Epilogue

VANCOUVER, Canada—It’s 3am in the morning. It’s the third day in a row. I’m home from France and, yes, I have jet-lag.

It’s still dark outside. As usual, I notice how quiet it is here—even the Skytrain is not running this early in the morning. What do I do? Read, run, work? Sip tea and think and write.

I’m glad to be home and that disorients me. In the past, I’ve experienced what I call post-vacation-stress-syndrome. Am I changing, or is it that I’m happier with “Home” now?

Do I need more home with its objects and rituals? Am I becoming less of a traveller? I reassure myself that I’m now a different type of traveller—I adventure  “deep, not wide.” Rather than roll through a place, I choose a a home base and ride around it. I do daily rides in different directions to discover its nuances.

But is that the truth? Perhaps I’m just getting old and lazy.

But.

When I rode PH’s bike on the rural backroads of southwestern France, it was like crack cocaine. I loved it.

I loved exploring every last inch of it.

So: I’m still a traveller and I still love cycling and discovering foreign places. There was some pain, but it was a good, cleansing pain. I was able to ride the Surly through the French landscape and feel my grief and sadness blow away behind me.

When it came time to leave, I helped Ian hoist the green bike up to the attic to store it, I felt solid, complete, grateful. The bike would stay in France. With PH.

And now PH’s bicycle rests on the European continent, safe and secure and far away from my own North American continent. I find this thought exciting: I now have a bike in Europe! I can now fly there anytime I want and do it again! Next time, I can bring panniers and gear and keep going—in France, in Europe, in Asia. Who knows?

Next time, maybe I’ll start by riding into Paris. I’ll haul PH’s green cyclocross onto the smooth, Seine cobblestones that Audrey stood on. As a painter looks on, I might rest the bike on its kickstand, stand by the river’s edge, spread out my arms, and give a shout—I’m free!

When I’m done, I might walk the bike to a nearby sidewalk café and sit myself down to a croissant with butter, and a glass of wine. Perhaps a glass of cardbordeaux.

I’d like that.

 

 

 

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What I love about Bordeaux (it’s not about the wine)


There is just one reason I wanted to visit the city of Bordeaux, and it has nothing to do with wine.

In 2007, UNESCO designated the entire downtown area of Bordeaux, France a World Heritage Site. That is, the United Nations deemed the city’s architecture to be of such outstanding value to humanity—right up there with the Egyptian pyramids and the site of Pompeii—that it listed Bordeaux in order to protect it.

A few years ago I researched and wrote about my own country’s World Heritage Sites for Destination Canada, the Government of Canada’s tourism marketing agency. I loved the assignment and I became enamored with the simple idea of preserving art and nature that is of global significance.

Art and nature is what I crave when I travel, and it’s why I usually choose to travel slowly—on foot, by bicycle, by bus, and by train. I arrived in Bordeaux on a train, and as much as I wanted to explore Bordeaux by bicycle, I immediately realized that this World Heritage Site was too rich a canvas for me to take in on two speedy wheels.

Instead, I walked and drifted and discovered.

I learned that my Bordeaux seemed an elegant and ancient city wearing an energetic and fresh layer on the outside; and a hip and relaxed layer underneath. In appearance and behaviour, it was for the people, not the tourism industry.

Unlike Pompeii and the pyramids, Bordeaux has intricate cathedrals, modern-art galleries, fresh food, famous wine, and bike lanes. Not bad for a World Heritage Site.

If you see a lot of bicycles in the photographs, it’s because there are a lot of people cycling in Bordeaux. The bike lane network is extensive and there is a bike share system.

Bordeaux’s buildings, churches, and plazas

Bordeaux’s laneways

Bordeaux’s museums, galleries, and spaces

Bordeaux’s cafés

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Cycling to Lac de l’Essourou


I still craved a ride northwest of my homebase of Lauzun, but I found the huge ridge climb west of Eymet daunting.

The next Sunday, Ian and Sue were back from their holiday and game to cycle with me as far as Eymet. Okay, I told myself, this would be the day.

I would cycle with them westwards to the village of Eymet, leave them at the Carrefour Market, climb up to the village of Rouquette, explore the plateau, check out Lac de l’Essourou, and then drop back down into Eymet to follow the Dropt river east and back into Lauzun village…

Cycling the Canal de Garonne

According to Wikipedia.com, “The Canal de Garonne, formerly known as Canal latéral à la Garonne, is a French canal dating from the 19th century.” It is the continuation of the Canal du Midi which flows between the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Toulouse. Together, the two canals form the Canal des Deux Mers which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

Sue told me that she and Ian had cycled the Canal du Midi two years ago, when they arrived in Europe. West of Marseilles, they discovered the flat, former tow-paths of the canal which carried them westwards into the small city of Marmande. Sue suggested we could cycle a “sampler section” of its sister route, the Canal de Garonne, after Christmas.

On Boxing Day, three of us loaded our bikes on the back of the Renault, drove to Marmande, parked next to a shuttered boat rental facility next to the canal, and set out.

We would pedal 10 kilometres westwards along the canal’s flat, paved former tow paths to the village of Meilhan-sur-Garonne, pause for a picnic snack at a canal lock house, and then pedal back to Marmande.

Map of the Canal du Midi and Canal de Garonne.
The location of the Canal de Garonne and Canal du Midi in southwestern France. The city of Bordeaux (not shown) is northwest of Castets-en-Dorthe, and Marseilles (not shown) is east of Sete.

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Mimi, murals, and the MFR in Serignac-Peboudou village

Art, cycling, history, and a new biking buddy. Not bad for a Monday afternoon.

Before she left, my host Sue suggested I meet Mimi. “She’s a writer and blogger, she rides a bicycle, and she’s from North America, like us!” Mimi used to live in California, but she and her husband now stay here in the village of Lauzun.

The forecast for Monday was mild and sunny so on a whim, I phoned Mimi to ask if she felt like a pedal to the village of Serignac-Reboudou, 8 kilometres away.

Mimi Beck Knudsen of Lauzun France
Writer and blogger Mimi Beck Knudsen of Lauzun, France. Rumour has it on a clear day you can see the Pyrenees from this place.

Mimi’s lived in Lauzun for four years and she shares her enthusiasm for the region in a blog called Lot of Livin’.  She told me she tries to shine a light on events in different villages in the Lot-et-Garonne region of France. Mimi also told me that the blog’s parent site, AngloInfo.com, is a global resource for Anglos seeking nuts-and-bolts information about building a new life in another country.

As we approached the village, I was able to take a close look at a persimmon tree. These trees are bare except for their huge burdens of bright, orange fruit. This one reminded me of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Persimmon tree in Serignac-Peboudou France
Persimmon tree in Serignac-Peboudou, France.

At the village’s centre, we discovered a newly-painted mural. A neighbour told us it was done by local artists, and portrayed various aspects of the local culture: the agriculture, farming, church.

Church in Serignac-Peboudou France
A new mural portrays the village’s church in Serignac-Peboudou France.

Both of us were quite taken by the beautiful cow.

Cow mural in Serignac-Peboudou France
Lot of Livin’ blogger Mimi Beck Knudsen photographs a newly-painted mural in Serignac-Peboudou, France.

I was intrigued by the vertically-mounted sun dial, and promised myself I’d ask someone about how to read one.

Sundial in Serignac-Peboudou France
A newly-tiled sundial recently added to a mural wall in Serignac-Peboudou, France. Can you guess what time it is?

Around the corner, a new sculpture and posters mention the Maison Familiale et Rurale (MFR).

Maison Familiale et Rurale sign in Serignac-Pebaoudou France
Maison Familiale et Rurale posters in Serignac-Pebaoudou, France.

I’d seen signs for Maison Familiale et Rurale and had translated them to mean they were some kind of gîte, or country guest house.  I asked Mimi about it and she shook her head and told me that in fact this village of Serignac-Peboudou was the birthplace of a movement to educate rural youth on farming as a profession. According to the Wikipedia.com page (translated from French),

…MFR is an establishment of status of associations that has the objective of training and education for youth and adults, as well as their social integration and professional…

We finished taking photos and rolled out of Serignac-Peboudou, through twisting forests (where Mimi told me she once saw a wild boar), and back into Lauzun in time for the weekly English-French conversation club meeting at the Floc ‘n’ Tea cafe.

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Cycling to Villebramar village

It was tough packing a decent ride into a busy weekend here in the village of Lauzun, but I pulled it off.

Friday: Bang drums with the Lauzun Morris dancing troupe at the monthly First Friday Folk. Saturday: shop at farmers’ market, then join fund-raising dinner and quiz with the Lauzun cricket club. Sunday: drop by the vide grenier market in the morning, and then cycle as far south as I can before it gets dark.

Saturday performance in Lauzun, France
Local children dance the zumba and then pass the chapeau for a fund-raising event at the weekend market in Lauzun, France.

My goal for this half-day ride is the delicious-sounding town of Tombeboeuf, a mere 15 kilometres south of Lauzun, one-way.  In the village of Montignac-de-Lauzun, I roll up to a fork in the road and choose the road less-travelled.

Crossroads at Montignac-de-Lauzun

The day is mild, sight lines are good, and traffic is non-existent.

Pastures north of at Montignac-de-Lauzun
Pastures north of Montignac-de-Lauzun, France.

When I intersect road D227, I navigate a zig-zag to stay on barely-there minor roads. I discover that I am on a ridge, and vistas of orchards and valleys roll out below me for kilometers.

Orchards north of Montignac-de-Lazun
Orchards north of Montignac-de-Lazun.

A short, steep climb rewards me with a beautiful hill-top village called Villebramar. The village draws travellers with a funky bistro called Les Ganivelles with an outdoor deck. Unfortunately it’s closed, but I make a mental note to ask my hosts Ian and Sue if we could return there for a nice, sunset dinner.

Les Ganivelles bistro in Villbramar, France
Les Ganivelles bistro in Villebramar, France.

I lean the bike against a pole and take a look around. There’s a water feature with big, healthy-looking gold fish. It really looks like a nice place. I have to laugh when I see the chickens looking very relaxed at the bistro’s kitchen door.

Chickens at kitchen door in Villbramar, France
Chickens at the kitchen door to Les Ganivelles in Villbramar, France.

I follow increasingly-obscure side roads until I pedal what looks like a farm’s drive way. But once again, what looks like a private lane is a through-route. This one drops into a lovely valley surrounding Loubet lake. The climb back out of the valley is steep and loose, but my cyclocross bike has a triple chain ring up front, plus I’ve climbed a few logging roads—fully loaded with touring gear—back home in Canada.

Rough road west of Lac du Loubet, France
Rough road west of Lac du Loubet, France.

The shadows are getting cold and the sun looks lower, so I pass on Tombreboeuf and instead make a beeline back towards the village of Laperche. I’m worried about running out of light on these tiny roads.

Out of Laperche it’s another fantastic ridge ride, and it feels downhill most of the way back into Lauzun (even though I know it’s not).

Treeline near Laperche, France
Treeline near Laperche, France.

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Cycling to St-Sauvetat-du-Dropt village

This Sunday morning when I look at a map of all the rides I’ve done so far, I notice my routes have been mostly to the east of my home base of Lauzun village. Today I would remedy that: I’d loop into the unknown territories west of Eymet and Miramont.

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