Thursday, May 14, 2009

Graduate Travel Math

Now that we're older and wiser, we're getting more adept at taking advantage of the various transportation options that surround us here in France. This includes navigating the buggy, crash-prone, truly awful SNCF website. We recently visited Tours for an afternoon, with Jefe riding his bike the 116 km and Rebecca taking the TGV with an appropriate MFK Fisher book.

The bike ride north was fairly uneventful and Jefe made it to the main Tours train station (well, not exactly, more on that later) about 10 minutes before Rebecca showed up. We walked a few blocks through pedestrian streets to Rue Colbert, which is lined with restaurants and cafes. Thanks to a little research the night before on we knew of a couple restaurants on this street that were promising candidates.

We decided on Le Turon at 94 rue Colbert. They specialize in traditional recipes incorporating regional foods and their prices are pretty reasonable. Rebecca had a large salad with local specialties St. Maure goat cheese and chunks of fatty pork called rillons. Jefe opted for the full formule: terrine de Rillette, Perch with tagliatelle, and lemon sorbet.

Delightfully sated, we wandered over to Place Jean Jaurès and met Rebecca's colleague (and Tours resident) for coffee and a discussion of Tours sites and French foibles (they have too many national holidays in May, for example).

Post-coffee, Jefe went to the Centre de Création Contemporaire to check out Kasbah by Kader Attia while Rebecca wandered the pedestrian streets people-watching and window shopping. After reuniting we strolled through the twice-weekly flower market and stopped into Marché des Halles and found a spice booth selling Quinoa flour (hooray for gluten-free flours!) and a vegetable stand selling abnormally large, mutant rhubarb. It looked like a fossilized dinosaur femur and reminded Rebecca of that scene in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film with the giant daisies and the ooze...

giant rhubarb in Tours
Giant rhubarb from Les Halles in Tours

In his endless quest for calories, Jefe also picked up some raspberry tiramisu at a stall selling Italian specialties.

After so much walking, we had to take a break, with wine of course. La Gazette des Halles (bistro/wine bar) was just across the street and offered inviting street-side tables. We got to sample a few local wines from Chinon and Touraine while enjoying the passing scenery until our train departure. The last drink was on the house!

When departing from (or arriving at) Gare de Tours (Tours' central train station), it is usually necessary to take a shuttle train to St. Pierre des Corps (the less centrally located train station) to catch the TGV to your destination. Apparently, the central train station is a little too central, and the since the train can't pull through (it has to back in) the time-pressed TGV doesn't want to spend the extra few minutes it would take to stop at the main station. Thus, all the TGV trains stop at St. Pierre des Corps, making it, essentially, Tours' primary train station. Which is kind of a shame, since the Gare de Tours is beautifully built and otherwise very convenient. In any case, Jefe took the opportunity on the 5 minute shuttle ride to dismantle his bike for getting on the TGV.

Jefe dismantling his bike on the shuttle to St. Pierre des Corps

Now that we can manage Tours' slightly convoluted train system, we're ready to go back to visit the annual Fêtes des Vins (wine festival) for samples of the regions wines and other gastronomic specialties along with lectures.

Emboldened by the weather and the local scenery and food, we had barely returned to Poitiers before we were planning our next bike+train day trip. This time south, to Angoulême. While we were waiting for a break in Rebecca's teaching schedule and the sunny weather to coincide, Jefe rode to Bellac and took the TER (Regional Express Transport) back to Poitiers to see some new territory and check out the bike-accessibility of the slower, smaller, TER trains.

Jefe's 142 km route to Bellac was clearly not the most direct route, but he designed it to investigate all those small, squiggly, green lines on the Michelin map just south of Bellac that indicated narrow roads, scenery, and large hills. He found some truly lovely sights.

view from the hills south of Bellac
The view from Les Monts de Blond into the department of Haut Vienne

The last train for Poitiers leaves Bellac at 6:08 pm, so Jefe had to start his ride from Poitiers at 10:30 am to leave enough time for a food break and slower riding through the scenic, hilly areas. The food break didn't happen on schedule as all the small-town grocers were closed for lunch until 3 pm or later instead of the expected 2 pm. When he finally found some food in St. Christophe, he was hungry enough to devour an armload of fruit.

2 oranges, 3 bananas and pear in front of a 12th century church

He also picked up a few savory pastries in Bellac at the local traiteur before boarding the train.

The TER trains were very comfortable and were bike-friendly, no disassembly required (the limit of 4 bikes per car was far from met).

bikes on the TER
Bike spaces on the TER

An hour and half later he was back in Poitiers, ready to eat more food.

Once the weather and Rebecca's schedule cooperated we were off to Angoulême. Jefe by this 133 km route and Rebecca by the afternoon train after a morning meeting at work. The wind forecast at France meteo was mistaken (their forecast of rain was also mistaken, and thus France meteo is getting deleted from the list of weather bookmarks) and Jefe was a little late to the rendez-vous after riding into a headwind for 5 hours.

We wandered the winding streets looking at murals from graphic novels/comic books (Angoulême is the site of a graphic novel/comic book museum and annual graphic novel expo)...

mural near Eglise St. Andre in Angouleme
Comic book mural in Angoulême

...sat in cafes sipping and people-watching and picked up some quinoa flakes at a health-food store. The young residents of Angoulême all seem hot on the trail of the latest trends. Besides some gel-enabled hairdos, we saw lots of examples of the return of 80's fashion that is so popular (see here, here, and here) as well as numerous fanny-pack-as-reversed-messenge-bag.

fanny packs coming back in Angoulême
Slightly blurry, but you can clearly see the fanny pack on the chest,
with strap worn over the shoulder

Dinner time arrived and we were off to La Cité to fulfill our increasingly frequent seafood cravings. It was delectably satisfying. We had salad with prawn tails and sautéed fresh foie gras, pan-fried goatfish in basil cream sauce and a skewer of prawns, shrimp and scallops. We can still taste it a day later, any more trips to Angoulême will definitely include a stop at this restaurant. We were so stupified by the delicious seafood, creamy sauces and wonderful wine, we had to belatedly dash out of the restaurant, running 4 blocks to the train station to catch the last train to Poitiers. We hopped on just a few seconds before the doors closed and Jefe quickly dismantled his bike aboard before the conductor approached and punched our tickets. A little sweaty and happy, we were glad to be heading back home to Poitiers for the night.


Trevor said...

Photographing the man with the fanny-pack reminds me of days spent with Jefe looking for mullets on Costa del Sol.

jefe said...

Bwaaahhahahaha....Yes, taking photos of mullets-in-progress at a barber's from across the street.

rebecca said...

oh, you two.