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.

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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.

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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!

Rest and More Travel

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Context – beyond a holiday

First, a note that our only contact with the earthquake of Sunday, May 20 was to be awakened at 4:00 am as our hotel room gently shook. Our sympathy for the people who died from this deadly realignment of the earth. And, sadness for the loss of historic buildings.

Weather

May 21

In case it is not obvious, rain is the enemy of bicycle travel.
Especially, cold rain. And so, it was with an increasing sense of gloom that we watched the weather forecast as the predictions of rain became more unambiguous.

The “R-word,” as BAC people call it, began to seep into conversations. In view of some level of illness on our part, the idea of a day or so of wet ridding was horrible.

Fortunately, this section of the ride was around Lake Garda – and there are passenger boats that are the mass transit system of the region. And, some boats accept bicycles for a few extra Euros…

This travel method is sensible given the challenge of constructing wide roads along the sides of the lake. (Bikes do not do well in some of the narrow tunnels.)

So, we managed to survive a day of rain with a boat ride: Riva Del Garda to Gardone Rivera. (It should be noted that bike riders in yellow rain gear resemble the workers in the Paris sewer system… Or, HazMat workers trying to decontaminated a toxic spill…)

Wet Bikers in the Hotel

May 22

Better weather, but still ill health. (Apothecary supplement later.)

So, for some of us, another boat ride: Gardone Rivera to Sirminoe.

We are now in a different land: little German spoken; palm trees; and, olive trees among the vineyards.

Our new 4 star hotel is two part – and, we are in the new location, across the street: a new interior in an ancient building. Haut nouveau design: small, but post-modern elegant. Beige everywhere; grass-cloth walls; taupe gossamer curtains; chrome exotic fixtures in the bathroom. A monk-cell as Armani might have designed it.

May 23

A long ride – made longer by several missed turns: about 40 twisting miles before we reach the lovely medieval 4 star hotel. The room is so elegant (fabric walls, ornate marble trim in doorways…) that I wonder where the harpsichord is hidden.

A visit to Sant’Anastasia – a magnificent church.

statue of young boy

Yet Another city (Verona) of grace, charm – and, centuries of affluence.

May 24

Easier navigation as we travel from Verona to Vicenza.

But, with eating and biking and eating and chattering, not much time to Blog.

Pictures eventually…

Joy with empty coffee cup

swans in Lake Garda

a rainbow from the town square

Beyond Merano

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Blog Hiatus

The idea of a bicycle tour suggests a slow pace. Indeed, in a sense, that is true. But the logistics of getting up in a different hotel each morning, packing one’s bags with all clothes, dressing with the appropriate layers of bike clothes (more on weather later!), and eating a huge breakfast with enough calories to keep going, doing bike prep… Riding all day… Getting set up in a new hotel (which may have a unique approach to wifi), doing a briefing for the next day’s ride, eating a 7 course European meal…

The Bicycle Adventure Club is actually a gourmet eating club with a bicycle problem…

Anyway, today (May 20) is a rest day – no riding and good wifi.
Therefore, a summary of a few days of travel.

Second Ride – Merano to Termeno

This was the day where lurking in our minds was the question, ” And we paid to do this…?”

We had a lovely ride on the Radroute, which is a flat route beside the Adige River nearly all day. But we and others in our group managed to get lost more than once..about a g-zillion times, which can be quite amusing until you climb the same mountain twice, when you shouldn’t even be on it!!!
We logged 51 miles on a day that we thought would be a mere 38. Oh well – it does give you license to eat whatever you want without any guilt whatsoever.

We saw Otzi the Iceman, entombed in a tomb the temperature of a a glacier where he stayed for over 5000 years before being discovered by some hikers. {From the Urban Chick}

{From the Beaded Beak – below:}

Otzi gives a fascinating view of a time at the dawn of recorded history – 5,000 years ago. From his clothes, his tools (hunting, medicine, embers of a fire that could be transported), the civilization from which he came had achieved an astonishing level of sophistication. With deep understanding of the uses of natural plants, with the ability to cultivate crops and integrate a complete diet (meat, grains, honey, fruits…), we see a form of life that bespeaks a collaborative culture.

The differences of culture can be as significant 50 kilometers down the road today. In Burgeis, despite the Italian government, the common language is German. The agriculture is alpine. By the time we arrive in Termeno, the language and fields of crops has started to change.

Third Ride – Termeno to Trento

Another day of following (or, trying to follow) the bike path, the Radroute.

Navigation could be a separate subject by itself. (There may be “after the ride” entries to reflect on some aspects of this…) But soon, after our departure from the hotel, Urban Chick and Bearded Beak were flying solo.

At least until two other couples from our group who had explored small towns along the route joined to form a 6-person navigation team.

Despite differing opinions on how to interpret maps and cue-sheets, we found a lovely spot for lunch. And, a collaborative approach to replacing an inner tube after a flat tire. Group travel has profound advantages.

Our lovely hotel that evening had what appeared to be elegant monk-cell bedrooms. Perhaps a good location for penitents praying for forgiveness of the sin of poor navigation.

Fourth Ride – Trento to Riva Del Garda

Better navigation skills and a path through small villages nestled into the face of the Dolomites produced interesting climbs. But, also a chance to see a wedding occur in the main square of a small village. The entire town turned out in best clothes – with local wine as a prelude to the actual wedding. Quite festive.

The descent into Riva Del Garda was steep – possibly 15 degrees. With spectacular views along the way. (Hard to take good pictures @ 50 kph.)

Did I mention that BAC folks like to eat? When the parking lot of your 4 star hotel has Porsches and a Maserati, you know that the food will be delicious.

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First Ride: Burgeis to Merano

A 42 mile ride from the top of the valley toward the south. With many layers of clothes to keep warm on a steep descent from Burgeis, we set off following the river that flows between two mountain ranges: the Tyrolean Alps to the north and the Dolomites to the south.

Since bike travel is a natural part of tourism (indeed, all aspects of life), we followed the bike path, the Radroute, as the local signs call it. Past vineyards, past apple orchards, past tiny farms (no agribusiness in this part of the world), past camping areas, we zipped along the river at a reasonable clip. (Much easier to keep a quick pace when the path is mostly downhill.)

Lunch at a small café that is connected to a camping area. Complete with a server who had done some camping in Utah and spoke English quite well. Her English was, of course, much better than our German – the primary language of this part of Italy. And, much better than our Italian – a few phrases do not suffice to address serious options of exactly which kind of cheese is wanted.

After lunch, as the temperature rose, we began to shed layers of clothing. Despite the constant view of snow-capped mountains, we were soon quite warm. Cooled, occasionally, by spray from the irrigation systems a few feet off the bike path. Despite the lack of agribusiness, the need for extra water is part of even family farming.

By afternoon, we were in the town of Merano. For the uninitiated (which included us 1 day ago), Merano is magnificent – known for its focus on wellness and culture. A favorite destination of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, it became a meeting place for European high-society.

Today (May 16) was a “rest day” time to explore a civilized town. Shops, cafés, a Sesselift (chairlift) up into the Alps for a lovely view… A few moments in our Spa…

Yes, it’s the Bicycle Adventure Club, but people do like good food and affordable 4 star hotels.

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Beyond Munich – Day 1: May 14th

Sunday was our first day on the road, but this time with our new cycling buddies, 26 of us in all.  After a Saturday night  group dinner at  the Hofbrauhaus, where we were entertained by live German music and traditional dances in lederhosen, we took off  by coach bus, towing our bikes in a trailer behind us on Sunday.  We drove through parts of Germany, Austria and  Switzerland happy to take in extraordinary views of alpine mountains and meadows.

The highlight of the day happened as we entered Burgeis, Italy.  Janet, the petite but rugged bus driver stopped at the sign to enter this little town, and there, we all saw the sign indicating that buses were verboten.  Randy, one of the ride leaders assured Janet that the passage, though tight, was possible as he’d done it before on another tour. Low and behold, we crossed a tiny bridge, rounded a corner, and it became quite obvious that passage through the town this way, was, indeed, not possible.  Soon, everyone in the village was stretched around us, with the “mayor” of the Burgeis,  a toothless man wearing an official cap, was circling us in a tiny red truck, trying to help as Janet tried repeatedly to back the bus across the bridge without jackknifing the trailer.  Which, of course, happened every time.  After a half an hour of repeated tries, I was certain that Janet would be arrested, and we would be left to cart our bikes and luggage across the city.  Finally, the guys on the bus and those watching outside, unshackled the trailer and pushed it out of the way.  Janet was able to move us out! We did manage to walk our bikes down a long hill to our lovely  hotel, by passing stables for cows (and, yes, smell like a barnyard) throughout the little village.

With enough time left in the day,  we saddled up for a check out ride, and rode down, down, downhill into Mals, another village, and then we rode and walked, walked and walked our bikes back up to Burgeis fighting winds of 30 mph. Not pleasant, but wonderful scenery.

Joy on the hillJoy with cow

The is a reason this  is called the Bicycle ADVENTURE Club.