It is the beginning of another month and thus time for another installment of the Ohmygod saga (to catch up on the previous installments click on the Ohmygod menu up top). As you will recall, I used to be a cycling tour guide in Europe for several years. Through that job (yes, it is a bit difficult to call it a ‘job’) I met countless interesting people and have a few compelling stories to tell, but most of them pale to the story of Ohmygod, one of the clients that I had for two weeks. Some may wonder about the moniker, but the name chose itself really; it is what I uttered repeatedly during just about every interaction with him.
In the previous installment (Part Seventeen), Ohmygod, while trying to light his uncut cigar, singed his fingers, causing him to jettison the still lit match. Unbeknownst to the two involved, the airborne flame touched down in Grumpy’s lap. Unfortunately, there was a paper napkin waiting to receive the incoming projectile, and it quickly caught fire.
[Before you start reading this installment, be forewarned that I needed to cut it into two parts–it was just far too long. The second part will appear in less than a week.]
The rest of the evening would certainly qualify as uneventful, even had the previous events not unfolded as they did. Both Grumpy and Mr. Personality tore through their meals as if they thought that the first one done would win some sort of prize. Ohmygod tried a couple of times to find some matches, but his attempts to flag down the waiter went “unnoticed”. There was no doubt in my mind that our waiter was past the point of merely avoiding us, in fact, when it was time to eventually pay the bill, after looking for the guy for the better part of 15 minutes, I gave up and went inside to settle the check.
When I returned to the table, Ohmygod had disappeared. Mr. Personality informed me that he just got up and left without a word and neither he nor Grumpy had any will to stop him. There was some talk about grabbing another drink somewhere else (since there was no possibility of getting any service at our current location even given the departure of Ohmygod), but Grumpy’s pants were still quite wet and he wanted to just go back to the hotel. No doubt the water not only doused the flame, it also seemingly washed away any confidence that had accrued by the brief attention he received from the Australian graduate students that he had met earlier. I had also indicated earlier in the evening that the next day’s ride would be the longest of the trip thus far, and I believe it worried the two of them a bit seeing that neither one of them had ridden a bike in consecutive days since they were…. OK, it is probable that they had never ridden a bike in two consecutive days.
In the end, it was a good idea to just call it a night–I was hoping to get in a few extra miles on the next day’s ride (despite Grumpy’s and Mr. Personality’s fears, the riding in the Loire is not the most challenging in France and I was looking for a bit more). There was always the possibility that we would run into Ohmygod again, and I feared that he had been able to light his cigar. I had no desire to be a part of that.
The following morning, I walked down to get breakfast to find one of the hotel staff furiously cleaning up a table that was a complete mess with crumbs all over the table, chair, and floor. I was immediately relived. There was only one person that could have caused that crime scene, and he was nowhere to be seen. I hoped that meant that he was on his bike already (or at least soon to be). Just to be sure, I was going to take my time at breakfast; I was in no real hurry to get on the road–I wanted Ohmygod to have a nice long head start to minimize the possibility of running into him out on the route. I went back to my room, grabbed my book, and returned to the dining room, prepared to be there for a while.
It seemed as though Grumpy and Mr. Personality had heeded my advice the night before–they stopped in briefly on the way to their bikes as I was making my way through my croissant. They confirmed that Ohmygod had indeed been seated at the table that was just now made ready for another guest. He had just arrived as they were finishing their coffee, and once they alerted him that the day’s route was a bit longer than previous rides, he started stuffing as many bread products as he could into his bike jersey pockets. They added that he did not simply empty the single basket that he received upon sitting down—he went around to the other tables and grabbed whatever other guests of the hotel had left, even if they were half eaten. He even approached one couple that was still seated at their table, and said something that sounded nothing like French (according to Grumpy–and even though he is no linguist, I am sure his assessment was spot on). The couple, a bit stunned by the sight of Ohmygod, said nothing in return, which Ohmygod apparently took for acquiescence, since he quickly snatched their remaining bread products.
After witnessing this spectacle, Grumpy and Mr. Personality quickly left the room, for fear of what might occur next. Only four days into the trip, this had become a common approach to Ohmygod (to which I clearly adhered)—it seemed inevitable that disaster was imminent when he was around, it was only a matter of time. In his own way he had become an “Old Faithful”—all it took was a bit of time and you would be guaranteed a show. After witnessing countless spectacles already, we all seemed to have collectively decided to take the cowardly approach and run before the next eruption.
After a second croissant (and a quite a bit of piddling around), I finally got on the road around 11:00. I figured this was more than enough time to ensure that my three musketeers were sufficiently ahead of me.
The bike ride to Chinon passes through some of the more famous châteaux in the valley. The first third of the route hugs the banks of the river Cher, to Villandry. Usually, there is a rather stiff wind in your face the entire way, eliminating any joy from riding on the relatively flat roads. The middle third leaves the Cher and heads south to the castle of Azay-le-Rideau, whose castle appears to be floating on its own reflective pond. The last third plunges into the Chinon forest, which for me is always the best riding of the day–protected from the wind by the towering trees and safe from the cars since they all take the paralleling autoroute. The day ends in the medieval village of Chinon, home of François Rabelais (author of Gargantua and Pantagruel), and home of one of my favorite wineries in the region, Couly Dutheil.
I have been to the castle at Villandry countless times yet I always stop. Yes, it is touristy. Yes, it is crowded. Yes, I look like a bit of a geek in my cycling clothes (Ohmygod has not cornered that market by any means). All that being said, there are two main reasons to stop: first, the gardens there are really wonderful (don’t bother with the castle itself, it is rather boring as castles go). Second, there is a delightful little restaurant in town that has its own little zoo, in effect (you walk by the animals that will likely be on the menu the next day on the way to the WC).
On most days, I usually hang around in the town where we had just slept to have lunch, and then ride like a banshee to the next night’s hotel, knowing that everyone else is well ahead of me. The day from Tours to Chinon is an exception, since the restaurant in Villandry, l’Etape Gourmande, is worth the stop (and the splurge). Even given my proclivity to approach the bike riding on these trips as sport, I must admit that this is the truly “civilized” way to ride a bike–ride for about an hour and then stop for twice as long for a four course lunch complete with wine. Sure, you end up gaining weight, but you are nonetheless somehow able to rationalize it. Today, I opted for a terrine of foie gras and the Souris de l’Agneau Laquée (lamb with a port glaze). I opted for a bottle of Bourgueil, which conveniently was available in a 500ml bottle (let’s face it, a 375 just is not enough and a full 750 is more than a bit indulgent). Both Bourgeuil and Chinon produce Cabernet Francs of note, but Bourgueil is often treated as Chinon’s poor step child. The wines of Bourgeuil do tend to be a bit coarser and rustic, but they also are less expensive, which made my lunch time extravagance a bit easier to justify.
After lunch, I headed over to the castle to visit the gardens (I have been to the gardens perhaps dozens of times but it never gets old, even with the tourists). To my surprise, I saw the bikes of my three little blind mice parked in the bike lot at the Château. Despite my best efforts–they had a two-hour head start and I just finished a two-hour lunch–I had caught up to the three of them, only 15 miles into the ride. Since I could not leave until they did, I decided to have a glass of wine (this time, given the heat of the day, I opted for a delightful Chinon rosé) in the courtyard of the castle, again passing the time so that the three could get ahead of me. At one point, I thought I saw Ohmygod sitting on the grass in the garden, devouring a sandwich, but I quickly averted my eyes since even walking on the grass is a rather huge no-no. I figured a 50 year-old feral adult sacrificing a sandwich was going to be met with some consternation.
When my wine arrived, I pulled out my Michelin map and decided that I would take a little detour and add on a few more kilometers since it was either that or ride along with the clients. It was not that I did not want to be with them (with one exception), but rather with the more painful part of the ride over, I was looking forward to putting a little speed in my legs. I decided to take about a 25k detour up to the town of Langeais and back. Like most of the towns in the Loire, Langeais is known for its castle in the center of town. Although I have never gone inside, it is one of my favorites as it is a medieval fortress and a departure from the norm of Renaissance châteaux.
I finished off the wine and once back at my bike, I noticed that the other three had left, so I felt justified in leaving Villandry and heading out on my detour. The ride out to Langeais was brutal, as it was a continuation along the Cher river, with a rather stiff breeze all the way. I got to town did a quick couple of circles around the castle, and headed back on the same road into Villandry, but this time with the wind at my back, making the return trip almost twice as fast as the ride out.
The rest of the ride to Chinon was wonderful. I flew down to Azay-le-Rideau (taking another bike “drive-by” of the castle. (Azay is actually a castle worth visiting if you have a bit of time on your hands, but could easily be passed if you are a bit “castled out”.) It was then through the forest, which is famous for its wild boars, but I have yet to see one (but really never looked). I felt a bit like I was in the Tour de France as I approached Chinon, since I caught Grumpy and Mr. Personality just on the outskirts of town, ending their long “breakaway” and just in time to scream by them on the steep decent down to the river and into Chinon.
I led the two of them to the hotel on the far end of town, where we were all amazed to see Ohmygod out on the terrace with a beer. Of course, we were not surprised at all to see what he was drinking, but it seemed rather clear that he had showered, and more significantly, for the first time since I had known him he was wearing something other than a cycling jersey. Despite the day’s heat, which was still considerable, he was wearing full length cycling tights, but also a white t-shirt. Sure, it was only a white t-shirt, riddled with holes, but it was something other than one of the two cycling jerseys that I had seen for the last week.
I stood there dumbfounded for what felt like five minutes. I glanced over at Mr. Personality and Grumpy and they seemed to be equally taken aback. I debated internally how to approach the current change in wardrobe. I naturally thought to say something witty and slightly sarcastic since that is my “normal” approach to uncomfortable or new situations, but at best Ohmygod would not acknowledge the humor and at worst I would come off as a mean, self-righteous ass. So I decided to go with the second approach (in retrospect, I am sure there are many more possible approaches, but I had stood there for some time with a figurative finger in my nose, and I had to say something).
[Yes, that is the end of this installment, but I promise to get the next one out in just a few days. I had originally planned to publish the entire “chapter” today, but it is frankly too long and I am working out a thing or two.]
Wonderful post…really enjoyed the journey. I’m a real fan of Loire wines and love the reds like Chinon and Bourgueil that are at their best when young and fruity. We have lived here for about 14 years and I still haven’t got to Villandry or Chinon…..but in my 56 years in London I never got to visit any of the sights there either. I knew all the restaurants and bars but was bad on castles and the like:)
The town of Chinon is much more interesting than the town of Villandry. The Chinon castle is pretty cool, as it is mostly a ruin and has much more historical significance (Joan of Arc was there, and you know how the French get worked up about her). The gardens at Villandry though….
This is part 18? Wow! I have some reading to do.
I love your memoir and your cast of characters pulled me right in. Can’t wait to read the next installment!
Thanks so much! Loving your site as well! If you want to start from the beginning, they all should be up on the menu bar under “Ohmygod”. Would love to know what you think!
Thank you! I will! Are you going to publish a book based on them?
I have thought about it, but not much more than that….
Can’t wait for the next excruciating episode.
Won’t be waiting long this time (I hope)–just need a couple of days!
Looking forward to reading the next episode! Have you ever worked as cycling tour guide in Tuscany?
I have done a couple trips up in the northern lakes region, but my Italian is atrocious so I only go there in emergencies…