France wins the competition of fulfilling all national stereotypes. Suddenly cafe culture is very much alive and kicking, glamorous women in high heels ride bikes around town and everyone smokes. The French have shown more interest in this odyssey and as a solo female many a “Bouf – Bon courage” have been the parting words along the way.
Katherine, cycle buddy extraordinaire has swapped her padded shorts and life on the road to return to reality. I will miss our “top 3” conversations. Many hours were spent choosing our top 3 of anything – the subject matter is usually completely inane but can range from cooked breakfast items to countries you would love to live. Thankfully I had the cushion of a VIP visit from my mum and sister in Lille where I was spoilt rotten. While they treated me to steak frites and moules marinieres, I returned their generosity with a culinary insight into my usual picnic lunch of a cheese and ham baguette.
While there we visited the grave of my great uncle Norman who died in WW1. And as I cycled on through Flanders fields the many cemeteries proved a constant sobering reminder of that futile waste of life. With armed police patrolling in every big town and even at somewhere as benign as Monet’s garden it seems sadly that human nature has learnt little.
After the flatlands of the Low Countries and northern France the landscape is getting more undulating and although my legs will not forgive me for saying so, I am enjoying a more varied and interesting terrain. I can spend many hours winging my way through one horse villages where the only sign of life is the red geranium flower boxes on every shuttered window and a barking dog as I speed through. However small, each village will always have a town hall, a disproportionately sized church and a bar tabac where pot bellied men can be seen with a fag in one hand and a beer in the other at 10am. These are interspersed with enormous vistas of fields of golden stubble punctuated by tractors like beetles ploughing the earth and creating a billowing dust storm in their wake.
Since heading on solo this part of France has decided to show me a taste of the heat to come. As it heads into the thirties, it is a tarmac melting, energy zapping heat that makes me jump from shady tree to shady tree and on occasion just jump off the bike to lie down in cool grass panting like a conked out dog. I’ve been told my body will get used to it but for the moment I am getting up as early as I can to get as many sweat free kilometres in before the fire of the sun burns too bright.