Billy Takes a Train

All right, enough is enough. I will happily trade foot pain for budget pain. The train to Bordeaux set me back $80 and transported me to balmy, rainy, above-freezing weather near the coast. I had a two hour wait for the train, and when it came in I was on the wrong side of the tracks. Such an American idiot. I hustled down the stairs, through the tunnel and up the other stairs with my 90 pounds of bike and gear. Just barely made it, but I accidentally boarded the first class car, which had no exit to the other other car, and no provisions for bicycles. I was tolerated politely for half an hour, until a drunken Polish euro-trash punk, big and abusive, emerged from the bathroom and started his loud show. He started bothering a young woman a bit too much for my comfort, so I stood and told him to back off. He came at me, but it was easy to dodge his drunken lunge, and soon I had him back in the bathroom. Then I was popular! A stout fellow posted himself at the bathroom door and called the next station on his phone. I played my mandolin and ate ate the snacks they offered, and let the little kids play with my mandolin. At the station two smiling, laughing cops bowed to me, shook my hand, whacked the Pole on the head with their gloves like he was a bad dog, and took him away. The passengers insisted on unloading my bike for me. I would like to report that the young woman gave me a kiss, but…

Bordeaux is beautiful. All these French cities are beautiful. Wandering around I found a luthierie, a violin restoration specialist, a one-man shop. In my experience, this kind of craftsman can be a little cold and distant with visitors. Not this guy. His bit of English and my bit of French weren’t getting us very far at first, and there were some uncomfortable silences. Then we started to simply name famous violin builders and pantomime our admiration or disapproval. Then musicians. He is a big fan of Doc Watson. The fellow was so nice, and had such a beautiful shop, I wanted to end my travels and work there, rehairing violin bows and restoring cellos.

I’m staying with Lydie, a woman who takes bicycling holidays all over the world and doesn’t ride much otherwise. She is a great cook and photographer. Here is her blog:

http://en-vadrouille-ailleurs.over-blog.com/

It is in in French but her pictures speak all languages. She makes me want to improve my photos, and I will try harder now.

While Lydie was at work this morning, I stayed home with Fifi the dog and did some e-mails and WarmShowers planning. Trying to update the software on my phone so I could use the new CouchSurfing app, my phone crashed and died. It made me realize how much I rely on this little thing. (I finally got it going again, but lost all my music, photos, and [replaceable] apps). My contacts and calendar and e-mails were backed up in the cloud.

I make a map with each day’s route the night before, and consult frequently with a GPS fix. It is no problem getting from city to city, but finding my host, hotel or hostel would be quite time consuming without it. Plus, I use the phone to do this blog, take my few photos, e-mail my kids and everybody else, find places to stay, translate language, convert currency and metric measurements, get weather reports and news, tune my mandolin, pay bills and do my banking, Skype phone calls, and buy stuff. Of course a man can ride his bike around the world without all this help, many have, but I have to admit that if I lost this gizmo, it wouldn’t be long before I secured another.

I believe that Bordeaux is the last big French city I will see. For the next few days I will travel down the coast to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where I will for the first time visit old friends, Francis and Irene, parents of my dear friend Maude Bonsingnour. I plan to camp now that it is warmer (38F today). A big change from the gourmet food, fine wine and luxurious surroundings here at Lydie’s home.

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Another Post From France

Thank you all for the comments and e-mails. I look for them every day and I really love them.

You say you want more frequent posts? OK, will do.

You say you want more pictures? OK, I’ll try. I’m not much of a picture-taker, and this phone is all I have. Here’s a photo of the way to my hotel tonight:

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I’m in Blois, in the Loire Valley, valley of the kings, as it is called, with castles to show for it. Many castles. Blois, which I never heard of before, is a town on a hill overlooking the river, vineyards, castles. Its pretty big, and older than old. I’m in a tiny room high up in a fifteenth century hotel downtown. Except for the radiator and sink it looks like the fifteenth century, too. And I love this radiator! I froze my ass today; heading west toward the coast now, my tailwind became a side wind. Sundays the only thing open is the church and the boulangerie; I stopped at every one. Still I made it here by sundown and looked around before checking in. Great town.

Last night my hosts were Eric and Rozenn. Eric is a banker who commutes to Paris, an hour on the train and ten minutes by bike at each end. (It took me two days to get here from Paris). He’s a long-distance cyclist, a randonneur, and has done 620 miles in two days, no sleep. Rozenn is a writer for the local paper and a novelist. Their kids are darlings and made me long for my grandchildren again Like many of my hosts, Eric guided me out of he city by bike in the morning. Bright sun, bitter cold.

My decision to visit Amsterdam before heading south is costing me time, money, and suffering on the bike. But I am learning a surprising amount of French language and history. I remember telling cyclists who visited me in Vermont all about Ethan Allen and Fort Ticonderoga. Frenchmen like to show me their local cathedrals and castles.

Careful readers of this blog will have determined that I will not reach Hong Kong by November at this rate. I don’t mind. I feel at home on the road now and could happily take two years (except for the budget and my commitment to Jane Street). Perhaps I will change my banner to “London to Moscow 2012”. Maybe I’ll take the train across Siberia, two weeks instead of three months. Maybe…a lot of possibilities. I haven’t played much music, and I haven’t use my dress clothes even once. As my money dwindles and my toes freeze I am eyeing warm third-world countries like Thailand and India. There seems to be few opportunities to earn money on the road but you never know.

Three Days of Paris

Lionel and Sophie are the greatest. Jules, 11, and his little brother Achilles (ah-SHE-lay), 8, are my pals. Who needs French when you’ve got Pokemon? Darling Adele, 5, gave up her room for me! Wild kids, super parents, hospitality to write home about (so I’m writing home about it!).

At their insistence, I stayed three nights. Learned a lot from them, about French, the train system, maps, wine (it must be “interesting”), more.

First morning I took the train to Paris. What a miserable day I had! I had three simple errands to do: change money and wire some home for Ellie to deposit in my account; find a replacement for my lost hat and tent footprint; and get my British cell phone working. I stomped around in the slush for hours and achieved nothing. Damn clerks rolled their eyes at my French, then sent me on wild goose chases, dead ends all. I couldn’t bring myself to spend $19 on a sandwich, so I didn’t eat. I handed out a euro to the first ten beggars then stopped. They all had dogs; by the end of the day I started saying, “Eat the damn dog!” Hustlers tried new hustles on me. I felt like an idiot surrounded by pickpockets eyeing me and jet setters carrying Chanel and Armani purchases to their swank hotels. Had to pay to piss. I think I saw Notre Dame–some big church with a crowd of Japanese tourists at the door. Missed my train stop and didn’t get back until late. That was my first day in Gay Paree.

An evening with the kids cheered me up. Next day I took the same train to Paris, like a commuter. Forgetting my errands, I walked this time through the various neighborhoods and came at last to the city center. Notre Dame Cathedral was worth the crowd. I went to the Louvre for a quick look and spent six hours there, enough time to see a small portion. I have still not quite recovered. I didn’t use the maps or guides but wandered aimlessly, mostly in the French and Italian sculptures and paintings. Yes, I saw the Mona Lisa, with my friends the Japanese tourists. I spent a long, long time transfixed by a giant painting of a feast by some Dutchman. The more I looked, the more I saw, until finally I felt that I myself had been to the feast and now I knew these drunken revelers. I got choked up and had to come back later, so glad to see my pals again. If I had had that experience at age 20, I would have devoted my life to art. That, and more, was my second day in Paris.

On the way back “home” to Lionel and Sophie’s, I bought a baguette and some fruit, and passed the evening delightfully with my hosts. Sophie seemed to effortlessly keep a beautiful home, cook wonderful food, even bake for the kids’ school event. When it looks that easy, you know it isn’t. Lionel efficiently found me the information I needed about routes, Warm Showers hosts, cheap hostels and hotels, and trains. I’m thinking about taking a train to the coast before this upcoming blizzard predicted in a few days. There it will be rain, which is easier to deal with.

Next day I took the same train to Paris, this time with my loaded bike. I rode around with some familiarity now, and saw the sights from the saddle. Dig these buzzwords: I had a fellow in a beret make me a crepe by the Seine at the Pont Neuf overlooking the Hall of Justice on my way to see the Arc de Triumph on the Champs Élysées. My first crepe. Made a wish. Hasn’t come true yet. I cycled out of town in the evening thinking about that painting. Thus concluded my three days in Paris.

Pressing Onward

In Compiegne I stayed with Jean Claude, the luckiest man in France. He’s retired, but his younger wife works. He spends six months a year or more bicycle touring, everywhere. He’s into jazz and photography. He appears to be 50 or 55; he’s 68. He speaks more English than I speak French, and we had no trouble. A warm fire, jazz, good beer–a fine evening.

I set out in the morning for Varies sur Marne, where a Warm Showers host was expecting me. Perhaps I should mention again that Warm Showers is a group of touring cyclists. Members offer a place to sleep, a warm shower, and often more, to other members. All have experienced two wheel travel, our common bond. They know what you need and the adventure stories are endless. My membership page includes photos of my family on our 1999 tour to Alaska aboard our “quad” (four-seater), which makes me somewhat of a celebrity in some homes. I e-mail a few days ahead and make arrangements. There are members in every city, hundreds sometimes; they are a bit thinner in the countryside. Their member page descriptions, sometimes short and sometimes in another language, are all I know about them before I arrive at their address and knock on the door. The e-mails and arrangements take time every day, but then so does camping (with no warm shower). When I slack off on that chore, I pay for it, either by camping or at a cheap hotel.

Tonight, Lionel and Sophie and their three kids, near a train station 40 kilometers from Paris; they have cycled in the Orient, Eastern Europe, and Turkey. Thirty more kilometers in this cold wind and I’ll find out more.

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.

The Low Countries

My first night in Belgium was just 500 meters from the border. Marc & Christie are most excellent hosts. After a frigid, windy day of cycling, a seat by the wood stove and a few kind words from Christie made me feel at home. In the morning, Marc guided me 30 kilometers into the city of Antwerp, half of it before daylight. I felt privileged to share hard day in Marc’s life. Regards, my friend.

The cities are full of architecture and history. I was awed to see a church from miles away, growing larger on the horizon as I approached, then find myself standing before before it in the city, gawking upward like a tourist. To a peasant 500 years ago, it must have been life-changing.

After an hour in a cafe with Peggy and the boys, warming my feet, Antwerp showed me something new: a tunnel under the river with huge, art-deco elevators at each end bringing cyclists 39 meters (!!) down to the tunnel.

Twenty-degree, twenty-mph winds blew me into Ghent, with TWO huge cathedrals on the main square, and a farmer’s market dating from the middle ages.

My gear is working, if not exactly keeping me warm. I get sweaty, my feet get cold, and stopping is problematic. I’ve stopped drinking caffeine, and after blowing my budget to bits in Amstedam, I’m too cheap to buy lunch. At midday I find shelter from the wind behind a wall or shed, or in a glass-walled bus stop, in the sun, and eat my sandwiches. At every breakfast so far, whether Warm Showers or a hotel, there has been sandwich fixings; decent bread, ham, cheese, butter, preserves. In town I go to McDonald’s. Always free wi-fi and they don’t seem to care if I buy or not. Big glass gives me a good eye on the bike (still no lock). Sometimes I get fries. I’m in one right now in Roubaix. I don’t have the nerve to bring in my sandwiches.

And then the snow came. Reaching the home of Francis in Lille (adjacent to Roubaix), was a challenge I do not wish to repeat. Friday big-city rush hour, after dark in an area that does not often see snow, temperature 20F, heavy snowfall and comically slippery intersections. All I can say is I made it.

Francis is a most interesting young man. Speaking British, he told me of his travels, his education (history), and his recent career as logistics coordinator with an equestrian theater troupe. His job: move up to forty horses to and from the world’s great cities by truck, train, and airplane, and care for them for months during their stay. He even performs on horseback a bit. He treated me to some great local beer.

Next day we rode together in the bright sun, freezing cold, with two inches of snow squeaking under our tires. After a short tour of historic and beautiful Lille, the roads were getting sloppy, so we followed canal-side paths to Lens. Fresh tracks! Francis took the train home and I was sorry to part company.

The rest of the trip to Arras, through WW1 graveyards and depressed former coal mining towns, was a struggle. Wet with sweat and freezing, and with painfully cold feet, the kilometers dragged and I pushed on. Finally my cheap motel appeared, and I started my routine: crank up the heat, hang up my wool to dry, rinse out my silks in the sink, and start typing on the tiny keyboard, checking e-mail and planning the next few days’ routes A Warm Shower near Paris, good. Plan some routes and e-mail some Warm Showers a few days away. Eat food.

The weather forecast is for cold and wind, a little snow. I haven’t taken a day off since England. Even though the days seem like epic struggles, I’m only covering forty to fifty miles, sometimes less. Creeping across the map. Hours in the cold wind.

Some of you have told me the photos don’t show up, others are seeing them. I don’t know; I take them with my phone and use this WordPress blog tool to post them. I have taken damn few. There are photos of cathedrals and the like, better than I could take, easily available. Lately my hands are full anyway. But I’ll try harder.

I’ll try to post more frequently, too. But that’s all for now. I must clean this bike and get ready for tomorrow.

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The Netherlands

Last one off the ferry (there were circumstances) and, incredibly, the Dutch immigration boys had left for the day. It was 8:00AM. I rolled around vast, confusing parking lots, fences, ramps, gates, buildings and overpasses as the sun rose (yes, at 8:00AM) until a maintenance man opened a gate for me. “Welkom,” was all he said.

All the cliches followed. Rainy. Flat. Clean. Orderly. Compact. Bicycles everywhere. Bike lanes, signals, signage, etc. Robust, red-cheeked bicyclists. Hothouses. Canals.

Between towns the miles were easy, with excellent signage. In town it was easy to get lost. Very lost. I made it to a hostel in The Hague, where a merry bunch of young vagabonds were staying, some overnight, some for a week awaiting school, some for weeks working there. Great session out back around a gas fire, great folks. I got into a chess game with Paul, a transplanted Brit. Quite fun, Paul, thanks for the lesson! Katia from Switzerland, Dominique from England, Peter, Kareem, Simon, Esther, Kate, Caroline from Montreal, Rebecca from Rhode Island, Bob and Dylan. Such great people. Especially Ola. Thank you, dear, for expanding my knowledge of Poland. Enjoy school. Then visit Vermont.

Next day, lost again at noon, Margaret pulled up next to me in fine style: wearing a dress, on a utility bike but a good one, and passing me. She has spent years on the road with husband and kids, now lives in a tiny town between The Hague and Amsterdam. She took over. First, a short detour to her house for coffee and sandwiches. Then off toward the sea, where my map (google) shows nothing, and hers (fietspadroute) shows the best of The Netherlands’ extensive “off the grid” bike path network, Fiets Pad, which is away from all roads and traffic except for occasional town sections. Miles and miles through the dunes, all thanks to Margaret.

Amsterdam was a blur. The amazing buildings, churches, canals, and bridges were easy to enjoy from the bike. I got a cheap room near the center, not far far from the red light district, in the middle of a giant party that’s been going on for decades. My bike stashed in the kitchen, I positioned myself on a bridge right below my room’s window, throngs walking by. It was slow, but after a couple of hours I made enough to feed myself for the weekend, if not pay for lodging. There were some anti-American remarks thrown my way.

Way late, couple of young toughs tried to grab my mandolin and tips; there was a scuffle, with my back to the railing and the canal below. I managed to stomp the lid of the mandolin case onto the little guy’s hand, and out-shove the other one and shout them both down. It was nearly the only applause I got all night.

Two nights in that town were enough. I headed south for a Warm Showers host, but spent so much time lost I didn’t make it. In a small town I saw a hotel and thought I’d ask. It was swank, but the dining room was empty. One half the price, and a hundred times nicer, than the dive in Amsterdam. Elegant dining, wine, deluxe double room, $44US. Still too much for me to sustain, but camping here is all but impossible, and it’s really, really nice to sleep dry, shower, and put on dry clothes in the morning.

I had been lost trying to follow complicated directions to a Warm Showers host, and stressed about time. So I thought, what if I just plan on finding another cheap hotel (replacing the stressful urgency to reach my host with a more distant, generalized money stress). Worked so far. I had a great ride today, nearly sixty miles with very little getting lost, since I was just heading south through the countryside.

Today was windy, cold–around 25F–and snowy. I’ve been riding in my Fedora since I lost my wool cycling hat first week out, and today was the first day I had to add a silk scarf for my ears. The rest of my weather gear works great. On these bike paths I didn’t pass many food places, so I ate rolls with butter and bananas in a bus stop shelter (from the wind) overlooking a working old-style windmill.

I found another cheap room just after dark in tiny Zevenbergen, and walked to the grocery. Food costs less here.

Lest you think this is all fun and games, it isn’t. It seems I spend every waking moment busy at some task. Packing and unpacking is endless. I get more e-mails than ever. Wound care is down to knuckles and ankle, but it takes time. Finding warm showers, navigating, food, bike work. It’s all I can do to cover forty miles and get eight hours’ sleep.

With that, I’ll post this and go to bed. Tomorrow I leave the Netherlands, the home of my ancestors. Snow is in the forecast.

I Leave England

Thanks everyone for the comments and good wishes.

This has been a day to remember. Simon, I thank you for last night’s party, although parts of the evening are still a bit fuzzy in my memory. Nothing like a good three hours of sleep to ward off a hangover.

The short ride to Harwich through the mist was like a journey back in time. I spent the afternoon in a cafe building blog pages. Wait ’till you see ’em!

The evening’s pub was a rough fisherman’s place (although fishing has died out here; there was only one true fisherman in the place). As always, I entered and expressed concern about security for my bicycle. “Wheel it in here!” they said.

Adrian, the apparent kingpin, said, “Whatever is In that case is doing us absolutely no good in there, Yank.”. At his signal the bar man killed the music. I didn’t know what they were expecting, but I chose The Gal I Left Behind Me. I had no idea that the piece had words at all, let alone a half-dozen verses. And so profane! Three measures into the first tune there was dancing. These are my kind of people! Soon there were more ales lined up for me than I could ever drink (Adnam’s Bitter, my new favorite) . I did my best. I played and sung myself hoarse. Paul fetched his guitar. The poker game, the dart game, the pool table, the bar, the tables, everyone clapped and hooted. They made me sing Rough and Rowdy Ways twice. In the end, Adrian and Alan, out at the curb, argued about the best way for me to get to the ferry dock, three miles off.

I made it somehow. I hit a hedge, got stuck in it. Someone helped me; I think he had a uniform on. We laughed so hard. His name was Beverly, no kidding.

Moments ago I left England. No words could have prepared me for this experience. This is the largest ferry in the world. There are 1200 cabins, room for 500 vehicles. The elevators serve eleven decks. My cabin is like a movie set. It’s on the top deck; my porthole is centered astern. It’s four feet wide.

The restaurant I am sitting in is rated among the top fifty in Europe. It’s among the finest dining I have experienced, works of art, impeccable service. Not recognizing the dessert offerings, and already amusing both waiters with my Yankee nonsense, I ordered a banana split. They didn’t miss a beat. I should have taken a picture of it. Fine art. Tasty, too.

Alright, now I’m sounding like a hick who never traveled first class before. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what I am. I should go to bed, but downstairs the bar is hopping. I think I’ll start with Sailor’s Hornpipe.

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My Very First Blog Post

Dear Friends and Family,

Some of you told me I should blog. You were right.

This post will be huge, and then I will be caught up. I intend to post a short post every day or two from now on.

Where do I start? I already sent a couple of e-mails to about 75 friends, I guess I’ll start by pasting them here:

Dear Friends,

End of my first week. Camped once. Bike is superb. Saw Stonehenge.

Pubs are great, all with fires to warm up by. This one here is from 1270. Original fireplace and beams. They all have clever names like “Crown & Rose” or “The Bell”, so that pictures on their signs could serve the common man, who could not read. The food is good, despite the stereotype.

I stayed with Warm Showers people twice and they were great. It’s getting dark as I eat my roast beef dinner by the fire here in Odiham. (O-djyum). I don’t have a place for the night yet. Rooms upstairs are expensive. It’s been sunny or partly so, temps in the twenties days and teens at night. Rain is forecast in a few days.

Three hours later:

Yee-ha! While I was finishing that last sentence a fellow from a pleasantly loud party at the next table asked, “Is that a mandolin?”

Richard, a retired banker who picks an old Martin, his wife, and another couple just returned from Australia today. Now I’m in the hall of an old (1500) home in a section of town where the streets are too narrow for cars. They are all too tired for music and went to bed. I’m on my own in this old manor. A church bell just tolled seven times. Dickensian. I think I’ll explore.

40 miles to London tomorrow. I’ll enjoy a long sleep; I’ve been up late last few nights.

The view from my accommodations at Fay and Kate's house in Frome

Then a few days later I posted this e-mail to a few close friends and family. Now that my ego has mended I can share it with the world:

Dear Friends,

In a suburb of London I finally got snagged by a car door. Going fast on the flats, and I almost avoided it. Without panniers I would have been ok.

I’m somewhat of a mess. Face first on the pavement, I put my teeth through my lip in two places (teeth hurt but seem undamaged). Broke my nose. Several knuckles with no skin left. Pulled a right calf muscle badly, and my left ankle is the worst of it, swollen and throbbing and, for now at least, I’m not walking.

Imelda the door opener, her three Catholic-grammar school kids, husband Dave, and Romanian au pair Aura are nursing me. I’ll be here a few days. Haven’t even seen the bike; it’s in the garage.

If I can’t walk tomorrow I might visit a hospital. They tell me it’s free. Many would get stitches for this lip, but I would just as soon wear my scars proudly.

It would be surprising to get to Hong Kong without a mishap, so I’m happy to get it over with in an English speaking neighborhood. Last time I hit a car door was 1974. Time to change my dressings already (it’s five hours since I kissed the macadam). I’ll keep you all posted.

Yours,
Scarface

I will not include a photo here.

Following up three days later:

Dear People,

I’m walking and talking, pretty ugly, and happy to have met this
family. I feel right at home. Imelda, the mum, is making me well.
Little Orlagh, eight years old, sings to me. Imelda is pure Irish and
her voice is a major factor in my speedy recovery. (“You Romps are
made of pretty sturdy stuff, it seems, to my way of thinkin'”) The
bike was spared frame damage, the wheels were less than a quarter inch
out of true, and no gear was damaged. The handlebars, tape, and one
brake cable will need replacing, and some scuffs on the pedal and
brake lever will remind me to be careful passing parked cars. We went
to town to get bike parts and the folks were horrified to see my face.
SJS Cycles, who sold me the bike, is sending handlebars no charge,
and Imelda wouldn’t let me pay for the other parts. I’ll be here a
couple more days. The ankle is better. I’m alone here right now but
the kids will be home from school soon. They are teaching me to speak
proper English.

I’ll keep you posted.

Yours,
Billy

The night before I left that wonderful, amazing family I met Kay, Aura’s boyfriend. As all men do when they get together, we started talking about cell phones. Turns out he’s a buyer for a huge cell phone retail chain here in the UK, and he offered me a phone, since mine won’t work on the European system. His workplace was what I imagine Google’s looks like, with 1500 sharp-looking colleagues living the life. Kay really fixed me up. But more than the phone or the workplace, I will always remember that Kay, a busy executive, made me feel all the while that I was doing him a favor.

The forty flat miles to London kicked my ass. I got a bed at the Youth Hostel and slept twelve hours. The next two days I wandered around London, busking in Trafalgar Square and Picadilly Circus. I believe that my ugly face and scabbed up knuckles put people off; I only made fifteen pounds all together. A pound is about a dollar and a half. The kilted bagpipe guy was raking it in.

Leaving the tourist area and finding an old-fashioned spit-and-sawdust pub, I met Martin and Lucie, their son Joe, and their friend John, who owns 14 Bikes http://www.14bikeco.com/ . I slept at Martin and Lucie’s house after keeping them up late. Next morning, a Saturday, Martin and Joe (13) both on cool single-speeds, and Joe’s friend Leo and Leo’s dad Alan (cool dude on a folder with a sport coat) brought me on a super ride through London, down to the Thames, over the Tower Bridge, and more, mostly on great canal-side bike paths. Alan’s an artist, and we twice ran into world-famous London-based artists. Great ride, fellas.

Then I wandered around seeing the sights and looking for a jazz club where I could listen within sight of my bike (I had been warned about London bike thieves). I wandered myself into exhaustion and wound up spending a week’s budget on a fleabag hotel room and an excellent pasta dinner.

Next day I left London for the east coast, cutting through heavily ethnic neighborhoods, prosperous suburbs, equestrian estates, and finally the sheep-dotted countryside, spending half my time on interstate-like A-roads and the other half lost in the ridiculously charming lanes and villages. Another hospitable pub, working class and family style, and another night in a warm bed, thank you Martin and Samantha.

I’m bound for the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland, staying with Simon Commercial. I don’t tend to use last names here, but Simon’s has a history. His great-great-grandfather was abandoned as an infant on the streets of London. When the sisters at the orphanage asked where he came from, the answer was, “Commercial Street.” I’m staying in the 400-year-old stable behind his 500-yerar-old house. I’ve never seen a more tasteful re-purpose. Simon is a cyclist and aviator, and a beer enthusiast. His wife lives in a house a few miles away, an arrangement I kind of like. We stayed up so late that when he went to bed and I got on his computer to make ferry and hostel accommodations for tomorrow, I forgot it was already tomorrow and I booked for the next day. So I’m staying here all day while it rains, doing laundry and creating a blog.

There, I’m caught up. Tomorrow I leave this magical island on a nighttime ferry. Future posts will be from my phone, so you know they will be shorter. I’ll take more pictures. Thanks for visiting. Please leave a comment. Cheerio.