Monday, March 12, 2012

France - Boulangerie Truck, Pierremonds and Wine

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50 miles, Saturday, August 6

We left Paris this morning, working our way northeast across the city, eventually leaving behind busy roads of Denis before the congestion abated. The hazy sunshine beat down on us again. I thought about how useful a simple compass would be, taped to the handlebars, especially for general directions in metropolitan regions.

I believe this is Francois Mitterand, president of France in 1994.

Before the days of cell phones...

Most payphones in France require a Telecarte card, purchased at a La Poste or post office. 40 Francs for 50 units gave me 7.4 units per minute, calling the United States. I checked in with my father who promised to contact Andy’s family. He said it sounded like I was just next door.

We feel lethargic. The roads north of the city are flat. Maybe it’s the heat, or that we’re older than previous trips, or the bikes are heavily laden with hiking and cycling gear. Probably it’s a combination of all three. By 3 p.m. the slightest rise in the road causes burning in our thighs. With heavier mountain bikes versus lighter touring bikes I’d known that we couldn’t cover as many miles as our cross country trip, but Andy feels let down, wondering if he’ll make it through the Alps. What’s clear is that there are more logistics traveling in foreign countries: exchange of money, buying food, fuel, the language barrier, and locating camping is a daily ordeal. Any bike tourist knows they’ll be good days and bad days. I thought it best to lower expectations, at least as far as distance covered.

36 miles, Sunday, August 7
Photo credit: Sejour Travels

At 9:30 a.m. just when we were ready to push off, a white truck comes into our campground near Creil, blasting its horn. Andy and I perked up because we’d observed this before. A bakery vehicle makes its rounds, selling everything from baguettes to croissants – a rolling boulangerie. We were the first ones in line. Andy was so overcome by the aroma and sight of the golden loaves that his request for a baguette didn't come out correctly. I smiled. The seller knew what we wanted though, 5.30 Francs for a grande baguette, s'il vous plait. I strapped it to my rack for our lunchtime break. I thought, now that’s service we could get used to…

This is one of my favorite photos of our year-long trip.

By afternoon we entered Pierremonds and spied tall grey turrets above the treetops. And soon the entire chateau presented itself, standing like an armed fortress above the town. Castles evoke medieval scenes: chainmail clad knights on horseback, trumpets, and flags. We investigated the grounds. In the rear of the building two cannonballs sunk into a wall. The estate was mostly destroyed in the 1500s, but later Napoleon had it rebuilt. Now, the community holds summer concerts and plays in its courtyard. It was a perfect spot to rip into the baguette.

Castle at Pierremonds.

52 miles, Monday, August 8

It rained lightly all morning – a welcome relief from the hot past few days. We travel the back roads again through a cereal growing region. In fields the grain is cut and left to dry. It looks peculiar, as if someone laid all the stalks by hand in neat rows.

We’ve been told that northern France is flat, and for the most part it is. The towns are situated in tree-lined gullies. We spend the days struggling up from the villages resupplied with food and water; rolling across golden fields; coasting again, repeating the process several times. Often gusty headwinds accompany us.

A current La Poste bike. I don't recall if this was the style we saw in 1994. Photo credit:  Pendore

We exchange greetings with cyclists who tote a flat handlebar bag and leather rear panniers. They are out at 10 a.m., on the early side for the ordinary French person. Today we discover they are La Poste mail carriers.

We stopped at a World War I German cemetery. The crosses stick up in the landscape like thousands of black swords. There is an entrance shelter that houses a metal box. Inside is a neatly kept book, listing all the interred soldiers and their graves. It is a grim reminder of the French occupation in both world wars. I presume this will be common site as we move toward Belgium.

The flat farmland and former battle fields. Arrow at bottom of photo identifies cemetery.

Pushing on we made it to St. Quentin and are camping in a municipal park (least expensive). I’m worried about my bike. The crank area is grinding and clicking, signs that it could be a pedal, the chain, or the bottom bracket. Though we carry a comprehensive tool kit, we’ve forgotten a pedal wrench. But the bike is operable and we’ll take care of it when we locate a bike shop.

We are often parched, and drinking enough water is paramount, so consuming alcohol is far from our thoughts. But it would be sacrilege to leave France without experiencing a taste of local wine. For 8 Francs for a whole bottle (1.50 USD) we sipped a smooth red table wine with dinner. I must admit, it’s a welcome finish to a long day.

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