OH MY GOSH……Back to international travel and Europe after almost 2 1/2 years, what a feeling!
Left Calgary on Friday, June 3rd and arrived in Amsterdam on Saturday morning. The EU no longer requires passengers to wear masks on planes, so many people on our plane did not wear them, but Robin and I chose to wear ours…..a little hard to wear a mask for 8 hours straight. Do not need to get sick and thought this was the safest route for us….a personal choice.
Having arrived in Amsterdam we had a 4 hour layover, which morphed into 7 hours as our flight to Lyon was delayed. KLM told us that this was the Schiphol airport’s fault as they were having work done on one of the runways and only half of the planes could land and take off. Just wondering….what have they been doing for the last two years when no one was travelling….just asking! Must also mention that airlines must be trying to recoup some of their losses from the last couple of years. Food/service on flights really cut back!
The airport terminal in Lyon was designed by Calatrava; a spectacular piece of architecture.
Finally arrive in Lyon around 5 pm in the afternoon and after getting settled in our hotel, we find our way to a large mall where we find an Orange telephone store. Orange is one of the major Telco’s in France and we both arrange new SIM cards and a monthly cell phone plan as we will be here in France for the month of June. Then off to the local Carrefour grocery store (epicerie) and buy some goodies for our bike ride.
On Sunday, we take a one hour train journey to Seyssel (population about 2,200), where we will start our bike trip on Monday. We had been told by the company who arranged our bike trip that on Mondays, a lot of shops and restaurants are closed and that we should ensure we have enough food for the first day of cycling. In addition, Monday, here in France is a “jour ferie”, a public holiday. When looking into this, I find out the holiday is Whit Monday. Whit Monday is a Christian holiday that celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus’s disciples. The Holy Spirit’s descent is said to mark the “birthday” of the Christian church. Just wondering…..how many people still go to church or just think…sure glad we have today off; what should we do? Hope the restaurants/ boulangerie’s/cafe’s are open tomorrow…hey, we need nourishment on our bike ride!
Seyssel, the small town from where we are starting our bike trip
Seyssel is a small community but seems to be a destination for cyclists. Many bike trips either start here or on the route. Some of the bike trips start in Geneva and follow the same route we are taking from Seyssel along the Rhone river. Our bike trip is self guided but we have a GPS and a hard copy guide. We did a trip very similar to this in the Bordeaux area about 4 years ago. Robin and I both prefer self guided as we can stop whenever and wherever we want. By the way….did I say…..”don’t try to tell Robin where and when he can stop”. Think that is my outside voice instead of my inside voice….oops!
Settled in our hotel in Seyssel, a boutique type of hotel; you would never know from the old exterior of the building that this is such a charming hotel inside.
Went for a walk in the town to find somewhere to get a beer/wine; very warm here..mid to high 20’s. Only one local bar is open as it is Sunday. Robin orders a local beer and I order a glass of white wine. I do believe that this is the smallest glass of wine I have ever had in my life. I estimated it was 2 ounces; Robin says more like 3 ounce….who cares…..I wanted a glass of wine; not a vial of wine! Having said this the wine was good and I don’t think they cater to wine drinkers in this pub.
Had our first very memorable meal here in Seyssel. I had a “filet de Sandre” (perch) with riz venere (black rice). Robin chose “piece du boucher avec sauce au poivre, puree blue d’autun et patate douce ( a tendre cut of meat in pepper sauce with puree of blue potatoes and sweet potatoes). Neither of us have ever seen these blue potatoes before. The lady who owns the restaurant told us they a variety known as Vitelotte and are grown in northern France and Belgium. They are a solid blue/purple potato with a very mild taste; so different looking.
Robin and I had a good chuckle remembering our days in Peru. Every guide told us that Peru was the home to many types of potatoes; which in relating stories ranged from 1,000 species and above. Just had to google that as Robin remembered it being much more than 1,000. Dr. Google tells me that there are over 4,000 kinds of potatoes in Peru!
Going back to my story about the small glass of wine in the local pub, the restaurant in our hotel had a superb wine list. I ordered a french wine from the Seyssel region….excellent in taste and quantity! Robin had a Cote du Rhone; we are after all along the Rhone river. When we went to order desert, I ordered a creme brûlée Madagascar. The owner says; “that’s not chocolate”. She had heard Robin and I talking about chocolate. Robin had a chocolate desert called “Chocosphere”…..oh my goodness, so chocolatity and came in a dish that looked a space ship/volcano. Oh, the French know how to cook and the presentation of dishes always spectacular. By the way delicious sauces on both the steak and the fish….yum. I may actually gain some weight on this trip; which I very much need! Robin says that is why we chose to come to Lyon as it is known as the gastronomic capital of France.
Coming back to France has brought back some wonderful memories. I just love some of the French expressions such as
- “Je vous entends”…this is what a waiter/waitress will say when they come to take your order. The literal translation is….I am listening
- “Pas de souhets”…. No worries
- “Je vous en prie”….You are welcome
- Bonjour Monsier/Dame…good morning Mr. and Mrs.
DAY ONE of BIKE TRIP – Great breakfast on day 2 of our bike trip to get us fuelled for the day. Had a good chuckle this morning. Our waiter was a middle aged man who asked us what we would like as a hot drink for breakfast. Robin indicated he would like a green tea and I asked for a cappuccino. The gentleman told me I would have to go to Italy to get a cappuccino, but he would get me a “cafe creme” ! Guess I should have remembered this, but at the previous hotel we were at they had automatic machines with the option of a cappuccino. Nice to have a waiter with a sense of humour first thing in the morning.
Our ebikes were delivered this morning around 9 am and a representative from the bike company went over everything with us. These ebikes are heavier than the ones we have at home, but we managed well throughout the day. The company also arranges to take our luggage from town to town to our specified accommodation. We did leave half of our luggage at the hotel in Lyon as we will be returning there on the last day of our bike trip. We only took what we needed for the bike trip and evenings out while on the trip.
By the way, we still only travel with a carry on suitcase and one personal bag. We will be gone for the month of June and we always ensure that the apartments we rent have a washer. We have rented an apartment in Lyon for three weeks upon our return. The bike trip ends up in Lyon on Friday.
Today (Monday) we cycled 55 kms, mainly on bike paths along the Rhone, but some of the route on narrow secondary roads. We are cycling from Seyssel to Champagneux. Wouldn’t you know it…..the last kilometre to our gite was all uphill. Just not fair at the end of a long day of cycling. The company that we booked with for our cycling trip, provided us with the “Guido” app which, when we entered our code, has a full GPS of our route; with voice activation. You just simply follow the line, if you veer off the line, it actually has an alarm to warn you. Very easy to use and we also have a backup paper copy. Many stops along the way with one such stop being in Chanaz, which is known as the “La Petite Venise Savoyarde”. Lots of people here on boats, canoes and kayaks along the canal as well as lots of families cycling due to the holiday. The weather was perfect for riding today, about 27 degrees with a gentle breeze.
Some of the varied countryside on the first day of our bike trip.
We ended our day in the small village of Champagneux. We are staying in a two guest room gîtes. The owner, Jean Richard, greeted us as we arrived and had graciously made a reservation for us for dinner tonight at the only restaurant in town……thank you, thank you! He even offered to drive us to the restaurant as it is again uphill….thank you Jean Richard!
The gite is made of stone and dates back to the 1800’s. Wonderful room in the basement, which is nice and cool and has some exposed brick. Needless to say, we both had a snooze upon our arrival at around 3 pm and a welcomed shower to get reinvigorated. Spending some time in the beautiful back yard of the gites doing some reading and watching the cows next door.
Robin and I were commenting how the European’s certainly have a handle on electric consumption. The electricity in the hotel we stayed in last night in Seyssel was regulated with a card key system. Once you enter the room, one inserts the card into the slot (which is also your room card) and electricity is available as long as the card is inserted. Once you leave the room with the card key, the electricity goes off, so no errant lights left on and/or air conditioning running while no one in the room. When we arrived in our gites this afternoon, Jean Richard said that he had two special outlets for us to charge our ebike batteries. These outlets have timers on them and the electricity to these two outlets will come on at 11 pm and stay on till 6 am the following morning. This timing is when electricity is at a its lowest cost.
Last night when Jean Richard offered to drive us up to the local restaurant, he said it would take two trips as his vehicle was a small van which only sat one passenger. I told him I could sit on Robin’s lap so he wouldn’t have to make separate trips…..I said just like when we were young. He said….oh, to be in love!
DAY TWO – This morning at breakfast, Jean Richard and his wife served yogurt, fruit, thin pancakes and home made jellies. One jelly was especially different and delicious…..jelly with black bergamot tea. The prize was a baked bun called “gateau St. Agathe de Catone”. The legend is that a royal asked Agathe for her hand in marriage, she declined…..so he had her “boob” cut off….and that my friends is what the baked bun looks like!
Our cycling route of 66 kilometres today took us from Champagneux to Villebois. We have been having breakfast around 8 am and usually leaving around 9 am and this has worked out very well. Today just after stopping to admire the Cascade de Glandieu.
Robin was riding ahead of me and I yelled out turn left in the small village. He kept going, so I yelled louder, he finally stopped. There was a French gentleman walking his dog who was stopped at the corner; and he had a big smile on his face. I said to him (in French of course) “my husband does not listen”. He started laughing and he said the same thing happens with his wife. We stopped and had a lovely chat with this lovely man. He had a beautiful Westie terrier, so we asked about his dog. He said that he and his wife had a previous Westie, but it had died after only 3 years and they were heartbroken and they said it would be too hard to get another dog. Time went on and they decided to get another Westie. He said he was seventy seven and if he lived to one hundred, time enough to enjoy another dog. He went on to say, if one was 23 and thought they would live to 100, that just seemed like to long a time. I mentioned to him that Robin was seventy nine…..he bowed his head and said he respected his elders…..love it. We said goodbye and he wished us good travels.
With having to bike 66 kilometres today, we took numerous breaks which worked out really well, able to manage this distance….although having said that, always seems that the last couple of kilometres seem extra hard. Did I mention it was uphill at the end…..again!
On one section of the bike path today, it was completely taken over by young school kids. The teachers noticed we were coming and they told the kids to clear the bike path. As we passed by, they all clapped and yelled and we smiled and waved …..just like the Royals!
Near our final destination of Villebois today, there was a widening of the Rhone where we saw school children taking sailing lessons and white water rafting on a side area. Also a few marinas along this section of the river.
Beautiful weather again today in the mid to high 20’s. Even though we had sunscreen on, probably need to re-apply….arms and ears a little red!
When we arrived at our lodging this afternoon around 3 pm the gates were closed. A sign on the entrance said that the guest house desk is open at 5 pm for greeting new guests…..I just about started crying! Needless to say, I rung the bell (why not) and after two attempts, a gentleman walked out and let us in. The owner, Thierry, said we were lucky to catch him as he was on his way out. Don’t think he lives here. He asked if the bike company told us about the 5 pm entry…..NO! Oh well, someone upstairs must be looking after us, as we did get our room…..snooze and shower and felt much better! I had yet another beer upon arriving this afternoon; I must say, after a warm day and biking, it went down very well…..not usually a beer drinker, but sometime just what one needs.
I always get a kick from finding odd or funny signs. The sign on the left is self explanatory, as Robin posted, an property owner with a sense of humour. The sign on the right is a warning about “cattle grates”. We found it amusing that they relate to them as “Barriere Canadienne” !
Our dinner tonight was included with our accommodation, so nice not to have to go out after a long day of riding. Thierry has a contract with a local provisioner and our supper was basically a catered set menu….very good, but way too much food for me! Two english gentlemen are the only other guests here (only 5 rooms in this guest house). They are also on a bike trip, although self planned. They had cycled about 100 kms today, as one of the them had lost their phone and had to go back and find it. Smart of them, to call the number and someone actually answered the call, so they knew where to go pick it up.
Beautiful little town with the majority of the buildings being made of stone as their is a local quarry nearby. Thierry told us that this guest house dates back to the 14th century.
This guest house also caters to cyclists. The owner has a small garage for bikes with about 8 built in power outlets to power ebike batteries. E bikes have certainly become popular and businesses have learnt to cater to this segment.
Did I mention that this guest house is across the road from the local church? We found this out when the church bells were going off once every half hour and the relative amount of rings on the hour. At 11 pm, they rang 11 times of course, but twice and then went silent for the rest of the night. Guess what, church bells start at 5 am! Then soon after the morning doves started cooing….we finally closed the windows.
To my fashionista friends out there who usually don’t see me wearing the same clothes day after day…yes, I am wearing the same cycling outfit and washing as needed….hey, only carry on and spending three weeks in Lyon….got to have enough outfits for then.
DAY THREE – Wednesday found us cycling from Villebois to Perouges, a total of 55.6 kilometres. Once again we left the guest house about 9 am. Quite cloudy today and cooler, about 14 C when we left. The countryside today was mainly farming communities and passed by about three locations where Nuclear reactors are operating…..quite ugly in all honesty….but we all need power. On today’s leg we had to cross major highways on several occasions and rode more on secondary roads. When waiting to cross the major roads, our GPS Guy always tells us to be very careful. Lots of trucks on the road. I mentioned to Robin, considering the number of goods that are transported by truck, not just in Europe but in North America, not sure I see a future without fossil fuels!
Started raining about 11 am so we stopped and donned our rain jackets. It rained the rest of the way, but in all honesty, really not that wet by the time we reached to hotel in Meximieux. Many stops along the way in sheltered areas to take a break and fuel up on power bars for Robin and cookies/apples for me. Wouldn’t you know it, about 1/2 hour after arriving, it quit raining. Rain in forecast again for tomorrow, but we are prepared.
During the last few days of our cycling, we have seen large rolls of cable (or so we thought) in farmer’s fields. At first we simply assumed they were cables, but finally dawned on us, that these were part of irrigation systems. Today we saw a farmer hitch his tractor to the spool and draw out the flexible pipe to irrigate his fields. We have seen lots of wheat, corn and other grain crops during the last few days. This area certainly appears to be one of the “bread baskets” of France.
Again, the hotel we are staying in tonight caters to cyclists and we were able to leave our bikes in a secure covered area; great not to have to worry about the bikes. We arrived about 1:30 pm. When we arrived at the hotel, the lady at the front desk said that our luggage had not yet arrived. She was kind enough to phone the bike company and they said the luggage was on its way and we had simply cycled too fast and we beat the luggage! When checking us in the clerk confirmed our first names and said Marie Claire sounds french and the conversation was on about where we were from. Then she says…oh, Robin Alexander; just like Robin of Batman! She really thought this was funny.
There is a restaurant attached to this hotel where we went for lunch and by the time we got back to our room, our luggage had arrived. Glass of wine/beer for lunch, so had to have that snooze…..I really didn’t sleep well the previous night due to the ringing bells and unable to sleep…just because….happens to ladies my age. Mind you both Robin and I woke up about 5 am to the sounds of the church bells and then the doves. Did try to go back asleep after closing the window but not very succesful.
About 6 pm, a rain storm starts including hail….glad we are inside the hotel and not out riding. Showers/rain (?) in the forecast for tomorrow….hope the weather gods are good to us on our last day of biking.
DAY FOUR – When I went to bring our luggage to the front desk to be transported to Lyon, the lady at the front desk (same one as yesterday) says “ Oh bonjour a la femme de Batman” (good morning to the wife of Mr. Batman). It is so nice to make connections with local….even though they can be a little strange. Had a good laugh when I told Robin.
Hearty breakfast once again and weather forecast calling for more rain a little later in the morning. Last night we had a very strong storm with thunder and lots of rain. We decide to take off at 9, which we have done most mornings.
The first half of our route today was on secondary “D” roads. These roads do not have any shoulders, but must say that drivers here are very respectful towards cyclists. When going around traffic circles, I ride in the middle and stick out my hand for the direction we are headed and traffic has been great about us getting through and waiting for us. Have had to cross a couple of busy highways in the last few days, but we always take our time and wait for traffic to ease up.
For the first half of our ride we encounter some rain, but thankfully nothing too severe. We stop in the small town of Balan and I see an older lady walking, so I stop and ask her if there is a cafe. She points directly ahead where I see a very small grocery store and attached is a bar/tabac where one can always get a tea/coffee or something stronger if one wanted. As we walk into the small bar, there are two tables occupied. At one table a middle aged man and at the other two older gentlemen. As I walk in I say “Bonjour Messieurs”, and of course they all reply. We strike up a conversation (in french of course) with the two older men. They ask where we are going and where we came from….they are impressed. I say “we are Canadians and we are tough!”Then one looks out the window and says “ah, you have electric bikes”. I quickly reply, “but we still have to work hard”. He tells us that he has an electric bike at home, but he lives one kilometre away, so he has driven to the tabac for his morning coffee with his friend….we all laugh. The other asks if we have maps and I inform his that we have an app on our phone, that is a GPS of sorts with our route marked on it and we happen to get off the trail, it beeps at us. I get my phone and show them. They ask if we are going back to Canada and we advise them that we are staying in Lyon in an apartment for 3 weeks. I wish I had asked to take a picture of these two. They leave and wish us “bonne journée” and tell us to enjoy the rest of our trip. As we are ready to leave the cafe, the owner tells us that the two gentlemen paid for our coffee/tea….WOW. I ask the owner if they are regulars and he tells us they come in every day. I asked him to please ensure that he thanked them on our behalf.
A few kilometres later, we cross a bridge and the instructions tell us to go down a set of stairs. Sure enough there are stairs and a rut in which to put your bike wheels to get you down safely. Two young men come upon us just as we are trying to get my bike wheel into the channel and they offer to help. We decline and say we can manage, which we do. We are now back on a bike path for the remainder of our trip to Lyon. We cycle through “Le Grand Parc Mirabel Jonage” and “Le Parc Tete D’or”. Both these parks encompass huge areas and are being enjoyed by lots of people. Ran across of group of young teenagers, but they were not as enthusiastic about us as the young kids from a few days ago who clapped for us! These teenagers seem to be the usual sulky types and did not seem to be impressed to be forced to be outdoors, probably forced by the school!
We arrive in Lyon and find our way to our hotel which is the same one we stayed in when we first arrived. Very convenient as it is just off the bike pathway and once again a hotel that caters to cyclists. They have an underground parking lot and a locked storage room for bikes. We store our bikes and make sure we take all our belongings. The bike company will arrange to pick up the bikes and all the gear, very convenient for us.
As we check in around 1 pm, we encounter the same lady who had checked us in when we first arrived almost a week ago. She told us she gave us a bigger room as she knew we had been cycling and she felt that a larger room would be nice and that it was ready…YES!
Tomorrow, we take possession of our apartment at noon, so looking forward to getting settled in. Robin and I both feel a sense of accomplishment today and feel fortunate that our health has allowed us to do this bike trip. We have met some wonderful locals along the way and fellow cyclists to share stories. Very enjoyable.