Next day was cloudy, not very pleasant, but we broke camp and stopped for lunch in the city of Blois
(pronounced "blwah") , about 20 miles down river, an attractive city of 100000 or so. We were having lunch
in a park when Nance announced we’d camped 12 days straight and thought we deserved a hotel. She was
adamant so we rode into town and locked our bikes at the foot of massive stone steps which leads up to the
old medieval city and most of the hotels. We found a nice place, Hotel de Lys, with parking out back for the
bikes, had a nice Italian meal and did a bit of shopping.
The next morning we had a petit dejuner at the hotel, said our goodbyes to the very kind owner and took off
down the river road for Chenonceau, a small town on the river Cher. This place had a terrific campsite on the
river with canoes for rent, bread delivery every morning and friendly neighbors who loaned us some extra
chairs. The town was small with a fine charcuterie (butcher shop) with a life-size pink pig on a sign outside,
and lots of tasty pork goodies. We stocked up at a small grocery, got sausages at the butcher and had a feast.
We ate a lot of goat cheese here, it is delicious. Hard to find in Qatar, though.
The next morning we rode a mile down the road to Chenonceau Chateau, built out over the River Cher. This
was Nance and Margaret’s favorite chateau, built by the mistress of king Henry II in the 1500s and then
expanded by his wife after he died and the mistress was booted out. We rented a canoe and paddled down the
river and under the chateau. In the old days food would be delivered by boat and be hauled up by a pulley
system into the kitchen, which had a massive 18th century iron stove and a fireplace for roasting steers.
Chenonceau on the River Cher. During WW2, occupied France was on the right bank, Vichy France
on the left.
The next day we lounged around the camp, paddled the canoe, enjoying the great weather. More gypsies
were camped down the river from us and were making baskets. We found a huge blackberry patch by the train
tracks and picked a half gallon or so, had them for breakfast.
Finally we were feeling lazy and knew it was time to move on. We left the Cher river, rode over rolling hills
and dropped down to the River Indre to the small but bustling town of Loches. We arrived on the weekend
and the campsite was crowded and nearly full, mostly friendly Brits. We set up next to a cordial British
family, the Browns, Brian and Fiona, and their two boys William (Toms age, yippee!) and Christopher, about
3. Tom unloaded his bike and he and William took off, racing a group of French kids. It was so pleasant
having some friendly English speakers to chat with. That evening we decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant
meal. Not much was open so we tried a Breton crepe place. Everyone had crepes , I had green salad with duck
gizzards, very tasty. We spent two pleasant days here , chatting with the Browns. Tom must have put an
extra 20 miles on his bike riding with his friend.
Tom and his friend William.
From Loches it was a pleasant ride down the Indre to Montbazon, about 10 miles from the large city of
Tours. We got a great camping spot, right on the river, and set up . This was the first place we’d seen with
BBQ grills so I bought some charcoal and we BBQ’d a chicken, but it was tough, must have been a stewing
chicken. It was too cool to swim in the river but good wading and I set up our "river fridge" like before. We
continued to be bothered by rain, the biggest problem being drying clothes. We could not travel with 10
pounds of wet clothes so on laundry days we prayed a lot and grabbed the clothes and tossed them in the tent
during rain. Sometimes we stood around shivering in shorts while our warm clothes dried, sort of like being
We had a week or so left and it was time to start planning how to get back to Paris. We decided to catch the
morning train to Tours, then catch another back to Chartres and look for a hotel. We got up at dawn, broke
camp and rode a mile or so to the train station. We got on the train and in 20 minutes were in the city of
Tours, where we unloaded and spent 3 hours sitting in the huge station , scruffy travelers watching other
scruffy travelers. One homeless looking guy with a huge white rat on his shoulder stopped and let the kids pet
it. He had no English so he simply pointed to the rat, said "Billy", and strolled on. A group of punks came by ,
each with a large dog on a heavy chain, one arguing with a policeman. The French love pets, especially dogs;
even vending machines have dog treats. Dogs are everywhere, restaurants, trains, hotels. Finally our train
came, a little two car affair, we got on and were off to the small town of Boneval, the closest we could get to
Chartres by train. Running these tiny trains instead of busses must be a huge money loser but the French
don’t care, you see lots of almost empty trains running around. The famous bullet trains ( TGV trains) whiz
by at 120 MPH. We took the slow trains because we’re cheap, we were going short distances, and bikes are
hard to manage on the TGVs. Anyway, we arrived at Boneval, got off and rode in a drizzle to downtown. A
hotel looked in order so I stopped at the only lodging, a B&B type place. The owner had two rooms for about
$80, not too bad, but then said we were required to have dinner in their dining room for $50 each. Then the
guy barked at Thomas for touching something on a table. Going outside to "think about it" (Ha!), we got on
our bikes and prepared to ride off to the camping ground when the guy came out and sneered at us about a
"cheaper place" down the road. I told him we had all our camping stuff, thanks anyway, and he started
yelling, said he’d been in business 19 years and would do just fine without our patronage. What an arse. We
rode to the campsite up a steep hill and pitched out tent in dense forest. We had a good dinner and a pleasant
Morning came and it was raining, and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. We had 25 miles to go by
bike to Chartres, where we could get a hotel or continue to Paris by train. Unwilling to ride in the rain we
lounged in the tent, finally mid-morning it stopped and we broke camp and packed the bikes. We took off
north toward Chartres, thanks to a tailwind and improved conditioning we zoomed along. We were soon in
familiar territory, the small roads thru wheat fields where we did our training rides at the start of the tour three
weeks before. Arriving in Chartres in early afternoon we searched for cheap rooms, no luck, so to the train
station and off to Paris. By supper time we were back at Gare Montparnasse, our old Paris train station where
we left our extra luggage. We strolled to the storage place, the same friendly guys were there and so was all
our stuff, including a change of clothes for everybody. We tossed our dirty, stained camping clothes in the
trash, put on fresh clothes ( bliss), left the bikes at the storage, and went strolling down to our old hotel , the
Petit Palace. They had rooms, so we washed and the kids sped over to Speed Rabbit for Pizza, gorging
themselves on a 2 for 1 deal. Nance and I looked for a French place .Most had the menu scrawled in terrible
handwriting, in French, on a chalkboard, and if you ask for help you get rudeness. Finally we found a nice
little place , Le Moderne, and had the prix fixe for $12 each: rabbit pate, a small steak and outstanding
desserts, plus wine of course. Back at the Palace the kids were stuffed, watching French TV. We had a week
Next morning we went back to the storage place, packed the bikes, and caught the train to Versailles, in the
Paris suburbs. We rode thru Versailles to the campground on a wooded hillside. The manager was a rude devil
and refused to accept my passport copy, said he needed the real thing, which was back at the storage unit. I
explained to him that passports get stolen, soaked, lost etc on bike trips, so please accept the copy.
Complaining, he took my drivers license instead; I was getting tired of these people. The campsite was
nothing but a damp patch of forest with tents crowded together on the mossy, rocky ground , Nance called it
"Camp Bosnia". We set up and made dinner.
Next morning was cloudy but no rain, we set off for the magnificent Palace of Versailles. This thing is so
enormous and so opulent it defies description, several square miles of massive palaces, formal gardens,
orchards, and lakes, all built in the 1600s for Louis XIV. Famous Americans such as Thomas Jefferson and
Ben Franklin saw it and wrote home criticizing the massive self indulgence of Versailles and the ridiculous,
wasteful king. It is an overwhelming place to visit, you just have no idea where to begin. Nance decided to
tour part of the interior, the kids and I strolled the gardens, accompanied by hordes of tourists. This is one of
the few places we noticed a lot of tourists, especially Japanese and Americans. We had a picnic lunch in the
shadow of a 13th century church, then went riding our bikes around the lake and formal gardens. An amusing
thing here is Marie Antoinette’s fake village, a small village of thatched roof houses built near the palace,
built so she could enjoy "rural life" and see some friendly peasants. No need to find out what the folks in the
real villages think. The palace orchards and veggie gardens are also interesting, a farmers market sells
produce from the same soil that grew stuff for old Looie. I was glad we had our bikes , it would take forever
to see this place on foot.
In front of Versailles (It was COLD!)
My big backyard. The formal gardens and lakes stretch on forever. Quite a view to wake up to.
Next morning we rode to the train station, locked up our bikes with every lock we had, praying they would
be there when we returned, and took the 15 minute train ride to Paris. Hopping off at Gare Montparnasse, we
got on the metro (subway) and zipped over to the Latin Quarter, the area of Paris with the Sorbonne and Notre
Dame Cathedral. The weather was great and we strolled around the magnificent cathedral, there was a
massive queue to get in so we enjoyed the outside. We made tuna salad on a park bench and fed the pigeons
extra bread. The train zipped us back to Versailles that afternoon, and the bikes were still there, so we rode
back to camp for supper. This is the poor man’s way to see Paris.
Notre Dame with its graceful flying buttresses
Rainwater spouts from these gargoyles, Margaret thought they looked like cats .Notre Dame
Next day it was back to Paris on the train, once again locking up the bikes at the train station, very nervous
about leaving $4500 worth of bicycles out in the open. We decided to do some serious strolling in the great
weather. We strolled down the Seine’s left bank checking out Paris Plage, or Paris Beach. The mayor of Paris
has set up hundreds of beach chairs along the river walk and Parisians love it, catching rays during their
lunch hour, or all day for that matter. This is a city that never seems to do any work. Nothing opens before 10
in the morning, everything slams shut at 5, the law allows only 35 hours a week of work and everyone gets 6
weeks vacation no matter how long you’ve worked at a place. I remember a few years ago the French labor
minister was touring Japan and when asked about French work habits sniffed " we are not ants", rather
insulting to her hosts. The French get by with so little work for several reasons. For one thing, they use
technology and have an excellent technically oriented education system. They make excellent high tech
products , such as Airbus jets and all kinds of weapons. They have a wonderful climate and good soil. They
will do business with anyone, no matter how evil, from African dictators in old French colonies to Saddam
Hussein. They have fewer possessions than Americans, live in smaller houses, have less stuff . They don’t
travel much outside France, their country has so much variety there is no need to, plus you might run into
people who don’t speak French, God forbid. Rich people from all over, from Sly Stallone to Russian oligarchs
to Arab sheiks to upper class American college kids come to France and spend money. In addition they have
60 million tourists a year, spending money and then going away and not burdening the pension or school
system. They keep coming, in spite of strikes, rudeness, high prices and the hassle of speaking a language that
is spoken almost nowhere else. One reason I wanted to visit was to see a country that has very little in
common with the US, disagrees with us on almost everything, but still has a very high standard of living, a
way of life that factors in the value of leisure , not just how much you make. The French on balance have a
pretty good approach to things. Of course, their laziness has not served them well in confrontations with the
more energetic Germans. As long as Germany is friendly they can relax.
Anyhow we crossed the Seine, passing poor Lady Di’s famous tunnel ( you’ve got to wonder about the
intelligence of a woman hanging around with a slimy Egyptian, and allowing a drunk to drive her thru the
dangerous tunnels of Paris. What was she thinking? ). Then strolled past the Musee de Louvre, a vast place
covering several huge buildings, we’ll see it next time. Then down the Champs Elysees, the famous Rodeo
Drive type boulevard that ends at the Arc de Triomphe, built by Napoleon in France’s glory days. The kids
were tired of Paris by now so we caught a metro and took the train back to good old Versailles , the bikes
were there, and back to camp for dinner.
The next day it was time to break camp and move to Paris. We loaded up as usual , loaded the heavy bikes
on the train, unloaded at Gare Montparnasse and strolled to our friendly storage guys. A massive sorting task
began as we opened the panniers, threw out junk and got the bikes ready for shipping home. Nick and Tom
worked on the bikes, taking each front wheel off and wrapping the bike in bubble wrap. We clearly had too
much luggage so we went by the post office for info on shipping extra stuff. We packed three good sized
boxes plus an extra suitcase for the post, the bikes and other stuff would go on the plane. Excess baggage is a
killer in Europe, where they weigh everything and can charge you $10 per pound for excess. Our plan was to
take the excess stuff to the Airport, try to talk our way on with it, and if they try to charge us take it to the post
office at the airport. There was one problem, however. We were flying out on one of France’s many holidays,
and the post would be closed. We could take our chances on excess baggage, but it was risky, so we lugged
the stuff down the street and mailed it, shelling out $400. That done, we went to the Palace, but they were full
so we tried a place down the street, Hotel de Blois, cheaper and very friendly.
That nite Nance and I had a fancy dinner at a seafood place, the kids went to Speed Rabbit. The next day
was our last in Paris. Our flight left at 8 AM the next day, so we planned to go the airport , find a comfy spot
to crash, the queue up for the flight at 6 AM. There is no public transport at that hour (everyone sleeps till 8 or
9) so sleeping at the terminal was our only option, plus it’s free. We went to the storage unit, hauled all the
bikes and the remaining stuff out on the sidewalk under a shade tree. We took turns guarding it , I took the
first turn while the family saw some sights.
It was a holiday so lots of stuff was closed. We went to see the catacombs, the network of underground
tunnels where human bones were put when Paris was remodeled by Napoleon. His architects planned the
broad boulevards that make Paris so famous. When graveyards got in the way he had them dug up , the bones
put in the catacombs in piles, perhaps a million skeletons. But the damn thing was closed, of course, holiday.
Margaret takes a turn with the luggage. Bikes on her right all wrapped up. Cute.
That evening we loaded the stuff on the airport bus, a discreet bribe to the luggage guy as he loaded the
bikes. We found some seats at the Airport and began the long, tedious wait. The kids ate at McD’s , we
scouted for a place to sleep. Charles de Gaulle is a grimy old place, this was the departure terminal too and the
French don’t give a hoot about people that are leaving . We found some seats on a lower level and around 10
stretched out and tried to sleep. This is another reason to carry camping stuff, it came in handy. I kept
expecting the snotty French police to harass us, but they didn’t, maybe they were on strike.
Next day we flew back to Doha, what a relief in spite of the heat. Tom’s bike was missing for a week,
finally British Airways delivered it damaged, the carbon fiber fork broken. They made a very generous offer
once they got over the shock of how expensive the thing was.
Here are two more pictures, taken by Margaret:
Next time come with us.
Nancy, John, Nick, Margaret and Thomas
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