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.

Preparation – a New Journey

Getting ready for a spin in France – 2015

Any journey requires preparation.  Not just packing a suitcase.  Not merely consideration of logistics: car; plane; bicycle…  Significant journeys require expectations: anticipated discoveries in the inner landscape of the mind and spirit.  How will this travel event enrich my understanding of an unforeseen part of the world?

2Wheels2Travel is about transformation – preparation, experience, reflection, and gratitude that travel is possible.  Thresholds can be crossed.  New insights forged in the crucible of an odyssey, no matter how straightforward or simple.

Part of my preparation for a bike trip in France was some assistance to an old friend, Frank Barham, whose monumental journey this month (May 2015) is a unique trek on a unique set of wheels.

Playing jazz harmonica

Frank as harmonica musician

Frank, a musician and paraplegic, decided to share his music along a 302-mile journey from Atlanta to Savannah in recognition of the 25th Anniversary of the ADA – the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Three hundred miles in a manual wheelchair is more than a simple odyssey – it is a challenge for body and spirit. The purpose of his trip is to raise funds to help provide financial assistance to people in need of wheelchairs.

It is a profound reminder that travel need not be centered on personal transformation – it can be strenuous service to many people.

See Frank’s site and follow him on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Frank_and_Bike

And, when biking uphill, think about pushing uphill…

Navigation

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,

Why discuss Navigation in a travel blog?

Several reasons:

  1. One facet of bike travel is how to reach a new destination;
  2. Part of navigation is choosing among alternative paths;
  3. An inevitable aspect of travel is getting lost;
    and
  4. In the sense that Interface Design needs to encompass error detection and correction, navigation needs to provide for recovery from becoming lost.

Of course, recovery from becoming lost also requires a discourse on communication styles. (A cursory discussion is all that is possible within the bounds of a mere blog.)

Position and Direction

Navigation implies a goal: travel to a new location.  Which assumes some frame of reference that includes both here and there.

The classic presentation of multiple locations is a map: a visual representation of part of the earth’s surface that is easily understood across cultures and languages.  An early effort to present the known world was done by Claudius Ptolemy.  His map of his home (Alexandria, Egypt) and its environs (circa 150 AD) implemented coordinates (latitude and longitude) that, in slightly modified form, are still part of our reference scheme.

Ptolemy's map

1482 “re-presentation” of original – Greek text to Latin

Ptolemy’s interest was based on navigation of both land and sea.  But, there are practical differences.

Land vs. Sea

Obviously, there are no landmarks on the open sea.  Although the Mariner’s astrolabe (1295), the geometric quadrant (1460), and the sextant (1757) enabled calculation of latitude, it was not until 1737 that the marine chronometer enabled calculations of longitude. The process of land navigation has always been much simpler.

Types of Land Travel

Land travel in the modern era, the time of extensive road / trail networks, has evolved to three modes: maps (static), turn-by-turn directions (static), and GPS (dynamic views / guidance formats).

A sample route from here to there in Paris: (From: 92 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris 06 To: 50 Rue des Bernardins, 75005 Paris 05)

Two formats: map and turn-by-turn:

Map of Paris

Paris Map

Turn-by-Turn text

Turn-by-Turn

{click to expand}


Conceptual

Static maps can be conceptual: Munich subway map available as PDF – Munich_trains

GPS

The clear value of a dynamic GPS system is that it shows current location: (e.g. “Where am I?”).  That information is redundant, unless one is “lost.”

Lost

What does lost really mean?  hand held GPS

In the traditional context of the Bicycle Adventure Club, no one is ever really lost – merely exploring a new set of roads before, eventually, reaching the destination.

But, for some of us, not knowing where we are – and, not knowing clearly how to get to our destination is called: being lost.  And, if the destination city has an extraordinarily beautiful cathedral or an artifact-filled museum, being lost may cause a delay that makes exploring the cultural experience of the destination impossible.

And, to return to our discussion of communication styles – some folks prefer maps; some folks prefer cue sheets (the core navigation document of most BAC tours).

Distance

Cumulative

L/R

Direction

Route Comments

0.0

<-

W

Main St. Exit Hotel

0.2

0.2

->

N

P’tree Dr. into center of town…

1.3

1.5

->

E

Bike Path …finally safe

5.5

7.0

<-

N

R-16 Rural road

Interestingly, many people find both unnecessary: just ask a local person for guidance.

France vs. Italy

Travel in France in 2011 produced a minimal number of “new of road explorations” – we were often in rural areas where there were few decisions (few roads!) – and, the signage was excellent.  Of crucial importance, one of us is fluent in French, making requests for guidance from local folks enjoyable and effective.

In Italy in 2012 some real adventures occurred.  More complex road systems, poor signage, and a language barrier.  (Usually, we can get by with our three functional languages: English, French, and Spanish.)  But, in northern rural Italy, the languages are Italian and German.

And, on our worst day, one of the most generous of Italian motorist offered to help.  “Oh,” she said, “If you want to reach that city, you are lost.”  “I will slowly lead you to the correct road.”  She drove slowly, and we pedaled as furiously as we could to keep up.   Eventually, she waved and sped up.  She was done.  She had lead us to the quick route to our destination city.  Unfortunately, the quick route was the rural equivalent of an expressway – a death trap for bicycles.

Since we are writing this, we appear to have survived – and, eventually reached our goal: a lovely town in Italy.  We eventually found a good map: one that was granular enough to show both our current location and the small roads that we were supposed to be on…  But, it was more of an adventure than some of us had desired.

To be fair, there is no perfect navigation system.  However, by combining courtesy with a sense of humor, the adventures are not just tolerable; they are a source of understanding about the culture of travel itself.

Venice and Memories

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Extra Days

Being a bike rider on a Bicycle Adventure Club tour is a bit like doing the “20-minute Louvre” in Paris – you’ve been there, and seen lots of stuff – but, no time for exploration and reflection.  (This is not a criticism – merely recognition that many bike people are not interested in a leisurely tour of the museums and cathedrals of every city visited.  Indeed, one could spend the summer in the northwest of Italy and still feel that the visit had been far too cursory.)

Painting of Grand Canal

A View of The Grand Canal

In an effort to spend some time in Venice, we elected to add 2 extra days: a bit of wandering near our hotel (Atlanta Augustus) on the island of Lido, a visit of the island of Murano (home to the glass artisans of Venice), a walking tour of Venice (history in the context of architecture), and a boat tour of Venice (architecture in the context of history).

8 Centuries of Practice

The artistry of the current generation of glass blowers is still extraordinary.  Liquid sculpture that exploits inherent transparency and translucent flows of light.  Marvelous inventiveness beyond what any machine can produce.  The intersection of true visual creativity and consummate technical skill.

These skills have been protected since the end of the 13th Century when all the glassmakers were sent from Venice itself to the island of Murano.  Part of the rationale for the relocation was to avoid a fire within Venice – a potential catastrophe.  Part of the rationale was to ensure that no artisans would be able to escape to establish a competing source of glass anywhere else in Europe.  Photography of the majestic pieces is, consequently forbidden.  And, of course, the price for a piece of beautiful sculpture often contains a comma amid the numerals…

History (a footnote)

The creation of one of the most influential sea powers ever within the Mediterranean area is the subject of books – and, impossible to compress into a coherent blog entry.

Early Map of Venice

Map by Turkish Explorer – note annotations in Arabic

But, the intersection of religions, cultures, and technologies has been an impetus to progress since earliest times.  The Venetians combined all of their skills with their extensive knowledge of the surrounding countries to develop a prosperous civilization.  Even the Crusades, at the end of the 12th Century, were used to augment the power of a growing nation-state.

(When Crusaders arrived to take possession of the fleet of boats that they commissioned for the transport of soldiers and the capture of Jerusalem – and, blithely announced that compensation would be made after the successful conquest of the Islamic rulers of the Middle East – the Venetians explained that there were other payment options.

Consequently, the Crusaders, ostensibly intent on returning Jerusalem to Christian control, became the mercenaries of a pragmatic maritime power. And the epicenter of Christianity, Constantinople, fell to the Venetians.  Indeed, much of the magnificent art and decorative sculpture of Venice is the booty of that ad hoc military-religious campaign.)

And, did we mention the Basilica of St. Mark?  Interior photos not permitted.  But, references abound.

Rialto bridge

Rialto Bridge

Three days of wandering about Venice is not enough!

Bayside

Bayside Vaporetto stop

canal at sunset

Canal at Sunset

Next entry: navigation – not Venetian maps of the world in the 14th century, but how to get from point A to point B by bicycle.

Last Bike Rides

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Context – Beyond a Bike Adventure

The usual meaning of adventure in a vacation context is enjoyable excitement.  But any physical adventure has some risk.  There are insurance policies to deal with missed flights (critical plane changes can occur), lost baggage (may be quite inconvenient, especially if in a new city each night), and unforeseen events of any type (including medical emergencies).

Unfortunately, as we set off on the next leg of our journey (Vicenza to Padova), one of our riders fell.  Some falls are not serious: a scrape; a loss of bike paint; a minor scar to remember the wet cobblestones of a particular city…  But, this fall was serious: a broken femur requiring surgery with two pins.  Non-trivial for a young person; serious for a woman in her 70’s.

Did I mention that most of us are in our late 60’s or early 70’s?

Rides

May 25

Vicenza to Padova (Padua)

Unaware of the accident, a delightful ride with minimal navigation difficulties in the relatively flat area of Italy.  As we approach the coast, the Austrian influence fades: gone are the snow-capped mountains; no more German-speaking towns; and palm trees replace fruit trees.  (By this point, 24 riders have separated into individual groups of 4 to 7 members – identical riding pace; collaborative navigation styles; complementary sense of humor when temporarily lost.)

Given a relatively short distance (34 miles), we arrive in Padua in time for lunch, an opportunity to settle into a new hotel, a brief wander about the city, and preparation for our tour of the University of Padua and its famous medical theatre.

Lunch on the Road

Lunch on the Road

The spirit of scientific inquiry in the fifteenth century extended to investigations of the human body, despite the opposition of the Church to the practice of dissection.

Extraordinary progress was made in an expansion of knowledge in this university, and our tour was permitted a view of the famous (initially clandestine!) Anatomy theatre of Fabricius ab Acquapendente.

Medical Area

Even a few moments to visit the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua.

St. Anthony's Church

May 26

Padova (Padua) to Venezia (Venice)

The “R-Word” returns…

Despite a weather forecast of only 10% chance of rain, the day dawned cloudy, cold and bleak.  Some of us donned rain gear; some did not.

And, the ride was longer than most: 45 miles to ride and two ferries (with a connecting ride) to the island of Lido, just south of Venice.

Given the desire to arrive as early as possible, we decided to eat a quick breakfast and get on the road.  Soon, the dark sky soon began spill a few drops of cold moisture.  Then, a steady rain created cold puddles on the bike trail.  But, fortunately, a bike path with easy navigation – not slippery cobblestones in a maze of city streets.

Eventually, the sun returned.  A bit of warm food at a ferry stop.  An escape from the wind.  A new mode of travel for the next few days: boats.

Gondola in canal

More on Venice soon!