Friday, June 3, 2016

More French memories: Burgundy

No, not Sabine's Skoda--this is a Citroen 2CV. It doesn't get more French!
Memories they are, now that I have started the long trek back across the pond to West Texas. Just a week ago--heck, four days ago--Sabine and I were still in France, enjoying another great ride in Burgundy after our 10-day stay in Provence.
Did you know that fewer than 8% of French workers are actually unionized?
Our initial plans had been to stay in our AirBnB in Lagnes for only a week, but then we decided to extend this stay by three days and instead of jumping from one hotel to the next on the way back to Germany we'd build in another two-nighter in another AirBnB somewhere in Burgundy. Good choice, as it meant less packing/unpacking and the chance to ride in another region of France.
Riding in Burgundy, on cobbles in town
Riding in Burgundy, using the voies vertes
Provence and Burgundy are totally different. Yes, both are hilly, but Provence features longer, steeper climbs while Burgundy is much more moderate. There also seemed to be fewer hamlets and villages where we were, just west of Chalone-sur-Saone, resulting in fewer tiny roads connecting them. Still, the riding is fabulous in either region, and Burgundy was the first French area to adopt the voies vertes, rails-to-trails asphalted bike paths that are easy to ride (but also somewhat boring since they go in a straight line). For our one ride in Burgundy we chose a mixture of voies vertes and tiny roads, and we were rewarded with a beautiful ride of more than 50 miles that took us through fewer vineyards than pastures with Charolais cattle.
Charolais cattle taking a siesta
But before we get to more details regarding Burgundy, I should add our experience with the refinery strike. Two days before we left Lagnes, our host, Natalie, had nonchalantly asked me whether our "gasoline was OK." Well, what should not be OK? Maybe low octane or water in the Super E-95? I didn't even detect a question mark in her utterance. A day later, when we saw a long line at the filling station of the supermarket we had just exited things became clear: No, it wasn't that gas was really cheap here, but it was the fact that there was a full-blown strike against the country's refineries to force PM Francois Hollande to reverse his just-announced labor reform laws. We were down to almost empty (maybe that's what Natalie had meant???) and had planned to gas up the next day before starting our trip back with a full tank, and we simply lucked out that we realized at that moment that we'd better get in line and brim 'er up! The next morning, when we departed Provence, the stations were empty--pas plus d'essence.
Lines like in the '70s....
Strikes seem to be a French (and Belgian) pastime, so what would be more logical than to use one of the few stretches of two-lane road (where one can pass those hulking trucks) to impede all traffic behind and force everyone to stay behind by driving two abreast and slowing to a crawl, all the while waving huge protest flags from the car windows? It was maddening, so maddening indeed that I passed the illegal convoy first on the right shoulder and then by crossing into the third, on-coming lane, all the while honking like a directeur sportif in a bike race. Sabine's Skoda may not have much power, but it sure has a hell of a loud claxon! It was quite a drive.
Basking in the late afternoon sun in front of our B&B after the long drive from Provence
Les poules et moi
But somehow we made it to Burgundy, and the little gite that Sabine had selected and booked was waitig for us. It was a nice little apartment in an old farmhouse that was quiet and comfy. It featured outside seating and eating, and we were forewarned that there'd be three poules that were roosting in an old, abandoned Renault R4 and that would make their rounds in the morning to see what crumbs they could find. Nothing like fresh chicken poop on the porch and the clucking of happy hens.
Impressions from riding the French rails-to-trails

If that damn mechanic could just adjust that front derailleur ....
As mentioned earlier, Burgundy has an advanced system of bike paths that like our rails-to-trails follow old railroad lines. We parked the Skoda in Buxy, in the wide Grosne valley. We had expected way more vineyards in this region, but they were rather scarce as compared to the pasture land of this verdant valley. Regardless, there were lots of sights. We explored the medieval village of St. Gengoux-Le-National, marveled at the left-over railroad-related buildings and fixtures, and stumbled upon the nouveau-chic monastery of Taize, which attracts young folk from all corners of the world--to me it all resembled a bit a Jim Jones-ian cult camp where the Kool-Aid is going to be served any minute now. Sabine, on the other hand, was quite impressed with Taize. Well, to each his own.
That's what a modern-day monastery looks like--open concept
One doesn't see any monks, but there are hordes of young folk who don't
use rosaries but smartphones instead
We rode a bit farther south, all the way to Cluny, home to another monastery, this one dating back to the middle ages. Cluny is also an important equestrian center, and we saw the preparations for what appeared to be a large horse confab that weekend. It would have been nice to have more time to explore this region, but that will have to wait until next time, I'm afraid.
A "proper"monastery, in Cluny
Cluny appeared to be fully in the hands of equestrians
On the way back we left the voie verte for a while and bushwhacked back to Buxy on tiny roads, along beautiful estates and quaint farm houses. After 54 miles we still found a butcher that was open and we bought a nice Charolais steak that we grilled to perfection at the B&B. It was a fitting meal for our final night in France.

The next day we started the long drive back to Germany, via tiny roads through various regions that took us from the gently undulating Burgundy into the pre-Alps and then finally across the Swiss border to Neufchatel. The weather varied from unpleasant to rainy, but once we hit the Swiss lakes of Neufchatel and Biel the sun came out and it turned out to be a gorgeous afternoon for driving. Indeed, it was so nice that we decided to add one more night to our trip by staying with Sabine's sailing buddies, Bernd and Isolde, who live jut a few klicks away from Lake Constance. We finally rolled into Freising on Sunday afternoon, precisely 14 days and about 2,600 kilometers after we had left. What a great vacation! I can easily see us going back to France in the next few years as the riding and scenery are first-class. If you get a chance to spend some time in that country, do so--you won't regret it.


No comments:

Post a Comment