The B&B was nice and quiet so I had a nice sleep. The breakfast was just two pieces of bread, butter and marmalade. Not an ideal start of the day for a cyclist.
I went in to Arcis-sur-Aube in search of a supermarket. A bit in to town there is a sign that displays the speed of the vehicles passing by. The speed limit is 50 km/h and the slowest vehicle is a big 25- 30 ton truck doing 58 km/h. The “normal” for cars seem to be 70-80 km/h on a narrow street in the town, totally crazy.
Somewhere along the road I cross the voie verte du canal de la Haute-Seine, it seems to be an organized bike/walking path with signs and places to sit and all. This looks promising for my travel along the canal de Orleans and Loire. I sit down and eat some stuff I bought at the supermarket.
I did not find any places open for lunch but I found a bar/tabac/PMU that was open, imagine that I were in a place when something was open. I had to celebrate, since I didn’t drive a car or truck there like the others I couldn’t have booze and beer like they had for lunch. I had to settle for the only warm beverage they had, an espresso and some peanuts.
The day has been very cold and windy, just after lunch the rain started. I felt severely unmotivated and after trying to find some accommodation at a B&B that apparently wasn’t open for business I had to settle for Hostellerie de l’Orvin. The place was severely run down and looked like it was obsolete already in the 70′s. Highlights include carpet in the bathroom.
There was a 3 course dinner at a nice price. There was no heating in the building since it was summer so my clothes wouldn’t be dry tomorrow either. Their Internet connection was very good and their hot fudge cake swimming in vanilla sauce with whipped cream almost made up for the misery.
Some bread for breakfast and I was ready for another day in the rain and cold. Clothes are still damp but they will be wet soon anyways. The day started out cold and rainy, just after 11 I came to a small town with intense traffic. I was too early to have lunch but I decided to wait this one out. I really wanted to sit inside and eat hot food.
Instead, I went to the station to see if there was some way to jump forward by train, the station was closed for lunch. Their ticket machine was broken but from the time tables on the walls I could figure out that the train line went towards Paris and not to the west where I wanted to go.
I went back to the town square and sat down at the bar/brasserie, I saw lasagne on the menu. That would be nice I thought. When I ordered the lasagne I was informed that they didn’t have lasagne today. This probably was national no lasagne day or the lasagne was only served after 14, who knows. So I had an overpriced not very nice omelet instead. But it was nice to be indoors and warm for a while.
The rest of the day is really cold and I have to bring out my thick jacket to stop freezing. I spend the rest of the day listening to old Swedish comedy shows called Hassan, this one make me laugh so much I have to stop for a while.
I have seen a Hostel just outside Montargis where Canal de Orleans maybe starts. I want to rest for a day and the prices at the hostel seem to be very low. I find this place and check in.
This place is part of HI Hostels but I have never seen such worn down and dirty place. On second thought dirty doesn’t really cover this place, filthy might be a better word, I am not sure filthy is correct either but I don’t know what the next word would be, maybe disgusting.
I am tired so I spend the rest of the day in my room. When time for dinner comes I walk down to the center of the village. There is a Kebab place and a “Taverne”, since I don’t like Kebab I go for the other place. It seems that their evening menu during the week is crepes or similar. So dinner is two overpriced pancakes but they were not all that bad.
Back at the hostel I inquire about heating, but since it’s summer it’s turned off. It doesn’t seem to matter that it’s only 12C and 100% humidity, if the calendar says it’s summer it is. It is strange that everything here is so very expensive, maybe the proximity to Paris explains why they can get away with it. But on the other hand it’s almost deserted, sometimes I can bike for 1-2 hours without seeing another person. Strange.
I sleep as late as I can and then I go downstairs for my breakfast a.k.a. Baguette . I have spotted a washer and dryer in the kitchen, I see that the washer is free and with the speed of a cobra I get my laundry and starts the machine.
There seems to be whole families living here and several generations of women are already cooking lunch or dinner. These families does not look like tourists at all, maybe they are just unfortunate or live there for some other reason beyond me.
I was not popular with the crowd in the kitchen, I suspect that they had their own system for which family got to wash and then I just grabbed the machine when it was free. While waiting for the dryer I service my bike in the garden shed, I really didn’t feel comfortable to expose it too much to the crowd living here.
At lunchtime I go back to the tavern and they have a menu de jour, a really nice four course meal with a small pitcher of red wine for 12.50 Euro. This is the way I want it to be every day. There are mostly handymen or construction workers in the place, most of them have a drink before lunch and then a bottle of wine. I guess it is needed to drive back to work.
Back at the hostel I read my book and go to sleep for a small siesta. There is no shop or supermarket in town so I settle for dinner at the tavern again. Just as yesterday it’s just crap, sorry crepes.
In the evening I try to use the Internet to find a train ticket to fast forward a bit. I would like to go west or possibly all the way south to Bordeaux. The French rail company has forgotten to add a search criteria for traveling with bike. So I have to look through all the suggestions, train by train, to see if there is a cycle symbol there.
As it turns out I have to go to Paris and change not only train but also stations, I am not interested in this idea and decides to struggle against the wind and rain for some more days.
I am woken by 300 ducks having a party in the canal outside so I get up and pack all my stuff and await my baguette/breakfast.
I left the hostel thinking no more hostels in France, it’s not worth it. I aim for Montargis where my agenda is supermarket, refill SIM card with money and tourist information. Supermarket was easy. Tourist information was interesting. I ask if they speak English and yes they did, they didn’t really know where the canal to Orleans started or had any information on how to bike it. So if I didn’t have my GPX track in the GPS I would never have found it I guess.
Finally, I find a Bouygtel store that can help me refill my SIM card so that I get another 300 MB for the next 10 days. Bouygtel is great at service and at most places they have coverage, but the speed is lower than I ever have experienced. Sometimes it so slow that my Android phone almost stops working, it’s hard to even close applications. I guess it’s all that data they need to send to NSA.
I found my way to the canal d’Orleans and started biking. There was at least a small path on one side of the canal the whole time. Sometimes it was not much wider than my tire but hard and nice surface. There were no signs along the canal but it was easy to navigate, I had a GPX track for the first half but had no problems navigating the second half.
I realized that I would not find any services along the canal so I decided to have one of my freeze dried meals for lunch. I stopped at a park bench and started my Jetboil flash to boil some water for the meal and some tea.
It was some delicious Bulgarian donkey or possibly Rumanian horse, it’s hard to tell with all the added chemicals. But at least I had a hot lunch at a time I decided.
It was raining most of the day, it was not so cold as the other days as I was out of the wind for most of the time along the canal.
The biking along the canal would have been wonderful if the weather was nice, now I am feeling cold, wet and possibly sick. I am very tired and feel a sore throat coming.
When I cycle along the canal I see a sign for Auberge, I feel done for the day and decide that this first sign by the canal must be investigated. The door is locked and there is someone sitting inside watching me, but when I ring the bell he opens. I ask for a room and there is one. I decide that I have biked enough for today and check in. There is no Internet available to customers but I get to park my bike in their locked back yard.
Dinner is at 18:30, that almost feels early by now. I read in the brochure that they are three people that run this Auberge and the restaurant, they all have long experience from the hospitality industry, they take great care to present the products and flavors from the region bla bla bla bla bla, it’s all very pompous and big nosed.
They serve breakfast at 9 so I decide to have breakfast in my room and leave before 8. I pay my bill before I go to bed and tell them that I will skip breakfast since I want to leave before 8. There is no heating since it summer so my clothes will not dry until tomorrow.
Since I went to bed early yesterday I feel very rested and have my breakfast from my stash and pack up. I bring my bags downstairs, the corridor and stairs are so narrow that I have to make two runs to get all bags.
Then I try to open the door to the yard, it’s locked, it’s an emergency exit and it’s locked. I try my key but it doesn’t work. I have heard of locked emergency exits in third world countries but never found one myself. I try the front door and it’s locked but my key works. But the gate to the backyard is locked.
I start to walk around in the hotel, bar and restaurant to find some other way out to the backyard where my bike is. After a while I find the backdoor in the restaurant that the staff uses when they smoke.
This door is completely unlocked and can opened from inside and outside without a key. So in order to secure the hotel these very experienced hoteliers make sure that their guests will die in case of a fire and they also make sure that the hotel is left wide open to thieves.
I can not see any reason why people that lock emergency exits should be allowed to exist, at all. I hope that one day they get to experience a locked emergency exit themselves.
So, a great start on a great day, it’s about 9C and the rain is pouring down like a waterfall. My mood was very bad this morning.
The track along the canal is unpaved and in this intense rain it turns in to mud, it’s a bit slippery but my Schwalbe Mondial dig in and spray sand and mud all over my bags and the bike.
After a while I get to the magic point where Canal d’Orleans connects with the Loire river. It’s a whole bunch of water that runs by every second. A big river.
When I get to Orleans I see some signs about what lies ahead along the river. There seems to be some organized accommodations and maps. At this point I feel sick and tired of France, I start to feel that this whole idea with cycling sucks.
The rain is still very intense and I stop under a bridge to think a bit, I decide that I really do not want to bike all the way to the Atlantic in headwind and rain. I do not want to be cold and wet every day.
I see a hotel that looks to expensive but I am to wet and cold to really be bothered about the budget right now. They have a room and there is a weekend special price, still the most expensive hotel so far but it’s 20 Euro under the advertised rate. After seeing the room I decide to stay two nights and have a little thinking session.
Their bike storage is full, there are 4 bikes and lots of rubbish in there. So I have to leave my bike locked to a bike rack outside the reception. When I have carried my bags to my room I fill my water bottles and go outside and clean the bike. It’s covered in mud and sand.
I dash to the supermarket and buy groceries, dinner and breakfast. The rain is pouring down so I really don’t want to go out for dinner and eating supermarket stuff in the room will balance the expensive room.
I would really like to bike some more along the Loire but the weather forecasts promises plenty of storms from the Atlantic and rain,rain,rain,rain,rain. And constant headwind. It doesn’t make sense to fight the Atlantic, I want to go somewhere where the sun is shining and I can bike in shorts instead of head to toe Goretex.
I decide to take the train to Bordeaux and go along the coast from there, if that still doesn’t help I will cross in to Spain by train and cross the mountains by train to the city of Vitoria where it seems to be summer still.
I use the website of the French railway company SNCF to figure out a likely route, bikes seem to be OK on trains in France. Unfortunately there is no option for only searching for trains that accepts bikes. I have to enter my start and destination and manually check each connection.
I find a few possibilities and write down on a paper as I intend to visit the ticket office on the station tomorrow. So far France has turned out to be far more expensive than I could imagine, it’s even more expensive than Finland and for sure delivers extremely low value for money even compared to Finland.
Going from Germany directly to France was like going from Heaven to Hell. Everything is 50- 100% more expensive and a 50-200% less value for money. I guess I will just have to live with that everything is very expensive and in general just garbage.
Today is the day when I buy a French train ticket. I walk to the station and enter the ticket office. I have my notes ready and go to the counter. I ask if the staff speaks English they say they don’t but with our combined language skills we manage to get me some train tickets.
I lurk around the station looking at different trains to see how the bike compartments look, every train seems to be different so no point in trying to figure the system out. I walk around town everything is closed so there is nothing else to do than going back to the hotel and rest. Today the sun is shining and there is no rain.
When I go out for dinner I find out that all the restaurants open at 19 and not 18:30 as I thought. That leaves me walking around for a bit, while I do that I see something that looks like a bookshop that looks like it’s open.
This can’t be, a shop open on Sunday evening. I go inside and it is actually a shop and they have maps, I find a map of south west France and one Spain/Portugal map. So I managed to buy something I needed on a Sunday in France. Amazing.
Day 98. Orleans – Bordeaux, 15 km
I wake up very early, the rain has been pounding the roof and windows all night. I have breakfast and pack up. Just as everything is loaded on the bike and I start to bike, there is a quick shower, just to make sure everything is wet.
Monday morning and rush hour, it’s interesting to bike through Orleans to get to the station that is 5 km from the hotel. There are bike lanes, sometimes just green arrows, sometimes proper bike lanes. Very impressive. Unfortunately not everybody is on board with the bike lane program, here and there someone parked in the bike lane, sometimes it just ends in the middle of an intersection.
The station has no elevator so there will be some heave lifting involved. When I look around I find a handicap access on the outside of the station. When I start to go up the ramp on the outside of the station a SNCF employee appears and tells me it’s not allowed to use the ramp unless you are handicapped. We have a look on my bike and how heavy it is, but it’s IMPOSSIBLE to use the ramp for a bike.
There is sort of ramp on the stairs so I can wheel my bike up to the platform, just behind me stressed French people roll bags up the ramp. I almost tell them that they should wait until I have reached the platform, if I drop my bike it will crush them and their bags. But I decide to let Darwin’s principles rule instead.
The train arrives, there are 3 employees on the platform looking after people, on the train there are at least 8 employees. They all stand around and smoke and look when I have to remove all the bags and lift the bike about 1.2 meters on the train. They probably thought it was nice with 2-3 minutes extra time to smoke. The door is very narrow, my handlebar is almost to wide to go through.
The train is an Intercities, I have never been on a train that is so bumpy. I have to hold on to something whenever I stand up. I get a little bit motion sick, something that I never experience in normally.
There are a few stops, I sit next to the bike and the staff compartment, on every stop there is an exodus of SNCF staff from the train. Smoke,smoke,smoke. They just suck down a half cigarette before the train has to leave again. I have never seen a train with so much staff, that could explain why the ticket was so expensive.
I have to change train after 2 hours, I only have 7 minutes to the next train, if it’s not on the same platform I am toast. As through a miracle all SNCF employees are gone when I have to exit the train, they are at some other doors smoking. So I lift the bike down to the platform and rush back to get the bags. It seems there were some other people that needed to use the same door to get off the train and smoke. They have cleverly placed themselves between the train with my bags and me.
Fortunately they were not very heavy so they were easy to move, also the automatic door in the train wasn’t fast enough, I hope it was easy to hang back.
I remember in Finland when I rode a similar train, there was one employee and he actually helped with lifting the bike and the bags. He also actually checked the tickets and did not sit and talk and smoke all day. SNCF should hire Finnish people instead, they could reduce the staff by 90% in one go.
Luckily there are at least 12 SNCF employees to ask about my next train and even more luckily it’s on the same platform. It’s a tiny train with two cars, it’s one of these small diesel powered buses on rails.
The first door is full of bags and boxes, I think I also saw a goat but I am not sure. The second door is almost full, but by now I have enough speed to just go full speed in to the train. People start to move themselves and their bags from the dedicated bike area. There is another cyclist as well, we move our bikes around and I get to park my bike inside of his as he is leaving before me.
The small train takes 3 hours to get to Bordeaux, at every station people smoke standing inside the train and the cigarette halfway outside the door. As there are many people leaving and entering the train, all carrying at least one big suitcase , it’s mayhem at every station. The train is completely full, people leave their bags in front of the doors and the one man show staff on the train has to chase people and there is lots of shouting over the speaker system. “You can not leave your bags in front of the door, yes I know it’s full but I do not care”.
At one point I thought they were going to start to throw bags of the train.
But after 3 happy hours I arrive in Bordeaux, I have seen how people behave so I decide to preempt them being assholes by being one myself, so I just stand up and throw all bags left in front of my bike away and start to push the bike out. People really enjoy this and I exit the train very fast, my Schwalbe Mondial almost eat a small dog that the owner didn’t see fit to carry in the chaos.
Once on the platform I ask one of many employees if there is a lift, no lift, so I have to take the stairs, I have to travel over several levels with small stairs and escalators to get outside. Once I get outside it’s really warm in Bordeaux, and just for good measure it starts to rain as I make my way out of town.
I am completely exhausted so I decide to find accommodation and I bike to edge of town and find a cheap motel. The nice owner suggest that I take the bike inside the room when I ask if there is a bike parking.
Then I go to McDonald’s for lunch/dinner, imagine that the only place where I can eat when I want is McDonald’s. To get to McDonald’s I have to cross a road with one lane in each direction where the speed limit apparently is 800 km/h. But since it’s just between lunch digestif and dinner aperitif some people are kind enough to risk their lives by stopping at the zebra crossing and letting me cross.
I feel pleased with the decision to stop fighting the storms from the Atlantic and take the train south. In Bordeaux it is still summer, shorts and t-shirt. Hopefully I will only have one more day of systematic headwind and then I will just sail south, south of the mountains where it still is summer and prices allegedly are lower than in Germany.
This sounds like paradiso, I wonder if it is to go to be true.