Thursday, April 29, 2010

Champagne Rambling

The past three days have seen us on our bikes. Not bought ones, but hired from our hotel, right here in downtown Troyes (pronounced ‘trois’ as in ‘one, two, three [trios]) – got it?). The town gives its name to the troy ounce used in measuring gold weight, which I am sure brings a warm glow to your hearts (or not, as the case may be – I just thought I’d tell you). Three days of cycling, to make a welcome change from walking, as follows:

1. Day One was spent flogging along beside, first, a lovely canal that fed water to the Seine from a number of other rivers that included the Aube. It was a bit of a battle finding the start of the ride, as we had to navigate our way through the suburbs of Troyes, notably St Julien des Vries. Sounds lovely, but was just like any other suburb in a big city really.

The canal eventually reached, we headed along it. This ride is called the ‘Velovoie’, which means ‘Bike Way’ (sound familiar?). It follows the canal first, and then a series of three artificial lakes that feed various towns and villages around the region by another series of canals. One notable moment for us was time spent at a bird observatory out in the middle of nowhere overlooking the middle lake and allowing us to take in a great view of a great variety of birds and to hear even more of the little critters. No one else around and quite – yes – ‘moment’ for us.

Some of the pumping stations we came across were not all that very interesting, as they reminded me of some of the excursions I experienced as a kid to ‘interesting’ (we were told) hydro electric power stations where I fought back tears of boredom from the first ‘amazing’ fact related to us kids by the overzealous, passionate presenter.

The lunch stop was a highlight, as it found us at a ‘plage’ of sand, permanent concrete ping-pong tables, basketball backboards and swings and see-saws. Very few people around at all, but I could easily imagine a massed thrall of French holiday makers sunning themselves by this beautiful lake. I betya the chained-up pedallos would be getting a fair workout in the coming summer months as well ...

The last few km were spent cycling along (up?) the Aube River to Bar-sur-Aube, where we settled in for a good night’s sleep in the shadows of St Pierre Church (‘Eglise’).

2. Day Two was by far the most challenging cycle-wise. We started in one valley (the Aube), traversed to another valley (the Ource at St Usage ) and finally on to the Seine (at Bar-sur-Seine). Now you would think that a village upstream of Paris on the Seine would be a picturesque little village with all the cuteness of a very cute little village. This was not. It wasn’t really horrible, but it was pretty close. What happens with cute little villages (some of them) in the 21st Century is that they have quite a bit of heavy traffic flowing through them. Bar-sur-Seine is one of these. Thumping great trucks, screeching motor cycles and lots of cars surge through it. Our hotel turned out to be OK in the end (mostly due to the lovely dinner), but it was sandwiched in between a very busy in-bound road and a Super Marche of quite large proportions. Overall it was an OK experience, but not our best stopping spot.

The day’s cycling had been tough leg-wise, but most beauteous head-wise. Along with ups and downs, you also get great views, lovely dark forests (‘forets’) and woods, open fields and lots and lots of vineyards growing out of the chalky soil that is ideal for making champagne (so we are told). Most of the tasting spots were not yet open for the season (which begins on May 1), but we did manage to find one just before we reached our destination (see description above). A very competent and helpful mademoiselle introduced us to a couple of tastings of the local drop and enticed us to a purchase of a bottle of the first on offer. Quite scrummy! It was good to be able to have a tasting ‘en route’ and we were happy only to have had only a little, as we needed to concentrate on heavier traffic for our entry into Bar-sur-Seine.
3. Day Three was the easiest of the rides. Only about 45 km of gentle riding following a little bit of a steep pinch at the start. Some beautiful villages slipped by and we stopped beside a little stream for a bit of pain au chocolate we had wisely purchased before setting out for the day.

I didn’t mention the puncture. It wasn’t Jude’s fault. It wasn’t my fault. It just happened. It can happen to anyone riding along the countryside and through tiny cute villages in the Champagne area of France (or anywhere else). It didn’t take long to fix it, but that wasn’t the end of the story, because I TOTALLY FAILED TO CHECK THE INSIDE OF THE TYRE PROPERLY BEFORE PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER AGAIN AFTER APPLYING THE GLUE AND PATCH! What a duffer. The repair job lasted another 15 km or so before it went down again. Curses. Jude found the little bit of broken glass. It was removed and we tootled off down the road again, a little bit older, but MUCH, MUCH WISER.

Eventually we completed our round circuit at the beginning of the Velovoie and then hurtled through that suburb I mentioned (see above) and arrived at our lovely hotel at about 1600 hrs. Tomorrow is shopping and then we drive to our next setting-up point. More of that later, because I can’t remember the name of it. It’s too late and I’m too tired.

Thanks for being our Best Friends!

So long for now,


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