Sunday, May 01, 2016

Loire à vélo

One of the main reasons I had come back to Tours was for the biking.  I had found a great deal last time I was here, where I could rent a bike for the price of 2 days (23 euros) but could keep it for 3.5 days because the store was closed on Sunday and Monday (It's France...).

But the weather had not been cooperating.  It had been cold and rainy last weekend, and cold all week.  I was hoping to go this weekend but Saturday was rainy and grey.  I had planned to take the bike Saturday so I could have it Sunday and Monday, which were supposed to be nice.

I ventured out into the cold, drizzly afternoon to pick up the bike.  I arrived at 1:15pm but the store was closing for its lunch break.  I tried to explain that I had just walked over in the rain, but their lunch was sacrosanct so I left and wandered around some department stores and had a coffee to kill time.  I returned at 2pm to get my bike for the sunny days ahead.  Turns out that such arrangements only worked during the low season, and now I would only have it for two days as paid for.  Not wanting to lose a rainy day, I decided I would just return Sunday morning to get it for two days proper.

I studied away the rainy afternoon, until the clouds passed and the day finally opened up.  I stopped in the Forum Les Halles, the wonderful fresh indoor market in town.  I picked up a small hunk of comte for breakfast for tomorrow and for a picnic cycle.  After my market visit, I headed down to the river, and walked along the banks of the Loire River, its turgid waters swelling from the prodigious spring rains.  It was golden hour as the day's fading light cast its bright glory on the spring leaves.  It was warming, as I found what I was looking for: signs of printemps.

I ended my Passover fast over pizza and beer.  I was excited to say the least.  I got a Champêtre pizza, a pizza with tomato sauce, chèvre, emmental, and crème fraîche. They make their pizzas très fancy in France. I said haMotzi over the pizza and a Grimbergen ambree in the bar.  I worked on an essay in French about travel recommendations in Brazil (Le Bresil), before turning in for the night.

Today was bright and beautiful with only a hint of the lingering chill. I made my way down to the bike shop and was there as it opened.  I used my French to get the bike.  The gentleman was giving me the helmet, the pump and my shit.  Okay, I can take my shit.  I was a lil surprised by his cheekiness.  He then asked me if he said it right in English.  What?  The last word, your shit.  OH!  No, you didn't.  That is a sheet not a shit.  Sheeet.  Sheeeet.  We practiced, and I gave him some alternate words to use.  Like form.  This is your form.

And then I found two euros....

Which I took as good karma as a reimbursement for the price of me renting a helmet to protect my cabeza.

I returned to the dorm to have breakfast of baguette pieces with the rich comte cheese and beure, along with my usual coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Also a pain au chocolat that my friend Stela had saved for me in honor of the end of Passover.

And I set out on my ride via the Loire à Vélo route.

I weaved my way out of Tours and down to the path to the lake and park.  I got crossed through the park, getting lost a few times trying to stay on the trail before finally getting myself fully out of the city and into the rolling fields.  I wished some cows grazing: bonjour.

I had been on this path before, but it had changed a bit since the autumn.  Like beautiful fields of yellow flowers.

And it was all yellow...

I sang to myself the Coldplay tune and dreamed of other fields of gold in India and on the road to Poitier.

I biked past the beautiful city of Savonnières, the previous place I had biked to before.  I kept on until I reached Villandry.

Villandry had an interesting history.  Its name came from the original Germanic name Andric, and from the Latin villa or domain.  At Villandry, the Cher River meets the Loire River.  This junction point is known locally as "the end of the world."  Having been to the end of the world at the bottom of Tierra Del Fuego, I laughed at such pronouncements and thought back to a certain lighthouse that graced their fin.

And this tidbit of history of Villandry:

"Its population was at its highest around 1830, 1,054 inhabitants counted in 1836. It fell when the local industry of hemp-growing declined."

It was only midday, so I decided to press on to Chateau Azay-Le-Riddeau some further 16km on.  The Chateau Azay-Le-Riddeau is supposed to be one of the finest in the Loire Valley.

So I continued on the further 13 km to the chateau.  I passed more fields and forests, and cute sheep grazing.

I finally reached the chateau...only to find it closed.  May Day.  Merde.  The place is closed three days of the frekin' year: Jan 1st, Christmas...and May Day.  The Japanese couple who had also just arrived looked on in surprise, and the gentleman raised his arms in a WTF gesture.  I explained it was May Day, and he just shook his head.

But it matters not, truth lies in the journey not the port as Eduardo Galeano wrote.

I sat out under a tree in the tiny city center, and had a delicious lunch.  I ate my fromage comte in crusty baguette pieces covered with honey and confiture de cerise.

After lunch, I stopped in a little patisserie for a dessert snack.  I got a wonderful scoubichac, which I imagine to be a French way of saying "scoobiesnack."  It was a pastry of chocolate and nutella wrapped in buttery pastry dough.  C'est magifique dans le espresso.

I begin my long journey back.  While Chateau Azy-Le-Rideau had been closed, there was another chateau I passed in Villandry on my way back. I headed back past the sheep grazing, and made my way back to Villandry.  The Chateau Villandry was indeed open, so I got a student ticket to visit the chateau and the lush gardens surrounding the estate.

The Chateau Villandry had been a fortress before it was acquired by Jean Le Breton, basically the Defense Minister for King Francis I.  The chateau remained in the Breton family, until it was later acquired by the Marquis de Castellane.  It was siezed during the French Revolution, then later taken by Napoleon, and given to his youngest brother Jerome Bonaparte.

In 1906, it was acquired by Dr. Joachim Carvallo and his wife Anne Coleman.  The Spaniard and the American met in the midst of the Spanish-American War (awkward...) in a research lab in Paris.  It helped that Anne was an heiress to an American iron and steel fortune, and they bought and restored the chateau.
 Apparently, they needed a good place for their panting collection...

The place was lovely in its grace and splendor, and the gardens were magnificent. I strolled through all of it before continuing my final 25km back to Tours.

In total, I did 70km (about 45 miles), which is a personal best.  See what I am capable of with the return of carbs.  More importantly, it was great to just bike and stare out at the beautiful countryside--getting some time to think and also some great exercise.

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