Prepare yourself, this is a long post.
I had really been kidding myself the last month or so that there was preparation left to do, it is finished as far as is reasonably possible and has been for a month or more. The walks in the Calanque, the English lessons with Nicole which were usually hilarious and quite risqué, I’m certain that the next English speaking couch-surfer is in for a shock or two.
It is always difficult getting myself back on the road and no matter how I try, I always have too much shit necessary equipment in my bags. My three season camping gear is as trim as possible and at just over 4kg quite an achievement when you consider the space and flexibility it includes, I should really write a page or two about my camping gear soon. My bike spares and tools are as trim as I can get, though I would rather not carry the extra tyre, but having the experienced first hand the drop in quality/ robustness of Schwalbe tyres, I now know its best to have one. The biggest issue at the moment is my winter gear and the paper – maps and guides, which I will not need for a while.
In Parma I will collect more gear that has been languishing with Francesco who I am looking forward to seeing and hoping the redistribution of the weight amongst four bags will make the cycling easier, but Im not convinced ;-}
I always find it difficult navigating a city and Marseilles is a particularly difficult city to get out of by bike heading North, or west, even though I know parts of it well. The uphill slog from View Port to St Antonie was heavy going with too much gear and not enough recent cycling, so somewhere around Bel-Air there was a “walk of shame” involved in my departure.
The areas I left through were poor, though I only felt uncomfortable during the first section closest to View Port, with the usual peppering of “My friend, Hey you my Friend” from bored tea drinkers, Pimps and those with other produce for sale. After that the areas were in decline, but the atmosphere was ok. I asked one sharply dressed North African guy for directions, he was a very smooth dude indeed. I am never put off by the way an area of a town or city looks, it is always how it feels that makes me cautious.
The night before leaving Marsielles, I didn’t have the best of sleeps, the thunder & lightning were magnificent, but not conducive to a good nights rest and it was around 17:00 before I had my bulging bags packed, my room in order and the dishes washed.
It was a cold cycle, considering that it has been above 30 recently. The lightning had knocked out the phones so it was impossible to book the youth hostel and arriving just before 21:00 was less than ideal, they had no beds and the receptionist who was on a break when I arrived clearly did not care. Eventually I had a bed in a room with a strange looking and smelling old bloke and it was after 10 before I went in search of dinner, of course there was no food available at the YH but on the way I had spotted a pizza van and had a good feeling, which is unusual as the pizza in France is often awful.
The Pizza Man was an absolute star, I was due a pizza stamp and gave it to the people in the queue in-front of me. We then proceeded to shoot the breeze as only the French can while he prepared a previous order and then my pizza. It was not a Pizza D` Aubagne (one of the best pizza Ive eaten in France) but it was good. I had every fresh vegetable he had plus anchovies and he was rather proud of the creation as you can see his delighted with his work.
I have met some wonderful people in France and this guy is another example of those who an antigen to the general world opinion of the French. I have the feeling that the arrogance, particularly evident in the south is slowly fading which can only be a good thing.
I have some friends here in AIX, but as my departure was of the form “shit it really is time I left” I had no time to call them, so it did feel a little odd being here without calling them, C’est la vie.
There was a large contingent of German girls staying, and as I left the Youth Hostel the next morning in the drizzle, I was amused to hear them complaining about how cold it was. Actually I wanted to suggest they try wearing Lycra in this weather, but new if they did I would probably be arrested, most likely by sympathetic officers, but arrested nevertheless.
A very cold cycle to Bonnieux more shameful walking and beautiful views. Sadly the “Topo-guide” I copied is good for maps which I don’t need and poor for accommodation information.
I was not ready to spring 50e for a room and as the thunder shook the ground and lightning chased rain across the plain below I headed onwards to APT.
APT was empty, wet, grey and unwelcoming.I eventually tried one of the hotels as I had no energy left and met the owner, who gave me “a price” and I stayed two nights. Free WIFI and a big bed cant be beat- well it can but Im not digressing that far. I used the internet connection to track down much better accommodation information from an excellent French website.
Many French websites of which the rail site SNCF is a prime example are awful. If you get to the wrong place it asks you for the train number and other stupidly irrelevant information when you just want to know “IF” and “WHEN” and perhaps the price, not demonstrate your sad train spotting knowledge. Anyway if you know the bloody train number, your certainly going to know the timetable. This is one of many reasons why I always use www.bahn.de for ANY train time ANYWHERE, www.bahn.de has consistently been one of the best websites on the web. Many of the websites in the UK are very poor too, for example the website for my bank is like a cut-price supermarket advert and insists on taking you to your account via the theme park shop styled boutique, “Much Cheapness”
The weather continued to be bad and after another short cycle, I spent a few days in some rough chalets. Full of dead ants, flies and a number of indeterminable insects they were excellent, the chalets not the flies. Just over 2km from the town, it was quiet and ideal for me.
I just kept staying another night, another night until early one afternoon the owner appeared wearing a cowboy hat riding an earth mover and started moving earth back & forth in-front of my chalet. There was really no thought, planning or even elementary marking of the area. He just drove the damn thing back & forth first moving some earth to the left, then the right, getting out looking at what he had done and moving it back to where it was originally.
He has two small children, so as appealing as burial beneath aforementioned earth & machine was, I went for a walk in the hope he would be finished when I came back. Sometime after 19:00 that evening he stopped and still had not started again two days later when I left. Why you would choose to begin something like this in the middle of the season I have no idea.
I then managed unintentionally to take a very circuitous route, my own fault for deciding to follow a sign and not my map reading. When I arrived the only place in town that I was willing to pay for was full, but the woman suggested I camp so I paid 4e for the shower & toilet – great I though.
I had an easy calm evening at the farm, I had good cheap beer from Lidl and some vegetable/ pasta/ Quinoa mix leftovers from the day before and finally around 20:00 began to setup the tent.
The traffic was light and the farm quite calm and despite the noise of the industrial chiller that started around 21:00 I was looking forward to a good night.
Around 22:00 the local “youf” began to demonstrate their abilities at destroying tyres while navigating the roundabout, but I knew this would pass and around 23:00 I began to drift off to sleep. At 00:00 the first of two bus-loads of people arrived which lit the dogs blue touch paper. I had just started to doze again when the second bus arrived and the dogs were sent into orbit, sadly around my tent.
I should mention the two dogs, one was old and has more warts and ticks than hair, the other young and utterly unbalanced would bark if you looked at it and would bark if you didnt. I had made the mistake of showing some favour to the older one earlier in the day. So they spent the whole night jumping over the tent ropes chasing each other, this was very easy to watch as the warships search light positioned above Lidl lit the tent particularly well.
The dogs early morning fervour and my grunts of “arrêt” eventually began to alarm the fifty guinea-fowl whose alarm started the dogs barking even more.
As you could imagine I was delighted when the cockerel joined in at 03:40 as he and his female companions began some early morning egg fertilisation, with it must be said remarkable gusto if the noise they all made should be believed. This, the dogs barking, guinea-fowl alarm and tyre screeching all began to fade around 04:30 and I collapsed in exhaustion to the sounds of the older flea bitten dog whining outside the tent over the noise of the industrial chiller, punctuated by the cockerels repeated announcement of his many varied pleasures.
Cycling any real distance the next day was out of the question luckily I could stay despite the Gite being closed and I jumped at the chance. A couple of pilgrims appeared the next day and we had an excellent dinner together.
The farmer is a member of the local shooting association and his buddies and their families had spent the day roasting two boar and what looked like half a rhinoceros, foolishly I didn’t take the opportunity to photograph this and of course each of them and their families each drinking a paddling-pool full of wine each, so by the time we had dinner they were very merry and dinner was very entertaining.
I did not like Gap even as I arrived I didn’t like the town, I stayed at a holy place which meant I had a nice clean room to myself, but the old Italian Nun was very odd. She was from Sicily, so why they had sent her to France I don’t know but she was strange indeed. I had the Ti call ahead from Sisteron, the helpful woman at the Ti was very puzzled by the reception and response she had from the call, I realized why once I arrived.
Having a room to myself was great, the bed was sprung as though for use in a circus act, this was easily solved by putting the mattress on the floor. When I went in search of food I liked the town less and less, it was then that I realised it had the same feeling as a German Spa town, where the larger section of the populace have their head so far up their own arse they don’t know left from a colonic irrigation.
I was tired the next morning, but refreshingly made very good time to Embrum though lightly grilled, but importantly did not have to fight for every km like I had the day before, so perhaps a little condition begins to return..
The town is a good size, the people a good mix. I had a rest day here and tomorrow I will head for Briancon, highest city in Europe and very involved in Tour de France Im planning a short day after that, as long as Im over the pass I dont care how much further I go, then its Italy, where Im off to see a man about a towel in Turin.