After a breakfast of a couple of pieces of toast (now that I am on the continent) I was chugging away towards Rouen. I was still unsure of my next destination as I had contacted a few people to host me but none had replied. Foolishly I was hoping to be able to check my emails on the way and that someone would reply.
On the way, Rouen was a very different city to the others I had just been to. It’s right on a river which winds its way through a gorge and Rouen is nestled in between this. Very picturesque and lots of spires I thought.
But onwards I went, stopping at a camping ground to see if they had internet. This is where I found out the French I had learnt was surprisingly good and useful, even if some words were just Frenchified English, like Internet. I pronounced it uhn-teirr-ney and they understood me perfectly. Anyway, after finding out they didn’t have computers available for public use I managed to borrow their teenage daughters’ laptop, complete with pink desktop theme and a really weird French keyboard. This is where I found out that no one had replied to my emails and my disorganisation depression set in. Not even the pink cheered me up.
But at least if worse came to worst I could stay in a hotel and then continue the next day into the welcoming arms of my friends Gui and Cel Keravec who live on the west coast of France. Riding an easy 300 kms and taking in dozens of medieval buildings and the impressive Mont St Michel. Nice plan.
Yeah well, apparently this time of year, and specifically 7pm on a Sunday night isn’t boom time for northern France, and do you know I couldn’t find a single hotel open. I forced myself to take a picture of a very unhappy chappie standing outside a closed hotel, just so I wouldn’t forget this moment. I texted Gui and Cel to ask if I could stay tomorrow night but got no reply. Although I found out later that they did reply but it didn’t come through. I’ve had a few problems with Telecom roaming over here.
So I had two options. I could either just keep riding all night, arrive at the Keravecs early the next morning, plead for some floor space and crash for the day. Or I could sleep rough, go and see Mont St Michel in the morning and then arrive at Ploermel in the afternoon. I was still unsure whether they would even be home because I hadn’t received a reply to my text or the email I sent. But at least there should be some hotels open on Monday.
While I was still deciding it was getting dark and I noticed a couple of cars flashing their lights at me from behind. A bit weird because you can’t actually turn the lights off on this BMW and my headlights were working. I pulled over and sure enough my tail light was out. I had some problems before with the bike cutting out. Yeah, problems problems. Technology, who needs it? Give me a horse and I wouldn’t have to worry about fuel or lights. But if I treated it the way I treat my bike it´d bolt on me for sure.
Anyway, I couldn’t get the light going, I think it was a fuse of a loose connections somewhere and there was no way I was going to ride the rest of this night with crazy French drivers whizzing past me and no tail light. Thankfully I had pulled into a rest area and I picked out a cosy spot for me and the bike behind a hedge. It was then I realized I hadn’t had any dinner, well except for some bugs that had flown into my helmet on the way. So I finished off with a dessert of two Cadbury Easter eggs. Thanks Mum. That was the only bit of cheer that day, and the fact it didn’t rain all night. You don’t know how good that feels until you stretch your sleeping bag out beside your bike on some leaves looking up at the grey sky.
The next day I was up early and rode the rest of the way to Mont St Michel. Wow! I’ve already walked all through and around it so I wasn’t interested in going inside. All I wanted to do was ride along the causeway towards it on my steel horse. It really is breathtaking, I felt like a knight of old.
After some more theatrics in French I managed to convince the parking warden to let me ride right up to the entrance for a photo. The place is unbelievable. It’s a small medieval town with huge walls around it, built on a rock with a church at the top. All of this being a few hundred meters out on some enormous tidal sand plains with a small causeway connecting it to the mainland. Definitely recommended.
I savoured the atmosphere and then took off for Ploermel. I had a baguette for breakfast and lunch although I cheated. It was actually wrapped in plastic and already had the filling inside so it wasn’t a real French baguette. It was still nice compared to the day before though.
I arrived in Ploermel at about 2pm and was immediately impressed by its layout and tidiness even though it’s historic. Unless it’s a really touristic spot in Europe historic usually means messy, rundown, and hard to get around in.
I knew if Gui and Cel were still in town they probably wouldn’t get home from work until after 5pm. So I went for a ride around town and managed to send an email to my parents full of self pity. I also went to the information bureau and asked the lady, whose face lit up when I told her I’m from NZ, at what time people normally finish work. 6pm. So I killed some time and waited outside their apartment.
6, 6.15, 6.30, nothing. Then it started pouring. Here´s me huddled under a shop awning. Low point in my trip right here so far. 6.45 I spoke in broken English and French to a shop owner next door. He told me he saw them Saturday and that they’re not on holiday. I was a hairs breadth away from finding a hotel and wallowing in misery that nothing was working out when Gui drove up in his car. You have no idea what a relief that was. Two days of hell and then a familiar face welcoming you into his home. I was so happy I could have kissed him. But come on Kurt, you’re a kiwi guy; you’re not supposed to show emotion like that. So with heartfelt thanks I was inside, warm and dry.
Cel came home later with a couple of Australian friends. After those two days, sharing a home with Aussies didn’t seem too bad after all. On the contrary, Evan and Kath were as friendly as could be and Evan was an exceptional cook to boot. That night he cooked something with chicken, rice, spinach, and a lot of garnishing. I don’t know what it was called, I don’t care. To me it was manna from Heaven.