OBSERVATIONS from the SADDLE of a BIKE
FRANCE: DOLE TO LYON
with overnight stays at
SEURRE, CHALON-sur-SAONE and TOURNUS.
From Dole we rode around sixty kilometres to Seurre, which for us is a big day but we had a tail wind and we zoomed along without much effort. It was, as the French would say, a ‘fantastique’ day.
There was one minor navigational hiccup at Pagny-la-Ville where we went round in circles after losing the Velo 6 signs. We didn’t realise it until we passed a pile of logs we had already ridden past on the way into the village. The smart phone was consulted and we were soon on the right path.
An old donkey like me finds it hard to fathom how these smart phones work. You can designate a place you want to go to, such as a camping area or hotel, and a voice actually talks to you telling you to turn left then right etc. Of course sometimes vehicles are directed into such narrow streets their rear vision mirrors scrape adjacent buildings, but this is not a problem with bicycles.
Sometimes when Bev is riding just ahead of me I hear the voice and I think Bev is talking to someone on the phone. On occasions Bev is able to ask for the best route to a destination suitable with minimum grades and sure enough we are shown that route: it will forever remain a mystery to me as to how all this information comes together.
The bike route left the Doubs River and after a ride through countryside we came upon the wide Saone River. St Jean-de-Losne, the first major town along the way, is an important river port with a lot of barge and boating activity. It is referred to as a barge town. Barges and boats are dry docked there and the boat traders say they can fix anything to do with water craft and get any boat engine part required. Bargees, as the owners of boats are called, don’t dwell in the town for what it has to offer; they only stay for extended periods if their boat needs attention. Of note in St Jean-de-Losne were the heavily pollarded London plane trees are in the main square.
The London plane tree is the most widely planted street tree in the world. It survives city pollution, extreme conditions, pollarding and provides welcome shade. The wood of the plane tree is best suited for indoor use and is used mainly for furniture. The grain has a lacy appearance.
Wildlife is particularly attracted to the plane tree. In Europe the sap provides food and hollows in the tree provide habitat for a number of birds including the family of tits. The following Wikipedia image by Francis Franklin shows a Eurasian blue tit, one of the many birds that utilise the London plane tree.
The above photograph was a finalist in the Wikipedia Picture of the Year 2015 competition and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike.
Europeans are very much into pollarding trees and I often think about the effects pollarding has on the health and life of the tree but a forestry researcher has reliably informed me that it doesn’t have any ill effects. The reason for pollarding a tree is to get a dense and controlled area of shade.
There are a number of common birds we see and hear as we ride. Following are a few images of those birds.
The European green woodpecker spends most of its time feeding on the ground for ants and it does not often peck at trees. Pecking only takes place when it is intent on constructing a nest. It’s odd how one can recall a first experience of an event such as a birdcall. For me the first time I heard a woodpecker was in Germany in 1973. A woodpecker pecking is a novelty for us.
The invention of the cuckoo clock may go back to as far as the 1600s. Some references claim a Black Forest mechanic, Franz Anton, invented the clock in 1730 but this is disputed. However most cuckoo clocks these days are produced in the Black Forest area of Germany.
What is of interest is how the cuckoo clock makes the sound of a cuckoo. Often I have watched a cuckoo emerge from a clock and wondered how the sound is made but up until now I have never looked into it. The sound is created as air is forced via a set of bellows through two different pitch wooden pipes (similar to an organ pipe). This might sound simple but I bet there was a lot of experiment before the correct sound was achieved. The mechanism to produce the sound has remained the same since the middle of the 18th century.
Many readers are probably not interested in the least how the sound of the cuckoo is made but it’s one of those things that has fascinated me for years and now I know and I consider it my duty to tell you.
The most annoying bird we have come across during this ride is the common wood pigeon. This pigeon coos from before sunrise to well after sunset and if you are camping out there with them they become frustratingly annoying. Their call is constant and monotonous. Search the Internet for the common wood pigeon and its call and if you have travelled in Europe and England you have possibly heard it.
The common wood pigeon, (not to be confused with the feral pigeon found in parks and gardens), has a wide distribution. From my observations they only live in areas where there is tall dense foliage trees, without dense overhead foliage their young are vulnerable to attack from crows.
As we ride the waterways and canals we have often seen the kingfisher and many regions use the bird as their symbol of nature. Other birds we hear are the reed warblers but they are elusive and it is rare to see them. One of the main advantages of travelling with a bike is one gets close to the environment…the smells, the wind, the rain and the calls of the birds.
The common kingfisher excavates a nest hole in an earth bank about 350mm deep. There are people in Europe who physically construct nest holes for these birds. I have to admit I am also guilty of this activity and I have found one of the easiest ways to construct nest holes is to turn a hose on and burrow it into an earth-bank. Birds such as the rainbow bee-eaters and pardalotes will take up residence almost immediately.
Enough of bird talk, we must move on. Accommodation for the night was in a highly decorated van in a camping area in Seurre. It was not our intention to duck for cover but when Bev and her bike were blown over we decided it was far too windy to erect the tent. Our friendly tail wind had turned into a costly enemy. Costly because we had paid for a tent site and we thought it a simple matter of ‘topping up’ the difference between the cost of a tent site and the cost of the cabin rental.
If payment is by card French government regulations dictate that it is not possible to get a refund without an international bank number, of which we were unaware. The camp receptionist was very apologetic and he tried his best to get around the law but it was impossible so we forfeited the tent site cost and paid whatever was necessary to rent the cabin.
The cabin had disposable sheets and pillowcases and even though it was well appointed with regards cooking, washing up etc. there were no towels, dishcloth or blankets. The toilet and shower block was about a hundred metres away and toilet paper was not supplied. I came to the conclusion that whenever one gets the opportunity one should stuff one’s pockets with loo paper, then there is a stock on hand. Carrying a roll of toilet paper is far too bulky when travelling on a bike.
From Seurre to Chalone-sur-Saone we pedalled 58 kilometres from where we were turning south to Lyon. There were a few ups and downs, mostly through open farmlands and cereal crops.
It was a good ride but at the end of the day in Chalon-sur-Saone it became traumatic finding the hotel we chose. I can’t describe the traffic and the turns we took, it was a ‘bastard’ of a place to navigate through without a map. Finally after much smart phone consultation we ended up in a Ibis Budget hotel. Our bikes were stored in a bike shelter in the car park but the walls didn’t extend to ground level, which meant would-be thieves could crawl under the walls and nick any stuff left on the bikes. To avoid this we had to take all of our belongings to our hotel room.
Next morning stopping at the tourist information office to get onward going maps we found the girls there absolutely charming. They directed us to the high street market in the attractive old part of the city, something that we had not envisaged when trying to find our hotel as we rode through modern apartment blocks and suburbia. I have determined that a low protein continental breakfast does not provide the energy required for cycling all day so we bought a chicken and found a spot out of the wind and satisfied our carnivorous needs. By the time we left I had almost forgotten that I had classified Chalon-sur-Saone as a ‘bastard’ of a place. In Australian slang to be called a bastard can have opposite meanings. A ‘good bastard’ is a good person but a ‘bad bastard’ is just the opposite.
I didn’t include the above image to show off Bev’s good looks but to show the bikes on high signifying that the marketplace was a finishing point for one of the Tour De France stages.
An interesting structure on the way out of town was an insect house, one of many we have seen on our travels.
Several studies, including a 2018 German government report, ‘Action Programme for Insect Protection’, indicates a substantial decline in insect populations. Causes of the decline have been identified as habitat destruction, intensive agriculture, the use of pesticides (especially insecticides), urban and industrial development, climate change and, something we rarely think about, the windscreen phenomenon where millions upon millions of insects ‘bite the dust’.
Throughout Europe people are being encouraged to install insect houses, however according to entomologists due diligence needs to be exercised. It is important if you are going to install a hotel for the insects in your garden to establish only small hotels, as larger ones pose a risk to parasitism.
A far better option than installing insect houses might be to not cut backyard grasses but let them bloom and thus encourage insects.
The latest craze is to install robot mowers but these contraptions have negative effects on insect populations as a spick and span lawn does nothing to encourage insects and birds. In addition, running them at night is a definite no-no as they are capable of running over and killing hedgehogs, which emerge at night to graze on garden pests.
From Chalon-sur-Saone we found our way to the start of the bike path to Tournus, which ran for a few kilometres before coming to an end in heavy traffic. Fortunately the heavy traffic only lasted for a short time and we rode onto a road with lesser traffic and finally onto a well-defined bike path passing through wheat fields and newly planted corn.
The town of Tournus is reported to be a historical town of some note so we decided to stay two nights. Our lunch spot today was by design, out of the wind and in the sun next to a window. It was one of those moments of personal delights.
At day’s end we were in the Tournus camping area making ourselves comfortable in a pod. A pod is a barrel with a double bed, two seats and a table that fold down so the bed can be accessed. The set up was more a novelty rather than practical, however we had a good night.
Following is a photograph of the pod. It was like sleeping in an insect hotel.
One very positive aspect of French camping areas is your order of bread the night before and delivery next morning.
Exploring Tournus began with a visit to the Romanesque era Abbey of Saint Philibert. You might be thinking ‘not another abbey’, but this one is special.
The history of the abbey goes back to 875 (1145 years ago). It was damaged by a Hungarian invasion in 936/937 and during the time of the French Revolution it was secularised as a Temple of Reason. The Cult of Reason was based on the ideals of reason, virtue and liberty and it was when atheism was recognised.
From a creative point of view the building is not as grand as a renaissance or gothic style of building, it is what one might call massive, or in modern terms, brutish. It was built with defence in mind as it had heavy masonry walls and few doors or windows. Most of the doors and windows were sealed up.
Sometimes large blank stonewalls are enlivened with blank doorways and windows but I do not think this is the case here: the telltale sign is the irregular stone and the large square stone set part way up the doorway.
Inside the abbey artist Agnan Kroichvili and an assistant were tracing a religious image. A large sheet of tracing plastic was placed over an engraving and he painstakingly traced the image for later reproduction.
Many in the art world think the practice of tracing is cheating however this disdain has kept us from realising its full potential. For me tracing an image is an excellent way to teach myself how to draw accurately, especially the human figure. Fundamentally, tracing uses the same mental process that’s required to draw from life.
Bev and I attempted to speak with Agnan in an open-air café outside the abbey but his understanding of English was negligible and likewise our understanding of French. From a large cardboard tube he extracted examples of his work and his web page for those interested is http://www.agnan-kroichili.com/
Agnan signed my concertina book and I am yet to fathom what he wrote. I think he may be Georgian.
There are many things to be read in religious paintings and engravings and following is an example. I traced this image from a photograph I took of a poster in a church.
The mildest of preachers can turn into a fierce and powerful deliverer of the word once the pulpit is entered. The above pulpit looks like the gaping mouth of a preacher delivering the word.
The reader might be thinking that having delivered my impressions of many churches, cathedrals, abbeys and temples in my writings over the past seven years there could surely not be another word to say about them and their surrounds, but no, outside the Abbey of Saint Philibert there were things to see, namely stone coffins.
If you have ever chipped away at a piece of stone with a chisel and maul you will know to make this coffin would take almost a lifetime as the coffin is not made from slabs but of solid stone. Work could be minimalized if a bespoke coffin was made.
The caption for this image designated by the author said ‘ A bespoke coffin’, which is very appropriate in view of bespoke meaning ‘made for a particular customer or user’.
The first reference to a coffin was in 1380. Prior to that burial boxes were referred to as a sarcophagus. The original term, although debated, denotes a sarcophagus of limestone, which had the ability to dissolve the body quickly. Sarcophagus is derived from the Greek sarx…flesh and phagein…to eat.
Near to the abbey was the town square and all French towns and villages have one. They also have a local council office called a Marie and often in front of the Marie is a statue. Tournus is no exception. The statue of artist J-B Greuze caught my attention as I had read about the artist’s work and I was interested to know why his statue was taking centre stage. It turns out Greuze was born in Tournus.
The wonders of the Internet bring you the art galleries of the world to your living room: go to Wikipedia to read his biography and view his wonderful paintings. Following is one example of the work of Greuze.
The interesting feature of this painting is the background. On the table and floor are what I hope are wood pigeons. They all appear to be dead except the one on the edge of the table. Maybe it is nearly dead and as we say in Australia, it is about to ‘fall off the perch’. Perhaps this guitarist is playing his guitar after a good day trapping pigeons. There is a bird trap in the background.
It is said Greuze formed his own art at an early age. His father thwarted his early artistic inclinations, but Lyonnese artist Grando persuaded him to give way to his son’s wishes and permit the boy to accompany him as his pupil to Lyon.
For lunch at an open-air café, I ordered soup and it was the most unusual soup I have ever had. It was absolutely tasteless, a watery concoction as if made from instant potato powder, certainly not becoming to the French cuisine. My mind was distracted from the disgusting soup by the local bagman and of course I was curious and set off after him hoping to capture a few images.
In the true sense of the meaning this man is not a bagman unless of course the plastic bags hanging from his pram were full of money. He is more likely to be homeless and all his worldly belongings are in the bags.
It’s a challenge for the homeless to store their belongings. Some choose supermarket trolleys but they are far from ideal because the trolleys are owned by a supermarket and could be considered as stolen goods. In 2016 a group in Canada came up with the idea of providing a specially designed secure trolley for those who live on the streets.
Lyon is where we go next, not to expand our artistic abilities but to visit friends about whom there is an interesting tale. First, a few more images around Tournus and the bike path getting there.
Printing on fabric such as this bag is a topic to be studied and I am sure I will when the opportunity arises.
Some time ago we decided we wouldn’t ride into Lyon as being the third largest city in France (population 1.7million) it can be a little traumatic for strangers to navigate the outskirts of such cities. Instead we rode to Macon and caught a train into Lyon.
That’s the end of this post. I didn’t realise it was going to be so diverse until I had finished it. Abbeys, birds, cuckoo clocks and how they work, homeless people, tracing artists, famous French painters and pollarded trees, all topics one is exposed to when wandering. We trust you enjoyed reading of our experiences. If you wish you can make a comment, we would be pleased to hear from you.