An older woman approaches us outside a café in Fontainebleau, paying us a compliment in French. We think we know what she is saying, but in case she wants a response, we indicate with my poor French that we don’t speak French very well. She switches to English, repeating what she had said with a mixture of English and French, saying to us, “You make a beautiful pair; you will have a wonderful life together.” She offers us a big smile and continues on her way.
Never have I met friendlier people than the French. Everywhere we go people say “Bonjour!” to us and we are approached many times a day by people wanting to hear our story and offer advice for future travels. I don’t think we have made it through one meal without hearing a “Bon appetite!” by people strolling or cycling by. Language does not seem to be a problem here; people either speak English, a tiny bit of it, or none at all, but there are no barriers to getting what you need or having a decent interaction. At a park on one of our first days outside of Paris, I was approached by an older man with a scruffy beard and a nice smile who needed to use the water spigot I was monopolizing for the purpose of dishwashing. I of course move over and offer the spigot, offering a cheery “bonjour!” He speaks to me in French and when I have a hard time comprehending, he tells me he knows just a little bit of English. We then have a delightful conversation in French, English and charades, during which I learn that rain is expected in a couple days. Later on in the trip, Kyle and I met a woman running a wine tasting room along the Burgundy Canal. She knew even less English, laughing occasionally when she didn’t understand, saying “little English,” at which point I would respond with “un peu francais!” We would just laugh and laugh and eventually figure it out. Only the older gentlemen in France trying to flirt with me would just wave and keep walking when I exposed my ignorance of their language.
Aside from the amazing people, France has been quite the vacation for us, full of romance, history, sunny weather, and beautiful scenery. I feel like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, zipping around on my bike, the world at my fingertips, “I want more than this provincial life!” Our first day out of Paris, we follow a bike route mapped out on someone’s blog that takes us along the River Seine to Fontainebleau, home of a magnificent castle with eight centuries of French rulers residing within its walls, including Napoleon. We especially enjoy the castle gardens. The second day out of Paris was not as successful, full of many wrong turns, sandy paths – at one point we are taking our bikes into woods on a trail that we hope connects to a bridge when we suddenly encounter a steep downhill (not passable by bikes, hardly on foot) and have to turn back. We eventually find the bridge another way and discover it is a utility bridge, guarded by a gate. The hot sun blazes and we make it only 35 miles until dusk, zipping into a field just in time to enjoy a beautiful and big full moon illuminating an expansive valley below (well, Kyle enjoyed it, I was too tired to come back out of the tent). In the morning, we see a hot air balloon and enjoy our coffee while taking in the view. On the third day, we are dripping buckets in 100 degree weather, passing cornfield after cornfield, trying to take a direct route. After a couple of hours of this, I had had enough so we consult the map and find a cycle route south. It takes us all day huffing and puffing up hills in cornfields, passing through deserted small villages, and bathing under water spigots, but eventually we make it to the Burgundy Canal.
It takes us longer to cross France, but the Burgundy Canal takes us into medieval cities, past wineries, castles, and some of the country’s most beautiful villages. A magical moment is when we reach Chateauneuf, “one of the most beautiful villages in France,” (according to a blog). We see a castle on top of a hill and we know we have come to this village we have been pressing towards all day. At first, I am a little resistant as we had no idea this beautiful village would be at the top of a really steep hill climb after a long day of pedaling on gravel in the heat, but we know that we will regret it if we don’t. We start pedaling and oh boy, this is a steep grade on a hot day (thankfully it has cooled off a bit in the evening). However, something really amazing happens – a beautiful sunset takes place over the valley so that as we are chugging along, more and more of it comes into view. Finally reaching the top, I almost laugh as a woman sitting in front of the castle gives me the thumbs up sign, but I have no breath. I lean my bike, turn around, and WOW! This sunset is truly amazing. We continue to climb after taking it in for a while; the village is built on a hill, but with beautiful old stone buildings, quaint cafes, and many a town cat. We find a place to camp in some forest at the top, then set the alarm for 5:50 AM to catch the sunrise and then enjoy the ride down.
Next stop on our journey is Dijon, a beautiful city with lively public spaces. We stay for an evening, just wandering around, taking in the architecture and the street life. The next morning we cycle on towards Euro Velo Route 6, a bike route that spans Europe. We enter into the magnificent Doub Valley and enjoy unbelievable scenery for a few days and then follow a canal to Mulhouse, one of our favorite French cities. From there, we enter into Germany for a day, cycling rolling hills through vineyards and looking out into unbelievable vistas. We also cycle into several villages, giving us the opportunity to see German architecture and interact with the people. We then follow the Rhine River to the City of Basel in Switzerland.
We loved our extended time in France and our short time in Germany, but now it is on to the next big adventure – crossing The Alps in Switzerland!