Ready to Ride – Off to Epernay

By | May 29, 2017

We leave Lyon behind as we catch the TGV to Paris.  These marvellous trains hurtle along at speeds around 300 kph.  First class seats are often available for only a few extra euros as the rail company set out to fill all seats.  1st class comes with power sockets at the seat and wifi access. It is certainly a wonderful way to travel as the beautiful French countryside zips by outside.

On arrival at Gare de Lyon in Paris we seek out the baggage storage room, or Consignes. Here, after all of our bags are X-rayed, we’re able to stow all of them in a 1 cubic metre locker which costs 9.90 euros for 24 hours.  It’s a far better option than lugging suitcases around.

We buy a ‘carnet;’ or set of ten Metro tickets and set off to visit Holybelly, a great cafe run by a guy who trained as a barista in Melbourne.  It’s up near Place de Republique, and we enjoy a wander around the Canal St Martin district after a great meal and some excellent coffee.

We’re due to board our barge for the trip eastward to Epernay in the Champagne region and, after retrieving our bags from the Consigne, we get a cab down to Quai de Bercy where the barge Zwaantje is waiting alongside site sheds for the making of a Mission Impossible movie starring Tom Cruise.

It’s fun to catch up with our US friends from the Upper Cape Ski and Sports Cub again; as this trip is a much smaller group than our Danube trip in 2016. The Zwaantje has 12 guest cabins and we have a tight group of 24.  Both the US and Australian flags fly proudly and we look forward to the days ahead.

The first day is a further opportunity to explore Paris and, while some head to the catacombs, and a 2 hour queue for entry, we set off to find a camera as my trusty Nikon Coolpix has decided to quit after 6 years of great service.  We eventually track down a store at Les Halles which is open on a Sunday and equip me with a Canon ISUS 180; nice and compact.

We reconnect with our group at Gare d’Este and take a half hour train ride eastward to join the Zwaantje which has moved East onto the Marne river and is waiting for us at Lagny Sur Marne.

It’s time for another great dinner and some chat about the days ahead.  We then have a chance to check the sizing of our bikes. As this trip has been rated as moderate, with some decent climbs, most of the group has opted for bikes with electric assist. A quick practice shows that this should enable some much more relaxed cycling and we look forward to heading off on the first leg of our ride the next morning.

Luckily, the weather has turned out to be much nicer than earlier forecasts had predicted. After breakfast, we collect our bikes and get ready to ride.

We start gently, with a nice level ride eastward for a few kilometres; getting the feel of the bikes and the size of the group.

On this trip we have a guide who will lead us along the way. 

Our first stop is at a sculpture park where the sculptor has spent decades creating beautiful pieces on a large scale, using limestone blocks which were once a bridge over the Marne before the bridge was destroyed during wartime to prevent troop access.  As we walk toward the sculptures it dawns on us that the field alongside is actually planted with hemp; a variety of cannabis which doesn’t contain the THC which provides a high.  This crop is destined for textile production.


It’s a beautiful sight, nonetheless, and provides a lovely backdrop for the large sculptures which the sculptor himself talks about as we all move about, enjoying the imagery and the colours of the countryside.

After this stop, we discover the scope of what is ahead as we tackle the first steep climb for the week.  This bit of reality therapy also shows the extent to which the electric assist can be expected to help up this sort of incline.  For most, the assist does the job, whereas some of the bikes struggle while managing to complete the climb.  

We applaud those who are using sheer human power and gearing.  All of us enjoy the chance for a rest stop at the top before pedalling on toward our first lunch break, beside one of the many canals which parallel or run adjacent to the Marne itself.

The green is amazing right throughout this trip and, down by the canal the pace slows as we tuck into the lunches that we packed after breakfast on the barge: fresh baguettes with cheese, ham and mustard along with fruit juices and fruit.  

It’s a good staple to get us through the afternoon, until we complete our first day of cycling and find the Zwaantje alongside in the city of Meaux.

The fading light lights up the beautiful stone buildings on Meaux as we have a pleasant walk around the city after dinner.  The bridge reflects in the mirror like river and we see the cathedral and Hotel d’Ville with all of their history and appeal. 

We’re gradually getting used to the fact that it doesn’t get dark until after 10pm here, so there’s time for a relax and a yarn before heading for bed ready to ride again tomorrow.

Our next day of riding takes us out through some more gorgeous countryside with wheat fields and views towards the river in the distance.

We’re heading toward our first stop for morning tea and an optional tour of a former Royal Chateau which was left to fall into ruin once the King decided that he would prefer to build the Palace to the South West of Paris at Versailles.  The former chateau is now a collection of ruins, but the moat is still visible and we meet the current owners who use the site for a number of different styles of events.  

The ambience of the place is relaxing and we enjoy wandering around and feeling the very tangible peacefulness of the place which was not without its more torrid times in centuries gone by.

It’s then back on the bikes and some more pedalling before arriving at our next lunch stop at a  Brie fromagerie in the small village of Jouarre where we are shown how the wonderful Brie de Meaux is made locally and distributed within France.

We also get the chance to taste the types of Brie made at this small family business and wash it down with some excellent local wine. There’s also the chance to buy some locally brewed beer.

Everybody is so impressed with the great flavour of this Brie that we all throw in a few euros each to purchase one of the 3 kilogram ‘wheels’ of Brie, to enjoy one we rejoin the Zwaantje which is now tied up in a small channel in La Ferté sous Jouarre.  

The warm afternoon and good spirits amongst the group entices a few of the men to show off their bombing skills by jumping overboard into the cool waters.

After another excellent three course dinner on board prepared by chef Keith, Lynette and myself set off for a walk around the town which is beautiful but quiet.  


Along the way we check out the street names and come across a special street with some lovely houses.

It’s then back to the barge and our cabin for a good sleep ready for more exploring the next day.




Our mooring is quiet and we aren’t disturbed as the light fades and the barge and its guests turn in for the night.

We’ll continue the rest of our journey tomorrow.  Each evening, after dinner, our guide provides us with a briefing of the next day’s ride.  Tomorrow will be rolling hills and a few climbs, with one up to a bridge across the TGV line.  We all seem to be getting a good night’s sleep and we look forward to the onward journey.

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