Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sete - Tarbes-Lourdes-Bordeaux-New Rochelle-Chartres

Recap: Our misguided drunken traveller has gone off on his own and is in the south of France where he managed to talk a Swede (Ann) and a Norwegian (Leina) into sharing a hotel room.

We woke up with the gorilla hangover taunting us like a real bastard. The brightest amongst us was Leina despite her sudden onset of alcohol-induced illness the previous evening. After Ann and I untangled ourselves in the small bed I managed to get my act together and waited while the girls made use of the basic bathroom facilities. Then I went and blokefied it, ensuring that I'd left the convenience unusable for any enemies who may come along after we'd gone. Its a tactic other invaders or defenders (or both) had employed in their own rampages through La Belle France.

We conferred over croissants and croque monsieurs at a nearby cafe. Leina was heading north to meet up with some other Vikings whilst Ann was due in Spain in a few days. We got on a train and Leina jumped off after an hour to change to her Viking RV express and Ann and I headed off to Tarbes. We walked around for a while and sat in a cafe, talking about what we'd do. The romance was always going to be a brief affair between travellers but there's always that nagging feeling; the "what if" screenplay which runs itself through with no regard for timing, circumstance or my lack of emotional depth. Its distracting for a reason. Its to teach us, add some experience and hopefully give us a clue about other people. Ann and I finished our late afternoon meal and headed to the hostel. When we arrived I realised that my neck pouch, containing my passport and the biggest portion of my travellers cheques was missing. Fuck fuck fuckety fuck fuck fuck! Panic mode combined with a sense of realistic resignation. I did a search and it was nowhere to be found. Damn and blast, it also contained my Fruhstuck Express card!

Be fucked if I was ever going to tell Doug about this. His laughter howl would be way off the scale of anything previously experienced. More importantly I had to. Find. The. Fucking. Pouch. So I left Ann guarding the rest of my gear and sprinted (yes folks, in those days I was still a social sporting type - soccer in winter, the odd social cricket game in summer and wasn't completely allergic to running. I was also travel fit, lugging a full backpack around with me). Sprinted to the cafe and scoped the place out. Ha! I spotted the waiter who had laughed at my faulty French.

"I left my pouch here." Now I sounded like a desperate kangaroo which had misplaced part of her anatomy. "Did you find it"?

Woo hoo! No, it was WOO FUCKING HOO!!! M. Le Fetcher de Cafe et Repas reached down behind the counter and handed me the brown pouch of goodness. I rifled out a hundred francs and handed it straight to my newest, bestest froggy pal.

"D'accord. Merci monsieur, 'revoir." were his parting words. I made my way back to Ann but milked the situation for some sympathy by pretending to have failed in my quest. Yes, I can be a bastard. After a couple of minutes I fessed up, showed her the pouch and showed her the bottle of red I'd invested in on the way. We checked into the hostel, checked out nooky spaces and went out for a meal. After chowing down on some bifteck and downing a couple of beers and a bottle of red we repaired back to the little nooky corner we'd discovered previously.

The following morning we broke fast on croissants and coffee and headed off to Lourdes. Ann wasn't a Catholic but we were fascinated by the religious zealotry the place generated. Personally I thought that it was an enormous myth and a great little money spinner but nevertheless I tried some of the water. It tasted like, well, like water and didn't so much as help with my residual hangover. Miracles shmiracles. I told Ann it was a good birth control device so we wouldn't need to use any more frangers, if and when. She didn't believe me. Did not share the belief unlike the phalanx of wheelchair jockeys who queued up hoping for miracles. Bugger of a thing to do, wheel up in a long line for a few hours hoping for the impossible. But I then asked myself would I do the same in their situation? I'd probably try anything. Overall it was fascinating to see the industry and infrastructure which had been built around a young girl who'd seen apparitions of Jesus' mum. The Grotto and the church were two great examples of religious enthusiasm and very impressive. It made me wonder if something else had been in the water back in the mid 19th Century. What wasn't in the water was anything remotely to do with booze so we lit out back to Tarbes.

Back in Tarbes we walked and canoodled in the local park then checked out the museum. We tagged on a guided tour and I did my best to figure out what the French guide was saying but I was pretty hopeless. We lagged behind and read the captions posted for each exhibit. I noticed that none of them mentioned anything about cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Okay, so it was back to the hostel, clean up and hit a cafe for dinner. We had a beef stew which was especially delicious and knocked back a couple of beers and some nice red to enhance our farewell repast. The next day I was heading north on my way to the Paris RV and Ann was heading to Spain. What was it with hot chicks and fucking Spain? I could have sworn thats where Cherrie (the Torontonian who Doug stole off me) went as well. Must have been some sort of Festival of Really Great Women going on down there. And I was committed to a meet in Paris. Remember, back in the Eighties there was no such thing as Twatter, mobile phones, emails or other digital stalking devices. When you travelled you used mail drops such as Poste Restante, hostels/hotels/camping grounds, or pisshead traveller clubs like London Walkabout Club (22A Craven Terrace, Lancaster Gate - I still remember that one). Mostly these were successful as the motivation was there to get word from friends and family. It added a bit of romance and aventure to travelling, seeking out a post office in somewhere like Hamburg, hoping for some clue of what was going on at home, to find out if Jo from Melbourne was going to fly over to Europe and meet up in London. Irregular communication added a random spice to the travel mix.

Ann and I spent some together time in the park as the hostel was full of children, some German group learning how to invade France and our previous evening's nooky corner had been converted into a screening room for Disney cartoons. Nice together time.

In the morning we shared breakfast and hit the station. My train was due in first and as it pulled up we embraced and made promises to write to each other. Promises which we kept. It was a sad parting and I hated the wistful, almost beseeching look on her face as the train took me on my way. Fuck it! Suck it up and keep going. Speaking of which, where the fuck was I going? North. How about Bordeaux first, they've supposedly been storing lakes of nice wine for centuries and I'd better dive in. Okay doke, Bordeaux it is. I landed in Bordeaux, checked out the centre of town and hit the hostel, satisfied I had enough landmarks for a leisurely attack the next day. After securing a bunk I walked around the environs and found a wine merchant! Voila! You little ripper. I'll have one of these nice jobs and one of those cheap fuckers thanks. Merci, mon vendor of vin rouge. If only I had known.

Back at the hostel it was feedin' time so I tucked in, cracking open my nice bottle and it was a superb example of the region's product. So nice that I invited an Irish girl to join me. We cracked on with it and I brought out the cheap option. It was a fiery little number but seemed drinkable. Irish disappeared somewhere between the first and third glasses so I polished the thing off myself and stumbled to my bunk. I passed out well satisfied (i.e. drunk). At about three in the morning I awoke to stomach cramps and onset of severe diarrhoea. I made it to the bathroom, did my best and then crashed out for another two hours when it came on again. This cycle happened twice, by which time I was begging the hostel commandant to let me stay in for the day. No fucking frogging way, not even when I threatened to call in the Luftwaffe. Not good. I needed to lie down and have access to toilet facilities. I camped in a nearby park all day, within stumbling distance of a public toilet. It was not a pleasant way to spend my relax time in Bordeaux. All I could stomach was water but even that kept on coming up. Where the fuck was I, India or France? This was plainly ludicrous. That night I managed to get through a solid kip without any eruptions so the next morning I headed to the station, figuring on a bit of recuperation in New Rochelle, a seaside town on the west coast. I kipped on the train, trying to munch on a croissant and struggle my way through "Ulysses", failing on both counts so I just kipped for a while, dreaming of better health and a good feed.

When I got off the train I scoped out directions for l'auberge. While I was weakly making my around to the bus stop a van pulled up displaying the youth hostel logo so I clambered in and got a ride. After checking in I was able to keep down a bowl of stew and a beer. Now that was good news. To celebrate this I had another beer and a walk walk around the local environs. When I got back the hostel's bar was working, the stereo was cranking and I found myself in amongst a crew of cyclists. They were fixing late night meals and downing beers and invited me to do the same. I told them I was an honorary cycle traveller as my mate Doug was supposedly doing much the same as what they were. His capacity for beer drinking however was way beyond theirs and I left them to their crawling, dribbling selves and sat outside for a while pondering the marvels of beer and its restorative qualities. These thoughts carried me to my bunk.

The following day I found my way to the local beach which was largely infested with Brit tourists on their 2 week continental vacation. It was a precursor to what I now experience around Bondi.
Complaints about the food (French cuisine), the beer (cold and refreshing), the weather (brilliant sunshine) and the lack of English speakers around the place. I ignored it and enjoyed the sun and the sea. By the end of the day I was completely restored to good health. I made the most of it by bar hopping and ended up back at the hostel in company of a group of Irish, one of whom I'd previously met in Cork. The hostel bar closed around 1.30, by which stage I'd mapped my next day's travel.

The hostel van took me to the station after a pleasant croque monsieur breakfast and I headed off to Chartres. I chose this place because its close to Paris but doesn't have as much ratsacker congestion. I got there, checked in and finished off whatever bread and cheese I had and looking forward to a quiet night before heading off to Paris the next day for my RV with Deb, Brian, Mick and Mick's cousin, Tim. A quiet night until some English professor started talking about French beer. He happened to have a car parked outside and knew "just the sort of place to enjoy a couple of jars". Poor fool actually offered me a lift. We drove into the centre of town and hit this bar-cum-pub-cum-cathedral. It resembled a church but the only devotion displayed here was to booze and music, and like any good follower I joined in with the local faithful. The Prof told me all sorts of historical facts, apparently his degrees were in History. I joined in where I could but my eyes glazed over by the time he mentioned something about Gaelic influences in the north of France and some annual festival. Well, the festival wasn't here so I blinked my eyes twice and ordered "encore". That's all you have to say and they bring you more drinks. The table we were at was populated by some English, a German couple and a few French. They were highly amused by my attempts to speak their various languages, especially at one stage when I told the Germans about me having a caesarean in Switzerland. What I'd meant to say was a "kaiser schnitte" which was some giant schnitzel I'd had one time. After we'd milked this joke the Prof was leaving so I tagged along. When we got to the hostel it was well and truly locked up for the night. Except to me. Before we'd left I'd wedged one of the downstairs windows open, knowing full well what was to ensue. I lobbed into the window, opened it fully and noticed the Prof struggling to get in. He asked for some help so I grabbed him under the arms and hoisted him through. The bugger could have warned me he had a gammy leg! Oh well, we were in now, no harm done except for a sore professorial leg. Nothing that a bit of rest wouldn't fix. Time for some kip. As I lay in my bunk amongst a bunch of other now=awake ratsackers I did admit to myself that I was a lucky bastard at times, especially given that the next day I was to meet up with some friends from home. It was to be midday, under La Tour Eiffel and would mark the beginning of some more fun and frolics.


  1. At the risk of repeating myself - great series, loving it.

  2. Yes indeed what the good doctor said

  3. Good stuff, chief. What is it with you Southern Hemisphere types and scruffling through Europe?

    You encountered a group of Germans who were going through France? I smell a new series: Therbs Parties With The Wehrmacht.

  4. Dr Y - cheers
    Mr Barnes - thanks (still no zombies)
    YD - it used to be good fun, and yes, dem Krauts were a bit too regimented for my liking. Never really took a shining to them except for maybe one girl. But that was in London. Gee Willikers Mr YD, now I'm gonna have to put in some U.K bits as well!
    Will this thing never end? Not in the near future.

  5. It'llbe happening. Next instalment will be Paris - Morlaix-Il de Batz. For regular readers we'll catch up with someone we've previously met, as well as hit a local festival. Here's a taste:

    "At this stage we'd gone slightly bonkers. Brian on his side, pushed himself round, doing circles on the sand a la Curly Stooge, Mick and I made 'Whoop whoop whoop' noises and Deb simply shook her head in disgust."

  6. Good yarn.....yes I remember the London Walkabout Club......was a regular in 1974 and again in 1982..... I even still have my life membership card in my wallet....member #120951!

    Cheers for the emmories

  7. Belated thanks for popping in Harvey. Probably shared Walkabout bar space back in '82.