Updated by Nina from a cybercafe in Bordeaux.
Kiss-Kissey noises came from the swarm of oncoming boat-staff- we were certainly in France, without a doubt. We leisurely wound our way to the empty customs booth- a sign of the times perhaps that we no longer needed to prove that we were indeed British and foreign. It soon became clear that I was not from around these parts though, when I uttered my first rusty words of French (and out came some rusty Portugeuse and rusty Norweigen too.. ). We had arrived in the beautiful walled city of St Malo.
I was on a mission however to find a bike part stockist to help with my puncured tyres. We soon learned that French shops tend to be shut on Sundays, Mondays, before ten, after five, every lunchtime between 12 and 2, and at any time during July and August. We were thus immediately sold on the joys of the Hypermarche selling at anytime, baguettes to brakepads, fromage to footpumps, and vin rouge to inner tubes.
So it was exciting to finally start out on the N137 road destination Rennes, the same route that my dad and Gordon had cycled on. The traffic was heavy and unlike in 1953 we could not rely solely on just one small scale national road map. Besides, a gendarm had tut- tutted us five minutes before for being on the motorway sliproad, and so we were thus obliged to take the small and slow winding lanes. But they were gorgeous!
The roads led us by the late afternoon to the village of St Domineuc, a place that my dad had recorded and taken photos of. I carefully read his diary and almost like a treasure hunt, worked out that if he had taken that photo, then he must have walked down that canal towpath. Suddenly there was a wash house- the same watery wash house that my dad had sheltered in from the rain exactly fifty years ago!
We celebrated our first day of success with steak and red wine at the local inn, with a beer and a cider on the house. We asked the owners if it would be okay to sleep rough there, and they said very practically that 'Yes of course, although it might get chilly at dawn'. We thus slept two inches above water on our first night in France, and had ten hours of sound sleep there.
Our next nights sleep was by a lake called Bain de Bretagne, and boy did we need one by that stage (un bain is a bath by the way)! We were cycling into the night (making the most of our extra European hour) and had already watched the red and lilac colours of the sunset drain away to grey. The lake was lovely and waking up to the sight of trees and birds was quite magical. We voted it, in our league of locations, the best alrounder for views and security so far on this trip.
Brioche and pain au chocolates for breakast and we pushed on. Simon had a few bouts of heatstroke- hardly surprising given the heat here 35C, and we have stopped by many houses and asked for water. It has been a nice way to talk with more local people. Cycling is such a good pace to see a country- a fast enough speed to see lots but not as isolating as in a car. For instance we met Brice and Mattilde when they showed us the way on a beautiful waterside route out of the busy city of Nantes, and we were able to chat and cycle at the same time.
The distances we are covering are much greater than that which the lads of 1953 took. We are naturally doing longer on the D- roads and following someone elses route is much harder, But the time waster is the repeated punctures - I have had 23 punctures so far. We have bought new outers, six new inners, two pumps, and three repair kits. I could almost laugh when it went into double figures but now I want to tear my hair out. How come with those ancient bikes from 1953 did they only have THREE punctures in total for the whole trip? It has at least been a good excuse to practise my use of French verb congugations and mechanical terms, on nearly every garage attendant supplying the solution- compressed air!
One night we spent in the garden of a lovely old couple, who offered us their lush lawn. Their hospitality matched that described by my dad of M and Mme Bellaudeiu in the previous village, who we had tried to track down and failed. We had asked the cafe owner if he knew them and he then frogmarched me to the door of an old wobbly man who desperately wanted to be able to help us, but could not for the life of him remember the faces in the old photos at all. Ah! We had at least tried.
La Roche my dad has described as having a 'southern feel'. I thought it more of a Southern American feel myself. The journey to La Rochelle was windy, which my dad had experienced too as a head wind, and I wondered for a moment if perhaps it was him? No. More likely some complex weather pattern around Les Sabres, the port which Ellen McArthur famously arrived in.
There have been some beautiful arable fields we have passed by, and as we head to the South, sunflowers, melons, and of course vineyards. But that bottle of delicous red wine we sunk in the field in Rochefort taught me a little lesson though. Travelling on an ancient transporter bridge (one of the last in the world) and then cycling 100 plus miles with on a hangover is certainly not to be recommended.
I could tell you more about the amazing places we have slept in (the grounds of a show jumping competition for instance last night) and the ins and outs of fustrating puncture repairs, but more economy road surfaces call (much better than the olden days pave though), This past day we have been cycling like we are on the Beaujolais wine run because we have slipped behind my dads schedule by one whole day. We are now in Bordeaux and heading for the Canal de Midi.
Dont know when our next update will be- the French seem to be more busy having a nice life and enjoying Bastille Day celebrations than opening up internet cafes along the way for us.