I woke early to pack my things and give myself plenty of time to get across town to the train station. My train to Orleans was leaving at 6:50AM and I didn’t want to miss it. There was a transport strike on in Paris when I arrived, so getting a train that would take my bike was difficult. I had to abandon my original plan of starting at Saumur and riding East along the Loire valley, in favour of starting at Orleans and riding west to Tours. I would still follow roughly the same route, just in reverse. When I got to the station, my train had been cancelled, but I managed to get a place on the next one at 7:05AM. Trains here are big clunkers, a bit like our older V-Line fleet back home, but each seat has a drop down table and ample room so I could get the laptop out. I sat down next to a guy reading the paper who immediately started chatting to me in French. I had to apologise and told him I only spoke English, so we managed some small conversation.
The train arrived into a train station on the outskirts of Orleans and it was a simple 5km ride into town. As I came into Orleans I saw the magnificent cathedral. Then turned right up a promenade with shops and tram lines running up the centre. It was still early, so the streets were quiet and a perfect time for rolling around and checking the place out. I discovered the house of Joan of Arc and a statue of her in the centre square. With no one around it was a chance to take some photos with minimal chance of photo bombers. The tourist information opened at 10 (or so I thought – I later discovered it wasn’t open at all on Saturdays) and the phone shops where I could buy a SIM were also open at 10, so I found a cafe to sit and have some coffee.
After getting my SIM card, I headed back to the house of Joan of Arc, where I met Jim. He approached me and asked where I was from, and where I was going. He is a member of a website called warmshowers.org that offers accommodation to cycle tourists. Although I planned to camp wherever I could it might be a good option for the big cities, so I was very grateful for the tip.
The house of Joan of Arc was a reconstruction, and they played a video (in English!) about her life. Orleans is of particular importance because that was the city that she liberated from the English. I admit I didn’t know much about her, just an English history perspective, but basically she heard voices telling her to fight for the French king, she went to the king and clergy who made an exception for her being a heretic by allowing her to cut her hair and dress as a man, she won the battle at Orleans, she was later betrayed, tried as a heretic (if she wasn’t a heretic she would have been delivered to the English), she renounced hearing the voices, then changed her mind about that, was found to be a heretic, burned at the stake by the Catholic church (who later made her a saint). From there I also checked out the archaeological museum, which had some interesting things from around Orleans, but I was itching to get riding so I headed off.
Because Orleans was never on my original plan, I made my way down to the river and from there found the Loire á velo, a cycle route that runs the length of the Loire river. From here it was clearly sign posted and I couldn’t go wrong. Most of it was paved and occasionally it would turn into loose gravel, but the Surly Crosscheck was perfect for the terrain and with the extra wait of the panniers was really stable. The route gave a perfect view of the river, often diverting and winding through little towns and fields along the way. This was it. This is what I had been looking forward to. Cycling bliss.
I stopped in at a little town with a Chateau for lunch and there met a french family with two children (2 and 8 months old) who were cycling the Loire for 3 weeks, camping along the way. What an awesome family holiday! The kids had their own trailer towed by Dad and Mum carried the rest of the gear. There was also a couple cycling between towns and they told me the best places to visit in Blois.
When I finally arrived in Blois, I was struck by the impressive Chateau set on the hill, with the buildings of the city that surround it. I went in search of the tourist information centre, which is located (rather inconveniently) at the top of a hill near the Chateau. I would become intimately familiar with these hills as I rode up and down them over and over during my time there. They pointed me to a camp site along the river just out of town, and told me about the sound and light show at the Chateau that night. With all my gear, I didn’t really want to hang around town for too long, so I headed out to the campsite, set up, then came back into town. I had a dinner of sardines and bread on the banks of the Loire, then made my way back up the hill to the Chateau for the show. It was really good, with an English audio guide, and told the history of the Chateau, which is actually four stages of construction with distinctive styles over centuries. It was from Blois that Joan of Arc set off with the army to retake Orleans. It seems that Joan of Arc was the bookend of my day. From there I pedal back along the Loire, trying not to swallow flies, to the campsite and crashed in my little home away from home. Another big day done, the first proper cycling touring day and many more to come.