Thoughts and tales from the saddle - on my own in Europe.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day 254 - Chichester - Southern England

Monday of this week, 10pm, I'm sitting in bed in a small hotel in the French town of Abbeville, contemplating the next four days riding to Le Harve. Well, more the fact that they will be my last four days riding rather than the actual riding itself.

I phone home and speak to my parents, as has become routine on a Monday night. "I'll be on a ferry to Portsmouth this Friday," I tell my Dad. "What time?" he asks. "I don't know, whenever they go, I suppose." I can hear my Dad clicking on his computer, using our friend Google to find ferry times. "Oh." He says. What? "Oh," he says again. What?? "There are no ferries sailing from Le Harve between the 17th and 26th November. Additional services are running from Dieppe." "Ok," I say, "I'll just go from Dieppe then." I think about this for a second, then it hits me. "It's tomorrow," I say. "What's tomorrow?" "Dieppe," I reply, "I planned to be in Dieppe tomorrow. I can catch a boat tomorrow. This time tomorrow night I'll be in England. Tomorrow, this will be over." "There you go then."

There, indeed, I go. Or rather I did...err...go, hence the location of this post.

My last day of riding, yesterday, was 40 miles of constant rain, headwind and lorry spray slapping me in the face, up and down the gentle rolls of the French coast until I reached the outskirts of Dieppe at about 3pm. A sign sent me right to the ferry terminal and as I started rolling downhill a view opened out in front of me. Something I'd been waiting to see for a long time - the sea, the channel. I rose out of my saddle and took in the view, patted my bike on the frame. "We've done it," I told him.

500 metres further on there's a small ferry terminal at the base of a cliff. I go into the reception and am told there's a ferry sailing at 5pm, check in closes in about half an hour. Just enough time for me to take a cheesy victory photo of me and Hewy (the bike) at the channel, at the end of our journey:

p.s. This blog will continue - I'm not finished yet!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day 248 - Charleville-Mezieres - North East France

I bought my last maps today, to take me across Picardie and Brittany to Le Harve, and the ferry. I also visited my final two 'new' countries in the last week - Luxembourg and Belgium.

Luxembourg was a funny one - a tiny country, really only consisting of a city and some countryside. I went into the city, couldn't find anywhere to stay in/near the centre and ended up in 'The Worst Hotel in the World' (re-named by me), about a mile or so from anywhere . Not that that made much difference anyway - nothing happens in the centre, from what I could tell. Few restaurants, few bars, little life. It's nice - pretty, you know, cobbled streets, nice buildings and crap like that, but there wasn't really any life, any bite to it. Not that I saw, anyway.

Back in TWHITW, I sat on the bed looking at the dirty, thredbare carpet and the stained walls, my nostrils full of stale smoke and damp, the bed creaking and sagging underneath me, and I thought 'I'm getting sick of this shit'. The 65 euro price tag on the room didn't help. I've stayed in the centre if Vienna, in a nice place, for little more than that. And countless other places. If you want to go to a little country in Europe, go to Andorra, that's what I say. Or if you have to go to Luxembourg, don't stay in the Hotel Bristol.

So, after my 'I'm getting sick of this shit' moment, I changed my plan. I was going to head North into Belgium and touch Holland, but instead I decided to go West, through Belgium, back into France and head for the channel. Which is what I did. I was in Belgium for one night and am now looking at six days or so back to the channel.

The weather has been getting increasingly worse - I was riding in sleet the other day, snow yesterday, and temperatures rarely go over three degrees. Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn't really bother me that much. I've got clothes on, you know, and gloves, and dry clothes to wear afterwards in waterproof bags on the back of my bike, so it's just like another day at the office, so to speak.

Anyway, I'm off to enjoy my last days on the road in France, before my return to England makes this all seem so far away.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Day 242 - Metz - North East France

Last few weeks of the trip, a gentle wind-down through quiet, peaceful France, a chance for reflection and some space in which to prepare my mind for all that will be involved in returning. All of the big adventures, nights out and strange random happenings are behind me. Or so I thought - it seems this trip is determined to keep it up right 'til the end.

Last night involved making new friends in a kebab shop and proceeding on to a hot, sweaty underground cavern of a club where French punk bands were making lots of noise, drinking industrial quantities of pression, being offered non-legal things to smoke at the bar, hanging around with ageing French punks and just generally making it impossible for me to cycle anywhere today.

I like Metz.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Day 240 - Sarreguemines - North East France

It was my birthday yesterday. I spent it cycling through the hills and forests of Des Vosges, in Alsace. It was deserted - I think three cars passed me - and beautiful. I spent the night in a small town, had a beer, ate dinner, read a book, wrote in my journal. Just another day on the road. I think it was the first birthday I have ever spent completely on my own. It was nice. Fitting that I shall remember my 30th like that, after all I've done over the last year.

I was going to say '...spent completely on my own in a strange, foreign land,' but France doesn't feel strange or foreign to me anymore. It almost felt like home when I crossed the border from Germany - the road signs, the shops, the towns and villages. It was all somehow familiar, not that unsurprisingly as I've spent over two months here this year. Plus I can speak the lingo a bit, so can actually communicate with people on a reasonable level, which makes a nice change.

I move towards Luxembourg and Belgium in the next week or so and then probably to the channel and a boat to England. This trip has been marked throughout by various bodies of water - the Channel to the Atlantic, Atlantic to Med to Adriatic to Aegean, as well as the Loire, the Dordogne, the Rhone, the Danube, the Rhine (which I crossed two days ago)...they all seem to have provided a constant thread running through, so it will be a poignant moment when I finally reach the Channel again, signalling the end of the trip.

Those of you who have been paying attention will notice that I will therefore not be going to 'Every European Country', as I said I set out to do. That is slightly disappointing to me, but only very slightly. I would hope that you have realised by now that this was never about ticking boxes, never about just being able to say I've been here, or there, scoring some kind of points in the pub. This journey was always about just that - the journey. The discovery, the experiences, the adventure, as well as the physical and mental challenge involved in doing it as I have, alone on my bike.

I will still have done what I set out to do and that was to live this, to survive and to rise to the challenges I set myself. Returning to the channel, having travelled every land-inch on my two wheels, using only my two legs, is the biggest of those challenges and soon, hopefully, I will be succeeding in that. Then I will be a very happy 30 year old man.

Friday, November 02, 2007

No words...