Tuesday, 16 June 2009

10 Years On - Part 3 of Account of Cycling Northern France

I remember leaving St. Omer without breakfast, despite having paid for it, because the staff bar, the maid told me, had not got up. Something similar happened in a place I stayed at in 2000. This was the day I was most mistaken for a Belgian. At 'La Coupole' museum which was a V2 base built by the Germans and looks like something out of a James Bond movie, they asked me (in French) if I wanted the tape recorded tour of the museum in my own language and when I said yes they gave it to me in Flemish. Fortunately I was able to retune it to get the English commentary.

The riding was not that tough and reading these accounts I seem a pitiful cyclist, worn out by some hills. I know from recent experiences on a bicycle that these days I cannot cycle even a a kilometre without getting nauseous, but in those days I had been doing 60Km trips on a Sunday. Years later I found that I had been making mistakes with handling my diabetes while on cycling holidays, but I do not think that explains how weak I seem to have been on these trips. I suppose I was driven by guilt more than pleasure in doing these holidays. Also I knew that I could afford nothing more expensive. When you are paying £50 per week rent and that is tough an expensive holiday was impossible, but I felt I had to have one. Looking at how unhappy I was afterwards though, I increasingly think I was wrong.

I remember struggling to clear one of the last hills before Arras and being overtaken by a teenager asking me why I was finding it so hard. I did have too much luggage, but he was right that I was very poor at my chosen hobby. A year later a more sympathetic elderly man overtook me on a lesser hill but was not derisory; discretion often comes with age, but he was probably thinking the same thing and I felt as low as on this earlier occasion.

One thing I have noticed in scanning in these pictures, is how few people appear in my photos. Arras, shown here, has a population of over 45,000 people and Amiens, featured in subsequent postings, has over 135,000 people. Yet my images seem to show these towns after an attack by a neutron bomb with most of human life wiped out! To some degree this shows how quiet French towns can still be even in June. Given that August is the month when most French holiday, this was not a time when most people were away and the schools had not even broken up, so these pictures are from normal days and evenings in these towns.

Wednesday 16th June 1999

Today I got up promptly and after paying the maid for the room left at 09.00. I knew the route would be long but not how hilly, almost immediately I was up and down hills. Most I could climb without getting off.

I took a side route to see 'La Coupole' the V2 launching base and looked around the interesting musem. I got sandwiches there for lunch so could keep on cycling.

After Therouanne it was a straight road but tough with a series of plateaux, the worst were at Ames and Divion so I simply got off and walked.

I managed to reach Arras at 16.00 and went to the tourist office. I had not seen places like yesterday in St. Omer though there were a couple. I was too exhausted to look so I went to 'Le Diamant' a 2-star place they recommended, right on the main square. It is 280F per night which seems standard for town hotels. Arras is a pretty town.

I showered and slept for ninety minutes. Then I walked around the town which has busy stretches and quiet streets. I ended up at a Tunisian restaurant just next to the hotel. My wander helped me get familiar with the town. The restaurant was 'Djerba La Douce'. I had a coffee outside the 'Café Au Bureau' then came back to read and watch television.

Weather: Sunny and very hot.

La Coupole near St. Omer, June 1999

Entrance to La Couple, June 1999

Ruins beside Road into Arras, June 1999

Place des Héros in Arras, June 1999

'Le Diamant' was to the right of the picture on the right-hand side of the road you can see leading off in that direction.

Details of the Town Hall in Arras, June 1999

Dutch-style Building Facade, Place des Héros in Arras, June 1999

Shop Fronts in Place des Héros in Arras, June 1999

Buildings around La Grand' Place in Arras, June 1999

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