Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On the street where we live - apologies to Vic Domone

I've missed a few days posting as its been full-on since arriving. So from today on I hope to post daily.

After arriving in Paris on Saturday Arvo, Sunday was a short walk to become familiar with the the street where we live. Weird, wonderful, strange, different, yes - all of those. Although staying in rue Marie Stuart, we are just around the corner of Rue Montorgueil which is closed to through traffic. It’s a foodie’s heaven.

Chocolatiers, Cafes, Bars, Brasseries, Restaurants, Patissiers and of course the Boulanger, they are all there. Add a few wine shops and why would you want to stay elsewhere.
The 2nd arrondissement of Paris is on the right bank of the Seine river. We've previously stayed 4th, 5th, 7th and the 11th so we've now experienced a few Paris districts. They all have their own charm but living closer to the Seine allows for better access to the main tourist and shopping attractions. And if you are a little further a way, the Metro is always there to get you where you want to go. I bought a Carnet of 10 tickets costing less than 12 euro.
Sue sends me out in the mornings to the Boulangerie to get the baguette and croissants -I actually find this more frightening than riding the streets of Paris (more about that next post).

Bonjour Madam - un baguette, deux croissant, si'l vous plait. OK, she understood that, now ask "combien?" How much? Check out the cash register coz no way will I understand her answer. Yep, I got through that OK.
Croissants with Vegemite for brekkie
On the way back to the apartment, I couldn’t believe that there in the window of a clothes shop in the street was a Fixie. Now for those not bike savvy, a fixie is a track bike or a bike with only one gear. The pedals keep going around with no freewheeling. This fixie had a set of late 1960s Campagnolo cranks. Could I smash the glass and run away with the bike - stop dreaming Leon - there are bars on the windows and Sue is waiting for breakfast.
Heaps of Fixies in Paris, a craze that seems to be sweeping the world - and to think that I was a trendsetter with all my cycling mates back in 1962.
After breakfast it was time for a short walk up “the street where we live” and then on to rue du Rivoli to do some shopping. Cuisine items for Sue and shoes for me. On previous visits to Paris, Sue has bought Laguiole cutlery and so the collection is now growing. As for me, the shoes come from Rudy’s. A long walk for the day and so a taxi was hailed for a fairly inexpensive trip back home.
I have never eaten snails before, frog legs yes, calf's head yes, but not snails - maybe this time.
Mmmmmm, lots of cheeses. Might need to pop another Lipitor tonight with the red wine.

Was it the bar or the cute Vespa out front - this pic is for Debbie at work who rides a scooter.
Yes, graffiti is world wide and hasn't this bloke got attitude!!!!

As a CHOCOHOLIC, what more can I say. The street is littered with shops selling chocolate.

Market day and the flower shops line the streets

Can you see the pig's trotters. I used to love these as a kid when Mum cooked them.

You've heard of the "Where's Wally" children's books - this Pic is called "Where's the Wally".

St Eustache Church - building began in 1532 and completed in 1637. On our walk there was a service in progress with the organ booming but not drowning out the choir. Quite an experience.

Can I take this, can I, can I, can I pleeeeese. Sue's new found Foodie shop.

She knew it existed, Dehillerin was on Sue's tourist list - she even formed a close relationship with our salesperson Kim who recognised our accent as Aussie.

I think this door led to an artist's colony within the building - I remember seeing a program on tele at home which was on the strange and unusual of Paris.

Sketch for the day - sometimes I see something I'd like to sketch in pencil. I'm a little rusty these days as my camera is my pencil now. Maybe I'll try a few more sketches while I'm away.
I saw the old lady waiting for her daughter who went into the Chocolatier. She waited patiently for quite some time. Her face showed no emotion and looked if anything, a little sad. I wonder what was going through her mind.
I know what was going through her mind. She was trying to signal the shopkeeper to call the Gendarmes, cos there was a wild eyed foreigner staring at her.  I felt a little concerned myself. Sue

See you all tomorrow.`

Monday, March 29, 2010

Three Days with Friends in the Loire

My apologies for a long blog this time around - with three days without internet access, the experiences multiplied.

Remember those oysters at Montparnasse - NOT a good idea. More about that later.

We decided on staying at Montparnasse as it was close to the station for the TGV taking us to Tours. The TGV or fast train travels at speeds in excess of 300 kms. As we were sitting in the carriage we were unaware of the speed as it is quiet and smooth. It’s not until you see a motorway beside you that you realise the speed. Cars travelling on the motorway have a speed limit of 130 kph and we are leaving them behind as if they were travelling at only 60 kph.

It wasn't long before we found ourselves walking out from the Tours station and on our way to the Hotel Du Manoir at 2 rue Traversiere. Well worth the stay with an excellent breakfast and marvelous hosts. If ever in Tours, book in.

The breakfast room - Monsieur makes an excellent apple crumble.

On arriving at Tours the first thing we saw was a sign at the concert hall advertising the "Australian Pink Floyd Show". The tribute band had travelled a long way.

We located our hotel, unpacked and decided to explore the old city of Tours. Most of the grand cities have preserved a section of the early parts of their cities. You just have to find them.
Tours is part of the Indre et Loire department with a population of over 400,000. It is famous for its wines, the battle of Tours in 732, and of course the Paris-Tours classic road race which was first run in 1896. In 1906 it became an annual event for professionals and is considered a “Sprinters Classic” due to the flat terrain.
Pretending to read the sports pages at lunch - bit like reading the Herald-Sun really (a Leon OZ joke)
From Wikipedia
In Gallic times the city was important as a crossing point of the Loire. Becoming part of the Roman Empire during the first century AD, the city was named "Caesarodunum" ("hill of Caesar"). The name evolved in the 4th century when the original Gallic name, Turones, became first "Civitas Turonorum" then "Tours". It was at this time that the amphitheatre of Tours, one of the five largest in the Empire, was built. Tours became the metropolis of the Roman province of Lugdunum towards 380-388, dominating the Loire Valley.

Tours Cathedral
Half wooded house of Tours old centre.

Being tired from the long walk we decided to purchase a bottle of Chinon Rouge - at the time we didn’t consider that this would be our dinner. We were too tired to go out for dinner.

Many of the half wooded commercial establishments would have wood carvings of the produce that we were associated with. Wild boar, fish or vegetables for example.

Through an open gateway while walking the old centre.

Our Korean Chevrolet - What am I looking at? Amazing what you find while "Slow Travelling".
A Prieure du Lauroux under restoration.
Next morning was the grand adventure in picking up our hire car and taking in the Loire countryside to visit friends met and unmet. The first stop was the village of Le Grand-Pressigny. Why? Well we read a blog by Jean who has a holiday home there and her stories intrigued us so much that we thought it would be worth a look.

It is a lovely village with great history.
Feeling a little peckish, we stopped in the village square where the travelling Foodies sell their wares. There was the usual French fare, pate, a multitude of cheeses, various sausage of duck, pork, rabbit meats.
As we left this smallish village we passed by the sports ground where I said to Sue, “I’m sure I saw and old Velodrome to the right.” I had to turn back and there it was, a flattish velodrome that had seen better days.
Couldn't help myself - finding a velodrome in Le Grand-Pressigny is like finding one in Poowong Gippsland Victoria. Come to think of it, Poowong may have had one once.

Next stop was Preuilly Sur Claise to visit Bloggers as yet unmet - how does this happen you ask. Well I read this blog regularly of an Australian couple who lived in the UK and then decided to purchase a property in the Loire to restore. One day they blogged on their 1953 Citroen Traction Avant, Celestine. Having own several of these in my past, I made comment that we would be in France and could we visit. On exchange of gifts, Simon and Susan took us for an enjoyable drive through the undulating roads and through several little Loire villages after they offered us lunch.

Simon and Susan's Celestine emerged from her covers and shed to brave the rain over the underlating hills of Preuilly sur Claise.

Look what just popped up during our little drive.

Back into La Petite (female???) Chevrolet  it was time to make our way to our hosts for the next two days. We met Carol and Mikee last year when we rented their stone cottage in Thenay. They jokingly suggested that we could come and take care of their cats next time they went on holiday. When we said we were returning to say Bonjour, they wouldn't hear of us staying anywhere but with them. It was actually Bonsoir as we arrived late arvo!

The home of our warm hosts Carol and Mikee. Many thanks and apologies for the oyster thing. I missed enjoying Carol's wonderful cooking.

On arrival I was starting to feel a little off-colour but thought it was jet-lag and general tiredness. It wasn’t till almost dinner was about to be served that I realised that I was really feeling ill. Next thing I knew my head was in toilet bowl.

Yes, it was the oysters from Montparnasse.

Having partially recovered the next morning, we took a drive to Saint Aignan for coffee and lunch with another friend met from last year. Walt is an ex-pat American living in St Aignan sur Cher.
We never really explored the village on our visit last year so we had a quick tour in the car due to heavy rain before meeting Walt.

Saint Aignan and the Chateau from across the Cher river.

Meeting Walt again over lunch at a little restaurant called le Mange-Grenouille was most enjoyable and our friends, Carol and Mikee had the opportunity to meet him as well. They only live across the Cher from each other and had never met, yet Carol follows both Walt and Ken’s blogs and felt that she almost knew them. The power of the internet.
Walt in his Walt T-shirt taken by Walt for Walt's Blog - a gift from us. Check out Wlat's blog and you'll see what I mean - it's linked to ours in the sidebar. You'll enjoy his great photos and whimsical humour.

Carol, Mikee, Sue and Leon - taken by Walt and stolen from his Blog site. Thanks Mate.

The next morning saw us packing La Petite Chevrolet and heading back to Tours and on the TGV back to Paris for our two weeks in the 2e. I must admit I’m missing my bike so to my cycling friends, I promise some experiences of riding in Paris traffic, Paris parks and hopefully that Paris velodrome.

Just an arty-farty pic that appealed at the time.....

Friday, March 26, 2010

Limited Internet Access until Paris

Well here we are deep in the Loire and meeting up with people from last year. Due to having limited access until being back in Paris this Saturday, our posts will have to wait.
Having some great experiences which we will share by Sunday.
Keep tuned.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

33 HOURS - Door to Door

Yep, that's right 33 hours from our door in Mentone, Melbourne to our overnight stay at Montparnasse in Paris.
So this post is a short one before we catch up on some sleep.
We flew Singapore Airlines and while waiting at Melbourne Airport, I said to Sue, "Look there's some cyclists travelling with us." "How can you tell?" she said. "Look at those legs, hairless and well formed. Now don't get me wrong but fellow cyclists notice these things."

The view from our hotel window in Montparnasse while lying flat on one's back from jet-lag.

After boarding the plane I noticed that they were a little further back in the plane and so I introduced myself.
To my surprise, one of them was Patrick Lane from our own Club. He was on the way to Italy to race with the Jayco team. I met him, his sister and father some 10 years ago when he was maybe 10 or 12 years old.

Finally off the plane and outside to be surprised with a cool morning but clear blue skies and later in the day it was almost T-shirt weather. We are staying in Montparnasse, the commercial district of Paris and not a lot of Tourist interest, but just near the TGV station for our next stop in the Loire at Tours.

Our first restaurant meal in Paris at Montparnasse 1900

No disappointments here - the ambiance, food, wine and the service so good after 33 hours since leaving home.

I decided to leave the bike with friends Leigh and Sophie and grabbed a taxi. Little did I realise that the fare was going to be quite expensive. Paris had a demonstration against Sarkozy with thousands of people creating a traffic fiasco here. I decided that after assembling the bike with Leigh's assistance, I would take the Metro back to our hotel.
Success, I mastered the system which was relatively simple but feeling like a sardine in a tin that had not yet been opened, I popped out of the carriage to be greeted with congratulations from Sue. She had reservations that I would get lost, be mugged or wander the Metro system for the rest of our time here.

After airline food for the many hours spent on the plane, we were looking forward to a traditional French meal and bottle of the red stuff again.
We chose a restaurant within a short walking distance, called Montparnasse 1900. It had a beautifully decorated interior and offered perfect service from its staff.

For me Bretagne Oysters, for Sue, Onion soup gratine for an entree. We seem to agree on the main course though. Back in 2006 we had our first Confit de Canard (duck preserved in its own fat), and this time was no exception. We ordered the same again.
The wine was a red from the Lot district of France, very much like an Australian wine, a full bodied red labelled Buzit.

The Next Morning:

And for breakfast, a traditional petit de jeuner.

Up early after a deep sleep and over to the TGV station to collect our tickets. Paris workers walking, riding, driving everywhere. No smiles, no expressions intent on getting to their daily workplace.
Something that I don't need to concern myself with for 3 weeks.

Knowing that the Paris Roubaix or "Hell of the North" was on the day we leave Paris, I spied one of the riders training on the cobbles of Montparnesse. Obviously being one of the favorites, he was training incognito.

As I write this, we have just come back from a day of walking around Tours, great city, great day but more about that tomorrow.
In the morning we pick up a hire car and take off to meet friends in the Loire.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The last sleep before Paris.

Bags are packed and the bike is in the bike bag - last sleep before we fly out to Paris.
Not quite sure why France seems like a second home to us. People do return to the same comfortable location for their annual holidays every year. We spent about eight years taking the kids to Lakes Entrance and how many still take off to Rosebud and the Mornington Peninsula.
Since our first visit to France in 2006, its been, for us, a comfortable place to be. Although this is the fourth visit, it still holds a sense of wonderment about it. The various regions are so different.

A quiet cafe at Arles in Provence on the Rhone river - home to Van Gogh and for a nine week period, Gauguin.

Provence with its fabulous coastline and its Luberon hilltop villages is so different to the the early history of man in the Dordogne region.

Burgundy has it's own uniqueness as does the Languedoc, both being wine growing districts of note. The Loire Valley holds a special interest to us and this will be our third visit to that region.
The Cathar village of Minerve in the Languedoc - fabulous cycling for hills.

Rich in history, it tells tales of Richard the Lionheart and Joan of Arc. The Loire presents the most impressive group of Chateaux in all of France. Many people visiting the great Chateaux of France do it on two wheels, cycling from one to another.

One of the many Chateaux of the Loire

The Dordogne held a personal fascination for me with its history of early man living in caves. We  viewed the prehistoric drawings of Mammoth, bison and other early species on the cave walls.
 The Troglodyte villages set in the soft rock cliffs throughout the region would appear on my morning rides..

The Loire in my experience is very kind to cyclists with its flat terrain. Perfect for riding a single gear bike. That's what I have taken on our past visits to France. This new bike is set-up so I can enjoy riding in the streets of Paris and then quickly convert it to a track bike to train at the Paris Velodrome.

Having said that, I promise that the blog is "Not JUST about the Bike", but the many facets of French life.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's not JUST about the bike

With apologies to Mr Armstrong, I decided to subtitle my usual Blog "It's not JUST the bike". For the next 3 weeks Sue and I are in France for my 60th birthday. Although I have my new fixie with me this time, the blog will not be JUST about the bike but the food, wine, sights of the Loire and 2 weeks in Paris.
There will however be an insight to surviving Paris on a straight gear fixie and possibly some stories on training at the Paris Velodrome or in the parks of Paris with the Roadies.
What's a fixie I hear you say - It's a bike without gears, yes just one gear for all terrains and the pedals keep turning - no coasting at all. In Paris it is perfect. As for Mt Ventoux, forget it.

This is our fourth trip to France since 2006 and although our usual blog is Melbourne Our Home, France has become our other home in a way. We've met people who have become long distance friends, two who are cyclists, others being Bloggers or people we have met by renting their cottages or apartments.

On our first trip to Paris we stayed in the Sorbonne district on the west bank. Just up from our hotel on Rue Gay Lussac near the Luxembourg Gardens was this little cafe bar where we would enjoy a glass of cool refreshing ale in the sunny autumn afternoon. Since then we have experienced their spring twice and again this fourth trip we are hoping that France's harsh winter will give way to some sunshine.

Ours is the "slow travel" method where we can park ourselves for a week at a time and enjoy the sights and meet the people of the region.
On our last to visits to France, I've taken my straight gear bike, the one I rode in the Warrnambool road race in the early 80s. It also gives me an opportunity to discover the villages and country lanes on the bike. I call this training but in reality is just pure relaxing enjoyment.
From what I can tell of Europe's long cold winter I'll need to pack the winter training gear.
We promise you regular and almost daily sights, scenes and experiences from Paris over the 3 week period.

You'll notice on our Blog sight in the side bar, a section called "Followers". You need to register or post a comment as anonymous. we would really like to hear from readers while we are away.

Where is the Paris traffic???