Friday, September 29, 2017

Barcelona, Spain - Auty, France - September 2017

What you are about to read is 100% true, well maybe 50%
All pictures are at the bottom

Knitting in France, why not? Turnabout is fair play Margarite keeps jumping on my trips it's about time I jump on one of hers. Margarite along with her friend Donna planned a trip to visit the Château Dumas which is an Auty, France. The purpose of the visit to attend a knitting workshop. This makes perfect sense! If you're going to learn new knitting techniques why not learn them while staying in a beautiful château in a beautiful area of France. The trip was all planned, fly to Barcelona spend a few days there before driving to Auty, France. The drive, six hours by the scenic route, four hours by the highway.

The workshop is for six days. Knitting must be more complicated than I thought. After the workshop, they plan to drive back from Auty to Barcelona and depart Europe from there.

Donna is a blind Hurricane Chaser Pilot. Yes, she flies planes into the eye of hurricanes. No, she is not blind but she flies blind. Years ago Donna had a friend who wanted Donna to teach her to fly, the only issue was the friend was blind. Donna found out the FAA forbids blind people from getting their pilots license. This made no sense to Donna since many times Donna flew blind. By flying blind Donna means no visibility. Having to use your instruments as your eyes. In the modern day, airplane instruments will speak their information, for example, the altimeter might say 14,000 feet. This way a pilot does not have to even look at the altimeter.

To protest this rule against blind people getting a pilots license Donna has been flying with blinders
on 100% a time. Donna relies 100% on her instruments from the moment she enters her cockpit to the moment she exits. If you ask Donna what it's like flying into the eye of a hurricane blind, she will tell you, "Pretend you are a strawberry being dropped into a blender by someone making a strawberry smoothie, your airplane is the strawberry, the only difference, you hope your airplane comes out the other side of the hurricane / blender in one piece."

When I heard about this trip I knew I had to go, not just because of my passion for knitting. The thought of bicycle riding through France in September was too much to pass up.

First things first. I hated to do it, but I had to cut my hair. It had been a year since I last cut my hair. I no longer had any resemblance to my passport photo. In May, just 5 months ago when my hair was even shorter it took a good 10 minutes to get through Moroccan immigrations. My passport photo no longer match reality. It was not worth taking a chance that Spanish immigrations would turn me away.

Second, the flight, I could not believe all seats in business class were sold out. Not that I plan to buy one, but I did plan to use my business class trick to get a free business class seat. Back of the plane for me, going right instead of left is not fun!

Once in Barcelona, we took a cab to our hotel the Barcelo Ravel the location was perfect, the Gothic section of Barcelona a short walk to all the sites. The rooms were spacious and well appointed, if you join their awards program, which is free, you get a free room upgrade. The only complaint about the room was the toilet paper was a little harsh. If you have a sensitive tush you may want to bring your own TP. The Barcelo Ravel has a rooftop bar with a 360° view of the city. A great place to hang out to view the sunset.

It was 2 PM by the time we were all checked in and ready to see the city. Donna was a little bummed, while in flight, NOAA tried to reach her to see if she wanted to fly into Irma. Irma was a hurricane that was about too hit Florida with record high winds. Since being on vacation Donna had to turn down the flight. This bummed Donna out, possibly missing the hardest flight of her life. Once we reminded her about the knitting workshop she returned to great spirits.

We walked and walked and walked and ate and ate and ate. Barcelona is a very popular tourist destination people from all over the world come to visit the city. Two issues we ran into, one Airbnb, the city has cracked down on the amount of Airbnb apartments available. The reason, rents are being
driven up for the locals as the Airbnb's are reducing the amount of apartment inventory available. For this reason, the city has been forcing non-licensed Airbnb apartments to shut down. This happened to Margarite twice, having her reservations canceled. That is why she decided to book a hotel. Crowds - things are crowded, restaurant, sites, bars, etc. One nice thing, we did not see begging or crime, the city appears to be safe.

We had dinner at a nice restaurant just outside and up the street from our hotel. It had been a long day so we decided to call it a night.

Today we have a free walking tour of Barcelona "Free Gothic Quarter Tour" scheduled for 10 AM we are to meet on the upper (northern) side of Placa Catalunya, by the big fountain. Placa Catalunya is the same square that had the terrorist attack just a few weeks back. All look normal except for a few makeshift memorial in the memory of the victims.

About 40 people showed up for a free tour so we were split into two groups the tour lasted a bit over three hours and covered most of the Gothic section of Barcelona. Our guide Peter was local, but his English was perfect. The tour was more than worth the cost, I highly recommend it.

After the tour we had a great lunch I'm not sure we can get a bad meal in Barcelona. After lunch we walked and walked and walked, taking in the cool architecture and cool people of Barcelona. We stopped at Swiit one of the best Gelato shops in all of Barcelona, trust me I tried most of them. I had always thought of Italy as the place to get great Gelato, but Barcelona does not disappoint.

Our good friend Cheryl who often frequents Barcelona suggested we try Bar Canete for dinner. The food was wonderful, lots of small dishes to sample, everything fresh and delicious. Bar Canete is a small local restaurant off the beaten path. If you go, go early or you will not get a seat.

Today we are off to Auty France. A six-hour drive via the scenic route, unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. It rained most of the drive, making a scenic route not so scenic. We arrived at the Château Dumas at 6 PM. Perfect timing, since happy hour is at Seven and dinner at Seven Thirty.

We met the other knitters. Tami also brought her husband Paul. Paul is a retired Olympic cyclist he rode in 1980 Olympics for the Canadian Cycling Team in Moscow. Paul won a silver medal his name is Paul Riley. You may remember Paul crashed about halfway through the race and broke his wrist in the fall. His team doctor patch the broken wrist with Duct Tape. Paul then went from last place to second-place capturing the silver medal. Paul still has numbness in his fingers from his wrist never healing properly.

Mary, Paul's mother-in-law was also joining Tami on this trip. For obvious reasons from that point forward we referred to the three of them as Peter, Paul, and Mary instead of Tami, Paul, and Mary.

Paul's plan was similar to mine bike around France, sampling French Pastries at each village's Patisserie (pastry shop), while the women knit. Paul had one big issue, he had not found a bike to rent. Paul had done his homework and research and planned some great bike routes getting him to bike past the maximum amount of Patisseries, but he had no bike. While I had done little to no planning on where to ride, I had found a great place to rent top end bikes. Velo du Lot, they rent bikes at all levels, the best part Simon the owner will personally deliver the bike to wherever you are staying. Each bike is delivered with, lock, repair kit, and tire pump. Before Simon leaves he makes sure the bike fits perfectly. A quick email to Simon from Paul and Paul was all set. Two bikes will be delivered on Monday at 9 AM I now had a biking partner

We would all find out shortly that all the meals at the Château Dumas are fantastic. After happy hour
we sat down for dinner. Thirteen knitters and two bikers. What a great meal as good as the best French restaurant, in a much more intimate setting.

Sunday morning the group took a van to the village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where we walk the town and visited the Sunday market. While it rained off and on the weather was fine for walking the town. I was a little wet and cold for biking which worked out well since we will not have bikes until tomorrow. In the afternoon the women started the knitting workshop while Paul and I plotted our bike route for the next day.

Monday morning, Simon showed up just before 9 AM as promised. The bikes were perfect. After some small adjustments, we are ready to rock 'n' roll. The plan, ride east to Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val then Southwest along the L'Averyron River and then at some point bike north back to Auty. The goal distance was 60 miles. As we approached Auty on our return, we were a little short on miles so we added a loop through the town of Montpezat-de-Quercy. We rode 60.67 miles with just under 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Yes, a hilly route, but beautiful. As we started the ride it started to rain, luckily we rode out of it. It was cool but not cold with slightly overcast skies. About 10 miles into the ride the skies cleared and the temperature rose, but it never got hot.

We rode from Patisserie to Patisserie stopping at the village of Montricoux for lunch. I am not sure the name of the restaurant, but it was a little hole in the wall with a set menu, it was fantastic. We made one HUGE mistake the Patisserie close for siesta from about 1:30 PM to 4 PM. This meant the second half of the ride was not as satisfying as the first half. The ride was fun and challenging very strong winds out of the east so the return trip was a battle. Though nothing compared to what Paul had in store for us.

Data and Map of Monday's Ride

After dinner Paul let me know Tuesday would be a 100-mile day leaving at 9 AM. The plan ride North East (wind to our backs) through the rolling hills until we hit the village of Cajarc of course stopping for pastries along. We would then ride east along the Lot River past the village of Cahors
this way when we were riding into the wind the route would be relatively flat. At some point after the village of Cahors, we would head South East back to Auty. The best-laid plans.

The ride started out perfect the hills offered some challenges but with the wind to our back, they were all doable. We reached Cajarc at 11:35 AM we had already pedaled 40 miles and stopped twice for pastries. It was too early for lunch we were on the north side of the Lot River and had heard the Southbank was a more scenic road to ride on. I thought I knew the way so we cross the bridge and took the most beautiful road that went up and up and up and up after 6 miles we climbed well over 700 feet and reach the village of Saint-Clair. At this point we realized we were on the loop road we continue knowing we would end up back where we started from. The next village we passed through was Anglars with a population of about 100 people it appeared to be an abandoned village, very spooky. As we pedaled on we got some good news, all downhill from here, the bad news, we ended up back in Cajarc with an additional 10 miles on our odometers. At this point it was lunchtime plus mentally we needed a break from by directional blunder. Lunch was just OK worst meal so far.

Before getting on our bikes we studied the map got our bearings and headed west along the Lot River in the Lot Valley. More good news, after a few moderate hills we had a good stretch of flat road. The
bad news we were heading right into a 20 mile an hour wind. Luckily for me, even though it had been many years since Paul raced in the Olympics he was still strong. I simply hung onto his wheel and he pulled at 20 miles an hour most of the way through the valley. My blunder brought more good fortune, with the extra loop it caused us to have a late lunch which made our whole ride later which meant the Patisserie were done with the afternoon break and back open. After a nice break for a few pastries we're back on the road even though the cars went out of their way to be courteous we wanted to be off the road by 7 PM when the sun will start setting. Sure we had lights but why push our luck.

With my extra loop, we adjusted our route and headed south just before Cahors rather than the original route we had planned where we would pass through Cahors before heading south. We found a nice quiet road that ran due south. Our only concern, being short on miles. When the road was flat the riding was easy, but the hills were taking their toll. About 10 miles out we ended up on the D820 a bit more of a highway then we have been riding on. While the cars were still very courteous with the higher speed it was a little nerve-racking. With about 6 miles to go it look like we would hit 100 miles and be back at 7:00 PM. We hit Montpezat-de-Quercy and took the downhill into the valley we could see the Auty church and knew it was almost over. The bad part, for every downhill there's an uphill. Two more miles of uphill's and we would be home. We did it, 102 miles, a little over seven hours of riding got home at 7:05 PM and we climb close to 6000 feet. Besides a little rain, in the beginning, one flat tire, a substandard lunch, it was a great day.

Data and Map of Tuesday's Ride

This morning the knitters are taking the van into the village of Cahors, Paul and I decided to join them, since we missed Cahors the day before and our butts were not ready to get back on our bikes. Cohors is a mid-evil town and the capital of the Lot Valley. Cohors is known for the beautiful bridge over the Lot River built to protect the village from the evil doers to the South. Margarite and I walk the town of course eating pastries along the way. We toured the bridge which has a climbing gargoyle devil on one of the towers. As part of this excursion, each person was assigned a task to buy something to eat for lunch at the farmers market. Once back the Château we all laid out all the goodies and had a great buffet lunch, cheeses, meats, chicken, bread, and of course desserts, all different kinds. What a great meal.

After lunch, the afternoon was rest and relax with a short 11-mile bike ride with 850 feet of elevation gain to stretch out our legs.

Data and Map of Wednesday's Ride

For dinner we went to the village of Puylaroque where we had dinner at Restaurant Les Sens, the soup was out of this world the service was over the top, but the main course and dessert were just ok, nothing to write home about. Before dinner, we took a walk out to the church which overlooked the river. It was a beautiful view of the river below.

Today we had planned to do a morning ride, the weather had a different idea. Just as we were to disembark the wind picked up and a torrential downpour started. We decided to wait for the storm to pass. Change of plans we still needed pastries, so we hopped into the car and took random roads making lefts and rights just wondering the countryside we stumbled upon Les Châteaux de Bruniquel Castle. There are actually two castles, the new one built in the 15th century and the old one built in the 13th century. What a great find. We spent an hour touring before our pastry withdraws started hitting hard so off to the Patisserie we went.

I wish I knew the village we ended up at, as the pastries were the best so far. We return to the Château just in time to enjoy a fabulous lunch with the knitters. They had a French cooking demonstration that morning and Paul I got to enjoy the results. We had an egg soufflé followed by a pear tart. During lunch we found out the knitters had gone to the Castles we discovered today on Tuesday while we were out on our long bike ride.

The skies had cleared and we had calories to be burned off. So on the bikes we went. My legs had recovered from Tuesday's 100+ mile ride, but the hills in the area still took their toll. With the late start and limited time we covered just over 36 miles. Though we did climb over 3,000 feet. The scenery was so beautiful and the roads just perfect. On this ride we left Auty going due west, we wanted to have the wind on the way out. We then wound our way north before turning due east to enjoy the wind to our backs for an enjoyable ride home, that is until we got to enjoy the long climb back into Auty.

Data and Map of Thursday's Ride

Today will be our last day of biking so we had planned to get an early start, the weather again had another plan. Just as we were about to leave a quick storm came through the good news clear skies followed. We hit the road at 10:30. Paul had planned a 40 to 50-mile flat ride. We quickly learned there is no such thing as a flat ride in this part of France. After about 25 miles we stopped at the village of Lafrancaise for lunch the one restaurant in town told us there was no room for us. We were not sure if it was our lycra biking outfits or our demeanor, but it was clear we were not welcome. Plan B the Patisserie, I was starving and order two pieces of pizza. I figured I would come back and order pastries. Paul being smarter, order one slice of pizza and two pastries. After the two slices of pizza, I had no more room for a pastry. Boy did I goof up! Prior to lunch, we passed a beautiful field of the sunflowers in full bloom. Over the last four days, we had seen many fields of sunflower plants but this was the first in full bloom the others were past their prime.

After lunch, we headed down to the river and finally found flat roads. That was the good news, the bad news, a rainstorm caught us, luckily for just a few minutes. Once we hit the 30-mile mark we decided to weave our way back. Somehow by miracle or Paul's savant-like route planning skills we avoided many of the hills we climbed and descended on our way out. The weather held and we enjoyed the last few hours of biking in a beautiful area and beautiful weather we cover just under 60 miles and just over 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

Data and Map of Friday's Ride

What a great week or biking, we covered 268 miles and climbed over 15,155 feet. I can not say enough about how great our bikes were. Simon the owner Velo du lot bike rentals was perfect through the entire process. Helping us choose the bikes, delivering the bikes, and picking up the
bikes, everything went as planned.

It was 5 PM the knitters were finishing up their sweaters and drinking wine, not sure that is a good mix. What a great week big thanks to Simon for providing great bikes, Paul for developing great routes and being gentle on me during the rides and last but not lest Margarite for letting me crash her party.


Spain France September 2017


Teresa Stephenson said...

Hey "Dug", I really enjoyed your post! Love your writing style & sense of humor. It was a fun week!

Unknown said...

Hey Dug, That was a fun post, though I wonder who else you were cycling with? I don't recognize that guy,

Anonymous said...

That would be you Paul. Hope all is well.