Day 4 ? Tuesday, July 4
TWO evenings ago we had tarte flambée for dinner in the courtyard of a very nice restaurant at Ittenheim on the N4 between Strasbourg and Wasselonne. It was approaching 10pm on a Sunday night and so we were anxious to get a table before they started turning people away, hence I didn?t note the name of the restaurant.
In terms of waitresses we got very much the loyal domestique who looked like she?d done a fair bit of water carrying in her time, rather than the slender, lithe team leader but hey, at least they let us dine. There are plenty of restaurants in France that love nothing better than turning hungry foreign would-be diners away on a whim because it?s getting close to closing time. There was even one time where I stood amazed as a French family were ushered in while I was told diner was ?fini?. That led to a gourmet meal of potato chips and a chocolate bar that had melted and reformed in the shape of my colleague?s buttocks as he had spent the afternoon sitting on it.
Anyway, the tarte flambée, for those who don?t know, is an Alsatian speciality. It?s like a pizza but with a calorie-busting crème fraiche and cheese sauce instead of tomato. It was very nice but it?s been repeating on me a bit ever since.
The astonishing thing was that every few minutes a donkey could be heard braying, from a stable on the other side of the courtyard. Perhaps he lives on a diet of tarte flambée. In the bar sat an enormous Alsatian dog drinking water from one of those catering industry-sized butter tubs.
YESTERDAY evening we spotted signs for a camp site in Thionville and decided it would be foolish to look a gift horse in the mouth. On arrival Ed clearly made an impression on Madame at the reception kiosk. She looked like Ann Widdecombe in her blonde phase. Ed was definitely in with a shout.
She was convinced she had met him before and said she recognised his face and his voice. Ed ignored me when I asked if he had any distinguishing features so we could clear this whole thing up and drive to our pitch. She continued to explain in great detail every aspect of the site and its rules and then said she wanted a picture of us for her book. This prompted Ed to write ?Help? on his palm and show it to me. It was too late, I was heading for camping berth six.
We had a bit of time for a ride ? the first time I?ve managed to haul the Colnago C50 off the back of the camper. Everything was going very well as we set off on a little loop into the countryside outside Thionville. We crested a little climb and started our descent.
?Er, Ed,? I asked. ?How far is it back to the camp site??
?Not too far. Why??
?My crank is loose.?
?Quite loose as in ?it?s going to fall off in a minute???
?Well, I?d like to see a sign that says ?Thionville 4?.?
I thought I?d got away with it but the crank must have caught sight of the sign that said ?Thionville 9? and gave up the ghost.
I was left with the crank still attached to my foot. The game was up. We had no Allen keys with us and so decided that Ed would ride back to the camp site and get them while I walked and tried to catch a lift.
I walked, climbing on to descend whenever I could roll downhill on the bike. I was beginning to think it would be dark by the time I got back to the site when a car slowed and pulled over. The driver asked where I was going and offered me a lift. The inside of his car was immaculate and I immediately wished I?d at least wiped a damp cloth over the thing before leaving for France.
My saviour turned out to be a runner and keen cycling fan called Vincent. He was also looking forward to France?s World Cup quarter-final against the Sardine-munchers that beat England and expressed regret that the English had not got through. ?We would definitely have beaten you,? he said. ?Portugal have some good players. England have Rooney and Crouch. An imbecile and an obelisk.? Fair point.
Vincent declined my offer of a drink and said it was just part of the service. In return I promised to support the French against the cynical, diving, cheating Portuguese and their Gene Hackmann look-a-like coach.
Ed and I ate at the first restaurant we could find still serving at 10.30pm ? Le Papagayo and then had a nightcap in Thionville?s bustling square, where Ed attracted the attention of the male waiter.
I told him that if he wants to put a ?don?t come a-knockin? if this van?s a-rockin?? sticker on the camper van he only has to say and I?ll check into a hotel.
This morning we drove. And drove. We sat in traffic jams on motorways in three countries ? France, Luxembourg and Belgium. We got hot. We got directed to the wrong car park in Valkenburg by a man who looked as if he was about to spend our five Euro parking fee at the ice cream van parked opposite. In fact, he kept glancing across at it as he had his hand held out for our money.
BREAKING TOILET NEWS: Ed became the first to use the chemical toilet this morning because the toilets at the camp site were being ?repaired?. ?It felt good,? said Pickering, 33, of London.