Tag Archives: wanna ride bikes

Château d’Amboise

Because I’ve bemoaned the fact that I’ve lived in the Loire Valley for nine months now without visiting all of its picturesque castles—and because I’m constantly trying frantically to have it all in 2011—I decided to squeeze in another castle adventure today.

Bright and early this morning, my ami Adrien and I hopped on a train to nearby Amboise, a charming town on a gorgeous stretch of the Loire and home of a rather impressive castle.

This is what the interior looks like from the ramparts, but there's a ginormous mostly man-made butte underneath you.

This is what the exterior and the surrounding town look like from the ramparts--the biggest I've seen yet!

This is what I look like kinging.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Amboise is that Leonardo da Vinci spent his final three years there. He was buddies with the king, so his remains are interred in the castle’s chapel. You’d think Italy would want them…

Maybe this isn’t the most appropriate response, but to me, the cool thing about seeing Da Vinci’s grave was thinking, “You know, just for funsies, I could stomp on the skull that housed one of the Top 10 most incredible minds of human history.”

Instead, I put my ear to the ground to confirm that he is indeed rolling over in his grave, humiliated and infuriated that his legacy became "The Da Vinci Code."

After that, we rented bikes and took a long ride past about 100 vineyards and some incredible trogolodytes. Now I have an unfortunate sunburn on my arms and a Band Aid tanline on one foot, but I suppose that’s not so bad, considering I got to hang out with LDV today.

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(Mun)ich liebe München!

Top 10 things about 5 days in München:

1. Biking all over the city in gorgeous sunny weather. Other than Angry Town (which doesn’t count because I live here), Munich is the first European city I’ve been able to explore by bike. Of all the cities I’ve visited—listen up, Portland!—it was second only to Amsterdam in terms of bike accessibility and popularity.

Here I am on a borrowed bike outside of the 1972 Olympic Stadium. I think the futuristic roof looks like a whale skin stretched too tight over a metal skeleton.

2. Urban surfing in a landlocked city. No joke.

This canal that runs through the city is a hotspot for awesome surfers like this guy, and decidedly less awesome onlookers like yours truly.

Weird image: dudes carrying their surfboards through the middle of the city.

3. Meat, meat, meat. Stay tuned for a post on my almost exclusively carnivorous Bavarian diet.

4. I went to University with Andrea one day, for her Advanced French Grammar class. For the rest of my life, I will tell this story as, “I did some graduate work in Germany.

5. Bavaria had some nutty kings, namely Ludwigs I & II. Ludwig I was fascinated with female beauty, which he considered a manifestation of moral purity. He commissioned portraits of the 36 most beautiful women in Bavaria to hang in the “Hall of Beauties” at Nymphenburg Palace.

It was difficult for him to commission my portrait since I wasn't born yet, so I did him the favor of inserting myself.

6. Bavaria Day! Stay tuned for a post on…
7. Wearing a dirndl to visit…
7. The castle in the sky (!) and…
8. Swan Lake!

9. It felt really good to be in a society that values beer for the first time since I left Minnesota. Restaurants and beer gardens sell it by the liter!

10. But the very best thing of all was visiting this lovely lady!

My dear friend Andrea, former fellow teaching assistant and resident of Angry Town.

Loire by bike

I’m currently on spring break, which is a mixed blessing. It should be wonderful to have two weeks of vacation with all of Europe at my fingertips. Oh but wait. I ran out of money last month, so I couldn’t book tickets anywhere, and the places I’m most excited to visit are all (a) prohibitively expensive during vacation periods and/or (b) no fun to visit alone, and my friends in France are dropping like flies (that is, leaving).

I realize that someday (with any luck, soon), I will wish I could have two weeks of vacation in France with absolutely no responsibilities. On that day, EJ, please remind yourself that vacation is no fun when you’re alone in Angry Town with an extremely limited budget. First World Problems, right?

Trying to make the best of a bittersweet situation—and battle my pastry belly, you know, two birds, one stone style—I made a resolution to avail myself of the extensive Loire by Bike path that runs from the Atlantic all the way to Germany.

Like most things in this country and life, my opinion of it vacillates rapidly from high to low.

I’ve passed through some scenery lovely enough to inspire me to become an Impressionist painter, if only I had paints and a canvas and knew how to paint.

A village dripping in wisteria, for instance,

the convergence of the Maine and Loire rivers,

and this lovely lane that made me gush like Anne of Green Gables.

As wonderful as it is of France to provide such an extensive bike path, however, I’m afraid I must look a gift horse in the mouth for a moment. What kind of bike path has stairs? Only a slick, squillion-dollar mountain bike could charge up and down them safely. I have to climb off my clunky three-speed and drag it up and down steps and sharp bumps. (If I do that section of the path again, I’ll get a picture of it.)

Even more frustrating, most of the path isn’t easily accessible to me, and in addition to the ridiculous stairs, the closest segment is, frankly, not that interesting. Technically, I’m not supposed to take my municipal-issue bike out of Angers. I think it’s fair for me to take the bike as far as I can ride it, but my dear bike is kind of a fattie. She’s just not cut out for a very long trip. I like her as a friend and all, but I get irritated because she just can’t move very fast.

But she does look pretty cute against the backdrop of the Loire, doesn't she?

Of bikes and bonnets

Caitlin and I just returned from a magical adventure.

The Loire Valley is littered with castles, yet in our seven months here, we had visited only one castle each (the closest one) and hadn’t even laid eyes on the Loire River. For the sake of stories and photo albums, we decided to rectify that situation by biking to the nearby village of Ponts-de-Cé. When we got there, we were devastated to discover that the Loire had disappeared. “How will they make wine?!” we cried in disbelief.

Scenic overlook of the Low-ire.

False alarm! A few meters farther, we got a real view of the Loire, which does indeed contain water.

This is the real Loire.

After snacking on bread and apples in the park, we had over an hour to twiddle our thumbs until the castle museum opened. Ponts-de-Cé itself was fairly nondescript, but Caitlin had a great idea. “This would be more fun if we pretend it’s another country,” she said. So we did.

Like France, Ponts-de-Cé was still in Easter Sunday mode—that is, closed—so our only possible option for entertainment was a tabac that sold wine for —not kidding—1€10/glass. A country where wine is as cheap as water? Yes, please.

After a glass or three, we headed to the most ridiculous(ly wonderful) museum in the world.

From outside, Pont-de-Cé’s castle doesn’t look like much. It has neither moat nor ramparts, and kind of looks chopped in half. Because theirs lacks the grandeur of so many castles so very close by, I think the good people of Ponts-de-Cé knew they needed an edge. So once upon a time, someone said, “Hey I know! Let’s fill our B-list castle with bonnets!”

Inside, therefore, now lies the Musée des coiffes et des traditions—no joke, a museum full of hundreds of white lace bonnets.

France has a thing for putting glorious creepy mannequins in museums. This one was no exception.

Room1, in which our bike trek to this foreign land was rewarded with creepy mannequins in funny hats.

Room 2, in which there are bonnets, bonnets, everywhere, yet not a one to wear.

The Ponts-de-Cése (the way I pronounce their nationality in my head, just by the way, sounds like “pond disease”) taught me an important lesson on my role as a woman. Most of the bonnets featured some motif (flowers, leaves, bells) in a set of seven, to symbolize the Seven Virtues of Women.

Work, constancy, fidelity, courage, beauty, patience, and purity. I've got courage and beauty down, so maybe it's time to focus on my constancy if I want to be the perfect woman...

Throughout the museum, we pretended we were shopping for my wedding veil.

We chose this one.

Room 3, in which there were even more creepy mannequins. I'm sure they come to life when we're not looking.

It got even better. Mindful of its castle setting, the bonnet museum invites you up the tower. On the way up the winding stairs, you pass the ominously-labeled “Room of Discipline.”

I didn't feel like reading the explanation provided, because it was more fun to guess discipline involved being made into a wig.

The “Room of Women’s Security” housed an impressive collection of dolls and some unlabeled pottery. Most of the dolls came from France, but also elsewhere in Europe, and just for fun, Guatemala.

The dolls were also wearing bonnets.

What I loved about the museum, other than its obvious ridiculous factor, is that I’ve always loved old-fashioned clothes. My mother will gladly regale you with tales of the Laura Ingalls Wilder costumes she made me for Halloween. Seriously, it’s fascinating.

I mean, can you imagine dressing your toddler in this get-up and then having to clean it after they poop?

To visit a whole museum of old-fashioned accessories—set in an ancient castle, no less? What a day!

‘ipsterz?

I explained the reasoning behind my term of unendearment not only because I think it’s important to explain why I’m not crazy about Angers, but also to give you the context necessary to understand the surprise I stumbled upon yesterday evening.

En route to a dinner party, I wandered through the public garden and came across a scene that baffled me. A guy had set up his drums in the gazebo, and was playing what I can only describe as très avant garde. Around him had gathered a small crowd of —dare I say it? can it really be?—French hipsters.

This scene could exist in Minneapolis.

Now, say what you will about hipsters, but I find them to be an indicator species, roughly correlated with the number of interesting & creative people a city has to offer. (I suppose it’s a parabolic function, increasing to a vertex, after which the hipsters are probably too rich to be interesting. For evidence, see Hollywood and Williamsburg, Brooklyn.)

Note the fixed-gear bicycle on the ground. It's only the second time I've seen one in France. (The first was, not surprisingly, in Paris.)

For that reason, I titled the drum solo “Bittersweet Mystery.” These are the sort of people I would have wanted to be friends with all along. Where were they hiding? Why did they wait to come out until I’m about to leave?

Dispatches from an Angry Place

First off, I should note that I stole my title. It’s the subtitle of my friend Caitlin’s blog, and it seems appropriate to me right now.

Depending upon how my job search turns out, I may have just under a month left in France. (That is, if I get the job I really really really really want, I’ll have to book it home the second I’m done teaching.) With so little time left, I should really focus on the positive, and get the very most out of every last moment here. Unfortunately, that’s increasingly difficult.

All along, I had been hoping to stay in France for the summer or forever. I changed that tune a bit when I got back from my magical vacation with Jef. He doesn’t expect me to hurry home to him; in fact, he’s been very patient about my wanderlust. (As long as I’m here, he gets to expect periodic care packages full of cookies, sausages, and French cut cardigans.) The trouble is, now that I’ve seen a few cities in France that I would love to live in, the sheer mediocrity of Angers glows like Marie Curie’s skeleton in the ground…or some more appropriate metaphor…

For six months, I’ve pronounced Angers in the correct French fashion—AhnZHAY—but the longer I’m here, the more I want to pronounce it à l’Américaine. (As in, rhymes with dangers.)

Why?

Let’s talk about how many times I was blatantly harassed just this week, not even counting the cop I told you about a few days ago.

Exhibit A: My friend Caitlin who just ran the Paris semi marathon concurs: running here stinks. Each time I’ve gone for a run/walk, the townspeople of this horrid place—especially men—stare at me as if I had extra legs or something. Thanks, dudes, for making an already displeasurable pastime even worse.

Exhibit B: I’d like to note that this has happened every single time I’ve gone running: after I inevitably slow to a walk, some smartass feels the need to chant, “Faster! Faster!” Just shut up, Angers.

Exhibit C: On Monday, as Andrea and I were headed home from a long run/walk, we turned down an almost empty street downtown. (One end was blocked for construction, so there were fewer passersby there than usual.) As we passed a group of five guys, probably around 17 years old, one of them approached me, posturing and smacking his fist in his hand. I walked on by, in utter disbelief that someone would actually behave like such a brutish imbecile. When I glanced back over my shoulder to shoot him a dirty look, he was looking straight at me and humping the air. It’s best if I don’t get myself started on how furious I was, so I leave it as this: if the Angers police are so concerned about my safety, where were they when I needed them?!

Exhibit D: When I saw a fellow assistant outside the supermarket yesterday, I didn’t get off my bike as we chatted. As we exchanged our hellos, some guy on his bike reached over, shoved my handlebars, and then shouted, “You’re not balanced!” as he biked away.

Exhibit E: Thirty minutes later, on an almost empty street, a driver loudly HONKED at me, sped past, and gestured that I should get over to the right. I was already on the right side of the road, but apparently I was supposed to bike in the gutter so as to stay out of his way. I should note that his aggression was completely unnecessary: there was no one on the other side of the road preventing him from passing me. But even if there had been, is it really the end of the world to slow down for ten seconds?

I don’t want to jump to conclusions or anything, but I’m getting the impression that an unwritten law forbids women to exercise in this town.


Whoops.

I spoke too soon. Or maybe I jinxed myself by saying anything at all. I’ll explain.

On Monday afternoon, I got a traffic ticket.

A traffic ticket?! you may ask, confused because I have not driven a car in over six months.

Yes, a freakin’ traffic ticket. Want to know why? Because I did not put my feet on the ground at a stop sign.

I tried pretending not to understand French, but it’s surprisingly tricky to make mistakes that were trained out of me in French I, and the cop who had waved me over was having none of it anyway.

“STOP,” she said. “It’s the same in the United States.”

I considered telling her it wasn’t the same in the U.S.

Instead, I started babbling about how I go through that particular roundabout several times per week and at least once per week one or multiple cars nearly kill me there. “So then you are seeing,” I stammered, “That I am always making attention to my security. I do not go if an automobile approaches because I maybe slapped.”

“How do you expect them to respect the rules when you don’t?” she asked, adopting a snotty tone far too familiar to kindergartners and foreigners, in which someone addresses you as if you’re a complete moron, which, much though my French may suggest otherwise, I am not.

The penance? 90 EUROS.

Yikes. This woman seriously wasn’t kidding around. It’s a good thing the transaction took place in French. If I had had native language advantage, I probably would have sassed back and that wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere.

“Please!” I pleaded. “I’m sorry! But that is over 10% of my salary!”

That’s when it turned ridiculous.

“Fine,” she said. “22 euros.”

Point: thank God. Counterpoint: What kind of law is that flexible?!

“It’s for your safety,” she said. “The hospitals are full of bikers who got hit by cars.”

That’s when I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“If the hospitals are full of bikers, why aren’t you out here ensuring bikers wearing helmets?” I asked. “I’m the only person in Angers who wears a helmet!”

“It’s not obligatory,” she said.

“And why not?” I shrieked. “The rules are saying nothing to me. I know that I am a lot right because I am doing something for my health and for the planet. The cars, they do nothing! If the polices are making worries for bikers, no one is going to bike, and then the French will be fat as Americans and the planet suffers!”

Though I had trouble saying so in French—I probably could have explained myself better if I weren’t so irritated—I still maintain that I was in the right. The rules are the rules, sure, and yes, technically I should put my feet on the ground at every stop sign, but (1) I was making a righthand turn into a bike lane, at least 100 meters from even possibly being in anyone else’s way; (2) everyone knows that you shouldn’t come to a complete stop when you’re biking into a headwind because then you lose your momentum; and (3) charging a biker 90E —oh, JK, 22—for running a stop sign is an absurd waste of everyone’s time and money.