A Brief Interlude in Civilisation

From the friendly gite in Le Giraldes, I head south to Lac de Charpal where I leave the GTMC and ride directly to Mende to pick up a train to Montpellier the following day for a little pre-planned city interlude. I leave my host with a promise to transfer her the money for my stay when I get a decent internet connection. This is not the first time I have found myself without enough cash and with no other means of payment being accepted. This route goes through quite remote areas and its not unusual to spend a few days passing through only tiny hamlets where there are no banks and where cards are not accepted at campsites / gites / cafes. She brushes away my embarrassed apologies and tells me to relax and not to worry. I tell her that I’m British, and so that’s not really possible where non-payment is concerned…

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A few hours on some lovely tracks later, I am in Mende for the afternoon and evening. After doing some chores (clothes washing, food purchasing) I visit the station to make sure I can get on the right train in the morning with the bike – there are only a few trains a day and one leg of the journey seems to sometimes be done by train-replacement-buses, which I’m told will not carry bikes. A very helpful guy sorts me out, and tells me to come back at 10am and tell his colleague ‘It iz me, with zee bike…”, and they’ll get the bike onboard before the bunch of students who are travelling on the same train arrive and take over. All goes smoothly the next day, they let me pop the bike onto the waiting train a couple of hours early and then I head off for some breakfast before the train ride to the coast.

The old town of Montpellier is gorgeous. Mum stayed there for 6 weeks or so as part of a French degree when I was in my teens, and I remember her loving the place. Now I can see why. Its full of old passageways and hidden squares that seem different every time you pass through depending on which cafe or restaurant has opened and spread its tables and chairs across the square, or has closed and packed them all away again. These photos don’t really do it justice, but they are all I took.

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Of course there is some street art…

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A particularly memorable square has an entire street scene painted onto the end of an otherwise unremarkable building. You see the real church…

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…and then you see the reflection of the church in the windows opposite. Except they are (mostly) not real windows, and it’s not a real reflection. It takes quite a lot of standing in the square looking up at the windows to work out which are real and which are not. Even the shop front is part real, part painted.

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Of course it provides many humorous but probably quite unoriginal photo opportunities…

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We don’t do much for these days… no tourist sites or schedule, just a lot of wandering round via cafes and restaurants. It’s lovely to stay in a little apartment and to wander a city where the shops and cafes are open. Although not as open as I’d like as we are there on a Sunday and Monday and fall foul of France’s strict opening hours, often missing the chance to eat in somewhere we’ve spotted, simply because we seem out of sync with the French timings. By the time we are ready for lunch, they have closed for the afternoon. It seems that my plans for a few weeks of living without TV or other distractions to convince my body to be up naturally at sunrise haven’t worked all that well. I also realise that as much as I have wanted to escape the hustle and hecticness of life in London, I do really love some aspects of living in a beautiful town with a bit of hustle, some bustle, cafes and restaurants, electricity, and without the need to pack bags every day. This revelation has come after less than 4 weeks away!

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All too soon it is time to reverse the train journey from Montpellier, via Nimes towards Mende, although this time alighting at the tiny station (more of a plank of wood by the track) at Allenc, just a few miles from the GTMC at Bagnols les Bains where I plan to spend the night. At Nimes, I have half an hour before my connection to Allenc and wander out of the station to get some cash, forgetting that my train arrived late. I haul the bike up the steps onto the platform to the heart-sinking sight of the train pulling away…

What an idiot. All I had to do was be on the right platform at the right time.

I mull my options. There are only a few trains per day. The next doesn’t get into Allenc until late in the evening, but there is one at 8am which gets into Allenc about 11am the following day, and should mean I don’t really lose a day of riding. So I decide to head to a campsite 25 minutes out of town and return in the morning. That goes smoothly but as I approach the small station of La Bastide where I have to change trains again, and recheck the timetable, I realise that I might not have looked at the details carefully enough and the next stage might be by bus. The next actual train isn’t for another 5 hours. Bugger. How can I have screwed up this simple journey twice?

To my surprise, as I wheel the bike off the train, the helpful guy from the station in Mende rushes past me on the station wearing an overside station manager’s hat, looking comical against his baggy jeans and t-shirt. Bonjour! he calls, recognising me, and confirms that the next stage is a bus. But as I wander into the station, I spot him through a window talking to the bus driver and then running back to where I’ve left my bike. He’s convinced the driver to take my bike in his baggage compartment, and a few minutes later I’m happily on my way towards Allenc as planned… I didn’t catch the guys name but it make me smile that he should be in two random stations just as I am in need of a little help. He is my SNCF hero.

I reach Allenc as quickly by bus as it would take by train and then spin along the roads for a few miles to find Bagnol les Bains. The GTMC south from here heads into the Cevenne National Park. So, back to those trails…

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Posted in Bikepacking London to Seville (2014) and tagged , , .