Penultimate, next to the last, the one before, nearly.
I have built this up in my head to be a big one, a long hard day in the saddle not so much because of the distance but because of the elevation to climb. Rosporden to Landernau is 89 miles and over 6500 feet climbing. That is like climbing 10 Carn Breas without a pasty. Landernau to Roscoff is only 39 miles. Piece of cake. As it turned out 89 miles is no problem. We are hard.
We arrive finally in Roscoff having completed about 1600 kms of cycling. No one died.
The hotel is a four star spa hotel and well worth it. We have been upgraded to a ‘suite’, complete with sauna, massage and other stuff. The staff are very helpful, as have the majority of the people we have met here. Today has been relaxing with wine, food and more wine. In fact it is probably fair to say that we have enjoyed the hospitality that France has to offer to the maximum. We are now being comforted with what we call a ‘nightcap’ but the French call a ‘derniere pour les autres’ which means the ‘last before others’. This difference seems to really differentiate the Anglo Saxon from the Gallic. ‘Night cap’ has a finality about it, a sort of puritanical end point which says ‘this far and no further’, whereas the gallic ‘derniere pour les autres’ invokes the feeling that , yes this is tonights last one, but by jimminy there will be more’. Vive La France!
Dear reader, I would very much like to entertain you with tales of derring do, but the sea air of Roscoff do overcome me with with ‘ennui’ and other abstract french concepts. Not only that, there are weird sounds that resemble dogs being interfered with.
Tonights dinner involved Moules, a fish I’ve no idea were it came from, and four fromages. It was necessary to drink two demi bottles of Pouilly Fouisse and then some. I think it it best if I finish now for fear of incoherence, bonhomie or immanent arrest.
Thank you all for bothering to read such drivel.
Nothing happened in Rennes.
Well, if it did we were not there to see, hear or touch it. This was because we decided to stay at the hotel rather than tramp into town, pretty though it is.
A lovely warm evening calls for a lovely cold beer, served by the lovely hotel receptionist/barstaff/problem solver/breakfast preparer. Lets call her ‘fifi trixie-belle’ which is as good a name as any save ‘Bert’. Fifi looks about 17 and I wonder what she is doing working here. She should still be in school. Many of the hotels seem to run on just one or two staff who do everything (apart from Thai massage and kitten fluffing). Fifi is no exception. Her english is pretty non existent and so my french had to suffice, and it is good enough now not to need hand signals, a book or an emergency call to the British Consulate to get me released from jail. She is a size 10, wearing a burgundy blouse, a figure hugging black skirt and has the eyes of Catherine Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She also has the teeth of a dog eating breakfast in a dumpster. I did not notice, but Sean did. I think he may have overstated the case.
That was as good as Rennes got for us, except of course for dinner.
We set off the next morning for Vannes, another 72 miles away on the south coast of Brittany. Another blue sky greeted us, with temperatures set to ‘very comfortable’ rather than ‘mad dogs and englishmen’ of the past days. There is a boulangerie (isn’t there always) beside the hotel so we stock up and go.
Lunchtime finds a bar/restaurant rather than just a bar/tabac open. So, and for just 11 euros, we have salade nicoise/assiete of meat for starters then a steak frites. We passed on the desserts but it was all inclusive. Great value, good food. We sit outside on the terrace in warm shade. Food is of course very important as it is easy to get ‘bonking’ on a bicycle. Its that sinking, weak low energy feeling that results in cycling through treacle. We have found the heat to be especially sapping of energy. Lunch is thus very welcome, in addition to packing our daily baguette, bananas and sweets.
As this is Brittany, the country resembles Devon and Cornwall. This means hills rather than beaches, moorland and questionable locals. As we are inland there are no short sharp steep bastards like Portreath or Porthtowan. There are however long ascents that creep up on you like a paedo in a darkened cinema, if you know what I mean, kind of unexpected. The last 20-30 miles today began those hills in earnest, and despite lunch we were very near to bonking before we got to Vannes. I might have said some rude words at some hills and slopes given the energy required and energy available ratio getting really low. Sean was quiet which is always a sign of trouble up Mill.
Fortunately, Vannes has a rest day planned for tomorrow to enable us to take stock, let chalfonts settle and prepare for the last push to the north coast. We have 61 miles to Rosporden, 88 to Landernau and 31 to Roscoff, For now, there is a cold beer waiting for me at the bar.
Cockerels crowing at daybreak. About 3 at least. Daybreak is of course about 5:30.
The hotel window is open, the shutters drawn halfway up, the town sleeps. The view from the third floor bedroom window looks over red pantile roofs, making this scene more like Spain than France. I can see house martins below us darting under eaves to their nests, I can’t see any chickens. This is before bedtime. We have dinner and stroll to take in the panoramic view of the Loire. There are swifts, swallows and martins, we have seen bats, but no chickens. A nightcap of a Talisker and a Balvenie see us off to bed. All is quiet. The town clock chimes its bell in the stillness. No rowdy drunks, no sirens and no chickens.
Until about 5:30.
Neither of us can be arsed to get out of bed and close the window. So we both are half awake listening to cockerels. Nothing else, just a few Colonel Sanders volunteers if I had my way. They sound the same in England as they do in France; evoking the countryside like clean air, tractors and dung. Knowing the behavior pattern of the male chicken in the vicinity of a female chicken, each crow actually means “whose next for a damn good seeing to?”. Well this is France, and I guess if a French Cock can’t give french cock there is no justice in the world.
Sleep, however, would be nice.
Undaunted we are up for breakfast at 8 and leave the Loire for Rennes, 70 miles away.
At this stage we are both feeling the weight of the demands made upon us. We are both carrying ‘minor’ ailments onto the road. Both bikes are fine. No more spoke or chain issues.
There is often a time during any long challenge, be it hill walking, cycling or pasty eating, when for a fleeting moment the thought occurs that the endeavour is a bit much. Day after day of the same routine while at the same time any bodily niggles get amplified because there is no rest, no time for the body to repair or recover, no recuperation or respite. Scott at the south pole probably thought “bollocks to this” but a bit late in the day, Nelson may have thought “cant be arsed” the day before Trafalgar and David Beckham, thinking he’d shagged Ginger Spice before waking up with Posh, thought “is this really worth it?” But we are all British and we just get on with it. No fannying about, JFDI.
We stopped halfway at Chateaubriant for food, lots of it, and a chilled coke. Chalfonts had cooled down from ‘fiery’ to merely ‘spicy’ while Sean’s old shoulder injury required some medication. As is often noted (by old farts) that youth is wasted on the young. Well, it is. The bastards. when was the last time you heard a teenager complaining of chalfonts or sore joints? Yes they moan about having no money, freedom or “justice in the world” but they don’t go on about bits of the body not working. I would trade worries about spots, haircuts and being caught wanking for bodily malfunctions any day.
We hit some super fine tarmac after a town called Janve. It is as smooth and as black as a snooker ball or the charred testicles of an Isis suicide bomber. On surfaces like this the bike goes quiet, just the gentle roll of tyre on road and swish of chain on cog. It becomes Zen* like. Even the road kill looks glad to be there.
We reach Rennes in good time to shower, cold beer and a dinner including oysters and foie gras, accompanied by a Muscadet sur Lie. Life is hard.
Vivre La France. So why are those at Calais trying to get across the channel? Have they not seen Dover on a cold grey January morning? If the Daily Mail is to be believed, all they will get upon setting foot in the UK is a hefty dose of racism served up alongside deportation.
Another 70 miles tomorrow to the seaside town of Vannes on the south coast of Brittany before a rest day. There is then an 89 miler up to Rosporden and then the last day to Roscoff of 46 miles.
We are still following the Loire as it slowly flows towards the Atlantic. It is a wide shallow river flowing over many gravel banks of yellow and white chalk or sandstone. We joined it at Orleans 3 days and 270 miles away. Sunshine all the way, in our faces, as has been the wind. It has been a steady headwind of about 20 miles an hour. French weather forecasts put it at 50 kph. Try pointing a hairdryer at your face for three days, while also getting the ambient air temperature up to between 30 and 43 degrees. We have forgotten what a tail wind feels like. The good news is that in this wind a cyclist’s fart reaches Paris way to the east long before the sound of it reaches the cyclist’s ears.
From Saumur there are small roads that hug the riverbank which we follow for about 10 miles. The river flows almost exactly from East to West and is flanked on its southern bank by rocky escarpments all the way. Vantage points allow a view across the the flat north bank while the rock on the south provide for many caves for storing wine. This is of course wine country, the many vineyards sitting on the southern hill and slopes. At one point we pass a cave called La Herpiniere selling sauvignon blanc. I know this because Ann and I visited here a few years ago. We still have the wine glasses. The wine itself is long gone. Whites predominate but we also pass through Anjou where a half decent rose can be found.
We make steady progress towards lunchtime exchanging the occasional bonjour with passing cyclists. The day is getting hotter, we are drinking plenty of fluids but need to stop for food. The small towns seem uninterested in playing any role as a victualing station as time after time we find whole streets closed. With blood sugars getting low we reach a road that starts winding up a hill more than usual. The D751 from Saumur uses the southern bank and thus hits the escarpment from east to west. The result is a series of undulations and mini hills through the villages and towns. Very scenic, quite tiring. At a panoramic viewpoint we decide the stop and eat what remains of this morning’s baguette. It is hot, we sit in the open air under a baking sun. The view across the northern bank extends for miles as we are high above the river. Time came to move on to try and find some food. The road continues to climb and bend. We’d got no further than a few meters when we saw a restaurant with an ‘open’ sign. So, all the while when we’d been eating a bit of bread and cheese in the heat, just above us on the road was a terrace restaurant complete with sunshade. On seeing the sign we both burst out laughing, if only we had kept going just a few more meters.The sting however was that chef had just stopped cooking and so no more food orders were being taken. Instead of a decent meal, we sipped ice cold coke in the shade while the staff had their freshly cooked lunch.
We cycle for another 16 kms until we reach a town that is open, sort of. Bar Tabacs might not serve food but they will allow you to eat what you bring. We find a boulangerie, buy the necessaries and sit in the shade at the Bar Tabac on the main street in Challones sur Loire. There are a few french loiterers, but otherwise any noises people might make are drowned by the tumble weed blowing down the street. Rural France is never open it seems, it is peace, heaven, unless you want something to eat apart from a baguette from a boulangerie.
We’ve been on the road for 10 days and covered at least 1000 kms. It is a challenge, make no mistake and personally the biggest problem is chalfonts. It is a constant battle to prevent a full blown crisis down there. Yesterday’s taxi was result of losing the battle temporarily. If you ever think of long distance cycling and even think about chalfonts being a problem then just get them sorted. Creams, a blow torch, pliers, it does not matter what you apply, just make it affective.
The last 30 miles was through the heat of the day, sapping energy and judgement. The views continue to be stunning. We finally reach our destination but at mile 70 the road decides to go into a series of uphill hairpins. We discover why later at the hotel. The town is an ancient fortress and thus is built at the top of a big hill overlooking the river and surrounding environs. There is a viewpoint just a few meters from the hotel. The Loire is silver in the evening sun which is setting while casting pinks, reds and oranges up to the clouds above. the viewpoint is atop a rocky escarpment probably 400 feet up. Way down in the valley on the northern bank runs the TGV to Nantes. words fail. we’ve just had dinner and a half bottle of Muscadet sur Lie and a nightcap of proper malt whisky. It could only get better if Ann were here.
Tomorrow is another 70 miles north to Rennes.
You just have to love France.
Another number for you.
This refers to the price of a rental, in euros, from Amboise to Saumur (a distance of about 50 miles) by Europcar. Or as it should be called “Euroshaftyourarse”.
The day started well in warm sunny Blois as we found a fantastic bike shop. We really went to town on this one. Sean bought a new chain and a pair of Ortlieb Panniers and eyewear. I got my back brakes fixed and bought a new front wheel, two new drinking bottles and cycling shorts.
The two chaps in the shop were brilliant, all was ‘avec plaisir’, they just got on with doing the necessary work without an appointment. Watching the mechanic fix the brakes was a wonder and demonstrated why we could not have possibly done it at the roadside. It required zen and the art of bicycle maintenance, coffee strong enough to stop your heart, and a certain ‘je ne sais qoi’. the shop is called ‘Detours de Loire’ and is another fine example of a true service business that really adds value to us all, unlike the c*nts that work in finance. By 1200 we were ready to roll and faced a 92 mile stage to Saumur. It was going to be a long day. In preparation we stuffed our faces with jambon et Emmental baguette and packed a chorizo quiche, there being no pasties in France.
The route again follows La Loire, which is one of the finest rivers in Europe, so a bit like the Tamar but without Devon. The Loire is a wide but shallow river flowing over chalk and clay beds, and as we crossed many bridges we could easily look down upon large fish swimming lazily upstream among the weed beds. The water is crystal clear and shimmers in the daytime sun. This is still very flat land and so the cycling is a dream. The river is home to shallow draft sailing boats used for fishing and generally mucking about. The sky again is blue but without the blast furnace heat of yesterday.
The day is generally uneventful until we get to Amboise. This is a delightfully pretty riverside town complete with medieval street plan, eglise and chateau. There really is nothing wrong with Amboise. We indeed have a good lunch there. It is not until we have to leave that things turn. I refer the dear reader to ‘Chalfonts’, the scourge of every free born cornishman. Without going into graphic detail, just imagine having to perform what is, for some, a daily ritual. For me, this is turning into a thrice daily ritual that includes the pain of lucifer’s three pronged fork being poked wickedly, and with vicious targeted skill, into an area of the body that only proctologists are normally interested in. Think of the baby eating Bishop of Bath and Wells and his sword and Blackadder’s failure to repay his loan, think of red hot chilli peppers the morning after, think about white hot pokers and the damage they can do to orifices. Such was half the discomfort I felt after completing daily ritual number three at Amboise. I was not looking forward to getting back on the bike equipped as it is with a saddle as narrow as a Puritan’s mind and as sharp as a newly forged razor.
After about 2 kms of standing in the pedals and with over 70 miles to go, we decide that this is just not going to be feasible. We turn back to Amboise with the express intention of hiring a vehicle. A very nice lady called Emilie in the Renault garage referred us to Europcar rentals. We decide that sean should go ahead on his own while I rent a car. Plan A is to meet at Villandry, a very small village to the west of Tours. As sean heads off with a map, we realise that I have his wallet, passport, food and the name and address of the Hotel we are staying in tonight. If we do not meet in Villandry we are f*cked. neither of us has a working mobile phone. Do not underestimate the value of a working mobile phone. Ever.
I have to cycle another 3 kms standing in the pedals to find the europcar rental office, only to be greeted with bemused ignorance as they do not have have a car available. The ‘ring of fire’ meanwhile is doing its best Vesuvius impersonation at Pompeii. This is when I find out that 650 euros will be the cost of getting my sorry arse to Saumur. So instead we call a taxi and 100 euros later I’m at the rendezvous at Villandry but without being able to call sean who is still without money, food and water. I fire up the ipad, connect to wifi and put out a call to those who might have his number. I know that he will connect to wifi at some point and will be at Villandry. I’m only there for about 10 minutes when Sean appears having helped someone with a puncture and having negotiating Tours. My chalfonts at this stage have relented and so I decide to cycle the 45 miles to Saumur. All is well.
It would be boring to yet again describe the valley of the Loire, its chateaux, willow trees, the bridges over the rivers Indre and Char, its sweeping empty roads and the setting orange light of the sun, but its all true. We make good progress into Saumur, a riverside town dominated by its chateaux in cream coloured sandstone and finally end up meeting two french rugby players called Francois (an English teacher) and Fabian (who makes wine) at a bar. We eat and drink too much thanks to their hospitality.
It is now very late and I need sleep.
No, not my age, my waist in inches or the number of beers we drank in the hotel in Blois. This was the temperature today as recorded in green numbers beside the flashing green cross of a Pharmacy.
We thought that the day was going to be warm as we sat outside enjoying breakfast. At 0830 the air was already very ‘comfortable’, even in the shade. A fly walked across the breakfast table fanning itself and a pigeon could not be bothered to ‘coo’. Instead, it sat on branch sighing to itself. I overheard a few swallows discussing whether to migrate further north.
There is a fantastic bike shop right opposite the hotel. Sean could do with a new chain and I could have my rear brakes checked. It looks quite a big place and advertises several types of bike, including Bianchi. They also do repairs. Except that it is closed on Mondays. Today is of course Monday. I don’t like Mondays. Neither do French bike shop owners, they prefer to be at home or to shoot the whole day down.
So we set off for Blois, as it turns out is 73 miles away. We have minor issues with brakes on my bike resulting in a ride that feels like wading through treacle. The French have a saying, ‘au buerre’, or ‘in butter’. Butter in these temperatures would be as runny as water and as likely to stick to a tyre as grease in a codpiece. Add in a head wind, which was with us for all of those miles, and bike felt like it was made of lead. We had stopped at a garage and borrowed some tools, but later we had to stop at a “bricolage’ ( B and Q) for tools of our own. Only after 10 minutes fiddling with the bike outside the B and Q, were we informed of a bike shop just around the corner. Of course we arrived as it closed for lunch. A vey nice lady told us that all small bike shops would be closed “lundi”. I really don’t like Mondays. Undaunted we affect a running repair to the brakes and then off at a rate of knots across very very flat country. For all you Strava freaks the stats are: 73 miles and 2500 feet of ‘climbing’.
The route south of Orleans takes us alongside the Loire all the way to Blois, much of it on a cycle path. Generally the drivers, as noted, are great. Two days ago, I did have one chap open his car door and stepped out in front of me so closely I could see his dandruff, smell his diffidence while nearly having a ‘touch the cloth’ moment. Today a white van man clearly did not see us, first I knew was the sound of a horn and the van cutting me up at speed. Sean says the wing mirror and my head were close to touching. We also had fun with gravel and a dirt track as the usually tarmacced bike path gave way in places. We both hit one patch at over 12 miles an hour only to experience front wheel tucking and severe bike wobble. I might have said a naughty word out loud, and clearly the oncoming cyclist heard something judging by the huge grin on his face. ‘Fuck’ is universally understood if not universally practiced.
The heat was relentless and learning from my Provençal experience, we drank litres. I’m not sure it was enough, but we got through the day. The water tasted like warm gnats piss tea, but without the tea or the gnat. So, really it tasted of warm piss. With only a mile to go we both nearly ‘bonked’, i.e. ran completely out of energy. In the UK, this route would be easy. but with panniers and over 40 degrees of heat, and a constant head wind, it had the makings of an ‘epic’. We have similar to do tomorrow as we again follow the Loire to Saumer, another 70 miles away.
Tonights dinner was a fantastic Italian, accompanied by a pichet of the local sauvignon blanc. Sean’s french pronunciation is ‘improving”. As much as double incontinence is an improvement on piles.
Because the hotel is being renovated, meaning that the ‘salle de petit dejeuner’ is not available, the hotel manager at the Kyriad Hotel Bercy Gare de Lyon, has provided breakfast free of charge. Just as well because there is no butter for the bread, no ‘confiture’ for the croissants, no milk for the coffee, no plates, no cutlery save plastic knives which could not make a cutting remark let alone cut butter (if there was any). Suitably unvictualled, we set the bikes up outside the hotel. My bike requires back brake adjustment but we discover the multi tools don’t have the required spanners. Never mind, I’ll ride with even more care and stopping distance in mind. The good news is that the rear wheel goes round and round without a ‘plunk’ to be heard. Just as I’m about to leave the hotel, Sean asks if I’m going to take my panniers with me, as I’ve left them at the hotel entrance. I thought the bike was light.
We make good progress out of Paris helped by Sunday traffic and cycle lanes. Another glorious blue sky accompanied with heat. We head south towards Pithiviers, about 62 miles away. We are now turning around to come back to Roscoff via the Loire valley.
All is going sweetly until we reach a small town called Bellainvilliers about 20 miles out. This time there is no ‘plunk’. The garmin directs us up a short 200 metre dirt track slope, complete with gravel, dust and dog turd. At this point the stresses on Sean’s chain take their toll, resulting in a broken link. This means a full stop and bike repair roadside. The chain has to come off, sean’s bike is upside down and the heat must be high twenties to low thirties. The chain link tool is struggling to do the job and plan B ( taxi to Pithiviers) might be invoked. Sean is covered in sweat and grease trying to affect a repair. After about 10 minutes a helpful lady comes out of her house to us with a hammer and pincers. This is a grand gesture but is as useful as a fart in a bottle.
After another 5 minutes a car pulls up and out skips a chap in his late fifties or early sixties dressed in cycle club gear. He is wearing black cycling shorts and a yellow and red top with ‘T’PU Billianvilliers’ on it. This is the local club. He assesses the situation and goes back to his car to fetch an ‘attach rapide’ – a spare link and tool. However, after another 10 minutes it becomes clear that the broken link is just not going to be fixed. M’sieur then gets on the phone, calls his friend who then turns up in his car and in the same cycling gear but with more tools and links. There are now three people standing around an upturned bike beside the road in the middle of the village trying to fix the chain.
I’m learning new french words for things like ‘chain’ , ‘link’ and ‘bollocks it won’t f*cking fit’. Marcel, the second chap, in a previous life has ridden the Paris- Brest- Paris so knows a thing or two about bikes. At last the thing is done. We offer some euros in thanks but they are having none of it, “amici” is the word uttered. I guess this is the cyclists equivalent of the masons but without the funny handshake and dodgy connections. They wave us off cheerily and not for the first time we have heard ‘Bonne Route” and “Bon Courage”. The assistance given today is beyond praise, they both gave up best part of an hour, at lunch time, to lend a hand and get us going again. I could cry with joy.
Soon we are running out of water in the heat and also require food. Again the scenery is stunning. At one point I’m riding on smooth black tarmac along a flat road lined on one side by plane trees through fields of sunflower, maize or corn, poppies dotting the verge. I look ahead and see the hedgeless road twisting and turning, a sparrowhawk swoops above and a tractor kicks up dust in a distant field. There is no sound except tyre on tarmac and the occasional grunt of slight exertion as the heat builds. If this was on the telly, you’d be singing the praises of the cameraman and director, and ‘wishing you were here’. It is a classic high production values BBC travel programme right in front of one’s face. All you need is a Michael Palin to make some pithy comment about France.
The wind picks up and is in our faces for about 40 miles, we are drinking and drinking. I think we may not be drinking enough, so we stop at a tiny village called Auvers St George for two ice cold cokes and a plate of chips and chicken nuggets. It is not gourmet, it is carbs. As we sit outside the bar overlooked by willow trees and the church, 4 men in their 70’s methinks, come outside to talk to the two mad Englishmen on bikes. They are very interested in both the journey and the fact of cycling. One tells me that he has been to England on a motorbike from Dover to Lancaster to Fort William and beyond. Chapeau! With yet another “bonne route” we are off.
Pithiviers finally comes into view down a long 6 mile straight road. This countryside is flat, very flat. has been perhaps since we left the suburbs of Paris. Pithiviers high steeple is like a needle pointing skywards beckoning us on towards a shower and a cold beer.
Tomorrow is Blois 71 miles away via Orleans and following the Loire for about 50 miles. Right now, sleep is the priority.
The plan for the morning is to find a bike shop and get the wheel done. Here it gets a bit technical as it seems it is easier to knit with kittens than it is to change the wheel. I’m not confident that merely changing spokes is going to be suffice. M’sieur is ‘helpful’ in explaining in technical french why it will not be easy and the bike will not be ready until 1700. This sort of help is as useful a barrel full of monkeys at a garden party. We have to be in Paris 67 miles away.
The plan is to strike for the capital and charge across the northern french plains like a panzer division on a mission. Except a head wind has other ideas. Not to mention the chalfonts. The countryside here is acre upon acre of open corn fields, stripped of hedges interspersed with the odd wood. We keep going hoping not to hear another ‘plunk’ of spoke. Every little bump in the road brings metal fatigue just that bit more inevitable, resulting in both bike and my arse skidding along the road probably in front of a large tractor. Putting such thoughts aside I keep turning the crank. the wheel has a slight wobble but keeps going.
After about 40 miles we stop for food at Ramboulliet. This is where it starts getting more urban as Paris looms closer still. A charming couple at the next table informs us that the car drivers here are faster and more dangerous than they are in the rest of France. Well, we are from the UK and are made of stern stuff. How bad can it be?
As the way becomes very urban and industrial, we are helped enormously by cycle paths and painted cycle lanes and priority at lights. This makes it feel fare more safe than at home. I don’t have to shout ‘tosser’ once. Well, only once about 2 kms from the hotel in central Paris when a taxi cuts in from my left and and the car in front just stops. Im faced with a choice: hit the car or try to run around the back of it. The taxi driver clearly thinks that it is his space, so panniers brushed the side of the taxi and ‘tosser’ was shouted. He stops. I go. He probably though I shouted ‘touche’ , saille. which would be about right. That aside Paris was hot and slow going. I think we had to stop at 100 red lights. On the way in we passed the palace of Versaille.
This was the place for French Royalty to show off. Buckingham Palace looks like a garden shed in comparison. Versailles defines granduer, majesty, largesse and ‘let them eat cake’ two fingers to ‘ordinary people’. No wonder french peasants scraping a living on peas, pork and piss took umbrage and cut their heads off. Perhaps that is the secret of the British Monarchy, they hid their wealth rather than parading it around like a tart in a titty bar.
We cycle right up the Eiffel tower to take in the scene. The Seine shimmers in the early evening light, the sky is cloudless blue and Paris hums contentedly like a cat in the lap of the fat lady who feeds her. As I stop I am aware that the rear wheel is wobblier than jelly in an earthquake. We have been hitting some bumps and lumps and kerbs, each one condemning the wheel to an early demise. The brakes contact the rim with every revolution. With only 8kms to go to the hotel, I have to negotiate the left bank, the Boulevard St Germaine and the Bridge over to the Gare de Bercy.
Thankfully the Hotel Kyriad Bercy appears, unthankfully there is no record of a reservation in my name. It turn out that there are two Hotel Kyriads in this area and ours is a mere 5 mins away.
We shower, find a great place for a beer before bedtime. This part of Paris is tourist free and feels very very relaxed.
The plan is to find a bike shop and: fix spoke or buy a bike. we have been told that because the bike is old, new wheels will not fit (to do with the width of the cassette, thats the gear rings on the rear). It now gets complicated, as this morning run around bike shops to find the solution. long story short we find a really fantastic place and M’suer says “no problem”. What, ‘no problem?’ So I choose the buy a whole new wheel and tyre, all that has to be done is to put the cassette on the axle. Tiz done in a flash and so back to the hotel where the rest of the bike is to fit new wheel.
I’m so excited I leave the wheel in another bike shop on the way to the metro, thankfully we did not get far and so go back. This comes on the back of losing the iPhone in a taxi this morning (minor detail). Back at the hotel we could not get the wheel to fit. Perhaps M’sieur in Chartres was correct, perhaps it is not that easy? So,bike and wheel and growing angst go back onto the metro. Plan B is that if this all goes pear shape, I will hire a car and become support vehicle.
The mechanic takes the wheel and frame and tries to fit it together. He fails. I wonder where the nearest Hertz or Europcar rental is. I wonder how far away the Siene is and if it takes old bicycles. But then with a bit of wizardy, it all fits. Just takes know how, and sure enough it is ‘no problem’. I have not yet tested the rear brakes in anger.
The rest of the evening was spent enjoying the sunshine in Paris, just avoid the busy bits, the rest of the city is chilled heaven. The queues for the Tower were far too long, so we just stood underneath and gazed upwards. We’ve also been riding the metro all day like citizens. Magic.
Tomorrow is Sunday. We might starve as France closes for the day.
At least the wheel is fixed, now for the chalfonts. All I need is branding iron and a suturing kit.