I woke up around 8, rolled up my emergency blanket, grabbed my still wet clothes and left my 5 star room in search of something to eat. I found an open boulangerie, and bought a pain aux raisins. I also bought a huge almond meringue as well. I have always thought that meringues are disgusting, but once while complaining about how gross they were, a friend said "oh, you haven't tried real French meringues...they are completely different than they are in the States." They were wrong. Meringues are disgusting in France too. After forcing a fourth of this enormous dry and powdery thing down, I felt like I was going to puke and threw the rest away. The problem with meringues is that they look so soft and moist. I always expect to bite into a creamy cloud but end up with a bunch of hard chalk in my mouth. Always the same. Ahh, meringue, you fooled me again!
I had to walk for the first 9 km, waiting or my clothes dry draped all over my body and for the meringue sensation to fade from my mouth. Once my things were dry enough, I put them in my bag and started running. I stopped after 10 km in Bourbonne les Bains to see if I could find a computer and something to drink and eat. It seemed decently sized, and the town I was running to had the potential of being incredibly small. I stopped in a Kebab place to grab a quick bite to eat (kebab places have taken over France like Starbuck's in the States). The menu had a cheap sandwich deal, but somewhere in the dialogue of ordering I got messed up and ended up with a much more expensive and larger version of the same thing on a plate. It was a lot of food to eat considering that I still had 25 km to run, but considering my budget and the fact that I had already paid for it, I ate it all. During my meal, I ended up striking conversation with George, the 20 year old from Palistine who was running the shop. George let me use his computer, and I spent a couple hours there talking to him, rehydrating, and letting my food digest. Eventually I set out again, and after walking for a couple kilometers to settle the kebab and kebab-gas in my stomach, I started running towards Corre.
As always, the last 8 km of the run were pretty difficult under the heat. Back at school, on long Sunday runs, I would always hit that threshold where I wanted to be done, and the idea that I had a big bottle of Endurox and a John Jay brunch waiting for me would keep me going. Here when I hit that threshold, I have no Endurox, no place to sleep, and I am running towards a town with potentially nothing.
Fortunately for me, I saw a sign which indicated that there was an Ecomarché in Corre, so it was a little bit easier knowing that I was running towards a grocery store where I could get some chocolate milk. None of the milk here is refrigerated though (it is pasteurized and sealed, and can sit for months on a shelf), so I only have warm chocolate milk to dream about. Better than nothing though.
Once I arrived in town, I drank my liquids and spent some time talking to a young couple who have been touring France for a couple years with a donkey. I think we each thought that the other was crazy. I got to pet a donkey though.
It started to get late, and after some more ramblings, I found myself at a marina along a canal which runs along the side of the town. It was after 10 pm. I took a shower in the marina shower, and wandered around the facilities. There was a little office with some bathrooms and washing areas for the boaters who stayed there, and inside I found a little cot. I went around until I found the "captain" of the facilities playing pétanque, and asked if I might be able to rest there for a few hours. After telling my story and sitting around for a while watching the game, I had a little bed set up and a safe (and clean) place to sleep.
Another long day. Another lucky night.
30 June 2009
In the morning, my host drove me back to the point where I found them the day before. For me, it is important that I maintain a constant line all the way to Athens on foot. If I take a car anywhere, I have to return to the the same place...even if it means backtracking 10 k and then passing by the same door I walked out of in the morning a third of the way through my run.
When I arrived in Val-de-Meuse (aka Montigny le Roi), I stopped in the hotel of the town and asked for a carafe of water, free by law in any establishment in France. I wandered around the small town for a while looking for...pretty much anything. It was Sunday, however, and everything was shut. Everything. I was lucky however to find an elementary school party where they were selling plain bread with ketchup and thin burnt sausages and fries. I spent some time watching elementary school kids perform Karate and dance to American songs like "Cotton Eyed Joe." I even saw an 8 year old kid doing the Tecktonik dance (aka the way they dance in that Yelle video). After I spent enough time feeling like the creepy dude who wasn't a parent but was watching an elementary school pageant, I left to see if I could find anything else to do.
On the outskirts of town, I found a nice little camping ground, where I figured I could sleep outside if the weather stayed nice. There I saw a couple with two bicycles loaded with saddle bags and tents, and asked them (an obvious question) if they were doing a big bicycle tour. They turned out to be a young German couple who were touring France for 4 weeks on bikes for their honeymoon. After we spoke for a while, we decided that we would meet up for dinner around 7:30, and I used the in between time to take a shower and wash my stuff in the free campground facilities. I had dinner at the campground snack bar, and lost my hours of light in conversation. I didn't get back into town until after 10 pm when it was dark and there weren't many people around.
I was lucky to come across a group of kids (18ish) sitting in the middle of town, hatchback cars clustered together with doors open, listening to Offspring and Snoop Dogg. I introduced myself and stood around awkwardly for a while until I found a few of the kids who thought what I was doing was interesting and wanted to help me out. After a few phone calls to friends who weren't around, some of the kids told me that they had found a place, and that if I went with them, they could get the key to a room for me. "Sounds good to me."
After about 200 m of driving, we ended up at the police station. I was thinking "uhh, not really what I was looking for guys...hopefully I don't get deported." They assured me it was alright, and there was a nice room kept for people like me who came into town. No questions, just a key with a bed. Right. So after talking to a police officer and waking up the Mayor, I found myself driving another 400 m to the Mayor's office to find this magical key. After some searching, the older mayor returned with a key. He showed it to me and read the tag out loud to prove that he had found the right one. It read "SDF." Salle Des Fêtes" he said (translation: "Party Room"). I knew, however, that what "SDF" really stands for is "Sans Domicile Fixe" and that it is the term used here for bums.
Still not really knowing what I was getting into, the mayor took me to an old garage, opened it up, showed me around, and left. There wasn't much to see, and it certainly wasn't a party room. I think the photo and facial expression speaks for itself, but the place was definitely very grungy. I pulled out my emergency blanket and covered the dirty mattress with it, hoping that Mylar was impermeable to bedbugs. I made a pillow out of my jacket, plugged in my phone, left one of the lights on and spent the rest of the night rustling around on a hot piece of tin foil fearing any contact between my skin and the fabric below. Not the most comfortable night I've had...I guess I'm a little bit picky for a bum.
29 June 2009
That is a big number. I decided to sandwich a bit of walking in between a 10 and a 12 mile run to make it much more bearable. I stopped in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises where my original itinerary had put me for a night, and found the grave of Charles de Gaulle. I thanked him for giving all the roads that I have run on which bear his name, and headed onwards only having seen one Eglise. I arrived in Chaumont around 2, and spent the day wandering around the city. Chaumont is an awesome town...but before I arrived it was just a point on my map that was another 40 km closer to Ronchamp. There is a ton of history there, and the architecture is pretty amazing. I spent some time roaming around the old city walls, finding entrances to potential subterranean tunnels/sleeping places. I'll have to go back with a friend and a flashlight someday. I stopped in the Basilica of St. Jean-Baptiste, which has an incredible interior. The organs were playing, and as I looked around at the interesting Gothic interior, I was surprised that I had never seen the little church in a class. Maybe I was asleep for that slide, but I feel like France is full of so many little gems like this. Every village seems to have a church which is older than the United States.
The streets in Chaumont are spotted with little speakers mounted to the sides of buildings, so my search for housing was encouraged by a constant oscillation of cheesy American music. When it started getting later and I started getting nervous that the streets would soon be abandoned, I approached a young woman in the street and asked her if she knew if there was anything to do in the town that evening. It wasn't long before I found out that there wasn't anything going on, and was in a car on the way to her hometown, where here parents were having a barbecue with some friends. When I got there, I explained my story about as many times as I could bear, and then spent the evening playing Petanque with a huge group of people. It felt just like a barbecue at the ranch, except we were speaking in French and throwing metal balls instead of horseshoes. It is always a bit strange to see where I start in a day and where I end up, and I was pretty happy to be at such a friendly gathering for the night.
28 June 2009
I set out towards Bar-sur-Aube around 11 am. France had photocopied a map for me, and drawn a line on it for the best route which avoided all national roads. It was incredibly hot outside, but the run was awesome. Probably one of the most beautiful I have had thus far. The country here is so varied, from vinyard to green forest to fields of wheat, every curve brings some new magnificent view. I spent the run trying to compare the paper map with the one on my phone, guessing between the roads on one and the roads on the other...sometimes taking roads that seemed to be on neither. At one point, I found myself taking a long road dirt road in the right direction that happened to end a half mile or so before it was supposed to. So, instead of turning around, I just ran through an old tire track in a wheat field, letting plants whip me in my legs as I ran. I stopped for a bit in a town with a small Roman bridge, and asked a man for directions and some water. From that point on, it was a dirt road and rolling hills all the way to Bar-sur-Aube.
As soon as I arrived in town, tired from the striking heat, clouds broke out and I found myself homeless and underneath a thunderstorm. After making as many loops as possible around the town, I stumbled into the nearest bar with the need to be inside. I ordered a beer to make myself not seem like a complete wierdo, and after a while I started talking the bartender. She asked for a place to stay from a few patrons of the bar...to no avail. When everyone, including the scary huge lady with the mullet who could have easily killed me, said 'no,' I decided that it was time to head out. I got myself a kebab sandwich at a 'rapid restaurant' and kept walking around in the wet weather. As I walked, I saw my first wild urban snail, who was attempting to cross a busy road and ("snails are cool!") helped him cross the road. Immediately afterwards, I saw several hundred other dumb snails trying to cross the road, so the intrigue kind of wore off. Also, I am pretty sure that I read somewhere that snails can carry some nasty diseases, so now I had snail disease all over my hand...and I needed to go to the bathroom. Feeling a little bit down, and really tired from the long run and the beer that I had drank, I went into a bar which was full of young people (it was around 8 now) and ordered a Coke. I don't drink soda normally, but I knew that I would pass out if I drank another beer, and I was hoping I could stay awake long enough to find a place from one of the people in the bar. It was then that I look around and realized that they looked like they were all in high school. There were also some old men, but I couldn't really speak to them because the local dialect here among old men is incredibly difficult to understand, like if you slapped a thick German and Irish accent onto a French guy.
I headed into the bathroom of the bar and did my deed, only to clog the weak flushing toilet. I tried flushing it again, but it only filled with more water. Also, there was only one bathroom for the bar, so people were starting to knock and rattle at the door handle. So here I am, in homeless with a clogged toilet, incredibly tired with snail disease all over my hand and rain and thunder pouring down outside...and Michael Jackson is dead. What a day. I look around for a quick solution, and find no plunger but only one of those little brushes. I had made the same mistake once in Holland, but with no other solution, I started using the brush to try to unclog the toilet. Without noticing that the brush handle wasn't quite long enough, my hand dipped in the water, and now snail disease was really the worst of my worries. People were still rattling at the door, and the light switch was on a timer, so every once and a while I would have to pause my toilet unclogging to fumble around in the dark for the light switch. I managed to unclog the toilet, but now the brush was in a pretty sorry state, having pretty much retained everything it unclogged in its bristles...doing my best to make things right, I tried to clean it off. Basically, I just kept flushing the toilet over it, having to wait for the tank to refill each time, saying "moment" every other second to the people who were on the other side of the door. After what must of been an eternity, I managed to clean off the brush, and wash my hands, and triumphantly marched out of the bathroom with a huge grin on my face...with everyone looking very curiously at me. Feeling like nothing else could really go wrong, I went up to the bartender, who looked nice, and told him my story. I offered to work for a place on the floor, but he wasn't having it. He asked around of a few people, and after a few "sorry, I can't"s, he handed me a key to an empty room above the bar. From that point on, the night was much better. I had a bit of champagne with a guy who was having a birthday party, talked for a bit, and went to bed. I slept for almost 10 hours. If you ever happen to be in Bar-sur-Aube, go to the Bar Saint-Pierre and buy a beer from Xavier for me.
26 June 2009
I had a solid eight hours of sleep, and set out from Troyes in the late morning. Ingrid, my host in Marigny had put me in touch with her sister France who lives in Montiéramay, so I changed my route slightly to make that one of my two stops between Troyes and Chaumont. France was working until around 5, so at her recommendation I ran first to the nearby Lac d'Orient to swim around during the day. I walked to the edge of Troyes before spending most of the run on a dirt path along the edge of a canal. It was less than 30 Kilometers to the beach, and for some reason when I set out I thought that that meant a short day.
I got to the beach, and rocked my backpack tan in public for the first time. Basically, I look like I am wearing a brown tank top at all times. The white short tan is worse though. I splashed around in the water for a while, cooling off and letting my tired legs float around in the cool water. Afterwards, I sat around on the grass for a while waiting until it was time to start heading towards Montiéramay. I looked to my right and was pretty surprised to see a woman not wearing a shirt. Then I remembered, "oh, I'm on a beach...in France...crazy."
Around 4, I made the short walk towards France's house. When I arrived, I had to double check the number I had written down with what was in front of me. France and her family live in amazing old abbey house that they restored themselves. The kind of place I take a picture of when I run by, thinking "man, it would be sweet to live there."
Well, I did stay there, and France gave me a tour of the house and the surrounding town. She is an architectural engineer, so the tour was pretty awesome. It was pretty interesting speaking with her about architecture through the barrier of language, because we were both keen on drawing things. How do you say "flying buttress" in French?...I don't know, but here is a drawing of one!
After dinner, we spent a long time talking about various things, and eventually got onto the topic of machine learning (because of a project that I made during school this year). In our debate, I suggested that in some hypothetical future world, machines could be capable of creating art and having true personalities...and France was on the side of this being impossible. I don't think there really is a right answer to such a theoretical debate at the moment, but the end of our conversation really stuck with me. It will seem random and out of place, but I don't want to forget it, so I'm writing it here. A short, translated transcript follows:
France: "Think of the world's great artists...the works which they create could never be done by a machine. They are too original, and manifested through ingenuity and an entirely unique human soul."
Me: "OK, agreed, but let's create an imaginary scenario where I have created such an amazing work of art."
France: "Scenario established."
Me: "Now, let's imagine that I didn't create that work of art, but that instead, I wrote a computer program, and a machine generated it."
France: "OK, but then the machine didn't actually create the art, you did."
Me: "Well, now imagine that instead of writing the entire program, I only wrote one word...and you wrote one word...and millions of people and things throughout the world each wrote something. Then who made the art?"
France: [that French shrug expression]
We agreed to disagree.
For me though, the conversation really shed some light on this trip. I like to think that I am such a machine, merely a database of everything that I have seen and experienced in the world. Even the flutter of a "papillon" could influence who I am and who I become. For me, this trip is about finding as many people and things to write a little something into my database, in the hopes that one day the world that I have lived in will inspire me to create works which can, in turn, write a word or two upon the people who have experienced them. So far, I've read a lot of good words on this trip.
I woke up around 8:00 and had breakfast with Ingrid before Philippe came and picked me up to give me a quick tour of his workplace. He knew that I was an architect, and working in metal construction, he thought I would be interested. His work was way cooler than I expected it to be...after showing me the offices, secretaries, architects and draftsman, he brought me through a door in the back of the office which opened into an enormous shop. It was then that I realized that his firm was an entirely independent design build firm, and that the elements of the 3D models and plots that I had seen inside were getting machined 100 feet away, ready to be assembled on site. The machines there were amazing, capable of moving, bending, welding, cutting, drilling (etc...) enormous pieces of metal. It was incredibly exciting for me. I love machining things, and a facility like that is an aspiring architect's pornography. It is awesome to think that all of the draftsman and designers are only a hallway away from where everything is produced, and that they are incredibly familiar with the capabilities of the machinist.
After returning to the house, Ingrid gave me directions to Troyes which kept me off of major highways, and I set off excited to see the cathedral there. Some days it is hard to start running. Back at school we would sometimes walk 20, 50, or rarely 100 m before someone would start running. Today it took me 7000. After that first running step though, it was all easy to Troyes. When I got near town, I stopped in a big supermarket and bought myself 3.25 liters of liquid and was very surprised at how fast I drank it all. I also ate a couple pastries from the boulangerie. Walking out of the shopping center feeling like I was going to puke (way too much in my stomach), I stopped for a moment to enjoy Toto's "Africa" playing over the loudspeakers.
Troyes is a beautiful little city with a medieval charm. After wandering about the town for a while, I stumbled upon the cathedral. This is another cathedral that I saw while awake in my medieval architecture class back at school...it was way more exciting in person, as these things normally are.
At six, I met up with my couchsurfing host Julien, and had dinner with his parents and some friends from school. While preparing dinner, they asked me if I liked seafood, and I lied and said yes (not really wanting to change their plans). I have also set a goal to start eating all the things I don't like on this trip. The dinner was delicious. I guess that's just the power of good French cooking.
24 June 2009
I woke up around 9:30 and spent the morning running little errands...one of which was going to the fromagerie and trying some of the local brie of Provins. I headed out around 1 pm with a stomach full of brie and baguette, and decided to walk for a bit to allow my food to settle. I didn't make it one kilometer before I started running. Some days it is hard to hit the road...and other days it is hard to hold myself back. This was one of those days. I had a lot on my mind, and nothing clears your head quite like grinding out just shy of a marathon. I love running. It is just me and the road, with no worries but putting one foot in front of the other. The fact that I didn't have a place to sleep didn't even cross my mind. Out on the road on a hot day, alone and in the middle of nowhere...that is where you hit the runner's high. I don't really know if there is a universal feeling of the "runner's high", but for me it comes when I am out alone, simultaneously tired and full of emotions, pounding out stride after stride. Every step involves muscular tension and the pounding of pavement, a mixture of pleasure and pain that I can only relate to Bernini's "Ecstasy of Saint Theresa"...mildly like ripping an arrow out of your chest repeatedly for miles at a time. If you haven't already, I suggest you give it a try.
I got to Nogent-sur-Seine after a 20 km that just sped by. I had originally planned on stopping there, as the itinerary on my website pointed out...but I made most of those decisions arbitrarily one night when I was incredibly sleep deprived, so I decided to keep going to the next town on my list, stopping briefly to check out the church and pick up a snack from the boulangerie.
I arrived in Marigny-le-Châtel a bit after 4, incredibly thirsty. I wandered around in a state of half death, covered in salt grime, until I found the supermarket outside of the town and downed a couple liters of liquid. Feeling a little bit better, I stumbled back into town and wandered around for a while, not really discovering anything. When I was too tired to be on my feet anymore, I returned to the little square in front of the church and sat down. There were two women sitting nearby, so in an attempt to start a conversation, I asked if the church could be visited. They said no. I asked if there was anything interesting to see in the town. They said no. I asked if there was a place I might find the Internet. They said no. After a few more questions of that nature, they asked me where I was coming from, and after telling them my story they were pleased to offer me some help. They had to be somewhere for the evening, but they started calling everyone they knew. After many false leads, they offered to put me into the hotel for the night. It was a bit difficult for me to explain that I couldn't accept, but they understood and continued to try to help me out. We went together to the house of the guy who operates the church (I don't really know what his position was), but he was very reluctant to have a stranger sleeping on the premises. He did offer me a shower though, and the two women left me with him on their way out. Ten minutes later, they returned with news that they had found me a place to sleep, and I went with them to meet Ingrid who had offered to put me up for the night. She brought me back to her house, where I met her family and her husband Philippe, who was quick to introduce me to my first authentic Champagne, on my first day in the region. Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am...or how hospitable people are...or both.
We had a good dinner together, and I spent some time watching TV...mainly American shows dubbed in French. I can't say I understood more than the basic plot, but I enjoyed being off my feet and at a table with some wonderful people. I hit the bed hard.
23 June 2009
I walked for the first couple of kilometers, in order to find my direction and trick my legs into moving again. The tendinitis in my right shin has really calmed down, but I have some compensation pain in my left ankle now. I am trying to take it a little bit easy so that I can hopefully get over it all. The weather was perfect for running, and I once again found myself running through the middle of the beautiful French countryside. Today though, the sky was just as exciting as the land. Fields of cumulus clouds drew my eyes up from the fields of green, and the occasional twist in my ankle had to remind me that I should look where I am going.
I got into Provins around noon, and after drinking two boxed chocolate milks, a bottle of Powerade and a 1.5 liter bottle of water, I started checking out the sites. Provins happens to be a UNESCO world heritage site, and is full of little medieval wonders. I stayed away from the costumed shows of chivalry and birds, and just wandered around the architecture. I stopped by the church of Saint Quiriace, where Jean d'Arc stopped for mass is 1429. It is given its name because supposedly some dude brought the head of Judas (Quiriace) here a thousand years ago from Palestine. I don't really understand how those things work.
I went to the Caesar's Tower, the central tower in town, and then walked around the exterior walls of the castle until around 4 when I would be able to go into the tunnels. This town would be a great place to find a hidden sleeping place (I already had a place to stay though), and I spent most of the afternoon climbing up into abandoned staircases to see if they went anywhere. Mostly they went to brick walls. No luck finding a magical hidden treasure or anything like that.
At 4 I went to the tunnels, which were originally used to extract a clay that was used for degreasing wool cloth in the Middle Ages. Much later, the tunnels were used for hideouts, cellars and meetings of secret societies. Now it is an UNESCO site and is used as a place where you can't take photos. I love tunnels, probably derived from my time at Columbia and from being a kid in general. Despite being on a guided tour, it was still pretty exciting. The most prized possession in the tunnels is the old graffiti, which is protected by plexiglass to prevent any new graffiti from becoming interesting a couple hundred years from now.
In the evening I met up with my couchsurfing host Janvier, who is younger than I am but incredibly interesting. Many people came in and out, most of which were some sort of musician or rave planner. Janvier and I exchanged some music, and he introduced me to the many varieties of a music that I would normally just call "techno." Hardtek, hardcore, and many combinations of other syllables with the words "hard" and "core" . I went to bed around 1, spending the later hours of the evening discussing the origins of religion and the inevitable end of the world as we know it...a seriously involved conversation. Fortunately Janvier's English is much better than my French.
22 June 2009
I woke up around 10:30, still tired from last night. I took a shower and washed my clothes in the sink and set them out to dry. The alarm on my phone ("Party Hard" by Andrew W.K.) also woke up Luc (my host) and after some meandering about we headed to the center of town to buy some food at the Sunday market. I had big lunch with Luc, and set out running towards Mormant after one. I somehow managed to average mid six minute miles with a stomach containing: 1/4 rotisserie chicken, 1/2 baguette, a bunch of carrots and potatoes, a decent amount of chèvre (goat cheese) and several glasses of water. The run went by pretty quickly, except for the last 5k, during which I was very excited to get to the giant castle I could see on the road in front of me. After much anticipation, the castle ended up being a modern industrial plant...and I ended up being rather disappointed. When I arrived in town I bought three bottles of liquid (water, fruit juice, Orangina) and a snickers bar...and quickly made them all disappear.
I walked around Mormant for a bit, seeing what I could see, and as I stopped to sit along a sidewalk a little marching band dressed in white passed by, and I followed along to see where they were headed. I discovered a little stage, where a man was performing in some African/French free verse poetry that I couldn't understand, and had a quick nap on a bench. When I awoke people were starting to leave, so I quickly asked a woman (while there were still people to ask) if she knew where I might be able to find a computer. She said that there wasn't really anywhere in this town, but that I could probably find something in the next town over. I explained that I was travelling on foot, and after a bit more talking I ended up getting introduced to the mayoress of Mormant. She introduced me to Sylvain, who offered to let me use his computer. While checking my e-mail and writing my post for the day before I was introduced to his family and his wife Valerie invited me to stay for dinner and the night. I happened to arrive on a day when they were having a barbecue with the extended family, and spent the evening eating some awesome foot and discussing the differences between American and French culture with the kids. I joked "no, we are not generally fat and named Bob, with guns and that beer drinking hat" and in reverse none of them were named François with a black and white striped shirt, beret, neck tie and cigarette. Funny how those things go.
After dinner Valerie and the kids showed me around some nearby towns where I saw both a medieval and 17th century château. When we returned, I spent some time marvelling at the number of comments I have received in the past couple of days. I feel very fortunate to have the support of all of you, and I wish I had time to respond to all your comments. It is awesome for me to read them. Overall a great ending to my first month, and a great start to the first day of summer. Thank you all, and thanks to my Dad for all of the love and support he has given me. Happy Father's Day!
21 June 2009
The run out of Paris was a bit difficult. There were so many streets to choose from that the only technique I could use was that of trying to maintain the general direction of southeast, the direction of Brie-Comte-Robert. I recently figured out how to make my phone calculate and draw a route on the map...but in this case it only thought for a long time and gave me an encouraging "no route found." I just ran with my eyes on the map. I tried to make my decisions at intersections instantaneously, because the one time I stalled for a second a Jehova's Witness guy trapped me. "Do you know the way?" he asked..."To Brie-Comte-Robert?!"
I arrived in town in the early afternoon and started exploring. There was an castle in which I found an interesting archaeological exhibit. The gates would be locked in the evening, so (thinking about where I would sleep) I spent a good hour climbing around the walls, contemplating the best technique of storming the castle in case of emergency. When I was satisfied with the knowledge that the castle could be stormed, I proceeded to explore the rest of the town. I went by the church (where there were at least three weddings this day) and then on to a little plaza where I had seen a temporary stage set up. I bought myself a Heineken from Ali, one of the vendors at the concert and started talking to him about what was going on. This weekend is the weekend of the "Fête de la Musique" everywhere in France (even the little towns), and Brie-Comte-Robert was having a day of concerts. Talking to Ali, I verified that the the name of the town is related to its location in the region in which brie is made, so I quickly ran to the fromagerie before it closed and got myself a little slice of the stuff. It was divine. Cheese is definitely best eaten in the place where it is made.
I spent the evening loitering around, watching local rap and rock groups take the stage. Word got around that I was running across Europe, and the people running the concessions offered me some free things to eat. I felt incredibly lucky to come into this town on such an interesting day. I feel pretty lucky in general. A bit after 9, I went to the church, where I listened to a guy named Pierrec Antoine play a mean organ, and then back to the square of the main concert. It was getting dark, and I wasn't really sure that I had a place to stay...but I was comforted by an awesome performance on stage by a band which used minimal words (less words to be not understood is good for me!). One of the guys who was running the technical side of the show, Luc, offered me a place to sleep in town after he was done dismantling the set. The concert finished around midnight, and I spent a couple hours working with Luc dismantling the stage and packing up all the equipment. I finally got to bed around 2 am completely wiped out. After running 32 km to arrive in town, I had only sat down for probably one hour all day. It felt amazing to have my legs up. I slept like a rock.
20 June 2009
So, I arrived in Paris two days ahead of schedule...and as I promised the doctor back in Arras, I took a few days off. This trip is all about taking time to smell the roses...or in the case of France, the rosé.
I was pretty excited to have a little break in Paris, and to see some familiar friends. I had been banking on staying comfortably with my friend Chris, who on several occasions has called me last minute and asked to crash on my floor...where he has stayed for several weeks. When I arrived, however, he informed me that he was staying with a host family, and that he hadn't asked if I could stay. He eventually got permission for the first night, but for the two following nights I was in a kind of strange limbo where neither of us really knew if it was alright that I was staying there. I had not washed my other change of clothes, and because I didn't run the day after I arrived, I just wore the same clothes into the next day...and the next day.
I spent my time going around to many of the sites that I wanted to see again, or missed the last time I was here (apart from Rome, Paris is the only point on my route that I have ever seen before). I went up to the top of the Arc du Triomphe and the Eiffel tower, through the parks, the Centre George Pompidou, and Notre Dame. Actually, thinking about it today, I think that the top of the Eiffel tower is the highest I have ever been on a man made structure...having never taken the time to go up the Empire State Building in New York. It was awesome.
On Thursday night, I met up with Jordan and Maya (friends from school), and we ate some bread and cheese, and drank a couple of bottles of wine on the Pont des Arts, which to my knowledge is the only place in Paris that you are not allowed to drink in public. Later in the evening, I went out with Chris and his friends, who had all finished their last day at the Stanford study abroad program. I spent most of the evening being the guy in the group who couldn't get into anywhere because he was wearing running clothes. "This is not a bar for jogging," the bouncers would say. It didn't help that I smelled pretty bad as well. Everyone felt bad for me, but for me it was just funny to be "that guy." We all finally got into some places, and had a wonderful time mixing alcohols and wandering around in the street. The thing about Paris (unlike New York) is that the trains shut down...so if you stay out until one, it means that you really have to stay out until 6, until everything opens again. We did this. Another thing about Paris is that it is full of random, seemingly functionless poles which line the road. Around chest height, the only function I found in them was that of something to jump over while intoxicated. This I did, until I racked myself and let my hip break my fall. No more pole jumping, but the night moved on towards my running around a Parisian rooftop in my socks. The hip still hurts.
I woke up this morning feeling surprisingly good, and went out to find a new pair of shoes. I found my Adrenalines (in yellow this time) at a store named Jogging Planet, and putting them on was like stepping on clouds. I have put 684.9 kilometers on my shoes, not including the walking in town once I arrive, or the mileage I had on them before I left. Feeling the comparison, my old shoes felt like they were made of rock. Only having one pair of shoes definitely decreases the lifespan of the shoe, as the foam never really has time to expand between runs. I feel bad to get rid of the shoes I have, knowing how far they have brought me...but this trip is forcing me to fight off some of my pack rat tendencies.
I also did my laundry, where I sat barefoot for an hour watching my clothes roll around. Now I'm sitting in a cozy apartment, getting ready for the days ahead with some quality rest. There is so much to see and do in Paris, it could take me years. I'm happy with just glazing the surface for now, and heading back into the country. In the morning I will head towards Brie-Comte-Robert, where I don't yet know where I will sleep. So it goes.
18 June 2009
I admit that I have a problem. I did force myself to walk the first 10 km of that though. The day really felt like two days.
I woke up around 7:30, and got an early start towards Poissy. I was anxious to arrive at my destination, but I still enjoyed the run. 34.7 km to the Villa Savoye, almost half of which was on narrow dirt trails or along the side of a river. I arrived at the Villa Savoye around noon, under a blue sky, warm sun and scattered cumulus clouds: a perfect day to see the house. For those who don't know, the Villa Savoye (another Art Hum favorite) was made by Le Corbusier, and is probably the most famous house among architecture students today. I won't go into all the reasons why...but I was pretty excited to see it. I spent about 5 hours wandering about the house, turning off and on faucets and opening and closing doors. The little details can never be made out in photos, and despite the fact that many elements are not in their original state, I was pretty surprised by their poor quality. It quickly became apparent that even the great masters of architecture aren't quite as perfect as one would think. When an aspiring young designer makes a flaw, or some elements that just don't perfectly come together, it is easy to think "man, Le Corbusier would never do that." I was pleased (but mainly saddened) to see that in fact, Le Corbusier would do that, and he would also probably make it leak and fall apart in 20 years. Overall an amazing building/machine for living, and I certainly enjoyed living in it for a few hours on a sunny day. Also, I can now say that I peed in a Le Corbusier building. Twice.
I headed back into town, where I wandered around for a while, trying to make a place to stay happen. No dice, but I did find a little distillery where I got to try some local almond liquer.
Around 8 pm I called my friend Chris, who is staying in Paris to get his address for the next day. When I put it into my phone, I saw that it was in the northwest of the city...and in turn was much closer to me. For some reason, 24 km seemed like pocket change to me, so I decided to just head on into the city, instead of potentially sleeping in a ditch and then doing so. Run number two was awesome. Despite the probable negative effects of doing around 60 km in a day, I am glad I did it this way. Running into Paris at night was amazing. First, I came to the top of a staircase and saw the entire city, 20 km or so away. After some more excited running, I caught my first view of La Defense. I ran through the center of the building, and came to a bridge where I saw, down a long straight length of road, the Arc du Triomph. Moments later I was marvelling at the Eiffel tower. To see these things lit up at night was amazing. I was in Paris! I ran here! It was a pretty great feeling.
I met Chris "aux Champs Elysées" where I had some pasta and ate and drank baskets worth of free stale bread and caraffs of water. I slept like a rock. I think I'll hang out here for a couple days and get my legs back under me.
16 June 2009
I woke up to see that it had rained overnight, and that it was still raining. Setting out towards Haravilliers, I wrapped up my clothes in my space blanket, and put my phone in the Ziploc bag that I had requested of my host a few days before, an empty cigarette filter bag with printed images which make it rather difficult to see what is going on with my phone. Almost everyone I have met here smokes, by the way. After a few minutes, I found a gas station where I went in and asked if there was a cheap disposable Poncho I could buy. No dice. I then asked if there was a large trash bag that I could have. The attendant gestured a look-about and said no. Knowing that he definitely had a trash bag, I decided to deal with him. I put a king size Snickers on the counter (here a 2 pack of small bars). No response. I put a second king size Snickers on the counter. No words were spoken, but before I could pay, he went in the back and came back with a large black trash bag. I cut an appropriately sized hole for my head this time.
As I was walking out of town, some people pulled over to ask me for directions. Why anyone would ask someone wearing a trash bag for directions, I am not really sure, but this homeless guy happened to have GPS and had turn by turn directions for them in no time.
The majority of the way was on along the side of a busy road with no shoulder, and I frequently had to step off the road to let a Semi roar by. I run/walk facing traffic, so this is never really a problem, except for when trucks decide to pass a car on a two lane road from behind, and they fly inches away from me in the lane of oncoming traffic.
Also, for the first time I found myself in the middle of nowhere needing to find a bathroom, and when I finally came upon a town, I was very happy to see an open "Tabac"/bar, where I asked for the toilet. When I opened the door to the bathroom, I was rather surprised to see a squatting toilet. I actually didn't realize that they were used in Europe, but having seen them several times before in Thailand, I knew what to do. Didn't make it any less awkward. To make my toilet experience even more magical, the bathroom was decorated with a framed jigsaw puzzle of a crying baby touching a dolphin. I left having seen a completely new, magnificent side of France.
About 5 km before where Haravilliers was on the map, I stopped in a larger town and started working on the meandering about/hoping-something-falls-in-my-lap technique. Nothing. I went and got a piece of pizza from a boulangerie. Nothing. I stopped in a pub full of old men. Nothing. I made a few laps around town. Nothing. I sat in a park. Nothing. And so on. Around 6, I decided that this town had little to offer in terms of things falling in my lap, so I continued on to Haravilliers, knowing that if I ended up sleeping outside, I would be a little bit closer to Poissy in the morning. Haravilliers happens to be incredibly small. Definitely the smallest town I have stopped in yet. I wandered about until I saw a person: a young mother checking the mail. I told her my story, and that all I needed was a roof over my head for the night. She offered me the attic in the garage, and the weight in my stomach was lifted. Soon after, I was inside an awesome renovated grange, drinking a glass of water and speaking (hey, in English!) with Stephanie and her husband Ludo about my trip. They soon realized that I wasn't a "serial killer," and invited me to stay inside and have dinner with them. Once again, I found myself engaged in conversation with some incredibly hospitable people. We were all baffled by the fortune I have had thus far.
The run to Beauvais was very straightforward. In Europe, there is a tendency to name streets with logical names, and I followed the "Rue de Beauvais" the entire length of my trip. Once again, my clothes were damp when I departed, so I walked for about an hour with clothes draped all over me. I ran a little bit less than 20 kilometers, and the tendinitis seemed to be a bit better. I can run and walk now without whimpering.
I arrived in Beauvais a little bit after noon, and coming down a hill I got my first look at the cathedral (Saint Pierre). Before I could visit it though, I spent a half hour trying to find a place that was open on a Sunday morning to find something to drink. I ended up at a classic American franchise (Subway) where I had an Italian BMT and 4 refilled bottles of water.
St. Pierre happens to boast the tallest Gothic choir in the world. It would be amazing were it not plagued with contemporary wood and metal braces due to structural problems. Still though, I spent a good hour tiptoeing around with my head tilted back. From there I headed to Saint Etienne, another Gothic church that I happened to be awake to see a slide for back at Columbia.
Once, I had gotten my architecture fix, I called up a friend of Anna (in Amiens) with whom I might have a place to stay. He answered, but kindly informed me that he was out of town. Awesome. The rest of the day, I wandered around town, through parks and whatnot, pulling myself over third century Roman walls and getting called-out for being in places I wasn't supposed to be. My general technique for finding a place to stay is to wander around aimlessly, kind of looking for anything that resembles shelter, hoping that something just falls in my lap. Hey...it has worked so far.
Well, it didn't really work this time, so come 10 pm when everything was closing I started approaching random strangers. I sat down and had a drink with some girls at the one bar that was open. They ended up being from another town, and only came into Beauvais for the nightlife. Funny, because there is no nightlife in Beauvais on a Sunday night. I then sat with another group of students, and once again had a drink with some very friendly people. The bar rang the bell for last call, and I soon found myself on the street with them. "I know this sounds strange, but does one of you have somewhere for me to sleep?" They came here from Amiens, and were heading back there. Not quite where I wanted to go. After they left, I spent a few minutes trying to speak with the only other person who I saw on the street...who was way too drunk for me to understand. Drunken slurring is bad. Drunken slurring in French is impossible. I bid him adieu and walked around the corner, ready to go back to the cathedral and sleep illegally on the scaffolding that I had been contemplating all day. It was then that I saw the only other living souls in the town, a group of three young students. I approached them with the "this might sound crazy, but..." speech, and to my surprise, they said "why not?" I was floored. It was midnight, and I was sure I would be without a place to stay. Instead, I spent the night talking with a beautiful young geologist, in a house full of awesome geology students. The place was full of posters and stickers with phrases along the line of "Geology, Rocks!!!" Sofi, my host, informed me that the stone from which St Pierre was made (Lutétien) was formed in this region 45 million years ago. The several hundred years of cathedral (which I am amazed by) are really nothing in comparison. Geology really does rock.
14 June 2009
I woke up several times very early in the morning in Amiens feeling very awake...but looking around and realizing that it was still dark outside, I decided to go back to sleep. At one point, I saw some movement in the room and realized that my host (Anna) was awake. Thinking that I should also wake up, I checked my watch. It was noon. In France, everyone has blackout shades on the outside of their windows: it wasn't really dark when I woke up, I just thought it was.
I had a breakfast of French pastries and spent some time washing my clothes and taking a shower, things I had been too tired to do the night before. I set out around 2 pm with my damp clothes hanging on the straps of my backpack. On the way out of town, I picked up a small baguette for 25 cents and stashed it in my bag in case nothing was open when I arrived in the town I was heading towards. I walked about 17 kilometers as a human clothes line, along the side of a fairly boring two lane road. I told myself that I would start running when my things were dry and I arrived at a certain fork in the road that was on my map. I have been making my best effort to walk as long as I can tolerate until I get to Paris, hoping that I can tame this tendinitis.
When I got to the aforementioned fork in the road, my jaw dropped. The road in front of me was one of the most beautiful sights a runner has ever seen. A dirt road winding over rolling hills, sandwiched between beautiful patchwork farms. The kind of road that runners kill for. I was grinning to myself, and started running like I was a kid dashing towards Disneyland...except I was already on my object of desire. The early evening weather was beautiful, and I took of my shirt to work on changing my terrible t-shirt tan into an even better backback tan. I didn't see a car or another person for miles.
Nothing can be perfect though, and apart from the lingering pain in my lower shin, there was one major imperfection with this run: little black insects. Running shirtless, I soon noticed that I was picking up tens of (mostly dead) tiny black insects on my chest. I would sweep them off, only to collect more a few minutes later. When I arrived in Breteuil, I was covered in a sweaty black pulp which I had to scrape off of my chest, arms and face before I could put my shirt.
I had found a place to stay with Nathalie, the mother of a friend of Anna, my host in Amiens...but she wasn't going to be home until 10 pm. So I just meandered for a few hours. There wasn't much to do in the town. It felt just like a small country town in the States: a lot of people walking around wearing worn out 80's rock band t-shirts or Starter jerseys, listening to portable radios and driving muddy 4x4s.
A bit after 10, I called Nathalie, and we met at her house. I took a shower and washed my things, and stayed up for a few more hours talking to Nathalie about travel, and about a man who walked all over France with a cow. The conversation was in French, and we were both frequently making the face which means "I have absolutely no idea what you are saying!" I guess that's just how conversations go here.
13 June 2009
I woke up around 7:30 and had breakfast with Jerome. Afterwards, I draped my still damp laundry over my bag and Jerome drove me back to the supermarket where he picked me up. On the way, we went by an old church, which (if I have my numbers right) was built in the early 11th century. I started towards Amiens with my ankle wrapped up, incredibly excited to see the cathedral. Wanting my ankle to recover as soon as possible, the excitement had to wait. When you walk about 6 km per hour and you are 30 km away from the place you are headed, excitement is an entirely different game.
The route was once again beautiful, through farms under a blue sky and a warm sun. It is pretty strange to be by yourself in the middle of nowhere for long periods of time every day. It isn't much of a problem when I'm running, but walking makes you feel much more idle. I haven't listened to my music the entire trip, except for once, for the purpose of hearing cars and for my general desire to be aware of what is around me and the things they might inspire. Without something to distract me, I find myself reverting to actions which I took when I was a kid working out in the fields alone on the ranch or when I was at home alone. Crazy actions. I sing out loud. Sometimes real songs, sometimes songs that I make up, sometimes real songs that I translate poorly into French as I sing them. Today, for example, I found myself whistling a techno remix of the ABC's which soon faded into a medley of Frank Sinatra songs, which then became a nonsensical country song in French. I do these things loudly, because there is nobody around to hear me. I also find myself frequently picking and dissecting the many varieties of plants that are growing around me. The insides of some plants are very interesting. Others only serve the purpose of making your fingers green or white. After 20 km of this sort of rambling (both pedestrian and verbal), I gave in and decided to start running towards Amiens. There was a nice grassy shoulder on the road, and I got to Amiens around one.
Running down a hill through a fairly boring suburb I caught my first glimpse of the cathedral between some trees and a building that was under construction. It was then that I started a smile which lasted me until a good two hours after I arrived. I spent the afternoon with my head tilted back, staring up at this building which I have seen time and time again in Art Hum and architecture classes. This time though, the dates weren't important, and all the architectural nomenclature slipped on by. It was just me and a masterpiece. On the inside, I read a leaflet which mentioned pilgrims stopping by Amiens on their way to Rome. I really felt like a pilgrim. It is amazing to think that that others, 700 years ago, stopped here on the way to a place which we will both go on foot--a place that is over a thousand miles away. Soon afterwards I climbed the few hundred steps to the top of the north tower, passing by the rose window on the way. I love being on top of cathedrals--it reminds me of New York.
In the evening, I met up with my couchsurfing host Anna, who was gone for the evening, but left me a key and showed me around. Her place is full of interesting people, and I had some great conversations with people as they came and went, each travelers of some sort. I slept for 10 hours. I guess I needed it.
12 June 2009
I woke up late in the morning and--knowing I would probably be homeless for the night--went around town looking for drugs. Ahh...the life of a Columbia University graduate.
I finally found a pharmacy that was open around the lunch hour, and picked up the anti-inflammatories that the doctor prescribed, in the form of a pill, a cream and a patch. I also picked up some tape to wrap up my ankle with to prevent movement as much as I could.
It was after one pm when I hobbled out of town towards Acheux, the tiny town halfway between Arras and Amiens that I had settled upon stopping in for the night. The route was amazing. I followed a two lane road the entire way, and passed through some of the prettiest farm country I have ever seen. Small rolling hills covered with bright patchwork fields as far as the eye could see. You know when you see country like that that you are in the middle of nowhere by pedestrian standards. After walking for 10 kilometers, I decided against the doctor's orders that I would run for 10 km, which I did despite some pain and that strange squeegy feeling that comes along with tendinitis. I am a firm believer in getting in easy running during times of injury, despite how stupid that sounds. For me, not running at all is like leaving a Band-Aid on all the time if you want a cut to heal. Also, I am not incredibly patient, and walking takes about three times as long as running.
I got into Acheux in the early evening, when I posed for the above picture. I am positive that the town is not pronounced "Achoo," but when I arrived I told myself that it was. I also told myself that it was named that because if you sneezed while driving through it you might miss it. Anyways. Everything was closed in Acheux. The restaurant, the church...well, there wasn't really much. I did find a little bar that was open, and went in to ask the bartender if he had anything to eat. "No" he said, pointing vaguely and speaking in French "but you can go to the Ecomarché, which might still be open." I ran around crazily looking for the supermarket, demanding "Où est le Ecomarché?!" of everyone I saw. Luckily, after much hobbling/running, I arrived at the place 10 minutes before closing. I frantically circulated the aisles picking up anything I could find that looked cheap/edible. I ended up with an incredible bargain: baguette, apple, banana, bag of mixed nuts and dried fruit, 1.5 liter bottle of water, spreadable meat of some sort, and spreadable cheese of some sort for around 5 euros. As I was running around, a man who was working at the store asked (seeing me in my running clothes) where I ran from. "Amsterdam," I answered. We were soon in a conversation which resulted in my suggesting that I didn't have a place to sleep tonight, and that I would appreciate any help I could get. The man, whose name I later learned is Jerome, was the operator of the store, and suggested that I could take a shower in the store, but because of alarms, could not sleep there. I figured the shower wasn't so necessary, and so I said "thank you" and continued shopping around. When I arrived at the counter though, Jerome was there, and he insisted on giving me my food without any charge. A better bargain than I had been looking for. Then, as I left, he suggested that he might have a garage I could sleep in if I wanted. I said "bien sûr."
I waited around for him to close up shop, eating some bread and cheese, and afterwards drove with him and his daughter to his house. Along the way, I learned that he was a military runner and weight-lifter, who started running the market after retirement. He had somewhere to be that night, so I had to stay in the garage, which was kind of a small gym.
When we got to his place, he showed me the garage and then drove away. Not really sure what to do, I ate a major part of the rest of my food, tended to my tendons and fell asleep around maybe 8. Around 10, I awoke to a car pulling into the driveway, and Jerome soon after invited me into the house for some tea. After we spoke for a bit I think he and his wife realized that I wasn't a completely crazy person, and made up a bed for me to sleep on in the living room. I took a shower, took some medicine, ate some strawberries and went to sleep, very happy to be in a bed for the night.
11 June 2009
A busy day. The way to Arras was pretty short, with some beautiful sections along forest trails, and some not so beautiful sections along the sides of highways without proper shoulders. The area is filled with very small cemeteries devoted mainly to Canadians who died during the first world war. I stopped in many of the cemeteries and walked down the aisles, reading names of young soldiers who died almost 100 years ago.
It only rained for about an hour, and I arrived in Lens around 2 pm. I called up my couchsurfing host Aline, and I dropped off my things at her apartment and had an awesome lunch of savory crepes. We went do the central square of the town, where I went on a tour of les boves, a medieval chalk mine that lies directly under the town center. During the tour my leg was really bothering me, and I was walking with some serious pain.
After much deliberation and calling of mothers, I decided to go to the hospital to get my leg checked out. Aline walked me over to the hospital in the rain, and I spent a long time asking questions in regards to how payment would work. What I eventually learned was that I didn't have to pay anything (maybe because of my EU passport, I am not sure), but they took the address on my insurance card just in case.
The doctor who saw me was about as young as I am, which is always a comforting sign. When he asked me what the problem was, I explained (in poor french) that I am a "cross country" runner, and that I was running about 200 kilometers per ---. Before I could finish the sentence, he said "per day?" "Per week" I responded. His knowledge of running was also a very comforting sign. Anyways, after some poking, he decided to take an x-ray. Then, after some more poking, he called in his superior doctor. That doctor poked for a while and asked me many questions in French, which I tried my best to answer in French as well. We mutually decided that it is a bad case of tendinitis, and he prescribed me some stuff to "eat" (the best word I know for oral medication) and some stuff to "put on." He suggested that I take some time off. "One day, two days?" I asked. He responded "Three Weeks." I responded "Hahaha."
We dealed back and forth for a while, and (I) settled upon my walking for a few days, and resting for a couple days when I get to Paris if it is still bad. After many awkwardly worded questions in French about when and how long I should take the medication, the doctor said, in fine English, "We can speak English if you like." Thanks doctor man.
I left the hospital around 8 pm, and went back to have dinner with Aline and her boyfriend, and then we went to a friends apartment, where some people played some music and we drank some quality beer of the region. I even heard some songs that were played for me in my high school French class (thanks Sousbois).
Today I head towards Amiens, which is 60 km from here. Judging by the pain in my shin area and the current time of day, I will stop half way. If you look at a map of the area between Arras and Amiens, you will find that there is pretty much nothing in between. Don't quite know where I'll be sleeping tonight, but hopefully it doesn't rain too much.
10 June 2009
I decided, at the suggestion of several people, to take one day off and see if things got better with my shin. It hurts pretty badly all the time, if I roll my ankle around. Actually, now it makes a creaky sound as well. My host Aurelie called up a couchsurfer friend Antoinne, and I had a place to stay for a day of rest in Lille. Aurelie took me around town, and I got a French SIM card and boadloads of calcium and some strange (I think not very effective) versionof Icy Hot. I iced my shins some more with the Disney Otterpops.
At Antoinne's house, we played Cranium in French with his roommates. I am pretty surprised by how fast things are coming back in terms of language...I wasn't as completely useless in the game as I thought I would be.
The next day (today) I wasn't really sure if I should go onwards. My shin felt a little bit better, but still not very good. It was raining very hard off and on, and I had slept later than usual (11). After much deliberation, the terrible conditions somehow did not win over, and I decided to start limping towards Lens (35 km) around 2 o'clock. The rain kept starting off and on, and about half way I found myself soaking wet under an enormous cloud, knowing that at my current pace I would not arrive in Lens until 9 pm or later...and that I still didn't have a place to sleep. Whenever it would start raining I would move my backpack to the front, and put a little green trashbag over myself (I couldn't fit it over my backpack if it was on my back). The hole I made for my head was too big, so I ended up getting soaked regardless. The rain stopped long enough for me to take the above photo. I decided to make a serious face for once. Notice the clouds behind me.
Once I was about 10 km from Lens, the rain really started coming down, and I started smiling again. In such a crazy situation, all you can do is laugh at yourself. People started to pull over and offer me a ride. After the third time of explaining myself, I decided that I should start running so that people didn't feel bad about not picking up a cripple with a backpack on his stomach wearing a tiny green bag. I found that if I ran toe to heel, letting my foot absorb the impact, that I could actually move. I made it into Lens, the heavy rain stopped. Wet and cold, I forgot about my shin. I needed to find a place to sleep. Once again, I made a list of covered places, so absurd this time that I will not go over it. I ended up outside an arena of a concert for a famous French rock star, Billy Hallyday. I started feeling cold, standing among crowds of people who were listening from outside the stadium, so I headed back towards the center of town. I was incredibly hungry, and cold. I stopped to ask two women if they knew where a cheap restaurant would be open at ten pm, and ended up finding a place to stay.
Once again, I am incredibly lucky. I would have been very cold sleeping in the unlocked McDonald's playcenter.
My leg does not feel good. I hope it starts cooperating soon, otherwise I might have to drop kick it.
08 June 2009
Bonjovi! I mean...bonjour! I'm in France!
I left around nine from Kortrijk, where my host went a couple kilometers with me on bike to point me in the right direction. After only going 8k, I stopped because of a combination of pain in my shin and because it started raining and I had to (once again) wrap all of my things in my space blanket.
It took me close to seven hours to get to Lille, including several prolonged waits under doorways for the rain to calm down. I don't think there is anything like limping for hours in the rain (by yourself, without an umbrella or proper waterproofing, a change of clothes or even the knowledge that you have a place to stay when you get there) to dampen the spirit of things. It did eventually clear up though, and the prolonged painful and painfully slow walking became a bit more bearable.
The good thing about serious pain is that it makes you forget about other parts of your body that hurt. I haven't noticed the hip pain I've been having for a few days now. One overuse injury always makes another disappear. I was pretty sure I was going to get a stress fracture somewhere around my jaw from grinning too much over the past few weeks, so this pain in my shin has really helped give my cheeks some much needed recovery.
I did have a couple moments during the [walk] where I had to smile though: the first of which was crossing the border. As you can see, there is no sign. I had to find it on my GPS map. I had seen a sign a while before that said "France 1500 m," but I thought "eh, I'll wait for the real sign." No real sign. "But hey, I'm in France now!" A few minutes later a mother and her (maybe 9 year old) daughter walked by, and the little girl said something in French. "Haha" I thought, smiling, "they speak French here." It is very cute when small children speak in foreign languages, especially French.
I arrived in Lille very tired after a very long walk. Walking hurts much more than running. I went by the Eurallile projects that I researched in school, and even peed in a Rem Koolhaus building! That was a big deal for me.
I checked my e-mail at a wifi hotspot in a fast food restaurant and found that someone had offered to put me up for the night here. I went to the grocery store looking for ice for my shin. They don't sell ice anywhere here, so I usually go with frozen peas, or mixed frozen peas and carrots. Bags of frozen peas were much too large at this grocery store though, so I bought some Disney branded otterpops and sat outside icing while slowly eating my way through the ice.
I am hoping that this is merely shin splints/inflammation (thank you to those who offered help/suggestions), in which case a little bit of rest would do me good. I would like to say that in tomorrows episode I will be better, but alas, I'm not really writing the script for this show.
07 June 2009
The run seemed much easier than the day before...mainly because I had taken the time to look at a map and plan out my route before I left. I planned a route that was fairly direct and wrote all the important intersections/towns on my hand. I had decided that I would run around 16 km and then stop to walk, to avoid more shin complication. I ended up running 22 km before I stopped to grab a sandwich a few kilometers north of Kortrijk. It took me a long time to walk the rest of the way to Kortrijk. Once I got into town, I wandered around for a bit, stopping by the library to check my e-mail, and calling up my hosts for the night (Lut, Philippe and family), whose information was given to me by Simonne, my host in Kalmthout. I had a wonderful evening, with a huge home cooked meal. I even got to practice up on some of my Italian. It will be a long time before I have to use it for real. We went into the town and had a look around all the old buildings...many of which date back to the 13th/14th century.
I spent a little bit of time trying to find hosts on couchsurfing before going to sleep...for my last night in Belgium.
A rough run. It was raining off and on, so early on in the run I stopped to wrap all my clothes up in my space blanket so they wouldn't get wet. The result of this was 40 kilometers of space blanket crinkling sounds. I decided to not follow the highway, but instead take the country roads to Oudenaarde. This seemed like a good idea until I got onto the roads, and realized that there was no straight way, and that I had to stop every 400 meters or less to look at my map because the road split another 5 times.
I woke up in Antwerp a few days ago with a pain in my shin...and it has bothered me since then, but it really started to bother me on this run. I don't think the frequent stopping and starting helped much. After about 20 km of running, it started bothering me so much that I couldn't run. Despite the fact that it was drizzling rain, I decided to walk the rest of the way. Let me just say: walking sucks. It takes about 3 times as long to get anywhere, and when it is raining, that is not ideal. For the first time, I started feeling a bit bored, so I put in my headphones and listened to some of the hundred or so songs I put on my phone before I left.
I wasn't in a great mood, for obvious reasons...but I came across a cool observatory tower in the middle of nowhere and climbed up it. There isn't quite anything to cheer you up like a good view.
I got into Oudenaarde pretty late...around 4, and bought a bag of frozen peas to put on my shin. After a bit of icing, I went to my host Lieselot's place, another couchsurfer. We had some good dinner, and she gave me some icy/hot type stuff for my shin. I also took an anti-inflammatory.
I think I'm going to take it easy for the next couple of days and do some more boring walking in combination with easy running. Hopefully this thing passes over soon.
05 June 2009
Some good luck.
I got into Ninove right around noon. The run over was fine, but I ran a large portion of it along a dusty highway with little or no shoulder and poorly laid paving stones. I got off the main road a few times to discover that just on the other side of the buildings along the highway was beautiful green countryside. My host in Antwerp said that this 'ribbon construction' is pretty typical to Belgium.
I started wandering about Ninove with the same kind of eye I had on day 7: the eye you have when you don't have anywhere to sleep. I went by the empty church and knocked on the door. No answer...but I did see some scaffolding I could climb up in order to sleep in the attic. Nearby was a half constructed brick building, a better option I figured. I wandered over to the train station, which had an indoor waiting area. I sat down, warming up from the cold outside, and woke up 2 hours later with drool all over my chin, surrounded by some smirking Belgian Pikey kids. Shameless.
It was now around 4, so I found the public library and got on the internet for a half hour or so before it closed. I type very slowly while trying to get used to these crazy AZERTY keyboards.
I went back to the train station to find a sign which indicated a 21:30 closing time: not an option for sleeping in. I crossed the train tracks and started heading towards the outside of town, looking for a miracle I guess.
I came to an intersection, and across the way I saw open gates to (as the sign indicated) the "Slaghmuylder Brouwerij." Curious, I walked inside and started wandering about. It wasn't long before someone came out of a building and asked me (in Dutch) something along the lines of what I was doing there. I guessed I was trespassing, so admitted that I was an American tourist looking for something interesting to do in Ninove. I think it is agreed that there is nothing...except for this brewery.
The man said that, although the brewery wasn't really open for tours at the hour, he would gladly give me a quick tour. His name is Karel Goddeau, and he began the tour by pouring two glasses of "Witkap-Pater." I began the tour by grinning widely. The beer is awesome. Karel showed me all over the brewery, making the level of craft and tradition behind the beer increasingly clear to me. The brewery has been using the same techniques for generations, and is one of few remaining consistently family owned breweries in the region. Karel informed me that he has his own brewery nearby, where he is one of only a few remaining authentic Lambic blenders. After we had talked for a while about my trip and about the wonders of the brewing process, he brought me to his 'De Cam' brewery, where I tried some of the unblended brew fresh from the cask, and had several varieties of the aged blended beer, including an awesome Kriek (cherry). I learned that Lambic beers can actually only be brewed in a very specific area of the country (Pajottenland), because they have no added yeasts, but ferment spontaneously based on the wild yeasts and bacteria that are present in the air. Even the old stones of the brewery will influence the flavor of the beer. In my opinion, if you like Belgian beer, you haven't tasted it until you talk to this guy and go to these breweries...there is a passion for authenticity and tradition that hasn't been rivaled by any other bar, beer, or brewer that I've experienced thus far.
After the tours, Karel brought me to dinner with his family, where his mother offered to put me up for the night. I had a great dinner, and watched 'Double Jeopardy' with dutch subtitles on tv with the family. Awesome.
Going from being cold and homeless to having a warm meal, a bed and some of the best beer in Belgium is definitely my kind of miracle.
04 June 2009
I woke up early and started running some errands in Brussels. I desperately needed to do some laundry (when you have only one real change of clothes, you always desperately need to do laundry), so I went to a nearby laundromat and threw all of my stuff in. I sat barefoot while all my things washed. Then I dried everything (this is the real reason for using a laundromat, as when I have time and place for things to hand dry, I just do the washing in the sink). Belgian dryers have to operate at very hot temperatures...because after ten minutes the load was not only dry, but also so hot that I couldn't touch it. I had the added bonus of everything I own becoming slightly smaller and pressed full of wrinkles. Neither was bad enough to make a serious difference though.
I left smelling fresh, apart from my backpack and shoes, which are begginning to smell pretty foul. If I was back at school I would just spray some Frebreeze on the, and call it a day...but alas, those days are over.
I spent a couple hours wasting money at an internet cafe trying to figure out where I was going to stay next, to no avail. I wandered around for a bit, and ended up at the new (opened the day before I think) Magritte museum. Luckily I was there on the first Wednesday of the month, where museum entry is free. The museum is wonderful...Magritte has some incredible stuff.
I met Nora, a local who graduated from Columbia with me this year, in the Grand Place at 7. It was my first interaction every with a fellow 'alum'...and it was the first time that I had seen a familiar face in two weeks. We got some dinner and headed to the Delirium Cafe, a bar that is famous in Brussels for having over 2000 beers. I didn't drink too much because of the coming day, but the bar was awesome regardless.
Nora went home, and I spent a few minutes talking with a chocolatier on the way back to meet Klaas. I left with a bag of awesome chocolates, but was disappointed to find that the grossest one was also my last one. I generally like to end my chocolate eating experiences on a high note.
03 June 2009
I had a really great run into Brussels, on bicycle routes which run along the river. I got into town a little bit after noon, and spent the day wandering around and seeing what I could see. I went by the botanical gardens, the Grand Place, the major city park, the cathedral, and some other major sites. The city is great, but once again sells copious amounts of beer and unhealthy foods to a weary traveller. Around lunch time I got in a line behind a bunch of locals at a sandwich shop, and figured I would get whatever they got (for an authentic experience). I ended up with a Mitraillette, a sandwich filled with french fries, meat, lettuce, and sauce. Awesome.
The city is my first place on the route where French is the predominant language. Belgium is divided between French, Dutch and German (very small) speaking parts, and Brussels happens to be a French speaking island inside Flanders, where they speak Dutch. It is very strange hearing two official languages in close proximity...everything and everyone is bilingual. Even the street signs are in both French and Dutch.
Another thing that I found pretty surprising is the dominance of graffiti in some areas. There are tags all over historic buildings that look like they belong in the Washington Mall. It is hard for me to imagine a hundred kids tagging Able Lincoln everyday, and a guy with a pressure washer having to clean it on a daily basis.
In the evening I called Klaas, who I met at the Palingsfestival, and who is letting me sleep on his couch. We ended up going bowling with the same group of people from the night before We drove almost back to where I had started that morning in order to get to the place (slightly discouraging). On the way though, we passed the Atomium, which I hadn't noticed as I ran past in the morning (how one doesn't notice a massive building that represents an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times...I don't know).
I definitely did not do extremely well with the bowling. It's a good thing I'm not trying to bowl across Europe.
02 June 2009
I had a very short run today, I'd say that it was a rest day because I've run 136 miles or so in the past week, but it is definitely the result of being hung over. Had I woke up clear headed, I might have just run straight to Brussels...towns here are kind of awkwardly spaced for my ideal running distances though...either too short or too long. It ended up working out for the best though.
I woke up in the morning feeling quite terrible, but decided to get my stuff on and head towards Mechelen, a big town halfway between Antwerpen and Brussels. On the way I decided to go by Le Corbusier's Maison Guiette, a building that an awesome bartender/architecture student had put onto my map the night before. After 3 kilometers of (still somewhat drunk)...moving...I found myself at the place pointed to on my phone. Too tired to really do anything, I went around the corner to an open field along the side of the highway and fell asleep in the grass for two hours. I woke up to an old man explaining to me (in Dutch + Charades) that I would probably die if something fell onto my head from the tree I was sleeping under. Thanks dude...
I then started on my way, and having realized that it would be a terrible idea to head to Mechelen and get there late without a place to stay (it was 4 already, and I was only a couple Kilometers out of the city) I instead contacted a coworker of Phil who lives near a town called Boom, a little bit closer to Antwerpen on the way to Brussels.
I got there with little troubles, had some soup, and Geert and I met up with some of his friends and went to this Palingsfestival where everyone eats eel. I tried a little bit. We all wandered around town for a little bit, and then headed back. On the way Geert pointed me in the direction of a slightly longer but more scenic route that I should take tomorrow, and also took a picture of me sitting on a tank.
01 June 2009
I had a great breakfast with my hosts (homemade bread and jam) and started out towards Antwerpen. It was a good easy run, I averaged 6:50 miles.
I got into town and met up with my couchsurfing host Phil, who had a prior obligation in the afternoon, so I took a quick shower and headed out into town alone. I walked all over town, checking out as much as I could...a great train station and some castles and churches and whatnot. I stopped to sit down a few times, my legs feeling pretty dead from all the running/standing/walking I have been doing in the past few days. One of my favorite spots was the edge of the river, pictured above. I ate two waffles, which were delicious. I also ate some fries, which were also delicious. At 8 I went to a pub near the central cathedral and ordered some dinner and moved on to the belgian beer, which is also delicious.
Sitting at a table by myself, I was soon in conversation with an American couple about my trip, and the evening ended up being a bit less lonely than I thought it would be. They insisted upon buying me a round (thanks!), and then another... The problem with running in Belgium is that not only is my tolerance generally low...but the beers have a much higher alcohol content. 10, 12 percent is pretty common. I headed to bed around two...and woke up feeling pretty nasty this morning. I would write more, but being hungover sucks.