Yes, that’s right I am slumming it over here in Chateaux’s, but I will get to that in a bit. Firstly, the dreaded ferry ride to get over France had to be conquered. Before I left Australia, I had developed a somewhat irrational fear of riding on and off the ferry from England to France. A trip many years ago had stuck in my memory of huge, wet, slippery ramps just waiting to send a poor little biker sliding off into the English channel. I set off from Loughton after my goodbyes with David and Elain ready to tackle what was surely going to be the biggest challenge on this trip, the ferry crossing! Arriving at the massive Dover docks I was ushered to the front of the line and when it came time to go up into the huge vessel, I was the first vehicle aboard. Not a single drop of water to be found, no trucks to dodge, nothing but a beautifully flat deck with assistants there waiting to help me strap Yogi down for our quick overseas journey.
Leaving the ferry was slightly more stressful with cars, trucks, buses and caravans all jostling to disembark but I had done it. Of course, it had been nothing like the gigantic fear I had built up in my mind, as we so often do. I am quite well practised at taking things as they come in my professional life, but when I am faced with a personal challenge my mind runs wild, conjuring up the worst possible outcome. I laughed out loud in my helmet at my own stupidity as I drove into France, what a waste of energy all of that worry had been. I can only hope I am able to remember that as I continue to face many more unknown challenges on this trip.
My first week or so in France has been cold with buffeting winds making for some pretty tiring riding. The first stop was to pay a visit to Villers Bretonneaux, where only weeks before my visit my amazing brother had played a starring role representing the RAAF at the 100th anniversary commemoration for Anzac Day. This is the site where some 10,000 Australian soldiers who lost their lives in various battles are buried or remembered. Not one for war history, I find visiting these kinds of places very overwhelming, this was no exception. As I walked the rows in the bitter wind wondering how their families felt never having their loved ones come home, buried so far away, I was a mess. I walked and cried, it was such a beautiful place but so utterly sad. I am glad I went to feel a part of this special place to honour fallen countrymen and my brothers work, but I think it is safe to say I won’t be rushing to any more along the way.
With the weekend promising to be wet and bleak, I settled in for a few days in Rouen. Apparently, this is the place they burned poor Joan of Arc at the stake! Lovely people 😊
After a few days wandering around Rouen and a day trip to Paris, I was ready to get on the road, cold or not. Next stop was Tours, nothing of great interest to be honest so I continued towards Cognac, where the aged wine gets its name. Through beautiful French villages and rolling green fields alive with wild flowers it was a beautiful ride. Until, that is, I arrived in Cognac. Already in a rush to make the Hennessy factory tour, my sat nav decided it would be fun to test my skills on a narrow cobblestone street…….by sending me down it the wrong way! There were quite a few unsavoury words inside my helmet as I tried to manoeuvre a fully loaded Yogi back the other way in a very tight and uneven space. We did it and just scraped in to meet the tour.
I can’t say I am a cognac connoisseur, however the tour and centuries old factory were very interesting, including a tasting of their most expensive drop at the end. Of course, I only sipped a wee bit, I can’t trust Yogi to keep us upright!
My next mission was to find the 18th century bed and breakfast (in the chateaux) I had booked for the night. This was to prove much more challenging than expected. My sat nav friend once again decided to have some fun with us and drove us almost into the side of a castle, promptly telling me, you have arrived at your destination. Ummm no, I don’t think so! With no phone reception, no internet connection and no clue how to find our way there I turned around and headed back into Cognac. With light fading and my frustration growing I pulled into the nearest hotel to ask for a room. I had called it quits on my chateaux dream. Giving up was not going to be that simple. They were full, as were all other hotels in the town apparently. I needed to get to my B&B or the tent would be coming out on the side of the road. Taking a minute to collect myself and use their WIFI, I drew an old school map, memorised the roads and set off once again.
Rounding a bend, with the last of the sun setting, I saw it in the distance. It was beautiful. I felt very guilty as I knocked on the door at almost 9pm, this is some poor persons home and it was late! I was not to worry though. Olga, a gorgeous French lady opened the door and welcomed me, my dirty boots and gear into their stunning home with the warmest smile I have seen since I have been here. She spoke very little English and my French is not exactly fluent, but she went to great lengths to make sure I was comfortable and left me to wander the gardens and clear my head after a stressful afternoon. I went to bed and had the best sleep I have had in weeks, waking to the sun streaming in my window and not a noise to be heard. It was bliss. If I thought I was in heaven, that was confirmed when I went down stairs to breakfast!
Feeling refreshed (and very full!), I was ready to ride and set my sights on the seaside town of Biarritz on the French and Spanish border. An uneventful ride which was good because today was the day – I was going to try camping!! My inside practising had paid off with the tent up in a matter of minutes, my super comfy sleeping matt blowing itself up and new neighbours from the Isle of Wight there to help celebrate my achievement with a glass of Rose. As the sun set, I set off with new friends Sue and Dave to explore the coast, swapping travel stories as we went.
I felt immediately at home in my little green dome and have spent the past few days riding around the area checking out the sights, including a trip across the border to San Sebastian to hang with the rich and famous 😊
At the end of week two, it has once again been the people that I have met along the way that are really making my trip. No matter how beautiful a place may be, if you feel disconnected from other people it suddenly doesn’t seem so nice. I feel very lucky so far to have come across such lovely, welcoming souls and hope my luck continues.
Spain tomorrow, with the promise of better weather and cheaper petrol. I am looking forward to seeing a totally new country.