Dashing about on our Dahons Again

NAPA VALLEY

Vineyard from Oakville Crossroad

Vineyard from Oakville Crossroad

Even though, we had a wonderful time in France, it is good to be back home and riding our wonderful Dahon bikes. One of the first trips we made when we got home was to the Napa Valley where we like to ride Yountville to Oakville and back to Yountville via the two crossroads and the Silverado Trail. This is lovely vineyard country similar to that we rode in in France only with a drier, less green overall aspect than Burgundy and Alsace. Also the cuisine is as good if not slightly better, especially at places like Michael Chiarello’s  Bottega.

LIVERMORE TO PLEASANTON

Farmers Market

Farmers Market

Last Saturday, we rode from Livermore to Pleasanton on the Stanley Blvd. trail, a nice wide, well-paved trail. From the trail, the streets mostly have bike lanes leading to downtown Pleasanton, where we like to go to the farmers market, one of the best in our area. An added bonus this last Saturday was a high school band competition with fifty high schools in northern California taking part. The streets of this small town were thronged with people watching the bands or leading small children in Halloween costumes around trick or treating at the various stores. It was a happy atmosphere.

We ate lunch at our favorite Forno Vecchio where we had butternut squash soup, and I had a tomato basil mozzarella salad while my husband had a chicken pesto wrap. For dessert my husband had his usual ice cream, but I had pumpkin creme brulee, which was heavenly.

When we do this ride, we prefer to take the Isabel Avenue trail to the Stanley Blvd. trail, but that has been closed for a long time due to the road construction in the area. I think that the City of Livermore or the Livermore recreation district should have a notice of this closure on its web site. Web sites should be used to inform the public, and they should be kept up-to-date.

High School Band

High School Band

BLACKHAWK

View of Mt. Diablo from road to Blackhawk

View of Mt. Diablo from road to Blackhawk

Coming up Sycamore Valley Road and then transitioning to Camino Tassajara is a pretty ride on a wide shoulder. Although the car traffic whizzes past, a rider can usually keep a comfortable distance between himself and the traffic. Yesterday, however, there were four spots where gardening trucks were parked across the bike lane making it necessary for a rider to pull into the car lane. I realize that the gardeners have to do their work, but it seems to me that they could put two wheels up on the curb so that the entire bike lane is not taken up. Or they could park out a bit further, using their cones to make the car traffic move to the other lane. Then cyclists could pass on the right. Cyclists are widely criticized for all sorts of things (some justified), but they face so many hazards that could be eliminated with a little thought on the part of those who lay out and maintain our roads.

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Renting Bikes in France

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We had some wonderful bike rides on our recent vacation, but I would definitely not recommend renting bikes in France for a day at a time. Long-term rentals might work out better if one knew a reliable source of rentals.

We have rented bikes before, so we knew that the experience can be hit or miss. On this last trip, we landed in Lyon, and I had researched the idea of buying inexpensive bikes and then shipping them home.  I found folding bikes that looked much like our Dahons at Decathlon in Lyon for 199 Euros, and we hoped to buy these the day after we arrived. But when we got to the store, we were told that they did not have any in stock, even the slightly cheaper and the slightly more expensive models. However, they did have some at the Decathlon store that wasn’t too far away. By the time we were told this, it was too late for us to try to catch public transportation to that store. We had to pick up our rental car by a certain time. We would have gone to the other Decathlon store the next day, but the next day was Sunday, which means that the store was closed. Most stores still close in France on Sunday and every day between twelve and two. We could not stay over another day because we had hotel reservations in Cluny on the Sunday.

Disappointed, by our foiled attempt at buying bikes and frustrated by the sight of all the wonderful bike paths in Lyon, along the Rhone River and all through the city, we had to settle for being pedestrians or for renting bikes. Lyon does have a city rental system, but the bikes were too large for me and one must register to rent them or use a credit card with a pin number, something that American credit cards do not have. This lack of a pin number is a real liability for Americans traveling in Europe. We could not find any stores that rented bikes in downtown Lyon, and the concierge at our hotel was no help. So we did no bike riding in Lyon.

We really had no further chance to buy bikes because our next few days were scheduled to be spent in small towns. As I have mentioned in my other articles, many bike rental locations were either closed or hard to find. The bikes that we did rent generally were worn bikes with gears that did not work well, or the bikes really did not fit us well. Most places the people were kind and they endeavored to supply us with the best that they could. The clerks at tourist bureaus did not seem to be very bicycle savvy although they were friendly and helpful. The people at actual bike shops tended to know more about bicycles.

The rental costs for bikes were not bad at all. We paid at most ten Euros for each of us per day. Sometimes they made a charge (which was torn up when we came back) against our credit card to ensure that the the bikes were returned. Other times they just took a xerox of a driver’s license or kept a driver’s license until we returned.

One other positive aspect of going to the rental places is that they were eager to point out routes, and they often gave us maps. Sometimes their directions were hard to follow, but most of the time we found the routes that had been suggested to us.

We did seven cycling trips, all of them memorable for one reason or another. But if we had been able to buy bikes or had brought our own bikes, we would have ridden every day. We saw lots of trails that we longed to follow on days that we were unable to rent bikes. We are older now so I don’t know how much more European travel we will do, but we will certainly take our own bikes with us next time.

Episode 7: A Circular Trip around Strasbourg

In the morning, we left the hotel to go to the closest bike shop, one that we had found on the Internet. We arrived at the bike shop to find it locked up with a new address on the door, an address that meant nothing to us but that we suspected was far way. Unsure what to do next, we walked across town to the tourist office. The lady there advised us to go straight down the street to the Vélhop shop. We had to jig one street over to actually find the shop, but it was there with lots of bikes and a nice man who, I think, was a native German speaker but who insisted that his English was quite good if we would only speak more slowly. He fitted us with bikes (3 speed) and carefully drew a route for us on a bicycle map of Strasbourg.

It was difficult to ride near the center of  town because although there were bicycle lanes, pedestrians were all over them as well as other cyclists, intent on wherever they were going and determined to get there in the shortest possible time. These bikes were rather big and unwieldy but we slowly adjusted to them, my husband more easily than I. When we drew away from the center of town and were riding on the bike path along the canal, the traffic thinned and riding became easier. At first the scenery was mostly industrial.

Along a Canal in Strasbourg

Along a Canal in Strasbourg

But as we continued the scenery became leafier and prettier. We passed a couple of large parks and some men pulling in nets full of wiggling small fish. As we progressed we saw signs for other bicycle routes and places where we had to decide what route to follow.

Signs to Other Places

Signs to Other Places (including Germany)

A Cycling Crossroads

A Cycling Crossroads

We tried to stick to the route the man at the Vélhop store had drawn for us as closely as possible. Soon we came upon the imposing European Parliament where statesmen from all over Europe meet one month of the year.

A Glimpse of the European Parliament Building

A Glimpse of the European Parliament Building

The European Parliament from the Front

The European Parliament from the Front

After we rode around the parliament building, we rode through an area of cute small cottages, all alike. Then we started to ride past larger dwellings and eventually we approached the downtown again.

Pretty Buildings along the Canal

Pretty Buildings along the Canal

By this point we were starving, so finding a restaurant became our focus. As we approached some businesses, we saw a few unappealing restaurants. After parking our bikes and struggling with the chains that were a part of the bikes, we set off on foot. Across the canal, I spied a likely looking brasserie, the Artisan Brasseur d’Alsace, a 19th century establishment. We were soon seated and served with delicious Croque Monsiuers in a most interesting atmosphere. We could tell that we were close to the University of Strasbourg by the clientele. We chatted with a young man seated next to us from Brazil who was starting a master’s degree in sociology at the university. Although I hit my head twice on the sort of lintel that was on the back of the long bench where I was seated, we were both glad that we had chosen this restaurant.

We returned the bikes to the shop and talked to the man about where to go the next day. He gave us several ideas, and we definitely planned to return. However, when we eagerly arrived at the shop the next day, our friendly man was not there. The only person around was a woman who would not acquiesce to rent us the comfortable bikes that we had  the day before although there were about thirty of them sitting right there and more in a large room behind a window. She said that they were for long-term rentals, and then she changed her story and said that they needed repair. The bikes that she was willing to rent were too big for me, so our plans for cycling on our last day in France were ruined.  We were disappointed but there is always a  lot to do in a city like Strasbourg, and we had had a wonderful time on the previous day.

Episode 6: The Ribeauville Ride

The Beginning of the Path

The Beginning of the Path

We wound through the narrow core of Ribeauville in the car, finally parking in a public lot on a steep hill. We found Binders Bike Shop on the Grand Rue where a man helped us select two bikes. On this day, I was a winner. Although the bike was a little big for me, it had a terrific gearing system. Once on the road, my husband found he could only ride with his gears in one position, and he had to pedal much more than he should have had to.

We followed the advice of the person in the bike shop, riding downhill through the town until we reached a voie verte. There were no signs leading to this path, but once on the path we discovered that it was well signposted. We headed through the green fields toward Bergheim with a pretty church spire looming to the left of us.

The Church and Village in the Distance

The Church and Village in the Distance

Before long we reached the small village of Bergheim with an impressive war memorial on the outskirts, a feature with many of these French villages. The village was attractive but quite small with a few restaurants and souvenir shops. We had the French version of pizza at a little place where the man waiting on us took a long time from his duties to chat with a young woman.

The Bergheim War Memorial

The Bergheim War Memorial

Bergheim Street

Bergheim Street

While sitting at the restaurant, we saw a couple ride by on Dahon bikes. We talked to them later to discover that they were from Denmark and love their Dahons as much as we love ours. How we envied then as we climbed back into Ribeauville on our clunky rental bikes.

The trip back was long and hard, and for some reason the man at the bike store was terse and unfriendly when we returned the bikes. I think it might have been due to the fact that we wheeled the bikes through an area where he had new bikes for sale. Most of the people that we dealt with on this trip have been  friendly and helpful, perhaps because they are surprised that two older folks can complete the rides that they recommend.

Episode 5: Pedaling a Difficult Bike from Sélestat to Ebersheim

When we arrived in Sélestat, we hurried to the tourist office, where we had been told bikes were available for  renting. To our surprise, the corner of the tourist office that held the bikes was full of E-bikes (bikes with a motor) and some old beat-up regular bikes. The staff rushed around and tried to find an E-bike to fit me, but even with the seat of any of the bikes at its lowest level, it was still too high. However, I was able to ride a girl’s bike, so after first checking out a bike store in town that had been listed on the Internet as renting bikes but now only sold bikes,  we returned to the tourist office and I rented the girl’s bike and my husband rented the E-bike.

We rode the bike lanes in Sélestat until we exited the town and found the Voie Verte to Ebersheim by following roads marked route to Strasbourg “vers Ebersheim.” The Voie Verte was a good slightly uphill path that my husband rode easily on his E-bike without the motor turned on. However, I struggled mightily on my kid’s bike, turning the pedals about four times to his one revolution.

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Farmland

The day was sunny, and the fields were full of corn and potatoes, a lovely green environment. This was farming country, different from the grape growing regions that we had been riding through. On the outskirts of Ebersheim, there was a vending machine with cartons of eggs and dried packages of pasta apparently for sale for local residents.

The Vending Machime

The Vending Machime

Ebersheim was not a very interesting town; it did not even have a restaurant, unusual in a small French town. We intended to ride on to Ebersmunster but could not find the right turn-off. The path petered out at the edge of Ebersheim, and there were no signs whatsoever pointing the way to the continuation of the path. We got on the regular road, but not having a death wish, we soon retreated from the road.

Defeated, we turned around to head back to Sélestat with me still pedaling with great effort. We ate lunch at a McDonald’s, something we would never do at home. And another thing that I will never do again is ride a kid’s bike. Although the fit didn’t seem too bad, it was exhausting. We were glad that we did this ride, but it was not as spectacular as some that we did on this trip.

Episode 4: Riding from Colmar to Some Small Alsatian Villages

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A Busy Street in Eguisheim

After looking for a couple of bike shops listed on the Internet but seemingly non-existent, we found bikes at the train station on the advice of a couple of kids that we asked. There the people were very helpful although we were communicating in a confusing mix of languages.

We rode one of the main streets out of Colmar, which had bike lanes, but we had cars and trucks whizzing past us at very close range. Reaching a bridge over the railroad tracks, we took a wrong turn down a lane but a workman in a van set us straight and we soon found a country road, still with cars coming uncomfortably close at a high speed. This road led us to the Alsatian villages of Eguisheim and Wettelsheim. Eguisheim is a pleasant village with modern outskirts and a medieval core, that day thronged with tourists basking in the warm sunshine.

Square in Eguisheim

Square in Eguisheim

We asked in the tourist office if there is a real bicycle path such as the voies vertes in Burgundy and we were directed to a street just by the tourist office, but it looked like an ordinary road to us. So we returned to the traffic circle that we had carefully skirted earlier and rode into Wettelsheim, a prosperous looking modern village where we again ate at a Logis. Then we took the same somewhat harrowing route back to the train station in Colmar.

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We are not sure whether the voies vertes around Colmar are a state of mind or whether they do exist somewhere in reality.

Episode 3: Beaune to Mersault

La Voie des Vignes

Leaving Santenay, we drove into Beaune where the day before we had visited the beautiful medieval hospital built by a member of the aristocracy in an effort to save his own soul.

We  had obtained the names of two bike shops from the tourist bureau. The man at the first one claimed that all of his bikes were rented for the day. But at the second, ADA, we became lucky. The man there, who spoke excellent English, carefully fitted us with two bikes. I really liked mine with its small frame and smoothly shifting six gears.

Setting off on a bike path around the periphery of Beaune, we came to signs leading us to the Voie des Vignes, path of the vineyards, which we finally found after a couple of wrong turns. The weather  was reasonably sunny as we started out with Mersault as our destination. The riding was somewhat uphill but balanced out by flat places and a few downhill spots. We sailed through the village of Pommard and then started the uphill climb to Volnay, which was packed with tourists that I surmise were there for some wine tasting. Midway through the climb we stopped for some pleasant conversation with a group of Aussie hikers. We drank some water and munched on Madeleines  sitting on a stone wall overlooking the extensive vineyards of the area.

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Leaving Volnay, we rode downhill and then up and down into Mersault where to our delight we discovered a Logis, one of a group of French restaurants cum hotels that serve excellent food for a reasonable price. We had a savory lamb stew and  chocolate cake for dessert.

The Extensive Vineyards

The Extensive Vineyards

After a leisurely lunch we pedaled and walked back through Volnay and then enjoyed a smooth ride back to the bike shop.