Contents 1 Tuesday, Nov. 22, Montréal
2 Wednesday, Nov. 23, Paris, Charles de Gaulle
3 Thursday, Nov. 24, Aachen
4 Friday, Nov. 25, Aachen
5 Saturday, Nov. 26, Namur
6 Sunday, November 27, Chimay
7 Chauny, Monday, Nov. 28
8 Paris, Tuesday, Nov. 28
9 Wednesday Nov. 30 to Friday Dec. 2, Grenoble
10 Friday Dec. 2, Lyon
11 Saturday Dec. 3, Lyon
12 Sunday, Dec. 4, Lyon
13 Monday, Dec. 5, Lyon
14 Google Earth Map of Trip
This was to be a relatively uncomplicated trip by plane and train (TGV) to Paris and Grenoble. I am presenting a paper at the Colloque Jacques Cartier in Grenoble where I expected to ride my bike around town. However, I learned of a workshop in Aachen on ``Formal Methods and Open Telecommunication Switching.'' This was a topic of great interest and I was able to attend and make a presentation on our work. I am scheduled to take the TGV from Paris to Grenoble next Tuesday, Nov. 29 The workshop in Aachen is on American Thanksgiving, Thursday Nov. 24. I will have four very short daylight days from Aachen to Paris. In the summer it should have been easy but with short days and possible (probable?) rain, I don't know. I expect I shall be riding at night.
This time of year is not good camping - nights are very long, and most of the campgrounds are closed. I will be trying something new. I will be staying in the world's largest chain of budget hotels - Youth Hostels. The last Hostel I stayed in was in Denmark when Virginia and I were conferencing in 1971. Hostels now cater quite openly to travelers of all ages. Hopefully I will not be locked in, in the morning, like we were in Denmark nor curfewed at 9:00pm like I was in Salzburg in 1968.
Mirabel was almost deserted when I arrived at 4:30. My flight on Air France leaves at 6:30 but it is almost impossible to arrive any later without extreme risk. The counter was almost empty - perhaps it is light flight. I have new bag for my bike, made by Montague who made the bike. I am hoping that it will appear to be sufficiently innocuous that there will be no problems on the trains. The lady at the counter did immediately recognize it as bike though.
Power outlets at Mirabel are quite rare. I had to rearrange some furniture so I could feed SAM, my Twinhead 486 SubNotebook. Why SAM - I used the same name for a system I designed using a Wang Portable Computer while I was in Austria - System Access Machine.
It was still pitch dark when we arrived at 7:00am. Sunrise was still another hour away. I have not been to Charles de Gaulle since 1990. Now there is a new TGV/RER station at the airport. The TGV is not much use for me now but the RER had a metro train leaving almost immediately, direct to the Gare du Nord. The ride from Paris to CDG is not very exciting, so the train was welcome - and I didn't even unpack my bike - and repack it again when I got to the Gare du Nord.
** Almost very visible wall by the tracks has been attacked by ``artists''. Even the morning fog, which is quite heavy, cannot hide the display.
I arrived at about 8:30 to discover that the Suburban part of the station is almost a km away, by tunnel from the main station. I was dripping sweat when I arrived at the Gare des Grandes Lignes to buy my ticket to Aachen. It looks as though the best bet at this time is the 10:23 to Brussels with a change for Aachen. The direct train is not until 1:45pm. I guess I shall take the pain of hauling my bike through Brussels/Midi to arrive in Aachen at 3:30pm rather than 6:45pm.
It was sunny and quite nice all the way to Aachen. Belgium is quite flat all the way to Liège whereupon it suddenly became small sharp ridges all the way to Aachen. It is going to be interesting leaving Aachen for Liège.
Aachen is the most confusing town that I have ever tried to discover. I got a map almost immediately - it was essential but did not help. The town seems to be comprised of several weakly connected sets of chaotic streets. Two sets of tracks from the HauptBahnHof effectively split the town. People in one section do not know the names of the streets in the other, nor how to get there. The Colynshof Hostel was in a section separated from the front of the HauptBahnHof. I discovered, while wandering lost, that WeisshausStr, where I am supposed to go tomorrow for my workshop, is one of the connecting gateways to another part of town In fact, the Hostel is just up the street from Philips where I go tomorrow - quite convenient.
It is Weihnacht Markt time in Germany, and the Rathaus (Town Hall) square is the normal place. It was almost completely shut down when I got there at about 8:00pm after supper but there were still a large number of kids of all ages enjoying the excellent Glühwein. Perhaps I can go back again tomorrow after my Conference. The Weihnacht Markt is in the inner ring with the rest of historic Aachen. Aix la Chappelle, as it is known in French, was the ``permanent'' seat of Charlemagne. The Dom dates back to his time. The central core of the Ring is a FussgangerPlatz where they brag, that even bicycles are not allowed during business hours. As far as I can see, this is not too restrictive as the business hours appear to be minimal.
The Colynshof is a huge residence at the top of a hill - just riding up gets you ready for your shower. It is mostly empty. I expect that I shall meet the rest of the people at breakfast. I did run across one other man ( not kid) when I got up early this morning. We are both in the Madchen (girls) section. Each floor is split into two sections - Madchen and Jungen - with smaller, not quite ``family'' rooms in the Madchen.
We were about ten for breakfast. The only couple made me look like a kid. Two girls were here for three days for a special flute workshop. Perhaps a few of the others were students but most looked older. Breakfast was a substantial combination of coffee, rolls, and salamis. It was quite decent.
The day was mostly drippy but that was of no concern. I spent the day inside at Philips. The conference was quite good and I was glad that I was able to go. I also, unexpectedly met an old friend, Reinhard Gotzhein, who had come up from Kaiserlautern for the day. It was quite unexpected on both parts.
It had stopped raining when I left, in the dark, at about 5:30pm. I went back to the Hostel to change and then rode down to the Weihnacht Markt. It was a delight and in full swing. When I told Peggy I was going to Aachen, she said ``How can you go without your interpreter?'' - I am quite sorry that I was unable to share the Weihnacht Markt with her - it would have been much fun. I had supper, Thuringer Wurst from the wurst wagons, Glühwein, and an Aachen specialty - so they claimed - onions and mushrooms - deliciously healthy. I also discovered that all these wagons charge you a deposit on the dishes. Perhaps if I had had my interpreter last night, I wouldn't have thrown away the 1 DM deposit on my Glühwein glass.
I think I am finally starting to get a feel for the layout of the inner ring. I actually got out an on my way back without a wrong turn.
Today will be difficult. I am aiming for Namur, approximately, I think, 150km (90 miles). The first part to Liège will be up and down, maybe hopefully around, the sharp ridge lines I saw on the train coming here. In the summer it would be easy, without any night riding, but today I am certain I will have to ride at night. Maybe Belgium will have bike paths in this part of the country.
I had intended to take some small back roads but since the Hostel was almost on the N3, I will take it instead. It started with a long climb up to the top of a ridge. The ridges here seem to run east/west and the N3 stayed on top of one for most of the ride to Liége. I had nice views down into the valleys. It was mostly green farmland with cows, some horses, the occasional donkey with its foal - seems quite late in the year for that. It was a pleasant cloudy ride all the way to Liége. The N3 from Aachen to Liège runs parallel to the autoroute so the serious drivers are hopefully all there. It was, except for a couple of convoys of trucks quite unbusy.
The long drop into Liége was quite a delight. It turns out that it was only 45km (rather than 70km) from the Hostel to Liège so I arrived there early ... about 11:00am. This meant that Namur was quite feasible. The main road from Liège to Namur was south of the Meuse so I decided to ride the one on the north side.
Both sides of the Meuse are clogged with smelly, heavy industry of almost all the types you can think of - except paper making. My map had the audacity to say that this was a ``scenic section''. It was quite distressing, to the spirit, lungs, and nose. At Huy, about half way the density of the heavy stuff really diminished - but never disappeared. Then you had time to notice the high sharp cliffs on both sides of the river. Unfortunately the north-side road ceased about 15 km outside of Namur so I was forced to the south side of the Meuse at Andenne. The traffic on this section was fast, and heavy. Fortunately, the Meuse is well manicured and has an old road/tow path right along the bank. It went all the way into Namur, broken a couple of times for active construction - but it was quite easy to get around. The tow path had the distinct advantage that it went under all the bridges so you missed the hills there too. The barge traffic was very heavy with all of it going downstream. I don't see that this situation is stable. The cliffs, and the special rock formations, along this section were spectacular - and all the nicer that I could easily look up at them but not have to climb them.
I arrived in Namur just before 4:00pm - it was still light. I found the Hostel at about 5:00pm. This just south of town and quite lively. They have their own bar, make supper, and even have a few guests. My room, at this point has about five others. It is obviously going to be difficult to charge SAM overnight. However, I am writing this in the Hostel Dining Room with SAM plugged in so I don't think it will be necessary.
I had a mediocre dinner at the Hostel but did have two culinary delights earlier in the day.
I do believe that there are only five males here in the Hostel and they have put us all in the same room. There is not quite the same camaraderie as there is amongst bicyclists at a campground. Two of the boys are from somewhere in England, one is from Western Australia, and the other is an Italian, whose is from everywhere. He was born near Brascia but his family is in the garment business and has moved, almost every two years, all around the world. He is now old enough to continue the tradition on his own. The kid from Western Australia is just on an extended trip. He used to work for the Australian government but decided that he had had enough and is taking off for some time. ``Some time'' is now up to six months. He has been all over Eastern Europe and even managed to spend a week in Budapest without going to Austria - he came in by way of Zagreb. He has not been to Germany, France, Italy, Spain, or Portugal. I think his selection for a first trip is quite remarkable. Later, ????, he will go home via Asia.
** Postcards are very expensive: 15Bfr each and 38Bfr to send (53Bfr or about $2.00 CDN)
** Today:123km (75 miles) and 500m (1800 feet) vertical
Breakfast is at the exceptionally late hour of 8:00am. In Aachen it was at 7:30am, allowing me an easy time to get ready just as the sun was rising. I was up late, 6:30am, and worked very carefully to avoid disturbing my roommates when I got up. I was hoping to go downstairs to write but discovered that they had dropped the shutters on the entire first floor. We are not locked in, but services are inaccessible. At the moment I am sitting in the hall just outside my room with SAM plugged in and writing. I have swiped a blanket from my bed and am sitting quite comfortably. I made coffee with my camp stove so am quite content, except that the silly hall light keeps going off every one and a half minutes. The switch box is accessible so I could disable this annoyance but decided that such behaviour might be considered unfriendly.
I left the Hostel very late - at about 9:20am - most distressing. My guide book (Rough Guide to Benelux) claims that the section between Namur and Dinant of the Meuse valley is the prettiest along its entire route but that the valley is too wide to warrant a spectacular. The Tow Path (Voie de Halage) came and went almost he whole way to Dinant. At times it was 2m wide cobblestone, dirt (much smoother than the cobblestones), and at one place a small trail-like path much like that on the Grand Union canal in England. I decide to go around that last section on the road. The river was quiet, smooth, very pretty with the occasionally visible sheer cliffs and very heavy barge traffic - this time going both ways. It most likely would have been much prettier if I had been able to actually see it. The early morning fog in Namur grew into a light drizzle and obscured the tops of everything.
Dinant lives up to its billing - a delightful little town built on the side of the steep cliffs bordering the river. It's Citadelle (for some reason these things are not called castles in Belgium) on the east cliff is formidable. Everyone has used it to slow down the advance of their enemies. The last time it was the Nazis - it took three days to dislodge them.
I arrived in Dinant at about 11:00am and stopped at small pub near the base of the castle. The family and social crowd was just gathering for mid-morning libations. Just as I sat down, I was asked to move over one table so a ``regular'' man and his wife could have their ordinary table in the corner - the bench appeared to be special to their dog.
** Jupiler1: this is blonde, double? fermented, pleasant, but not exceptionally distinguished.
I completed my mostly rain outfit by putting my Gore-Tex socks. My shoes were rapidly getting very soaked.
From Dinant, I went west, climbing out over those cliffs to reach a high, wet, green, pastoral plateau. The expanse of the plateau was lost in the mist after about 30m on either side of the road. The large charolais that occasionally clustered by the fence still were able to give a curious eye.
I stopped at small Friture just outside of Rosée. There was nothing for several kilometres in both directions but there was still a reasonable business while I stopped (inside a small front-counter enclosure) having frites with andalouse and cocktail sauces, my sandwich (leftover from lunch at the workshop in Aachen), and some rosée wine. Here are the typical sauces available
Today I grossly underestimated the distance. At about 3:00pm I was approximately 15km north of Chimay and approximately 60km away from my destination for today, Laon, in France. There was nothing of real interest between Chimay, the home of the famous Trappist Belgium beer, and Laon. The Rough Guide said that there was only one hotel in Chimay and that it was a 25 minute walk out of town. It recommended, instead the Hostelerie de Veroulles about 4km north of Chimay. It was full - recommendations have this funny effect. I continued on to Chimay. By now it was quite dark. The Motel LES FAGNES was just a few bicycle minutes outside of town and had plenty of room. The owner, Camile Baudaux, was quite familiar with Montréal and Québec. He had spent some time in Sept Iles and in St. Hubert working for Pratt & Whitney.
The main reason for not being too distressed at having to stop in Chimay was that it would give me the opportunity to try some Chimay on draft. It turns out that Chimay is not available on draft, only in bottles. The brasseries here are really family affairs. The patrons all know each other, bring their kids, and shake hands, or kiss each other on the cheeks when coming and going. They also tend to look very much alike. It was unclear how many families were involved with the kids.
There were three different kinds of bottles of Chimay on display. I asked the bartender what was the difference. He said 7%, 8%, and 9%. I understood the words but not the meaning. When I persisted, he asked for someone to help interpret. At this point all I was getting was a translated description of numbers. I persisted and asked if there was a difference in taste. Here I finally got something. The 9% was sweeter than the 8% and 7%. I have seen neither the 8% or 9% at home so I decided to try them. The 9% was indeed sweeter, but not too sweet, than any I have previously tasted and the 8% was similar in taste but not quite as sweet. I think that the Ciney on draft would be my first choice though.
** Morte Subite: I thought it would be an exotic beer but it turned out to be a cherry cider - pleasant but not worth a second,
I had a late supper at the tiny Le Relais, a complete meal consisting only of mussels and some draft Stella Artois. The mussels were excellent and the Stella Artois on draft much better than the bottled version we get at home. It was not especially cheap (400 Bfr - $16 CDN) but it was the cheapest item on the menu.
** Today:93 km (53 miles) and 635 m (2100 feet) of up
It is really nice to be able to spread my stuff around. My room is really a housekeeping suite with three beds, two of which are on a loft. I am aiming for Compièigne, which on my previous plan should have been a very short day. I don't know what the extra 50km will do - we shall see.
It turns out that I really underestimated the distance to Laon - it was an extra 85km from Chimay. There is no hope of getting to Compièigne today. The absoluteness of this realization became obvious when I had ridden 28km and the signs said 58km to Laon. It was reasonably hilly and forested coming south from Chimay. The border crossing between Belgium and France should much abandonment - as did the German/Belgium station. It didn't rain for the entire day, but the roads were wet and I was quite muddied, and my shoes were continuously wet.
** This is Hunting Season in France and Belgium. I think that half of Belgium and France is out in the woods. I passed a couple of trucks parked at an access road with signs saying ``Danger - tir de balles'' or roughly ``Danger - shooting''. I heard a few shots and had no inclination to go off the road.
Hirson was about 10km into France and there was an open épicerie. It didn't have anything that struck my fancy so I declined. Later in the day I would regret it. I had incredible trouble getting out of Hirson. My directions entering town were all messed up, and although there was a map, I ended up going exactly the wrong direction. After turning off the main road, because I was convinced it was wrong, I ended up going into a Forest Preserve. I asked a group of people getting their mountain bikes ready if this was the road to Vervins. They politely told me to turn around and go and go back. I did, examined the town map more carefully, found where I came into town, and rectified the error.
** I almost hit one of about 40 policemen that were coming out of Church. He was quite dismayed but suggested that I should make more noise. Perhaps I did need my Grizzly Bell.
I followed some small back roads through Buire and Cigny en Thériach before I inadvertently ended up on back on the main road. This was a new ``D'' road and the traffic was not too bad. However, south of Vervins, it turned into the N2. Not only was this a National road, it was a very low number. The road was very wide and the traffic quite heavy. I decided to abandon going to Laon, and instead cut across country to Chauny where I knew there was a Hostel Hopefully this will give me possible shot at getting to Paris tomorrow. These roads were through tiny villages with no services - I was quite anxiously looking for a patisserie - on 3 m and 4m roads. It was gently rolling, very green pastoral France. The cows stared at you, the Larks were disturbed, and the Great Grey Herons flew away with regularity. It was much more fun than an N? road.
I finally found an open Patisserie at about 3:30pm, bought 3 exotic pastries and had a ``sort of'' lunch. I arrived in Chauny at about 4:15 and found the Hostel at 4:40. It was closed until 5:00pm. I went into the centre to look for something to eat but everything, except for some Bars were closed. I stopped in at the second one I saw and had some Merguez Americaine - merguez without frites and on a baguette instead. It was as good as I remembered. I also tried some Sylver Christmas beer, brewed by Heineken in Nancerre. It was quite pleasant. I was treated to an extra free one by a man who was quite embarrassed because he asked me to move as he thought I was blocking the door to the bathroom. He was misplaced by about six feet.
I arrived back at the Hostel at about 6;30 - I have a seven-bed room to myself and it appears that the only other people here are families. I don't know if they are visiting or whether they work here.
** Today: 130km (80 miles) and 724m (2390 feet) of vertical - perhaps it was not that flat,
The Chauny Hostel rooms have no running water, no electricity, other than one overhead lamp. The bunks are concrete, and there is no heat - none was necessary. All the Hostels lock the kitchen at night and here you are locked into the dormitory area. I was also informed as I arrived that there would be no breakfast. I am able to make coffee, and if I had the rest of my normal camping breakfast supplies, I could have even made a complete breakfast - oh well!
** The dormitory door was unlocked at 6:15am, and the kitchen at about 6:30am. I was able to complete my normal breakfast a toasted a baguette left over from yesterday's lunch and some jam from a wide open cupboard.
I was able to actually get out the door by about 8:20am, my earliest departure yet. It was barely light but it was possible to see. It was still too early for the grocery stores - but it turned out that most of the stores were not open at all - after all it was Monday. I didn't get any lunch at all today. I forgot that all the stores close at noon, just when you want to buy some snacks. I didn't feel I had the time to stop for a decent meal at lunch as I do when camp in the summer.
** South of Chauny is Mistletoe and Sugar Beet country. Mistletoe is very obvious this time of year - green clumps sprinkled through a bare tree. The piles of sugar beets by the side of the road were only about 1/10 the size of those in Austria - perhaps they were there for seed next year. If so, the outside storage that is common in Austria is missing here.
At Biérancourt, just south of Chauny there is the D934 going to Noyon and the D935 going towards Pierrefonds. My choice was the D935, b but I didn't look closely enough at the map - without my glasses, and started out towards Noyon. Noyon is the large town in the neighbourhood and all roads seemed to go there anyway. After going along for a while without finding my turn to Pierrefonds, I examined the map with my magnifying glass and discovered that I was about 8km, and one ridge line north of my road. The ride up the hill was a welcome change from the wide open fields that I had been going over. At the top of the ridge was a flat tableland that did not go down all the way to my right road. I would have had to climb up anyway.
Pierrefonds (the other Rockbottom) is dominated by a striking castle. It may not have been as well fortified as the one at Dinant but it was much more impressive. This is a tourist town but a delightful one. I declined to buy some pastries for lunch because they were twice as expensive as the ones I bought yesterday. Pierrefonds is part of the various Circuits touristique that crisscross the forest of Compièigne. It is heavily logged and in some places looks as though it is clear cut. The trees are multisized hêtres (beech?) with almost no underbrush. I wonder how it is possible.
The towns just south of here obviously were fortified - some still are surrounded by their stone walls. The wrecked castle of Montépilloy has been reduced to being a chicken farm.
The Forêt d'Ermenonville was the last set of ridges I had to cross before reaching the flat land and the N17. I must admit I rather like the 3 and 4 metre roads that I had been travelling on all day to that point. At times I wondered why there were cars on my road.
I hit the N17 about 8km north of CDG. It was very fast, four lanes divided highway, and not at all pleasant. It remained this way until I hit Bourget Airport, and the town of Le Bourget where it essentially became a wide city road. The ride up to CDG has this short, very nasty section of the N17 but it is now avoidable with the RER train from Gare du Nord. I think I will avoid it on the way back.
It was just getting dark when I reached the Paris, Port de Villette. When I got out of the supermarket Casino, it was quite dark. The neighbourhoods in this part of Paris are quite ethnic - Chinese, Vietnamese, and various flavours of Arabs. I stopped for supper at an Arab brocheterie and had a brochette. It was decent but I would have liked some salad dressing for my salad and some sauces for my frites.
I decided to stay at the ``huge'' Artignon Hostel on the east side of Paris. It has restaurants, bars, game rooms, and triple rooms. It is impossible to get a single room. The normal room seems to have three beds, a basin, and power for a shaver. The washrooms do not even have shaver power. I am in the basement writing on SAM, plugged into an outlet near a bench. I should not need to recharge SAM until I get to Grenoble tomorrow.
My roommate is a man from outside Paris getting away from his family for a while. He has a dear friend in Canada, Serge Blaise2, that he would dearly like to find again but does not know where he lives. I said I would help him by looking. The hostel seems to be evenly divided between seniors and ``youths''.
** Today: 135km (84 miles) and 736m (2430 feet) - I grossly underestimated the distance from Aachen and Paris. I thought that it was about 350km (215 miles) - a distance plausibly feasible in the four short days that I had. It was actually 477km (295 miles). This meant averaging about 120km (75 miles) a day - a reasonable summer value but in the winter? I did make it but missed lunch on most days. Perhaps I am in better condition than I was when I was last in France, about 4 years ago.
I go to Grenoble on the TGV today. I am scheduled to leave at about 2:00pm but might try to leave earlier if I can get organized and get my reservation changed.
Breakfast started at 7:00am. At 6:59am, the entire lobby and restaurant was completely dark - showing no life at all. At 7:00am+, I had breakfast with an Indian from Australia who was here seeing if he could find some good prospects for his toy importing business in Australia. He was disappointed that most of the toys he saw were American designed and made in the far East.
I arrived at the Gare du Lyon at about 8:45am, was able to change my reservation from 13:45 to 10:05, and discovered, as expected that the TGV would not carry bicycles. I had hoped not to have to fold it but that was not to be. To make things easier, maybe, I did not empty my saddle bags nor get out my backpack. For some reason I had a very difficult time stuffing the bike into its new bag - much harder than when I did it at home. I think that I shall have to practice again in Grenoble before I come back.
I did get ready in plenty of time. While I was waiting, I was surprised by Karen Offen, a good friend from California. She was on her way to Lyon on a TGV that left five minutes before mine. We discovered that we are here for the same set of Colloque Jacques Cartier, but hers is being held in Lyon rather than Grenoble. She is speaking on ``Définir le Féminisme:Réflexions sur les Spéficités Nationales en Europe Continentale'' at a Colloque on ``Féminismes et Cultures Politiques Nationales'' - sort of like de Tocqueville in reverse. She was also disappointed that there was no snow this year so she could not go skiing. I thought it was too early in he year so I brought my bike instead. However, people in Grenoble told me that normally there would be skiing this time of year, but this year, there is no decent snow.
When I looked more carefully at my ticket, it was First Class. The seats are wide and comfortable, two and one but I don't yet know what else is provided. It is easy to write on SAM, but of course, he is not plugged in. Nothing, except the seat, is included in First Class. A friend from Ottawa, Nick Georganas, on his way to our conference said he had a colleague who ordered a meal in First Class TGV and was shocked at finding out the price.
** The countryside is quite undistinguished and lacking in detail at 275km/hr - it is conceivable that it would also be the case at 20km/hr. The sun around Paris has given away to very low clouds - slight fog - and now sun.
The country became much more distinguished between Lyon and Grenoble. First we started getting hills and then real mountains. Grenoble is actually in a valley with mountains on either side. The ones to the west are quite modest but the ones to the east are sufficiently high to have snow near the top. You can't see them from the city centre but they are visible if you go out to the east. I wandered around, mostly lost all the time, looking for a Left-handed Swiss Army Knife for my sister Judy. According to the knife specialist in town, the lefty version is only available in Switzerland. I also noticed that Grenoble unfortunately has smog - I could smell it and see it. It is not very heavy but did contribute to a general malaise that I seem to have.
I was able to change my ticket for my return on Monday Dec. 5 to be direct to Charles de Gaulle Airport. All I have to do is change TGVs in Lyon which should be much easier than doing the same in the Gare du Lyon. There was even a refund of 53Ffr - don't know why.
It has been a good conference with quite decent weather. The Colloque Jacques Cartier have organized a tour to the Beaujolais wine area just north of Lyon on Saturday but you have to be in Lyon to able to go. I have never been in this wine area and it is the time of the Beaujolais Nouveau. The bottle that I just bought (15Ffr - $4.00) is fruity, smooth, and cheap. I am looking forward to tasting some really good Beaujolais Nouveau.. This means I will be going to Lyon on Friday just after the Conference here ends. Joseph Sifakis, the conference organizer here in Grenoble is going to drive to Lyon for the Friday Opera and has offered to give me, and my bike, a ride - he has a large MPV station wagon so it should be no problem. This means that I will not need the Grenoble/Lyon section of my TGV ticket. However, I still have it because the SNCF Train people would not give me a further refund. Perhaps I shall ride back to Grenoble on Sunday rather than staying in Lyon. The Colloque Jacques Cartier are paying for my Friday` night in the Sofitel but it is too expensive (600Ffr - $172.00Cdn) for me to stay on Saturday and Sunday nights.
The drive to Lyon with Joseph took about an hour and about another half hour to find the right part of Lyon and the Sofitel. They dropped me off at the hotel and I took out my bike, which did not even need to be folded, and Joseph and his wife departed for the Opera, with, unfortunately, one of my rear paniers. I thought that I had carefully counted but apparently did not. After I checked into the hotel, I rode down to the Opera to see if I could catch them before they went in - I did not. I did see other people that I knew so I left messages with them. I returned at about 10:30 and discovered that I was an hour early. The Opera district seems to be alive at all hours. There were even two small grocery stores still open. The real surprise though was Rue St. Catherine. This was a narrow 4m street with English Pubs up and down both sides. They sold real English and Irish beers and were jammed. The Albion specializes in televising English Football. The Kilkenny Ale was quite good and the Guinness, which I was told was brewed in England for France, was its normal outside of Ireland disaster.
At about 11:30, the Opera let out, I found Joseph, and retrieved my bag.
I moved to the Athena Hotel this morning. It is approximately 100m from the track (50m from Gare Part-Dieu)where the train leaves on Monday morning. They claim that their 248Ffr ($67.00 CDN) rate per night is a weekend special. My rule of thumb in France for determining Hotel/Campground prices used to be 100Ffr/10Ffr per star. It looks as though things have inflated a bit and it appears that now 150Ffr/star is more reasonable for (unpretentious) starred hotels.
The trip to Beaujolais started from in front of the Sofitel at 12:15 as advertised. I had not been added to the list of participants, but, except for a slight exclamation from the Colloque Jacques Cartier monitor it was of no concern. I was delighted to find, as I had expected, that Karen was going on the trip. It would have been hard to believe that a California wine lover would miss a trip like this.
The Beaujolais region is about 67km (40 miles) long at the southern end of the Burgundy wine area. The Grands Crus - good wines? - of the area are named after specific villages. Some villages are so small that they have gathered together to form a single Beaujolais Villages. The vines are dormant now so there is little green in the fields other than the weeds. The vines seemed quite small compared to what I have seen in other areas. Perhaps the reason is that they grow unstaked, a marked contrast from other areas. There also appeared to be an inordinately large number of really dead fields. When I asked about this to our host at La Grange-Charton,he insisted that there weren't any dead fields and that they were not being pressured to remove grapes from production by the EU like some other areas. I guess I shall have to come back during the summer sometime and look for my self.
At Beaujeu, we stopped to explore the town. It was obviously a tourist destination.
La Grange-Charton is a typical, I suppose, medium sized wine making operation. The compound was about 100m square with the vignerons (farm workers) living along one wall. Each vigneron is given responsibility for a section of the vineyard, allowed to keep some of his production for private sale, and required to sell the rest to the cooperative. I suppose you can tell which ones are really enterprising by examining the TV antennas on their roof. If you are really good, you can afford a satellite dish.
** Why are roses planted by the vineyards? They add colour, of course, but the real reason is that they are quite sensitive to grape vine diseases and act as an early warning signal to the vigneron.
We tasted four wines there, three of which were to young to be good, and too old to be Beaujolais Nouveau. The fourth, a Morgon, was one year older than all the others and was the odds-on favourite of the group. The bottles of it disappeared almost immediately. The tasting was quite generous, probably because it had been paid for by the Colloque Jacques Cartier. It was even possible to sneak out with you glass and try the wines that were still in the vats. I expected them to be rather raw but they were not. These vats were labeled by the name of the type and the responsible vigneron. There was a noticeable differences in some cases between the same type and different vignerons.
We visited one other vineyard, housed in a castle, and specializing in Morgon. Unfortunately it was now dark and we really could not see it. One disappointment was that we never did get to taste any Beaujolais Nouveau. We spent our time in the southern section of Beaujolais and, according to our guide, the best areas are actually in the north. Perhaps that is the origin of the Beaujolais Nouveau.
For dinner we left Beaujolais and traveled north and east of Lyon to Pérouges. It warrants a Michelin, ``Worth the Detour'' and was indeed. We arrived at about 8:30 so it was very dark and we could see very little of the walls and buildings crowding the cobblestone streets. It is an, almost intact, medieval village that was originally settled by Italians from Perugia. It is intact because its industry first moved out of town down the hill, dwindled, and died. The population dropped from several thousand to 90. Its worth as a tourist destination was recognized and it was restored. It certainly looks worth visiting in the daytime. Maybe I shall visit it tomorrow if I can figure out where it is. I left all my maps of the area around Lyon at home and tomorrow is Sunday.
We arrived back at the Sofitel at about 12:30am. It was a good day, and nice to share it with Karen.
It was cloudy when the sun rose and remained cloudy and drippy most of the day. I decided at about 9:00am to try to go to Pérouges. I knew roughly where it was but really needed a map. It is Sunday in France so very little is open or will be open. The Quick store at the BP station on Stalingrad was open and they had a map of ``60km around Lyon''. Pérouges was a very easy to find, straight shot along the N83. This runs parallel to the A4? to Grenoble, and it is early Sunday so the traffic should not be to bad - it wasn't. I asked the girl how far it was to Pérouges. She thought it was about 40km. It turned out she was exactly right.
I did want to find an open épicerie so I could buy some Beaujolais Nouveau to take home as presents. I found two in Valbonne, about half way to Pérouges but they had run out. A wine speciality store in Meximieux, the market town for Pérouges had one last bottle. I bought it. The Beaujolais Nouveau season is anticipated with great enthusiasm in France and lasts about one to two weeks before the stocks are exhausted. The economic benefits of the mania has not been lost on other regions. The competition here is ``Le Côtes du Rhône Primeur est arrivé!''
** In Belgium, it is Ed, l'Épicier and here is Ed, EuroDepot?. In Ontario, it is Ed, the Grocer. The colours are the same - I presume there is some relation.
Pérouges is on the top of a the first small ridge that runs parallel to the Rhône. It was evidently put there to afford a certain amount of defendability. The village itself is about 100m to 200m in diameter with a cobblestone road running around the inside of the wall and a few narrow lanes crisscrossing it. It is being carefully restored, and still has some way to go. The interiors of the dead houses are entirely gutted and mostly collapsed. The interiors of the live houses are modern tile and eminently comfortable. Finding places for the resident cars is somewhat difficult. I discovered after I had had my fresh baguette, chorizo salami, and Vin rouge de Herault, that my water bottle was completely empty. There did not seem to be any water in town so I asked in a souvenir shop about filling my bottle. The lady shouted up the street to her friend Suzanne in a Galette shop to fill it for me. She graciously did so I could get on my back to Lyon. Pérouges is a thoroughly delightful, touristy, little place, probably best seen during the off season.
I arrived back in Lyon at about 3:30pm and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the Presque-Ile main centre of Lyon. The stores were mostly closed, except in the Arab quarter around the Opera, but the Merry-go-rounds were in full swing, delighting the watching parents and the riding kids. The slides were in full use and all dogs were being forced to chase balls.
** Today: 95km (59 miles) and only 236m (775 feet) of vertical.
I got up very early, as usual, to pack my bike. I still do not know the techniques yet of stuffing it into my new bag. It barely seems to make it and requires much more finesse than it should. The major contributing factor is my handlebars. I am glad that I am doing it in my hotel room rather than being in a panic to get it completed before the train arrives. It is possible, but awkward to carry, so I went into the station and bring a cart right up to my room. The cart had someone else's trash in it. There is no place in the station to throw it away - just like the airports.
It poured rain over the 50m between the hotel and the TGV platform - oh well - it is the train directly tot he airport. The TGV was about 10 minutes late arriving in Lyon - it started in Marseille. yesterday it was 40 minutes late. The doors on the TGV are too narrow for me to take both my bike and bag. A man on his way to CDG for a meeting helped with my small bag - both on and off. We stopped several times on the way but were only 20 minutes late arriving at the CDG.
The TGV is so fast that anything closer than about 200m is impossible to see. This gives you a rather long-distance view of the countryside. About an hour out of Lyon, the sun broke out and it was partly sunny for the rest of the trip. The countryside is mutlticoloured green, with, of course, no leaves on the trees.
At CDG security I was relieved of my Swiss Army Knife. I normally pack it in my checked baggage. On our trip to Beaujolais, when the Swiss Army Knives were needed for bread, I asked the retrovirus expert whether he had ever been relieved of his knife on flights. He said that it had been tried once but he talked them out of it. I decided this time not to pack it. Hopefully it will make it to Montréal on this flight - the stewardess says that it is on board - and that I will be able to retrieve it before I leave.
I am indulging in my Air France wine tasting again. On the flight to Paris there was only a white Bordeaux. On this flight there was only, apparently, a white Burgundy. The stewardess has just returned with a white Bordeaux. These bottles are labeled with the varietals. The Burgundy is a chardonnay and the Bordeaux is a sauvignon. I don't remember seeing the varietals on the bottles before. No wonder they taste quite different. I think I like the normal California Sauvignon Blanc better - maybe. The red Burgundy is a Pinot Noir but the Bordeaux is not labeled. I decided to stop at three.
The Canadian Speed Skating team is returning. I was with them when they left Montréal. They transited CDG for Italy. Sadness is the fate of Valerie Camarg of McGill. She crashed on her first turn in her first race and dislocated her fibula. It was her first time to Europe. She was given the option of going home, but sensibly, she refused. The team doctor took care of her in the Italian hospital. She is not allowed to walk for six weeks - I suspect that will disappear when she gets home.
There were six other Swiss Army Knives with mine on the special baggage handling section at Mirabel - it was a good day at CDG security. I wonder how many they missed.
Everything else was intact and I was quickly out of customs. Virginia picked me up at about 4:45pm and I was home by 6:00pm - tired - but it was a good trip.
** For the Trip: 595km (370 miles) and 2700m (8900 feet) of vertical - a relatively short ride. I don't keep my trip computer on my bike when I am riding around cities. It is too easy to remove and is really an affectation there.
This is the link to the Google Earth Map of the trip.
1I read this as Jupiter all the way through Belgium and France. It was not until I got home and was talking about my experiences with my Belgium friend Jean-Charles Grégoire that I realized that I had been reading it wrong for the entire trip. The beer is named after the town of Jupille.
searched the phone directories for the whole of North America using the
Internet. ``Blaise'' is a very uncommon last name in French. There was
only one ``S. Blaise'' listed (in Pennsylvania) - I don't think he was
the right one but I sent the information back to my roommate.