In Vancouver – Home again, Home again, Jiggety Jig
Well, I arrived back in Vancouver as scheduled on October 1st and have spent the time since I got back starting to explore my next options (job here, job elsewhere, more school?), starting to work part-time at UBC (to pay the mortgage and feed the cats while I do the previous item), restoring/imposing order on my apartment and getting back into rugby (got my first bruises already – yay!). But there’s one last little travelogue to be written before the story of Barney’s and my European Adventure is over.
My plan for the last week of the trip was to be in Norwich and sell Barney. I was on the home stretch, about 10 miles out of Norwich at about 11 o’clock on Sunday night, thinking about these plans and thinking how good Barney had been, not a single breakdown or problem in the 6500 miles we’d been together. I really should have known better than to even let these thoughts cross my mind (having been a victim of this kind of thing before – never say negative things about a place or you’ll be towed back, don’t voice pity for people with flat tires when your spare is buried under all of your earthly belongings), because right about then, on a deserted stretch of the A11 dual carriageway, Barney suddenly stopped going forward. The engine was running, but I had no go. Pulled over, pulled Barney up on the side, wished for a cell phone and hoped someone would stop. No one did. Apparently no one does. Finally loaded up my backpack, walked 1/2 mile to the nearest exit and then into an industrial estate, where, luckily, there was a trucking company working all night loading milk into trucks. Once they’d gotten over the shock of seeing a strange woman in gear walking up to them at midnight, they were nice and gave me tea (being England) and let me use the phone. I called the insurance company – luckily I hadn’t quite made it home yet, as my breakdown coverage only covered Europe and to and from the port! At about 1 am or so, the chatty tow truck driver showed up and we went back and got Barney and drove him back to Norwich.
It turns out that it was only Barney’s belt which had burst (without doing other damage), but it still wasn’t fixed when I left so Barney has not been sold. Also, it was completely the wrong time to try to sell him as all the bike shops were completely loaded up on bikes. So, I’m going to list him on eBay or ask the bike shop to take him to auction, but I probably will lose money on the deal. No matter, it still beat renting and was totally worth it.
So, going back to the last leg of the trip, from Utrecht to Norwich. I set out late in the evening of September 14th from Utrecht, heading for Antwerp (still fairly boggled at crossing countries in so little time). Called the hostel ahead and they said I had to get there by 11 – no problem I thought – they also said to take the ring road, which I did although it looked like the freeway would be better, and gave me rudimentary directions. I’d just like to point out one of my pet peeves about driving in Europe at this point – street signs – they’re hidden away on the sides of buildings if they exist at all, making it nearly impossible to find out what street you’re coming up to in time to do anything about it. So, after a detour through a big tunnel and back, I finally found the hostel by sheer blind luck. The next morning I found out that the planners in Antwerp had decided to close ALL of the exit and entrance ramps from the freeway that circles the city AT THE SAME TIME to improve them. Hmmm.
I set out for Ghent and then wandered around that medieval city for a bit and enjoyed the buildings, before heading for Paris on the back roads, only getting misplaced for a bit in Mons (which looks like somewhere worth getting back to –windy cobble-stone streeted hill city with a cathedral on top). After a lovely jaunt through the French countryside, rolling hills with lovely towns and silhouetted castles and cathedrals on the hills, I got to Paris in the evening. I then tried out lane-splitting/filtering on the freeway (adrenaline filled fun really, though I kept pulling over to let faster two-wheelers by). Then I got to drive around Paris looking for a hostel. Riding in Paris is interesting – traffic is a fluid dance and requires complete concentration – the only rules seem to be not to drive in the oncoming lane, though that’s a little relaxed for 2 wheelers. I’m a little too conservative of a rider for Paris though – I don’t ride up the centreline or the bus lane or filter between cars nearly often or fast enough. And Barney was right at home – never seen so many big scooters. (Which fits really – I decided a long time ago that Barney was male, and I thought he was gay, but someone pointed out that he could just be metrosexual, which I think fits better – and Paris would have to be the home of the metrosexual). Scooters are the most logical form of transport in Paris though, and you see all sorts of people and things on them – saw a nicely dressed couple with the woman holding a lapdog as they rode along. Also saw people smoking and sending SMSs (text-messages). Made me think about how in the Netherlands the bike is the most logical form of transport, and how bikes there follow their own set of rules, and the same for scooters in Paris. Also that in North America, where the car is king, the bike and motorbike are extra-ordinary and require special gear for most people, whereas when both are so common, people just ride in whatever and find a way to fit their lives onto them.
After a couple nights in the hostel I moved to the place of a friend from university – a really spacious place at the top of Montmartre, on the 6th floor with an amazing panoramic view of the city, including the Eiffel tower. I spent the days wandering around Paris on foot. Actually the first day I spent many hours at the Louvre, and of course only managed to see half of it. I saw the Arc de Triumph, the Champs-Elysee, Notre Dame, the Parthenon and many of the other famous places and buildings of Paris (not forgetting, of course, Amelie’s café). I also watched the sun set from the top of the Eiffel tower, watching the city change from it’s daytime grandeur through the glowing whiteness of twilight to the glowing redness of sunset and finally the glittering jewels of night time. And then there was being inside the elevator down with the strobe-like sparkling lights went off, as they do for 10 minutes of every hour. Paris really is all that – great food, lovely presentation of produce in produce stands, well-dressed people and everything else you think it is.
I found that I can speak some French and they did understand me mostly. I could also read enough to understand the things at the Louvre (of course the French don’t put anything in English) and I can understand a lot of what’s said. My head does hurt by the end of the day though. And I still reach for Spanish or Korean first.
It was also nice to feel tall again. Normally, at 5’7” (170cm) I’m on the tall side, but mostly people think I’m even taller. When I’ve travelled before, in Central America and Asia, I’ve been a giant. In the Netherlands I was at or below average for a woman – depending on the statistics I found online, the AVERAGE woman is 5’7”-5’8” (and the average man is 6’1”!). I found a very interesting article examining the reasons for this in a New Yorker article
Anyway, I went from Paris to Chartres (stopping at Versailles for a quick look – not nearly as good as the Hermitage), where I spent the night and then looked around in the morning, including climbing the 296 stairs to the top of the steeple – it really is a beautiful little place. I then headed for Cherbourg to catch the ferry to Poole. Pushed myself a little too hard, and was stupid that night – thought of stopping in Caen and catching the ferry from there, but I wanted to see the D-day beaches. Of course, by the time I got there, it was dark, not to mention somewhat rainy and miserable. But I made the hostel just after 11 and then got up for the 8 am ferry. No dinner, just a power bar.
Slept a bit on the ferry, but then spent some time in Poole looking for (another) right mirror (well, see, I write my route (which little roads to take) on a piece of paper which I stick in my pocket – I’d lost one and had to redo it – then the second one fell out, and being in such a hurry to retrieve it before it blew away I didn’t make sure the bike was stable before getting off, and the kickstand was on a little rise so it toppled over – luckily this time some French guys stopped and helped me pick it up – it wasn’t broken off, but some plastic was broken and it kept drooping). Finally found a mirror, but they wouldn’t sell me just one, only two, so I decided to try duct tape, which worked quite well.
I also had to decide where to go – should I head to Norwich directly, or take a long detour. The weather was looking bad, but it was supposed to be clearing so I decided on the long route and headed west for Land’s End, over the moors, shooting through narrow roads tunnelled by shrubbery and then coming out onto vistas of hills and fields and sheep and ponies. Was absolutely lovely. But I had had some problems finding the first road up to the moors, so it got dark sooner than I thought. The only hostels I knew of were a ways away, and it was cold, but I didn’t want to spend time finding rates for hotels etc so I kept on. By the time I got to the hostel in St. Ives some time after 11 I was absolutely and totally exhausted – I stopped about 10 for McD’s (bleck, but open). Fell into bed and slept until noon.
Next day (Friday) got up and looked at St Ives a bit, then went on to Land’s End – beautiful scenery out there, but the tourist trap on the end is something else! Then headed back, sticking mostly to secondary roads. Stopped for fish and chips in a little place (lured in by the advertisement of a toilet – they have nice free public ones in little towns all over England) and an older couple eating there started talking to me – they told me there was a hostel close by, and I thought I should stop (was almost 8 at this point, and I knew I shouldn’t push myself again, though I was tempted), so I decided to go there. They said they’d lead me there, then came out and asked if I wanted to stay at their place instead. So I did. Quite nice couple – he used to fly for British Airways – went for beers at the local yacht club and then got on my way again in the morning.
Lovely ride to Bath – tried to decide whether to stay there or go on – was about 8 when I got there, then called Oxford to see if there were rooms at hostels, and then thought about staying in Bath, decided not to, but then checked out the youth hostel and found it full. At which point I started to feel really tired, so thought I should stay. Then couldn’t find my way back into the city (really confusing roads) and so decided to go on to Oxford. I got a bit out of the city and knew I shouldn’t be riding anymore. Went back to the city, managed to find my way into the city, found one of the two backpacker places. They were full and sent me to the other, which I wandered around forever trying to find, only to find it was full too. They sent me to the YMCA, which was just up the street, but which I couldn’t find. Finally asked a bouncer where it was, and found it close on 10:30. Luckily they did have a bed but thank god for earplugs ’cause there were two snorers in there.
In the morning went to the Roman Baths museum, which is actually very interesting, and then tried the water in the Pump Room. I then rode to Oxford, stopping at Avebury henge (the other henge, not as complete as Stonehenge). Looked around Oxford, including Christchurch College and Cathedral and then left there at about 7 and headed for Norwich. Had that little breakdown problem then spent the week reintegrating my stuff and getting ready to head back and trying to sell Barney. Took a night bus directly to Heathrow from Norwich and had a most uneventful flight back, including getting three middle seats to myself to sleep on.
I really did not want to come home and face reality – would have easily kept travelling for longer. However, the money was getting low and it was starting to get cold, and I really do have to begin the next chapter of my life, whatever that turns out to be. But I know I’ll do it again sometime. Riding is definitely the best way to travel.
However, next time I’ll get a real bike. Barney had his points – the underseat storage was nice and he was fairly comfy and handled decently. He was exactly what I needed for this trip, still being nervous from my crashes on my Ninjette, but I’ve pretty much got my confidence back and want something a little more powerful – I’m thinking some kind of BMW, since every touring biker I talked to loved his (and they were all men – I didn’t talk to another woman riding the whole trip and only saw a couple of them). BMWs also have a lot of safety features and are made for touring.
I haven’t decided yet whether I’d want to travel with someone next time or not. This was the first long trip I’d ever taken by myself as well as my first trip riding. It was great because I didn’t have to discuss my plans with anyone, or make any compromises or worry about stopping wherever I wanted or getting to a certain place. And I had experiences that I never could have had had I been travelling with a companion, like getting invited home over fish and chips. And I met a bunch of cool people in the various places I stayed. Plus, I never felt unsafe, probably because of the countries I was travelling in. However, it would have been nice to have someone to eat, drink, camp and explore cities with on a more regular basis – that could get kind of lonely. And given my propensity for pushing myself beyond what is normally considered wise, it might be good to travel with someone who could occasionally talk some common sense into me. So, if the right person was around for my next trip I’d probably take a companion – otherwise, solo is not so bad.
So, a few pics:
Bike parking in Paris – anything on two wheels
Filling the tank on the street in Paris
Giant scooter with leg covering – saw a lot of these, even on bikes
Drool (and note the bumper sticker – Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot – didn’t meet a single European who liked Bush)
The result of filtering – note the variety
Actually, you can park anywhere in Paris
Paris at night from the Eiffel Tower
Barney in the French countryside
If you look closely you can see the little (live) dog on the back seat) – spotted in Poole, England
Road over the moors
In Cornwall, heading to Lands End – note the sign saying the road narrows (more) ahead
Me at Lands End
Road through English countryside
Me at the Glastonbury Tor
The University of East Anglia in Norwich at dusk
And the trip map