Sunday, January 26, 2014

Avignon, City Of Popes

Avignon would be the last stop on our French motorcycle adventure.  It was a short ride from Nimes, so we had plenty of time along the way for a stop in the medieval village of Beaux de Provence, another of France's designated Most Beautiful Villages.

Big Dave contracted a case of food poisoning the night before in Nimes.  He was over the nausea come morning, but he hadn't gotten a whole lot of sleep, so he couldn't pass up such a comfortable spot for a nap.

This was a stop to look at an olive orchard on the outskirts of Beaux de Provence.

We rolled into Avignon before lunch on Wednesday, and spent two nights and a day soaking up the history (and food) of this gateway city to Provence.  Avignon has been called the city of popes ever since a Frenchman, Pope Clement V, was elected pope in 1305 and moved his Papal Curia to Avignon.  He was followed in turn by six additional French Popes over the next 71 years.  Finally, in 1377, Pope Gregory XI moved the Curia back to Rome, officially ending the Avignon Papacy.  This was immediately followed, however, by a period of strife within the Roman Catholic Church known as the Western Schism during which two so-called illegitimate antipopes, Clement VII and Benedict XIII, continued the Avignon Papacy in opposition to the legitimate Popes serving in Rome at the same time.

The Avignon popes and their Curia resided in the Papal Palace within the ramparts of the old city. The Avignon Papal Palace is the largest Gothic building from the Middle Ages. No single picture from any vantage point available to us can do justice to the size of the palace, so several pictures will have to suffice.

Dave had sufficiently recovered from the food poisoning to take a picture of some "tourists" in front of the Palace.

The Pont du Gard is an amazingly intact three-tiered Roman aquaduct/bridge that spans the River Gard about 15 miles east of Avignon. Several of us rode over to take a look at it on our "free day". The aquaduct on the top carried water to Nimes, while the middle level was for foot traffic and the bottom level for chariot traffic.

There is a beautiful museum on the site with exhibits that depict how the Romans managed to build things using such huge blocks of stone.  They were pretty clever.

Dave found an interesting rock to take a picture of.

The next day, Friday June 28, was rainy.  We needed to boogie all the way from Avignon back to Tours, a little over 700 km or 425 miles. Big Dave and I figured correctly that Tulin and Penny wouldn't enjoy a high-speed run in the rain with no stops, so we bought them tickets on the fast train so they could make the trip in comfort.  The rest of us headed north on the autoroute with Carole leading the way. That girl can sure ride swiftly. We pulled into their drive outside Tours at 4 pm, in time to pick up the wives at the train station and enjoy another of Carole's wonderful home-cooked French meals.  It was an exhilarating but soggy end to an unforgettable trip.

Crocodiles, Matadors, And A Roman Coliseum? Are We Still In France?

Welcome to Nimes, only 200 km from our starting point in Millau on this morning, but a world apart in terms of ambiance. We took the long way around in order to visit the Gorges of the Tarn (point B on the map), but still arrived early enough to settle into the hotel and then take a walking tour of the city.

Nimes occupies the site of an ancient village dating back to the Bronze Age as long ago as the second millennium BC.  The town became a Roman colony sometime before 28 BC and eventually became a crown jewel of the Roman Empire under the attention of the Emperor Augustus near the beginning of the first millennium AD. Today, the city boasts some of the best preserved examples of Roman architecture anywhere in the world, including an amphitheater first built around 70 AD and rebuilt in 1863. These days, the amphitheater hosts bullfights, sporting events and concerts, and it served as the set for the movie Gladiator.

The Maison CarrĂ©e, built around 16 BC, is one of the best preserved Roman temples to be found anywhere.  All of its columns and roof are in tact.

The coat of arms of Nimes includes the image of a crocodile chained to a palm tree.  Say what? What do crocodiles and palm trees have to do with a city in the south of France?  It might be because soldiers of the Roman Legion who participated in the Nile River campaigns of Julius Ceaser were awarded plots of land on the plain of Nimes as their retirement pension, a tad better pension than our foot soldiers earn these days I would say.

This may also explain why Lacoste, which originated in Nimes, uses a crocodile logo on their golf shirts. Another interesting tidbit is that denim was invented in, and named for, Nimes.  Then in 1870, along came a German by the name of Levi Straus who chose the fabric from Nimes, "de Nimes", to use in making his trousers in the town of Genoa (i.e. jeans), and thus was born the most ubiquitous clothing article in history.

After a very pleasant meal under the stars in historic Nimes, we got a good night's sleep and departed the next morning for Avignon, the final destination of our two-week tour.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Milllau To Nimes And The Gorges du Tarn

Our departure from Millau on Tuesday morning 6/25 included a guided tour of the Millau Viaduc, led by the owner of the hotel where we had spent the night.  He is the proud owner of a brand new Goldwing F6B, Honda's nod to the current bagger craze. He led us to two vantage points below the bridge, one on either end of the 1.5 mile span. At a maximum height of 1,125 ft, the Viaduc is the tallest road bridge in the world, and probably the most beautiful.

Upon departing Millau, we detoured northeastward towards the Tarn River to take in the amazing Gorges du Tarn. This was the most interesting and challenging riding day of the entire trip. The landscape and scenery in the gorges is fantastic and the roads are amazing. We rode through one gorge, then climbed out of it to a flat topped plateau before plunging down again into another gorge, and then followed the River Tarn into the village of Sainte-Enimie for a lunch stop.

If you count heads in the photo below, you can see that we have added an eighth member to our group.  Christian, on the far left, is a retired colleague and good friend of Laurent's. He met up with us early that morning in Millau and rode with us for a couple of days on his Yamaha TDM900 (far left of the picture). The TDM is an interesting bike that I was not familiar with as it is not available in the US.

Take a good look at the road in the photo above as it winds down the side of the gorge to the Tarn River, and then watch the video clip below, shot with Laurent's helmet cam as he descends the gorge into the village of La Malene .  Fortunately, there is very little traffic on this road (D43). We only encountered one four-wheeled vehicle during the entire 30 or 40 minutes that we were on the road, and that was while we were stopped at the observation point shown above. Note the minimal presence of guard rails or walls in the video.

I have to include one more video segment of this ride...the section of the Route des Gorges du Tarn between La Malene and Sainte-Enimie where we stopped for lunch...what a beautiful stretch of road we were fortunate to ride on such a beautiful day.

After a light lunch in Sainte-Enimie on the banks of the river, we continued on to the ancient city of Nimes which boasts several beautifully preserved Roman buildings from the 1st century.

Crossing The Way Of Saint James In Conques

On our way from Sarlat to Millau, we crossed Saint Jame's Way in the medieval village of Conques, situated high above the confluence of the Dourdou and Ouche rivers. Conques is home to the well-known Abbey-Church Of Saint Foy, and is a popular stop-over for pilgrims making their way from France to Santiago de Compostela on the Way Of Saint James.

The tympanum above the entry depicts the Last Judgement with Christ in the center, passing judgement. The righteous souls go to his right while the damned go to his left where they are eaten by a Leviathan and excreted into Hell. Not a happy fate.

The streets of Conques are very narrow, and vehicular traffic is not allowed in the village and must park in lots provided on the outskirts.  However, since motorcycles  occupy so much less space, we were permitted to ride in and find parking within the village...a nice perk.

Carole was quite familiar with Congques, having stayed the night there the previous year on her own pilgrimage trek.  The tall guy listening to Carole in the photo below is Laurent's cousin, Phillipe, who joined us in Sarlat the previous day, and would accompany us for the rest of the ride.

Dogs can be pilgrims too.  Check out the bindings on the feet of this little trekker.

After a nice lunch in Conques, we resumed our way to the city of Millau for the night.  Our accommodations were at the motorcycle-friendly Millau Hotel Club, whose owner rides a new Goldwing F6B.

On the morning of Tuesday June 25, he would lead us on a tour of the famous Millau Viaduc.

Treignac, Collonges-la-Rouge, and Sarlat


After leaving the horror of Oradour behind, we continued southeast, skirting the city of Limoges, and stopping for the night in the Village of Treignac. Treignac has been honored with the designation "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France", one of the Most Beautiful Villages In France, and one of 157 villages to be so honored.  Laurent is very familiar with Treignac, having once owned and operated a tavern in the village.

The tavern, as well as the entire village has fallen on hard times. Unfortunately, this is happening to many of the "Most Beautiful Villages" as many of the younger generation desert the largely rural and pastoral surroundings for the cities as soon as they are able, leaving behind a shrinking population of elders incapable of sustaining the fragile economies.  A pity because these villages are truly gems.  Treignac is situated on the banks of the river la Vezere and boasts a chapel with a unique "corkscrew" steeple.

Our accommodations for the night of Friday June 21 in Treignac were at the ivy-covered Hotel La Brasserie.

Being the summer solstice, there was, of course, a solstice party happening in the hotel restaurant.  Solstice parties occur in every city, town, and village across France on this night each year.  This is an ancient tradition we would do well to imitate.

As my friend Jimmy likes to say, "you must be drunk, your face is getting blurry."


On our way to Sarlat, where we would spend both Saturday and Sunday nights, we stopped by the innaugural and prototypical Les Plus Beaux Village de France, Collonges-la-Rouge, whose buildings, many dating to the 16th century, are constructed almost entirely of the local red sandstone.


We arrived in Sarlat Saturday evening, June 22 and spent the next day sightseeing in the city and the surrounding area.  There is a lot to see and do in and around Sarlat, including several medieval villages on the River La Dordogne south of town...villages such as Beynac and Domme. Sarlat, itself, is well-known for its gastronomy, especially all things goose and duck, e.g. foie gras and confit.

In Beynac, we followed in the footsteps of Richard The Lionheart.

In Domme, we followed in the footsteps of the Templars who were imprisoned there in 1307.

By peering through the only opening in the dungeon wall, you can still see graffiti left by Templars during their captivity.

Back in Sarlat, we enjoyed a couple of memorable dinners and a spectacular light show on Sunday evening. Early Monday morning, June 24, we said goodbye to Sarlat and headed further south and east to our next evenings destination, Millau, home to a true engineering marvel, the tallest highway bridge in the world.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I'm Back

I have taken an extended hiatus from blogging for no good  reason other than being lazy and somewhat busy with other pursuits.  I invested in a new toy, a 1978 Correct Craft Ski Tique, for the ostensible purpose of pulling the grand kids around the lake on tubes and skis. But grandpa kind of likes to go out and just cruise the lake while listening to beach music and the beautiful burble of the V-8 exhaust.

I've spent more than a few hours installing a new boat lift to handle the weight and tinkering with some restoration projects.

In September, Wife Penny's 50th class reunion in Dowagiac provided an excuse to ride the V-Strom to Michigan and complete a circle-tour of Lake Superior with a couple of riding friends.

  October included a repeat ride to Michigan to hook up with old high school friends for a duck hunting expedition on Saginaw Bay.

 Getting an early start.

Captain Jim and his amazing duck boat.
Are we there yet?  And BTW, who turned on the AC? 

Setting the decoys.

What the duck?

Chef Al busy frying duck breast.  Hey Al, why does it taste like liver?

During the first week of November, we returned to Fla for the winter. And then came the holidays, with trips to NC for Christmas with the grand kids and the Florida Panhandle for New Years with riding friends.

That is some of what has been distracting me from blogging for the last few months. Now it's time to get back to writing about our French motorcycle tour. Laurent and Carole are putting the finishing touches to the website for their tour company, Ride In Tours, and need to be able to refer customers here for a taste of what to expect from one of their bike tours.