Monday, December 2, 2019

New Wheels in France

We returned to France utterly and completely exhausted from our constant travels in Ireland. Like all RVers, we have learned that our go-go lifestyle is not sustainable, but that hasn't stopped us from trying to make it so. We thought we might find a place to settle for a few weeks, but campgrounds on the Atlantic coast were beginning to close for the season so that wasn't going to happen. We decided to buck up and make the most of it, mainly because traveling the west coast of France is said to be spectacular and we might not make it back this way! We decided we'd rest when we get further south.

As soon as we reached our first stop, we knew we had made the right decision. We were parked up near the fabulous Mont Saint Michel, a UNESCO Heritage Site. It is comprised of an island about 17 acres in size, with a population of 50 year-round residents. It hosts three million visitors each year, and about half of them were there when we visited. I doubt there is a time when this place is not busy, because it is stunning. We parked about three kilometers away, but could still see the Mont from our site. As soon as we arrived I dropped Steven off in the little village and took off to get us registered. That day there were sheep out grazing in the fields as he walked out to the island, but the next day, the tide covered all the land. We walked for hours to get out there and back. It was really interesting to visit, but we did not get to go inside the Abbey, as the tours were booked until the late afternoon. We didn't want to stick around.

A parade of sheep greeted Steven on the trail to Mont Saint Michel.

A glorious architectural wonder.

Good eating at the salt marsh. 

This was one way to get to The island although we walked from our campground.

There seems to be a constant flow of visitors going to Mont Saint Michel.

As we arrived at the foot of the “town” we hoped it wouldn’t be too busy.

No such luck!

Steven captured this sunset scene by our campground on his way to get some night shots of the Mont.

Steven very nearly didn’t get back. The tide came in really quickly as it grew dark. Luckily, he arrived home safely.

Steven was in photography heaven, while I learned something really interesting about all those sheep. You wouldn't think that sheep could graze on the salty marshlands, but these sheep have been doing so for hundreds of years. Well, generations of sheep, not the same ones, obviously :) Apparently they have adapted quite well to the salty conditions, which, it turns out, makes the meat very tasty and quite the delicacy in France. It is available seasonally, twice per year, it we were there in between seasons so we didn't get to try any. Perhaps another time. 

Rush hour after a day on the salt marshes.

We stayed put for three days and really enjoyed Mont Saint Michel. But we had finally come to the conclusion that we had to get bikes. It's just not possible to take Bijou down all the little cobblestone streets we wanted to visit, and we really needed alternative transport. We'd already shopped for bikes but as soon as we walked into the store, our eyes glazed over and we lost interest. We know absolutely nothing about bikes and even less about E-bikes, which is what we wanted, other than they cost an arm and a leg. We felt paralyzed about this purchase. But, we finally decided we just had to take a leap of faith and go for it. 

Our Kiwi friends Ruth and Alan purchased their oft-used E-bikes at Decathlon, a gigantic sporting goods store in Europe. They made a good case for buying there noting that the warranty would follow us to other countries and with numerous locations, service and repairs would be much more convenient. We agreed and so narrowed down our purchase to Decathlon. Meanwhile, our American friends Shani and Todd mentioned that we happened to be very close to a huge Decathlon store in Breton so off we went. On the way we stopped near the small village of Sainte-Mère-Église to refuel. The name sounded familiar to me, so as I waited for Steven to pay, I figured out why. When he got back in Bijou I told him to get his camera, I was taking him to see something unusual. 

Turns out that Sainte-Mère-Église was the first village in Normandy to be liberated by the U.S. Army on D-Day, June 6, 1944. A paratrooper named John Steele came down over the village and, while being shot at, tried to land on the roof of the church, but his parachute got tangled up in the pinnacle and left him dangling there for hours. He was finally captured, but later escaped. The village, being so happy to be liberated, have hung an effigy of John Steele at the church ever since. It's definitely kind of weird to see this thing hanging up there, but it's marketing genius. The little village does a booming tourist trade. 

A replica of John Steele made for an eerie sight!

As we arrived at the Decathlon, rain began pouring down. There would be no outdoor test rides today, but we were determined to make a purchase one way or the other. The salesperson told just to just ride around the store, so we did. Then we bought two E-bikes for the price of a used car. Which, when you think about it, wouldn't a car be better than bikes? Yes, but (there's always a but...) in many countries A-frame towing is illegal, so most cars are towed on a trailer. It just makes it all more complicated and expensive, so we opted for E-bikes instead and hoped we had purchased good ones. We were unable to take them with us as they had to be ordered, so we asked that they be shipped to another store in La Rochelle and we'd pick them up there. Although we didn't have them yet, we had finally committed to a purchase. 

Having fun at Decathalon! We were able to test ride our bikes inside the store.

We ended our long day at an aire in Le Pouliguen. At the height of the season this town would be packed, but while we strolled along the promenade, it looked like Life After People. But we weren't here for the summer scene, we were here to learn about salt. That's right, salt. Specifically, Sel de Guerande and Fleur de Sel, otherwise known as sea salt. We took a tour of the salt reservoirs where these world-famous salts are produced by hand, mostly by women, as it has been done for centuries. It was fascinating! And of course there was a gift shop, so we loitered around in there until we found the perfect salt cellar for Bijou. Because these salts are "wet", they require a special grinder and I'm on the hunt for one of those, a Peugot or something similar. Supposedly if you get the right kind of grinder the moisture in the salt won't rust the blades. 

Le Pouliguen felt abandoned when we walked around.

Our aire in Le Pouliguen.

An aerial view (not ours) of the salt reservoirs.

We had a great guide teaching us all about the process of salt growing and gathering.

Beautiful sea salt.

Having learned all we could about saltmarsh sheep, sea salt and fleur de sel, off we headed for La Rochelle to await the call from Decathlon to tell us our bikes were ready. We pulled into the aire closest to town and we loved it instantly. It's really difficult to say why we love one and not another, but this just had everything we needed at the time. It was about 6.5 kilometers to Decathlon, and as soon as we got the call we were off! It took us nearly two hours to walk there and about 30 minutes to ride home on our FABULOUS new E-Bikes! What a joy these wonderful machines have been for us! And as luck would have it, La Rochelle was incredibly bike-friendly, with separate biking lanes on nearly every road. We buzzed around town, did our shopping and lots of sightseeing. We enjoyed ourselves so much we stayed for 11 days! It was an absolutely wonderful town to visit and get some experience riding our new bikes!

Our campsite in La Rochelle.

We got our bikes!!!

There were bike lanes everywhere in La Rochelle.

The market in La Rochelle.
An amazing variety of cheese, meats, fruits and vegetables and baked goods.

This was our view from the Ferris wheel.

Beautiful waterfront in La Rochelle. By far, one of our favorite places to date.

We finally packed up to leave, heading generally toward Bordeaux, but we had one stop to make that was well off our path, Oradour-sur-Glane. We had no idea if or when we might be back in this area of France, and this was one place we did not want to miss. There are two parts to this village, one is the newer one, where folks still live today, and the other is the site of a horrible massacre in which the Nazis murdered 642 men, women and children. After France was liberated from the Nazis, President Charles de Gaulle ordered that the site of the massacre be maintained as a memorial and museum. Lest we forget. Walking through the old village was sobering. The visitor's center is one of the best I've been to, barely visible as it is built mostly into the hillside underground. If you get the chance, go here. We stayed only one day in Oradour-sur-Glane, it's about all that is needed to see it and all our hearts could take. Reflection upon events takes much longer and we had nothing but time driving to Bordeaux. 

The entrance to the Visitors Centre.


It was impossible not to be affected by the horror that took place here.

Bordeaux is a popular destination, what with vineyards all around and markets and lots of things to see. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and we managed only one day out on our bikes. It was a great ride, though, into town, along the promenade. The rest of the time we stuck around the campground, doing laundry and chores. One thing about campgrounds in Europe is that many come with their own bar and restaurant, so we don't have to go far if we don't feel like cooking. 

We only managed one day out in Bordeaux but it was a lot of fun on our bikes!

Thus far, since our return from Ireland, we had managed three weeks in France, most of that time in La Rochelle. By the time we hit Bordeaux in not great weather we were ready to make a break for Spain. Both of us were really looking forward to returning to northern Spain and we decided to continue along the coastal route. First stop, gorgeous Bilboa!

NEXT UP: Biking in Bilboa!


  1. Replies
    1. The charger looks like one of those giant computer bricks! But even though we've spent hours out and about, we rarely get below 70 percent on the batteries. They recharge in no time!

  2. Hi Fred. There is a removable battery behind the saddle. When we are done for the day, we take it inside and plug it into the charger. There are lights on the side that indicate when it’s topped up.

    1. Well that is totally cool! I'll bet you are so glad to have made your purchase.

    2. Laurie, it's been so liberating! These bikes are fairly powerful and can get us up hills easily. Well, we have to assist, but it's all doable! Wonderful purchase!

  3. Your bikes look perfect for getting around Europe, Linda! So fun. Have you named them yet? We are looking forward to exploring Normandy, as most French Canadiens came from that region of France.

    1. We actually have not named them yet, very unusual for us. We might be losing our touch. :) There is a Leisure Van in our campground from Quebec, so the French Canadian snowbirds have found their way to Portugal! :)

  4. Great pics! We so wanted to see Mont Saint Michel when we were touring all the D Day landing beaches in Normandy but ran out of time. You guys have sure found some fabulous places to visit. Love the e-bikes!
    Safe travels!

    1. Even though it was crowded, the Mont is worth visiting. Just looking at it from a distance is amazing. :) Maybe you'll get back someday to see it. We've saved the whole D Day stuff for another time. We were just too wiped out to do it justice!