Category Archives: Cycling

Happy New Year for 2021

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

“The best laid plans of mice and men …” John Burns never said a truer word!

We started the year with lots of travel plans and the first was a trip to Crete in March to break the winter blues. Covid 19 at that time was still a minor issue, although we did wear masks in the airport. After three most enjoyable days at a home exchange in Chania, we moved to Agios Nikolaos, by which time bars, restaurants and cultural venues had closed. Even though we were in an apartment, it wasn’t much fun. After visiting a 3500-year-old olive tree, there wasn’t much left to do and lockdown was about to start in France.


We took the next flight out of Heraklion, getting up at 4 am to do so! We wore masks for the whole trip and arrived back in Blois just two hours after lockdown, did some food shopping and holed up for the next 55 days! Lockdown eased on 11th May and we were no longer restricted to essential shopping and physical activity for one hour within a 1 km radius of our home. We also no longer needed to fill out a form when we did go out. After two weeks, on the 15th June, all restrictions were lifted and we started making holiday plans!

In the meantime, my daughter and her Dutch fiancé, who live in New York, had had to cancel their wedding plans in northern Italy in May while my son and his American girlfriend decided to get married on a ski slope in Vermont in the presence of only two other people! We watched the wedding on Skype but unfortunately there was no sound. We then had a virtual aperitif drinking the same champagne that my son bought on his last trip to France in November when we met his fiancé. We are delighted to welcome her into the family. Since then, the newlyweds have bought a house in Boston while my daughter and her fiancé have tentatively set September 2021 as a wedding date.

Cycling in the Jura

Holiday-wise, Germany seemed the safest as their Covid figures were very low (compared with France, Italy and Spain!) and we knew that we could count on outdoor eating venues and strict observance of hygiene protocols. We chose to avoid hotels and B&Bs and only stay in holiday flats with balconies or gardens, having breakfast and dinner at home. Our top priority was cycling and enjoying Germany’s many beautiful towns and villages. On June 26th, we started our 3-week journey in the Jura mountains in the east of France, discovering an area we didn’t know and which has an impressive number of bike paths.

Lake Constance

Next stop was Austria, from which we were able to visit Gallen with its famous baroque library over the border in Switzerland and cycle along Lake Constance. We followed the good weather as we always do and went back to the beautiful Bavarian mediaeval town of Bamberg, then Nuremberg, before spending four absolutely perfect days on the Forggensee. We had been there before, in our pre-e-bike days. This time we were able to appreciate the absolutely stunning scenery without straining our knees.

The Forggensee

We started heading back to France via the Neckar with some wonderful rides along the Kocher-Jagst Radweg near Heilbronn. Our last stop was the Black Forest. The scenery is beautiful and we had a breath-taking view from our balcony, but the cycling is a disaster! We arrived home on 17th July after driving 3380 K and cycling 773 K!

After we got back, we had a visit from my son who needed a new working US visa for his new job. The story is a bit complicated, but the upshot was that he left Boston wearing a mask (after getting a negative Covid test) and did not take it off until he got in his hire car at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. He then came straight to Blois, only doing a same-day return trip to Paris to go to his Embassy appointment. He needed another test in Blois before returning to Boston. It was lovely to see him for a few days.

Château de Chaumont

Otherwise, we have kept ourselves occupied and feel grateful every day for having a large house and garden that we love. While we could, we cycled as much as possible exploring many new areas and making the most of our annual pass to Château de Chaumont.

Our back garden view when dining outdoors

I have continued to work part-time, mainly as a sworn translator (I only just broke even on my holiday rental studio in Blois, which was supposed to supplement my terrible retirement pension), and my husband Jean Michel has completed various projects including two cold frames, two raised vegetable beds and two staircases for the garage and wood shed. There is still another one to go in the barn. We gardened extensively during the warmer months, growing a lot of plants from seed and increasing our collection of drought-resistant perennials. It made up for being so restricted in our movements. I also blogged every day on, especially during the different lockdown periods. It has helped me to stay connected with the outside world.

We did manage another 5-day cycling holiday in September in the Nièvre, based in La Charité-sur-Loire (near Sancerre). The Covid figures were low at the time and we could still count on outdoor eating at lunchtime. It was a welcome break. When we got home, we bought a garden heater so we could continue to enjoy eating outside throughout October. We went back into lockdown on 30th October for a month, followed by a 2-week easing period when non-essential shops opened again under extreme pressure from the public in the warm-up to Christmas.

Cycling along the Nièvre

What I have missed and continue to miss most are my children and friends. I haven’t seen my daughter since November 2019 when we shopped for her wedding dress. I occasionally go walking with a friend and we briefly met up with other friends in December in a park. During Christmas and New Year, which we naturally spent alone, eating home-made foie gras and drinking vouvray wine, we spent a lot of time reading our travel diaries aloud and looking at the corresponding digital photos. We FaceTimed with all the children and their partners on Christmas Day, which cheered us up no end. They are all doing well despite Covid.

If you’ve been tracking the Covid situation in France, you will know that we are not out of the woods. We have a large and somewhat reticent population to vaccinate and we are not in the immediate target group. We have another two months of cold, stay-at-home weather in front of us, then we’ll be able to go back to our outdoor occupations. By then we might be eligible for vaccination. In the meantime, we are exercising maximum precaution, only going to shop once a week at the local market and supermarket and, occasionally, the plant nursery. We buy everything else over the Internet. I continue to make our bread and yoghurts.

The Loire River near our house

Our hopes for 2021 are to see our children again, including Jean Michel’s two sons who live in France, celebrate my daughter’s wedding wherever it may be, visit my son and daughter and partners in Boston and New York and find a safe venue for our annual cycling holiday.

I would like to wish everyone a happier 2021, full of hope, inner strength and new horizons! Thank you for reading  my very sporadic blog!

Happy New Year for 2020

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

This post was written early January but somehow didn’t get published! It started by saying that I was earlier this year than I was last year in wishing you all the best for the coming but I was sad to say that my ideas of writing more blog posts have not come to fruition! I do have more spare time than before but it is mostly spent on welcoming family and home exchange friends, gardening, going on holidays, cycling and making the most of our yearly pass to Château de Chenonceau!

Our first trip of the year, in late March, was to Sicily which had been on my list for a long time. We rented a car and drove around the island, but I have to admit we were disappointed. On the whole we found the country very dirty and dilapidated and not particularly welcoming. We did have one wonderful evening though watching the sun set over the salt marshes near Marsala with good friends from my Fontenay days who just happened to be there at the same time.

We then stayed at home in Blois until the end of June, getting in as much cycling as we could in preparation of our summer holiday. Jean Michel built a beautiful stone retaining wall in the back garden where we dine al fresco as often as we can during the fine weather to make up for all those indoor winter months. Gardening has become one of my great pleasures but we have clay soil and a large slope at the back to give us that extra challenge. I retired on 30th June from my main translation work but am still doing 10 to 12 hours a week of certified translations.

We began home-exchanging again this year after a break of two or three years. I was able to arrange a one-week exchange in the outskirts of Copenhagen through quite easily. In mid-July we left for Denmark by car with our e-bikes behind us via Belgium with a first stop at Namur along the Meuse. It was the first time we’d cycled in Belgium. Our spirits were a little dampened by the awful weather but we managed to cycle every day and one of the highlights was Dinant, the birthplace of Adolphe Saxe with all its saxophones from different countries. The cycling paths in Belgium are of uneven quality and are often conspicuously absent.

We then headed for Germany, visiting Aix-la-Chapelle, Münster and Lübeck. Even the north of Germany, with its industrial reputation, has lots of pretty villages and towns and the entire country is truly a cyclist’s paradise. Wismar, for example, is a world heritage site on the Baltic Coast from which we cycled to the neighbouring island of Poel joined to the mainland by a levee where I had the best meal since we left France in a little restaurant next to a marina – a seafood platter with scallops, calamari rings and shrimp, all very fresh. We went to the tip of the island where people were swimming in the Baltic but we didn’t join them even though the outside temperature was a good 22 degrees

After a final stop in the north of Germany, during which we visited Lübeck and Schwerin Castle, inspired by our own château de Chambord but built much later, between 1847 and 1857 by Grand Duke Friedrich Franz II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, we headed for Copenhagen. Because we had not thought to book ahead, we were not able to take the ferry  so went the long way adding an extra 200 km to our journey, 500 km in all, via the 18 k_long Storebaelt bridge with its 33 euro toll.

We were very happy with our home exchange despite the small bedrooms, but the living area downstairs was very spacious and we had a large garden and an enclosed winter garden. Our first day in Copenhagen was somewhat marred by the overcast sky and three short downpours but it was easy to cycle the 13 km from Bagsværd to the centre of the city as the bike paths are excellent, although a little busy and frightening at times. I counted 35 bikes waiting for a green light. We managed to photograph the Little Mermaid without too many tourists.

All in all, I have to say that Copenhagen and Denmark were disappointing. We did not find the architecture very attractive and the countryside, with a few notable exceptions, was flat and uninteresting. It was also generally unsuitable for cycling apart from Copenhagen itself. We did enjoy our ride up the coast to Helsingor, site of the Elsinor Castle of Hamlet fame, and Frederisksborg Castle was quite stunning.

On the way, we went through a couple of little villages with quaint thatched cottages.

One of the policies in Denmark is to tear down old buildings and replace them with new ones rather than retore them. The town of Aarhus in Jutland houses an open-air museum called Den Gamle By (the old town) started by a teacher and translator, Peter Holm, in 1914, to save the mayor’s 16th century house (second photo) from demolition. Today there are 75 buildings from 20 towns, many furnished and often illustrating traditional services and trades. Not far away, in central Jutland, is my favourite modern building in Denmark – the Wave.

We decided to spend the next ten days in Germany, which is one of our favourite countries for cycling, visiting the Lake District, the spa town of Bad Bevensen where we treated ourselves to whirlpools every day, the Harz district with its stunning wooden churches, Marburg and Lahntal before returning to Blois via Sedan and Charleville Mézières where we cycled for an hour and a half in pouring rain!

We came back to the hottest summer on record although we had escaped the worst of it. Our poor Danish home exchangers were not as lucky! We weren’t even allowed to use our well water so our lovely green grass slowly turned a sad brown. Since then, I have studied up on all the flowering shrubs that don’t need much water and am planting lots of them in the spring so that, if we have another hot summer, we will still have flowers. We had a bumper tomato crop though!

And after the sun came the rain. After a few days cycling in Brittany late September we weren’t able to cycle very much. But the grass turned green again ….

The new rental studio apartment in the historical quarter of Blois, Châtel Rose, got off to a good start and was occupied for several months by an Australian retiree who wanted to live the French life and improve her language skills. I think she had found more friends than I have in five years by the end of her stay!!! Our aim is to give holiday makers a near-perfect experience, offering top-level services and an in-depth French experience.

This coming year we are buying a yearly pass to Château de Chaumont ncluding its wonderful garden festival. The permanent garden is already a great  inspiration to me and the interior of the castle is richly furnished.

Our next travel project is Crete in March where we will be using our home exchange “guest points” to stay in Chania and Agios Nicolaos.

Thank you for remaining faithful despite my infrequent posting. I would like to wish you all a very happy new year – health, happiness and optimism!

Happy New Year 2019

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

This is my absolute last chance to write my New Year post and wish you all a wonderful 2019, as tomorrow is the first day of February. I have an exciting year ahead – I am going to retire on 30th June (although I shall keep up my certified translations for a few more years). Retirement will, I hope, give me more time to blog.

The view from our rental in Senglea

Travel continued to play a big role in our lives this year, with our first trip away in February, to the island of Malta, where we stayed in a flat called Marine View in Senglea with a most stunning view both day and night. There were many interesting places to visit and the weather was wonderful, but Cyprus, where we went last year, remains my favourite Mediterranean island.

Château de Chambord in the snow

A snowfall on our return provided the occasion for my most stunning photo yet of Château de Chambord which remains high on the list of our cycling destinations in summer and a great place to walk in the winter.

The bridge between La Rochelle and Ile de Ré

In April we went to La Rochelle for a long week-end and had a truly unforgettable experience at Christopher Coutanceau’s 2-star Michelin restaurant followed by lots of cycling on nearby Ile-de-Ré. It’s a very busy and lively town and it’s a great place to shop in comfort (especially for a non-shopper like myself). There’s lots of activity at night along the waterfront which made a bit of a change from the Loire in winter.

The main square of Krakov

We spent the whole of June in Germany and Poland, on our power-assisted bikes clocking up 800 kilometers for 16 days’ cycling. As ever, Germany was a pure delight. It is just so geared to cyclists with all its bike paths and rest-stops and I adore the colourful half-timbered houses in all the little towns and villages!


Poland, however, was another story. Although the major cities such as Poznan, Gdansk, Warsaw, Krakow and Wraclow have an amazing network of bike paths, as soon as you get out of the built-up area, you have to take either the main road or go on mountain-bike trails for 20-year-olds in top form. One unforgettable ride through a very sandy forest had me preferring the bitumen and traffic! There are practically no pretty villages which was a great disappointment. The only exception was Gdansk which we really loved. We had an apartment outside the town and were able to cycle happily up and down the coast through the seaside vilalges as well as into the city with its beautiful baroque façades.

Miltenberg on the Main

After two weeks in Poland, we were relieved to get back to Germany and follow the Main River! Poland, despite its drawbacks, is a country on the rise economically and that was obvious everywhere we went. It was difficult to have much contact with the locals though, as they were not very welcoming on the whole.

Stunning azulejos in Porto

Our week’s holiday in autumn this year took us to Porto with Ryan Air (never again!) from the nearby city of Tours. We enjoyed the first three days in Porto, by which time we had exhausted its possibilities, including a rather hair-raising bike ride along the coast. For the next three days, we took day trains (about one-hour each way) to the very interesting historical towns of Guimaraes, Aveiro and Braga. Poland may be on the way up, but Portugal is definitely going in the opposite direction. It’s very sad to see.

A favourite view of Blois when cycling along the Loire

On the home front, we continued to cycle throughout July, August and September nearly every day, often in the evenings for a picnic on weekdays thanks to the long twilight and the amazing weather. We are now up to 5000 kms since we bought our power bikes in May 2017.

Winter walk along the Loire on a rare sunny day

The winter, so far, has been cold and rainy. I’ve been forcing myself to go for an hour’s walk every two days but it’s not very attractive. We have a yearly pass to Château de Chenonceau though which makes a welcome change.

Jean Michel kept on with the renovations at the studio flat in Blois most of the year and it is now ready for holiday accommodation on I amused myself with some of the decorative features but my brilliant ideas always turned out to be more time-consuming than expected. As it is in a very old building, Jean Michel had to face up to a lot of challenges as well.

Château de Chenonceau from the walking path on the other side

This coming year, especially once I have retired, we went to do more home exchanges as well. And in case anyone is wondering – we still follow the 5:2 diet twice a week and are in very good health! I miss my blog and hope that retirement really will bring me the time and energy I need to write more often! In the meantime, I would like to wish everyone a very happy and fulfilling 2019 and maybe see you over at!

Happy New Year 2018

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

It’s nearly mid-January and I have only just found the time to write this new year post. Even though we have up until the end of January in France to do so, it’s still better to wish people a happy new year within the first week of the month. But lack of time is the story of my life at the present. Working full-time as a freelance technical and legal translator (I am now certified with the courts as well), looking after a large house and garden, cycling in the warmer months and hiking in the winter seem to take up  most of my time.

Jean Michel with his sons on the left and my son and daughter on the right

After a delightful Christmas with all our children – my son from Boston, my daughter from New York and Jean-Michel’s sons from Brest and  Limoges – in addition to my brother,wife and three sons, from Sydney, we welcomed in the New Year in front of a blazing fire, with warm thoughts for all our family and friends.

The cathedral in Angoulême

Travel-wise, 2017 was not quite as exciting as 2016 when we spent three months away altogether. However, we had a welcome short break and change of scenery in Angoulême at the beginning of February, followed by a most enjoyable week in Cyprus at the end of March with warm days and blue skies. We particularly liked the northern, Turkish part of the island with its wonderful painted monasteries.

Kykkos Monastery in northern Cyprus

We came home to spring, always the best time of the year in the Loire Valley. In April we had a fun day in a vintage car traffic jam in Blois with our friends Susan and Simon who take visitors on tours of the Loire Valley in their 1953 Citroën Traction Avant. I checked out family photos of my baptism so we could dress the part.

Jean Michel and I dressed for the part

The end of April took us to the Médoc (a four-hour drive south) for another long weekend where we combined cycling with wine-tasting and a breath of sea air. Living in the centre of France means that we are well-placed for this type of excursion.

With our power bikes on the banks of the Loire

In May, we finally made the decision to invest in electrically-powered bikes for two reasons – to save our ageing knees and to free us from restrictions related to the lie of the land. Our plan was to go to Romania in June, a country we have avoided up until then due to its very hilly countryside. We were not disappointed. Jean Michel applied his usual thoroughness to choosing the right bikes for our needs and we can now go quite effortlessly up amazingly steep hills. In fact, I’m more worried going down but our disk brakes are reassuring.

Said to be the oldest grape vine in the world – in Maribor, Slovenia

So, on 1st June, we left Blois with our bikes on the back of the car for a holiday that took us to Lake Iseo in the north of Italy, Maribor in Slovenia, where we tested our ability to scale new heights on our bikes, Eger in Hungary where we nearly got washed away in a freak flood, then Sighisoara in Romania, home of Dracula and sister city to Blois, which we used as centre to visit the fortified churches of Viscri and Biertan.

Sighisoara, home of Dracula and sister city of Blois

Suceava was the next port of call from which we cycled to many very beautiful painted churches, reminding us of our visit to Northern Cyprus. In Marmures, we stayed with a Romanian family where the head of the house spoke French and we learnt a lot about this still very backward part of the country with its beautiful wooden churches and friendly people.

The wonderful town of Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic

We then started on the road back to France, via Levoca in Hungary, then the absolutely enchanting village of Czesky Krumlov in Czech Republic where our hotel had a garden overlooking the castle, the perfect place for a picnic in the evening twilight after a hard day’s riding. We then stayed in Slavonice before crossing into Germany and discovering Burghausen with its marvellous hillside castle. It was good to be back in a country where I could at least read the signs!

Sigmaringen on the Danube in Germany, near its source

To end our journey, we decided to return to our beloved Danube using the little village of Herbertingen as our base. Taking the train and cycling, we went as far as the source of the Danube at Donaueschingen.

View of Lake Iseo from the top of the hill

By the 28th June the weather was starting to deteriorate so we changed our initial plan to spend a couple of days in the Black Forest and went to Orta San Giulio in Italy instead where rain and shine alternated enough to let us ride around Lake Orta and up to the sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso, at an altitude of 700 metres! Once again, our power bikes proved their worth. We arrived home via Lyon on 2nd July, having been in eight coutries and covered 5,000 kilometers.

The church of Souvigny on one of our local bike rides

In July Jean Michel went walking in the Jura Mountains for 9 days with his sons while I stayed home and worked, looking forward to my retirement in June 2020 more than ever! I did discover a bike route into Blois that avoids the main road though. We then cycled as much as we could during the weekend and evenings until the weather turned too cold.

The blue mosque in Istanbul

September took us for a week to Istanbul which we loved. We rented an apartment just next to Galacta Tower which proved to be the perfect location. It had a quiet little balcony and small garden which provided well-earned rest after a day out in the busy streets of Istanbul. We often set out quite early to visit the sites to avoid the crowds.

Our wisteria in spring

On the home front, our automatic watering system is up and running but we don’t quite have a mini Giverny as initially planned, mainly due to our clayey soil, but we are learning as we go.

View from the garden of our new rental apartment in the historical part of Blois

Renovation of the studio flat I bought last year is making progress at last and should be ready for holiday accommodation this summer. We plan to offer an 18th century decorative experience with all modern conveniences. It is ideally located in the most historical part of Blois known as Puits Chatel and even has a little shared garden.

Typical house in the historical quarter of Blois near the rental apartment

I’m still keeping up with my daily photo on Loire Daily Photo even though Aussie in France is vitually at a standstill but I hope to be able to post more in the future, especially when I retire!

Cycling in Slovenia – our power bikes pass the test!

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

We’re in Malibor in the north of Slovenia, a country known for its hills. We ask for a bike map from the tourist office and study it. In Malibor, there are cycle paths everywhere so we assume that outside the town, the bike circuits will be well indicated. We choose n°3 north of the city, which goes through vineyards and forests and is 31 k with a total gradient of 390 m.

We get as far as Kanmica without any problem but there, the bike paths disappear. Next to the church, we find a board with a bike map but our circuit is not on it. Oh well, we’ll just head for Saint Urban, the first stop. We start on a busy road but soon take a left turn up a quite a steep road. So far, so good. Our new electrically-assisted bikes* are doing well.

However the road keeps going up. Surely this can’t be the circuit indicated? You would have to be a really experienced and extremely fit cyclist to get up here! We’re a bit puffed and our leg muscles a little strained when we reach a bench off to the left of the road. We drink a half a litre of water each, take photos and study google maps on my iPhone to check we’re on the right route. However, there doesn’t seem to be any other road. As we leave, we look over to the right and see our church in the distanace, still much higher up.

Eventually, just before we mount the last steep hill to the church, we see a sign indicating  circuits 1 and 3. This must be the right route after all. The last stretch is extremely steep, probably about 40%. Jean Michel makes it up, but I have to get off halfway because I haven’t change into lowest gear (I’m still in 3 out of 9), even though I am in power mode. I use the “assisted walking” feature to push the bike up the rest of the way as it is pretty heavy.

The view from the top is absolutely stunning. Jean Michel is jubilant that our bikes have got us up such a steep slope (well, his anyway). I eventually get my breath back and drink another ½ litre of water. I take a photo from the window frame especially provided for visitors!

As we go back down the slope, I have my heart in my mouth, it’s so steep. I’ve never done this before. However, when we turn off to the left towards our next destination, Gaj Nad Mariborom, the slope is less frightening. We coast down for a while through forestland then up another hill, that is not nearly as bad, to the church in Gaj Nad Mariborom.

From then until we are back in Kanmica, it’s plain sailing, all downhill. Our bikes have excellent disc brakes so we don’t have to worry about overheating. I have also learnt very recently, to my great embarrassment, particularly considering how many years we have been cycling, that I don’t have to press both brakes on the handlebars at once. Just pressing the right brake (back wheel) makes turning and going down hills much easier. My only excuse is that the only bike I rode as a teenager had back-pedal brakes and when I first rode a bike with handlebar brakes, no one thought to explain about the two different brakes.

After Kanmica, we cycle for a couple of kilometers on the bike path along the main road and then join the bike path along the Drava River which we didn’t manage to access yesterday. We go past two timber rafts and learn about the annual timber rafting event in Moribor, one of its most well-known festivals.

We then ride past what is claimed to be the world’s oldest vine, planted 400 years ago.

We end up at the wine bar at the Water Tower, one of the city’s best-known monuments originally called the Gunpower Tower and built in 1555 as part of the city’s fortifications. However, it’s a fast day, so we just have tea as we watch the swans glide down the river.

After crossing the Drava via the footbridge and taking the same photos as the ones on all the tourist brochures, we go up a very steep path to join the roadthat takes us back to our hotel four kilometres away, on the edge of town.

We vote this is one of our best rides ever, along with the S-bend in Austria and other parts of the Danube in Germany. Now we’re ready for the hills of Romania!

*Kalkhof power bikes, with a torque of 70 kN/m. There are 9 gears and 3 settings: “eco”, “sport” and “power”. The battery has an autonomy of 70 to 120 km depending on how often you use the “sport” and “power” settings. The battery is removable and takes about 8 hours to charge when empty. Price: 2500 euro.

Cycling from Breschia to Lake Iseo

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

We are on our way from Blois to Romania and Jean Michel has chosen Lake Iseo as our first stopover. We’ve booked an apartment for two nights in Cazzago San Martino 2 km from the Turin-Trieste motorway. By 5 pm, we are on our bikes and ready to begin our holiday.

The scenery is delightful as we wind our way along small country roads through the vineyards of the Francia Corta region. This is our first “real” ride with our new electrically-assisted bikes and we are more than convinced! The itinerary is graded as “easy, family” but the Italians are used to hills and bad roads I guess. I would hardly think that loose gravel, occasional main roads and quite steep descents are suitable for children. With our power bikes though, it’s a breeze!

We join the bike itinerary at Monterotondo where there is a local fête in full swing. Throughout the evening we hear a lot of music and later learn it is Italy’s national day, festa della Repubblica.

A dirt path takes us through a natural peat bog reserve and we glimpse tiny lakes surrounded by vineyards and cane fields. We meet many other cyclists and joggers.

The next village is Cremignane and we have our first view of the lake, followed by a quiet road to Clusane sul Lago. We are attracted by a lakeside restaurant called Rosmundo. It’s still early so we book for 7.30 pm which will give us time to reach the end of the itinerary at Paratico. The last 5 K are not very interesting. The bike path runs along one side of the main road.

We arrive back at the restaurant in plenty of time, ready to sample the local specialities. Jean Michel has fried fish from the lake while I have an excellent scallopina al limone. We have a carafe of frizzante and I finish off with tiramisu.

It’s 8.30 pm by now and we have a 15 K ride home. We have the bike paths to ourselves now and the light over the little lakes is lovely.

After Monterotondo, we have a a bit of trouble finding our way back to our apartment and it’s nearly dark when we get back at 9.45 pm. We’ve done a round trip of 43 K which we could never have done with our previous bikes.

Next morning, the sky is clear and blue and we set out for Breschia at 10 am. Once again we join the itinerary at Monterotondo and head in the opposite direction. The castle of Dosso rises majestically from the surrounding vineyards.

We have a cappuccino break in Paderno Franciacorta along with the locals. Jean Michel reads the Brescia Times in Italian, seated in front of a poster of the Empire State Building while drinking a cappuccino and eating a pain aux raisins. It’s 11 am and a group of men are already drinking Campari.

We pass a square with a mediaeval castle and an angel of mercy. A local comes up to talk to us (in Italian) and tells us Breschia is 13 k away. It’s getting hotter by the minute. We have trouble finding our way out of town – the bike signs are not very visible – but ask some cyclists who reassure us we are in the right direction. All we usually get is that little green squiggle on the signpost below. This is the only time we see one that shows distances.

At Rodengo-Saiano, we stop to visit San Nicola’s but it’s already closed for lunch. We will stop on the way back. The bike sign says that Breschia is 9.70 k away. In fact it is 12 K. We pass through Gussago and see a beautiful private home with stunning frescoes.

It’s the end of the Saturday market in Breschia. It’s also steaming  hot and we are thirsty and hungry as it’s nearly 1.30 pm. We find a rstaurant in a shady street off Piazza Paolo VI and sit down without even looking at the menu. It turns out to be a “bistrot” with salads and pasta. It’s called Dei Notte di Calabria. We order pasta al ragù and a glass of chardonnay. Jean Michel goes into mild depression when he sees the small plate of pasta (what did he expect for 8 euro?) but I reassure him that he can order something else if he’s still hungry. We then order focaccia stuffed with steak tartare and patatine which I can’t finish but Jean Michel is looking happy again. We have a cold glass of rosato to go with it.

In the meantime, the piazza has filled up with people obviously dressed for a wedding. At first we think they are Jewish but more turn up and the Catholic church is chock-a-block by the time we visit. It’s an interesting piazza, with a round Romanesque church from the 12th century over an 8th century crypt, next to a 17th century Baroque cathedral and a typical Lombardian palazzo and tower.

Next is piazza della Loggia, with its 15th century Venetian palace and monumental clock.

After visiting the vestiges of a Roman forum, it’s 3.30 pm and 34°C so we decide that the World Heritage monastery of Santa Giulia will have to wait for another time. We still have a 2-hour ride home.


This time, having finished all our water, we stop for a cold Coke at another bar in Paderno Franciacorte. We are next to a group of 4 teenage boys. It’s very amusing to listen to their antics in a language we can’t understand.

By the time we get back to our apartment after stopping on the way to buy fruit, vegetables, cheese and yoghurt for an at-home dinner, it’s 6 pm and we have clocked up 65 K. Our total riding time is 4 hours which means an average of 16 K which is pretty good going and certainly better than the 12 K we did with our other bikes.

We can highly recommend the Breschia–Paratico bike itinerary for its great variety, lovely scenery and interesting architecture. However, I would not say it’s easy riding! The instructions given by the website are essential if you are to find your way. Our choice of Apartamento Franciacorte in Cazzago San Martino, found on, was excellent. It was very comfortable and the owner was friendly and helpful. At 180 euro for two nights, it was very good value for money.

Five Years of Blogging

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

I missed my 5th anniversary of blogging! My first post was published on 11th October 2011 just before my son went to live in Australia. He helped me set it up and regularly comes to the rescue when I have a problem. He also hosts me. I started my second blog, Blois Daily Photo (now Loire Daily Photo) in July 2013 in anticipation of moving to Blois. When I first started blogging, I posted nearly every day. I had a lot to say!


I then started posting every second day with regular features such as Monday’s Photo of the Week and Wednesday’s Blogger Round-Up where I featured 3 posts I had read during the week that I wanted to share. These days I don’t seem to have time to read many other blogs at all.

In fact, since we moved to Blois two years ago, I seem to have little time and energy to do much blogging apart from Loire Daily Photo. I still occasionally write a Friday’s French post (two this month!) and am currently trying to write a series on Secret Blois (two so far – it seems to be my magic number). During our cycling holidays, however, I have more inspiration and time and usually manage to give a fairly full  report.

Two contrasting skyscrapers - the new One World Trade Center and one of the "wedding cake" skyscrapers from the 1930s
Two contrasting skyscrapers – the new One World Trade Center and one of the “wedding cake” skyscrapers from the 1930s

I would like to write more about our trip to New York and to Boston in September to see my son and daughter but after a full day’s translation I don’t seem to have much energy left!

My basic interests remain the same but have taken on different dimensions. Reading is still my favourite activity but not something I blog about very often. I like to read ALL the works of a given author plus a couple of biographies and my Kindle usually makes that possible. I am currently working my way through the Victorian novels and am now onto the lessor known writers such as Wilkie Collins and Elisabeth Gaskell.

The iconic photo in front of the Taj Mahal
The iconic photo in front of the Taj Mahal

Travelling is at the top of the list too and we’ve certainly done a lot this year – a total of twelve weeks in Australia, the Golden Triangle in India including the Taj Mahal, cycling in Italy and Germany, especially along the Romantic Road, and New York & Boston, not to mention a few short trips. And, believe it or not, I have nothing else in the pipeline at the moment, for the first time that I can remember! I need a break from holidays. And we are up to 13 home exchanges in 4 years which isn’t bad going.

Next comes cycling but unfortunately it stops from about mid-October until March. Mushroom picking usually takes over but there has been so little rain this year but there are no mushrooms. We’re hoping that next week’s expected Indian summer will have them popping up all over the place.

Wisteria on our house in Blois
Wisteria on our house in Blois

I love gardening but I have discovered it is almost as humbling as being a parent – so much to learn and those plants have a mind of their own! One year the petunias run riot and the next year they get leggy. The clematis that bloomed beautifully one summer sulk the next. Fortunately we seem to have mastered the wisteria, the roses, the hollyhocks and the raspberries which is more than we can say for the bignomias and the lettuces!

We still enjoy wine-tasting but have a tendency to stick to our favourites, particularly the local Loire Valley wines and our favourite chianti, especially in front of the fireplace!

Homemade foie gras and vouvray to see the New Year in before the fire
Homemade foie gras and vouvray to see the New Year in before the fire

I love taking photographs with my iPhone 5S because it’s a great way to remember places and people and makes me look at things in a different way. I wouldn’t call it a hobby though because I know nothing about lenses and photographic techniques and I usually just take photos because something catches my eye. My iPhone isn’t very good at night or when there isn’t much light but the rest of the time, it’s perfect for my purposes.

But back to blogging. My most popular post remains “The Best Area to Stay in Paris” with about 3,000 clicks a month. Next, a long way behind, are “Friday’s French – biche, chevreuil & deer“, “Ten Top Châteaux in the Loire“, “The Oldest House in Paris” and “Visit the Loire without a Car Based in Blois“.

Chenonceau, undoubtedly the most beautiful of all the châteaux
Chenonceau, undoubtedly the most beautiful of all the châteaux

Over one quarter of my readers live in Australia, followed by France and the US, each about 1/5, then the UK, Canada, Singapore, Germany, India, Italy and Malaysia. The last 1/5 is made of up a surprising 90 countries which means that people from about 100 countries read Aussie in France.

The thing I like best about blogging are the wonderful friends I’ve made among my readers, people whom I would never have been in contact with otherwise. Some comment regularly, others from time to time, while some write to me personally. Others have become close friends. I love to feel connected in such a unique way. So I think I shall keep blogging for a few more years yet …

Discovering Canal Saint Martin in Paris

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

We’ve come to Paris for a long week-end to celebrate a friend’s 60th birthday, organised by her daughter as a surprise. As usual, we’ve fitted in a few medical appointments, as there is a severe lack of specialists in Blois, and some pleasure time with friends. I have found a home exchange with an Australian/French couple like us who live in a house in the west of Paris and exchange a two-room flat near Canal Saint Martin on the 5th floor. It’s not an area we know very well but our friends Susan and Simon from Days on the Claise always stay in this part of Paris when they come.

A tempting little restaurant on Rue des Vinaigriers
A tempting little restaurant on Rue des Vinaigriers

From what we can see, the area is very trendy. When we arrived last night, there were bars and restaurants open everywhere with people milling around the streets and pavements.

The spiral staircase in our apartment building
The spiral staircase in our apartment building

We’re in Rue des Vinaigriers just a short distance by foot from the canal so we set off to walk along it to the Bastille market where we’re going to buy oysters to take back to the flat for our traditional Sunday lunch.

We arrive just as a barge is passing through the lock at the end of our street. There is also a swing-bridge for vehicles that opens to let the barge through. We’re not the only people watching. Several locals are enjoying the scene and there is a group of seniors on a walking tour.

View of the canal from one of the humpback bridges
View of the canal from one of the humpback bridges

There are several humpback pedestrian bridges that give us a bird’s eye view of the canal.

Statue of Lemaître, the comedian
Statue of Lemaître, the comedian

We pass the statue of “Frédérick Lemaître, Comédien, 1800 – 1876”. The French actor and playwright was one of the most famous actors on the celebrated Boulevard du Crime, the nickname given to nearby Boulevard du Temple because of the many crime melodramas staged every night. It is notorious in Paris for having lost so many theatres during the rebuilding of Paris by Baron Haussmann in 1862.

Just one of the beautiful buildings along the canal
Just one of the beautiful buildings along the canal

We have already noticed the many beautiful Haussmann buildings with their finely sculpted doors and windows that line the street along the canal.

La Grisette
La Grisette

The next statue is La Grisette de 1830, sculpted in 1909 by Jean-Bernard Desomps. In the vocabulary of the 19th century, a grisette was a young seamstress who worked in soft furnishings and fashion, a flirt and coquette who occasionally sold her charms due to poverty rather than vice, so it would seem.

Richard Lenoir promenade above the canal
Richard Lenoir promenade above the canal

After a while, the canal goes underground and becomes a planted walkway called Promenade Richard-Lenoir. One of the four squares, Jules Ferry, is named after a French politician who drafted the 3rd Republic  bills that made lay education compulsory in France. Many schools in France are called Jules Ferry.

Bouly Ceramics
The former P. Bouly ceramic manufacture

P. Bouly, Carreaux de Faïence (ceramic tiles), on the left hand side is a reminder of the many factories that once flourished in the area.

Le Bataclan concert venue
Le Bataclan concert hall

On the right is a colourfully trimmed building surrounded by a fence – Le Bataclan, sadly famous for the terrorist attacks that led to the killing of 90 people in the concert hall on Friday 13th November 2015.

La Friche Richard Lenoir
La Friche Richard Lenoir

As we get closer to Bastille, we see a church in the distance on the left that we’ve never noticed before. Just in front is a sort of fenced-in area with small wooden huts. A sign on the gate says “La Friche Richard-Lenoir”. (Friche means “wasteland”). When I check it out later I learn it is a pop-up bar and open-air entertainment area with refreshment stalls, games and music that appeared in Septeember this year.

The memorial plaque to Merabet
The memorial plaque to Ahmed Merabet

A sobering sign on the promenade fence has a bouquet on top: “In memory of police officer Ahmed Merabet killee here on 7 January 2015 in the line of duty, a victim of terrorism.  He was shot after firing at the gunmen’s car during the Charlie Hebdo shootings during which 11 people were killed.

The Bastille market on a Sunday morning
The busy Bastille market on a Sunday morning

After more Haussmann buildings on the left and more modern constructions on the right, we come to the bustling market which is very colourful and pleasant under the trees along the promenade.

Buying oysters at the market
Buying oysters at the market. Jean MIchel watches as the man with the cigarette hand-picks the fattest oysters!

We find our oysters (from the same supplier as those we used to buy when we lived in the Palais Royal in the centre of Paris) and pick up some butter and baguette from two other stalls (we brought our Sancerre wine with us from Blois).

Vélib' and baguette
Vélib’ and baguette

Now for the Vélib’ city bikes. We’ve only ridden them once before but after cycling in New York City, we figure we are experts. Although Jean Michel assures me they are exactly the same bikes, I don’t find them as comfortable. They are infinitely cheaper though. As an occasional user, you pay 1.70 euro for a one-day ticket (8 euro for 7 days). The first 30 minutes are always free (you can swap your bike at a Vélib’ station every 30 minutes or pay 1 euro for every additional half hour). (More information here). Three-quarters of an hour’s cycling in NYC (with Black Cat’s City Bike subscription) cost us near 20 dollars each!

More buildings along Richard Lenoir promenade
More buildings along Richard Lenoir promenade

We follow the canal back up as far as Hôpital Saint Louis. As we walk back to our flat, I try the baguette and decide it’s not very tasty so we go looking for a traditional bakery called Du pain et des idées recommended by our home exchange hosts on Rue Yves Toudic. Unfortunately it’s closed on Saturday, like many of the other shops around us, most of which were open late last night.

The highly recommended bakery on rue Yves Toudic
The highly recommended Du Pain et des Idées bakery on rue Yves Toudic

On the way we pass a building with Douches (showers) written on the front. I don’t know whether these particular ones are still in operation but there are still a half a dozen free public shower establishments scattered throughout Paris. You can find the list here. Take your own towel and soap :).

Public showers in Paris
Public showers in Paris

We go back to our flat, past Café Craft, a co-working space. I later learn that it caters to people without offices who need a space to work. It has fast internet, a comfortable working atmosphere and healthy food and drink and you can spend the entire day  there if you want. What a great idea! Next time I’ll check it out.

Café Craft - a coworking space
Café Craft – a coworking space

But for now, we are going to climb our five flights of stairs, open our oysters and our bottle of sancerre and enjoy our favourite Sunday brunch!

Why it’s so great to cycle in France – Experience France by Bike

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

I have just read a post by Maggie Lacoste on her blog “Experience France by Bike” and I wanted to share it because it so exactly explains why I love cycling in the Loire Valley. I’m sure you’ll agree with her! Maggie is an American who “love sthe adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike” and her blog is full of excellent information about holiday cycling in France. I’m looking forward to hearing her top 5 cycling itineraries for 2017 that she has promised in December. Read on!

This photo by Maggie shows one of the small hill towns often missed when touring by car which are a focal point of touring Provence by bike
This photo by Maggie shows one of the small hill towns often missed when touring by car which are a focal point of touring Provence by bike

Eurovélo 3 – Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois – Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine – Maillé : goats cheese, dolmens & massacres

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

It’s a Sunday in the middle of a heat wave and we’ve chosen a cycling itinerary from our new Tours-Basque Coast book (Eurovélo 3) that we don’t know yet. It goes through Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, famous for its goats cheese, and Maillé, infamous for being the site of the second largest massacre in World War II after Oradour sur Glane. Unfortunately, my trusty iPhone has had a little accident and I’m going to have to rely on Jean Michel’s camera which has a Lumix lens but is not as easy to handle.

Joan of Arc in front of the Auberge Jeanne d'Arc in Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois
Joan of Arc in front of the Auberge Jeanne d’Arc in Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois

We park the car in the shade at Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois, 8 km north of Saint-Maure and set off on our bikes, stopping almost immediately for coffee at an attractive little auberge called Jeanne d’Arc with a terrace looking onto a statue of Joan of Arc who stayed here, wearing men’s clothing, for two nights in March 1429 on her way to Chinon. Her “voices” also revealed the existence of Charles Martel’s rusty sword behind the altar of Saint Catherine’s chapel which she then adopted as her weapon.

Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois church
Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois church

We visit the pure flamboyant gothic church next door which replaced the chapel after it was burnt down in 1440. One of the chapels inside the church is dedicated to Saint Catherine and there is another statue of Joan of Arc.

Inside the church you can see the flamboyant gothic door and on the right the stained glass window depicting Joan of Arc
Inside the church you can see the flamboyant gothic door and on the right the stained glass window depicting Joan of Arc

Devotion to Saint Catherine was so popular in the middle of the 16th century that Louis de Rohan, seigneur de Sainte-Maure, was authorized by the king to build walls and moats around the village (they’ve now disappeared) so that it could be elevated to the rank of a town.

A more recent château on the road out of Sainte-Chaterine-de-Fierbois
A more recent château on the road out of Sainte-Chaterine-de-Fierbois

After a fruitless attempt to visit the local château, we ride out of town towards a park and another more recent château but we have no idea what it is.

The covered market taken from the side opposite the town hall
The covered market taken from the side opposite the town hall

We soon arrive at Sainte Maure which has a large square surrounded by several historical buildings. The most impressive is an enormous covered market, 48 metres long, 25 metres wide and 20 metres high. You wonder just how much goat cheese they can sell! It is closed but when we go around the back, we discover an open door and wander inside among the permanent stands which are closed today.

One of the monumental doors on the market hall
One of the monumental doors on the covered market

The two monumental doors were added during restoration in 1672 by Princess Anne de Rohan. Unfortunately, they were damaged during the Revolution in 1798.

Town Hall in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine
Town Hall in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine

The town hall with its classical façade looks very majestic next to the local PMU café where the locals are enjoying a Sunday aperitif. Who knows, it might even be open when we pass through again on our way back.

The Belle Image inn
The Belle Image inn – so annoying that the rubbish is displayed so prominently

We stop in front of the 12th century “Belle Image” inn, right on the Camino which accounts for the scallop shell on the façade alongside the motto “good wine and good lodgings at La Belle Image”. It finally closed in 1987 and now houses the public revenue department.

The entrance with the shell indicating the Camino route
The entrance with the shell indicating the Camino route

We cycle down to the ruins of the château built in 990. The 14th century tower is all that remains of the protective walls. After the French revolution the castle housed the local gendarmerie until 1836 when it became a boys’ school until 1968.

The tower and remains of the château in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine
The tower and remains of the château in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine

There is one more place to visit before we go – the Virgins’ Chapel and Fountain – which is out of town a bit. As it’s very hot, not to say extremely hot, we don’t want to run the risk of losing our way so we ask at a newly open Portuguese wine and grocery store as I figure they’ll know about the chapel. “It’s up a very steep hill”, they tell us. It’s certainly not as taxing as our 1.6 km in Germany in July, but it still requires major leg power particularly in such intense heat.

The Virgins Chapel
The Virgins Chapel

I flake out at the top while Jean Michel looks around. There is a bench in the shade overlooking the town so we decide to have lunch there so that I can regain my strength.

The micraculous well at the Virgins Chapel
The micraculous well at the Virgins Chapel

The present chapel, inaugurated in 1892 replaces a chapel built in 1760 on the site of a fountain reputed to heal milk ringworm. The chapel is closed so we don’t get to visit the inside. Apparently it’s hardly ever used

The beautifullly restore wash house and market bus sign
The beautifullly restore wash house and market bus sign

As we cycle down the hill, I am able to observe a beautifully restored wash house and take a closer look at a sign that I noticed on the way up when I obviously was not going to stop. A free 22-seat mini-bus called the “carosse du marché” picks up people every Friday from mid-June to mid-September to take them to the produce market. The market must be really enormous!

The only goats we see - note the manger and the goats just visible in the hangar
The only goats we see – note the manger and the goats just visible in the hangar

The next monument on our list is a dolmen or Pierre fondue (melted stone) and is very hard to locate. We eventually come across a very small sign and follow it along an extremely stony path. On the way we see our first herd of goats. Considering how famous the cheese is here, we are surprised not to see more. Some of them are resting out of the hot sun in a large unattractive wrought-iron shelter with a Christmas manger in front.

The dolmen outside Saint-Maure-de-Touraine
The dolmen outside Saint-Maure-de-Touraine

The dolmen is a bit of a disappointment, but then, dolmens usually are. The 1.7 metre high megalith, made of Turonian limestone and sandstone, is the remnant of a covered walkway: an aisle formed by a double row of upright stones, covered with slabs. It is a Neolithic gravesite with its opening facing the rising sun. It was erected during the “new stone age” (about 5,000 to 6,000 BC) when hunters and gatherers became farmers and breeders. I try to imagine its significance but the broiling sun makes it difficult and I let Jean Michel go and take the photo close up.

The seemingly closed war museum in Maillé
The seemingly closed war museum in Maillé

Another dolmen, a menhir this time, is shown on our cycling map but we vote only to visit it if it’s on our route. It isn’t, so we push on to Maillé. We see the war museum on our right but it looks completely closed. What a disappointment. We approach the gate and discover it is open. A very friendly woman appears, expressing surprise at our arrival. “I didn’t expect anyone to come today”, she says, “because of the heat.” Only mad dogs and Englishmen, I think.

Reconstructed houses in Maillé
Reconstructed houses in Maillé

The Maillé Massacre, as it is called, took place on 25th August 1944, the day that Paris was liberated, as revenge on local Resistance activities. The German forces killed 124 out of the 500 inhabitants of the village which was then burnt to the ground. Only 8 houses out of 60 remained. The village was reconstructed. It was mainly thanks to the financial support of an American Francophile couple, the Hales, that the orphaned children and remaining adults were able to get on with their lives.

A temporary exhibition consists of photos of inhabitants who were about 10 years old when the massacre took place, with recorded quotations of their experience on a video screen. We leave feeling very subdued. In the meantime, the friendly lady has put two of our water bottles in the freezer. The cold water is much appreciated as there is not a single café or shop open.

The Vienne River in Nouatre. Magnificent bignomias on the left
The Vienne River in Nouatre. Magnificent bignonias on the left

We continue to Nouâtre, our destination for today, built on the Vienne River. We eventually locate Château de la Motte, but there isn’t much to see. It has been turned haphazardly, it seems, into individual apartments.

The somewhat disappointing Château de la Motte
The somewhat disappointing Château de la Motte

Back in Maillé, we visit the outside of the little 11th century church with its Romanesque porch and external staircase. Inside there is a memorial to the victims of the massacre but it is only open during heritage weekend in September. I later learn my friend Susan from Days on the Claise has written a post about Maillé.

The 11th century church with its Romanesque porch in Maillé
The 11th century church with its Romanesque porch in Maillé

We arrive back in Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois exhausted but get a kick out of photographing the local recipes illustrated on billboards around the main square. I hear an older woman and her adult son clucking about the recipes but can’t catch their words. I don’t care! I’m going to try that Goat Cheese Tart!

Goat cheese tart recipe
Goat cheese tart recipe


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...