Pushbike Diaries

In Between Days, Riding in France: Houlgate – Le Havre (1 – 2 September 2015)

Camping Municipal des Chevaliers, Houlgate – Tuesday 1 September 2015, 9:50 am (Day 100 of my midlife gapyear) 

In the Australian way, it’s the first day of Spring – but as I’m in France, I guess I can say it’s the first day of Autumn.

After getting up to go to the loo at 7, I went back to bed and dozed off and on until 9:00 am – realising, again, that if I didn’t feel like getting up, I needn’t.  No where to be, no where to go. No one expecting me.

I can tell already it’s going to be a lazy day. I hope it’s a lazy day with at least some sunshine. There is a patch of blue in the otherwise overcast sky, that patch is like hope.

I think I see a patch of blue out there somewhere.
I think I see a patch of blue out there somewhere.

1pm, Villers-sur-Mar – A Café 

I’ve left the well-marked cycleways and am riding on regular roads without bicycle signs and it definitely feels sketchier. However, the SUN is shining, so that is amazing. It’s even hot in the sun. Fabulous. 

But, oh, you French and your clouds of cigarette smoke. It’s just strange that people who otherwise look so smart are sucking away on cigarettes still.  

The sun shone and it was a beautiful day.
The sun shone and it was a beautiful day.

9:10 pm – Awaiting a Kebab in Le Havre 

Fuck me – that arvo was shit.

It makes such a difference when you leave the prescribed cycle routes – the drivers are worse, the roads are busier. The scenery was lovely enough to begin with, but hilly and busy. I was on a minor highway, but it was the only road to where I was going.

I passed an SUV which had run off the road into a ditch. It looked recent. The door was open and air-bag deployed, but I didn’t see anyone around. Not long after, a couple of cop cars and an ambo sirened past me heading in the direction of the crash.

I rolled into Honfleur in the afternoon. It seemed adorable and worthy of exploration. But it was early-ish yet and the day fine so I wanted to ride on. I went to the tourist office to ask directions and they were like,: non, there are no bicycle routes for you.

I pestered them further, and in the end one of them gave me directions to the cycle/pedestrian route over the bridge towards Le Havre. I wasn’t impressed with the service or the attitude. Even less so when their WiFi not only wasn’t free but pricey even. The public library was just across the hall and they offered internet for .60/30 minutes but only for members. Okay rude, smoky-town, enough of you. 

The Bridge – Pont de Normandie – was very long and super scary. I started out riding in the bicycle lane – separated from motor traffic by a painted line – but people were driving hard and fast. So, I doubled back to the join the footpath – separated by a little kerb but further from the trucks and their bike-shaking wind.

 

Pont de Normandie (courtesy of the Internet)
Pont de Normandie (courtesy of the Internet)
From right to left - footpath (kind of scary riding), cycle lane (terrifying riding), motor traffic lane.
From right to left – footpath (kind of scary riding), cycle lane (terrifying riding), motor traffic lane.

The cycle map for the next department showed a route into Le Havre from the northern end of the bridge– but it was fucking nuts. It was on a small port highway full of semis – most, thankfully, going the other way. But fuck me. It was scary riding, the kind where I’m hugging white the line at the edge of the road and hoping for the best.

My nostrils were full of the smell of diesel, and my mouth could taste it in mixture with the aftertaste of adrenaline. I couldn’t wash the flavour down because I didn’t want to take a hand off the handlebars to reach for my water bottle. I had to wait for some little pullout, which eventually came, to stop for a moment to drink and wish more clearly there were another road I could be riding on. But this was it, this was the one road going to Le Havre, this road that went on for kilometre after kilometre or back over Pont de Normandie and the rude people of Hornfleur.

I definitely wasn’t getting past Le Havre today and all I wanted was a hotel. When I finally got past the port, there were no helpful signs pointing me towards the centre of town or the train station, nothing. So I wandered in, what felt like, circles trying to find the city proper. When I finally did I was wrecked. 

I rolled into this 2-star €45 hotel – a fine price, but then I said yes to breakfast for €9 (it better be more than a baguette and coffee). It’s a nice hotel, I like it. They have good WiFi, good showers, and a nice guy on the counter.

 

Home sweet home at Le Petit Vatel, Le Havre
Home sweet home at Le Petit Vatel, Le Havre

Breakfast room at Le Petit Vatel, Le Havre – Wednesday 2 September, 8:25am (Day 101) 

It was sunny and mostly warm yesterday –in an autumnal way I think maybe it’s turning. 

I’m feeling uncertain about my route across towards Amiens. Freelancing (that is, finding my own way) there appears to be lots of little roads in a reasonably direct line from here to there. Or if I use the route suggested by the Bike Maps site, which uses established cycleways,  I can take a much longer route up to Dieppe and then down the Somme.

Hmmm … I don’t know.

On Sunday I felt pretty good about the weekend’s achievements . And I still do but, now, a whole new list of things to do. I always feel like there is stuff to do – planning, bookkeeping, writing. I’d like to set a route and not think about it for a while.

I like this hotel and it’s good internet, might see about staying another night and sorting out some plans and routes. It would be good to queue up some Warm Showers hosts, if I can. 

I’ll speak to reception after I’ve eaten as close to €9 worth of breakfast as I can.

(The tally: mini pain au chocolat, mini croissant, cappuccino, a bit of bread with butter and jam, a kiwi and a plain yogurt, a second coffee, some chocolate cake and glass of apple juice. Plus honey, jam, and Nutella to take-away. Maybe not €9 – but I did my best.) 

A man at another table just put his pat of butter under his coffee to soften it – brilliant. 

6:30 pm La Plage (the beach), Le Havre 

I’ve spent the day working. I have my route to Villers-Bretonneux sorted; I have a Warm Showers host set for tomorrow and I’ve asked another host about Sunday/Monday near the Australian Memorial. 

Late in the afternoon I came out for a walk around town. I visited St Joseph’s Church. It was built in the 1950s as part of the reconstruction of Le Havre – which as a crucial port in German occupied France, the Brits had pounded into oblivion.  It acts as a memorial to the 5,000 French civilians killed here in the war.

If you know anything of Le Corbusier, when you see this church, you won’t be surprised to learn it was designed by Auguste Perret – teacher and mentor to the Swiss … modernist. Lots of concrete – wow, so much concrete.

St Joseph's Church
St Joseph’s Church
Pretty and brutal - so much concrete.
Pretty and brutal – so much concrete.
Concrete and coloured glass - bet it's freezing in here in winter.
Concrete and coloured glass – bet it’s freezing in here in winter.

This weather definitely feels autumnal. Hoping, though, to yet get some Indian Summer days. 

La Plage at Le Havre.
La Plage at Le Havre.

 

You may also like...

Leave a Reply