I woke up this morning having decided to give France another chance and it did not let me down. It all started when I checked out from my hotel. The receptionist handed me a lily of the valley and explained that the French, on May 1, traditionally give them to people to celebrate spring. What a wonderful way to start the day!
The sun was just rising, I could see the snow-capped Pyrenees to the south, I crossed the River Basse, and I was off pedaling to Narbonne in the east. And everything smelled so nice! What is that smell? I kept asking myself. Everything smells like jasmine.
At first I thought my head was just getting to me. I was feeling happy and optimistic. But I kept sniffing at the air and smelling jasmine. I took deep breaths. It felt so good. Of course, I thought. France is the land of perfumes. It must smell good. Eventually I stopped by the side of the road, determined to discover the source of the smell. I thought it might be the little white flowers scattered among the grass. But it wasn’t. Then I noticed trees on both sides of the road full of yellow flowers. I smelled them. It was them! I took a small branch and placed it in my handlebar bag along with my lily of the valley.
I’ve been reluctant to pee by the side of the road since I entered France yesterday. Just as I cycled across the border from Spain, I heard shooting several times in the mountain forests. My first thought was that I had better not pee in those bushes! My second thought was that this must be hunting season. I’ve also been concerned about French sensibilities. The Spanish and the Egyptians understand each other. When nature calls you do what you have to do. But are the French the same? I wondered. I had no choice later this afternoon but to risk it. I was not shot nor did I notice any damaged sensibilities. Me and the French should be just fine together. Especially since I got a honk and several waves from inside a car today! I’ve decided to create a rating system for countries I pass through. One of the indices will have to be how many waves and words of encouragement I get from passing countrymen. The Spanish have set the bar VERY high.
Today I was determined to camp instead of stay at a hotel. I needed to keep my expenditures down. I reached Narbonne very easily. Finding the camp was a nightmare. When I eventually got there I found no one at the reception to talk to and the restaurant was not due to open for several more hours. That was it! F*^% camping! I’m sick of it being so inconvenient! I left and cycled several kilometers back to Narbonne to look for a hotel. I cycled round and round this beautiful town. It took a very long time before i found the first hotel. It was closed. More cycling and eventually I found a second with difficulty. The whole place looked dodgy. I was about to pay for a room but backed out last minute. I wasn’t feeling comfortable about the place or the owner. I soon found a third hotel but it was too expensive. The receptionist there suggested I head towards the train station. There, some three hours and 35km after entering Narbonne just before noon, I finally found a decent place to stay.
The Narbonne Cathedral could just be one of the most exquisite I have ever seen. The old town was quiet today. May 1 is a holiday in France. But I enjoyed my walk around the town and topped it off with a hamburger and a creme brûlée; one of many reasons one must visit France (the brûlée, of course, not the hamburger).
I’m feeling generally happy with the distances I’ve planned for the routes on my trip. I did lots of different kinds of research before the trip. One thing I did not do was to see how far other tourers cycle on similar trips. I still do not want to know the answer to that. I chose my distances based on my personal abilities and no one else’s. If I don’t include the extra distances cycled because of getting lost, I’ve been cycling anywhere between 60 to 120 km each day. Because the days are now long, I take my time cycling. I’m in no rush. I have no one to keep up with or to prove myself to. I go only at speeds that I can comfortably maintain without getting thigh burn. I have short days and long days. The result of all that has been a need for only a small recovery period every afternoon when I reach my destination. Once I’ve walked around a bit and have had some food and drink added to my system, I feel strong. I then make sure I sleep early so I get enough rest as possible for the following day of cycling. It has been working well.
If only I can stop getting lost all the time.