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Tandem Holiday June 2013 - Warning - May contain cats
Sun Sep 22, 2013 5:30 pm la marquise
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Friday Home to Harwich

This year we wanted to find a new route to our destination. We hoped to take European Bike Express to Thionville, but found that this route only ran once in the middle of the summer and didn’t fit in with our schedule. So we looked for alternative means of transport. The furthest south you can take a tandem on a train, without too much hassle, is Luxembourg. I’ve never been there, so it was time to tick it off the list.

Our packing went to plan. Down to the bare minimum – 2 pairs of latex gloves is plenty, leave the other 3 pairs behind. And just the one set of tyre levers. Now that my hair has grown, I made an excellent purchase of a mini brush – 99p well spent.

The bike roadworthiness test was a turn round the block half an hour before we planned to leave. On returning home Dave discovered that the rear tyre was seriously shredded, so our departure was delayed by a few minutes while he changed it for an unripped tyre.

Getting to Harwich is an easy 40km ride into Essex. I had pre-booked both evening meal and breakfast on the boat as they did a deal. This was an error of judgement. Stena might say that you can board the boat at 8:45, but they don’t actually let you on board till 10pm, which is getting pretty late. We should have stopped in Harwich for fish and chips at a sensible time. Then, with full tums, gone straight to bed. The meal in the ship’s restaurant was delicious, just three hours later than we would have liked. Then you need to be up at five to make the most of the buffet breakfast at six and off the boat at seven.

Saturday Hoek van Holland to Luxembourg

We were delighted to be met at Hoek van Holland station by our old housemate, Sigurd. We had forty minutes before our train, and we managed to fill that time with a fifteen year catchup. Sigurd now speaks Dutch, Italian and a couple of Philippine dialects in addition to the languages he already knew. A particularly bolshy train conductor sold us tickets to Rotterdam – the bike cost more than we did. Goodbye hugs with the Great Dane and we were on our way.

At Rotterdam we managed to buy tickets straight through to Luxembourg. Did you know that VISA and Mastercard credit cards are rarely accepted in The Netherlands? For such an internationalist country, they are quite isolated in that respect. Fortunately I had just sufficient cash for the tickets. Rotterdam to Antwerp and Antwerp to Brussels proceeded without incident. In Brussels we could buy lunch with a credit card. Belgium ain’t Netherlands.

We found the bike carriage on the Brussels train that would take us all the way to Luxembourg City. We popped the big rear panniers under our seats and the little front ones on the overhead shelf. Through the first few stops the train was chock-a-block full through the Brussels suburbs. Gradually the number of passengers thinned. After Namur, there was just one other gentleman in our carriage. Dave decided that this was an excellent opportunity to make a minor adjustment to the handlebars. He went to grab the front pannier with the tools and spares from the overhead… to find that there was only one front pannier there. Bearing in mind that the other front pannier contained our passports, the good camera, iPod, both our phones, my purse (with credit cards), I would love to have seen the face of the scrote who opened the bag to find s/he had nicked a bike chain, inner tubes, a couple of spanners etc. It was a royal pain in the arse for us, but not a real problem. As it was, we had intended to treat ourselves to better quality (waterproof) front panniers for a couple of years. This just hastened our actions. The train guard was pleasant but utterly useless. He claimed that he didn’t even have a phone to ask the stations en route if the pannier had been discarded and found.

On arrival at Luxembourg City we went to the police station adjacent to the train station, where a couple of thoroughly lovely officers looked after me. I explained that I just needed a letter stating that I had reported the theft. They were going to post the letter to Ipswich, but then suggested that I call back at eight that evening and it would be ready for me to collect. I was then given an avuncular lecture on the safe bits of the city: “Get to the other side of the bridge, this side is full of bad people” and they googled for a good bike shop nearby. We popped the address into the Garmin and, on arrival, presented the proprietor with our shopping list. Once we had purchased all that he could supply, we were given directions to a DIY shop for spanners and an adventure shop for panniers. When the shop only has one model, the decision making is far easier. We now have some top of the range Vaude front panniers.

Purely by chance we arrived in Luxembourg on the Arch Duke’s official birthday. It is THE party night of the year for the principality. Although our hotel was on the wrong side of the bridge, it was very comfortable and friendly. They even dried our washing. We picked up our letter from my new pal, Inspector Osmanovic,

and crossed the bridge to the good side of the gorge.

The bridge itself was packed with trucks, which, in turn, were packed with industrial fireworks. They were gonna make a big boom. All of Luxembourg was out in the streets, in various parade costumes, parping a variety of brass instruments. I think that is the first time I have laid eyes on a white tuba. We ate well, but by half past nine my eyelids needed propping open. We had been up since five that morning and had not slept well on the boat. My bed on the wrong side of the bridge was calling quite loudly. Had the fireworks been scheduled for ten o’clock I would have stayed. But the Arch Duke likes to celebrate at midnight. We heard the booms, wished him a happy birthday, and nodded off again.

We do have previous form. Many years ago we were in Chiang Mai on 31st December – one of THE great places to celebrate New Year. By seven pm we were snoozy, so decided that a couple of hours shut eye would help. Next thing we knew was a zillion fireworks exploding. We didn’t see any of them. “Happy New Year, night night”.

Sunday Luxembourg to Pont-à- Mousson

Despite our wrong side of the bridgeness, nothing untoward happened to us. We had an excellent buffet breakfast and headed off South into France.

We rode part of La Route de la Voie de la Liberté (Liberty Road), which marks the route of the Allied Forces from D-Day in June 1944 to Thionville. At Terville we found a cycle path that meandered along the banks of the Moselle to Metz. Why is it that, when you follow cycle route signs, they peter out just as you approach a large town, when you particularly need to avoid the big roads?

The weather was rather grey and unpicnicy, so we were pleased to find a very tasty Italian restaurant with a more than passing interest in old movies. After a couple of near misses with major routes we resumed a riverside road to Pont-à-Mousson.

The tourist office was shut, so we had a drink in the bar nearby, where the owner swore blind that he didn’t have a copy of yellow pages. Using the sat nav we located two hotels, both of which looked run down and very closed.

Opposite one was a pleasant looking restaurant, where the waiter was more than happy to find us accommodation while I read a story book to the owner’s small daughter. This involved making animal noises. It transpired that one of the hotels was open, and the chap would be there in fifteen minutes. This gave us sufficient time to admire the waiter’s son’s R2D2 (aire deux dée deux) outfit made out of a cardboard box.

We weren’t filled with confidence when the hotel proprietor recommended that we locked the bike inside the hotel – our lock had been in the stolen pannier and we had decided not to replace it for the moment. As our room was on the second floor (old building with high ceilings) we weren’t going to carry the tandem up to our room. Fortunately we were closely followed by a group of five Austrians, who leaned their bikes on top of ours. If any bikes were going to be pinched, theirs would go first.

Cleaned up, we went in search of food. There seemed to be a choice of snack bars (insufficient for our needs) or really poncy (posher than we wanted). Amongst the kebab shops we spied a couscousier. Perfect. It was one of those places where all the customers chat across the room, and the delightful proprietor nattered away with everyone in a variety of languages. Despite us saying that we were on a tandem, he was only prepared to believe that Dave had cycled. Obviously, I had followed in a car. After a fabulous meal and much laughing and banter, monsieur advised Dave, most seriously,
“Soyez gentil à Susannah, elle est très bonne”.
For some reason I felt the need to remind Dave of this several times through the holiday.

That night I did not sleep well, convinced that this was going to be the “burgling holiday”. At three in the morning I crept downstairs, where tandy slept, blissfully unaware of my concerns. Then I managed a few hours kip.

Monday Pont-à-Mousson to Vittel

With a complete absence of theft (apart from my sleep) we headed south via Toul, rather than Nancy. We have learnt to avoid the big cities whenever possible.

The weather was still grey, so we decided on a strategy. If we saw a restaurant or bar that looked good any time after 12:15 we would stop. After 12:45 we would stop at any reasonable looking place. After 1:15 we’d take anything that served or sold food. Over the last ten years, village bars and shops have closed, just like they have in the UK. Twenty years ago there would be a bar and boulangerie in every village. Now you can ride through a dozen villages without any commerce. They are dormitory villages or holiday homes, with insufficient custom to maintain a food shop. By 1:30 we had eaten an energy bar each, and drunk some energy and all our water. Not a shop or eatery in sight.

At the marvellously named Repel, I knocked on a door to ask if they would fill our water bottles. The lovely Thérèse was most obliging, even asking if we wanted mineral water, and directed us to eat at Oëlleville, four kilometres away. It was a normal bar and the lady saw our need of food. It was probably well past lunchtime serving, but she rustled up a salad starter, and a hamburger topped with a fried egg together with the French Chip Mountain. I have never been served so many chips. I honestly could not manage them all.

With more than an ample sufficiency of food in tums we toddled off towards Vittel, a place of faded glory. Huge grandiose hotels are all up for sale. There is more than a tinge of dinge about the town. The very helpful tourist office found us a lovely chambre d’hôte. The couple were extremely welcoming and the facilities extensive. They had just acquired a new puppy and were in need of a name for him.

This day was a day of multiple food firsts. I chose a main course salad for tea. After too many chips at lunch, I was then presented with far more gésiers than I could eat. Stuffed, we waddled back to our room, where we slept like logs.

The next morning the puppy had been named Igor, and we were given home grown strawberries with our breakfast.

Tuesday Vittel to Gray

OK, so neither Dave nor I can remember anything happening this day. We remember starting along the D70 out of Combeaufontaine to find that it was a major road with a lot of large lorries, so at Vauconcourt we detoured off and found some lovely villages along tiny lanes.

Coming out of Roche et Raucourt the road turned into track. Fortunately this was only for 100m and we were back on tarmac heading towards Dampierre sur Salon. From here we followed a cycle route through Beaujeu and Rigny along the banks of the Saône then climbed up to the walled city of Gray.

We followed signs to the tourist office up in the ancient cobbled streets, only to be told that it was closed for the summer and we had to go back down the hill to find the summer tourist office at the bottom. The prominent tourist office was hidden behind a bank with no signs. It was tricky to even find the door to get inside. The rather snappy woman booked us into a chamber d’hôte back up the hill again. After the amiability of the super friendly lady at the Vittel tourist office, madame de Gray was the complete opposite. Being polite, you could call her business-like.

We arrived at the house in the charmingly named Rue du 12ieme Hussard. The hussars had departed, unfortunately monsieur had not yet arrived. Madame de Gray had called his mobile number and he was 20 minutes from home. When he did arrive he was most apologetic and could not have been nicer.

Our granny flat was comfortable and we had scrubbed up by the time madame arrived with a couple of their kids. Madame even put our clothes in the washing machine. Luxury.

We went for meal de posh that night, which lived up to its reputation of yumminess. Ooh profiteroles filled with cherries…
Our sleep was somewhat interrupted as the apartment had a glass door, and the security light outside was activated many times by cats doing cat stuff in the garden.

Next morning we met all the boys who showed us a multitude of toys and medals while we breakfasted.

Wednesday Gray to Baume les Messieurs

Something did happen this day. We followed a pleasant route through Noiron and Ougny and bought picnic food at Rans. The butcher advised us of a cycle path through the Foret de Chaux and directed us to a suitable bench on the river bank for our picnic.

As we left Rans we heard a clunk and foolishly decided to ignore it. The cycle path parallel to the D31 was clear with some wooden bridges to make it more interesting. A nasty noise developed and I realised it was the tyre rubbing. We stopped to inspect the damage. The aforementioned clunk was the shearing of the bolt that holds the rear pannier rack and mudguard in place. The end of the bolt was stuck in the bike-side hole. Oops.

A couple of passing cyclists asked if we were ok. Whilst the automatic response is “yes”, we managed to override the impulse and say “no”. On seeing our problem one of the guys rooted about in the bottom of his lucky dead bidon toolkit and found a heavyweight zip tie. This was most welcome. We transferred most of the contents of the sagging pannier into the other three panniers. The zip tie was holding OK, but we knew we had to get it sorted soon.

We stopped at the next village, Arc-et-Senans, for a post lunch hot drink: coffee for Dave, verbena for me. It was a tourist spot as it was opposite the world famous Saline Royale (Royal Saltworks).

We wondered where we would find an ironmonger that could supply a suitable bolt. The next reasonable sized town on our route was Poligny. Perhaps we would get the bike fixed there. On leaving Arc-et-Senans I yelled
There was a drive-on lawnmower, chainsaw and bike repair shop. The old boy peered and sucked his teeth a bit.
“Hmmm. I’ll look at it in thirty minutes.”
We settled down on some logs in the sunshine. The lad (at least ten years younger than le patron) sauntered up, diagnosed the problem, managed to grip the tiny bit of protruding bolt, and unscrewed it. After rummaging in some jars he found the correct size bolt and had soon fixed the rack and mudguard in place. As we re-sorted our possessions back into the left pannier, we discovered that we had overfilled the right pannier, which had, in turn, broken. A couple more bolts and a few euros later we were back on the road. The repair had only set us back forty five minutes, max. And that was the extent of our major mechanical of the trip.

At Poligny we were looking for the tourist office, but found the town hall. The mayor’s secretary/chief telephonist was very keen to help in between routing calls. She was concerned that she didn’t speak English, despite the fact that we were easily conversing in French. When she said that her maternal language was Spanish, I switched to make her feel comfortable. This was not a good idea. The conversation continued in French, but every so often she yelled a simple word in Spanish, as if that would help. My French is amply sufficient for booking a night’s accommodation. Ok, so my Spanish is better still, but her yelling “ochenta y dos” when I had already understood “quatre vingt deux”, was not adding much to the situation.

Eventually she admitted defeat and directed us to the tourist office up in the town square. I explained to the young man that we were keen to cover a few more kilometres that day, otherwise the next day would be too long. After some unnecessary dithering from me, we booked a chambre d’hôte at Baume les Messieurs.

A patisserie was required to ensure smooth running to our accommodation. Mine was lush.

We stopped at a viewing point over Cirque de Ladoye – a stunning gorge.

Four kilometres from our destination the road started to descend – quite dramatically. We took the hairpins gently and had the drum break fully applied. Baume-les-Messieurs is at the base of the valley, and made the Cirque de Ladoye look pedestrian.

Stunning is not doing it any form of justice. Two hundred metre limestone cliffs line the valley. In the centre is the most picturesque village with its own Benedictine Abbey. Our room was actually part of an extensive gite, next door to the town hall and opposite the bar/restaurant.

Dave was delighted that the restaurant had a welcome variation to one of his favourite meals. Tartiflette is a classic après ski dish of potato and lardons in a creamy reblochon cheese sauce, baked to get a good crust on top. This is accompanied by green salad, cold meats and pickles. At Baume-les-Messieurs this has been adapted to use one of the local cheeses, Morbier (the one with the dark blue-black line through the middle), and was renamed Morbiflette. Dave was happy.

Our landlady was Madam Lechat – and she had un chat (actually une chatte). It was friendly. We sat down to breakfast. Dave looked down to see the cat had lightly snuggled onto his lap. Cat did not want to move. Cat wanted to share breakfast. Cat was disappointed.

Thursday Baume les Messieurs to Lagnieu

One thing to consider when descending a cliff at the end of the day, is whether there is another route out of the valley in the morning. There isn’t another route out of Baume-les-Messieurs.

Your first four kilometres are uphill.

We took it easy, but were soon quite warmed up. We climbed to Crançot, and were surprised to find that the route through Nogna and Orgelet fairly flat.

After all the height we had gained the previous day (and refound that morning) we rode along by the Lac de Vouglans to the spectacular dam, then followed the Gorges de l’Ain, gently losing all our hard work.

Despite the lovely views, there was an absence of picnic spots. Eventually we found some logs, looking across fields on a side road, which was pleasant enough. Next we needed a café for a drink (and the loos).

After several dead villages we found an open café near Daranche. The place was a dump. The drinks were pretty foul. The loo was clean enough. La patronne smoked indoors (exceedingly unusual these days) and the dog had green paint on his tail. We didn’t hang about there. Leaving the banks of the Ain at Poncin we headed to Amberieu-en-Bugey.

The Garmin was not familiar with the town’s one-way system, so I walked along one street while Dave rode the tandem between bollards. One bollard jumped out and snagged a rear pannier. Suddenly Dave was resting on his arse in the road. NumpT. Suitably embarrassed, he got up quickly and didn’t mention quite how much he had grazed his arm and leg. It was only when we were getting cleaned up in our room in Lagnieu that I saw streaks of blood across his limbs.

The chambre d’hôte had several rooms on the second floor of a huge town house. When we were shown where we could hang up our clothes to dry in the small upstairs kitchen we noticed a washing machine. Dave was keen to use it, but I thought it too cheeky, as we had not been offered. However, once we had washed our kit through, we did pop it in for a spin. There was a tense moment when we couldn’t get the door to open (with our stuff locked inside) but some serious button pressing eventually released our trapped clothing and we got away with it.

Friday Lagnieu to La Bouretiere

As we approach La Drome our maps are increasingly covered in highlighter pen indicating previously ridden roads. Finding unpainted routes becomes quite a challenge. We edged eastwards through Morestel and descended into La Tour du Pin, wiggled through Ste Blandine, Doissin, Eydoch and were on familiar ground at la Côte St André. This is pretty much home territory.

I’m sure we’ve covered the route through Sarieu, la Mange and Thodure through the military lands to le Grand Serre before – but it’s probably coloured in on a different map. OK , so it’s only about seven kilometres to go, but we know that six and a half of them are uphill, and some of that uphill is seriously steep. This trepidation is countered by the welcome that awaits us. How much do we love our smallest gear? A lot. Slowly but surely we head up, and up, and up. Occasionally it’s more or less flat, but not for long. Mainly it’s up. Then there’s that familiar bend in the road, the curve downhill and the approach to the farm track which has to be taken at reasonable speed whilst avoiding the ever-increasing pot holes.

Oh my! Gouli is still alive. Just. He is very slow and creaky, but loves his tummy scrubbles. Kali was jealous, but got his share of affection. There is a lack of human presence. On the front door is a note
“Noel should be back by seven o’clock. Make yourselves comfortable in the usual room and have some apple juice from the fridge”.

We were showered and relaxing in the garden when Jaouen appeared, and then vanished. We enjoyed reading Margot l’Escargot – just the right level for our language skills. About eight o’clock Noel returned from his friend’s funeral. Ever the host, he soon had us armed with aperitifs.

They no longer officially do evening meals, as Isabelle has returned to the nursing profession. In the current economic climate a steady income is required. However, knowing that we’re on our bike and are now family friends, we are invited to eat with them. This means that we get approximately the same meal, but with less show. Also, it means that none of us have to make polite conversation with other guests – we can get straight on with our own chat.

How I love staying at La Bouretiere. Mmmmmm.

On Saturday morning we cycled to Saint Antoine via Miribel and Col de la Madeleine. Heading into the cathedral a strong Australian accent asks if we’re from Ipswich, Queensland. We disappoint him when we reveal that we’re from the original Ipswich. His parents live in the antipodean version. Someone is practising the organ while we sit and absorb the scents of fading incense and light filtered through the stained glass.

Right, it must be lunch time now. Next door is the delightfully named restaurant La Tentacion d’Antoine. As we eat, the grey skies turn darker and the ground gets wetter. Those clouds aren’t shifting. We put on all our wet weather gear and head off to Roybon and Le Grand Serre.

We have booked a session at the Oasis spa. The only problem is that it’s at the top of another hill. We climb. Some morons want to drive beside us on a very narrow lane, to tell us some undoubtedly hilarious joke. They’re probably telling Dave that I’m not pedalling on the back. Oh. Never heard that before. I’m not really listening as all our effort is directed at staying on the tarmac and getting to the top of the hill.

In the spa we are escorted to the changing room. We don our swimmers and hang up some of our soggy kit in the cloakroom. After cleaning up we can get down to the serious business of relaxing.

First station is the massive Jacuzzi, then the warm steam room, then the hot steam room, relax in the lounge and repeat as necessary. Dave is in the minority. Access is restricted to about a dozen clients at any time. All the other visitors are women. No surprise there. Having been chilled to the bone in the rain we are now warmed right through. It’s calm and enveloping.

We know that our time is limited as a private party will arrive soon, but none of the staff hurry us. We ask for our locker key, Dave opens the door to the changing room – only to find it occupied by two women. Fortunately they were just about dressed. The young women working there insist that it doesn’t matter! Umm yes it does matter. We apologised profusely and the ladies were quite relaxed about the interruption. Now we had to put our cold wet cycle clothes back on and head back up to the farm.

Sunday La Bouretiere to Valence

Sunday morning requires some extensive kitten cuddling. Before setting off Dave checks the panniers for miaowings.

We have established a good route to the bike pick-up. Setting off at noon we get to Saint Donat sur l’Herbasse (aka St Donut) for lunch of ravioli and a particularly tough steak.

After Clérieux and Curson, we cross the Isere at Chateauneuf sur Isere Through Alixan there are some new roads and cycle routes, so we’re not sure exactly where we went. On the outskirts of Chabeuil we were delighted to find a boulangerie and a produce store, sufficient to get a great picnic for the coach journey. When we arrive at the pool in Beaumont les Valence I was most disappointed to find a young man at the desk.

“Where’s the blonde lady who is usually here?”

“Oh, Anise? She’s just taking a break. Go through and see her.”

Sure enough, the lovely Anise was taking five. On seeing the cycle kit she looked up with astonishment and pleasure. I got a big hug and kisses.

“Quick! Get these people a refreshing drink. They’ve been cycling. Open the gate to get the bike in”.

We were treated like royalty. I suspect that not a lot happens in Beaumont les Valence. Even I enjoyed a few lengths of refreshing dip and we took it easy for a couple of hours. One man took a good deal of interest in the bike till he plucked up courage to talk to us. As a keen cycling tourist himself, he invited us to stay with his family that night. Very kind, we said, but we’re going home in an hour.


I phoned the bus to check whether it was on schedule. It was, so we packed up, said our farewells and tootled gently off, trying to keep cool over the five kilometres to the meeting spot. This trip we had sufficient time to change clothes and sort our kit and food for the journey.

Soon we were cycling to Shenfield station.

Puss told us that he hadn’t eaten for a week. He is such a liar.

Dave ordered a selection of heavy duty zip ties from the internet.

Inspired by Margot l’Escargot, I ordered Grace la Limace.
How loud?

Tue Sep 24, 2013 6:00 pm Toyota_Crown
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More like Warning: May contain lots of eating! "Then you need to be up at five to make the most of the buffet breakfast at six and off the boat at seven." Cool What part of Yorkshire was La Marquise born in btw Very Happy

Your reports are way too good to be hidden in here!! Smile
EnduroManChamp:Euro2010-12,Deca12, Quin11,D10
HH1x2 HM30 1&3 SRock1 BelC2 GP2 VLM2h58 FellsM
Ard2 D2 FMan-11 TT2 Out16 10.15 CDS5 Ang3 IMUK-11 Jx1 Ult6 BW3 Stap1 Hel23 IMW11 Hx6 BxD1 Wx9 RR8

Tue Sep 24, 2013 6:05 pm Toyota_Crown
  Reply with quote  
View user's profile
More like Warning: May contain lots of eating! "Then you need to be up at five to make the most of the buffet breakfast at six and off the boat at seven." Cool What part of Yorkshire was La Marquise born in btw Very Happy

Your reports are way too good to be hidden in here!! Smile
EnduroManChamp:Euro2010-12,Deca12, Quin11,D10
HH1x2 HM30 1&3 SRock1 BelC2 GP2 VLM2h58 FellsM
Ard2 D2 FMan-11 TT2 Out16 10.15 CDS5 Ang3 IMUK-11 Jx1 Ult6 BW3 Stap1 Hel23 IMW11 Hx6 BxD1 Wx9 RR8

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