Denis – Le Grand Chef!

Yesterday evening Jacques suggested that the sunshine was so nice it would be a good idea to sit outside with the wine….five minutes later it started to rain! To be fair it was just a short shower, but wetness falling from the sky nonetheless.

The weather forecast said that today would be nice, lots of sunshine and warm after a cool start. So how come I woke to a thunderstorm?
Breakfast, still raining.
Pack bag, still raining.
Load Harls, still raining.
Start up and move off…..yes, still the blasted rain was falling!

I rode for fifty miles in grim wet stuff, heavy spray and general murk, then there was a line in the road and “Ping!” Dry.
About time too!

Having been spoilt by the back roads for the last couple of days, hitting the Autoroutes again was a bit of a culture shock for me, but I swear that Harls was enjoying it; cruising really is her thing.

We called at Bourgueil for fuel and to get a bottle of one of Mrs Dookes favourite wines, then it was back to mile munching the asphalt.

I don’t know what it is about the City of Angers, but every time I pass that way I seem to find one of the “Idiots of the road” out on exercise and today was no exception….”Street Fighter” mode it is then!

The D775 road between Angers and Rennes is gradually being rebuilt, where the new bits exist they are sublime, but some of the old sections are rough, hellish rough. Fortunately these days, there are more new bits than old and the dry new(ish) smooth black-top is good, very good indeed. Harls and I loved it!

I took a coffee and comfort break at Segré then pushed on and refueled just South of Rennes. The old centre of the City of Rennes is truly lovely, but take my advice and go there by train as the traffic is always a snarl up, right from La Périphérique inwards. Today though, we just sort of did a tangential ricochet from South East to South West and hunted out the N24, a good old-fashioned French dual carriageway.

Frequently the old ’24 is a pain in the backside, but today we hit it just right; not too much traffic to slow us down, but enough to have some fun overtaking and letting them hear how Harls on full-chat sounds – which is fantastic….at that point I remembered that I didn’t put my ear plugs in after our coffee break and that is why, my dear Blogonaughts, my tinnitus is screaming tonight!

The reason for this 300 mile dash was to see my old friends Ann and Denis at their lovely Château in the heart of Brittany. Ann is one of those French women who don’t really age, they just improve; Denis, he lights up a room with his smile and is never happier when he’s with his horses or cooking for friends, he plays the amiable buffoon well, but is a shrewd operator really.

The view from a Breton Château, pas mal/not bad!

Harls was ushered into a garage and for some reason Denis parks his car outside, strange as he has three other garages!

He pours me a cidre, this is Brittany after all.
“OK Gallois, j’espère que tu as faim!”
After a hard day’s riding I am truly starving, trust me. The shower washed away the road grime, but now the road hunger is kicking in.
Denis is, as I frequently pull his leg, “Un Grand Chef!” – A great chef!
He knows it, but it’s more than that, it’s more about the love he puts into his cooking.
The French, it is said, live to eat and the rest of us…well, we just eat to live!

Anyway, after more cidre, nibbles and merriment, Denis disappears into the kitchen and wonderful smells start to waft out. Ann smiles, she knows what alchemy he gets up to in there!

In due course, large duck breasts appear sizzling on stones, Denis like cooking on stones!
The frivolity continues, except that the food isn’t frivolous and the company is great.

More cidre, this might hurt in the morning.

Apple tart, Tarte aux Pommes, like only the Bretons can make, follows on.

Then it’s coffee and Lambig, a type of Breton Calvados and now I’d better go as Denis is giving me stick about loving my iPad more than him!

I tell him that he is a great chef – “Un grand Chef!”
He laughs, “Non Gallois, Denis c’est le petit Chef.”
We laugh like friends do, he knows that I know that he is talking rubbish!
Ann just winks at me.

Catch you soon. Bon soirée.

Dookes

Looking For The Loire (Back in Black)

Well, my beloved “Harls” and I are back on the Continental roads again!
Today we’ve just reeled off 360 miles, (600 kilometres sounds more impressive though!) since rolling off our overnight ferry at Roscoff in Brittany.

For those who like checking our progress on the map, we travelled via Rennes, Angers and Bourgueil to our overnight stop with my old friends Jacques and Claudine, just East of Vierzon.

I’ve got to admit, I’m pretty knackered tonight, that’s “tired out” for those of you not used to my colloquial English! I absolutely adore every second that I ride Harls, but I’d forgotten just how much effort she demands, compared to cruising on the big blue Ultra Limited. Harls is safely tucked away in Jacques’ barn for the night and here I am sitting on the terrace, sipping a glass of rather splendid local red wine, watching the sun drop in the western sky as a warm breeze rustles the Autumn tinted leaves; tinnitus is screaming in my ears, my wrist aches from holding the throttle open (oh yes, I do mean open!) my backside is. . . tender, but I’m happy, very very happy. The old team is back doing what we do best, having fun on the open road.

Now a little observation; I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three types of French Dual carriageway/autoroute:

Dull.

Dangerous.

Delightful.

Today we sampled all three, I’m not going to dwell on the bad bits, but those wonderful French road builders have been stealthily rebuilding the D775 between Rennes and Angers and it’s a beaut! Lovely sweeping curves, enough gradient to make it interesting and smooth as can be!

Somewhere along the road we slipped from Brittany into the Loire valley. It’s strange, but for however many years it is that I’ve been travelling in this part of France I’ve never been able to spot exactly when the transition takes place. It’s like…”Yes, this is nice familiar Brittany.” Then a bit later, “Oh, this must be the Loire Valley!” I really have tried to spot the dividing point, but no, not managed it yet.

I always find the River Loire a bit difficult to define. Yes, it’s France’s longest river and it’s also one of the great rivers of Europe, but it’s a lazy old thing meandering around like a big question mark from the Massif Central to the Atlantic.

The whole concept of the “Loire Valley” is a bit baffling, as for most of the time the landscape to me resembles a prairie with a river running through it and it’s not just the Loire that’s included, its tributaries such as the Cher, Indre and Vienne get lumped in as well!

I’m not complaining though. The Loire valley is a veritable treasure trove of some of the best things France has to offer. It’s largely temperate climate and fertile soils have brought great wealth for centuries, it’s a big wine growing region and as a result there are over a thousand stately châteaux of all shapes and sizes.

Today I wanted to look in on one of the most famous, Château de Chenonceau. This place has been intriguing me from a distance for years, so I had to go check it out.
Oh dear, what a disappointment.

Now I’m sure that if I could swallow my pride and elevated view that I am a traveller and not a tourist, when actually I’m really a leather clad motorcycle riding tourist, then I might get along fine with the thousands of folk swarming between the car parks and the Château…but just one glance at the sandal wearing, short-clad hoards and I did a graceful U-turn and carried on East! Jacques roared with laughter when I told him.

Thanks to Ra-Smit for the use of the photo and yes, the Château really does partly sit out on a bridge over the river!

So back to the “terroir” of the Loire valley…the soils are largely sandy and calcareous and that generally means one thing….wine! Famous appellations such as Touraine, Saumur and Bourgueil, are known the world over; indeed some say that Saumur sparkling wines are better than Champagne.

It’s not just grapes that they grow here, the area produces thousands of tonnes of arable crops. All over the place you can see grain elevators, known as “Prairie Skyscrapers” in Canada and the USA. The grain harvest is long over now, but the farmers are still busy; currently it’s maize that is being cut. Next will be the sunflowers, with the start of Autumn their bright yellow petals have withered and fallen. Where once their happy little faces looked up and followed the sun, now they hang their heads sorrowfully looking for their lost petals and contemplating the turning of the season. In French the sunflower is called “tournesol” – “turns to the sun,” I like that!

“Yes, I’m back in black.”

Catch you soon

Dookes

Taking it Easy With Memories

A couple of days ago, I was sitting on a ferry returning from France. It’s quite a long crossing at the Western end of the English Channel, so over an espresso I sat idly fooling around with my iPad looking at photographs and only half aware of the canned Muzak emanating from a speaker on the ceiling just above me.

It all changed when “Hotel California” by the Eagles began.

The album of the same name was one of the companions of my youth and I still love it now as much as when I first heard it. It’s also become one of my companions when touring on two wheels and today I guess it represents the sense of freedom that motorcycle travel gives me.

Having left the port of Roscoff in Northern Brittany, we were enjoying a glass smooth passage. The various Islets that rise out of the sea off the coast here fascinate me every time I sail by and over the years I’ve passed this way over fifty times now!p1070978

Now we were on the open Sea and the French coast had long disappeared in our wake over the receding horizon. I sat up and looked out at the passing ocean, the sun was rapidly setting. It’s always fun to anticipate the big hiss as it sinks into the water, but that never happens…!

A large container ship was passing through the lengthening golden rays, it’s decks and hold crammed with shipping boxes carrying goodness knows what. For a moment it seemed to pause, silhouetted against the horizon; what a shame it wasn’t one of those classic liners from the past, such as the Queen Mary, Normandie or France. I was fortunate, years ago, to have actually witnessed the last of those graceful ships before the scrapyards claimed most of them, what a memory to have!p1070994

Yes, the old Dookes mind was definitely wandering…

When I’m at sea I find I can have space to think, probably because there’s not much else to do and watching the endless waves go by has a wonderfully calming effect on me.

The Eagles continued as we left the container ship in our wake.

In my mind I was now back on my big two-wheeler, sweeping across the fertile plains of Central France and catching that first breath-taking glimpse of the Alps. I could feel the warmth of the summer sun on my face and the scent of wild flowers as we passed verdant meadows of blooms nodding in gentle summer breezes. The drum of the ship’s engines became the soundtrack of the road, or at least a pretty good substitute.

It’s been lovely to be back in Brittany, if only for a short time. The weather has been kind to us and the early colours of Autumn quite enchanting. For a change I’ve not been chasing the miles and have been quite content to stay in one place, visit some local towns and villages, catch up with friends and of course enjoy the local food and drink.

The season has been relentlessly turning, with the trees slowly fading from verdant greens to gold and brown.p1070960 In the dense forest around our friends château we found sweet chestnuts dropping from the branches of ancient trees, one of natures tasty gifts to be eagerly gathered and enjoyed a long with wild mushrooms and other edible fungi.p1070964 By the pretty village of Huelgoat the glassy lake looked stunning, framed by majestic autumnal colour.dsc_0060

The medieval town of Josselin has a street market that always captivates me and to have the time to stroll amongst its bustling stalls is a real treat. p1040879As with most things French, food takes centre stage. We stocked up with tresses of smoked garlic, air-dried sausages, onions and olives. Mouth-watering aromas hung on the air; there were spit roasting chickens, outsize pans of tartiflette, grilled ham and a host of other tempting goodies all being freshly cooked and available to eat now or later. I let my senses take in the atmosphere and I realised that each passing moment is another precious memory to look back on, enjoy and savour.

The Brest - Nantes Canal at Josselin.

The Brest – Nantes Canal at Josselin.

Yes, memories are wonderful things, though like many people I have some that I’d rather erase, but memories of travel I cherish. It’s really the heartbeat of my life, travel and memories. I guess that I’m just one of those people that is constantly called to keep moving by voices of the road.p1070789

“…and still those voices are calling from far away….”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

In memory of Glenn Frey, 1948-2016, with thanks for all the music and memories.
– Take it Easy.

Playing on the Tracks

It’s a chilly late October afternoon, the temperature has struggled up to 9° Celsius and the sun refuses to burn through the grey covering cloud. Black feathered Rooks are calling from the high trees around the old railway station. The air is still.

This is Autumn in Brittany.

Jean-Claude and his mates are playing Breton Bowls on the ground where the old railway lines once lay. They gather here most Fridays to play their game share a meal in a local café and generally enjoy each other’s company. The cackle of their laughter competes with the cries of the black birds above them, whilst the clunk of stone bowling balls punctuates their conversation.

Boules Bretagne on the old railway.

Boules Bretagne on the old railway.

“Hey, Gallois come and have a go!” Jean-Caude implores. “Leave the ghosts of the old railway alone.”

The old station fascinates me.
p1070923
Mur de Bretagne saw its last train steam out towards Carhaix nearly fifty years ago when the metre gauge Réseau Breton railway system closed down. I only wish I could have enjoyed it before it vanished forever. The network linked many rural communities and it’s closure pushed many small towns into a kind of time warp that they only really came out of after the turn of the 2000’s. Today around Brittany most of the old station buildings remain, the French can’t see the point of demolishing perfectly good structures when alternative uses can be found.

Mur de Bretagne Station in 1910.

Mur de Bretagne Station in 1910.

At Mur the station now serves a local cycling club, the fire brigade and of course the Breton Bowling club, talk about diversification!

I smile.
“Un petit moment, Jean-Claude, je besoin explorer le vielle station.” – “In a minute Jean-Claude, I must explore the old station.”

My friend shrugs his shoulders, he understands my interest in the history of the old railway, but to him it’s just that, history.

He can remember the station when it was open and he stood here the day that the last train departed. To him it’s gone and no end of interest from me will ever bring it back… The bowling is what matters now.

I get it, but my curiosity and passion for old railways wins out.

The station is a wonderful mix of good repair and partial decrepitude. On the side where trains once ran the building is in good repair and well-tended, whilst at the rear there is evidence of slightly less love being endowed on it and that makes it more interesting. It’s just crying out for some monochrome photography.p1070925

In my mind’s eye I can see the busy bustle of the place when it was still served by the Réseau Breton. At least it still lives on serving the local community in other ways. p1070924

I marvel that the old enamel name board still proclaims the town on the gable end. Back in the UK that would have disappeared to a collectors wall years ago!p1070920

The game is progressing and I’ve missed out the chance of looking silly by joining in. Maybe the old station saved me from gentle embarrassment!p1070922

J-C looks at me and winks, he’s winning at the moment!

There’s a strong coffee with a splash of Lambig, the local calvados type firewater, waiting at the end of this game. Then there will be Poitrine Fumé, Haricot Blanc avec ail and tarte-tatin to follow, all washed down with a local rough wine, my kind of heaven!

There’s a hint of wood smoke in the cool air, the clear clean air of Brittany and just at the moment there is nowhere else in the world that I’d rather be.

Catch you later – À bientôt!

Dookes

A Little Bit of History Repeating

When I’m off on my little motorcycle adventures, there’s nothing I love more than riding new roads. Actually, that’s what its all about, new roads, new vistas, new places and new people.

There are times though when I retrace my steps. Sometimes it’s because of necessity because there is no other practical route and other times it’s just because I want to.

Now I’m not talking not those grand places that call me back, like for example Col du Galibier in the French Alps. No, I mean those back roads that just need to be ridden at a leisurely pace without a care in the world.

A few weeks back, as I trundled across Brittany heading for the ferry home, I had one of those moments. I wasn’t in a hurry and the D764 road to Pontivy just sort of called me to enjoy a steady trundle across the gentle Breton countryside.

I couldn’t resist stopping to try to recreate a photo that I took of “Harls” a couple of years ago on the same road.
Heres the first picture:

Harls in Brittany 2014.

Harls in Brittany 2014.

And here we are with “Baby” in the same spot two years later!

Baby, Brittany 2016.

Baby in Brittany 2016.

Apart from the difference in the weather and the height of the crops in the field behind the bikes, I don’t think too much has changed.

“Harls” looks a bit dirtier than “Baby,” but that’s probably got a lot to do with her being a naked bike and all exposed to the elements, as I am when I’m riding her!

All I know is that it’s a privilege to be able to own, ride and enjoy two lovely machines such as these and take them to the many wonderful places that I do.

It’s what keeps me sane in this crazy world that we live in!

“Yes I’ve seen it before,
just little bits of history repeating.”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Back to Brittany

I’ve just been playing with the Via Michelin App to see what it made of the trip from Como to Brittany, where we are this evening. Interestingly, it nearly came up with the same route that I had, but mine was a bit more interesting and therefore longer!

Today we passed the 2000 mile mark on this little jaunt. Not bad when you consider that three days were spent in Como and on the day we rode Stelvio and Gavia it really wasn’t any mileage at all.

The journey today has been nice and relaxing, if you can ever say that about nearly three hundred miles on a motorbike! We kicked off with a nice little trundle of around twenty miles to warm up before we hit the Autoroute and then followed a spirited 130 miles dash to Angers. That blew the morning cobwebs away!

Baby was certainly on song cruising the Autoroute westwards and to add to my pleasure there was hardly any traffic at all. We stopped briefly for fuel in Bougueil; the town is rightly famous for delightful wines that are flavoursome yet light. Well, we had to grab a bottle whilst we were passing through, it was only polite!

I always look on Angers as a defining point on any journey through this part of France, heading West you enter the wide, wide, valley of the River Loire and coming East it’s the gateway to Brittany. I can almost spot exactly where the wide open wheat fields and vineyards end and the smaller Breton pastures bounded by hedges and old oak trees begin, it’s quite magical!

In France, Brittany is often referred to as “Little Britain,” such is the similarity to the Western parts of the U.K. No wonder I always feel so at home here. You can tell it’s a region influenced by the weather of the North Atlantic, slate roofs steeply sloped to throw off the sometimes copious rain!

I have Mrs Dookes to thank for introducing me to Brittany, as before we met I’d never been to this lovely part of “L’Hexagone.” Merci beaucoup mon amour, je t’aime!

Tonight I’m staying with my friends Denis and Anne, at their delightful Château which nestles on the edge of an ancient wood, deep in the centre of the region. Baby is safely ensconced in the garage, Anne’s Mercedes was evicted to make room! Denis is his usual loud energetic self, laughing at the Euro 2016 football tournament and especially the English losing to Iceland – we both agree on that! He’s threatening to cook me “Carre de porcelet,” which I suppose translates as piglet chops….! Knowing him this is going to be good! Anne meanwhile rolls her eyes at the two of us, she’s seen the floor show before.

I’ll report on the food later.

Now back to the ride….

From Angers we went cross-country, first to the delightful town of Chateaubriant then I just headed West.

Le château, Châteaubriant.

Le château, Châteaubriant.

I know it sounds corny, but I do have an innate sense of direction and so I turned the SatNav off and just followed my internal compass. I find it quite relaxing as well, heading where the mood takes. It must’ve worked, we got here!

So here comes that familiar “end of trip” hollow feeling. It’s sort of a mix of elation that the plan came together and also the realisation that it’s nearly all over, until next time.

I usually fight it off by starting to think about “The Next One.” Therein lies a problem, as Mrs Dookes and I have a shedload of work to do over the coming months. . .
“The Next One” may lay some way off in the future.

Actually, to tell the truth, I have an idea.

Why don’t we go to……….

“Freedom is a dusty road heading to a highway.”

Catch you later.

Dookes

On The Road Again

Good morning everyone, it's a decent day here in Brittany on the North West corner of France.

The ferry crossing last night would have pleased Mrs Dookes, had she been with me; the sea was glass smooth and the ship had very little motion, a bit disappointing really!

I woke with the first ray's of morning streaming through my cabin window and just had to get up on deck to watch the sun rise out of the Eastern sea.

I had an old dear friend who has sadly "gone on," he spent many years at sea, both in the Royal Navy and then the Merchant Marine; Tony always used to say that dawn was the best time to be at sea on a ship. I think he nailed that pretty well!image

I’m just South of Rennes now, 140 miles in two hours, not bad! Traffic was nice and light until the Rennes Rocard, then we hit the shoppers…

Ok Baby is fuelled and I’m topped up with espresso; screw it, let’s ride!

Catch you soon.

Dookes