It was a late finish today – back in Maubeuge! – so I’ll write the prose tomorrow or later tonight. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures…
I’m back! It’s now Friday morning and I’m sitting outside the Café de Paris in Jeumont, my final town in France. More about today later but I’m determined to catch up on yesterday before I cross the border into Belgium.
For the third day running I had no fixed plan as to where I would be staying later that day. Actually that’s not true. I had no plan, fixed or not. Obviously my direction of travel was dictated by the border crossing into Belgium about 10 km to the north east of Maubeuge but apart from that I would just be making things up as I went along.
Saint-Quentin was my first stop or rather it was after a minor detour to the Decathlon store in the suburbs to buy camping gas (at last I can heat food again – the previous night it had been cold ravioli from the can…) and cycling gloves to replace the ones lost in Paris. Gas, no problem; gloves, well, they had lots of them but none with the little loops that allow you to pull them off very easily. I can’t understand why they are not more common and certainly non of the Decathlon gloves had them. I’ll keep looking when in Belgium.
I sat for a while just off the main square in Saint-Quentin sipping a coffee. The town has a nice centre even if some of the northern suburbs are a bit drab. Just as I was getting up to leave a bearded touring cyclist past me. We struck up conversation; his name was Frantz from Denmark and he was on his way to meet his girlfriend in Paris. We were following similar routes so it was a good opportunity to exchange info about places to stay. Alas he didn’t recommend the campsite he had stayed in the previous evening – “a bit rough” – and I don’t do “rough”. Intriguingly he dampened my high hopes for cycling conditions in Denmark warning me about the lorry drivers. Isn’t Denmark supposed to be cycling nirvana? Anyway, the chat cheered me up somewhat despite the comments about Danish cycling and I set off again in a much more enthused mood than that in which I had arrived in Saint-Quentin.
My Rough Guide only mentioned the town of Le Cateau-Cambrésis as a potential place of interest along my vague route. Matisse had been born there and there was a museum housing some of his work (the third largest collection in Framce!). It seemed like a good plan to aim in that direction so via a slap up Super U lunch in Fresnoy-le-Grand (which curiously described itself as home to ‘l’émail’ on the sign; I tweeted my perplexity only to be informed that the word has nothing to do with email and everything to do with enamel, Fresnoy being home to a Le Creuset factory, apparently) and a cycle through Bohain-en-Vermandois (don’t worry, I’m struggling to pronounce these place names as well!) where Matisse grew up – ‘la Maison de Matisse’ if difficult to miss – I arrived in Le Cateau-Cambrésis. Did I have time to stroll around the museum? After some thought, a visit to the tourist office across the road to enquire about camping options – ‘sod all’ the polite lady could have said had she it been so polite – and an offer by the nice lady to look after Reggie, the answer was ‘yes’.
Matisse clearly loved his grandchildren – the ceiling from his studio where he had painted them was one of the exhibits – but as to whether he would have enjoyed the hoards of primary school kids in his museum is open to debate. It gave the place a ‘lively’ atmosphere and actually, they were quite cute giving me bemused looks as I wandered around in my cycling apparel. A few photos of his work below but none of his famous stuff is in the museum. He donated a lot of it himself back in the 1950s and I couldn’t help wonder whether it was the stuff he couldn’t flog. Interesting nevertheless but it would have been nice to see just one piece that produced the ‘ahhh…’ reaction.
Backon the bike it was already 4.30pm and I still had no idea where I would end up. I looked at the map. Maubeuge… The crossing point between my 2010 cycle to Italy and thus cycle to Nordkapp. Google suggested about 40 km. It had a municipal campsite. With no better ideas, I set off. It was nice to finally have a destination in mind and I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘chase’ of the early evening cycling. I can’t quite believe I was getting excited about arriving in Maubeuge again – I had disparaged the place in the first book – but I was. Now in the ‘Nord’ département of France – my final département – the countryside was more interesting than it had been earlier in the day and the towns better kept.
Upon arrival in Maubeuge I was delighted to spot… a sign for the Eurovelo 3 cycle route, the first since leaving southern Spain! Maubeuge was already going up in my opinion. I spotted the hotel where I stayed back in 2010 – the ‘Moulin Rouge’ I dubbed it at the time – and had a celebratory beer in exactly the same spot in the bar opposite. See photos in the previous post. Nothing much has changed!
Camping? I had gone off the idea. The site was a few kilometres out of town and it was getting late. The Moulin Rouge? Cheap but… Mmm… All that red decor again? The Ibis down the road? They got my business. Booked online I turned up five minutes later. The unpleasant receptionist refused to deal with me until the email had arrived confirming my booking. My offer to show her my confirmation email was turned down.
“So… what shall I do?” I enquired in French.
“You can wait here” she snapped.
“Will there be anywhere to store my bike?”
“Yes, it’s a vehicle with two wheels” I quipped and pointed in the direction of Reggie through the window. The woman ignored me.
Fortunetly the four guys sitting drinking beer in the reception were a bit more chatty and I passed the next few minutes in conversation about where I was going and where I had been. They were impressed. Then the email arrived…
Not a cheap night – I ate in the restaurant down the road where I had earlier had the beer – but it was worth it for the good night of sleep. I’ve impressed myself with my ability to stick to the camping in recent weeks so the overall budget hasn’t really been squeezed.
Next up: Belgium!
(P.S. Forgot to mention the war cemetery. This time it was a commonwealth one but… the graves on the right – see picture below – were for German soldiers. More research needed!)