This first posting may be a little rough, as after cycling all day, cleaning up and dining we have only a little time and free energy to write and edit –David
Monday May 16 – Wednesday May 18th
Tessa writing: Its May in France and that means three things; national holidays, strikes and changeable weather. The first two are connected. The holidays come every two weeks or so and so why not arrange a strike between say Ascension and Pentecost and that way have extra time off. The French usually shrug it off but this year is different … a general transportation strike has crippled the country. No trains, no buses, no planes, no trucks, no gas (the trucks cannot deliver), blockades around the major cities, demonstrations and we have arrived in La Baule for the start of our Odyssey from the Atlantic to the Black Sea in the middle of this mess. Oh and its blowing a gale and raining horizontally.
We left our home near Grasse on Monday with the bikes packed in the back of a large Peugeot. The sun was shining, we made good time and arrived in Bordeaux (800 kms away) in time for dinner. The next day after a quick tour of the old city with its beautiful ochre-colored stone buildings we returned to the autoroute to head northwest. La Baule was bathed in sunshine, our hotel comfortable but the owner gave us the first inkling of trouble. “Oh,” she said, “There’s a transport strike.” We had planned to ride around the marshes of Guerande (think salt) that make up the delta of the Loire but the wind and the rain scotched that plan. We had also planned to take the train tomorrow to St. Nazaire and then ride to Nantes but a visit to the station put paid to that idea. “Ah Monsieur,” said the lady at the ticket counter, ” we do not know at what time there will be a train and when there is one it will probably be too full for you to take bikes on board.” We returned to our friendly Hertz guy. The Peugeot we had dropped off yesterday was still there. It was 3/4 full of gas and the potato chip crumbs & peanuts that had dropped during our travels but it was available. So we rented it again and headed for the marshes. By the time we reached Guerande the sun was out and the salt flats were shining though rippling with wavelets; the wind had not abated but life was looking better. This evening after a wonderful meal of oysters and turbot washed down with Muscadet life is looking definitively better … we’ll see what tomorrow brings!
Thursday May 19th
We depart early, bikes and bags back in the Peugeot, so that we can return the car to Hertz in St. Nazaire. The sun is out and we’ll have a brisk tail wind to help us to Nantes. David quickly puts the wheels back on the bikes, I pass him his pedals but mine are no where to be found. We call the hotel but the owner says nothing is on the sidewalk where we packed the car. Luckily a Decathalon, a wonderful superstore for all sporting gear, is nearby and in an hour I have pedals again. David felt it better not to cycle across the bridge of St. Nazaire to the south bank of the Loire where the biking trail begins and I am thankful! The bridge is high, long (2 kms) with a very narrow bike lane and heavy traffic. David calls a taxi company that has a growing business of ferrying cyclists across and the driver deposits us in St. Brevin. Finally we start off, two hours late but with the tail wind we make good time, sometimes beside the river, sometimes detouring through villages. The green signs for the Loire à Velo route are good until about 10 kms from Nantes where they point in contradicting directions and we become lost. We swoop down a steep hill to the Loire only to find it dead ends and we have to trudge back up again. Everyone we ask has a conflicting opinion how to reach the city until, finally, we come up a long hill to a traffic circle where a French angel is standing next to his house. “Are you lost?” He inquires. On hearing the affirmative he tells us he likes to help fellow bikers. Seems over the years he has biked from France to Bulgaria along our planned route and this summer will be biking from Nantes to Carcassonne and back, around 1500 kilometers. He starts to explain a short cut to a ferry that will take us to the Gare Maritime of Nantes but then tells us to wait, runs to his house and returns on a bike. “I’ll show you the way!” He says and off we go down a lane that narrows into an overgrown path near the river which leads under the autoroute we were on only two days ago into an industrial area with the spires of Nantes finally evident. “Turn left at Kentucky Fried Chicken, ride through the beautiful village where I was born down to the port and there you will see the ferry!” A quick boat ride and at last we find ourselves in the very beautiful city of Nantes. The lovely hotel David has selected is next to the Opera and the main square and to welcome us a chamber music group starts playing in the lobby as we check in. A fine welcome indeed!
Saturday, May 21
David writing: We spent two nights in Angers to allow plenty of time to see the Apocalypse Talpestry, the oldest and largest in the world. The two levels of panels stand about ten feet high and stretch on for a football field’s length. Afterwards, as we sat at our restaurant having “nem” (spring rolls) and sushi for lunch, we heard a French mother speaking in English to her five-year-old. Tessa struck up a conversation, and we were very surprised to learn that this young couple had spent a week in Portland, and knew the Gorge, Cannon Beach, Sun River,etc. Did the daughter eat her meal? Only french fries and some ice cream. But, as in Britain, she was not doted upon; the parents mainly ignored her and talked with us, while she fended for herself.
When all of us had finished our meals, and with the daugher eventually ensconced on the back of a bicycle, they toured us around some sights we would never have noticed, including a beautiful church and also a very explicit view from below in bas-relief on a fascade of the underside of the nude sculptor who produced it. Aparently such representations were common in the middle ages. You’ll find no photo of it here. We have eaten very well everywhere, including this night for me a Dover sole, and for Tessa a delicious plate of oysters, sea snails, shrimp and langoustines.