By Celeste Zurbrigg
BikeTours.com asked us to provide with some memories on how bike travel can bring us together.
The following text is a one-day extract from my vacation diary in the fall of 2011, when we took a BikeTours.com Loire Valley Chateaux Self Guided Cycle Tour. We had a few situations that brought various people together at different times.
Day 11 – Sun, Sep 18 – Blois to Amboise – 44 km – (Chateau Chaumont)
Today is John and my 29thwedding anniversary. Our group of 6 brought our luggage to the front desk by 9:00 am after breakfast. It will be taxied to our next hotel. This will be our routine for the next week, except twice when we stay two nights in the same hotel. That will allow anyone to take a day off from cycling or to cycle the excursion route and return.
We met at our bikes, organized our day’s stuff in the saddlebags and front map bag. We have to be prepared for heat, cold, wind, or rain. We put on our luminous (read…bright yellow) safety vests that the bike company suggested strongly that we wear. We look like children wearing pinafores or road construction workers!!!!
About a block after leaving the hotel, it was not apparent where we had to turn next. Thus we turned right into an empty parking lot to study the map. John was first, next Hugh, then me. I witnessed Hugh’s bike stop dead in its track when he hit a small rough opening on the low curb. He catapulted over his handlebars. It happened so fast, but I remember seeing him tucked in a small ball. As the rest arrived, we helped him up. David examined the bike and announced that the gear lever was broken. Hugh had a gash on his elbow and a bit of a sore hip.
So, I suggested we go back to the hotel so that they call up the bike company. When we arrived, we were lucky to see the rep from the bike company there, unloading bikes for the next group. I told him what happened. While we were waiting for him to finish, Nurse Joanne and Assistant Michelle applied bandages on Hugh’s elbow. Way to go, Team! The rep then told the rest of us to start biking and to stop at a particular place on the south side of the river, close to their bike shop. In the meantime, he and Hugh drove to the bike shop with the broken bike. Not too long after, Hugh arrived with a new bike at our rendezvous spot.
After that shaky start, we headed west towards Amboise. We cycled on old paved roads that we shared with a few walkers, cyclists and the odd car. It’s hard to believe that these paths were car roads because they are almost the same width as our dedicated walking/cycling paths in Edmonton. In fact, when the cars passed us, they had to drive off the road by 2 feet onto the grass.
We are so happy to be here at this quiet time of year. Apparently, it is very busy during the summer. All other cyclists we meet don’t wear what we’ve come to call the “dorky vests.” However, we all agreed to wear them because France has a law called “Priority to the Right.” This means that if you’re traveling on a road, anyone coming in from your right can turn in front of you, except if he has a stop sign. So by being very visible, it tells them we’re tourists and perhaps don’t know about this law! :o)
We passed sunflower fields that were all brown. We assumed that they are ready for harvesting. We would have seen all the yellow flowers if we were here in the summer. However, we did spy one lonely yellow one in the middle of all the brown ones: The survivor!
We passed through some quiet towns and arrived at one that looked promising for a bathroom stop. As we were coming to a stop, talking in English, there were two men standing by. I overheard one say to the other, “Mignons!” This means “cute” in French. Obviously, this was a reference to our dorky vests. I smiled and being French-Canadian, I said to them, ‘Vous êtes très mignons aussi!,” which means “You are very cute also.”
Well, you should have seen the surprised look on their face as they assumed, we did not understand French. They laughed, I laughed. My group went on ahead a bit and stopped. I turned around and returned to the two men, with a big smile on my face. I spoke with them in French and told them that it was the bike company who strongly suggested that we wear them. After a bit more fun conversation, I returned to my group. Cycling easily allows for these local interactions. All was good! :o)
We arrived at the base of the Chaumont Chateau about 2 hours after we started. We locked up our bikes and chose a restaurant close by to eat lunch before touring the chateau.
Most ordered pizza. John and I ordered the special of the day which sounded like a Croque Monsieur (grilled ham and basic cheese) which came with a salad. As it turned out, the cheese in this one was goat! John took one look (and smell of it) and said to all of us, “I can’t eat this!” We did not have time for him to order another meal, so, members of our group shared some of their pizza with him. Some, even though goat cheese is not on the top of their list, ate part of his meal. We gave them salad in return. We’re all becoming aware of our various food tastes and what could have been a food disaster, turned out to be a very team supported situation! :o)
We walked up to the chateau and crossed the drawbridge to get in. Interesting historical figures such as Catherine de Medici, Nostradamus, and Benjamin Franklin all lived here at one time. We explored various floors and marveled at centuries-old tapestries, etc. We walked to the stables which were the most sumptuous and luxurious in Europe at the time. It made sense back then as it was their method of travel, in other words, their garages of the time.
So, we got back on our “horses” and cycled off to Amboise. Along the way, we saw a very mature forest where all the trees had been planted in rows. There was undergrowth below the trees. The sun was shining. Some trees were green, others had started to turn yellow. It was a marvelous sight. We then heard gunshots. It was hunting season in France for small animals like rabbits and birds. We then saw some hunters. They were dressed in woolen-type clothes wearing a gentleman’s hat. They had dogs with them and cradled their open guns in the crook of their elbows.
We arrived in Amboise, found our hotel, put our bikes in a garage, checked in, and went to our rooms. Later we went down to the base of the Amboise chateau and had some beers in a bar. This was followed by supper back near our hotel. For supper, John ordered a scrambled egg/salmon dish for his appetizer. When it arrived, there were two eggs shells with the top part removed. In it were the scrambled eggs and fish eggs on the top. This was not what he was expecting. He took a small bite and said, “I can’t eat this, it is too salty”. Well, everyone at the table cracked up laughing as this was looking like a repeat of lunchtime. So, I traded my appetizer with him. Yes, it was salty, but it was washed down by a good French Red. Happy Anniversary, my dear!