Just in case regular readers have wondered where I’ve got to, I’ve been gardening flat out since we arrived in Blois on Thursday afternoon. It’s amazing just just how quickly the vegetation grows at this time of year. I have a theory about weeds too. As soon as you plant something that you want to grow, a similar-looking weed springs up! So I have been doing a lot of weeding.
I was worried about our geraniums which didn’t look as though they were going to produce many flowers but I think they were just waiting for the warmer weather.
After spending another day gardening and packing, we’re all set for our annual one-month cycling holiday – back to Germany again. Last year we cycled 1100 K along the Danube and I think it was my most enjoyable holiday yet.
After reading about Saxon Switzerland on Travel Notes and Beyond, we decided we would cycle along the Elbe this year. However, we are stopping off along the Moselle on the way and starting with an initial 4-night stay in Koblenz.
It’s Black Cat’s last day in Paris before she goes to New York to look for a job. I’m delighted for her, of course, because she’s following her dream, just as I did 38 years ago, but I am very sad to see her go. We’ve decided not to say goodbye at the airport so we part ways in the street. I go back upstairs and try to work. When Jean Michel phones at five to say he’s finished for the day, I suggest we go cycling along the Marne.
The cycle path from Pont de Bry to the old chocolate factory in Champs sur Marne remains our favourite ride and is filled with happy memories of when we lived in Fontenay sous Bois and could easily go there at the end of the day.
And we love stopping off on the way back for a barbecued côte de boeuf at La Pergola.
As it’s the last Friday in August, there is very little traffic so we only take about three-quarters of an hour to get there. We’ve already phoned La Pergola to check they’re open and make sure our côte de boeuf will be ready when we arrive after cycling for an hour along the Marne. The owner recognises knows us as le couple en vélo even if we haven’t been there since last summer.
As soon as we get on our bikes, I start feeling better. It’s a lovely day and the Marne is full of swans. We ride down to the chocolate factory and back to La Pergola. Our favourite table in the garden is waiting for us.
The côte de bœuf arrives and it’s enormous. Since we began intermittent fasting in June , our appetite has diminished somewhat. We manage to finish it anyway particularly as the meat is delicious. Jean Michel even orders tarte tatin for dessert! Fortunately it doesn’t have any cream with it.
It’s completely dark by the time we finish and we still have a 20-minute ride back to the car so we don our headlights and windcheaters and off we go. On the way, we pass the other, more recently opened La Pergola with its bright neon lights. I think it’s an eyesore.
Next morning we’re not even remotely hungry so decide to have a fast day. Today is the first day of Black Cat’s new life! Good luck!
La Pergola, 87, promenade Hermann Régnier, 93460 Gournay Sur Marne, 01 43 05 36 56
I’m not really sure how much sympathy I’ll get on this one – obviously the best way to avoid post-holiday depression is not to go on holidays, particularly month-long ones.
It’s amazing how quickly you get used to not working and being stress-free. No boring mundane activities either.
A typical day during our cycling holiday was to get up around 8.30, get dressed, straighten the hotel room (after we discovered the cleaners usually came during breakfast) and go to the breakfast room. We would then put what we needed for the day in our sac de liaison and go out/down to the car. Jean Michel would take the bikes off the rack (unless we drove to our starting point first) while I would get the bags and paniers ready. Then we put on sunscreen plus insect screen for me and donned our caps.
After cycling about half the day’s distance, we’d stop somewhere for lunch, then cycle the remaining distance, visiting various places along the way and picking up something for dinner towards the end of the journey. Sometimes we got back to the hotel around 5, but it was usually 7 or 8, because we wanted to make the most of the long twilight.
We then had an apéritif (except on fast days), followed by a light dinner in our room or on the balcony if we had one. After that, Jean Michel would write up the travel diary while I answered emails and wrote a blog post. We eventually got to bed around eleven or twelve, then read for a while. We usually fell asleep pretty quickly.
Now, I can’t say there is really a typical day at home because I freelance and weekends and weekdays are different as well. Jean Michel usually gets up earlier than I do to go to work so we don’t have breakfast together during the week so I wake up when I’m ready.
I prefer to work as much as I can in the mornings though because that is when I am the most efficient, but other things often get in the way. Also with the unusually hot weather we’ve been having so I would much rather stay in my air-conditioned office in the afternoon.
I came home to two very boring translations – one about a patent for an eye dropper that’s designed to use up the last drops in the bottle (I thought they purposely made droppers so you’d waste half the contents to tell you the truth) and another, much longer one, consisting of often cryptic messages in a software program for a company that sells industrial gas cylinders.
My work is not usually THAT boring but my most interesting clients all seem to be on holidays now (state-of-the-art bridges, cosmetics, contracts, etc.). Fortunately I’ve had some light relief for the last couple of days translating IT security recommendations. At least there are real sentences! But now I have to go back to the messages.
We went down to Blois for the weekend so that we could do something about the jungle that had developed during our 7-week absence. It’s amazing how quickly the vegetation takes over. Virginia creeper was completely covering the number of the house, which isn’t very useful for the guests renting Closerie Falaiseau.
Apart from spending an hour cycling to and from the mushroom wood to no avail, and a couple of hours with our friends and neighbours on Saturday, the two days were completely taken up with gardening. On the Saturday evening, our lovely young German guests invited us to a most enjoyable barbecue!
So today I’m feeling very depressed, particularly since Leonardo’s now gone to Berlin to work for a few months and I have to get back to the software messages. Looking at the photos has made me even more nostalgic. I selected some I thought were typical.
We’re staying at Gasthof Dexler in Niederranna on the Danube close to the S-bend between Linz in Austria and Passau in Germany so are able to start directly from our hotel. It turns out to be one of the highlights of our trip.
The sky is blue and it’s 22°C when we leave at 9.30 after saying goodbye to the Aussie cyclists. We come to the end of our shady cycle path at Au and take a little ferry across to Schlogen.
We cycle towards the second bend at Inzoll and take a rest stop at Gasthof Steindl and watch the river traffic.
We continue on until we are opposite Untermühl. It’s wonderfully quiet and peaceful with no cars. However, by now I’m severely bitten by mosquitos because I’ve stupidly forgotten to use spray and although the little waterfalls along the way might be cute they’re a great breeding ground.
We locate the ferry opposite Untermühl, but there is no sign of a ferryman so I go to a nearby gasthof where I am told in German with appropriate handsigns that I have to press the button on the intercom near the ferry.
Fortunately a young German couple who speak English have arrived by then and are able to interpret the message that the ferryman will be there in 10 minutes. He soon turns up on his little tractor, jumps into the ferry and takes us across while Jean Michel studies the next part of the trip.
From Untermühl, we cycle back to Obermühl crossing a couple of rivers on the way and have the most delicious wiener schnitzel and a very cold glass of riesling on a shady terrace overlooking the Danube. By the time we get there, it’s 2.45. I just love the way they serve meals all day in Germany and Austria!
With renewed courage, we continue on to Steinbruch where we are to take another ferry which is already halfway across the Danube.
An Austrian couple waiting to go in the other direction (Aschach) tells us in English to call the ferryman on the intercom so he can come back and get us. I ask the man if he would mind doing it for us as I am afraid of not being understood.
This time, the ferry is bigger and our trip back up the river takes about 20 minutes – a little mini-cruise in the middle of the Danube.
We get out at Au and cycle back to our hotel, a total of 59 kilometers and a cycling time of 3 ½ hours. My knees are feeling a little wobbly!
It’s only 4.30 so Jean Michel suggests we go up to a blick (lookout) near Schlogen and get a bird’s eye view of the loop we have just ridden. We park the car and walk through the forest for about a quart of an hour before we reach the blick. The view is absolutely stunning.
When we get back to the car the sky is threatening and we can only spend a few minutes on the terrace before the rain starts. I have the brilliant idea of taking the table and chairs into the room so we enjoy our apéritif watching the rain and reminiscing over our truly exceptional day.
Today I nearly got run over by a train when on my bike. When I heard the blast just next to me, a searing pain shot through my head and my legs turned to jelly. I immediately backtracked and got out of its way. Then I burst into tears.
Now how could this happen, you may well ask. It’s because level crossings in Germany don’t always have boom gates and when they do, they don’t necessarily extend to bike and pedestrian paths. I was a little sluggish this morning when we set out on our bikes from Riebersdorf near Straubing and had trouble keeping up with Jean Michel.
He got to the level crossing in Bogen before me and crossed the tracks, without noticing the flashing red light over to the left. When I rounded the corner of the bike path and saw him across the tracks, I didn’t even look to see if there was a train – there are a lot of disused train tracks in this part of Germany – and followed him. That was when I heard the blast.
I looked right and saw the train coming along the track VERY FAST. I have never been so frightened in my life. After a near accident that you have successfully avoided, the important thing is to remember that it didn’t happen and not imagine the consequences. We went to a pharmacy to get some aspirin to relieve my horrendous headache which gave me something practical to do.
I don’t know what the girl in the pharmacy thought was wrong, but she discreetly gave me a packet of tissues which I thought was very sweet of her. The pharmacy also had a water distributor and paper cups which is very civilised.
By then I had calmed down and could get on my bike again but it was not our most successful day. There are usually gasthofs all along the Danube, but the few we found were all closed on Monday, including the radler freundlisch one which I didn’t think was very cyclist-friendly at all! What’s more, we hardly ever saw the Danube, just fields of crops.
We hoped that Mariaposching, the village from which the ferry was to take us across the Danube might have something open, but all I saw were a couple of radler zimmer signs (rooms for cyclists) which weren’t much use. However, we got to the ferry just in time so at least we didn’t have to wait around in the boiling sun. It was the most rudimentary ferry we’ve seen so far – and the cheapest at 3 euros for us and our bikes.
Stephans-posching on the other side was much bigger but nothing was open there either so since it was 3 pm by then, we sat on a shady bench with a harvesting machine droning opposite and ate all our emergency biscuits.
An hour later, having ridden along a very busy road and over a very long bridge whose bike/pedestrian section was closed for some unknown reason, we were back in Bogen where all we could find to eat was a cheese and tomato sandwich and an ice-cream sunday. At least the ice-cream was good and the chairs had padded seats because 50 kilometers of flat paths without a proper lunch break take their toll.
Now it’s 8 pm and we’re waiting for our Rheingraf feinherb riesling 2009 bought in Straubing this morning to be cold enough to drink.
The only thing Jean Michel remembers about Regensburg when we went there about 15 years ago is eating sausages and sauerkraut in the oldest roast sausage restaurant in Germany on the banks of the Danube! He wants to go there again. I vaguely remember the restaurant episode but have no other images in my head.
On the way, we drive past the Walhalla, which we both remember, because we passed it several times on our previous trip. Built at the instigation of King Ludwig I of Bavaria between 1830 and 1847 overlooking the Danube, it is a hall of fame for distinguished people in German history.
We arrive in Regensburg late morning and park in Bismarckplatz where there is a fresh food market. We buy cherries, raspberries (himbeeren) and cheese and leave them in the car. Unfortunately no one is selling wine.
Following the Michelin Guide’s itinerary, we visit the town, as we no doubt did the first time. Neither of us remembers a single thing! What, you may wonder, is the point of travelling if you have forgotten it all fifteen years later. Yet we loved that trip and remember other parts of it, thank goodness so maybe not all is wasted …
Our visit culminates in the famous restaurant, Historische Wurstkuchl, built in the 12th century to feed the local dockers and builders. Despite the fact that it’s 1.30 pm, the outside tables are crowded so Jean Michel suggests we eat inside.
The menu is in German so with the help of my less than usefu dictionary on my l iPhone, we decide we’ll have the basic dish of six little sausages with sauerkraut and another dish which appears to include salad. The waiter, who speaks only very basic English, is rather dubious about our choice, but he checks we want everything at the same time and off he goes.
When four plates arrive, two with little sausages and two with two large sausages and a large amount of potato salad with a couple of leaves of lamb’s lettuce on top, I understand his reticence! We laugh and eat them anyway. We’ll just have vegetables and fruit for dinner.
It’s 2.30 by the time we leave to cycle along a tributary of the Danube, the Altmuhle. I doze in the car after the 25 cl glass of reisling and all that food. Between Kelheim, where it meets the Danube, and Dietfurt, the bed of the Altmuhle was straightened and incorporated into a canal connecting the Main and the Danube.
It’s a favourite with local Germans and tourists, so we aren’t the only ones on the bike path. We stop off at the pretty little village of Essing to see the wooden bridge and have a coffee at Gasthof Schneider, which is famous for its local beer.
We then push on to Riedenburg, which offers a plunging view of the Danube, after unnecessarily riding up a long hill due to poor signage again. Finding our way back is much easier.
We stop at least six times before Jean Michel takes what he considers is the definitive photo of Prunn castle we can see high up on a hill.
The path takes us past the bridge on the opposite side of the village of Essing and the six o’clock light gives a perfect reflection of the little church in the water. Once again, we marvel at how many different experiences our cycling trip along the Danube has to offer.
A total of 110 km, but it actually took two days. We’ve definitively adopted the train-in-one-direction system which means we can see more and not have to cycle up all those hills again on the way back. Jean Michel thought we should start with the source in Donau-Eshingen so we began day 2 by driving an hour to Tuttlingen and getting the train to Donau-Eshingen.
Although it was as sunny and hot as the day before (over 30°C in the afternoon), it was not nearly as pretty. Our first disappointment was that the source is undergoing renovation so is not open to the public. So after having lunch in Donau-Eshingen, we set out for Tuttlingen.
The cycle route doesn’t always run along the Danube and we often rode through hay fields interspersed with flowers, which did, of course, have the advantage of mostly being flat. There were lots of irrigation canals, water irises, storks and covered bridges, but I missed the wonderful surprises of the day before. We didn’t see a single rococco church.
On the way home from Tuttlingen, whose main attraction is its modern covered bridges, Jean Michel suggested we go to the lookout at Knopfmacherfelsen which is about 750 metres above the Danube.
The view is absolutely breathtaking with the monastery in Beuron in the distance. We then drove down to Beuron to see the monastery up close. Access was through a covered bridge. It was a truly wonderful way to finish off the day.
Fortunately, day 3 was not as hot (only 23° at 9 am), because was lucky because it was VERY hilly (and also an intermittent fast day). We drove to nearby Riedlingen and parked at the train station since we intended taking the train back from Ehingen. It’s a pretty little town, with lots of colourful half-timbered houses and painted façades.
Before cycling along the Danube, we looped back to Altheim which our Gasthof owner had told us about. We found another beautiful rococco church with a painted balcony featuring bas-relief musical instruments. There was also a stunning vase of peonies which are very prevalent here and grow taller than they do in the Loire Valley.
Back on the Danube we crossed a couple more wooden bridges and stopped for coffee in Riedlingen. We then passed several fields full of storks which obviously explains why there are so many shop signs and sculptures of storks in the villages.
Our next stop was the Monastery Cathedral of Obermarchtel with more wonderful rococco and a balcony, but not as rich as Zwiefalter. As we came out, it was starting to spit which was a bit annoying as I had taken the rain capes out of the paniers. Fortunately, there were a few rumbles of thunder and nothing more.
More hills and dales before we stopped at Munderkingen for a surprisingly good coffee. The sky was not looking very encouraging and we feared the worse. By the time we got to Rottenacker, about 7 or 8 K from our destination of Ehingen, fat drops were started to fall. We got a bit wet, but not soaked, and just made the train station in time.
When we got back to Andelfingen, where we’re not staying at Gasthof Sonne (that’s the next one!) but at Gasthof Swanen, Frau Smidt told us they had had golf-ball size hailstones! That was a lucky miss. Tomorrow I’m putting the rain capes back in the paniers.
And just for the record, despite our fast day (500 calories for me, 600 for Jean Michel), we cycled 61 kilometers including lots of hills. Tomorrow, we can have ice-cream and riesling again.
There’s thunder and lightning and pouring rain when we leave Paris at 9 am but after 3 hours driving east, the weather improves immensely and by the time we reach Germany, it’s an incredible 31°C and the sky is an intense blue. Now, that’s what I call holiday weather!
We come round a bend and see a shining white bulb that turns out to be the cathdral of Zwiefalten completed in 1750. We have a cold drink at the bar opposite and visit the beautiful baroque interior just before it closes at 6 pm. It reminds us of the first time we saw a rococco interior in Germany. It was the Pilgrimage Church of Wies at the foothill of the Alps and we walked for hours up a hill. It was very plain from the outside, but the inside was extraordinary.
The village itself is very pretty and peaceful, especially with its little stream.
After checking into Gasthof Sonne (sonne means sun) in Andelfingen, we change into cycling clothes and head for the Danube by car. We picnic before setting off on our bikes. We’re delighted to be in holiday mode so soon.
We pass several villages with their clean white houses and church spires along the path.
We’re amazed at the number of crosses along the way as well, often next to picnic tables.
Fifteen kilometers later, we arrive at Mengen, a quaint little town with a tall spire, many colourful half-timbered houses, one of which was built in 1596.
They have a number of very large storks on the buildings which intrigues us. Many of the shop windows also have dummies dressed as soldiers in traditional garb, including a a surprising Beefeater but I stupidly forget to take a photo.
By the time we start on our way back, the light is waning and we reach the car just before it gets dark. As soon as we open the door to Gastof Sonne, we are greeted by welcome coolness. One thing I did not worry about when booking our accommodation was air conditioning and I was afraid we were in for a sleepless night! We need to be fit for tomorrow’s 40 K!
This morning when we got up, Jean Michel called me from the bathroom whose first floor window overlooks the little wood behind our house which is part of our property. “Un chevreuil à côté du neflier”. Mr and Mrs Previous Owner told us we could see deer in the wood at dawn and dusk but this was 8.30 and unexpected. By the time I got to the window, it had disappeared behind the nearby apple tree.
I dashed off to get the binoculars and was rewarded by seeing quite a large animal sprint past the medlar tree and out of sight. By the time we tried to pick our medlars last year, there were none left on the tree, but I certainly don’t mind. I’d much rather the deer ate them. Maybe next time I’ll be quick enough to get a photo.
We love our little wood. Last time we were here, it was covered in daffodils. Now there our flowering apple, cherry, quince and lilac trees and decorative broom.
On the ground are wild Touraine orchids (two colours), bluebells, tiny white daisies, buttercups, dandelions and periwinkles. Mr Previous Owner had told us about the orchids but we didn’t see them last year probably because we didn’t know what they looked like. But thanks to Susan from Days on the Claise, this year, I’ve observed three species.
At the front of the house, the wisteria is in bloom, much more impressive than last year. We’re both relieved and delighted because we were worried that we’d pruned it too late. The drive into Blois along the Loire is sheer delight at the moment with masses of wild lilac and lots of beautiful wisterias which remind me of Venice in the spring time.
We have an enormous lilac opposite the house on the vacant land leading down to the Loire. We often park the car next to it and the scent is overwhelming. I hope it will still be in bloom next weekend so I can take some back to Paris.
After spending the day mowing and weeding yesterday, we finally found time to go cycling along the Loire to Saint Dyé late afternoon. Wild broom and apple trees dotted our path. Halfway along, though, our bike path suddenly came to a stop. Jean Michel had been noticing how high the river is this year after all the rain and our path was completely under water so we had to turn back.
As it turned out, I think 20 K was probably enough for our first bike excursion since last September. My sore thighs and rear end are appreciating the rest today as we drive from Blois down to Ciboure on the Basque coast, just across the estuary from Saint Jean de Luz.
As a fitting end to the day, we went to a restaurant we’d seen in Valaire (15 minutes by car from Blois) when cycling on another occasion and on the way, spotted the first air balloons of the season. L’Herbe Rouge is just the sort of restaurant I like – unpretentious, frequented by the locals with fresh food, a touch of originality and friendly service. The waiter turned out to be English but has been here for many years.
I had candied capsicums with fresh Corsican cheese while Jean Michel had avocado and prawns, followed by sirloin steak and French fries for Jean Michel and fennel purée for me as I am need to lose a couple of winter kilos to fit into my summer clothes again! Then we shared a serving of cheese cake for dessert. We chose a local chinon which we bought by the glass, followed by a decaff each. The bill came to 65 euro.
I’m looking forward to going back there when the weather is warmer to eat on the terrace.
L’Herbe Rouge, restaurant and wine bar, Valaire 41120, 02 54 44 98 14. Open from 12 to 2 pm and 6 to 9.30 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed Sunday night (except July and August) and Monday.
When we packed up the weekend before last, we thought we’d just be spending one more weekend in Blois before going to Australia for five weeks on 10th September. But on Friday, I was working away in my apartment in Paris (I’m a freelance technical and legal translator) when a large set of scaffolding suddenly hove into sight. I knew it was coming because I’ve been subjected to all sorts of banging and shouting and music and dust for the last nine weeks from my neighbours’ balcony. But I had been told our turn was the end ofAugust.
So I had a long chat to the worksite boss, who soon appeared in front of the window. “But it is the end of August !” Well, not quite. I thought I had at least another week to go. He told me the worst would be during the next two weeks, starting Tuesday, when they would be demolishing the large vases and balustrades using their pneumatic drills, from 8 am to 5 pm.
During that time, the wooden shutters and windows have to be kept closed at all times, leaving practically zero light in my office and the living room. Fortunately, the other side (bedroom and kitchen) won’t be affected. I find it difficult to be deprived of light at the best of times, but 10 weeks of darkness day and night is like a nightmare, not to mention the noise. I’m one of those people who are allergic to radio music when I’m working and these particular workers are very keen on loud rap.
So here I am in the train, on the way to Blois where I’ll stay until the Friday before we leave for Australia. Fortunately I have everything set up to work there, except for my specialised dictionaries, but these days, you can find most of what you want on the Internet and I can always get Relationnel to look something up for me if necessary. He’s coming for three days this weekend and then I’ll only have another few days before I go back to Paris. I would really rather he were with me …
At least I’ll be able to do some gardening and cycling, especially this week, because it looks as if the good weather’s here for a little while longer.