Monday, May 30, 2016

Aarau - 47° 23' 32" N 08° 02' 36" E

Kilometre 0 - Leaving Bischoffsheim

After breakfast with the the Bouviers, we left their front door on our fully-laden bicycles, headed for the Bischoffsheim train station. The forecast had been for rain and the skies were delivering on their promise. Through the rain we went, refusing to let the drizzle dampen our spirits.   We were catching the 07:54 TGV to Basel, Switzerland to meet Gord and Jenny at the train station, jump on our bikes and begin the odyssey.  They met us as planned and, after a few bike adjustments, started towards Aarau and our beds for the night.

Gord and Jenny are all we could want in riding (and travelling) companions - positive, adventurous, talkative (helping the kilometres fly by), experienced and capable cycle tourists.  We are glad to have organized the trip with them.  This is going to be so much fun!

Town fountain in Aarau

Navigating the densely-populated European cities by bicycle would be a daunting challenge, were it not for an extensive network of bike paths that stretch from Amsterdam to the southern tips of Spain and Italy, as well as east and west across the continent. The trick is finding them from where you are in any given city. We did go 'round and 'round through Basel until we found and recognized the proper signage. Once we did, the going was great, cruising along the relatively flat riverside pathways. We left the city, cruising past schools, outlying suburbs and eventually farms.  Then we got the first of the hills.
Sixteen percent grades are not something that anyone should have to experience on a bike.  Super-powerful, multi-thousand horsepower locomotives AT THEIR BEST struggle greatly to climb ten percent grades.  We spent the middle part of the day grunting up roadways littered with the collapsed bodies of alpine-bred mountain goats that had ATTEMPTED the climbs we were currently endeavouring. We did, eventually, make it to the top of the 788 m high pass between Ormalingen and Rothenflue.  The road then took on a more gentle, roll.  We cycled along paths of fresh green hay, interspersed with wildflowers. As we wound our way along the rural road, we saw few cars despite going through many lovely villages.  The villages were beyond picturesque, with rough-hewn log beamed barns and houses built so close to the road (or maybe the road built so close to them) that you could run your hands along them as you went by. Cobbled, winding roads passed the village church as we made our way along the bike route (clearly and reassuringly signed at every corner and intersection of our 68 km ride).

Through the rolling hills

By 5 pm, we were in Aarau and were at our AirBnB for the night. Out for dinner and beer to reward ourselves, we ploughed through huge piles of pasta. We had a quick walk around the old part (inside the old town walls) of Aarau, and yes, it is quaint and scenic. A bit touristy, but fully functioning.

I'm looking forward to seeing how my legs do with a night's sleep and a fresh challenge tomorrow.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bischoffsheim - 48° 29' 25" N 07° 29' 28" E

Excited girls!
Two years ago, Lou (my French Goddaughter) asked if we could attend her first communion.  Having been given such good notice, we accepted with delight.  Twenty months and eight thousand kilometers later, here we are.

Great excitement was rippling through all the 9 year-olds of Bischoffsheim as today is their first communion.  In the Bouvier household, the day began with gifts presented to Lou, the god-daughter de jour.  Outfits had been chosen and lovingly pressed.  Hair is coiffed into braids and buns and twisted with flowers and a thousand diamantés.  Friends and family are gathered to witness the great event.

Ma Belle Filleule was so excited, she slept with her lovingly pressed clothes - much to the delight of her dear Maman.

Sean and I followed along with the service, standing and sitting at all the correct times and we both managed the rhythm of The Lord's Prayer in French. The eighteen kids involved in the ceremony were proud as punch with themselves and carried out the well-rehearsed ceremony flawlessly.

Ma belle filleule
The scene outside the church was clutches of proud relatives, recently-released, freshly-anointed youngsters and a general air contented festivity.  At Lou's request, Creperie Chez Dom was the location of the 'after-party'. Here we were treated to the most fabulous four course luncheon. Our French had a good workout with very patient friends and Sean had the opportunity to flex the German portion of his language skills with one of the Bouvier's neighbours.  All in all, a grand event!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mont Sainte-Odile - 48° 26' 14" N 7° 24' 13" E

Passing through beautiful Obernai
Visiting friends in France isn't all wine and baguettes, you know.

We are here as the preamble to a big bike journey.  We have packed up our bikes and brought them from Canada.  Before we start the our tour with Gord and Jenny, we wanted to make sure we had properly reassembled them and not forgotten anything (besides proper training) necessary for full days of European hill climbing.

 This morning, we loaded everything we brought into our panniers and started towards (and eventually up) the biggest hill around - Mont Sainte-Odile. 

Filling up at la source de Sainte Odile
At the top of the mountain is a monastery and viewpoints that look east towards Germany.  We have done this ride before (on previous visits) using our ultra-light racing bikes.  The bikes we have with us this time are more solid workhorses with racks for carrying everything necessary for multi-week trips.  Although they are heavier, they have very low gears that allow us to s-l-o-w-l-y peddle up with our gear.  Kate is riding a sturdy new steed with disc brakes, which will be handy for keeping the speed in check when descending curvy alpine switchbacks. Sean is on a trusty, 30+ year-old Miyata that was a top-of-the-line touring rig in its day.

We managed to make it all the way up, filling us with confidence that we will have no REAL problems with the coming three weeks of Swiss and Italian passes and valleys.  Kate and Sean both feel their bikes are up to the task.

Now, back down the 7 kilometres of 8% grade and a further 15 km ride to return to the Bouvier's house to reward ourselves with a delicious dinner!

Monday, May 23, 2016

YYC - 51° 07' 30'' N 114° 01' 01'' E

Stelvio Pass (oh Lordy!)

Off again!

Our destination is Bischoffsheim in the Alsatian region of France to visit The Bouviers and attend our beautiful God-daughter's first communion.  Then the pain begins as we head off cycling with Gord and Jenny.  We are working on the hypothesis that one does not need to be fit to cycle tour, you get fit along the way!  As we embark on our four country, 1,300km, 21,400m vertical gain, 3 week adventure, we will certainly put this hypothesis to the test!

Our proposed route is:

Our route through Switzerland
Basel (Switzerland) - Aarau - Bern - Fribourg - Interlaken - Guttannen - Andermatt - Chur - Vaduz (Liechtenstein) - Chur (Switzerland) - Bergun - Zernez - Stelvio (Italy) - Stelvio Pass - Merano - Bolzano - Molina - Borgo Valsugana - Feltre.

In Feltre, we will be cycling the Sportful Dolomiti Gran Fondo.
Our route in Italy

We then have a few non-cycling days in Venice and Milan before heading back to The Bouviers in Bischoffsheim.

We are claiming France as our fourth country because Sean and I will ride to the Bischoffsheim railway station to catch the train to Basel and Gord and Jenny's hotel in Basel is actually in France!

Souhaitez-nous bonne chance!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Cochrane - 51° 09' 39" N 114° 28' 38" W

At Ray's 60th
So we have had a fabulous time back in Calgary!  Thanks to Karen and Jeff for allowing us to land in their spare room and use their house as a hotel (with fabulous service!).  In and out of organizing the final details for our trip to Europe, we are also finalizing Mum and Liz's visit in July which starts four days after we arrive home!

Along with dull administration of life - doctors, landlord responsibilities, hair cuts and taxes, we have set up our bikes, packed and managed to squeeze in some social and cultural events such as a Radiohead Visual Listening Party,  Ray's 60th, Michaela's Graduation Party, Book Club and a few dinners and lunches.  And we have been bike shopping!  We were equipping two of our neighbours with bikes so we can get out on the trails as the Broadview Cycling Club in the summer!

With the early Spring, we scampered up a snow-free Highwood Pass on the closed Highway 40 with Gord and Jenny.  A different day saw us cruising along the Legacy Trail and Minnewanka Loop.  We plan one more ride - Highway 1A, before breaking down our bikes and packing them into their travel bags.

Excited as we are for the adventures lying ahead, we are also looking forward to a summer on Broadview Road house-sitting for Suzanne. Thanks to everyone for the offers of accommodation, but be careful what you wish for.  You may find us taking up permanent residence in your basement!

Legacy Trail - green in mid-May
Highwood Pass - snow beside the road but pleasant riding
Radioheaded 3 - Hooray for One Yellow Rabbit!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ottawa - 45° 24' 56" N 75° 41' 14" W

paperwork statue ... across from parliment

Here we are in Ottawa - about to embark on a week of intensive Canadian cultural immersion.  Kate is armed with her Cultural Access Pass (a perk for the first 12 months of being Canadian that gives free access to all kinds of cultural attractions) and Sean with his Capital Museums Passport which gives him access to seven museums in seven days (except one is closed!).  So here we go...

Day/Museum 1 - The Canadian Museum of Nature

giant jellyfish!

As its name suggests, this museum is all about nature!  It is housed in the beautiful Victoria Memorial Museum Building which was specifically built as a museum.  Therefore, all the gorgeous mosaics, lead lighting and carvings are plants and animals.  The building was used as a temporary home for Parliament for four years after fire destroyed the centre block of Parliament House in 1916.

Divided into galleries - the Water Gallery, The Earth Gallery, The Bird Gallery, The Mammal gallery and the Fossil Gallery, it included amazing dioramas, stuffed critters and even a few live ones!  Not so excited about the rosy-haired tarantula.

We managed to lose the day in this magnificent place.

Things we learnt:
  • Marine mammals flap their tails up and down and fish flap side to side
  • A narwhale's horn is actually a tooth
Moose mosaic on the floor at the entrance

Main staircase and the magnificent carvings

Ok, perhaps just a wee bit of exaggeration!

Day/Museum 2 - The Canada Space and Aviation Museum

From the first flying machines to Chris Hadfield's rendition of David Bowie's A Space Oddity, this museum covers it all.   Jammed packed full of planes of all different ages and uses with videos and demonstrations.  You could check out the seating on a 1950s commercial airliner, what it was like on a Lancaster Bomber or learn how to operate The Canadarm (which is only 15.2 metres long - so the International Space Station is actually really small!).  We attended an demonstration on a fighter jet ejector seat.  Disappointingly, although the g-suit was fully inflated to demonstrate its use, the ejector seat did not leave the podium.

Things we learnt:
  • That you lose 2 inches of height if you eject from a fighter plane (If you eject twice, you are get a desk job.  For safety reasons and also you just crashed two multi-million dollar planes!)
  • Alexander Graham Bell was heavily involved in aviation research.
  • How cool The Canadarm is.
  • How small the International Space Station is - the living space is about the size of a 747 cabin.

Sean getting into the swing of things

Bush plane complete with canoe - only in Canada

Canadarm 1 - VERY cool! Canadarm 2 is still attached to the Space Station!

Day/Museum 3 - The Canadian Museum of History

Across the river from Ottawa, so not only is The Canadian Museum of History not in our Nation's Capital, it is in a different province!  'The other side of the river' is Gatineau, in Québec!  Despite this technicality, we managed to lose yet another day in this magnificent museum.

The museum featured a lot of indigenous artifacts and stories, arctic exploration, the fur trade and the gold rush. 

They also had a fabulous exhibition of horse-drawn carriages and sleighs. The 1800s were the golden age of the horse-drawn vehicle.  Most horse drawn vehicles had a nameplate, identifying the maker – a tradition still used by car makers today.  So much for having to change from winter tyres to summer tyres, back then, they changed out their carriage for a sleigh!

Things we learnt:
  • The Inuit came up with the concept of layering to keep warm.  They wore their undergarments with the fur inside and their outer-garments with the fur out.
the main gallery is massive!

The Seal of Canada

Day/Museum 4 - The Royal Canadian Mint/Question Time in The House of Commons/Bytown Museum

We started the day with a tour of The Royal Mint of Canada.  Creating all the collectable, investment and special coins (the 2010 Olympic medals were minted here!) is quite the process with the Mint refining all its own metals.  Technologically, the Mint is the most advanced in the world and was first to produce 99.999% pure gold.  In celebration, they minted THREE $1 million coins!  We got to hold a gold bar (12.44kg of the gorgeous stuff) but sadly, it was chained to the table with a security guard standing by so we were unable to slip it into our pocket. 

Give it to me! I want to take it home...

We then hit Parliament House for Question Time in the House of Commons.  Since the shooting in 2014, security has been ramped up and we had to surrender all bags, phones, jackets, etc. and pass through two security points.  Always a good thing to witness democracy first hand, even if it is a little tedious!

Lazing on the Parliamentary Lawns with The Peace Tower in the background

After lunch, we wandered along the Rideau Canal to the Bytown Museum. It traces the history of Ottawa from the construction of the Rideau Canal and the early days of Bytown to the city's emergence as Canada's capital.

Things we learnt:
  • Australia, at one stage, outsourced the making of its 20¢ and 5¢ coins to the Royal Canadian Mint due to taking on too many external contracts.
  • The Royal Canadian Mint was the first to produce 99.999% pure gold
  • The Honorable Member for Simcoe-Grey is very upset the Government abolished the Child Fitness Tax Credit in the recent budget. (they added a whole stack of cool stuff instead but that doesn't make for good arguments!)
  • Queen Victoria chose the location for Canada's capital as Ottawa due to its location between French/English, its strategic location as a secondary route to Lake Ontario after The War of 1812.  The GG was very cranky. Believed he had been exiled to the wilderness.
  • The Rideau Canal was the first UNESCO designated site in Canada
Rideau Canal

Day/Museum 5 - The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

Display of bottled preserves

This museum is part of the Central Experimental Farm run by the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada.  The farm is fully operational right in the city!  They run a dairy herd, pigs, sheep, horses, bees and a few beef cows along with chooks, ducks, alpacas and the odd rabbit (for the kiddies to pat).  We did feel we were lacking the couple of squealing under 7s most other adults were towing around but enjoyed it all the same.  You are able to wander through the animal barns, patting some but not all of the animals.  

They had an excellent pavilion on food preservation and a display dedicated to the International Year of the Pulse!

One of the beautiful tulip displays

We wandered home along the Canal and past some of the beautiful tulip displays that are starting to bloom around Ottawa.  The Canadian Tulip Festival starts next week.  It is a celebration of Spring (at long, bloody last!) but also a celebration founded on international friendship with Holland.

We did some research and plagiarized Wikipedia!

Following the Nazi Invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch Royal Family were spirited out of the country to rule in exile from the United Kingdom. The following month, Princess Juliana brought daughters Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene to Canada. On January 19, 1943, Princess Juliana gave birth to daughter Princess Margriet at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, which was temporarily declared extraterritorial by the Government of Canada, to ensure the princess would hold exclusively Dutch, rather than dual nationality. 

After five years in exile in Canada, Princess Juliana and her children were reunited with Queen Wilhelmina in the liberated part of the Netherlands. As a show of gratitude for her stay in Canada, and for Canadian soldiers’ role in the liberation of her homeland, Princess Juliana presented to the people of Canada a number of gifts, including 100,000 tulip bulbs. The following year, an additional 20,500 bulbs were received in Canada, with a request to plant them on the grounds of the Ottawa Civic Hospital.

Juliana, who became Queen of the Netherlands in 1948, continued to send a gift of thousands of tulip bulbs to Canada each year during her reign, which ended with her abdication in April 1980.  So, now Ottawa has an awful lot of tulips...

Things we learnt:
  • To mark the birth of Princess Margriet, the Dutch flag was flown at the top of the Peace Tower. This is the only time a foreign flag has flown over Canada’s Parliament Buildings.

Day/Museum 6 - The National Gallery Of Canada

Sean pondering 'Voice of Fire'

Today, we lost the day in The National Gallery of Canada.  A stunning building and a wonderful collection - from Picasso to Monet, Jane Kidd to Jackson Pollock.  (Sean knows Jane Kidd from the days of Veer...)

Sean finally got to see Voice of Fire.  He remembers the big controversy when the National Gallery purchased it. Although trusting those who curate the Gallery to make the right decisions about what qualifies as a significant piece of art, the piece didn't do much for either of us.  It is Canada's Blue Poles.

Things we learnt:
  • We need to study art to truly appreciate some of the more abstract works.
  • Voice of Fire was hung upside down for the first four years of it being exhibited (who knew!).
  • Is Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box art?  Canadian Customs didn't think so and wanted to charge duty on them as merchandise. 
  • Art, truly is, in the eye of the beholder.
The Gallery building is stunning

Study - Tulips with Parliament

So Ottawa, it's been fun!  We are now cultured up and heading back west.

(...and if anyone actually reads this blog, please make the odd comment so we know you are! xx)