‘Uniformity avoids annoying individuality” – Cucuron to Cremieu [Lyon] driving – Monday 18 May
Left Cucuron at 11am after cleaning up our Balbo ‘apartment’ and saying farewell. Decided on the 3hr, fast, tolled, direct route to Lyon instead of the 5hr, scenic road over Mt Ventoux, a road often used in Le Tour. All was going well until some roadworks on the 130kph autoroute, slowed the speeding mass to a 10km crawl and added an hour to the trip! It was a full-on, lane-changing concentration driving with 3 lanes of traffic differing wildly in speeds, from trucks on the inside doing 90ks to the flashy, marque brand sedans doing 160ks on the outside.
At least we had an appetite when we finally got to Cremieu, close to the airbnb farmhouse we rented for the week. The village is a little known medieval gem – growing rich 500 years ago as it was on the trading route to Italy. Will lunched on charolais steak, Elly on duck andouille sausage, me on goat cheese salad, and Grandma on…crepe Grand Marnier. I guess at 90 years of age you can have dessert whenever you like! A little walk around town brought out Val’s quote of the day; even ‘modern’ homes and buildings mimic the style and color of the heritage surrounds , so it isn’t like Australia where there is “annoying individuality”.
Finding our house was a little tricky and had its moments of tension as we wrestled with google maps, tom-toms, and directions in French. But all was forgotten when we rolled up to our cute 2-storey rural retreat, had a welcome drink and chat with convivial host Nathalie, and settled in.
Department d’Izieu – Dizimieu circuit 42km – Tuesday 19 May
Morning ride, with Will for a few kms, before wandering around the tree-lined roads and lanes of quintessential Springtime French countryside. Undulating neat fields of various crops, pastures grazing Charolais beef and Holstein dairy cattle, and homogenous villages every 5 -8 km. It was everything cycling in Spain and Portugal was not, where it was cramped, busy, and tired-looking by comparison.
Cleaned all the bikes on return, in preparation to sell them in Lyon. They have served us well and it would be great, but expensive and unrealistic, to take them home; I can see why ‘Cycling Rentals’ use them.
By this time it was early afternoon and I drove the others along the route I had cycled in the morning, having reconnoitred restaurants, wine tastings and sights. Didn’t have much luck with the former and about 3pm ended up at a Turkish café in Morestel nevertheless with great doner kebab, salad and chips. As the tourist office lady explained, ‘at zis time, it is not possible to eat at ze restaurant’, as most send the chef packing at 2pm, before commencing later for evening service. Had a win with wine tasting though – a tiny generations-owned House, Domain Meunier, with more than passable Chardonnay and an ‘interesting’ Gamey red. Were shown the storage cave by the proud mother, and the spittoon which was in no danger of being used. Bought more than we needed at 6E a bottle. [Maggie learned in her course it costs about 1.50E to produce a bottle. So I guess there is a handsome profit margin – but why is production cost it so much cheaper than Australia which is about 5.50E [$8]?
Evening entertainment was provided by modern technology – download of ‘Game of Thrones’ for Elly and Will, and replay of Giro d’Italia for me on satellite TV.
It’s all about the food – Cremieu market and Lyon – Wednesday 20 May
Another early morning ride around the picturesque countryside, spotting a deer out of its designated area [not between the roadside warning signs], before heading with Elly to the Cremieu market in its 12th century, open wooden ‘shed’. The feature at one end being some stone ‘sinks’ used as standard measures of quantities of grain amongst traders in the olden days. It is a great market in an amazing location: very friendly and relaxed stallholders with all the local delicacies of goats’ cheese, vegies, pate, meats… we returned laden down with goodies.
As Will and Grandma were not feeling A1, Elly and I drove into Lyon to catch up with Maggie, and boyfriend Moni who was arriving from Cambodia after a stint of university exchange there. Maggie had told us she lived in a castle…and she does! Renting a room with about 10 others in an old chateau in the suburbs surrounded by tall apartment blocks. It had all the round staircase turrets that feature in Lyonnais area castles and chateaux, and had good plumbing and white goods not often associated with student living. Lunch was provided by Moni – banana and rice wrapped up leaves all the way from Cambodia. They wouldn’t have made it through Australian Customs! Left Maggie with all our clothes washing while we took Jordy into the Portugese Consulate to see about a visa to extend his stay. It was an interesting afternoon in the office – a wedding being conducted, a personal chat with the Consul who had been to Australia while working in East Timor, and Elly chatted up a uni student from Madeira who was studying sport in Lyon. Ultimately it proved unsuccessful for Jordy in terms of visa entry, but at least we know it’s not possible. A stroll through the massive central park on the banks of the Rhone River in Lyon, complete with a deer herd; some shopping and then home to a stunning Camargue rice casserole a la Elly.
Far Canals – Annecy driving- Thursday 21 May
Annecy, 100km from Cremieu, is one of the many attractive towns in the region – situated on a huge lake in the middle of a valley, with canals through the old part of town. But it was windy and barely 10 degrees – far canals! And Maggie and Moni were nearly frozen by the time we arrived as they got up at 6am to do a car-share ride from Lyon as they couldn’t fit in with us. What to do but find the top tripadvisor spot for the most delicious hot [real] chocolate and warm-up.
Reinvigorated we wandered around the boutiques and byways until a picnic lunch on the steps of the cathedral, out of the wind and in some stints of sun. Not sure if other tourist didn’t think we were homeless like some of our co-tenants on the steps, but we provided a huddling sight! A quick visit to an exhibition about the history of animation was interesting, and then it was time to head back via the thermal town of Aix Les Bains to see if we could get could get a hot bath. Unfortunately it was a bit late in the day and we probably didn’t have enough ailments – the centres specialising in arthritic and respiratory problems!
Driving home, Val mentioned she would love some minestrone soup – an hour after return we sat down to another Elly special; the best, warmingest minestrone soup in the world.
21 Hairpins – Alpe d’Huez 32km – Friday 22 May
What a way to tick past 1000km cycling on the trip – climb the famous 21 hairpin bends of the Tour de France icon Alpe d’Huez. Jordy and I drove the hour or so out to the base past Grenoble after dropping Elly off to train into Lyon and meet Maggie. We’d watched the weather forecast and this was meant to be the best day of the week…and it was. Fine, with only some cloud surrounding the peaks, not much wind – 12 degrees at the bottom and 6 degrees at the top.
In the summer, up to 1000 cyclists per day make the ride up the mountain! In our couple of hours we probably saw about 50. As it turned out we thought it was a little easier than Col du Tourmalet, longer, but not quite as steep. The 14.2km at an average slope of 7% took 1hr 47min – and we did overtake someone! [Although Jordy thinks it may not count, as it was a hefty woman on a hefty mountain bike.]
Sadly the final 400m in the ski village at the top is badly signposted, and like many others we made a wrong turn and couldn’t do a final ‘sprint’ to the ‘official’ finish line. [But I have no doubt I would have won Jordy!] Magnificent snow-capped mountain scenery, and a recent snowfall had left a dusting around the ski village at the top, so our disappointment didn’t last long. Put on all our layers for the run down, bought a commemorative jersey, and 20 minutes later we were eating down at the bottom – though our descent time was added to by a cattle truck we couldn’t pass, and we only averaged 40pkh! Luckily the adrenalin buzz kept me awake for the drive home – but not my front seat passenger.
We all met in Cremieu for dinner at L’Essential restaurant, serving ‘revisited traditional cuisine’ [eg ravioli escargot], full of stories. Will and Val had successfully minded the fort, and Elly had spent [another] four hours at a hospital with Maggie to see about her broken arm, and felt content with the new cast and diagnosis. Happily, Maggie will survive. Three hours later we were out of stories, and full of tucker.
The Rampant Lyon – Saturday 23 May
Usual start to a French day – nip down to local baker for breakfast baguette and join the queue. The regulars don’t even have to speak as their standard purchase is quickly slid into a paper bag and handed over with a smiling ‘bon journee’. [We all agreed the ‘flute rustique’ from the ‘Maison de Pain’ [House of Bread] is worth returning for.]
Elly finally got us out the door to Lyon about 11am…sometimes it’s like mustering sloths, getting a carload of people organised to move [assuming sloths are difficult to herd?] Met Maggie and Moni at her suburban chateau and put on another load of washing. [Funny how clothes-washing planning becomes almost as important as organising eating and sleeping when travelling.] Into the city for a rampant afternoon in Lyon [the town flag is a rampant/standing lion – poor pun I know.] Grandma Val did a great job walking a kilometre or two as we leisurely checked out the old part of town on the banks of the Saone River. It was an area known for its silkmakers and all the houses and workshops were interconnected by doored, off-street passages and stairs. During WW2 the labyrinth was utilised by the Resistance who could elude German searchers. Maggie informed us the city of Lyon received the highest French war medal post-conflict, because of its role in the Resistance. Her university is named after a particular hero, Jean Moulin. Plenty of shops to catch the eye, and a crepe and ice-cream to maintain nourishment. Will was so overjoyed in buying some ‘Asterix and Obelisx’ comics in French, he lost concentration, and got lost. [And we were worried about Val doing a runner!] Eventually found him by the car in our underground carpark. But a word on those…the cities we’ve visited have all had quite new underground parks that are secure, warm, and have nifty little red and green lights at each bay so you can see vacancies ahead. And not too expensive – 9E for the afternoon.
Lovely chicken and rice dinner at the chateau cooked up by Moni, eaten al fresco in the garden with the sounds of boys playing soccer [ours, and those from the surrounding apartment blocks playing in the park over the backfence.]
What could top-off the day, but a blast of Guy Sebastian at Eurovison on TV.
Au Revoir Mes Enfants [Goodbye My Children]- Isieux – Sunday 24 May
A sad day pended: we needed to sell our lovely bike companions, a trip to the memorial Museum of Isieux Children was planned, and Maggie and Moni were heading to Holland.
An arts and crafts market in Cremieu provided an opportunity to have a lot of people in one place keen to buy? Well, maybe not bikes, but it was worth a shot. Made up an ‘A Vendre’ [For Sale] sign from our cereal packet, packed the machines into the Kangoo and by 11am had installed ourselves at one end of the Market Shed next to a lady selling nursery mobiles of animals made with felt. This proved a masterstroke.
When Val saw the stall, and having a brand new great-grandchild, she was in like shot – buying up and talking up, establishing handy rapport with Miriam [the seller] and explaining the purpose of our rides. Consequently, given Miriam was staying put till 7pm she offered to mind the bikes while we could sight-see for the day. Great!
Although you could hardly call visiting a museum dedicated to 44 children and 7 adults who were taken by the Nazis in 1944 from a country safe-house at nearby Isieux and gassed in Auschwitz…’sight-seeing’. Nathalie, our airbnb host, worked there as an historian and the displays were quite recently opened. Certainly it was a sombre experience, especially when part of the display concentrated on international ‘crimes against humanity’ trials since WW2 following genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, etc, etc… [Indeed Kamahl, “why are people so unkind”?]
Returned to the market about 5pm to find two bikes sold – Elly’s to Eli, to a friend of the stallholder, and mine to Fabien, Miriam’s partner. I found a bottle of wine to share with them to show our appreciation for their efforts, and ‘donated’ the third bike to them. We paid 600E for them and got 350E back – not bad. But it was sad because they were such comfortable, easy-handling bikes to ride. [Thanks for the opportunity – Cycling Rentals in Sintra, Portugal!]
Met Nathalie on our return to our house, thanked her for the accommodation, and promised to have it looking cleaner and neater when we left for Italy in the morning!