Nonetheless, I take off alone feeling sorry for myself (this is a stretch, even I have to admit it) navigating as best I can. In hindsight, I have to smile. For today’s the day we ride to Chateau Chenonceau. Had I known it, I am about to visit the most lovely and welcoming chateau in the Loire Valley.
And now a word about our guides. There are three of them: Florence (French), Erica and Lucille - yes, Lucille! - American. All young, energetic, positive, multi-lingual and ultra-capable (where do they find these people??). Mornings, while we are at breakfast, they are out back checking the tires and general road worthiness of our bikes. They prepare picnics for our lunches. On the rides, Erica and Lucille join us on their bikes to make sure everyone is doing OK (they are dervishes) and do a basic head count. Florence sweeps by with the van a couple of times per ride.
Which doesn’t mean that if you get lost you will be immediately found (biggest fear for me). It doesn’t occur to me until nearly the last day to get their phone numbers and verify that my phone can reach them. I am told they will not always get the call right away, but they will get the message and if you leave good instructions, they’ll come and find you.
But now onto Chenonceau.
For this trip, we have a marvelous Lecturer; a woman in love with history and an expansive speaker. Chenonceau, she tells us, has always been in private hands - in womens' hands - and you can feel it; it is warm and elegant, but also very congenial. As we approach, we see little “baudets” (burros) all of whose photos are posted on a fence with their names. This personal touch tells you so much about Chenonceau.
Chenonceau straddles the Cher River, and during WWII, half of that river was in Occupied France, half in the Free Zone. If you could make it to the chateau in the Occupied Zone, the owner would usher you across to freedom.
Chenonceau is beautifully furnished and has some lovely tapestries
You reach Chenonceau passing a tower which our lecturer likens to one of Donald Trump’s displays of wealth and power; phallic and showy.
Francois l built Chenonceau beginning in 1514 – slightly before Chambord actually – but from the beginning it had a very different intent. It began as just this building.
And speaking of ladies, I'd like to take a moment for the ladies here. By the end of this day, I realize I will have ridden about 50 miles. That said, this much cycling has not been without disadvantages - especially to the lady parts; and it strikes me that the bidets in those hotel rooms will be put to good use by us ladies tonight to put out the fire (jeez). Sexual activity is out of the question and for the first time on this trip, I’m actually glad I’m single – not that the men are doing any better (I wouldn’t know).
I have bought special cycling “pedal pushers” for this trip – I’ve never worn them before – and now that I have them, I look at cyclists (especially the racers) with amusement; they are virtually all wearing a form of Depends, these manly guys. You can see it in the seams in the back. Perhaps it makes a difference for them. Personally, the back is not where the issue is for me.
That day along the route, Erica and I have a long conversation about “The Problem” with cycling for women (I’m relieved to know it’s not just me) and try to devise a solution. We brain storm about a sort of small hemorrhoid ring which could go in the front. Inflatable to fit. With coolant. In colors. I call it “The Lady Ring.”
Hey you don't have to wear it. Years ago in the West Village, there used to be an earring piercing place on 7th Avenue. It was just a little shack, but their motto was, "Your choice, with or without pain," and it struck me - it would be good to have an alternative, don't you think? Diane de Poitiers would have approved. The Queen would have approved. We all would approve!
But once again, back to Chenonceau.
We ride on to the Chateau D’Artigny where we will stay the next two nights. It is truly magnificent.
We dine out at a local and lovely restaurant situated on another Loire tributary.
As he is talking I can only wonder to myself if I ever heard a NY taxi driver with a preference about gardens of any kind (unless it was Kew)?
He also tells me that the reason there are so many chateaux in the Loire valley, is that that's where the limestone is (I have to go back to my room to look up the word, but afterwards I figure out what he was saying). Brittany, for example, has only granite – way too hard and heavy for buildings like this.
Dinner is a wonderful and nuanced affair (formal dinners, the one place my celiac status is regarded and I can relax). Over dinner the rest of the group is intrigued that I’m in such good shape - there are two different times when I could have wimped out and taken the van. They know I come from New York City and ask how I trained. I pull out my phone and show them the "wallet photo" of Lucille. Then I talk about the NYC’s bridges, Fiend’s Hill, Riverdale - and Lucille's big bones; and I realize how great she has been great for my training - my Back Roads bike weighs way less. They are impressed.
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