Most days I fight the urge to focus (quite naturally) upon the destination rather than the journey but I’m afraid yesterday and today, when I have been cycling to destinations that I know well, I have had to admit defeat. It’s fascinating visiting new places but perhaps even more fascinating revisiting places after a lengthy period of absence. What has changed? What is new? What has disappeared? You know the kind of questions. However, I will kick off with a brief description of the ride as it was quite nice.
Leaving Saumur after having told the lady in a boulangerie to be more polite (she barely spoke other than to tell me to put the money in the dish rather than her hand – when no thanks or even au revoir was proffered I launched into ‘s’il vous plaît madame; soyez au moins polie à vos clients‘ – she looked a bit shocked but the guy behind me smiled in my direction when he left the shop so perhaps she has a reputation for such things) and a long chat over coffee with Lynne, the person behind the FreewheelingFrance website (she was cycling north along La Vélo Francette with a friend from Australia) I decided to follow the Eurovelo 6. In Tours this also becomes the Eurovelo 3 (the one I’m supposed to be following) as far as Orléans. Locally however the French version of the Eurovelo 6 is know as La Loire à Vélo and it was these signs that I was following for much of the day. Pretty towns were cycled through, woods were traversed and rivers were crossed. All very nice. The surface quality was generally good as was the signage despite it being slightly complicated by an over enthusiasm for ‘branch lines’ to anything of intetest. Why not route the main cycle path through them in the first place? Well, we know why. It would mean putting cyclists in peril of having to encounter dangerous things like shops, bars, hotels, markets and the like.
When I arrived in Langeais, however, I decided to leave the cycle route, cross the Loire and continue along the northern side of the river. Tours is much easier to access from the north rather than the south and although the road was a little busier with traffic, it was worth the inconvenience. I started to recognise place names that back in the 1990s were as familiar to me as Winnersh, Bulmershe and Tilehurst have become during my subsequent life in Reading from 1999 to 2014; Luynes, Fondettes, St. Cyr, La Riche… And then there it was; Tours.
I lived here teaching English from late 1994 to spring 1999. I shall no doubt reminisce at length in the book about the details so I’ll spare you the full blown account here and now. (My favourite anecdote involves a Guineau Pig.) Today, after crossing the bridge from the north, I paused. Much brighter than I remember. A tram system has been installed since I was last here about ten years ago and the roads are now paved white. Sunglasses not optional in the rue Nationale any more! Then followed a little cycle around. Away from the main thoroughfare it appeared a little scruffy. Perhaps it always was but the rose coloured mist of time has sanitised my memories. I made a point of cycling slowly down the rue Colbert where I lived. Yes, the children’s bookshop is still under ‘my’ studio flat but the hairdressers on the corner has gone, the supermarket – called 8 à Huit despite the fact that it never was (which I think I once pointed out to the cashier…) – was still there but the phone box opposite has gone. The Irish bar, yes, the laundrette, yes (looking very shabby inside – it used to be a cutting edge place!), but I couldn’t find the restaurant with the best name in town: Le Lapin Qui Fume. Smoking is clearly bad for your existence. I cycled on…
UPDATE (Monday): Reports of the demise of Le Lapin Qui Fume are much exaggerated! He is in fine form, open and (alas) still smoking… (And as you can see it’s ‘au’… Good job I don’t run an authoritative website.)
So that’s part 1 of my trip across Europe done. I consider part 2 to be from Tours to Hamburg where I am hopefully visiting friends Dom and Annet, and part 3 from Hamburg to Nordkapp. The reason I consider Tours to be the end of part 1 is because tomorrow I’m taking a break from cycling. Reggie and I are catching the train from Tours to a place called Chateau-Renault, just to the north. A short cycle will see me arrive in the small village where my former colleague Liz and her husband live. I’m staying there for two nights and I intend having a good old rest. On Wednesday I’ll be back in Tours to embark upon part 2. I’ll catch up with you then…