I never expected to spend much time in France. Several years ago when I started thinking about long distance touring, I had a calendar of Brittany and a map of Northern France in my office as inspiration. However, this trip was supposed to be about biking to Ellen’s wedding party in Luxembourg, getting on to Budapest and perhaps all the way to Istanbul. My only French stop would be Verdun.
Due to a weather delay, head winds, and underestimating how out of shape I was, I had to take the bullet train from Lille to make the party. I knew Lille primarily as a grimy industrial town. I biked in to it with a Belgian lad I met along a muddy canal who was doing a bit of scouting for a group ride. I found Lille exciting and French. After the party in Luxembourg, I returned to Lille to get my bike and changed my plan. I was off to see France!
France is bicycle crazy. From the start, kids, middle-aged women, and old men were yelling “Bon Chance!” and other friendly French things at me from the side of the road. I could not stop and rest without someone hurrying up to me and asking me if I needed help with a map. I was swarmed by kids in camp, amazed that I could not speak French and by the size of my little tent. The more intrepid ones tried to bum smokes.
I had my first truly delicious French lunch with photographer who was working on Jules Verne exhibit for the city of Amiens. I learned that the French don’t really know how to swim laps and barely know how to swim. I made a quick overnight trip into Paris to see the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower for Bastille Day. The crowd was immense; their pockets loaded with firecrackers. As I could not afford a hotel room, I sat and drank eight dollar cups of coffee on the Left Bank until morning when I could get an early train back to Amiens and my bike. I slept on the train.
I never did catch up with the Tour. The closest I got was seeing the painted route in Picardy and experiencing the effect and terror of wet cobblestones. I tried not to allow too many regrets to cloud my vacation, but I should have had stopped and drank beer with the locals when I accidentally biked the wrong way into a small village bike race. I had some good laughs with the folks in the village before I went to find a campground. Perhaps someone there will remember me as I remember them and have a bit of a chuckle.
I “heart” France.