Triplogue - France
Bordeaux and the southwestern coast

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Our chamber maid demonstrates how to make a penis-pillow into a regular pillow

21 May, 1997, Tarbes to Nogaro, 74km

In Pau you can eat Indian food prepared and served by gay boys on a terrace while gazing upon the very active lesbian bar across the street –not at all what I expected from a far-flung provincial town in France. Having my preconceptions challenged or shattered is one of my favorite components of traveling, so I liked Pau a lot. We had a restful, restorative couple of days in this small, elegant capital of the Bearn region. The daytimes were spent wandering around the labyrinthine streets, doing laundry, computing and napping. Evenings were devoted to eating and bar hopping. By far the best of Pau’s three homo bars is a little place called "Le GoWest", run by the very welcoming Manu and Regis. Our first night there I got caught up with a trio of funny young Spaniards in town for a friend’s wedding, with whom I worked on improving my Castilian Spanish. Francois was less amusing. After telling him my fresh impressions of Lourdes, he told me that he used to work there as a volunteer pushing around wheelchairs. He said that every four years or so a bona fide miracle occurs in Lourdes, though he’d never seen one personally. He took personal offense at my skepticism and used the lame Catholic argument that God’s existence is increasingly undeniable as science discovers the universe to be larger and larger; who but God could have created such a wonder? I also met an unlikely American boy living in Pau, a half-Japanese, half-Mexican lawyer named Steve who moved down there from Paris for the love of one boy before getting involved with another. He seemed happy living there at the base of the Pyrenees. It’s actually a place I could probably live, too, and it was with some sadness and nostalgia that Fred and I left this morning.

Our goal for the day was a rather surreal one: the chapel of Notre Dame des Cyclistes (Our Lady of the Cyclists NDC) near Labastide d’Armagnac and Roquefort (is this where the cheese comes fro? I still haven’t found out). I had learned about the cyclists chapel in a book and was thrilled to find it on the map near our intended route. Unlike Lourdes, this would be a pilgrimage we could make in earnest. We started the day backtracking by train to Tarbes, since the route from there northwards looked more appealing on the map. Our intention to do so caused a bit of a stir at the train station, since bringing bikes on the train wasn’t really allowed. We lucked out with a friendly conductor, though, who not only permitted us to board, but actually helped us getting our bikes up and down the steep stairs –living proof that not all the French are assholes. Forty-five minutes later, we were back in ugly Tarbes.

Today’s route was not so much a road as a country lane, a narrow ribbon of bumpy asphalt meandering through a string of microscopic villages which dot the broad valley of the Adour river. Practically the only other vehicles we saw other than bikes were the traveling butchers and bakers who sold their goods out of the backs of their trucks. Not long past our miserable lunch of microwaved café fare, we entered the department of le Gers, synonymous with deepest, darkest France. On a nearby hill we saw a strange-looking structure reminiscent of Coit Tower in San Francisco, and figured it was a fancy water tower. Only afterwards did I learn from our guidebook that it had been a "lantern of the dead", a hollow stone column built in the eleventh to twelfth century. The top would hold a beacon symbolizing the eternal life of the soul, and a priest would recite prayers for the dead at an alter inside, built above an ossuary (i.e. a place for bones). Further down the road we mistook another ancient structure in the distance –La Tour des Thermes d’Armagnac—for a grain elevator. In reality it had been a chateau, though not a very beautiful one.

The chateau/fortress marked our first climb of the day, out of the Ardour valley and into the hills of Armagnac. The region’s famous beverage was heralded by the numerous vineyards that suddenly surrounded us. Some had signs beside them advertising a new brand of pesticide. In the center of Nogaro, the largest town we’d seen since Tarbes, we had our second lunch of the day in a boulangerie, contemplating the fifty k we had to go before reaching our intended destination and the big black clouds that were gathering.

We hadn’t even made it completely out of town before big fat drops began to fall on us. Right in front of us was a hotel touting a sauna and a pool; it didn’t take us long to alter our plans and dig our heels in for the night at four-thirty, after only three and a half hours of pedaling. We thought we’d do some yoga, but opted for a juicy nap followed by an unexceptional dinner in our hotel’s dining room, which was occupied by several Parisian-looking yuppies at tables by themselves, pounding away at their laptops and gazing lovingly at their shiny Westons. Next to us were an odd-looking female couple smoking little cigars. One was so butch that Fred thought she was a man at first, while the other was all dolled up in a turn-of-the-century sort of costume of velvet and lace. After a while, the two of them disappeared behind a heavy curtain at the end of the room, from whence horrible sounds began to emerge. One of the woman (presumably the one in costume) was singing while the other one ground her organ. It sounded like a cat undergoing unanesthetized surgery, and Fred and I theorized who comprised their audience; possibly the Gers chapter of the National Masochists Society.

I couldn’t resist ordering Armagnac as a digestif, which I sweat out in the sauna afterwards. It was so hot in the little box that I’m still sweating while I write this, wrapped in a towel with one eye on the t.v., which is showing Bertolucci’s latest disaster, "Stealing Beauty." We never did get around to doing yoga. Maybe tomorrow.

22 May, Nogaro to St. Symphorien, 113 km

Luckily the musicians from the evening were not performing as we had breakfast. I joked with the proprietor of the hotel about their performance and we laughed together about how special it was. This day's riding was much like the day before except for one miracle (we’re considering changing the BratStats): there was no rain. We rolled along a ridge for most of the day by vineyards and little stands of trees. The weather was cool and clear and it was the first time we could say the word "spring" without following it with "shower."

We rode quickly, filled with excitement that we would finally see the sanctuary dedicated to cyclists, "Notre Dame de Cyclists." (NDC) We saw the sign marking the road that led to the church and knew we had arrived somewhere special. Wrought iron and bicycle parts spelling out the name of the church in a large arch framed the path, the church and the fields surrounding this magical place. As we approached the chapel, surrounded in a little rose garden was a statue of her holding a globe dedicated to the free spirited rider. Crushed when we found out that the church was closed to visitors for the next three hours, and we had already exhausted all of the ridiculous photo opportunities outside in fifteen minutes.

All the way into the next town, Labastide d’Armanac, Andy pined about wanting to go back after a long lunch. I caved in. We lunched on the square that had inspired King Henri the fourth to build Place de Vosges in Paris. Built in 1197, it sported the same arched arcades as the new version with slightly less spectacular buildings. It marked the center of a very square town that a bird’s eye view revealed in the tourist office. In fact all bastides were planned to be square, fortified, and, hence, easily defended in the event of war (which happened with some frequency as the brits and frogs fought for territory here.)

Before lunch we assumed that the town was absolutely uninhabited. Not a single shop was open and there was no one on the street. Soon we saw crowds coming down a street all dressed in their best clothing walking away from some event. I guessed a funeral, and when we followed the crowds to the source it was the cemetery. We had the misfortune of asking the friend of the grieving son where to find an ATM, following up with the question "who died anyway?" He pointed at his friend and said "his dad." We gave our condolences and looked for lunch. Absolutely everyone in town was at the funeral and Labastide d’Armanac "came alive" afterwards. Backgammon at a quiet little café hidden away off the square followed our simple lunch of crepes and salad. Andrew got excited about our impending visit to the shrine and even lost a few games to me.

We raced back to Notre Dame to find the caretaker just opening the doors to the house of worship. She too had been at the interment and had seen us lurking and asking for directions. The church and gift shop was like no other I’d been to. The walls were covered with a collage of photos, jerseys, flags, votives and bike parts. More colorful and beautiful than any other church we’ve visited. After opening the door the caretaker (who absolutely refused to be photographed) began to light candles on a candelabra made from bicycle parts. We began to notice that all of the religious "furniture" in the place was made from parts or wrought iron made to look like parts of bicycles. We spent literally our last centimes on postcards before noticing that she was also selling stickers for bicycles with the name of the church and a picture of "Notre Dame," when we asked if she’d take a french check for them, she gave them to us. So moved, I gave here my Santa Cruz Bicycle Trip water bottle filled with water from Lourdes for display. She put it on display with the fifty other water bottles some of the 25k other visitors had left. (maybe we should have gone to "Notre Dame d’Elevators." See following day)

As I mentioned earlier the day was really lovely, and we rode until sunset through charming little villages and groves of pine trees. One of the villages we went through was Roquefort, which we assumed was of blue cheese dressing fame. We were wrong. Another was Luxey which housed another shrine of sorts. The Cercle d’Union, a private club until a little while ago (16 years), housed all the towns action. Here septuagenarians tilted back brews, played cards, smoked, chatted, read the paper and laughed at our ridiculous outfits when we arrived. As a member, Andrew found out, you could come there without buying a drink. The membership fee was pretty heady, suggested 25FF, nearly five dollars per year. After an Orangina I headed outside avoiding the thick cloud of smoke that wafted around in the place, while Andrew stayed inside and became best friends with the proprietress of the Cercle and her 76 year old friend who had ridden his bicycle from Paris six or seven times.

Outside I met a peer of Andrew’s buddy who tolerated my french and even complimented me on it. Touting that his friends in grade school couldn’t speak it and had to resort to patois. He told me that he rides his bike every day to the club and enjoyed his retired life in Luxey. He’d been deported during the war to Norway and was excited to have had the opportunity to have visited there so cheaply. This was the land that time forgot. There are probably only a few more years of beret-headed frenchmen toting baguettes smoking Gitanes riding bikes. So you’d better hit Luxey before they illegalize tobacco and they all die off.

We were frustrated many times trying to find a hotel that night. First in Luxey where a fat "wall-eyed" woman gave us no regard and told us she was full though all the keys were on the board behind her. We pedaled on another twenty kilometers as the sun hovered forever on the horizon. Here the owners of an Auberge told us of a "gite" (bed-n-breakfast) 1k up the road. After two kilometers we turned around and headed for the next town where we knew there was a hotel, arriving there just as the pale yellow orb was dipping below the horizon. Not impressed with the accomodations, Andrew started to bargain with our seemingly Arabic hotel operator in front of the other guests. "I am not a rug merchant," he quipped, ending bargaining. We didn’t even change out of our smelly biking attire for dinner. Thomas whipped us up a simple meal of an omelet, steak and fries. The table wine was great, signaling to us that we were close to Bordeaux.

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Whooping it up at the Cercle

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Cows pondering the production of France's other white beverage

23 May, St. Symphorien to Bordeaux, 57 km

"They did it to me in the forest and it hurt like hell. It took a long time to heal, too. My dad wasn’t exactly thrilled by the idea, since we weren’t Muslims, but after I went out and had it cut, there wasn’t much he could do about it, was there?" Thomas, our innkeeper from the Capo Verde islands, was telling us about his circumcision at age fourteen in Senegal while we were eating breakfast. He did it to get dates, he said, since none of the local girls wanted anything to do with his foreskin, and he illustrated his subsequent success to us by thrusting his hips in suggestive pantomime.

I heard many other chapters in the Thomas story, like how he moved to France for his studies, met a French girl who left him after sixteen years of marriage. Aside from running St. Symphorien’s only bar/restaurant/hotel entirely by himself, he is a martial arts instructor, though his teaching is limited to theory since having some obscure problems with his stomach. For his next vacation he’s returning to Senegal to marry his childhood sweetheart, who’s also just finished a sixteen-year-old relationship. I could have stayed listening to his stories –told in an inimitably animated fashion—all day, but it we wanted to reach Bordeaux before lunch.

On our way out, Thomas introduced us to another guest: a youngish half-French, half-American guy who was born in Hawaii and now works selling and installing high-tech laser carrot graters. Is St. Symphorien the weirdest place in France?

The road to Bordeaux was pretty boring. Most of it was through the same scruffy pine forest we’d seen yesterday. I was dragging seriously, for some reason or another, and Fred decided he wanted to break the St. Symphorien-Bordeaux speed record. I pleaded for him to stop in the first village with a bakery, where I chewed on an apple slipper (chausson a pommes; Fred calls them "apple socks") and tried to feel more energetic. While doing this, I watched the steady trickle of customers walking out with their three-franc baguettes, wondering how a village baker manages to make a living.

As we approached Bordeaux, the traffic became seriously irritating, causing us to opt for a calmer, more circuitous route through the Graves vineyards and an endless suburban maze of roundabouts and housing projects. The closer we got to the town center, the scarier the traffic got. We saw a couple of accidents on our way into town, including a car that had managed to run straight into a bus. At Place des Victoires, we stopped to get our bearings and met three older American guys touring France on their bikes. They weren’t particularly friendly, but I envied their relatively light loads. A little further, an anal French cycling enthusiast criticized the angle of my seat and gave us some addresses of bike shops where I could get my wheel fixed.

It didn’t take us long to score a room in the pedestrian zone that constitutes the heart of the oldest part of Bordeaux. And that was when it happened. We were loading our bags into the elevator when the closing door slammed right onto Fred’s nose. It made a horrible sound, and I knew right away that we had to call a doctor.

When the doctor finally arrived (one of the finest services in France is called SOS Medecins, kind of a roving emergency room that comes to you), all he could say was "Ce n’est pas evident," and give Fred a prescription for x-rays at a nearby clinic. The radiologist there showed us that Fred’s schnoz was truly broken, though not severely. It would heal in a couple of weeks, he said, and all that could be done in the meantime was to smear cream on it. I endured a boondoggle of my own (an admittedly less painful one) searching for a replacement rim for my bicycle. From one bicycle shop to the next, I carried my damaged wheel through the crowded streets of uptight Bordeaux. People looked at me as if I was the incarnation of the plague, the essence of bad taste. Though both shops had said over the phone that they had the part, all it took was one look to elicit the usual French response of "Non, c’est impossible."

For cocktail hour we went to a queer bar called "l’Alibi." As per usual in France, we were treated like invisible men inside; no one would return our looks or smiles; only the bartender so much as acknowledged our existence. I broke the ice by broaching a subject very dear to the French, asking the barman very loudly, "Where’s a good place for dinner?" At this, a small committee was urgently formed at the end of the bar, and after much hushed deliberation, an emissary was sent in the form of a middle-aged fashion victim who introduced himself as Denis. Denis instructed us to go to a place called "Les Graves du Parlement" and drew us a very elaborate map to get there. When I told him I’d come back and slap him if we didn’t like the food, he got all excited.

Dinner was more serviceable than spectacular, but we were entertained by the antics of the many homo passersby, many of them dressed in the outfit du jour: black and white plaid pants and bright red hiking boots. ("C’est la mode," identically-dressed Denis explained to me later, exhibiting an astounding lack of imagination).

The Spartacus guide informed us that another bar called "Le Moyen Age" (The Middle Ages) was the oldest gay bar in France. Could the editors been referring to demographics? In any case, the bar was appropriately named; we were the youngest customers by at least two decades. We sat down next to an anglophonic trio who actually said "hello" to us. Chris and Graham were Brittanic, and the hysterically flamboyant Michael was American. All three worked on the "Silver Cloud", a big cruise ship we had noticed earlier in the harbor. We weren’t surprised when they told us they were the entertainment; Michael and Chris were singer/dancers while Graham just sang. They (actually Michael, since he seldom let his Brit companions get a word in edgewise) enlightened us as to the strange culture of working on a cruise ship. I found it rather fascinating, and Michael’s strongly voiced biases had me practically crying with laughter. He referred to gay men as "mary’s" and used "chicken" as a term of endearment (as in "We haven’t been to a mary bar since Genoa, chicken, and what a hellhole that place is.").

All the noise we were making was eliciting decidedly unfriendly glares from the sullen French patrons, so we led our new friends back to the Alibi to shake that place up a little. I caused quite a drama when a French boy I was talking to accidentally burned my arm with his cigarette (If you remember to ask, I’ll show you the scar), which caused me to jerk and spill some beer on both of us. Showing absolutely no concern for me, the boy went into a total tizzy fit over his shirt smelling like beer, which angered me enough to add to his misfortune. This caused a general gasp from the bar at large, and for a while I felt like persona non grata, pleased with myself for breaking some rules in this city so obsessed with decorum. One French boy who would talk to me after the incident was an adorable nineteen-year-old student of Italian called Florial, whose sympathy, I suspect, stemmed partly from his being a virulent anti-smoker himself. He said that Bordeaux was famous for its pretentiousness and its "faux-bourgeois" (a concept that was reiterated verbatim the next day by a taxi driver, who also confirmed my suspicions that Bordeaux drivers are among the rudest in the known universe).

At three o’clock or so our singer/dancer friends tried to entice us to accompany them to a nightclub, but we were both dog-tired, so we dragged our smoke-and-beer-reeking selves back to bed.

25 May, Bordeaux to Soulac-sur-Mer, 122 KM

High grey clouds blanketed the sky as we exited Bordeaux, the climate matching the scenery of the port and the industrial part of the city. It was remarkable how quickly we’d left the bustle of Bordeaux behind and were in the countryside, less than 5km from the center. We saw a ruined church in the middle of a field that now served as a favorite grazing spot for some horses, and remarked that these must be the only French in church, given how much traffic there was on the road today. We’d forgotten that it was French Mother’s day, and it appeared that everyone was taking their mother to lunch.

Today was to be the day we were to see all of the places our favorite wines are grown and bottled. Names like Margaux, St. Estephe, Pauillac, Medoc and St. Julien appeared on the signs marking towns. The hillsides were covered with vines and grand chateaux. As we got closer and closer to Pauillac more and more rugby fans passed us, honking their horns because our red panniers matched their team colors. This became tedious as my neck began to fatigue from flinching at the sound each time one passed. We found a quieter road into Pauillac which revealed that not everyone in the Medoc region is rich from wine. Sad state-built apartments housed those with less glamorous jobs at the vineyards.

The only bad wine I’d ever had from France was a Pauillac. The cork had gone bad and the wine was foul. We’d been prepared for the bad attitudes of people in Medoc by some of the folks we’d met in the city, but we weren’t ready for the reception we had at lunch in Puillac. For the first time in Europe no one wanted to serve us lunch in our biking clothes. We’d go to a restaurant that was doing a booming business, ask to be seated and were told they were no longer serving or there were no tables. Finally Andy pestered one hostess into giving us a table in the back. We had to ask three times for a menu and two times to order. Still Andy went away hungry because his fish was more bones than fish. Our visit to Pauillac had been foreshadowed by my experience with their wine. We barely made it out of lunch in time to make it to what was our planned highlight of the day.

We’d been excited to see Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and tour their vineyard. When we arrived we were disappointed to find that the afternoon tour was overbooked and there was no room for us. I had bought a 1988 four years ago and had saved it to celebrate our departure on this trip, only to drop and break it in our garage in Santa Cruz. We revealed this to the tour leader, Gaelle, and joked with her about the Scandalous 1993 label banned in America. (The international label has a pencil drawing of a nude "leeetle" girl in a provocative pose. A California woman’s group declared it kiddie porn and had it removed. Thus the label is blank in America.)

Our charms worked and next thing we knew we were on the tour. It was fascinating. Andy was especially interested in the handmade graphs on each cask that detailed the progress of the first fermentation of the wine. When we entered the hall of barrels where the second fermentation was underway our tour leader had an attack of giggles while describing the label drama. Every time she looked at Andrew she started laughing uncontrollably. She finally regained composure and continued the tour. We learned how Rothschild, a Jew, had escaped the Nazis and managed to hide his wine from the invading hoards. Saw Philippine’s (Philippe’s surviving daughter) immense personal cave that contains 55K bottles of Mouton-Rothschild and 120K bottles of wine from the other grands crus of Bordeaux. The maitre de cave changes the corks of all the bottles every twenty years to preserve the wines. They taste each bottle to make sure that it is still good before they recork it - not a bad job?

Still a little flustered by her giggle attack, our tour guide forgot to tell the tour group that the visit was over; she dashed into the tour building leaving us outside waiting for her. It was only after Andy and I walked in, found out the tour was over and told the others that the visit was complete that we broke up. We decided to buy an ’88 to have for a picnic to celebrate being in France. Recalling my clumsiness, the guide would not give me the bottle, but handed it to Andy.

The rest of the day was an unremarkable ride through vineyards against the wind to Soulac sur Mer. We stopped in a little backwater for some water and were treated to a serenade by a local drunk. When Marilyn’s tune from "How to marry a millionaire" (or was it "Gentlemen prefer blonds"?) came on he began to dance and croon "My aarrt beelongs to dahhdy". We arrived in Soulac sur Mer not long after that, but not before Andy got a flat on his new rim and tire. Celebrated the day with a great meal of fish, watching the endless sunset turn the sky from blue, to pink, to purple and finally to black. We treated ourselves to a second desert on the way back to our hotel, making it the day’s ultimate act of gluttony.

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Fred mourns the loss of an old friend

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Bearing the fruits of his labor in La Rochelle

Soulac-sur-Mer to La Rochelle, 94 KM (Andy) 133 KM (Fred)

Always knowing it to be inevitable, I’m glad it happened on a beautiful sunny day, and in the morning.

There was little or no foreshadowing in the first few hours of the day. Breakfast was tranquil, if uninspired (French breakfasts seldom hold surprises), served by our ever-cheerful, swishy host, Philippe. When we checked out, he tried giving me a map of La Gironde’s many bike paths, but since we were about to leave the département, it would be of little use. Philippe told me that most of the paths followed abandoned road or rail beds built by the nazis, and that, ironically, it was German tourists for the most part who used them now.

We rode along one of these paths for the ten kilometers to the ferry port, where we caught a boat across the wide mouth of the Gironde. Arriving in Royan, I told Fred I wanted to pull over to apply sunscreen and get a look at the beach. And this is when our unexpected meltdown occurred. First he complained about carrying the bottle of wine we purchased yesterday; then he got all upset over me somehow scratching him while rubbing sunscreen into his back, and launched into a tirade about how I didn’t care about him, etc. etc. Unable to deal with his anger and abuse, I gave him the map and told him I’d meet him in front of the cathedral at La Rochelle at eight. (This is Andy’s broad interpretation of the events and in no way represents the actual event – complained = reminding him of his promise to do so, didn’t care for = isn’t careful….)

For the rest of the day I felt alternately giddy and guilty for being on my own. I loved being able to pedal in any direction I chose, happily getting lost without a map, yet I worried about Fred and hoped he was getting along okay.

I followed an intermittent bike path along the beaches and headlands west of Royan. This route involved some trial and error. Fred would have hated it; I kept hearing his voice in my head: "Let’s just take the main road." The towns I passed through were standard-issue French beach holiday factory, filled with Brits and Germans in search of good weather at off-season rates. But the beaches looked mighty inviting and some of the views over the multi-hued waters were stunning. After a while I stumbled upon a bike path which was more or less continuous, rolling and coasting through dunes and pine groves. The beaches were dotted with nazi bunkers sinking into the sand at crazy angles, resembling giant dice. The path petered out near an enormous and ornate lighthouse (le phare de la Coubre), and from here a marvelously quiet road led North through a hilly forest. At one point it climbed steeply to a height of 60 meters, where I was treated to a panoramic view. I began to think it would be a good idea for Fred and me to separate on a regular basis.

Another bike path led me through the forest to the outskirts of a little town called Ronce-les-Bains. I was starving and had no water left in my bottles, so the sleazy little café in front of me looked like the Promised Land. As I parked my bike I noticed my tire going flat (the new one again, bien sur), but decided to deal with my hunger and thirst first. Lunch was a sandwich prepared by a vulgar little gnome of a woman with intestinal troubles. The friendly barman who repeatedly filled my bottles told me she had eaten a dessert with too much creme anglaise the night before, and that was why she was spending so much time in the toilets. I avoided inspecting the woman’s hands while I gnawed ravenously, and listened to the barman tell me about the area. Normally he worked collecting the oysters which were the little town’s claim to fame. He just helped out his friend during the tourist season. During the winter, with the tourists all gone, he said, Ronce-les-Bains was like a ghost town, "une ville fantome."

Changing my tube and tire was more of an ordeal than I had anticipated, mostly due to the brand new tube being defective (the previous day, I had broken part of the stem off the other one, rendering it useless). When I finally pedaled off, it was straight against a brutal wind. The bridge across to Marennes provided a nice view of the oyster beds, yet it required all my energy just to keep the bike moving.

On the other side of the bridge the terrain flattened out considerably. There were no more trees to protect cyclists from the wind, and the marshy canal-strewn landscape reminded me of Holland without the windmills. After several kilometers of near-futile pedaling, the fortified village of Brouage appeared, its walls towering majestically over the marshlands. It had been an important trading post for salt centuries ago, but now houses only a few old peasants and a couple of businesses catering to the occasional pink Brittanic. Brouage’s cobblestone streets have the distinction of being the least bicycle-friendly I’ve ever encountered. I stopped at a souvenir shop for an ice cream and pondered over whether Fred had or would make the same stop (he did, I learned later).

The road onwards to Rochefort involved climbing a veryhigh bridge against the wind –utter hell, but a terrific view at the top. The town billed itself as a "new" city, built in the 17th century as another military stronghold. Unusual for France, its streets are on a perfect grid. According to my guidebook, Rochefort is also known as "the city of Pierre Loti." I rode on rue Pierre Loti past the Place Pierre Loti and the Maison Pierre Loti, all the time wondering if I’d ever read anything by this apparently famous author.

La Rochelle was still 30-odd kilometers away, against the wind and on a busy road, so I decided to take a train. The ride in the little one-car conveyance took less than twenty minutes. I stood with my bike right behind the strikingly handsome conductor, who was telling a colleague how he worked as a film actor in between stints of driving his train. The tracks followed a string of beaches, and every time we passed a topless girl the conductor would toot his whistle. Once we arrived at the terminus, he helped me unload my bike and instructed me how to get to the center of town, where I found Fred waiting for me on the cathedral steps an hour before our appointed rendezvous. I was filled with relief that he had made it, and soon we were exchanging stories of our respective adventures and exploring this beautiful old seaside town.

( My route, unlike Andy’s, kept me off busy roads all the way to La Rochelle.)

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