Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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I have bit of catching up to do, so make yourself comfortable. First, to clear up a potential source of confusion: I wrote that on Day 1 I followed the 'Garden of England' cycle route from Dartford to Chatham. Hang on, you may be forgiven for thinking, that sounds like a route involving places such as Gravesend, Rochester, Gillingham
Day 4 was Monday. I left Faversham significantly recovered and covered the 25miles to Dover in about 4hours. It was surprisingly easy, and cheap (14 quid) to secure passage to Calais on the next ferry. If you're on a bike, they treat you as if you're in a car. This involves fighting your way through fairly randomly moving traffic, as other (stupid) people find, lose, switch lanes without warning. I arrive in Calais around 5.30pm local time, follow signs for 'Centre Ville' and, at the 'Café PopArt' which was exactly as garish and nauseating as the name suggests, had my first conversation with a Frog:
"Ou est le camping, pres d'ici?"
"Continuer tout doit, a la plage"
Day one of learning French has proved it's utility
Tuesday I cycled through green fields and very small villages to Clairmarais, near St. Omer, covering around 60km and stopping at around 2 o'clock to pitch my tent and find food. The former being accomplished with minimal hassle, since I had shrewdly stopped at a campsite, the latter proved nearly impossible. The outskirts of St. Omer, and particularly Clairmarais, are beautiful villages of canals, irrigation ditches, farmland. Not, however, of shops or restaurants. Eventually, I stop at one of the roadside stalls selling homegrown produce, these stand outside almost every house (presumably they buy from each other), looking for anything which can be eaten without preparation of any kind. I ask for 4 figs and 2 plums, explaining when she begins to weigh 2kg of plums that it's for my dinner and 2 will suffice.
"For your dinner?"
"How about some jam then"
"I haven't any bread"
Dark clouds pass overhead, thunder rolls somewhere. She gives me a look of concern like I've just told her I don't have a face. She disappears, and returns with a loaf of sliced white. The sun comes out and birds sing again. I'm not ashamed to admit that I tore into these paltry rations like a pig at a trough, or an American. Cycling is hungry work, it turns out. The fruit was sweet and juicy, even if the inside of figs does look like a botched operation, and bread dipped in jam is an underrated pleasure.
Yesterday I cycled 70km from St
"Can I take my bicycle on the metro?"
"I don't know, I'll look on the internet"
"Yes, yes you can."
I go to the metro, hefting my fully laden bike down the escalator, and am promptly accosted by a train guard.
"Hey Jonny, where do you think you're going?" (that at least was the gist of what he said)
"to the metro"
"it is forbidden"
"no it isn't, I asked at l'office de tourisme"
"hmm, I'll check with the chief" (le chef- a far better title than manager, in my opinion)
"it is forbidden"
"but...l'office...l'internet...je suis fatigué...St
I may have looked as though I was going to cry. This was of course an act.
"hmmmm, well, I'm going away now. If a guard catches you, that's your lookout"
Never let a bad word be said of French bureaucracy, it has just the right amount of slack. (see also the getting of vaccinations)
I find le camping, pitch tent and lie down, tired, hungry, and consequently morose. This morning I woke up in a great mood, as it was raining seriously hard outside and my tent was bone dry- this being the first time my new tent has been put to the test, I was pleased it passed muster. I found a banana I'd forgotten about for breakfast and decided that today was officially a Good Day.
I cycled 10km to a station 4km from the campsite (I'll get the hang of map reading eventually) Where I had 2hours to wait for the next train. I installed myself in the village coffee shop/bar/tobacconist/bookie opposite the station and read my book. It is apparantly the custom in establishments such as this to greet everyone else in the place with a handshake on arrival, so I was periodically interupted by old men in flat caps grasping my hand and saying "bonjour!". I found this wonderful, especially compared to the kind of welcome one can expect in a "locals bar" in England. The day has been spent so far sorting the vaccines and writing this. I'm going in search of dinner now.
Rural France does not seem to be well populated with internet cafés, or indeed anything else. I'll probably write again tomorrow, but after that it may be a while. It's always good to have a full inbox, especially when travelling alone, please do write to me, even if it's just one line to tell me you're doing fine and getting on with life.