The original diary: Part 4

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Sat 8th Aug

We looked around Metz, and bought a few provisions. The German bottle of methylated spirit in Gordon's handlebar bag burst in the sun. We left Metz at about 11 a.m. and travelled 29 miles before lunch. There was a good wind behind us, the road surface was excellent, and it was not too hilly. We had lunch beside a well-kept German cemetery of the First World War. Then we discovered that the next Youth Hostel was 66 miles away, at Chalons-sur-Marne. We decided to make it if we could. We passed through Verdum where 300,000 Germans and 300,000 French died in the First World War. There were many war cemeteries and we particularly like the way a village had been named REST.

We saw the beautiful cathedral of Notre Dame de l'Epine and reached Chalons, often called the Aldershot of France, at about 8 p.m. The Youth Hostel (run by the F.N organisation) was described in the Handbook as a Very Well Equipped Hostel. An error must have crept in somehow... (like the vermin we suspected) There were no beds left, except one with 3 legs, and we slept on table-tops. On arrival, we were informed by a couple of Australians that the Warden was in the town filling himself with wine, that the cooker did not work, that there were no washing facilities, but that nevertheless everyone was going to have a "darned good time". There were, besides the Aussies, three English girls, and Italian, a Frenchman, and a Dutch girl. English was the accepted language. When the Warden, a young man, came back we told him "no beds, no pay" and he did not insist. We cooked on our own stove, using fuel kindly donated by our friends from "down under", and had a fine evening chatting. We slept well after our 95 mile journey, the longest of the whole holiday. In the morning we woke fairly early, as the tables were wanted for breakfast. The only place to wash was a shower-bath, and the water from that all ran away across the dining-room floor!

We took the road near the River Marne, which was like a switch-back. We went through Epernay and Chateauthiery, famous for their champagnes, but we could not buy a glass of it in a cafe. It is only sold in bottles, as once opened it loses its "fizz". Instead we bought milk straight from the cow. After a 70 mile journey, we camped in a field near Meaux. It was a very warm night, and we made beds out of large bales of straw. We had pate de foie gras spread thickly on bread.

The next day we had an early lunch in Meaux in a little back-street cafe, and tasted a little Swiss cheese. Gordon's chain snapped, luckily we had a spare link. We bought pastries. They were 15fr each in the shop-window, but to our surprise the shop assistant offered them straight from the oven at only 10fr.

Cathedral of Notre Dame De L'epine
Photo 99a. Cathedral of Notre Dame De L'epine, near Chalons. Built 1410-1529, and is a centre of pilgrimage

The pantheon, Paris
Photo 100. The pantheon, Paris

We came to the outskirts of Paris, and had to go about 10 miles over cobbles. We reached the Porte de Pantin, and then went to the Bagnolet district, where Gordon's pen-friend lived, but he was away on holiday. We continued to the Youth Hostel at Chatillon. There was no room inside, but hundreds of young people were camping in the field behind. We left our things there, and changed into jacket, flannels, and a tie. It did feel strange! We took the Metro to the Luxembourg Gardens just in time to see them closing. We saw the Pantheon, the Sorbonne, and the 16th century church of St. Etienne-du-Mont. Then we walked down the Boulevard St Michel to the Ile de la Cite. We saw the cathedral of Notre Dame, the Louver museum which contains the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, the Arc Carousel, and the Tuileries gardens. By then it was dark, and we saw the Place de la Concorde with the mile-long Avenue de Champs Elysees leading up to the floodlit Arc de Triompe.

The obelisk of Luxor
Photo 101. The obelisk of Luxor, over 3,000 years old.

The cathedral of Notre Dame
Photo 102. The cathedral of Notre Dame.

The opera house
Photo 103. The opera house.

We saw the church of the Madeleine, and walked towards the Opera, the largest theatre in Paris. We had dinner at a restaurant recommended by the motorcyclist we met near Saarbrucken. It was 11p.m. now, and we continued walking along the Boulevard, past the newspaper and Loterie Nationale kiosks, looking at the brightly-lit shops and restaurants. We caught the Metro back to the Youth Hostel at 12.30a.m. It was a very warm night, and we slept in nothing more than we would indoors at home.

Tuesday, 11th August

We rose at dawn, ate some pain d'epice (cake), walked along to a baker to buy some brown bread (pain seigle), and had it with marg. and jam. We then took the Metro to near the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. The Metro is noisier, shakier, and less comfortable than the London Underground, although the routes are less complicated. There seems to be a permanent smell of overheated electric motors in the carraiges! The seats are of wooden slats, and there are not many in each carraige, in fact, a notice in some reads "Seated 21 Standing 119"! The doors close automatically, but have to be opened by hand. The train stops for a very short time at each station. The lines are only just below ground, and follow the main streets.

Looking down the Avenue de L'Opera
Photo 104. Looking down the Avenue de L'Opera.

Metro train
Photo 105. Metro train.

Metro station
Photo 106. Metro station.

Actually, some lines are above the streets, on ugly, noisy, iron viaducts. The stations are as close together as the bus stops and have the same names. Some of the station names are very unusual, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kremlin, Gambetta (the inevitable), Europe, Rome, Oberkampf, Quatorze Juillet (14 July), 4 Septembre, and George V. One good idea is a gate at the entrance to the platform which closes as a train enters the station, and remains closed until it has left. The fare is 20fr. (5d.) for any distance. Finding one's way about the Metro is very easy, the interchange stations are clearly marked "Correspondance", and one has merely to remember the name of the station at the terminus of the line as all platforms are marked with this. After walking up a narrow street lined with souvenir shops, we took the funicular up to the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. The view from here is certainly extensive, but the atmosphere was hazy. We then returned to the same restaurant for lunch. In the afternoon we asked at the Post Office for Poste Restante letters. There were none. We realised later that we may have gone to the wrong office. We went into Cook's to book a return channel crossing by air. They sent us direct to the Silver City office in the next street.

A metro ticket
106a. A metro ticket (used twice)

Place de la Concorde
Photo 107. Place de la Concorde.

Avenue des Champs Elysees
Photo 108. Avenue des Champs Elysees, looking east.

Paris 'bus
Photo 109. Paris 'bus

Typical road `fly under'
Photo 110. Typical road `fly under'

The Arc de Triomphe
Photo 111. The Arc de Triomphe, in the Place de l'Etoile.

We saw the Opera, and the Place de la Concorde by daylight, and waked along the Avenue des Champs Elysees to the Place de L'Etoile, where the Arc de Triomphe stands. We looked at this from all sides, and then made the hazardous road crossing to it. We saw the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, with its undying flame, Recrossing the wide road we went down the Avenue Kleber to the Place Trocadero from which we could see the Eiffel Tower in all its red-leaded glory.

Beneath the Arc de Triomphe
Photo 112. Beneath the Arc de Triomphe.

Le Tour Eiffel
Photo 113. Le Tour Eiffel. Built 1887-89 for the Paris World Fair, it stands 935ft high and is still the highest building in Europe.

We walked through the gardens beside the Palais de Chaillot, and crossed the Seine, We were now almost beneath the Tower. We discovered that it costs 8/- per person to ascend. We decided, somewhat regretfully, that we would rather spend the 8/- on an extra day's holiday.

Puzzle picture
Photo 114. Puzzle picture.

Hotel des Invalides
Photo 115. Hotel des Invalides.

Dawn over Paris
Photo 116. Dawn over Paris, seen from "bed".

We continued through the Champ de Mars gardens to the Hotel des Invalides, the War Museum, where Napoleon lies. We returned by Metro to the Youth Hostel, and retired early.

The next day we got up at dawn, had a quick breakfast, and went through the centre of Paris at 7.45 a.m to avoid some of the traffic. Even then it was bad enough. We took the wrong fork near the Gare de l'Est and had difficulty getting into the traffic stream again. Luckily for us, this was the first day of a bus strike, and that reduced the traffic on the roads. It was also fortunate that we had finished our sight-seeing, as the Metro also closed. Although we did not realise it, this was just part of a General Strike which, according to the newspapers we read when we got home, had "paralysed" then country, with millions of workers in the public services and nationalised industries (sugar, tobacco, and matches are nationalise in France) on strike.

We went through the fruit market, Les Halles, and northwards on the good road N1. It was very hot. We saw the great cathedral at Beauvais, which is 160ft. High, yet only 230ft long. We met two English fellow hitch-hiking to Paris as the railway was strike-bound too. We got nearly to Abbeville, and "camped" by the road-side on the grass verge, sleeping well after our 91 mile journey.

A Bristol 170 aeroplane
Photo 117. A Bristol 170 aeroplane.

We woke before sunrise and made an early start at 7.30, and pressed on towards Le Touquet, rarely stopping. We reached Montreuil and bought sausage meat, cheese, and pate de foie gras for lunch. We met several English cyclists there. In Etaples we stopped to buy several things, including our last French patisserie. We had four each! We saw the Silver City aeroplanes coming in to land and then continued to Le Touquet airport. This was small, but very efficient. Our tickets did not commit us to any particular time of day, it was merely first come, first across. One hands over one's passport to be stamped and then sits in the waiting room, or stands on the roof watching the planes. After twenty minutes my name was called on the loudspeaker with about a dozen others. Gordon was put on the following plane, 15 minutes later. (Better service than the F bus, isn't it!)

We met an unlucky motor-cyclist, who had an accident in Switzerland, was fined "10, and had to leave. The bicycles were taken on board for us, and two cars driven into the nose of the plane. There was no French Customs check, although Gordon did say that a young lady wandered amongst his

Walking towards our aeroplane
Photo 118. Walking towards our aeroplane.

party, asking some people if they had anything to declare. The twelve passengers entered the rear part of the plane. We taxied our to the end of the runway, and stopped, facing into the wind. With the wheel brakes on, the pilot gave the twin engines full power for an ear-shattering half- minute, and then released the brakes. We accelerated to about 90 m.p.h and smoothly left the ground.

At the end of the runway, ready to start
Photo 119. At the end of the runway, ready to start.

Passing the airport buildings, tail wheel up
Photo 120. Passing the airport buildings, tail wheel up.

Still climbing and banking. House.
Photo 121. Still climbing and banking. House.

Once in the air, we turned towards the coast, and passed over Le Touquet. Soon we were over the sea, and we saw the English coast ahead. WE flew at about 1000 ft. Height and 100 m.p.h. One could see both England and France at once, like a map, stretching away as far as Dover and Cap Gris Nez. When over the sea, it was difficult to tell that we were moving.

It was a perfect summer evening

Le Touquet from the air
Photo 122. Le Touquet from the air.

Photo 123. England.

20 minutes after taking off we were turning to land at Lympne, near Folkestone. The illuminated sign came on; "Fasten safety belts. No smoking" as we lost height. Over land there were vertical air currents, and the plane bumped slightly. The runway at Lympne is grass, not tarmac, and we bumped as we taxied across to the airport buildings. The Customs examination followed

Sandgate and Folkestone Harbour
Photo 124. Approaching England. Sandgate and Folkestone Harbour.

And whilst young hitch-hikers and similar are let through fairly quickly they were very strict with a car-driver. I waited in the restaurant for Gordon, after a very refreshing wash in the first hot water for 6 weeks. Talking to one of the pilots we learnt the Silver City made 35 flights that day, and do 70 on Saturdays. We read the "Daily Express" and discovered the "facts" about the "terrible" French strike which had been going on unknown to us! The reporters gave lurid descriptions of the chaos in Paris with no dustmen, public transport, postal services, electricity, or gas, and thousands of stranded English tourists trapped there! Yet all we had noticed was one over-full letter-box!

The Royal Military Canal, near Hythe
Photo 125. The Royal Military Canal, near Hythe.

Lympne is about 245 miles from Exeter. We cycled out of the airport gates and came upon a road sign: LINKS FAHREN TENEZ LA GAUCHE

We wondered whether we had landed in the wrong country, but on translating discovered that it meant "Keep to the Left". So we crossed over to the left! It did seem strange after 5 1/2 weeks of cycling on the right. I made an error when turning a corner near Lewes, and found myself on the wrong side of a traffic island, to the surprise of the driver of a Daimler. However, we soon got used to being different from nearly every country in the world, just as we had to get used to the peculiar English weights and measures. We went about 8 miles down a narrow, typically English lane which wound itself around every obstruction, and reached the village of Newchurch, near Romney. We went into the village shop and bought jam, Lyons fruit tarts, and a new torch battery. The shop keeper and his wife, after hearing a little of our story, gave us a cup of tea and some cake. It was nice to find that our own countrymen could be as kind as the people abroad had been. We found it difficult to think of 12 pence to one shilling, the decimal system was so much easier. However, for some reason, French eggs are sold by the dozen, and then it is harder to calculate the price of one egg at, say 165 fr a dozen, than it is in England. We slept in a field on the Romney marsh.

Roy the matador
Photo 126. Roy the matador.

It was cold and damp in the morning. We got up at sunrise. The cows which were in the field, came over to inspect us, I shooed them off with my cape, not knowing that Gordon had his camera ready. After losing our way due to the English signpost planter who sends you down a road to A, and then confronts you with a fork labelled only B and C, we had breakfast in a transport cafe. Guess what! - Egg and chips!

We then continued through New Romney and Rye. In Hastings at midday we nought milk in a dairy and drank it on the spot, as we had done on the Continent. The lady in the shop, on hearing how far we had been, told us she thought we were "heroes". We bought fish and chips in Hastings and ate them sitting on a seat on the promenade, with black looks from everyone who passed! Although we did eat them from the paper, at least we used a knife and fork! We continued through Pevensey, Lewes, and Brighton. From Brighton I telephoned to find out my Finals exam result, which was B.Sc. 2nd class Honours. In Worthing we bought fish and chips (a food we had not seen in France) and camped in a field near Ferring. We first went to a road-house to celebrate my degree with cider. Our mileage this day was 83. All our grazes had healed by now, and the pink new skin contrasted sharply with our brown arms and legs. We slept well.

On waking we found that the field we had chosen had water taps in it. All mod. Con.! Passing Chichester, we visited some friends in Cosham, near Portsmouth, and had lunch there. We listened to the Test match commentary. Continuing through Fareham, where we bought some excellent lardy buns (contrast with the delicate French patisserie! We reached Southampton, and it rained a little. It was about 8 p.m., and we bought fish and chips in Totton. By now it was dark, but we decided to carry on. We went through the New Forest, it was rather eerie. We bought meat pies and biscuits and cycled on and on, through Christchurch, until past midnight. Then Gordon said he could go no further, so we went to sleep on the grass verge, the only piece of grass between Christchurch and Bournemouth, Iford Bridge. A policeman stopped to ask what we were doing.

We set off again at 7.45 a.m. with 84 miles to go. We went down to Bournemouth sea-front. The sun was shining brightly, but not many people were about at time of the morning! We continued via Dorchester to Bridport, where it rained. We had some very good Dorset cider which seemed even better than the Breton variety. Passing through Charmouth, Axminster, and Honiton we arrived at Exeter at 7p.m. We were met by Doreen, and then went our separate ways. I had a good meal, and then a bath, after which I felt much lighter!

After six weeks I was glad to be home, but I hope to go again sometime. We had travelled 2107 miles by bicycle, 143 by sea, and 36 by air, a total of 2286, and an average of 50 miles cycling a day. Fares were 6.15 each, and we had expenses of about "2 before starting. On food, accommodation, postage, presents, and everything else for 5 1/2 weeks abroad we spent 16 each plus the 2 provided by the car-driver in Haute Savoie, that is, we lived on 3.5 a week, or just under 10/- a day. We had 3 punctures between us, and our four wheels made a total of 6, 400,000 revolutions. Our bicycles used half a pint of oil, and wore away two cubic inches of brake-block!

We slept in 40 different places, ranging from the beach, a dried-up river-bed, a stony airfield, a railway marshalling yard, a mosquitoes' holiday camp, and fields of all kinds, to a potting shed, five barns, a wash-house, a station waiting-room, a trolleybus shelter, a schoolroom, and a bed in a University Hostel!

We were incredibly lucky, do you remember the wash-house, the 'Tour de France', the peasants who gave us wine, the derelict car, the Irish priest, the old man who gave us peaches, the champagne given us, the Gorges of the Bourne, several kind farmers, the German ladies in Biel, the policeman and German boys in Baden-Baden, Keith Walling in Heidelberg, the potting shed in Frankenstein, the unexpected Youth Hostel in Metz, the favourable wind for our 95 mile journey the following day, freedom from the Strike, no transport hitches, only three showers of rain, and above all, our remarkable accident, which paid for an extra six days holiday, and fortunately caused no serious injury.

It had been a holiday more enjoyable than any we had had before, and I learnt more geography, history, and French than in years at school. You won't find us spending a fortnight in a deck-chair at Brighton next year!




The End
Photo 127. The End.

Facts about this book:

Approximate contents- 16,000 words, 150 photographs, 12 maps, 78 pages.

Cost - about £8 in cash, and 200 hours of pleasure from 1953 to 1958.