Via Francigena, day 1 (30/Jul): From Canterbury to Alembon

Greetings EyeCycled Friends,

Have you ever been a pilgrim?

Yes? Then skip to the next paragraph as I don’t need to preach for the choir.

No? OK, then 1-0-1 on being a pilgrim… expect the unexpected!

Every thing was going according to plan this morning. I woke up quite early (around 6:30am), even though I had the alarm set for 7:00am. After the “body necessities” and the shower, I was number 2 in line for breakfast which in the Canterbury Youth Hostel (YHA) starts being served at 7:30am.

All going according to plan so far.

After finishing my wonderful breakfast, I brought 3 of the 6 bags I am carrying downstairs and ask for the bike shed key. Most, if not all, YHAs have a bike shed, hence the reason I like staying with them.

Btw, let me do a little detour before I continue with the account of the morning… Met a German cyclist there, who is currently living in Paris. He told me he had to travel to New Castle for work and decided to bring his bicycle on the train with him and then go back to Paris by bike. He was staying in the same room as me was heading to Newhaven to get the ferry to Dieppe, which I have also done already.

Back to my account of the morning… The key to the bike shed. Reception told me they had given the key to a lady hours before and she had not returned it. Now, where is this lady, you may ask? No one knows, of course. Eventually they found her, but that had introduced a 45 min delay in my schedule and I was late already because of the packing. Those that had traveled with me before, know I am slow on these things. Long story short, didn’t leave the YHA until 9:45am, when I wanted to be at the Cathedral by 9:00am.

Went to the Cathedral anyway, got my stamp, took pictures of me, the cathedral (inside and out), did a prayer asking for God to bless and protect me in this journey and by the time I started to ride it was almost 10:30am. Remember my post from a few weeks back in which I rode from Canterbury to Dover on the National Cycle Route 16? That took us almost 3h, but I didn’t have 3h until the ferry was due to depart.

So I took the decision to ride to Dover on the A2. I normally avoid busy roads or highways like this, but today shortness of time forced me to do it. The A2 is an almost straight line from Canterbury to Dover and very few hills. Would be a great ride if it wasn’t for the intense traffic, especially that of big articulated trucks going to the Dover docks and then into Europe. The Eastern European truck drivers are the worst of all. A truck from Romania drove literally a few inches by me, at a speed I would estimate at 70 miles/h (120 Km/h). The air dislocation almost brought me under the truck. Why do so many drivers have so little value for human life when they sit behind the steering wheel of their vehicles? Other people, especially cyclists, become just an obstacle, like road side debris which are worth the risk of hitting for the sake of saving their vehicles momentum and not having to slow down for a moment.

My thoughts while cycling to Dover were focused on how stupid the system we created is. The A2 is a very smooth and direct route that cyclists are encouraged not to use because of their it’s traffic (it’s not illegal to cycle in an A road, just in a motorway, as far as I know) so they become an exclusivity for the people protected by the metal frame of their cars, sitting down in their air conditioned cockpits, listening music in their in-car entertainment system. They are so self-absorbed in their own life and importance that they make a huge deal of having to slow down or ever take a different route that could potentially delay them just a few minutes, while the cyclists, as vulnerable as they are, not only to the road conditions be all weather as well, have to take poorly surfaced cycling lanes or minor roads full of potholes. Don’t tell me we are a civilized society, because that is NOT true. A society whose individuals are totally focused on wild consumption and the protection of exclusive use of resources paid by all. Why do we accept that cycling routes can be of any less quality than those cars use? Why those who choose to travel in low environmental impact styles are penalized by poor infrastructure. Shouldn’t they be rewarded for not damaging the environment? Makes me mad to be human…

Rant over!

Anyway, if you are cycling from Canterbury to Dover, don’t do what I did. Stick on the Cycle routes, they are longer, hilly, poorly paved, but safer…

Change of subject… Weather wasn’t good all day with some scattered light showers along the way, but some 5 Km before arriving in Dover, weather turned really nasty and started to rain quite heavily. I got completely soaked. As I arrived in the ferry terminal I was surprised to find a huge party of young cyclists in front of me, mostly teenagers. They appeared to be part of a scout group heading into Europe. There must have been at least 50 of them.

Also met a couple that was on a weekend cycling trip to Calais. The ferry was packed with passengers today. Lots of buses with Asian (Chinese?) tourists.

Once we disembarked I headed into Calais’ town centre following the signs, looked for the Tourist Information office and after I got a stamp in my pilgrim’s credentials (3 stamps already on the 1st day) I went to a shop to buy a French SIM card. At the tourist information office they highlighted a few places who, according to them, offered discount rates to Via Francigena pilgrims. Among them was this family run farm B&B in Alembon, which was a bit further than what I wanted to ride, but for some reason I was attracted to it. I was expecting to get here and just have a discount, but when I got here the only room the lady had available was her daughter’s who wasn’t here today. To my surprise when I asked how much the room was for the night, the lady said, “as much as you want to pay”. I said are 10 Euros OK? She answered “sure!”. Good to know there are still people not entirely driven by financial gain in this world, although I think she would only do that for pilgrims.

Not only I am sleeping in a comfortable bed tonight, but she has also fed me some very simple but wonderful food. She even asked me if I wanted beer or wine, but I declined. Just water today. A tomato salad wonderfully prepared, 3 different types of cheeses, ham, bread and butter. For desert I had, what I think was the best plum I ate in my entire life. There was a bowl full of them at the other end of a long table and I could smell them sitting from where I was.

They have a large, simple and unsophisticated, but wonderful fire place and on some tables at the wall she sells their home made compotes, which I would definitely buy, if I wasn’t riding a bicycle.

This is it for the day… almost 60 Km today not counting the time spent waiting to board the ferry and the channel crossing. I am really happy to have found this place in Alembon after a somewhat stressful start and all the heavy rain. Tomorrow is another day of full of the wonderful and unexpected I am sure. I also managed to hand-wash the clothes I was wearing today, so if they dry overnight, I might be able to wear the same clothes again, keeping the spare ones I brought clean in the panniers. If this repeats itself too often, I think I may have brought too much with me… time will tell.

If you read the entire text, I hope some of the pictures below are self-explanatory.

To finish today’s post, have you already made your contribution to Mind UK? You are reading this right? Common, open your wallet… it’s for a good cause.

God bless you all and thank you for your contribution.

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