So at this point things are going to get pretty un-motorcycley because everywhere in Northern Europe is like 2 hours away from everything else. But I'm still gonna post this stuff up in case you're interested. It'll turn back into a motorcycle tour around Denmark.
Parlez vous Francais?
So after a hard day on the slab I arrived back in sunny London, where I was going to stay with my Uncle Keith before going to France. Basically I needed a quick pit stop – to get Fi the FI light looked at and a major service before I tried to ride around Europe. Fortunately I was able to find Chris, a guy who works out of his garage on the south edge of London, and he fit me in for the major service even though I only called two days before. The cause of Fi’s sudden appearance turned out to be a problem with the sensor that sits in the exhaust and makes sure the bike doesn’t pollute the planet too much. I had no idea what had happened to it until I ordered a new one, went to install it and realised that it was broken because my aftermarket bash plate, which was already dangerously close to the sensor, had somehow cut it in half. I think it's because the Happy Trails plate is made in America where they don't have exhaust sensors on the Versys... or because I put it on wrong. Probably the latter. Seeing how I’d have to remove the bash plate to replace the sensor, I don’t care too much about polluting the environment and I’ve become kinda used to Fi’s company, I decided to continue to let her stow away and not fix the sensor. If it gives me problems down the track I’ve still got the part with me so I can fix it then. Maybe.
London was also notable because Wimbledon was on. Wimbledon, if you haven’t heard of it, is where people come from all over the world to test their skills in that most English of pasttimes.
Wimbledon has a system whereby not all the tickets are sold up-front – a limited amount are sold every day to the first who buy them. Which is to say, the first who queue to buy them. I got up at 6am and queued from about 7:30am to 11am in order to get a ground pass, which gets you into the minor courts without many big names. As I went in at 11am, there were already people pitching tents for the next day’s line
. That’s what you need to get centre-court tickets. Insane.
Queue queue queue
The queue is its own spectacle though. It is without a doubt the finest queue in all the world – what Roger Federer is to Tennis, the Wimbledon staff are to queue management. Upon arriving at the park where the queueing is done, you’re presented with a card giving you your exact place in the line. At that point, no one can jump in front of you in the queue, so you can chill. The queue is then cut up into sections and allowed to sit down on the grass. Newspaper sellers come past – all the big UK papers are represented, each with their own choice of useful Wimbledon freebies like sunscreen and ponchos. Upon being stood up and walked into the grounds, you’re led past a bunch of stalls where companies invite you to play video games and present you with free food and drink samples. Upon actually getting into the All England Lawn Tennis Club, you go find a free court. Then queue. And queue and queue and queue and queue.
Unfortunately sometimes Wimbledon runs out of queues and they make you watch this weird game
By the time I got to actually see some tennis it was 2pm. Then it rained and they suspended play before it started. After finally seeing Casey Dellacqua get slaughtered by Maria Bartoli (in straight sets, in about 2 hours) I was already pretty bored. So basically I’d queued for 5 hours to see 2 hours of tennis. In fairness though, it was still a pretty cool day – I got to sit right next to the court, close enough to see the sweat on the players’ brows, and all for 20 pounds or so.
Once called Henman Hill, this is now the Murray Mound. They'll stop renaming it as soon as they find another word for hill that alliterates with "Failure"
After a few days Chris very kindly delivered Os the bike back to my Uncle’s apartment and the next morning it was time to hit the road. And by road I mean road-then-ferry-then-road because it was time to go to FRANCE.
Goldwings always look so tempting on cold days, but then so do cars, and once cars look tempting so do campervans. It's a bad train of thought.
Once again after leaving way too late I found myself racing down to the south of England to get the ferry to Dover. Enjoy these pictures because I’m sure as hell taking the tunnel when I come back to England – the ferry was friggin awful. After a very late start I arrived at Dover about 2pm. When I bought a ticket I got told the next sailing was at 2:45pm… okay, that’s a bit of a wait but whatever. Having parted with my money, I rode up the ramp and got told that actually it was more like 3:40pm. Wtf mate? 3:40pm came and went and about 4:45 we were rolling onto the ferry. At that point it sat just off Dover for half an hour for some bollocks reason. By the time I got to Paris and sucked up an hour timezone difference it was 10pm. Fffuuuuu…
Nice and secure
Last time I was in Paris was 2002… a long time ago. I remember it being a magical place, just like in Amelie. This time, coming as an older and far more cynical man, I’ve gotta say it didn’t grab me in quite the same way. The whole city has an unwelcoming sort of vibe hanging over it – like you don’t belong and you’re not welcome either. On the other hand, interactions that I had with the actual Parisians were never too bad – I never started a conversation in English and tried to do things in French, and mostly found that they’d happily switch to English once I stumbled through my memorised “pardon, je parle ne francais pas”. At one point I had a policeman walk up to me while I was stopped on the bike and start speaking to me in French. “Oh shit”, I thought. “Maybe he’s going to go check through all my papers and my warning triangle and my breathalizers and all the other crap I need to ride here once he realises I don’t speak French”.
“Pardon… je… ne…” I started, trying to remember the phrase while shouting loud enough to allow him to hear me through my helmet.
“You speak English?” said the policeman professionally. “There is some gasoline over there, make sure you don’t ride through it”. He then turned and walked away, answering my “Merci!” with a “You’re welcome!”.
Phew! Let’s celebrate with some fine art.
The Musee D'Orsay
One of the reasons I wanted to come back to Paris and indeed Europe in general was to see some of the art I’d seen as a teenager again now that I’m a bit older and ever-so-slightly wiser. The Musee D’Orsay was fantastic then and fantastic now… I loved how it takes you through the various generations of artists and how many of the pictures have stories behind them (stories that you’ll only hear if you pay for the audioguide, naturally).
Much like me, Os failed to blend in among the more fashionable (and cleaner) Parisian two-wheelers
Paris was the first inkling of awareness that I was now well and truly walking the backpacker trail. Whether your chosen mode is a Contiki tour or Busabout or Eurail, every young person in Europe comes to Paris. And seeing how uni holidays had just started back home, especially Australians. I heard more Australian accents in a day in Paris than I did the entire previous month in the UK. The unfortunately thing about travelling as an Australian is that you come to realise that we aren’t the nicest, warmest friendliest people in the world… in fact, we’re the most obnoxious. You never see a Canadian stumbling around a bar drunkenly trying to get people to join him in a rendition of ‘O Canada’, but you’re not even surprised to see an Australian do the same (with ‘Waltzing Matilda’, obviously). (Note: there are some
Sacre Cour > Notre Dame. Face it.
Being on the backpacker trail and staying at St Christophers also meant that I saw the demographic in my fellow travellers change a bit. In Scotland I mostly dealt with people who travelled for the adventure and the experience of travelling. In Paris (and a few cities to follow) I started to meet people who were come mainly for the party, for whom the sights were less relevant. Usually they were pretty young and on their first proper independent trip… one morning at breakfast I met a pair of girls who were both travelling alone and were afraid to go out and see things on their own. In Paris. I can’t be too critical of this because in the end it’s not like I’m some kind of intrepid traveller either, but it did remind me that I was hardly in adventure-mode anymore.
Maximum Tourist-Mode... engage!
That said, I did have a pretty nice time in Paris. It is a great city, but it needs to be appreciated by staying at a little hotel in a narrow street with a French concierge who speaks with a heinous accent – I think the impact is a bit lost in the common rooms and pub crawls of the backpacker circuit. No matter what happened to me in Paris there were always going to be three French things I liked – the Citroen DS, Jean Reno (what a guy!) and of course, Le Tour de France.
'Le Tour' is a tour, whereas 'La Tour' is a tower. Glad I finally cleared that one up
I went to see the tour in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, a seaside town near Calais which I expected to be a lovely little village packed with cycling fans – I considered myself lucky to get a reservation at the town’s only hostel. On arriving after a franky pretty boring ride, I found that most of Boulogne-Sur-Mer consisted of industrial-looking square buildings, most of the town was empty apart from the hostel which was, like all hostels outside big cities, full of school children. That said, my dorm room was packed with cycling fans… 3 cycling fans apart from me, which was good enough. One guy had come over the channel from England to just see this stage – the other two were travelling all around France following it from stage to stage. Unfortunately I didn’t have an Australian flag to facilitate yelling for Cadel, but fortunately the two guys who were following the tour had brought some flags instead.
I'm a sucker for a shield
Wales because one of them was Welsh and who cares if there are no Welsh cyclists, Argentinian because they’d decided to pick an unremarkable Argentinian domestique and cheer him on at every stage, and Swaziland because it’d come up on Amazon when they were buying flags and it was pretty cool. So seeing how having a flag was much more fun than not having one, for that day I was Swazi. Swazish? Swazinese? Not sure…
Major european sporting spectacles all seem to be about waiting
We got to the finish line early, got places 150m away from the finish line and set in for the 5 hour wait till the cyclists actually arrived. It’s by no means a boring wait – there’s a whole carnival of companies that go up and down the crowd teasing them with free samples. I’d always thought the French were corporation-hating communists but dangle some gummi bears near them and they will << scream >> “HARIBO! HARIBO! HARIBO” until a packet is thrown into the crowd. We didn’t get a lot of free stuff compared to the French, which might be because we weren’t loud enough *or* it might be because I was pretending to be an African. In conclusion… racism!
Two pixels of me went around the world!
When the cyclists finally did show up (late I might add… lazy bastards) it was nuts
. Coming from a country where nearly no one cares at all about cycling beyond whether Cadel Evans is winning or not, seeing the French cheer as Sylvain Chavanel made a daring break a few km from the finish line was amazing. Seeing the cyclists finally stream in is a bit of a problem though, because in helmets and sunglasses they could basically all be clones of each other… I wanted to cheer Matty Goss as he tried to win the sprint but to be honest I had no idea who to look at. Not that it probably really mattered because I imagine if he did see someone madly waving a Swaziland flag at him he’d probably think I was cheering for someone else anyway.
Aaaaand that was finally it for France. No more parleying fronseh for me, it was time to learn some Dutch. And by learn some Dutch I mean completely fail to learn Dutch and just speak English to everyone instead. Unfortunately my last day in Paris my camera broke completely and my phone’s power button broke (hence why there’s no actual photos of the finish of the tour – my phone crashed and I couldn’t get it back on again). From now on photos are gonna be a bit scarce, but hopefully when I get to Hamburg I can get the camera repaired (at cost naturally, last time I buy a Nikon >:().