I turned right at the junction and followed the road for 500m I past a small school and maybe half a dozen cottages. The area was quite and it was just before four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon when I rode into St Martins camp ground, it was almost like a small graveyard were all the graves had been removed. There were a dozen or so pitches for tents with a tree at the back of each pitch and a hedge divided the middle ones up. I cycled around the gravel path looking for an office of some form, there wasn’t one. Above me to my right was a tennis court surrounded by wire mesh a small car park and a building, outside this building which looked like a school entrance was a man smoking. I said “office” as I gestured towards a nearby pitch, he pointed to the school door.
I lay my bike on the floor and walked up some steps next to the old tennis court, at the top in front of me was a shower block so I realised this small campsite was on two levels and something to do with the local school. Just as I approached the door a stout lady appeared, it was four o’clock and she was opening up for a couple of hours. The smoking man had already pitched his tent and just wanted to pay what he owed. I handed my driving license over as identification, I had been using it all my journey and not once had to show my passport. The campsite was extremely basic and that reflected in the price of €5.95 I paid, all I had to do was decide where to put my tent.
The grass was worn and muddy in places with trees shading the pitch. I propped the bike against a tree and decided to set up the tent facing the bike with the back towards the office and path. I felt a presence when setting up the tent and wondered if it really had been a graveyard, it hadn’t but I was being watched by a woman from an attic window of an old three storey building with wooden beams and shutters on the windows, it looked as if it had once been a grand house but as its original occupants had moved on it had been converted into apartments.
I looked up and waved saying hello, she said hello back and smiled, her hair was short and a little wild, she was wearing a silver-grey cardigan and was smoking, she watched intently as I assembled my tent. I asked her if she spoke English, ” a little ” was the reply, she then asked in a French accent but good English whether I wanted tea. I replied that I was okay and had coffee but felt I’d been a little rude so finished the sentence with “tea that would be lovely” she directed me around the building to the front door, I didn’t even know her name so introduced myself, she said her name was Sophie and I should press the top bell.
I put all my gear in the tent and walked around to the front of the apartment block, I was a little apprehensive about having tea with a complete stranger especially as my French is awful. A little yappy dog was barking at me from a balcony as I walked into the driveway, another woman was on the second floor, hanging out her window smoking, I said hello. I pressed the top bell on the intercom next to the door and it opened, I had no idea which apartment it was just that it must be on the top floor, I climbed the three flights of stairs and came to an orange door which was slightly open, I knocked.
Sophie opened the door and beckoned me in, I was a little nervous but entered, shuck her hand and kissed her on both cheeks. She pointed to the sofa and told me to sit, I did as I was told. The apartment was modern but Sophie had added some wonderful touches, there was a small square coffee table which had been hand painted with small flowers, it was an unusual table as the legs weren’t at the corners they were in the middle of each side, it also had four small stools around it, each equally hand painted with delicate flowers, the floor was white laminate but had a floor board effect, looking like the original floor boards had just been white washed. Two green rugs that looked like grass lay in the lounge and from the corner of the room were four colourful tin chickens set in a line leading to a small tin bucket full of daisies. The kitchen clock had a knife and fork as hands, there were small teddy bears and straw rabbits sat on window sills, small pot plants all over and decoupage art on the walls. It turns out Sophie had made the decoupage, there was a large wooden dining table with paints and a painting that looked like a child had done, however Sophie said it was her artwork. The light was a wild colourful plastic chandelier, Sophie was obviously the artistic type.
Sophie offered my a bowl which was full of packets of different flavor teas and told me to choose, I did as I was told and picked eucalyptus and menthol. She put a pan of water on to boil and sat opposite me, for a minute or so she said nothing, I broke the silence by complementing her on the apartment and how lovely it looked. Sophie then asked me about my journey, although she struggled with her English it was a hundred times better than my French. Sophie was 44 had a daughter who was 10, she had been separated for 4 years and was still sad that her family was no more. She took me to a window and pointed out the house they all used to live in, and told me life was hard. I told her life will get better and time will help her move on. The views from Sophie’s windows were beautiful, we could see the rooftops of the village from one, a hill with a church surrounded by vineyards from another and of course my tent, the campsite and school from the last.
We sat and I drank my tea and Sophie drank beer, she had been drinking all day and did seem a little drunk but it was apparent that she was lonely and maybe a little sad. We chatted the best we could and looked at her photos, she showed me round her apartment, there were two floors the bathroom, kitchen, lounge and her daughters bedroom were on the lower floor and only her bedroom and an attic store-room was on the upper floor. The whole apartment was decorated in trinkets and art, mainly Sophie’s art.
I finished my tea and was expecting to return to my tent when Sophie announced that she would like me to stay and eat with her “Pizza”, ” Pasta ” she said in her French accent. I had the feeling Sophie was having a bad weekend, the village was quite and maybe she wanted some company, so I agreed “Pizza” I said, Sophie agreed and offered me the bowl of tea and said “more tea”, I chose blackcurrant but this time I put the pan on to boil and Sophie poured herself more beer. I sat on the couch again but this time Sophie sat next to me, I thought she was going to cook pizza but she had got a take away menu from the kitchen drawer. We looked through the menu and decided on a pizza and a flambé with a bottle of Oringina. Sophie phoned and ordered the pizza, I wandered over to the window to admire the view and check that my bike and tent were still next to their tree, they were. Sophie joined me and we both just stared out of the window, I was quite as I didn’t know what to say, especially in French, Sophie put her head on my shoulder and sighed, I put my arm around hers and gave her a hug. Sophie looked up at me and then kissed me, pleasant surprise.
We sat back on the sofa and Sophie got a felt tip and paper and we started communicating better but when one of us didn’t understand what the other meant we drew a picture. I finished off the tea and we sat chatting pictionary style until the food arrived. We ate our pizza and flambé at the kitchen island, me drinking oringina Sophie wine. Sophie said I was good company and kept thanking me for coming for tea, I thought I was being a bit boring as I didn’t speak French other than what I learnt in school, where is the cat, there is the cat, that short of thing. Sophie didn’t have a cat, so I was unable to use these phrases. Once we were full we tidied up and Sophie explained where her window sill rabbits and teddies came from and out of the blue asked me to stay as she apparently enjoyed my company. I was a bit taken back and even thought that I wished I’d met Sophie before paying for my tent I would have saved €5.95, her apartment was far better than my tent. I said we’d only just met and was she sure she wanted me to stay, she said yes and drew a bed with two people in it and pointed to the picture “John” “Sophie”. I wasn’t expecting that I thought I’d be sleeping on the couch but Sophie wanted me in her bed, she said I looked like a good man and wanted sex.
I nearly choked on my tea but I wasn’t drinking any and then I started to talk her out of it. What was I doing, here I am, hundreds of miles from home cycling solo and I’m being offered sex and a bed for the night. I did as I was told! She led me by the hand upstairs to her bedroom. In the early hours of the morning I was a little concerned about my gear in my tent, I whispered to Sophie that I was going back to the tent as my passport, tablet, camera etc was not secure, she said she had work in Strasbourg in the morning and we should see each other before she left, I agreed and went to my tent. I woke up at 09:00 and Sophie had already left for Strasbourg. I packed my tent and continued my journey.