|Chateau d'Artigny, our room is on the second floor|
Sitting here in the room at Chateau d'Artigny, which is an impossibly fancy Belle Époque palace built by the famous French perfumer Coty.
|Chateau de Chenenceau|
|View of Loire from Le Choiseul's 36|
|Chenenceau's Ballroom over the river|
I know. I should really STFU, because you hate me. But that's OK, wait 'till you hear about the suffering, because there is plenty. You don't want to know how my butt feels right now. You don't. Yes, the food I'm eating on this trip is some of the best I've ever had. But I'm earning it.
After the first bike day, from Amboise to Chenenceau, a fairy-tale castle (sounds cliche, but just look at the picture, ok?) built over a river and passed from the famous paramour of a French king to his jealous and severe Medici wife, we had covered 50k of gravel, forest, farmland, and terrain that is not, by any stretch of the imagination, not even remotely flat. Discover France lied. They lied. I can hack it. Not sure my butt can take much more, though. Not sure my husband will survive at all. And there are still two mandatory bike days left, one billed as "Moderate," which means, if you're us and not freakin Lance Armstrong, your ass is really about to be grass.
|Snails, Hotel Le Choiseul, my new death row dinner|
The night before last we had this snail appetizer covered in a creamy foam made with the local goat cheese, layered Napoleon-style with crisps of another kind of cheese or pastry. There was also some basil-infused oil in there. I can't fully describe how exquisite all this was. It had at least five interesting layers of flavor dancing on my tongue. This was at Hotel Le Choiseul's restaurant "36". Go there. It's in Amboise, which is such a lovely little town on the Loire topped with a chateau that began as a Gallo-Roman fortress, became a royal French fortress in the Middle Ages, and then was made supercool and flamboyant by King Francois I, with a bit of help from his pet Italian Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci. Yeah, that guy.
|Leonardo's Last Home, Clos Luce|
Today we set out from Amboise intending to visit Leonardo's final domicile and workspace at Clos Luce, but alas we discovered they wanted 18 euros 50 each for the entrance, and we are not idiots. Still you can walk in and look at the house. It's very pretty.
So let me outline the suffering for ya. This evening I took a shower and was washing the unmentionable bits, and I realized that my butt wasn't larger because I had been eating too much, although I had, but because it was swollen for being on the bike saddle for hours and hours and hours. The saddles on these bikes are quite hard, not puffy. Very nice quality, fancy brand, but ow. Thank goodness that part of one goes numb after awhile. And then there's the magic cream, the Hoo-Ha Ride Glide that is a bit tingly and lessens the hot spots. Thank goodness for that. My husband joked that he'd like to sit in a bucket of it. If only we'd brought one.
|2 Needful Beers in Montlious|
Today at lunch, when we'd reached a town that had a little bar, we broke down and had beer at 11:30am just because it would lessen the aches and pains. But what has happened to us? Are we so much softer than when we took that Italian bike tour six years ago? Have we aged that fast? Apparently so.
At the end of the first day, Stoney asked me why we do these kinds of things to ourselves on vacation. We were so tired and in so much pain, and had eaten so much rich food we could hardly speak.
|Margaret and Stoney in Ancient Cave, which serves as a bike storage garage at Le Choiseul|
But the fact was we had bonded so much over these travails, moment after crazy moment, we had laughed so much at our own foolishness and had marveled at the landscape, the storybook fortresses and chateaus. Have we bitten off more than we can chew? Oh, yes. But the sky, when it's blue, has Peter Max Yellow Submarine clouds floating in it. This part of France is just waking up to spring in that exuberant tender hopeful way that only places that have had long bitter winters can. You can still see winter's mistletoe on the leafless oaks, but on every tree and bush there are soft buds, and the earliest blooming trees are in full pink regalia, and the vineyards are sprinkled with marguerites and mustard flowers. We cheer each other through the tough parts, coach each other up the cruelly steep hills, celebrate the glorious descents, moon over the pretty bike paths through the vineyards and rolling farmland. Each sip of wine has new flavors, each new extravagant hotel is shockingly scenic, and too much for us. And we forge ahead. Proving we can do it, even when it's hard, especially when it's hard.
So my answer to my husband's his question, why?
"Because it's fun."
His reply to that? "I suppose that's right."
Tomorrow is that brutal "moderate" day, though, punctuated with magical castles and rivers and forests and charm, and one terrible hill, right toward the end. It may just kill us, so please, wish us luck.