FRANCE: NANTES to BLAIN, REDON and LA GACILLY
ALONG THE NANTES-BREST CANAL
There were a number of reasons we didn’t continue along the Eurovelo 6 to the Atlantic from Nantes as it meant crossing a high suspension bridge over the Loire River to St Nazaire which cyclists are encouraged not to use if strong winds are predicted. In addition, we wanted to go to a photographic exhibition in the village of La Gacilly to the northwest of Nantes.
Up to the time we left Nantes we had clocked up 1020 kilometres of riding since we left Zurich. I suppose turning over the 1000 kilometres is significant. Where the next 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000 kilometres were to take us remained a mystery.
To get to La Gacilly from Nantes meant taking the Eurovelo 1, also known as the Atlantic Coast Route. This route runs from Norway to Portugal (8500km), a good option for a further bike ride. The section we rode was along the Nantes-Brest Canal for about eighty kilometres to Redon then a minor road for twelve kilometres to La Gacilly.
Our first stop was to visit the Nantes Tourist Information Centre and buy a map showing our ongoing journey. Whilst waiting for the office to open a couple of cyclists informed us that finding the start of the Eurovelo 1 is difficult and we should allow at least an hour to find it. Immediately we thought, ‘Here we go again. We will spend half the day looking for the start.’ A local man nearby who obviously overheard the conversation approached us and said ‘It’s easy to find the start, go back one street and follow the green chevrons’. Green chevron markings indicate a greenway nature trail. Another cyclist gave us a map showing the route with lock numbers along the Nantes-Brest Canal, which enabled us to pinpoint our location as we rode.
Following the green chevrons lead us to the Eurovelo 1 and from then on the fun began. The path turned and twisted through temporal rainforest. These rainforests are damp and gloomy places as the overhead canopy keeps the forest in constant shade. Some touring cyclists are not put off by the dampness as early this morning we passed a cyclist emerging from his cocoon-like tent, he’d obviously made a pitch there overnight.
The further we rode the narrower the path became and we wondered if we were on the right track. Blackberry bushes closed in and it was a job not to get snagged. There is a belief in some circles that the deep red of a squashed blackberry represents Christ’s blood and the crown of thorns worn by Christ at the time of his crucifixion was made from blackberry stems. Regardless, we pushed on through the blackberry bushes with a dousing of Christ’s blood and joined the 395 kilometre long Nantes-Brest Canal.
Trees along the bike path had taken a pounding over the past week with high winds bringing trees down. Most sealed bike paths in Europe are swept on a regular basis, however after storms the paths are littered with sticks and, worst of all, pinecones. They can easily cause a fall if struck at the wrong angle by the front wheel of a bike.
Lunch was beside the canal at a table shared with a couple of locals Guillaume and Morgane. The intriguing thing about their cycling set-up was a trailer behind one of their bikes in which their pet mutt, an Australian border collie, travelled.
Sometimes the dog ran alongside but its paws would become aggravated so into the trailer it went.
We continued along the Nantes-Brest Canal that, for most parts, was smooth compacted gravel.
On this leg of the ride we rode further than most days and at around 60 kilometres we found ourselves in Blain at the Camping du Chateau. As is often the case, depending on the time of day, the reception was not open even though the notice on the door said it should be. The French can be casual about such things and it was the Sunday of the Whitsun long weekend. Whilst we waited we spoke with a couple of cyclists who had ridden from England on Dahon fold-up bicycles with twelve-inch diameter wheels. The conversation revolved around the trials and tribulations we were likely to experience during our onward journey to the north and the difficulty in riding their small-wheeled bicycles.
Accommodation took the form of a small caravan, gutted and tastefully renovated, as it was raining and cold and we didn’t want to get our tent wet. A wet tent adds to our weight and if left wrapped for any length of time mildew takes over. A point of interest is mildew grows on surfaces whereas mould grows on food. Returning to the reception we dined on chicken curry then retired to a warm bed.
Pentecost or Whit Monday is a religious holiday and shops were shut so leftovers were on the menu for our next meals. I took advantage of the gas stove at the camping area and cooked rice. Normally I wouldn’t cook rice on our small canister stove as it used far too much gas and buying a new canister could sometimes be a hassle.
Blain didn’t have a lot to offer except for a castle that was under restoration and some creative fish decorations on the bridge over the canal. From my observations I had the impression that the French government see the value in restoring chateaus and castles, as they become a drawcard to tourists and the entrance fees are a source of income.
The Nantes-Brest Canal was very picturesque although there were few small towns along the way to draw us in. However, we did stop for lunch at Guenrouet at a café overlooking the canal. While we lunched there was a storm and that was to herald our afternoon’s wet ride.
This was a day when we wished we could escape the rigors of the weather. The afternoon storm brought driving rain and hail, making for a most uncomfortable ride. We found ourselves very wet and looking for a potential pitch for the night. My gloves were wet through but looking on the positive side they needed a wash as one has a tendency to wipe one’s runny nose on the back of them while riding. Just to the south of Redon there was a small unattended, very basic camping ground where we took shelter in the toilet block to avoid being hammered by the driving hail and rain. There is no doubt cycle touring brings one back to basics and as you travel you realise the value of somewhere to get out of the rain, a chair to sit on, the qualities of a rubber band to put around open food packets and numerous other small things we take for granted every day in the domestic world. As there was no campers’ shelter at the campground we pressed on to Redon in the Brittany region. Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos during the deluge, as extracting cameras was a difficult operation. Negotiating the muddy track also kept us busy, staying upright required concentration.
Looking for camping areas is a bit like looking for the start of bike paths out of towns, there is inadequate signage. Being a public holiday the main street of Redon was deserted however there was a young girl heading our way and I asked her for directions to Redon Camping. She didn’t know but she suggested we ask the man in the Café L’Oriental in the old part of town, ‘He knows the town and area well’. This we did and the proprietor, Arsene, shut his café and drove off in his van, with us following, leading us to the camping area a few kilometres out of the town centre. Our helpful guide drove at snail’s pace and even though we had a long stream of traffic behind us all the drivers were calm and understanding. Arsene is from Tunis North Africa and a Muslim. One of the best-known features of Muslim societies is the ideal of hospitality that derives from the Koran, which requires that hospitality or charity be offered to travellers. He definitely extended that kindness to us.
The municipal camping area had no campers’ shelter or kitchen so our only option was to pitch our tent adjacent to the one and only covered picnic table. Dinner consisted of leftovers…half a zucchini, carrot, two small potatoes boiled with the already cooked rice and a tin of tuna. A typical Cordon Bleu touring cyclist meal!
A WET REST DAY IN REDON
It rained heavily during the night but we were cosily snug in our tent. There was afternoon entertainment in the camp, which went on into the night. Near us was a fellow playing an out of tune guitar and singing mournfully. The soloist was travelling alone and because of his tuneless renditions I am surmising his family probably banished him to get some peace. There seemed to be an attempt at Dylan-type music. He also talked to himself, which made for an entertaining night.
A second oddball in the camp was a cyclist towing a bike trailer in which he carried two extra large pillows. Maybe the pillows were equivalent to a security blanket. There are of course people who cannot travel anywhere without their favourite pillow. During our bike ride we had no such luxury, my pillow comprised a singlet in which I placed the clothes I wasn’t wearing. When it was extremely cold and I had on all my clothes there was no pillow. It’s another of those home comforts we take for granted.
We decided to explore Redon and return as a matter of courtesy to Arsene’s café and thank him for his hospitality. He was happy to see us and suggested we have the North African speciality of a tagine. In the café we met three men who were walking a French section of the pilgrims’ way to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.
There is a very amusing and informative movie called ‘The Way’ and it tells the story of a conservative American doctor who goes to St Jean Pied de Port in France to collect the remains of his adult son who was killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage to honour his son’s desire to finish the journey. With his son’s ashes and backpack and gear he walks the Camino and scatters the ashes along the way. On his journey, Tom meets other pilgrims from around the world, each with their own issues and looking for greater meaning in their lives. The outcome is he completes the 800km walk, scatters what remains of his son’s ashes in the Atlantic near the end point of the Camino and then rings his secretary in the US and instructing her to cancel his appointments. The closing sequence of the film shows him in Morocco; he just simply kept walking.
Rain showers were sporadic as was forecast by France Meteo. This service gives very accurate weather forecasts to the extent that they tell you the hour it’s going to rain, which means you can actually plan when to ride in an attempt to avoid the rain (if possible). We returned to camp between showers and our picnic shelter fortunately allowed us to stay out of the rain. Other campers spent the day in their little tents, probably doing a little omphaloskepsis (contemplating one’s navel).
ON TO THE SMALL BRETON VILLAGE OF LA GACILLY.
Before setting off for La Gacilly it was necessary to find a laundromat. And with clean and dry clothing we found ourselves on quite a busy road. It was a little hairy sharing it with large trucks but with our power-assisted bikes it was easy to keep up our speed and get that section completed in relatively quick time.
Tourist information centres proliferate in France and in La Gacilly the visitor centre was where the exhibition began. It took us the best part of two days to see the photographic exhibitions. Before I take you on a tour of just some of the photographs I must show you our accommodation for the night in a small camping area in the town. Because the weather was stormy we decided to rent a ‘cabanetape’, which is a very small cabin containing a double mattress. It wasn’t cheap but maybe that was because there were crisp white sheets, soft white towels and Yves Rocher toiletries. Very nice! But it lacked a wider awning that would protect the occupier from sunshine and rain. A metre wide awning didn’t protect us from the driving rain that blew in. The emergency tent cover that I carry came in handy to provide some shelter. Fortunately the storm passed and the late afternoon sun dried us out a little.
The exhibition was an open-air affair and was hung in various squares around the town. It is an annual event and was conceived in 2004 by Jacques Rocher, President of the Yves Rocher Foundation, and his main aim was to make the public think of the fragility of people, about the future of the planet and the effects that global warming has on the planet. The 2019 theme invited the viewer to reflect on wildlife and the effects of exploitation of the planet. There were several hundred large format photos featuring the work of photographers from Russia, Poland and Estonia. And there were separate exhibitions from the works of photo journalists featuring environmental images.
The images were printed on heavy-duty plastic canvases and after the exhibition wound up in September it would be shipped off to Germany for one final viewing. Following the German exhibition the images were to be destroyed. Such a waste, I can think of a dozen uses for such material.
The above photograph by Estonian Alexander Gronsky shows individuals making the best of extreme conditions, one swimming in a hole cut in the ice and another cross country skiing. Ice approximately 125 mm thick will support skaters, whereas ice 300 mm thick will support a car. But don’t take my word for it. Best ask a local before skating or driving on ice.
The following five photos are by Jutyna Mielnikiewicz from Ukraine.
The Ukraine is a troubled part of the world and is divided by pro and anti Russian feelings. Sometimes the troubles spill over into conflict as happened in the summer of 2014. Petro joined the volunteer battalion and went to war along with his soft bear mascot. Note the soldier on the left clutching his genitals. Is there a message from the photographer here?
Masha left her hometown when the war started in the Ukraine and joined the Donbas Battalion in April 2014 to fight pro-Russian rebels. She left the army after the Illovasky battle, however she keeps her uniform and is ready to go back to fight if necessary.
Irpin is located on the outskirts of Kiev where there is a military hospital. Due to cheap rental space Irpin became a popular destination for internally displaced persons.
Tomiris lives in the town of Petropavl which is on the northern border with Russia. The country has 131 ethnicities including Kazakhs, Russians, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Germans, Tayars and Uyghurs.
The following seven images are by Sergey Maximishin. He was born in the Crimea but left to study in Leningrad. His photographs show ‘Russia in all its guises’.
Yakutsk is a Russian port city in Siberia and is one of the coldest cities on earth. Between November and March the temperature never gets above freezing and in January the average temperature is around minus forty degrees Celsius. The city sits on permafrost that due to climate change is at the risk of melting and thus releasing large quantities of methane gas into the atmosphere contributing to global warming.
Near Leningrad there is a rock in the middle of Dymskoye Lake on which the monk Anthony stood and prayed for forty years. Each year pilgrims come and swim three times around the cross mounted on the rock.
A new word for me is ‘posad’. A posad is a settlement in the Russian Empire surrounded by ramparts and a moat. Posads were inhabited by craftsmen and merchants and some posads developed into towns, as was the case with Verkhovazh’ye.
One would like to think that the tyrants of past eras would be consigned to the annals of history but not so according to some of the photographic exhibits. Today many Russians think Stalin and Lenin had a positive historical role. Communist lawmakers (according to Global News) encouraged local authorities across Russia to rename streets and erect statues in honour of the dictators.
Stalin ruled the Soviet Union for three decades and lorded over one of the most repressive regimes in recent history.
Doppelganger is not a word one comes across every day and if you are interested in the meaning and origins of words the term is worthy of investigation. The meaning is of course ‘look alike’ and the word was coined in the late 18th century, however myths of spirit doubles have persisted for thousands of years.
The web page, Ancient Origins, quotes: ’Some accounts of doppelgängers, sometimes called the ‘evil twin’, suggest that they might attempt to provide advice to the person they shadow, but this advice can be misleading or malicious. They may also attempt to plant sinister ideas in their victim’s mind or cause them great confusion. For this reason, people were advised to avoid communicating with their doppelgänger at all costs’.
In St Petersburg Lenin’s Mating Call Restaurant invites its customers to dine among silver Lenin busts, while footage of the man himself making impassioned speeches to the masses plays on elevated screens. In the above photograph I wonder what the significance of the red cross on the waitress’ money pouch is.
‘People and nature’ was the theme for an international competition of digital pictures organized by the Photo Club of La Gacilly. The following images were part of the competition.
Note: At the end of this post I have included the web sites of the particular sections that include all the entries. Magnificent images.
Lim Guek Cheng is a Malaysian photographer specialising in macro and micro photography. He has a web page showing his incredible macro and micro images. Have a look.
The difference between macro and micro photography: According to Alexander’s My Canvas blog the difference between macro and micro is in the words. Macro refers to something large where micro means small. The style lets the subject fill all or most of the frame so that you can get an incredible amount of detail. In other words, you get a macro shot of a micro subject.
The photographs of environmental photographer Italian Marco Zorzanello illustrate how some people ironically use climate change as a holiday opportunity. For instance, tourists visit the Dead Sea and the River Jordan but water levels have reached an unprecedented low. But are these tourists pretending that they can’t see the evidence of environmental damage, that they don’t need to change their lifestyles or take action to avoid the impending disaster of climate change?
(NB: My apologies for the shadow across the image. The exhibition photos that I have included are my photos of the exhibited images and some were in the shade of trees).
The water level in the Dead Sea is dropping at a rate of more than one meter per year and the surface area has shrunk by about 30% in the last twenty years. The depletion is due mainly to the diversion of over 90% of the water flowing in the Jordan River being used for other purposes.
Alexander Gronsky, one of the photographers in the exhibition, stated, ‘We define a photograph only in relation to a given context. But a photograph has its own weight, its own purpose, outside of this context. For me, a photograph is good when it becomes not a message, but a question’.
In my opinion, all of the photographs at the exhibition pose questions. For example, is it in the best of world interests to sanitize history and make heroes of past dictators? Is it best to continue degrading the world’s environments such as starving the Dead Sea of water? And is it best to continue with planet warming activities and place animals such as the flying squirrel and Artic Fox on extinction lists. The answer of course is no.
The Dead Sea brings this post to a close. If you have enjoyed the read, post a comment. The next post takes us from La Gacilly to Rennes, an historic town to the north in Brittany.