Saturday, July 30, 2011

The long and winding road

On our way home Today!

A few more wrap up posts to follow.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Final Days

The LTDF came to an end July 27th in Brehement, France, a small town along the Loire. It was clear during the event that front-runner, Rhys Lloyd was a shoe-in for first place but in a surprise move, cruiser Tom Lloyd poured on the steam and with a Herculean push in the final leg between Chinon and Brehement pulled into and held on to the lead position. In a quote that speaks for us all, Tom says, “I just wanted to get off the damn bike”.

Should we plan another cycling event in the future, and may I say at this point the mere thought of a bicycle seat brings shooting pains to my buttocks, but should there come a time when I once again contemplate such a trip, I would advise shorter distances and a shorter overall trip. One week for the undisciplined is plenty. I’d even suggest a day off in between cycling. For example, two days on, one day off. Also, 30 km is pleasant, 40 km is exercise, and anything more is masochistic.

After our two hour bike ride in the morning, it took the rest of the day to reach Paris. We shuttled by van to the train station in the next town where we waited an hour for the train. We then transferred to another train, another one hour layover and arrived in Paris around 5:30pm. From the train station, we caught the Metro and then walked the last few blocks to our hostel. By the time we had checked in to our room it was 7pm. Isn’t it amazing how long travel takes without a car?

We slept in a closet with two bunk beds. It was so small we couldn’t open the door with all four of us standing in the room. It took reshuffling to let someone in or out. I have to say that Paris is not a city for the poor. If you have lots of money to spend, come to Paris. You’ll have a wonderful time in a very romantic city. If you are on a budget, you will see the squalid underside and eat mediocre food, heavy on the fries. We loved the tourist Paris but everything else is a smelly dump. I wouldn’t want to live there.

The next day we caught the Eurostar through the chunnel to London. Our experience in London has been completely different from Paris. Here is another big city but you can still have a great time on a budget. We stayed in a youth hostel the first night and a travel lodge the next night and both were comfortable, if small. The neighbourhoods were clean and pleasant. We had a lovely walk along a canal to the youth hostel.

We were very excited to take the Eurostar but in the end the trip through the chunnel took 20 minutes and was dark. We tried not to think about the ocean liners hundreds of metres over our heads. We were in second class and the seats were not the roomy, spacious ones I had seen advertised in the train museum last August. It was actually quite close compared to other train lines. However, we made very good time between the two cities and had a whole extra day in London because of it.

We wandered Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, down Whitehall Street to see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Parliament buildings and the London Eye. We spent several hours inside the British Museum but only wandered the outside of the rest of them. We returned to eat at two of the places we remembered had fabulous food but both disappointed. I guess you can’t go back. The weather was cooperative both days even when it wasn’t supposed to be.

We spent some time feeling sentimental. We began our year here and we end our year here, walking the same fabulous streets and seeing the same wonderful sights. Many have wondered where the time went but I feel I have lived a year. It doesn’t feel like a long year but it doesn’t feel like the blink of an eye, either. It feels like a full experience, like something grand has happened and I was there. Sometimes I feel like the daily life I lead is small and that my efforts to “make a difference” are mundane. Each day has a pattern and they all blend into each other to make a life filled with people, events and settings that create a steady rhythm. It is familiar and pleasant and safe.

This year, I stepped out of that rhythm and created something different. Together, my family and I heard hundreds of different life rhythms, never completely joining in time to any one. It was exciting, exhausting and enriching. There is a beautiful blanket of life out there, woven together. I feel so fortunate to have had this year to experience a bit more of it. I am looking forward to coming home and fitting back into my corner of existence but I know I have an explorer’s heart. The beautiful world calls to me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

LTDF Day Six and Seven

We started the longest ride in the world with beautiful blue sky and sunshine! It wasn’t exactly hot outside but it was dry and the sun could be seen clearly. Our goal was to ride from Loches to Azay-le-Rideau, a distance of 60 km. We figured that at about 10 km/h, it would take us 6 hours of riding time. There were no chateaux to speak of in between so it was 6 hours of solid riding time.

The first 20 k went very smoothly with hardly any effort. We were definitely getting better at the whole ride thing. I had even managed to get into the 2nd crank gear (that’s cyclist talk for “front wheel gear”) and felt pretty good about it. We had shopped for snacks before we left so the baskets were filled with goodies. This proved just too tempting for the children and by the end of the first 20 km, they had eaten most of the snack foods.

After the second 20 km, we felt good and stopped for lunch at a cute little place tucked in behind the City Hall. It is amazing how much more pleasant riding a bike is when one’s underwear is not wet. Forty kilometers is a fair bit of riding and we all felt good, especially after some lunch. Sixty kilometers is a whole different story.

After 50 km, my knees began speaking to me in a very fierce voice with each crank of the pedal. Tom also had decided fifty kilometers was enough and the two of us commiserated as the children seemed to gain speed. At one point, I mentioned how tired I was and Julia replied that we were all tired and then picked up speed and roared off. I did not take this to be a good example of her exhaustion. I kept my spirits up by counting down the kilometers on the roadside markers until we finally arrived in Azay le Rideau. We spent the next few hours recovering in our very comfortable room. We decided we could see the chateau the next day.

Today dawned grey and threatening. We decided to see the Azay chateau first and then begin the day’s outing. The chateau was quite lovely situated on an island in the river. It was built by the King’s financial advisor who had to leave suddenly when the king discovered where the money to build the chateau was coming from. So, the king got the chateau and gave it to someone else he liked more. The 1500’s must have been a real time of construction up and down the valley because it seems like all the chateaux were built right around the same time. Obviously, France was doing well.

We rode to Langeais chateau next and managed to arrive just as the rain began. This one was very well presented with interesting tidbits of information. For example, not many people had furniture before the middle ages. It began from the need for chests. The nobles of the day would travel from home to home to keep control of their land. It was always a good idea to make sure the people working for you knew what you looked like. Because they traveled so much, they needed chests to load up their goods. The chest became a sign of wealth and other furniture was derived from the chest. The chair was a small chest with back support that could be taken apart and reassembled at the next home. The bench was a longer chest with a back. The credenza was a chest with long legs. All of these were designed to store the goods that the nobles moved from house to house.

Langeais was the sight of the marriage of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany. She was only fourteen at the time. Gads. This was such an important moment in Loire Valley history that they had a whole room devoted to wax figures of the key players at the wedding. I guess the French pulled a fast one and scooped up Anne before her marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor could be consummated. What really struck me (no pun intended) was that Charles VIII was so short! This is the one who died after hitting his head on the door jamb. What was he doing? Jumping up and down as he went through?

Another curious tidbit we picked up is that in the French deck of cards, David (of Goliath fame) is the King of Spades, Alexander the Great is the King of Clubs, Caesar is the King of Diamonds and Charlemagne is the King of Hearts. It didn’t explain how each one got to represent that particular suit but it was interesting none-the-less.

We stopped for lunch at the nearest grocery store and then headed off for Villandry, the sight of our final chateau of the day. Just before we reached Villandry, the Heavens opened and drenched us quite thoroughly. The saving grace is that it was warm. Ironically, we had cycled to this chateau to see their gardens and not the inside but as we dripped up the front walk, we made a quick decision to see the interior as well. It was a good call because by the time we got back outside, the SUN had come out. We dried off quite quickly and enjoyed a hot, sunny rest of our day.

The gardens were spectacular, with lots of well manicured hedges around brightly coloured groups of flowers. There was a labyrinth which we mastered and many beautiful floral displays. After dawdling in the sunny gardens for as long as it took to dry, we hopped back on the bikes and cycled the 13 km back to Azay. We arrived home around 6 pm so it was another full day of weather and sight-seeing!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

LTDF Day Five

Chenonceau to Loches, 32 km. It was supposed to be one of our harder days but actually the ride was quite pleasant. We are no longer in pain. Best of all, the sun came out today! We rode for 3 hours in the sunshine! All right, it wasn’t clear blue skies but those clouds were flat, white and stretched unthreateningly across the sky.

We started the day with very little cash and discovered there is a tourist site in France that does NOT have a bank machine. It is called Chenonceau. The nearest cash machine was 6 km in the wrong direction. Along our ride, the nearest machine was in Loches, our destination. So we frugally chose some pastries and water, suddenly feeling very hungry.

We passed a beautiful B&B that we stopped to take pictures of but neglected to record the name. If I ever come back, I want to stay here! We also rode through s couple of really lovely little towns. The whole town had flowers and ivy growing on the fronts of their homes and in and around the streets. We were charmed. The animal of the day was "deer". We saw one springing through the fields away from us at high speed.

When we arrived in Loches, we found a bank and after touring the town, we split up and found food we wanted to eat. Julia and I wound up at the grocery store to buy a tub of Hagen-Daaz and spoons. We managed to snorf down the entire tub without too much effort and justified it with the long bike ride we had just taken. We then filled our bags with more food for our marathon ride tomorrow.