A few weeks back there was the most wonderful Indian summer in Strasbourg, and while the days were clearly shortening and the leaves turned golden, we could willfully ignore the tell tale signs of autumn. Autumn in France means harvest festivals in many small, unheard of villages. We Erasmus students did not take much notice until we inadvertently found out that harvest festival equals wine festival. And so, with much haste, a trip was planned to a village called Barr situated 40 km away. The obvious method of transport was the 20 minute train journey but a frien and I decided to cycle. We would then feel less guilty about spending our Sunday drinking wine and were also too poor to pay the 10 euro train fare, which incidentally we could then spend on wine…
I woke up with a small feeling of dread on the Sunday morning of the trip as 40km suddenly seemed a long way. Yet after a bowl of pasta for breakfast (carbohydrates!) and the prospect of sunshine all day I was ready. With Google maps as our guide we set off on our rickety second-hand bicycles.
With the wind behind us we made good time, passing through villages that all seemed to end in –heim. Entzheim, Duppigheim, Duttlenheim; showing in their architecture as much as their names that they once belonged to Germany. Yet the fields between were the epitome of France; endless corn rows with a church tower on the horizon. Things could not have been better until Bischoffsheim, 10km from our destination, where Isabella’s tyre suddenly went flat.
Although this was hardly surprising as her bike was a model from 1973, it was still gutting. I cycled into the village in search of a service station and passed a middle aged man walked his dog. Panting out my French I hurriedly asked him where the closest service station was. The response was grim. Mais c’est dimanche! Je croix que la plus proche est 5km d’ici… Seeing my polite smile fade he inquired after the situation and then immediately offered his bicycle pump. Triumphant I cycled back. A few minutes later we were pumping air in, and unfortunately hearing it come out again from a puncture, deflating our rekindled spirits along with it. Just at that moment the kind French man passed us, still walking his dog. Upon seeing that it was a puncture he immediately told us to go knock on his neighbors’ door as he was the handyman of the village. Then off he trotted with his dog to continue his Sunday stroll.
Somewhat uncertainly we followed his advice yet once we arrived we lingered by the doorbell; we were not too sure which neighbour he meant, and also if we could just disrupt his Sunday with a punctured tyre. Before we managed to work up the courage to present ourselves to strangers, our French friend returned from his walk and interrupted his neighbour on our behalf. Never has my faith in humanity been so well restored. Without a moments hesitation Isabella’s bike was upside down and the tyre removed and placed among various tools. His wife came out and offered us everything she had; from the contents of her fridge, to her toilet. We bashfully tried to refuse yet she promptly forced two slices of home-made apple cake upon us while telling hilarious stories about her own biking misadventures which was surprisingly revealing about their marriage as well. Sitting on a sunny bench, with a slice of cake watching an old married couple engage in a friendly back and forth I have rarely felt happier with the world. It is too easy to read endlessly about crime, corruption, and violence and forget the good in people; people who offer everything, and expect nothing in return. An hour later we were on our way, with the parting gift of their bicycle pump juste en cas, and their card.
Unfortunately the glue only held for another 3km so both of us ended up on my bike, toeing the other alongside for the last 7km. We were quite the spectacle for the French farmers that day. Never had we been so happy to arrive anywhere. We found our friends and collapsed alongside them in a sunlit vineyard.
We took the train back.