Jump into Ireland, Jump into Belfast

I am missing Belfast, Northern Ireland. You are only surprised by that statement if you have never been. I have been lucky enough to spend considerable time in Belfast both on vacation and on Habitat for Humanity Global Village builds for two weeks at a time.

New Titanic Museum in Belfast
New Titanic Museum in Belfast

For a period of about 10 years I flew to Ireland about every 18 months. Every experience was special.  The first trip was a 4 days in Dublin. Epic. Then I won a trip to Ireland at the Sacramento Irish American Club’s St. Patrick’s Day party. My friend Cameon and I drove around the island with a quick trip through Nor Ireland. We laughed our way through learning to shift the car and drive on the other side. We had such fun.

Shortly after that I was invited to join a Habitat build with Northern Ireland Habitat for Humanity. It was a life changing experience. It was 2000 and the Troubles were technically ended by the peace process, but the evidence of strife was still easy to find. That was part of the attraction–amazing, wonderful people amidst political conflict. Oh, and did I mention that Northern Ireland is beautiful. On that same trip I climbed the Giant’s Causeway and hiked to the Belfast Caves.

I had the opportunity to hear Van Morrison live in his home town, and Brian Keenan to read from his latest book at a literary festival. The disturbing political murals are a reminder that peace is a process, not a single vote. Every visit provides signs of progress.  I am in love with Derry (slash Londonderry) and spent a wild day in a thunder shower (technically in Donegal) after passing soldiers with automatic rifles patrolling the border. I walked in a St Patrick’s Day parade in Downpatrick where the great saint is buried.

I made several subsequent trips to build homes or to visit friends. In a recent issue of Afar magazine I spied an ad for Ireland that featured the new Titanic Belfast museum. The Titanic was built in Belfast shipyards. It does not hold any fascination for me, and yet I will go one day.

Maybe one day soon. I am keen to see friends and ride my bike up to the Habitat work site.  I am looking into a flying visit before I report to Yorkshire for the first stage of Tour de France 2014.

That’s So French

I have been learning French phrases using the Memrise application on my tablet. One of the phrases that does not make sense to me, “je pourrais etre americain” is translated as “I think I am an American.”  When would I not be sure?

My Friend Maigret
My Friend Maigret

I was laughing about it with a friend and he remarked that it makes sense if you speak French. And at some intuitive level I know what he means.

I just finished a mystery by Georges Simenon, My Friend Maigret, written in French in 1949. It is unusual in that Chief Inspector Maigret is called into solve a case but instead of approaching the case in the tradition of other English-style mysteries by examining the body and the scene of the crime, and so forth. Instead he meanders around the island casually observing people and consuming copious amount of alcohol. Amazingly he manages to figure out who committed the crime relying on his sense of things, without evidence. It was not a very long book so I read it in a day and it gave me a hint of how different the experience will be from other places I been.

It is hard to describe that sensibility that is so French. It is passion, nuance, and sensuous pleasure. Frenchness is a feeling not a thought. This is what makes the Tour de France the premier bike race in the world–the verve, vineyards, sunflowers, and the special pain.

Planning My Tour de France 2014

I bought Frommer’s France Day by Day to help me plan my Tour de France 2014 adventure. My intention to follow the 21 stages of the Tour will take me through many regions of France. It made me chuckle to read the sections called, “Champagne in 3 days,” and “Champagne in one week.” At the speed of le Tour I will be lucky if I am able to stop and taste champagne at one winery.

I have watched Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggott announce the Tour for so many years I cannot count.  Paul provides a great many details about chateaus along the way, so I want to see at least one.

Landscape in Champagne, France.
Landscape in Champagne, France.

I took my Frommer’s with a country map to a coffee shop and began to look at the things I can do and see while I chase legends.

Stage 4 is the first on French soils from Le Touquet Paris-Plage to Lille. According to Frommer’s they call this region The North and Picardie. Tucked between the UK and Belgium, there are World War I battlefields, gothic cathedrals, birdlife and marshes.

Stage 5 from Ypres to Arenborg Porte du Hainart is still in Picardie and then Stage 6 moves on to Champagne with 194 km stage from Arras to Reims. Only bubbles from this region can legally be called champagne. Everything else is sparking wine.

Reims Cathedral
Reims Cathedral

Stage 7 is from Epernay to Nancy in Alsace and Lorraine. Luxembourg and Germany are across the border. The German influence can be found in architecture and food. Stage 8 finishes in Gerardmer nestled next to Parc Naturel Regonal des Ballons de Vosges. Mulhouse hosts the finish of Stage 9 and the start of Stage 10. July 15 is a rest day and then the race enters the mountain stages.

Planning My Tour de France 2014 Adventure

Not sure if it is the caffeine (and sugar) I consumed at lunch or the sheer thrill of booking two legs of my Tour de France Adventure earlier today. I am stoked. I put a $100 deposit with Thomson Bike Tours so they would send me an announcement about their spectator tours as soon as they came available.

Route Map of Tour de France 2014
Route Map of Tour de France 2014

I received the email this morning and already booked two tours! I previously determined that mountain stages are easier to view with help from a tour company. I learned on October 23 that le Tour 2014 has 3 mountain ranges! I looked at the tour operators sanctioned by the Tour de France and zeroed in on Trek Tours and Thomson Bike Tours as they are English speaking.

Thomson especially offers more for spectators in the mountains. This morning I spent some time looking at the itineraries of the Alps trip and the Pyrenees and Paris trip. The Alps trip offers better access to 3 mountain stages, but substitutes site-seeing instead of Stage 12. They organize it so we will stay every night in Albertville and then transport us to the various stages. I can spend my travel energy on le Tour, not shifting hotels.  I weighed not viewing the start or finish of Stage 12 with the upside of a tour operator worrying about the details for me and pressed “Book this Trip”.

The second trip is longer and tackles more challenging logistics. It offers 5 nights in St Lary and 2 nights in Paris. There is another trade-off: travelling to Paris instead of viewing the 20th stage, the time trial. By this time I will have been travelling for a month and I anticipate appreciating anyone who is willing to sort out my details.

I have not gone on organized tours very often. It can be challenging moving about with a group of people (any number greater than 4). Yet there is also built in camaraderie and professional guides offer greater knowledge and access.

I also plan to start le Tour with Trek Tours. This is a trip for cyclists, not spectators. For this trip (not yet published), I am improving my cycling ability and endurance. I am purposefully planning it for the start of my adventure when my energy level will be at the highest level (and before the mountains). I am so excited about riding from Cambridge to London that I want to jump up and down.

One of the great benefits of planning your own travel is that it increases your overall enthusiasm and anticipation for the adventure.  I will be traveling on my own until I get to Yorkshire, and then again when I leave Trek Tours (probably in Reims).  I have to sort out hotels, and transportation between towns (I am not worried about food in France!) until the first rest day on July 15, about 2 weeks into my trip.

The good news is that my friends the Watson-Lovells will be coming from their Germany adventure to join me for one or two days during that period. Brian is very good at travel planning, so it is good to have someone to consult for part of that on-my-own section.

I also have a couple of other gaps that I will need to sort out lodging and/or transportation. Then I will stop planning the details because I want to leave room for the spontaneous delights of the unexpected.

Swatch: Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits

Downton Abbey Season 4
Downton Abbey Season 4

In the “tradition” of Interweave’s other theme publications, Jane Austen Knits, and The Unofficial Harry Potter Knits, this magazine presents designs inspired by the popular television program Downton Abbey.  The cover promises “27 inspired knitting projects for upstairs, downstairs & the troops.” The story lines in Downton Abbey cover the time period from the sinking of the Titanic, through the Great War (WWI) and the roaring twenties, so the knitting projects run the thin line between retro and costume.

I enjoyed the articles on life in Highclere Castle, marrying an English lord, and knitting for the troops more than the knitting designs. I was surprised by the knitwear for “downstairs.” The projects for the servants hold more modern appeal to me as a knitter and potentially for my wardrobe.

These magazines are expensive at $14.99 US/CAN and are more easily justified if you think of them as a booklet that you will keep for ideas and inspiration. I have not made a project from any of these specialty publications so I can only hope that they hold the same standard of pattern accuracy as other Interweave publications.

This magazine will disappear from the news stands about the time Season 4 begins to play on PBS in the United States: January 5, 2014.

Bergen Funicular Provides a Spectacular View

An easy walk from the wharf area to the funicular.
An easy walk from the wharf area to the funicular.

One summer’s evening I went for an after dinner walk and rode the Floibanen funicular in Bergen, Norway. A funicular, according to Wikipedia, is “a cable railway in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a steep slope; the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other.” I makes for a quick ascent in comfort. There are glimpses of Bergen along the way with the final big reward at the top. The views of Bergen are spectacular.

The Floibanen takes about 8 minutes to reach Floyen at 320 meters above sea level. Floyen offers a restaurant, souvenir shop and snacks. After admiring the view and taking pics, I bought a bottle of water and began the approximately 30 minute walk downhill to town.

Modern and comfortable way to ascend to Floyen.
Modern and comfortable way to ascend to Floyen.

All along the way there sights to admire–interesting plants and birds, exuberant Norwegians exercising, beautiful homes and neighborhoods. I had an interesting conversation with a local who drives in to use the trail for exercise. She shared the current housing prices ($4 million NOK, July 2013) and tolls to enter center of town by car (just increased from 9 NOK to 20 NOK) and other local knowledge. Living in Norway is expensive!

View of Bergen from Floyen

It was terrific exercise–I felt it in my legs for the next couple of days–and good practice for Pulpit’s Rock.

Trail from Bergen to Floyen

This is affordable entertainment: adults can ride one-way for 40 NOK or 80 NOK return. Children ride for half the price and a family of four can travel for 200 NOK.

It is a 10 minute walk from the cruise ship wharf to the bottom station if you are stopping for the day in Bergen.

This was my first ride on a funicular and I began to notice how many places have one–to Notre Dame Cathedral in Lyon, to Sacre de Coeur in Paris.  Recently I used the cable car version of a funicular in Wellington to quickly get to the top of the Botanic Gardens. It is novel transportation and saves your legs when you are trying to see as much of a place on foot in a day.

Travel is Life

I am participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, this month. I have several longer travel-writing projects I want to pursue and I am challenged with carving out the time needed to complete these and get them to publication. I am excited about this challenge. I completed a 50,000+ word novel in 2011 while I was living in St Heliers, Auckland and it helped me discover myself as a writer. I wrote the first draft to a mystery novel called Death by Sand and Gravel. Over time I discovered that I make a better travel writer than mistress of mysteries, so I am using November to recommit to a more disciplined approach to my writing life.

November is National Novel Writing Month.
November is National Novel Writing Month.

The reward will be a couple of long essays that I can independently publish through On Your Radar Media Company and many, many blog posts. There are other rewards. To write “The Hip and Chic Knitter’s Guide to Norway,” I will also knit a pretty-in-pink project that I purchased in Bergen. This will involve some pattern translation challenges and may involve interviewing other knitters who regularly translate patterns from other languages into English. This child’s sweater will also be a Christmas gift for a friend’s daughter. (Sorry to remind you that Christmas is coming.)

Thinking through how I am going to translate this pattern–asking my friend Susie in Sweden to help me and coordinate with her friends in Stavanger–got me to thinking about how travel is no longer a time set aside with strict bookends. At one time it felt like my “self” on adventures abroad was somehow different that the duller, more cautious Julie who lived a work-a-day life in NorCal. At some point, my travels and the friends I made on my adventures became so numerous that they could not be easily contained in a 2 week time slot called “vacation.” The transition was complete when I redesigned my life to be less about earning a paycheck and more about living a full life. I now have as many or more friends living abroad and I see my travel adventures as bright colored threads woven into my life tapestry, not a separate scarf only donned at the airport. Nor are my work threads the beige neutral threads in my life; they are full of vibrant color too.