Today's entry will be lesson in comparative writing, since we all wanted to write about the same thing. Sandra first;
Chinon is a town that boasts many famous visitors. Not including us, there have been Joan of Arc, Richard the Lionheart and Francois Rabelais to mention just a few. We didn't come here for this reason but to see a small section of the Loire Valley and check out a chateau or two.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day and decided to rent bikes so we could ride to a neighbouring village to see Chateau Usse. It felt great to be back on a bike again, especially in the Loire Valley. We rode up and down gentle hills, through forests and alongside rivers. As we passed the locals they shouted "bonjour" to us and we reciprocated enthusiastically. I felt so "French." All that was missing were baguettes sticking out of a wicker bike basket. Our lunch was safely tucked into our daypacks strapped on the back of our bikes.
At one point, Hannah and I rounded a corner in a small village and heard a rather loud buzzing noise. Above a garden, about twenty metres from us, we saw a swarm of about a million bees, well, maybe not a million but I've never seen or heard anything like it. We were out of there fast with newfound pedaling power. Amazing what fear can do!
We reached the town of Rigney-Usse and decided to eat our picnic lunch before visiting the chateau. Bread, cheese and pears - how French! As we ate our lunch the sky began to cloud over and in the distance we could see even darker clouds making their way towards us. If we wanted to get back dry we had to make haste.
Chateau Usse was the inspiration for Charles Perrault's "Sleeping Beauty" and it's storybook beautiful inside and out. The present owners still live in part of the castle. It's not surprising they have to open it to the public to make ends meet.
We began to feel drops of rain as we rode away from the castle. We had an eighteen km ride in front of us and the weather was getting worse. Our ride back took us along the Loire River. It was a beautiful, flat, forested path. We weren't on this path five minutes before we were being attacked by clouds of mosquitoes. I was afraid to breathe in case I inhaled one, or two, or three. Hannah had a mosquito caught behind each lens of her glasses and in trying to get them out she crashed her bike (no injuries - so you grandparents can relax.) As soon as we stopped they dove in to attack. We danced around as we tried to get her quickly back riding. To make matters worse, we heard the gun shots of hunters up ahead.
So much for the idealic bike ride along the Loire River. We decided to cut the ride short and head over the hills. One kilometre up the road and thunder began booming over our heads and rain began pelting down. Cliff and I looked at each other thinking, "we don't need this", but knowing we have to be up and perky to get Hannah through this. I ride behind her the whole way singing, making jokes and offering encouragement when all along I just want to whine about how horrible it all is. Hannah was a trooper and rode the whole miserable way home with few complaints even when we ended up on a busy road being splashed by passing cars. She even managed some laughs about our ill fortune.
Dry and warm, back at the hotel we decided we were glad to have cycled and seen Chateau Usse and that the bad bits make an interesting story.
The next day we walked to the Chinon Chateau on the hill behind our hotel. It was in the main hall of this chateau that Joan of Arc recognized the Dauphin, Charles VII, hidden among the courtiers and this led people to believe she had special powers. Chinon Chateau is in ruins but it is a beautiful place to wander and think about its history and famous visitors.
Looking back we are glad that we chose to spend a few days in Chinon. There is so much history and beauty here. We were able to stretch our minds and our inner strength.
When my parents first started talking about renting bikes in the Loire Valley I was very excited, and I am still happy that I did, but riding through huge swarms of mosquitoes isn't exactly my idea of fun. Let me start from the beginning.
We wanted to go see the chateau where Charles Perrault got the idea to write the tale of a princess born with the curse that she will die on her sixteenth birthday. We all know this book and movie called Sleeping Beauty. My parents asked the people at our hotel how we could get to the Usse castle. They said that we could either drive our own car if we had one or we could rent bikes and ride. We chose to ride because it was a very good chance to cycle in the Loire Valley. We left within an hour on the bikes that we had rented for the day.
The first of many "experiences" on the ride was a swarm of about a thousand or so bees. My mom could hear them but she couldn't see them. She looked around and I wondered what she was looking for. I found out when she called me over and pointed across the street. I basically just screamed and turned my bike around so fast that I nearly fell over. My dad thought we were crazy screaming for nothing, then he realized why were screaming and we all hurried to get on with the ride.
After an hour of going up and down and up and down we arrived at the castle. It really was like being in a fairy tale. The only bad thing was that we couldn't take pictures. so I bought ten post cards of all the different scenes from Sleeping Beauty that they had set up throughout the castle.
Back on the road again, and whoopeyding! It's RAINING. Great. And not only that but my dad just had to take us riding through the forest in the rain, freezing cold, with so many mosquitos there is no number for it. It was disgusting, disgusting, disgusting, disgusting, disgusting, gross, icky, yech, bleh, revolting, so gross there are no words. Now, this is the really funny bit now that I look back on it. You see, the bugs kept getting caught in my glasses. So one bug came flying towards me and got caught in between my eye and my glasses lens, gross right? So I had to keep my right eye shut. Then another one thought that being caught in my glasses was so much fun so it came buzzing in between my left eye and glasses lens. Of course I panicked, flapped my hands and letting go of the handle bars I fell off and nearly went in the ditch. It was not fun, and on top of all that it had just started to thunderstorm and the rain was coming down so hard it hurt and the rain was ice cold and we were in shorts and T-shirts and my shirt and shoes are still drying three days later. Fun fun.
So eventually we got home and dried off with towels and had nice hot baths, but I still get itchy just thinking about it especially as I sit here typing it all up. I have to go now because I am just too itchy to type.
We are in the Loire Valley, so of course we went for a bike ride. This is one of the best cycle touring places in the world, and you can pay $1000 a day with Canadian companies to come here. We actually rode mostly by accident; we wanted to see the Chateau in the next town and getting bikes from our inn was the only way to get there.
So we went for a ride.
After getting tires, seats and handlebars right, we set off through town. I had the good idea to avoid traffic on a small road parallel to the main road along the river, so we started with a monstrous uphill. Near the top, a local woman looked up from her work to say "Bonjour." We are indeed riding in France!
At the top Sandra and Hannah stop. I didn't hear the furious buzzing of a thick swarm of bees. Strangely, although none of us had ever seen anything like it, we didn't go for a closer look.
We kept riding, up and down hills, through heat and thirst. Churchyards hosted people who had set up picnic lunches on tables to enjoy the Sunday. In the next village was a Chateau that we wanted to see, but the road access was Prive, so back on the bikes, racing down the mountainside to the river below.
We came to Usse, to the Chateau that was the original inspiration for the castle of the Sleeping Beauty tale. But first, lunch. We too ate at a picnic table in a churchyard. Mineral water, baguette, Camembert, pears and flies. French flies. Perfect.
The castle was very interesting, not least because after hundreds of years, it continues to be lived in by the present generation of the same family.
After the visit it started to rain. Just a bit at first, as we headed off. Down to the river, to take the flatter, longer route home. Thunder was heard in the distance. The sky turned darker. Thunder crashed in our ears, and lightning flashed. Uh oh. This is not going to be fun. We got onto the cycle path along the Loire. It is a dirt track. The air is thick with not so tiny bugs. We need windshield wipers just to breathe. Hannah gets too many bugs caught under her glasses and crashes while trying to get her eyes open. Some of the noise is not thunder. It is rifle fire. We are next to a hunting ground. We have to get out of here.
Time for plan B. We will take the direct, hilly route home. It won't be easy, but the climbing will keep us warm. Up we go. Hard to see through our wet glasses. There is a sign in the middle of the road. Road closed. You never know about these detours on bikes. Sometimes it's just a portage across a ditch or a landslide, and sometimes you've ridden up a mountainside only to have to go down again and try another way. Up we go.
There is an underpass ahead; it is dry there and we stop to repack into plastic bags all of our valuables and cameras. A few rocks have fallen from the side of the rail trestle onto the road. Because of this the whole road is closed. No traffic, and a nice shortcut for us. A rabbit scurries right by us, headed down the hill. We keep on climbing up.
From there on it is 10 kilometres of rolling country back to Chinon. We tough it out. Hannah does great. At the end of the ride, we are all very cold. We alternately giggle and grumble. Our feet stink, especially mine. And of course, the rain stops.
Why come to the Loire to ride for a whole week when you can experience it all in just one day!