Sunday, August 09, 2015

Belgium beer tour with Ciclisimo Classico, August 6-9, 2015

A new adventure this year- Belgium.  This is an area we have never visited or ridden in, yet is steeped in cycling, war, and beer brewing history.

August 6-7- A great flight over and a real treat flying first class from Boston to London; love those lay flat beds and premier cru rose champagne.  Once in Brussels we took a 3 hour train ride south to our first night's hotel in Clervaux, Luxembourg in the Ardennes, famous for the battle of the bulge.  This quaint village also hosted the UNESCO, Memory of the World, The Family of Man exhibit.

August 8- Clervaux- It was nice to sleep in, but our warm up ride was calling.  A short 12 miles and over 1,000 feet of climbing was a rude wake up call.  Welcome to Wallonia…

August 9- Our first real day of riding took us from Clervaux to the famous Achouffe brewery for our first beer tasting.  This famous brewery is known for it's gnome mascot.  This was a crowded, lively place, but the beers were good.  From here we rode rolling hills through farmland and forests to our lunch stop in La Roche en Ardenne.  A bustling tourist spot full of motorcycles, mountain bikes and a castle.  We were glad to stop and consumed a great pizza and half bottle of rose wine before completing our ride to Marcourt.  Tonight we will enjoy another beer tasting and a good night's rest.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Alsace Trip, 2014

Our two week adventure began with a nice flight to Basel, Switzerland, then a 45 minute van ride to our hotel in Delemont, Switzerland.  We stayed in this hotel fiver years ago on our Jura mountains trip. This valley is surrounded by heavily forested mountains and miles of rolling grazing lands for the local cattle.  

Bike assembly is always tedious especially after 12 hours of flying.All went together well except my botched tire change resulting in a pinched tube.
July 13-
A short "tune up" ride was planned for today; 35 miles and 2500 feet of climbing.  While the altitude is virtually negligible, the grade are steep as hell.  My Garmin flashed 15% at one point...brutal!  But with the steepness came beauty and the gorge du pichoux was another example of why this area is some rewarding to ride.

 July 15
Delemont to Thann-
Nice climb out of the gate through Soyhiere to Hippolts kirch.  It was a semi cloudy start with reasonable temperatures.  Being our first real day out after a few 30 milers it took a while to get our legs under us.  Only a few of us decided to take the long route today.  Once into France we rode through village after village of cute and very clean Alsatian towns, all almost looking the same with their tutor style trimmed homes.  Our first lunch at a small restaurant filled with locals in Dannemarie; 5.50 euro, light sausage with salad and Maria’s nice mixed salad with meats.  Our final climb of the day was longer than expected.  We found a nice short cut on the decent that lead us right to our hotel next to the park in Thann.  BTW, the FDJ team stayed our hotel two days earlier.  Very cool.

Miles-  65
Feet climbed- 4,678

Typical Alsatian countryside

Great lunch in Dannemarie, 5.50 Euros

The FDJ team stayed at our hotel two days ago

Beautiful hotel in Thann

July 16-
Thann to Riquewihr
The weather was picture perfect with warming blue skies.  Today we would climb the famous Col du Grand Ballon.  We backed into the middle of this col by climbing the supposedly easier col de Amic- not so.  Great conversation at the summit with a local French rider who said that locals claim if you can climb the Ballon you can climb anything in France.  This was no easy climb as we rode up with riders Germany and France.  We were the first to the top at over 3,000 vertical and the day had just started!  We again opted for the long route which only a few others selected as well.  A short descent led us along one of the most scenic ridgeline rides we have ever done; lakes and valleys on one side and beautiful rural farms on the other.  Lunch was enjoyed at a local auberge de ferme- farm house.  There were only locals here and all German, no English. We pointed to an entrée on another table; cast iron pot of potatoes and ham with a beautiful salad verte, perfectly hardy and filling.  We would need it for the remaining climbs into our final vineyard laden destination on the valley floor at Riquewihr.

Miles-  60
Feet climbed- 6,200

The famous Grand du Ballon climb

Riding the ridge after the Grand Ballon, about as good as it gets

Local lunch at the auberge de ferme

July 17-
I guess you could call it a rest day as we rode into Colmar and back, about 20 miles, the “Venice of the north” to enjoy the canals, local market, beer, and a local Alsatian tarte flambé (ultra thin pizza).  Perfect day; easy on the legs and stomach!

Tonight’s dinner was at La Table Du Gourmet, a one star Michelin restaurant that came highly recommended to us.  It was a real treat and maybe one of our best degustation meals ever.

Miles- 20
Feet climbed- 200

Our little canal trip in Colmar

The three person wrecking crew

Our Michelin star dinner in Riquewihr

Fish and watermelon course

Another fish course

Veal course

July 18-
Rest day

No riding today.  It was time to taste the local wines in our quaint but tourist ridden village of Riquewihr.  Good wines, with our favorites being the the Reislings and Cremants, all very reasonably priced even for their grand crus. We found an entertaining local artist that had some beautiful local paintings all done on copper plates.  We purchased a lovely landscape of the Colmar area very reminiscent of the areas that we have ridden.

July 19-
Riquewihr to Obernai
A cool start to a hot day of climbing.  Fortunately we rode through many forests but the climbing seemed like a constant 8-10% all day.  We hit our groove in the early afternoon, probably as a result of skipping our normal big lunch.  Traditional Alsatain climbing; forests, good roads, pebbly descents.  All in all another big day.  A typical Saturday evening party in tour complete with a live band.  Crazy.

Miles-  60
Feet climbed- 6,200

Party central in Obernai

Maria and Glenn

July 20-
Obernai to Mont St. Odile
Our “rest day” ended being a short mileage, big climb to the Mont St. Odile monastery.  It was another beautiful climb up the forested mountain that averaged 8%+.  Dramatic vistas at the top where you could see for miles even with the light rain that descended upon us.  It was time to head back.  A tricky, technical descent with wet roads.  Fortunately we had brought our “light” rain gear set up for this ride.  Our new Mavic rain booties performed admirably!

Miles- 17
Feet climbed- 1,847

Beautiful views from the top

July 20-
Obernai to La Petite-Pierre
There is nothing like starting the day in the rain.  You can never get psychologically set to ride in the rain.  Fortunately the conditions were not too bad.  The rain was light and all of our 4,000 feet of climbing was in beautiful forests.  No “on the road” pictures today.  We hoped for a shot of the castle in Dabo, but it was in the clouds.  We were just focused on getting this day’s ride over with.  Riding with our tandem pals from Salt Lake City, Arden and Becky helped.  They rarely ever ride the long rides but chose to today.  They are great climbers! 

Our hotel in La Petite-Pierre is about 5K from town and on spectacular grounds.  Tres Bon!!!

Miles- 54
Feet climbed- 4,081

A lot of gear today with the light rain

Our beautiful, peaceful quarters in La Petite-Pierre

Looking the other way from our hotel to the small lake

July 22
Rest day in La Petite-Pierre
The weather was a bit gloomy today so we decided to sleep in and enjoy the lovely grounds at our picturesque country hotel.  A quick breakfast, then into a fabulous lunch with local trout ("truite") and a lovely bottle of white bordeaux.  Perfect rest day!
Perfect white bordeaux with the trout

Light dessert- yumm

July 23-
La Petite-Pierre to St. Die des Vosges
A perfect start to the day with a 6 mile descent from our hotel.  We savor these! There was much discussion the night before about riding the "forest" roads which we agreed to do along with 8 others.  What an adventure!  We rice for about 10 miles on a perfectly paved single lane road through the woods. m The road decided to climb and I mean climb; 10-12%.  At the top the road turned to direct and the real fun began.  Dirt and rooks for about 6 miles.  I took all my concentration and riding skills to man our "sled" in these conditions.  We survived along with our good friend Alan and George.  Unfortunately just before the pavement appeared again we flatted.  It was not good.  A rock had slit our side wall and we went through two tubes before we figured it out.  No need to panic.  Alan came back to check on us and loaned us a tube. We made it to the van stopped at the top of the pass.  A nice lunch, then I noticed my fix to the slit tire did not work.  There was an extra tire in the van and atet a quick change we were back on the road.  This turned out to be a long day, but what an adventure!

Miles- 69
Feet climbed- 4,518

The beginning of the "forest" road- perfect conditions

Assessing the "dirt"- time to press on boys

Logging area- the road got rougher

Peek-a-boo mountain views in and out of the forest

July 24-
St. Die des Vosges to Gerardmer
We decided to take the medium length route today, but it was still no walk in the park.  We rode with our tandem pals Arden and Becky.  They set a brisk steady climbing pace.  We worked our way up a beautiful valley passing small ski resorts and hotels.  We made it to the summit at the Col de Falimont and were pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful log cabin restaurant ready to greet us for lunch.  This was a plush spot. What the heck.  Little English was spoken here, but we managed to order some nice salads and soups, a great bottle of wine and we were off descending!  Wand, what a descent it was almost all the way to Gerardmer, beautiful lakeside summer resort town.  After getting temporarily lost in the city we found our hotel just across the street from the casino!  The rooms were small but we had two days here and we were ready to relax.

Miles- 40
Feet climbed- 3,930

Top of the pass looking east

View out of our hotel room onto the lake

Dinner that night.  Surprisingly good pizza

July 25-
Gerardmer rest day
That's right another rest day!  This was a picturesque spot, so we decided to walk around the lake and wing it for lunch.  Good call!  The walk around the lake was a little more technical than we thought it would be.  There was about a one mile section where we had to negotiate major tree roots, rocks, etc. It was all worth it with the lunch we had at the west end of the lake on a small hillside hotel.  A great day!

The Tour de France went through this town about a week before we arrived
Our lunch spot

Our lunch view couldn't have been better

My gal on the walk back

Sunday, July 28, 2013


7/6- Departed for Madrid via Toronto on Air Canada.  We enjoy our first business class “pod” with full lay down beds!  The food was a bit of a let down but overall a decent experience.

7/7- Landed in Madrid and used “left baggage” for the first time to store the bike boxes.  A few minor translation issues but we were successful and a major load was left behind.  After some research it looked like our hotel was very near one of the metro stops so we embraced this form of public transportation.  After negotiating all of the terminals we found the metro station and were off.  I had uploaded the metro map as a pdf onto my phone and it worked like a charm.  We had three different train changes but all were easy to negotiate.  The metro was clean and efficient; pretty impressive.  We finally landed less than a block from our hotel.  Perfecto!

Weather was HOT, around 100F.  We were tired so a mutual decision was made to eat in the hotel restaurant.  After consuming a bottle of crisp white verdejo wine we had the specialty of the house, gambas and of course a plate of Iberico jamon (pronounced ham-on).  We took a quick stroll around to get our bearings then crashed out for 12 hours ready to attack the next day.

7/8- Up at 7:30,w ay before most Spaniards, we consumed a great “desayuno” (breakfast) in our hotel.  If you like ham, this was the place; three different ones.  I was in “hog” heaven!  We decided to head out to the Sofia contemporary art museum which was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel.  A great museum which featured a special exhibition of works by surrealist Salvatore Dali.  This guy had some imagination.  Not only out there but his work had incredible detail.  The museum also featured works by other famous artists including interesting works by Picasso in his “dark” era that we had never seen. 
Dali exhibit at the Sofia- WILD

It was recommended that we visit the Mercado San Miguel; a building that housed many small food stalls all under one roof.  We enjoyed so nice wine, gazpacho, ceviche, and of course a jamon sandwich.  We ate next to some Brits which brought a refreshing air of friendliness.  Fun time.

A whole world of ham

For dinner, which we started early around 8 pm we ventured out to the street Cava Baja which was lined with tapas restaurants.  We were overwhelmed.  We tried a few but enjoyed La Campilla which ended up being the friendliest place on our entire visit.  Bottom line, tapas is overrated.

7/9- Another great morning breakfast, then off to the city bus tour.  Madrid offered so much more beauty that we had experienced in our little area near Plaza Mayor.  We determined Madrid had three distinct areas all very different.  The tour with recorded narration was worth every penny. 

We decided to take the recommendation from our hotel and eat at a famous local place called El Senador, across from a major political office.  The restaurant is famous for its roast suckling lamb.  Out of this world.  The lamb was preceded by a delicious gazpacho with all the accouterments then a roasted pepper and anchovies salad with the lamb.  A fabulous Temparnillo accompanied all this, truly a great meal.  It was so good we headed back to our hotel for a four-hour siesta!!

Final thoughts on Madrid:

It was a beautiful city but very hot in the summer time.  Be prepared for a major schedule change with late nights; tough for us to acclimate.  The people were not overly friendly; something that I was surprised about.  The food was a bit of a let down, but the hams were over the top great, salads were minimal.  France, we miss you!

7/10- Geneva
Enough eating, drinking and sleeping, it was now time to ride.  We flew from Madrid to Geneva to start our "pre" trip riding.  The airport in Madrid is enormous consisting of four terminals, all of which we very modern.  It was a nice two hour flight to Geneva where we were met at the airport and shuttled to our hotel right in the downtown only a few blocks from the lake.  We enjoyed our first lunch in the hotel; shrimp salad and rose. Tres bon.  The weather was magnificent, high 70's and a light breeze.

Tonight would be our first gathering with the group which we learned would be about 60 couples.  The dinner was held at Hotel Edelweiss.  We were told that we'd be enjoying a fondue meal but it turned out to be a healthily portion of scalloped potatoes (bah) and had some seriously corny entertainment.  It didn't stop us from meeting several great new friends from Canada and Tennessee.

7/11- Geneva ride
Finally our first day of riding which took us along the western shore of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) to Nyon.  We had cycled this route several times before, each time with beautiful views of the lake.  The ride was an up and back, nothing strenuous.  We visited a nice little museum just off the lake before lunch.  On the way home we enjoyed a tour of a chocolate factory and informative explanation of the process in making decorative chocolates.

I had to shoot a pix of something in the museum

Back at the hotel we researched dinner on our own seeking the best pizza in Geneva.  A gorgeous walk took us around the lake to Pizzeria Da Paolo.

The real deal with wood fired oven

A nice evening, but tomorrow we would encounter a 70+ mile ride to the "official" start of the tour on the river Saone.

7/12- Ride to Tournus
We had never experienced being bused anywhere for a bike ride.  We drove for what seemed like forever across the Swiss border into France.  Our start was at a truck stop of all places.  With GPS in hand we were off.  After a somewhat crazy start we settled into idylic country roads following a river west. Using the GPS was a challenge and we struggled to say the least.

Ready to ride on the fricking bus

The first of many beautiful bridge crossings
Having ridden 74 miles and climbed 3,800 feet we were 25 miles south of our destination city!  Thank God for cell phones.  We placed a call and had the van come pick us up to take us to the boat.  A first for the Williams.  Not our idea of a happy ride ending.  But, the boat was a welcome site and a few cocktails put us at ease and all was forgotten.

7/13- The ride to Beaune through the vineyards

Our ride to Beaune was fabulous as we rode the Route de Gran Vins through some of the most famous vineyards in France; Montrachet, Pommard and many others.  The terrain was deceiving as many of the roads wound up and down the hillsides.  Once in Beaune we parked our bikes and walked into the inner village and enjoyed an amazing wine tasting.  This was Saturday and “market day” which meant lots of people.  We had one of our few French lunches on the trip, enjoying it with two great tandem riders from Missouri.  It was there first trip to Europe.  We had a blast with them.

On the "Route Gran Vins"

This place has over 3,000,000 bottles in storage

Down deep in the caves and tasting some incredible burgundy wines

Market Day Beaune- olives

Market Day Beaune- salami

7/14- Lyon
The boat cruised during the night so our start city in the morning was Macon.  Our goal today was to end up in Lyon and have dinner at the famous restaurant Paul Bocuse.  Lyon is the town where the Saone and the Rhone rivers meet.  A beautiful city but the fancy 3 star Michelin restaurant was a bust!

The Rhone river in Lyon

Highly rated by critics, highly overrated by us

7/15- Crozes Hermitage
More Burgundian landscape today.  Our stop near our docked boat was under the hillsides of one of the great Hermitage makers, Paul Jaboule.

7/16- Mt. Ventoux to Avignon
This epic day started out with a bus ride to Bedoin.  There was a lot of anticipation on the bus by those who had never ridden this famed climb.  Bedoin was crowded with all the left overs from the Toru de France that passed through here just two days before.  We had ridden Ventoux before but from the eastern side from Sault.  The Bedoin route was really steep and one of the toughest first 8 miles we’ve ever done.  The 8-14% grade was relentless.  We stopped only once at Chalet Reynard, then pushed on to the “sommet”.  What a zoo at the top.  There were hundreds of people; we could hardly ride. The descent was a blast as we diced it out with a French guy on a single bike at 45-50 mph.  Once at the bottom the temperatures rose to 100 degrees!  The 45 miles back to the boat  was rolling and a slug fest.  All in all a big day; 54 miles and 5400 feet climbed. 

View just before entering the forest on the way up

Picture perfect day, 80F, no wind

Picture says it all...

Our second "sommet" shot

Welcome shade on the hot ride back to the Rhone river

7/17- The ride to Arles- We had been waiting for this day all vacation- R&R on the boat.  It was a beautiful day floating down river to Arles.  Breakfast, lunch, drinks, a lock, perfect!

Thu-7/18- Arles, St. Remy, Les Baux de Provence
With two days left, we finally got our Garmin gps working well.  Today’s ride took us through some nice countryside farms on our way to St. Remy to see the sanitarium that Van Gogh lived in.  We ended up there an hour before our tour started so we look through the fence at the stone relics and decided to ride on with another impatient rider on our trip.  The landscaped changed and we proceeded up a great climb with loads of rock formations surrounding us.  The summit was our next destination, Les Baux de Provence, a fort/castle like structure built into the mountain.  What looked interesting turned into a big, crowded tourist attraction.  Time to move on and taste olive oil.  A nice little olive oil coop, but nothing spectacular, time to roll to the boat.

Fri- 7/19- Camargue
Our final day of riding to an area I’ve always wanted to ride.  The Camargue is a vast wetlands area the runs into the Mediterranean.  It is famous for its display of pink flamingos and wild horses.  Believe it or not we actually saw some pink flamingos.  This was the most exciting part of some of the most boring riding we’ve ever done.  I feel sorry for those people that have to ride in Florida.