Days 3 & 4; In transit to Dijon

September 27, 2011 France, Landscape, People, Touring, X100

Given the amount of ground we were covering, there were always going to be a couple of ‘down’ days. Days where the aim of the game was to get to the next 2 night stop and get to places where we’d already researched the area. From Maison Laudiere to Dijon is roughly 580km, not an impossible or outlandish distance to do in a day but for the sake of Julie’s sanity and my aging bones (and that it’s been a while since I did big mileage days on a bike), we planned to take an overnight pit stop in Troyes and do the remaining relatively short distance into Dijon the following morning. Troyes is a city that I refuse to pronounce correctly. From what Julie discovered, it seems it’s correctly pronounced much like the number three; i.e. “trois”. No, sorry, I’m going to keep calling it Troyes. As in multiple wooden horses.

Having no route in mind was probably a mistake. All I really wanted to do was avoid most of the motorways (and huge toll charges) on the way. We took mostly back roads thanks to the GPS (which at this stage I became sure was trying to kill us) and tried to find Chateau d’O, alas without success. That’s one we’ll have to add for the next trip over. Sign posts people, put up sign posts. We stopped in Sées briefly to orientate ourselves without much success. Oddly enough, Sées is the seemingly small town that my motorbikes saddle had been manufactured in some months previous. I’d brought it home, even if just for a few short minutes. Failing to find d’O, we put Chartres in as a destination. The objective now was just keep heading east.

We had the opportunity to see a huge vase. Bloody massive. Julie’s boss told her she should go see it. I can’t remember where it was but we passed a roundabout on the way into a town that had what must have been a replica of it in the middle. As far as I was concerned, that was us seeing it. That was further reinforced when we were riding by the place it was housed. Dozens of coaches filled with bored looking French school kids, dragged in to see this thing like we were all dragged in to see similarly ‘awesome’ and ‘educational’ stuff in Ireland. No ta, on we go.

On reaching Chartres, it seems it wasn’t so much a town as a whopping great city. Balls. I don’t much like riding around in unfamiliar cities. Countryside is fine, small towns no problem. I just don’t tend to do too well in big cities that I have no direction bearing or final destination in mind for. We fought our way through the city until Julie spotted a quiet place beside the Ibis hotel for food. Funnily enough, an Irish pub. Predictably enough, it was about as Irish as well, a not very Irish thing. They did however have a great old photo of a group of workers outside the Beamish brewery in Cork though. Lunch consisted of mystery meat we were told was ‘poulet’. I doubt it. If anything, I’d have said it was meatloaf. I didn’t really give it a second though, my past frequent trips to Spain (and not speaking Spanish, therefore unable to decipher menus) has taught me that whatever the locals eat probably won’t kill you. It might make you wish you were dead and give cause to have a freshly refrigerated toilet roll, but you’ll probably survive.

Chartres came and went and Fontainebleu came and went. Well, after a diversion around some road works that brought us through an amazing and unexpected piece of forest. It felt odd riding around within a couple of hours reach of Paris and not venturing up to see the city again. We had already decided that Paris was best left to another trip, one where we can fly in and fly back out without wondering how much stuff we can carry home.

A few wrong turns and some swearing at the GPS later, we arrived in Troyes. Good timing really, the light was just beginning to fade and come night fall, the wrong turns and subsequent swearing at the GPS would have increased a hundred fold. I should have taken the opportunity early on to explain that the maps on my GPS are over three years old at this stage and so are completely befuddled by new roundabouts, changes to junctions and pretty much any modifications to the road system. We got into the hotel, a rather standard cookie cutter Mercure and after some swift peeling off of sticky bike gear, we made our way to the restaurant. We’d only been in France a few days but our proficiency at ordering food and generally communicating in French seemed to be increasing every day. The amount of wild hand gestures and ‘drinky drinky’ motions I was making had decreased to a satisfactory level, thankfully.

Pretty big day in the saddle, a bit over 400km. I don’t know exactly how Julie was doing with it but I was starting to feel the stiffness and general ‘sitting in one position for too long’ feelings. I was also getting tiny pangs of guilt for not using the camera at all today given some of the amazing countryside we were in. But I suppose as I said above, there were always going to be down days. Days where the objective is just to get from A to D via interesting points B and C. Thankfully, the next day’s ride south into Dijon was going to be a shorter one, only about 170km.

We set off early so we’d get to our nights destination at a reasonable time. The chosen spot for this stay was Hotel Le Sauvage and after negotiating the third circle of hell which was the road works that had most of the outer city dug into a state of post apocalyptic bliss, we arrived. The photo says it all. I opened the window in the room to look out on the courtyard and was greeted by what seemed to be half grapevine, half berries. No idea what kind of berries and I wasn’t about to taste one to figure it out. The hotel was reasonably cheap and very well situated; in the red light district.

Or at least that’s what we were told. If it’s true, I guess Dijon doesn’t have a very lucrative or exciting sex trade. We were surrounded by a good variety of restaurants and only a 10 minute meandering walk from what appeared to be the city center. After Julie got some of the ‘spicy bread’ she had told me about (Pain D’epice), we found lunch. Hell, it was so good I would have found it twice more if the kitchen hadn’t been closing.

We wandered the city until dinner time then surveyed menus on our way back to the hotel, recoiling in horror at what some places appeared to be serving. Mice? Really?!? No, not really. Holiday kinda stuff really. Nothing I need burden you with now that you’ve fought your way past that epic monolith of text above.

Dijon really is a beautiful city. The weather was perfect for sitting around in the park watching the world go by, for walking down the narrow streets finding (at least in Julie’s eyes) interesting architecture (I wouldn’t know an art nouveau from the back end of a bus) and for following little metal birds set into the pavement at regular intervals. It’s not my fault, the damn birds appeared to be pointing at something. It seemed a shame that we only had a short time in Dijon and alas, I never even got to try lapin a la moutarde. Neither did I get to try moutarde au lapin. I’m reliably informed (by a postcard) that both are marvelous. Having said that, I think we saw a nice slice of the city and got out before we were hanging around wondering what to do with our time.

In a rare event, postcards that were promised before we left were actually purchased. What’s even more strange is that they were written and had stamps placed upon them. No, I didn’t have anything to do with this process. My usual method for acquiring and distributing postcards is to buy them in the airport/ferry terminal on the way home and hand them to people on my return. Unwritten of course. Julie, as always, was as good as her word and set about documenting the previous few days of our trip in detail to several different people. Yes, even my family.

So another couple of days down and the feeling I had before arriving that I had been on the holiday just to get to our next destination had vanished. I think I left it somewhere near Mont Saint Michel on the evening we returned there (yes, just before the bat incident). We were on our way to the ‘little town of Thann’, at least that’s the description I had read on a website somewhere. The start, or end depending on how you look at it, of the route des cretes. Forget the freebie back roads, this was a 230km blast down the motorway to keep traveling time to a minimum.

From the winds of the Loire valley on our way to Troyes to almost running out of fuel on our way to Dijon, it had been an interesting trip. Julie’s first experience of leaning at a steep angle into the wind while going 80mph and being wildly buffeted about by passing trucks. Who says biking is all relaxation and not thinking you’re possibly going to die at any moment?

As usual, I’ve been beaten to the punch posting about the trip. You can read Julie’s account (and marvel at her far more impressive photos) on her blog post.

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