europe2003 PII, Day 1
14June03, 154km/92 miles
We gathered from four different arriving flights at Charles deGaulle airport in Paris, boarded the TGV to Avignon, and slept for most of the wondrous 10:17AM train ride to Avignon. Arriving around 1:45PM, it was then Hertz, Zorbike (drop off 4 bikes for assembly), les Agassins**** (hotel for the night), Norauto (get bike rack installed on our van), back to Zorbike (pick up bikes), and by 8PM we were ready for dinner in the garden.
**** (4 star) restaurants in France are something special. A guy killed himself last fall when he fell from **** to ***. (1st question of the trip, for the audience: How many **** restaurants are their in France?) The initial team, Sylvie Le Guellec, Dave Perkowitz, Susie Perkowitz, Steve DelVecchio, Lisa Renstrom and Bob Perkowitz, selected from a menu containing refined stuff beyond description, drank maybe 5 bottles of wine, and then got to the cheese guy.
The cheese guy prepared most of the cheese himself. That is, he added herbs, olives, whatever to otherwise great cheese,. We made our post dinner selections ate it, and drifted off one at a time starting around 11:30PM. Then we drifted off again.
The logistics of prepping 5 people for a ride are formidable. 12 bananas, 12 drinkable yogurts, 7 liters of water, candy, cheese, deli meats… but we successfully supplied, and then headed north to Chateauneuf du Pape, home of some spectacular deep, complex red wines, and a former summer retreat for the Popes who reigned from Avignon during the 14th century. The Protestants tore down most of the castle/home, but we rode to the top of the hill to see it. Here’s Steve, Susie and Dave.
30 km into the ride, we stopped in Orange and had omelets for breakfast, accompanied by plates of cheeses and meats. By then, the theme for the day, heat was emerging. The ride north along the Rhone, past the fruit and vineyards, through the small villages on a Saturday afternoon was serene.
The Rhone is very navigable, thanks to a series of dams and canals along parts of the way. We found them fascinating.
But all was not well. By early afternoon, the temperature reached 99 degrees Fahrenheit, We refreshed as best we could at village fountains,
but your intrepid riders started evaporating under the stiflingly hot sun. At the 89km mark, everyone except Bob settled down to multi-hour lunch at a village café. Bob just kept riding. In his delerium he made a couple wrong turns (hard to do when riding along a major waterway) and stopped to photograph a nuclear power plant (3rd of the day) on one of those detours.
By about 5PM Bob rolled into Michel Chaban, the second of our **** hotel/restaurants.
(That’s Steve and Dave in front.) We had wine in the lobby and then decided we couldn’t do another **** dinner of 3 or 4 hours duration and continue with the trip. So, to the amazement, astonishment and angst of the maitre di, we cancelled the reservation and headed across the river to a little café for some great cuisine, at 1/6th the price of the ****.
(That’s Susie) I’d like to say that the atmosphere and the company made up for the ****, but dinner ranged from frog legs (Dave) to fois gras (Dave), with a bunch of seafood, lamb, cheese, etc. thrown in for good measure. Alas, it still took almost 3 hours.
Finally, Bob is a sucker for monuments and plaques and the like. The most popular ones around here seem to be WWI. Each town lists their sacrifices. Here’s Pont-de-I’lsere’s, across from our hotel.