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Vinci had the idea more than a year ago: "Why don't we go touring the Pyrenees?", I didn't even knew where that was. After a quick check on Google I was sold to the idea. I began planning a few things: where can we go, where do we stop, what do we see, hotels or camping or both and so on. Then, just a few days before the 'go', Vinci pulled out. Of course.
A couple of weeks before departure things start to heat up, first of all I received the side bags frame and the corresponding bags, then the 'action camera' (since I decided to take some video). A few days before departure I noticed that the rubber seal on the visor of my helmet was loose. The day before departure I had an appointment with my mechanic to check few things and to fix GPS' craddle and since I was at it I also had the visor's sela checked.
The didn't had the correct seal, so I decided to go with the backup helmet (because it's always good to have a backup). A couple of hours later I got the bike back, put the GPS in the craddle, turn the key and... nothing... it doesn't turn on. Nothing at all. So he begin to check everything from scratch. Cable is ok, 12 volts on the contacts, the same on the cable... what the heck is wrong with this thing? He gets another GPS and that has the same problem. We check another bike with the same cradle an it has the same problem. I suggest to get the 'demo' craddle that has a direct-power connection. We try that one and the gps turn on immediately (like it's supposed to do). After many curses he decided to change the whole craddle. I get home, take off my glasses and one of the rubber temples falls off. O-key, let's go to the optician to fix this one too... and it also looks like the combination lock of the side bags doesn't work anymore, just the key.
I finish at 8 pm, with everything apparently ok-ish, bags ready to go and all the problems sorted out (I hope). I've even managed to take a test-ride with the bike fully loaded to see if there were last-minute handling problem. Now, I need a good night sleep.
I got waken up at 6am by four idiots (probably still drunk from last evening, one of them manage to smash his face on the pavement (joy!). Anyhow, it's time to get up, breakfast, last check and then GO!
The motorway is totally EMPTY!!! even around Utrecht that is always a mess there is nobody! I reach the Belgian border in a couple of hours. At one point I leave the motorway to follow "normal" roads but I forgot a really important detail: shitty belgian tank station don't accept my ATM card! So I have to get back to the motorway to refuel.
Another bit that didn't went as planned was that a road that looks like along the coast on the map in reality is a road along a 6 mt. tall dyke. So no 'sea view'. At least until I leave Belgium and get to France, then I can finally see the sea.
I reach Dunkuerque around 15.30, go round and round like an idiot until I can find the camping (ok, the sign was there but it wasn't that visible), pitch my tent and go for few steps along the beach.
It looks like there is an open flea-market where they are selling everything.
The sun is shining, but the wind ain't so warm, actually, it's quite chilly. I found a couple of pizzerias for dinner then I get back to the tent to recharge the batteries (literaly: the photocamera is complaining).
Note 1: I have to get a new air mattrass, my bones don't want to see the old one anymore. Note 2: get a "euro" extension so I can reload from the normal Camping sockets instead of spending few hours sitting in the toilets.
During the night it rains. I can ear it any now and then that drips on the tent. At 5 am a couple of idiots start moving and I decide to get up too. Pack everything up and I can hit the road at 7am. First stop in an autogrill for a cappuccino and a couple brioches.
I follow the motorway along the Loira Valley, very nice. At one of the tank station I stop for a couple of photos to the 'parc', you wouldn't say that is along a motorway.
The weather turn nasty and I get a rain shower, problem is, it was while I was trying to find my way through Caen's motorways. After a while it gets better but still grey and quite chilly. And this morning, when I picked the winter gloves from the topcase I was thinking "what the hell", but now they're right!
I can see several "sports" (or sport-ish) car coming the other way, probably there has been a race or a track-week-end in Le Mans. For the records, every car that has a red line along the rooftop is "sport-ish".
I get to Le Mans around 1 Pm and I've already decided that I have no intention of dicking around in a tent, so get myself an hotel room and plug in all the electronics to recharge. And since I'm at it also download all the videos I made yesterday, and immediately a problem: it seems the videocamera's tape was damaged, the first 5 minutes are crap!
Later in the afternoon I go for a little trip in the city but... it's depressing and unsatisfactory (incidentally that's the same thing my woman tells me often...), besides some 'mirabilia' about the race there is absolutely nothing.
The next day I get up relatively late (around 7am), and after a good breakfast and a few curses against the weather I decide to put on my winter pants. Then I take to the road towards Carnac. During the trip it rains, a bit.
I'm in Carnac around noon and there is the SUN!!!
I have a look at the thousands signs pointing to camping sites (seriously, it looks like anybody with a slightly-larger-than-normal garden is entitled to put up a sign) I flip a coin and pick one. Pitch the tent, drop all the luggages, take the winter pants out and get back on the bike to go see the 'alignments'.
Impressing. Like the 'Dolmens' that dots the landscape. Seeing those huge boulders, put there for no reasons make me think about my struggle to explain things like e-mail to my lusers... At around 3pm, having failed in finding a cafe that looks open (note to cafe's owners: BLACK windows are maybe 'cool' but you can't understand if the place is open or closed and a lot of peoples, like me, decide not to bother) I decide to go to McDonalds.
Late in the afternoon I go for a trip in the city, that is small and has also some interesting corner.
Get up really early, looks out and ... THE SUN!!! Yay! I decide in any event to keep my winter pants. My idea to leave early clashes against the fact that apparently nobody is around before 8, the result is that I leave at 9 after a little oil to the chain.
The day is sunny and decent, at least until I get to Cognac, when it starts to rain (obviously). At one point I'm looking for a place I've read about but can't find it, so I ask my GPS to bring me to an hotel and right away it sends me on an almost-off-road trip for 5 Km before reaching the main road.
Allow me now to open a little parenthesis about SIGNS. Signs are used to tell peoples in which direction to go, however, the French seems to have some trouble with the 'direction' bit. They uses them more like 'generically pointing to some way'. Like the fscking hotel that I finally reach where there is a sign that says "entrance" but it only points to the parking lot, and where the REAL entrance is is then up to you. I'd preferred a sign that says "parking lot - reception on the other side of the fscking place behind the windmill-look-a-like"...
Once placed in the room I drop everything and go for a little trip to visit a cognac distillery. Very interesting.
As everybody should know, Cognac is the product of a double distillation of wine. Double because the product is distilled twice in the same spire. The process was invented to try to turn an undrinkable and uneatable product into something that could be used, since the ground is rocky and well-suited for grapes, but then the wine is too weak and the grapes are disgusting. Almost like the champagne technique that was used to turn a disgusting wine into something that could be drank. And the rest is history. It is worth noticing that 'Cognac' is a trade mark, so only the one produced in Cognac can be called 'coganc' and the rest, even if it's made the same way, can't.
In the evening I have second thought about eating in the hotel, I begin to get fed up by this 'nouvelle cousin' thing... and I don't care if the dessert is in the menu, I don't want it!
I get up with a grey sky but no rain. While I eat my breakfast the hotel's owner (I think) ask me where I'm going today, I reply 'bayonne' and he says "ah, it's a small trip, after Bordeaux the road is all straight and flat, much better than here". That make me think that what a 'nice' road is for you and what it is for me are two complete different things.
It doesn't rain (wow!), on the countrary, around Bordeaux I even got some sun! At one point I decide to stop and take off my sweather and while stopped in a parking spot a guy that was there smoking a sigarette asks something in some language. By the sound of 'z' I think that ain't French but what kind of language it is ? I pick the standard "don't speak french" and he asks if I don't speak dutch... dude, that's not dutch! He claims it's "belgian"... yeah right, and I'm the China's emperor.
Rain is around the corner, and it gets me right before Bayonne. The main road in Bayonne is completely flooded! I pass a roundabout with the water splashing over my boots! Cars gets in at warp-speed, poop their own pants and then stall in the middle... The result is that I stop at the first hotel. While taking the GPS out I manage to drop it and crack the screen (fuck!). After the required curses I go look for a laundry to clean up my clothes. And while I wait the rain goes away for a bit, so I can also see a bit of the town.
Bayonne is a medioeval town known to be the birthplace of bayonettes... what need there was to put a huge knife at the tip of a gun and turn a deadly weapon into a more deadly one? Anyhow, the place is now full of chocolate shop, creperie, clothes stores and a little more.
In the evening I pick a pizzeria, I had enough of 'novell cousine'.
This was a special day, not because of the rain and the gps (fsck...) but because it's the end of the 'approach' trip. Tomorrow: Pyrenees!
ATTENTION! WARNING! BORING PSYCHO-SOCIO-FILO-MENTALMASTURBATION!
What follows are my elucubration matured during the really boring trip between Cognac and Bayonne. If you don't want to be bored to death you can skip everything 'till the next day.
Are you still reading this? Well, don't say I didn't warned you eh...
The quick views exchange between me and the hotel's owner, that thought that cognac-bayonne was a quick trip, made me think and since the road was quite long and boring I had a lot of time to think.
The fact that he saw a 300+ km as a 'short trip' while I was seeing it as a quite-long thing (4/5 hours, depending on how much I wanna make my ass suffer) is, in my opinion, a tipical indication of how distances changes depending on your means of transportation. And the world shrinks accordly.
For him, probably in a car, comfy sitting completely insulated from the external world, with his preferred music and controlled temperature, that kind of trip is nothing. For me, exposed to the elements, rain, wind, not-so-comfy and with the noise of the road as only soundtrack, that trip is a lot more 'personal'. Now I'm not going to play the 'rude biker' part, that suffer for the love of the trip, but I have to think that I have a better appreciation of the road and the distances involved. 400 K becomes a respectable distance on a bike, a lot more on foot or on a bicycle (and if I wasn't a pussy I'd try it). But from the inside of a car or a train it's just a show passing on a screen: it's 'seen' but is not 'lived'.
One hundred years ago such trip would have required days or weeks on foot or on an horse. Today we can hop onto a car and then onto a plane and be on the other side of the planet in a few hours. The result is that we don't get an idea of 'being in a different place'. On our senses, we're still a few minutes from our couch at home. We haven't adapted to the different environment.
I begin to believe that, when the lack of fuel (and then its high cost) will force people to travel less and with less immediate means, we'll get the taste for the travel back, with a better appreciation of how big is in fact this world.
Ok, stop with the psico-socio-masturbation.
I get up at around 7am and I can see... a very dark and grey sky, with some drop of water every now and then... of course! The road I picked brings me straight to the mountains, however the road is a bit sucky, not well maintained at all and the rain makes it worse.
At one point I'm "chasing" a flock of sheeps that are led by the sheepard and dog on bycicle... the shepard was on bycicle, not the dog.
The GPS seems to work, despite the cracked display, so I just follow it. At the beginning he was giving me some strange alert (Usb cable wrongly connected, device not supported) but maybe it was a bit of water in the contact. However, I'll quickly discover that a problem is that now part of the display is no longer 'touch' sensitive, so picking roads is becoming problematic.
I have to say that, despite the rain and the 3 and half hour of trip, I had fun with it. At one point the road was even unpaved so I did it standing on the pegs, "enduro" style.
Toke some pictures and even 7 (!) videos. However, I'll discover later that I got some condensation INSIDE the camera's lens, so the last two of them are usueless!
Around 2 pm I reach Pau and there even is the sun! Find an hotel that is relatively cheap even if it's quite central and go to take a few step and looking for a shop were to 'fix' the camera lens. After a suggestion from the hotel's owner I go to something like a multimedia shop where they don't talk english, but the 'service' desk lady is smart enough to provide a bunch of screwdrivers one of which is small enough for me to dismount the lens and clean it up.
I take a tour in Pau's Castle, that is also the birthplace of Henry IV4, (Shakespeare's) unfortunately the visit is only in french. I'll never understand how castle's decay from strongholds designed for war and defense to 'country houses' for rich & useless peoples.
I get up around 6am, look outside and it's raining. Obviously. I get the wonderful (sarcasm) idea to clean my helmet's visor and immediately one of the pins that keeps the antifog visor in place pops out and disappear. WTF! I can dismount and clean the visor a billion times at home and it never happens, as soon as I try to do it when I am 2000 Km from home it goes pear-shaped! I know why: because at home I have another visor in the closet and the dealer is 15 minutes away!
The weather remains between "sucks" and "sucks big time" for the whole day. The road is slippery and each farm's roadway is a mud trap. In a word: it sucks.
At one point I decide to cut the leg short and stick to the main roads that are better. At one point I'm going through a small town and I see a shop called 'all for the motorbike' (in french of course). Quick decision: I stop. In reality the shop should have been named "something for the moto", in specific they don't sell Nolan. Anyhow they give me the address of another shop that does. And after an half-hour I have a brand-new antifog visor and a dozen pins in my pocket (just to be safe).
Around noon I stop in a restaurant, while I'm waiting for my rigatoni all'amatriciana I see a huge group of police bikers going around... and around... and around.. what the heck? they got lost!
I reach Saint-Giron around 14.30, I couldn't take any picture because of the rain and the videos are useless, the only two hotels in town seems to be clsoed and I have the impression that I also got a speed ticket!
In the end I find an hotel at around 12 Km away, in a place called 'hotel de france' that is small, comfortable, cheap, has free-wi-fi and the owner even move his car so I can park the bike in the garage! The town is empty, there is absolutely nothing around. Luckily I have a couple of movies in my laptop so I can just relax and wait.
For tomorrow I decide to shorten the planned trip and take a more direct route to Perpignan, the old one remains "in the barrel" of the GPS. The weather forecast says it should get better, let's hope so.
Anyhow, today is a special day: it's the mid way of my trip. The odometer says 2500 Km. From tomorrow it's "going back".
I get up quite late with a grey sky but no rain. It's sunday and it seems that everybody in the hotel are asleep, I figure out a way to get from the (deserted) kitchen of the hotel to the garage, get the bike ready to go (when somebody will open the door) and load my junk. While I'm waiting for somebody to get up I hear an insistent banging on the door, open it and an old man with a dog gets in blabbering something... I answer with the standard 'i don't speak french', he answer 'se bon' and disappear in the hotel... after a few minutes the hotel's owner shows up. I tell him about the guy with the dog but he says he has no clue. Ho well... He asks what I want for breakfast, I tell him that a coffee and a sandwich are enough. He makes an entire baguette filled up with everything that was in the fridge (I think).
Obviously, after 10 minutes it rains (again)...
Start climbing up and down the various passes, where usually the Tour De France goes. The only moment it doesn't rain on the Col di Chioula, I take a few pictures, quickly I'm joined by somebody with a bicycle that wants a picture too. At this point I'm getting a bit worried about my tank that is getting progressively emptier.
After a while I also got other worries. I'm used to look a bit to the GPS to have an idea of how the bends in the road are up front and if I'm still "on track". But now I'm in the middle of several bends at around 50 Km/h while the GPS tells me that I am on a stright road at 90 Km/h. Wtf? It's stuck! Obviously it's raining and I can't stop.
When I finally manage to stop and have a look the GPS is completely stuck, no response to my key-pressing at all. The screen is fixed and doesn't do anything. The 'backup' way kicks in: let's use the map.
Judging by the last signs, Perpignan should be at about 90 Km away, my on-board-computer says that I still have 110 Km worth of fuel... it should work... Anyhow, I keep an eye out for gas station. Problem is today is sunday and the 'automatic' gas station keep refusing my credit card or asking for some kind of 'pin code' that I don't know! After 20 Km or so... I met the most beautiful woman in the world! Ok, she was maybe 50-ish, she was smoking like a chimney, etcetera, but she was beautiful for me... who was she? The caschier of an open gas station! And she was very happy to take my cash in eschange for petrol!
At this point, with petrol in the tank, a sandwich in the stomach and the map on the tankbag, I keep going and gets to Perpignan at around 2 Pm. Locate the 'center' of the town and an hotel. I park the bike on the pavement and go see if they have a spot for me and maybe a place where to park the bike. The guy at the reception says "Sure, I'll open the garage". We get out and I ask where is the garage, he asks where is my bike, I point it and he says "Well, ride on the pavement back here, then gets that road over here..." Me: "that road is one way the other way around..." He: "So? You've got foreign license plate, right?"...
So, after violating 203 traffic rules I park in the garage, get back to
the hotel and get the key. Drop the credit card on the counter and the
girl asks me if I want to pay right away.
Me: usually "they" wants to be sure that I can pay
She: with your bike locked in our garage I'm fine...
Then it's time to have a look at my GPS. I manage to turn it off by keeping the button pressed for about a minute, then it goes on again and it looks like it's working fine now. Anyhow, I prepare my map for tomorrow and then I go visit the town.
Perpignan seems a bit empty, the 'center' of the town doesn't contains much besides a few shops and the south part of it looks like a medina: most of the signs are in Arab and it looks like it has been stolen from a film set from Algeria.
I wake up with a blue sky without even one cloud! Breakfast and then it's time to move.
Since the GPS seems ok I follow it. The road goes through the Park National de Causson, in the beginning it's quite depressing: a flat, straight road that looks like an American Plain, then finally it gets interesting.
The road goes up the mountain across the various passes from 700 to 1200 mts. The climate is ok, despite the wind and the temperature that is not really 'summer-ish'. At one point the road become a white-road (un-paved) for about 5 Km!
I reach Saint Etienne around 16.45, dog-tired. Between the wind and the trafic on the N88 the last 100 Km have been quite hard. So I decide to stop at the first hotel and declare the day closed.
Now, if the last 3 days had been like today (I'm talking mostly about the weather) I'd be A LOT happier. But you take it like it comes, so let's not complaints.
I get up the next day with the sun and birds, today's target is Nancy, but I won't get there.
The road has been picked to avoid toll roads and follows the National and Dipartimental roads. Besides the huge number of trucks there isn't much of a problem. Around noon I stop in a supermarket for fuel and some tagliatelle alla carbonara, unfortunately they were "carbonara" only by name.
At that point my GPS decide to leave me completely. While before the touch screen was not-completely-functional but still usable, now it's completely gone. And this is the moment I discover a big design bug of this device: if the touch-screen doesn't respond to touch, there is no way to use the device anymore! WTF?? There are 4 buttons on it, right? Why don't you use it?
The result is that I stop at the first hotel I find along the road (about 30 Km from Nancy)
For the next day I set up the normal map on the tank bag, not that there is a lot to see: from Nancy to Amsterdam following mostly motorways.
I get home at about 15.30, not it's time to re-organize my stuff, write the report, check the videos and the like.
Having no reservation wasn't such a big problem, on the countrary, sometimes it was better this way so I had no problems deciding where and when to stop day-by-day. In indsight, I should have stopped a couple of days in Bayonne and wait for the bad weather to pass. But indsight is 100% correct. Two things have not gone right: I need a new mattrass 'cause the one I have it's useless and dropping the GPS wasn't such a good idea.