Beyond Paris: Riding

Another delayed posting.  I could claim that I waited for Armistice Day (c.f. below) – but, really I was just too busy with reflection…

Into the Countryside: Simplicity of the Past.

Not every magnificent Christian edifice has withstood the test of time.  Impermanence is an aspect of all humanity’s endeavors.  Occasionally, deterioration leaves behind evocative mysteries of a past place of worship.

At St. Jean-aux-Bois & Compiègne, the remnants of a 12th Century church provided a lovely stopping point for lunch on a pastoral ride.

12th C Church

12th Century Church

Not far from the secular remains of an earlier millennium: a Roman amphitheater and bath.

Roman amph

Roman amphitheater

Roman bath

Roman bath

Of course, not every old church is in ruins.  By celebrating simplicityThe Benedictine Order avoided some of the deterioration that seems to have resulted from the extravagant and ornate adorning of other religious buildings.

Benedictine church

Benedictine church

And, in keeping with the age of iTunes – a new organ for the current visitors to the ongoing place of worship.

Benedictine organ

new organ

 

More Countryside: Riding into The Past Century.

As may seem obvious, this blog is less chronological and more psychological.  (Indeed, the delayed postings are the result of an avoidance of deadlines.  The thrill of retirement.)

Now that I have more time and space to spread out, I seem have too many “local” commitments.  However, I can still vividly recall the wonderful exploration of France & Belgium on a barge with delightful fellow bicycle riders.

Living on a canal boat is a mixed blessing.  A true blessing in that, despite a minuscule kitchen the food was Cordon Bleu quality.  But, the daily schedule was rigorous – the activities of daily living were hard in a cabin that, although clean and neat – felt not much larger than a comparable space in a submarine.  And, for those of us 6’ 4”, a “bathroom” that is 4’ X 4’ X 6’ 5” is rather cramped. (Smaller than my closet at home)  And, a bed that is 6’ 4” is quite cramped.   Consequently, it was hard to create and upload thoughtful comments without space and without consistent WiFi.

Sadly, living in close quarters had other disadvantages.  When the trip began, a few folks had a slight cold + cough.  As I sketched this entry – 10 days into the trip – about 6 people had stopped riding due to illness.

However, one of the advantages of a bike-and-barge journey is that rather than ride when sick, people can create a floating infirmary – and, heal.

Our discomfort paled as our rides through rural France reminded us of the excruciating protracted horror that was the Great War, World War I.

In the Forest of Compiègne we encountered the war memorial commemorating the signing of the armistice where World War I finally ended.

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Armistice monument

The war memorial contains a reproduction of the rail car where the armistice was signed.

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Railroad car reproduction

And, artifacts that bring to mind the nature of the war.

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WW 1 tank

From the New York Times (old and new) come observations about the nature of man’s inhumanity to man:

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Front Page: NYT

Known then as the “Great War,” World War I was also described as the “war to end all wars,” because many believed its high death toll and vast destruction would deter future fighting. This, of course, did not hold true. Because of resentment over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and its leader, Adolf Hitler, rose to power in Germany, seeking to avenge Germany’s defeat. After invading and defeating France in 1940, Hitler ordered that the French sign an armistice in the Compiegne Forest in the same rail car where the World War I armistice was signed.

More recent NYT observation (2011)

Travel in Europe can provide images of great beauty and emotions of great sadness.

Barge Navigation Note:

For me, no description of a BAC bike trip is complete without some mention of Navigation.

On non-barge trips, the exact itinerary is set well in advance.  Day 1 starts at hotel-1 in town-1.  Next day, we ride ’n’ kilometers to hotel-2 in town-2.  Repeat for 14 days.  Or 12 days, if the trip includes two rest days – one rest day in town-x, second rest day in town-y.  Obviously, hotel reservations need to be made by the trip leader months in advance.  Consequently, riders can have Cue Sheets (“Starting at hotel-7, ride 0.5 kilometers North; turn Left onto Rue des Pavés…”) and/or maps which show the route from a “Google map / Michelin Map” view – and, perhaps, even a GPS file.  All formats describe a predetermined route.  Note: there are generic GPS standards (Open Geospatial Consortium) – but, each of the many navigation devices may have a proprietary file format.  And, few devices can use “the other guy’s” format…  (refer to GPS details on BikeRadar.com)

best-gps-Radar

from BikeRadar.com

On a barge trip, the itinerary needs to be flexible.  Barges travel through narrow canals.  Barges queue up for access to very narrow locks that accommodate changes in elevation.  (Think: mini Panama canal every ’n’ kilometers,,,)  And, canal traffic happens. (I live in Atlanta…  Let me tell you about traffic…)

Although each bike-and-barge tour has a default literary, adaptability is a natural component of all travel.  Our schedule had been imperfectly communicated to the captain of the Zwaantje (the thrill of working through an intermediary travel service) – and so, significant changes were made on the first night as we discussed where we would travel each day.

So, how does one create Cue Sheets | Route Map | GPS files for a unique route – re-designed on day 1 – that may change on-the-fly?  (Remember: canal congestion and delays…)

Not possible.  So, our trip included a staff of 6.  Four folks to do the boat: a captain, his wife, an engineer, and a cook.  Two folks to lead each ride.  The ride leaders were graduate students who alternated as Ride Leader and Sweep.  All 24 riders kept the same pace as we were guided on each day’s journey.

That is – as BAC folks know – not the usual approach to a two-week ride.  The advantage of pre-planned routes is independent navigation.  Often there are several groups based on speed: the quick ones; the moderate paced riders; and those travelers who want to stop and smell the flowers (and, take close-up pictures of the sunflowers that look like the ones that Vincent Van Gogh painted…).

Not this trip.  A single line of riders.  Think Tour de France peloton traveling relatively slowly.

But, a benefit of group cohesion was knowledgeable talks from our well-educated ride leaders at break points.  Descriptions and histories of specific towns and cities; stories about the original inhabitants of that special chateau; insight into the origins of a place of tranquility…

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A beguinage, from the French term béguinage, is an architectural complex which was created to house beguines: lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world.

Every journey provides unique perspectives and rewards.

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Paris to Bruge: September 16 – 30, 2017

As is clear from the “Blog dates,” this is not a real-time effort.  A European bike trip takes 100% of my energy.  Days are filled with riding, socializing, taking a few pictures, and the activities of daily living – all done in a dynamic and unfamiliar environment.  Writing requires reflection and edits…

Below are memories – enhanced and modified by a return to a more quiet space.

Paris – Sophistication and Simplicity.

After an easy high-speed train ride from Amsterdam to Paris (passing Van Gogh’s fields of complex colors), we arrived at our home for the next two weeks: the Zwaantje.  And, our twenty two fellow bike companions.

We had a bit of time to configure each bike with our own pedals and saddle.  And, a quick spin around the dock along the Seine – at the Quai du Bercy.  “Yes,” I thought, “a sturdy Dutch bike.”  “Not as light and nimble as my own bike, but should be OK.”  Little did I understand how vital a sturdy bike would be on varied terrain: from cobblestones in historic cities to single-track paths through national forests.

cobblestones

Belgian Block on Charles Lane. Credit: Barry Munger

The next morning we started our daily routine on our canal-sized barge:

  • Breakfast at 8:00 am (lovey, despite a tiny kitchen);
  • The start of a ride (~50 kilometers);
  • Dinner at 6:30 pm (astonishingly cordon bleu, despite a tiny kitchen)

We could have started with a comfortable ride along the Seine.  However, there was a rowing competition that Sunday.  So, we were relegated to the cobblestone path with the joggers, the strollers, and the dogs.  (Dogs and bicycles do not always mix well…)

Riders on the Seine

Notre Dame

Soon we were riding through the posh suburbs of Paris.  As usual, building mutual support among the riders.  “Watch out for the dog.”  “Mind the steel post that prohibits car traffic…”

In an urban area that is constantly undergoing renewal, there are often Construction Zone road surfaces: gravel, potholes, narrow passageways… And, dogs.  Consequently, a few minor falls, but no serious injuries.

Yes, it is possible to bike past the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower with riders in foreground

Wrong time of day…

Yes, it is possible to bike past the corporate headquarters of Louis Vuitton.

odd architecture

Nouveau Whimsey

A short day of about 30 kilometers – and, back to our floating home before the serious rain began.   A glass of wine and the camaraderie of shared experiences.

Beyond Paris – Simplicity and Extravagance.

Part of a bike trip is, of course, riding bicycles.  Part is an effort to understand and appreciate another part of the world and unique perspectives.  Our next day began in Auvers-sur-Oise.  It is the small French town where Vincent Van Gogh did his final paintings – where he formed his last perspectives.

Note: bike folks do walk occasionally.  So, before our ride, we walked up the hill from the river to a church and a cemetery.

What would the church in the town where Van Gogh spent his last years look like to a camera?

simple French country church

The Church

What would that same church near the asylum where Van Gogh spent his last years look like to an inspired artist?

Van Gogh's version

A Vision…

 

And, nearby – the resting place of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother.

2 grave stones with ivy

Resting In Peace near the Church

His poignant efforts to refine – constantly – his vision, his technique, and his perceptions enabled Van Gogh to leave a legacy that will inform the visual arts for millennia. His two dimensional world will inform my sense of experienced reality for the rest of my life.

He kept asking the question that we all need to ask: “Who am I, really?”

6 self portraits

Courtesy: Van Gogh Museum

 

From artistic vision and the simplicity of a small town, we rode to a French marvel of vision and extravagance: the horse museum and the castle of Chantilly.

From the library to the private chapel, a work of centuries of development (and, of course, re-development) has evolved from the 16th Century.  Much of the vision is from Bourbon-Condé.  Gracious architecture, elaborate gardens (it helps to hire the former gardener of Louis XIV), and a celebration of the skills and knowledge of the nobility: horsemanship.

Not a bad spot to escape the tour’s most serious rain storm.  A lunch time deluge.

Time to admire a Renaissance library of great depth and breadth.

library

…not just a Reading Room

Time to admire a personal chapel of great beauty and reverence.

alter of chapel

a place for the family to pray

bas relief

Altar Detail: Abraham & son

A few more kilometers and time for wine and stories.

 

 

 

More Preparation

Adjusting

One of the thrills of international travel is jet lag: adjusting to a time zone shifted by 6 hours. One way to prepare for two weeks of bike rides (30 miles / day) without complete exhaustion is to start a few days early.

And, if cheaper airline tickets are available in a nearby city (with high speed train travel to Paris) – why not depart a few days before and visit the most bike friendly city in the world: Amsterdam?

Bikers on Amsterdam bridge

Courtesy of Mike’s Bike Tours

And, what do to in Amsterdam but book a tour with MIKE’S BIKE TOURS?

With only mild exhaustion – and, a slight chance for reasonable weather, off we went.   A delightful time.

One of the advantages of bicycle travel is that it is possible to have a delightful experience in an unknown city with unique traffic conventions – and, intermittent rain.

bikers on the road

Courtesy of Mike’s Bike Tours

With an experienced tour guide, exploration becomes a street level view of a European city.  Newness itself is inspirational: it helps us see traditional realities from a unique perspective.  Of course, delightful people are vital.  Our spirited tour guide (an Amsterdam native) with boundless energy, extensive knowledge of the city, a enchanting goth appearance, and an effusive sense of humor, was a catalyst for receptivity to a vibrant culture.

Part of the culture – and, a solution to intermittent rain – was to stop for a break near the end of the tour, as the drizzle increased to honest-to-goodness rain.  At 11:30 am, I would usually pick coffee as a good beverage for a rain delay.   But, in the Netherlands, real bikers opt for a Kopstootje, a shot of Genever (Dutch version of gin with juniper berries and spices), washed down with a glass of beer, and (to cushion the stomach) a hard-boiled egg.

…when in Rome…

Amsterdam’s culture includes a population of 800,000+ people – and, 800,000+ bikes.  Old, new, well cared for, rusty and worn…  Single speed, old fashioned, new fangled…  A cacophony of two-wheeled vehicles – and, adept riders.  Only an adept rider could zip through complex traffic patterns while texting – and, survive.

biker with phone - texting

Texting without traffic

It helps to have a city designed and largely built before the age of the automobile.  It helps to have real city planning.  It helps to have land which is extremely valuable.  Nonetheless, it is astonishing to see a vibrant city where the primary modes of transportation are public transport and bike.

It would be a formidable stretch for most US cities to change from “bike as recreation” to “bicycle as transportation” – an integral part of getting to school and to work.

Or, just to become a destination for happy tourists.

Joy & Murph in drizzle

after a stop for Kopstootje

Beyond the Bike

Although It is wonderful to explore the world where bicycles are an integral aspect of life, European travel presents a world of experiences where art and history are always in evidence.

So, for Joy and for me, the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum were essential destinations in Amsterdam.

Anne Frank House

Compared to the Roman ruins visible from a bike in much of France, in contrast to the soaring gothic churches of a millennium ago, the horror of the Holocaust is recent.  My father served in Europe in World War II.  My work in Washington, DC enabled two visits to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The visceral experience of a single family – a sensitive young woman with ambition, insight and charm, and her father (the sole survivor of the concentration camps) – should penetrate the collective soul of all mankind.  And, the enormity of the millions who died – all unique people with unique gifts to offer the world – should prevent future atrocities.

We humans are capable of extremes of both compassion and destruction.  The Anne Frank House images and significance – both extreme intolerance and sacrificial service – were a constant echo as our bike rides in France and Belgium unfolded during the next two weeks.

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh’s visionary service to humanity was the underlying vision that I took from our visit to the Amsterdam museum that celebrates his extensive work.  In his short life he experimented with a path into the clergy – and, he strenuously labored to find new techniques to portray the inner realities of his unique visual world.  His collaborative work with other artists of his day showed a level of collaboration that seems frequent in the work of our best innovators.  His transition into a mental institution did not diminish the flow of his evocative sketches and canvases.  Only later, when we cycled past the fields that he painted, and when we visited his grave in Auvers-sur-Oise, would the majesty of his vision start to become fully evident.

Joy in from of sunflowers

Joy at the Museum

 

lovers in the garden

From the Museum Collection

 

Preparation – Another BAC Adventure

What is the best preparation for Yet Another Bicycle Adventure Club tour in Europe?

Yes, after a hiatus of more than 24 months, we’re off to France for a 2 week bike-and-barge trip from Paris to Bruges.

Bike and Barge

Barge in front of canal houses

BAC trips are not spur-of-the-moment decisions.  Often made a year in advance, they involve financial preparation (even with co-op financing, European travel is not inexpensive).

Of course, part of getting ready is physical:

“For this ride, you should be able to ride ’n’ miles each day – comfortably.”

(Refer to Ride Rating System)

For those of us who are not bike commuters, and whose car-centric lifestyle is compounded by inclement weather, that means a conscious effort to spend more time in the saddle.  (Yes, I know, the British believe that there is no inclement weather, merely inappropriate clothing.  But, those folks live on an island in the North Sea – and, their concerns are wind, cold, and rain.  I live in Atlanta – and, there is a limit to the amount of clothing that is appropriate to shed in a Very Hot summer.)

Ultimately, travel is about discovery.  And, so preparation involves more than improving physical strength and endurance.  It requires knowledge of the territory ahead – and, conditioning for receptivity to new perspectives.  An openness to new knowledge engendered by a new destination.

How do we best ensure that we will return from our travels with an enhanced understanding of the world?

Wikipedia’s definition of receptivity is a bit overwhelming:

the term has both ontological and ethical dimensions, and refers to a mode of listening and “normative response” to demands arising outside the self, as well as “a way by which we might become more attuned to our pre-reflective understanding of the world, to our inherited ontologies,” thereby generating non-instrumental possibilities for social change and self-transformation.[1]

Wow.

For us simple folks that seems to mean trying to cultivate a “beginner’s mind.”

“When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.”

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Perhaps, when we travel, we should just travel.

But we educated folks need effective techniques to open our inner eyes.  Even if our physical eyes are dimmed by the years required to earn a Medicare card.

“I’ve got it,” I thought.  “I’ll visit my local environment as if it were new to me.”

And, as luck would have it, my home town was conducting its annual European-stye fete: The Decatur Book Festival.

(A disclaimer: when people ask me where I am from, I usually say “Atlanta.”  Even in Europe, I can add “CNN” or “Coca Cola” – and, the light bulb of recognition starts to glow.  But, my suburban Atlanta address is actually “Decatur.”  Too much to explain fully in a travel blog…)

A Beginner’s Mind on 2 Wheels

To make this adventure work, I would have to ride my bike to the Book Festival.  Like the bike-and-barge configuration, I would need a bike with at least 1 pannier, plus a small backpack for: raincoat (wet weather is universal); a camera (not just a smartphone with a lens); and a notebook (people with Medicare cards have fallible memories).

The bike ride would elevate my normal heart rate (much easier to drive to Decatur on a typical day).  The camera would force a new attentiveness on the visual world that I think I know well.  The notebook would remind me that verbal descriptions existed before the age of the selfie.

Bike in driveway

As a “Decatur-ish” person for 30+ years, I enjoy this Atlanta suburb with its rich diversity.  Yes, Atlanta is quite diverse for a Southern city, but Decatur has a reputation as the Most Diverse city in the U.S.  The fact that it hosts the largest independent book festival in the country gives some indication.

That impression was confirmed by one of the speakers – an author who lives in New York City: “Wow,” she said, “this looks like the liberal nirvana that we’ve dreamed about..”

But, how to capture this irreverent love of diversity for a Blog?

NO Poop Fairy sign

“Aha,” I thought, holding my camera – I’ll take a picture of the clever signs in front of the Decatur Library:

  • One proclaims that the entire city of Decatur is a “No Smoking Area.”  Try that in NYC…
  • And, the other uses gentle sarcasm to remind pet lovers to clean up after the beloved animal relieves itself.  “No Poop Fairy.”  (I wonder what a Poop Fairy in Brooklyn might signify…)

Anyway, the city seemed much more crowed than usual – both pets and people.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FDecaturBookFestival%2Fvideos%2F10154406454328815%2F&show_text=0&width=560

DBF Video

Context and Vision

It was wonderful to see so many happy people in the shadow of the prominent 19th Century building in the center of the square: the Dekalb County Courthouse.  The building was constructed in 1898, its predecessor destroyed in a fire.  It was a pivotal point in Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in the American Civil War.

Dekalb County Courthouse with obelisk

Receptivity resonates with font-of-mind context.  Within the September 2017 American political frame of reference – the horror of Charlottesville, VA (and, President Trump’s functional condoning of racism) – it was hard not to feel a strange contrast to the joyful curiosity for the best new literature on display in Decatur.

In 1909, as other cities of the former Confederate States of America had done, Decatur added a monument in front of the Courthouse.  Not Robert E. Lee on horseback, not Jefferson Davis…  Just an obelisk to commemorate The War…  It could reference a lost way of life – an inhumane economic system.  But, it simply commemorates the courage of the soldiers of the Confederacy.

What should I take away from Decatur with my “new eyes?”  The early 20th century effort to memorialize white supremacy?  The current collegial celebration of the arts – literature and music?

Strains of folk music drifted into the Square from the Festival stage, the Gazebo:

musicians and crowd

 

Time to head off to another talk by another author, I thought.

Understanding requires both an open mind – and, some time for reflection.

Perhaps, in another 50 years, today’s young Decatur folks can look back with more insight.  They already hear a different drummer.

young black girl, dancing

Beyond the Bike: Part 3 – Reflection and Insights

Overview and Links to a Beginning.

Although this blog is about travel by bicycle, its central focus is the experience of visiting new places, encountering new people, and trying to integrate new awareness with established perspectives.

This post and the ‘n’ previous posts are primarily reflections from a two-week 2015 Bicycle Adventure Club trip in the Loire Valley. A trip bounded by extra weeks in France: Paris and Alsace-Lorraine.

BAC site

However, this trip was bounded not merely by travel and its resulting insights, but by tragedy. It became a voyage in the context of a deeper understanding of personal histories.

Much of Europe is sensible only as a collection of histories. The intertwined cultures, languages, religions, and intermittent wars are ubiquitous. War and needless tragedy are universal themes of life, crossing borders and generations.

Because this trip began in heartbreak, it was impossible to make this site a genuine Blog: a daily record for friends to follow as a bicycle journey unfolded along the Garden of France, filled with vineyards and grand châteaux. So, it has become a remembrance, best read from start to finish.

If you are just arriving here, I suggest that you start at the first entry for 2015: Preparation – a New Journey – dated 15 May.

Then, read Next Post; Next Post; Next Post; etc. until you arrive here, again.

Then, continue with This Post: the last few days of travel: an effort to assimilate new insights into established understanding.

Saturday (June 13) – a car ride day – Charles de Gaulle to Colmar

In the morning, even with enough coffee, the usually wonderful airport signage seems ambiguous – hard to find the Hertz booth.

CDG Map

And, the usually wonderful Hertz efficiency is replaced by an understaffed counter, compounded by the agent‘s futile search by for the keys to my car. Ah, well: an apologetic agent. First: Le UpGrade – a larger car. Second a map! This may not seem like a big deal. But, it was. Hertz in Paris does not have maps. But, the resourceful agent “borrowed” one from the Europcar counter nearby.

The usually wonderful road signage also turns ambiguous – hard to see that some exits go to roundabouts where secondary roads are to be found.

Hooray for the AT&T Europe package and Siri. And, two people: driver + map / iPhone navigator.

Double hooray for the AT&T Europe package and Siri when we reach Colmar: one-way, convoluted, narrow streets, with road construction.

Colmar map

A truly lovely Hansel & Gretel B&B: Domaine Martin JUND.

We chat in the courtyard over a glass of wine with a charming couple from Australia doing this year’s European travel. And, we find a delightful restaurant up the street with traditional Alsatian offerings.

Sunday (June 14) – a Walking / Healing day – \ Colmar

Lovely breakfast with a couple from Winnipeg, Canada. Shared stories of travel.

A slow, charming walk through the old city center – punctuated by a stop at the Unterlinden Museum with artwork of exquisite detail. An awed hush seemed to envelop all the visitors. Even in a secular age, the monumental depiction of suffering and compassion is evocative. The artists who portrayed the stories of Scripture had insight into more than aesthetics & technique.

Equally evocative is the The Église Saint-Martin – the main cathedral of Colmar – inspired by the Saint Martin of the Loire Valley where we spent the previous two weeks biking. The impact of his life of pervasive devotion inspired many Christians throughout Europe.

Whatever the overall judgment of Christianity as an organized religion, its ability to inspire extreme devotion and artistic creativity of the highest order remains a profound testimony to the power of the Church.

After a day of wandering, first impression of Colmar: …charming Germanic flavor of an Old City – now verging on nouveau Disney-esque.   Complete with Little Venice on the canal near the covered market. Worth a revisit when the market is open.

Best description of Colmar from the patron saint of European travel, Rick Steves:

Rick Steves

https://youtu.be/CHWzKaSpoc8

Monday (June 15) – another Walking / Healing day – Colmar

The usually enthusiastic morning almost returns – the bike ride plague abates.

A simple – charming breakfast – alone in the outer courtyard with the drizzle… And, an inquiry regarding wine tasting…

An expedition: local free parking. A walking tour to scout out one-way streets. An unexpected discovery: the local synagogue. The ‘nth’ reminder of the tension between Christianity and Judaism.
Synagogue

plaque

Back to the car for a short drive and a slot in one of the few remaining spaces in the public lot. Again, hooray for pre-High-Season.

Coffee (cappuccino) at the Petit Venice. Please, do check the Rick Steves YouTube video. Then a “tour” of the city on the White Train. Some insights – some lack of candor: war and needless tragedy are universal themes of life, but one does not want to frighten tourists away. Then Lunch…

Then, Wine Tasting with Sebastian – son of the owner – who recounts replanting of vineyards after WW II. And, relatively continuous occupation of the 1604 building for many generations back… Built originally as the town Post Office, its attic beams are still strong.

And, a short chat with another couple staying in the same winemaking site/B&B: visitors from Macau. This is, indeed, the 21st Century.

Oh, yes. Wine Tasting with Sebastian: 4 unique wines – fascinating personal insights into growing (brother Martin’s domain) and creating (Sebastian’s domain) local wines. Not real work – just a way to live in harmony with history and grapes.

Time to try a recommended restaurant back in Petite Venice. Closed.

restaurant

So, a charming simple restaurant on the river! Kidneys for me; trout for Joy – ambience for both. And, folks at the next table from Argentina – not Spain, as suspected.

river restaurant

Tuesday (June 16) – a travel day – Hertz+Siri

A gentle morning with time to plan: a visit to the Haut-Koenigsbourg castle.

If we were “on a tour,” this would have been the first event of several activities of the day. But, we are not on a tour; we are in plan / experience / reorient / reflect / chat / wander mode… The intersection of planning and spontaneity.

So, in combination with the research from the night before, we hike to our car in the public lot near the river; get driving directions from Siri (did we say enough about the value of the iPhone’s international GPS function?); drive to the town of Sélestat for the shuttle bus to the castle.

Yes, it is possible to drive almost all the way to the castle. It is even possible to bike to the top of the hill (more than 700 meters above the Alsatian valley). And, serious motorcycle riders, who go everywhere in Europe, apparently love mountain switchbacks. But, the recommendation is to be kind to the environment – and, use the relatively inexpensive shuttle bus from town at the railway station. (Of course, finding free parking near a French railway station takes more than a New York minute.)

We are rewarded with another astonishing dive into 14 centuries of European history (often quite confusing) and profound astonishment at the perseverance of people who could build an almost (!) impregnable fortress on the top of a small mountain.

Castle

By the time we are finished touring the castle, there is a wait for the returning shuttle bus. Why not have a quiche and salad in the clouds? Too cloudy / foggy / rainy to wander outside and take pictures of the valley below.

dining room

And, time to think about not only the history of the castle: its construction from ~700 to 1400 and its destruction (!) – but, also its reconstruction at the start of the 20th Century by Wilhelm II to demonstrate the value of the valor of Prussian knights.

Destruction Note: Gun powder changed the role of castles – a premonition of the Great War.

Murph and cannon

Almost as interesting as Franz Joseph I of Austria – whose history we encountered in our visit to Vienna in 2014.

Both of these rulers with robust egos have had a great influence on World War I. And, the reverberations still haunt as we remember the last 100 years.

Back in Colmar, as we walk from the public city parking lot back to our hotel, the beautiful synagogue is now guarded by soldiers! Je Suis Charlie? An awareness of the history of Europe is never far from sight, and History of the Jews in Alsace (Wikipedia) is complex.

Wednesday (June 17) – another travel day – Train to Strasbourg

A gentle (earlier) morning. Off to the train station… Delays from new sights in Colmar.

Therefore, just miss the train… Time for coffee and chatter as we wait for the next one.

A chaotic start to the “walking tour” – churches, the river, the Cathedral! – lunch at the river, Albert Switzer’s home… Mozart’s organ… yet another church…  Indeed, another city of river walks and charm.

Joy at river

In addition to the cathedral, Strasbourg houses several other medieval churches that have survived the many wars and destructions that have plagued the city: […] the part Romanesque, part Gothic, very large Église Saint-Thomas with its Silbermann organ on which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Albert Schweitzer played,‪[51]

organ

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg

And, yes, Mr. Moveable Type: Johannes Gutenberg:

Murph and Gutenberg

Happy senses as Strasbourg’s inner city unfolds; tired feet as we wander back to the Gare, the railway home.

Dinner at our “favorite” restaurant in Colmar, then home to rest & pack… in our 1604 Hansel and Gretel loft.

Murph crashed

Thursday (June 18) – another travel day – headed home

All journeys end. But, understanding travel experiences, like celebrating inspirational events and grieving tragic incidents of the past, can take time.

The energies of creation, so strongly etched in Europe’s 3-dimensional space by the great cathedrals, castles, and chateaux; the paintings and sculptures of so many extraordinary artists; the memories of so many people whose lives ended too soon.

Siene

It connected me to the start of my journey – some sadness for a life that ended too soon & much joy for a life lived to its fullest. And, a reminder that leaving home is a vital part of any contribution to the progress of civilization – in any age – in any circumstance.

The value of both our contributions and our insights should exceed the effort of the journey.

Loire Valley: Part 2 – Rides and Insights

Friday (June 5) – 5th ride day

My symptoms of the variant plague continue to diminish, slightly. Yeah.

And, another mercifully short day as we ride without incident to Angers. Quite interesting weather: despite the forecast of another really hot day, the skies open at breakfast for a drenching rain. (Can you guess how often bike riders check the weather?)

French_Weather

By the time breakfast is done, suitcases packed and loaded in the van – the rain is gone. Yeah, again.

More brilliant navigation (good cue sheets, Google maps, iPhones, savvy experience… Maybe some help from above…).

crucifix on road

An indication of the posterity of this part for France: not merely well tended fields of wheat, corn, vines… Also, a well manicured golf course. More horses. And, fields of flowers:

Joy + Murph in field of flowers

Angers has an apparent successful and eclectic approach to business: we stay at a Best Western Hotel (but, originally French design) – across from the Mac Café.

But, wonderful crepe for lunch (not at Mac Café).

Crepes

Courtesy: http://lafenicegelato.com/sample-page-3/

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.”
Francois De La Rouchefoucauld

And, in a bow to the pig in the previous day’s notes: good Internet. But, not enough time, energy, or good health to post a blog entry…

Sunday (June 7) – 2nd rest day

My symptoms of the variant plague continue to diminish. Yeah.

And, a rest day is just what I need.

A chance to wander about Champtoceaux and enjoy yet another view of the Loire valley.

river view

As in almost every town, there is some monument /sculpture / plaque to the soldiers of France who gave their lives in World War I.

WW 1 statue

A visit to a local church reveals a similar reverence for members of the congregation whose lives ended in sacrifice. Here not just the Great War, but the others:

  • WW I;
  • WW II;
  • Algeria and IndoChina.

In America, it was called Vietnam; in France, it’s IndoChina.

Monday (June 8) – 7th ride day

My symptoms of the variant plague continue to diminish, slowly. I think.

45 km of lovely hills and farms. Lunch in magic spot. Good food. Photogenic ducks…

Ducks in lake

Arrive at hotel with most great shower… Can you imagine how many creative approaches there are to “How To Design a Shower” in a nation where aesthetics trump functionality? Remember, a new hotel almost every night.

showerGreat “briefing” in the hotel courtyard before dinner – how to be (and, why to be) a Ride Leader. Echoes of Greenleaf’s “Servant Leadership.” Hosting people in one’s home… Helping others to experience a great ride.

Tuesday (June 9) – 8th ride day for most – van day for me

My symptoms of the variant plague continue to diminish, but not if I ride hard on long days. Today is a long one, and I’m very tired.

I decide not to join other invalids in the rented Plague Car (shared coughing fits seem unsavory). But, the driver of the luggage van, Malik has a passenger seat that is available – and space for my bike on top of the luggage…

I get an interesting insight into the logistics behind the scenes as we discuss his role in supporting our ride. We have two languages in common: English and Spanish. Spanish is my second language and his third. We try a few sentences in Spanish. Not too bad. For me, belter than French.   Soon, we have covered enough miles to need coffee. Since Malik is French, he knows to stop in the bar on the main square of a small town: espresso for a reasonable price. (Often in France, wine is cheaper than coffee.   A fact brought to light as two of the local town folk wander in for a shot of white wine at 10:30 am.) As Malik and I stand up to leave, the woman, who has now moved beyond her first glass of the day, announces (in French): “Damn, you’re tall…” Probably, her first American tourist. We are, indeed, in rural France.

When we reach the day’s hotel, I watch as Malik engages the hotel staff. He morphs from a van driver to a soft-spoken diplomat: special accommodations for the woman whose bad Achilles tendon requires a first floor room; a vegetarian meal for a sensitive member of the group… I use my low-level diplomatic skills to convince him to let me help unload the van. Then, he carries each person’s luggage to the correct room.

Since we are way ahead of the bike riders, I wander into town on foot. Despite my poor French, and without my French-speaking wife, I manage a lovely lunch in local restaurant.

And, since it is still a long day for the riders, I have time to sit inside the relatively simple local Catholic Cathedral. Alone in a sunlight filled stone enclave, I light a candle for my Irish-Catholic father and many others who have influenced my life. I watch another candle lighter: a middle-aged woman with a young child. In what seems a habitual way, she approaches the supply of new candles, drops her € 0.50 into the coin receptacle, places the lit candle in its stand, and pauses. She then slowly exits with the small girl still holding her hand.

Even without a bike, travel can be illuminating.

Wednesday (June 10) – 9th ride day – last one

My plague symptoms diminish, and, since this is a short (31 km) last day, OK to try.

And, four possible stops along the way: Kerhinet, a village fully restored by the Brière Regional Nature Park, (old houses showing thatched roof construction); the Medieval Mall (oops, old city) of Guérande; the Salt Museum (this is the part of France where much salt is produced); and a German bunker from WW II.

Kerhinet Guérande

enterance

Joy and Roses

Market day at Guérande

Murph and veggies

tomatoes

pidgeon

Lovely lunch of mussels and French fries (pommes frites) for lunch. We are almost to the coast…

lunch

An easy day of riding – despite very gusty winds.   At worst, crosswinds that encourage concentration; at best, a gentle push towards the beach at Le Croisic.

And, with the prospect of rain tomorrow – plus limited indoor space for bike assembly, a dash to pack bikes in boxes in the outdoor area beyond the breakfast nook. Success – with the disclaimer that packing for home is less fastidious than packing for assembly in Europe. But, just as difficult…

Thursday (June 11) – last day together

A Very Slow start with a walk to town. Glad it’s not the peak of tourist season. Buy lunch for a picnic on the veranda of our hotel, overlooking the bay!

harbor(Courtesy of: http://cities.reseaudesvilles.fr/cities/4/images/safrvbxrr53tt1.JPG)

Joy at the shore

Yes, we are on the Atlantic!

Prepare for the Last Supper with the gang… A fish extravaganza: appetizer of crayfish + prawns; main course of complete fish. And, sunset from our room:

sun set

Friday (June 12) – a bus ride day – Le Croisic to Charles de Gaulle

The weather gods continue to work in harmony with bike folks: the threatened rain comes only when we are inside a plush bus with our bikes and suitcases stowed safely below,

all ridersAn early exit (pulling away from the hotel at 7:30 am) in a futile attempt to avoid the afternoon “rush hour” in Paris. But, the weather clears, and we have a lovely view of an alternate path between the coast of France and its capital as we watch farmland appear and vanish along a major highway.

At Charles de Gaulle, we are back in logistics mode: check in for us requires a trip via hotel shuttle bus to Baggage du Monde in Terminal 2 with our bikes for another week of storage.

And, sad farewells to an extraordinary band of fellow bike riders.

Loire Valley: Part 1 – Rides and Insights

A Wonderful Group + Full Days

Although this blog is about travel by bicycle, in a sense, it is about meeting new people, visiting new places, and trying to balance actual experience with recorded thoughts and observations.

Since I do not have a film crew, and – since my companions (especially my wife, Joy), are so delightful, it has been hard to find time and coherence for a bit of blogging.

Friday (29th of May) – Logistics / Travel day

A reasonable start for a day of non-bike travel to prepare for bike travel… Pack, check out, and – finally – go.

Go – in the sense of walk to Châtelet – Les Halles – the connecting point for the RER train to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Nothing is easy the first time. Or, even if retracing backwards steps from a week ago. But, no problem. And, the Bank of America credit card (chip and signature, but without the pin) works in the ticket machine! </whew>

Of course, as happens in some subway lines, the track forks: This train to This end point; the Other train to the Other end point. Therefore, exit train at first station; wait for next train to good ol’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. Easy.

Shuttle to hotel (1st of 3!) Novotels. Correct one. </whew> pause and breathe…

Back to Charles de Gaulle Airport for bikes.   pause and eat lunch… Shuttle again to correct Novotel hotel with two 70-pound bike boxes. Great fun transporting bike boxes on an airport shuttle bus.

Most of an entire day to move all belongings to a hotel a few miles away.

Isn’t Bike Travel fun?

Just as “Southern American English” has extra verb tenses (Present Preparatory: “fixin’ to do that next week…” And, Future Indefinite: “might could get to that real soon…”) – travel has special time sequences.

We have a moment to appreciate a 4 Star Hotel – and, attend a meeting in the lobby at 6:30 to do a first food event with ½ of the bike group.

food: Joy and Murph

Late, of course, with animated conversations about world politics ($ + power + alliances + resources…) and realpolitik. Anecdotes of BAC trips to Vietnam, Australia & China!

We should have an extraordinary number of fascinating insights as the trip unfolds.   And, since we are in the environs of the Charles de Gaulle Airport, a real remnant of the Concorde fleet mounted on a pedestal, and a much smaller modern art sculpture of the plane (stone & metal with hints of the shape of a pterodactyl). This is the land of pervasive aesthetics…

Concorde

{photo of Concorde}

Saturday (30 May) – Logistics / assembly day +

We have a reasonable start from the posh Novotel… Pack, check out, go on bus with all stuff.

3+ hours to by bus to Tours. There we assemble our bikes! Rather than repeat comments about how to move a bicycle across the Atlantic ocean as if it were mere baggage, I suggest a visit to an earlier post: Leaving for Europe – May 2012.

Chateau brochure

Dinner with gang… lovely Chateau, I guess! But, if you read the May 2012 post, you may realize that trying to assemble two bicycles in a patch of grass in a courtyard as the sun sinks behind the trees, takes 110% of one’s energy. Not much left to admire a lovely view.

with bike parts

Sunday (31th) – 1st ride day

A reasonable start… a 40 km ride to Azay-le-Rideau.

In Paris, museums are obligatory; on the road, stops at Chateaux are quite natural. so, a stop at a classic chateau; Villandry. Exquisite gardens, extraordinary beauty.

Villandry

gardens

joy murph

waterfall

Lunch on the road, with conversations & enthusiasm.

dining hall

(No, not real lunch area – a dining hall within Villandry.)

We wander Azay-le-Rideau for another chateau… in renovation state. Oh, well. Some of us are still vibrating from Villandry.

Dinner: delightful resonant connections with fellow travelers. Some greater compatibility than previous trips. More mellow? More aware of the good fortune of people to see the world from 2 wheels with rapport with others? I’m not sure – but at moments like this, travel seems a blessing.

This might have been posted earlier, bad Internet connections can happen even in lovely hotels. And, even blessed travel can create exhaustion.

murph on bed

Monday (1st of June) – 2nd ride day

Another reasonable start… a 36 km ride to Chinon.

Unfortunately, enough time for an early check of email: Secretary of State John Kerry Cuts Europe Trip Short After Bike Crash (in France!).

Better weather – no rain..   Easy distance.

Therefore stop for coffee (almost everyone, at the logical coffee shop on the road!).

IMG_1345

Remember, this is the Loire Valley…

boats on river

And, time for a leisurely stop for lunch.

Easy navigation with Harold and Judy (helps to be doing this tour for the second time).

Lovely hotel (Hotel Diderot) with exquisite charm for 2 nights.   Loop ride(s) tomorrow.

Tuesday (2nd) – 1st non-ride day

A slow start… The specialty of the Hotel Diderot is home-made jams & jellies. Guess what breakfast is like?

Since we have two days in this hotel, rather than get back on the bikes, a bit of laundry in the sink. One could discuss at length the logistics of a bike ride where there is a new hotel (almost) each night. And, days are quite full… And, sweaty bike clothes eventually ripen…

So, rather than loop rides, we opt for a gentle walk to the center of Chinon. A free ride in the town elevator up the cliff to the Fortress of Chinon.

And, an increasing appreciation for both François Rabelais and Joan of Arc, the patron saints of Chinon.

Joan of Arc

A stop at the Wine Museum of Chinon. (Did we mention that we are starting to make wine in Decatur, GA? Wine Workshop) The museum turns out to be the Animated Wine Museum. Imagine a Walt Disney of Chinon with not much money, but great enthusiasm for the history of wine in the Loire Valley… Animated figures in the sub-basement of a charming restaurant / bakery.

Murph at wine museum

Complemented by an audio track with endorsements by François Rabelais. Very weird; very entertaining (especially after the complimentary wine and a few detached comments at lunch.)

wine animation

Back to rest feet before the formal, narrated walking tour of Chinon. And, wine tasting. And, overwhelming dinner.

As Lance Armstrong said: “It’s not about the bike.” For BAC folk, life off the bike is OK.

Wednesday (3rd) – 3rd ride day

One challenge of travel is health. How to stay healthy in a world with new environments and frequent stress? How to get adequate sleep, food, serenity, and enjoy only moderate amounts of superb local wine…

Especially within a group of fellow travelers whose health deteriorates.

Two of the 24 members in the group were coughing on day 1. Hmmmmm. One of those recovered quickly; the other seems to have contracted some variant of the plague.

Now several of us are ill, and were it not for a rental cars for non-bike travel, this group would seem less like a victorious Tour de France team – rather, the rag-tag army of Napoleon returning from inglorious defeat in Russia.

Samur window

I managed the short 37 km to Saumur (including the 15% descent into town), and was delighted to rest in an extraordinarily beautiful room with a view of the local Chateau from the window. And, to discover, down a short flight of steps, the most anatomically correct bathtub in the world.

bathtub

Thursday (June 4) – 4th ride day

Despite my variant of the plague, I managed the short ride (33 km) from Saumur to Brissac-Quince. Hooray. No longer cold in the morning; no longer slight moments of rain. Now the reverse: bright skies and hot afternoon temperatures – 88 degrees.

We arrive before the heat of the day – and, after lovely rolling hills of well-tended agriculture and horse farms. (We did not see the Cadre Noir of Saumur – the French National Riding School – but the local horses in the fields are gorgeous!)

Another superb bit of navigation by Harold, one of our fellow riders. Illness is not so bad without the worry of getting lost.

And, almost time to post a blog entry. However, to use the sort of politically incorrect humor that results from frustration, finding “free time” on an organized bike tour and a solid internet connection at the same moment, makes the task of a blind pig finding a truffle seem easy.

Dordogne_3

{courtesy: http://deliciousconnections.com/truffles-foie-gras-dordogne/ }

(In the U.S., the pig is often in search of an acorn, but we are now in France.)

Preparation – Museums and insights

Perspectives of the arts of Paris

 Although this blog is about travel by bicycle, preparation (getting ready) and reflection (what did I discover) are part of every journey.   In fact, these processes are an integral part of life.  But, life itself is in strong relief when travel and new perspectives are involved.

It is not possible to be in Paris without museum visits.  Beyond the the Jewish museum of art & history, there are many others.  One visit was to the Musée d’Orsay – astonishing – especially the exhibition of Pierre Bonnard!

And, since our hotel is across the street from the Pompidou Museum, we took time for a visit.

Serendipity for me (information architect) – a special exhibition of a real architect: one of the most influential of the 20th Century, Le Corbusier.

The Centre Pompidou is devoting a retrospective to the work of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, aka Le Corbusier. Not only a visionary architect, urban planner and theorist of modernity, but also a painter and sculptor, Le Corbusier made a profound impression on the 20th century in dramatically changing architectural design and the way people lived in it. The Centre Pompidou invites audiences to grasp the output of this major figure in modernity through the idea of human proportions, the human body being essential as a universal principle defining all aspects of architecture and spatial composition.

IMG_1552

Interesting to have one of the most influential architects of the modern era exhibited in one of the most controversial architectural structures in Paris.  The building would have looked much better if he had designed it.  And, it would have been more beautiful – retaining great simplicity.  Oh well, the current one is functional, and in keeping with much of the post modernist permanent collection…

Nonetheless, a breathtakingly sensitive exhibit showing the full range of Le Corbusier’s genius.  Including his small pilgrimage chapel at Ronchamp whose evocative penetration by shafts of light is symbolic of the nuanced, subtle, and dynamic effulgence of a supreme being.  Evocative spirituality by an atheist architect.

After several days in Paris, where aesthetics is celebrated and functionality is tolerated, I have found an irreverent distinction between classical art and modern art.

In classical art one wonders in an astonished appreciation of evocative splendor, “How did he do that?”  In modern art one asks in an astonished awareness of jarring metaphors, “Why did he do that?”

Preparation with some perspective

Sunday – an almost normal tourist day

A short walk from our hotel in the Marais area of Paris to the Jewish museum of art & history – up the street (Rue de Temple).

A sensitive exhibit of artifacts of Jews in France (including deportation documents during the Holocaust): before the Reformation persecutions; during 1800’s; during the Dreyfus Affair, and celebrating the establishment of the nation of Israel.  Art and culture as a joyous tribute to faith-based civilization.  Anti-Semitism as an ebb and flow of horror and bizarre identification of difference.

RouleauTorah

What is the a sane reaction to unreasoned horror and hatred?

What is the reaction to irrational & nonrational events beyond reason?   Events of random pain & death (Frank Barham)?  Behavior borne of hatred?  Attacks by humans?  Attacks by demons?

How does one answer?  Prayer?  Abandonment of faith?  Addition of mysticism & magic to a belief in the unknowable essence of the universe?

Just as Frank’s death has made normal inconveniences seem trivial, the collective agonies of the diaspora and intermittent persecutions of the Jews have given a longer view to the inconsequential difficulties that harass us all.  And, to the extent that the horrific persecutions are not mere accidents, but the evil that has plagued mankind throughout recorded history, a mere bike trek for a vacation seems frivolous.

But, a journey of any consequence has unintended resonance with the world beyond static reality and current understanding.  We travel to learn – even when the lessons are hard.

Preparation – now in sadness

A week can be a crossing of barriers – even without leaving home.  And, just as some endeavors go well, some do not.  A heroic mission and solid plans never guarantee safety.  And, transiting rural roads in south Georgia in a manual wheelchair can be hazardous, apparently.

I was sure a week ago that my good friend, Frank Barham, would succeed in his epic expedition, just as he had succeeded at all previous endeavors.  And, the rigors of the road would be tolerable.

This morning’s NPR news described his death in a horrendous accident.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a full description.

Within a day’s travel of his destination, Savannah, his contributions to the world ended.

This tragic loss is both personal (he was a friend for more than 25 years), and societal (communities of fellow musicians and people with disabilities have posted moving tributes on his Facebook page).

May his good energy and passion for life be an eternal blessing.

13208b_Serenity-Wreath

Rest in peace, Frank.  Your life has enriched the lives of all of us who have known you – and, our sadness and loss will echo down our future paths.