With the desire for a little hardship in my heart I ate all my emergency food, absconded from pre-booking a hostel room and didn’t download any maps or language guides for when I get to France in the afternoon/evening. Lets turn this into an adventure and not a sightseeing trip.
I was tipped off to visit Montserrat, the serrated mountain with a village and benedictine monastery nestled within it. Getting there didn’t take long from Barcelona – barely a cm away on my full scale road map.
Paying to get my motorbike near, thronging around with groups of Germans on holiday, buying a cup of coffee in the expensive restaurant and packing into a church procession that’s more camera flashes and less holy spirit made me think Mont Serrat had sold itself out… It’s like a prettier Mt. Snowdon, only you can catch a cable car or a train to the village – then fork out some more for the funicular to the actual summit.
The crowds of seemingly uninteresting people stroked at an inner seed of loneliness, so instead of merrily bounding into a cable car and getting to practice my German I wrote the idea off and rode North some more (though not after paying another €3 to get my bike back out the car park).
Having the Pyrenees as the backdrop was nice, but not the jagged inspiring peaks I’d come to expect from this leg of the journey. The wide bending rivers and rocky banks took precedence as the roads swooped along their contours through pine woods before dropping back and forth across curving bridges. Having only eaten a bowl of crunchy brown things and milk for breakfast and drank one cup of coffee in Montserrat I begun to get quite hungry, pulling into restaurant lay-bys and checking out their menu before moving on to find other, less than €19 a plate food establishments. I found a shit enough looking restaurant off the road in Bolvir, 6 clicks from the French border. Waitress spoke Frech – guess borders don’t stand for much. Mind blown wide open with the notion of flexible borders I indulged in Tostada del Dia – toast of the day. Pretty dependable in Spain, usually some baguette smothered with blended tomato or cheese. This one came with meat and with meat came 3 or 4 varieties of tongue. I was pretty hungry so ate the plate as well, but I don’t think I’m going to get into tongue when I’m back. I have enough tastebuds in my mouth – the idea of tasting tastebuds? No Dice.
The French border came and went with only a 3ft square sign in proclamation. Naively I imagined there might be something more, like an exciting checkpoint (Ok, so I haven’t travelled in Europe that much…) then began to think about how easy it would be to smuggle drugs out of “Cerveza, Cerveza……Coke, Hash, Weed?” Barcelona and into France. I spend all day in alone in my motorcycle helmet, so this daydream went on for far to long. Verdict? Maybe later.
There was one tell tale sign France was underfoot – Road building and maintainance was clearly not high on the government agenda. I’d later describe this day to a co-hosteler in Nice as “like getting punched in the balls 1000 times by a midget”. Imagine of that what you will. The roads sank through beautiful gorges lush with wild greenery and touched with fresh rain smell (Petricor, the smell after rain) but the roads were windy, potholed and picked at by delapidated and abandoned mills and worker housing. The releif, not least in my balls, when I reached the D117 and realised it must be a main artery to be so well kept, was palpable. Back on smooth tarmac Candy Indy ate up the miles to the shore, skirting around Perpignan and following the D6009 further round the Southern France coast. The D6009 lollops lazily through town after town as a free alternative to the adjacent Peage so adds time and puts miles on the clock… but it’s free so I focus my excuses on “seeing more of France” and head on.
Passing Narbonne clusters of campsites began appearing. It was 7 o’clock and still pretty light so although tempted to bin off the day prematurely I had my hopes on finding a nice hostel in Montpellier. Well…it got dark not long after, while I was riding the ridiculously long, shoreline hugging D6009 tributary roads into the city. Being in France meant I waved goodbye to mobile internet, so no map to refer my GPS signal to. When Candy Indy got me close I unzipped my bag and bought’ trusty ol’ compass out and set out North (as I had approached from the south). Yeah but Montpellier is sprawling. I mean really sprawling. It became a possibility that old school navigation might have met his match as I rode through suburbia for over an hour before finding a road chocked with kebab shops and correctly assuming it’d lead somewhere, like a greasy and questionable yellow brick road.
Candy had drank all her fuel by now so my pursuit of a hostel, via the internet, via Mcdonalds or something was put on hold to get her a refill. Soon after I was plugging numbers into a 24hr automated Esso pump and puting in my card to pre-pay.
Shit. In my haste to swallow sweet steamy adventure I’d forgotten to tell the bank about my changes in travel plans. Checking my wallet, I still had €120 plus some small change. No stresses – enough to get by till I can rearrange with the bank.
So in this night of wildly shifting priorities and divided attentions another service station, this time attended emerged out of the darkness, right on the other side of a roundabout with a Mcdonalds on! Two in one – sweet. I made a dent in a fifty and followed… the only exit route onto a one way street away from McDonalds and back into, the now drizzling quite spectacularly, night. A persistent cough, runny nose and temperature had rode with me all da, but they weren’t improved by the cold damp air getting down my cuffs and collar. I spent the next our choking and spluttering into my visor while following lying signs into the cavernous car-parking underbelly of Montpellier. I lost track of how many times I ended up in basement car-parks, and I was loosing the will to live one cough at a time.
Riding with my visor up to help me see signs had doused my contacts in the fully formed rain storm, stiffening them and making them move on my eye – blinking was a real bitch. An emergency extraction in the orange half-light underneath a roadside tree put the glasses back on my face. From then I had to ride with the visor up anyway to stop the glasses fogging up with each hacking of my lungs. I toured the streets like this, damp faced, for another our till I found my first accommodation. Soaked, coughing and tired, I was told that €80 was her cheapest room and refused any help finding anything cheaper. Back to the rain. Back to finding McDonalds.
30 minutes later I had one, but it was closing. I had to sneak their free wifi from under the poor protection of a wildly flapping canopy nearby. No hostels in Montpellier? No hostels in Montpellier. Too tired to carry on to the next biggest city, or back to Narbonne, I googled the nearest out of town hotel for something cheaper. The 3% battery on my phone was enough to plan the route on the motorway. Pretty simple, I could remember it. Back on the bike. Back in the dark. Back in the Rain.
I didn’t need to remember it, there was no way in hell I could make it… Riding with the visor up around town had got water between it and the anti-fog insert – I couldn’t see a god-damned-thing. Visibility went from 1m to about 10m when I lifted my visor up, but pellets of rain and hail were shot into my cheeks at 90km. I was aquaplaning, in the dark, without a visor, soaked wet through with a cold. I genuinely thought I could have died on that motorway. Pussy.
I pulled off at the next junction, about 5km down the road and took a whatever road that lead away from Montpellier. Again unlit, so I hugged behind a couple of cars and used their rear-lights to show me when the road curved and what way. At around 12:30am I saw some neon blue signs, dripped in through the door, was given a key and told to pay later. Guess I looked like shit. After a 10 minute hot shower I fell right asleep.
Spain, a country of heat and infrequent precipitation was well and truly in the rear-view. Cold, dark France and beyond it Italy, lay ahead.
I had forgot to sort out my bank details last night so at first light (yeah right, more like 8 o’clock) I raunched my way through some breakfast – with yoghurts! – and logged into my account to update my itinerary. France – from 27th April to 29th April. YOUR DATE HAS TO BE IN THE FUTURE. Ok then 28th, Jeesus…
I paid up and left – it was a €48 per night hotel, but I got stung by an accidental €9 breakfast. Wallet situation was looking about €45 worth of tight squeeze, especially as Nice was at least another tank of petrol away. I took the scenic route again, I didnt have the money for Peage anyway, but it let me ride through Cannes on the way up. When there’s no film festival going on I can’t really see the point in Cannes. Just another quite pretty but quite expensive French coastal town. Rode straight through.
I’d started putting €5 worth of unleaded in the tank at each stop to eek out the journey as much as possible. The tank and wallet were both pretty close to empty by the time I got to Nice. I found a hostel pretty easily using rest-stop internet and badly drawn maps. It had spare rooms so I handed over my last twenty Euros and kindly accepted three in return. I’d seen the prices at bars/restaurants on the way in, they weren’t really €3 dining experiences, try €30. Exasperated, I lay on the bed and moaned about my hunger pangs to Sarah over skype. Coissant breakfasts and yoghurt evaporate pretty quickly.
10 minutes later and Olivia, sharing the room, came in and offered me some stir fry. Whuuuuut?! Legend. Devoured it.
I thought about ending this post in the rainy hostel with no chance of success on the cards, but sometimes things just work out and you go to bed happy. Despite the rain and my still hacking cough, France was turning out OK.