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.