By 9:15 I was on the road, having bid farewell to the other members of the group who were all heading off in their separate directions. My bike was fully loaded, and I strapped my backpack across the cargo rack so that I didn’t have to wear it on my back all day. I can take an hour or so of backpack wearing, but not all day.
The plan was to make it to Vannes, located in Brittany on the mouth of the Gulf of Morbihan, by the end of the day. It wasn’t crystal clear to me exactly how many kilometers it was door-to-door and there isn’t a web of organized bike trails, either, so between those facts and the fully-laden bike, I knew the day was going to be a bit of an adventure.
For the first few kilometers I took the main road and then I saw a “Vélocean” sign so I struck off on that route, which took me on little back roads for a ways, which are lovely but were in zig-zag rather than straight-line form. Actually I found that to be the case throughout the week – either you can ride on the main road straight from A to B (if you’re lucky it has a bike lane) or take the scenic route which winds from A to C to Z to F to Q and then finally to B.
After an hour of riding I reached the village of Assérac and stopped for a snack in front of the church. It was interesting; someone was inside the church giving a voice lesson. I headed out of town and rode a short ways in the wrong direction and had to ride up hill getting back on the right route. So happy I did that…
The stretch to Camoël was very pastoral – lots of little farms and tree lined roads and… little hills. Now I am not talking about major mountains here but definitely up and down and not just one little stretch, but the entire day. I’d guess that out of the nearly 70km I ended up riding, about 20 of them were absolutely flat.
A short distance past Camoël I crossed over the bridge at the mouth of the river Vilaine (zipping by the auto traffic!) and stopped for a few minutes to watch the boats in the locks. Reminded me of Seattle.
The next stop was Arzal, atop one mean hill, where I picked up lunch provisions and got back on the road as quickly as I could. As I pulled into the village (a liberal description of 8 houses and a chapel gathered at an intersection) of Lantierne I decided that this would be a perfect picnic spot.
Who can resist stopping at a place where the main crossing is guarded by an old terrier sleeping in the middle of the road and one of the houses has a stuffed cow complete with udder (not real, a toy) hanging out the open window!? The old dog was not too interested in my picnic lunch but his younger friend begged unashamedly and of course he got a couple of scraps of ham from my sandwich.
Not long after Lantierne (1 flat stretch and a few hills further) came Muzillac. I rode up the hill into the town center and decided I needed my coffee/potty pause so I found the local coffee-bar on the not-so-bustling town square.
As I was sitting there, two younger French dudes with fully-laden bikes pulled in for their coffee break. I noticed that one of them was checking out my cool ergonomic handlebar grips (Ergon GC3), so we got into a "conversation" (my broken French and his broken German) about them . He told me that he couldn’t find anything like that in France and I recommended that he check them out on Amazon. Hope he could find them!
They were just heading out towards Bordeaux and were hoping to ride the 700km in 7 days. Well, being young and buff boys I’m sure they achieved their goal with no problems.
Unbelievably, the next 30km of the journey, which I thought would pass fairly quickly, took 3 hours. Ugh. Lots of long, drawn out or short steep hills. I did a little bit of pushing but mostly I just rode my fully loaded bike slowly up and faster down. This was definitely the un-scenic part of the route. For about 15km I rode on a frontage road with the freeway on one side. I tried to concentrate on the bucolic scenes to my right but the whoosh of traffic was hard to drown out. If I’d wanted to meander here and there in a zig-zag pattern through the countryside and add another 30km to my trip (see Day 2 of my journal) I could have avoided this, but I just wanted to get to Vannes.
I was overjoyed when, about 5km from my destination, I saw a sign indicating that this was a bike route heading to Vannes. “Yippee, it’s easy going from here, I thought!” And then after about 4km the route just ended (I really don’t think I missed a sign) in the middle of a suburb full of discount stores and with a big main divided road leading into the center of town. I didn’t have a good feeling about riding on the big divided road into town, so I wandered around the suburbs a bit until I found someone to ask for directions that got me on a not quite so main road leading to the center.
I finally arrived at the hotel at about 4:30. Much to my relief they had a dry and secure parking garage directly under the hotel where I could leave the bike. The hotel was style-less but the bed was big and comfortable and the bath a gigantic improvement on the previous three days. I spent an hour or so settling in and taking a slight rest after the day’s exertions and then set out to do a bit of exploring.
Vannes has a lovely town center full of half-timbered houses all situated on a hillside leading down towards the harbor. Directly near the harbor are the remains of the majestic medieval castle and its moat . There seemed to be quite a few (other) tourists there, but most of them seemed to be French, British or German or from other European countries – I didn’t hear too many Americans.
I wandered around for an hour or so and then found a restaurant on Vannes’ “restaurant row”. The amuse-gueule was a little glass filled with tasty bits of seafood in a curry mayonnaise.
As a first course I chose a salad topped with a crepe filled with warm goat cheese. I loved the combination of the warm crepe with tangy almost-melted cheese and the freshness of the salad.
The main course was lamb chops in a marjoram jus, accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes (super yum!) and slightly Asian-tasting julienned vegetables. The lamb was good although the marjoram jus was cornstarch-y (why can’t these chefs just leave well enough alone?) and the julienned vegetables were no longer crisp. The mashed potatoes were lovely, not like the runny mess you get in German restaurants. God, I love good mashed potatoes.
Dessert was rather a disappointment. When I saw “Tartelette pralinée aux framboise”, I imagined crispy, flaky crusts with a light, creamy filling. What I got was two gummy little tart shells that had come out of some package filled with a heavy, sticky-sweet paste that tasted as though it had been squeezed out of a tube. I took a few bites and was not convinced, so I ate the decorative raspberries and some of the (quite delicious) whipped cream. Too bad.
Finally, at about 8pm, the cloud cover broke up and the sky turned that lovely twilight blue, so after dinner I took a walk around the harbor area and meandered through the old town before I made my way back to my hotel and had an early night.