9. End of Tour – observations and impressions The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see. (G.K. Chesterton)
On reflection, Bede’s journey through France provided him with some of the most enjoyable and pleasurable experiences in his life up to that time. It was a grand adventure, and he came away with a very real sense of achievement. There is no better country in which to enjoy good food and wine than France. To the French, the quality of the food is more important than convenience, and they will happily drive for an hour or more in order to eat well. The wine-growing regions of France are among the most beautiful in the country, and the routes des vignobles are often the most scenic roads. The plains and hillsides patterned with vines make for a delightful landscape. Bede found France to be a large, open country and easy to get around. There is great variety in the landscape, with little to disappoint the impartial traveller. The roads he travelled were of good repair and particularly well signposted. It was his experience that most people are friendly, given half a chance. He spoke some French (un petit peu), which was helpful. He liked the French people he met, and their culture too. Travelling as a lone cyclist and a stranger, he was of some interest to the local people in many of the places he visited along the way. Nor was he ever short of company on the roads, as other cyclists would join him from time to time when out training on their racing bikes or on a casual outing, particularly at weekends. On occasions he would be asked, “Où allezvous?” (Where are you going?), to which he would reply “À Tours”, or wherever he was headed for that day. The response, if it was a journey of 100 kilometres or so, was invariably “Zut alors, vous êtes très sportif, monsieur”.( Wow, you are very sporty monsieur )Bede could not work out if the French actually like their dogs, but they certainly had a great many of them. In the more rural areas he often came across a notice on a gate or entranceway pronouncing “chien méchant”( fierce dog ) to deter strangers from entering there. In many of the towns and cities, none more so than Paris, dog droppings were everywhere, and you literally had to watch your step. In Paris, in particular, the dogs seemed to have a hard time of it, being hauled around by their owners, taken to restaurants and cafés to sit under tables while their master or mistress enjoyed themselves. Bede also observed that it was the practice of many dog owners to take their pets on holiday with them, whether by car or train, and to have them in their hotel room wherever they might be staying. These dogs would appear to be long suffering, but for all that they were generally well behaved. Bede observed that French people tended to be a little reserved with strangers, though generally well mannered and polite. Wherever he travelled Bede was impressed by the sense of independence and self- reliance of the French women. They showed plenty of self-confidence and were generally forthright in their manner. They socialised on the same terms as their men, and were listened to and taken notice of in group situations. They enjoyed talking as much as the men – if not more so. In France, one must reckon with the women. On a bicycle, you eat in restaurants you would never discover when travelling by a car. You talk to wonderful people in out-of-the way places. You travel on side roads with very little traffic. Cycling gives you a natural high. It was one of the great comforts for Bede at the end of his tour to know that despite the amount of cycling involved, he did not at any time suffer from the condition which is known amongst long-distance road cyclists in the USA as ‘penile numbness’. He had shed 5 kg of body weight by journeys end but he had never felt fitter. He departed France in a tanned and lean condition, ready for the next phase of his life. Bede was able to experience first- hand why France is considered to be the most visited country in the world. The green fragrances of the countryside, the manicured vineyards, the cool of the trees, the heat of the hills, the long landscapes, the turns and undulations of the road will stay with him forever.
This completes the excerpts from my eBook ‘ A Winelover’s Tour de France’ as published through ebookit.com
BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )