Monday, 15 June 2009

10 Years On - Part 2 of Account of Cycling Northern France

One thing that comes back from reading these accounts is how often I got lost cycling and wasted so much time especially entering and leaving large towns. The other interesting phenomenon of this part of the trip was just how many cyclists I met in this area between Dunkerque and St. Omer. One time when I stopped to consult my map (partly for a rest) at a crossroads, in a matter of moments six cyclists coming from the different directions stopped to help me out. Farmers would shout out 'Bon Route!' from the fields as I passed. Cafe owners expected me to come back through there sometime in the future, though I found later that was because they thought I was Belgian rather than British. This area of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais departements run up to the border with Belgium. In those days there were two currencies, the French Franc (worth about 10FF:£1) and the Belgian Franc (worth about 80BF:£1), so it would have been far harder simply to cross the border than it is these days with the Euro in both.

The Logis hotels and restaurants are an association of establishments with a high quality of food and reasonable prices. They were a little out of my price range in 1999 though came into it in subsequent years. I carried far too many guidebooks on this trip none of which I used and one of them listed the Logis outlets. I was pleased with myself in St. Omer where I startled some British schoolboys in a postcard shop by suddenly speaking to them in English and helping them out to buy their postcards. However, later in 'Le Seven' I was rather changrined when a party of three Midlands businessmen and their wives, seemingly stereotypical of the middle management of many British companies revealed very fluent French to the extent that they were joking in that language with the proprietor. It shook up my middle class, Home Counties assumptions. Interesting is my fear that I would be unable to find anywhere to stay each evening. Given how early it was in the season and the price range that I was willing to consider I should have been more relaxed. However, it reminds me of how terrified I was of things going wrong in the 1990s and on this holiday often expected to have to sleep in a field. I cannot believe I actually quoted the very naff single 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)' by Australian director Baz Luhrmann (born 1962) though it did reach Number 1 in the UK charts in 1999.


Tuesday 15th June 1999

Today I woke early and breakfasted at 08.00 and chatted with two Australians heading off to Brussels. I then dozed before setting off at 09.00. I took some photos around the town and found my way out of it, South along the canal, without problem. Coming up to Berques the diversion threw me out a bit and I had to navigate around the villages to get the right route.

There were a lot of serious racing cyclists out training who wished me luck or gave directions. I encountered my first hills and got a great view over the valley. I turned off the road outside St. Omer and had a light lunch in a village called Niewlet.

I got to St. Omer at 13.00 and feel a bit of a cheat as I was only cycling for a few hours. Tomorrow it is much farther to Arras. If it gets tough I may stop at Bruay or B├ęthune which are nearer. I came along the canal and around the centre seeing some British coaches, the first British vehicles I have seen since leaving Calais harbour and there were school parties in town. I followed the signs to the hotel district and was tempted to stop at a Logis, not one in Dad's book, but went on and found a room above a bar, single but very clean and cheap.

I showered, then wandered around the town. It is very typically French with old alleys and buildings. I spent much of the afternoon in the main square doing postcards and drinking Diet Coke. I looked around the cathedral then returned to my room and slept for two hours.

I just hope I can find a place as simply tomorrow, especially arriving later. As the Baz Luhrmann record says "do one thing every day which scares you". This holiday is up to scratch so far.

I returned to the same restaurant 'Le Seven' this evening and had fish soup to start then a huge bowl of mussels. I came home through very quiet streets and read and finished postcard writing.

Weather: Sunny and hot.



Old Lighthouse in Dunkerque, June 1999


Roadside Chapel on Route from Dunkerque to St. Omer, June 1999

Alleyway in St. Omer, June 1999

My mother particularly likes photos of alleyways so I had a tendency to take pictures like this wherever I went even though often they would end up as not particularly good photographs.

Church Spire in St. Omer, June 1999

Dutch-style Roof Facade in St. Omer, June 1999

Bas-relief on Palais de Justice in St. Omer, June 1999

Road over Bridge in St. Omer, June 1999

The reason for this photo is that I stayed in the bar which is the white building with the dark grey roof to the left-hand side of the road. Note the young cyclists in matching cycle helmets.

Views from my Bedroom Window in St. Omer, June 1999

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