The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris
Remember last years bike trip in Germany? The one that initially had 5 of us in England, and only one of us in Germany and a bit of scrambling for the lone wolf to rejoin the group? Well, this year, the same six folks realized early on that Germany wasnt going to be a possibility flights just didnt look good enough (in ANY class, much less Business Class) to bother. We had narrowed the target dates down to departing on Saturday, the 8th of June, and returning on Friday the 14th. From those dates, we selected several possibilities. Our first destination possibility would be Paris, with the intention of taking a train out to the country, finding and renting bikes, etc. One of our group had located some Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door information on biking through the Loire Valley and it sounded intriguing. The problem was that while Paris looked better than Frankfurt, it still wasnt likely. But it WAS in the first international push of the evening, so we kept it in mind. Our likely destination this year, was Manchester (again). The flight looked great, and we had read about taking a fast ferry from Holyhead England to Dublin, Ireland. In Dublin, wed find bikes, etc. Manchester was in the second international push, so it was a good back-up / most likely destination. (After Manchester, we also had a fourth, on Saturday, London flight, that was going to be our last-ditch guaranteed Business Class city.) We even had a private pnr set aside this year, in case we needed to communicate with a separated member XXKISR . Easy to remember ex-ex-kisser.
Looking forward to a quick flight to Manchester, we all headed to the Atlanta airport Saturday evening; early enough to try for Paris, have a beer, and then get on the plane to England. With memories of the Lessons Learned section of last years trip, no one chose to use an S1R this year, and end up in a foreign city alone. Much to everyones surprise (but fortunately to no ones disbelief), Delta flight 22 to Paris left with all six of us comfortably seated in those nice leather recliners of Business Class. Champagne, nuts, wine, dinner, wine, ice cream and wine followed by a movie (Ashley Judd and Morgan Freemans High Crimes, for me) and it was time for a nap. Five hours later, I awoke as we were descending into France. We freshened up, changed clothes, headed for the ATM for cash to put in the pink purse (group money although the pink purse has since passed on and is now the blue bag) and headed downstairs to the Metro station. Based on a ETBD recommendation, we plotted a Metro to Metro to train (Someone should run) connection that would end in the northeast end of the Loire Valley. After two hours on a train without the benefit of a dining (read: beer) car, we stepped off in the lovely city of Amboise. The first hotel we came to was a pretty enough place, well recommended by Rick Steves. We looked it over, but wanted to see more of the town (read: get something to drink) before we settled in. As we crossed the river into Amboise proper, we spotted a second hotel that Rick recommends. When we saw The Hotel Bellevue, overlooking the Loire on the front, the chateau at Amboise on the back, and a walking street on one side, with very reasonable rates ($66/night double, including breakfast), our decision was made.
We checked in (its around 1:00pm local time) so that we could drop our bags before we headed off to find a b . bike shop. BJ and I ended up in a room (we are so lucky) on the first floor (in the States, wed call it the second floor) with French doors (duh) that opened out onto a porch on top of the hotels dining room. With a view of the Loire River (and a chance to watch a very determined young man on a moped repeatedly try to push the limits of his mortality), this wound up being our groups after-dinner hang out for the next 3 nights; a bottle of wine, some bread and cheese and Kinder Eggs being the perfect end to three wonderful days in the Valley. Taking several restaurant and bar recommendations from the front desk, we headed off into Amboise for our first non-riding day. We located, and tested, several bars that first day; found the bike shop (today is Sunday, and the shop has closed before we got out of the bar uh before we found it hidden on a side street two blocks from the hotel); and ate a nice dinner at a place whose name sounded like the Shay Hippo. (A Lesson Introduced at the Chez Hippeaux, that later became a new Lesson Learned, was that the French dont cook their beef as much as the Americans do. BJ had an incredibly tender filet in a tasty Hollandaise sauce; it was ordered rare, but it was what some would call almost raw seared on the outside, but purple in the middle as far as I was concerned, it was perfect, but then Id been drinking beer all afternoon, and wine all evening, and heck, EVERYTHING was perfect by then. My pasta was perfect. BJs steak was perfect. our other friends steak was well, not as good as BJs, but perfect. After dinner (which we finished about 10:00pm local time remember, this is on 5 hours sleep) we wandered back to our porch for one last bottle of wine before everyone headed of to bed. End of Day 1 in France, and it was perfect.
Day 2, after meeting at 8am for breakfast (some feeling better than others Day 1 was a long day), we hit the bike shop as it was opening and signed out six bikes for two days. Using more of Ricks recommendations, plus some group decision making, we pedaled out of town, for our first destination, the Chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire. A flat ride through the lovely French countryside got us the 20-something kilometers to the first Chateau in short order. Man! The rich folks really knew how to spend money back then. Chaumont is beautiful, sitting on top a small hill overlooking the Loire.
Coming down from the Chaumont hill, it now being just after noon, we decided to stop for lunch. The first place we stopped was a little pizza place (The Cave) that served incredible pizza, with cracker-thin crust, and the tiniest beers youve ever ordered three of.
Since its so early, and the first part of the ride was so easy, we decided we would hit a second château today. The Chateau Chenonceau is, according to the map, about as far away from us as we have already ridden, in a direction that would leave us a ride home of about the same length again; in other words, wed make a triangular ride today, with one leg already behind us. No problem. Okay, small problem. Chenonceau is on another river, one valley over. To get into the next valley, we had a few hills to negotiate. These were not Lakes region of England type hills, but for the old and out of shape of us well it gave me something to gripe about (Try to keep up with the group). Another 20-something kilometers, a few hills, a beautiful red deer spooked out of its hiding place in a field, and we arrived at the Chateau Chenonceau. I think this one is prettier than Chaumont. Part of the Chateau spans the river, and even the staff rooms (like the kitchen) overlook the river. And the grounds at Chenonceau are much more manicured than Chaumont, with two separate formal gardens to be enjoyed.
Once we finished at Chenonceau, it was time for an easy back to Amboise. No problem. Okay, small problem weve got to get back over those same hills that had me griping coming to Chenonceau. And remember that easy ride to Chaumont this morning? Well, part of the reason it was so easy was that we had a tail wind and didnt know it. Now that tail wind is a head wind, and weve got hills!! (Try to keep up with the group, please.) Twenty-something more kilometers and were home. Todays ride was 64 kilometers altogether. My butts not as sore as last year (because Ive done two other rides already this year), but dang! Im tired! Back in town, we picked up another entry for Lessons Learned; i.e. most of the restaurants in France are either not open on Monday, or they close early on Monday. Dinner on Day 2 was at (the only place we could find open,) a Chinese restaurant. Excellent Pekinese soup. In fact, everything we had there was excellent. (We are so lucky.) One of our group had found a little grocery store nearby that had cheap wine and fresh bread, and we headed back to the porch to end Day 2. (I guess we were making enough noise that we met, and invited onto the porch, an American couple staying on the second floor, who also brought a bottle of wine down with them. There were no leftovers.)
Day 3. Breakfast at 8am. On the bikes around 9:30. Todays destination is to the west of Amboise, in the town of Vouvray. Vouvray, and the area around it, is wine country. White wine; some sparkling white wine, but wine nonetheless. We chose the route less traveled to cover the 16 kilometers to Vouvray. This added several clicks to the trip, but kept us off the main roads. Another beautiful ride through the countryside had us reaching Vouvray around 11am. (We chose to head west today, so that our day would start with the head wind and end with a tail wind. Try to keep up with the group.)
We stopped in town, took an outdoor table at a lovely café and had a glass or two of refreshment. A quick walk across the street at another nice looking café and it was time for another glass. Just after noon, we saddled up, and headed the kilometer or two to the wineries just outside of town, only to discover that they all close at 12:30 for lunch; re-opening at 2pm. Being resourceful and flexible, we did the only thing we could do. Back to town, to the same outdoor café, where we now refreshed again and had lunch (When in doubt, eat. When in doubt about what to eat, drink.) With the clock showing opening time at the wineries, but with my legs still tired from yesterday, I chose to skip the wine tour, skip the route less traveled and just head home, on the direct (read: flat) route. It was certainly busier than the mornings ride, but it was adjacent to the Loire and pretty enough in its own right.
BJ rode with me and we ended our riding day an hour or so ahead of the others, turning in our bikes after 37 kilometers. (We averaged 50 kilometers a day thats 30 miles not bad for an old guy whose only exercise is surfing the Net.) We hooked up with the others when they got back to town, had a before-dinner bottle of wine on our porch, then headed out to eat. Again, we had a difficult time finding a restaurant; this time it was a search for one that would seat 6, without reservations, at a price we wanted to pay, without a staff with an attitude. The creperie a block from our hotel was our choice. Tonight, I had crepes, BJ had French Onion Soup (as if there was another kind of onion soup in France) and our friend got Lesson Two on beef preparation in France; apparently BJs rare meat wasnt an anomaly. Even after sending it back for additional cooking time, our friends beef was rarer than most at the table cared for. After a bit of plate swapping, though, everyone enjoyed a tasty dinner, We completed our last night in Amboise, on the porch, drinking some of the wine that the serious riders had bought on their winery tour.
Day 4 was going to be a non-riding day for us. We met at 8 for breakfast, finished packing, checked out and then leisurely walked the kilometer or so back to the train station, only to miss the train to Blois, todays destination, by about 45 seconds. The train we wanted was in the station when we got there; we just didnt know it. We bought our train tickets, realized that that was the train we wanted, but couldnt get to Track 2 before the train headed out. The next train to Blois was more than 4 hours later, and since Blois was only about 20 miles away, we (flexibly) decided to take a cab.
Once in Blois, we headed for Tourist information, reconnoitered the train station (so we wouldnt miss the train back to Paris by 45 seconds on Friday morning) walked down into Blois proper and ultimately (read: after a couple of beers) checked into the Hotel Ibis. We enjoyed a leisurely day today, with lunch outside at a local café.
Today, our other friend reinforced the Lesson Learned, when he ordered an American steak sandwich (we call them hamburgers in the States) well done. STILL too rare! In the spirit of trying to think globally, eat locally (remember my crepes from last night), I ordered a grilled sausage andouilette it said on the menu. I had seen that word on other menus, and even though I dont speak French, I had had andouille sausage before, in Cajun dishes and really liked it. Apparently Andouilette and Andouille have as much in common in France as the word beef and the word cooked do; i.e. absolutely nothing. This sausage (which I gladly shared with our friend, who couldnt see my face as I took a bite, and with our other friend, who thought he wanted something to eat besides his rare hamburger) had large, unidentifiable chunks of what must have been I dont know I saw something that looked like what I think stomach looks like anyway the fries were good. We spent the rest of the day walking around Blois, sampling the local refreshment, and made sure we knew where the bicycle rental place was, so that we could get an early start on Thursday morning.
Dinner was at a nearby pizza place recommended by the hotel, La Scala. (Wed had enough experimental food today everybody was ready for a known entity its hard to really mess up pizza).
Back to the hotel, we finished the evening with Kinder Eggs and Mimosas (which are somehow better at room temperature than straight sparkling wine, purchased in Vouvray), and to bed.
Day 5, we met at 8:30 (since breakfast wasnt included at the Ibis, it was every man for himself) and headed up the hill, to the highest point in Blois, where the bicycle vendor happened to have his shop. We rented bikes for one only day this time (mountain bikes, which were all they had wed previously been on hybrids) and headed out around 9:45. Todays destination was the Chateau Chambord. Once out of Blois, we enjoyed what was probably my best day ever riding. Beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, flat, no wind. The Chateau Chambord looks like a place Bill Gates would have built, had Microsoft been around in the 1700s. Beyond huge. Awesome is more accurate. Like the Biltmore House, only French. And on flat ground. In a beautiful setting not formal gardens so much as just acre after acre of lawn, and forest and a long reflection pond.
After a tour of the chateau and the grounds, and an outdoor lunch overlooking the lawn (and maybe some wine) it was time to saddle up and head back to town. Another beautiful ride (on a mostly different route than the mornings ride out) brought us back to Blois around 4:30. Other than a hectic ride through serious town traffic back up the hill (remember, the bike shop is at the highest point in Blois), it was a great ride; just a little under 40 kilometers today.
We turned in our bikes (by the way 12.5 Euro/day the bikes in Amboise were 17 Euro the first day and 14 the second), cleaned up, then headed out on the town for our last night in France. After much group discussion, it was back to La Scala for dinner then early to bed. We have an early day tomorrow (catching a 7:05am train).
Day 6 started early. It was another beautiful day in the Loire Valley, but we wouldnt be able to take advantage of this one. Out of the hotel at 6:30am, up that hill again to the train station and on towards Paris and the CDG airport. After a train to Metro to Metro (Someone should run) connection, we arrived at the terminal around 9:45am for our anticipated 12:10pm return to Atlanta. CDG now has a pretty good setup for nonrevs. Instead of checking in at the regular Delta counter at Area 8, there is a separate counter, and waiting area, for nonrevs; check-in Area 1, at the far end of the terminal, and downstairs, away from the crowds, with agents who handle nonrevs exclusively, so they know the necessary inputs. This is important, because Delta doesnt use the Delta computer system in Paris; instead, they use the Air France system, so information availability is somewhat spotty. At check-in, we were advised that it doesnt look good but you might make it, which weve heard plenty of times before. With the two junior folks on Vacation passes, and four of us on regular passes, we confidently took seats in the waiting area; confident because we are, after all, twenty year employees and will surely be ahead of all of the Buddy passers. Twenty minutes before departure, one of our party is called to the counter and given his Business Class seat. A few minutes after that, the next person in our party is called up and given the LAST seat offered and its in coach. Our friend with the business class boarding card heads to the plane, and our other friend heads back to the group. We are all clustered near the counter now, trying to glean information from the conversations (in French) taking place behind the counter. Additionally, theres a pilot who is begging the Air France agents to take care of his father who isnt going to get on this flight. (Of course, the pilots going to take his Business Class seat, and leave, rather than give it up and stay with his father himself ya gotta love that concern.) Anyway, to make a short story boring, we convinced our friend to turn her seat (in coach) back in, with her excuse being that she doesnt want to leave without the rest of the group. BJ and I are next, and we say we wont split; then the other two in our party both refuse the single seat (in coach) and so the Air France agents realize they have a single seat in their hands, an old man that they dont want on their hands, and do the logical (although maybe not seniority-based correct) thing they quickly put the gentleman on the plane (in coach) and shut the door. Delta 29 leaves without us, full and pushes back for a scheduled 3:40pm arrival in Atlanta, with our friend in one of the big leather seats. We have the counter agent roll our listing over to Delta 21, departing for Atlanta in 95 minutes and head upstairs for a beer. Two of our party (braver than me or BJ) place a call to Atlanta to make sure that well be able to get on DL21 and discover that it, too, looks iffy, but the CDG to JFK flight looks good. We run back downstairs, have the AF agent change our listing yet again to DL17, which is almost ready to begin boarding. This time, all five of us make Business Class (along with a young Buddy Pass couple, that we took under our wing and shifted to the JFK flight Dude and Dudette we called them) and we sadly / gladly depart France for the States. Well worry about how to get from New York to Atlanta later its better to be moving than to be sitting. Due to the late shift of so many folks from the ATL flight to the JFK flight, Business Class was under catered for food (but adequately catered for coach meals, and adequately catered for wine) so several of us Business Class nonrevs got to enjoy the coach meals. (When in doubt about what to eat, drink.) Arriving in New York around 4pm on a Friday afternoon, we eventually find an available computer terminal, check flights and board the best looking flight home, which happens to be a one-stopper in Washington DC (DL1285). With most of us in coach from JFK to DCA, then all five of us in front from DCA to ATL (the JFK agent didnt know how to confirm coach to DC, then put us on standby out of DC, so we deplaned and replaned), we arrived in Atlanta around 10pm Friday night, tired but happy to be home. (As it turned out, due to weather in Atlanta, our friends flight had diverted to Columbia South Carolina to wait out the storm, and he didnt get to Atlanta until 8pm. Our friend who turned in her boarding pass made the right decision, because that extra 4 hours would really have been unpleasant in coach, although our business class seated friend advises that there were about 15 empty coach seats on that full flight.)
Whats next? Who knows. This whole group got together to ride from Trier to Koblenz, along the Mosel. Perhaps one day well actually make that maybe not in June, but some day.
Hope you enjoyed this trip as much as we did. Thanks for reading!
Tony and BJ