The French Way

Yesterday I battled the elements for fifty miles. Cold feet, red face.

Since my phone doesn’t work on Europe’s GSM network, I use a wi-fi connection (at every home and hotel so far) to create a Google map of the next day’s route. Google lets me choose driving, walking, or public transportation. I wish there was a bicycle route, too. I choose walking because it is shorter and keeps me off of the motorways. But it often involves complicated navigation in the cities and towns. I get lost, not very lost but often enough, for a minute or five minutes. Yesterday the route brought me through tiny farming villages and then onto farm roads, dirt tracks that turned to frozen mud tractor paths, rutted and bumpy. Walking speed and some actual walking. No trees or windbreak. Middle of nowhere. Back on the road I found a little bar at a crossroad, four farmers in mud boots smoking cigarettes and laughing over their wine. No English, but I know “baguette” and “fromage”. The proprietors brought out one of the best meals I have had so far. A fresh baguette, tiny pickles with pearl onions, some pate, and a plate with three kinds of cheese and butter. Madame noticed I was hugging the radiator and brought me a blanket. “Froid!” A man entered and went around to each patron, including me, and shook hands, tipped his hat, and bowed slightly saying “Bon Jour, Bon Jour” before ordering wine. I stayed an hour, hated to leave.

By the time I got to Carine and Anael’s house I was frozen again. They really fixed me up. A wonderful, warm young couple, they bicycle everywhere (to work each day, to Istanbul last spring). Homemade cake, jam, and cookies, gourmet beer, and help with everything. Anael made me a lightweight cable from a brake wire for security when I’m in a cafe.

This morning it was cold and grey. My route brought me through the city center (Amiens is beautiful). On the limestone pedestrian mall I slipped and fell, flopping around like a fish in the slush and snow trying to get my foot out of the pedal. I came up wet and dirty and embarrassed.

I squished along for a couple of blocks and before me was a big, beautiful train station. Wouldn’t hurt to check the prices: I still had 52 miles to go to Compiegne. Nine Euros? “Oui!”

So here I am in Compiegne at noon. Few place are open because it’s Monday. I’m in a cafe jabbing at this little keyboard. The train was sleek, clean, fast, uncrowded. And warm. After I visit Paris I may look into a train to the south of France, depending on the weather. I enjoy the challenge but I’ve had enough for now.

5 thoughts on “The French Way

  1. Hi Bill,
    I’m sorry you struggled after Lens’ station. I cought a train ten minuts later a little jalous of you going on.
    Going down France last summer, I wrote down on my notebook the same anecdote : in small village of north of France, when one comes in a bar you shake hands with everybody, even if it’s your first time here, before ordering. This curiously stops a little south from Paris and is totally absent in towns.
    Have a nice trip down France, hopping this fucking freezing weather comes to an end.
    Take some days rest and enjoy french countryside, city are often complicated with a bike.
    I’ll have a look from time to time on, it’s a pleasure reading you!

  2. Martha is now enjoying your blogs too! I print them off and send them to her. She’s intrigued and entertained……as, I must say, we all are! For Pete’s sake, go south and get warm!!!!

  3. Brrrrrrr. It makes me cold just reading about your trip through the coldest winter that northern Europe has seen in 70+ years. No time for bravado Billy. Take a fast train SOUTH! You remind me of when I drove my unheated VW bus through blizzard conditions in Pennsylvania to get to my next gig on time (only it was cancelled!) My hands were ice lumps. I put socks on my hands but kept using them to clear the windshield of ice so they were wet and cold. Frozen feet. No where to go but into the future which looked like screen of white driving snow. When I finally reached Ohio I vowed I’d never do THAT again!
    It can only get warmer from now on…oui? Hope you take the fast train SOUTH!

  4. I’m not surprised at the cold. We hear news reports that much of Europe is embraced in dangerously cold weather not seen for quite some time. What was your beverage to go with that wonderful baguette & fromage? Take care of yourself.

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