Tuesday 17th July
Chinon to Tours (via Azay-le-Rideau): 3 hours 36 minutes, 68km
“I was woken up by a bird flapping on the roof of my tent this morning. It now takes me about 40 minutes to pack everything, load up the bike and cycle off. After exploring the town of Chinon, I hit the road for Tours. I was going to be couch surfing tonight, the first time since arriving in France. Although, I had sent out a number of requests, most people either didn’t respond or were unable to host me.
The plan for the day was to cycle along the Loire river for a bit and then head “inland” to a town called Azay-le-Rideau. I would then rejoin the Loire river and follow it all the way to Tours. Why the detour? Well, back in London I went to a bookstore called Foyles and whilst I was there, I sat on one of their comfy couches with a copy of the Rough Guide to France. In this particular copy their number one listed attraction was the chateau at Azay-le-Rideau. That, to me, seemed like a good enough reason to visit.
Just before turning off the Loire I had my lunch of an enormous baguette stuffed with salami and cheese.
As I arrived in Azay-le-Rideau, I got a call from my couch surfing host Laura, asking when we should meet up. I had obviously taken quite a lazy ride as it was 3pm and I was only half way to Tours. I optimistically told Laura that I would be in Tours in about 1 hour.
A quick look at the chateau through the gates hardly did it justice. It sat there majestic on its own island, but I told myself that there would be more and tore myself away from the gates and left the touristy town of Azay-le-Rideau behind.
Fuelled by my extra large baguette, I was whizzing through sun flower fields in a full out sprint to Tours. I was averaging 30km per hour (which is fast for me), and made it to Tours in I think an hour and 15 minutes.
Entering the city from the south west, I was not impressed at all. Presented with a mass of 80s style apartment blocks and a main road under heavy construction (due to tram system repairs), I couldn’t help but think Tours had under-delivered.
I met Laura at her apartment near the river. She is a very sweet, softly spoken girl from Florida, with a passion for bugs. She had spent the past year in France and was going back to America in a months time. I voiced my first impressions of Tours to her and she said that I had seen the wrong side of the city and that she would show me the nice part. Laura works at an Irish pub down the road from her house and had to start work in the evening at 7pm, but before that we met up for drinks with a friend of hers in the old town square.
I had to eat my words on entering the old town (the place were the city started and spread outwards from). The wooden beams used in supporting the old buildings are visible from the outside and appear to be embedded amongst the stone in a cris-cross type pattern, making for a very appealing facade. The main square is full of cafés and by the river there is a beautiful water front type deck area, where we stopped for drinks. Although it was a Tuesday, the thing that really struck me about the place was the atmosphere. The sun was out in full force along with what seemed to be the whole town.
At seven o’clock, Laura had to start work. I explored the town on my own for a bit before joining her at the bar called The Pale. Through the course of the evening I met some of her friends who also stopped by the pub. Although most could speak english, I still got a chance to practice some French. I played darts with a French guy called Nathan and chatted a fair bit with his fiancé, Simone, who was from Trinidad and spoke impeccable English, French and Spanish. Before saying goodbye, Nate offered to show me the local food market and cook some breakfast the following morning. He told me there was an egg man (who he buys his eggs from) who’s head looks exactly like an egg, something I had to see. I asked if he new anyone who looked like a Walrus, but I think the joke was lost on him.”