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.

My Renewed Passport in the Post!

I just got my renewed passport in the mail. It was a quick turnaround taking just 2 weeks without paying extra for speed. I mailed it on October 16, which turned out to be the last day of the federal government shutdown. Maybe mailing it on that day sounds like an act of faith, but I brimmed with confidence in the State Department and the US Postal Service when I dropped my old passport and my check in the mail. I have had a passport since I was 16 years old and I retain a certain nostalgic attachment to this travel document and the inscription inside: “The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.”American Eagle

When I renewed my passport in the past they returned my old passport with a hole drilled through it like a used deck of cards from a casino. Alas, this time I did not get my retired passport back. Gone forever are the stickers from The Kingdom of Cambodia and 10 years of country stamps (when I could get customs to stamp it).

My new passport is covered in stiffer navy blue paper and every page is designed to inspire, from the Liberty Bell and quote from George Washington, “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair,” to a space vehicle on the back inside cover. Does this mean that I will need my passport if I go on a voyage to the moon?

There is new electronic technology incorporated so there is a new admonition to not bend or “expose to extreme temperatures,” so if I go to Antarctica I will need to insulate my passport! There is also a new page of important website addresses that made me look for the ubiquitous, “Like us on Facebook.” I guess the State Department has not stooped to that yet.

My overall impression is a document that is no longer as serious as dignified as passports of yore. In fact, it rivals the US Park Service “passport” for information and childlike inspiration with drawings of eagles, buffalo, cowboys and longhorns. However, it acts as the passport to enter foreign countries and legally return home and that is serious and inspiring.

UPDATE: I received my old passport in the mail on November 4. Not sure why it was sent separately, just glad to be reunited.

World of Wearable Art is WOW!

English speakers have a couple of dozen superlatives at our disposal to express complete amazement: stupendous, boffo, awesome to name a few. As I watched the World of Wearable Art show unfold, I just kept saying “Wow!”

Inspiring fashion in the lobby to set the mood.
Inspiring fashion in the lobby to set the mood.

The level of creativity and inventiveness made such a deep impression on me in the few examples I had seen in museums that I timed my visit to New Zealand around the 2 weeks of the show. You have to plan as the tickets go on sale in January and many of the evenings sell out quickly. My friend UK Sarah was willing to go with me and make a girls weekend in Wellington on the strength of my enthusiasm, and then she saw a few of the previous entries on display in Rotorua and she became a convert.

Fortunately we had friends with a flat near downtown so we did not have to find lodging. We could walk to the TSB Bank Arena in Queens Wharf, even with our heels and fancy dress. You do not have to dress up, but it can be part of the fun. It is an audience who will admire your effort. I received several compliments on my wrap while standing in the inevitable line to the ladies restroom. (The restroom is a must stop before the show–no intermission!)

The stage is set so each creation can come out from a centerpiece and progress out on to one of five runways. The fashion entries rotate around in a choreography to music so there is always so much to look at and enjoy. Dancers and, in one set, circus performers, add to the visual stimulation. There is so much to delight the eyes, the biggest challenge is figuring out a strategy for focusing attention to avoid missing any of it.

Since photos are not permitted during the performance... another creation from a prior show
Since photos are not permitted during the performance… another creation from a prior show
UK Sarah and American Julie at World of Wearable Art 2013
UK Sarah and American Julie at World of Wearable Art 2013

We bought the “premium plus” ticket for the 25th anniversary show. This ensures the quality of the seats and includes the program. It is $25NZ if you buy it separately and greatly enhances the after-show experience as each design is featured in photos. It also helps to explain the sections or themes for the show. At the end of the performance they announce the winners of each section and overall winners.

Anticipation can sweeten the experience of an event and it can lead to disappointment. The World of Wearable Art was satisfying in every way and worth the effort.

The stage appears smaller in my photo than it did during the performance.
The stage appears smaller in my photo than it did during the performance. We sat in the first row of seats behind the dinner seating.

Postcard: New Gateway to UC Davis Arboretum

Today the new archway to the Gateway Garden in the UC Davis Arboretum was dedicated. The artist, Christopher Fennell, used shovels donated from the community to create this unique entrance. The arboretum is under construction and will extend the gardens from Gateway Housing to the Davis Commons Shopping Center. If you want to walk there, you can park in the shopping center (Whole Foods and Gap) at 1st and D Street and find it at the back of the parking lot.  This new archway makes a fitting entrance. 

Christopher Fennell just completed the Shovel Gateway for UC Davis Arboretum

The Arboretum is just off Highway 80 (main campus exit) and provides a peaceful and beautiful place to walk or bike and enjoy diverse gardens. The University and Davis community have collaborated to create a multi-dimensional educational experience–from a teaching nursery (with great plant sales) to a native plant garden with informative interpretive signs. I especially like the oak grove with beautiful ceramic benches and a public restroom covered in amazing ceramic murals. 

Ceramic mural on public toilets next to Peter J Shields oak grove.