Rain and a More Pleasant Surprise

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We paid for the beautiful weather on Friday with three solid days of rain. As a result, we didn’t get out much, only going the making the short trek into Montsoreau on Saturday to see the Chateau, and otherwise hiding at our B&B. We actually hired a taxi on Sunday to take us to dinner and back, since we had no desire to brave the rain. We discovered that bad weather is considered a reason to close for the night, even if a restaurant would otherwise be open. Everything on the main square was shuttered, but in the area around the chateau, there were a couple of restaurants open.

It was still raining Monday morning, but we wanted to move on anyway, so we put on our rain gear and headed out. We decided early in our ride, when the route signs pointed us off onto a muddy track, to just ignore them and follow the roads. This was a great decision, as we encountered very little traffic on flat roads with good pavement, and were able to make great time, covering off about 30km by lunch. Coming back to the Velo route at Rigny-Ussy, we debated stopping at that point, particularly since the rain seemed to be picking up, but after a hot lunch, the sky lightened a bit, and we decided to push on.
As it turned out, this was a great decision, as the rain finally stopped and we had a dry ride for the last 13km to Langeais, making a distance we really hadn’t been counting on.
Langeais, it turns out, is a beautiful town. There was less greenery than in some, but our B&B had a nice garden, and a great view overlooking the chateau and the town. It’s only downfall was proximity to a church that rang its bells every hour, plus an extended performance at 7:30am and 7:30pm, which tended to interrupt our sleep. But you can’t have it all, I suppose.
After two nights there we pushed on to Tours, which is where we are today. We saw our first blue sky in several days, though it was still mostly cloudy and a bit cool. Today’s ride was probably the best we’ve had, again lovely flat road right along the river. The countryside was green and despite a long stop to explore the chateau and gardens at Villandry, it didn’t take us long to get to our destination.
Coming into Tours almost ruined our day, though. Despite being a small city of about 130k people, it was crazy busy, and the route signs disappeared for a while, leaving us to guess our route a bit until we were close to the center to be on the city centre tourist map. To top it off, there’s extensive construction of a tram line, so there’s a new bridge over the Cher that wasn’t on my map, and the bike lane was regularly getting blocked by construction vehicles, plus randomly disappearing when space was too tight (much like Edmonton, I guess, but everythings harder when you’re not familiar with the city.)
This very negative first impression led us to decide to stay only one night, but once we were settled into our hotel and started walking around the town, it quickly redeemed itself. There are a number of pedestrian streets in the older parts of town that are busy with people and more diversity of food than we’ve seen elsewhere in France. French food is great, but it was a treat to be able to be able to stop in and have a quick kebab instead of having to wait through the hour long process of more traditional French cuisine.
So Tours has now received the seal of approval, despite a rocky introduction. We’re hoping leaving town will go a bit smoother, as it looks like there should just be a separated bike path along the Loire, starting 4 blocks from our hotel end going all the way out of town. Hopefully the reality is as good as the map.
We’ll be moving onto Aboise tomorrow, though we may do a bit more exploring of Tours before heading out.

The Challenges of Traveling by Bike

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We woke up Wednesday morning to the first sun we’d seen since arriving in France. There was still a cold wind to contend with, and it did drizzle slightly during breakfast, but at least the sky was optimistic. Indeed our first day by bike went very well, and we comfortably went the 40 km to Gennes before deciding to call it a day. We’re certainly not long distance riders, doubly so since we’ve done hardly any riding this spring since the weather has been so crummy in Edmonton.
The tourist office easily secured us a place to stay, though there was a nasty hill climb required to get there. Unfortunately, at the top of the hill, we got a bit turned around since the street signs here work a bit different. When they’re placed on the sides of buildings, they work much as they do at home, and indicate the name of the street that is parallel to the sign. However, when standing alone, they indicate the name of the street behind the sign. Not realising this detail, we thought we’d taken a wrong turn and went back down the hill. So we ended up climbing the hill twice, as we actually had been in the right place.
Our evening continued to be challenging, as the restaurant in Gennes was closed Wednesday night. Having left our bikes at our B&B, we kept walking until we got to the next town, and found that 3 of their 4 restaurants were also closed Wednesday night. The walk had been further than expected, so after eating, we asked to have a taxi called…there is a taxi in town, but not that evening. The restaurant ended up calling our B&B to give us a ride. It was much appreciated, but we certainly felt bad when our host came to pick us up.
We had discovered in our walking adventure that the bike route that ran along the North shore of the Loire was flooded, so we stuck to the south shore route, which took us away from the river and into the hills. Our legs were not up this, and we only (barely) managed to make the 15 km to Saumur, though we’d been hoping to go another 10 further, to Turquant or Montsoreau. Our wimpiness was driven home to us, as we ran into a group of British cyclists (who inquired what part of Wales we were from) on the way into Saumur who were headed all the way to Nantes on the same day. Still, we were glad for the chance to rest and visit the Saumur chateau during the afternoon.
Which brings us to Today, Friday. We’ve finally had our first day of positively good weather, so our ride this morning was lovely. We stopped at the chateau de Parnay, which is mostly build underground. It’s now used as wine cellars, so while we had the chance to check out a couple of the caves, we also did some wine tasting, and ended up with a bottle of red.
Since there’s lots to see in this area, we’d decided not to bike far, and spend three nights in the Turquant/Montsoreau/Candes-St-Martin area. Unfortunately, it turns out it’s a long weekend (we both thought we’d checked before we came, but apparently we missed one of the movable holidays). It’s the closest I’ve ever come to paying for my no-reservations style of traveling, as everywhere we called was fully booked. After 7 or 8 failed calls, we were bailed out by a cancellation at a hotel that’s only a little above our target price range, and are now settled into a lovely spot above in the country, just outside Montsoreau. And we’ve been assured there’s no more holidays this month.
After checking in we rode another 4km to the Abbaye de Fontevreau, a medieval abbey that’s supposedly the largest in Europe. While famous as the burial place of two English kings (Henry II and Richard III), it was sadly hard to get a feel for it as a living place. All furniture was sold when church property was confiscated during the first Revolution, and the building was converted for use as a prison, so it’s mostly large empty rooms, though the scale is still impressive.
So that’s it. Hard to believe it’s most of a week already, but I guess it has been. The next couple of days should be fairly light as we rest and enjoy the area. We’re hoping to check out some of the mushroom-growing caves in the area, and see what else there is to see, but have dedicated Sunday to sitting around and reading.

Flying with Bikes

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We’ve arrived successfully in France, and spent the past few days a few km outside of Angers.

Getting here was an exhausting experience. It’s the second time I’ve flown bikes, so there was nothing new about packing or getting them to the airport. But there were some added complications to flying internationally with them. First, because we were flying Westjet to Toronto and Air France the rest of the way, there was some confusion about baggage policy. The longest leg policy applies, so Westjet is supposed to charge the Air France surcharge. Unfortunately, their agent was not well trained, and tried to charge the oversized & extra bag fees, as he would on a Westjet flight, but at Air France’s rates (total charge $375/bike). Despite showing him a copy of the AF policy, he couldn’t deal with the idea that Air France treats bikes differently from other baggage. He offered to waive the $75 extra bag fee, but the total price was still double what he should have charged. After I argued a bit more, he eventually said he’d just check them to Toronto for free, and we could deal with it there. I accepted this offer, and that just left getting the bikes through the oversize bag check. Unfortunately, the Edmonton airport doesn’t have a large enough bag scanner in the Westjet terminal, so we had to open the boxes and have them hand searched.

While our arrangement had gotten the trip going, it wasn’t ideal, and our leisurely 3 hour layover in TO ended up being a hectic rush to pick up everything and get to the departure counter to recheck them (side note: it’s not easy to fit a boxed bike on a baggage cart onto an elevator.) We did manage to accomplish it, and at only $100/bike it was even cheaper than I’d expected, so the result was satisfying. The flight to Paris was uneventful. I did not appreciate Peter Jackson’s over-wrought extension of The Hobbit, but there’s only so much an airline can do. We were left with just a couple of final elevators to negotiate with the bikes before loading them onto the train. Though the TGV website indicates that disassembled bikes are allowable baggage, it turns out there’s really nowhere to put them, so they were kind of in the way. But at least we got here. Now in France, we’ve been doing lots of riding. Our B&B is some distance from town, so it requires a ride of 3 or so km to get to the nearest restaurant. The weather has been less than ideal, not raining but overcast, windy and generally chilly. We’re getting by, though. Yesterday we checkout out the nearby village of Ste. Gemmes sur Loire, which was doing some significant construction to its main square, so we probably weren’t seeing it at its best. The river is very high, and has flooded a few of the lower sections of the bike route, so he couldn’t use it as much as we’d hoped. The water seems to be receding, though, so I think it will improve from now on.

Today’s excursion was into central Angers. It was further I expected – my newly installed odometer says 20km round trip, when I’d been expection only 13 or so – and we got lost coming into the city. Kathy and I are hoping to avoid big cities for the rest of the trip, I think. We were a bit disappointed by the tourist attractions, as one of the main attractions listed, the “Maison d’Adam (artisans house)” turned out to be an art store and a few apartments in a reasonably attractive building with lots of woodcarvings on the outside. And admittedly attractive and unique building, but nothing to really recommend it. The other attraction, the castle, is quite impressive and has a beautiful looking garden in the base of its moat, but we opted not to pay the €8.50 admission fee. Angers did, however, impress with how busy the old city is. It’s clearly still the center of the city, and hasn’t been abandoned to become nothing more than a tourist district like you’ll find in some of the other cities in the country. The architecture, while not unique, its style and uniformity makes the city both attractive and impressive. That should be it for now. Tomorrow we load up the bikes for the first time, and will head up the Loire, hopefully reaching somewhere near Saumur.

La Loire a Vélo

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Quiet street in Saint Benoit

It’s official: after Kathy finished law school in April, we’ll be taking a celebratory vacation in France for 2-1/2 weeks in May.  We have tickets from Edmonton to Paris departing on May 11 and returning on May 29.  We haven’t gotten to do a lot of traveling while Kathy’s been in school, so we’re both pretty stoked to be headed back to Europe.

Booking wasn’t a great experience, unfortunately.  We’ve been saving up our air miles in hopes of saving some money on this flight.  Unfortunately, when we went to book, Air Miles wouldn’t offer us any single connection flights.  They all involves at least 2 connections (Edmonto-Toronto-Frankfurt-Paris, or more ridiculously, Edmonton-Vancouver-Montreal-Paris), and several of the routes had cash prices – we only had enough points for one ticket – high enough that we’d be saving less than $200 to take those flights.  So we ended up having to just bite the bullet and pay cash.  We’re hoping to use the points that remain on a trip to Cuba next winter, but we’ll see how that goes.

The plan so far is intentionally vague.  We’re planning to bring the bikes, and head straight from the airport to somewhere in the Loire valley, which is a famous bike trip, and part of the Eurovelo 6 cycle route that goes all the way from St. Nazaire on the French Atlantic coast to  the Danube Delta on Romania’s black sea cost.  I’m currently leaning towards Angers as a starting point for our trip, and then we’ll see how things go from there.  The hope is to see a bit of rural France and have some time to relax.  The route is advertised as using primarily low traffic roads and separated bike instrastructure, so I’m hoping it lives up to its promise. We’re not sure that we’ll only visit the Loire.  There’s been talk of Provence, and Midi-Pyrenees, or maybe somewhere north of Paris – neither of us have much idea what there is north of Paris – but these aren’t the sorts of things we’re going to plan to obsession.  If we want to go somewhere else, we will.  If we’re enjoying the Loire, then there’s no reason to rush off just for the sake of something different.

It’s good to have a holiday to plan again.  I always enjoy this part.

Cycling Prince Edward Island

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Bike Touring on the Confederation Trail

It’s a few months late, but our photos from PEI are now up on Flickr. Perhaps it’s also time to write a short recap of our trip.

Biking around PEI was a fantastic way to spend a holiday. I had been warned about hills by Marilyn, but only had problems with them the first day. It turns out that the central part of the island is quite hilly, and without topo maps, we stumbled into the worst of it the first day. It was a brutal day, as we also couldn’t stop because it was a part of the island with few services. Unfortunately, while there are frequent towns on the map, many of them only have a couple houses, and no stores or hotels.

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Arrival in Charlottetown

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We’re off again, and after a long day of flying arrived in Charlottetown around 6:30 last night. Bringing a bike by airplane was a new experience for me, and it presented some challenges. The actual packing of the bike wasn’t too bad, but getting it on the airplane was slow.

First the baggage check agent was extremely slow with it. There was a lot more paperwork than you’d expect for just adding an oversized bag to the ticket and paying $50 for the privilege. Then there was the lineup for oversized bag screening. On our flight, there were also about 30 mounties with large luggage, as they were packing body armour and who knows what else to bring to the G20 meeting in Toronto. But even after getting to the front of the line, we were stymied, since the scanner in the Westjet terminal was not large enough to handle a bike box. I had to be escorted to the Air Canada terminal where my bag was scanned, and then escorted back to actually get my bag into the handling system.

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A Weekend by Bike

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Riding Home

This past weekend, Kathy and I decided to try actually taking our bikes on a short tour. I’ve been commuting by bike off and on for years – pretty much every warm day this year and last – and have been wanting to do some longer rides. Since it was our first attempt, we went for a destination that wasn’t too ambitious – Gibbons, where we found a nice-looking B&B in our price range.

The weather forecast was looking decent – if a bit hot, so we set off Saturday morning with lots of water. Steph loaned us a cooler bag that attached to the top of my rack, and kept our supply ice-cold all day. The riding started well. We’d plotted a route made of almost entirely dedicated bike paths to the north-east edge of the city, and it was flat too. The wind from the north-west even pushed us a bit on the eastern stretches. The sprawling mass that is Edmonton seems to go on forever sometimes, so we were thankful when we got to Fort Road and into a more rural setting.

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Trapped

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Funky Stairs

Yesterday we biked down Cotopaxi. Despite a bit of rain – including some sleet while we were at the top of our ride, just shy of 15,000 feet, it was a lot of fun with extraordinary scenery and would have made an outstanding end to our trip.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. We arrived back in Quito and got to the airport with plenty of time to spare…around 4:00, a good 3 hours before our flight was scheduled to depart. It was raining, which had never really occurred to me as a problem and I enjoyed watching the planes take off streaming water behind.

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The Inaccessible Andes

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Mudslide

After Baños, we were ready for a quieter place. Cities and towns of all sizes here are very noisy. So we headed off on what the guidebooks describe as the Quilotoa loop, basically just a series of mountain roads roughly making a circle through some fairly remote regions. Our destination, Chigchulán, was only about 80km away from Baños as the crow flies, but required about 6 hours by bus, not counting the 30 minute delay while they added branches to shore up the mudslide so it could be driven over.

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