Lan and Jane 'do' Western Europe travel blog

So today we started our barge and bike tour from Auxerre to Paris.

We had breakfast at our hotel in Troyes and headed for Auxerre. It was a bit further than we had originally anticipated, so we only just made it in time to return our hire car to Hertz.

We found the Quai de la Republique on the Yonne River, and were delighted to see the good old Elodie again. The Elodie is the barge that we sailed on from Paris to Brugge in 2012. We had such fond memories of both that tour and the barge and its crew that we were keen to try another trip with them. Of course, we didn’t know if that experience could be repeated. What would the crew be like (the last crew were great so could they be as good this time - especially the chef, who was terrific)? Had the barge been renovated since our last trip (if not it would be rather rundown!)? Had the bikes been updated (they were not in very good condition last time)? What would the other passengers be like (it's always a bit of potluck, although in general, cyclists are nice people!)?

All these questions were to be answered soon!

We dropped our bags off on the deck so that we wouldn’t have to drag them around. The new captain of the Elodie, Chango, introduced himself and he seemed lovely - good sense of humour, full of beans and very friendly. Later we found out that he plans to buy the boat and the business from the original owners and to continue running the tours himself.

We had a couple of hours to kill until check-in so we walked around town and visited the cathedral. We tried to visit the abbey too but of course it was closed! So we decided to just have lunch at a brasserie overlooking the river and the Elodie. Lan had a plat de jour that had a little bit of an andouillette leaning (but was bearable), and Jane had a much nicer salad nicoise.

Finally it was time to get on board, meet our fellow travellers and check out how the Elodie has fared over the intervening years. We have one of the frontmost cabins, which is a little more cramped than the one we had last time, but still perfectly livable. We were glad to see that much of the barge has been renovated, so the carpet, boards, bathrooms, curtains etc. have all been replaced. If anything it's in slightly better condition than last time.

Our crew comprise the captian, Chango, our cycling guide, Nina, and the chef, Jantien, all Dutch. Jane and Lan actually met Nina on our last trip on the Elodie, as she popped in during our trip to visit our previous guide Ono (who is her accountant and is still also guiding but has taken this year off to travel). Our previous chef, Sander, has finally settled down with his girlfriend (although only this year). Jantien, it turns out is as good a chef as, if not slightly better than, Sander!

We have an almost full complement of passengers: 15 (one person pulled out at the last minute) so the barge is full. There are six Americans, seven Canadians and just us two Aussies. We were a little worried about the Americans, but in fact the whole group have turned out to be very nice: friendly, interesting, cooperative, punctual and willing to do their share - all essential qualities for a good tour!

We were introduced to our bikes, and they too have been upgraded. Indeed, they have been custom built for the Elodie, with a rubber chain that makes for smooth riding, a eight-gear hub, fully adjustable handlebars, kevlar tyres, built-in locks and dynamo lights.

After some struggles adjusting the handlebars and seats, we were ready to go on a short test ride along the river. Nina uses both a sweep and the “corner” method of managing the group on the road. The sweep (whose position rotates among the group) stays at the back to make sure that slower riders aren’t left behind. They have a walkie-talkie to communicate with Nina if they encounter any problems. Then, to make sure that no one gets lost when we turn a corner, the cyclist riding right behind Nina (who would usually be a strong rider) is dropped off at the corner to direct the rest of the group in the right direction, and then catches up. We've been on a tour before that used this system and it works brilliantly.

The Yonne River at Auxerre is quite lovely and many locals strolled along the riverside path enjoying the peaceful scenery as we rode past. It was a gorgeous day today too, which made everything sparkle!

We safely negotiated the test ride and it looked like almost everyone in the group was fit, and more than able to keep up.

We returned to the boat and had to time to clean up and relax before a sumptious dinner of vitello tonnato, mushroom risotto and pavlova with berries. The dinner conversation was lively and interesting and everyone is clearly looking forward to our adventures on the bikes.

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