Cycling in France: Part III

Our heads foggy and bodies tired, we were sad to leave our lovely hosts in Blois. Gothic churches, their spires piercing the grey sky, provided an impressive backdrop to the wild river Loire. Flooded in many places, we were forced to leave the path and took a longer route to Château de Chambord. An imposing, straight road leads through hunting grounds to the castle. The enormous silhouette and renaissance turrets gradually appeared on the horizon as we cycled. Built for King Francis I as a hunting lodge in 1519, Chambord has remained one of the most recognisable castles in the world.

My excitement to have reached Chambord was cut short at the ticket office. “Mais, you’re not part of the European Union anymore” a blonde lady sneered at us as we presented her with our passports, ready to claim our free entry for European citizens under 25. She leaned over the desk and shouted loudly to her colleague – “C’est vrai non? Les Anglaises ne font plus parties de l’Europe”. This was the first time I encountered animosity due to Brexit and I was livid. After firmly explaining in French that I was a member of the European Union until March 2019, I sulked around the castle dwelling on the harsh reality that I would soon lose my European citizenship.     

The wintry weather bit at our heels as we followed the main road to Orleans. It continued to stalk us along the gravel cycle path as we proceeded along the Loire the following day. The cold holds you closer when riding a bike. Icy wind slips through your clothes chilling every inch of your skin. Both struggling from chilblains and frozen to the core, our moods were beginning to drop. Tolerance is a difficult battle when you are weakened by the weather.

Arriving at Chatillon-Sur-Loire, we were greeted openly into the large house of an eclectic family. Typical French shutters framed the windows of their doll-house home, built by the family in 1820. Unusual decorations told intimate stories and memories of travels in distant lands. The heart of the house was the kitchen. The walls were adorned with framed Japanese kites and a large wooden cabinet full of eclectic crockery. We sat and warmed our feet by the open fire, chatting to the Grandma as she sauntered around the room, nonchalantly smoking cigarettes, peering at us over her large oval-rimmed glasses. Her strong character reflected her life experiences: She had worked for many years in Africa as a doctor and participated in the student protests of 1968.

We left early the next morning as she had to go to her tango classes in Paris. The sun gave the fake impression of warmth as we cycled through pretty lagoons lined with yellow reeds. We left the comforting banks of the Loire and headed into the rural region of Bourgogne, famed for its wine. Long climbs were framed with beautiful farmland, musty in the distant sun. The view was tarnished by the cold and our sour moods. We had to escape these piercing temperatures.

The following day, we rode separately to our destination, Prehy. The weather has an impressive influence over our moods. Cycling in unabatingly minus temperatures and wind chisels away at your positivity, minute by minute. Our friendship was whittling with it. I cycled the isolated road, passing a few villages and farms, often totally alone on the hills. Vineyards, with their short dark tree stumps, broke up the patch-work landscape, a friendly interruption to the expanse of otherwise empty fields.

That evening, Marie, our host, and I laughed about the difficulties of travelling with a friend, but the amicable positivity was hard to maintain in the lonely darkness of my room. I cried heavy sobs into my pillow. Life on the road can be incredibly lonely, even when you are with your friend. I was quickly learning I would need to rely on myself and find a strength that I wasn’t sure if I had.