It was a ridiculously cold morning that greeted us today yet despite the nights surely sub zero temperatures I still managed to cram in a good eleven hours sleep. Getting out of my tent, sorry bivy is pretty tough these days. I don’t think I’m going to miss sleeping in this smallest of spaces once I’m back home.
Fancy a bit of this in mid-September?
It was great that we had alcohol for the stove as it meant I was at least able to cook up some bowls of hot porridge and honey to help defrost our bodies while we waited for the sun to come up fully. The porridge had to be of a fairly consistent nature due to the fact that we once again had to turn to the humble tent peg to get it down us. I’m wondering once I ‘re-enter’ society as it were will I be able to readjust to eating with normal utensils?
Tom lost a glove the other day and my hands were like two blocks of ice attached to the handlebars as we rode away from our campsite for the night so I have no idea how he felt. The fact that it was so cold this morning meant that we had to make an unscheduled stop in Saint-Dizier just to get another hot beverage inside of us. We stopped in what turned out to be the most French of cafes which was populated by old French gents reading their morning papers whilst sipping on their tiny coffees. Our appearance temporarily removed them from the daily routine and I once again fielded questions such as ‘why on earth would you choose to cycle all the way from China?’
First mark of how far to Paris
Thankfully the weather picked up later in the day; the weather is very hard to read these days and means we often find ourselves stopping to first put on a jacket but five minutes later pulling over once again to remove said garment.
Headwinds have returned or perhaps they just never went away. It’s funny how one always remembers the days when the wind blusters into your face head on yet forget the rest of the days when it is minimal which is usually the case. It leads to the perception that everyday is windy and hence a few grumbles from two cyclists battling the elements through the afternoon winds.
France is very quiet and we’ve now learned that pretty much everything in the countryside shuts down from twelve o’clock to three. Granted we are going through some pretty sleepy villages but there really never seems to be anyone anywhere.
The only people we do see quite often are the other numerous cyclists out and about on the roads. These are usually men of an older age all decked out in their fancy coloured outfits. France is completely different to Germany in the fact that every single other rider who passes by acknowledges you with a jovial ‘bonjour’ We noticed in Germany that there was perhaps a certain snobbishness on the road where we only get the odd nod from one or two other bikers. Cyclists on their expensively assembled carbon speed machines seemed very reluctant to even give us the time of day but here in France we are one, a brotherhood on two wheels out enjoying the freedom of the French countryside.
France as one might expect just seems far more relaxed than most countries I’ve visited and not just Germany. Things happen here at a certain pace and that does seem to be dictated by meal times.
We were about 30 kilometres from Romilly-sur-Seine when the weather took a turn for the worse. Tom obviously had no desire to be stuck out in the rain riding and set a pretty fierce pace speeding along the road so fast in fact that it took all the effort stored in my thighs to keep up with him. I often wonder once I get these panniers off the bike how quickly it might be possible for me to go? All I can say is Bradley Wiggins watch out!
I had arranged for us to couch surf in Romilly and we arrived just after 5:30 wet, cold and incredibly thankful that we wouldn’t have to sleep outside tonight.
We managed to get in contact with our host for the evening Annie who appeared ten minutes after calling her to lead us to her house. Upon arrival we were introduced to Annie’s partner Dom who was busy in the kitchen preparing food, you could say it was the very best of ways to mark our arrival.
Annie and Dom were the perfect hosts and no sooner had we arrived did they ask if we needed any washing doing. I always feel slightly guilty when arriving in someone’s house and presenting them with a bag of dirty laundry but both Tom and I were really grateful and more to the point only to willing to take them up on their kind offer.
After a quick wash and settling in we were called for aperitifs of the finest Belgian beer before sitting down to a delicious home cooked meal. We spent a lovely evening chatting about life in France and their various travels. It just so happens that they have spent a lot of time in China in some very remote places doing some teaching. It certainly reminded me of my days riding through the small secluded villages in Gansu province where they spent most of their time. We were joined later in the evening by their very well rounded 16 year old son Guillaume. It was after a short while of talking that I discovered that Guillaume had something quite strange in common. France as we all know is the very centre of the universe when it comes to all things gastronomic so it was therefore slightly strange for me to find a 16 year old with a love of Marmite the most British of all foods one might say. In fact I counted at least five large jars of the stuff in their house plus one of Vegemite but as well all know that doesn’t really count.
As the evening went on Dom pulled out some of his old vinyl records and we sat in their cosy dining room chatting for hours as the sound of Neil Young filtered through the house.
It was so nice to not only be inside but also to spend time in the company of such a relaxed and extremely friendly family.
Tomorrow we head off towards more friends near the village of Milly-la-forêt which is twinned with my home village of Forest Row.
Oh......and the small matter of 9,000 miles!