Day 29 – In Which I awake with a Mouth Full of Razor Blades but twice Escape a Bullet

Yesterday I could tell that things were not all as they should be. Each time I tried to swallow it felt like there was piece of sandpaper lodged somewhere near my tonsils. A trip to the local Pharmacy in Azay le Rideau provided me with a box of probably what was something like the French version of Strepsils. The only thing on the box that I could read was the brand name Drill. It sounded more like a cure for a cavity than for a sore throat, but I tried sucking on a couple of them before I went to bed and hoped that they might kill whatever foul colony of microbes was apparently thriving in my throat’s hinterland.

In the morning the throat was even worse, but it was now accompanied by a thumping headache to keep the microbes company. It was going to be a difficult day. Oh well, on every trip everyone usually has a day or two when all they feel like is heading back to the familiar sanctuary of their own bed and bathroom. That can be a little difficult when your luggage is on a fixed itinerary and will soon be speeding off to the next major town down the river.

I staggered into the nearby breakfast room and forced myself to eat a baguette. Even when I felt sick I had to admit that it was really good. And I mean really, really good. Why can’t we make bread like that in Australia ? No wonder that 80 million French people line up twice a day at their closest Boulanger for their daily bread. I would too if the bread in Woolworths tasted like that.

The hotel in Azay le Rideau really has been a gem and the proprietor has gone out of his way to do everything possible to make our stay memorable. In return for this hospitality, Fran and Ross also went well out of their way to ensure that the proprietor will also remember our stay – for all the wrong reasons. While mixing up her morning concoction of bright orange Barocca and red ink, she sent the entire glassful right across the brilliant white sheets and expensive mattress. While Nutella stains are not exactly pleasant, at least they can be partially removed in time. The stains all over Ross and Fran’s bed looked like it had been the scene of some recent carnage and would no doubt necessitate the purchase of new linen and mattress. Just as well the floor was timber or else the carpet would have had to be ripped up as well. I felt sorry for causing the flood in my bathroom the previous afternoon and hoped that the water damage to the downstairs ceiling would not be too expensive to repair.

As we waved goodbye to our host I am sure that he was mumbling something more than just “Au Revoir”, but I could have been mistaken. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair looked like he had received an electric shock. I worried that all the devices I had plugged into the power point in our room might have caused some kind of major damage to the hotel’s wiring. Maggie did say that she could smell burning, but I was too concerned with my sore throat to care.

As we rode out of the town leaving the proprietor to negotiate with his bank manager for an increase in his overdraft, my concern was for more immediate matters. The weather forecast had not been very promising. We were due for more heavy rain at times so our schedule would have to be adjusted carefully. Our first stop was at the nearby Musee de Maurice duFresne.

Monsieur Defresne was an amazing collector of just about anything and everything who had amassed a huge personal stockpile of engines, cars, planes, toys, weapons, farm equipment, projectors, bicycles, in fact just about everything. Although the place does not look too impressive from the street, inside it contains a labyrinth of huge buildings that store what must be one of the best collections to be seen anywhere in the world.

Since we managed to arrive just as the first downpours were threatening, it was an amazing stroke of planning and timing. We negotiated with the cashier for the traditional Ghostriders discount and, even more surprisingly, managed to get the price reduced from 10 Euro to 7 Euro each. This was an absolute bargain and would have been worth it, just to escape the rain.

With the torrential rain falling on the roof we spent the next hour wandering the corridors, spellbound at the unexpected items that had been gathered together. He had even managed to find and restore a huge guillotine, complete with sharp blade and basket. By the time we had our morning tea, the rain had stopped and we were able to continue our ride along the river. If I had more compassion I would have felt sorry for Group 2 who had presumably been wet through in the deluge. Since they had escaped our disastrous first day when we nearly got wiped out on the ride from Orleans to Beaugency, it was only fair that they catch up on the misery scale.

A few kilometres further on we came across one of the most unusual sites in the whole of France. It was a shop that sold baguettes, cakes and coffee. It was an even more exciting discovery than finding Lassiter’s Lost Gold Mine. We all simultaneously did our best to confuse the poor owner by providing contradictory orders in a mixture of English, French, Gibberish and hand waving. She disappeared into the back room and reappeared some time later with an armful of fresh baguette sandwiches. I sat down to try to improve my health and morale by tucking in to a huge cake with the intriguing name Le Religiouex. I thought that maybe it was meant to be a replica of Notre Dame Cathedral made entirely with custard and sugar. It certainly took some serious eating and even more concentration not to spill most of the sloppy interior down the front of my jersey.

While this was going on, about half of the group indicated that they were in a hurry and could not wait for me to disgrace myself any further. They grabbed their baguettes and cycled out of sight. The remainder looked at the sky and used common sense to make the decision that it would be prudent to wait a little longer for the next downpour to pass over. Sure enough, about 3 minutes later the skies opened with another huge downpour of rain. By this time I had worked my way through the bell tower of Notre Dame and was making steady progress on the chapel itself. Only a small amount of the contents had managed to escape and jump onto my fingers.

About 30 minutes later the rain stopped and we resumed our ride, refreshed and DRY. We felt completely vindicated with our decision and only a little sad for those who had got drenched.

About ten kilometres further on we reached the turn off to the famous “Sleeping Beauty Castle” at Usse. Since I had already visited this place on our previous ride, I knew that the correct approach was from the second turnoff. That way you follow the main axis of the castle all the way to the front wall. It gives fabulous opportunities for photo shots along the way. When we caught up with the first group we not only found them looking a little waterlogged, but also learned that they had taken the wrong turn as well.

After a brief rest we resumed the ride to Chinon. For most of the way it closely follows the river bank along an elevated levee wall. The cycling was smooth and easy and the sun even broke through on a few occasions to brighten the ride. Unfortunately I was still battling the headache I had woken with and was feeling rather second rate. I battled on for a few more kilometres before announcing that I would like to head straight to the hotel as quickly as possible. For some reason the rest of our little group seemed pleased to see the last of me, so I increased the pace and set my sights on Chinon.

The poor weather of the morning had completely cleared by that stage and I was able to make good time on the lovely undulating path. Around 3 pm I pulled up outside our hotel and waited for the others to arrive. The rest of my group arrived about 30 minutes later, the other group got lost looking for a vineyard and also had two punctures and did not arrive till quite a bit later.

When we checked into our hotel Maggie and I were excited to see that we had finally secured one of the better rooms in the place. With its large bedroom, dining table and chairs we had plenty of space in which to spread out all our dirty clothes. The bathroom was also full of all the latest modern cons and some interesting automatic functions. There was no light switch in the bathroom as the lights come on automatically whenever you entered the room. Another automatic feature which was not quite so easy to get used to was the automatic door opener which opened the bathroom door whenever I sat on the toilet.

After arriving I went straight to bed and fell into a deep sleep, not waking till it was time for dinner. It was then that I learned that a couple of our group had already made their way to the restaurant next door and had secured our table. When I joined them I had a strange feeling that all was not well. I checked the name of our allocated restaurant and found that it was completely different to the name outside the place we were in. Quelle Embarrissmente !

We all climbed to our feet and made our way out the door. This time we made our way to the correct establishment. Eugenie told us that she was glad we were going to move because the first place “only had rubbish on their menu”. Fortunately the correct restaurant had other choices beside rubbish on their menu, and we all had another lovely meal together. It had been a long and trying day and I was hoping that tomorrow would be far less eventful.