Sunday, 14 June 2009

10 Years On - Part 1 of Account of Cycling Northern France

As I mentioned last August when I did '20 Years On' from my Inter-rail journey around West Germany and Austria, I have always been rather envious of those people who have blogs in which they recount their great travels and fill them with wonderful photographs of the places they have been. As anyone who has read this blog knows, my attempts to even go on a mundane holiday have generally ended in very troublesome failure. Now finding money short and my employment future uncertain it seems that as in the 1990s (when I had four weeks of holiday in nine years) trips will be a rarity for me. Given my bad luck, it might be sensible to leave it that way. However, I did feel that I could capture a little of the excitement of having a travelblog by digging out accounts of former holidays. I have kept a diary every day since 1st January 1978, so can dig out accounts of my trips and combine them with the numerous photographs I have taken over the years. What follows over the next few days is just that, reproducing my cycling trip which occurred on these days, 10 years ago.

All the written entries are from my diary of the time and the pictures have been scanned in from photographs I took on the journey. This was the first of three cycling trips I made around northern France 1999-2002 and even on these I ran into some problems, though they were generally pleasurable events that I look back on with affection. The trip was a real break from life living above a chip shop in East London. It was a tough time for me. I noted a few days after getting back from the trip that I sent in my 71st job application since the previous December, so, some things never change! It just takes a lot longer to complete the applications these days.

Some elements of the account bear elaboration. I only had half an A4 page in my diary for each day's events so I had to pick what I included originally. The 'ructions' at Dover Priory Station was when on a deserted platform I parked my bicycle, heavily laden with luggage in front of the disabled toilet, because I had been unable to make it stand up against a pillar when I popped into the gentlemen's toilet and a railway official shouted at me and the bicycle fell over to the ground disrupting the finely balanced panniers. He stormed off, but it upset me. Other incidents I do not mention in the account are dropping all my medicines trying to buy a ticket from the machine at Waterloo East station and being at the wrong end of the platform there, because the train had two guard's vans and I had been told to wait near the front of the train, but in fact it was the rear one that was in operation and I had to run the length of the platform wheeling my bicycle so that I did not miss the train.

The bar I stopped in on the way to Dunkerque was incredible. It certainly looked over 70 years old. The drinks were on a shelf, not refrigerated. There was just an elderly man standing at the bar and the elderly barmaid. The bar was full of old furniture including an ancient table football set. Riding into Dunkerque I found myself on a dual carriageway, which being on a bicycle I thought was illegal so I hauled my bicycle and luggage out of a cutting and up to the smaller road running parallel which a short way on simply merged with the dual carriageway. I was to do something similarly foolish in 2002 on the way to Pacy-sur-Eure. Staying at the youth hostel overnight I found myself without any water, the drinks machine had been switched off, the taps and shower had stopped working and being so thirsty I was forced to flush the toilet and drink water from the bowl.

Monday 14th June 1999

Today I woke early but did not get up until 07.00. After breakfast I went to Waterloo East, difficult to reach as you have to come through the main station. They only had ticket machines but fortunately I had the right notes. The train left at 09.33. I had to change guard's van at Ashford. I started reading 'Shōgun' on the train. Despite some ructions at Dover Priory station I got aboard the ferry with only problems with my front luggage.

The crossing was very smooth. We arrived in France at 14.30 local time. I got lost in Calais but eventually got on the way to Dunkerque by the back roads and passed through beautiful countryside in fine weather. I had a quick Orangina in a bar/petrol station out of the 1930s.

More difficulty when I got into Dunkerque, a sprawling port town. The maps did not reflect the complexities of the town. I found it difficult to find the way through the suburbs to the centre. Eventually I reached the the youth hostel overlooking the beach, it was very quiet.

I showered and set off to look for dinner. There are a range of places along the beach. It was great to promenade and eat overlooking the sea in sunshine eating at the "L'Orphie".

I have spoken quite a bit of French but people launch into complex responses then think me terse when I cannot reply, but there has been little recourse to English. I need to brush up more phrases. I surprised a German family at the hostel addressing them in German.

I am drinking Orangina non-stop for energy and refreshment. I may eat my way through my money, the meal contrasted with today's stress. Finding somewhere tomorrow may prove even worse. However, it is a surprise that I got here at all. I will just have to take each day as it comes.

Weather: Sunny and hot.

View West along Dunkerque Beach, June 1999

Notice the 'Mole', the pier along which many British and French soldiers reached ships when escaping in 27th May -4th June 1940.

View East along Dunkerque Beach, June 1999

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