Albi

Last night, I slept in a wooded area, after riding around 200km from around Lannemezan. That night, I spent in a cemetery, right next to a crypt and a giant church, with even giant..er bells gonging every 25 minutes. That day was around 100km, but included 2 mountain passes.

I am pretty much spent, so it’s a day off in Albi.

Albi had one thing I was interested in – the Toulouse Lautrec Museum. And, although small, it was nice, but now that’s over with and to be honest, I don’t know where to go to, next. I guess I’ll kiss the South Eastern part of France and make my way North, on the last leg. I guess. We’ll see. Suggestions?

I feel so bad, as my mind isn’t very clear – When I say, “Tired”, I mean my legs are refusing to work anymore. All I want to do is to lie down – so typing on a computer is pretty close. The rest of tonight is finding some cheap-ish food and a campsite (got a map with one on – so no problem there). What I feel bad is, I want to relate to you, *right now* my experiences, but I think this is impossible, it will have to wait. I simple cannot emote them in the way I want. But, I can give you snapshots and write. Write snapshots.

So, here’s some of that:

The Col du Tormalet:

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The highest pass in the Pyrenees I happened upon. Not so hard. It’s very funny to think the mountains at home are so much larger. To give you an idea, this mountain is only 1,000 feet higher than where I *live*. It’s 15 miles to a higher point from my doorstep.

This day was overcast, so I didn’t know what I was climbing up, until, well, the clouds parted ways:

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Which, you have to say, is pretty cool.

It took forever for the weather to pass. What to do? Well, this is France, so what you do is grab a cup of coffee and watch the weather (literally)

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One thing is for certain in France, if you want an expresso – anywhere you are, it can probably be had.

The cafe I was i also had vintage bikes on the wall. There was one that caught my eye, that had a, “retro-direct” drive. You pedal regularly for one speed and *backwards* for another. Here’s the back:

I’ll have to make one when I get back (now that I’ve had a good look).

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The trick is that pulley in the middle. Hmm.

The last mountain pass for me in the Pyrenees:

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No problem. But, as you ca see, the weather was still not so good, so my plan was to take the rest of the day and cycle as far out of the Pyrenees as possible, hoping to beat out the storm.

I met the storm and got wet, but did manage to go *through* it entirely and made camp in a very small town’s cemetery. Why there? The small rocks that made up the ground were dry – dryer than any grass in the area. It was also below the ground level (you go down steps) so no one could see me. I gained access by a small, unlocked door next to the church – usually cemeteries are closed after around 19:00 – I went through the side door, I guess. And that door was another little veil from me and the outside world.

On the steps, I had a most wonderful picnic of a cheese and chorizo sandwhich, potato chips and.. .cookies! Food is a funny thing – it tastes so good for different reasons. At that specific time, that food was the best food I had ever eaten in my life and I’m not the biggest fan of pork. The cheese, which I’ll never know the name of, was the best cheese I had ever tasted.

Food is also a very expensive thing in France and I’ve been eating out of Supermarches as much as possible. On my day off, the day before this, I did go to a restaurant, in hopes of getting a pizza. French pizza is on a flat bread and they do crazy things with it, like put Foe Grais on it. But, they’re usually cheap and fattening – which is what I’m looking for (and it’s hot food, for a change).

I went to order the pizza and the waitress told me, “Only for dinner!” and I went, aw, crud, since I didn’t want to order from the 15 Euro menu. But, I did. And the food? Well, it was *alright*. The salad was just lettuce with tuna, the duck leg was a little overdone. It came with, well, fancy french fries and onions (which was the best thing on it) and a small dessert. Would I pay 15 euros for it again? No. It was forgetable.

That sandwich in the cemetery – not as forgettable.

One more thing about food – on top of that mountain pass, there was a guy, selling cheese out of the back of his van. Of all places. Cheese is like drugs to the French. He was even given out little free samples. The visual on it… sigh.

When I bushwhack, I don’t really think it’s prudent to take too many pics of the campsite, but the light at 7:00am at the cemetery was beautiful:

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I slept, as they say, “Like the Dead”, although at 7:00 there was a plethora of gonging going on and I was out of there post haste!

The next day was nothing but pushing pedals I guess – very tired legs going very very far. The day started at 7:30 am and ending at 10:30. I couldn’t find a good place to camp for a while. I wouldn’t ridden all the way to Albi, but they closed the road I needed for construction, so I just ditched on the side.

OK, time to find some food before the shops all close.

Cheers,


Cyber

Cyber Cafes are so cool, since they almost live up to what I’m supposed to think they are, after reading Snow Crash.

For example, I can be traveling in a foreign country by bicycle, sleep in the woods, visit a 400 year old cathedral –

and then, go down an alleyway and hook up my tiny, 1lb laptop to a connection in a somewhat questionable establishment (but not one without really friendly owners) and bang! I’m in 2008 again.

I’m in Albi and I will be here until I get my net fix, uploading pictures and catching up on work.

In case you’re wondering what I know about Albi, well, this:


Trois

Three mountain passes yesterday:

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Don’t have much internet time, but they were extremely steep and it was extremely warm. In a nutshell. Taking a break today and have two more HUGE passes tomorrow and then I’m out of the Pyrenees. Sad.

Yesterday, there was a freak rain storm that collapsed my tent, and some of my stuff was in it, but nothing got ruined. I was eating in a dining room and stayed there for a while, until the campsite guy told me I could sleep in the game room. Dry. That was nice of him. I’ll extrapolate when I can get a power outlet.


Art

And, quickly – on the border between France and Spain, 50 meters before a mountain pass, I found a center for contemporary sculpture and architecture –

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Contemporary Sculpture in the middle of NOWHERE

And here’s the sign to the place – my guess is that it’s in the Basque language, which is amazing to think that such an old culture has such contemporary shoots coming out of it.

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Love to do more research about it when I get back.


Basque Symbols

While I’m still here, Some strange Basque signage:

Basque Swastika made out of Jai alai Baskets. So strange.

It’s a Basque Swastika made out of Jai alai Baskets. The Basque culture, like MANY cultures uses a swastika like symbol – no sure exactly what the basque type means. “Jai Alai” (or the basque term for the same game” means, “Merry Game”. I see a lot of the same symbol on pottery – where it’s more of a flowy, flowery type of design – but I’ve never seen a 4 pedal flower. Strange!


Crack!

Whoops! Broke a spoke not 20 minutes after ending the last post. I was in traffic in Centre Ville and I was waiting for a light. I started pedaling and, “Crack!” That’s it. Sheesh. All fixed now, just recharging batteries and then, onward. I guess every 1500km, expect a broken spoke.

Wish me luck!


Pyrenees

Hello Everyone,

A couple of days ago, I pushed into Spain! Crossing the border gave me the sense of being knocked out and not knowing my name. Again. One side of a river – France, the other: Spain and it’s a totally different world. I went west until I hit a part of the road I couldn’t ride a bike on and went, “Hmm”. It was around 21:00, so not much more riding could be done, anyways.

Luckily, there was a Hypermarche and a campsite, so I got some food (bought a map!) and made camp.

I looked to see where the Guggenheim was in relation to myself (about 9km from San Sebastian).

It was about 150kmm away.

So. One, long day there, one day at the museum and then, a day back to the border… hmm.

I opted to skip this little side leg, in the hopes that if I do have extra time, I can spend it in Amsterdam with friends. And three days is a lot of time on my time scale right now.

So, the next day, I got up and went back East right to the border and then… South! into the Pyrenees! I’m currently in a town called, “Oloron Ste-Marie” and have already toppled a few, smaller mountains. Before me are 4 big ones, 2 of which I may get to today, or just got to the base. Getting pretty tired in the legs there, so we’ll see. Slow going, as it’s, well, it’s a mountain range.

Really excited to be here, though as this is the type of terrain I’ve been looking for.

Last night, I must have looked a wreck, getting into camp at the base of the Col d’Osquich, as a couple with their son from another tent came by and offered me… wine! And then more wine, and then dinner! Which was incredibly kind of them, as I was just about out of all food but the bare essentials of a few pieces of crummy bread and peanuts.

Beautiful campsite, overlooking the mountains, small and quite friendly campers as well. My thanks to that family – in the morning, the son even gave me a cup of coffee. Over and above!

Some photos:

From the day after surfing:

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that’s the tan line. And those things that look like muscles aren’t – it’s all sinew, tendons and bone.

Here’s the first, “mountain” I was able to climb. That’s 169 meters, I might add…

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Right now, I’m in the Basque region of… well, the world – it’s almost a country within another country, complete with their own language, called, Euskara:

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Depending on what you’re looking on and where you are, it’ll be the only language of whatever you’d looking at. It’s very funny when you see advertisements, completely in Euskara. Lots of trucks are labeled in this language – and almost all use the same exact typeface. The weekend I rolled through seemed to be festival weekend and I got caught up in many a festival celebrating the culture

Here’s some more:

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“Francia” is Spanish, the other text is the Euskara version of, “France”. Yes.

Some more type – one of those graffiti messages:

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Notice, “Niggaz” is feminine. I’m trying to figure out if, “rap game” means, “to play rap”, or if it’s a term for doing some freestyle rapping.

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A local cafe with a signed photo of 5 time (Spanish) winner of the tour de France – Miguel Indurain “The Alien”

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A giant sculpture on road N121 in Spain.

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Another mountain top’d!: Col d’Ispeguy – 672 meters – still a baby. The view from the top was incredible, though. The ride down was scary as… all hell. There were all these warning signs at the top that basically says, “you’re… gonna die” and then they stop and the road twists and turns – no safety anything after that.

Oh! The view:

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Today, I was riding up another mountain and there was text, painted on the road itself – no idea which language this is:

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I bet it says, “Take it easy, champion” or something like that.

And the top:

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Another baby.

Alright. Away I must go. Wish me luck!


Bull Games

After getting off the internetcom’s yesterday, I found a campsite and made camp and picked up a flier for… bull games! Think a bull fight – but they don’t kill the poor thing. Most excellent, I thought, but the problem was, you get tickets at the tourist office, and they were probably about to close in a half hour. I thought to myself,
do I risk not getting a ticket, and taking a shower, or do I go back to town, and try to race for a ticket?

In the end, the shower beat out – I thought I’d risk it to see if there was, I dunno, a scalper, or someone trying to get rid of an extra ticket out side and if that didn’t work, just go to the movie (X Files – Blech)

So, I showered and felt very much the better, went to town, ate and people watched, until around 20:30 and headed to the stadium. And wouldn’t you know it, they had a box office. So a put down a few Euros and entered the bullfighting ring. And it seriously was, a bullfighting ring.

Not to know what to expect, the first thing that happened, was, of course a… marching band! Hazzah! And we know the love of marching bands here:

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And then, they strolled out and sat themselves, to become some of the music for the rest of the games.

So,

In bull games, the idea is not to harm the animal, but just to sort of, not get hit by it. The bull is put in one of the “corners” of the ring and then the guys in the middle sort of go, “HEY!” and the bull charges.

At the last moment, the guy the bull is charging at does a little turn and slaps the bull on the ass and that’s the trick. The matador-like guy looks all slick for not getting gouged and the bull feels a little astonished it didn’t hit anything.

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Not sure what your opinion of the ethics of this all are, but it does seem to be slightly humiliated for the bull, but less so, that it isn’t DEAD. They actually allow the bulls to live out their lives, to old age.

So, that’s the old-guard and it’s thing.

After they do their thing, the New Guy comes out, not wearing the fancy coat or anything – just white shirt/pants and a small tie.

He does the same type of setup, but instead of simply stepping away from the bull, he goes right over the charging bull, many times doing a flip in the process (and then tumbling again, once he lands).

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It’s impressive.

So that was Part 1 of the bull games.

After a brief intermission, they start putting out props into the ring. A few barrels, a string of flags, and… 4 chairs, a table and a sun umbrella?

Then, they ask for people from the audience to come down and people do! Manly men, here to test their virility. I wanted to come down and join, but being so tired and, well, there has to be a bull in the equation somewhere – and not knowing enough French to, literally, save my life, when the ring leader comes over and says, “OK, look, if you’re in trouble, do this…”, I feigned offering my hand.

Anyways, in a few minutes, they release, the bull! And then,

Then, they release a big giant bouncy ball.

And then,

And this is when I just sort of cracked,

They started playing football.

WITH THE CHARING BULL! The charging bull is in the middle of all these men, playing football, with an over-sized ball. The barrels and flags were make-shift goals. There’s women sitting on the tables and chairs, just hoping not to get hit,

and of course in about 3 seconds the bull just plows through them, women going everywhere (mostly, after they get on their feet, in back of a defensive guard), the tables/chairs are reset and the women sit back down (just to be plowed through again immediately)

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And someone actually scores a goal. The people playing? They’re good. You can tell they’ve been playing soccer… hmm… all their lives and probably bull-gaming (if they’re a local) most of that time as well.

So that happens, and it’s so unbelievable, since nothing like this would happen… I think? In the states. There’s the rodeo, of course, but they don’t just pick the clowns out of the audience, you know.

Speaking of,

And then the clowns come in, and do clownish things, like dress up like cows.

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Your guess is as good as mine on what the “escaped convict” back story works in on all this, but the three clowns came out initially on a bicycling built for two. The most bizzare thing they did was decide to get in that violet tub thing, with one of them on top of another’s shoulders and take a huge, HUGE roman candle and kind of, parade around the bull ring, while the BULL IS CHARGING THEM. And of course, they get plowed. If there’s anything I like more than marching bands, it’s old-school clowns and now rodeo, bull game clowns have a special place in my heart.

So that was bull games. Basque is a weird place.

The next day, I got up bright and early and went to the surf shop in centre ville and rented a board and wetsuit. I got a long board – it’s not like I surf every day and hey, I like long boards.

Went to the beach. Overcast. That’s OK – because I like overcasts. I burn like, well, like a farm potatoes and distill whiskey for a living, so it’s a plus.

And there’s no surf to speak of. It’s so entirely low tide, the beach is a different place from yesterday.

That’s OK (Thinking positive – positive! Positive.) I can wait – hey, I can wait all day. So, I do. I take a walk, I take a snooze, I put on the iPod accessory.

And then, it started raining.

Uh… That’s OK! Just a passing shower. I’m sure of it. Sure beats being in the hot hot sun – huh, that’s for sure.

And, it keeps like that, I keep snoozing, and iPod-ing and reading my travel book and all that.

And you know what? It cleared up. The surf? High tide started coming in. Time to suit up.

I have the littlest of towels. And I tried using it to take off my knickers and put on the wetsuit. I flashed the entire beach multiple times, but the entire beach either didn’t care, or – well, they were all eating lunch, like smart people, so no one saw my great big… upper thigh muscles.

I go to zip up the big huge zipper that’s in the back there – it’s just like putting on a dress and I hear that sound – the sound that sounds
like a broke zipper. Cripes.

So, I flash the beach again my… my thighs that are going to get me up the Pyrenees (in like 3 days! YEAH!) and inspect the zipper. It’s broken. And you know. YOU KNOW, there’s no way to fix a broken zipper, when one size of the zipper is completely off the track.

Merde. I didn’t get the wetsuit because I was going to be cold – I got it, because I thought – well, less that’s going to burn underneath all this. So, thinking positively on all this, I thought – I could get burned and surf – pas de probleme.

Or, I could go to the surf school hut thing, about 50 meters away, and ask to rent a wetsuit from them.

And I do. At half the price of my other one. And, with conditions getting goooood, I go into the water and have a grand old time attempting to catch waves in fucking France. Which. Just the idea. I think I crossed something off my list – A third coastline “surfed” in my lonely 27 years. Yes.

The long board was a horrible choice though, as I’ve never seen a beach so difficult to paddle out. There’s no real way to duck dive with that big thing, so I had to wait forever for a magic lull in the wave activity and then, Jump! Paddle my little brains out and then, hopefully get through whatever late bloomers come may way. And I did. For hours and hours. So much fun.

Let it be known that surfing is hard. I am no expect, but I would jump at any chance at a month+ long journey to surf the world’s oceans with only the skills I currently have.

I gave the board back and got a refund on the broken wetsuit, without a problem. *Phew*.

Tonight – I don’t know what I’m going to do – perhaps see that dumb movie, but I’ll have to ask the trip’s accountant (my wallet) about that one. Tomorrow, it’s bright and early, bound for Basque Spain and a whole lot of unknowns. Awesome.


LE MER! Vieux-Boucaules-Bains – 2548.1 km

So,

I freakin’ turn the corner in the road and it’s Southern California. I park my bike next to a sand dune and an ice cream shop, pass the surf school stand and up a bluff and I see this:

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LE MER!

The scene looks like San Diego, except the water is warmer and not so polluted – and it’s SO BLUE and SO CLEAR. The beach is, well, French with French rules (wink wink) and the sand is so hot on my poor feet and the water feels so good.

I stay and watch some of the most mellowest surf roll in – slow and easy to catch and the wave median is about 5 feet, I’d say.

So I pack it up and find the board shop, and tomorrow, I’m renting a board, a wet suit (more so I burn horribly – and I will, burn, in less places) and I’m going surfing – all day. I’m at this cyber cafe mostly to find what the surf report is. Between the cyber cafe and the board shop is a… cinema! So, tonight, I’m going to watch a cheesy movie dubbed badly in French. Somewhere in all this, I’m going to find a campsite as well. So excited.

Yesterday was a very very long day – not so long, but crazy mileage – 183.1km – The area south of Bordeaux is something like a forest – the roads are very straight and the terrain is incredibly flat. I feel somewhat like the scene in Dumb and Dumber, thinking the South of France has, I dunno, “Mountains” or something, and finding this – as if someone is full of shit. The, “forests”, upon close inspection, aren’t forests at all! The trees themselves are extremely young, of only a few species and are planted in neat little rows. I think it’s a giant farm for wood.

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Which, if you think about it, is sort of… *strange*. And, sad, I guess. If anything, France is very dependable when it comes to scenery. If you’re in farmland areas, dab-gummit – you’re going to see farmland – and it looks exactly the same, everywhere. If you’re in the forest, it looks exactly like this. If you’re in a medieval town – well, you’ll know. Not to complain, it’s better than seeing strip malls – but even French strip malls all look the same.

Um… here’s a cathedral – and my bicycle! And the foreground is the cafe I stopped to have breakfast:

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Yesterday night,

I rolled into the campsite very tired and got a space. It was a circus – popular town, I guess. Everyone in board shorts, with surfboards – you really do have to do a double take sometimes. There was a bar at this site, so, I said, hey let’s get a beer – that’ll help with the horrible pain of my sore muscles, that just did 100 miles fully loaded.

I sit down and realize they’re about to do Karaoke. In French! So amazing. So I get the waiter and try to tell him and I want a big huge beer and not a wussy beer that they usually serve – and they do serve the smallest of beers around here.

He makes some weird arms motions – as if s zing up a freakin’ tree. I see, “yeah, ok, whatever, I’ll take a big one”. Grande Biere! Which is what Rick Smith fuckin’ told me to say.

He goes to pour – but comes back. I mean, I guess it’s THAT big. He asks for 24 Euros. That’s… I’ve never order a round that was that much.

I go, “Uh, not that big, tough guy”. I look around and see a guy with a mohawk and go, “Monsieur, “mohawk”” (he has a huge liter of a beer – as if he just stepped out of a ’76 London Pub) . I don’t think I did a good job explaining – he goes and gets the manager, who gives me the, “What’s the problem, this huge thing is what you ordered, correct?” And I do my, “I barely know what I’m talking about” rap

It occurs to me just what exactly I ordered.

They have these… almost mobile beer taps – 3 feet high, with a spout at the end. About the diameter of a gallon paint can – but much higher. Woah boy. Oops. Las Vegas my have something similar… but I’ve never seen a pitcher that you keep on the *floor* because putting it on the table would be a hazzard to your health, if it pitched over.

Anyways, a server butts in and says something to the manager. The manager tells me, “Hey no problem” (he was getting a little short with me) and does the motion you do if you steal a base in baseball successfully (safe!) He comes back, with a mug-o-beer and we’re both happy. That was close. I guess someone actually ordered what I actually didn’t want to order.

So, with beer in hand, the show starts. And it is hilarious. Seeing French people do karaoke to ABBA, in English, is special. And I’m not putting them down – they’re *great* at it. It’s just,

so hilarious.

And then I realize how so amazingly educational this is all for me. Here I am, watching French people talk French, while the words they’re talking go across a giant screen.

I learned so much just sitting and watching.

And at 23:00, I was sleepy, so I went to sleep. Everyone else, loudly, did Karaoke. Amazing. Usually, campsites have quiet hours. This one had none of that jibber-jabber. It was almost like camping within LA (USA) County – but even they had quiet hours. No bother to me though, I could sleep through anything. And I awoke at around 8:00am to even more noise. Incredible. Again, no worries, I had to get up anyways.

So. Tomorrow, surfing the Atlantic from the other side – I couldn’t pass that up – all day and “resting” mon chiens for a day, before a push into Spain and absolutely no idea what to expect. I can tell my Spanish – all four years of classes, will slowly come back to me and I just hope there’s a campsite I can find, or I can bushwhack it with no problems. The only business I have is to get the, “I’ve been to Spain” merit badge and to visit the city with the Guggenheim. Lame, I know, (I guess?) but Spain is another trip entirely. I got a local map, since my main map has no small roads into Spain – but now I have that.

After Spain, it’s a solid maybe… week? in the mountains, as I take the route through the Pyrenees to Toulouse – I’ll be doing I think stage… 9? of this years tour de France backwards and hitting two or three of the famous mountain passes. In terms of what I usually do, they seem the size of what I trained weekly (or bi-weekly) on, so I’m not too concerned of exploding, or anything, but with my gear, it may be a bit tough. But I’m excited. The actual stage is 2 or 3 summits, so I’ll break it into 2 days itself. I don’t have anything I want to do in Toulouse, but right next store is Albi and Albi has the Toulouse Lautrec museum, which is absolutely required for me.

After Albi, I’ll check on time and if I have enough, it’s a push South and West for Nice and a dip into Italy, and then North, all the way to one of the main things I’m looking for:

L’alp d’Huez

The most famous tour stage mountain of them all. The route I’m going to do is a 180km loop starting near that Alp, but going around and hitting two other summits, including the highest alp in France and ending at the 21 hairpin turns of Huez. I’m getting some sort of accommodation, so I can do the route without bags – which will make it a million times more fun and I can finish it in a day. So excited.

After that? North to Paris, I guess. Stay
for a few days… some where? And then North to Amsterdam. Depending on time, that’ll be via my bike, or by train. We’ll see.

Did I mention surfing tomorrow? Yes. Yes. Yes.


Merci.

And a small note to say that you all rule and thank you for all your help (however small)

I’m in McDUH, and JUSTICE comes on the radio, which is funny enough. I almost bought their CD at the hypermarche I just passed to give to Shannon, just to have the French pricing but thought, naw….

That’s it,