France - Heading South (August 30th - September 5th)
St. Hilaire - Vitre - Chateaubriant - St. Etienne - St. Jean-de-Monts - Morans

Distance biked so far:  (1,458 km)

If you would like to see all the pictures I have taken, I opened a Flickr account here,

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fredbouwman/

One of the great things about travelling by bike is that sometimes you literally do not know what's around the corner. On Monday August 30th I cycled south from St. Hilaire in Normandy to Vitre in the province of Brittany. I won't be in Brittany long as I am just in the far south eastern part. I had the destination of Vitre in mind as it is a small medieval town with narrow cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and a large castle. It is about 40km west of Rennes (now the capital of Brittany) but since it is off the main tourist link between Paris and Rennes, does not get the large tourist crowds. As I was cycling into the old part of the town I turned a corner and there it was.
It was not the best view or did not take into account the full castle but it's those kind of surprises that take your breath away for just a minute and make you appreciate the slow speed that bike travel allows.
One thing travellers in Europe cannot escape is the number of churches and cathedrals dotting the rural landscape. As an example, here is the view as I approached Vitre, which shows 2 large cathedral spires.
I had mentioned earlier that I would be reading about the countries I travel in and for France, I have chosen the novel - "The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World War" by Graham Robb. I chose it partly because it shows how France came into existence over hundreds of years by providing a sweeping narrative but also because Graham bicycled 14,000 miles around France to research his book. He notes in the introduction that,

.."A bicycle unrolls a 360-degree panorama of the land, allows the rider to register its gradual changes in gear ratios and muscle tension, and makes it hard to miss a single inch of itů"

I couldn't say it any better than that. In his book the author notes that rural France, like the rural area in most countries, was far different than the major cities. France was not unified by some boundary drawn up by the victors of war but a series of villages, clans and families not even aware of those in the near distance. The churches were the center of the small villages and the area in which a church bell can be heard more distinctly than those of other villages in the region is likely to be an area whose inhabitants had the same customs and language, the same memories and fears and the same local Saint.

In Ireland it was similar. Dublin was the center of culture and education while those in the country laboured in the fields. The Dublin area was referred to as the "Pale" and the unruly outlying territory was simply dismissed as "Beyond the Pale" and that saying still exists to describe something unruly.

I passed through a picturesque town on Tuesday August 31st and found a campsite so decided to stop for the night. Here is a picture of Chateaubriant,