Friday, October 28, 2011

Douaumont ossuary close to Verdun

Monday, 3th of October. I stayed for two nights at Bens place. Ben lives in a very nice house. When arriving in the night we mainly said hello, and after a shower and a meal I went to bed. But next day, a Monday, we spend the whole day together, starting with a very intense talk.

Ben told, he quitted work three years ago, so I became sensitive and wanted to hear more. The meaning of work in people's life was and still is an important topic for me. Ben was so relaxed when talking about a different value system: staying at home gives him and also his family – he has a sixteen year old daughter and a wife – so much more freedom. They now have less money but they also need less. There was no need to go on doing things he didn't want to do. To me it's still new, that one can change priorities. I still have all these „You are what you own “ phrases in my head (what I never believed but what seem to infect me more then I was aware). To me it was kind of apparentness to met someone who's happy with not working after I found out about my bequeathed inferiority complex. It's probably possible to do so without feeling guilty.

I told Ben about the changing in my life – quitting my job at university and maybe quitting work at all. When telling all the aspects why I no longer felt comfortable in doing my job I was a little bit shocked because it's so much what came together that it's actually no wonder I'm not able to go on. Looking from this side on the facts was kind of new, usually I prone to think that's my fault to be over-sensitive and not able to be factual and distance myself. It's still hard not to judge myself but take my feelings as a healthy reaction.

It was a very good talk, but after it I felt pretty exhausted and talking came to an end for now. It was a bright sunshiny day. Later we drove by car to Verdun and I got a feeling about the area I had cycled through in the night. Ben told a lot about history especially the battles in the first and second world war. We visited Douaumont ossuary close to Verdun, a memorial containing the remains of soldiers who died on the battlefield during the Battle of Verdun in first World War. In front of the monument lies the largest single French military cemetery of the first world war, it contains 16,142 graves.

Some years ago there were made graves for the Muslims which now face to Mecca. But the most curious experience was that there were lot of crosses pulled up the ground and lying there like a trenched field. Because the crosses are made of concrete they have to rebuild regularly.

Ben also showed me the little windows behind the ossuary, placed under the big red ones which symbolize all the blood. Beneath you can see all the human bones, the remains of both French and German soldiers who died on the battlefield. Some of the cave rooms, each representing an area, were full to the top.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

All in good time

Sunday, 2th of October. I went on my bike at 10 A.M. and because I had written down detailed route instructions for the first time I had no problems to leave the town and find my route. When cycling through lots of small villages it felt like a real Sunday – silent and peaceful. Downright lost. Everything seemed to sleep – except the dogs, to whom my appearance must have been a real experience, they barked for me for minutes and went on when they couldn't see me long ago. A cyclist seems to be a really important event in a dog's life. Once I passed a flee market, which was nice, lots of people were there, but nothing for sale I wanted to have – at least nothing which was small and light enough (and I also tried not to find anything too much interesting…).

The day was wonderful sunny. During the whole forenoon I met lots of other cyclists – sports cyclists, promenade cyclists, some of them disguised as professionals, strolling cyclists, most of them men but of all ages, so I was constantly greeting. In the afternoon the heat became unpleasant, especially because I was once again in open country where the reaped fields in brown and yellow enhanced the impression of wasteland. But I had learned from experience and was very careful with my resources, so I did a siesta from time to time when I found some shadow, and once I almost felt asleep. From time to time the landscape was somewhat hilly but normally comfortable. And before the heat became too frustrating I passed a nice forest, a fact that my map had told me, too, so I had been looking forward to this for a while.

When being in the Meuse department I passed lots of tiny villages, which were connected by little roads, sometimes just very small asphalt paths which were nevertheless shown on my map. It was a real pleasure to cycle through this landscape. By going on like this I didn't recognize how time went by. I had watched out for a café or restaurant for a while, but this wasn't easy on this sleepy Sunday. In Triaucout-en-Argonne I finally found a little bistro, where I ate a big roll in company of a group of older corpulent men and women, who were in an extremely good mood and were joking and laughing all the time. I couldn't understand nothing, but it were ribald topics for sure. And the laughing was infectious.

Back on my bike the shadows had become very long. Sundown was really peaceful, good place to be. But surely it ended up with night cycling. When I arrived in Sommedieue it was dark and meanwhile I felt fairly exhausted. My route guided me into a thick forest, so the darkness became much more intense. And of course it went uphill – and the good thing was that I couldn't see how high angle the uphill was and how long it would least. To me it was just being in my smallest gears and do the pedal routine. The darkness was somehow frightening. My light made just a small spot in some distance and some noise came out of the forest. And it went on like this for quite a long time. At some point I began to believe that this path would never end and felt like being part of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's short story The Tunnel. When looking at the map later it had only been for ten kilometres, but ten kilometres in a dark forest with no time or speedo by constant uphill can become very long… I reached the little village Mesnil-sous-les-Côtes, home of my couchsurfing host Ben, after 145 kilometres at 10 P.M.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Friday to Saturday, 1th of October. Antoine, a cute nineteen year old first semester, lived just for some weeks in a cosy small student flat just in the centre of Reims. We had nice talk when I arrived in the night, especially about our couchsurfing experiences, music (he is playing the guitar, too), psychology (his studying topic) and education system in France in general. It was relaxed and open atmosphere, and when we went to bed Antoine offered me his bed to sleep. He himself would sleep on a sleeping mat in then kitchen. But as his bed was a fold-out couch and therefore big enough for two people I invited him to share the place with me.

Next day Antoine showed me around somewhat, as the city was still new to him, too. I really like this city. It was a fantastic sunny day and the atmosphere was very relaxed. The Place Drouet d'Erlon, that is just in the next street of Antoine home, reminded me a lot of Victory Square in Temeswar (Romania), where Klaus and I had been some years before. It contains many lively restaurants and bars, as well as several attractive statues and fountains, my favourite one is shown at the photo above. During the summer it fills with people sitting outside the many cafés enjoying the summer sun. And they have psychedelic buses in this city…

In the afternoon Antoine did some work for university (he's still very engaged at the moment…), so I went to an Internet café to go on with my blog and organize my remaining stages and couchsurfing hosts. In the evening we met some of his friends and went out for a beer. Because Reims is a student city most night life happens during the week, on weekends all the students go home to visit their parents. This phenomenon was new to me and still seems a little bit weird.

Being with his friends was curious. Since my staying with Antoine and his flat mates in Caen I'm used to the French way of welcoming and biting farewell other people, it's no longer weird to kiss the air – nevertheless it's still a little bit strange that this convention on the one hand seems to be more personal as the German handshaking but on the other had it's much more difficult to break through and give the other one a real hug. So on first impression French people feel more close but at the same time they make sure to keep some distance. I don't know if they are aware of this, maybe they just can't imagine to act different. The friends of Antione in Reims were young nice man, but they weren't able or didn't have the heart to speak in English. So most of the time the three guys talked and had fun and then Antoine translated to me in three sentences the topic of the last five minutes. In this sense the first evening was much more nicer and personal. Once we played tabletop football, but the French table are totally different from the ones I'm used to in Germany. So I lost very bad. No fun.

Another thing I recognised and couldn't understand was the fact, that French people didn't seem to be aware of pollution control. As one example of many my fellows (and also the other people in the pub) drank their beer out of a plastic cup. I myself had ordered a Guinness and because the pub had only bottles they asked if I'm okay with the bottle, so I took the chance to ask for a glass – and I got one with a very nice unusual shape. Because I was curious I asked Antoine about this unnecessary production of waste, and first he seemed to understand the problem as he talked about French mentality who didn't want to change behaviour to change reality. But the more I focussed on the question, why he didn't drank his beer from a glass, the more he didn't seem to understand and ended up in the phrase that they always used to do so. Later in the discussion he assumed that the pub probably had charged me extra for having a glass (I had paid more than the others), so I had a nice chat with the people behind the bar, who assured to be glad to give people a glass – surely without any extra charging – if they would like to have one. I'm afraid French people are far away to think about all the little changes in behaviour to save nature which are so usual in Germany.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Friday, 30th of September. Surprisingly I was regenerated next morning. Cycling was nice and easy, it was once again hot, but after the first maybe 20 kilometres on a high traffic road my route leaded me through some lovely forests. I was really amazed. And I didn't browbeat myself and just didn't thought about how far to go this day. Of course it took me a while to find my route although Laigneville is really small, but the French signing is still mad sometimes – you have to follow the guiding to a place which is somehow in your direction but definitely wrong and if you are lucky the place where you want to go is signed at the next junction. I have no idea how someone should know, to me it's trial and error, although there seem to be rules for this lack of logic.

This day I crossed three maps. In Villers-Cotterêts after around 60 kilometres I called Antoine that I would arrive this day and not have an extra break in a hotel as I had warned him the day before. Once again the people in a tourist information where so friendly to let me use their phone.

In the end it was a 145 kilometres stage, so it was naturally night cycling. I had no idea where in Reims Antoine would live, so I started to ask people about his street from the moment I saw the first town sign, and once again I was lucky and one cyclist guided me – sometimes the missing knowledge of foreign languages is useful because it causes more practical help.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The heat is killing me

Thursday, 29th of September. I hurried to leave the hotel next morning. As soon as the day broke (okay, it was 9 A.M.) it became very sunny – very bright and warm. This day's stage began with a serious uphill what also permitted me a nice outlook over the whole city. By the way, Rouen is placed on the river Seine, that I thereby also got to know. No need to go to Paris, that I avoided by purpose.

As I said, it was hot and it stayed hot, and unfortunately my route leaded me along open field – no trees, no houses, what means no shadow. And the harvested land amplified the impression of heat in the parched veld. Not really comfortable to cycle through. I made lots of breaks. Usually one wouldn't do anything exhausting within such a heat. But my couchsurfing hosts in Laigneville would be able to host only this night, as they wanted to go on holiday the next day, and as there was no youth hostel in this area, I didn't had that much alternatives. And because I had lots of time – Guillaume and Padcalin wouldn't be at home before 9 P.M. – I took my time. And indeed it was 9 o'clock, when I finally arrived after 120 kilometres.

Once I cycled on a street which was made new, the asphalt still seemed to be hot – it's weird to be on such a road, I'm always frightened my tyre could melt… Actually it felt very different when I went on cycling – numberless little asphalt stones had glued onto my tyre and I spent some time to delete them by using my clasp knife, but found my tyre undamaged.

I had the pleasure to be the first couchsurfer of Guillaume and Padcalin, who had only surfed but not hosted before. Both were very friendly, they offered all an exhausted cyclist could probably need, although they were tiered themselves and still had to arrange a lot for their vacation. So we spent little time together, including a delicious meal, before we all went to bed early. I couldn't imagine to go on cycling the next day, but as there was no way to stay somewhat longer – I had to leave the house early next morning, as both went to work for half the day before going on holidays – I would cycle as long as I felt comfortable and would look for a hotel when cycling would become uncomfortable.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A real dosshouse…

Wednesday, 28th of September. It became late when I finally left Caen. As always it was hot (close after noon I saw a display which told it was 30 degrees), as always it took me some time to leave the town. When I finally found my route it was a big road with lots of traffic. And it went like this for a longer time. It would be a long stage up to Rouen (in the end it was 140 kilometres) so I tried to do the most direct route, but therefore it wasn't that nice to cycle.

In Lisieux I saw one of the tourist information centres and once again asked for maps. The woman behind the desk, a German student, who worked at this place during the semester break, was extremely helpful and this tourist information was the best appointed one I saw during my tour – while the others only had maps of their department, here they had everything, so when leaving I had everything I would probably need. It's funny how different the maps are, there's no standardized design, no consistent size, each one is very unique.

It became night before I reached even the suburbs of Rouen and I had to hurry, because as far as I knew the youth hostel I planed to spend the night in would close at 10:30 P.M. and in the end it became a problem to catch the time. Rouen is much more bigger than I would have thought. I started to ignore most of the traffic rules, but it didn't help. It was 10:40 when I finally arrived at the youth hostel, and a man who was working there opened the door but only to tell that the reception was closed – he didn't car about my situation. It was really frustrating. Next thing I did was searching for a cheap hotel, and I ended up in a real dosshouse, best of it were the soft and clean towels. If you take it with some humour, it was definitely an interesting experience.

At first I wasn't so sure if this place was maybe a transient hotel, the friendly but somehow sleazy fat man at the reception couldn't speak more than a few words English, but nevertheless he didn't stop to talk and to ask for details of my tour, while we tried to communicate about the details of renting a room. When I finally came into the room, there were two beds, each placed in one of the corners, which seemed to be camp beds with uncomfortable innerspring mattresses. Inside this room there was also a shower installed, a special feature which costs me 5 € extra and had caused lots of mildew on ceiling and walls. The toilet was outside at the staircase.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Time out in Caen

Tuesday, 27th of September. I took a time out in Caen, and it was a very relaxed day. I went on with my blog (but was very slow because I felt very tiered, too). In the evening we, this means Antoine, his two flat mates Amin and Marine, Sebastian, a friend of him who is also living in the flat at the moment (he came for one week to visit, but felt in love with the city so he's staying somehow longer) and Tino, the other couchsurfer, went to the town, had a drink in an Irish pub and had some fun at the castle Château de Caen. Sebastian is a very ambitious photographer, and all of us had fun when posing.

The Greenway in Manche

Monday, 26th of September. I would have loved to stay longer with Olivier and his family, but one shouldn't outstay one's welcome, so the next morning after a restorative breakfast Olivier drove me back to the café where we first met and I went on cycling. In Ducey I visited the tourist information to ask for cyclist's maps, and the woman in the office was exhilarated to help me, because in this area they had a greenway, a re-used railway track which leads through the green nature without any traffic. And while I still had some doubt because this would lengthen my stage even more, the woman exert herself to convince me – it would be easy cycling, because it's really flat and so nice… and she was right. Olivier had warned me, that the route up to Caen would be very hilly, so it was surely the right decision to take the greenway. It was just nice and relaxing cycling. I was also glad to have such a fine map. The landscape wasn't somehow special but very familiar from lots of tours I did in Germany. It was nice to have this train history background, and there were also some very nice outlooks. But mostly I liked the old train station houses. The only challenge were the uncountable conkers and bell-ends, which were laying spaced all over the ground, but this wasn't a problem at all.

After 75 kilometres close to Vire the greenway came to its end, so the remaining 60 kilometres became hilly, but it was still nice cycling. Surely it became late, surely it was night cycling. When I neared Caen there were lots of toads on the road trying to pass. I tried not to kill them, so I had to cycle wiggly lines, but I assume the chances for the toads weren't so good – actually there were more flat pads on the street then toads alive… Don't they have any tunnels for the toads in France?

It was great to see the city lights of Caen in the night! But I was also exhausted. Once again it had been nearly 150 kilometres – I think I'm a little bit crazy, and maybe it's no wonder that I arrive so late every day… This day it was 10 P.M. Coming to Antoine's place was a good thing. He's so nice, friendly and tolerant. Even if he's actually a couchsurfing newbie he acts like a natural born couchsurfer. He lives with two others together, Amin and Marine, and there was also another couchsurfer, Tino, who was on a motorcycle tour for some month and had arrived today, too, it was fun to join this community. It was also a pleasure to meet Tino. He's very relaxed, uncomplicated and positive. It was fun to talk in German and to compare our experiences when being on long distance touring and doing couchsurfing most of the time. I taught him how to juggle, and he was such a fast learner! Maybe it helps if you are a drummer…