Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Saintes, France

Friends: I've been staying inland 30 or 40 miles so far as I head north to the start of the Tour, but still I'm benefiting from the effects of the Atlantic. I've awoken to a thick, foggy cloud cover the past three mornings, which doesn't burn off until noon, keeping it pleasantly cool. Then it heats up significantly. I'm happy to have scavenged a fourth water bottle, as I drink and drink in my tent at night. I'll swing over to the coast line soon, however, where it ought to be cooler, but also windier and possibly wet.

The cycling chapel kept me inland and then to the World Heritage Site of St. Emilion. France has nearly forty of them, exceeded only by Italy, Spain and China. They are invariably something out of the ordinary, unlike anything I have ever come upon, and well-worth seeing, often drawing a gasp of disbelief upon first glimpse. St. Emilion is named after a Benedictine monk who lived in a cave there for 15 years back in the 800s. His devotion and asceticism so impressed his fellow monks, they built a cathedral in his honor at the site. Rather than building it atop Emilion's cave, the brothers spent three centuries chiseling into the huge rock to construct a full-size cathedral, keeping it hidden from the marauders of medieval times. Since then, a huge cathedral has been constructed atop it. The cathedral is an awesome accomplishment. It is no longer used and can only be visited by paying for a tour through the tourist office. It is on the pilgrimage route for those heading to Lourdes and Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Mondays can be as frustrating as Sundays in France in trying to find an open grocery store, as many of the smaller shops that are open on Saturday, take Monday as well as Sunday off. There were no supermarkets on my route yesterday, so as evening came on and I hadn't replenished my stores of food, I was getting nervous. Several towns had advertised a supermarket as I approached, but they were off on a different artery out of town than the way I was going. I had taken a detour at lunch time to a supermarket that a billboard advertised as being "one minute" away. The signs never give distance, just time and that is very arbitrary, even for motorists. I figured a minute meant a kilometer or, at the most, a mile. After I'd gone two miles and could see nothing but country road ahead, I doubled back, not wishing to give such faulty advertising my business, even though it was a Champion Supermarket, sponsors of the King of the Mountain (polka dot jersey) of the Tour and my preferred supermarket.

I was passing through towns big enough to have a supermarket every hour or so, so I felt assured that I'd eventually find one. But hour after hour passed without any luck. At 6:30, with time running out, as they usually close at seven, I came to a town that had been advertising an Intermarché Supermarket for miles. I had to make a slight detour to find it, but arrived. It was closed for remodeling with a bunch of painters just ending their day. None of the little grocery stores in this town were open and the lone bakery only had sweets and bread, no quiche or pizza. I had used up my peanut butter and honey the day before so had nothing to put on a baguette. I had to settle for the lone restaurant in town, but it didn't serve food until 7:30. They did give me several slices of bread and hunks of cheese which were enough to appease my appetite. I still had nuts and power bars in reserve as well as one 400 gram can of ravioli.

Later, George

No comments: