral.
Stay tuned, you never know what will happen next...
It's about 2:30 in the afternoon (or 14:30 in France) and we should be out riding our new bikes - but we're not. More on that later. After breakfast we walked into town - which is about a mile away - for supplies and passed by this sign...
We also passed by this parked car...
And once in town we stopped in at the Saint-Amable basilica, which is a really old cathedral.
Along the rue de Commerce we saw this kitty in a window, who seemed to be held captive against her will. OK, enough with the sightseeing ... armed with water, apricots, cherries and a box of figolu (the French version of fig newtons) it was time to ride. We headed back to the hotel, changed into our riding gear and...
The sky got dark, the thunder in the distance got closer and closer and then it started pouring and - BAM! - lightning filled the sky. It would clear, we'd start thinking about riding ... and then the weather would roll back in ... it would clear and ... well, you get the idea. This is the view from our hotel window, where we will most likely be stuck for the next several hours. Oh wait, it's starting to clear ... nope, false alarm.
Knock on wood ... tomorrow we leave for Thiers, which is about 25 miles to the east...
Finally, we have internet access again! Did you miss us? There's a lot of catching up to do, but instead of boring you with too many words, I'll let Susan's photos (and even a couple I took) fill you in on what we've been doing. Above is a shot of a shop window in Thiers.
Above is a movie playing in Thiers that has a title similar to that of our blog, but doesn't last as long. Did anyone ever hear of this movie?
What is this Thiers I speak of? So, from Riom, on our new bikes, piled high with at least 80 pounds of stuff, that's right, at least 80, about 55 on my bike and maybe 30 on Susan's, we headed a nice, easy and moderately scenic 22 miles east to this city way, way, way up on a hill. Susan would have been more than happy with one way up, especially as the traffic whizzed by on the ascent that never seemed to end. It's a pretty cool town, filled with old buildings and steep, cobbled streets. At the bottom is a raging river that once powered several mills. But it is also a poor city and half the shops are closed, there are hardly any restaurants and all the mills are closed and in disrepair.
Here's one of the steep streets of Thiers, although it's hard to tell from this photo exactly how steep it is. You'll have to trust me.
Here's the raging River Durolle and old mills. I told you it raged.
Here's another street of Thiers. We were here 3 nights and had a lot of time for photos. On day two I went for a long ride (45 miles) into the surrounding hills/mountains and on day three we went on a day trip (18 miles) to the nearby city of Courpiere.
This is one of the rare times that Susan seemed to enjoy the riding (although today was better). This region - the Auvergne - is not as beautiful as we had hoped and is a lot steeper than we had hoped. But, the real problem are the ... FLIES. Maybe it's fly season or maybe this is fly region, but whatever the reason there are a lot of flies here. And they surrounded us -Susan a lot more than me -whenever we go slow and are sweaty, which is how we go up the many hills. They've become a real problem for the fly/spider-phobic Susan who has had a few freak out episodes on the side of the road. She wears a pink scarf over her face ... and I have dubbed her the Pink Pirate of the Auverge, although she sees nothing funny in this when we are riding and would have probably killed me if I took a picture.
(Susan: Hey...they were all over my face! On my sun glasses, in my helmet buzzing and probably laying eggs in my hair and in my ears and they're gonna hatch inside my brain ...)
The fly attacks started shortly after we stopped here to take a photo of this sign on the 25-mile ride from Thiers to Vertolaye (yet another little town nobody has ever heard of). It was a tortuous ride for Susan. Soon after we pulled into our hotel in Vertolaye, a group of 16 bike riders - eight couples - pulled up and checked in. The bastards had a support van carrying their stuff, but according to the matching T-shirts they wore to dinner, they were on an 8-day, 700-mile ride from Belgium to Southern France.
But even the swarm of flies couldn't stop her from snapping this scenic shot.
Or this one, up on the way to La Chaise-Dieu. On the way here, as we started the last 6 kilometer climb to the town, the flies were so bad Susan took refuge in a little church along the side of the road. For some reason (perhaps they are Protestants) the flies didn't enter. I went ahead to the town and got us a hotel and came back for Susan and we managed to make it up that long, last climb to La Chaise-Dieu, which is a really cool little town dominated by a giant church built in the 1300s. The view from our hotel window was of the front of the church.
Since we've already had a swarm of locust-like flies of Biblical proportions, why not hail/thunder/lightning/pouring rain storm? It was cool to watch from the safety of our hotel window. Hail was bouncing into our room. During the storm, three German guys on bikes rolled into town. One, looking soaked, miserable and ready to collapse, was calling ahead to his friends: "Dieter, Dieter, Dieter." They rain finally ended and we went out to eat at a nearby hotel/restaurant where Dieter and his two friends were also eating..
This was a shop in La Chaise-Dieu.
On our second day in la Chaise-Dieu, while Susan recovered from the flies, I went on a nice ride - and this is the view on the way out of town from the other side.
I passed by these bales of hay. For some reason I like bales of hay.
On our second night in La Chaise-Dieu, a surprise awaited under our pizzas! The mushroom guy on the right is "playing" a spray can, while we're not sure what the guy on the left with the boom box is supposed to be. A green pepper? A pickle? A cucumber? My plate featured Pizza Jazz.
The church in La Chaise-Dieu has cloisters. They are open at night and we wandered around snapping pictures. We have 4 cameras with us. A digital for the blog, a "regular" 35 mm (and three heavy lenses for the two) and two of Susan's special Holga "toy" cameras. And we also have about 60 rolls of film.
Crossing our fingers, and with Susan loaded up with half a tube of Creme Anti-Moustiques, we headed out of town. Our new plan is to get to Le Puy-en-Velay as quick as we can, then get the hell out of the Auvergne and shoot over to Provence, where we know it is more scenic and we hope there are less flies. On the way to Vorey, we saw this poster on the wall. Fortunately, the 18 miles to Vorey, which is a little town on the Loire, were flat or downhill and since we were moving at a good clip, the flies were not a problem. A couple times I saw a few buzzing around Susan's head, but they didn't go in for the kill. Maybe the Creme Anti-Moustiques worked.
We got to Vorey a little after noon and ... our hotel has internet access! Our room also has a big black vibrating/massage chair, sort of like the ones you sometimes see in airports. While Susan vibrated and answered e-mails and prepared the blog, I went for a fantastic ride along the gorge of the Loire. After, I washed my bike clothes in the sink and hung them out to dry on the balcony. We have washed a lot of bike and regular cloths in the sink and rigged up bungy cord clothes lines in windows, across our tiny rooms and even in the tinier bathrooms. So, it was a luxury to have a balcony.
OK, we are all caught up. And really, other than the flies, things are going quite well, although we have both come to realize that we like our luxury a lot more than in 1995 when we went on our last big French bike trip. And, we've also come to realize we're a lot older and different than we were in 1995 - when there didn't seem to be so many flies in France. But we are slowly adapting the trip (shorter distances, less Auvergne and more Provence, booking hotels in advance) and are getting the hang of it. It's not so easy and I don't recommend this type of trip for everyone. In fact, we may be nuts (and by we I mean me since this whole thing was my idea) Tomorrow (knock on wood) we ride about 15 miles south along the Loire to Le Puy which should be a fantastic city. We're working on booking a room with internet access so we can keep you up to date.
We had a nice scenic (and fly free) 14-mile ride to Le Puy as we followed the gorge of the Loire River.
Le Puy has an amazing old town, filled with steep, stone streets and cool buildings. It is dominated by the cathedral (above) which is built into the side of the cliff. We spent most of the afternoon being tourists, walking up and down the streets, seeing the sights and taking pictures.
Up above, even higher, is perched the famous statue of the Notre Dame of France, which was built in the late 1850s (practice for the Statue of Liberty) out of cannons captured in the Crimean War, one of the few the French actually won. You climb steps to get there and can climb halfway up the insides of Mary and read all the graffiti.
These are some of the steps we'll have to climb to get there.
Several people (but mostly James, who is having a hard time differentiating between France and Italy) have asked us to bring shot glasses home for them. Evidently, our friends enjoy drinking. So, James, here's your stinkin' shot glass, we hope you enjoy it. They didn't have a James, so you'll have to settle for Carole, which sort of suits you.
Three days of posting in a row, this is like work. Big news: we finally did laundry. No, not in this fountain, but at a laundramatte. I know this doesn't sound like much to all of you living in the lap of luxury with your very own washer/dryers, but after 11 days of washing stuff in the sink, man, this is living. Clean underwear!
In the cloisters of the church, we saw Shrek's wife. Speaking of TV (sort of), we have been watching a little every day (just to keep in practice for when we get home) even though we can't understand much. ER (called Urgences here) is on all the time and so is The Simpsons. The guy doing Homer's voice sounds exactly like him, so it's as if it was Homer actually speaking French. We also watch EuroSport (the ESPN of Europe) when Susan allows and they seem to be into motorcycle racing and volleyball (beach and regular). As we got today's blog ready, Susan made me turn off the motorcycle racing (hey, it's cool when they go around the corners and scrape their knees) and watch this show devoted to the life of Demi Moore. Fascinating stuff, especially in French. What I got out of it was: Demi changed her hair style a lot. We also found out what happened to Jean Claude Van Damme, in case you were as worried as we were. He's OK and does commercials over here. In the one constantly on he is shirtless (and not aging all that well) and talking on the phone at his house, surrounded by three women with pineapples on their heads. He may be on to something: women and fruit do go together. Every once in a while he gives one of the pineapples a kick and - bam! - it splits in half and then - bam! - it splits in half but with a different cut pattern and - bam! - he kicks it and nothing seems to happen, but then it splits into a comlicated geometric campaign. We think he's on the phone to his agent, trying to get a movie lined up. Susan's in the shower right now, so I just put EuroSport back on - beach volleyball! And the women, not men!! It's the world tour and the Chinese women are playing the Americans - Kerri Walsh and Misty May - who got all famous after winning the Olympics and embracing on the sand for an inappropriate amount of time.
Today's theme is rain, as in: it rained pretty much all day. Fortunately, our hotel room - while small - is chock full of things to do. I had a choice of admiring the original Cezanne painting on the wall or watching TV and, as you can see, motorcycle racing was on! We also watched an epsiode of T.J. Hooker starring William Shatner's toupee and Tori Spelling as a child, followed by Beverly Hills 90210 starring Tori Spelling as a young adult. The French seem to be big on Tori Spelling.
We did get out a bit during a break in the rain and Susan did a little yoga in front of the cathedral.
We leave Le Puy tomorrow, weather permitting, and are heading to Arlempedes, which is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France according to the Office of Most Beautiful Villages of France. We probably won't have internet access for a few days - so don't panic if we don't post anything new for a while. In the mean time, just read the new comments.
We found the magical town of Arlempdes after a long up and down ride through the mountains, including a long ride down to the town. You turn the corner - and there it is perched atop the mountain. That's our hotel right below the ruins of the ancient castle.
Here's another shot of the castle.
Our hotel is pretty much the only thing in town. You pay 4 Euros at the front desk and they give you a key to the castle and you walk up and unlock the big gate. We were the only ones there for about an hour - then an Italian family entered.
There are wild flowers everywhere.
This is the view down from the castle to the river below, which we could hear -and see - from our hotel window.
Although she isn't happy with the technical merits of this pose, here's Susan doing more yoga in front of an ancient structure.
Another view from the top...
After dinner at the hotel, we wandered down to the river for the view up of town and the castle. We stayed a second day and I did an advance scouting trip of the first half of the next ride (two big climbs - that have me worried about Susan, but I'll tell her they aren't so bad so she doesn't worry). This whole region is either up - or down. And the gears on my bike are misbehaving: the front gear is stuck in the middle gear, which makes it harder to climb, but is perhaps poetic justice for Susan who doesn't seem to have much sympathy for me.
So, here's the ride from Arlempdes to Langogne (only 17 miles).
Finally, blue skies! It has been overcast forever.
Whoops, the blue skies are gone... but it helps make the photos more dramatic.
What kind of bike tourists would we be if we didn't include a photo of cows. I am happy to report that Susan handled the hills just fine. We took our time and stopped to eat and take photos and even sang a few songs. The only songs we seem to know the majority of the lyrics to are TV theme songs, so we sang the Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Gilligan's Island and even the Brady Bunch when things got really steep. Actually, I did most of the singing as Susan was a little out of breath, but she kept peddling away.
So, from Langogne we did something unprecedented in our history of bike touring. We loaded up the bikes on the train and rode to Ales, which is sort of at the southern edge of the mountain region and the western edge of Provence. To make up for this, I went on a 60-mile ride today (I saw a fort, a castle and the ruins of a castle) and booked us a hotel room for 2 nights in Uzes, where we stayed in 1995 and is also close to the Pont du Gard, the amazing Roman aquaduct. Uzes is (to us at least) the official beginning of Provence.
The sunflowers are starting to bloom.
So, we went on a little day trip today. From Uzes we rode our bikes about 8 miles to Collais, a town we visited in 1995 and 2000. I know we are so predictable. But, it wasn't on the route for this trip, but after all our changes - surprise, surprise - we found ourselves in Uzes and couldn't resist. We rented a canoe in Collais and started paddling to our destination. Along the way, we stopped so Susan could be one with nature. Be the river, Susan, be the river.
After maybe 3 miles of paddling (which is harder than you'd think) we turned a corner -and there it was: Pont du Gard, a 2,000-year old Roman aquaduct. What do you think of Susan's hat?
Here it is again... In 1995 you were able to climb up to the top and go into the upper compartment and actually climb up, through one of the holes, and be on top of the Pont du Gard. It was spectacular. Let's just say it took a lot to get Susan up through that hole. Anyway, you can no longer go up to the top and through the hole. I guess they're worried about people falling and dying and then suing.
In 2000 in Collais, Susan took a picture of this tree swallowing this sign and by an amazing coincidence (or fate/karma/yoga/luck/magic) a photo of it was on her other blog TODAY. And she pre-posted the entire 88 days before we left and we weren't planning on coming to Collais. Eerie, isn't it. Here's a link to see the 2000 photo: TREE EATS SIGN
For all of you angry at me for having such a great summer: this one's is for you. It is the result of a nasty incident with a guepe - but more on that later. We haven't posted in a while and have a lot to report...
One of the keys of an 88-day trip is clean laundry and we are experts at the art of sink washing, a multi-step process that involves a pre-rinse, washing cycle and two more rinsing cycles. At our hotel in Roquemaure we had a balcony, which made the all-important drying process much easier. I'm thinking of doing a book on the subject.
From Uzes, when we last posted, we had a scenic ride, complete with the ruins of a castle in the background, to Roquemaure and then...
Avignon, once the home of the Popes, but now home to lovers! No, that isn't Susan and me in front of the Pope's Palace, but it could have been. We got to town just before the start of the annual theater festival and it was mobbed.
Actors were everywhere, promoting their shows and practically begging people to attend. We think this show had something to do with monkeys.
Provence is dominated by Mount Ventoux, which, if you look closely, is way off in the distance. Ah, my old friend. I climbed you in 2000 (about 6,000 feet) and plan to climb you again.
We stayed at a great hotel in Maussane, a little town below Les Baux, and spent a lot of time at the pool. Our room is to the left, about 10 meters from the pool. A piscine is quite a luxury.
More scenic stuff on the ride to Salon, where we are now. Tomorrow we ride to Aix-en-Provence and stay there for 4 nights (if we can find a hotel). Today I went on a 72-mile ride and booked us hotel rooms in Lourmarin, LaCoste and Gordes, three towns we have been to before and really wanted to stay in this time. A hotel reservation is like money in the bank and makes the day's ride less stressful. Especially for you know who.
More ruins on top of a hill. This country is lousy with ruins on top of hills.
So, on Saturday, I was on a ride and minding my own business when all of a sudden a wasp, without warning or provocaton, flew into my face and got trapped under my sunglasses and started stinging me.
It hurt like hell for half an hour, but didn't seem too bad and didn't really swell up that day. But ... the next morning when I woke up: I was deformed! So, we spent a quiet day at the pool and I applied glacon (ice) to my eye. By Monday it was much better and today (Tuesday) I'm back to normal, or, as normal as someone like me can look. Thank goodness I brought a nurse with me. (yes...susan here... he took benadryl and ibuprofen all day and slept in the shade...I worked on correcting my lousy biker tan. oh by the way the camera on the computer takes a mirror image that's why it looks like the other eye in this shot)
I'm sad to report that now Susan has had a bad facial reaction, which we think is due to...
A bad batch of cous cous she ate last night. I'm pretty sure it was the mystery-meat sausages on the right. As you can see, her face isn't exactly swollen, but seems to have changed at the molecular level and we don't have enough Benadryl to correct the problem. The good news is despite eye balls the shape of mussel shells, Susan can still take photos (see below), but the bad news is French children run in horror when they see her and the parents throw rocks.
For those of you sick of sunflowers...here's a field of lavender (Angie)
For those of you who can never get enough sunflowers (especially Lauren Finkle)...
And this is for all you cloud fanatics out there (James). By the way, we are in Aix, Cezanne's city (he's an artist, Howard) and this is the sky above his studio. We'll probably have to remain here for a while, in hiding, until Susan's face returns to normal. Tonight we are having chicken soup for dinner.
This last shot is for Wayne, who asked for more cat photos. This one lives at Cezanne's studio.
I don't know if you've noticed, but this blog has been almost entirely about Susan and me, which has made us feel a bit self absorbed. But then we quickly got over it, realizing 88 Days is all about OUR trip, so what else can we write about and people probably won't get sick of hearing about us for at least another week or two. Oh, this shot above ... Mt. Ste. Victoire, the one Cezanne painted over and over and over as if he was obsessed with it. On Friday I rode completely around the mountain (40 miles) and halfway a spoke on my back tire broke. This is a bit of a problem because when one spoke breaks, others seem to do so as well and before you know it.... So, fingers crossed and avoiding pot holes and riding slowly, I made it back to town and the bike shop. On Saturday, Susan and I rode a portion of the route and she got this photo. It really is a beautiful mountain, craggy white rocks full of textures, shapes and shadows set against the blue sky of Provence.
There are fountains everywhere in Aix (why didn't Cezanne paint them?) and this is one of the most famous.
Either in our honor (perhaps they've been reading our blog) or maybe because of Bastille Day, there were fireworks last night.
More fireworks ... and a fitting end to our visit to Aix, today we leave for Lourmarin. We're not sure when we will be able to post again, so this is a good time to start at the beginning and re-read all our adventures. Wait, one more thing: Yesterday we were walking down the street and this American family was coming the other way. "Dad, look, oh ... my...God ... A Subway!" Yep. there was a Subway restaurant here. I didn't hear what the dad said to his son, but I hope it was: "I paid a lot of money for this trip and you'll eat a stinkin' crepe and like it you rotten bastard."
What would a room be without a view (according to EM Forster) and this is the view from our room in Lacoste, across the valley to Bonnieux.
When we last posted we were in Aix and it was Bastille Day. That seems like so long ago. Since then we have been heading north, over a series of mountains and through valleys dotted with little old towns on top of hills within the valleys below. I know, this is a lot of geography for one sentence, but what is a bike trip if not geography? And mosquitoes. Lots of mosquitoes. But we are now protected by Creme Anti-Moustiques.
In Lacoste there was a sculpture exhibit on top outside the ruins of the castle built by the Marquis de Sade. This one has something to do with arms and how if you have really nice arms you don't need a head or legs or any of that other stuff.
Nighttime is always the best time when you're in a tiny Provence village. It's not as hot and the throngs of buses and the tourists they contain are long gone. Again, the view from Lacoste to Bonnieux.
Every old town, of course, has an old church and this is one in Gordes, which is one of the best and most visited towns atop a hill in the region.
In Gordes, as we were walking near this spot, we heard a woman remark: "This is what it must have been like for Jesus." Aside from the fact that she was more than a thousand years (Gordes is only about 400 or 500 years old) and a couple thousand miles off, yes, this is exactly what it was like for Jesus, who arrived here on a tourist bus and bought an Orangina at the cafe.
This is the view down from Gordes. It is so spectacular that Susan had to admit it was worth the climb from that street down below.
The view from Gordes at night.
Susan has become a bit obsessed with these old Citroen cars. This one is so old there are rumors Jesus may have driven it.
The granddady of the mountains around here, and the first real Alp, is Mont Ventoux. It is 1,909 meters high, which in feet is: REALLY HIGH. And today I climb it! And no, I'm not crazy, hundreds of people come from all over Europe and beyond every day to climb Mont Ventoux and most start in Bedoin, the town we are staying in. OK, maybe we all are crazy. This climb is in the Tour de Drugs, I mean France, from time to time and is considered one of the tour's toughest.
Susan? No, she will not be climbing Mont Ventoux. We did the math and the 21-mile uphill ride would take her 12 days, so she reluctantly decided against it. Instead she will wander around town looking for old cars and cats.
This is 4 kilometers into the "epic" climb up Mount Ventoux and at this point the real climbing hasn't even begun. Things turn nasty at the 6 kilometer mark and the grade stays at a whopping 9 to 10 percent the rest of the way. Each percent of grade is like putting another cinder block on your back. OK, I'm being overly dramatic, hundreds of people climb this mountain every day, so it can't be that hard, can it?
Yes! It's strange how many people climb this mountain, from thin guys in fancy bike attire riding $5,000 bikes to overweight men - and women - on crappy mountain bikes. This is at the 7 or 8 kilometer mark and I was struggling (That's not me, by the way) ... only 1,150 more meters up to go...just take it nice and slow, one kilometer at a time... Soon after, as the sweat poured down from my helmet and into my eyes, that I began to understand why the Tour de France guys take steroids. But no, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it clean...
I eventually made it, in about 2 hours and 40 minutes, about an hour and 10 minutes off the world record. Damn, I just missed the record. The top was filled with sweaty, exhausted and smiling bikers, as well as an equal number of people who came up by car (which doesn't seem fair). Vendors at the top were selling candy, biscuits and sausage. That's right, sausage. I have no idea why you'd want sausage at the top of Mount Ventoux. The photo above was taken a couple hours later by Susan; I have a couple pictures from the top but they are crappy.
***We are headed to Seguret today for 5 nights - and probably won't have internet access. But keep posting messages and e-mailing us. In fact, the thought of reading your witty, pithy messages is what kept me going when things got tough on Mount Ventoux. Susan will have lots of incredible photos of Seguret and the surrounding area to post eventually.