“Do you want some company or are you a man who likes to eat alone?” Now let me ask you one thing, does that sound like a pick up line to you? It certainly does to me.
So here I was in Geneva sitting by myself in the hostel restaurant enjoying a dinner of cordon bleu and spaghetti bolognaise, complete with some sort of custard cream for dessert. This was luxury compared to my dinner of weetbix and a vitamin pill in Clermont-Ferrand the night before. Anyway, I heard the family of Australians walk in and I thought ´I should go and sit with them´. You can tell I was longing for company if I was considering eating with Australians.
I´d been speaking mostly French for the last couple of days with bits of English and I really wanted to just have a normal conversation where I could speak as fast as I wanted. As these Australians came back from the grille this lovely Australian woman dropped that line on me. My response? ´I would love some company´. So before I knew it, she had joined me, along with her husband, and four daughters all aged around 20. I mean, would you even read about that?
So how did I end up here you ask yourself. La Rochelle to Geneva seems a pretty big jump. And it was, a 920 km jump to be exact. Rest assured I didn’t do that in one day although I could have I guess. After La Rochelle I went to Bordeaux. This has to be one of my favourite big cities, even though I swore Id stay out of them. It’s recently gone through a few changes due to the somewhat controversial mayor. He was convicted for receiving illegal political donations which I thought sounded worse than Winston Peters, except this guy managed to get re-elected and the city is none the worse for it so it seems.
The centre of the city has been mainly pedestrianised, with extremely good public transport. The buildings have undergone compulsory cleaning and look as good as when they were built a few generations ago. And all the buildings seem to match each other, unlike some other cities which clash old with new very badly. It reminded me a bit of Vienna, but without the choir boys.
I was staying in an apartment on the third floor of a building right near the city centre, with my wonderful host Nathalie and her possessed kitten who likes to attack motorcycle helmets and, well, anything really. Crazy.
Nathalie’s English is perfect, unfortunately for my French. But she did teach me how to make quiche. Very handy. It took me a little while to find the apartment since I was going off a tiny photo I had taken of Google maps. I had to resort to riding into metro stops to look at the map. I got a few funny looks, but what can I say? I’m from NZ.
I was also able to secure my motorcycle in the downstairs hallway much to the chagrin of the old lady who’s the tenant on the first floor. I awoke one morning to find a not so polite note from her above my bike. Oh well, I forgave her French… Since it was Easter Nathalie and I bought some chocolates from a new chocolate boutique. Absolutely divine, a real artist that chocolatier. We also went to her friends’ house, Patrick and Emma, to sample some Basque faire. Nathalie showed me around the city by bike and after seeing the main sights it left me thinking that this is a city I could live in.
After Bordeaux it was a 360 km ride to Clermont-Ferrand. Now you´ll find it on a map as a fairly large city, but not in any guidebooks. You may wonder why that is. Well, I can tell you. It is a hole in every sense of the word. A lot of motorways in France go through or near this city, but boy, I think most people avoid it like the plague. It really is very industrial. Remember what I said about some cities mixing old and new very badly? This is the prime example. There were a few old buildings but everything else was dumped around them. I wonder why it even became a city but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.
I checked into a non-descript hostel that night (with secure motorcycle parking – a key feature I’ve decided). The staff were helpful enough, including the two reception girls who for some reason couldn’t stop sniggering, especially when I said I’m from NZ. I still have no idea why. The breakfast was much better than the standard hostel ´two pieces of toast only, and don’t you dare take more than one glass of orange juice.´
The ride to Clermont-Ferrand had actually been awesome, nice wide valleys, tall bridges, and little villages below. I took the autoroutes which are the best toll roads in France in order to make good time and I must admit I really enjoyed the ride. It was also sunny which makes it a whole lot better. So that night the weetbix and vitamin pill didn’t seem so bad.
The sleep on the other hand was broken at best. The walls of the hostel were very thin and I was unfortunate enough to have my room next to a guy who seemed to be simultaneously dropping his coat hangers on the floor, rearranging his entire room, picking up his coat hangers, clipping his toenails (see what I mean about thin walls) and then dropping the coat hangers again. I actually had murderous thoughts that night.
Anyway, when I thought the ride from Bordeaux was good, the ride to Geneva the next day was magical. This is what I envisioned Europe riding to be like. Sunny day, dry winding roads, little villages, mountain passes and tunnels, rivers, castles, bridges, and hardly any cars. Ahh it was perfect. When I got to Geneva it was actually warmer than France which I thought was weird. And then here I was, enjoying the company of a family of Australians for the night. Perfect.