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Burgundy-Provence Tandem Tour Wednesday-Thursday July 10 & 11, 2013 Fredericksburg, TX to Geneva Switzerland
One of the minor inconveniences for living in a small town is we are a little remote to the nearest airport which in our case is San Antonio. Fortunately our good friend John Batterton loves to drive and is an early morning type of person so he met us at 5:00 in the morning for the one hour drive to the San Antonio Airport for our first leg of a three flight trip to Geneva. Traveling with a tandem bicycle is a little more challenging and the convenience of being dropped at the front door for departures really helps to ease some of the hassle of traveling with the extra large suitcases. Our itinerary plotted us from SAT to Houston Intercontinental to Newark and finally Geneva. All of the flights were on time eliminating the anxiety of making connections. We had bulkhead seats on the 767 from Newark which provided the best possible seating in the economy coach section. The movie was very weak…”Admissions” which provided little diversion for the long flight. The meals were unremarkable and the wine was barely potable especially at $7.00 per glass. Neither Becky nor I sleep well on transatlantic flights and this was no exception. But in spite of all of the travails of travel we arrived on time in Geneva at 8:00 Thursday morning. The Swiss immigration and customs were a breeze with no lines. Our luggage was some of the first on the belt so we were ready to start our adventure. First we had to find the train from the airport to Centre Ville…fortunately the ticket automats had an English option and accepted a debit card. For 3.50 Swiss Francs, we had fast efficient transfer to downtown; at the station we found a taxi for the 8 block trip to the Hotel N’vy. We had not found an ATM machine at either the airport or the train station so we hoped we had enough Francs from previous trips to pay for the cab…however that was not the case…I was 10 francs short, but fortunately we spotted friends at the hotel who loaned me the money we needed. We checked into the hotel…luckily our room was ready so we could change out of our traveling clothes into shorts and t-shirts. The first item on the agenda was to reassemble our tandem. We found a convenient spot in the parking garage and began to put the pieces together, but not without a few glitches. I broke two screws for tightening the seat post collars and we lost one half of the timing chain master link. We got directions to the nearest bike shop where we got replacement screws, but had to walk to a second shop for the master chain link. Both shops were within a few blocks of the hotel. We did locate an ATM machine and then stopped for lunch at a small café. We ordered the plat du jour which was a nice beef filet with salad and vegetables. Of course a nice pilsner beer to go with the meal was a celebration for finding the necessary bike parts. After lunch we returned to the hotel to finish the bike assemble and then to relax and enjoy the afternoon…except I had failed to change the map chip in my Garmin so I had to download a new map. Well I tried but there was insufficient storage memory…no problem I thought…just buy a micro SD chip. I found a shop and bought a 2 GB chip, came back to the hotel to resume the download, but again I found insufficient storage; so back to the shop for a 32 GB chip and returned to try again. This time success and the download began, but now there was a different problem…the internet speed was too slow to complete the 29 GB map file and I never got the map installed. We decided to forget the issue and walk to the lake to enjoy the sights of Geneva. The walk along the lake was a nice break for the tensions of earlier in the day. We saw the Wilson palace and Chateaubriand as well as hundreds of people boating, swimming and sunning on the lake. Later we walked to the Edelweiss Hotel for a typical Swiss dinner. I chose a grilled salmon and Becky took the beef fondue; of course we had a liter of red wine to enhance the meal. There was a music combo playing typical Swiss music complete with Alpenhorn to add to the experience. We then returned to the hotel for a much needed nights rest.
Friday July 12, 2013 Geneva to Tournus:
Friday morning began with a short one block walk to the nearest bakery for fresh croissants and pastries. Next we started to help load the trucks with the bike cases and bicycles. Each bike was tagged with one of four selected options: 1) no ride, 2) short 29 mile, 3) medium 43 mile or 4) long 74 mile. We had selected the medium length ride. There were 3 busses and 2 moving vans waiting to move all the riders and their luggage. As you would expect there was some confusion and the riders could not fit in the designated busses so we had to do some last second rearranging of the busses to accommodate everyone and his luggage. Eventually we all departed about 10:00 for the designated drop points for the start of each ride. We made a brief stop at the border into France and then one more stop for a restroom break. We had about an hour ride to reach our drop off point. By now all of the kinks had been resolved in the logistics and the unloading and start of the ride was without incident. About 30 tandem teams had opted for the 43 mile ride; using on the Garmin GPS navigation we started in the direction of Tournus. The roads were smaller country routes with little traffic winding through active agricultural areas. The terrain was rolling with some climbing but nothing requiring shifting out of the middle chain ring. We passed though several small villages; each with some distinguishing characteristic, but all with a weathered patina that reminded us that people have lived here for centuries. We kept hoping to pass a bank with an ATM machine because we had no Euros and knew without them lunch would be impossible. Finally we arrived in a village large enough to support a bank, restocked with local currency we could now search for some lunch which was an easy task because there was a Patisserie adjacent to the bank where we found some nice quiche and cold bottled water. We paused our ride for less than 20 minutes for the lunch snack before we continued the route to the ship. The final 15 miles were flatter as we approached Saone River delta. Of course every field was cultivated with grains or potatoes…we frequently had to share the road with tractors and other farm equipment. Most of the road surfaces were smooth, but once we entered the flatter delta, the surface became rough and bumpy. We arrived in Tournus about 4:00 stopping on the bridge which overlooked our ship to take pictures. The Amadeus Symphony was docked a few hundred yards from the bridge; we carried our bike up to the sun deck and then went to registration to check in for the next week. We had a cabin on the middle deck close to the reception. On our first Danube cruise in 2009, we had cruised on the Symphony; two years ago the ship was refurbished and relocated to Burgundy and Provence. All of our luggage was waiting for us in our room which was a relief! After unpacking and a quick shower, we went to the dining room for a late lunch buffet. There we found a variety of salads, sandwiches and desserts laid on the buffet for the hungry bike riders. After the lunch we moved to the lounge for a beer and to visit with friends we hadn’t seen since the last cruise. Some of the long riders started to arrive around 5:30…most had been riding for 6 hours to complete the 74 mile route. Dinner was scheduled for 8:00pm, so Becky and I had time to explore a little of the town. We found the Abbey of St. Philiburt which dates back to the 10th century. Some of the floor mosaics dated to the middle of the 11th century; it quite an impressive structure especially considering the age and history of the facility. From the Abbey / Monastery, we returned to the ship in plenty of time for dinner. By this time most of the long riders had returned except for 4 teams. Three arrived as the safety talk was underway at 7:45, but one never arrived and had to be rescued with the SAG van…they arrived at the ship about 10:30 in the evening. During the safety talk, the captain fired up the engines and we eased away from the dock in the direction of Chalon sur Saone. The dinner bell called us at 8:00; the menu offered a selection of salads for the entrée, John Dory fish or beef for the main plate and dessert selection of ice cream with fruit or a chocolate honey muffin with a mousse. Becky and I chose the fish. The wine was a simple house wine served in carafes…choice of red or white. Following the meal, there was the opportunity for cheese and fruit. Fatigue and jet lag both dictated that we skip the final course and retire for the day. We had ridden 43 miles with 1969 feet of climbing.
Saturday 13 July 2013, Chalon sur Saone – Beaune
The lounge on board offers 24 hour coffee and starting at 5:00am there are pastries available. My normal routine is to be in the lounge around 5:00 to write my travel log, drink coffee and visit with the other early risers. Breakfast begins at 6:30 with Bill’s route talk starting at 7:15. Today’s ride program has a loop ride to the Burgundy city of Beaune and back to the ship. There were three routes choices outbound and one common route returning. We chose the middle distance which was a scenic ride along the towpath of a barge canal until we reached the famous Burgundy vineyards. We pedaled along the rolling and seemingly endless rows of the famous wine region through such villages as Puligny Montrachet, Mersault and Pommard to arrive in Beaune. Two tours had been arranged and wanting to do both had been the driving force for selecting the middle distance. We arrived at the designated meeting point where we met our guides; our first stop was at the Patriarche Cave. This winery had in a former life been a monastery but now was the largest winery in the region. Our hostess took us down into the labyrinth through a maze of dimly lit rows of wine bottle and barrel storage where over 3 million bottles were resting. We were invited to taste nine wines…3 whites and 6 reds. Each category offered a region, a village and a premier cru…while each was notably different; none were remarkable to my palate. The whites were dry and crisp, but the acid balance was rough on the tongue. The terroir of the reds was very earthy and overpowered the fruit characteristics. None were worthy of purchase. Instead of tasting wines from a tasting glass, we were given metal sommelier cups; while this may be the world standard for tasting wine, I missed the chance to view, swirl and smell the bouquet all a which is compromised tasting from a metal cup. Oh well when in France…. From the wine caves we walked to the Hospice which was a benevolence of the French duke who had negotiated the treaty of the 100 years war. The structure itself was a marvel with slate and glass tiles roofs. The hospital wards were neat and tidy…it was last used as a hospital in the ‘70’s…now there is a totally modern hospital on the edge of town but still run by the same order of nuns. Of course we saw all of the ancient medical instruments and pharmaceutical compounds as well as learn the normal treatments for various maladies. Most of the early treatments and now known to have been a detriment but we have learned from past experience. The hospital today is partially financed by a wine auction held each year. The hospice owns several tracts of vineyards and the wine produced from these tracts earns thousands from the tuxedo clad bidders. In fact the value of wine world wine is influenced by the prices bid at this annual auction. As we exited the hospice, we were ready to find a restaurant; it was already 2:00 in the afternoon. The Saturday market had closed and the vendors were packing their stalls. Two other teams joined us at a local restaurant for lunch…it’s hard to get a bad meal in France. The daily menu offered an entrée, a plate and dessert for 15 Euros. That was more food than I wanted considering the 20 mile ride back to the ship…I chose boeuf burgogne and Becky took a fish soup. The beef tips were excellent and a specialty of the region. The afternoon grew warm but the low humidity and gentle breeze made for a pleasant ride back to Chalon. The return route was through the flatter delta region with grain fields instead of vineyards for scenery. The route was mostly a slight downhill over smaller county roads. Our Garmin lead us to a pedestrian street in the center of town to the square in front of the cathedral. We had to walk the bike through the crowded streets until we arrive at the road paralleling the river. We rolled the bike back onto the sun deck and then cleaned up happy hour and dinner. There was music in the in the lounge until the dinner bell at 8:00. We chose pork tenderloin off the menu with cream brulee for dessert. We have learned to add plenty of salt to the meals to help replace all that is lost during the daily rides…still cramping is an issue. The meal lasted until 10:00 when everyone retired for the evening. Our ride on Saturday covered 46 miles with 1483 feet of climbing.
Sunday 14 July 2013 Macon-Montmerle-Lyon
Our ship had sailed from Chalon sur Saone to Macon. We awoke to another cloudless, pleasant day. Our program for today was a required long distance ride for any team planning to ride Mount Ventoux. We were docked in the heart of the Beaujolais wine region and the morning ride would have us riding 36 miles through the vineyards of the lower section of Burgundy. During his morning route talk, Bill explained a little about the wine produced in the region and covered the route we would follow. Breakfast was the standard ship’s buffet…we consumed high calorie items until we felt well fueled for the ride. We departed the ship by 8:00 and threaded through the industrial section of Macon and immediately into the hills. Fortunately it was Bastille Day so there was no traffic, especially no trucks! Vineyards growing the premium grapes are always located on a hillside to maximize the exposure to the sun. Well these hills were challenging with long moderately steep inclines. We climbed for the first half of the ride while enjoying the marvelous vistas at a snails pace. For one short stretch of 1 kilometer, we had to shift into our lowest granny gear to continue the climb. The Garmin navigation system works well, but it is flawed…the major issue is screen brightness and in the full sun it is difficult to see. As a result we missed two turns which added about 4 miles to the planned 36 mile route. Once we reached the ridge we had a 14 mile descent to where the ship was docked in Montmerle for lunch. Bastille Day celebrations were underway in a few of the small villages which caused us to walk the bike through streets that were closed for the festivities. We arrived at the ship in time for lunch and rehydration. The afternoon ride was also 36 miles but with only one significant climb. The afternoon temperature was warm but as long as we maintained forward progress, the breeze kept us from overheating. We found other teams to ride with and share the navigation responsibilities. We paused only briefly for minor bike adjustments as we pedaled downriver to the confluence of the Saone and Rhone Rivers in Lyon. About 10 miles from the end, the batteries in our Garmin died and we were unable to continue until a group of bikes appeared which could lead us to the ship. By this point we were out of the hills and following the banks of the Saone into Lyon. We encountered some construction and closed streets but the pedestrian paths were sufficient for us to continue although not ideal. We knew we were approaching the port where our ship would be docked and we would arrive before it arrived. With this knowledge the mission changed from completing the ride to finding an open bar where we could enjoy a beer and some snacks. Fortunately, we found a shore side bar just a few hundred yards from where the Symphony would tie up for the evening. The ship did not arrive for another hour and a half which meant we had plenty of time to celebrate the completion of the ride. The ship arrived at 6:30; we loaded the bikes and headed for the showers. 15 of the teams had chosen the optional Paul Bocuose dinner at his famous Michelin 5-star restaurant. Their schedule was a little compressed due to the late arrival of the boat. The dinner call was at 8:00 with the usual selection choice of salads, soups, meat course and dessert. Both Becky and I chose the trout…it was unremarkable. Following dinner, we visited the lounge for after dinner drinks and to wait for the Bastille Day fireworks show. Around 10:30, we started to hear the exploding rockets and moved to the sun deck to watch a thrilling display of fireworks across the river. The finale was close to midnight…the latest we had stayed up on the trip. We had ridden 79 miles for the day with over 3000 feet of climbing.
Monday 15 July 2013 Lyon-Chavanay-Tournon-La Voulte
The ship left Lyon at 2:00am and moved down river after the diners from Paul Bocuose returned to dock at the small Rhone port of Chavanay. The program for today was an easy ride with the afternoon off to rest for the climb up Ventoux on Tuesday. There was a choice of 3 rides in the morning; we chose the shortest and flattest route which was a 32 mile spin along the banks of the Rhone. Much of the ride was along a bike path which short stretches on minor roads. We were able to follow the GPS without any problems. The scenery was plain compared to the remarkable vistas of the previous day; we crossed the river at least twice, along apricot orchards and grain fields, but most was under a forest canopy which while cool and comfortable does not afford wonderful scenery. We arrived in Tournon at the ship dock more than an hour before its scheduled arrival…we had plenty of time to find a café for coffee and to visit with other teams. Back on board, we stored the bike on the sun deck and then joined everyone in the dining room for lunch. We had planned to rest the afternoon in preparation for the Ventoux climb on Tuesday. We spent the afternoon resting, reading and napping. Those who chose to make the afternoon ride met the ship at La Voulte where we stopped for only two hours to get everyone back on the ship. Meanwhile Jan and Bill invited everyone into the lounge for a glass of Kir Royale and to play Ognib which is bingo spelled backwards…the game is also played upside down and backwards. As is the normal case my cards contained very few of the numbers called so I missed any chance to win any of the wonderful valuable prizes. The dinner call was a few minutes past 7:30…it was Matt’s birthday and we had been invited to their table for the birthday cake. One of the special dinner arrangements for these Amadeus charters is the option to order a steak at any meal (also hamburgers any time at lunch). Becky and I had been discussing our last dinner before the Ventoux climb and thought that steak and French fries would be our best option. The steak was excellent…tender and juicy and hopefully packed with the calories we would need on Tuesday. Matt’s birthday cake presentation was quite fun with music and the crew parading around the dining room with a cake with lighted sparklers. Matt asked to save the cake for the next day to celebrate the ride into Avignon. Most of the talk of the day centered around plans and strategies for climbing Mount Ventoux on Tuesday. Bill was surprised at the number of teams (and individuals) who were planning to attempt the climb; in fact he had to arrange for more transport space. He spoke briefly at dinner about the ride choices on Tuesday; I think to discourage anyone who might be on the decision fence whether or not to attempt the climb. But the buzz continued and I don’t think anyone changed their plans. Most had been planning and training for the epic climb and were not about to make a last minute decision to abandon the ride. At the conclusion of dinner we went to the sun deck to watch the sunset as the crew guided the ship into another lock. Next it was time for bed and rest for the climb up Ventoux. We had ridden only 32 miles for the day with insignificant climbing.
Tuesday 16 July 2013, Roquemaure-Bedoin-Ventoux-Avignon
Today we will learn if our training for the past year was sufficient for the challenge to climb Mount Ventoux. The ship had docked at the tiny port of Roquemaure. We were there only long enough to have breakfast and then load the bikes onto a truck and the riders onto a bus for the 30 minute ride to the base of the mountain at Bedoin. Bill had more teams planning to attempt the climb than he anticipated. The 34 passenger bus was too small…he loaded one team onto the truck; put 4 teams in the rescue van and hired 3 taxis for the remaining teams. All together 54 riders started the ride…8 on single half bikes and the remainder on tandems. We arrived in Bedoin a few minutes past 9:00 and started to unload the bikes. Becky and I made our final pit stop and began the ride at 9:30. The first 4 miles were inclined at 4 – 6% which we managed to pull in our middle chain ring at 8 to 9 miles per hour, but at mile 4 we entered the forest with its 10-12% inclines. We started our ride up Ventoux 2 days after stage 15 of the Tour de France had raced up the same route…it was exciting to be on the same road still decorated with encouragement for all the racers. Now we were in our lowest granny gear struggling to maintain 4 miles per hour and occasionally dropped to even slower speeds. We stopped a mile 5 for water and energy bars…we had been climbing an hour and I had already consumed 3 of my GU’s. We had planned to make the next stop at the Chateau Reynaud which we thought was at mile 8…at mile 8.5, I needed another energy bar, so we made a brief stop before continuing to the chateau which was at mile 9.5. By now we were out of water and in need of a break. Fortunately, we could refill the bottle gratis and rest for a few minutes before continuing to the summit. The good news we had now climbed the steepest inclines and the final 4 miles would be a little easier. We had been on the bike for 2 hours by the time we reached the chateau…our goal had been to reach the summit by 1:00 or 3 ½ hours and we were on target. As we left for the summit we saw blazing speeds of 6 and 7 miles per hour, but knew to throttle back to maintain the reserve energy. By now we were out of the forest and could see the summit drawing nearer. We paused briefly at the Tommy Simpson monument for photographs and then continued the final leg to the top…we had less than a mile to go. As we approached the top, the final pitch inclined to around 15% but the adrenaline rush kept us spinning to the top of the col. I will never be able to express the emotion and pride of accomplishment as we coasted to a stop at the top. We had realized a dream and scratched one line off the bucket list. We stopped long enough to take pictures and refill water bottles. There were plenty of high fives and hugs for all the finishers. We had completed the 13 mile climb in just under three hours of moving time and three and a half total time with the breaks. Now it was time to start the descent…we stuffed the front of our jerseys with newspaper which we had brought from Fredericksburg; this is a common practice for mountain riders to guard against wind chill on the rapid descent with jerseys soaked with perspiration. We had been warned to maintain a reasonable speed and control because the risk of serious injury from an out of control crash. We stopped twice on the way down to let our brakes cool down and arrived without mishap at the bottom in the village of Malaucene. We took some time to buy Mount Ventoux jerseys and enjoy a sandwich at a local boulangerie. We still had 30 miles of riding to meet the ship in Avignon. The route was mostly gently downhill through agricultural regions. The temperature was approaching 100 degrees with a little breeze. We ran out of water and had to stop once to refill our bottles. As we approached Avignon, the road surfaces deteriorated and the route became complicated trying to avoid the heavy traffic streets. We had to make one course correction as we entered the old city gates…the only problem was we had arrived during the afternoon rush hour, but soon found the correct route along the Rhone. The road lead us past the old Popes Residence and the Pont de Avignon. At last the ship was in sight signaling the end of an epic ride. We carried our bike to the sun deck and quickly showered and changed for the inevitable party which would take place in the forward lounge. Other successful teams had already gathered there to start the celebration. I ordered a bottle of champagne and glasses for everyone. Soon other teams followed suit and eventually 8 bottles of bubbly were poured for the celebrants. There were plenty of toasts and congratulations to go around. The lounge divided into two distinct groups…those who conquered Ventoux and those who did not attempt it. The revelry continued until the dinner bell at 8:00. We learned that everyone who tried did reach the summit, but six teams had brake failures on the descent and had to be rescued. The festive mood continued through the dinner laughter and buzz about the day echoing off the walls until fatigue and alcohol drove everyone to bed. We had ridden 57 miles with over 5400 feet of elevation gain.
Wednesday 17 July 2013 Avignon – Arles
Today we planned for an easy recovery day…only 26 miles with lots of stops. After breakfast we had to load the bikes onto truck and we all took seats on a bus for the hour ride deep into Provence to ride the famous ridge ring which would pass through four beautiful small town that were clinging to the sides of cliffs. We unloaded the bikes about a mile above Gordes and coasted into the town. We stopped at a small market to buy fresh cherries and figs. The cherries were as good as we have ever enjoyed. While in Gordes we also found herbs de Provence, but passed over many other tempting souvenir choices. We descended out of Gordes but soon had to start a long climb up to Rousillon which is perched on red cliffs. All the buildings were covered with plaster colored from the red adobe of the area. Here we stopped for ice cream and a little shopping before continuing to Lacoste. Again we descended for a few miles and then began another gradual but long climb up to the town where Pierre Cardin had purchased the ruins of a castle and was in the process of restoring. We thought we would buy some lunch, but the service at the restaurant was too slow to accommodate our schedule, so we bought a bottle of water and a brioche which we consumed before returning to the ride. We knew we had nine miles to go and one more climb…the temperature was approaching 100 degrees and we really had already had enough climbing for the day…but we kept spinning the cranks to push on to Menerbes where we did not stop but just rolled right on through for the final four miles to the lavender museum where the busses, trucks, a box lunch and a tour of the museum were waiting. The region is famous for lavender and we did pass through many fields of the fragrant purple flower. At the museum we saw a brief video which illustrated how the flower is grown, harvested and processed into the essential oil; of course the tour ended in the gift shop where we were encouraged to buy from their large selection of lavender products. We loaded back onto the bus and departed for Arles by 4:00. The ride back was almost exactly an hour…most everyone dosed as we rode. When we arrived alongside the ship we had only a few minutes to carry the bikes up to the sun deck and change shoes. Bill then led us on a short walk up to the 2000 plus year old coliseum to witness the bull games. There was quite a lot of horse pageantry before the bull games began. I could see the point of the games, but it seemed that the “matadors” tried to lure the bull into chasing them to see how close the bull would come before they jumped out of the ring to safety. The best part of the visit was seeing the old arena and enjoying a cold beer with homemade potato chips. Bill had warned us that we would probably get bored after a few minutes of the bull games and he was correct. After the first 10 minute chase, we returned to the ship to shower and change for dinner. Our dinner choices were lamb or fish…I ordered rack of lamb while Becky chose the vegetarian dim sum. We did not stay up for any of the programs or walk back into the town; we did return to lounge to get email and catch up on correspondence. Next it was time for the bed…we had ridden only 26 miles but with 4 long climbs totaling over 1600 feet.
Thursday 18 July 2013, Arles- St. Remy-Le Baux
There was only one route for all riders today, a 40 mile loop with plenty of sightseeing and points of interest. Bill had pushed the schedule back a half hour so his usual route talk began at 7:45. Following breakfast, we were underway about 8:30 headed for St. Remy. The route was flat and the road surface was smooth. We jumped on the wheel of a fast team and arrived in town almost 2 hours before the tour guides were to meet us at the ancient Roman ruins of Glanum. We had plenty of time to find a coffee shop where we refreshed and visited with other teams. The traffic in St. Remy was very heavy and there were one way streets which added to the confusion. However find the entrance to the Roman city and still had to wait a half hour for the tour guides. Glanum had been a thriving city which was eventually covered in mud and not rediscovered until 1921. Archeologists have excavated most of the structures and determined how the city appeared at its zenith. The tour lasted about 45 minutes; then we were met by the next guide who lead us 200 yards away to the Sanitarium where Vincent Van Gogh had been a patient for one year, one week and one day. She explained about his life, his paintings and his disease. We saw the vistas that he painted and the surroundings that influenced his style. The guide was quite knowledgeable and managed to share her excitement and love of Van Gogh’s genius with all of us. After this 45 minute tour we had a one hour ride mostly uphill to Le Baux. The climb was about 6 -7% but the brilliant sun and 95 plus degree temperature made the grind more taxing than we wanted. We arrived at the entrance to this medieval castle and found an ice cream shop…thankfully the cold ice cream really help to revive a couple of heat distressed cyclists. Le Baux is a popular tourist venue and it was crowded with hoards who had come to visit this remarkable ruin which is perched on a rock pinnacle overlooking the vineyards and olive groves of the Camarque. Becky and I walked around the grounds with an audio guide visiting most of the points of interest, but soon we decided that we had enough of the heat and crowds and it was time to start the final 16 miles back to the ship. We did not stay for the demonstrations of the catapults; the rapid descent from the castle was enough thrill for us. There was one optional stop at an olive oil press, but we elected to skip that in favor of a late lunch waiting for us on board the ship. The terrain once again became flat as we pedaled through the fields in the Rhone Delta. A thunder cloud appeared which provided some welcomed shade and cooler temperatures and we were lucky to avoid any rain. Back at the dock in Arles, we carried the bike up to the sun deck and then went to the lounge for snacks and cold beer. The food and drink were just what we needed to help recover from the ride. Next it was time to shower and change into street clothes; we wanted to visit the old city in Arles and look for treasures to take home. Unfortunately most of the shops had closed by 6:00 so after an unsuccessful search for souvenirs, we settled for a cold beer at a local pub. The evening program on the ship included a farewell cocktail party to introduce the crew one final time. The dinner was the farewell captains dinner (although we had another day of touring on Friday. The dinner menu offered a few extra courses…the main course was a surf and turf with lobster and beef fillet; always at the final dinner is the sparkler parade for the baked Alaska. By the time the final cheese course was served, I was too sleepy to party any later. We bid our farewells and headed for our cabin. We had ridden 44 miles with 1463 feet of climbing.
Friday 19 July 2013, Arles-Port St. Louis-Arles
Today would be our final day of cycling for this Santana tour. The morning routine remained unchanged with the huge breakfast buffet beginning at 6:30 and Bill’s route talk at 7:15. The ride was totally flat through the Camarque to the port city of St. Louis where the Rhone flows into the Mediterranean. The ride was too reminiscent of our rides in the Houston Texas area…totally flat, very humid and little noteworthy landscape. We rode through long distances of swamp grasses, but we did pass by some estuaries with sea fowl and even one flock of pink flamingos. We did see some of the white Camarque horses…we couldn’t determine if the horses were wild or domesticated. We passed through only one town where we had to cross the Rhone on a ferry. As we arrived in St. Louis we had the option to continue an additional 6 miles to the beach on the Mediterranean. We rode on noting that the breeze had cooled a little as it came off the sea. The beach was large void of vegetation. Many of the riders walked the 150 yards across the sand to the water and enjoyed wading or swimming…we chose to return to St. Louis and wait in a sidewalk café and rehydrate with a large bottle of Perrier. Our ship was scheduled to arrive at 12:30 to meet us…it arrived almost exactly on time. We carried our bike up to the sun deck and found our travel suitcases; then went to the restaurant for lunch. Following a quick lunch, we had to return to the sundeck to disassemble the bike and pack it into the two cases. At 3:00, Bill handed out the disembarkation instructions…we learned that we would be leaving at 6:45 on Saturday morning for the transport to the airport in Marseilles. The remainder of the afternoon we packed for the trip home and then joined our fellow tandem friends in the lounge to trade stories and exchange plans for future rides. The final dinner was no different from any of the other evening meals. The favorite meal choice was a grilled pork tenderloin. Bill had purchased a Jeroboam of wine in Burgundy which he shared with anyone who wanted to try it…we did…it was a pleasant wine but again the terroir overpowered the flavor of the fruit. Bill ends every Santana tour with a preview of upcoming tours and rallies. We have already committed to a tour in October of 2014 which starts in Venice and ends in Dubrovnik. We all bid our farewells and retired to our cabins for the evening and prepare for an early morning departure. We rode 45 miles with virtually no climbing.
Saturday 20 July 2013, Arles-Marseilles
We had the late shuttle to Marseilles which departed at 6:45. So there was plenty of time to enjoy one last breakfast buffet before paying our bar bill and walking down the gangway one final time to board the bus to the airport in Marseilles. The ride was just over one hour and since we didn’t have a plane to catch we were quite relaxed. As we arrived we helped a few teams with their luggage and after everyone had checked in we rang our hotel for their free shuttle. Fortunately they had a room ready at 9:00am so we could check in and leave our luggage safely in the room. Next we discovered that the best transportation into the city was the airport shuttle. This is a nonstop bus service to the main train station in Marseilles. From there we could take the underground metro to the old port…we were navigating with a map instead of a GPS for the first time on the trip. It was nice to see the full picture and to plan a route. We passed by the cathedral and stopped in to see what it was like. It was relative new…completed in 1874…the structure had a Moorish influence much like alhambra or the cathedral in Cordoba. The mosaics were remarkable as well as the architecture. Next we walked through the “Panier” district and then strolled along the quay of the old port. The city was packed with tourist which we later learned had come for gay pride day. This had little appeal to us and we saw some sights which will probably never appear in Fredericksburg…I’m still trying to forget some of them. We found a nice restaurant on the quay for lunch; I ordered muscles and a beer, Becky ordered a seafood salad. Following lunch we pushed our was through the masses who had come to see the parade…we wanted to see the Museum of the Mediterranean Culture and the old Fort. The museum was a sanctuary for the blazing sun and throngs of thrill seekers outside. The building was very modern and the exhibits were interesting and interpretive…even though almost everything was explained in French, we were able to appreciate what we were seeing. Soon we decided we had been on our feet long enough and returned to the Metro station; back to the train station, back to the airport and finally back to the hotel. Now it was time to watch the end of the final racing stage of the Tour de France and rest. We had dinner in the hotel and caught up on the news from both CNN and the BBC. After dinner and a bottle of wine, we decided it was time for bed.
Sunday 21 July 2013, Marseilles – Fredericksburg
We had a leisurely morning; our first flight of the day departed Marseilles at 10:20; we changed planes in Frankfurt for our Business Class seats on Lufthansa to Philadelphia. There we cleared immigration and customs and boarded our last flight of the day to San Antonio. Unfortunately the aircraft for our final leg had mechanical issues causing us to wait 4 hours before we could depart. We arrived in San Antonio too late for our John to meet us so we rented a car and drove home arriving about 1:30 in the morning.