Thursday, January 31, 2013

Did You Know...a Bike Race was Held in German Occupied Belgium during WWII?

Photo credit: The Brussels Journal
The Flemish speaking part of Belgium, Flanders, is well known for it's gritty obsession with bike racing—notably, it's Tour of Flanders held every spring. What I didn't know (maybe this is because I live in the United States?) was that during WWII, when Germany occupied Belgium, the event still took place with Germans helping to police the race route. I guess it goes to show how the fanatical sport of bike racing knows no boundaries.

Albert Schotte.
One of the Flanders' competitors in WWII. Photo and following text credited to Flanders Classics.
Alberic "Briek" Schotte was born in Kanegem, West Flanders on September 7, 1919. He was a Belgian professional road racing cyclist, one of the champions of the 1940s and 1950s. His stamina earned him the nickname "Iron Briek".
He won the Tour of Flanders twice: in 1942, 1948. In 1948 and 1950 he was world champion. He won the last stage of the 1947 Tour de France and finished second in the epic 1948 Tour, behind Gino Bartali. 
Albéric Schotte took part in no less than twenty Tours of Flanders. From 1940 until 1959 (he was almost 40!) he competed each year. Sixteen times he reached the finish line. 
After retirement as a rider in 1959, he was team coach for 30 years, mostly for Flandria. 
He died on the day of the 2004 Tour of Flanders. The commentators during the race said "God must have been one of Briek's greatest fans".

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Walking the Causeway

Photo credit: Local Motion
I went for a walk along the causeway last weekend, bracing myself against sub zero windchill, especially biting cheek cold from the ice on the bay side. Again, I marvel at the work that went into major repairs. It was a feat of engineering to shore up the rocks that washed away in 2011's spring flooding, then raise the surface level to withstand future damage, plus allow emergency vehicles access to the path. The work is almost done too. It'll be a fine ride come Spring. If you're in the area, check it out. Don appropriate clothing and you can pedal Colchester's 4-mile section right now.

For more information and photos:
Busy Winter for The Island Line and Bike Ferry

Monday, January 28, 2013

France - A View and Farewell

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Click here for the Introduction.

Friday, September 30

Braving grey skies we load backpacks with bread, vanilla yogurt, and fruit then set off, ascending a trail on the opposite side of the valley from yesterday's hike with Tibor. The switchbacks are relentless and steep—oddly directly above the campground. Our yellow tent soon became a speck among a sea of green and white caravans. However, we quickly lose sight of our bikes, camouflaged as they are beneath a grey tarp and garbage bags—our practice when leaving them for a while or in case of bad weather.

We had promised each other to take it easy on our knees today, choosing a gentler trail, but enticing views beckoned and we soon missed a lateral turnoff. We climbed from the last pine trees into a rocky-spired basin. It was tricky footing. Baseball-sized chunks of granite underfoot slowed progress. A trail junction gave us a clue and we stopped to check a map. We’d ascended 3,000 feet, much higher than we'd planned.

Across the valley Mont Blanc massif appeared like a creamy dome of ice cream with serrated rocks and glacial tongues dripping downward. It was a unique perspective also, because Chamonix disappeared behind umber huckleberry bushes and grassy hummocks edging the basin. It was just like the postcards. The air was still. We were all alone and it was nearly silent except for the far off clatter of a helicopter. If there was any regret at climbing the thigh burning trail, it had floated away with the pristine view.

Later, our knees hurt from the sharp descent. But tomorrow's riding should ease any pain, the act of pedaling less taxing on our bodies. We relax in Chamonix at a café, sipping grande cafes with a pitcher of steamed milk on the table. We make room to spread out an Italian map. I could easily spend a month in the Chamonix region—of that I have no doubt—but it's not an inviting climate in late September at high altitude.Warm Mediterranean weather lures us onward. A new country, landscape, language, and currency will greet us when we step off the bus.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mistakes in Blog Comments

I stare at my published comment in horror. Oh no, I did it again, I mutter to myself as I mull over another misspelled word or badly worded sentence. But there's no back tracking in blog comment land—similar to that e-mail I wish I'd never sent.

biek bike
I can't tell you how many times I've misspelled "bike"—it comes out as "biek", Or "the", which more often than not is typed "teh" When writing my own blog that's acceptable because I rely on the trusty spell checker to pick up my error, highlight it, and with a mouse-click I get choices for correct spelling. It's a simple fix. Done. Or as a last resort, edit the post.

Leave a Comment
But what happens when responding to someone else's blog? I don't believe there's a spell checking option and only occasionally have I seen culprit words highlighted, alerting me to possible errors. But what bugs me the most is when I proof my response, miss the error, and the result makes me look careless or uneducated or worse—I've offended someone when I never meant to.

 I know, I know: "To err is human; to forgive, divine." I keep reminding myself of that.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Help

Over the years as I patronize local bike shops, I've often dreaded asking someone younger than myself for help. It used to be the younger the salesperson, the less knowledgeable they were at diagnosing problems with my 1980s bikes, or suggesting or pointing out alternatives, parts that would fit, etc. I've even encountered the young things saying "Wow, never seen a bike like that before" or "How old is this?" Really. Talk about making a potential customer ready to walk out the door!

Now, I immediately gravitate towards an older employee, one who might have been born before the 80s and possibly understand—not to mention, seen—early mountain and touring machines. This usually works in my favor. Flattery goes a long ways too. "They made great bikes then. Keep replacing parts and this'll last you a long time."

Either that or I get shuffled onto two or three sales people before my needs are met, which doesn't make for a satisfied customer. I have to bite my tongue, sometimes with a big sigh. My bikes may be old, but I've toured in places they can only dream about, I grumble to myself. So, I spread my bike wings among five LBSs, hoping for change, for that one retail place where I can do all of my business.

However, there's been a recent shift among the younger crowd. More help than hindrance. An employee—easily 20 years younger—suggested the whitewalls for my Ross. And to not be afraid of lower pressure tires. He said he'd look out for my bike on the road as it "sounded nice". Woah.

While this has been my first positive experience at one establishment, I often have good vibes at another shop, teaming with younger mechanics/sales people. They are mostly helpful, though the aging owner—ironically—can be cranky, depending on his mood, so I often shop elsewhere for a while. I attribute the shifting attitude to the trend in fixies and single speeds. Bike lovers are retrofitting 70s and 80s bikes for commuting and playing bike polo. It also allows practically anyone—this includes the lower wage bike shop clerk—to own an inexpensive bike. I believe this exposure has renewed interest in older machines. The "cool factor" not withstanding, clerks are becoming more knowledgeable and unafraid when a customer with a vintage bike walks through the door.

I've often wondered if my gender has anything to do with my treatment, but that's information for another blog post.

What has been your experience at bike shops?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ring the Bell!

I noticed these bells in a shop window—and it wasn't in a bicycle store either, which made it all the more curious. It's another sign that bikes are entering the mainstream. While the red Bike Alarm bell would coordinate well with my Trek, I rather like the Free Parking message., black, and white are my Ross's current colors...and it is my commuter bike...saving a parking space.

It's so easy to justify new bicycle accessories!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Swayed by the Label

I can't resist wine labels with images of a bicycle. I also figured I couldn't go wrong with a Cabernet from Chile. Boy, did I make a mistake! The vintage stung my palette—not exactly smooth. But I can't toss wine down the sink unless it's turned to vinegar. I got through the bottle. However, I will never buy that brand again.

Who else is influenced by two wheels on a label?

Monday, January 21, 2013

France - Hiking with Tibor in Chamonix

Follow New Posts in the Around The World series on Mondays.
Click here for the Introduction.

Thursday, September 29 

During an early morning dash to use the restroom, a crescent moon shined high over Mont Blanc like a white star piercing the darkness – all the more brilliant considering I could see it without my glasses. By sunrise the air was cold.  Frost covered the grass. Despite my aching back - spending too many hours confined to our nylon home - I remained inside until the first rays of sunshine hit the rocky spires and, of course, Andy had made coffee. Nights in Chamonix were going to test my tolerance.

After breakfast we doubly locked our bikes to a fence near our yellow tent. We set out on foot with packs. After buying “deus baguettes”, fruit, and yogurt we were ready to hike. But first we needed to decide where to go. At a train platform we consulted maps. I set down my backpack, noticing the long loaves resembled baseball bats sticking from my red and purple backpack. I’d also been thinking of my brother, Mike, who birthday was today.

Tibor and Andy at Montenvers Hotel
A short elderly man shared the concrete patch with us. He was a curious sort with an English driving cap, thick horned-rimmed glasses, and a twinkle in his eye. He shouldered a small navy backpack, yet at his feet a baguette nestled between the dirty straps of his duffle bag. He was quiet as we unfolded the map. Andy and I were contemplating several trails.

Fortunately, the man spoke up and offered what he’d heard of as suggestions. As it turns out the man’s from Boston, and having spent the night sleeping on the platform, he's nearing the end of his vacation, ready to head off on an 8 p.m. train for Paris. We invite the gentleman along for the day, especially after he expressed a passion for hiking and cycling.

Tibor grew up in Hungary, but left in 1956 during uprisings. He attended Dartmouth on a scholarship, met his Peruvian future wife, and for 40 years lives as a traveling scholar. Tibor – amazingly – speaks 7 languages fluently – the only reason he still has a job, he says. Currently, he works for an auto club, handling foreign calls. 

He also has a passion for garage sales and bicycles. He owns 10 bikes and commutes rain or shine, even in snow. He follows automobile tracks in the winter. “Makes the drivers go crazy,” he says with a wink. I could’ve hugged Tibor! His friendly smile, his stories, and obvious love for bikes reminded me of my grandfather. “I hate working on bikes so that’s why I have so many,” Tabor continues. “I will no longer own a new one - the last two were stolen.”

View of glacier from Montenvers Hotel.

We ascended on a dirt road/trail switch backing up a slope across cog railway tracks that led to Montenvers Hotel. It’s a beautiful spot; the multi-story structure – its shutters thrown open - overlooks a glacier. The smoky aroma of meat is overwhelming. Andy and I scamper by two carcasses roasting on a spit. There must be an upcoming feast. But it’s calm and peaceful on the other end of the patio. We munch on our favorite Prince Biscuits. Packed in a tube shape, they’re round, crunchy cookies sandwiched with dark chocolate. We share them with Tibor. Our peace is short-lived, however, as the red cog train stops and a horde of Japanese tourists spill onto the path. Andy and I shake our heads. It’s enough to ruin the mountain moment. We bid good bye to Tibor - he is slower and is turning back - while Andy and I traverse laterally beneath snowy peaks.

The traverse.

The sky becomes hazy, lending wintry-like whiteness to the air, though the afternoon remains warm. Weaving in and out of granite rocks and boulders, the high peaks contrast with autumn gold and red heathered carpet at our feet. I am in awe. We are all alone on the slope. It’s breathtaking, yet we briskly walk the trail in between my photo stops and treasured hugs with Andy. With my favorite partner and gorgeous alpine scenery – I drink it all in. This was what we’d come to see.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Provence, Day Eight - Tarascon Castle

After chocolate croissants and cafe au lait from a tabac/coffee joint—a smoky-filled place catering to locals who suck down an espresso and cigarette before going about their day—we retraced our steps towards the bike path. Unfortunately, jazzed as I was on caffeine, I then led us astray, merging onto a dangerous highway for a bit until we regained the quiet path.

Patty and Michele collect tomatoes from a harvested field to add to lunch fixings.
The bike path ended all too soon, however, near Saint Etienne. We opted to turn off at a roundabout, heading through neighborhoods until they gave way to farm fields. By now we'd become fairly comfortable with following the back roads, and, Michele's map displayed a network that would bring us into Tarascon—none of the roads were marked with names or route numbers, however—which often became part of the detoured wanderlust.

As long as we went north or west, the flat farmland, and indeed, the acres upon acres of fields, some harvested, others in the midst of replanting by 20-30 laborers, stooping with seedlings, were a source of delightful musings. Planting in September meant it was a second crop. I wondered if the land fed a good share of France or if produce was exported to other countries.

Farm machinery lined up along the narrow roadside. We pedal by some, but when meeting a truck slowly cruising, the driver stopped to allow us right of way. We always wave our thanks. I loved this type of bike touring, and though we headed towards a tourist attraction, it's often the roads in between that hold the unexpected, but welcome surprises that make the journey worthwhile. In the future I recollect these episodes with fondness and they become a part of my overall perception of the region.

Chateau du Tarascon and it's dry moat.
We arrive in Tarascon and ride through the city center past nice old buildings, but unfortunately the street is under construction. We head towards the Rhone River. Along the way we cruise by an outdoor market and are reminded that it's Tuesday. Tuesdays and Saturdays are common market days throughout Provence. I would've liked to stop and browse, and possibly buy souvenirs, but I suspect we have a long day ahead of us.

By now, we expertly maneuver past a roundabout and lock bikes across the street from the castle. We are hungry now. It wouldn't do to have three famished (cranky and crabby) cyclists tour Chateau du Tarascon, so we climb stairs onto the edge of the dry moat for a picnic with a view.

Inside, we discover the castle was built in the 1400s, initially used as a fortress, transformed into a palace with nice apartments, and in the 1700's used as a prison and later as a detention center. What an intriguing past!

Surprisingly, the chapel held this, uh, weird Mickey Mouse sculpture, all bones. It took me aback. It wouldn't become apparent until later, after seeing many other modern exhibits in this same fashion through out the castle, that the works represented the tragic use of the grounds as prison, juxtaposed with King Rene's earlier reign and elegant residence. And indeed, some displays were quite thought provoking, for example: a glass bowl housing a single goldfish set all alone in the center of a large room, which represented a living thing confined within walls.

We tried to follow the pamphlet numbers corresponding with rooms, but something was amiss, possibly lost in translation. For the most part we climbed in and out of rooms, and read a bit of French descriptions on entryways or objects to capture the gist of what we were looking at.

Some rooms didn't need an explanation, like two toilets whose holes looked onto the outside of the castle walls.
Michele descending a stairway.
Ascending and descending was done by circular staircases, made all the more interesting by prisoner's names carved into the stone. They were everywhere, giving one a creepy sense of the poor souls' endless years spent in confinement.

The sailors' prison room with carvings on the walls.
We were able to poke inside most every room. After a while, one looked like the other, considering each floor plan was alike with many tiny rooms having window seats. I was about to pass up a small turret room when Patty and Michele motioned for me to step inside.

A castle etched above a doorway in the sailors' room wall.
The room held sailors captive, identified by boats carved into the walls.

Fortunately, lights lit up the "drawings". Not only did it give one the feeling of the longevity of imprisonment, but also displayed common 1700s vessels: wooden ships manned by rowing slaves and propelled with square sails.

I also wondered why the sailors were housed together.

Iron grates separating fortress from King Rene's apartments.

We climbed to the roof. The day was growing hot, but the view was worth it.

I looked eastward, appreciating the gargoyle and Tarascon rooftops. Provence had become (to me) the interplay of stone, terracotta, and lavender-colored hills.

Below, the roundabout we'd looped earlier.

Across the Rhone were spectacular views of Beaucaire Castle. I wondered if it was also built in the 1400s, and at odds with Tarascon or as comrades so-to-speak, protecting the river way. We considered visiting Beaucaire, but our guide book steered us to Tarascon as one of more interest.

Keyhole view of Beaucaire Castle. I had trouble focusing the castle in the exact center.
Can you spot Annie and Michele? Photo credit: Patty

The rest of the afternoon was spent pedaling along the Rhone River, in and out of small towns, skirting a nuclear power plant, which we'd only spied from a distance, and then along quiet roads near pear orchards. We crossed the Rhone at Aramon. I was glad we pedaled the bridge's sidewalk because a large truck swept by, buffeting us. We hurriedly kept moving and only talked about it on the other side.

From there we headed inland, aiming for Villeneuve de Avignon, by entering it from north of town, thus avoiding busy roads leading to Avignon. Immediately we began climbing dry, rock studded hills. I was in my glory, happy to be ascending and descending after pedaling flat roads for most of the day. I had energy to spare and for once didn't mind that I was low on water. However, it affected Michele. We took a break, ate, and Patty gave Michele some water. Patty survives and thrives on little moisture, very much like a camel.

After seemingly going too far in one direction, we located and rehydrated at a sports complex, splashing our faces under the faucet. We were giddy with relief. I handed out pieces of chocolate—the only food item I kept stored under layers of clothing in my pannier, to keep from melting. We now knew we were still on track, only the "back road" ended up with more traffic than we had expected. Now satiated, it was an easy ride into Villeneuve to buy groceries at a little market, temporarily misjudging the roads and climbing to a castle—we laughed about that one—and eventually ended the day at a municipal park.

Day One - Avignon
Day Two - Fontaine de Vaucluse
Day Three - Gordes, Roussillon, and Oh, Those Hills
Day Four - Saignon, Ingenuity and the Descent into Aix en Provence
Day Five - Aix en Provence to Salon
Day Six - Adventures in Arles
Day Seven - Les Baux, St. Remy
Day Eight - Tarascon Castle
Day Nine - Chateauneuf du Pape and Avignon

Friday, January 18, 2013

Documenting Memories

I sent a similar group of framed prints to Patty.
I'm pretty good at taking photos, eventually ordering prints and labeling each in a photo album. But every once in a while I decorate the walls with special memories. I like how this collection of European photos turned out. Ah, the sunshine and warmth of that wonderful time in Provence! While I wielded hammer and nails, might as well tack up the Chocolate & Wine sign, plus update our family photo frame.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Thaw Ride

I didn't intend to ride in January. A typical warm front approached 4 days ago, melting 12" of snow (insert big sigh here) into rivers running down the street. Rivers of refuse and salt. Yuck. Not my idea of good riding conditions. Besides, I'm content to give up the bike for the cold months. The January thaw—typical for Vermont—lasted five days, just enough to dry out the roads for one gorgeous, sunny day. Time for a ride.

However optimistic, I still had misgivings. The wind was ferocious. Forecasters predicted dropping temperatures entering the region for later in the day. I changed into double layers of tights—just in case—unlocked the porch where bikes are stored, and was met with northern gusts that howled, whipping trees. Afraid of cold fingers, I bagged the ride and changed into pants, opting instead for a walk.

Yet, I stepped outside to discover it was still in the 40sF and the wind really wasn't bad. Jeesh, I'm so indecisive and frittering can eat up time! Before I changed my mind again, I grabbed a few things, secured a strap around my pant legs, hauled the bike off the porch, and headed out.

Burlington's bike paths are not plowed in winter and could easily have accumulated snow—despite the big melt, so I avoided them in favor of city streets. But I needed a destination. I'd been thinking about my deceased grandfather, having just used his tools and reminiscing with a relative about Gramps, so I headed to visit his grave.

I hadn't been by the cemetery for a year. Dead grass flattened against all the tombstones, newly uncovered from nature's weighty blanket. I easily found my grandparents' resting place.

Grandpa's stone, especially, is uniquely decorated with two bicycles. That was my mother's doing and I can't thank her enough. I smile whenever I touch the granite etching, tracing fingertips along the grooves. (Read more about Grandpa and his bikes here.) Moss and grass covered the edge of the stone. I searched for a tool that wouldn't harm the marker's surface and came up with a plastic tire lever, which as I scraped, pulling grass with my left hand, I had to laugh—Grandpa would've liked my ingenuity.

After quiet time with my grandparents, I took a chance and looped back along the waterfront trail. It was generally clear, though I gingerly rode through slushy spots, walking troubled areas thick with snow. I still had time for a half mile swim, then met wild boy at school.

As I walked home with him it occurred to me that I completed another anniebikes triathlon. How odd in January!

Monday, January 14, 2013

France - On to Chamonix

Follow New Posts in the Around The World series on Mondays.
Click here for the Introduction.

My shirtless husband on the big ascent into Chamonix Valley.

52 miles – Tuesday, September 27

After pictures and goodbyes, Andy and I set off with clean clothes, a block of Vermont cheddar, and two Toblerone chocolate bars that Katty insisted we take. The weather had cleared after yesterday’s rain. We glided under partly cloudy skies around the southern tip of Lake Geneva, navigating through the city, then onto quieter roads.

Soon we crossed into France, following the Arve River towards Mont Blanc. It was good to be back on our own again, with the freedom of our journey, come what may. As we climbed higher, vertical cliffs kept us company, reminding me of Yosemite’s walls. My bike is working better too. I had installed new front brake pads at our friends' home.

It grew colder as we neared Sallanches, destination for the night. A mist settled in the valley. I pulled on mittens. I had to laugh at my frugal husband, however, who wore holey-palmed gloves. With Chamonix at 1000 meters, I knew he'd have to to get something warmer soon.

Our yellow home with to-die-for views of the Haute-Savoie.

15 miles – Wednesday, September 28

After a large hot breakfast of muesli and oatmeal (Andy missed his pancakes) we packed our damp tent and wet rainfly and set off, but not before perusing a boulangerie to fortify ourselves for the climb ahead.

Halfway up the 500 meter pull, the overcast sky cleared and Mount Blanc in all it glacial splendor lay before us. I love any mountainous view, but for Andy, a famous peak - especially one that he’d love to climb – must have sent his thoughts a twitter. I imagine he fantasized, someday, to be able to climb its snowy slopes, roped, with crampons, ice axe and a guide.

During the highway ascent, which wasn’t too bad, spinning as we always do in low gears, we pedaled through two tunnels: the first at 400 meters in length and the second, 1000 meters. Both provided a suitable wide lane, plus adequate lighting, allaying any fears regarding safe passage. It was a strange feeling to be under ground for so long.

The road leveled out for the last miles along the valley floor into Chamonix. We lift faces to the sun, basking in its welcome relief.

In town, streets were busy with tourists and locals. Sale racks spilled onto sidewalks with a proliferation of souvenir shops, restaurants, and boulangeries. We orient ourselves, inspecting city map signage, and while waiting for the tourist office to open, buy lunch and dinner food, then replace Andy's gloves. Eventually we get help on how to journey into Italy; there's a bus that'll transport our bikes through the Mont Blanc tunnel. We settle on a campground near town at 55 Francs per night. We pedal out there mid-afternoon. With standard time back in effect it’s dark by 7 p.m. and we should prepare dinner by 6.

We bought a trail map. If the weather holds we'll hike for a couple days then head to Italy. I had wanted to pedal over Saint Bernard Pass, visiting dogs raised at that famous border, then descend on Italian roads. However, it’s too late in the year. The route is closed, due to snow.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Provence, Day Seven - Les Baux, St. Remy and Remaining Flexible

My favorite panda shot. Arles buildings and walls are behind me.
We made sure to vist the Arles Antique Museum before leaving town. It preserves the best of the city's antiquities in a climate controlled environment. This was where the vast collection of Roman statues, mosaics, funeral art, and interestingly, yards of lead pipes that carried water throughout Arles, was on display. It was certainly a highlight for me, filling in the historical gaps of the city's Roman period. 

Getting there was fairly straightforward, following newly marked paths. In fact, paint machinery and stencils stood nearby, as if the work was just completed.

We weaved around vehicle bumpers and a few pedestrians.

The area in the ceiling provided daylight and air for bike path users.
Patty, Michele, and I missed a turn, and because the museum stood near the Rhone River we suddenly found ourselves funneled into a cement enclosed path. Intriguingly, traffic whizzed overhead through a daylight channel. We realized that we were pedaling exclusively on a lower deck bike path, crossing the wide river. The diversion was not without its merit though. Interesting graffiti lined the walls and we rode to the end—just because we could—before doubling back to locate the museum.

Modern aqueducts.
Day six on the bikes proved we were in good physical shape, in tune with each other's riding style, allowing personal space when needed, yet regrouping at crossroads to stick together. We were in the groove.

Leaving Arles by late morning, again we took to the back roads. I was surprised by use of modern aqueducts, the sounds of water evident as we cruised along.

A short while later we stopped to inspect the Roman variety.

The stones went a good distance, and had the undergrowth been less dense, it would be a pleasant walk along its length. No telling how far the aqueduct stretched into the horizon.

Entering Paradou. Photo credit: Patty
Onward through Paradou, then we climbed steadily. It was pretty hot. We gobbled down water, spinning in the granny gears until topping out at Les Baux. This is a popular tourist attraction for those doing the Arles-Avignon circuit. Parking lots were full, but the perks of arriving by bicycle meant we could lock our transportation anywhere.

I think mine's the chocolate one (what else?) Photo credit: Patty
Les Baux is split into two regions: upper uninhabitable ruins and lower quaint and narrow stone streets with gift shops, art galleries, and restaurants. We needed fortification before heading higher. Ice cream cones all around!.

The 50th birthday duo. (one of my favorite vacation photos) Thanks, Michele!
Photo credit: Michele
I admired Patty's tote bag. Who wouldn't?
We walked among the tourist crush, yet I never felt claustrophobic. The wide open sky, the Provencal heat, seemed to absorb sound on the shaded pedestrian streets. In some respects, I felt more comfortable in crowded places, especially if a proprietor rattled in French and I dumbly stared back. This way I observed architecture, paintings, or tourist kitsch without feeling like all eyes were on me.

View of upper uninhabited village.
We paid a fee and grabbed English audio tour devices. It seemed that most people headed off in numerical order so I set out in a different direction for time alone. I have a one hour attention span when it comes to museums and such, so I couldn't possibly endure the entire sequence. I wandered, tuning in when something captured my fancy.

Immediately, I headed high for eastward views. Only a day earlier, we'd skirted the distant white ridge to end the day at Arles.

Looking backward provided views of lower, lively Les Baux. Rock ridge lines extended vast distances west and north. We'd yet to encounter such sweeping views on our adventure. Mesmerizing.

I clambered around the rocks, finding fossils of shells, a pigeon cote, remains of a chapel now supported by  Princess Grace's estate. I waited my turn to climb time-worn narrow stairs that led along the ramparts. The last thing I did was sit in a dark renovated church near the entrance, ostensibly to get relief from the sun. A 10 minute video of Provence's highlights looped, displaying aerial views with simple captions. It was fantastic! I met up with Patty and Michele and recommended they see it.

This last act provided our minds with fodder. Could we extend our riding, detouring some as we headed towards Avignon? Tarascon and Beaucaire Castle were within reasonable distance.

We thought about this as we got back on the bikes and climbed more switchbacks. Most of the auto traffic followed a different route. It was an easy ascent and we stopped briefly on the pine covered summit. I loved the higher climate, the smell, the breeze, weaving around the rocks—actually I wished it would be roller coaster riding from there on—but unexpectedly we coasted for miles, dropping more elevation that I thought possible.

I'm sure Michele was happier, though. She seemed daunted by hills, visibly disappointed. I've got to hand it to her. She might have crawled at a snail's pace, but she always endured and never gave up. Eventually, we found a nice bike path that brought us into St. Remy.

It's a sleepy village, quintessential Provence with central square, cobbled streets. St. Remy is touted as a must-see in guide books and often on guided bike tour itineraries. I couldn't fathom it's appeal—not after visiting Arles and Avignon. Yet, under different circumstances—say a midst a festival—it's charm would surely shine.

Day One - Avignon
Day Two - Fontaine de Vaucluse
Day Three - Gordes, Roussillon, and Oh, Those Hills
Day Four - Saignon, Ingenuity and the Descent into Aix en Provence
Day Five - Aix en Provence to Salon
Day Six - Adventures in Arles
Day Seven - Les Baux, St. Remy
Day Eight - Tarascon Castle
Day Nine - Chateauneuf du Pape and Avignon