Friday, September 7, 2018: Saint Quentin to Compiègne
Today’s ride was from Saint Quentin to Compiègne, which was roughly 74 km (46 mi). For me, the highlights here were Noyon, the destination Compiègne, and the wooded sections.
As I left the hotel, I realized that it was lightly drizzling. Sigh – I thought that I had checked out the window. It was supposed to taper off quickly, and I’d already handed in my key, so I went on my way. In reality, it wasn’t too bad – mostly just a notch or two above the heavy mist from a few days ago. It helped that the first 5-10km was on a bike path by the river.
After the path, the route looked a little like yesterday’s ride criss-crossing farm villages on secondary/tertiary roads.
One clarification from the last post- even though the route in France has had many country roads instead of bike paths, there aren’t necessarily that many cars on them. This is probably harder for people from home (California) to visualize. As an exercise, I actually counted the cars that passed me all morning (but not counting inside towns, or cars going the other way) – there were 18 cars all morning that passed me. That’s not zero- you do need to watch/listen for them and bike competently, but on many of the roads, you could stand for 10 minutes and not see another vehicle.
By about 11:30, I got to Noyon, which was a city (rather than town/village), where there seemed to be somewhat more to do. It had some elegant squares and a decent sized Cathedral:
From the material, I learned that Charlemagne himself was crowed king in 768 on the site of the current cathedral. Hugh Capet was crowned king here as well, in 987. Also, famous theologian John Calvin was from Noyon, until Protestantism was banned with France in the 1500’s, and he was effectively exiled to Geneva.
I went in the Cathedral for a few minutes, and I biked to and considered going in the Calvin museum. But it was nearly noon by that point, and naturally, the museum closes from 12-2pm. After all, this is France – lunch time is sacred. The bike tour rep warned us about this – a lot of smaller places in France close for a couple hours around lunch time, whether that’s 12-2pm, 1-3pm, 12:30-2:30pm, etc.
Bakeries seem have a later lunch closing (e.g. 1-3pm), but taking no chances, I went to a bakery downtown, and I bought myself a proper sandwich. Though I also added a pastry to my order. It seems best here to just get a quick grab-and-go lunch from a bakery (when all sweaty in bike clothes), and save real restaurants for dinner (when there’s more time, and after cleaning up from riding).
After leaving Noyon post-lunch, there were some nice wooded sections. Some of them were the regular car roads, some just for bikes. I really enjoyed this part. That said, there was an increasing head wind, which may have blown the rain clouds away.
Eventually, the road approached Compiègne. There was a detour to see the place where the armistice that ended WWI was signed, though I missed it, and my legs were tired anyway. Compiègne struck me as a grand-looking city, along the Oise river.
I checked into the hotel around 2pm and showered. I had a few hours to explore the city. I learned that it was where Joan of Arc was captured to be handed over to the British. There’s a statue of Joan of Arc in front of the city hall area:
After seeing the main church, I went to the Palace museum near the center, which had some grand rooms and furnishings. They were nice, though I liked the formal gardens outside better, with the long rows of tamed, rectangular trees.
Saturday, September 8, 2018: Compiègne to Senlis
Today’s ride from Compiègne to Senlis was 68km (~43mi). It was a really gorgeous route – a lot of it was actually on car-free paths, and it had a ton of variety – a huge castle, forests, rivers/lakes, farms, villages, grand stone buildings. It’s been my favorite so far of the France riding days, I’d highly recommend it.
The main caveat is that today had more climbing than previous days at 660m (2100+ feet), but this climbing led to a rewarding path. One other thing to bring up – it is possible to go between these cities in 35km (rather than 68km). But the main point is to see the most interesting paths and sites on the way, and I think the bike tour company has done a good job at curating these routes for the trip.
Anyway, after starting in the morning, I pedaled along the river for a few minutes, leaving the city of Compiègne behind.
Not longer after, I was riding on bike paths in the nearby wooded area. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the day was on bike routes or farm routes without many cars. So it seems like biking in France isn’t entirely the busier country roads – the good bike paths were actually very good.
I really liked biking through the wooded area here. The paths were well adorned, with lots of trees and ferns. There were locals fishing at spots, and the area seemed to be well taken care of. Then in the distance was Pierrefonds Castle:
It’s hard to capture the essence of a castle well by photos, but it was a neat area. There was a photogenic town around the castle, and I went into the castle for a visit. The rooms inside were great, and fairly empty of people – but maybe that’s because it was still morning. On the way out, I picked up a sandwich and pastry in the town for lunch later.
Not too far down the road, there was a 13th century abbey (St Jean Aux Bois), with its impressive stone towers out front. Come to think of it, most of the construction has changed from brick to stone over the past few days. A bit further down the road were also some Roman ruins of an ampitheater.
Then the route started climbing quite a bit over some hills. It then descended into some stretches of farm land. But even so, there was quite some variety as it went via some small wooded sections and villages:
As the road got closer to Senlis, it turned into a more uniformly heavy wooded area, like the area just leaving Compiègne. Mercifully, the path was mostly downhill the last 5-10km, since my legs were starting to get tired from the climbing.
Overall, there was just so much to see on this particular ride; I like how it showcased so many types of sites.
After arriving in Senlis and showering, I walked in to see the city. It seemed to be a nice enough small city, though I liked the previous city better. One interesting sight was a wedding that was taking place in the cathedral; I actually didn’t get to go inside because of it, but it was interesting seeing all the guests waiting in the square, the wedding party taking pictures and then filing in.
It’s hard to believe that it has already been 9 days, and that the route is supposed to reach Paris tomorrow.