Day 4 - Jun 5, Mon - Château-Thierry to Mareuil-sur-Äy

We rode 39.71 miles today

When I got to the breakfast room at the Ferme de la tuèterie at Chierry, M. Riera said, "there's a concert going on outside for you." So I went out to the garden and found Herr Friedrich, the piano-builder from Erlangen, playing a harpsichord that he had carried with him on their trip. It was a small but beautifully crafted instrument, and he played short snippets of one tune after another. He enjoyed classical selections, and his fingers moved quickly across the keyboard. He and his wife had also brought their dog with them, and the dog sat at Alexander's feet as he played. When I asked how old the dog was, he replied that he was 8 years old -- that day. "It is his birthday, but he doesn't know it," and then he quickly played a few strains of "Happy Birthday" on the harpsichord.

We chatted a while, and Herr Friedrich told me a story about the time he was visiting somewhere else in France and met an English-speaking woman who asked what he did for a living. He acknowledged that his accent may have been to blame, but when he told the woman that he plays the harpsichord, he knew she didn't understand what he was talking about because she replied, "Oh, my husband plays golf, too!"

Breakfast room at Ferme Historique Jean de la Fontaine

Breakfast table at Ferme Historique Jean de la Fontaine

Breakfast cooked by M. Riera at Ferme Historique Jean de la Fontaine

M. Riera's cooking

Back at the breakfast table, M. Riera cooked bacon and eggs to order for everyone at the table who wanted them. Our three friends from Nice and Paris -- Nicholas, Williams and Paul -- sat on one side of the table, and Steve and I and the Germans -- Alexander and Corinne sat on the other. We lingered over breakfast longer than we needed to but finally got ourselves busy packing up and getting ready to head on to our next overnight spot in Mareuil-sur-Äy, a nearly 40-mile ride through hilly terrain and along the Marne.

While we were packing up, the Germans departed and I did not get to say goodbye to them, but Corinne had given me their business card and said that if we were ever in Erlangen, we must stop and see them.

As I walked my bike across the yard to load the panniers, Paul asked if we'd like to join them in sharing a bottle of champagne with the Rieras before departing. So we lingered a little longer while we all toasted with a bottle from Oger and talked about French-American history. M. Riera enjoyed telling a story about how the French king sold off vast tracts of North America (Louisana Purchase) and, when one of the early patriots offered to make French the official language of the new United States, the king said no. "America could have been French-speaking!" Riera lamented. "The king was so stupid!" We agreed that it would have been easier for us on this trip if we had grown up speaking French.

Toasting friendship

Toasting friendship - Paul and Nicholas

We added that, if one takes early history into account, then Steve and I come from New France -- territory which once belonged to the French. In fact, we noted, many of the place names around our home have their origins in the French explorers and settlers of the region (Meredosia, Lagrange, Joliet, Creve Coeur, etc.) Paul remarked how American tourists sometimes remind the French that they saved the Republic in WWII but they don't seem to know anything about the Marquis de Lafayette.

It was well after noon before we finally asked to pay the bill so we could depart. That's when we discovered that I had forgotten that M. Riera does not take credit cards. So he, Nicholas and I all hopped in a car and M. Riera drove us in to Château-Thierry so that I could use the bank machine and get the cash we needed to settle up. It was my mistake. I had noted that this was what was needed at this location, but I had forgotten to be sure that we were prepared for that. But M. Riera was not perturbed about it, and after we got the account settled, Steve and I were finally on our way.

The road was bumpy for several miles -- patchy asphalt which makes for a rough ride. We cycled through a majestic landscape of long sloping hills covered with vineyards, following the Marne through little villages.

Finally, we paused at Passy-sur-Marne for a couple of photographs and so I could take a "nature break" in the bushes. As we approached Dormans, we could see the WWI memorial church and ossuary perched high on a hill overlooking the Marne valley.

We rode into town to see if we could find a place to have a cup of coffee and get some water. It was mid-afternoon and on the holiday, and all the bistros and shops were closed. So we rode toward the memorial, up a long climb and through a shady park. Steve took the opportunity to telephone his mother, and I climbed the steps to look inside the church.

Memorial at Dormans

Memorial at Dormans

There were two levels of chapels, each with names of war dead inscribed in blood-red letters. The long rectangular hall behind the church held the bones of thousands of soldiers who perished in battle 100 years ago, and a side gallery on the upper chapel had an exhibit of helmets and weapons. I was struck by the incongruity of viewing bayonets, grenades and rifles alongside stained-glass windows depicting saints and bishops.

As we cycled back through the town, we found a bar that was open, and we got two coffees and a couple of Tarte Tatins. The barkeeper refilled our water bottles for us, and we had the chance to use the restroom.

As we departed Dormans, we found a recently constructed bike trail that was not on our map, and we happily pedaled for nearly seven miles on a wide avenue of smooth asphalt, meeting many families on the trail with children. We made good time on the trail and rejoined the road just outside of Châtillon-sur-Marne, where we stopped at a French military cemetery. We were later told that some American soldiers are also buried near there, but we did not see where this was.



When we reached Reuil, we attempted a short-cut on a rough trail that we thought would help us avoid a steep climb up the hill to Venteuil, but that was a bad idea. The "road" led downhill into fields near the Marne, and it degenerated into a bumpy, muddy and rutted path. We had one of those Lori Banks "but I'm wearing white shoes" moments when we had to get off the bikes and walk through gooey mud. In other places, the mud had dried into deep ruts, and it was difficult to control the bike. At one point I nearly took a spill when my front wheel jumped across a rut. My options were to fall sideways into the puddles and rocky road or head into the bushes at the side of the road while I tried to bring the bike to a stop. I chose the latter, much to Steve's amusement as he witnessed my maneuver in his rearview mirror. "What was that all about?" he called out. I was still upright and did not bruise anything, so we plodded on, but soon it was apparent that we would either have worse conditions ahead or we'd have to make a long climb up a paved farm road and get back on the road with the car traffic.

We chose to go up the hill, but it was too steep for pedaling, so we had to push the bikes for about a half mile. This did not improve our mood, but the accusations were completely wrung out of both of us by the time we reached the top of the hill and rejoined the road in Venteuil.

We were soon coasting downhill on smooth pavement. We cycled with the traffic through Damery, and though it was not heavy traffic, there were frequent cars and small trucks. One or two drivers got a little too close for our comfort, and Steve told me, "if I get hit by one of these idiots and I can get up after the crash, I want you to know that I am going to go beat the shit out of the driver." I agreed and said I would do the same.

We were shortly in Cumière, where we got back on the paved bike trail along a canal of the Marne and rode it all the way to our destination in Mareuil-sur-Äy. Along the way, we had a good view of Château de Boursault, the Clicquot estate on the opposite banks of the Marne. Mme. Clicquot was a widow who took up the champagne making trade after her husband died. She became one of the most successful and respected producers of her time. Her champagne, Veuve Clicquot, is still a very popular brand.


In the Champagne region:  Château de Boursault (on the hillside opposite the vineyards in the foreground)

We knew that our B&B, La Marotiere, was on the Rue Sadi Carnot in Mareuil-sur-Äy, but we rode past it twice before we finally read a sign which directed us to an entry on the canal side. It was nearly 7:45 pm, and I was concerned that the innkeeper would be miffed at our late arrival. But Mme. Giraud could not have been more gracious. We entered the house through a door leading to a small office, where she welcomed us and led us to our room upstairs. Our shoes were too muddy, so we had removed them and left them outside with our bicycles. We walked upstairs, down a hallway and through six doors in our stocking feet.

The room was a spacious suite with a window overlooking the courtyard and an adjoining bathroom and toilet for our private use across the hallway. We went back downstairs to retrieve our things and to arrange something for dinner. Since it was a holiday, the only bistro in Mareuil-sur-Äy was closed. The nearest town was 3 km on the bike trail, but Mme Giraud said there were only one or two places there, and she was not sure they would be open. The next place down the road, Èpernay, was about a 7 km ride. Steve asked about the possibility of a pizza delivery, and Mme. Giraud found a flyer with a nearby delivery service. She phoned the order in for us once we made a selection of a mushroom and jambon (ham) pizza, with a small salad and a single serving of tiramisu. The delivery was estimated at 45 minutes, which gave us the opportunity to get showered and cleaned up first.

The house for La Marotiere is a former champagne house -- a grand manor with evident past years of elegance. It was so big that we actually got lost going back to our room, forgetting which door was ours in the many choices. I inserted our room key in the wrong door. It would not fit, and a voice from inside alerted me to my mistake. "Pardon mois!" I said to the closed door, and Steve and I contemplated another door. It was a little like The Match Game. The door in front of us, at the end of the short hall, was the correct one, but neither of us could remember going through that one. When it opened to the little hallway between our room and bathroom, we finally recognized it as the right place.


Relaxing at La Marotiere

Happily parked by the window in our room, we broke out the half-bottle of champagne from the refrigerator in the room and had it with our meal. The champagne was named for Leon Giraud, the grandfather of Mme. Giraud's husband, and his portrait, in the uniform of a WWI soldier, was on the label. It was good champagne, and we appreciated it.

We were both ready for bed by 10:30. We had done our laundry and hung the damp clothes by the windows in our room and in the bathroom, but during the night, the wind picked up, blew the clothes on the floor and started banging the window. At least that's what Steve told me in the morning. He said I was snoring, and I did not hear a thing when he got up and closed the windows and hung the clothes in a different place.

Lessons learned:

  1. French goodbyes can last longer than Midwestern goodbyes.
  2. Château-Thierry sits in a "cuvette" and the places outside the city are up on the rim.
  3. Maps lie.

** added after this was shared with the email list: As we neared Èpernay, we encountered turnstiles on the trail, put there to discourage motorists or unauthorized vehicles from trying to drive on the paved trail. We had a "school for the gifted" moment when we struggled to work Steve's bike, loaded with both panniers, through the swivel gate. After a couple of tries, we did it, but only if he turned the front wheel a certain way. As he passed through, I was waiting for him to prop his bike somewhere so he could come help me get through the gate. Then I looked up and saw that I could simply walk my bike under a low arch just to the left of the turnstile. We were glad no one was watching us because we must have looked like complete idiots!

Turnstile on the trail

The correct way to navigate the turnstile on the trail

Continued, Day 5