Day Ten: Vitry to Paray le Monial: Caterpillar Train and Fish Balls - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

April 6, 2017

Day Ten: Vitry to Paray le Monial: Caterpillar Train and Fish Balls

Heddi and Felix continued their wonderful care for us with a real (not French) breakfast. I had been so bold as to ask for fried eggs to go with everything else, and Heddi hit the preparation of "over easy" just right. They also sent us away with boiled eggs for the road. So nice.

The morning view from Heddi and Felix's cafe
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Our elegant breakfast table
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Behind the bar
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Heddi and Felix, great hosts
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The road today began with continuing D979 until it reached Bourbon-Lancy. In honour of the snotty Tourist Information there from yesterday, we bypassed the town and directly set out on the Canal Lateral toward Digoin. It is veloroute all the way, so we avoided any roads not to mention other proposed routes (like the EV6) that seemed to favour touring the surrounding hills!

Baby lambs. Quite a few sheep could be seen today among all the Charolais cattle.
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Our road to Bourbon-Lancy had some ups and downs. Good training after so much riding on flat river and canal paths
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It's spring, and the Charolais also have babies around
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The appealing Canal Lateral path
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A bizarre chain of caterpillars. At first it looked like a single organism, but they are following each other head to tail. We saw several of these train in a short distance, and then not again. Entomologists in the audience - comments?
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The Canal Lateral was built at the beginning of the 19th century, and together with a couple of other canals joins the Loire to the Seine. Nowadays it is used hardly at all for commerce, but had made a wonderful pleasure boat and bicycle corridor. At Digoin we finally said goodbye to the Loire and its canal, and took off on the Canal du Centre. France is rife with canals, and boating along them is a quite famous activity.

The boating is in a way more supported than the cycling, with numerous "halte nautiques" along the way. These feature picnic tables and often some sort of accommodation. At one lock on the canal lateral an enterprising grocery store in Pierrefitte had put signs with very clear directions as to how to reach them. This seemed directed at boaters, but hey, we bit.

The little Proxi-Mart had a nice selection of stuff. We bought the best baguette so far on the trip, tomato, strawberries, and a round white cheese that looked like many chevres but actually was from cow's milk. All this plus two low priced, high quality chocolate bars, we stashed in our packs for later.

Just before Digoin we caught up with two day trippers that had passed us earlier. We noticed them particularly because they had e-bikes, the only type now ever seen in Europe, with motor in the crank and no throttle. These folks, almost predictably, were from near the Netherlands - Antwerp actually. But their e-bikes were French.

The lady explained that before she had not wanted to cycle at all, because of the strength difference between her and her husband. But with her bike on its lowest assist the difference was eliminated and now here they were, happily cycling away. The fact that the muscle powered Grampies caught them shows they were not exactly buzzing down the veloroute. It all seemed very fine to us.

We stopped in Digoin, attracted by the signage that had told us Tourist Information was not far from the bike path. But of course, it was closed. Still we found a bench by the Loire and had a Loire farewell lunch there.

At the bench we arrayed our score from the Proxi Mart. Most cyclists in France end up with photos of wonderful baguette based lunches. The food here, even from a mini mart is such high quality that it is impossible to avoid having a lunch photo of it.

Bread at Proxi - so attractive, and yummy.
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The Proxi's hours, typically complicated French arrangement. We were ok with it though, until we came to the fine print: "Except Wednesday". Say what?

(You wlll have to zoom on the photo to see that fine print)

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At Digoin the Loire continues south while we go east. So this is goodbye, or at least au revoir.
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A rare oncoming touring cyclist. He did not stop or slow but we could tell he was German because he said Hello in English and because he was fully kitted out with German Ortlieb bags.
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Lunch ingredients. Wholesome, tasty, not costly.
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Eurovelo reminding us not to ride our bikes into the canal. Thanks!
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The Canal du Centre
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At a few points in the canal we found these balls of black fishes. They were not swimming anywhere but would sometimes move deeper and shallower. What are they up to?
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With the good breakfast and lunch in the tank we cruised really easily into Paray Le Monial. Paray is a little jewel in this region, with among others, two great sites recognized by us. The first is a Cluny order basilica, and the second is the Chapel of the Monastery of the Visitation (i.e. the Sacre Coeur chapel).

Before we could get into those, the first thing was to find a place to stay. We presented ourselves as pilgrims at the Association Coeur du Christ. They gave us a great room (with good wifi), a secure room for the bikes, and breakfast included for 53 euros. Apparently this amount includes membership in the Association, so we're in!

Given our new digs and membership, our first stop was the Sacre Coeur chapel. This was something built fairly recently (1633). In 1671-90 a young nun there,Margaret Mary Alacoque saw visions here of the heart of Jesus, I am not clear on whether she saw the whole Jesus, or just the heart. The message was that the heart of Jesus is wounded by so much indifference and coldness. God loves us, it goes, and is waiting for reciprocation. That is a message just like the one elaborated by John Denver and George Burns in the blockbuster film "Oh God".

The Margaret Mary visitations spawned the Sacre Coeur movement, which probably has worldwide scope now.And here we are at ground zero for it. The bones of Margaret Mary lie beneath a wax figure lying in state in the chapel. A no photos sign prevented me from really capturing it well. The chapel had a good selection of nuns and serious praying people in it, so circumspection ws the order of the day.

The nuns seemed so serious, they were a bit scary. But when we could not figure out how to open the door to make our escape, one came and showed us. She was so friendly that any apprehension disappeared.

Out in the street in front of the chapel another nun approached us. She spoke English, saying that she had come from Alberta, more than 25 years ago. Again, disarmingly friendly, and with a modern issue backpack atop the grey habit.

The second main site for us in Paray significantly predates Sacre Coeur. It is the Cluny order basilica built in the 11th and 12th century. The basilica is almost purely Romanesque style as was its model in Cluny itself. The dome above the choir also reveals a 15th century mural. This was only discovered in 1935 during a restoration project focussed on returning the basilica closer to original condition. Some very ancient overlays were removed in order to reveal this mural.

Back in our extremely large and comfortable pilgrim's cell, we are plotting tomorrow's fun. Charolle, the home of the Charollais cattle is on the "menu"m as is Cluny, the mother of the basilica here. I already jumped the gun by inappropriately buying a Charolle souvenir children's book about the cattle. When I am done typing this, I will read it to myself, assuming it is not too hard for me. Eventually Josh in Montreal will read it to the kids there. Amelia will have no trouble with it, since she is already in French school there.

Downtown Paray
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Our accommodation for tonight
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The Sacred Heart logo
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Ste Margaret Mary in the Chapel of the Visitation. This relic is a major pilgrimage attraction in itself
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The romanesque interior and recently revealed mural of the Cluny basilica
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The Basilica is similar in design to that in Cluny (now destroyed).
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Bedtime reading. Tomorrow is Charolle day!
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Flash

Thanks to AL Gordon and Bill Shanyfelt for verifying that those caterpillars are Pine Procession caterpillars. AL provided this link to complete information about them. We realized, reading this, that these are the Procession spinners that we saw so many warning signs about in Germany. Their hairs are highly irritating.

Bill also says:The fish picture looks like a fishball (school) of young catfish. It is believed this behavior helps them because a single fish is easy for a predator to catch, but a school makes it more likely that some will escape.

Today's ride: 55 km (34 miles)
Total: 535 km (332 miles)

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