Thursday, September 15th, 2022
Distance ridden 673 kilometres
I woke up early, feeling fairly refreshed, but pretty stiff in every joint. As is my practice, I went out for a walk before breakfast during which I think I saw all the interesting parts of Landstuhl – and it was not a long walk. Of course, at the apogee of my chosen route, it began to rain and I was obliged, yet again, to scamper back to the hotel before the only dry clothes I had left got wet.
The lady in charge of the breakfast room was very obliging and made me, especially, the coffee I would need to bring Lucie back to the land of the living. That was a big plus for the Hotel Avalon.
Back in our room, I found that some of our clothes had dried a little overnight, but the whole room still smelled like wet shoes and socks. Although we had no real choice but to carry on, my rejuvenated wife did insist upon checking her weather apps and announced that the forecast promised that the rain would stop after breakfast and then clear up. In truth, the apps were right, which luckily meant it did.
The breakfast selection was comprehensive and nicely varied – I was even able to make myself a bacon sandwich ! My new “friend” in the breakfast room not only found me a teapot for my tea bag, but filled it with water that was actually boiling – those points for the Avalon just keep piling up. It was a nice little place. If you are ever unfortunate enough to be have to stay in Landstuhl, the Hotel Avalon would take some of the pain away !
We now had what would probably be the most demanding day ahead of us. To make our chosen destination, in Le Mans, we would have to travel almost 700 kilometres. Most of this would, in truth, be on the motorway. The most direct line would take us around Rheims and then straight to Paris, with all the accompanying horrors that only the Boulevard Périphérique can provide. We decided to try and go around the French capital to the south and at quite a good distance. To do this and prevent an inevitable trip down the Champs-Élysées, we had to try and fool the SatNav. We selected the innocuous autoroute junction for the small town of Sommesous (there were naturally two towns with that name, only about one hundred kilometres apart – saved by the “double-check”) and we set off onto roads that were at least drying.
We soon crossed imperceptibly into France and the autobahn became, I suppose, an autoroute. It was not raining, but there was no sun either and it was quite chilly. We made fairly good time, despite the French roadworks which were more chaotic than their German counterparts. Nonetheless, I had a terrible dread I might have selected the “wrong” Sommesous because, without the sun to help me, I was sure I was heading in the wrong direction. When we checked, it turned out I was right on track – but we have been bitten before !
There was very little of interest to see. The countryside was flattish, fairly drab and boring. In a few places, some form of artwork had been placed at intervals on the verge of the autoroute. This consisted of stretches of coloured squares of concrete, or metallic spheres of differing, usually insipid, colours. To me, it was more weird than artistic !
It was weakly sunny, but still fairly chilly. We finally reached the Sommesous rest area, without any drama, where we stopped for warming drinks. French driving does not seem as homicidal as it used to be (but of course we were in a rural area and fuel prices were scary).
We now had the opportunity to actually leave the autoroute and take the Route Nationale 4 across country, initially in the direction of the town of Sézanne. The SatNav did not like it of course, but it was nice to be off of the highway for a while. We bowled along well surfaced country roads and at least we had a view. The route led across the southern part of the Champagne area. Although there were numerous billboards advertising both the drink itself and visits to the “caves” (cellars) in which it was maturing (one claimed it had 100 kilometres of shelving !), the vines where the grapes grew were hard to spot. We only saw about three vineyards in total.
Our next destination was supposed to be the town of Étampes, but we never actually saw that, no doubt, fine municipality. A combination of roadworks, diversions and typically poor French signposting kept us on the RN4 long after we should have left it. For this reason, we duly arrived at, you guessed it, the Boulevard Périphérique. At least it was one of the outer iterations, not the main central one, but the next fifty or so kilometres were still a bit, as they say, trying. When you do not know where you are going and everybody else does know, it does not make for a relaxing ride. I now know the homicidal drivers all live near Paris – and that they are not all men !!
We stopped to fill the tank and have a calming drink. Two very shiny Harleys, with riders exuding every possible drop of French “cool” took a look at us, gave us a thumbs up and thundered nonchalantly away into the milling traffic !
There was no point in trying to go back, so we resigned ourselves to it and drove on around the race track until the SatNav finally directed us towards our destination, Le Mans. Fortunately, I think we were still early enough to avoid the real rush-hour, but the road was still horribly crowded and lane discipline totally non-existent. As we left the immediate environs of Paris, the volume of traffic did slowly decrease, but it was a long way before I could finally relax a bit.
We were, of course, on the péage, although considering that we were paying (dearly) to be there, the surface was, in places, a bit dubious (think badly rolled field). At least there no longer seems to be sections of “rainurage” (“rain-grooves”) which I used to dread in the past.
Eventually, we came to a pay station for the péage. It was not our first and, previously, waving Lucie’s payment card in the approximate direction of the sensor had seen us upon our merry way. Not so this time, the red and white barrier remained firmly in place. I pulled out my card – the same non-effect. The car behind tooted. We were perplexed, there was money in our accounts. Finally, we realised that the charge, €20.80, was probably above the “contactless” limit imposed upon us folk who live in the Czech Republic – and there was no key pad. We had a long line of cars behind us by then. They all began hooting, with varying degrees of Gallic frustration, at the stupid foreigners while Lucie was forced to ransack the pannier for some cold, hard cash. Luckily, she soon found some and we were back on our way. As the cars we had delayed streaked past us, we received many, many, more ironic toots !
The weather had been quite nice all day. Sometimes a little sun, mostly cloudy, but at least no rain ! Now the sun came out in earnest. It is amazing how that can lift your spirits !
The landscape was a bit monotonous, mainly flat land divided into large fields. Agricultural production was everywhere and sometimes a factory could be seen. The crops seemed to be mainly a lot of overripe sweetcorn and what Lucie calls cruciferous vegetables and others probably know as cabbages.
In the last 50 kilometres or so, as we finally began to near Le Mans, the terrain was more undulating but, by then, our thoughts were firmly fixed upon the finishing line !
Our accommodation for the evening was the ibis budget Le Mans Universite (Rue Héraclite, 72000 Le Mans, France).
Please note that the small, leading “i” is part of the chain emblem, NOT a typing error by me ! It was described by the ever faithful Booking.com as an hotel but, budget ethos or not, I would almost hesitate to describe it in that way myself. It is true that we were only passing through, but this really was budget with a capital B (or possibly a lower case one, in line with the branding for the chain). In our room, it was scarcely possible to squeeze around the bed.
There was a closet, but this somehow managed to contain the sink, the toilet and the shower !
This meant that the hanging area was tiny and in the corner of the room. It was really lucky we did not have any wet things to dry out. There was a small television, hanging on the wall in front of the bed. This turned itself on when I walked past it, but no button on the remote control would turn it off. In the end, I unplugged it from the socket. Over the screen proved a good place to hang my jacket.
After eschewing a shower the previous evening – we did not want to get even wetter then than we already were – we took one now. It was such a tiny space that we were afraid of flooding the room, but no tsunami occurred. At least the water was hot and the jet was quite strong. Then we went out to eat. We were, as the hotel name suggested, in the university district. Google showed a number of options, not far away. The first was closed and when we walked there. Out of the next cluster of four, three were for dubious looking fast food and one was just a bar. Those students must be generous with their “stars” !
Along the way, we noticed a sign showing that Le Mans is “twinned” with a number of other locations including Rostov-on-the-Do, in Russia and Bolton, in the UK. With all due respect to that, no doubt, fine Lancashire borough, enough said !
It was quite a pleasant walk there and back though, it was a mild evening and the area, in general, appeared well kept. There was a tram system with the space between the rails neatly grassed in and an occasional tram purred quietly by. As a resident of Prague, I am a big fan of trams and, as the daylight faded with a curious dappling of the sky, I captured two of them as they waited opposite our hotel.
In the end, we walked back to a Carrefour supermarket we had noticed, resigned to having just biscuits or a sandwich, but that too had closed during our perambulations. With some irony, we ended up eating in a place right opposite the hotel (and next door to Carrefour) in a cafe/restaurant which we had initially discarded because it looked like just a bar. It had the somewhat unpromising name of L’Annexe (Place Raphaël Elizé, Av. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, 72000 Le Mans). This too was on the verge of closing (it was nearly 20:00, after all) but there was a nice, smiling group of staff who at first offered us two types of food. In the end it turned out that they only had pizza – and then only four of the ten types of pizza on the menu were left. The waiter/cook was actually a friendly English guy from Bristol and the pizzas were fresh and made with his own (fair) hands ! They were really delicious too ! It was all slightly chaotic and my choice of beer was severely limited by an leak in the air line to the taps. In the end I got some form of wheat beer into which, for some unaccountable (but probably “Hipsterish”) reason, a piece of lime had been placed. Ah well ! I drank it anyway !
We went back to our little room. Lucie says I brushed my teeth, crawled under the covers, mumbled something unintelligible and fell asleep in about a second. It had been a hard day.