French faire


I’ve actually been very spoiled in terms of gastronomy in France. Every place I’ve stayed in has had beautiful authentic French meal. Even when they cook something simple they manage to make it so delicious. Eating here is almost ritualistic. First you have an entrée of soup, salad, or bread. Then you have the mains. Then you have a digestive of cheese and bread, then there’s dessert. And of course you have wine during the meal. This can be done for every meal of the day, ok maybe not quite breakfast. So it appears the mainstay of the French appetite is bread, cheese, and wine. Nice.

I was riding away from Ploermel after seeing Vannes the previous day – beautiful little city. I was heading to La Rochelle further down the coast. As my usual luck was continuing the weather was absolutely appalling. By the way, don’t ever think a measly little supermarket plastic bag is going to keep anything dry, because it won’t. Including my precious map.

Anyway, I stopped in Nantes, which is actually a beautiful and historic city I think. I spent my time there looking for a dry place to park my bike and dry my wet areas. Boots, arms, my stomach where the water pools in my jacket, and embarrassingly enough, the top front of my pants where the water from my stomach runs down.

Ok, I did actually manage to see a few sights while I was riding but I just wasn’t feeling the tourist vibe that day. I found a café with a covered area outside where I could park and watch my bike. As I was eying the menu something jumped out at me. Steak! I suddenly realized I hadn’t had a solid piece of steak for a whole month, and that’s my usual diet being a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Sure, I’d had most meals with meat in them but there’s something about just meat by itself you know? It may not taste as nice as French cooking but there’s something about the way it feels inside your stomach. Satisfying, maybe even carnivore-istic. I suddenly realized the French cooking I had had was tasty for the mouth, but this steak was tasty for the stomach. I just had to have it. Even though it was raining when I left again I can safely say I had a spring in my step again, or at least a spring in the way I changed gears.

It’s amazing how little things can really get you down on solo trips. I had this problem with my bike; it kept shutting down and then starting up again just randomly. So I’d be riding along then suddenly I’d lose all power. One second later it´d be all on again. I looked like Captain Kangaroo riding down the road, lurching and coasting. I thought it might be the fuel pump, or even worse, the computer. I was having visions of paying hundreds of Euros to fix it and boy was it really getting me down. I finally had a tinker around and you know what it was? A loose battery cable! Three turns of a spanner could have taken away 90% of the stress over the last three days. Anyway, I fixed it and I am once again a smooth rider. I wasn’t looking forward to riding through a big city and having it stall on a roundabout, which it actually did. And yes, I had French drivers behind me. Luckily it was a very small village and they didn’t care.

Speaking of not caring, you should see the way pedestrian crossings work here. They seriously have one every 20 meters in towns but no one whatsoever stops for them. What’s more, the pedestrians don’t even use them! They just cross wherever, but never on the white stripes. Maybe they’re not crossings at all but some sort of aerial mapping aid, or maybe a sign for pilots to make emergency landings, or maybe they are just for Zebras after all.

Anyway, suffice to say; when I do stop for people on them they look very grateful and always wave which I thought was nice. In New Zealand pedestrians usually just glare to say “Yeah that’s right, you’d better stop!”

Another nice thing is the way shop attendants greet you cheerfully when you enter and leave a shop, even if you didn’t buy anything. I can feel the love here. Come to think of it, I haven’t encountered any of the world famous (or so I thought) French arrogance and rudeness. Maybe it’s because I speak French to them and they think I’m a native? Or more realistically I speak French to them and they laugh so hard it’s impossible to be arrogant. Even on the road they don’t seem too bad. Maybe they see me loaded up with bags and pity me, as they do when I speak French. It’s hard to be rude to someone you pity. Anyway, most of the ones I’ve met seem really nice.

In La Rochelle I was hosted by Patricia who spoke nothing but French to me, it was great. Finally a chance to have to speak French regardless of how bad it is. That’s the best way to learn. I also saw the three towers guarding the port, and rode around a beautiful island called Il de Re.

La Rochelle was one of the major embarkation points during the French colonization of Canada so there’s a lot of history. European Union citizens under the age of 25 got into the towers for free so me being a Dutch citizen didn’t have to pay anything. And because I’m Dutch I also enjoyed the fact I didn’t have to pay! The weather was finally sunny once again so hopefully it stays that way as I ride to Bordeaux and then across to Germany.