While breaking camp we decided today was a good day for music. At home hardly an hour went by that music wasn't playing unless we were asleep. Out here we rarely listen to anything but the endless symphony of nature sounds going on around us. As we rode away I chose Dire Straits–Dire Straits and hit play. When I did, I had a brief moment of clarity as soon as "Down to the Waterline" started, realizing it would be one of those moments I will always remember when I hear the album.
We rode along enjoying our music in the cool mid-morning air as the sun took to the sky promising another sweaty day of cycling. Before too long Tara spotted a roadside farm selling fresh strawberries, and hand-made jams, jellies and candies. We stopped to buy strawberries and had to wait while the owner washed his hands; he'd just picked them! After he took us on a brief tour of the place where we saw his family members making jam in the kitchen, we spent the next twenty minutes at the picnic table outside the little shop completely absorbed with eating our strawberries. Somehow we managed to stop ourselves before the entire batch was gone, saved some and hit the road again in the direction of the cider museum Tara had found.
About 15 kilometers from the farm shop we saw signs for a bee museum! Tara and I spent a lot of time reading about bees and bee-keeping before we left and were excited to discover that admission was free. A short while later we spotted the quaint little "museum" just off the road and excitedly cycled in to see what it was like. When we arrived a very friendly french woman, Irene, struck up conversation with Tara and shuffled us off with a smile to a dark room where we would watch a 20 minute video about bees. Tara translated for me as quickly as she could :)
When the video was through we wandered around looking at the exhibits for a bit; everything was in French but I know a fair amount about bees so some of it actually made sense! After a few minutes Irene came back and enthusiastically told us how absolutely everything worked while Tara translated. It really is incredible all of the things bees create and even moreso how they do it!
One of the most interesting things (to me) that Irene shared with us were details about the strict French regulations for harvesting and selling honey. Sometimes beekeepers use sugar solutions to feed their bees early in the season (or all season) when things aren't flowering. This makes for very low quality honey which is missing many of the natural properties that make honey so great. It can also be very bad for diabetics as it is basically pure sugar in the guise of honey. If you are caught doing this in France there are very steep fines (a hundred and twenty euros per jar of honey produced) that can quickly put you completely out of business!
After chatting for a good hour Irene sent us out for a walk on the property while she attended to some things on the farm's bed and breakfast. As we strolled around Tara and I realized that we were looking at exactly what we want to do when we return to the states to start homesteading. Bees, cats, ducks, bunnies, beautiful gardens, forest, a body of water, and a quiet country existence. Irene was ceaselessly good-natured and friendly; her entire way of life was incredibly inspiring to us.
When we returned from our walk, we were graced with her warmth and smiles as she showed us the duck she hatched from an egg, and the family of bunnies that live on the farm. There were little baby chicks (in the barn instead of roaming free, as there was an animal that had been eating them!), and a grey cat Irene found and healed after it had been run over.
Finally we went to the little museum shop where Irene let us try all the different kinds of honey and a type of liquour similar to meade called Chouchenn in the Breton language. We ended up buying two different kinds of honey, and a jar of bee pollen for Tara in hopes that it would help with her allergies. Irene told us loads of places we had to visit and kindly photocopied maps for us. While we talked about our route over lunch, however, we decided it really would be best to continue on towards the canal. Our route today called for a bit of backtracking as the cider museum was to the west of our camp and our destination (a nearby canal route) was due east. Having now spent several memorable hours with Irene both Tara and I were nonplussed about going further out of our way to pay for a museum that couldn't possibly be as nice as the one we had stumbled upon for free. We decided instead to head to the canal and find a nice campsite to set up in.
The sun was absolutely blistering as we backtracked 15 kilometers to where we had cut west earlier in the morning. We had ridden to the museum at a good clip without working too hard and so were in good spirits as we left. The ride, and our moods on the way back were quite the opposite. Every pedal stroke was filled with loathing as we plodded up the 3% or 4% upgrade we had enjoyed coasting down on the way in. We pushed on wondering where all of our strength had gone while silently wishing for a downgrade or a cloud to save us from the heat.
When we finally arrived at our destination, Port Launay there was a very, very steep downhill into the village. We were both exhausted and felt a little crushed knowing we'd be pushing our way out in just a few minutes. Sure enough, there were no campsites and the only way out was straight up. We both hopped off and dropped our shoulders into our bicycles as we heaved them up the hill out of town, covered from head to toe in sweat.
Just outside town we found two campsites and a sign for McDonalds. Neither of us likes McDonalds but we both latched on to the idea of getting some ice cream and maybe posting a journal entry or two using their free internet access. What followed was a wild goose chase that resulted in even more hills and even less morale as we looped our way back to the campsites after being unsuccessful in locating the franchise. In stark contrast to the second half of our ride, arriving at camp was like heaven. The site is beautiful, the owners are an incredibly friendly British couple and there is free wifi!
We stumbled into our little plot and while I made camp Tara bought some lettuce from the owner's garden and ordered bread for the morning (apparently this is a common amenity at French campgrounds!). Tara made soup and salad, and after thoroughly enjoying both we decided to stay for a day or two. I'll be able to get lots of work done, and Tara is excited about wandering around the gardens, going to the market, and reading her books.