Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Paris is frikkin huge. We walked along the Seine, ate crepes, waited in line at museums, ate in the Latin Quarter, drank wine, people-watched at a cafe where all the chairs were set facing streetward for exactly that purpose, and approached the Eiffel Tower just as it did its champagne sparkly thing.

In short: Paris stuff!

From the series: "Stuff in front of other stuff."

Arc de Triomphe!
Our hotel was just off the Champs Elysees, so we got to see the Arc each time we went out.

We were there at the blue hour.

Eiffel Tower!
Stuff in front of other stuff!

Ste. Chapelle!

See that stuff? Put some stuff in front of it!
Notre Dame! (we didn't go in; the line was insanity)

"Let me just..."
"It's just... you've got something on your..."
"What? What is it?"
"Oh... oh god. Oh. Sorry."

The Holy Lobster of Notre Dame

The view from the Basilica of Sacre Coeur:

Put that thing in front of that other thing, and then TAKE ITS PICTURE.
Whee Paris!


Hey, guys-

Apologies that the blog didn't get updated until I was back home in Salem, with my own computer. There were hotel computers available here and there, but I simply didn't have the desire or energy to sit in an office chair and pick through photos while I was either a) wiped out from riding my bike, or b) in front of food. Unfortunately, the same set of circumstances led me to take relatively few photos.

To make it a bit easier, I'm creating two posts: a bike post, and a Paris post.

After two days of wandering around Aix-en-Provence, sampling the food and cafe culture, we finally met the rest of the VBT tour to get on a bus toward St. Remy. There were only five people on this tour--which I think was the minimum they'll accept without cancelling. Apparently, a lot of people bowed out after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, which seemed ridiculous to all of us. Then again, our sample consists entirely of the people who didn't cancel.

The entire trip, L to R: Ray; our tour guides, Didier and Thibault; Leslie and her husband Leigh; moi; and Dad.
Some shots from Aix-en-Provence:

Some fancy building or other under a threatening sky. There were dramatic thunderstorms nearly every afternoon.
We were bad at researching, so I don't know anything about anything we saw, other than "That's purty!"

A Medieval street in Aix-en-Provence. They were jam-packed with shops, cafes, and restaurants.

The small group made for fairly relaxed riding. We all tended to stick together. The very first day (after the warm-up ride) included the biggest hill of the week, and not only did we all make it up, but we all chose the long option.
What I thought of every time I saw my typical cycling outfit.
My typical cycling outfit.

The climb set us to the top of Les Baux, a tiny medieval village. Like a lot of places on the tour, it was crammed with tourists, but quite charming.

The group resting at the top of the climb. There were weird limestone formations all around; I scrambled to the top of one for this shot.

The entrance to an old chapel, cut from the rock, and looking across to the next peak.

French car parked atop the cave-riddled village. People drove in the unlikeliest-looking places.
It also included a baffling attraction: an old limestone quarry, with enormous underground pillared chambers, that had been converted to a 360º projection show, complete with music.
Taken during a break in the action. Photography wouldn't work during the show.
 The rest of the cycling often followed a similar outline. We would cycle to a remote little town, often on a hilltop, relax for lunch, and then visit a site or two.

The village of Eygalières, which I was quite taken with.
Clock tower in a village I can't specifically recall the name of.
As we stood below the tower, an old man came up and told our tour leader that he remembered racing up the steps to ring the bell when the Allies arrived to liberate the town. I couldn't get my camera out in time to catch his face. Dude moved fast!
One of our stops was the remains of a Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard. The thing was huge, and flanked by an entire tourism complex. It was crowded, but large enough to find a private spot in the wooded paths along the river.

 During all this, we enjoyed the food and wine of Provence, including hotel breakfasts that were far above the quality I'm accustomed to. In fact, the quality of our hotels in general was above and beyond what I've normally encountered. They looked like the hotels I imagined before I'd ever stayed in one.
Golden infinity elevator in St. Remy.
The view out my window of the same hotel, with a rainstorm passing through.
The mascot at a lovely vineyard where we stopped for lunch and a tasting. We're BFF.
After a few days in St. Remy, we moved along to Avignon, or rather to Villeneuve les Avignon, or "New Avignon," a tony suburb right next door.

Dusk in Villeneuve les Avignon. Not really that new.

An interesting graveyard near the hotel
We also toured Avignon itself. It was the biggest town we'd been in so far, but we had only a few hours in the city.

An enormous selection of salt for sale at the central market

A street performer prepares for the day in an alcove behind the papal palace in Avignon
 During a schism in the Catholic Church during the middle ages, Avignon was the home of the popes, and the papal palace still stands, emptied and monumental after being gutted during the French Revolution. It's enormous, and takes up a huge amount of the center of the city of Avignon.

After a last evening in Villeneuve les Avignon, we said goodbye to our guides, and boarded the train for Paris--coming next!

Saturday, June 13, 2015


First post from France! 

Here's the deal, unfortunately. In the interest of packing light, I brought only my iPad and not my laptop. And since my camera is cheap and has no connectivity, and since Apple is Apple and has no USB input, I can't post pictures. I haven't seen a computer station at our hotel yet, but I hope to encounter one at some point along the road. Otherwise, the photos (other than phone shots) will have to wait until I return.

In the meantime, we're in Aix-en-Provence, home of Cezenne, these weird melon cookies, and pink wine. Our first two days are the pre-cycling extension, and Dad and I have roamed the Medieval streets, sampled the food, and hung out by the pool. Aix is a fairly touristy town, but there aren't many specific famous spots, so things have been pretty free-form. We were also kept inside by massive, slow-moving thunderstorms yesterday evening, with more predicted for tonight.

No matter, the cafes are lovely, the streets are a joy to explore, and the people- watching is top shelf. Tomorrow will be our introduction to the biking portion of the trip, with a warm-up ride and reception dinner at a hotel in the next location. Perhaps there will be a computer I can monopolize there.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Viva le Velocipede!

Hi, everybody!

It's been a quiet year since I've updated. But I'm about to head out on another, albiet much shorter, adventure: bicycling through Provence with this guy:
Dad reports he might have been "over-training," and I'm pretty sure he was already going to make me look bad. We'll see.

This trip, like the Grand Canyon rafting trip from a few years ago, is an organized group tour. This one is via Vermont Bicycle Tours. And like the Grand Canyon trip, I haven't looked much into the details, because I don't really have to. I show up at the airport, and they take care of everything else.

The trip involves two "pre-trip" days in the town of Aix-en-Provence, followed by 1 week of cycling around Provence and the Alpilles, including stops at vineyards, historic artist's studios, and small farms. Then, we take a train to Paris for two "post-trip" free-form days in the city.

I've never been to Paris, or France at all, so I'm really looking forward to every leg. Most of my plans involve eating, drinking, walking around, and people-watching--neither Dad nor I consider it worth our while to spend hours waiting in line for museums or historic sites on such a limited time schedule. We would both love suggestions from travelers who have spent time in this corner of Europe!

I will certainly take my camera, but I don't know how much I'll photograph. I'm less likely to take pictures when there are other people around (both because everyone else is usually taking photos, and I hate holding up the group [or being held up!] getting the right shot), and I tend to take fewer photos of cities, towns, and people than I do natural landscapes.

I leave on June 10--see you then!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Darwin, and the Long Trip Home

After Kakadu, I had a mere three-hour drive to get to my last destination, the tropical city of Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. I had to change a flat while in the park, but through the powerful work of prayer (Praise Be!), the spare tire held until I made it to civilization.

I rented a vacation apartment in Darwin so I could do dishes and laundry and all the un- and re-packing I had to do to get home. It was a lot of work to dig all my stuff out of the vehicle, clean everything, and reassemble everything that belonged to the rental agency. While I did so, I discovered an entire second set of bedding, including a second pillow that I could have sorely used to supplement the single tired-out one I found on my first day. Oh well!

Then, I had to take Princess back.

Go on, now, go! Don'tcha understand, I don't love you anymore! So get out of here! Go on, go!
That left me with a few days in Darwin without a vehicle. I rode my bike to the beach one day, but a) it was 90 degrees F and heavy humidity, so any exercise was a mess, and b) the beach in Darwin isn't really a beach, more like a long tidal flat. After that, I pretty much retreated into the air conditioning, pool, and shaded balcony of my apartment.

I put the bicycle up for sale on the Australian equivalent of Craigslist, but I didn't get a legitimate offer in the day and a half I had left. So I carted it to a shady spot on the esplanade and left it, along with the helmet and the spare inner tube, with a "FREE" sign, thinking it was too bad I wouldn't get to see who got it.

A few hours later, I was sitting on the balcony of my apartment, which is a good ways from the esplanade and faces in the opposite direction to boot. I saw this old guy pedaling hesitantly along on a blue bicycle, a too-small helmet perched unbuckled on top of his head. Could it be? A peek through the binoculars proved it--dude had my bike! It made my day.

I spend the rest of my time in Darwin on that balcony, eating ice cream, grilling up a kangaroo steak, and trying to photograph the crow-sized flying foxes that flapped by every few minutes at dusk.

Never really got a good shot. They seemed to fly slowly, but not slowly enough to turn on and focus a camera.
That, and some really fantastic tropical thunderstorms, which happened nearly every evening.

Darwin is not really a city so much as a medium-sized town that happens to be the only civilization for 1,000 km. I had a nice meal at a pub, and I enjoyed a coffee and ice cream by the waterfront, but there wasn't a whole lot to do. In general, I was content to prepare for the long flight home.

My domestic flight from Darwin to Perth gave me an entire extra day in Perth, which was quite comfortable after I dropped off my luggage in a locker. I was surprised I didn't feel particularly sentimental about the place, though I spent the stunning day (70s, sunny, breezy, and dry) along the river, in the parks, and in an outdoor shopping-plaza pub. Then, it was a very long, very unpleasant flight home (middle seats and infants the whole way). I was happy as hell to get off the plane and be back in Boston, where the weather was actually about the same as it had been in Perth. It felt good to be home!