Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Saint-Nicolas to Abbeville though no-mans-land (The >100 km ride from Hell)

The day starts nice and harmless enough.

 For a moment I wonder why on the postcard I bought in the Visitor's Centre yesterday, part of the monument looks like a thingy.

I leave the right-next-to-the highway hotel early.
I was staying in a suburb of Arras (for some reason I didn't like the name Arras) and don't know what to expect of the main town itself.
The closer I get the more I like it.

Not sure what it would like to live here ...
... but it is pretty!
Very pretty!

... and it is market day.
It is market day
I wouldn't want to have to call a roofer for this one

Vigilant viewers will have observed a few dark spots on gravestones or unsharp areas in landscapes  in the last few posts that shouldn't be there. This camera is well travelled and has taken some great pics but the lens surface has seen better days and even the lens retraction is getting unreliable.  It is time to get a new one !

There is a Darty store  (Like Futureshop, but still open ;-) along the route out of Arras. But this branch has a very limited selection and they don't even have batteries in their display models.

No try, no buy !!!

Just after the circle of malls around the city I hit the cemeteries again ;-<

At least these ones have some poppies close by!

Just about to hit a milestone ;-)
Are those BLUE flowers on that crop below??
It's Linseed. Thank you Google!
Yet another tiny town with a church from the 12th or 13th century.

and this one has a sun dial !
What time is it????
... and just to put Vancouver real-estate prices into perspective

I'm up a long incline out of this nameless town, when I see something scurrying on the road right next to the curb. At first I think it is a rat, but it neither has a tail nor eyes.  It’s a mole.  

And it can’t get up the curb!  I try shooing it up the curb with a twig I break from a bush along the roadside (Call me squeamish, but I’m NOT touching a mole!).  My mole-rescue mission fails miserably.
 Not even 50 meters up the road I see a hedge-hog in the same dilemma. It can’t get up the curb and is prone to run along the curb until it meets a car tire.  No point twigging a hedge-hog.
And I’m definitely NOT NOT NOT touching it (see those spikes?).  What to do? What to do?

Finally, I grab my bright red dinner plate that I paid 2 Euros for just yesterday and scoop up the hedgehog and then toss it under the hedge (hedge, hedgehog, it should feel home now).  I place my plate under the hedge a few meters away (Somehow I don’t think I'm going to use it again). After one quickly aborted run towards the road, hedgehog vanishes in the hedge ;-)
Hedge-hog still curled up in it's playing-dead spike-ball
2 kilometers down the road I realize that I shouldn't even have been here because I missed my turn before encountering the staggering rodents. I turn around and see neither hedgehog on the sidewalk nor mole along the curb.  Good stuff!
and then it's just road...
... road going slightly uphill ...
... with a ferocious wind blowing in my face
I'm pedalling so hard that I almost convince myself that I'm seeing blue flowers !

Wind blurs image of grain field. Wind is driving me mad!
This continues for 45 kms   And my battery is running VERY low. 3 km left it said at the last reading. I am in Neuvillette.  The last 4 or 5 villages didn't have a restaurant. No gas station, pub, Tabac store, where I could have gone in, consumed something, and recharged the battery even a tiny bit.  There is no larger village within 3 km. Riding the bike without battery against this headwind is a No-No. 
 I was already considering knocking on the door of a church or farmhouse and offering a donation/bribe for them to give me access to a power socket.  So imagine my relief when I see a Tabac sign. It looks closed though.  But the door opens when I try it. I am the only guest.  A glass of wine and a charging outlet later I am relaxing.  
A French person in his 30s in shorts right out of the 70s enters a few minutes after me.  He says Bon Jour, I reply Bon Jour, and when I look up at the strange noise he was making, he is standing in front of me with his hand extended.  This hand-shaking thing is normal here, I suspect.  No dead-fish handshake this time ;-)  Then I discover that this Tabac-in-the-middle-of-nowhere has WiFi!
Un Tabac.  Last minute battery charging, combined with 2 glasses of wine and a rest
The owner's dog comes out from their living quarters in the back and I make the mistake of saying "Hey Puppy". His front paws are in my lap not even 10 seconds later.  So far French dogs have been licking the exposed toes of my left foot with fervour, but this one is going for the frontal attack.  The owner drags him off me, but as soon as she's not paying attention he's back, which of course results in him being removed from the guest room.

I then head to the town of Doullens, which is  7 kms away in the hope of charging the battery to completion while getting a bite to eat. After all, it is now 3 pm and the 7am breakfast happened a looong time ago. Wham, hit my head against that wall again.  Even though Doullens is blessed with about 8 restaurants, one even with Michelin Stars (!), none of them serve food between 2 pm and about 7 pm.  Ever wondered why the French aren't as fat as the rest of the world? Now you know, their restaurants are always closed.
I finally settle for a no-food-served restaurant, plug my battery in again, and consume another glass of white wine, this one not dry, but quite lovely.  Doullens has a nice vibe to it, but it’s the only bigger village that deserves the name between Arras and Abbeville.  That means I need enough battery juice to complete 45 more kms against that bloody headwind.  But at least the terrain should tilt soon so that I’ll be on a gentle downslope.  About time! Fortunately I also still have some left-over salty pretzels and chocolate in my backpack from last night to not faint from hunger (I might due to all the white wines though ;-)  Moral?  Pack lots of food and a second battery if you want to cycle Normandy!
The wind does not let up and the terrain refuses to tip downhill.

The villages I ride through are more and more dilapidated.

I'm getting desperate again.  Battery is running low but there is not even people in the houses here, never mind in the non-existent stores.

 I recharge for 10 minutes through an open barn door in some tiny half-abandoned village 

At least I'm not the only wind victim
The power towers couldn't handle it either.

The below picture shows what false hope looks like:
I run out of juice at the bottom of that hill, still 10 kms from my destination.    As if to make fun of me, this is the precise moment that the evil wind that has plagued me all day and sucked empty my battery just stops blowing.  I push the bike up a gentle incline for a few hundred meters into a town and buy something in a bakery and inquire about restaurants in town.  The owner proudly tells me that they have 5.  

The first one has 5 power outlets in plain sight, but apparently they ne marche pas.  Ah well, no juice, no customer. Too bad, because this was a creperie and I've wanted a nice crepe all day long.  I walk over to the 2nd restaurant across the street.  There is an outlet, it works, and I'm allowed to use it.  Now for food. I inquire whether this restaurant serves food.  No. Except, I could have a Croque Monsieur

By now I don’t even care anymore what that is and I order it because I am starving and it is 6pm.  It arrives. It’s just like a Hong Kong style sandwich, just with the crust left on and toasted ;-). But it leaves me with one question:  Do the French EVER eat?  
Anyway, I’m not 100% sure the battery is really charging (Did I blow a house fuse?0. A check of this morning’s Google Maps reveals that I’m still at least 10 kms away from my hotel (it is 6:45 pm by now).  The Croque Monsieur doesn’t really qualify as food after cycling 90 km and while it was actually quite yummy, I don’t want to order another one.

I find Restaurant # 4.  The only serve Croque Mme and Croque Msr.  What has happened to France???  I keep cycling towards my destination, with not enough juice in my battery to get me there, past another closed-down restaurant.  Wow. Things are not well in this part of the country.
Then, as the last building (shack?) of the village, I see the one that had advertised at the other end of the town.  Only, it had said pizza on that sign across town. I order one. And another quart de rose.  And I plug in both my battery and my laptop (It’s amazing how much juice travelling against the wind for 100 km really takes).  This place is popular with the non-tourist crowd. People arrive and shake everyone’s hand (fortunately not mine this time, because they’re in definite need of a wash by now). No one eats, except me. Strange country.

Someone told the happily-chubby woman that I don’t speak French, because she says “La Pizza, dix minutes” while sticking all her 10 fingers towards me.  If I really spoke NO French, I’d be scared by now of eating what is obviously being cooked by a witch ;-)

Suddenly my nose goes WOW.  The owner of the pub is smoking a cigarillo behind his bar counter.  Finally!  If you don’t like it you can leave. I happen to like that smell; goes well with the rose ;-)

The pizza I ordered arrives. It is HUGE, nothing like the tiny picture on the diminutive menu.  I ordered a Kebab pizza, and WOW does it have flavour.  There is France again. I'm in a tiny shack with a smoking owner in a village going downhill fast and I get the best pizza I’ve had in years (Eike: Your dough is better but those toppings are just soooo je ne sais quoi ;-).  All I’m sure about is crème fraiche and un-pitted black olives (those pitted black olives from a can surely are Lucifer’s doing).

10 kms left turn into 15 kms because I can't find the friggin Bed&Breakfast. All my computers loose their maps (not the time to crash your laptop) and I keep cycling back and forth through this village. The only two people I see must be the village idiots because they have NO IDEA (this village maybe has 500 people and 1 B&B, how hard can it be?)  It would be a lot easier if the B&B had put some signs up !!! 
The battery is running very low again. There is NOTHING here to recharge it. They must have heard me swear for miles when I head towards Abbeville, the nearest big town with the intention to just crash in the first hotel I find.  The first one I find is actually only 1 km away, an old run-down motel at the local tiny airport (fly in, meet your mistress, fly out).  I don't care anymore.  I sleep.

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