Today, we say au revoir to the Loire River and the Loire à Vélo. We have covered a lot of terrain in six days – 422 kilometres. It has been a learning experience.
We have fallen into a rhythm that seems to work. In the morning, we eat at the hotel as it is faster and easier and most often, very good. We ride through the morning, stopping for coffee and pastry somewhere along the route. Riding for a few more hours, lunch will usually be a sandwich in some small town. Dennis is very patient with my constant desire to stop to take photos.
When we arrive at our destination, we always search out the tourist office, get the town map and the Vélo map for the next day’s riding. We also like to get a recommendation for dinner, though the Internet is our preferred source for picking a restaurant.
Settled into our hotel, we wander around the town for the evening, visiting the tourist sights that interest us. Most restaurants open for dinner at 7:30 and we are often the first to arrive. The French preference for late dining doesn’t suit our needs very well. We are often famished and prefer not to be up too late having dinner.
Dinner here is a long drawn out process by North American standards. The evening starts with an aperitif. The American style cocktail is not typically served here. Instead, a glass of champagne or a Kir Royale or the like is preferred. A charming custom of the amuse-bouche coincides with the aperitif. Translated as “mouth amuser”, this would be an offering by the restaurant of one or two bite-sized appetizers. After the appetizers, salads and main course, there may be a cheese course followed by the dessert. It is accompanied, should you choose, with a dessert wine. One is not served coffee with the dessert, which I find frustrating. If you ask for the coffee with the dessert, they give you a puzzled look and then invariably don’t serve the coffee until the dessert is done, in any case. Apparently, the tradition is to have an espresso after dinner. A large cup of coffee with milk is not considered appropriate after dinner.
We finish the day by reviewing our route plan for the next day and making some choices about what we might like to see. Typically though, as we ride along, we change our plan depending on what we find interesting. Some of the best experiences have been unplanned.
The last thing I do every day is write my blog post. It is a great way to remind myself of all the wonderful experiences of the day. It is easy to be nonchalant about the things we see. There is so much beauty, both man-made and natural. I don’t know how many churches and châteaux we have seen, but each one has its own story and some unique aspect that is worthy of noting. Writing my blog reminds me of this.
The riding has been exceptional. The Loire is very flat. All week, there was only one hill that I had to walk up. Mind you, we aren’t racing along at high speed, either. On average, we are going 15 kilometres per hour, which is a fairly moderate pace.
I can readily recommend riding here to anyone. Perhaps, an unsupported ride might be more than most people would like, especially for a first time experience. Most of the North Americans we meet here ride without panniers. They travel with very substantial suitcases which we see sitting in the lobbies of our hotels in the morning, waiting for their porters. On the other hand, we see many Europeans much older than us riding just as we do. Today, as we took the train to Bordeaux, we meet a French couple who were likely between 65 and 70 who did the exact same ride as us this week with panniers about the same size as ours. They appeared to be an average couple of an average fitness level but yet managed quite easily along this route.
We have figured out how to navigate the train system with our bikes and panniers. Although all French trains allow passengers to carry bikes, some require pre-booking as space is limited and sometimes, a surcharge is required. The process of loading the train is intimidating to me. The bikes are heavy with the panniers and I doubt, I could easily manage it without Dennis’ help.
As we leave the Loire, I wonder if I will ever return here to see the things that we have missed. We did not ride the full route. The Loire à Vélo continues another 160 or so kilometres from Angers before it ends at the Atlantic Ocean. We have also missed the first 170 kilometres on the far eastern end of the route, east of Orléans. The area we covered is the most traveled by tourists because of the abundance and quality of sights, but I am sure the other areas have their beauty, too. One can’t see everything, of course, and must make choices.
It’s really has been the pot at the end of the rainbow.