Monday, October 16, 2023

France Bicycle Barge Trip "Never Nevers Land"

Our fourth bike barge trip would be our first in France. We chartered the Clair de Lune which accommodates 17 people. The usual suspects jumped on the opportunity to travel with us (Chick, Rebecca, Sandy, Kevin, Dave, Jackie, Joyce, Beth, Lynn and 3 Marks). New to this mode of travel were Kristi, Kelly and Eva Marie.  Since there were 3 Marks on the trip, we elected to use nicknames to identify them.  We had Markle (who wasn't very good at the game Farkle) Dr. Shoe, and L'Mark.

Everyone chose different ways and times to travel. Beth and Markle flew to Paris a few days early.  L'Mark and Lynn flew standby out of Atlanta to Paris on Wednesday. Kristi, Kelly and Kevin flew standby out of Minneapolis to Paris on Wednesday, having to connect in Memphis to get to MSP. Sandy got bumped in MSP on Wednesday, flew to JFK and stood by on Air France to Paris on Thursday. Dave, Jackie, Joyce and Dr. Shoe flew Atlanta to Paris on Thursday.  BJ, Tony, Eva Marie, Chick and Rebecca flew to Geneva from Jacksonville on Thursday, connecting in JFK and took the train through Paris.

Day 1, Friday, October 6, 2023 Geneva to Briare
We had booked the 2PM train from Geneva to Briare via Paris, but over coffee outside the train station, were able to change to a 12:30PM train.  

We had assigned seats around a table in the last car on the 12:30PM train.

This would get us to the Paris Gare de Lyon station in time to connect with a 5PM train to Briare.  The train to Briare would leave from a different train station (Paris Bercy Bourgogne), a short walk away.  We had to find our way there.  As we left the station, we encountered men with machine guns.  Chick and Tony hurried past them without making eye contact, but when they turned around, the girls were asking the armed men for directions.

When we got to Paris Bercy Bourgogne, we were delighted to see Joyce, Dr. Shoe and Sandy on the train platform in Paris, getting on the 5PM train to Briare.  They had first class tickets.  We booked 2nd class with no seat assignments.  (We do not know what Chick's seatmate had in his bucket.)

Finding space for our luggage was a bit of a challenge.  After Tony had his backpack stolen from a train on a previous trip, we wanted to make sure our luggage was always in sight.

When we arrived in Briare, we discovered that Kristi, Kelly, Dave and Jackie were also on the same train with us. L'Mark and Lynn met us at the train station and led us to the hotel. The proprietor at the Hotel Le Cerf was a little overwhelmed when we all arrived at the same time.  

Some of the group had restaurant reservations. The rest of us went to a Pizzeria Pepito.

Back at the hotel,  after a few hands of the card game 3-13, we went to bed.

Day 2, Saturday, October 7, 2023 Briare
Some of the group had breakfast at the hotel. BJ went across the street to the Boulangerie Desrochers bakery to get a thimble of cafe au lait and a pastry. 

Shortly, we got a text that Beth and Markle had arrived at the Briare Train station so we walked to meet them.

The hotel proprietor graciously offered to transport our luggage to the barge so we could do some sightseeing around town.  We could leave our luggage but were not supposed to board the barge until 2PM.

We walked past the stone sculptures at the Briare Lock on our way to town.

The main attraction was the Église Saint-Étienne, a beautiful old church dating from the late 1800's. The tile mosaics were stunning!

Since it was still too early to get on the boat, we decided to spend some time at the restaurant across the canal from the boat.

We had plenty of time for a "few" drinks and a nice lunch.

It was finally time to board the barge.  We settled in our small cabins.  There were two rooms with double beds and the rest were twin bed cabins.  Unpacking didn't take long since there was no closet space and very little shelf space for storing our things.

We had a brief meeting where we met the crew, Captain Chiel and Guide Ed, from Holland and 
Chef Graig from Scotland.  Our hostess, Sara was from the Czech Republic.  After the meeting, Ed took us on a short bike ride around town.

When we heard that our chef was Scottish, we were afraid the food might not be quite the cuisine we had hoped for, but he turned out to be a wonderful chef.  Every night before dinner, he told us about what he had prepared for us.

Our welcome dinner was a sun dried tomato salad with feta cheese, pine nuts and a balsamic drizzle, tagliatelle, and cookies and ice cream. Graig had advertised in his speech that we would have brownies but he added too much baking powder and the brownies ran all over the inside of the oven so he improvised. 

Day 3, Sunday, October 8, 2023 Briare 30 miles cycling
Our first real cycling day had us cycling about 30 miles around the Briare area.  It was a cold morning so we all bundled up for the ride.  

We didn't make it far from the barge before we had to stop for folks to look at some antique cars parked nearby.

The ride started out along a nice easy bike path along a canal.  The folks on the manual bikes were vying for position among the eBikes.  BJ likes to listen to her music and sing while she rides. She wasn't the only singer though.  Chick sang "Blue Bayou" (Blew By You) as he rode past on his eBike.  That became the theme song of the ride.

Our first stop was at 
Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses.  A set of seven locks dating from 1607 which account for a 24 meter drop.  Building the locks involved 12000 workers and 6000 soldiers to protect them from the violent opposition of the local lords whose land had been expropriated.  The locks were abandoned in 1887.

Just down the road from the locks, we found L'Eau Berge Quifeperlee, a nice place for a morning beverage.

We left Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses headed in the direction of Adon and once again, encountered old Citroën cars like we had seen in Briare.

Our lunchtime stop was near the Chateau de la Bussiere.  We found a shady spot to enjoy our sandwiches before touring the Chateau.

We passed through Gien on our way back to the barge and found Le Saint Amour.  Folks were filing in and out buying loaves of bread.  There was a huge table in the courtyard.  We took a seat, hoping to order beers but the server came to tell us that they had nothing on tap and only had 10 bottled beers. She brought us a tray of glasses so we could split the 10 beers between the 17 of us!

We made it back to the barge!  Our first outing was a success!

Everyone got cleaned up and met on the top deck for some pre-dinner cocktails.

Graig prepared a lovely dinner for us. We had Bruschetta, Salmon and Peach Compote. While we dined, the barge sailed to Beaulieu Sur Loir.

Day 4, Monday, October 9, 2023 Beaulieu-sur-Loire to Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre 28 miles cycling

After breakfast, the barge sailed into a lock.  We had instructions to get our things ready to jump off of the barge quickly while the barge was in the lock.  When the water level had risen enough, the crew offloaded the bicycles and we jumped off with our paniers, ready to ride.

We rode to Le Chevalier Sancerrois.  

Our first beverage of the day was at La Recrepe.  

BJ's bike wouldn't shift into the two highest gears.  The guide didn't seem concerned so Tony tried to adjust the gears.

We made our way to Bannay before stopping for lunch at a nice park.

The afternoon "ride" was to Sancerre.  A steep climb that was easy for those on ebikes.  The folks on regular bikes struggled a bit.  Some even gave up and pushed their bikes up the hill.  Tony did his job as the sweeper and stayed back with the strugglers.

The strugglers finally made it to the top of the hill and stopped to cool off.  The rest of the group made it all the way to the Maison des Sancerre winery.

After cooling off for a few minutes, the strugglers got back on our bikes and triumphantly rode the last few feet to the winery.

The Maison des Sancerre winery tour included a 4D movie theater with REALLY comfortable chairs, lovely gardens and a beautiful view of the valley below.

After our wine tasting, we started back down the "mountain", stopping at the overlook first.

Graig, Chiel and Sara had the barge waiting for us at Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre.

Graig prepared another lovely dinner for us!

Tonight's menu was eggplant, chicken and ice cream!  The food was delicious, filling and beautifully presented!

Day 5, Tuesday, October 10, 2023 Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre to Beffes 26 miles cycling

After breakfast, we got our bikes outfitted for the day's ride.  BJ talked Ed, the guide, into switching bikes with her so she could ride in high gear and keep up with the group without having to pedal so fast!

Ed led the group in some stretches before we started our ride for the day.

The beginning of the ride was along the road.

We barely beat the barge to the nearest lock so some of the group helped crank the lock doors open and closed.

Our first break was in Rousseau.  Some folks had a beverage at Chez Vivie while other explored the town and found some delectable French pastries.

L'Mark brought along his sidekick to watch over us during the ride.

From Rousseau, we rode toward La Chapelle-Montlinard.

We spent the afternoon in La Charité-sur-Loire, a beautiful little town with an old church.

We ate our sandwiches on the steps of the church and tried to have a conversation with a homeless man, but we were unable to understand what he was saying. Lynn gave him a slice of her orange and he seemed happy with that.

Rebecca, Chick and L'Mark decided to forego their sandwiches in favor of some escargot!  Tony tried to sit with them and have a glass of wine but the server said he couldn't sit there and just have wine.

We explored the town a bit.

We found a place to sit and have a beverage with a view of the church (and our bicycles which had attracted the attention of some possible miscreants). 

We started the ride along the bike path toward Beffes. BJ was very happy with her bike that would now shift into high gear!

It was determined that we would beat the barge to Beffes so we took a break along the bike path to waste a little time.

We still made it to Beffes before the barge, so we stopped at the Proxi Marché to wait for word that the barge had arrived.

When we got to the barge, Chick, Rebecca, Eva Marie and BJ attempted to play Pétanque with some boules they found on the barge, but it was difficult on the grassy surface next to where the barge was parked.

Dinner was, again, delicious! Sweet Potato Soup, Beef Stew and Mascarpone Cheese with Bailey's Irish Cream.

After dinner, Ed gave us some bad news. Due to the drought conditions in the canals we would not be able to make it to Nevers as planned.  In fact, the lock was leaking so badly that the captain wanted to turn around and go back to Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre for fear of leaving the barge stranded in Nevers all winter.

Ed suggested we ride the bikes to Nevers and then back to Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre where the barge would be. That would be about 65 miles. We didn't like the sound of that, so we came up with an alternate plan. Our alternate plan had us riding back from Beffes to Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre with a stop at Pouilly-sur-Loire.  Some of the group would take an additional ride back up the hill to Sancerre.

With our plan worked out, it was time to play Left Right Center.  Everyone started with 3 one Euro coins and the last person with a coin left got the entire pot.  Kelly won!

Day 6, Wednesday, October 11, 2023 Beffes to Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre 30 miles cycling

After breakfast, we did our usual stretching before starting our ride.

We rode back to La Charité-sur-Loire. We got a nice view of the town from another direction.  We made a quick pit stop at the church to use the restroom.

We stopped at the inhabited Île du Faubourg de Loire, an island halfway between the source and the mouth of the river Loire.

We passed by the Escargot farm again that some of us had failed to notice the first time by.

We passed through Herry and admired the cows & donkeys.

We stopped at the Caveau du Moulin-à-Vent winery in Pouilly-sur-Loire for a wine tasting.

Back in Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre, part of the group decided to hang at the local bar while the rest rode back up the hill to Sancerre.  BJ, Beth & Markle borrowed eBikes from those staying behind and found the ride up the hill with pedal assist to be much preferable to the manual bikes!

Lunch was at the Brasserie du Piton and consisted of Escargot, Mussels, French Onion Soup and Crepes

After lunch, we went to an interesting shop called Couleur & Saveur.  At first glance, it seemed to be a gourmet shop, but we kept exploring and found a basement full of witches!

The sign explained in French, translated here:  At the end of winter, the kind witch mounts her broom and leaves the woods to go to war and run outside (the nasty winter) in order to give way to the (kind spring) It is a tradition in Sancerre to make a present of a witch who is hung from the above the threshold of the house towards a door or window. It is then a symbol of welcome and renewal. The witch protects the house and its inhabitants, she wards off evil spirits and chases away bad dreams. To the destiny of each being.

We took one final picture at the top of the hill before heading back down.

Back in Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre, we found the rest of the gang and waited for the barge to arrive. We stood on the bridge and welcomed the crew!

We spent a few minutes enjoying the sunshine on the deck before dinner.

Dinner had an Asian flair tonight.  We started with Caprese salad, then Cod with fried rice and Mango Sticky Rice (our least favorite dessert of the trip).

Day 7, Thursday, October 12, 2023 Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre to Beaulieu-sur-Loire 26 miles cycling

After breakfast, packing our lunches & doing our stretches, we started our ride.

We had only made it to Saint-Satur when part of the group went rogue and made an unscheduled stop at a farmer's market.  We sent Rebecca up ahead to tell the guide to let everyone come back to the farmer's market but he said it was not in our plans for the day.  Too late - some of the group was already enjoying the sights and smells!  

Tony, the sweeper, took the wrath of the guide for losing control of the group!

Jackie & Sandy bought crepes to appease the group that didn't get to come back to the market.

We had spent so much time at the market that the barge caught up with us at the bridge where the group was waiting.

Our next stop was at Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire.

Morning break was at Le BHV, the bar at l'Hotel de Ville in Cosne-Cours-sur Loire.  While some enjoyed their beverages, the rest explored the town.  Beth went looking for cocoa powder so Graig could make the brownies he had promised us.

We got a little turned around leaving Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire and ended up at a playground.

Our lunch stop was in a park beside the Maison De Loire Du Cher, which also happened to be next to a nuclear reactor!

Maison De Loire Du Cher had some nice restrooms, but one should exercise caution when opening the door.  Some of us didn't notice the sign and feared being locked in the bathroom.

Maison De Loire Du Cher had a museum, gift shop and an old fishing boat.  

Some folks relaxed while others toured the museum.

We stopped to talk to some guys who were fishing and pet their dog.  This beautiful dog had double dewclaws on his back legs, something none of us had seen before.

Since we were going to be getting back to Beaulieu-sur-Loire early, we needed to find a place to spend some time before the barge arrived.  We rode up the hill to the city center but found it to be a ghost town.


Google told us that the Bar du Loiret in nearby Bonny-sur-Loire was open so we headed there to wait for the barge to arrive.

Beth visited the pastry shop next door.

As we were heading back to the barge, we encountered a very hard working sheep dog who warned us not to mess with his goats!

Back at the boat, Beth, Markle, Lynn and L'Mark went to find a geocache.

Rebecca prepared a snack tray to take up to the deck.

We enjoyed relaxing on the deck before dinner.

Dinner was Nut Encrusted Goat Cheese, Lamb with Mint and the much awaited Brownie!

Between courses, Ed insisted on dancing with a reluctant Eva Marie.

The alteration in our schedule left some of us scrambling to find train tickets from Briare instead of Nevers.  Navigating the SNCF website can be quite frustrating, especially when some person (no names mentioned) had sampled a gummy and was shouting "Burrito, Taco"

We played a round of 3-13 and then headed off to bed.

Day 8, Friday, October 13, 2023 Beaulieu-sur-Loire to Briare* 11 miles cycling

At breakfast, we had the biggest croissants any of us had ever seen!

Eva Marie decided to take a ride on the barge instead of riding the bike.

She got pictures of the whole group as we left for our final ride.

Our first stop on the ride was at a vineyard.  The grapes had already been harvested but we found a few sweet juicy ones and several raisins still on the vine.

We stopped in the cute little town of Chatillon-sur-Loire with its beautiful flower baskets everywhere.  The Hotel de Ville is actually not a hotel at all, but the city hall.  

Inside the city hall was a traveling kimono exhibit.

The La Potinière had bicycle themed barstools, perfect for our trip!

BJ had been studying French on the Duo Lingo app and was able to use her new knowledge to communicate with a French woman who told her about being retired from OTIS elevators.

Some folks wandered around town and found some posing with murals opportunities!

When we got to Briare, five of us split from the group to have lunch at Le Petit St Trop instead of eating our sandwiches.  Tony had to relinquish his sweeper duties to another rider as the rest of the group was riding on to Gien.

The rest of the group had their picnic lunch with a view of the Château de Gien.

Back at the barge, we made friends with a German couple who had a beautiful dog named Liza.

The Gien riders had one casualty who got a bit of road rash.

We met in the dining room for a toast to our wonderful trip.  Ed presented Tony with an honorary vest for being the MVP as the best sweeper.

We took a final group picture with the barge.

Because of the change in itinerary, four of the group would have to leave before dinner to make it to their next destination. We were all standing on the deck when we saw a taxi approaching with a dog in the front seat.  We started saying our goodbyes but the taxi drove right past.  A few minutes later, it came back without the dog.

They sent us pictures from the (not) crowded train station!

Back on the barge, we were getting ready for our farewell dinner.  With the smaller number of people the group was able to sit together at one table.

Dinner was French Onion Soup, Coq au Vin and Creme Brulee.

Ed wanted to watch his team play France in Rugby so he talked the folks at Auberge Du Pont into staying open if he brought some Americans over to watch.  A few of us joined him for the first half.

 Before we went to bed, Beth & Markle texted us a picture from Nevers.  At least part of the group made it to Nevers!

Day 9, Saturday, October 14, 2023 Briare to Geneva by train

The rest of the group caught the 11:15 train to the Paris-Lyon station together.  There was a train strike and the earlier train had been cancelled, which is why Kristi and Kelly had to leave the night before.  The station ended up being quite crowded and the train only stops for 1 minute, so we all split up and got on at different doors so nobody would be left behind.

When the train got to the Paris Bercy station, the group split up.  Sandy & Kevin hurried to find a train to Amsterdam and L'Mark & Lynn headed off to find Pizza. We lost track of Joyce and Dr. Shoe as we were exiting the station, so when we got to the Paris-Lyon station, only 7 of us were together.

We said goodbye to Dave & Jackie and went to find our train to Geneva.  We had assigned seats on the upper level at the back of the last car.  There was a huge Asian tour group so it was difficult to get to the turnstile to scan our boarding passes.

We settled into our seats and started the long ride to Geneva.  The train goes VERY fast, 184 MPH at times.

There was plenty of time for a nap before we got to Geneva.

On our way to the hotel from the train station in Geneva, we passed a chocolate shop with a HUGE chocolate pumpkin!

We found our rooms at the Hotel Central and freshened up before setting out to look for a place for dinner.  We tried several restaurants but were told "Complet" which means they have no space to seat us. We were finally able to get a table at Le Carnivore.

After dinner, we stopped by Le Flore for a glass of wine.  Le Flore had some neat pizza knives.

Day 10, Sunday, October 15, 2023 Geneva

We had coffee at Boreal to start our day.

After breakfast, the girls set out to do the free walking tour of Geneva. Tony got a picture of us from our balcony as we were leaving the hotel.

We were supposed to meet the guide at the clock tower at 11:00AM.

A representative met us and told us that the English speaking guide had been drafted to go to Israel so there would not be an English tour today. He recommended that we go to the Maison Tavel Museum.  We picked up a German tourist on our way who was also hoping to go on the tour.

The Maison Tavel is the oldest private residence in Geneva and houses a museum of urban history and daily life.

There is a scale model of the city on the top floor.

Just outside the Maison Tavel is L'Ancien Arsenal with beautiful mosaic walls.

The next stop on our self guided tour was the flower clock.

Then we visited the iconic Jet d’eau fountain.  It is One hundred and forty metres high and spews 500 litres of water per second!

There was even a rainbow in the fountain,

We went back to Le Flore for a glass of wine before lunch.  Our server had an interesting tattoo and when we asked to take a picture, we didn't realize that he was posing just like the James Dean picture behind him.

We had lunch at Le Bistrot des Arts

We made reservations at several restaurants so we wouldn't have to hear "Complet" when looking for dinner.  We looked over our choices and decided on L'Hotel De Ville, housed in a building dating from the 16th century.

Eva Marie wanted to try the local favorites, Escargot and Fondue.

It was a chilly night so the blankets they gave us felt good on our laps.  Too bad Rebecca's soup wasn't hot!

Day 11, Monday, October 16, 2023 Geneva to Fernandina Beach, Florida

Rebecca, Chick and Eva Marie took a cab back to the airport.  BJ and Tony were planning to walk to the train station and catch the train, but when they left the hotel, a bus came by that took them directly to the airport arriving at the same time as the taxi!

We spent a little time in the lounge before heading to the gate.  When we boarded the plane, Rebecca's assigned seat was broken so they gave her the seat behind BJ.

We had a beautiful view of the Swiss Alps on take off.

We had a long layover in JFK and were very happy when it was finally time to board our flight to Jacksonville.

It was another great trip, even though the itinerary wasn't exactly as promised, it just proves what we always say, "It doesn't matter where you go, it's who you go with that counts!"

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