Day 20, 24 Sep, Marines to Dieppe on the French coast.

After getting used to nights in campsites, I was a little surprised that the temperature in the room was more than bearable, and made for a very good night’s sleep. Perhaps it was the fact that the windows all sported double-layered glass, which made a difference in keeping out the cold. The stone floor was another matter altogether, but nothing that woolen socks can’t handle.

Sebastien and Alex were up early at about 7 – one to the lecture hall and the other to Paris for an audition. I would have dearly loved another 2 hours of blissful sleep in a quiet French village … but it would have been more polite to wake up and bid goodbye to my host before he left for the day.

After they left, I started packing. This was one of the few times I didn’t have to spend an hour or so packing in the tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag … which usually took up the most time.

Grandpa Pierre was already waiting for me in the day-dining room, one that had translucent ceiling to let in the light while keeping the cold wind out. I sat down to enjoy the 2 croissants that Grandpa had promised, accompanied by a mug of hot chocolate. The croissants were delicious even when eaten plain. At the rate my system was burning fuel, the 2 croissants barely filled my stomach but … it was enough to start off the day.

It was a cold, cloudy morning and a light mist was in the air. I was a bit reluctant to hit the road today. It would have been fun to spend the whole day with Grandpa Pierre but, a grand tour had to be completed, and today, I had to cover at least 120km to reach Dieppe.

Leaving the town of Marines

It was cold enough that I had to put on my Sealskinz gloves to prevent my fingers from freezing. When you’re moving, you’re not only exposed to the wind, the cold feels colder, and cold really gets you down. I knew the sun would soon chase away the clouds and break through once again with its glorious, cheery warmth but for now I was making slow progress. As well, there were still remnants of  stubborn lactic acid in my legs.

Once out of Marines, the scenery was mostly bald, sun-parched harvested fields interspersed with one charming village after another, with names that were a challenge to pronounce – names like ...

... Gournay en Bray, Jouy la Grange, Chamboucy, Les Chesnay. Some took just 1 minute to pass through while others begged to be explored, and others like the town of Meru could easily confuse a Malaysian into thinking he was somewhere near Klang, which boasted its namesake, same spelling and all.

Rustic villages continued to appear and, just as quickly, disappear from view ...

X marks the spot where I took a quick break; name of village unknown

I made a few pit-stops too, taking on necessary fuel – a few croissants here, an espresso there and, at one slightly biggish village called St Germer en Bray, I stopped to replenish my larder at a marche – Camembert cheese, some pate, a 4-pack yogurt — all for only 6 Euros.

Down the street from the marche, I saw a boulangerie, and as usual, I was never one to pass it by without a cursory look at least, but this one I ended up with a demi baguette (that’s half a baguette, simply because a whole baguette couldn’t fit into my pannier) and  some little sugar-coated puff balls that never made it more than 5 feet past the door … it was that good.

This little wayside bar was warm and cosy inside. A quick espresso helped as well.

Baguettes of every kind and size. Check out the whopper on the counter.

These little sugar coated puff balls were just the thing I needed to spike my blood sugar....they were delectable.

..

Pretty soon, the sun burst through the depressing clouds and its golden rays lifted up my spirits, as did the sight of Jesus on the cross simply appearing out of nowhere.

I was almost at the end of the first part of today’s ride and I was looking forward to riding the final 40kms through Avenue Verte, a disused railway line that was now paved over and open only to cyclists and pedestrians. It ran all the way to today’s final destination, the port town of Dieppe on the French coast. Wonderful. But first …

More food.


At the town of Forges Les Eaux, I stepped into a boulangerie and the nice lady inside explained to me what the 3 kinds of crudités (sandwiches) that I was interested in, had for fillings. ‘No parlay fon say’, I pointed out to her about my lack of verbal French skills, but either she didn’t understand, or couldn’t care less; she just went on and on in French and in the end, acting like I knew what she was saying, I confidently pointed to ‘Jambon Crudite’, hoping that it was edible.

French bakeries are always warma and homely,

... including the owners. Must be the yeast in the air.

Actually, it was more than edible, it was a delicious jumbo sandwich – a 2-foot long monster of a whole baguette filled with egg, tomato, ham, lettuce and some other things and, best of all, it was only 3 Euros! I could hardly believe it. That’s what I loved about small towns – the prices were sometimes surprising small as well.

I'd also bought myself a piece of dessert, a Flan Mature. With my lunch in hand, I headed for the town square (which was just opposite the shop), sat down on a bench and proceeded to attack the sandwich with gusto. Halfway through, I had to give my stomach a rest. There was no way I could finish this super sandwich in one sitting, so I simply wrapped it up for later. It was beginning to get cold, too, sitting still in one place, so I hurried up and moved on.

At the next town of Sergueux, I had to circle around a bit to look for the opening to Avenue Verte. Finally after asking some boys on their way home from school, I found it. It looked promising but more importantly, it looked like the elevation was zero for as far as I could see. Just what my tired legs were begging for.

The start of Avenue Verte, 40 km of blissfully traffic free cycle-path. Not even motorcycles can ride on it.

Avenue Verte runs almost all the way to the coastal town of Dieppe

On the Avenue Verte, the going was much faster than I had hoped for, averaging around 20 kph. Along the way, I had to slow down at numerous (formerly railway) crossings, like the one here.

Typically scenery along the Avenue Verte

All the old stations were now converted into homes

At one of these crossings, I noticed a familiar fruit growing on the brush fringing the path -- framboise -- or raspberries. Of course, I stopped to have some. It's not everyday that one gets to eat fresh raspberries off the branch.

In the old days, all railway crossings were manually controlled and the person in charge usually lived next to it. Today, they're all converted into lovely homes. It was here that I met Christophe ...

Christophe, a teacher at a vocational school housed in a 400-yr old castle nearby (see pic below). He was on his way home from work and as we cycled along, he enlightened me with Avenue Verte trivia.

Castle Mesnieres en Bray

The old railway line was decommissioned 12 years ago, and the cycle track came into being not too long after that. The original plan was to run it all the way from London to Paris but so they seemed to have stopped at only 40 km of the almost 300 or so kms needed to connect both cities.

Christophe very kindly invited me to his home for a drink (which was located just 50m from a crossing nearby) but I had to decline the tempting offer of visiting yet another French home, as I still had some 20km or so to go … and the sun was already beginning its downward arc. I wondered if he would have asked me to stay the night if I had gone with him ….

Dieppe

Finally I reached the end of Avenue Verte, and after another 10 km or so, I reached the picturesque seaside town of Dieppe. But it was the seagulls that really got my attention. Their cawing reminded me of countless movies and TV shows that featured the seaside and although it was always in the background, here they were everywhere, in their unmistakable white and grey colours and webbed feet. I stopped to absorbed it all in, with white cliffs nearby completing the scenery (click to enlarge pic)

I went straight to the port to sort out the ferry ticket immediately rather than wait until the morning. Then I went looking for Camping Vitamin, which was located about 5 km out of the town centre. That’s not too bad, I thought, not knowing that a massive hill awaited me as I turned the last corner out of the busiest part of Dieppe.

So there it was, a long steep climb of about 1 km. It can really demoralise you when you think you’re done for the day, and your legs have more or less switched off its spinning mode and you’re just riding on at less than casual speed. Well, there was nothing else to do except climb it.

It was just after dark when I got to camp. The office was already closed, but I rang the bell anyway. A little later, a woman came downstairs and proceeded to show me to the campsite. This time, however, I was asked to camp in the space meant for mobile homes, fenced in by hedges. A whole pitch to myself…nice.

Why the campsite was called Camping Vitamin, I will never know. It never even crossed my mind to ask the owner how the name came about.

Distance today:: 135 km
Distance todate:: 1175 km

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