Monday, 8 August 2016

Riding 'Round Part II: France

Turns out PAF is in the Champagne region, so I decided to spend a day visiting Epernay and riding along the Cote des Blancs. Went on a tour of the Mercier cellars, mostly because they have a train down in the cellar and that sounded like fun. Of course it came with a complimentary glass on their champagne. Now I’m not condoning drink-driving, but my ride through the hills of champagne after glass of the stuff was incredible. We all know how I feel about wine.

The northern section of the Cote Des Blanc was great. The southern section is literally just flat fields of dirt and wheat, so I’m not really sure what’s going on there. I feel like the tourism board was paid off by the people in the southern towns. As one might expect, I had planned to finish my journey with a spectacular lunch of bread, cheese (I was on the Plateau of Brie!) and champagne however upon arriving in Sezanne, I was told by the tourism office that everything at 3pm on a Saturday was closed and if I wanted to eat, the only option I had was McDonalds. I have never eaten a cheeseburger with such anger and resentment.

I got into Paris around dinner time and checked into my only hostel in my whole European leg of the journey. I’ve been to Paris before so only decided to spend the night there, but actually 2012 me didn’t really appreciate food or people so I wish I could have stayed for a week. Last time I just did all the tourist things, but like London, Paris is so ridiculously magical and there are so, so many things to eat. I unexpectedly spent a few hours in a cafe with some incredible caramel and ginger crepes and dry cider with four Americans, just talking. We all agreed Trump was a disaster. I spent the night just walking past a bunch of landmarks like The Pompidou Centre and Notre Dame before climbing the Eiffel Tower for midnight, the last time I did it being during the day.

I should add also that even though I wasn’t having any driving issues with my bike anymore, since being fixed it had started leaking petrol at an alarming half tank a night. If my bike wasn’t so fuel efficient this might have been a disaster. It was only once back in the UK I realised I could have just turned the fuel nozzle off and stopped it leaking …

In the morning I popped up to Sacre Couer which is decidedly less ambient in the early hours of the day, with all the rubbish and smells of urine and a bizarre 1950’s car convention rallying at the bottom. It was a big riding day and I stopped at Chatres to see the cathedral, Chateau du Chambord and Chateau du Chenonceaux. It was at this point that I discovered that the novelty of the big old buildings was really wearing thin and I wasn’t really enjoying just riding somewhere, looking at the notable landmark and moving on. I’ve essentially been travelling since October so I think not only was the magic of travel not as fresh, but when you’ve seen a lot of world class sights, some things start to not measure up. What I was actually enjoying more were the people I was meeting (and of course the food). I stayed the night in Tours with a very sweet guy (his first time hosting!) who got us pizza to eat while watching the new Karate Kid (with French subtitles so I could learn some words).

I had to get to Carnac which was my biggest ride yet. So of course it was the day I had my first accident. I was turning off the motorway and pulling into a gravel bay to check the map and must have hit it too fast and the bike just came out from under me. I tore my glove up and grazed my leg (but didn’t find out until I took my pants off later that night) but other than that was fine. The bike was a bit scratched up, the gear peddle bent and the chain had come off. I got the chain back on but it was super loose, but thankfully the bike ran fine! I don’t know what I would have done if it had actually broken.

I didn’t really feel like stopping other than a very brief bite to eat in Vannes, so by the time I got there I had been five and a half hours on the motorway. Carnac was bigger than I expected so I decided to come back the next day to give it more time. My hosts were a fantastic couple called Arnaud and Jan and I had a blast with them. We spent the night non-stop talking and Jan was from Reims, so he busted out some champagne for us claiming the Bretons didn’t appreciate it enough. They gave some great French artists to listen to and I put them onto Montaigne.

Backtracking to Carnac I booked in for a tour of the monolithes, which is the only way you can walk amongst them. I usually don’t like tours and audio guides, but it was really interesting hearing about the history of the site (which was older than the pyramids). It would have been really easy to spend a lot of time there and see all the sites and the town itself, but I was short on time, having to get to my next destination, St. Malo!

This was probably my favourite part of the the trip so far. In St. Malo I met up with Nolwenn who took me on an extensive walking tour of the city (which is stunning!); along the waterfront, the ramparts and through the old city. She bought me Kouign Amann, a delicious buttery scroll thing local to Brittany and treated me to a local drink in the pub, refusing to let me pay. At home I met her three sisters, sister’s fiance and parents, all who were so welcoming and talkative. For dinner they made lobster (of which I had almost a whole one), fish, and vegetables and of course wine. If felt like a big family celebration dinner and I was absolutely blown away! In the morning Nolwenn and her sister Marie made me crepes for breakfast and gave me a packed lunch to take. Their mother urged me to stay another night and when I couldn’t she kissed me goodbye. The warmth and generosity was something I never thought to find through couch surfing.

I took the coastal road on the way to Mont Saint Michel and experienced the first rain of my trip (never fear, I have waterproof everything)! Except apparently for my jacket pocket. When I arrived I pulled my phone out to find it covered in water and seriously glitching. I quickly turned it off to prevent damage, dried it and then … it wouldn’t turn back on. Dead. I had a little bit of a freak out because my phone is the only way I can navigate while I’m travelling - on a motorbike you can’t use a map obviously and stopping to check anything involves parking and taking off gear. I also couldn’t contact anyone.

In true French fashion the lady in the information building was blunt and unhelpful. They had no wifi for me to use on my laptop to figure out what to do, and there were no other building or facilities in the area. Also, because of the terror alert in France all baggage storage in the country has been closed. She then advised me that it was forbidden to take bags into the monastery, so essentially (because I have everything with me and can’t just leave it on the bike), I couldn’t go in.

I think I just sat on a bench in the foyer staring into space for a good fifteen minutes.

When I tried to leave the carpark the machine wanted £5 for the less than half hour I was there! Deciding that this was basically criminal I hitched my bike over the little barrier to drive around the gate. Only part way through I realised that I was in sight of a parking attendant and had to gun it. That was when my chain (loose from the accident) decided to come off again, rendering my get away vehicle defunct. Cut to me sitting on my bike and walking it out of the carpark as quick as I could, imagining I was being pursued (I was not).

Rallying, I pulled into the next town, found wifi and used my laptop to find friends for moral support. I then tried to memorise the route to my next destination (apparently with mixed success). Every fifteen minutes or so I had to stop, get my laptop out and try and figure out where on the map I was and how many inevitable wrong turns I had taken. Miraculously I arrived at the American Cemetery in Normandy at 5:55pm, noting that it closed at 6pm. Whhyyyyyy. I basically ran through the grounds before they kicked everyone at 6:30 taking photos (on my iPad, how demeaning), then having an hour to meet my next host in Caen at the designated place which I couldn’t be late for (because, no phone). I got there. Praise be.

Quentin was one of the coolest guys I have met. He also rode motorbikes (a 1000cc, just a little better than mine :P), was a diver and had a fucking backpack plane (a backpack with a propeller and parachute; you basically go to a field and run to take off and then fly yourself up to 2km high). I didn’t know this existed and now that I do, I want! He took me for a ride on his bike and got up to 230km/h on the highway. I felt like I was travelling through time in a wormhole. It was terrifying and incredible. As an extra bonus he fixed up my bike and tightened the chain!

My final day in France was simply a ride to Dieppe and get the ferry to Newhaven in England, but what made it notable was that my phone turned back on! The lock button didn’t work and the up volume was stuck on (making for an uncomfortably loud level of navigation) but I wasn’t about to be picky.

I spent four days of much needed chill out with friends in and around London, which only made me realise so much more how much I think of London as home, how much I have loved my life here and the incredible amount of beautiful people that have become such an important part of my everyday life. I almost didn’t want to leave on the next part of my travel; I could have happily stayed in London for a month but weirdly it was cheaper to leave than to stay!

No comments:

Post a Comment