This blog comes to you courtesy of the postman in Doue-la-Fontaine. I've found internet access erratic but had a tip there was a terminal in the local library. I asked the postman, who was also on a bike, for directions and before I knew it he said "follow me" and our mini convoy was scooting across town to deposit me at the front door of the library! I love the French.
This is the last day of my journey along the mighty Loire River, France's longest at 1020km. I joined the Loire at the canal town of Briare, France's answer to Kirkintilloch, "canal capital of Scotland". It had the bustle that pottering about in boats brings and was very pretty even in torrential rain. My first sight of the Loire itself was from the impressive Pont Canal which claims to be Europe's longest aqueduct and was built by Eiffel himself. It's been quite idyllic pottering alongside the river. It's course is punctuated by the prettiest little towns imaginable with narrow cobbled streets, airy squares around churches that toll the hour, fairytale chateaux and flower displays like Pitlochry in Bloom on a Babybio overdose.
For much of the way the cycling has been quite easy along the flood embankments called levees. The Loire has been pretty destructive in the past and these provide some protection and excellent cycling. As you pass by little villages you can have a nosey from your lofty position - it reminds me of entering Kirkcaldy on the train from Edinburgh and being able to look into all the back gardens. But here you are looking into pretty courtyards formed by red brick cottages with colourful wooden shutters, tumbling orange nasturtiums and perhaps a table set for lunch under the shade of a chestnut tree. Oooh, it's just lovely . . . and so very . . . what's the word . . . French!
Talking of lunch, I've been extending my camp stove cuisine. I've now cooked lardons - quite tasty but I recommend the better quality ones, those labelled "without cartilege". I do ratatouille, stovies and numerous rice variations. Breakfast is usually scrambled eggs or a big fruit salad or rice cakes with honey. I've also started making banana smoothies - I mash a banana vigorously in my mug with a fork, follow that with frantic whisking with milk and in several hours I have what a smoothie machine will provide in seconds! I really enjoy pitching the tent late afternoon and then going to buy my groceries to prepare supper in the shade of a tree while practising my French with the neighbours. I feel very content with my simple life on the road.
My route along the Loire has taken me through Orleans, its old centre a maize of streets so narrow you could almost touch both sides with outstretched arms. Every now and then they open into impromptu squares with a scattering of colourful cafes. The last couple of days in the Loire Valley have been stinking hot and I've had to do my first pushing of the trip. Not that there are any hills around here but I passed through the troglodyte villages of Turquant and Souzay-Champigny, originally cave dwellings in the limestone cliffs above the river that have been added to by successive generations. They have steep little roads that zig-zag through the houses and at one point the cycle route even passed through the caves!
On the downside the Loire Valley is very busy and touristy but I continue to be amazed by the friendliness of the French. I no sooner have to start putting my tent up than a husband is despatched with a mallet from a neighbouring caravan (French campgrounds are very hard); I have been served iced water and again invited in for coffee!
Now I'm planning to head south down the Atlantic coast towards Bordeaux. I'll get more photos on Fickr for your viewing pleasure as soon as I get full internet access.