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