Monday, June 30, 2008

27th June - je suis en France, mais sans Passport

Arrived in France this morning after an early start in Portsmouth – 0700 ferry departure. No problems at the beginning – I was disappointed not to have seen HMS Victory as I had planned, but I did catch a glimpse as we passed by the Historic Docks from the ferry. Saw lots more modern British warships, including the Ark Royal.

I tried to sleep on the ferry, but no luck – too many noisy children. I did not sleep much last night – I must have woken up 10 times before 0500. Funny how your body wakes you up when you know you have an urgent early start.

I couldn’t help thinking about the Normandy invasion in 1944 as the ferry approached the port of Ouistreham. You could see the beaches from a long way out – what must it have looked like for the Allied men landing in 1944? A day at the beach? Or unknown horror?

After leaving the boat I decided to take it easy for the first few miles (sorry – kilometres, now that I am in France I must speak “metric”). I enjoyed the countryside and soon came across the first of the signs for Second World War cemeteries. I decided to take a short detour to see the Canadian War Cemetery at Cintheaux. – I had never seen one before and recall that on my last trip on the bike through Normandy that I was so late for the ferry that I couldn’t stop. A war cemetery with so many headstones speaks so much for peace and against war. This was a small immaculately maintained cemetery, but there were over 1,000 headstones there – mostly for men killed after the invasion. The ages were mostly in the 20’s with lots of Irish names like O’Neill, O’Reilly, and McCormack. I took some photos, but did feel a bit invasive of the tranquillity of the cemetery (I was the only person there). I signed the Visitor’s Book but was not sure what to say in the comments section. Most other people simply said “Thanks”, “Merci” or “With Gratitude” – one entry curiously said “Well done lads”, I simply wrote “Rest in peace”.

The photo here is of my bike and a giant Canadian Maple Leaf just outside the cemetery.

No rain today, though it was very cloudy in Normandy. There were a few drops to remind me about yesterday in case I had forgotten already about the wind and rain in Wales and England. The further South I headed – the warmer it got. I stopped at an Autoroute Services station for lunch and at last enjoyed some heat for the first time in two years. This stop was spoiled a bit by a particularly noisy 1-year old at the next table who wouldn’t stop screaming her head off despite her mother’s useless efforts (am I becoming intolerant of noisy kids after three of my own?).

The Autoroute was great and easy to ride. For a brief period before I turned off at Chatellerault I was joined on the road by about 20 other Harley-Davidson riders. So for a short time I rode with a biker gang who called themselves “Tintin’s Club”! My destination today was Chauvigny – a medieval city. However, on my arrival as I was checking all my gear I couldn’t find my passport – despite searching everything I soon realised that I had lost it. I’m guessing it fell out of my pocket when I was paying tolls which I had to do twice. Stupid! I have to go to the Gendarmes tomorrow.

Chauvigny is a beautiful town on the river Vienne. I explored the 11th-13th Century buildings at the top of the town and had a nice pint (half litre) of Heineken. I ate duck and noodles in a Vietnamese restaurant before strolling back to my hotel, Chalet Fleuri, which is on the edge of the river.

I thought my evening was over until I encountered one of the locals who was walking his dog. I’d guess he was in his sixties and he muttered (he had no teeth) something to me in French but I could not understand. He kept this up and despite not understanding a word that he spoke he made it clear that he was offering me sex by pointing to my Men’s Dept! I don’t know if he was the local pimp, or if he fancied me himself – but I’m glad to report that I did not take him up on his offer. I’m 48 years old and this is the first time a man has offered me sex, and it happened in Chauvigny. The only word I understood in the end was “Domage” – beware of toothless dog-walking Frenchmen I say!

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