By Zachary Moses: Marketing Director
I knew I was no longer in the United States, when I looked out my subway car door and saw an attractive man wearing a shirt that fit! I mean it actually fit, like it was tailored by a professional. I really doubt this shirt came from a generic mall store. I mean seriously, look at this guy’s shirt. I think that every gay man in America needs to go to France and buy themselves a shirt like this. Where in France should you buy it? Ask your Alyson guide on your next bicycle trip.
As I crossed Paris to catch my train to Vendome, as luck would have it, my first day in France happened to be the one day that they decided to close the Paris Metro line that I needed to take to Montparnasse train station. Great! To make matters worse, I can’t actually read anything written in French, so I had no idea why I couldn’t get on the Paris Metro.
After some time I decided to leave the subway and head to street level where, lucky me, I happened to be at the doorstep of Notre Dame! What a sight to behold! I would have loved to go inside, but I was too busy trying to deflect a woman pretending to be deaf and begging for money. Apparently there’s this scam going on in Paris where gypsies pretend to be deaf to get money from you. Do Not Pay Them: they or their friends will try to steal your wallet.
I finally found a tourist information booth where the nice lady pointed me in an ultimately unhelpful direction. In the end I got out my Paris map and solved my own problem. Within a matter of minutes I was on the efficient Paris bus system headed toward… well I wasn’t sure, but within minutes someone pointed me toward Monparnasse. Once I actually got to the train station, I decided to have my first cup of French coffee. It would have been magnifique, except that I accidentally added aspartame to it instead of creamer. The coffee shop was lovely, including the birds that appeared to live in the shop. It was picture perfect as long as you ignored the fact that there were bird droppings on the pastry case.
I boarded my TGV high-speed train, and before long I was walking through the ancient stone gate that marked the opening in Vendome’s city walls. It was a short walk to the hotel where I thankfully crashed out for several hours before I had to meet our other guides to start preparing 21 bikes for our group. After I woke up, I joined Tom, one of our guests who had arrived early, for a quick bite to eat. We went to a mediocre kebab place where Charly and David (the other two Alyson Adventures bike guides) found us. Charly mocked me for the rest of the trip for choosing Greek Kebab of all things as my first meal in France.
Our bike tour started with a walking tour of Vendome where Charly told everyone about the town’s rich history. We were all amazed at how beautiful Vendome is. The city is built all around the Large Loire and Little Loir Rivers and it is amazing the way the city has been built to highlight the waterways. Several of the buildings sit atop pylons and have the river flowing underneath them.
Most of the group saw Vendome and said how much they would love to live here. Of course, that was because they hadn’t yet been on the rest of our tour. By the end of the tour, no one knew which pretty part of France would be best to move to.
That night we ate our first dinner together and everyone began making fast friends among the group. This was a big group, 21 people including the guides, which is bigger then most Alyson groups ever get. Amazingly, Charly was able to find restaurants that were not only fabulous, but could actually accommodate the entire group at one table! The man is amazing… and really cute too.
The ride got off to a great start as we rode our way through Vendome, then off toward Troo, a Troglodyte village. Troglodyte literally means cave dweller and I was expecting something out of the Flintstones. I was surprised to see amazing luxury cave dwellings that make my dinky shoebox of a Key West apartment look like a very modest chicken coop.
We set off the next day toward Châteaudun. We rode through glorious farmland full of sunflowers and vineyards ready for harvest. Soon, we came to the first big hill of the tour (luckily downhill). David went on ahead to make sure that everyone made the turn, while I hung back to make sure we didn’t lose anyone. After the last of the group made it to the bottom of the hill, I sped ahead to catch the faster members of the group. Unknown to me, the riders ahead of me decided to stop at a bakery for a delicious french pastry and I rode right past them at my best “Tour de France” pace.
After a while I realized that either every single person had gone the wrong way, or I was clearly in front of the group, and not behind. I stopped to wait for everyone, and I have to say there is no better place to wait around than at Montigny Château at the top of a cliff overlooking the Loire Valley.
When everyone else arrived we had a lovely picnic lunch that Charly had prepared for us, and then we got to tour the Château. Inside was a tremendous amount of historic art and furniture. I was impressed at how our tired riders resisted the urge to sit on the irreplaceable furniture. In one room was a hutch full of tiny antique doll furniture. Nora went nuts for it. Below you can see her with her adorable New Jersey accent.
From Montigny we continued toward Chateaudun, an adorable fairy tale village at the top of a hill, complete with its very own Chateau (of course, this is France!). I lollygagged at the hotel till the last minute and nearly didn’t get to see the chateau. I had to beg the gate keeper in broken french (very broken french). In the end he took pity on me and allowed me to go in. And not only did he allow me to go in, but he let me in for free, and gave me 2 euros. Weird. I really liked this Chateau because there was no furniture in it, just this very, very strange statue of a deer with a thousand antlers stuck in the floor.
The following morning was another breakfast of croissants…I have to say, there were a few things I found out about France which I had not expected:
* Breakfast in France is not very interesting: Coffee and Bread, everyday. The bread and croissants are delicious, the coffee was tasty, and it was great for about three days, at which point I found myself fantasizing about a smoothie, an omelette, or really just about anything else.
* I did not see one single bidet.
* I found out that despite what my mother had told me, the French are very friendly.
* Oh, and don’t get me started on macarons (almond meringue pastries). Sure they look beautiful, and they are all the rage in the blogosphere, but alas, I did not find them appetizing at all!
Luckily, most of the things that matter were right on the money. Dinner was always amazing (except for the pre-tour Kebab incident), the variety of cheeses was incredible, and the bread…don’t even get me started about the bread…the smell alone is worth the $1200 plane ticket. And look at these mini Creme Brulees!! Not only were they delicious, but there were three kinds, and they were MINI so I could try all three with no guilt!
Our farewell dinner was in a tiny restaurant where the food was made in the basement and sent up to us by dumbwaiter. The food everywhere on this tour was incredible, but the final evening really takes the cake. Since our group was so big we practically owned the place. Charly took us there on a beautifully scenic route through the narrow streets of Blois. He even shared with us his dream of being immortalized in bronze as a city statue.
I hated saying goodbye to everyone, so several of us went out for after dinner drinks! I pretended I was a smashed drunk American tourist, and Charly pretended to be helping me get through the bar (it gave me the opportunity to snap a photo of a really cute guy’s shoes for David; he has a thing for men with nice shoes.) After we established that his shoes were not of interest to David, we asked him to snap a picture of our group.
I’ve found I really get attached to the people with whom I share these unique experiences. It’s really hard as the trips come to a close and I realize I won’t be with my new friends much longer. I got to meet so many new people from so many different places and I got to spend time with a few locals from my own Key West! Some of us Key West folk got a nice game of Hand and Foot (a Key West version of canasta) going and nearly missed the farewell drinks.
Come join us on our next adventure! Just look at the bike guides in these photos – how can you resist?