Monday, July 21, 2008

July 14, 2008 – Bastille Day Trip through Provence

I felt well rested when I began my ride in the morning. Our riding notes had said that we were now in Provence – but I didn’t notice any difference in the terrain at Anduze, our camping place.

I rode through the village of Anduze to start my day. Today was Bastille Day – France’s Independence Day. I noticed that there was some sort of ceremony happening at one of the buildings. I found a man who spoke English about what was going on. Some students were being honored for their academic achievement – and the leaders of the town’s library were the ones leading the ceremony.

My friend Benoit told me that after the ceremony there would be aperitif – kind of early to drink for me – so I told him I had to be on my way. He gave me kisses on both cheeks – my first deux fois (two time) French kiss.

By the time I left the celebration, it was lunch time. I hadn’t really started riding, and didn’t want to stop for lunch so soon. Then I saw a fruit stand on the road and bought three peaches. I ate two at the stand and put the other in my back pocket. As I headed down the road toward Ners – I finally saw the magic of Provence. Beautiful fields of sunflowers reached toward the sun. I stopped my bike and captured their heads as they bobbed toward the light. In all of France – particularly in Provence – flowers bloom everywhere…in front of houses, in gardens, along riverbanks, in fields.

My plan was to ride slowly today because tomorrow was a big climb up Mount Ventoux. Taking photos and soaking in the beauty and flowers made it easy for me to slow down. The wind was gusting, and for most of my ride to Ners, I had a tailwind. My stop for lunch was Uzes, and I had a climb and the wind switched to a headwind as I rode into town.

Uzes was larger than the smaller villages that I saw early in the day. I rode around until I found the town center and stopped at an outdoor café for lunch. The waiter seemed a bit grumpy, and the man whom I sat next to said, “Don’t worry about him. They are very busy here because it is Bastille Day.”

He was with a woman who spoke perfect English with an American accent. I asked where she was from – Washington, DC originally. Her name was Jessica and her French husband was Jean.

I had a long conversation with the two of them. She was an artist and showed me some of her work which she had displayed in the restaurant. She had painted three pictures – two in oil and one in water – showing beautiful scenes in Provence. One I particularly admired was of an old building. She told me that the building was an old laundry house that was just down the road if I wanted to see it.

I wished her husband aux revior – this time getting three cheek kisses (three is for good friends). He told me that if I ever wanted to return, I could stay with them in Uzes.

Jessica and I walked to the old laundry house. Apparently, the town’s women had once used the building as a place for cleaning their laundry in a large pool that looked like a kiddy wading pool. The place was in disrepair and boarded up. She thought it was owned by the Duke who lived in Uzes.

I had thought that the royalty system died with the French revolution. It had, Jessica assured me, but some families were able to keep their property and still use the titles. The Duke also owned the castle in town, which she pointed out to me.

Jessica and I exchanged three cheek kisses, and I hopped on my bike toward Pont du Gard – an ancient roman aquaduct.

The day was hot – and it was nearing 4 by the time I reached Pont du Gard. This site is the best-preserved part of the aqueduct built to convey water from a spring near Uzes to Nimes. The work started in 38 AD and was completed in 52 AD. A thousand men worked on the site, using more than 50,000 tons of stone. Jessica had told me that she had once taken a class on Pont du Gard and that the aqueduct had not been successful in the long term. There were too many minerals in the water and the aqueduct had clogged. When the Roman’s eventually left the area, no one left knew how to care for the aqueduct.

The site was filled with people, and I didn’t feel like getting off my bike and exploring it in depth. Instead, I started down the road to Avignon.

It was after 4:30 by the time I reached Remoulins. I decided to stop and find a bar to watch the completion of the day’s Tour de France stage.

The trip to Avignon was on a busy road through an industrial area. A headwind made the going slow. I made it to the campground by 7 – just as some of my riding friends were leaving in the van toward Avignon. There was a big celebration there – and we would go to the palace of the second pope to have dinner and see the sites. (Apparently, at one point there were two popes – one in Rome and one in Avignon. I don’t know more details because it was late when we arrived.)

I departed with the last group – which included Shane, Drew and me. When we arrived in Avignon, we entered a stone city and searched for a restaurant. We saw Claire and Frank at a Vietnamese restaurant, and the three of us joined them.

Our dinner consisted of little appetizers and wine. Then the owner of the restaurant came outside to talk, and we started drinking sake in little glasses that featured naked men and women in when they were filled with drink. The novelty encouraged us to drink more than I would have. Then we went to a bar and had another drink.

At some point, I realized that I should stop the Bastille Day festivities since I had to ride up one of the toughest cycling mountains in the world the next day. Drew and I caught a cab back to camp, and I fell asleep as soon as I crawled into my sleeping bag.

Total miles: 66

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