Biking France: Lots Of Changes In 22 Years, On & Off the Bike & In My Brain

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A lot has changed since my last bike ride through the Dordogne River region of France in 1997.

The river’s still there, and so are the castles and prehistoric cave drawings. And they still shovel massive amounts of feed down the throats of the poor geese to make the region’s famous, fatty and heart-attack-inducing foie gras. Pretty much everything else has changed. OK, this may be a bit of an exaggeration, but a lot sure has changed. I came to this realization while planning my upcoming October trip in to the Dordogne and Lot river valleys and looking through my journals and photos from my 1990 (just me) and 1997 (Susan and me) trips through the Dordogne.

Here’s what I discovered…

Let’s Be Franc

Ah, the franc. Back then, we paid for stuff with francs. The Euro was still a few years away. For example, the Hotel de la Poste in Beynac, a really nice place right by the river and in the middle of town, was 215 francs (about $40) a night in 1997. The petit-dejeuner was 15 francs ($3). I kind of miss francs.

Oh, and I remember how the French hated changing big franc bills. Like a 100-franc note, the equivalent of a $20. They wanted and expected you to have exact change and would give you a look when you didn’t. Come to think of it, they still do.

Speaking of hotels…

Room At The Inn

Back then, there was no hotels.com or expedia.com. Instead, you’d ride into town, ride around and look for a hotel that seemed nice and, more importantly, was affordable (the rates were always posted outside). I’d walk into the lobby and say: “Avez-vous une chambre pour ce soir?”

Followed by the all-important: “Avec douche?”

This was vital because there were some rooms without showers back then. Instead, there was communal shower in the hall. For some of these communal showers, you’d buy a token at the front desk, plug it into the token box on the shower, and the water would go on … for a limited amount of time. While this was OK when it was just me on a bike trip, not so much with Susan.

Another hotel-seeking alternative was to go the tourist office, where they could book a room for you. For a few francs. This is still an alternative.

Where Do the Youths Stay?

I stayed at the Auberge de Jeunesse (youth hostel) at 15 bis, avenue de Selves in Sarlat in 1990. It was kind of dumpy, but was only 15 or 20 francs a night.

It’s gone. I looked it up, thinking I might want to stay there, one night, for old time’s sake and to relive my youth. Youth hostels were great places to meet people, including other cyclists, and compare notes. The Hotel de Selves is now located at 15 bis, avenue de Selves. It’s a 4-star hotel with a pool. I don’t remember there being a pool in the youth hostel, but there was a communal kitchen.

According to the Hotel de Selves website: “Modernity and contemporary comfort conjugate there harmoniously and a welcoming team, discreetly in your listening, will make you unforgettable this heaven of peace and greenery.” That’s one thing that hasn’t changed: The French-to-English translations on websites are still hilarious.

I also looked up the Hotel de la Poste in Beynac, hoping to stay there since it was so nice and in such a great location. Gone. The Hotel du Chateau seems to be in its place. I booked a night there. On hotels.com. Only $54.96.

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Nice Shorts

In looking at the photos from 1997, I couldn’t help but notice, now that I’m a bit of a bike snob, that I wore a T-shirt and sneakers when I rode around France. I can’t imagine not wearing a bike jersey, or clip-ins. How did I make it up the huge hill to Domme wearing sneakers? FYI: That’s Susan in the photo above, with Rocamadour in the background. And, that’s me in the photo below.

Say Frommage

Speaking of photos…

Susan brought her big, heavy Nikon camera with her in 1997. And two lenses. And several rolls of film. About a dozen. Which meant we couldn’t see our photos until a week or two after we got home. It seems so primitive … and heavy.

The Velo Quest

Speaking of bikes…

On my 1990 trip, I brought my bike over with me, to Paris, and rode through the Dordogne on my way to Nice. Believe it or not, back then you could bring your bike on the plane with you for free. Free!

On our 1997 trip, we decided to rent bikes in Souillac. Why Souillac? Well, Sarlat is the major tourist city/hub of the Dordogne, but you can’t get a direct train from Paris to Sarlat. Not in 1997. Not now. Kind of a pain. And, there’s no train from Souillac to Sarlat. Then or now. More of a pain.

Souillac seemed like the place where people rented bikes. And so that’s what we did. Not in advance, which was hard to do back then, what with the internet still a few years away from being something that permeates and controls everything we do. Instead, we got to Souillac and started looking for a bike-rental shop, found one, and rented two somewhat OK and a bit-heavy Giant hybrid-type bikes. I would have much preferred an aluminum road bike, but there weren’t any anywhere available for rental.

For my upcoming trip, I’m renting a bike in Bordaux and taking it on the train with me to Sarlat. Why Bordeax? I couldn’t find a place in Sarlat, or even Souillac, that would rent a nice, carbon road bike with a rack on the back for panniers. I could rent a hybrid-type bike with a rack, an eBike with a rack, or a high-end, all-carbon road bike sans rack. I can’t ride a clunky, heavy hybrid what with me being a bit of a bike snob.

Here’s what I’m doing: I got a great, all-carbon road bike with a rack last year in Bordeaux from O2Cycles. And will rent from them again. Taking the TGV (super-fast) train from Paris to Bordeaux, and then the local train to Sarlat, is a fairly easy way to get to the Dordogne so it’s not much of an inconvenience to rent in Bordeaux.

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My Memory

My memory has deteriorated a bit from 1997, as there were several things I completely forgot seeing and/or doing. For example…

I was very excited to go to Padirac Chasm on my upcoming trip for the first time and planned an entire day around the visit. It’s this amazing subterranean river you can go through on a boat according to what I read. So, I’m reading my 1997 journal and, it turns out we vistited Padirac. And I wrote: “It was incredible, one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen.”

I’m glad didn’t write: “This is something I’ll never, ever forget.”

So, on my upcoming trip I’ll get to see Padirac again for the first time!

 

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