Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Last 2 days in France

We awoke to rain on the morning of the 27th, and there was no hope for a ride, so we packed the bikes up in their cases. We decided to take a drive through Perpignan and to the coast. We got to see the Mediterranean sea, but it was hardly beach weather. Of course this meant that parking was very easy in the beach towns that are near Perpignan. The highlight of the day was driving through Thuir on the way back, pictured here.

On the 28th we checked out of Les Eaux Tranquilles and bid farwell to Chris and Pat. We enjoyed our stay there. At 60 Euros you get a large clean room with a large bathroom completely ensuite. The dinners are exceptional for an extra 20 Euros. Plus the garage is made available to guests for bicycles. We stopped in at the market in Quillan on the way out of town. The market consisted of almost 100% clothing, and it was less impressive than the market in Esperaza on Sunday.

We spent the evening of the 28th at the IBIS Hotel near the Toulouse Airport and flew out on a 6:05 AM flight to Amsterdam on the morning of the 29th. Our connecting flight left Amsterdam at 13:30 and we got home without any drama.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Axat and the Gorges de St-Georges

Got up and bought Gazoil (Diesel) today. The station was attended so I paid cash. We paid 1.52 Euros per Liter. With the exchange rate being $1.62 to 1 Euro, it translates to about $9.32/gallon. Gasoline is about the same price. The Citroen C5 wagon got 38 miles per gallon... very impressive for such a large car.

The weather was much nicer today, so we rode south on the D118 through Defile de Pierre-Lys and folled the L' Aude for 26km. We went in the direction of Usson-Les-Baines but decided to turn back before getting there. The highlight of the trip was the Gorges de St Georges, pictured here. The route was a slight uphill on the way out and downhill all the way back. The route took us through the village of Axat, where Robert Redford has a home.

We cleaned up and drove to Caunes-Minervois , a Medieval village of steep, twisting, narrow streets and sand-colored stone buildings surrounding the great 8th Century Abbey that lies at its heart. It is a quiet village. We had an espresso at the local bar, then were coaxed into a wine shop for tasting by elderly woman where we bought a bottle of wine to bring back.

On the way back we stopped to Carcassonne, a fortified city with a rich history, to say the very least. Unfortunately it has become little more than a tourist trap, and Kay and I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


After breakfast we pedaled 14km north on the D118 to Esperaza and the Sunday Flea market there. The market was more than we expected. There was ample food, wine, clothing, jewelry, baskets and musicians. It was a very place and it seemed like we were the only tourists. Our flashy Lycra really made us stick out. Unfortunately we didn't make any purchases. It started to rain as we approached the Inn, so we decided on another car ride.

First stop was Rennes-Le-Chateau, a hilltop village with an old church. Admittedly I don't know much about this village. There was just one restaurant and a few shops. It was very windy up there and it was raining lightly.

Then we drove to Limoux and had lunch on the square, though I don't remember the name of the place. Again, we both had pizza. It was good but not quite as good as Le Capio.

We tried to buy diesel fuel today (Gazoil in French) but none of our credit cards worked at the non-attended (its Sunday) gas stations. Plus there is some sort of fuel delivery strike so we are starting to watch how many km we do. An English man at one of the stations said that only French credit cards work at the gas stations, and he has a French Credit Card specifically for that purpose.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Transit Day - Ariege Pyrenees ---> Languedoc Roussillon

Today we pack up and bid farwell to Sal and Austin at the Roquefort Cycle Lodge and head about 100km east to Belvianes-et-Cavirac and Les Eaux Tranquilles Chambre D'Hotes (Bed and Breakfast). We enjoyed our last breakfast at the Roquefort Cycle Lodge, and we will miss the fresh croissants that Austin fetched each morning. Its a rainy day, good day to be traveling.

We drove to Montsegur Chateau, probably the most significant Cathar Castle. On 16-March-1244, the remaining 220 or so Cathars were rounded up and burned in what is known as the Field of the Cremated or prat dels cremats. While its true that there were Cathars after 1244, the tragedy at Montsegur marked the disappearance of Catharism.

The rain got heavier as we made the 30 minute climb up to Montsegur. Its a rocky climb and the rain made it slippery, but we were both determined to get to the top and check it out. Half way up there is a good view of the Village of Montsegur, pictured here. Unlike the other two castles that we toured, this one had 4 Euro admission fee. What remains is a very large castle, well worth the walk in the pouring rain.

We carried on to Quillan, which is just 5km north of our B&B, and had lunch at Le Capio. Le Capio has is a restaurant that has both English and French language menus. They have a good selection of Pesco-Vegetarian food. We both had pizza, and it was very good.

After lunch we checked in at Les Eaux Tranquilles Chambre D'Hotes, where we were met by Chris, the owner. He is a U.K. citizen who has retired to France. Chris and his wife Pat run the Chambre D'Hotes. Chris is a talker and is not afraid to share his opinions. He asked if we were more inclined to get our news from CNN or FOX, and I told him MSNBC. It was his way of sorting where our heads were.

After we unpacked we drove out to Gorges de Galamus and hiked down to the Hermitage se-Saint-Antoine that is located there. The Gendarmes (French Military Police) were randomly checking cars here. A gypsy looking couple with a dog drove up and were immediately pulled over and searched. Gorges de Galamus is very impressive, worth the trip out there.

Dinner at the Inn is optional, for just 20 Euros/person. We ended up booking a dinner tonight, and it was superb. Chris advised us that Formica had a plant in Quillan, but it (with 8,000 jobs) was shut down a few years ago. He suggested that we tell locals that we are Canadian, if we find ourselves in a conversation that includes anything about the Formica plant.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Col d'Agnes

Today is our last day of riding in the Biert-Massat area. We consulted with Austin and he suggested the Col d'Agnes and - if we were up to it - the Col de Latrape. We did decide to do both Cols today.

The climb up the Col d'Agnes featured a lot of road painting from Le Tour de France. Virenque was by far the most prominent name out there. We also passed the lake, Et deLers, and briefly communicated with a group of about 15 French tourists.

Aulus-les-Bains was where we stopped for lunch. I was hoping to eat at Hotel Les Oussailles, however it is slow season and they weren't serving lunch. I walked in and heard people eating and having conversations in the private area. They didn't hear me, or didn't react if they did, so we left and found one Brasserie, LaCascade open. Kay had salmon and I had a Croque Monsieur. Its a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, a local traditional meal.

Aulus-les-Bains is a very interesting place. It is a welcoming place that has a number of hotels, maybe 5, and most of them are closed yet well-kept. Perhaps they get a lot of business during the winter skiing season, I am not sure.

After lunch we climbed the Col de Latrape, a 5km col. At Austin's advise we rode the Vallee du Garbet and the D8. It follows a river downhill all the way to the village of Seix, where we stopped once again. We had a gentle tailwind along the D8. It was about as good as it gets on a bike.

We had a another great dinner at the Roquefort Cycle Lodge. It was our final dinner here and Sal pulled out all the stops. The rate of 96 Euros for the two of us per night included breakfast and dinner, and wine with dinner. This is a good value even with an exchange rate of USD1.62 to 1 Euro. Sal and Austin have done a great job with this place, and really took great care of us. They have decided to sell the Inn because its a lot of work to run. They have at least one very serious party who intends to continue to run the place as a cycle lodge. They will stay in the area and Sal has landed a job as a nurse.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

St Girons

We intended to ride to Le-Mas-d'Azil and ride through the 420 meter tunnel there, but one of the roads was closed along the way so we didn't quite make it. Its just as well that we had our route cut short because I had a tube explode near St Girons and my wheel went out of true as a result. I talked to a French Roadie in St Girons who spoke English. He pedaled with us to a bike shop called Velo Oxygen. Of course it was closed for lunch... everything is from 12:30 to 14:30, but we did return there and got the wheel trued pronto.

On the way to St Girons we took the D3, the part that parallels the D618 on the other side of the L' Arac river. There are 4 tunnels on this road, each less than 100 meters long. A sign says "Cyclistes Tunnels non EClaires" which I believe translates to something that warns motorists that there could cyclists in the tunnel without lights. We had the lights, both front and back. However we did manage to get almost hit by a car in the only tunnel that had a slight right hand bend in it. He braked and killed his engine when he evidently dumped the clutch. Net-net - it was cool to ride the tunnels but I wouldn't try in again. There is a quarry and the JOB cigarette paper factory there, so large trucks do use the D3 frequently. We also rode through St Lizier, anther quaint village just outside of St Girons.

Our lunch was in St Girons at LeMadison. The last picture here is the view from our table. I had Steak and Frites and Kay had a cheese omlette. During lunch we got to witness a bunch of 20-something hipster French guys and girls interact. They must have been pretty tight because they did the left and right side kiss thing when they met. Later Austin told us how the protocol worked, and it meant that they were either very close friends or perhaps even family. At about 14:15 the girls left, perhaps back to the shops where the worked. The guys didn't seem to be headed anywhere. It was great people watching before retruning to Velo Oxygen to get the wheel trued.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Col de la Core

Today was our first day on the bikes. We pedaled through Massat then west on the D17 over the Col de Saraille, through Oust, Seix and then up the Col de la Core from the east side. The Col de la Core is 13km long and climbing it is completely manageable, especially with a triple crank. We descended the same way that we climbed and pedaled back through Seix, Oust on the D3 and then to the D618 through Biert and then Massat. After arriving at the Lodge we pedaled back to the village of Massat for a beer at one of the two bars there. We are the only tourists in Massat at this moment, best as we can tell.

The weather was absolutely perfect today. The views from the Col and on the way up were stunning. We stopped for espresso and some fruit in Seix, a charming village that was buzzing with activity and few (if any) tourists. Seix is the kind of place that I could easily spend a few days or more at. There are restaurants and at least one hotel. Our bikes are shown at the coffee bar on one of the pictures here. We rode 73km today.

The British blokes are out of here today. They are doing one last ride with Austin and then will pack it all up and head to the airport in Toulouse. Austin operates the shuttle van, the blokes did this trip car-free.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Castle Tour

It rained all night and the weather appeared to be a little unsettled, so we decided to take a drive to see 2 obscure Cathar Castles:

- Miglos: This castle was a few km from Nauix. It was build by a family of Cathar sympathizers and later razed by Cardinal Richelieu. Its easy to find and you can park within 50 feet of the castle. It is surrounded by a fence to preserve what is left. We had the place to ourselves and there was no charge to tour the place.

- Montreal de Sos: This castle is above the small and charming village of Olbier. We parked about 500 meters downhill from the village and walked up. The weather had taken a remarkable turn for the better by this time. We saw about 8 people in the village, who all were polite and said Bonjour and all that. There are subtle signs for the castle, and we followed them up the hill, through a small cave and eventually to ruins. Montreal de Sos is actually a Templar chateau. According to the Rough Guide, "the Templars were responsible for many pilgrims' hospices in the Pyrenees, but became too rich for the liking of the Catholic Church and its allies, who in 1307 accused them of corruption, heresy and sexual depravity, tortured their leaders and finally burnt them to death." Hmm, OK. The views of Olbier (shown below), Auzat and Vicdessos were incredible from the Chateau. We were alone at this place too, and were free to walk around what remained of the structures.

We drove to Foix and had lunch at a Brasserie run by an English couple called La Boutique a Croustades. I had the Croustades, a local delicacy that featured goat cheese. Kay had quiche with asparagus.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Travel Day to Massat

We left Amsterdam and jumped on the hour and a half Flight to Toulouse. We rented a Citroen C5 Station Wagon, a diesel car that was plenty large enough for our stuff. The car had a GPS unit, which will probably pay off in the form of fewer arguments while we are here.

We found our way to Massat and the Roquefort Cycle Lodge without any drama. We got settled in and I set up the bikes. The Inn is owned by Sal and Austin, British citizens who moved here a few years ago to take it down a gear, so to speak. They have a dog named Bongo who will demand that you throw a stick whenever he sees us. We are more than happy to oblige Mr. Bong, as Sal calls him. We eventually learn that there are a number of U.K. citizens who have moved to southern France. There are three other guests here for most of the week, Ian, Mark and Tim who are also from the U.K.
Good blokes, all of them.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Today is our one full-day in Amsterdam before our flight to Toulouse. The weather was absolutely perfect as we made our walk to the museum. We purchased advanced tickets to the Anne Frank House, and took the tour. There was an espresso place a few doors down from the museum, so we had espresso and breakfast over there. The tour was great, they have done a good job with it. The queues grew long after we left. I am glad we did the advance tickets and the early tour.

After the tour we rented bikes at nearby Bike City Rental in the Jordaan district. We rode for over 2 hours, mostly in circles around the city. If you look at the geography of the place you will see why. My trusty Teva shoes developed a rip, so we had a mission of buying a new pair for me. Scored a pair of Patagonia shoes at an outdoor store... don't want to think about the exchange rate at this point... just glad that I scored on the shoe front.

Amsterdam is a very welcoming place, especially on a bike. We didn't find it intimidating at all, and it is a real treat to part of the constant flow of bikes that is just part of this place. You see families like the one pictured here pedaling around and running their errands. We encountered a couple of street fairs, including a very large book fair. Also cruised the Red Light District and saw the Pros working in the windows.

We returned the bikes and had a veggie burger at a nearby restaurant. Can't recall the name.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


We are off to the French Pyrenees by way of Amsterdam. The plan is to fly non-stop to Amsterdam, spend 2 nights and then take a KLM flight to Toulouse. We have 5 nights booked in Massat and 4 nights booked near Quillan in the Languedoc.

Our daughter Jess graciously offered to drive us to the airport, and we oblige. The bikes (which have S&S Couplers) are packed in to their 26x26x10" cases, which means they ought to fly for no extra charge. We check in at Northwest and the counter representative asks, what is in these? I respond - those are travel bikes, and the cases meet airline size requirements as standard baggage. He looks up something in the computer and says, that will be $150 each. I say, no - please measure the boxes and you will find that they are less than 62 inches total. The supervisor is called and she agrees with my assessment. The bikes fly for no additional charge.

We arrive in Amsterdam and head to the airport bag storage, which is still offered at Schiphol Airport. We find that the largest self storage locker holds both bikes, and we don't need the bikes until we get to the Pyrenees. For 8 Euros per day our bikes are stored.

We catch the train and go to our hotel, Chic and Basic in the Jordaan district. We learn that there is a problem and we have no room here, but the hotel did make arrangements for us to stay at NH City Center, a 3-star hotel, at no extra cost to us. We're tired and ready to check in, but grateful that they sorted this out. They paid for our cab ride and we checked in.

It began to rain, but we walked to the Waterloopein Flea Market anyway. It was nearly 100% clothing that was offered for sale, we left without making a purchase. Dinner was at Bolhoed, a vegetarian place near the Anne Frank House. We eat had quiche and salad, plus desert.... was very good. They have a cat named Suzan that joined us for dinner.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Grocery/Beer Run

Time for a grocery run, so we grabbed the Xtracycle and headed out to the Seward Coop and Skol Liquor... two venerable South Minneapolis businesses. Here I am with two bags of groceries and 3 six-packs of beer.

This is what the load looked like. Germany, Wisconsin and Minnesota are equally represented in the picture below.

Monday, May 05, 2008

I'm not Marvin

The weather was great in Minneapolis today. I got hung up at work a bit longer than I had hoped, so Kay pedaled from home and met me in the Seward neighborhood. We pedaled out to Hopkins on the trail, and there were a lot of people out riding.

We hit the Seward Coop on the way home. I only had one lock, so Kay hung out while I grabbed a few things in the store. I was approached by a woman in the produce section, she looks at me and says.... "Hi Marvin". She looks again and says... "Oh, you aren't Marvin" and say "No, but Marvin is a real lucky guy because he looks like me" and laugh. She says, "Marvin is a lucky guy".

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Greg Brown & The Pines

We took in the Greg Brown concert at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul on Friday night. I bought the tickets the minute that they went on sale, so we ended up being seated in row 3, just to the left of the stage. Greg Brown was accompanied by Bo Ramsey, an outstanding guitarist that we have seen perform previously.

The intro act was a due called The Pines. The Pines consist of Ben Ramsey (Bo Ramsey's son) and David Huckfelt. We've seen them before at The 400 Bar and other places.

We enjoyed the concert, both groups put on a great show. It was an enjoyable way to spend a rainy evening.