Crossing the channel
|The First and Last has a practical attitude to cleanliness.|
Just-about alive, and sustained by adrenaline and instant coffee, I managed some toast and jam and left about 6:15 for the 8:25 ferry, having read warnings about the close of check-in, and wanting to be very cautious.
|Sunrise just outside the ferry port.|
To my surprise, being on a bike, I passed quickly by the entry queues. A frenchman stamped my passport to start the clock on my 82 days in the Schengen area, and I was told at the check-in desk that I could easily make the 6:55 ferry if I wanted. I rolled up the entry ramp, parked as unobtrusively as I could in the corner behind the rows of hulking great lorries, and started my crossing 90 minutes early, groggy but pleased.
The seagull life is hard work. On the way to well-earned holiday in France.
|Starting to feel a bit like a traveller.|
Soon enough, the continent came into view on the horizon. Belowdecks, I fixed up my bike ready to go with lorries passing close, and then rolled down the exit ramp into France.
The ferry staff seemed quite surprised by the presence of a bike, which I guess is quite rare. They called a car to lead me safely out of the port, so for perhaps the only time on my entire trip, for about 5 minutes, I had a personal, dedicated support car. A VIP indeed.
After I arrived in Calais and worries over making the ferry had lifted, I realised quite how tired I was...
After some wandering around trying to find a well-reviewed and affordable but sadly non-existent restaurant marked on Google maps, and feeling increasingly grim, I found food at last in a little café. No-one spoke English, but they wore warm smiles, and a sorely-needed coffee and omlette arrived swiftly. I realised I had been not just tired but hungry too, and I had that too-rare experience of being genuinely grateful for what I ate.
Outside the café hung a forest of paper feathers, which I thought were quite nice.
After food I felt better and ready to ride. My first destination in France was St Omer, one of the waypoints on the Via Francigena, and not too far away.
|Man looks at boats: rest stop en route to St Omer|
|France is full of beautiful little churches. This one, in Watten, was the first I stopped to see.|
St Omer was not actually terribly far away - but I had two days of long rides, stretching into the night, behind me and very little sleep. I was very, very relieved when I saw the first signs for St Omer.
|Pulled up on a grassy mound near the main park of the town.|
|A leafy view of my first stop in France.|
|Me - very, very tired - trying my best to enjoy said leafy view.|
Throughout my time in France, I was quite surprised by the lack of youth hostels. I'd intended to spend most of my time in hostels, to meet other travellers, and to save money: I hope to hold the total cost of the trip below my own contribution to the sponsorship effort. However, they mostly seemed to be absent from the towns and cities I visited. This was the case in St Omer, and in the condition I was in, I was not yet ready to brave the prospect of hammocking, so after a little sleuthing I found a hotel by the rail station that wasn't too expensive.
Ascending the stairs with my heavy gear, I was worried to find my tiny little room very hot and stuffy, and for a moment I regretted my stinginess with the hotel, fearing a night spent in an oven. But there was a skylight. After some fumbling with an unfamilar sort of handle, a wave of cool evening air flowed through the room, and I saw a beautiful view outside. I found something to eat, and then spent most of the evening collapsed in bed or leaning out to watch the light change over St Omer.
Riding 5,000km across Europe alone and unsupported will be a wonderful experience, but also at times very tough, and very lonely. I really believe in the causes I have chosen; if you'd like to support me by making a donation, it will help to spur me on my way! Visit my website at from-england-to-istanbul.co.uk