Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pics

Hey there, yeah, its been awhile. Sorry about
that, I have been pretty busy with a bunch of work, trying to make a few dollars. But, as I said I would, what follows are some photos of a few highlights of the past season in Europe. I took loads of other photos, but I feel this should give you an idea of the year.


The
View on the ridge looking over the chateau La Roche Guyon and the Seine river on my very first ride in France.













Amazing to think that in the first few weeks of arriving in France, what you are seeing, one of the many little farm roads here would be completely shrouded in leafy vegetation come June eliminating all sunlight on the road.












My next door neighbor. Yes, the vegetation had taken over the home, at least it looked amazingly pretty.



















A part of the gardens right down the street from my house.










Nice little ride along the Seine River.














Just a neat little farm that I rode by once or so a week. It was neat to see the fields behind him turn from gerber baby food pea green in early march to bright mustard yellow in May to a dirty brown come September.













Foix, France. I stayed just a little bit away from here and got to drive by and even race by here once. Pretty darn cool.
















Hanging out at a church on top of a mountain overlooking a large winery in Salou, Spain with the Mediterranean off in the distance.










The best 1 euro investment ever. Italian cappuccino.


























As a cyclist, lots of time is spent in cafes all over the world.



Here I am at the border crossing of Mt. Blanc trying to get from Italy to France. It was super cold up there and all 3 times that I did the trip to there, it was always stormy, even in the middle of June.


















Pisa, Italy. While staying in Lucca, Italy I had to take a spin on over and see the leaning tower.

























A real Italian pizza. Some of the freshest flavors I had ever enjoyed.




La Thuile, Italy. I just put this up because it is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. This is at 5000 feet and is in the Aosta region. Home of some of the best ham I have ever eaten.
Chilling in the Italian Alps. That water there was coming straight out of the glacier.



















chilling at the beach in Normandy. Yes, that is a tractor in the ocean.






















At the Strasbourg cathedral in the Alsace region. I had a stage of a race start at the front door. Super cool.




















Mona Lisa. Would not be a visit to the Louvre without seeing it.






















Paris. Nuff said.






















At the Monet gardens in Giverny.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Luggage


I was quite surprised by how much stuff that I had accumulated over 6 months and change in Europe. As the date of departure for coming back home got closer and closer the realization hit that I only had a limit of 50 lbs for my suitcase, 50 lbs for my bike box and then a carry on. That is certainly a pretty darn low limit for all of this stuff. But I want to make sure that you realize that I was working my butt off to make it work. In the foreground you can even see a gram scale and a notepad. I was weighing everything, even down to individual socks to make sure that I would be within the limit. The weight was not the only thing that I was worried about as space was at a premium. Due to that, I put to use some pretty advanced packing skills. Following is a timeline of what i was able to do. Every single open space was utilized, socks stuffed into empty space, shoes stuffed and clothes rolled as tightly as possible.









































Here is the best bet, I was able to get everything within a pound or two above the limit and did not even get dinged with that at the airport. The bike, well that is another story. 250 euros later or 330 dollars later, they allowed my bike to get checked in. Oh well, I would still rate this packing job a 9 out of 10.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Looking Back

So here I sit at my dinner table enjoying a nice cup of good ol merican coffee trying to discern everything that I took in this past season. It is quite overwhelming to think about what all I got to take in and what I had the opportunity to learn. Was it a difficult year? Without a doubt. Was there times where I asked myself what the hell I was doing? You can bet on it. Did I mentally crack a few times? For sure. But did I stick it out and grow a bunch? Yep.

So here are a few highlights of the past year:

  • Getting lost not 2 miles away from my house and doing laps around my village trying to find where I live. All those little one lane farm roads can get to be a bit confusing
  • Eating raw horse meat, and not just once, but on multiple occasions
  • Upon completion of the Paris Roubaix recon ride deciding to ride from Roubaix, France back to Izegem, Belgium with Andrew Talansky. What should have been 35 kilometers turned into 80 kilometers and even time on the Belgian freeway. We were lost out of our minds.
  • Eating real Italian pasta, pizza, parmigiano reggiano, and amazing wine.
  • I actually think I learned another language. At least I now make less mistakes in French, but still have a long ways to go.
  • Hitchhiked all across Normandy.
  • Was served raw eggs more than once and still can't stand them. They cook a crepe and when done cooking the crepe, crack an egg over the top and the thinking is that the heat of the cooked crepe will cook the egg on the plate. Yeah, I know.
  • On my very first time to Europe, got to race in France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland.
  • Got the opportunity to see the Alps, Pyrenees, and Dolomite mountain ranges.
  • Was in a car during 3 different accidents in France with 3 different drivers. They sure do drive uniquely.
  • Broke more stuff than I want to think about.
  • I swam in the Mediterranean Sea
  • Raced in snow, sleet, and hail on more occasions than just riding in dry, sunny weather.
  • In my own little village, over the course of 7 months, switched my housing 9 different times.
  • Had the opportunity to learn a lot about different countries political and economic systems in a real life setting, not just in the classroom.
  • Grew to love America even more than I did previously.
  • Won some races even if no one thought I could.
  • Fell in love with Belgian Beer. I tried my best to taste as much as I could.
  • Shopping at the street market weekly and getting to know the farmers, butchers and the cheese shop owners.
  • But, the biggest highlight is the actual fact of living in a foreign country. Not just visiting, but living. Getting into a routine and rhythm in life.
In a few days I will get some photos up that give a little outline of the year. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Karma

Karma, you really do exist. What a beautiful thing you are.

Since I have gotten back stateside, all I have done is play on my mountain bike or cross bike in the dirt which really has been a good time. I headed out on a nice little mountain bike ride yesterday evening and I do not recall having the foothills that crowded with people out: be it hiking, biking, or running, regardless it is nice to see so many people exercising. However, just as I was finishing up my ride I came across a women's mountain bike camp and there was one woman absolutely struggling to push her bike up a hill. I promised her that if she could just get up the last little bit it would be flat for her all the way home. But, I took her bike from her and rode up the final couple hundred meters pushing her bike. She was able to hike the rest of the way and then enjoy the last part of her ride. I finished up my ride and hopped into the car to get on home as I was sufficiently famished at this point.

Onto the freeway and out of the blue, I along with the others driving around me see a motorcyclist coming at us in the other lane waving his hand as if to slow down. While I was not speeding at the time, we did not get another minute down the road until we saw some cop out with his radar gun trying to catch speeders. I would have been fine without having the nice fellow give me a heads up, but, I am grateful that people doing good things still exist in this world. Good things happen to good people.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Surprises

Sorry for the break in updates, but much has occurred. Long story short is that I ended up coming home early and am now in the good ol USA! I was set to come home on September 28th, but due to a multitude of factors, I am now back home. The best part of the whole thing is that many people knew, including my dad, but I made sure that my mother would not know. Last week she took my little brother back to college and I made sure that I would be able to surprise her when she got home.

Let me set the scene;

Saturday night: Here is what I am hoping my mom comes home to. Remember that she is thinking that I am way over in France at this time and not expecting to see this.
















I kept on having my little brother call my mom trying to figure out where she was so that I could make sure where she was and that I was going to be around. Unfortunately, I screwed up a bit with my camera, but I got this.
video


Needless to say, this was a great surprise and it was awesome to make my mom's day. As I sit here, I have been pretty busy getting all of my affairs taken care of since I have gotten home, but I promise that I will get another post up with some more of my past year. But, I must say that traveling all over Europe getting to race my bike was an awesome experience and allowed me the opportunity to learn a ton, but one must never forget about family in their lives. Trying to keep a big secret like this for a week was a bit difficult but to be able to have the opportunity to make my moms day made my week.

Until later.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Headlines

If there is one thing that the French are really good at has to be striking. Yes, that lovely concept of stopping work, walking around chanting nothingness with fellow coworkers, disrupting others lives and mainly being a nuisance. I want to give you a mini history lesson so that this will make a bit of sense.

1981-the age to receive retirement benefits in France is changed from 65 to 60 years of age bringing in close to 30 years of heavy liberal governing.

1981-2005-Heavy government spending on retirees, in conjunction with government spending in nearly every sector puts a heavy burden on the country as it continues to dig itself a hole.

2005-2010-Government becoming broke. Nuff said

2010-Brilliant Idea to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. There is just not enough money to support all the people retiring.

September 3, 2010 to today-Paris shuts down!!

Okay now that this is out of the way, let me tell you about it. Last Friday when I was over in Paris I could hear a ton of noise, more than normal a couple of kilometers away and being quite curious, headed off in that direction. This is what I found.

















It is the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysee at the beginning of a procession of retired military folks who are protesting the increase in the age of retirement. Brilliant, 7 o clock at night, a Friday none the less, and the most important boulevard in all of the world is shut down, resulting in this. I am sure more than one person was not happy about getting stuck in this.
















So, the past few days the news coverage has been covering the marching and protests going on all over France about the new regulations. The new regulations include the increase in retirement age, and kicking out poor Romanian Gypsies that are beggers in the big city among other things. Yeah, good for you folks, you walked around looking like fools and are not going to change a thing. Hats off to you, you could have been out spending money and sparking your economy, but no, you have better things to do.

However, this mornings news took took the cake. The SNCF or the french railways are now on strike about it and since this is a major artery for people to get around, especially to go to work, many businesses are shut down. Schools are shut down again, not a week back into classes too. Grocery stores cannot open because truck drivers are on strike and thus, no food going to stores. And even worse, say you had a trip on the airplane planned say to southern France. Good luck. The folks that work at the airport handling affairs are also on strike. But, at least they are nice and allowing international flights to commence and not screw over foreigners too much.

So you ask, what are the lessons to take away from this? Firstly, Unions suck and are the scourge of the world and need to be abolished. They do nothing but disrupt the normal operation of life and are the antithesis of a working society. The sooner they can go away, the better off the world will be.

Secondly, the French fail to see the larger picture that many of their problems are because of the State. By living in such a nanny state, depending on the government for everything, the population will ultimately fall in on itself. Should we consider that the only other European country with a younger age for receiving retirement benefits is Greece at 58 years of age and just recently had to be bailed out by the European Union from its massive downturn. Or shall we look at the fact that in a recent report, French people have been determined to take the most days of vacation in the world at over 40 days a year, more than double of us Americans.

Lastly, while walking around Paris for a few days, taking it all in and getting accosted by more than one poor Roma, my feelings towards them just continued to drop. They stop you and ask for money, not singly, but in groups. You say no, and they just continue to press you for anything. "Search your pockets, open your bag" they say. Or if you are driving and get stuck at a light, they will start cleaning your windows and then ask for money, all without the service being requested. Thankfully I got out of Paris without getting mugged, pick pocketed nor lost anything. Quite frankly, these people are a nuisance and I do not blame Sarkozy, the French President, for wanting to rid his most amazing city of Paris of these people. One of the many free feeds going on in the northern arondissements for the homeless.














As you can tell much is wrong with this country right now, but only time will tell if the people are strong enough to take a stand and fix the giant hole or just stand by idling chanting and holding a sign as they continue to sink with the ship.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Perfect Storm

Did not see this day coming at all.

Looking back at my earlier post about my housing situation, yes I am back out on the street but for much more serious reasons. No, not on the street literally, I am staying at Lionel and Martines again. The festival here in Giverny is in full swing and all the places have been booked out and once again I am running pretty low on the food chain. But I am beginning to master the art of learning to surf the waves of craziness. Little did I know what I had in store. Yesterday started off no worries, Lionel headed on up to the French/Belgian border for some work at a race for the weekend while I took another day trip into Paris. However, I woke up this morning to some pretty grave news. For the past few weeks Martine has been heading to the hospital pretty often to see her mom and father in law (who is the one in the hospital.) His health has been steadily declining and unfortunately, early this morning, he passed away. Insult to injury, today is also the day that one of sons of Martine is getting married. As you can see, many things are just not falling into place. If this were not bad enough, one of the dogs broke off one of his nails this morning while out on a run, resulting in a shit ton of blood all over. (I am no veterinarian, and this is about as scientific as I can describe it, but I think you get the idea.) Given, the current situation, it was a no brainer for Martine to get going off to take care of things as quickly as she could. Erik certainly got himself an interesting one. My french is getting better by the day, but one thing that I do not want to have to do again is head to the veterinarian here again. It certainly reminds me of the hospitals here and is a constant reminder of why you do not want to have too many medical issues over here. The waiting room was standing room only and with only 1 vet on schedule, you were certainly going to be waiting for a bit. If you do have medical issues, try and get to Paris and not a Norman hospital. Many of the luxuries that we take for granted back home are afterthoughts here. Regardless, I am now playing nurse to the dog, giving medicine and cleaning his wound a few times.

As it stands, it is 9 o clock at night and I was able to get myself a little bit of a ride in today, but made sure I wasn't too far away at any time. I have yet to hear from Lionel or Martine yet this evening and am planning on a stressful few days. Forgive me if I am enjoying a few of these on the night. Only some of Belgium's finest, I believe that I have earned them.














When I set out on coming over here little did I know that one of the things that I would be preparing for was a funeral. While much of my life is centered around a bicycle, when you step back and look at the bigger picture of life, it is extremely important to remember where family and friends stand too. That is quite possibly one of the largest lessons that I can take away on the season, and while I am not a part of this family, it is still tough to see people close to me going through a tough time.