I have largely abandoned camping, and use small hotels and restaurants. I carry a VISA card, a set of bike clothes (shorts, jersey, shoes with Frog cleats, helmet, tights, a capilene long sleeve shirt and Gore-Tex jacket) and a set of dinner clothes (running shoes, nylon long pants and shirt and a polypro sweater). A small bottle of CampSuds for the evening clothes wash keeps me social.
Rear panniers (now with rain covers) carry the clothes and a handlebar bag carries maps and camera. All together bike plus gear comes to about 35 lbs.
Cycling in France gives, in addition to small roads and good food and friendly people, a glimpse of historical sites. . I stopped in a forest at a British WW I military cemetery, where 95 troopers rest. The Brits buried their dead close to the battlefield, and these small cemeteries dot hilltops all along the Western Front. They are beautifully maintained, with clipped grass, roses, and inscriptions on the headstones.
I had read Barbara Tuchman¹s A Distant Mirror, a story of the 100-year war between England and France, mostly during the 1300s. One of the main characters in the story is the Sire de Coucy, whose chateau (now ruins), first built in 1145, lay on my route. The approach to the hilltop site shows well preserved outer high walls. The interior structure is mostly reduced to fragments. The German Army dynamited the once impregnable central tower (the donjon) in 1917, over the objections of some of their commanders. Only a rubble heap remains, preserved as a memorial.
After lunch at Coucy, I rode on to Laon (70 km), and found a room in the old town near the cathedral. The cathedral is notable for statues of oxen high on the towers. Laon was packed with cyclists from the US on an Amsterdam to Paris AIDS ride. They had ridden through rain and headwinds, and were having a great time at the local restaurants. Some were surprised that I was riding through this country solo.
I took the train to Charleville-Mezeries, then rode about 20 km along a fairly busy road to Sedan, and visited the fortress. The fortress has a long history as it lies on the invader¹s route into France. Built early, and added to, especially by Louis XIV¹s fort builder, Vauban, in the 1600¹s. Napoleon III surrendered to Kaiser Wilhelm in 1870 to end the Franco-Prussian War. Germany occupied Sedan in WW I and WW II.
From Sedan, I rode 17 km to Boullion, Belgium. The road rises through forests to the Ardennes upland, at about 400 m, which meandering streams have cut deep, loopy, canyons into the upland. The France-Belgium border on the small road I used has no sign. The rock that underlies the upland consists of older contorted black slate overlain by dark sandstone. The buildings, which use this rock, have a dark, somber appearance, unlike the light toned limestone in the south of France.
Boullion is a small village, which sits on a great loop of Le Semois River. On the ridge in the middle of the loop a medieval castle is dug into and above the dark stone. These castles are dark and damp. Godfrey sold the castle in 1096 to finance the 1st Crusade. He died in Palestine. His younger brother served as King of Palestine. In the late 1100¹s, Saladin conquered most of Palestine, and Richard the Lionheart led the 3rd Crusade to recover, mostly without success, the Old Kingdom.
The next day I rode on to Bastogne (88 km). Light rain falling from dark low clouds gave a cool ride up a 15% grade through the forest. The rain faded, and the beauty of the country ^Ë green meadows hosting beautiful white Charolais cattle and low ridges with dark, coniferous forests, gave a great ride. I arrived in Bastogne, found the hotel I had booked on the Internet, and checked in about 2:00 PM.
I had read Stephen Ambroise¹s book on Eisenhower, and another book by a combat infantry trooper, who described battles in the forests here during the Battle of the Bulge. I rode out to the village of Foy, described in his book. Almost no trace of the war appeared. The forests are woodlots, with trees in rows. The meadows feed cattle. The towns are rebuilt. A German military cemetery, with 6000 graves, lies near Foy. In the little chapel, they keep a list of names. I found 15 names like mine. It makes me think about the accident of birth in place and time, and give thanks. I visited the American Memorial at Mardasson, and the museum of weapons and uniforms. Dinner on the square was accompanied by Dixieland Jazz.
The next day I declared a rest day, in part to see the start of the Tour, and also to explore the City. I listened to a band concert by American high school kids playing wonderful music. Walked along the battlements and down to the river, where signs described the rock and geologic history. Luxembourg is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, due mostly to banking laws, which prohibit giving information on accounts to governments. Seems a good place to put your investments and their dividends.
Left the hotel 8:45, wandered lost for a while, during which the rain increased. When lost, I ask directions. People have been very helpful. Back on track, I followed the radweg along with many other cycle tourists. Most of these folks rode heavy-tired, sit-up bikes, with huge panniers with heavy-duty rain covers. They wore slickers and hats and rain jackets and rain pants. Traveling as a California boy in shorts and a red Gore-Tex jacket with no fenders and skinny tires, I was soon wet and dirty, although not too cold. At lunch, I poured water from my shoes and did justice to pork loin, fried potatoes, and a huge pile of mushrooms, salad, and coffee. The rain stopped just as I gave up in Bernkastel-Kues about 2:30 (80 km). Cleaning up took an hour. Walk around town, built on both sides of the river, revealed many tourist shops and wine cellars, and a castle on the hill.
The new day dawned bright and clear. During the afternoon, cloud castles brightened the sky. I rode 82 km to Cochem on mostly brick bike path, with vines on terraces rising up the valley walls. Little cog railways service the vines. Mosel wine comes dry, semi-dry, and sweeter. And it¹s all good. The river flows tranquilly, controlled by dams and locks. Long barges, low in the water, with coal and other stuff move a little slower than I do. I found a hotel with a view of the castle across the river. The room cost an extra 10 Euro. The view, priceless.
In planning this trip in sunny California, I thought I could ride down the Mosel, then up the Rhine into the Alsace. However, I needed to return to Paris in a few days, so I re-routed by laying out the big maps on the bed, put coins on the map about a days ride apart for the number of days available, then located towns near the coins as destinations.
Ninety km today over the Hunsruck in good weather. The country has an elevated upland incised with rivers much like the Ardennes. Good roads, smooth, no shoulder, little traffic gave a good ride over the farmland. The villages had a well-kept look: neatly mowed lawns, painted houses, friendly people. Several times I stopped to consult my map, and someone would walk up and offer help with directions. I stopped at Idar-Oberstein, which seems to be a jewelry and mineral center.
I left Idar-Oberstein the next morning on a major highway, crossed the Nahe River on a high bridge, then turned off on a smaller road, which led to a village, where two fellows helped me find a bike path beside the river. While looking for Fauenberg I turned off to a ruin with the same name, and followed the paved road until it turned into a gravel and dirt road. Thinking that the village would lie just ahead, I walked and rode up the dirt road until I could see that this route would not help, so I retraced my steps. A nice lady in an Inn put me back on the path.
Farther along, the path steepened and I stopped, thinking I was lost again. A group of mountain bikers passed going down hill. I followed them down, and asked whether they spoke English. "Sure", one fellow said. They had a more detailed map so I could tell where I wanted to go. I let them know of the dirt track near the ruin, which would be a great mountain bike ride. I wonder whether they took it.
The rest of the day went well. I had lunch on a cemetery wall with views of meadows and forests. I arrived in Beckingen and stopped at the hotel, which proved inert to repeated banging on the door. While I consulted my map, another touring cyclist pulled up. We chatted about the hotel, then rode together to Dillengen (88 km), the next town, where, after three tries, located a hotel. We had dinner together, and had a good talk about bikes, touring, and the weather. Very enjoyable.
The last part of the ride in Metz (71 km) was delightful. Somehow, I was glad to be back in France. I stopped at the WW II memorial eagle to the 95th Infantry Division. My hotel room had a great view of the Cathedral. The great cathedrals always amaze, awe, and inspire me. At dinner, rain began. I listened to the boom of Bastille Day fireworks from my room.
After a great breakfast, and enlightened about the history or Metz and the route by Madame who ran the hotel, I visited the oldest church in Metz and the Templars (1133) small octagonal chapel. The ride southeast passed through pretty country, rolling terrain with farms and forests and villages. Bread, Camembert, and a Mars bar from a village shop provided lunch at the WW I US military cemetery at Thiacourt. It is immaculately maintained, with clipped grass beneath the 4153 white crosses, flowers, and a columned memorial. I am alone for awhile with the breeze and the trees. A Brit on a motorcycle arrived and we had a nice chat. He told me of the memorial at Montsec Butte.
The Butte lies on the far side a lake, which I skirted on a gravel road. The Memorial commemorates the Nov 1918 victory of American forces at the St Mihiel salient. A relief map lies in a circle of marble columns on the summit of the Butte. It shows the positions of the armies before and after the battle. The American army of 500,000 troops poured 3 million cannon shells before the assault. The view from the top now overlooks peaceful farms and forest.
No hotels were open in St Mihiel, so I followed directions to a roadhouse 2.5 km south. On the way, I enjoyed a long, smooth descent into the village, only to learn that the roadhouse (93 km) was out on the highway, not in the village. So, back up the hill. Getting lost was beginning to feel normal, and not a matter to get upset about. That evening I enjoyed dinner with another touring cyclist from Holland, a geography teacher heading to Barcelona.
Nice ride to St Dizier (70 km) through wheat and corn and meadows with Charolais cattle and forests. I visited the church at Bar-de-Luc. The ruins of the abbey at Trois-Fontaines sit in a lovely grassy forest. On the way I saw a red fox on the road through the forest.
From St Dizier to Troyes (97 km), the road passes an ocean of wheat, corn, sugar beets, and other crops. I lunched on bread, Camembert, a tomato, an apple, and chocolate on the bank of the Aube River, in the grass, under a tree. Lovely. I arrived in Troyes about 2:30, and found a lovely hotel in the medieval part of town. I watched the Tour de France on TV while I cleaned up, then walked through the town to visit 3 cathedrals. Dinner outside of steak and frites and a half of Alsacian rose¹. The warm sun lit up the gargoyles on the Cathedral walls.
Rode through wheatland from Troyes to Fountainbleu (130 km). Combines move through the wheat like great bugs. They pour the grain into big trailers pulled with John Deere tractors, which deliver the grain to silos. The wheat has a pleasant smell, not quite as sweet as corn. At 3:00 I enjoyed a coke (4 Euros!) at a café on the river Yonne, and watched low barges drift by. I arrived at Fontainbleu about 5:00. Found the hotel across from the chateau where we had stayed in 1992.
Following breakfast in the hotel, where I talked briefly with some Americans leading a management seminar, I rode on the Chartres (103 km). The route heads west through very nice homes and estates. At Etampe, I ate lunch beside St Martin tower, which leaned about as much as the tower at Pisa. The approach to Chartres from the east went through the modern part, mostly apartments and businesses, in striking contrast to the approach from the north, along the Eure River, which mostly follows the medieval city to the Cathedral. The Cathedral is a gem, with subtly right red and blue mosaic windows. They had uncovered the medieval labyrinth, a walk designed for meditation. I watched a middle-aged lady in bare feet follow the path in a slow, sort of dreaming fashion, unperturbed by speed walkers and children running around. Later, white robed singers led a service. Dinner at the hotel of salmon over potatoes with vin blanc.
Today, the ride from Chartres to Versailles (87 km) went well until the last part. Leaving Chartres in the warm sun along the River Eure through wheatfields to the forest of Rambouillet all was delightful. Near Versailles, I got lost in some apartment projects. A map at a bus stop helped. I stumbled onto a bike path beside the N10 route. In Versailles, the Tourist office called the Hotel, located next to the Chateau.
In the morning, I took the RER train into Paris, and located the Ibis Hotel where I was to meet Graham Baxter¹s Sporting Tours to follow the Tour de France in the Alps, but that is another story.