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Kidbacks to Chartres

The whole family on two kid-back tandems.

by Sheldon "Daddy" Brown

In 1988-89 our family lived in Chevreuse, a suburb of Paris. Along with my wife, Harriet Fell, there was our daughter Tova, 8, and our son George who was pushing 6

May 1, 1989

Just back from Chartres. The four of us cycled down on the two tandems on April 28th. We took the D306 to Ramboulliet, then the D150 through Orphin into the department of Eure et Loir, where it turned into the D32. We stopped at Gallardon to look at the church there. It was quite a nice 12th century Gothic church, but not in the best of condition. It appeared to be in process of major repairs. Close to the church is a spectacular ruin of a 12 th century round tower donjon. It is quite tall, but only one side of it is still standing. It looks extremely precarious.

The D32 took us almost all the way to Chartres. We could see the towers of the cathedral from 10 km away as we approached the city. The last stretch of the approach was on the RN10, a major expressway. As we entered, we passed the fairgrounds, and saw that the Foire (fair) de Chartres was in progress, which made us a bit uneasy about the fact that we had no hotel reservations.

We rolled down the valley of the Eure into the old part of town, but had to walk most of the ascent toward the cathedral. The Syndicat d'Initiative (chamber of commerce) was able to find us a hotel, the Hotel d'Ecu. It was a short bike ride to the Hotel, through parts of the city that reminded me a lot of Paris. The hotel itself was rather old and funky. There was a courtyard with a roofed bar behind which we were able to lock the tandems out of sight. We had suite #1, which had one room with a single bed and a double bed, and another room with just a single. The plumbing was the worst. There was a strange electric toilet, which appeared to have a disposer built into it, but it was constantly getting plugged up. Fortunately, there was a normal W.C. down the hall. The door latches were of a very unusual design. The bolts had little rollers on them, and the striker plates had exterior ramps to make the rollers retract as the door closes.

After settling into our suite, we walked over to the cathedral for a look around, and to find a place to eat. Getting to the cathedral by foot was shorter than by bike, because there are pedestrian only streets that make a shorter route. The cathedral was at least as impressive as Notre Dame in Paris, and the stained glass is even better. The Chartres stained glass is noted for the particularly rich shade of blue they make only there.

We found a terrific restaurant just across the street from the cathedral, with unusually good food, and even a children's menu.

That night we discovered the major drawback of of the Hotel d'Ecu; it is located on a street that is very popular with motorcyclists, and they kept zooming by 'till five o'clock in the morning, making sleep difficult.

We had hoped to be able to make a more extensive tour of the cathedral, but being Sunday it was in use for mass, and we got chased out. Instead, we walked the "Circuit Touristique", Chartres' version of Boston's "Freedom Trail". This runs from the cathedral down the steep side of the valley through a lovely park to the Eure. The Eure is lovely there, surrounded by old mill buildings and half-timbered houses. The circuit wanders along the Eure and up twisty streets back to the cathedral. We also stopped into the Eglise St. Pierre, which is a large, late gothic building. It is much lighter inside than the cathedral, because the later designs have less stone and more window, also because the earlier windows are made of thicker glass, which is darker, but with much richer color.

Back at the Hotel, we celebrated George's sixth birthday, and gave him the two presents that we had brought along, a rubber snake and a fancy scientific calculator. The calculator was the perfect gift for him. It has 10 digits, and zillions of functions. Right away he learned about binary and hexadecimal notation.

We took a somewhat different route for the return trip, Swinging around to the south of the city and then going north of the airport to avoid the RN10. We went through a little town with the picturesque name of Gasville before rejoining the D32.

We stopped for lunch at a bar in Gallardon, where we had pizza and quiche. From Gallardon we headed north-north-east through Jonvilliers and Sauvage to Gazeran where we picked up the D906. The stretch from Gallardon to Gazaran was wonderful. The roads were well kept and there was hardly any traffic, as everyone was eating Sunday dinner. We were able to ride side-by-side most of the time, through fragrant fields of yellow blooming rape. (Rape is a plant that looks from a distance like goldenrod, but with larger flowers. It is harvested for an oil made from its seeds. In the U.S. this is called canola oil.)

We got a bit lost in Ramboulliet, and wound up heading north instead of east, so the return trip amounted to about 65 km as opposed to 59 on the way down.

Once we got to Cernay-la-Ville, we were in the home stretch--only 8 or 10 km to go. In the middle of Cernay, we passed a group of four teenaged boys hanging out with their two mopeds. A couple of km after the village, they passed us, but their timing was bad. The last 3 or 4 km of the D306 going into Chevreuse are a beautiful gradual descent, well paved with gentle curves. Shortly after starting the descent, we caught sight of the "wolf pack". We stayed behind them for the first few curves, because they are a bit too tight to be taken at full speed, but when we got past the sharpest curve, we let it all out. Tova and I got into our 110 inch gear and easily passed the two slowest mopeds. At this point I really was anxious to pass the other two as well, because I knew that the two slow ones would never live it down if they were the only ones to be passed. We succeeded in passing the leaders, but then I saw in my mirror that the fastest one had gotten into a full tuck, with one hand behind his back for further streamlining, and he pulled up next to us. This was my cue to go to the 123 inch gear and leave him behind for real. Once the road levelled off, they passed us again, and we exchanged cheerful waves.

This was a lovely week end, we will all remember it fondly, our first overnight tour as a family.

since July 1996

Copyright © 1996, 2004Sheldon Brown

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