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.
The next morning we started our daily routine on our canal-sized barge:
- Breakfast at 8:00 am (lovely, 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…)
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.
Yes, it is possible to bike past the corporate headquarters of Louis Vuitton.
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?
What would that same church near the asylum where Van Gogh spent his last years look like to an inspired artist?
And, nearby – the resting place of Vincent Van Gogh and his brother.
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?”
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.
Time to admire a personal chapel of great beauty and reverence.
A few more kilometers and time for wine and stories.