In the summer of 1988, five of us took a bicycling vacation in Europe. We were Nina, daughter Hilary, friend Andrea, son Ben and Jerry. Our airline tickets were round trip between Boston and Amsterdam. We traveled by bicycles and trains through Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany. We arrived in Europe on July 11 and left on August 14, exactly 5 weeks later. This is Jerry's journal, kept on micro-cassette tapes by speaking into a hand-held recorder (usually pedaling at the same time.) The mileage numbers come from Nina's notebook where she recorded readings from her bicycle's odometer.
SUNDAY, JULY 10, 1988
The trip starts at Nina's house in Durham, New Hampshire, where we pack the five bike boxes and load them into Steve's (Andrea's father) van. Steve and his sister Anita drive that machine to the airport while Susie (Nina's sister) and Alan take all five bicycle riders in their van. On the way both vans stop at the Asia Restaurant near Portsmouth and Nina treats everyone to a big Chinese dinner. Then we all go to Terminal E at Logan Airport which is the Martinair (and Aer Lingus) terminal for Boston. We get there about 9:00 which is appropriate for our scheduled takeoff at 11:48, nearly midnight on Sunday night.
At the check-in counter we discover that our plane is late crossing the Atlantic to Boston and our takeoff will be delayed. They blame the delay on air traffic control around Spain and estimate it will be two hours late. We relax, or try to. We watch a group of about 12 kids plus two group leaders actually pack their bike boxes at the airport. Steve loans them a long-handled pedal wrench which makes their job easier. They are Junior-High kids planning to take four weeks to ride from Amsterdam to Paris starting with the same flight as us. We figure we'll see them again.
Since we are inside in a building somewhat like a mall, Hilary and Andrea naturally start looking for shops. There are some but at this hour almost everything is closed so there isn't much to buy. Even the foreign exchange booth is closed. The only restaurant open is just barely open. The people running it want to go home. The Martinair people gave us some vouchers because our plane was late so we pick up a lot of donuts, muffins, and other junk just so we won't be hungry.
About this time I start to feel terrible, and then worse, with an awful headache. Finally I realize the problem: we had eaten at an MSG place! The Asia Restaurant must put MSG in its food. That bothers me for several hours. At one point I lie down under a bench on the concrete floor of the terminal. I don't feel well until about midnight.
MONDAY, JULY 11
Our plane finally arrives in Boston at 2:15 Monday morning. We board about 3:00 and then learn that the plane has a flat tire. Is this a bad omen for a bike trip? It takes quite a while to get the tire changed so "dinner" is served during the wait at about 4:00 am. Eventually, at 6:00 am we take off.
Our seat assignments are excellent. Ben has a window seat and I'm right beside him. Directly behind us is Andrea in the window seat with Hilary beside her. Nina is back in the smoking section in the center of the plane. It's a DC-10 with six seats in the center where Nina is. There's only one woman in her row, an experienced traveler, and they figure out how to solve the jet lag problem. The other woman volunteers to sleep on the floor and Nina stretches out across all the seats. She actually gets about five hours sleep on the plane. Wonderful! I doze pretty well, as does Ben, while the girls watch both movies and still get a little sleep. Hours later I get a glimpse of Scotland which looks green and wet.
We arrive at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport about 7:00 in the evening local time. It stays light until about 10:00 which is great! We have to wait for our baggage so we change some dollars into gulden. Then we assemble our bikes, checking for damage. Not too much is broken. Andrea has a slightly bent quick-release rod for one wheel and I have a broken rear-view mirror and a broken snap which is supposed to hold my front pannier but those seem to be the only problems. We get our bikes together, load the panniers and bicycle out of the airport. Our bikes are loaded with tents, sleeping bags, clothes, cooking stuff, tools, cameras, and other stuff so it takes a while to get used to them. Nina and I are using the same bikes with about the same loads as when we rode across the USA last summer. Ben is using my old Gitane which is a little too tall for him and designed for racing rather than touring but he does not complain. The girls help each other all the time and stoically put up with everything.
Now it's getting late, already 9:00pm. Fortunately, the other tour group gives us a copy of their map which shows how to get to Amsterdam Bos (woods) campsite. We start following the route but miss a turn and wind up beside a canal, definitely off-route. We start following the canal thinking it leads in about the right direction and soon are back on track.
Lots of people are strolling and riding bikes along the canal on this pleasant evening and everything looks wonderful! Houseboats line one side of the canal and people are friendly. It's going to be a fun trip if Europe is all like this! We watch a fisherman catch an eel, with embellishments for the audience. We find Amsterdam Bos about 10:30 and read a sign saying the camp closes at 10:00. Fortunately, the camp director sticks his head out of a door and says "camp over there. Pay in the morning." Great! We bed down in our three small tents. It's a bit cool so we need long-sleeved shirts but its not really cold. A few rats splash in the little canal beside our tents. Total riding today was only 9.1 miles but we have started into Europe.
TUESDAY, JULY 12
The tents are wet with dew. Rain could not have soaked them more. From the campground we go directly to the wooden shoe factory. This is a "must" stop for tourists and several tour buses are there. It's a good place to buy postcards and souvenirs. Ben gets a t-shirt and Nina gets a key-chain. We ride toward the center of Amsterdam to a VVV information office, hoping to get a map which shows camping places. No luck - they only have a map for the north of Holland and we're heading south.
Oh well, out of town we go, straight south. Uithoorn is the first town we notice and it turns out to have an IBM factory. We are immediately reminded of Essex Junction. Nice bike paths seem to run everywhere, helping us to get out of town. They usually follow right beside the roads. At some intersections there are traffic lights specifically for bicycles. We have never seen so many people using bicycles. Many have locks permanently attached so the back wheel can be locked very quickly. Where there's no bike path the road is small, not much wider than a typical bike path. Some roads have one-lane traffic with occasional turn-outs for cars to pass. We follow a lot of canals. This is duck country, heaven for waterfowl. We see ducks, swans, and several Great Blue Herons. Ben describes the roads as a giant go-cart raceway. You can go anywhere on bikes here and it's flat, perfectly flat everywhere.
We just keep riding and riding on winding roads beside canals. This would be easy except for the wind which seems to blow all the time, often in our faces. There are lots of Pollard Willows, cut off but continuing to grow. Lines of Poplar trees border many roads, making them seem quite grand. Cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, goats - every field has animals. All houses seem to be well-kept and almost all are brick and cement. Some roofs are thatched and some are tile. Many windows have fancy lacework carefully presented to the eyes of people passing by. Some houses are modern and some are old but all have flowers. Flowers, flowers, everywhere - Holland is a giant garden.
Our route winds past Gouda, famous for cheese. By the time we cross over the Lek River on a ferry at Schoonhoven it's 7:00 so we ask the ice cream vendor on the far side about campgrounds. He says there is one just eight kilometers up the Lek. No problem. For dinner we have tins of liverwurst and tins of beef, spread on rolls. We also have several types of Gouda cheese and a bottle of Liebfraumilch which is even cheaper here than in the U.S. It works out to less than $2 for this bottle. Dinner goes pretty well and I'm tired. Soon after 9:00 I'm in bed. We rode 47.6 miles today!
WEDNESDAY, JULY 13
I wake up at 6:30 after nine hours of badly needed sleep. We don't seem to have gotten very far south from Amsterdam. All that winding along beside canals, often fighting headwinds, slowed us down. The tents are again wet from the heavy dew but not as much as yesterday. This morning we're on the road by 9:00 with most of us perching gingerly on our bike seats. Almost everybody has something which is stiff or sore this morning. Andrea's wrists are not used to this work and several necks need practice in holding up helmets. We haven't been training for this expedition so it is normal that we have some initial pains.
Along the River Lek we watch big self-propelled barges going up and down. Going upriver they're full and coming down they're empty. It looks like a lot of petroleum is moving upriver. It's very overcast this morning with a few drops of rain but not too much before we're well on the road. It's overcast, misty and very humid.
After a little riding it gets even wetter as a light rain starts to fall. We don our raincoats and go on. It's wet country. We keep on going through little towns, beside canals, wet, wet, wet. We cross many fields where the entire countryside smells of manure. We pass fields with enormous greenhouses, entirely covering some fields. Ben notices people building more, and asks if I think they cover their fields this way every time it rains. It really looks like they're trying to cover that field entirely with glass. Beyond the River Lek we cross the Waal and then the Maas rivers, continuing south and slightly east.
In the town of South Hertogenbosch Andrea buys a new camera to replace her broken Kodak disk camera. She now has a nice pink one plus a few rolls of 110 film and is prepared for photogenic Europe. We find a post office attached to a supermarket and buy three stamps plus an "airmail" sticker for each postcard. We find a little outdoor zoo and ride our bikes past fenced-in deer, stopping for a close look at a lovely little buck with velvet antlers.
Now I'm having trouble with my front wheel. It definitely isn't working right. I try tightening the spokes and fiddling with the bearing adjustments but none of this works. The crunching noises get so bad that I just have to stop and take the bearings completely apart. The new cone I installed a week before the trip is grinding up the ball bearings. Fortunately I brought along the old one as a spare so I put it back in along with a few new bearings and some new grease. This works fine and we hope that fixes the problem for good.
We stop for lunch and get hamburgers that have been deep fried plus a huge plate full of mayonnaise. My camera lens is broken. Something inside rattles and the lens aperture doesn't change when it should. Now I can only take pictures on very bright days. I start looking for small screwdrivers so I can open up the lens and (I hope) tighten up whatever is loose in there. I need a tiny Phillips head screwdriver but none of the stores have one small enough.
Nina really wants to get to Eindhoven tonight but about 7:30 we get to Boxtel and see a campground right beside the bike path. We outvote her and stop for the night. Here we find some interesting fellows from the north of Holland on a motorbike tour for their holiday. They're making slow progress. They say they've only gone 80 kilometers in the past two days because their machines keep breaking down. The only things they've really got working are their right arms, as they lift a steady procession of beer cans to their mouths. A few come over to chat as we set up our tents. Their English is perfect, thanks to their schools and clear reception of the BBC from across the Channel. They enjoy our accents and mimic our "Merican" way of talking. These friendly fellows tell us the best route through Belgium to Luxembourg, a route they claim avoids big hills.
We move into our tents for dinner because the light rain is falling again. Our feast includes bread and cheese, fresh plums, more German table wine, ham, liverwurst, and a chocolate spread the kids have discovered goes well on crackers. They even dip pretzels into the chocolate spread. This doesn't entice Nina or me but the girls love it. We get to bed early, planning an early start in the morning. Our new friends from North Holland stand together in front of their tents with a clear plastic sheet over their heads to keep the rain off, drinking beer until late. Today we rode 49.8 wet miles.
THURSDAY, JULY 14
Rain on the roof doesn't sound good, so we sleep late and don't get out of the tents until 8:30. For breakfast we try some yogurt drink which is too sweet for any of us to enjoy. Breakfast is cheese and bread again. Ben is getting tired of this diet, and determines to look for something better in the grocery stores. I have some good cereal but not everybody eats this and I have half a liter of milk left over. I give this to a nearby campsite full of kids and parents. We leave the campground in the rain and notice that the motorbike riders aren't out of their tents yet. The road toward Eindhoven is beautiful, flat and straight.
Eindhoven is a classy city. We find a telephone box and Andrea calls her parents. They don't sound very happy to hear from her. Their response is something like "Oh, it's you. We're sleepy. Glad you're OK." Next time Andrea will try to catch them at a better time. It's raining fairly hard and we're glad to get off the bikes and under shelter for a while. I search for small screwdrivers, unsuccessfully.
At the next town south we stop to buy a couple of spoons and a knife for spreading things. There's a cafe across the street which looks nice so we decide to have lunch there, out of the damp. They serve us omelets, REAL hamburgers for the girls, and Ben indulges in schnitzel and fries. It's all delicious. It reminds us of a real English pub. Some people sit inside where it's warmer. Nina spots a bank across the street and goes over to cash some Traveler's Checks, getting mostly Belgian money in return. Soon we'll be crossing the border! Leaving the cafe we feel much better. It has stopped raining and soon we have the pleasure of taking off our raincoats.
We proceed directly south and enter Belgium at 4:00. We're on a nice bike path a bit away from any road and there is no barrier or customs house so we simply ride across the border. We're a bit worried about our status as "illegal immigrants" but figure there must be a customs house up ahead. Surely we'll see a sign directing us to it. We get off the bike path at Achel and ride into town to a supermarket where we stock up. We aren't always sure what we're buying. Hilary and Andrea come out with two bottles of lemon concentrate which they thought was ready to drink. On the whole we manage pretty well. It is an experience buying things with Belgian Francs. My bill is close to 500 and Nina's is nearly 700.
When we come out of the store it's beginning to rain again. We put on our raincoats and head toward Bree. Coming out of Bree we have navigational trouble. The map I am using is of the Netherlands and doesn't have good details of Belgium. Nina has a Belgian map but hers doesn't correctly show the roads leading out of Bree either. We make a couple of false starts and finally end up down in Meeuwen-Guitrode. From there we cut back east to the road we want to be on toward Opglabbeek. The rain is getting us down.
We're heading toward Maastricht which is way down in the bottom tail of the Netherlands. An old city and quite nice, we've been told. We'd like to get close before we camp. Then we see a camping sign quite near the road and that's it. It's time to stop. This campground's name seems to translate into something like "kiddie wonderland." They have all sorts of little kid toys, games, swings, etc. There are just two spots left according to the person in the office. We look, and one of those spots has a car parked on it. The other has a tent already but we squeeze in our three tents anyhow and go to bed after 50.3 soggy miles.
FRIDAY, JULY 15
In the morning it's only dripping a little as we hit the road. It's a little rainy, a little damp and kind of miserable. We stop at a bike shop and buy new toe-clips for Hilary. We head towards Maastricht. We are all hoping the damp and rainy weather will end soon.
About noon we're riding through a little town which has gutters built into the street paving. We ride between the cars and the gutter. I make a mistake and my front wheel starts sliding into the gutter. The cement is slick with rain so the tire slides quickly down and I am thrown onto the pavement. Hilary is following close behind so runs over me and also crashes. The others manage to stop OK. The only real damage is to my left knee which is badly scraped. A little first aid treatment and we're pedaling again.
We cross the border from Belgium into the Netherlands at a place which has a customs station. We're anticipating questions but nobody stops there except the big trucks which probably have to declare their cargo. Now it's clear that the border between these countries is quite open.
We enter Maastricht in the rain and wind up and down toward the center of the city. Finally it's all downhill as we drop into the valley of the river Maas. (The river's name is different in Belgium.) There are a couple of big old churches, a huge open square, and lots of fancy cafes overlooking this scene. We contemplate eating in one of these cafes but Ben says he doesn't want to go into them. He doesn't think we're dressed appropriately. We are wet, muddy, and look like campers, while the cafes look pretty snazzy. We ride up past the old cathedrals where nobody wants to stop even to climb the tall tower and continue on out of Maastricht in the rain, looking for a modest cafe where we can eat lunch.
We follow the river south (upriver) on the east side. Just before the Belgian border we hit the little town of Eijsden which looks like the place to eat. It's a lovely town but of course it's still raining. The pubs and cafes seem to be closed. Eventually we find a bar that's open and go in. A bunch of men are talking around the bar and some are playing pool in the back room. We sit at a table and order coffees, hot chocolate and soups. The bartender doesn't speak any English but we manage to order these things well enough. We're leaving a big puddle on the floor but the warmth is nice. The radio is quite loud and it sounds like a live broadcast from the Tour de France. We can't understand anything but the name Jean Francois Bernard is repeated about 18 times in 2 minutes so I guess he must have won today's stage. Back out in the rain we go to a few little stores for groceries. I finally buy a little screwdriver which may do the job on my lens.
We cross the Belgian border and approach Liege. This is a lovely old city. We notice an opera house and pass many other big old buildings as we ride right through the heart of Liege on wide boulevards. But it's raining and we really want to find the train station and arrange a trip out of this rainy country. Ben says he's about ready to return to Amsterdam Airport and take the next flight back home. We all understand. Finally we arrive at the station at 9:00 PM. The next train to Paris leaves at 1:31 in the morning. We decide that is good enough. We'll just stay up, get on that train and see if we can escape the rain.
After attempting to communicate with the baggage people we take all our packs off the bikes and give them bare bikes as baggage. We have some food with us so we sit down in the hallway and eat pate, drink a bottle of wine, have some juice, crackers, and all kinds of things. Some rude people from a bar warn us that the police will arrest us for sleeping there so we move into the waiting room where it's warmer. It's a long wait. Finally the moment comes for us to lug all our stuff onto the train and scramble for seats.
Nina lucks out. Her compartment has six seats (three facing three), and after the first stop it has only two people. She stretches out across her three with her sleeping bag on top and sleeps soundly. The rest of us are together with two other guys in a full compartment. The seats are fairly cushy but we don't sleep very well. When we cross into France the authorities make us pay an extra fee because we have only third-class tickets and are in a first-class car. This has the feel of a standard tourist rip-off but we pay the little extra without too much protest. Today's ride was 46 totally rainy miles.
SATURDAY, JULY 16
We arrive in Paris at 6:50 in the morning. By this time the train is quite full. We get off at Gare Nord, lugging all our stuff out and piling it on the platform. Now the trick is to get our bikes back. We follow the cart driven by baggage monkeys all the way across the station to the baggage claim area, claim our bikes, and bring them all the way back to load them up. By this time it is getting close to 8:00 when the information office opens. We need to find out about campgrounds so we wait. We didn't realize the importance of getting in line early so by the time I join the line it's half-an-hour long already. Finally I get maps and directions to the Bois de Bologne, apparently the best place to camp for a visit to Paris.
The campground is on the southwest side of town so we have to ride our bikes across a good part of Paris. As we leave the station it's a little damp and cool, so we wear our raincoats. It isn't raining, but seems damp, and there are very low clouds. I'm not sure which way to go and the street signs seem to be invisible. It takes me a while to understand that the street names are just painted on the corners of the buildings. There are a lot of one-way streets and this also impairs my navigation. Now we're climbing up a steep hill and discover that Sacre Coeur is on top. We decide to go up and see it. It's gorgeous, when we finally get there, all white with round Roman arches. It was built in the 1890s and is truly magnificent. There's a huge painting inside, up front on the curved ceiling over the altar. The view from the hill is wonderful though we don't have a sparkling clear day.
The ride down from this hilltop is interesting. We ride down steep winding roads which remind me somewhat of San Francisco. We encounter a couple of dead ends which force us to back up and wind down another way. Finally we hit the flatland and start cruising straighter roads, but still wander only approximately in the right general direction. We come to a beautiful shopping arcade. The street is closed to autos and people are strolling among the sidewalk vendors from store-to-store. We stop here for some snacks: sandwiches on long, thin, "French bread" loaves, plus cans of Coke. Not bad though the Cokes are a bit pricey. This gives us energy enough to resume our trip to the campground.
We ride right to the Arc de Triomphe. They're doing some repair work on it and it is completely swathed in some sort of cloth. The cloth is painted blue, white, and red so it appears to be a gigantic French flag. I wonder if it's colored just for Bastille Day (two days ago). The traffic situation here is pretty bad. There are no lanes marked on the pavement and it's a huge, wide circle. About ten roads empty their cars into this circle. Ben almost gets run over by a tour bus. We barely survive riding around to our road away from the circle.
From the Arc de Triomphe to the Bois de Bologne is a pleasant ride. The route is easy to follow and passes lovely parks and grand buildings. The campground is tucked up against the River Seine on the edge of the woods. It's an incredible place to camp because there are so many campers. At every hour people are lined up trying to get in and they pack the campground thickly with tents and trailers of every description. Every available corner is filled before the night arrives and many tents are pitched on tiny gravel-covered spots. It's an amazing scene but these people are pretty friendly and everybody seems to get along. We have to pay for three separate "tent sites" (two people per site) so it costs us more than a bus with five people which gets a hookup with electricity and water. Oh well, it's cheaper than the Ritz.
We're pretty tired after waiting up for the train, riding to Paris, and then traversing all those city streets, so we don't do much but rest. Nina and I take everybody's dirty clothes and ride toward a laundromat which is supposed to be nearby. Unfortunately, we don't take the bridge to Suresness but go farther and cross the river into St. Cloud. As we start up the hill Nina's rear dérailleur breaks in half. We think the laundromat must be near so we search. Nina is now pushing her bike while I'm riding up and down hills looking for the place. I finally stop and get Nina's bike working in one gear but the dérailleur obviously must be replaced. We continue searching St. Cloud for a laundromat, riding up and down hills. One street even has a sign announcing a 12% grade. We never find a laundromat but do discover some lovely shops. We buy bread at a Patisserie, wonderful pate (both goose and duck!) at a Boulangerie, two 18 franc bottles of wine and some great cheese. It's so warm that Nina is wearing her sun dress for the first time.
When we get back at the camp the kids are just waking up after a few hours nap and we all enjoy a great Paris feast. The pate de canard with peppercorns is the very best we have ever had. We drink both bottles of wine, great stuff, and relax. It isn't raining and we declare our first day in Paris is a great success. We did 15 miles of pedaling.
SUNDAY, JULY 17
The kids are sleeping late while Nina and I get up and ride to the laundromat in Suresness. Our directions are more accurate this time and we're there by 9:00. We are temporarily baffled by the machine which takes money and gives tokens but an amused young lady shows us the trick. While the clothes spin we sit at a table outside sipping good strong coffee from the cafe next door. We're back at camp with clean clothes before noon.
Now its time to go sightseeing! We buy a set of ten one-way bus tickets for the shuttle between the campground and the Metro station. At the Metro station we buy two-day passes for each of us. These are little tickets which we slip into slots near the turnstiles and which pop back up on the other side of the gate for us to retrieve. We see some people passing their tickets back to others, so one ticket can admit an army but that's certainly illegal. Armed with this ability to hop on and off the trains all we want for two days, we head for the Louvre.
Everybody seems to know that the Louvre has free admission on Sunday because the place is packed. We spend a couple of hours wandering among the art treasures. We try to get near the Mona Lisa but have great difficulty with the mob. This painting is covered by glass and we can see that it needs protection. A guard stands beside it and there's a huge sign above which says "No Flash Photography Allowed." Despite this, someone fires a flashbulb about every 30 seconds and the guard screams at them. Taking a break on the balcony, we see I.M.Pei's celebrated glass pyramid still under construction in the center courtyard. The kids have seen enough painted canvases for one day so we exit into the Garden of the Tuilleries and wander through flowers under the shade trees admiring all the sculptures. We walk all the way up to the Place de la Concorde where the Champs Elyssee starts. There we hop on the Metro and ride to the Eiffel Tower station.
Walking toward the tower we pass a huge wall painting which has a picture of everybody famous (so far) in the twentieth century. We enjoy the Eiffel Tower more than expected. Eiffel was quite an inventor who dabbled in all kinds of things. We ride the elevator to his great view of Paris. Near the top he had a private room where he entertained guests. Now there's a wax likeness of Eiffel entertaining Thomas Edison there. I am surprised to find that I am not scared on the tower. It is high but gives a feeling of strength and security which overcomes my acrophobia. It is rock-solid, and does not sway. We take pictures of Paris in every direction. Back on the ground the kids insist on photoing me beside Eiffel's statue because they see a likeness. It must be the beards. Leaving the tower we cross the Seine and wander past the fountains, sculptures and palaces on the other side. The sun is setting and we get some good photos of the tower. Now we decide to return to camp, get a good night's sleep, and get up early for a big sightseeing day tomorrow. The laundry trip gave us a total of 3 miles today.
MONDAY, JULY 18
We wake up much refreshed about 9:30. This campground is so crowded that we have to wait in lines to take showers and the water is often cold. We are on the bus by 11:20, which isn't super-early but is OK. We go first to the Jeaux de Pomme, the famous Impressionist art museum. Unfortunately, it is closed for restoration and although some of the paintings have been transferred to other museums they are all closed on Monday. Too bad, we'll have to see the Impressionists on another trip.
Hilary buys a sweatshirt near the Louvre. Hilary has a list of things she wants to see and one is the Bastille so we hop back on the Metro and head for la Place de la Bastille. Of course there's no Bastille there any more but there is a tall column with a sculpture on top in the center of the traffic circle. It's somewhat disappointing but we've seen it. We hop around town, checking off things on Hilary's list. Hotel de Ville is a wonderful old building covered with sculpture with a great plaza on the side. We cross the Seine to the island where Notre Dame flies its buttresses. We are forced to run the gauntlet of t-shirt and souvenir shops and, of course, we all buy things.
Now the girls want to shop more so Ben and I leave them and look for a camera repair shop. We walk down the Rue de Rivoli for quite a ways but the shop we finally find is not interested in trying to repair my lens. On the way back we stop at what seems to be the world's largest department store and I buy more little screwdrivers for an attempt at fixing it myself later. We meet the girls again near the Hotel de Ville and take them to the department store for more shopping. Nina and I sip coffee at a nearby outdoor cafe while the others browse.
A trip across town to the botanical gardens ends with us getting chased out at closing time by a whistle-blowing attendant. Right near the gardens we stop at an outdoor cafe advertising Pizza and try their version of one of our favorite foods. It's thin and seems more fried than baked. We wash it down with Coke, fast becoming our tour's official beverage. The going rate for a can of Coke is 10 francs (15 at a restaurant). We are embarrassed by an American at a nearby table who speaks no French but gets loudly annoyed at the waiter who does not understand that he wants a "BIG" beer. Nina is not interested in lousy French pizza so walks down the street to buy bread. She finds a patisserie but the people do not respond to her request for "pain." Perhaps she does not pronounce it to their satisfaction, perhaps they enjoy being rude to an American or perhaps she should specify "baguettes." She is frustrated and returns to the restaurant empty-handed.
The day ends with a visit to Paris's tiny version of the Statue of Liberty which sits on an island in the Seine. Then we Metro back to the bus stop but somehow get confused and aren't sure we'll ever find the bus. It's getting late enough to see flashy-looking young women taking up strategic waiting places along the roadside. Finally we find our bus and get back to the campground to rest our tired feet and backs.
TUESDAY, JULY 19
Ben, Hilary, and Andrea decide to see Paris for one more day. Nina and I decide to skip the sightseeing and concentrate on getting her dérailleur fixed, repairing my camera, and shopping for food. So we split up and the kids ride the bus back to the Metro. They discover a way to beat the high price of Metro tickets. They buy the cheapest possible ticket (to the nearest stop) but keep on riding. Nobody checks tickets once you're on the train.
Nina and I go back near the laundromat to "Cycles Eric" where Eric himself installs and adjusts a new dérailleur. It isn't fancy but should be reliable enough. Eric speaks English and is very nice to us. I mail our 38 postcards and send several rolls of film to Vermont Prints. A postcard costs 4 francs 20 centimes for airmail to the U.S. so we run up a fair bill. At the supermarket we buy a bottle of the cheapest red wine and a bottle of the cheapest white. Each costs about 7 francs which is cheaper than a can of Coke. We want to test our tolerance for really cheap French wine.
After a leisurely lunch back at the camp I try to fix my camera. I struggle and struggle but can't get all the screws out and am not sure what to take apart anyhow. The kids return from their adventure and we eat a good supper. Now everyone is ready to leave Paris, somewhat reluctantly since we've all had a good time here. We did 1.9 miles of riding today.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 20
By 10:00 we are fully packed and on the road to Versailles. We stop one more time at Cycles Eric where Ben gets new brake cables and Andrea gets a bolt for her rack. It's a busy road to Versailles without many bike paths but we arrive about 1:30 to discover a wonderful heap of stone! It was nothing but a king's hunting château until Louis XIV in the early 1700s decided to transform it into his palace.
We take the tour through the king's private quarters in the old part. It has white walls decorated with wooden carvings covered by gold leaf. The style of carving varies with the king. Louis XIV had his "Sun King" motif everywhere (except in his daughter's quarters where musical themes abound), Louis XV liked curves and counter-curves, and Louis XVI enjoyed a Greek Revival style. There are some paintings too, including some done in porcelain whose colors haven't changed at all over the centuries. Several paintings show battles and we guess that the king's role may be somewhat exaggerated in these paintings. There isn't much furniture because it was all sold at the time of the French Revolution to raise money for the country. Some has been returned because of today's considerable tax incentives.
Our guide speaks English with such an accent that Nina cannot understand anything. I grasp a little and enjoy the history lesson. The Opera is a marvel, fairly small, added late by Louis XVI. It is all made of beautifully painted wood, both to save money and to provide the best acoustics. After the hour and a half tour we are on our own to wander around the rest of this huge place. We see the Hall of Mirrors where the treaty ending World War I was signed. This is part of the State Offices which Louis XIV had built all around his private quarters to house his court and officers. The grounds are magnificent too, with sculpture everywhere and walkways extending out through the trees past huge man-made lakes. The scale of everything is really amazing.
We finally leave Versailles and ride out looking for a campground. The roads are pretty busy with few bike paths. We ride on the right edge of two lanes full of cars going in our direction and suddenly two more lanes merge from our right! We stop at the white-painted point in the middle of four lanes of cars, and decide to back up rather than ride route A10. Eventually we're wandering on smaller roads with Chartres as our next goal.
It's getting late and we don't see any campgrounds. I try my French on one fellow in a tiny town and he says we should camp on top of a nearby hill. This doesn't seem sensible to us so we ride on. Just a little further we find a picnic area and a super campsite just up the hill from it. It's a grassy clearing in the woods perfect for our tents. This setting is truly bucolic with a view out over an old farm which has a wall around its barnyard. There are horses neighing, roosters crowing, and a little town about half a mile away in the valley. Some people stroll through the woods apparently playing some kind of "hide-and-seek" game. Some children show us some notes on scraps of paper which must be clues but we shrug and they go away giggling. It's very quiet here, especially compared to the Paris campground. We sleep well, after 25.3 miles.
THURSDAY, JULY 21
It's Nina's birthday. We're very short of water and both Hilary and Andrea complain of slight headaches. It isn't raining but it has clouded up and looks ominous. We're riding at a decent hour with raincoats handy, just in case.
The way winds up and down through pretty little villages, rolling over hills and lovely valleys with lots of trees and fields. Our goal for today is the big cathedral at Chartres. We pass a nice château at Rambouillet where we get tangled up in the town's one-way streets and wind up riding quite a distance through the château grounds. We pass another big château at Matmont.
Now we enter wheat fields and the land flattens out. Ben is feeling terrible. His stomach is not right. It must be something he ate. He rushes into cornfields several times and finally starts feeling better. Then he gets a flat tire. It's definitely not Ben's day. We're now bucking a headwind and crossing the flats.
We see the cathedral when we're still pretty far away. It's up on top of a hill and its two tall, asymmetric towers stand out. It has a green roof which shines out across the fields to us. When we get to the town we lose sight of it behind other buildings but wind up some steep streets in the right general direction and finally arrive. It is big, built in the 12th century, and the architecture reminds us of the English cathedrals at Ely, York, and Salisbury. This has a lot of old sculpture on the outside, looking very worn and weather-beaten. Inside, the stained glass windows are beautiful. The main colors are deep dark blues, very lovely. The kids all buy postcards and look hard at t-shirts but don't buy any.
We ride down the east side of the hill away from the cathedral into the busy commercial section of town where we stop for supplies. Then we continue down to the bottom of the hill and out to a campground on the east side of town. This place only costs 54 francs, a pleasant change from Paris where we paid three times as much for each night. We set up our tents on a grassy space beside a thick hedge. The hot showers are free. One interesting feature is that the bathrooms are shared by both men and women. Hilary and Andrea take several walks around the campground and have fun flirting with some Dutch guys. They finally strike up a good conversation and that makes their day. This is one of the most exciting developments of the trip for them so far. The Dutch guys are bicycling towards Paris so we probably won't see them again but Hilary has two new addresses. Today we rode 36.7 miles.
FRIDAY, JULY 22
We head toward the main part of Chartres to cash Travelers Checks so we'll have money for the weekend. We ride up the hill near the Cathedral and find a big Post Office which provides us with Francs. The exchange rate is 6.05 so the dollar is gaining a bit in value. We mail films and postcards too. Today Nina is not feeling well.
We head south toward Orleans across the wheat fields. The road is fairly straight from Chartres through Patay and seems to be traveled by nobody but the local farmers. We ride through tiny little hamlets with one cafe each, and that only open part of the day. The wind is the most important factor on this route. The wind sweeps across the wheat fields, reminding Nina and me of the Dakotas. It must be the breadbasket of France. The wheat is ripe and farmers are in the fields with combines. On this route that's our primary entertainment. There are a few cornfields and a few sunflowers but wheat is the king. The wind is a real problem. We draft some since the wind is from the southwest and we're headed south. It's tough, hard riding.
We stop for coffee and Cokes at one tiny hamlet. It's just about noon and the farmers are coming in from their fields for their noontime shots of whiskey or whatever. They stand around the bar babbling fast French which we cannot understand. The lady proprietor serves us good black coffee and Cokes. Andrea calls her parents.
We arrive in Patay about 3:00 but it's the wrong time to get anything to eat. We stop at a closed cafe where the lady just waves her hands and points to her grill, closed down and cold. Then we try the hotel where the bartender is very accommodating. He decides he can serve sandwiches, which turn out to be plates full of ham, pate, salami, and bread. Of course the kids order Cokes too. After we finish that the bartender brings a big platter of several kinds of cheese. We really jump onto the goat cheese, having developed a real liking for the stuff. We even manage a little conversation with our host in our limited French. We come away feeling well fed.
We load our panniers with groceries in Patay since we aren't sure we'll get to Orleans in time to shop there. It's about 4:00 when we finish at both the supermarket and the bakery. Our bikes feel somewhat heavier as we trundle on down the road. We cross more wheat fields, pushing through the wind.
In the outskirts of Orleans we pass a military airfield with "Do Not Photograph" signs. We ride right past the end of a runway where a red light stops cars when planes are taking off or landing. The roads get busier and busier as we ride through suburbs toward the city. We don't have detailed maps and aren't too sure where we're going. We pass a place where farmers are bringing wagons full of wheat right from the fields for loading into big grain elevators. There's a mixture of farmers with little carts behind tractors, and giant trucks with professional drivers hauling big loads to mills, or somewhere. There's a big traffic jam which our bikes squeeze through more easily than the cars.
We stop at a bus stop which has a pretty good map of the city. That map shows a campground right beside the Loire River. We head that way, navigating mainly by guesses through a multitude of one-way streets. We finally arrive at a Municipal Campground run by a friendly, chubby chap and his wife. They charge the usual fee and we settle in for the night. It isn't a very large campground and is pretty full. The showers are hot and free, and the river flows just down the bank from our tents. It's the end of a nice day of riding, covering 57 miles. I indulge in a fragrant can of sardines for dinner. Nina first puts her hand in front of her nose and then moves away admitting that she doesn't like sardines very well. Today we biked 54.1 miles.
SATURDAY, JULY 23
It's a beautiful morning! We buy croissants from the campground operators for breakfast. Nina and I are also served coffee at a tiny table outside the office. The manager's wife makes a strong brew and serves it in tiny cups. Two cups and our eyes are wide open.
We ride toward the center of Orleans following the riverbank. I see a camera shop, "Orleans Camera," right near the end of an old bridge. I go in to see what they've got and come out with an Olympus OM-2 with an 80-200mm zoom lens at what seems to be a reasonable price. I'm in the photo business again and I'm really pleased. Everyone else is pleased too, perhaps because my camera problems caused extra stops for everybody.
Leaving Orleans, we see a path beside the river and swerve off the busy road. It's the towpath for the Orleans Canal. It's dirt but rideable so we ride it for about twenty miles. After all the highway riding the canal path is idyllic. There are lots of flowers and the houses which border the canal seem to have especially beautiful flower gardens. Even some of the bridges over the canal are hung with flower baskets. There are many people fishing with incredibly long poles. There are swans with cygnets and quite a few ducks. It's hot and we're really sweating as we ride so in one little town we stop for ice cream. It tastes great! This wonderful stuff comes in several great flavors in cones. The canal leads us away from the river, however, so finally we leave the canal and head back toward Châteauneuf and the Loire. We want to reach Sully today.
At Germigny des Pres we are astonished to find a little church which was consecrated in 806 during the reign of Charlemagne. This is the oldest building we've seen and is in good shape. There's a wonderful fresco inside the curved front which looks really old and there's some old worn, sculpture too. Lovely little place!
Leaving the church we start riding through a few raindrops. It has been so hot that the rain feels very good. Far ahead we see clouds over Sully - black with streaks of lightning. Now we get more rain and it's time to put on the raincoats. We select a path near an old Romanesque church in St. Benoit and get onto a high dike bordering the river. It's a lousy path but leads towards Sully.
We arrive at Sully in the rain and our first priority is groceries. Tomorrow is Sunday so we need to stock up tonight. We try one highway through a small town but find nothing and have to retrace our way. We cross the bridge by the château and enter the town of Sully itself where we do find groceries. When we return to the château it is too late for the tour. We missed the last one by 15 minutes. There is a campground right beside the château so we stop even though it's only 6:30, vowing to take the first tour at 9:00 in the morning.
Ben notices that his hat is missing. This nice tan hat has been on his head almost all the time when he wasn't wearing his bike helmet and he feels naked without it. He had it at the grocery store so he rides back there to see if it was dropped in some obvious place. No luck and we hypothesize that someone may have taken it from the bike parked outside the store. We set up camp in the field beside the château, right next to the fence beside the river. I stand my bike against a concrete fencepost, the loaded bike slips, and the top tube loses a considerable amount of the new paint I applied last winter. We set up the tents and make grinders with great long loaves of bread, stuffing them with vegetables and ham. They taste pretty good and are a nice change in our diet. Some other campers are playing boccie ball (petanque) in the dirt path. This is very popular all across France and they use heavy metal balls. We watch spectacular low clouds sweeping toward us from the west. They bring wind and rain but they are pretty.
The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra is giving a concert tonight in a big tent behind the château. Nina and I consider going but it seems like a big effort and we decide not to attempt getting dressed up and staying awake through the concert. The rain continues on and off with strong gusts of wind. Inside the big tent we all play cards with the deck the girls have been using all across Europe. On about the third hand of Michigan Rummy we guess that it isn't complete. On checking we discover that it is missing a couple of queens, a couple of twos, an eight and others. We laugh and decide to invest soon in another deck. Nina and I consume two bottles of really cheap Common Market wine, probably a mixture from all over Europe. It cost less than a dollar per bottle, doesn't taste very good, gives me the hiccups and has Nina laughing a lot. We walk over to the château and take photos of the lighted building at night. With my long lens I have to walk to the back edge of the huge lawn and then lie down in the wet grass to hold the camera steady enough for a slow exposure. By the time we get back to the tents Hilary is disgusted with our behavior and everyone crawls into dry beds to sleep. It's been a memorable day and we've traveled 41.8 miles too.
SUNDAY, JULY 24
We start trying to wake up at 8:00 to make the 9:00 tour of the château. Nina tries "pot cheese" for breakfast. She thought it was like cottage cheese but soon learns differently. It's sour and doesn't taste very good at all. She eats some but we decide not to carry it any farther. Ben and I try Bananel Comix cereal which turns out to be sweetened Puffed Wheat. We also have "raisin juice" in a box, which is pretty good. We finally get to the château at about 9:45 to take the tour.
Sully château is wonderful! It's a big old medieval fortress slowly transformed over the centuries into a more livable place. Sully was the chief minister of Henri IV, the king who conquered Paris and converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in order to keep the city, saying "Paris is worth a Mass." Sully bought this property in about 1602 and was responsible for much of its transformation to a fortified country place. It stayed in his family until the 1960s when the government bought it and started restoration. The wooden beams inside are approximately 2 feet by 3 feet and perhaps 50 feet long, made of fir, and each weighs several tons. Even on the third floor of the main building the floors are brick so those beams carry a lot of weight. The very top of the structure has an extremely pointed slate roof designed for defense against arrows as well as weather. This enormous weight is carried by an internal wooden structure similar to an inverted boat and considered a marvel of engineering. There is one suite of rooms still called the "King's rooms" because they always had to be prepared for a visit from him. We find the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra practicing inside the château so we get some music with our tour. We finally ride away from beautiful Sully at 11:30.
This part of the Loire valley has all kinds of farms. We see sunflowers, corn, dairies, many vegetables, and even a duck and goose farm (for pate, no doubt). One constant is that the roads are bordered by rows of tall trees, most with bark that makes me believe they are sycamores. They are definitely very pleasant colonnades to cycle through. It's a beautiful day with puffy white clouds in a blue sky and a breeze mainly from behind or from the left which doesn't bother us at all.
At Gien we see the old château and church from across the river. That's close enough because now it's an "International Museum of the Hunt," not a place where we want to spend an afternoon. So we stay on the south side of the river and stop for a nice lunch at a rather elegant (for us) hotel. We eat avocado with mayonnaise, and chicken for a change. At about 2:30 we see the lovely château St. Brisson perched high on a hill back from the river. It's good for a photo but too much trouble to visit. We're cruising along with a bit of tailwind on a pretty level road until we reach Chatillion sur Loire. This is a fairly large old town and we dodge the center only to find ourselves climbing up a long steep hill. Halfway up we pass a cafe where people are sitting outside drinking wine. They raise their glasses and shout "Allez, allez" as we grind slowly past.
At Belleville we buy yogurt and eat at a picnic table beside a canal. It's a beautiful spot with a pastoral view disturbed only by a huge nuclear power plant's cooling towers a few miles away. We've seen several of these today. At 4:30 we start following the canal. This one is well-maintained and relatively free of the lily pads which filled the Canal d'Orleans. Soon we see a riverboat with 6 or 8 people aboard, probably a family on a vacation cruise. They fly a Swiss flag. A lock-keeper helps them through a lock as we watch. They drop down a level and continue downstream.
The little towns we pass through show us lots of walls. The houses are right on the sidewalk, the windows are shuttered and fences fill the spaces between houses. The shutters are for privacy since they are closed on both the sunny and shaded sides of the street. The fences are solid but we get an occasional peek at a flower garden. In the afternoons when most shops are closed there is an almost unbroken wall on either side of us as we pass through a town.
In St. Satour we find a little patisserie open. The lady only has four loaves of bread left and we buy two. Now we are in good shape for supper later. As we leave the little town I stop to take a photo of an old building perched way up on top of a hill. As we go on we discover that the road is winding its way up to the top of this high hill and the village of Sancerre. Nina's back is really hurting after this climb and we're all very tired. From the top we see vineyards in every direction on all the hillsides. The town has a square in the middle and is evidently quite a tourist attraction. Three musicians entertain on strange cranked string instruments. Little wine shops advertise the local wines and provide souvenir boxes of red, white and rose wines for people to take home. I decide it's time we tried a bottle of better quality and invest in a 34 franc white.
Ben buys new sunglasses and the girls browse the t-shirt shops. There is no way to take a picture of the old château. The only photo of it on a postcard was taken from a plane. After spending an hour on top we coast down through vineyards back to the road beside the canal and head south. Now it's 7:45 and we're trying to ride another dozen miles to reach another big town which may have a campground.
We find a campground just outside La Charite sur Loire. This is a nifty little family-run place which costs us 27 francs to stay and an additional 4 francs per hot shower. I decide to skip the shower but everybody else is dying for one. The river is very small here. It may be low right now or perhaps this is just one branch of the main river. Some kids have built a mud bridge which Ben and I cross to explore the other bank.
Nina and I try the Sancerre wine for supper and are not impressed. We would have been just as happy with our usual 5 franc per bottle stuff. It's Sunday night so we're scraping the bottoms of our panniers for food. By the time we're done Nina's panniers have nothing but a jar of mustard. I still have cans of corned beef and sardines which aren't very popular. There's just half-a-loaf of bread left, which is tomorrow's "duck bread." The girls enjoy tossing bits of stale bread to ducks in the canals. The ride from Sully has been almost exactly 100 kilometers, 62.3 miles, and one of the nicest days of touring I've ever had.
MONDAY, JULY 25
We start getting up a little after eight. This morning the girls try chocolate croissants. The other campers are already in their bathing suits anticipating a hot day. Three cute little girls about six years old are wearing the skimpiest of monokinis. Somehow I had pictured topless French bathing beauties a little differently but these are cute. I volunteer to buy a suit like that for Hilary if she will wear it in public but she declines.
It's 10:30 before we're on the road. After two miles Hilary has a flat. This flat looks suspiciously like one she had before so we inspect the tire and rim carefully but see nothing wrong except for one little thorn which is almost all the way through the tire. We put the patched tube back in the tire but it doesn't hold air. There's another hole so we add another patch. After about ten yards she has another flat caused by a new hole. Now we're suspecting tire iron damage. With a third patch in place we finally proceed down the road but this cost us a whole hour.
We stop in Beathard to stock up on bread and other stuff for a picnic. We find a beautiful spot beside the canal just outside town. Nina says how wonderful grapefruit juice would taste right now and I surprise her by pulling some out of a pannier. The salubrious sandwiches taste great.
There are lots of beef cattle in the fields around here and they are all white. It's a cloudless, warm day with a slight headwind from the south. We're all putting on suntan lotion and worrying about sunburned arms. Hilary is having considerable trouble with the sun today and a rash is breaking out on her arms. She won't wear any of the shirts we have but is willing to shop for one if we find the right sort of store. We cross the Loire approaching Nevers and stop at a huge department store but it has no good long-sleeved shirts. We pass through busy streets and cross another bridge leaving the town. Now we're between the river and the canal again, beside another long line of huge old sycamores. It's very pleasant riding in the shade of these trees. A couple of miles farther on we realize Nina isn't with us. I ride back to meet her after a few minutes. She is upset that we didn't stop in Nevers so Hilary could find a shirt. I hadn't understood this and had led us straight through town and out the other side. We debate going back but decide finally to continue on. Now Andrea solves the biggest problem by offering one of her long-sleeved shirts to Hilary. This pink shirt is perfect. Now Hilary is well-protected from the sun although pretty warm in long pants and shirt.
We stop in the shade for a short break, and are met by a New Zealand couple bicycling in the opposite direction. They've been on the road for a couple of months riding from Frankfurt down through Austria and Switzerland. They're headed for Brittany and then six weeks in Britain. They are delighted to talk with us because we speak English! They say they're going bonkers with only each other to speak to in English. They tell us that the Swiss mountains are steep but the roads all follow the river valleys so bicycling is no problem. They consider the French hills tougher to ride. I guess we have that to look forward to.
We chug right along, and arrive at Decize just before six. We wanted to arrive in time to buy bread and other food. We see people carrying bread as we enter town but don't see any open patisseries. We head for the supermarket where we and are able to buy everything except bread. Crossing the bridge we enter the main part of Decize and find the municipal campground but still no open bread store. This campground beside the river has a pool but that closes too early for us. There's also a "nautical stadium" there on the river with many kayakers and canoeists staying at the campground. It's a little crowded and costs us 47 francs, about twice what we've gotten used to spending to camp, but this is a nice place with free hot showers.
As soon as we find our campsite, I leave and scour the town for bread but return empty-handed. This French system of fresh bread twice each day is great for people on regular schedules but is causing us some problems. I finally reserve a loaf of bread and five croissants at the campground store where I am told they can be picked up at 8:30 in the morning. Nina still has some German oat bread and she bought a box of crackers at the supermarket so we manage fine. The five franc bottle of wine from the supermarket tastes just as good as the 34 franc bottle we tried last night. Today's ride was 46.5 miles.
TUESDAY, JULY 26
I'm up in time to get the croissants and bread at 8:30. We breakfast on those plus a new kind of Swiss cereal which seems to be a mixture of granola and puffed wheat. We decide to do our laundry in this town, which is certainly large enough to have a laundromat. We stop at the Post Office to mail cards, and fill a box to be sent home with my broken camera, Andrea's film for her broken disk camera, a pair of Hilary's shoes, and some extra shirts. The French Post Office people have quite a time figuring out how to mail this box. I spend half-an-hour at the window filling out forms and watching them search through their manuals. After considerable consultation they even call another office to find out the correct procedures. Mailing a package to the U.S. is clearly a major undertaking. After considerable searching we conclude there is no laundromat in town. Some people take their clothes to a laundry to have someone else wash them, but we want to do our own. At noon we head out of town.
We ride back to the supermarket across the bridge and buy an extra bungee cord for Ben. He's been having trouble keeping his bedroll from slipping off the top of his rack and the added bungee cord seems to help greatly. Now we head down the road toward Dompierre just as everybody else stops work and the shops all close for lunch. There are no cars on the road and we ride peacefully through this gorgeous, cloudless afternoon. There's very little breeze and it's a wonderful day to be in France.
We roll into Dompierre very quickly. It's hot so we stop there for a cold drink. We pick up Cokes and some bread for supper, then roll out of town looking for a shady spot. Right near a fourteenth century château, hidden from us by trees, we stop in a tree-lined unpaved side road for a nice long picnic. At almost 5:00 we get back on the road and point our bikes toward Lapalisse. We pass several signs for fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth century châteaus, but all are off the road and we continue on after snapping photos. On one break we are admiring a huge barn and an ivy-covered house on a distant hillside when we see a crowd of bicycle racers zooming past it. Can't tell from here whether it's a race or just a club out practicing. The countryside is really gorgeous though there are hills. Finally at 6:45 we arrive at Lapalisse.
Our first stop in town is a major supermarket. We are in great need of drinks and Ben immediately grabs three big bottles of orange-colored stuff. We've had good experiences with cheap lemonade-flavored stuff and this looks similar. Outside we open a bottle and discover that this is unsweetened mineral water. It's 7 francs per bottle and wet so we'll drink it eventually. This supermarket also has bread, an unusual but fortuitous development.
There is one château at Lapalisse and it is worth the trip. This one really deserves the name "palace" because it is beautiful. There are nice fortifications on one side and a cliff above the river on the other. It looks like a beautiful place to live, with large carefully-tended gardens and big windows looking out over the town. We wander around the outside and admire an old fountain carved with a devil on one side and an angel on the other.
At the edge of town we find the municipal campground and stop for the night under gathering clouds. The wind picks up so we set up our tents in anticipation of rain. We have nice free hot showers and dine on vegetable-filled sandwiches. Hilary and Andrea plunge into some vanilla pudding while Ben and I have chocolate mousse and Nina stays away from all this sweet stuff. Tonight we have a 9 franc bottle of rose wine, lovely stuff. Today's ride was 52.2 miles.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 27
There's a little rain in the night but we stay dry. We are awakened at 8:30 by the honking bread truck, delivering to campers. Before starting out I decide to tune up my back wheel which has developed a wobble. When I look I find a broken spoke so it takes a while to make the repair. By 11:00 we're ready to leave. The main road south (N7) is not very wide and full of huge trucks so we take a side road. This soon has us going up and down hills. It's like Vermont, pretty country but hard work. A little after 1:00 we stop only about 10 kilometers from Lapalisse. We decide to mail some cards and some films in Arfeuilles. The lady in the post office of this little town doesn't know how to mail things to the U.S. at all. Finally a more experienced postal person returns from lunch and they have us fill out little Customs declarations saying that the packages contain films. We leave, hoping that our mail is going in the right direction. The pastry shop in town has some real treats and Nina tries her first pastries of the trip. Ben is tired from the hills and isn't feeling well today. He stretches out on the cement in front of the church and takes a nap while we're in the post office.
As we leave the town about 2:00 and head up the hill a bike racer whizzes down by us and says "good luck." It looks like another long hill. We stop at the top after two and one-half miles of climbing for a long lunch and nap break in a field. We finally get started again about 4:00 and after rounding just one corner we discover another uphill. Finally we reach the top and have an absolutely wonderful downhill ride for about a dozen miles. This hill is steep enough to coast without pedaling but not so steep that we have to brake. It's perfect, just winding down a lovely valley past fir trees, spruce trees, cool in the shade, and warm in the sun. Ben swallows a bug, creating a momentary pause in the descent, but soon we're coasting again. At the bottom is a little town with a patisserie where we get bread and a Co-op food store where we replenish our other supplies. We stop at the public toilet in the town square but it smells so bad that one has to be pretty desperate to use it.
From there it's still slightly downhill to Roanne. On our map it appears to be just a crossroads but it turns out to be a busy little city on the Loire. We cross the river and start winding along small roads towards Amplepuis. It's getting dark now and we're climbing more hills. Nina is really hurting - both knees and back. We'll stop at the first campground, but there isn't one. We finally pull into a field about ten kilometers from Amplepuis where tents are hidden from the road by a thin screen of trees. There's a pretty stream with a little waterfall there beside the road, and on the nearby tracks the trains race past all night. It's the first time we haven't found a campground and we're all wondering if this is OK. We put up our tents about 9:30. Ben is most skeptical about staying here. He's sure some farmer will come and shoo us out. We sleep peacefully though we're a bit chilly which is unusual. Today we traveled 49.7 miles which, considering the hills, was impressive.
THURSDAY, JULY 28
Ben wakes us all up at 6:30 this morning. This is unusual because he's generally the last one to start moving in the morning. We move out by 7:30 before eating breakfast. We stop soon in a small hotel where we get black coffee, Pepsi, and orange juice. The latter comes in concentrated form together with a big jug of water so you can dilute it to your own taste. The hotel bathroom is wonderful - so much better than the woods or the public facilities we've found lately. The girls seem particularly happy to be able to actually sit instead of standing over a hole.
It's a bit chilly this morning but the sky is cloudless and we're sure the sun will warm us up soon. We stock up on groceries at the Amplepuis supermarket. We head out of town on a truck route (D8) only to find that it goes uphill for a long time, all the way up to "Le col de Sauvage" 723 meters (2553 feet) above sea level. We take a few rests on the way up and see a couple of bike racers getting in some mountain training. It's 11:15 when we start down the other side. Some mornings we're still in camp at this hour but today we've already crossed a pass.
Tarare turns out to be a bustling city. We ride right into the heart of town, park our bikes, and dash into a bank two minutes before it closes for lunch at 12:00. We change some Travelers Checks into francs and have money in our hands just too late to enjoy the big open-air market which also closes at noon. I run around to find a better map of the area but encounter mostly closed shops. Finally I buy a good map of the area between Lyon and Geneva and return to the bikes happy. Since everybody in town has stopped for lunch we ride out on the main highway toward Lyon (N7) and find a bike path starting at the edge of town. This is a rare treat in France!
The bike path disappears after less than a mile and we're riding on a four-lane highway. Now the road turns to just two lanes without much shoulder and if most of the truck drivers weren't at lunch this would be a very dangerous road. It's still pretty scary and we're glad to get off onto B238, a much more relaxing road. I see three boys playing around the edge of a farm pond with a church in the background and can't resist snapping a photo. We stop at a shady bend in the road for lunch. Passing trucks throw little stones at us while we eat because the road is newly paved. There are vineyards on the hillsides all around and we know we're in good wine country. After lunch we work our way up and down long rolling hills and, unfortunately, find that the paving crew is still working on this road. The road is covered with tiny stones and riding is very difficult. Until we finally pass the pavers it's like riding on ice - very tricky.
We're approaching Lyon, the second largest city in France, and have the double problem of avoiding heavy traffic and avoiding hills. There are plenty of both in this area and I pick roads which have one or the other or both. We need a better navigator. We're tired by the time we see the city from a high viewpoint. Then we see a sign for camping and information and decide to go that way. This leads us up another long hill but finally brings us to the "Port de Lyon" campground. It's early and we aren't sure we want to stop but we are told this is not only the closest campground to the city but on the side closest to all the tourist attractions. We stay.
There are two washing machines which we immediately fill with dirty clothes, and do more clothes by hand. There are no dryers so we string bungee cords among the trees around our tents and hang up our wet clothes. Nina and I share a load of clothes which has turned blue and we don't know why. The only real casualty is Nina's nice white sweater which is now a nice blue sweater. The rest of the things are acceptable.
A fellow from Canada named Brice LaFontaine camps next to us. He is taking a year to cycle around Europe on his mountain bike. His home is in Hull so he speaks good English and good French too. We have two bottles of wine with dinner which is probably one too many. We vow to ration ourselves to just one per night for the rest of the trip. Today's ride was about 45 miles, (partially estimated because the odometer stopped working for a while).
FRIDAY, JULY 29
We decide to spend today visiting the old city of Lyon and camp at the same place tonight. It's rainy this morning so we sleep until after 11:00. Slowly we get ready and finally leave the campground on unloaded bikes. The kids all enjoy the novel sensation of traveling light. I pick a route which seems to go up every hill on this side of the city. We don't have a good map of the city so I'm navigating mainly by "dead reckoning." I'm trying to reach Fourviere, the big church built in 1890 on the hill above the old city. On the way, we discover the old Roman amphitheater, and wander down and up its steps in light rain. Since it's wet outside we browse through the adjacent Franco-Roman Museum too. There are lots of artifacts from the ancient city, Lugdunum, which was the capital of Roman Gaul. Eventually we find the church and see the towers at its four corners, the curved Roman arches inside and all the elaborate decorations.
After a steep downhill the old city below is a bit of a disappointment. There are many Renaissance buildings from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries and no new ones. They've kept the old buildings but it's really just a big, busy city with traffic everywhere and not many tourist attractions. Brice, the Canadian we talked with last night, passes us on his bike in company with a woman who cycled into camp alone last night. They are touring the city together today. Everyone agrees that this isn't a wonderful city and we probably won't come back now that we've seen it once.
We stop at a bike shop where Ben gets new toe-clips and straps. Then it's back up to the campground, stopping at a steak place on the way where our meat is grilled over an open wood fire in front of us. At the campground Ben and I have a ping-pong match. Turning on the lights in the ping-pong room wakes up the bum who sleeps there. He waits politely while we play and then points to the lights when we leave indicating that he wants them turned off. Ben washes his laundry tonight and hangs it inside on racks in the laundry room. It dries better there than our still-damp clothes outside. Our raincoats have been on and off all day and we have ridden 20.5 miles.
SATURDAY, JULY 30
It's time to get out of Lyon. It takes a while to get started this morning but at last everything is on the bikes and we cross over the nearby highways and start down toward the river Rhone. We ride a ways on the big N7 highway and finally turn off onto a wonderful smooth little road which winds down through a shady valley. This is a very pleasant relief from traffic until a car on an intersecting road honks as we approach. I swerve, Ben stops, Hilary swerves off the road and Andrea's front tire hits Ben's back tire pretty hard. Ben's wheel is badly bent, and looks like BIG trouble. There's no harm in trying to straighten it, and luckily it pops back into shape when we exert force in the right spots. It's good enough to ride on, though it wobbles a bit.
The road now narrows even more and dives down a steep hill. Andrea and Hilary both hit a huge pothole. Andrea's water bottle flies out of its cage but she only loses water. Hilary's back tire (the same old patched tube) goes flat and needs to be fixed again. This road is so narrow in some spots that cars have to back up when they meet. Finally we reach the bank of the Saone River, follow it upstream a couple of miles and cross over, heading away from Lyon.
The problem now is the big hill separating the Saone from the Rhone, which we need to cross at some point. I first choose a road which goes uphill to a quick dead end. The second try is better and we climb gradually up to the top where we stop for a picnic across the road from the local dump. Up on top it's garden country where cabbages, cauliflowers, corn, wheat, and other things are growing. It's pretty flat and there are a lot of other cyclists up here wearing cycling clothes and riding racing bikes. Some look like they're just out for a little exercise and others look like racers in training.
A small car containing four young fellows makes several slow passes near our young ladies and Hilary responds with waves and shouts. She is excited enough to pedal very fast and soon leaves the rest of us behind. She passes the stopped car one more time and then starts down the hill to the river, still at a high rate of speed. One corner is too sharp and she flies over the handlebars to crash headfirst into an enormous stump. We are all badly shaken but the only injuries are a scratch on her neck and many bruises. She takes two Tylenol and sits still for quite a while before climbing back on her bike.
Now it's downhill to Montluel where we stop in the middle of town and run from store to store stocking up before they all close for the weekend. We hit the bakery, cheese shop, a small grocery, and finally a supermarket where we top off our loads with mayonnaise in tubes. We cross the Rhone on the old Pont Jean, follow the east bank for a while and then cross back farther upstream. We're looking for a campsite as we follow the river northeast. We pass close by a huge nuclear power plant with four reactors and four cooling towers. On the opposite side of the river there are spectacular cliffs but our side is quite flat. That probably won't last too long. We're riding into a steady headwind out of the north. The wind is annoying and makes crossing this flat land very difficult. After an hour and a half we break for yogurt and chocolate pudding. Nina shares her special pastry which has many layers plus vanilla pudding in the center and frosting on top. This tastes terrific and gives Nina so much energy that she takes the lead into the wind, charging across the flat towards the next little town. The girls start singing again as they ride.
At 8:30 we reach St. Sorlin where the cliffs come down to the left side of the river too. Now there are high white cliffs all around as we proceed up the valley. St. Sorlin is a beautiful little town carved right into the cliff edge. The river bends more east, even a bit south of east, and the wind is now at our backs. We ride through cornfields with a long line of tall trees bordering the road. At Sault-Brenaz we stop to visit the very nice public water-closet. Riding out of town we see evidence of two local industries. There are piles of logs, including some enormous ones which must be four feet in diameter. There are also piles of rock. They are taking down their cliffs, sawing them into blocks and sheets, and selling them as marble.
As we pass the turn to Villebois we see a camping sign but aren't sure where we should turn. We continue on to Serrieres and ask four women walking in the dusk about the nearest campground. After considerable discussion among themselves in rapid French they tell us to go back 5 kilometers to Villebois. We retreat and for the first time this trip I use my tail-light to warn overtaking cars of our presence. We arrive at the campground at 10:00, just about dark. After setting up our tents we eat supper in the dark. It still tastes good. We rode 60.6 miles today, which is astonishing because at 7:30 we had only done 38 of them.
SUNDAY, JULY 31
It's just two weeks until we are to fly home from Amsterdam. Everybody slept late this morning. I finally got up about 9:00, ate breakfast, and rode into town to pick up some extra croissants and some additional bottles of Coke and lemonade. It's going to be another clear, hot day. About 11:00 we're on the road, retracing our route to Serrieres.
This morning we have a problem which has become familiar on this trip. There are no garbage cans in which to dump our trash. We have to bundle it into a bag and carry it along. The little towns don't have any trash cans. The parking turnouts on the highway don't have any trash cans. We can't figure out what the French people do with all their garbage.
We see vineyards with grapevines growing out of surprisingly stony soil. The grapes are growing well and are very green. There are also fields of wheat and various kinds of fruit orchards. At 1:00 we stop for a snack beside "La Cascade," a beautiful waterfall. The girls finish their bread and jam while Ben and I eat yogurt. It's a pleasant break in the cool shade with mist from the falls. The day is hot and humid and we're going slowly uphill all the time.
We stop to eat at a boat launching ramp. The girls dangle their feet in the big, fast-flowing Rhone, and we watch five people launch a rubber raft and roar away upstream. Later we buy bread in Belley and Ben picks up a staple in his tire. Of course I have to put the tube in twice before both holes are patched. Then we pass "Le Grande Columbier," a peak of 1534 meters beside the river, with a hang glider spinning lazy circles in front of it. It's a beautiful afternoon but hot.
Anglefort is a small town but it has a store that's open at 6:30 on a Sunday night. We buy a tremendous amount of food and pack our panniers. A couple of locals start talking to us outside the store and one explains that he is Portuguese and his friend is Spanish. They are amazed to learn where we're from. The Portuguese disappears into the adjacent house and emerges with a bottle of white wine which he presents to us. It looks homemade and is a gift "from one foreigner to others" he says. We are overwhelmed and thank him profusely. Suddenly he insists that Ben and I go with him into his house. We go, somewhat reluctantly but trying to be polite.
The entry is through a dirt-floored shed lined on one side with cages of big brown rabbits. There's a tiny courtyard in the middle of the house, and a door off this leads into a genuine wine cellar. There's a press, a vat about eight feet in diameter, and quite a few wooden casks around the windowless walls. He immediately pours glasses of red wine for Ben, me, and himself from one of the casks. A big old French fellow comes in and he soon has a glassful too. Our conversation is pretty limited but I scrape my memory for data about Greg Lemond and we almost carry on a conversation about the Tour de France. Ben isn't a wine drinker and this stuff is a little sour but he politely sips away. When we're nearly done, we are told to drink up, and then our glasses are refilled. A home remedy for Ben's wart is explained - something involving hot salt but the instructions are hard to follow. The Portuguese man has lived in this same town for 38 years and still thinks of himself as a foreigner. He speaks French perfectly but still has trouble writing it.
It is impossible for us as foreigners to escape until we each have consumed three glasses of wine. Finally we insist on going outside where the others have been waiting. I hurry the two girls up the hill and escape but Ben and Nina are a little slower to get started. They are unable to turn down additional glasses of wine which the Portuguese quickly brings outside. He is disappointed that three of us have disappeared already but that gives Ben and Nina a reason for leaving soon to catch up. This is a record for Ben - four glasses of red wine in one day - and it is well that a campground is not far up the road.
We camp in the daylight, which is a good change from the night before. Nina and I drink the Portuguese white wine, which has the same slightly sour quality as the red but is still drinkable. By this time I've had a lot of wine, get the hiccups, and go to bed. Today's ride was 48.5 miles.
MONDAY, AUGUST 1
We get up at the respectable hour of 8:00, take cold showers and load the bikes. We camped just before the big town of Seyssel, and we soon stop there at a tiny bike shop. Hilary gets a new toe-clip to replace a broken one and Ben gets a water bottle. Then we discover that the main street and main square are filled by an open-air market so we shop there for lunch. Nina buys some of the dried sausage she's wondered about in supermarkets. She isn't sure she'll like it but buys half a hunk saying that good mustard can be liberally applied if necessary. We fill our panniers with food and look at other goods but don't buy much. This is a big market, even attracting a few tour buses.
We finally ride out of Seyssel following 992 up the east bank of the Rhone. We soon leave the Rhone to follow a little tributary. We know it'll be uphill for a while but expect the downhill will be good. This route is a short cut toward the gap in the mountains where the Rhone and the big roads cross the French-Swiss border. The biggest road goes through a tunnel there so there must be a mountain ridge along the border. The uphills get tougher as we go and we spend hours slowly grinding our way up into the French foothills of the Alps. It's a beautiful road through sparsely settled farming country. The day is hot and bright. We take a long break at a tiny village perched on a hill where there are benches and a public toilet for weary riders. The long climb really wore us out but we recover after a while in this most tranquil hamlet. We can see cars far below, snaking along the main road toward the gap in the mountains.
At last we arrive at the pass where the Rhone cuts through the mountains. It is marked "Cret de la Goutte." This place must have been very important in wartime and there is still a double fort, one high above the other connected by a slot in the mountain which probably contained a lift of some sort. We pass them on the opposite bank, pretty high up on the mountainside. We wind around the corner and coast downhill, crossing into Switzerland at 4:20.
Now we're following an absolutely flat, straight road, aimed directly for Geneva, and there's even a bike path for a while. The last ten kilometers to the city should be pleasant though there is traffic. As we near downtown we're passed closely by big buses and traffic gets more harrowing. We stop at a bank to change money but it is closed. It's about 6:00 when we discover that today is the Swiss national holiday so everything is closed regardless of time.
We try to follow the river but it winds around and after crossing it a few times we lose it for a while. We just want to get past the city tonight and camp on the far side, just south of Lac Leman. We aim in what seems the correct direction but the roads often lead us astray. We find ourselves in suburbs southeast of the city and wind back along small roads towards the lake. Nina considers some of our routes no better than goat paths and is constantly afraid that we'll hit a dead end in some farmer's field. Eventually we do find the road by the lake and are back on track.
Almost immediately we see a campground sign and at 7:30 we stop. Everybody is tired, especially Hilary who's looking haggard. The campground is full but the proprietor (who speaks wonderful English) says we can probably squeeze into the empty space in the middle of one of the irregular circles of tents. That's one advantage of traveling on bicycles. We don't have any Swiss money but he says we can pay in the morning and he even changes a few francs so we can buy Cokes this evening. This is great!
After getting the tents set up, the girls and I take a swim in Lake Geneva. We splash near a family of swans and a flock of ducks. The bottom is very rocky and I have trouble wading while the girls manage better. We climb up on a raft and admire the view. Then it's back to shore and time for supper. After eating, Nina, Ben and I return to the lake shore to watch fireworks. All around the lake people are celebrating with skyrockets and firecrackers. We can see bonfires and little bottle-rockets are very common. We have a good view of Geneva and the fountain in the lake near the city. We keep waiting for the city's big show but it never materializes. The celebration seems to be more by individuals than by municipalities.
After a while we get tired of all the small fireworks and go back to find a band playing at our campground. They play all sorts of music including American country-and-western, boogie-woogie, rock-and-roll, blues, Swiss songs (that others sing along with), and old standards for dancing. Nina and I dance a bit and go to bed about midnight feeling pretty good about being in Switzerland. It was nice of the Swiss people to welcome us to their country with such a party. Today's ride was 46 miles.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 2
There were a few drops of rain during the night and it's partly cloudy when we wake up. We anticipate another nice hot day. At 8:30 I take all our French money including change and convert it to Swiss money at a bank in the little town nearby. I also cash Travelers Checks so now we're ready to buy whatever we need. After a quick stop at a store it's back to the campground where we take a morning swim in the lake. Ben didn't bring his swimsuit so catches some extra sleep instead. The swim is very refreshing and feels great. Now we breakfast on fresh Swiss croissants of various sorts and some Swiss cereal which tastes terrible. We leave the campground at 11:00.
About 11:45 we cross back into France which owns a good piece of the eastern shore of the lake. We stop at a phone booth so Andrea can call her parents. Of course now we don't have much French money. We try to contact an operator so she can call "collect" but after two weeks of using French phones we have never figured out how to get an operator on the line. We give up, hoping that tomorrow in Switzerland we'll find a better telephone system and be able to get a call through to Essex Junction.
Now it's hot enough to try a French beach on the lake. We are in a resort region and find a wide sandy beach with many bathers including a few girls without bathing suit tops. We relax, eat lunch, and swim in the lake. The water seems a little cooler here, perhaps because it's nearer the head of the lake.
Back on the bikes we go through Thonon and the sky is becoming more cloudy. We're following A7, a tough road for us because there is traffic and there are no shoulders. We finally enter Evian, famous for its mineral waters, a resort at least since one of the kings built a château here. There are hotels and a casino now, and it is just a tourist trap. The weather gets worse and some rain comes down. Hilary gets her second flat of the day just past Evian. We switch her front and back tires, hoping that will reduce the frequency of flats she has on her back wheel. Now we're riding while thunderstorms roll across the lake. We reach the end of the lake about 6:00 and the storm makes it so dark that cars have their headlights on.
We cross back into Switzerland at 6:15 and hit the first store across the border to stock up for supper. We don't work fast enough for the rude lady who chases us out so she can close at 6:30 but we get enough for dinner. In our rush Nina gets bread and Ben and I get stuff to put on bread so we'll be OK. The rain continues on and off but the wind is really coming in strong gusts and makes us want to stop soon. We see a campground sign by the side of the road and turn off to ride straight uphill past vineyards.
It's a strange campground run by an old lady who speaks nothing but some totally incomprehensible Germanic dialect. The campground seems to be filled with permanent trailers and she obviously doesn't get many transients like us. She performs arcane mathematics involving the number of tents, the number of people, and the number of bikes to compute our fee. We put two tents on little patches of grass and Ben pitches his in a sort to garage where all the bikes go to stay dry. We try to stay dry by eating under an awning on the porch but gusts of wind bring raindrops to us anyhow. The bathroom facilities we find don't work too well but we manage. It rains most of the night after a day's ride of 44.1 miles.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 3
It's raining when we wake up. We have yet to see clearly the mountain peaks on the other side of the valley but we suspect they're pretty spectacular and one may have some snow. The sky is gloomy and visibility is poor. We're on the road by 9:45 and getting wet. Wonder of wonders at 10:15 the clouds roll away and blue takes over the sky! It feels wonderful to take off our raincoats. The first peak we see has a jagged rocky top and must be the one called "Les Dentes de Midi" on our map. They look like teeth and we stop to take pictures. Suddenly we are startled by gunfire and see Swiss army troops having target practice.
We stop at the first little market and fill our panniers. We were really out of food but now are ready for lunch. Ben has a bag of cookies and two boxes of iced tea "for breakfast" and now he's feeling a lot better. In Columbe there's another outdoor market. We wander around looking at the produce and other stuff and take advantage of the public toilet in the square. The Ladies' side seems permanently occupied and Nina finally gets desperate enough to use the Men's side.
At a telephone booth there's a book which explains how to contact an international operator. Andrea does this, only to find out that collect calls cannot be made from pay telephones in Switzerland. It is possible to use telephones inside some Post Offices but the local one is closed right now. She'll have to try again later.
We pass a tremendous crack in the rock called "the Gorge of Triente" but don't go in. It looks exactly like Ausable Chasm and is the same type of tourist trap. At Martigny-Ville the valley splits at an old fort high on a hill. The smaller valley goes south to Chamonix and Mont Blanc but we take the broader one to the northeast and continue following the Rhone. When we make the turn the road stretches straight before us and a tremendous tailwind lets us shift into our highest gears. I haven't used this gear since last summer on the North Dakota prairie and it feels great to zip up this valley through the Alps. We can see ski areas on the mountains, with lifts going to high peaks. There are many kinds of fruit in the valley and the apricots are ripe. The apples and pears are looking good but are not ready yet. There are many little farm stands selling apricots.
We stop for lunch in Riddes and watch the weather blow by. Our picnic is on a little green furnished with table and benches but we lie on the grass in the shade. Clouds and sun alternate rapidly as we eat, with a few drops of rain coming from each cloud. The weather changes character about five times during lunch. Helicopters with patches of orange on their sides trundle past. This town is connected by aerial tramway to another way up above us on the mountainside.
As we ride on a bee flies down Ben's shirt and stings his chest. Ben squeezes it quickly but has to stop for a few minutes to recover. The Swiss don't seem to waste any space. Nina notices carrots planted around the bottoms of apple trees. We ride through a hundred or more army troops all wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying menacing black automatic rifles. We buy groceries for supper and breakfast in St. Leonard in a combination patisserie, boulangerie, tea room, and balet (whatever that means). There are about forty kilometers to go before we reach our campsite goal and it's 6:00.
The hillsides are terraced far up the mountains with dry stone walls. Every terrace has grapevines, all looking gorgeous. We buy a bottle of local wine for dinner. We almost make it to Visp before we're tired and ready to camp. There's a huge campground here and it isn't bad. The lady who takes our money converses with campers easily in many languages. The showers are hot and free so we all indulge. It rains most of the night but we don't care after 67.2 miles of biking.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 4
We sleep late since it's raining lightly. The rain stops about 9:30 and we crawl out for breakfast. It's about 11:30 before we get our act together and are riding. Visp is busy and the traffic is heavy. Brig is even busier and is the biggest town around. We have lunch at an inn. Ben has Wiener Schnitzel for the second time and likes it even better than the first. I have Pork Schnitzel, and the girls all have omelets. There's a sprinkling of rain while we're eating, the first of the day. It's so cloudy we haven't seen the mountain tops yet today. Nina cashes some Travelers Checks and Andrea finds a Telephone Company Office that will permit collect calls. She works with an international operator for about 15 minutes to reach her folks but the line is always busy. She guesses her Dad is working at home and making lots of calls.
Only a short ways beyond Brig the road starts up. This climb includes hairpin turns and is bad news for bicyclists. The train tracks now have a notched rail for cogs in the center. This is agonizing work and Nina pushes her bike part of the way. Our progress is very slow. In Fletch we stop for the day's groceries at a supermarket. This is quite a ski center and teleferiques are carrying people up to the peaks. This seems absurd today because of all the clouds.
We arrive at Reckingen and stop at a campground right beside the river. The Rhone is pretty small up here and moving very fast. The color of the water has gotten lighter. When we first saw the Rhone it was a remarkable green and up here it's a whiter green, almost frothy. The motorcyclist camped next to us tells us a hair-raising story about crossing the Furka Pass yesterday in dense fog. It's quite cold tonight, and damp. We only pedaled 29.7 miles today.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 5
It's a chilly morning but looks like it will become a gorgeous day. We hate to get out of our zipped-up sleeping bags and out of the tents, and we put on all our warm clothes. Nina's shorts were left out and have frost on them. The sun is wonderfully intense, however, and by 10:30 when we climb on our bikes we're dressed in shorts and t-shirts, feeling dry and warm. We have applied suntan lotion and expect some great photo opportunities today.
We're seeing very old buildings built almost entirely of wood with disks of stone supporting the second story - a remarkable architectural feature which we don't understand. It's a pretty steep uphill climb to Munster but then the road flattens out (thank goodness) and is an easy shot to Oberwald. This really is up against the wall of cliffs. There are only two ways to go now: over the Furka Pass or through the tunnel on the train. We don't hesitate but buy train tickets. It's probably beautiful up on the mountain today but there's no way we could climb that hill.
The auto-train only takes 20 minutes to get us through the mountains to Realp. On the other side we don't ride far before coming to another pass and again we opt for the train. We eat lunch at the train station in Andermatt and soon are handing our bikes up into the baggage car. There's a little dispute because the baggage handler doesn't like all our panniers still attached but we've been told this is OK by the station people and our bikes are at last on the train. Now we ascend the mountain in hairpin turns, thanks to the powerful engine and tooth cogs gripping the rails. What views! We expose film at a rapid rate with each corner revealing new sights which must be captured.
Finally over the top of Switzerland in Disentis the streams are flowing in our direction and we head down. Unfortunately the wind is blowing uphill on all sides of the mountains and it now retards our progress. We buy groceries and are faced with a choice of routes. The main road to Flims looks like it will have hills but the alternate also looks hilly. We decide to go to Flims and soon discover that considerable climbing is required. We struggle uphill but we're tired and it's starting to get dark. It's a long haul uphill but finally we reach a campground at Flims and collapse for the night after 39.7 miles of bike riding.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 6
Nina is up at 7:30 to take an early shower. We breakfast, break camp, and enter Flims, an old resort town. Ben broke a spoke yesterday on the same rear wheel which got badly bent in the accident in Lyon. We get directions to a local bike shop and discover that the proprietor worked in England for a couple of years, speaks excellent English and is an avid cycle tourist. He is preparing a beautiful British bike for a long tour of New Zealand. We leave Ben's bike inside, the other bikes outside and walk into town to shop.
Nina finds a souvenir spoon for her sister Suzie, continuing the collection she's been making throughout Europe. Hilary buys a genuine Swiss Army Knife for 38.50 Swiss francs. We buy groceries for the next few meals and then return to the bike shop. Ben's wheel is not repairable so we buy a new steel wheel and finally leave Flims at 1:15.
The ride down from Flims is fast and scary. The road is narrow and winds down the mountainside. There is often no shoulder, just a long drop. We whiz along, trying to control the bikes enough to avoid catastrophe. At one point I stop because the others have dropped way behind and when they finally catch up they tell about Ben catching another bee.
We're following the upper Rhine now. In the old city of Chur we stop and wander around for a while. There are old city gates, and it was once a walled medieval town. There are now nice shops in the old buildings and flags are hung over the car-free shopping streets. Hilary and Andrea return from their shopping expedition smiling, walking in step and swinging identical Benetton bags.
The Rhine divides Switzerland from Liechtenstein and when we first come opposite this tiny country it looks very mountainous. There are some old church steeples at the corner which are picturesque. We pass through Sargans at 6:30, and end the day's ride at 7:30 after 43.5 miles. We stay on the Swiss side of the river, camping at the municipal campground in Buch. There's a pinkish clock tower near us and as the sun goes down the mountains of Liechtenstein also turn rosy. It's a beautiful place with friendly people.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 7
We're up at 8:00 and cross the Rhine at 10:15 into Liechtenstein. On the other side we find a bike path right beside the river. We zoom along this smooth, level path, drafting each other. There is a parallel path on the opposite bank, and we see many other cyclists, ranging from very speedy racers to families out for a picnic. At 11:00 Ben has a flat and when we stop to repair it we discover that we're exactly on the border with Austria. We enter our third country of the morning and continue along the bike path. At noon we cross back into Switzerland and an Austrian border guard, for the first time since the Amsterdam airport, asks to see our passports. When the sees the cover of mine he says "United States" and waves us on. Our last meal in Switzerland is at a restaurant where we try the local versions of pizza and lasagna.
We're approaching the Bodensee now, and cross back into Austria at 2:00.
Soon we're across the German border too, and stopping on the other side to change our money into Marks. There are beaches all around this eastern end of the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and we finally stop at a crowded public beach. Ben stays by our bikes while the rest of us pay a fee and walk through the throng for a short swim. Most people seem to be there just for the sun but there are people playing all sorts of games too.
Our next objective is the old city of Lindau on an island. We ride around its streets, not too sure what we're looking for and not too sure which way to turn. Ben asks if this is where we want to be and I snap back at him. Ben is upset and I apologize. It has been a long day. We find the harbor and watch a ferry pass between the sculptures on the ends of the breakwater. Then we leave Lindau and head inland towards Munich.
Of course the road away from the Bodensee is mainly uphill so we slowly gain altitude as the sun sinks. Soon we're in open farm country and the sun is nearly gone. We're tired and need to find a campground. According to our map there is one not too far away over small roads. Soon we have to turn on our lights and are riding in the dark. We do find the campground and settle down for a late supper. Despite riding 69 miles through four countries today the girls still have energy to flirt with the young men camping near us. They give us each a candle which sticks in the ground and rises high to light our late supper. It is 11:30 before we get into bed.
MONDAY, AUGUST 8
Hilary has a flat tire as we leave the campground at 10:15. Her knee is strained badly and we stop at the first little town to buy and then eat lunch so she can rest. After two Tylenol we start riding at 1:45 and get to the train station at Leutkirch by 2:45 after 13.2 miles. After checking the train schedule, Nina and I go to a bank to get more Marks. We don't have enough days to pedal through all of Germany so we take the two-hour train ride to Munich.
From the Munich station we pedal out of town towards a campground. Munich seems to be better for cyclists than any city we've seen since Holland. We follow good bike paths along major city streets past the 1972 Olympic Stadium and (after 6.8 miles) to a campground in a suburb. This place includes a restaurant/pub where we try their schnitzel and beer. There isn't room for us outside so we sit at a table inside. Some English chaps are enjoying a game of darts as we eat. It's OK but the place is noisy so we don't stay too late. We retire at 10:30 after adding just 20 miles to our total today.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 9
We're up at 8:00 ready to see Munich. On our way toward the city center I detour slightly to go past Nymphenburg Palace. The girls are so eager to go shopping that they don't go in. Ben, Nina, and I buy tickets and rush around the big palace for 15 minutes before it closes for lunch. Then we check out the amazingly baroque carriages of Ludwig II and other notables and also browse the collection of porcelain. Then we all go downtown, park our bikes near what appears to be a major shopping district, and hope a doorman at a nearby hotel may provide some security for our stuff. The two girls head in one direction to shop while the rest of us head toward the cathedral and the city center. We see the Residence, the cathedral, etc., and go through a wonderful (but crowded) shopping district with fancy shops on car-less streets. The glockenspiel on the town hall is elaborate. The girls have poor luck and find mostly department stores.
When we return to the campground, Nina takes a hot shower and leaves her biking clothes in the shower room. When she realizes her mistake and returns, they are gone. This is a real tragedy since they were her best biking shorts and the pink "Tour de France" shirt was a birthday present from Hilary. Today's mileage on bikes was 17.9 miles.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10
We get up very early this morning to catch the train to Mainz. After a 6.1 mile ride on now-familiar bike paths we arrive at the station in plenty of time for the 10:24 train but have great difficulty in understanding what we must do with our bikes. The baggage agents insist on taking them, so we reluctantly take off all the panniers and give them up. We watch when the train arrives but our bikes aren't being loaded so I race back to argue with the baggage people. Finally they agree and start pushing our bikes to the train. I run back and we all board but the baggage man does not do his part. When we arrive in Mainz at 3:45 we learn that our bikes will not arrive until the special baggage train comes early the next morning. We are captives of the German train system and have to stay in Mainz.
I try calling a youth hostel but they are a ways out of town. We decide to try the Hotel Hammer, near the station. We get the last rooms they have for rent and both are pretty small. It's fun taking all our baggage up the elevator. Wandering around later we find a rock concert starting up in an open square. There is much public sculpture and many decorated buildings. We are surprised at the level of cultural activity in this city which isn't on the normal tourist agenda. We find some wine in a small store which is next to the station and open late. Their best customers are the winos who buy one or two beers at a time to share with their friends on the street. We eat in our rooms our standard fare of bread, cheese, and pate. The three kids are staying in one room and enjoying TV for the first time in weeks. Nina and I are upstairs in a small room where we keep the window wide open all night for ventilation.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 11
We wake up in a hotel room, an unusual sensation. Downstairs we enjoy the Continental Breakfast which is included in our room rate. We eagerly anticipate a change from our usual campground fare. Ben especially is dreaming of eggs, bacon, french toast, pancakes, and such, but we are surprised. They serve bread, pate and cheese - just what we have been eating all along.
The bicycles did arrive on the night train, so we reclaim them. We descend the elevator with our baggage and load the bikes in front of the hotel in the big plaza next to the train station. It's already warm and humid as we take the road west to cut off a loop of the river and see some farm country. There are hills and a wide variety of crops. The fields have a maze of small roads and bike paths running through them but we're not sure where they all lead. We see some kind of a police operation but don't stop to find out exactly what's going on. There are several bus-loads of police armed mainly with long sharp sticks, and it looks like they will sweep through the fields looking for someone or something. It gives us all wild ideas to fuel daydreams for several miles.
We pass a couple of U.S. military bases. This is the "American Sector" of occupied Germany where the USA has had troops since WWII. Out over the farmland we see a huge Army helicopter with propellers on both ends making low passes over the fields. We cut through some fruit orchards on one of the small paths paralleling the main road west from Mainz. There are all kinds of ripe fruits - plums, apples, pears - and the trails are almost completely unmarked. We make a couple of dubious turns and at the top of a fairly long winding hill we suddenly find our way barred by a U.S. Army base. We have to double back and take a more circuitous route. It seems strange to find our way through Germany blocked by the U.S. Army.
In the next little town we get a few drops of rain and then a good shower. We park our bikes under a photo shop awning. Ben buys a couple of rolls of film and then the kids all cross the street to browse Woolworth's. Ben emerges with a new pair of pants and the girls have a few more things too. After ten minutes the shower is over and so is the shopping. The sun comes back out and we are on the road to Bingen.
We have trouble keeping on the road in Bingen. A detour starts sending us to Ockenheim, way south from where we want to go. We turn around between fields and head back toward the river hoping to find a path around the construction. A farmer sitting on a tractor in a field gives us elaborate directions including considerable arm-waving. His German and his directions may both be perfect but none of us has the faintest idea of what he is saying so we smile our thanks and move on. We finally find a way which involves carrying our bikes up stairs and proceeding along a train platform.
We picnic in Bingen beside the river near a fountain with a stone turtle, frog and lizard. Across the river on the mountainside is the Nederwal Dinkmal, a huge sculpture reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty. It evidently is a tourist attraction because even at a distance we see many cars and people around its base.
After lunch, as we are riding past the train station we meet a woman from California on a loaded touring bike who has just gotten off the train from Heidelburg. Denni is headed north along the river too so she rides with us. It's now clearing up and is a beautiful afternoon with lots of sun and picturesque clouds. We find a bike path beside the river and are enjoying one of the finest afternoon rides of the summer. Reichenburg has a nice castle with a flag flying.
There are vineyards on most of the hills. For some reason the lines of vines are always vertical so the hillsides have a consistent pattern of green stripes. It seems strange to me that the lines aren't horizontal as in contour plowing, because the hillsides are steep and the vertical planting would seem to encourage erosion.
Just short of Oberwessel I get my first flat tire of the trip. Before getting to St. Goar, I've had a total of four flats, with all of the holes in the same front tube. Ben finally convinces me that the tube is simply old and rotten and should be replaced. It is one which went across the U.S. last summer so I look for a spare. My spare tube, which I've carried many miles, has a hole too. Nina has used her spares already on this trip. Our California friend has a good spare though it has a Presta valve, so I trade a roll of film for it. Andrea's pump is set up for Presta valves so we're all set.
At 6:30, Denni stops for the night at the campground in St. Goar. She usually camps by 5:00 but had gone along with us to enjoy talking English. We continue almost to Spey where there's a campground right beside the Rhine in Boppard. Trains whiz past all night on both sides of the river but we don't mind. We rode 54.5 miles today.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 12
We're on the road by 10:00. This may be the last day of real riding on the trip. It's another nice day, sunny and warm enough to start in short sleeves. We soon find a bike path beside the Rhine which we hope will take us the last 10 miles to Koblenz. In the city we decide to get some cash with our VISA cards but discover that only one bank in town will perform such a service. We set out in search of the KKB Bank and get to see a substantial part of Koblenz. Eventually we get cash at the bank and stock up on groceries at a nearby supermarket. While loading his panniers Ben drops a six-pack of beer and a couple of bottles break on the busy sidewalk. It's one of those annoying moments but we get it fairly well cleaned up and cycle back to the train station.
At the station we discover an unexpected problem. They will not sell us tickets to travel with our bicycles across the German border into Holland. This seems ridiculous and I figure this problem will be overcome by a ticket agent in a larger city so we just get tickets to Koln (Cologne). At the big station in the larger city we get the same story. Now willing to ship our bikes by slow freight, we buy tickets to Emmerich, the town just on the German side of the border. There's quite a wait in Koln but not enough time to leave the station and do anything interesting. We buy the German version of hot dogs which have long sausages and almost no buns. This station requires climbing up and down stairs carrying bikes.
We get to Emmerich at 8:40 and it's getting dark. This station requires climbing stairs with our bikes again so we're getting our exercise in a different way today. There are a few drops of rain so we start riding with our raincoats on. The countryside is almost perfectly flat. The air is full of bugs and it's dark enough to have our bike lights on. We find a campsite about 10:00 and finally get to sleep about 11:30. It has been a long day and our last in Germany on this trip. We pedaled 17.5 miles today.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 13
We're riding by 8:30 and Ben's pedal breaks at 8:35. We make a temporary repair and soon cross the unguarded border into the Netherlands. By 9:15 we are at the train station in Zevenaar talking to a beautiful young woman who speaks perfect English and sells tickets to Amsterdam for both people and bikes. We change trains easily at Arnheim and arrive at Amsterdam's central train station at 11:15. The scene outside is amazing. A large number of vacationing college students seem to choose Amsterdam and all travel by train. There are huge crowds everywhere, especially in the tourist information bureau where I finally manage to obtain a city map.
The girls really want to browse the shops, so with some trepidation we lock their bikes to a pole on a downtown street and plan to meet them back at that spot at 5:00. Nina, Ben and I go to the Anne Frank House and take a tour. Then we go to the Van Gogh Museum and see that. Along the way we get a good look at Amsterdam's canals, lovely old canal houses and many houseboats. This old part of the city certainly looks like a nice place to live. We meet the girls back at their bikes and trek out to the campground where we started the trip in Amsterdam Bois. By 7:45 we have our tents up and are relaxing on our last night in Europe. Today we rode 25.1 miles.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 14
We are up at 8:30 and pack our panniers one last time. Hilary and Andrea have perfected their system of helping each other and by now they could probably get everything packed with their eyes shut. On the way to Schiphol Airport we stop one more time at the wooden shoe factory to pick up a last few souvenirs and gifts. Arriving at the airport by 1:30 we buy bike boxes and pack them. These airline boxes seem larger than the ones we started with so packing goes quickly. Nina calls her house to tell Denny that the flight will be delayed as much as 6 hours. Now we try to use up our Dutch money on lunch plus books to read on the plane.
The plane finally leaves Europe at 9:15pm and after a 7-hour flight arrives in Boston at 10:15pm which is 4:15am on Monday in Amsterdam. Our friends and family members are there to meet us and carry the sleepy travelers back into America. Nina's calculations show we pedaled more than 1250 miles in seven countries. It's the end of a wonderful trip. We have all had an adventure to remember.