Archive for the ‘France trips’ Category

There is a guy, Tom Goode, who like me, is from Virginia Beach. He is a retired teacher and a ZZ Top fan. He has been my friend for sixty-three of our sixty-seven years. We have seen each other only intermittently in recent years but have stayed in touch. Tom has lived in the western part of Germany for over thirty years, near where he taught high school at the American military base Ramstein. I had never been to see him in Germany and wanted to see where he lived. He and his wife wanted to cycle with us for part of any bicycle trip. I booked tickets to fly to Frankfurt in late July 2022 and to stay for two weeks.

There is another guy: Lyman Labry, of Austin, TX. He has cycled with me many times. He agreed to go on this expedition.

Tom helped Lyman and me to discover that the Moselle River valley is a superb bike ride. Lyman and I cycled most of a riverside route that stretches over three hundred kilometers from Koblenz, Germany to Nancy, France and beyond. We were blessed with great weather for biking, almost no rain and low humidity, only on the edge of being too hot. Sadly this is a part of a drought that is withering this region.

I had been hesitant to visit Germany because I knew nothing about speaking German. I had learned reasonably good Spanish and had parlayed that into semi-facility with French, Italian, and Portuguese. In Germany I would have to find people who spoke English.

Flying from different cities, Lyman and I landed Frankfurt Airport about the same time on the morning of Thursday July 21. Both of us had Bike Fridays that fit in a suitcase. We had to store the suitcases somewhere during our trip. I resolved this by booking a hotel near the airport for one night two weeks hence and asking the hotel to store the cases for us. We had all sorts of problems finding the hotel after we took a taxi to a Frankfurt suburb, the near-airport town of Kelsterbach. We put the bicycles together on a sidewalk in front of the Kelsterbach train station.

After a Middle Eastern lunch we commenced cycling in the early afternoon. It felt good to be outside and moving around, despite not really having slept much on an overnight flight. We were starting about fifteen kilometers from downtown Frankfurt but heading west, the opposite direction. There is a delightful bike path along the Main River. It would be an easy twenty-six kilometers to the city of Mainz. This is a map of the first three days of cycling, before Tom drove over and picked us up in his car.

cycling along the Main River

The Germans seemed to spare no expense in building this lovely bike path bridge over a canal.

We continued cycling up to the city of Mainz which sits at the junction of the Main and the Rhine Rivers. We had to segue through various bridges and roads to get downtown.

downtown Mainz

Maybe I should have booked a hotel in advance. Downtown rooms in Mainz seemed scarce. Google Maps referred to something called Erbacher Hof, which turned out to be a hotel owned by the Catholic church. We stopped by and asked if they had rooms. They did, sixty-something Euro each per night for single rooms, including breakfast, a very good deal. (Note: during this trip the Euro and the Dollar were essentially equal.). Some Catholic guy on the wall seemed to watch as Lyman checked in.

The rooms were small and spartan and spotlessly clean, with TV’s and balconies. It was part of a modernist church complex that overlooks other churches. In the morning there was a lot of ringing of bells.

hotel courtyard

view from hotel balcony

I had recently stayed in various American hotels in Connecticut, most that included a free breakfast where everything was prepackaged and, in my mind, generally disgusting. The free breakfast here in Mainz made me ashamed to be an American. Here in Germany everything was inviting, fresh bread, real food. Not pictured: excellent muesli and yogurt, even bacon and eggs.

As I was to discover, Germans are quite into Italian food; olive oil and balsamic vinegar, German brands, Italian names

After breakfast we got on the bikes and started cycling south along the Rhine River. Our day’s destination was to be the city of Worms. There was a paved bike path most of the way.

bike path along the Rhine

Lyman cycling through vineyards

We stopped for lunch at a trailer-like snack stand along the highway. What could be more German than bratwurst mit brochen? It was too much meat for me, we split this and then went to another place across the street for ice cream.

Cycling further on, mid-afternoon we stopped at a beer garden along the bike trail. How German.

the author and beer

Next to the beer garden was a house was flying the Confederate flag, from the American Civil War 165 years ago. Hmmm. What does that have to do with Germany? The internet suggests several possibilities, including the fact that Nazi flags are illegal in Germany.

On pulling out by bicycle something disconnected my rear derailleur cable, possibly from contact with the metal bike rack at the beer garden. I could not figure out the problem on my own and had to pedal the final thirteen kilometers to Worms in the largest gear. We stopped at a small bike shop on the outskirts of Worms but the helpful guy did not have the parts to replace the SRAM brand derailleur cable screw. (Why not Shimano, he asked.) He adjusted it so at least I was riding in a more neutral gear. I would have to fix it later.

We found two low cost hotel rooms in central Worms. There was no air conditioning in these attic-like rooms but they seem to air out when we opened the windows. We established a precedent for this trip where every night each of us got his own room, two low cost separate rooms rather than one nicer room. It was hot outside but only one hotel on this entire trip had air conditioning.

Dinner at a Greek restaurant was delightful. There was moussaka. During these still COVID times on this two week trip we ate essentially every restaurant meal outdoors. The weather was almost universally perfect for this.

Greek restaurant in Worms

We had breakfast the next morning at chain-like restaurant.

breakfast on the streets of Worms, Germany

Lyman’s career was as an architect in historic preservation. He always insisted we look inside churches, including this cathedral at Worms.

Outside the Worms cathedral. I do not know who this guy is.

Our biking destination for the day was the smaller city of Speyer, fifty kilometers further south along the Rhine. My friend Tom Goode had said it was a picturesque town and he would drive over and pick us up there. Cycling down the Rhine, the river spreads into marshlands. Quite a lot of the ride was on bike paths through wooded areas.

Some of the ride was through neighborhoods on public roads. Even then the bicycle route was well marked. The Germans have a fascinatingly efficient means of slowing traffic without the need for speed bumps.

This is a two way street. The car in the center is moving. The silver car on the left and the yellow van on the right are parked, as they are apparently encouraged to be. The arrangement forces cars to drive really, really slowly.

The town of Speyer is on the Rhine twenty something kilometers south and west of the larger cities Mannheim and Heidelberg. It was midday Saturday and the streets were full of people, although everyone wanted to sit in the shade of outdoor umbrellas, since it was about ninety degrees (F) outside.

Germans and their focus on Italy, “eis-cafe” becomes “Gelateria Italiana”

Lyman wanted to see inside the Speyer Cathedral. We could bike right up to it.

Lyman and I then biked the half mile downhill to the Rhine to wait for Tom Goode and his wife Jana to arrive in their car. It was great to see them. They live about a hundred kilometers to the west, in a rural area near the village of Horingen and somewhat near the larger city of Kaiserslautern. We would go visit to their house before starting to cycle with them the next day.

On the drive to their house they stopped at a wine store they knew, in a small town, and found out it was having a Saturday afternoon outdoor five Euro unlimited wine tasting. Tom says the Germans are always having “events.” We all had a good time. In addition to all the wine they eventually ordered two flammkuchen, which I learned is NOT pizza, it is a German dish, a local flatbread with cheese or other toppings.

Jana (left) and Tom. She is originally from Slovakia.

Tom and Jana’s home is an impressive abode; a former water mill surrounded by pastures where they can keep their three horses. They posed as American Gothic in front of the house.

Tom Goode
they thoughtfully put the these over the horse’s heads to keep the flies out of their eyes

Tom built this catwalk so his cats could walk into the kitchen window!

The next morning we had a peaceful breakfast on Tom and Jana’s patio. Afterwards, Tom and Jana drove the four of us and our four bicycles about a hundred kilometers further west to the town of Traben-Trarbach, on the Moselle River. They had cycled in this area before and spoke highly of the route. We parked the cars and prepared to cycle. First we had to go out for ice cream. Germans like a big selection of fancy ice cream concoctions.

We started cycling north (downstream) along the Moselle. We had all made reservations to stay that night in the village of Beilstein, sixty kilometers to the north.

Lyman

three old guys

Jana and Tom

German village just before we arrived at another village Beilstein.

In this part of Germany and nearby France, finding villages that were not burned down in one of the two World Wars is difficult. Tom was instrumental in telling us about Beilstein (population 130), we might have missed it even on a bicycle, a historic enclave wedged between mountains and the Moselle River. The town is now a tourist magnet. I only got decent photos of Beilstein at night.

The tiny town is filled with hotels. We all had dinner together at Tom and Jana’s hotel, our best meal in Germany. We sat outside on the terrace overlooking the Moselle River and drank local rieslings. We shared a ceviche appetizer. I had a seafood entree.

The next morning my hotel had an excellent breakfast but at the breakfast bar I found portraits of the hotel owners creepy.

Tom looking out his hotel window

After breakfast the four of us cycled further north to the town of Cochem. We stopped at a bike shop and Tom helpfully convinced them to look at my bicycle that was stuck in one gear. The shop had creative older mechanics and spliced Shimano parts onto the SRAM derailleur. Problem fixed!

Cochem is the home of the Reichsburg Cochem, a thousand year old castle that was colorfully redone in the late nineteenth century. We dragged our bikes up a steep hill.

Jana and Tom in front of Reichsburg Cochem

Tom and Jana could only be out for one night because they had to take care of their animals back home, and we went with them back toward their cars. We started cycling back south, then took a train for much of the way. At a riverside town we had a nice German lunch of schnitzel. A salad was included as first course.

my schnitzel. How German.

the obligatory side of potatoes

After lunch we cycled further south and arrived back at Tom and Jana’s cars. They loaded their bikes and headed home. It had been great to see them. Lyman and I continued south upriver by bicycle. This map shows our ride with Tom and Jana plus the next two days of cycling the Moselle, showing the route as the Moselle sharply winds through hilly countryside.

Lyman and I continued on a lovely bike path.

along the Moselle

We stayed that night in the picturesque town of Bernkastel-Kues. On arriving into town we immediately stopped and ordered beers at a cafe on the sidewalk. We had to decide our next move, including where to sleep that night.

While pondering what to do next, singing sounds came from one block away but we could not see what the singing was about. I walked over to look. (I love public unison singing.) There was a group people with letters that spell out FREIHEIT which I learned (because of Google on my phone) spells FREEDOM. (there were other words being spelled as well, I missed those!) I took it as some kind of right-wing demonstration but I am not sure. Everyone seemed happy and peaceful. I still kick myself for not asking someone what it was about. I guess I will never know.

Around the corner we found low cost hotel rooms at a place owned by and next to a South Asian restaurant. We wanted to eat there but they had only indoor seating. No place looked to be serving German food. The busiest restaurant was Italian. This being Germany, we were worried that they were about to close, as many restaurants in Germany stop taking orders at 8:00 PM. We finally got a table indoors but next to an open window. We each got a soup (cream of tomato and Minestrone) and then split a pizza. With a bottle of wine and coffees, it was only EUR 49.50 for two and delicious; a meal we enjoyed lingering over. Eating out here is definitely lower cost than the USA, even after having been hustled to buy a bottle of overpriced Italian water.

The next morning I walked around town waiting for Lyman to wake up.

in the window of a store that sells German hunting clothing

That day we headed again up the Moselle River as it cut through the otherwise hilly landscape. There was a bike path that threads through river views and vineyards.

Lunch that day was in the town of Trittenheim. Once again the best looking restaurant in this German town advertised itself as Italian; the Ristorante Pinocchio. We had delicious salads accompanied by a bottle of local (German) riesling wine.

We cycled further on to the much larger town of Trier where we spent the night. While being nowhere near Rome this German town has several impressive structures left by the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago.

Porta Nigra city gate, built by the Romans about 200 AD, Trier, Germany

Aula Palatina, built about 300 AD

part of Roman baths built in 300-400 AD

Highway bridge still in use, built by the Romans in 170 AD, renovated in the 1700’s with new brickwork

Trier also has an impressive cathedral, the oldest one Germany, parts of which date to 300-400 AD but renovated and rebuilt several times. We walked around inside.

I read online that even though German Catholics are going to church less and less, and very few agree with the Church’s social stances, because Germans keep checking a box on their tax returns, the German Catholic Church gets government funding and is consequently among the wealthiest in the world.

We had decided to keep cycling upriver south on the Moselle, at least as far as Nancy, France, which would be two more days cycling. Starting just south of Trier the river forms the border between Germany and Luxembourg, before crossing into France.

our route along the Moselle from Trier, Germany to Nancy, France

Our destination this day would be the town of Perl, Germany. The nice bike path along the Moselle continued. Part of the way we bicycled on the Luxembourg side of the river.

For at least an hour or two we were in Luxembourg. We had salmon tartare at a somewhat snooty Luxembourg restaurant. Europeans seem to include fries with everything.

We cycled further upriver.

That evening the tiny town of Perl, Germany was the opposite of snooty. Less than a mile from the French border our German hotel was low cost and welcoming.

The only real place to eat that night in Perl was a friendly pizza joint around the corner. We enjoyed talking with a young German couple who were also cycling this route. The guy was a big fan of American Football. He said there was an upcoming NFL game to be played in Munich but he could not get tickets. He said the eighty thousand seats sold out in minutes.

pizza with arugula, Perl, Germany

The next morning after the hotel breakfast we cycled downhill into France. There was really no marker at the border, not even a Welcome To France sign.

Germany had been great but it was even better to be in France, I confess. I could communicate better, although still clumsily, and there was a je ne sais quoi feeling, maybe it was a little more relaxed.

The signs on the riverside bike path were less clear than in Germany, the path surface slightly bumpier.

It was past lunchtime when we started seeing the suburbs of Metz (city population 120,000.) We hungrily went into a suburban “outlet mall” (almost just like those America!) looking for a sandwich shop. The sandwiches had better bread than what you would find in America, of course, and we could eat outside on a picnic table.

French Outlet Mall

Back on the bikes, even closer to central Metz, where the bike trail meandered through an agricultural flood plain, we stumbled upon a fascinating outdoor venue, super low tech (the place barely had a bathroom) but with a nice vibe. We had to stop and drink a beer. Most patrons looked to have arrived by bicycle. There were plastic chairs and umbrellas. The guys who were likely the proprietors were two nattily dressed older men in Lacoste shirts.

More than anywhere we had been on this trip, Metz felt like a real city, a special urban place. I looked on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Metz and called for a reservation that night at somewhere called Au Petit Louis. I tried to talk in French but failed. They passed the phone over to somebody who spoke English. Lyman and I walked almost a mile from our downtown hotel to a leafy mid-town neighborhood and took a table outside on the sidewalk.

The meal started with a freebie, an amuse bouche of fresh tomato compote and bite sized terrine tarts, with a slice of strawberry on each.

We shared an appetizer of terrine, which I have learned is a cross between pate and meat loaf. Our main courses were rib eye steak for Lyman; fish for me. Not pictured: a separate cast iron pan of fried potatoes plus lots of French bread.

Coffee and dessert. Why not? We split this plate of fresh fruit covered with what I think was creme fraiche, maybe just whipped cream. Delicious.

The next morning we had breakfast at a bar on the street of central Metz; their breakfast special; coffee (any kind), croissant, and a large orange juice all for three Euro, delivered with a smile, on real plates to your table on the street. Normally I am not a huge fan of orange juice but that rush of sugar this day seemed to hit the spot.

The Metz cathedral is stunning. It has extensive stained glass windows made in various styles over seven hundred years, including twentieth century stylings from artists like Marc Chagall, with cubist and abstract windows complimenting the older styles.

twentieth century abstract windows

Metz is only thirty or forty miles north of the similar size city of Nancy. We again cycled following the Moselle River and canals that parallel it.

All was not perfect. We were in France not Germany. In a swampy region it was not clear which bicycle route was the best. We followed a fine gravel path along a canal until it degenerated into a rough gravel path, then, at a lock on the canal, a fence and a sign stating (in French) to go no further. What to do? A hiker about our age walked up. He sign-languaged us that everybody just walked around this fence. We waited for him to go first, then pushed our bicycles through a tiny opening in the fence.

breaking through the fence

Once through the fence the path degenerated into a rough narrow trail along the canal, lovely but bumpy.

Persistence paid off, and a few miles later the path grew wider, and then devolved into an actual paved road. The bike path along the Moselle somehow had continued!

At a town along the way we found a boulangerie that carried pre-made chicken sandwiches. We had lunch at a random picnic table along the trail.

The bike ride from Metz to Nancy should have been easy but it was more challenging than expected. It was mid afternoon on the hottest day of our entire trip. The bike “path” along the Moselle that we had taken since Germany for hundreds of kilometers was petering out. Signs for the bike route were no longer clear, the path was stopping and starting. We “needed” an ice cream but could not find even a country store. In the working class town of Custines we came upon a bar. Did they maybe have ice cream bars for sale? I opened the door and the place was filled with twenty or thirty middled aged men drinking beer; there were those semi-legal video gambling machines, just like one finds in out of the way places back in North Carolina. I felt uncomfortable. I smiled and left without saying anything.

Farther on we found a gas station that did have ice cream bars. I struggled to find a piece of shade. The only place to sit was the curb.

We refreshed ourselves enough that we got back on the bicycles and finally made it into the city of Nancy. I texted this photo to back home to my friend Nancy Karukas.

Our hotel in Nancy was in the old part of town, had low cost attic level rooms, and an amazing staircase. I had been thinking about the subject of stairways for years; why do commercial and apartment buildings back in the USA not have inviting staircases like those in Europe? The answer, I think, is that in USA fire codes require two exits for buildings, in most of Europe it is only one. I don’t think Europeans are massively burning up in buildings. Many Americans are overweight but we have to go out of our way to walk up stairs in our buildings. In Nancy I did not even consider the elevator.

The next day we stopped cycling along the Moselle and found another route. We had four days left to cycle on our trip, and we chose to stay in France, We would cycle along the Meurthe River, heading southeast of Nancy to Baccarat, then loop back towards Germany. This is the route of the finals days of our trip from Nancy to Saarbrucken, which sits on the German/French border.

We cycled the next morning through Nancy.

Heading out of town we followed a canal for as long as possible.

For the first time on this trip we cycled much of this day on regular highways, which usually were free of significant traffic and generally quite nice.

Halfway to Baccarat we stopped for lunch in the town of Luneville, which was a resort town in the 1700’s. The Chateau of Luneville, completed about 1720, resembles Versaille. There was no fence; you could bicycle right up to the building and its grounds.

Mostly at my insistence, we had tried to only eat at French restaurants in France. We had a nice French lunch in Luneville. Quiche Lorraine is named after this region.

Later that same day, in another smaller town, I noticed the only place to eat on a Saturday afternoon in rural France looked to be a pizza vending machine.

We cycled another twenty-five kilometers to the factory town of Baccarat, famous for being the home of Baccarat crystal. According the Wikipedia the company is owned by an Asian luxury goods consortium.

Baccarat, France

Baccarat crystal factory

In the window of their gift shop; decanter and six glasses, twenty-eight hundred Euro

Baccarat is a small town with only two real restaurants, a French one attached to our hotel and a nice looking Italian one two doors down.

Our hotel was not fancy but had the pretentious name Hotel de la Renaissance. We chose to eat dinner at its restaurant.

Like about every French restaurant we ate at on this trip, we were glad we made reservations, even if only an hour in advance. As in other places, when we sat down at eight o’clock the restaurant was not full but by nine o’clock every table was taken. French restaurants usually have only one seating per meal. None of the restaurants we ate at on this trip were expensive by American standards. Usually a fancy dinner for two cost about a hundred Euro including wine, dessert, and coffee.

One of us got the French version of prime rib, the other steak au poivre. We sat out back outdoors on their terrace as did just about everybody else.

We packed up to leave the next morning. We had both been noticing an odd steeple rising a few blocks distant.

It turned out to be a modernist Catholic Church built in 1954, to replace one destroyed in the War. On our way out of town Lyman quietly ignored the fact that a service was going on and snuck inside to take pictures.

photo by Lyman Labry

photo by Lyman Labry

It was Sunday. We cycled through country roads with little traffic.

There were almost no towns with hotels on this stretch of highway. That morning online I had reserved two motel-like rooms at a marina for boats traveling the canals, on the periphery of a town called Niderviller. In the late afternoon no one was in the office so we had to wait around.

Our hotel rooms were on the second floor of this building

Within walking distance of the marina was one restaurant, the Auberge du Tannenheim. Nothing else was around and almost everything was closed on Sunday. We had to wait until it opened at 6:30 PM so we could get beers. We were lucky we arrived early as we were told that almost all the outdoor tables had been reserved!

We delayed eating for a while as we wanted to just enjoy our beers. Eventually we did order, both of us got big salads followed by pizza. His was salade nicoise, mine advertised as being a salad of this Lorraine region.

Coffee and dessert? Bien sur! Lyman got a banana split.

We stayed until it had gotten dark. A few others lingered as well.

The next morning we cycled a few kilometers into the nearby larger town of Sarrebourg and got breakfast at a cafe.

Sarrebourg, France (population 12,000)

Most of the day was spent cycling on a paved path that for over sixty kilometers follows the Canal des Houllieres de la Sarre. In this remote part of northeastern France we saw other cyclists only occasionally.

We did often see boats on the canal. Almost all looked like pleasure boats, not commercial traffic.

Both of us had tired of eating the rich food offered at restaurants for every meal. I would be nice to do a picnic lunch. The small town of Lorquin had a small locally owned looking supermarket. Both fresh bread and the “deli” section were at the the checkout counter. An older man seemed peeved to have to slice the “prosciutto” for a couple of non-French speaking customers. There was a stinky looking cheese there as well, appropriately covered with a moldy rind. I asked for a big slice. We carried everything for several miles along the canal until we found this picnic table. Really fresh bread, quality cheese, and salty thin sliced ham made a delicious lunch. We had two apples for dessert.

We stayed that night in the town of Sarreguemines (population 21,000.), which sits on the Saar River and is only a few kilometers south of the German border.

Across the river from downtown we ate outdoors at the one restaurant we could find open on a Monday: Le Casino.

I had lamb shank

Dessert looks like ice cream but it is actually chocolate mousse and whipped cream

The scene at an adjoining table. This phrase is from the Ramones song Blitzkrieg Bop, released forty-six years ago. Despite the fact that they did not sell many records, or rarely played in venues larger than clubs, the Ramones influence lives on. Dee Dee!

The next morning we cycled twenty kilometers north along the Saar River, then over the border to the German city of Saarbrucken.

along the Saar canal between Sarreguemines, France and Saarbrucken, Germany

We had flights back to the USA from Frankfurt Airport the following day. We biked to the Saarbrucken train station and took the Deutsche Bahn two hours east to Mainz. We then bicycled the twenty-five kilometers further east to the Frankfurt airport town of Kelsterbach, where we had stored our bicycle suitcases.

Bicycles are permitted on MOST European trains. Generally, the short distance regional trains freely allow bicycles and the high speed TGV trains make it difficult. Beyond that, it gets complicated and you have to ask or look it up. Our regional train made dozens of stops but otherwise was fine; we wheeled the bicycles right onto the train with us.

After arriving in Mainz we got German ice cream sundaes.

We then cycled along the Main River the twenty six kilometers back to Kelsterbach.

at a German stoplight, as we got off the river trail to go into the town of Kelsterbach.

We retrieved our suitcases and folded the Bike Fridays into them, having to unscrew all the attachments. The next morning both of us took the subway-type train five minutes and one stop to the Frankfurt Airport. The train was fine, but the airport was a shit-show of hours long lines but we both made our flights. I had managed to stay COVID free this whole trip but I am convinced the COVID I woke up with back home two days later was acquired in those airport lines. Two weeks later I am still getting over the vestiges of it. Still, no regrets. We had a great trip.

My buddy Lyman and I stumbled upon some lovely bicycle routes while cycling for almost two weeks through eastern France.

We also discovered that France might have some of the same divides that we speak of in red/blue America.   Paris looked prosperous and multi-racial.  In the rest of France the people looked much more stereotypically French.  I am not sure of the politics, but as we cycled through lovely countryside on back roads, canal paths, and cycle tracks, we could see cities and towns clearly in decline.

Searching for an agenda for our bicycle ride, we decided to cycle north from Lyon along the river Saone.    To give us something to aim for we picked two destinations: a modernist church near the town of Ronchamp, and Lyman Labry’s supposed ancestral base, the town of Labry, which he had never visited.   Lyman is an architect originally from New Orleans who has been living in Austin, Texas for over twenty years.

To travel to Lyon where we would start our bicycle ride, the two of us landed on an overnight flight at CDG airport Paris about eight in the morning, each with a folding bicycle in a suitcase.    We took the RER commuter train to central Paris to drop off our bicycle suitcases for storage at a hotel there.   We would then bike across town to take the TGV high speed rail about two hundred miles southeast to Lyon.

Arriving from the airport about eleven in the morning to the Luxembourg neighborhood of central Paris, we lugged our suitcases up the stairs to the street.   Near the hotel and alongside a sushi restaurant Lyman claimed a spot of sidewalk to put his bicycle together.

Lyman has a cool new (for him) folding bicycle that he had recently bought for less than a thousand dollars on E-Bay: a fifteen year old but hardly ever used Bike Friday with high end Dura-Ace components.  (list price for the current model of this bike is about $ 4500.00!) It only weighs eighteen pounds.   This is not the same Bike Friday that he has taken on previous trips with me.  Lyman has definitely upped his game.

 

I picked another spot just down the block to put together my scratched but trusty sixteen year old PBW.

 

We dropped off the bicycle suitcases at the hotel where we would claim them in two weeks.     We each had small trunk bags for us to attach to the bicycles.  We had a couple hours to kill before the train left.  There are lovely bike paths on both sides of the Seine.

 

We also biked in traffic, which was a delight.   France does not seem rigid about traffic rules for bicycles.  Cars and bicycles both jostled for position.

 

I wanted to photograph stylish women in Paris riding bicycles, but they were almost always faster than me and it was hard to bicycle while also trying to take photographs.   Lyman finally took this picture at a stoplight.  She is riding an elegant Dutch style bicycle, but on the streets of Paris one sees all kinds of bicycles.

We stopped for lunch at a place we found pretty much at random and ate outside.  Being France, it was, of course, delicious.   Veal chops and something like macaroni and cheese.

Using Google Maps we found the train station fairly easily and arrived there by bicycle.  To take the bicycles on the train, we folded them in a much simpler way compared to what had been necessary for the airplane, and we each carried our bicycle on board in a nylon bag. The two hour train ride to Lyon was a breeze (at nearly 200 mph!).

Arriving central Lyon at about five in the afternoon, we biked across town.   Lyon is a really nice city and pleasant to bicycle in.   It feels to me more French than Paris.   Making up our itinerary as we went along, we decided to stay in Lyon that night and then get an early start the next day.

The outdoor cafe across from the hotel we found was inviting but there were no empty seats.

 

Instead, we found another place for a beer and a light meal.

 

 

The next morning we walked back across the street.  Europeans love to sit outside, even if it is a cold and gray day.   We got a coffee and a croissant at the cafe that was so crowded the evening before.

 

The hotel had insisted we store the bicycles down a steep flight of stairs in their basement.   We lugged the bicycles back up the stairs and hit the streets.   Lyon is at the conjunction of the Saone and Rhone rivers.    We were going to bicycle up the Saone for at least a few days.    It was only a couple of blocks from the hotel to the Saone river. We biked across the bridge and made a right turn, heading north.

 

There was almost immediately a bicycle path that followed the river.

 

For the next week this bicycle tour of France would be about navigating upriver along the Saone.   We had not really researched this in advance, but it turned out that much of the way along is river is either dedicated paved bike trails, or signed bike routes connecting small paved farm roads.  And because most if it is a flood plain, the terrain is largely flat.

The bike path was not continuous, on occasion we had to bike on the regular highway.

We crossed back and forth on both sides of the river.

We stopped at an outdoor market about eleven-thirty in the morning.   I was surprised that the number of vendors who specialized in Italian items, such as one vendor who specialized in Italian cheese.

 

We established a precedent this day that would carry on for many lunches on this trip.   We bought our lunch “to go.”    Bread, wine, terrine (coarse paté) and cheese selected pretty much at random, and an apple each.     We strapped the food on the bicycles and headed down the road, looking for a picnic spot.   On our previous trip last May we neglected to bring a corkscrew, we would never make that mistake again!

 

 

 

This day was the first of many excellent picnic lunches.

 

We spent the first night on the road at the very small town of Montmerle-sur-Saone, where we discovered a small hotel that also had a somewhat fancy looking restaurant attached.    I walked around the town riverfront at dusk.

 

 

The sun came out just as it was going down.  Lyman wanted to get a shot of the buildings in the setting sun.

 

The restaurant at the hotel was a little expensive for our taste, and I do not remember it being all that memorable.  Before dinner, a few blocks away from the hotel, we had stopped at a small cafe bar apparently run by just one young woman.  There were only a couple of other people there.  She helpfully (in English) explained many nuances of French aperitifs.

The next morning we elected to find a cheaper breakfast than the one at hotel, and went back to that same bar.   At 8:30 AM on a Saturday morning it was unexpectedly crowded with men mostly about my age, drinking wine.  There was clearly some kind of event going on.

 

The young woman running the bar somehow found time to talk to Lyman and me and helpfully suggested we walk around the corner and buy croissants.  She would make us two cafe au lait to be ready when we got back.   Meanwhile, she and a couple helpers were making some kind of complicated heavy meal for all these guys, who were were starting to put distinctive hats on.

 

You can see the name and logo of their club on the apron of the man in the center.

By the time we left about 10:00 AM, everybody was eating and they all seemed to be having a good time.    Each guy had been served a plate with the main course being something like beef stew.  If I regret anything, it is that I failed to ask anyone exactly what was the meaning of this club.   I really could not pull the young woman aside, she was so busy serving.   I want to start a club like this in Chapel Hill.  Anyone interested?   Silly hats required.

 

We cycled away into the Saturday morning.     We followed the river north for a while, but just before the small city of Macon there was a black line on Google Maps, indicating some kind of trail or bike path.   We would have to check it out.    We discovered one of the nicest rail-to-trails that I have ever seen.    The Voie Vert (Green Route) was beautifully paved and extended over fifty miles on a former rail line as it wound into the small mountains that line the Saone river valley, all the way from Macon to Chalon-sur-Saone.   We would cycle this trail partly this day and partly the next.   Frequently there were vineyards on both sides of the trail.

 

 

 

 

In a strip mall along the trail we found a kind of gourmet shop to buy pate,  cheese, and wine.    Next door was a bakery.  We carried the supplies on the bicycle for a while.

We found a picnic table right on the trail.

 

After lunch the trail wound into higher elevations, but we were spared much of the climb because of the well graded path.    The former railroad went through a tunnel, which was locked!

We had to backtrack just a little and follow the signs for the French word for “detour.”    It was lovely scenery but the hills were steeper.

We spent the night in a small town called Cluny.  We found a room for only forty Euro in this unusual place that called itself a hotel, in a building several hundred years old.

 

 

Apparently the building had been hollowed out and completely redone in the 1960’s, in what I was later told was a conversion by the Catholic Church of this building into an orphanage.   Now it is a hotel.   Everything was institutional grade metal and concrete, with a bathroom at the center of long hallways.    Our room was something out of a prep school movie.

 

The bathroom down the hall was institutional as well, and included a stray sock on the floor, left by someone else.

 

 

Good news was that the “hotel” felt relatively empty, but not creepily so.

Cluny had young people appearing in crazy looking long grey coats with patches sewn on.   What was this?   The next morning I talked to a couple coat-wearing people at the hotel.  They said that it was a tradition of the local university, where you sew your academic and other accomplishments onto your coat.   Most of the coats did NOT have pictures of racy women like this.

(this photo courtesy of the internet)

Since we had such a great deal on the hotel we tried to get a nice meal that evening.    The streets of the town of Cluny were quite empty on this Saturday night, but there were about four restaurants, two of them Italian style.   We first had a drink at an almost empty bar.

 

 

 

We walked around the corner to a restaurant that advertised a twenty-one Euro “menu.”

We were so hungry that often we started eating before I could photograph everything!  First course for me was escargot in garlic-herb butter.

 

First course for Lyman was salad with terrine.

My main course was beef bourguignon, the well-known stew that is native to this region of Burgundy.

He got pasta with chicken and cream sauce.

My dessert was creme brûlée.

For him chocolate mousse.

 

Note that the portions were helpfully not all that large.   We had an excellent food experience without being overwhelmed.     In France one normally does not tip, so at 1.18 to the dollar this comes out to about $ 73.00 including tax and tip,  and also including two half liter carafes of wine, one each of the red and white house wine of the region (Macon).

We walked around the streets of the old town after dinner.   On this Saturday night there was really no one around.

 

The next morning we had to wait a while for the rain to stop, but just a quarter mile from the hotel we were able to get back on the lovely Voie Vert bike path.

 

The bike path ran along a ridge overlooking the vineyards of the Saone valley.

By lunchtime on a Sunday we were cold and ready to eat.    We skipped the idea of a picnic and looked for a restaurant.   This sign was right on the bike path. Sounds great!

But being Sunday the advertised place was closed!   We did find this other restaurant just a few hundred yards further into this town.

Everybody was either eating (a very good sign) or watching highlights of American football on the TV.

 

After lunch, despite being full of food and wine, we again found the rail-to-trail and continued bicycling almost another thirty miles, ending up in the late afternoon at the obviously working class small city of Chalon-sur-Saone.  (Does everyone who lives here really say the “sur-Saone”?).   There were several large dead factories near downtown.   We found one hotel that appeared closed at 4:30 PM.  Standing outside was a Danish guy who had a reservation there;  he did not know what to do.   We learned that many small French hotels are closed during the afternoon hours.   We found another place instead.

The next morning we got croissants and coffee at a bakery down the street.

 

I snapped pictures as we biked out of town.

 

 

 

While the rail-to-trail had ended there were country roads and bike paths clearly marked Voie Blue, as we biked upriver along the Saone.

 

 

 

Lunch this day was my favorite meal of the entire trip.   In fact, one disappointment of this trip was that we did not run into more country French restaurants like this.    It was in a tiny town, on a side street by itself.

Le Bon Accueil was very French about its meal hours;  the restaurant is only open about three and a half hours a day, one seating per meal.

 

This was on a Monday at 1:00 PM.  There were only about five other people eating there, all men.

Like many French restaurants, there was a house dog.

We both got the fifteen Euro three course “menu.”  First course was terrine.

Second course was the best steak I remember ever eating; artfully burned on the outside, medium rare “au point” on the inside, with a dollop of herb butter on top, the plate sizzling hot.

 

In this grape growing and wine producing region, dessert was tart of fresh grapes.   Amazingly sweet, you had to take out the pits.

 

 

Despite all the food and wine, we had to get back on the bicycles and head down the road in a chilly drizzle. The scenery was lovely, however, as we rode alongside several canals.

 

Lyman the architect was impressed at the age and quality of construction of this building.   He wondered how many hundred years old this was.

 

We were tired and cold when we pulled into the small town of St. Jean de Losne, the only nearby town that showed having a hotel, and only one hotel at that!

The front door was unlocked and we walked in.   No one was around.   Maybe because it was Monday the adjoining restaurant was closed.

We called one of the phone numbers and got the owners on their cell phone.    They offered us a room for eighty Euro,  (which seemed like a lot.)    We accepted, and they told us to walk behind the front desk and open the top drawer and take the key marked “6.”

 

The room was fine, and the owners, who we met later, were quite nice.   When Lyman paid the next day the proprietor offered him a lower price of sixty-five Euro, if he paid in cash and did not ask for a receipt!

There was a nice view of the town from the hotel window.

 

There was not a whole lot going on in this town.    The next morning we biked around on our side of the river, looking for a cafe for coffee and croissant.

We could not find even one café, so we crossed over to the other side.    This was the only place open.

They were quite cordial, an older woman serving old men.  Lottery tickets seemed important here.

 

She suggested we go across the street and get croissants while she made us two nice cafe creme.

 

After breakfast, back on this bikes, there was a marked paved trail along the Saone river.

In the picturesque but depressed looking town of Auxonne we looked for somewhere to buy picnic materials.

 

We found a very professional looking boucherie on a side street, to get some terrine and paté.

We separately found a bakery and a wine/cheese store.    With all these yummy supplies strapped on the bicycles, we headed further down the road.

We picnicked in the churchyard of in a tiny village, a village so small that there were no stores, just a church.   There were not more than ten or fifteen of houses.

 

I was depressing but we saw this all over France.   In just about every town there were similar monuments to World War One.  All these young men died from this tiny town.

Every day after lunch Lyman wanted to take a nap for twenty minutes.   My father used to tell me “the greatest men in history were cat-nappers.”     Of course I am not one of them.   Usually Lyman slept while I either read a book or nervously walked around in circles.

 

Back on the bicycles the countryside was enchanting.

We spent the night in another town that was lovely from a distance but ragged around the edges.  This one is called Gray.   Just Gray.

 

 

There was an older motel downtown with reasonably priced rooms.

The streets were so empty at night that when I walked around it felt vaguely uncomfortable.   The next morning, as we were biking out of town, I did see two cool looking pieces of decaying modernism.

 

 

The Saone river spreads out into several connected tributaries in a large floodplain.    There are well marked bicycle paths running through this as we continued upriver.

 

There are canals as well, I assume built to bypass curves in the river.  The towpaths of the canals make nice bike paths.   Twice this canal went through a tunnel.    Unfortunately that meant we had to cycle up over the hill.  I cannot really speak all that much French but it is fun to pretend.

 

 

For lunch, in a somewhat prosperous looking small village we had my second favorite meal of this whole trip.    Chez Yvette was in walking distance from the canal bike path.

 

We were seated in the small front room at a communal table with other patrons.

There was no choice but the daily three course “menu.”     First course was terrine.

 

The main course was lamb shanks in beans, one serving plate for the two of us to share.

 

Dessert was chocolate mousse.

The restaurant had a large group coming in for some kind of late lunch special event.  I am guessing it was a work-related, maybe a retirement party.

 


 

 

Not only was our meal delicious but it was a good deal.  This included wine and decaf coffee.

 

My general disappointment in this part of France was that there were not enough genuine French restaurants like Chez Yvette.  Many small towns would have two restaurants: a kebab joint and a pizza place.

We somehow we got back on the bicycles and headed down the trail.   The scenery did not disappoint.

 

We spent the night in the small city of Vesoul.   At 8:30 PM walking around the streets were empty.

On the building: Liberté Egalite Fraternité

 

The next morning Lyman was still sleeping and I got up and walked around again.  The older part of Vesoul was quite beautiful.

 

We got breakfast at a cafe.   Lots of elderly people here.

Ronchamps, the town that we had thought of an our intermediate Holy Grail, lay just thirty-something miles down the road.   We stopped on the way for a picnic lunch at a bench overlooking a stream.    Lyman took his customary catnap.

 

Ronchamp is a small played out mining town.

 

But up above the town on a small mountain was Notre-Dame du Haut, the piece of modern architecture that Lyman had been telling me about for weeks.    Intentionally isolated as a monastery, it is reachable only by 1 – 2 mile dead end road up an insanely steep hill.

The church in question was built in 1954 and designed by the French/Swiss architect who had pretentiously changed his name to Le Corbusier.     Le Corbusier is better known for his now-discredited 1920’s ideas of tearing down urban centers and replacing them with Towers in the Park.

But Notre Dame du Haut even now, sixty-something years later, looks like nothing else.

 

 

Quite impressive, and we walked around for an hour or two, and bought souvenirs at the gift shop.   Back downhill in the town of Ronchamp we looked for somewhere to stay.    There is only one real hotel in Ronchamp.   It all sounded fine online but in reality it was closed and locked.    I called their phone and left a message in fractured French.

Looking for somewhere to get a drink and look at other options, the only real café/bar in Ronchamp was this gas station, sort of a French version of Sheetz.    Yes, it sells cigarettes and junk food, but also has a bar.   Lots of people, including families, seemed to be just hanging out.  We got beers.

 

We took our chances on the hotel and went back there about 5:45 PM just as they were just opening up.   They somewhat rudely agreed to give us a room.

We still had to eat somewhere.   While Google showed three or four “restaurants” in Ronchamp, two were closed and boarded up, and one was a kebab joint, brightly lit with hardly any seating.  Restaurant Cook advertises itself as a pizza place, but it is really a French restaurant, except that you can order pizza or spaghetti if you like.  We saw this Italian trend with many lower cost restaurants all over this part of France.    The food we ordered was French and delicious.  I think I got lamb chops.  A family behind us had very well-behaved children, sitting in front of the wallpaper depicting Italy.

We walked back to the hotel along the highway in the dark.

 

We had one more major destination in the coming days: the ancestral home of the Labry clan, in Lorraine (as in Alsace-Lorraine, or as in quiche Lorrain!).We had only about four days to bicycle there.  We departed Ronchamp the next morning, and had to deal with a constant drizzling rain and temperatures in the forties and fifties.

Unexpectedly the town of Luxeuil-les-Bains had a fascinating and historic central city.   I wish we could have stayed overnight in this town, but it was only lunchtime.

Lyman noticed this house, it has stood on this street corner for six about hundred years.

 

It started to rain so we had our picnic lunch on a bench downtown.

After lunch we headed out of town on generally beautiful roads, climbing through small mountains.

Google maps had shown several hotels in the town of Bains-les-Bains and we struggled uphill to get there.  On the surface the town looked pleasant.    It clearly had been some kind of spa town.   We learned that the “Bain Romain” in the center of this photo is locked and essentially abandoned.

 

 

Across the street we walked into in this “hotel restaurant.”

We figured we would get a drink, then negotiate for a room and maybe see about dinner.   Several old guys were hanging around the bar.

 

At some point there was activity outside and everybody looked to see what was going on.

We later asked about room rates and learned that their “hotel” was no longer in business.  We also asked about dinner, they said they served lunch only.    We also learned that most  “hotels” in this town no longer offered rooms.    Almost all of the businesses in the town were closed storefronts.

A few blocks down there was one unusual hotel that actually offered us a room.   It was built years ago in a style that to me conjured up visions of Tiki or Polynesia but was owned and operated by a family from Reunion Island, the French overseas department in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar.   They had lots of junk lying around the bar area.   I got the feeling we were the only overnight guests.

 

 

That evening there were two or three other diners in the huge empty restaurant; cuisine reunionnaise, based around rice, was quite nice.

After dinner I walked around the town of Bains-les-Bains in the dark.

 

 

We ate breakfast at the hotel the next morning.  I am not sure if this woman was staying there or not.

 

We were running out of time on this trip; we had two days left to bicycle north, first to the city of Nancy, then the city of Metz.

Once again, we just stumbled onto one of the most beautiful bicycle paths I have ever seen, a paved towpath along the Canal d’est.   This continued for over thirty miles.

 

 

 

 

 

The vast majority of the boats we saw on the canals of France were pleasure boats or houseboats, not commercial cargo vessels.   Some of the pleasure boats are converted old commercial boats.

 

 

 

 

 

Around lunchtime we looked for somewhere to eat lunch and this restaurant was right on the canal.  It was the only restaurant in sight and we were shivering in the damp cold.

It was just after noon on a Saturday.  This was a relatively fancy place and was full of people.     The menu was generally French, but they had a big wood fired pizza oven and an Italian name Le Capri.

 

 

It was a really nice lunch.  I got steak frites, again.   After the extended meal, and the aperitifs,  the cycling along the canals continued.

We passed abandoned factories.

There were no major towns on the canal before we would get to the city of Nancy, which was still about forty miles away.  We stayed at this weird motel on the highway.   Other than two other people I am pretty sure we were the only guests.    For such a lonely place it had an impressive lobby.

 

Sunday morning the temperatures were in the low forties, not actually raining but the air was heavy with moisture.     The weather would not respond to the question:  is it going to rain or not?   Our intermediate destination was the relatively large city of Nancy.   We got wet gradually, mile by mile, cycling hard to keep from freezing,  on a combination of backroads and canal paths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the outskirts of Nancy it started to actually rain, hard.   We were lucky to find this overpass.     We stood there shivering.

We watched these two huge birds having some kind of altercation.     Was it sex, or two males fighting for the right to have sex?

 

 

For my two regular readers named Nancy (you know who you are!) I had been planning this whole trip to photograph myself beside the sign announcing the city.    But we were really cold and I was not going to stop for anything.   Sorry.   I did get a picture of a street in a town just before Nancy.

Maybe it was the weather but Nancy downtown seemed depressed.    Because it was Sunday most of the restaurants were closed.   We found this large Italian restaurant that was quite busy as it was essentially the only place open.   From the menu we learned that this restaurant is a chain, with four locations in Nancy and Metz.   The lasagne was not French but it really warmed us up.

 

 

Because our return flight to the States was in three days we did not have enough time to bicycle the fifty miles to Metz.   Luckily, there is a commuter train vying this route, almost one every hour or two.   You can take your bicycle onboard, no folding required. We were in a rush to make the train and could figure out the ticket machine.   Luckily no one ever asked!

Both Metz and Nancy have impressive turn of the twentieth century train stations.

Maybe because the sun had come out but Metz seemed a much more upscale place than Nancy.   I pick Metz as my favorite city we visited on this trip.

 

We walked around the city in the dark.

 

The northeastern part of France, sometimes referred to as Alsace-Lorraine, has a pervasive beer culture not present in the rest of France.  There were beer halls filled with young adults spilling onto the covered sidewalks.

 

 

The beer halls on the a main square were jammed with people and no one seemed to be eating.   Instead we found a quieter place around the corner.  We had a beer and shared a charcuterie plate, sitting at the bar.

 

 

The next day we found time to visit the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Metz.   Parts of it are as old as the fifth century, but it was mostly built in the thirteenth century, with a major renovations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.     

 

 

 

 

 

It has beautiful stained glass windows, some modern.   Not only were there windows from the 1950’s done by Marc Chagall, there were a few 1940’s windows from someone I had never heard of;  the cubist Jaques Villon.    To my untrained art eye it looks like Picasso.

 

Labry is an unusual last name, even in France.    Lyman says that his ancestors named Labry immigrated to New Orleans, via Canada, sometime before 1800, and that they came from the Lorraine region, where the town of Labry in located.     Lyman says that in the 1970’s he looked in the inches-thick Paris phone book and there were only about six Labrys listed.      Lyman says there are a few Labrys in the New Orleans area but they are all his relatives.

Our visit to the town of Labry was to be a day trip, about twenty miles each way up and back from Metz.  We expected a warm reception.

Part of the bike ride to Labry was through fields that felt almost midwestern American.

Labry is a small town with two bakeries, one bar, one church, a post office, and one auto repair shop.    We picnic lunched around the churchyard.

Like other French towns next to the church was the depressing World War One memorial.

After lunch we went to get a coffee and an apertif at the one bar, a place that sold magazines, lottery tickets, and vapes.

The woman running the place and her one customer were certainly friendly and welcoming.

While they were glad to see us, I guess, they seemed unimpressed at Lyman’s American passport with the Labry name.  Lyman also talked to the woman running the post office and she had a similar reaction.   She thought it was no big deal.  Oh well.

On the outskirts of Labry we saw this nice new public library they have built.

 

They went to the trouble of building the place, but it is only open two hours a day, three days a week!

 

The next day we took the TGV train from Metz to Paris.   Bicycling across Paris from the train station to the hotel we picnic lunched in the Square Emile Chautemps, near the Centre Pompidou.

The following morning we flew back home to America.

With my now broken arm in a velcro cast, we spent another night in Lyon. Unless I put weight on it the arm it really did not hurt much.  Having spent most of the day waiting around a hospital, at least we had a nice late dinner on the street near our hotel.

First course was cold asparagus soup. The Lyonnaise do not seem troubled by fat or cholesterol.  This soup was like a tall cold glass of whipping cream, gently flavored with asparagus and herbs.  What’s not to like?

My main course was steak tartare, a dish I had heard about all my life but had never eaten.   Lyman got something resembling steak salad.

 

The proprietor had recommended we not eat outside because the only table available was next to this group of rambunctious regulars.  We told him we did not mind.

 

 

The next morning we went out on the bicycles to “try again”; maybe not fall over this time.    Our day’s destination was somewhere thirty or forty miles down the Rhone River.    Since this time I only had the use of one arm, we took the online advice.   We bicycled a mile or so over to the main Lyon train station and took the commuter train ten or fifteen miles south to the village of Givors.   Finding the train, paying for the tickets, and pushing the bicycles on the train was all surprisingly easy.

At the Givors station Lyman used their high tech public bathroom.  Nowhere but France would you find a facility like this at a rural train station.

 

Givors was indeed a good place to start a bike ride; in short found the bike path along the Rhone River.

Which then transitioned to a country road.

And then transitioned back to a bike path.

 

In the town of Ampuis , at 1:45 PM, we were shocked that none of the three restaurants (one cheap, two expensive) in this town would serve us lunch.   They all said it was too late.    The French, we learned, have very defined hours when both lunch and dinner should be eaten.   We made do by sharing a plate of delicious charcuterie at a tony wine shop that sold snacks to accompany their customers tasting expensive wine.

 

After lunch we biked on further and looked for a room in the town of Condrieu.    The only real hotel in town was the Beau Rivage, at 118.00 Euro (about $132.00) the most expensive hotel we stayed in the whole trip.    The restaurant was also by far the most expensive at 64.00 Euro per person + wine for a three course meal.  There was really no other place in this small town to eat and we chalked this up as “let’s have a one time rich person’s experience”.  People were pulling up in their Audis and Land Rovers,  seemingly like the cast from the 1970’s movie Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Like almost everywhere on this trip, there were no Americans.

We chilled in the room for a while.  Later on, after a beer at the fancy bar, we sat down to dinner.  In late May it did not get dark until after nine at night.

 

In our hotel room there had been a pamphlet, in both French and English, about the hotel’s restaurant and its “rules.”   Everything about this restaurant reeked of fru-fru-edness; they pulled out all the stops to be pretentious.  Yet the pamphlet said that if you brought your dog into the restaurant for dinner, it had to be well-behaved.   Of the about ten occupied tables, two had dogs underneath.   One family had two small children, a baby, and a dog,   The dog at that table yapped repeatedly.

There were multiple multiple courses.

My appetizer was scallops carpaccio.

 

Lyman’s appetizer was paté of foie gras.

My main entree was duck breast with filipino spices.

 

His entree was lamb chops.

 

There were amuse bouche, sherbet between the courses, and complicated desserts I do not remember.   While it does not look like a lot of food in the pictures, I do not remember leaving hungry.

The food and the whole experience was quite satisfying, although in hindsight it was not all that much better food than much lower priced places we had eaten at, or would eat at.   Pretty much everything one eats in the country of France is delicious.

The next morning we pushed on downriver.   As always, I would ride the bicycle with just one hand.

 

The ViaRhona cycle route is planned for all the 449 kms along the Rhone River, from Geneva, Switzerland through Lyon,  to Marseille on the Mediterranean.   Some sections are not complete.   In most areas it is well marked, though I did have to pull out my Google Maps a lot.  Much of it is a paved bike path, connecting existing small country roads.   The path is almost entirely flat, even though steep hills rise up alongside.

 

Most of the time you have to get off the trail and go a half mile or so into a town to find something to eat or drink, but this day there was a pizza place with excellent salads right on the trail.

 

 

Mine was a salad with smoked salmon and little raviolis.  Each little ravioli was separately delicious.

 

 

 

After lunch Lyman catnapped.

We had wanted to get all the way that day to the small city of Valence. On the way the town of Tournon is right on the river.  We stopped there about 4:30 PM  to get an ice cream.   We liked the town so much we decided to stay.

 

We found a room in this place where the room looked out over the river.

 

 

Low cost hotels in France seem to like to display homemade art.   The nice young lady at the front desk said the paintings were by a local person; pictures lining the stairwell with gaucho and tango themes.

 

 

 

Back in Lyon two days earlier our hotel had the stairwells lined with rock and roll and movie stars.    Were these paint-by-number?

 

 

Tournon has a wonderful street scene with tables laid out on the Main Street with a view of the river.   We had a beer at a cafe before looking for a restaurant.   We found an informal steak place with the menu on the blackboard. It was packed this Saturday night and we had to wait for a table.

 

 

 

The next day we continued cycling down along the river, the path switching sides of the river back and forth.

In the city of Valence there was a Sunday morning market, selling everything from food to sunglasses.  We decided we would feel healthier if we ate something other than just meat.   I started by buying some  olives.

We followed that with a loaf of bread.   Lyman went to buy fruit while I waited in line at a cheese trailer.   I bought a wedge of each of four different types of cheese at random,  not knowing anything about them.   I then searched the market for a corkscrew.  We stuck all the food in our bags and continued down the road until lunchtime.     For the next two days each day we would have a great picnic lunch.

That first picnic lunch out in the country, I set up and and opened the four types of cheese.   Each had come to room temperature and each gave off a different glorious stink,  apparently unique to that type of cheese.  It underscored the powerful flavors that cheese has; I do not remember ever being so impressed with smells.   The second day we tried to repeat the lunch;  that time we had bought the bread and cheese at a Carrefour supermarket.   It was fine but just not as pungent as the stuff we had gotten the day before at the outdoor market.

In America we have Route 66 and maybe US1.  N7 has a nostalgic hold on some of the French.  It is the old two lane highway that one drove in the 1950’s and 60’s from northern France, including Paris, down to the French Riviera.    I first heard of N7 about three years ago as the name of a French restaurant in New Orleans that uses images of N7 highway nostalgia.   We biked down N7 for about the last ten miles into the town of Montelimar, where we would spend the night.

I learned from Wikipedia that Montelimar’s claim to fame is its candy, called nougat.  I learned that George Harrison’s song Savoy Truffle on the Beatles White Album opens with the line “creme tangerine, Montelimar“.  The song is about candy and so is the town.  In Montelimar there is a government funded Candy Museum.   Buying nougat in Montelimar used to be a special stop for tourists in the drive to the beach.  But sometime in the last twenty or thirty years a new freeway bypassed route N7.   And the tourists apparently stopped coming to Montelimar.

 

Lyman and I got a hotel room for less than ninety Euro at about the nicest place in town.   We ate outside.    It was still a pleasant town and fun to people watch.

 

 

Walking around at night we saw more candy stores, some still in business.

 

 

 

Lyman was still sleeping when I got up the next morning and walked around some more.   I bought some nougat to take home to Tootie.

We spent another full day bicycling along the Rhone, mostly on that great ViaRhone bike path.

 

We got off the bike path briefly to push the bicycles up a steep hill through narrow streets to see the lovely medieval town of Viviers.

Eventually we parked the bikes and just walked.

 

At the top there is a cathedral, Lyman took this picture

 

This is the town from a distance.

We spent this night in the town of Orange, which has two significant Roman era buildings.  I never realized how many Roman buildings there are in southern France.    I hesitate to call them “Roman ruins” because many are not even ruined.    They were built to last.

There is the Triumphal Arch of Orange, 2000 years old.    There is a traffic circle around it; the grassy park was in the process of renovation.

 

While the Arch is about a mile from the central downtown, the Roman Theater of Orange, 1900 years old,  is right adjacent to the central old city.   It is still used for performances now, including opera.   We only saw it from the outside.

 

 

From Google Images, here is what is behind the wall.

 

We ate outdoors that night on the street in the medieval old city.

My appetizer: crab stuffed tomato

 

My main course:

 

My dessert (right on the menu!) Irish coffee

We had a nice chat with a fifty-something English couple who live a couple hours north in Dijon.   They were describing how many English people now live in France.  If you have a portable job, are retired, or are independently wealthy why would you stay in England?  The food and the weather are clearly better here, more often at lower cost.

The next morning Lyman and I plotted strategy.  He is a retired architect who specialized in historic preservation.  He was passionate that we see more Roman buildings including the Pont du Gard (Bridge of the Gard), a huge Roman aqueduct that is, you guessed it, 2000 years old.

To see this aqueduct we would have to cycle west,  away from the Rhone River and the bike path, on conventional highways.  (South of Orange the ViaRhone bike path is largely incomplete anyway.)

 

We climbed up into the hills.  The further south one goes in France the terrain becomes more Mediterranean / California looking.   We started to see what looked like second homes for the wealthy.

 

After a vigorous more than three hours of bicycling over steep hills in the sun, we pulled into the dusty and working class looking town of Remoulins, on the flat land along the River Gard.  We first went into this place where the locals were drinking rosé at 11:45 AM.

We refreshed ourselves at this cafe, but we really needed a place to have a nice lunch.   Just down the street was another establishment that seemed to place more emphasis on food.

 

When you looked inside there did not seem to be anyone around.   Everyone was out back on the terrace   and lots of people were eating here, including the cops.

 

 

 

 

So we sat down to a wonderful lunch.  My first course:

 

Lyman’s first course

 

 

My main course was chicken in cream sauce over couscous

 

Lyman’s main course was asian noodles with beef and asparagus

And of course there was dessert, something.  And expresso coffee.

We staggered out and got back on the bicycles to ride in the hot sun about three miles to the Pont du Gard.   Unlike almost everything else on this entire trip, Pont du Gard is a government run tourist destination with entrance fees and a large parking lot filled with tour buses.   There we lots of Americans and many other nationalities.   Despite the fees and the crowds, this was a 2000 year old aqueduct definitely worth seeing.

 

We wanted to see more Roman buildings in the city of Nimes, just to the south.   First, however, we would cycle about ten or twelve miles to the medieval town of Uzés where we would spend the night.  I booked a room over the phone before we left the aqueduct.

On the way I saw vegetables for sale by farmers.   Asparagus, cherries, and strawberries seemed to be what was in season.

One advantage of a bicycle is that when entering an old city like this you can just ride in and not have to worry about parking or one way streets.   Our hotel was on this street.

 

The restaurant that evening in Uzés was my favorite of the whole trip, maybe because after many days of pork, sausage,  and cream, the dishes here seemed lighter and healthier, but still very French.

 

The food was so good that I took a bite before I remembered to take a picture.  Both of us got the same things; arugula salad with cheese and melon

grilled tuna steak on ratatouille

 

and their dessert autour de la cerise (around the cherry); a plate with three or four different small portions of cherry-based desserts.

The wine was very local; I checked the address on the bottle on Google Maps and it was from less than ten miles away.  The bottle of wine we shared cost about 19 Euro and it was not the cheapest one.   Amazing gourmet food for 25 Euro + wine.   We were the last ones to leave on this Tuesday night.

 

We walked around town after dinner.

The next morning I walked around early and took pictures.

We wanted to get to Nimes and see the Roman structures there.  It was only about twenty miles but it involved cycling over a pretty fair sized mountain.

We glided into Nimes about lunchtime.   When traveling by bicycle the size of cities and towns become amplified.  Nimes (population 147,000) really felt like the big city.  We had to look up the pronunciation; the “s” is silent: Neem.

We stopped at a cafe in downtown Nimes just to get something to drink but decided to stay for lunch.   We got salads, mine was salade nicoise.

 

Eating in this public square under an awning I could watch people walk by in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We found a hotel room.

 

Later that afternoon we walked over to the Roman Arena,  paid the fee and walked around inside.  It is 2000 years old and pretty much all intact.   Yes, they used to have gladiator fights here.  In the more modern era bullfights became popular in southern France and in about 1860 they started using the  Roman Arena as a bullfight ring.   They still do bullfights here along with other stuff.

 

 

 

 

We also walked over to what the French call Maison Carrée.     It is essentially the only completely preserved Roman temple.   It has stood in this square of Nimes for 2000 years.   In 1785 when Thomas Jefferson was U.S. Ambassador to France he ordered a stucco model and used it as an example when he designed the Virginia State Capitol building.

Catty-cornered is a modern art museum designed in 1986 by the British architect Norman Foster.

We hung out in central Nimes.   Sitting outdoors in cafés in Nimes is a great way to spend time.

Later on the restaurants are were all crowded and we had trouble finding a table.   We finally (of course) had an excellent dinner on the streets of the old part of town.

My appetizer was tuna tartare

 

This was Lyman’s appetizer; beef carpaccio

 

My main course, their take on bouillabaisse.

 

Lyman’s main course, I think it was some kind of steak.

 

 

Adjacent to our restaurant was another café where young people were hanging out.

We had purchased tickets on the  TGV high speed rail from Nimes back to Lyon.   A hundred and sixty eight miles in an hour and twenty-seven minutes, including stops.

We biked over the next morning to the Nimes train station.

Unlike the commuter train a few days earlier, taking a bicycle on the TGV was more complicated.  We had to fold up each bicycle and put them in a carry-on bag.

We had assigned seats on the upper level.

 

Back in Lyon we had a late salad lunch (listed as Entrée XL at this place.)

 

 

We had our flights back home early the following day from Lyon airport.   Walking around downtown Lyon that last evening, we saw that these people had taken over a street as their own.

 

 

Lyon is France’s second largest city.    I was there with my longtime bicycling partner Lyman.   We had both brought folding bicycles with us on the airplane, and bags to carry all our luggage on the bicycle with us.    We had no real preset agenda or reservations.  Before and after our eight day bike ride down the Rhone River we bicycled around the city.

Bicycle commuting seems to have taken off recently in Lyon.    You see crowds of bicycles on the major streets.   Lyon is at the junction of two rivers, both wedged between steep slopes, but most of the actual city is nearly flat, making bicycling easy.

Unlike, say, Holland, or I assume Germany, but somewhat like the USA, bicyclists in Lyon ride around in all directions.    No one bicycling seems to care about the traffic rules.  People cut across sidewalks and public squares.   After stopping to check, bicyclists seem to always run red lights.

The signs designating one-way streets apparently apply only to cars.    Many of the one-way signs say”sauf velo.” (except bicycles).    Bicycles loop around all parts of Lyon, most seemingly oblivious to traffic rules.

There are bicycle lanes on the major streets.   In addition, there are a series of lovely bike paths paralleling the two rivers.