I managed to barely catch this couple on their bicycle today, while at the cafe studying. The cafe seats all point outward and the cafe itself is situated in the center of town, expressly for people watching.
Bonjour tout le monde!
Sorry if I mix hacked up French with my English postings, I know it’s somewhat cutesy, but it’s also a way to keep using French while traveling. I’m traveling with a, “French for Travelers” book, a French Verb book, a French Grammar book, a french/English dictionary, a, “Teach Yourself French” book and a guidebook and probably a few others I can’t think of while I travel. As for payloads, it’s my largest, and I may ditch a few of these books soon – def. when I get to the British Isles. Compared, my eee PC and dSLR are feathers.
I left the states with a very small, 5 class “Quick French for Travelers” class and a few sessions with a very friendly person, so my French isn’t so good, but I’m determined to learn more in the thick of things. It is frustrating but also elating to learn this way. I do get into unfix-able misunderstandings with locals that I have seriously pissed off, but it’s also very rewarding to have a very simple conversation at the bakery and then get… chocolate bread! I’m starting to pick up very small bits of other people’s conversations. I was re-started me, “Teach Yourself…” book this morning at the cafe and just passed the page on Chapter 1 or 2 about the use of, “Allez” to mean something like, “Well then…” – a way to cut short a conversation an go and bang! one person used it to another. Voila.
So. Why, France, and French? Why this trip at all?
I think I’m going to continue to ask this question to myself throughout the trip – and the reason will keep changing. So at the moment, it is: I don’t really know. What do I realluy know about France? To be honest? I knew sort of where it was, I know about WWI and WWII, I know Pepe le Peu cartoons, I know French New Wave films, Genet, Sarte, the tour de france bicycle race and a few other Pop references – and that’s really it, isn’t it: I know France from pop culture, from TV and a few existential authors. Which is sad. Very sad.
France in of itself is fairly western in culture and I know nothing of it, now do I. France itself is also very accessible to me – I can buy a plane ticket, like I’ve done and, go. That’s easy. Getting around? Not so hard. Learn a few phrases and you’re not going to starve. Getting a little deeper and things gets harder. And that’s what I want to do, get a little deeper.
Sometimes, when you want to learn an entirely new thing, you piggy back the new thing you’re bad at, with something you’re good at.
Cycling long distances is something I’m good at. I don’t believe in talent or anything, but I’m better at pedaling a bike for 12 hours a day than I am playing tennis or golf or running a 100 meters. I have a long tour under my belt, so I might as well do another, and raise the stakes – so instead of doing another trip in my own country, I’ll go abroad – a slightly larger risk, a slightly higher price of entry and hopefully a bigger payoff.
And that’s also how I like to learn – by going in a ever larger spiral ring of concentric circles of my learning. I do it with… whatever. I’ve done it since I started learning how to learn by myself. THAT started while skateboarding – no one skateboarded in my town, but me and a few friends. We watched videos and emulated. I would skateboard every day by starting with the most basic and ending in the most advanced and that’s… just how I worked. It stays with me today – as I’m in the cafe starting on page one of a book I’ve been going through for the past 3 weeks.
So, for French itself – I don’t have this amazing passion to learn french, but I do have a passion for learning… learning and the feeling of yourself changing to meet the needs you confront is almost my reason to live. Learning how to speak French seemed to be a good enough challenge as any, so let’s do it. When I get back to the states, I may keep it up, as a part of me wants to move, or at least take up an art residency in Montreal or Toronto and it may come in handy once again.
I was also thinking when I get back… hmm, I might want to take up boxing: not a good fighter, don’t like to fight, don’t *want* to fight, but it looks interesting and isn’t me. I might race bicycles in the fall (another thing I knew nothing about a few years ago) and it seemed like a good workout for that and a nice change of pace. Sounds strange but look up Major Taylor – a very earlier African American sports star in track racing – way before Mr. Jackie Robinson, who dominated the sport. His workout included boxing – good for reflexes – and to work the core of your body – which cycling is really horrible at.
When I think of people I admire, it is people who do these almost bizarre and random activities. So I do them, too.
So, that’s the thesis I’m sort of working on in the next two months.
Yesterday was Bastille Day! A day of independence for France. Similar-but-not-quite to fourth of July for us in the states. I wasn’t sure what to expect, except maybe insane traffic, which, when you’re a slow moving vehicle on the side of the road spells… DEATH. Which none of us want.
I didn’t get much of that. I woke up from my campsite and quickly packed. That day, it was a small, somewhat wet field next to the road I was riding. The sun was getting low and I just looked for a spot – easy enough. The morning is always fun, since you get to see just how close exactly you were from other people’s houses. Today was fairly close, but nothing shameful, sadly.
I don’t have my map with me to tell you exactly where but I stopped at a small, medieval town, which, well, most of the towns here are small and medieval, for my daily stop at the boulangerie to get my pain chocolat, et meringue (for whatever reason on that last one) and then to a cafe for un expresso which is a delightful way to start a 100km+ day.
Before I could sit down and order the expresso, a local came up to greet me, which is very strange, but hey, I’m a friendly guy, so we attempted, and failed to communicate fully, but he asked me to sit down, so I did. He then asked if I wanted a beer, so I told him, hey why not. And we tried to talk for a bit. He asked where I was from and told him… Canada. For… for whatever reason. He was delighted to here that and we talked some more. There was another stranger at the table of about 4 people. He was from Turkey and was getting slightly frustrated at his situation and soon quickly left. Strange, I thought, but kept this up, since beer and conversation with French people is like a goldmine for me a the moment. We broken-talked for a bit and then the man invited me to his house for a shower and for food and to meet his family.
I was open to such things so I said, why not? He seemed a little extroverted to strangers for a frenchmen. I was beginning to think this man might have been drunk. At 10:00am. I asked how far his house was.
And we were walking. Sigh. I did the mental calculations in my head: How far I had to go, how much time I had to get there and my personal relation to this man and I had to say I couldn’t, I had to go, that it was very nice for him to give me the offer and thank you again.
He didn’t have it. He was very persistent at his offer. And kept luring me towards his house. “prenez une douche, vous mangez” – he was very friendly about it, but looked irritated when I say, “sorry, thank you, but no”. But the way he was persistent was the same way someone’s persistent at 2:00am on a Friday, “Come over. I’m lonely. Come over. Stay the night. Come over. Please”. I felt somewhat like the Turk who was irritated at this person’s first kindness and then persistence of k
I finally got loose and was sad that that wasn’t the best fit on things, but I did want to search out a few more things happening this day. What to expect? I didn’t know.
I rolled into another town, hoping for lunch. I didn’t know what would be open, as it was a national holiday. The day before was Sunday, which was also difficult to feed oneself on. I got to the town center and was greeted by a….
Street Fair! with many booths selling very yummy, terribly fattening things as well as just things they were trying to pawn off. I looked at the stalls, but I can’t really lug too much with me, so I didn’t look too closely. I did score another pair of underware and socks, so I good day, all around. I also bought some more bread, etc for later that night, since I didn’t know where/when I was stopping.
I was basically following the signs to Mount St. Michel – seemed like a good destination. My plan was to get a few km away and camp for the night and then perhaps – oh, just perhaps get a motel/hotel for the night w/intarweb access and update this thing right here.
Well, I found myself at around 8:00pm outside of Mount St. Michel with no good camping sauvage places in sight. I’m terribly close in being below sea level and all the ground is moist. And the land is farmland and all the farmland is fenced in, which really hasn’t been the norm for me. Ha. The norm for me in Normandy. I looked around for hotels and all of them were terribly expensive. So that was a no go. Weirdly there’s a campsite next to the hotel so I inquired about the availability. All filled up.
I was also getting really hungry, so I tried the Super Marche next door. Closed an hour ago. Getting dark, I had too many things to do without enough time – eat and find a place, hopefully free, in the dark, or go hungry and have a better chance of seeing a better place.
The stomach won out, so I ate at the low rent restaurant and, after being satiated, looked for a place for about an hour. No camping in sight, though. The few rules of camping sauvage is that if you can ask someone if you can camp at a place, you must ask and if there’s a campsite in town you are obliged to use that site, instead of finding your own. So, I got out of the area I was in, but every place I found had their own campsite. Found a few other hotels, all closed. I also found a youth hostel, which I thought, if all else fails, I’ll go there. All else failed, so I went back there. Also closed.
At this point, I was dropping of exhaustion, which happens to me, after riding a huge ride and then eating. I planned to camp in a patch of grass in the parking lot and leave a note – something like, so sorry, you were closed, was exhausted, will pay when I get up. Good night.
Well, the patch of grass I was hoping to find was the entrance to another campsite! and THEY were closed to. So I thought, same note, different place. Exploring the area, I found the front desk and they were still there, so they pointed me to a plot and told me they’d figure it out tomorrow and that was that. Sigh.
Campsites in France are hilarious. This one was right in town, so we’re not all exactly, “camping”. I got up and realized my tent was next to the sauna, there was a pool *with* a fountain, water slide, the showers were gigantic and numbered around 20 and,
There was a petting zoo.
A little different from what I expected and not what I really wanted, so I paid my bill and left.
And went right to the youth hostel, which I deplore, but I needed a day off, so here we go. The price was *cheaper* then camping and I was hoping they had free internet access and a washing machine, as every hostel I’ve stayed in the last few years has had these two amenities. No dice. Strange! But the price was unbeatable.
So, here I am, in a McDUH up the street, after hanging out at the cafe, eating pastry and drinking coffee and practicing French. I’m trying to upload pictures to share, which is a bit trying on this computer and internet connection, but we’ll see what’s up with that soon.
I’m also waiting for the tourists to leave St. Michel, so I can explore. I still have to do my wash, get some food and make some small repairs on the MACHINE.
Wish me luck and I’ll try to get pictures up soon,
Alright, I’m about to wolf down my second McDUH meal in a row – I’m that hungry and I don’t have a clue about the next time I’m going to eat and I’m probably going to try to do about 50km more on the machine (Say it with me, in the style of Kraftwerk: Machine, machine, machine, machine, machine, machine, machine, maaaachine!) before I fall down in exhaustion – which is the plan, find a grassy hill, fall down in exhaustion,
I wanted to know if any of you have any q’s that I can answer.
I haven’t been writing much, since I JUST got this bloggery thing working and I seriously: get up, ride my bike and when I make my camp sauvage, I completely pass out until morning. It’s beautiful, but other than a log of kilometer…age, time and place, I don’t have much of a touring log, so let me know some questions, and I’ll try to answer them. Yes. That’ll get me writing. It’s all on your shoulders. Yes it is.
I’ll try to get anonymous posting happening, so post anonymously if you want to, but please leave your name, so I can say hello, and send… kisses!
What do people think of when they think France, *and* when they think of people who ride a lot of miles on le machine – the bicycle?
Food! Lots of food. Lots of good food. Yum yum yum. If anyone knows me, I can put it down and Mezcal back home has a special place in my heart for their dollar taco after ten and after a 100 mile ride: the looks on the waiters is one – not of surprise or amazement, but of seaching, searching to see if I’m drunk – if what I’m ordering is some heroic feat, put on by the gratuitous tasting of
But, no no no – it’s more that I don’t want myself to eat… myself and the price of the tacos is a price I can stomach.
So, in France, I have the problem of: wanting to taste good cuisine and,
being able to afford good cuisine.
So I’m sitting here, in a McDonalds. For the second time today. Let me defend myself.
The McDonalds here are a carbon copy of the one’s in the US, except they serve a few more salads and some different coffee (I haven’t studied the menu extensively, for obv. reasons).
They also have free wi fi, pronounced Wee Fee here and free is good, since wifi access in France goes for about 5 euro an hour, which is robbery. The problem sometimes is that it’s hard to find a power outlet. They must try to hide these well. Right now, I found one, to the right of the cashiers. These McDUHs as they’re pronounced in local slang are pretty cookie-cutter, not quite as cookie-cutter as say, an In-And-Out, but pretty close. I may find another outlet in a similar place, in the next McDUH I visit.
So, if I want to get online, like now, this is the place to go. It’s smells horrible, there’s annoying little kids and annoying beyond all understanding teenagers (and you have no idea – they buy these super power snap pop thingies – about 2-x as powerful as at home and just walk around and through them. BANG! BANG@), machines that keep going, BEEP BEEP BEEP and the worst Euro Pop imaginable, mixed in with say… top 40 from the USA. Blech.
So I’m here, with my, le big mac and my frites, the second time today, because nothing in this amazingly picturesque town is serving food. And I am starving. Except, of course, McDuh!
I can remember the last time I’ve eaten here. About two.. three? years ago? En route to Las Vegas, a friend driving and a friend stopping over for lunch at Mc-d. I got the fish sandwhich, Bad idea. The rest of the day was good, though (we won BIG). And I just inhaled it.
This morning, like a good little traveler, acting as if he’s just another local – and this is a false statement, written in touring books to make YOU feel good about yourself – I can pick myself out that I’m no where NEAR this place by anything – anything what’s so ever. Mostly, that I look like I’ve been camping in the sticks for the past few days. In short, I look homeless. That’s fine. This is McDUH. This is where, in the states, the homeless go when it’s raining and they’re cold. Guess what? Today, it’s raining, I’m cold.
Anyways, I’ve completely got off track: In the morning, like a good little tourist, I went to the boulangerie and got a few pain chocolat and a croissant avec pomme – which wasn’t so good, as the apples were just apple sauce, but it still was amazing. Along with an orange from yesterday, it made a good breakfast. At 9:30am.
I get into Argentan at about 4:00pm – which is eons in my eating schedule (if you ever adore, love me, want to be with me forever, please, my dog, feed me continually) and I look for food. I even sit down at a bar and ask in very bad, broken French, if they have food:
Vous ser cuinsine?
This gruffy man looks at me and says, “No”
So I did town, which, like all the Medivel towns, is absolutely picturesque. The huge, cathedral is absolute in heaviness from the outside, with gargoyles tricking water from the storm that just passed and flying buttresses with moss so think they’re habitat for small elm trees.
But still, I couldn’t find anything open. The kebab place was even closed. A few Tabac places, good for a drink, maybe some… peanuts? But nothing to fill up the tank. So McDUH.
If you think about it, it’s not the worst choice. The reasons it’s dimayed are actually benefits to someone like me: lots of calories in the food. Well, good! I need those. Salt content. I need that too, what with sweating and all. And another: It’s cheap. Well, pretty cheap. Good meals here do cost a lot, and the $6.90 Euro for this meal,. although not a bargain is cheaper than a lot of things, except maybe eating out of the super marche, which is a good experience in itself.
And that’s McDUH. For now. I know that’s not exactly what you thought you’d read, but it’s been a very unique and important part of my tour. Without McDUH, I couldn’t even write this post. So there.
The battery in the eee pc is about to die, or I’d post more. Anyways, I’m safe and sound at the McDUH in L’Aigle, heading for St. Michel? Well. See. Wish me luck and I’ll keep posting.
There’s a bastardized quote, filtered through a few generations of people that says something like, “You only own what you carry on your back at a good pace”. It was first attributed (the idea at least) basically to Hobbes. I think.
I wonder what Hobbes would say, if you took those possessions with you on a trip to a country you don’t know the language and then they LOST THOSE POSSESSIONS?!
Sort of in that situation now, my lovingly and extremely well packed stuff for a two month camping trip have thus disappeared en route to France. I’m over the materiality of it all, except that perhaps, what a waste of some great gear. I’ll never see it again, I’m sure.
Amazingly, what didn’t get lost was most all my electronics: My two cameras (one a dSLR), my eee PC, my phone and a few memory sticks were in my carry on – as was my handlebar bag. I also have all my language translation, verb, grammar and “french for travelers” books, as well as my flashcards. I’d be fucked without those.
What did get lost is everything else: tent, pad, sleeping bag, panniers, tools, change of clothes (I stink), bike shoes, shorts, gloves and support things like my lock and extra bags. I also lost about 20 gigs of flash memory cards. And my art project and sketch book.
Right now, I’m exercising patience, but I also want to start moving. My thought is to just get the bare necessities of all this tomorrow and start moving. I don’t need much: a bivet to replace the tent, another sleeping bag (skip the pad for now), two small, (hopefully cheap) panniers, a multitool, a patch kit, some inner tubes and a new pair of pedals with clips (to replace bicycle shoes and replacement cleats) Skip a bike jersey and bike shorts. It makes me excited to ride so bare-bones – honestly. I’m not a real creature-comforts person, anyways.
I have to look at financials to see if this is doable. I don’t think it’s doable, but then I’m absolutely stuck. I’d rather be mobile and completely broke than stuck.
Today’s been trying, although it’s been trying in a most beautiful area. I have no watch, just my cellphone, which is slowly being drained – and has the wrong time, anyways. I have’t mastered how to ask for it: another thing to put on a flashcard tonight.
The PC also needs power and my adapter was lost as well. Walked to the airport for a little ways before realizing I have nothing to show the person at the counter, so walked back (refreshing, really – this hick suburb is quite beautiful) and took the bus, which was just 1.60 Euro. Got to the aeroport and updated my info for them (no luck on the bags). Bought a necessary adapter and went back to l’hotel and napped. I’m presently in a McDonald’s across the street. It smells like a McDonalds (gagging and.. plastic?) and something is always beeping – it’s driving me insane, but the wifi (pronounced wee-fee) is free – it isn’t at l’hotel (1 euro an hour – bastards!). No wall outlet though. Everyone is careful about that. Took me forever just to find one in my *room*
The language barrier is… interesting. I am stumbling through it and can almost order my, “Grande Cafe” at Mc’D’s without screwing it up. “For here?” I have to remember to either answer or ask correctly. Also, you need to say, “Bonjour” to get their attention. A slight few things. Was able to also get some contact solution at the Pharmacy barely and check into my hotel. The worst conversation was with the cabbie why could speak fluent English. Not getting into that.
What’s frustrating is the baggage issue – the aeroport people can speak English fine, but I can’t call a number to get updates – speaking without looking at a person is impossible.
Hopeful of Following Conclusion:
Will buy replacements and go about my way, having a fun time of it all.
Will be able to eat at least enough to not lose too much weight.
Bags will be eventually found, I’ll pick them up at some aeroport in my travails. It will be like Christmas
Can send back newly purchased items home. will sell on CL eventually.
Most likely outcome:
All of the above, except the bags won’t be found
Don’t want to happen:
Run out of money, because of add’l gear bought.
Time to check my balances and call my CC company for a, “emergency credit raise”
To answer the inevitable(s), why yes, I did insure my flight and the bags, but insurance usually means, nothing, correct? Also, the airline today won’t give me any compensation (yet?). I was hoping for 100 euro. to start. Perhaps I have to be French about my conversation about it. But, talk in English. Sigh. Filling out a form, etc will take a month to get any sort of compensation back. If anyone has done research on that, and can let me know, well, that would be lovely. I was under the impression that if you go, “I’m stuck, those bags had all my possessions, I need something” they give you *something*, ala that 100 euros.
Oh well. Probably to Paris tomorrow to find the Magasin de un Camping et Cyclotouring, build the bike and get out of here (the only good thing to do in a small town).
As for problems, it’s only the, “sad that the keen gear is lost forever” feeling, the inevitable financial strain of purchasing add’l items and wondering what bridges won’t be crossed because of that and slightly, the loss of time I can make up, since I’m a freakin’ animal on le velo. But think about it, “Oh, I *have* to go to Paris”,
Oh-woe-is-me. wah wah wah. Tis the start of an adventure! What would Genet do in such a situation? Kerouac? Ginsberg? (Down and Out) Orwell? That’s right. Find someone to have sex with and drink a terrible amount of vin rogue.
A la prochaine,
I hope you gals/guys like silly ride stories accompanied with GIGANTIC pictures about going in a really big circle, because this is one of those really silly ride stories, about how I managed to get up Mt. Evans on a Fixed Geared Bicycle.
Originally posted on BikePirates: