Nearing the end…
Look, up until this point of my storytelling I have presented the successes and pitfalls of each day of our trip – but I don’t want to make it sound like this was an absolutely horrible experience. Quite the contrary, we couldn’t always get what we wanted, but we found that we didn’t have to try too hard to get what we needed. It is important to frame this tour as an adventure, rather than a vacation – you shrug off dead ends and closed shops on an adventure, whereas on a vacation I want it to run perfectly.
So I ended off joking about how we arrived in Narbonne and the Halle’s had closed already, but I didn’t mention that the same night we had one of thebest meals on the trip, including the most amazing huitres (oysters) we’ve ever slurped. And the next morning, we successfully navigated the stalls of the Halle to buy meats, cheeses, pastries and breads for breakfast and lunch. It was darn fun.
That morning we did a little reconnaissance in our hotel room and decided that the side trip to Port la Nouvelle on the Mediterranean was worth the 30 km trip, particularly since we could go multimodal on the way home by taking our bikes on the regional train. While stuffing our faces with the local specialty pastries (filled with honey, pine nuts and coarse sugar) we plotted our own route out of town, largely avoiding the canal and making our way along what appeared to be footpaths through a marsh until we rejoined the canal at a lesser used section. From there we would follow the canal path as it wound its way along narrow strips of land, surrounded on both sides by large etangs (kind of like a salt water marsh, but with more open water) that brought us to the Mediterranean Sea.
The paths in the marsh certainly ended up being a surprise, barely a footpath but occasionally leading to a cluster of houses occupied by unknown inhabitants. We kept our eyes peeled for flashes of pink, the etangs were known to host flocks of flamingos – but the only pink we saw was the bottoms of nude sunbathers, enjoying the isolation much as we were, just in their own way.
The canal path seemed to last forever, but the sights were incredible rewarding. We had reached the sea! Salt spray from the waves appeared as fog in the distance, as the beachgoers clung to the last warm days of the season, and the shop keepers closed up for the winter. We wandered the town for a while before deciding on a nice stretch of beach that would allow us to enjoy our picnic lunch and wine listening to the waves crash. It was a super experience, wading in the cool clear water, feeling the soft sand between our toes. Growing up as a beach bum, I’ve always loved the sights and smells of the ocean – what a treat to experience this half way across the world.
Eventually the sun began to inch closer to the horizon, and we had to make our way back – but no rush right? We’ll explore the lighthouse, then take the second to last train back to the city. We found the train station with relative ease, and luckily had the right combination of coins to pay for our tickets home. We lugged the bikes up the walkway across the tracks and barely had to wait for the train to arrive. The very, very full train. There was no way for us to force our way on, and we plead with the conductor in broken phrases as he left the station.
Dejected we had to decide what to do. Wait until after dark and hopefully catch the last train, or pedal hard to beat the sunset. We picked the latter option and sped off. Retracing our steps for the first 25 or so km was easy, and then we could take a local road back into town. I knew with our pace we would be fine, unless we got lost or caught a flat. Luck was on our side as we pedaled through apple orchards and vineyards – with a beautiful sunset to our left, a beautiful column of light shining through a hole in the clouds like a rainbow on our right. A few dogs decided not to give chase, we stumbled upon a replica Statue of Liberty, and we found ourselves in town just as darkness really set in. It was so fun! But of course those French can’t leave it at that. It was Sunday after all – so damn near every restaurant and grocer was closed for dinner!
The next day would be one of the most beautiful days of the trip, and the day following that would be or last… Or would it?