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.