Chewing the fat - Kiwis fly - CycleBlaze

September 17, 2019

Chewing the fat

Laval to Domfront

We found our apartment in Laval easily enough yesterday afternoon but significant bike/pannier wrangling was required to make things shipshape. The bikes were bundled down to the basement via a tricky narrow staircase, then we hauled ourselves, panniers and dust up to apartment 6, on the top floor. 

There were vague plans to visit a bike shop on the other side of the river, to replace a couple of bits and pieces. But motivation is a problem after a long, hot day in the saddle. Shower, cup of tea, supermarket visit (fortunately, just a short walk away) and couch time took precedence, quickly followed by dinner and bed. And that took care of yesterday.

There's always one. . .
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But today is a new day.

We leave the apartment in the cool of an overcast morning to rejoin our lazy river, this time on the opposite bank. It is easy riding again and we pass other cyclists with a cheery bonjour.  One, though, calls back to us, asking us if we're English. This interaction develops into a delightful two-hour ride with Harry, a semi-retired Dutch history professor whose world view slots in nicely with Tour Leader's. In fact, he has written academic papers about the uptake of cycling in Europe. The conversation is free-ranging (he's an excellent English speaker and, I suspect, multi-lingual) and before we know it, we are at Mayenne, the end of our river ride. 

After a tabac coffee, Harry goes off to forage for lunch while we strike out in a different direction. Domfront is our destination today and we achieve it via a series of green pathways (voies vertes) with only occasional forays onto country roads, where a playful head wind tries to slow us down.

On the voie verte, a rail trail complete with rails!
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We are outside our hotel, on the outskirts of Domfront, a good ten minutes before 2pm check-in, feeling rather smug. With all of this spare time on our hands until beer o'clock, we take our shiny selves and pannier-free bikes up the hill to the medieval town where there has been a fortified castle since the 11th century. 

Interestingly, the church at the other end of the village is a modern build, with construction starting in 1924. Because of limited space on the hilltop, the architect moved away from the traditional Latin cross design beloved of catholic churches in this part of the world, and went for a square-framed  neo-Byzantine church built in concrete. And it's stunning.

Saint Sauveur, Domfront
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We stumbled on a very different sort of church yesterday. It was a small chapel built into the face of the hill right on the bank of the Mayenne river.  To my secular eye, it seemed a random location but the plaque told an interesting story.

In 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to a local child, Bernadette, in this rock hollow, and asked her, amongst quite a list of requests, to tell the priests to build a chapel on this site. So they did. 

At the chapel of La Sainte Vierge
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This story reminded me of the young Joan of Arc convincing the not-quite king of France that she could defeat the English and allow him to rule over a united country. And he believed her. There's something interesting, I think, about the power of young women in ancient times who saw visions or heard voices. They were not dismissed as delusional nutters, as they would be today. Priests built the rock chapel. King François took on Joan as his military adviser.

On the other hand, of course, possessing such powers put these women into danger. They were feared as much as they were revered. Joan was burnt at the stake by the English as a heretic. And women suspected of witchcraft over many centuries have met horrible deaths. 

Unlike our history professor companion today, my European historical knowledge is limited to binge-watching  Outlander. So I'll finish here.


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Today's ride: 78 km (48 miles)
Total: 1,565 km (972 miles)

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