A few concluding thoughts before I wrap this thing up.

Vital Statisics: Before leaving I weighed 77kg. On my return I weighed 77kg. Now I must have put on a bit of muscle (in spite of all the cheese and ice cream) so given muscle is heavier than fat, I’ve effectively lost weight, n’est pas?
On that note, number of ice creams consumed: it must’ve been at least one a day (even during the bad weather) so that’ll be 44.
Number of midge/mosquito bites: About a dozen, including the one that flared up painlessly for a week or so on the back of my calf.
Number of kms cycled: I’ve no idea as I don’t have an odometer. I didn’t want to use the GPS function on any of my Apps for fear of flattening my battery. The official distance is 2,222km, but based on Gile’s odometer it was more like 2,750 including all side trips and wrong turns.
Number of failed vegetarian meals: Not that many to be honest as I was prepared to make do, but for the sake of the stats let’s say 6 and mainly (I’m afraid) in France.
Weather: 22 days of unbroken sunshine in the German speaking countries of Austria, Germany and Switzerland; 22 days of rain in the French speaking country of France. OK a bit unfair, but along with the poor sods racing in Le Tour, we weren’t quite as lucky with the weather in France and had about 4 days of actual cycling in the rather unpleasant cold and rain.

Things I’ve Learned:
– There are lots of religious places to stay in Europe and they look after you very well.
– I’ve been riding on my Brompton with the saddle too high for the longest time (thanks for pointing that out Cynthia).
– Life does not end at 50 and there’s plenty of fun and adventure still to be had, especially if 69 year old Terrance (the Wag) is anything to go by.
– Riding with 50 other people is a nightmare. Well not so much the riding (as we tended to break up into smaller groups on the road) but the sharing of meals and accommodation. What a relief it’s been to make my breakfast without an arm coming over my shoulder to grab at the orange juice. We all agreed that 6 is the ideal number for any group.
– Three weeks on the road is long enough before fatigue sets in and each town, each trail and each castle starts to merge into one another. Also if I were to do this again I would probably ride for longer (maybe aim for an average of 80km rather than 50km) and have more days off not cycling – if only to give my head the space to take it all in.
– WiFi is a precious commodity when relying on online maps and keeping up with blogging like this. Its availability cannot be taken for granted. Hopefully with the reduction in tariffs for using your phone abroad in Europe the phone companies will start offering better deals on 3G.

Useful Apps Whilst Cycling:
– By far and away the most useful App is Viewranger using Open Cycle Mapping. It’s a bit fiddly to use on the iPhone at first and I’m sure I haven’t fully mastered it yet. The beauty of it is that firstly it’s free, it covers the entire planet, it shows the EV and local route numbers and the detail can be loaded onto your phone the night before on WiFi. This detail will still be available offline when you’re a bit lost in a featureless landscape where one field corner looks pretty much like another. And if you have your GPS switched on there’s a handy little button that tells you exactly where you are.
– Local free Apps are available for various, but not all sections of the EV6 including Bayernnetz für Radler (Bavaria), Radroutenplaner Baden-Württemberg, SwitzerlandMobility, Alsace à Vélo and La Loire à Vélo. These all have additional local information to augment Viewranger. I’d recommend deleting them once you’ve used them to save clogging up your phone/tablet’s memory.
– And finally the WordPress App I used for this blog. Other than getting good at one-fingered typing I found this App a little annoying to use. I have a catalogue of feedback for the developers which I won’t bore you with here, but I will be getting in touch. It does have an offline feature to allow you to blog away from the WiFi and it does allow you to insert pictures though you have to be on the WiFi for this to work. Also you can post to Facebook and twitter at the press of a button which is handy.

Will I do this sort of ride again or was it truly the trip of a lifetime?
The answer to both is yes. I’d love to do this again and with AF3V if they’re up for it. However next time to gain maximum enjoyment and minimum fatigue I’d ride only for three weeks in one go, so six weeks really was the trip of a lifetime.

The Gradual Journey Home

Thursday – Saturday 17-19 July.
A quick tour of Nantes cathedral and Le Jardin du Plantes opposite the station:

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Before heading on the 14h00 TGV with Brian to Paris which takes us along the Loire as far as Angers. Unfortunately someone decides to ‘climb’ under the train as it rolls into the station:
The station staff and emergency services deal with the situation very well and another (thankfully empty) TGV rolls up within an hour and a half. I do feel sorry for the driver and the passengers waiting on the platform who witness this, one of whom I see sobbing as she is led away by a pompier.
Brian and I are entertained and accommodated by Cathy & Philippe and we’re treated to couscous with chickpea and tomato sauce – sans lardons!
Friday is another day of relaxation in a very hot Paris. In fact I don’t think I’ve felt heat this hot for some time – there’s talk of 36C.
In spite of the heat Cathy & Philippe take us around their local area including a street where George Surat and other artists lived; a lovely street of vine covered artisans houses (which is now Millionaire’s Row); Europe’s largest underground reservoir when it was built in 1900; a lovely park with a lake and organic sorbet, which (not that you’d know) has the RER running through the middle of it; and the university halls of residence which were built by architects from different countries just after the First World War to bring nations together. The Swiss contribution was designed by Le Corbusier.
Later we meet up with my old school friend Simon down at Quay de Bercy, which is full of trendy bars and restaurants. We take a last drink on a very sophisticated boat on the Seine playing cool jazz and then another last drink at a restaurant adjoining the main Paris mosque.
Unfortunately I have no photos of any of this because my iPhone has run out of space. I think it’s telling me it’s time to go home…
And so to home on Saturday on the Eurostar from a Gare du Nord choked with traffic due to a pro Palestinian protest. Odd place to choose for such a protest but shockingly I hear M. Holland is making it hard for anyone to protest about anything Palestine.
And finally a welcome back to Blighty at St Pancras from Simon (my brother) and Dani:


I’m exhausted, but in good shape and it’s good to be home.

Warming Down

Tuesday & Wednesday 15 & 16 July.
A restful day on Tuesday of sightseeing in Nantes including a good value €5 spent on the Nantes museum inside the chateau:


The museum depicts the city’s fascinating history from Roman times to the present day.
Lunch is picked up at a nearby boulangerie – pâtisserie and I treat myself to a tart which is truly as delicious as it looks:

A few of the Anglophones are staying on for a couple of days so we meet up for a Vietnamese meal with plenty of veggie options. I get to eat my first tofu dish in ages along with nori mushrooms for the first time ever. The mushrooms are very tasty, but have a rubbery texture that remind me of the masonry fungus I had treated on my house a few years ago.
Wednesday is spent wandering the excellent Jardin du Plantes opposite the railway station:


Followed by a train trip to St Nazaire and a bike carrying bus trip over the bridge:

To pick up the start of the EV6, where it meets the Atlantic Coast section of the EV1:

Tonight’s meal is at a Crêperie by the tramlines. Town is very quiet tonight and by contrast to the 14 July celebrations we are about the only people to be served the whole time we are there.

La Grande Arrive

Monday 14 July. Varades-Nantes 50km.
Hallelujah the sun has come out! We have a pleasant ride into Nantes, where we are joined by local cyclists and arrive safely as a group.
The famous elephant at Les Machines de l’Isle is in full swing:


And Terrance, Brian and I snatch a celebratory photo:

We are welcomed by the city of Nantes at one final reception:

They put on a fine spread of drink and canapés and there is much dancing and singing:

Later we take a meal at an Indian in the restaurant quarter. They have four veggie options!

I can tell I’m beginning to obsess, but this feels like first proper meal in weeks. I’m ravenous.
There are July 14 fireworks at 11pm by Les Machines. I’m too knackered to see them, but I hear them as I drift off into a blissful sleep…

Proper Tea is Theft

Sunday 13 July. Angers-Varades 58km
Our first coffee stop is at a very pleasant spot not far from Angers:

Terrance reckons this would make an ideal holiday home – you have the river, the cafés and a boulangerie with good access to the big city. Brian observes “And what would you do in the second week…?”
André points out the bird conservation centre, complete with swallow nests:

On the edge of the village we are greeted by a man cycling the other way. “Bon courage!” he says. I think ‘that’s kind of him, he must’ve twigged we’re making a long journey’. As we round the next corner I realise what the man means: a ruddy great hill that goes on and on. I thought it was supposed to be flat round here.
Later, and after some grotty drizzle, we happen on the Lenin cafe:


With its own museum:


I sense a place as eclectic as this will do a decent cup’o’tea. Not only is it decent but it’s Tetley tea all the way from England (well from India or thereabouts previously). I try to make the ‘property is theft’ joke to the very friendly lady serving us but have to explain it three times. Anyway I think it was Marx*, not Lenin, who made the famous phrase.
We pass the unusual remains of a coal mine:

And then we take a seemingly endless levée with seemingly endless drizzle to our destination at Varades.
The drizzle clears up and we meet at a beautiful spot by the Loire for a reception:


Which is to be followed by a barbecue (dangerous territory for we veggies at the best of times).
However the mayor is late, it starts raining ‘comme un vache’ and the barbecue is moved to a hall up the hill. We give up.
In the town park there’s a gathering of old cars, tractors and motorbikes…and they’re doing food. Saved by the petrolheads!
Mine’s a veggie burger with chips please. That is two slices of cheese in a bun in other words. Not much has changed since my last French veggie burger in Carcassonne twenty years ago consisting of a fried egg in a bun.

*Update 17/07/14: In fact I’m told it was Proudhon who made the famous quote http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pierre-Joseph_Proudhon

Damp Squib

Saturday 12 July. Saumur-Angers 63km.
This morning we say goodbye to eight of the Chinese team. I feel a wrench saying goodbye. What am I going to be like on Monday when we finish in Nantes?
This reminds me of my days working on TV Dramas. Lots of camaraderie and irritation in equal measures, but being like the breakup of a family when it all ends.
Today we come up against constant drizzle so we decide to hit the D road to Angers, heads down, ignore the EV6 and get on with it. As a result we miss all the pretty villages and the chain ferry across the canal at Trélazé. I do hope the weather improves for our arrival in Nantes on as I’d hate the trip to end on a soggy note.
When the weather brightens up we take a tour of Angers:

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If you look closely, some of the carvings are a bit rude:

Later Jean-Pierre unveils a new plaque indicating our welcome at all times to La Hostellerie Bon Pasteur:


We watch a couple of promotional short films about cycling on the Loire. Idealised a little, but showing it at its best. Wish we could have had the same weather:

And despite all my checking and asking, the chef at dinner asks “Vous voulez le poisson Monsuir?” To which I reply in my head “Non merci. Je voudrais aller à ma maison…”

Saddle Sore

Friday 11 July. Lerné-Saumur 35km.
I think my body is telling me this trip needs to end soon…
At Lerné I snap an old enamelled Michelin road sign from the innocent days of motoring:

As well as a picture postcard view of their possibly not-quite-dead café (copyright Martin Tweddell MMXIV – in case anyone was thinking of nicking it):

En route we visit the Abbaye de Fontevraud, complete with its turrets that look like something from Angkor Wat:


The abbey is famous for being a place where the women were very much in charge, as we learnt at last night’s slideshow. After the Revolution the abbey became a prison.
We also pass some troglodyte dwellings. This one is particularly fine:

Our stay for the night is Saumur:

With its impressive castle:

Saumur is famous as the home of the French cavalry and it appears there is something horsey happening here later on. I also take the opportunity for a beard trim, so I can look smart for the great reception in Nantes.
Back at the accommodation there is more veggie disaster as I am served fish. Why don’t people read their emails properly? (A problem I seem to remember regularly encountered at work. Mmm work. Not thought about that for a while).

Posh Allotments

Thursday 10 July. La Croix-en-Touraine – Lerné 90km.
The day starts with more fun at our unfriendly accommodation. To add insult to injury we’re asked at breakfast to clean our rooms as well as the showers and toilets. “With what?” Frank exclaims. And with that I have my excuse and zip off into the sunrise (at least I would be if there was one) before anyone can rope me in. Had we been treated better by the owners and informed of our obligations sooner I may have been a little more co-operative. As it is, short of emptying the bin, we’d left our room in a petty decent state anyway.
Along the main road to pick up the EV6 at the Loire then on to Tours:

And more envy:

We stop for coffee but no one has the energy or inclination to search for the old town so we press on out of town and up onto the levées and lanes to Villandry. Just before we spot a helpful facility:

And then hit the gardens. Wow:

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And yes they are really growing vegetables for pure decoration. There are few places where I feel true contentment but this is one of them. I wish I had the whole afternoon to spend here in a state of meditative contemplation.
A quick ice cream and coffee stop and then on to our accommodation split between the Abbaye de Seuilly and Gîte Pic Epeiche. The Abbaye is rather lovely:

But I don’t get to stay there. However the Gîte is in an eco-tastic restored farmhouse and has fewer people staying so I can get a bit of piece and quiet:

Our meal was boxed on from a local chef who coped very well with veggie option, making a large side dish of dauphinois of which I am to have the lion’s share. The Chinese team are very convivial tonight. They have tended to stick together a lot during the trip and language has been quite a barrier to getting to know them well. So it’s nice for us all to be eating, drinking and having a laugh together:

After dinner we are treated to a very interesting slideshow presentation on the history and sights of the area. However I’m so full of food and wine and so tired that I can barely keep my eyes open. Brian assures me I don’t snore.

Chateau Across the Water

Wednesday 9 July. Rest Day.
I wake up in a foul mood having not slept too well and decide to calm down by taking an early stroll. Except the doors exiting the courtyard are locked.
I ask Monsieur if he has the keys and he flashes them at me but proceeds, baguettes in arms, to carry on to the kitchen. Then Madame appears and the same question, but it takes two of us asking for her to respond.
I’m livid. I feel like a prisoner. And I let her know it “Ce ne bon pas” I say incorrectly.
Off I trot to find a boulangerie but nothing is open. It’s 7.30am, one boulangerie appears to be closed forever and the other one has decided to take their holiday early in spite of the notice on the door mentioning something about the 17th. The general store doesn’t open until 8am.
It was like this yesterday when I thought I’d kill a bit of time having a beard trim. One coiffure is closed, the other doesn’t do beards and the third (this place has about 700 inhabitants) doesn’t have any appointments until Thursday. How do they get anything done in these places? Perhaps I’ve got used to city life and need to chill. But when you’ve got a deadline to hit…
Anyway, off we go for the short ride to Chenonceaux. As this is a day off I will show you a few pictures and bid you a good day:

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PS. Forgot to mention the most fantastic arrangement in the car park of Carrafour in Bléré. A launderette in a shipping crate:


French Farse

Tuesday 8 July. Blois – La Croix-en-Touraine 62km.
A good night’s rest in the Ethic Étape where it’s two to a room and decent mattresses. But somehow I still don’t feel well rested. I think a deeper level of exhaustion has set in. It might be because we only have a week to go before Nantes and my body is sarting to wind down (ready or not) or it could be that the trip has been a tad ambitious. More likely a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B, as Brian would say.
After picking up lunch in Blois, as we wait for the bike shop to open (for some essential air) I buy a lovely broccoli quiche sans lardons). We then head back to the Loire for more levée, woodland and hills – the latter of which are really taking it out if me.
Due to a navigational cock-up (I should put my foot down more and insist we check the map at every junction) we are lured along a ‘Châteaux en Vélo’ route which is not the EV6. We realise our error in time to take a route back to the EV6, but by then unnecessary hills have been climbed and we see no châteaux until we’re back at the river:

We take a cafe break in Amboise but are too tired to tackle the hills to take a look around town:

Lucky really as we’re being chased by showers:

We escape this one by the skin of our teeth as it breaks over us on reaching tonight’s accommodation. We’re here for two nights as it’s a day off tomorrow, but it ain’t great and some of the others are in an overspill place up the road of far finer quality. Chef de Tour Marc apologises and buys us a drink so I cheekily ask if I can stay the following night in the Abbaye as opposed to the Gîte as the religious places have always treated us well.
Tonight’s meal is a riot. Everyone lets their hair down knowing its a day off tomorrow:

The chef from the nice place has been booked to cook for us at a place in town – pop-up style. She’s from the Caribbean and does an interesting mix of courses involving rice, salad and (unfortunately for me) salmon and chicken. She offers me an egg alternative but I turn it down as I’m full up from all the other courses and I’m all egged out having had two boiled eggs the evening before and the quiche at lunchtime.