France - Heading East (September 13th - September 20th)
(St. Emelion - Villereal - Lauzerte - Gaillac - Albi)
Distance biked so far: (2,171 km)
One thing I always try to remember while biking is that despite how bad things can seem at the moment, good things may be just around the corner. After my night of sitting on concrete for 12 hours I left Bordeaux on a trail that extended for 60 km's to the east. It was without a doubt that nicest bike ride I have ever experienced. The paved trail was flat and ran through cool forests and vineyards. The trail is on an old railway line and the stations on the route have often been converted to Cafe's where you can get a drink or coffee. It was the exact opposite of being in a large city and it again makes me wonder why more people just don't go to the small villages and forget the crowded, over-priced and busy cities. Here is a picture of what I viewed for most of the day. I bet they would if Lonely Planet wrote something good about the small towns, ha ha.
I often stop for a coffee during the day and in France, if you order a Café, you will get an espresso size cup of coffee which won't do at all. Top get the more familiar size (although none are close to the Grande size of Starbucks) I get a Café au Lait, which is simply Café and a small cup of steamed milk. It makes a coffee the size of a small mug at home, so I usually have 2.
The French do eat a lot of bread which is easier to find than water and one of the few stores open 7 days a week. I read that even today 80% of the population eat bread with every meal so it is very common to see someone walking with for 4 or 5 large baguettes. I often have one strapped to the top of my rear panniers in the futile attempt to feel like a local but still cannot seem to manage eating bread at every meal. The baguettes are fresh each day which means of course that you have to shop every day. It is nice when stores specialize in things but it can get a little frustrating when you want some bread and cheese. The cheese store is down the road, between the meat store and the vegetable market and down the street from the wine store. I think I have figured out what the French do to fill their days outside of working hours. They do have super markets which are bucking the trend of specialization and it is also where I typically go for food as I can get my dinner and next day's breakfast in the same spot. Incidentally, in France as in Ireland, they do not provide grocery bags (in Ireland you have to pay for the bags, in France they just don't have them). On a few occasions, I have had to stuff all my pockets with my food to get them out the door, without a bag. I keep waiting for a security guard to tap me on the shoulder. I remember carrying a canvas bag in Bermuda and would often have to tell the kids that bag your groceries that I really don't need a single brown paper bag for each type of vegetable; you can put them all in my bag without a paper wrapping. They probably thought I was one of those environmental whackos.
The cycle trail east was actually a little out of my way as I was headed towards St. Emelion, a major wine producing area and one of the most famous vintages in Bordeaux. I could see the town as I approached from the south.
The very small town is a classic with steep cobblestone streets and has more wine stores than most major cities, in fact, almost every store in the town sells wine. I saw one bottle from 1947 that sold for about $13,000. I was going to buy it but figured I could get a good $35 dollar bottle every day for a year for the same price. They were offering entire cases and the good news is the shipping would be free.
Camping in France is very easy and the sites are just now starting to close for the winter. The campsites are rated by stars, usually a 2 or a 3 with the difference in the services available. The municipal sites with simple showers and toilets are typically rated 2 stars and the one here in St. Emelion, with a restaurant, internet availability, swimming pools slides and washing machines being the 3-star variety. I have heard there are 4-stars and wonder what they could have in addition to this one. Do they have maid service for tents? The pool here is not unlike one you would find at a resort. The water was about 75 degrees (I managed to get in after about 10 minutes) and the facility had a kid's pool and large slide, for the older kids like me.