Archive for January, 2010
Though part of me is itching to get back to Denmark, to get this WT-thing over and done with, hanging out with Sofie here in Zonhoven (east of Hasselt, northeastern Belgium) – which will only be my second and last stop-over in tiny Belgium – has paused me for a moment, and, really, there’s no rush getting back.
With nigh on 1.400 days in the bag, what’s another few days?
Such a lovely dad (thank you so much, Papa Jan)…
Weird Belgian signposting…
At night Sofie and I go to the movies in neighboring Genk, then a quick kebab in Hasselt through the snowstorm (above). All good!
Indoor comforts are supremely on the agenda today. I don’t leave the house today at all. Don’t take pity on me. It’s exactly how I wanted it to be. Tennis semi-finals from Melbourne keep me glued to the TV set all morning.
I have a long chat with Sofie’s Papa Jan – a Jack of all trades, as Sofie said – about his seafaring youth on the Seven Seas e.g. Papa Jan even dismantles the Dannebrog on my bike and gives a good scrub and wash. Very kind.
The TLC makes the flag real red and alive as when Carolyne made it in Adelaide in 2007…
Chilling with Sofie (and her family), sharing stories about our love for (almost) everything Australia, watching a movie…it all eats away the afternoon. Feeling very good here.
Day 1.390 – 28JAN2010: Namur -> Zonhoven
Distance (km) : 111
Time on bike : 6h 04m
Brutto time: 09.45 – 17.30
Avg : 18.1 km/h
Total (km) : 61.257
Altitude: 120 m
Leaving Namur proper turns out to be more complicated than expected. In town I manage to find the bike route (Ravel) that Nicolas recommended last night. It’s snowcovered though, so I opt for the road running parallel to it, hoping things will stay parallel. Bad choice. Gradually, the main road veers off the bike track, up to a 150-200 m plateau north of Namur, leaving me in smalltown territory, with no map, and no way of navigating with the sun since the sky’s cloudy and lousy.
After 16 km cycling I suddenly recognize a shop sign that I passed 45 minutes earlier, just 3 km north of Namur, and realize that I’ve been cycling in circles (well, just one circle, but that was more than enough). Frustrating. Especially, since I have a rare appointment today and I’m already running late.
Sofie has invited me to come and stay with her and her family in Zonhoven. Halfway between Namur and Zonhoven we’re supposed to meet up in Landen at 1PM from where we’ll ride back to her house. I hate being late, so for the next 3 hours solid I just kick the pedals hard (my knee luckily agrees to this plan) and focused, and make it just in time, with the biggest hole in my stomach.
I’ve now entered the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, and this province, Limburg, is literally plastered with fine-fine cycling paths. Sofie’s done her homework and we stay on mostly car-free bike tracks all the way home (ca. 55 km).
Sitting in In De Zwaan Restaurant near Hasselt (Belgium) just a few hours after we’ve met, it feels like I’ve known Sofie much longer. It’s great company, the atmosphere’s right, and the food’s super delicious (and plentiful – Hungry Wolf likes). And did I mention the Westmalle?
In Zonhoven I get my own room, complete with TV, wifi, DVD, elevation bed (love it!), and it all feels wicked. Will stay some days here, I’m sure…
After a good, solid gnocchi lunch with Nicolas and Sophie in a Italian restaurant, I head off for a bit of sightseeing. Namur’s impressive citadel is on top of most tourists’ agenda in town, I guess. Rightly so…
My left knee was somewhat sore this morning so I turn to the trusty Ibuprofen again (the last dose this time around). I’m pretty careful walking up the stairs to the citadel and as long as I keep the grandpa speed, things are all right.
I hardly meet other people on the massive citadel, and the joy of sniffing around foreign towns is back, full-on.
Nicolas, Sophie, and Raja all know perfectly how to make you feel at home (less so, when Raja is in his warrior-must-destroy-all-mode). I really love it here and feel sad that the departure’s waiting at the other end of tonights’ sleep…
Just a hasty update from Givet, northern France where I’ve been staying for two weeks now due to a knee injury.
To the late-comers: I Bourges, France – beginning of January – I got some new and heavy winterboots ‘cos I couldn’t keep my feet warm on the bike. The boots have a thick 3-4 cm sole which, naturally, affects the distance from my crotch to the pedals. I was aware of this, but couldn’t be bothered doing anything about it (e.g. adjusting the saddle height accordingly). My bad.
After a few days of cycling in hilly and cold central France my knee started feeling sore. I had the accomodation situation planned well ahead, and thus didn’t really “have time” for listening to this sudden knee soreness nor to stop and rest/find out what was wrong all of a sudden, after more than 60.000 km on the bike.
The pain was pretty bad when I arrived here in Givet 14 days ago, knee swollen and the stairs caused me a lot of trouble etc, and further pedalling didn’t really seem like an option. Luckily, I was invited by Elodie to stay in her apartment for as long as I wanted. As I said, French hospitality never failed on me.
It’s been a great rest here. New friends, WT-projects done, lots of Australian Open tennis from Melbourne, eating well, drinking ditto, resting, thinking…Looking back, I can’t really believe that I’ve been here for so long – actually the longest break where I’ve stayed in one single place since Sydney in March 2008.
The pain in my knee didn’t really get any better within the first few days, so after a long research on the internet I realized that patellar tendinitis was the name of the game. Off the the pharmacy I went, and over the next 9 days I swallowed more pills than ever before (50!). The swell is gone, I’ve been doing basic exercises for my knee everyday, I’ve been on gentle rides (5 and 20 km) to check the knee, and everything seems (knock-on-wood) to be fairly all right.
So I’ll be off very shortly. My bike’s been crying loudly lately (from the laundry room next door) for me to come back and caress it/her. Belgium is just a few kilometers down (north) the Meuse River, and it will be my country #50 in WT-time. Namur, then Zonhoven is the first stops in Belgium – the remaining route through the Netherlands and Germany hasn’t been planned yet.
Thanks for the perpetual support, guys and girls. It (still) means everything to me.
Thus perceived – and with love,
Givet (FR) -> Namur (B)
Distance (km) : 55
Time on bike : 3h 37m
Brutto time: 12.20 – 16.40
Avg : 15.3 km/h
Total (km) : 61.147
Altitude: 80 m
As with all other good things in life, my stay in Givet has come to an end. 14 days with indoor comforts (incl. immense amounts of wifi and time in Camp WT), relaxation, knee exercises, Ibuprofen, chill-out time with new friends in Givet – not to mention the mild frustration about the knee situation.
I leave Givet just after noon and have an easy 55 km ride to Namur in Belgium. The winter’s suddenly back in Givet, and the temperature’s minus 3 degrees Celsius. To spice things up, I’m hit by a brisk headwind all day. Not quite what I was hoping for.
The bike computer says 61.097 when, after 15 minutes, I reach the unpatrolled Belgian border along the Meuse River. WT-country #50 in 45½ months.
Naturally, I’m careful not to push it today. My knee seems to be doing all right (after I put the saddle up some 3 cm the other day – the equivalent to the thickness of the sole of my new, trouble-making (but warm) boots), but still I somehow feel a bit fragile, a bit vulnerable, having realized how thin the line between feeling like Superman and being handicapped can be.
The scenery along the Meuse River is equally great on the Belgian side, with lots of impressive, vertical rock formations right on the edge of the river. Most of the day I’m on a car-free bike path, sometimes cobblestoned (no like), often paved (yes like).
Via Hospitalityclub.org I’ve organized a place to stay in Namur at Nicolas’ and Sophies house in the centre of the city of 110.000 inhabitants. Nicolas (professor of geography) and Sophie (graphic designer) recently moved into their beautiful 3-story apartment with Raja, the 3-months-old Bengal cat – it didn’t take long before I’d completely lost my heart to this little furry nugget.
There’s Belgian beer, French red, Sophie’s delicious lasagne, non-stop conversations and cosy times in the house with my new friends/hosts. The decision to take tomorrow off to do some sightseeing in Namur and to spend a little more time with Nicolas and Sophie (and to rest my knee that started feeling a little sore this evening (despite the beer, wine and Belgian whisky!)) is an easy one…
…plus, Raja needs more cuddles! You see why, right…
No photos today
No diary notes today
No milk today
Knee’s not too bad
Will leave tomorrow /
Looking forward to Belgium
After 11 days off the bike, I feel it’s time to give the not-so-good old knee a little test ride today. The Belgian border is just 4 km down the road, and because crossing borders always had a certain charm for me, I make Beauraing on the other side of the border the aim of the test ride.
Uhu, and Belgium it is. Knee is doing okay on the 20 km ride, but it’s still to early to feel too confident.
I spend the afternoon with Elodie and Yannick in the great Rivea Espace Aquatique (French) a few kilometers down the road from Elodie’s apt. For hygienic reasons, shorts are not allowed in the pools. Shorts is what I’ve got in my bag. Because I’m cheap, I can’t be bothered buying a 12 Euro pair in the vending machine, so I put my underwear on, pretending it’s swimming trunks, hoping the elastic band will keep the trunks in its place.
The Rivea center is water haven with water slides, jacuzzi, hammam, sauna. The rocks.
My knee’s been responding quite positively to the floor exercises I’ve been doing over the last week. This is all good news. Obviously.
It’s a rare, sunny day outside today, so the bear decides to leave the hibernation and snoop about smalltown Givet…
I’ve spent most of the last two days editing this new documentary from Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Mali, West Africa.
It’s an interesting and laborious process making these mini-movies – even though the process of cutting down hours of footage to the final product, a mere 8 minutes, involves a lot of “kill your darlings”.
I’m quite pleased with this movie. After all, there’s nothing like being the star of your own movie, right…
Full-screen, HQ mode recommended. Comments welcome.
Sit back. Enjoy a slice of West Africa.
Nicolai (Givet, France)
This is how I spend most of my days here in Givet – it’s much more interesting than it looks!
Most of the last two days, I’ve been working on a WT Docu from West Africa. It’s sometimes a tedious process, yet also quite creative and all-up I do enjoy the making/editing of the movies.
Chilling with friends in Givet usually involves good beer.
I’d be hard pushed to try and find something worth telling about today. I’ll make it quick this time.
Training my knee free-style (above), making most of a new WT minimovie from Africa, heaps of live tennis from Australian Open, hanging out with Elodie and Jean-Baptiste is on the open agenda.
It’s been one week since I arrived here in Givet, and I really like the “settling in”-feeling…It’s a welcome change from the usual, nomadic walkabouts.
Being forced to stay put here in Givet, northern France, is kind of a pain/pleasure, two-headed Janus situation for me.
One the one hand, my sore knee (Patellar tendinitis) has forced me to really slow down (physically more than anything), and I can’t recall when was the last time of such immobility. But one door closes, another one opens, and this rest has given me plenty of time to do some WT-stuff that I’ve been wanting for a while now.
On the other hand, after 5 days of indoor comforts, I’m starting to feel a little eager to get back on the road, like a caged tiger (to keep it in the cat vernacular), to get this WT-thing over with, being a mere 1.000 km from Denmark now. As one reader put it, resistance is really cranking up now, at the end of the line. So true.
Anyway, the Ibuprofen seems to be working all right, my left knee isn’t as swollen anymore, I can move around without much trouble, and I’ve started doing a bit of exercise in order to strengthen the knees (as if that should be a problem after 61.000 km on the bike, right).
I optimistically hope that I’ll be able to get back on the bike later this week. My knee and time will tell.
PS. Being stuck isn’t really a big ordeal, since I’m in good hands with my friend/host Elodie + the Australian Open 2010 Tennis just started and my wifi-sucking laptop displays all the goodies.
Don’t take pity on me, please…
Here you go!
Knee Status Update: The swell has decreased along with the pain. Seems like those pretty heavy doses of Ibuprofen are doing a dandy job. I’ve started doing a few exercises to strenghten the knee (and who would’ve thought that would be necessary after 61.000 km on the roads? Life’s weird sometimes)
Running low on visuals here in Givet – because I spend most days indoor, resting my knee, eating Ibuprofen, working on my laptop, hanging out with Elodie and friends – today’s photo presentation shows my room (yes, it’s mine, and Elodie calls me her flatmate by now )…
…and the view from my room…
And please have a look at the latest mini-docu from WT (Northwestern Africa) in case you haven’t seen it:
Some people claim it’s always weekend in my world (which is of course bullocks), but since it’s officially also weekend time for Elodie today, we take her cute little Fiat Panda and drive to big-city Lille, some 2½ hours to the west of Givet to meet up with her uni-friend Sebastien.
Heavy and good: the regional favorite (apparently), Welch – a strange but delicious mix of ham, bread, cheese, fried egg…
…and yes, I like pepper!
As was the case between Xmas and NYE a few weeks ago, when Pablo and I drove to Gent for the day, this happens to be a rainy day too. Bummer, but nonetheless it’s obvious that Lille is a very pretty town with lots of French life and stimmung all around.
Physically, I’m still in low gear due to my sore knee. This seems to be the result of my self-diagnosis.
My bike’s been wanting to grab a shower for the last few weeks, so today I take it downstairs/outdoor from the 3rd floor apartment, and give it a good scrub and a little oily massage to make up for the negligence of lately…
But in WT World I continue the hyper-activity of the last days…
Tune of the Day: A Thousand Kisses Deep – Leonard Cohen
Hugely delayed, here is my selected photos from my 3 months in the USA, from 07MAY09 – 01AUG09 (incl. 3 weeks in Canada).
I pedaled a total of 5.071 km in the USA and went through 16 states (plus Wash., D.C), from the US/Mexican border town Brownsville, Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York State, (Quebec, Canada), Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts (then plane from Boston to Accra, Ghana, West Africa).
The USA soon turned out to be one of my absolute favorite WT-countries…I think the following photos would give you an idea why…
New friends means new possibilities of expanding your horizons, personally, culturally, gastronomically, musically, and Elodie introduces me to a bunch of new acts that I’d never heard about. For instance…
Tune of the Day: When Was I Last Home – The Do
I dont’ leave the apartment today. I’m wired all day, making a new WT-mini documentary, checking up on the world, and – more importantly – the what/why/how’s of my sad knee situation…
The decision to stay here in Givet with Elodie for a number of days seems like the only/right thing to do.
Poor, crippled Zülle!
This was the product of today’s long hours at my mobile WT Lappie Office:
At night Elo and I go out to meet some friends at the local bar/pub, and I get to see a glimpse of the town (7.000 inhabitants) beautifully situated on the Meuse River that flows north into Belgium…
Stephen Hendry #2. ‘Nuff said.
0 km cycling.
Ca. 100 m indoor walking.
Elodie just moved here a month ago for her new job as an engineer at the nuclear power plant in nearby Chooz. So she works during the day – as do I, on different WT-related project that’ve been on my mind for a while now. Elodie has given me a carte blanche and I can stay as long as I want (she told me even before we met, and how wonderfully trustful people can be).
I, as a private person, really appreciate Elodie’s open doors here in Givet, just a few kilometers from the Belgian border.
I, as a sore knee, equally appreciate Elodie’s open doors (=chance to recover)…
Edited in Givet, northern France (14JAN2010) – while resting my sore knee for a little while – here is the latest WT mini-docu European Transitions, recorded in Spain and France over the last two months.
I hope you enjoy watching it. I didn’t particularly enjoy doing it. You’ll see why…
Charleville-Mezieres -> Givet
Distance (km) : 80
Time on bike : 4h 35m
Brutto time: 11.50 – 17.20
Avg : 17.4 km/h
Total (km) : 61.067
Altitude: 120 m
The knee is still pretty sore this morning. Instead of my new, heavy winterboots, I put on my proper cycling shoes (incl. neopren shoe cover) hoping they won’t increase the problem.
After having had absolutely no problems at all with my knee/legs since I left Denmark in April 2006, this obviously comes as quite a surprise – and a very frustrating one. Feeling physically fragile, wounded isn’t exactly part of my standard emotional register. Merde!
Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful, peaceful ride today along the Trans-Ardennes Green Track (see more info here), a 85 km car-free bike path along the tranquil Meuse River (flat, curvy and just a pure pleasure)
A little north of Charleville, I cross the 61.000 km marker on my bike computer. Photo session time!
The bike path is some 30 km longer than the direct route, but it’s (physical) money well spent! I virtually have 80 km of smoothly paved bike lanes to myself, and I can’t stop feeling very spoiled on my last proper cycling day in France. Scenery is dressed in white. Air cold and fresh.
After a relatively pain-free ride, my knee starts causing me trouble again 20 km before Givet. Heartbreaking, depressing. My face takes on the painful expression again. Putain! Putain! Putain!
Feeling rather crippled, I make it to Givet where Elodie, a 24-year-old engineer from Paris, has kindly accepted my Couchsurfing-request.
In Tibet (November 2006) I cycled with Rich for 5 days from Saga, Tibet to the Nepalese border. It was rough and unforgettable.
Rich took all of these great photos that all bring back memories from the hardships of crossing the Tibetan Plateau…
Most of these photos have never been published on WT.
Rheims -> Charleville-Mezieres
Distance (km) : 88
Time on bike : 5h 07m
Brutto time: 10.30 – 17.15
Avg : 17.1 km/h
Total (km) : 60.986
Altitude: 150 m
Tune of the Day: Cartwheels - The Reindeer Section
My sore left knee gets worse today on my way to Charleville where I have another contact (via Hospitalityclub.org this time).
Having a cold cheese-and-chorizo lunch stop midway to Charleville-Mezieres…
Luckily, the ride is mostly flat and easy, with only a few river crossing (and subsequent ups/downs) and I’m trying not to push it at all. Cycling parallel to the E46/A34 highway, I get to see some small, quaint villages, unmistakingly French.
As I arrive in Charleville-Mezieres my left knee has gone really bad, and I can hardly walk up (or even worse, down) the stairs at Marie Charlotte’s apartment when I get there. Very frustrating.
But for now, I’m happy being here, indoor and in great company with Macha (nickname), a philosphy teacher, and her two room mates Timothée, a lanscape architect and Tanguy, a journalist.
Macha and I go out to get groceries for the dinner and we add in a bit of sightseeing, but me knee’s hurting pretty badly now, I walk like a man 3 times my age (i.e a 100 year-old), and I have to just get back and get some leg rest.
Despite the pain, it’s a really wonderful evening with my 3 new friends in Charleville-Mezieres.
So, the visual goody bag #47 from Spain is here!
The album contains 100 photos from my time in Spain.
I entered Algeciras in the far south (26NOV2009) on the ferry from Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar, and then mainly followed the Mediterranean coast (via Málaga, Alicante, Valéncia, Barcelona) up to the French border (12DEC2009) and the eastern Pyrenées.
Comments, questions etc welcome!
Nicolai (Rheims, northern France)
Gien -> Sens
Distance (km) : 94
Time on bike : 5h 18m
Brutto time: 09.20 – 17.15
Avg : 17.7 km/h
Total (km) : 60.736
Altitude: 100 m
It’s been snowing again last night. Gien is all dressed in white, but I don’t care much about it, ‘cos I feel recharged after my great (but too short) time with Laureline, her cats and indoor comforts.
The surprise of the day materializes when I leave Gien behind me and realize that a little TAILwind pushes me north towards Sens, where I’ve arranged another Couchsurfer-meeting, with Pierre-Francois, a 29-year-old (secondary) school teacher.
According to my experience France’s got some of the (probably THE) best and most considerate drivers in the world. Without exceptions they always give me a wide berth, don’t make any stupid, close-call overtakings, often salute me respectful as if I was Superman (and seem to express their sympathy with me cycling in this weather) – so it doesn’t really matter that most of the rural backroads I’ve been taking in France don’t have a proper shoulder for cyclists.
All my love goes to the considerate French drivers. Exemplary!
It’s still cold, minus 2-4 degrees C, but at least I don’t have this freezing hair dryer (aka headwind) blowing in my face all day long today. I feel strong and confident today (what a perfect illusion a bit of tailwind makes, huh), and arrive in Sens early in the afternoon, head for the local McDonald’s (they all have unlimited, free wifi, hallelujah!) and make a Skype video call to my mum (dad joins too), my dear birthday girl. 07011951.
Pierre-Francois meets me downstairs at his downtown apartment, and walking straight into a strangers’ home has never felt more natural.
You are crazy, in a good way, and I admire your project, Pierre-Francois proclaims when he hears more about WT. Lots of stories are shared with him, and again I feel fortunate meeting all these wonderful and super-hospitable (French) people.
Bourges -> Gien
Distance (km) : 77
Time on bike : 4h 14m
Brutto time: 11.00 – 16.45
Avg : 18.2 km/h
Total (km) : 60.642
Altitude: 100 m
There’s live tennis on my little 14″ TV screen, snow’s falling outside my window, and I can think of a dozen of reasons for not leaving my comfy nest and hitting the road. But I can’t justify the 41 euro tag (and can’t/won’t rely on kind WT readers ), so I get packed and head for the local outdoor shop (long live Decathlon) where I find a great pair of Merrell winter boots, half price, size 45 with ample room for x layers of socks to keep my toes warm (along with my new socks).
Goodbye cold feet! These boots got the message: Keep this poor lad warm and toasty.
Goodbye dance shoes.
My new 1.5 kg boots make all the difference. It’s a pleasure not having to worry about keeping my extremities warm and for the first time in ages, it seems, I actually enjoy the ride today. Knowing I have a place to stay in Gien on the Loire River gives me a much needed mental comfort too…
Through Couchsurfing.com I got into contact with Laureline, a 26-year-old psychologist that lives in Gien with her two cats, Kyra & Shadoz, in an apartment overlooking the Loire River. Laureline makes me feel at home right from the start and hanging out with her and her cats feels just great. French hospitality rules supreme (and thanks a lot for putting me up, Laureline!)
The beautiful view over La Loire from the living room.
Guéret -> Bourges
Distance (km) : 125
Time on bike : 7h 50m
Brutto time: 08.15 – 18.15
Avg : 15.9 km/h
Total (km) : 60.565
Altitude: 100 m
Sometimes it’s a good thing you don’t know what’s in the “goody bag” of the day, when you head off in the morning. Had I known that today would be such a long and cold haul, I would’ve probably stayed another night at the home for homeless. The caretaker asked me last night if I wanted to stay for 1, 2, or 3 nights.
At 8AM I shake hands with the (other) homeless people, say goodbye, and leave Gueret. It’s still dark and I don’t feel like cycling at all.
I meet quite a lot of encouraging greetings and car-honks from the Frenchmen around me, who often give me this “wow, respect for cycling in this weather!” look when they greet me. I greet them back, but somehow I feel I can’t really receive that sort of respect/street credit ‘cos I’m not doing this in the classic and confident “fist-in-the-air” WT-style way, but rather I’m down in the mouth, I feel a little sorry for myself going through this, and am not enjoying this at all. Hard to explain, but being the most understanding readers around, I know that you, dear reader, will understand what I’m trying to express…
I’m focused like a pitbull all day. Endless ups and downs (in the landscape and in me) make for a pretty tough ride. Minus 4 degrees Celsius. Mild headwind all day which makes my forehead and my eyeballs freeze up. Weird feeling.
Just south of Bourges the hungry wolf inside of me can’t cope with the hunger no longer, and I have to stop and stuff myself. That’s when I start getting really, really cold. Shiver and shake. Heaven or Hell. This is no fun, and I can’t think of anything but getting my body heat back which isn’t an easy task when the body is totally worn after more than 7 hours of pedaling, feeling utterly exhausted, wind blowing, clothes wet from sweating and bla-bla. I feel miserable and slightly panicky.
Stamina brings me to the center of Bourges where I find a hotel near the train station, 41 euros for the night – the cheapest I could find, but also the most expensive accommodation in WT history.
PS. From my wifi-equipped hotel room I put a note on my Facebook status update about the cycling day, the expensive room etc and – hocus-pocus! – 5 minutes later, one of my Danish readers (no one mentioned, no one forgotten!) take pity on me and transfer that exact amount, 41 euros, to my account. I seriously can’t believe what’s happening, feels like the guardian angels are watching me again, and it just confirms that I do have the best and most caring readers in the world. Thank you so much, Mr. GT. Will not forget.
Limoges -> Guéret
Distance (km) : 87
Time on bike : 5h 56m
Brutto time: 09.45 – 17.15
Avg : 14.7 km/h
Total (km) : 60.439
Altitude: 550 m
It’s looks gloomy, white, and cold as I look out the window this morning in Will’s apartment. I have zero desire to cycle today. The weather forecast says it ain’t getting warmer anytime soon, so I can’t really come up with any reasonable excuse for not hitting the road. Will’s company would be one, and we sure have spent some wonderful time together here in Limoges, but all good things come to an end.
Two weeks have gone since I was on the bike last time, and this chilly morning isn’t the best of reunions. It takes some inner pep-talk to get going.
The temperature hovers around minus 2-minus 3 degrees Celsius all day. The terrain is frustratingly undulating (and snowcovered), and minor ridges rise to around 600m (from the surrounding approx. 350-400m).
After nearly 6 hours of winter cycling, I arrive in Gueret. The snow has started falling again. In a local supermarket my body temperature drops rapidly, and the tiny bells of panic start ringing inside of me. I cross the town and find two hotels – both totally out of my “fiscal” range at 69 and 89 Euros – and don’t really know what to do at this point. Camping is not really an option, considering my body that shakes like a dog and the fact that the ground is covered in 15 cm of snow.
Back in town I follow some signs saying something with “jeunesse” (youth) and try my luck. The lady in the youth centre can’t help me, but asks me to go next door and talk to the guys there. So I do.
And this was my lucky strike. In French/English I explain my situation to the two men present, and shortly after I’m told to follow one of the guys (in his car, me on the bike). I have absolutely no idea what’s going on or where I’m going, but my instincts tell me it’s going to be good.
Near the train station we arrive at the Asile du Nuit (Night Asylum, sort of) where I get my own little (and more importantly, warm!) room. The caretaker tells me that dinner’s before 8PM and that I have to leave the room tomorrow morning before 8AM. I find that a trifle on the early side, but don’t complain as I feel I’ve just been saved from freezing my ass off. As usual, I ask for the price, hoping this Spartan room will be significantly cheaper than the 69 Euro hotel room I’d just checked out.
Zero! says the man, grinning. You’re lucky, my friend, he says, and then goes on to explain that this is a place for homeless people, the guys begging in the streets etc. I suddenly get it! It’s another “first of” for me, sleeping in a home for homeless.
Soon the other 5 “residents” arrive, 40% of them with dogs (one girl, four men), and I recognize the smell of alcoholism. I don’t (can’t) talk much to them as we all sit at the table having dinner (micro-waved canned stuff, the things I usually eat, basically) and coffee. Personally, it’s a very interesting evening for me, a mini-anthropological study among people you don’t often get close to.
Having spent the last week here in Brussels with Pablo has been a bliss. As expected. Nothing less – and despite my untimely sick leave. So much laughter, so much fun, so much understanding, and how lucky we are to have best friends.
It’s really made me look forward getting back to Denmark and my loved ones.
Thanks for popping in, Pabs…