OBSERVATIONS from the SADDLE of a BIKE
WANDERING EXPERIENCES of 2019.
Avid readers of this blog will note that I have added ‘Wandering Experiences’ to the heading and I have done this because that is exactly what we intend doing. Our plan was to ride the Eurovelo 6 bike route from Besancon to St Nazaire in France and go off on tangents here and there. One diversion was to visit friends in Lyon, south of the Velo 6 route. The Velo 6 bike route in France is known as the Rivers Route as it follows the Rhine, the Doubs and the Loire rivers.
There may be an element of Encountering the Past during the forthcoming adventure as we hope to return to Vienna and Budapest, two cities we have not visited since 1972.
Our attitudes to travel conform basically to the ideas suggested in the Lonely Planet book Experimental Travel by Rachael Antony and Joel Henry. It expounds the value of looking at alternative ways of travel and just wandering. It discourages people from taking cruises, joining group tours and falling into the many tourist traps attracting visitors these days. A classic trap is the Romeo and Juliet house in Verona Italy. I wrote about it when visiting Verona in 2017 (go to Archives December 2017 Verona to read about it).
Experimental Travel details travel experiments that the reader can undertake and describes what resources are required for each experiment. One experimental travel exercise Bev and I do regularly in Australia is to draw a straight line on a map between two points, which may be thousands of kilometres apart, and travel between the points staying as close to the line as possible. And then there is what is called psychogeography travel, which involves placing a cup on a map, tracing around the mouth of the cup forming a circle and exploring the area within the circle. The variations in Experimental Travel are unlimited.
The second book which influenced my thinking was by Canadian author and artist Keri Smith and is called The Wander Society and to quote Smith: “What I’m doing is trying to get kids to pay attention, to look at the physical world more, and to question everything….. I am trying to get kids out of the house and away from screens. Someone is needed in this culture to speak up and say this behaviour is dysfunctional”.
Parents these days are often in conflict with their children about the amount of time spent on the screen and anything that reduces this time is a positive.
Smith’s inspiration to write The Wander Society was in a book she read by Walt Whitman (1818-1892) American poet, writer and journalist. Whitman was famous for many quotations and the one I like is, ‘Keep your face always towards the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you’. And for us, I say, ‘Keep the sun on your face and the wind at your back and the ride will be easy’.
The Wander Society has a series of symbols and I am on the lookout for them everywhere we travel. It is not possible to say for sure who Wander Society members are, they remain anonymous but one thing is for sure, those who wander are people attempting to see past the general touristic façade and look for the unusual.
I have been a wanderer since childhood as I loved climbing. The challenge was to move around the neighbourhood without setting foot on the ground. The climbing routes involved moving along the tops of paling fences that connected all houses in our block. Occasionally when the fence came in contact with the roof of a house I would step up on to the tiles and position myself on the highest finial or terracotta chimney pot. The view from the highest points encouraged me to question what lay over the horizon and maybe this has made me the wanderer I am today.
Prior to setting off from Zurich on our 2019 adventures we were welcomed back to Switzerland by our friends Rolf and Erika. Thirty years ago they did an amazing bike ride around the world and we met them near our home when they were en route to Sydney.
EUROVELO 6 — FRANCE
Days 1 & 2 Besancon to Dole—the beginning of a journey
From just north of Zurich we rode to Baden and caught a train to Besancon in France where our cycling adventure was to start. It was to be a simple ‘one train change’ journey but as all travellers know, things are never straightforward. There had been an accident on the line necessitating a third and fourth change and not being conversant with the language meant we weren’t aware of the changes. Fortunately we had friend Peter from Bern travelling with us to the Swiss French border and he was able to set us straight.
Arriving at Besancon we were on familiar ground as we were there in 2017, go to Archives June 2018 to read about the wonderful city of Besancon. What remains in my mind’s eye about Besancon is the citadel and the canal tunnel underneath it.
Once we passed by the tunnel and commenced riding along the Eurovelo 6 to the west we were on new ground. Previously we had arranged a stay with couchsurfers Jean-Marc and Marie at Beure just down river from Besancon. In 2012 Jean-Marc and Marie undertook a two-year bike ride around the world and have now temporarily settled down with two small children.
On this trip we are paying attention to the weather forecasts and it is surprising how accurate they are, in fact they are so precise that they tell you the actual times of the day it’s going to rain. Consequently, being forewarned, we spent a day indoors out of the weather with our hosts as severe rain squalls and winds were predicted. Each time I looked out it was blowing a gale with heavy rain and we were glad we were not out in it.
Of all our touring cycling adventures to date this one sees us the best equipped. Added to our kit are new panniers, tent and sleeping mattresses and on the technology front Bev has a smartphone, which I am sure will come in handy when navigating our way around Europe.
The modifications to the Terns involved installing a Dillenger electric motor kit to each bike. The motor is mounted in the front hub and the battery is a 36volt, 250 watt, 13Ah battery mounted on the horizontal bar in front of the water bottle. To get the gear ratio correct I changed the centre cog to 48 teeth. Dillenger is an Australian company and has been most helpful in getting us on our way.
Days 3 & 4 Beure to Ranchot.
There were periods on this day when we donned our wet weather gear as the squally showers came and went. Of course the best plan when it is showery is to take cover and sit it out under bridges, picnic shelters or any other form of shelter.
The feature for this section of the ride was a ninety-degree bend in the canal that boats had to negotiate, however they were watched over by the Virgin Mary.
There are religious symbols all over France and those of the faith erect crosses with Jesus impaled thereon or a statue of the Virgin Mary. In the case above, the Virgin Mary looked down on boats ensuring, I assume, safe passage. Nearby was a shrine where candles could be lit. With a limited knowledge of French it was often difficult to get the full story of these historic places.
Because the showers persisted into the late afternoon, at Ranchot we rented a stationary caravan and by doing so learned a few things about what was to come. The majority of French camping areas do not cater for travellers like us, they cater for the self-contained RVs, caravans or tents and cars. Generally, all campers must supply their own toilet paper, many toilets do not have seats, there are no camp kitchens or anywhere to sit out of the weather for those who come in on bicycles. If you happen to rent a stationary pod, tent or caravan the beds have disposable sheets and pillowcases, no towels, no kitchen accessories such as a tea towel or pot scrubber and there is never water connected. You have to go find a tap and carry it to the sink, that’s if it has one. No toilet paper is most annoying especially if your camp is a couple of hundred metres away from the loo and you forget to take the paper with you. Regardless, that’s how it is and one has to be prepared.
Camping de L’ile in Ranchot is on a bend in the river and only a short walk from the village, which has a small grocery store where locals and visitors like us go for bread and basic food. Bakeries in France have hung on in villages where other businesses have long since passed into extinction. Fresh bread every day is important to the French as is Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
Most camping areas and many hotels and hostels are not open all year, those who close for the winter usually re-open in early May.
On our free day in Ranchot we rode 15km through the Forest of Chaux to Saline Royale (Royal Saltworks) at Arcs-et-Senans, now a UNESCO site.
The Saline Royale is an amazing place and was built under the direction of King Louis XV (1710-1774) and after touring the works I came to the conclusion that Louis XV was not backwards when it came to splashing the money about, however I guess extravagance was a sign of the times.
Producing salt was profitable for the state, not only from the sale of the salt but the taxes it brought in as well. But did the king have to be so lavish with the saltworks construction when the majority of his citizens were living in poverty? Louis XV was king of France from 1715 to 1774 and was best known for contributing to the decline of royal authority that led to the French Revolution in 1789. He died a hated man in 1774.
As soon as you enter the salt works your eyes are drawn to the Director’s House at the centre of the semi circle of buildings which, according to architect Claude Ledoux (1736–1806), is where spiritual, economic and temporal power come together. Architects of the time had a way of expressing themselves that the common man finds hard to understand. What I do understand is the building bears witness to the strength, power and authority of the commissioners who commanded the workings of the salt works. The circle in the centre of the pediment is called an oculus and represents knowledge and observation.
The columns supporting the portico are of a design we have not seen, the alternating circular and square sections are, in my opinion, not as graceful as a simple Doric order column but they are certainly eye-catching. The alternating circular and square sections are called ‘bossages’.
In 1918 lightning struck the Director’s House destroying the factory archives and in 1926 the owner of the salt works at the time blew up the building as he didn’t want the salt works to be designated as an historic monument. The local authorities bought the buildings in 1927 and since then millions of visitors have come to the site to learn about the importance of salt in their lives.
In the Heating Workshop there were four stoves suspended from the cross beams above wood-fired furnaces. The atmosphere in the Heating Workshop would have been unimaginably uncomfortable and would have ranked as one of the most undesirable jobs in the world.
The salt works was sited adjacent to the Forest of Chaux because wood was needed to fuel the fires required to evaporate the saline solution. This solution was brought in from springs nearby and the processed salt was stored in wooden barrels made on site by skilled coopers.
Production ceased in 1895 because the forests were being denuded and the salt content of the brine from springs was declining. Also, local wells were being polluted and competition from sea salt being brought into the region by train added to its demise. The Saline Royale produced 40 000 quintals of salt, most of which was sent to Switzerland. A quintal is approximately one hundred kilograms.
In 1940, German troops took up residence and for a period French authorities established an internment camp to hold the area’s gypsies and others with no fixed address.
So there you have it, the rundown on the Saline Royale just off the Eurovelo 6 which, we were pleased we visited.
Days 5 & 6 Ranchot to Dole
This wasn’t a long ride but it was a beautiful one. At one stage we left the canal and rode through the village of Le Barre then through wide open farmlands. Crossing the farmlands we struck a headwind and were glad we had the assistance of the motors.
In Orchamps, a small village along the way, it was necessary for a coffee stop. Opposite the cafe a parking sign took my fancy.
Dole is perched high on a hill and riding through the back streets and alleyways is like stepping back to the Middle Ages when chivalrous knights ruled the day.
Dole has a few claims to fame and one is Louis Pasteur’s birthplace. Although chiefly known for his discovery of the rabies vaccine, Pasteur also worked in a number of different areas studying crystals, silkworm diseases and the fermentation of beer and wine. Go to Archives Days 9 & 10 Besancon June 2018 for a full account of his work.
That’s not Pasteur in the white dust coat, Pasteur’s house is where the small crowd is gathered. There is a portrait of Pasteur over their heads.
Another claim to fame, or rather a claim to creativeness for Dole, is the Perched Cat trail. Brass plaques set in the footpath guide the visitor around Dole with ease. The reference to the Perched Cat relates to a children’s book written by Marcel Ayme (1902-1967). The author spent his childhood in Dole and his book was about the experiences of a Dole cat.
The perched cat plaques led us to a Dole mural which commemorates some of the town’s most famous residents including Louis Pasteur. The mural was created in 2017. Go to www.haut-les-murs.com to see more of the artist’s work.
Another highlight in Dole is the Little Venice quarter where narrow streets, canals, sluices and bridges mix together.
Life in Dole has not always been tranquil. In modern times WW2 had its effect in Dole. Dole was classified as a ‘Zone Interdit’, a forbidden zone where no foreigners were allowed to enter. The Resistance was very active in attacking trains, mines and factories and the attacks continued until September 1944 when Dole was liberated by US troops. It must be pointed out that few French were actually involved with the Resistance. The underground movement included fewer than five percent of the population, the other ninety five percent were either collaborators or did nothing, they simply ‘kept their heads down’.
Following are four images taken around Dole. One takes many photographs, which are difficult to weave into a particular story however by placing a few at the end of each post at least they will get an airing.
That’s the end of this very first post for 2019. The next post will have us continuing along the Eurovelo 6. Please leave a COMMENT, we appreciate having contact with our readers and if you wish to be advised each time we do a new post click on FOLLOW.
If you are not already a Wanderer get on your bike and start wandering.