Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Parisian holiday, part one

Posted in Paris, Photography, Travel at 22:25

Tricyrtis formosana - toad lily

Like a typical salaried Frenchperson, every year I have about 7 weeks of vacation days to spend. Fridays here and there, a couple of weeks at Christmas, two or three weeks in July or August. This year, rather than return to my place in Nice for holidays, I stayed in Paris. I’ve lived in France for nearly 20 years now, and there were still quite a few things I hadn’t done; places I hadn’t seen. When you visit from the opposite side of the planet, you have to make clear choices, knowing there are places you’ll miss. I had seen all the main Parisian museums, climbed the stairs of the Arc de Triomphe, looked over Paris from Montmartre, read the headstones in famous cemeteries, been inside cathedrals, studied skeletons in the catacombs, shopped the Champs-Elysées, walked Versailles… and yet there was still more to see and do!

The nicest part about living here is that you can do things at a more relaxed pace. No dashing around the métro corridors – instead you can flâner dans les rues, wander the streets as you like. The city takes on a different character: no longer are places like Châtelet and Notre-Dame just names and sights imbued with the experiences of others. They become part of a living whole and inextricably tied to specific, personal memories and experiences.

One of my first trips was to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, where I played with sine waves and fractals, then visited the wonderful geodesic dome called La Géode.

La Géode, panorama

On Monday I strolled La Coulée Verte, a garden atop le viaduc des arts near the Gare de Lyon. It also extends past the viaduct for several kilometers. For a shorter, pleasant round trip, walk the gardens one way, then come back via the lovely shops along le viaduc.

La Coulée Verte  Beautiful views from above the streets on La Coulée Verte

Then on Tuesday I explored the wonderful Jardin des plantes, where I’d hoped to also see the greenhouses, but the museum and grandes serres (greenhouses) are closed on Tuesdays. As it turned out, I was more than happy to look at the wide variety of plants. The gardens are large and diverse.

Solanum jasminoides - Morelle faux jasmin  Ipomoea lobata

Bee on lily

Abbatiale Saint-Ouen

Posted in La France, Photography, Travel at 23:14

Church of Saint Ouen

Of the multitude of Gothic churches I’ve visited in France, none has impressed me as profoundly as l’Abbatiale Saint-Ouen, known as the Church of Saint Ouen in English. If you’re wondering how to pronounce it, it’s roughly like our Owen and Ewen, which is for good reason, as they’re from the same root. Saint Audoin (Ouen) lived in the seventh century, and eventually became bishop in Rouen. After his death and burial at the original church, built in 553, the building took on his name. Three centuries later, this abbey was sacked by Vikings, which happened relatively often in Normandy. Indeed, in 911, one invader traded peace for a guarantee of his protection of Normandy… against other Viking warriors. He was named King Rollo. One thousand years after Rollo’s victory, Denmark gifted a replica of Harald Bluetooth’s runestone to the city of Rouen, where it still stands in front of the modern abbey.

Church of Saint Ouen, west rose window

Another church began construction in 1062, and was consecrated in 1126. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1248. Today’s abbatiale construction began in 1318, and the last side, the west, was finished in the 19th century. The photo above is of a smaller rose window on this western side – you can see definite Celtic influence.

In addition to the flamboyant exterior – which is indeed mainly Gothic Flamboyant – the church’s stained glass windows are among its most unique sights.

Church of Saint Ouen, stained glass
Church of Saint Ouen, stained glass

If you’d like to see more pictures of the church, there are over a dozen in my photoset of Rouen. Our next entry on the Norman city will be about more down-to-earth buildings, namely the wonderful maisons à colombages, or woodframe homes.

La Cathédrale de Rouen

Posted in La France, Photography, Travel at 22:41

Rouen Cathedral towers

France still holds mysteries, even after nearly two decades living here. Last week I picked Rouen for a day trip, as the SNCF was offering a Saturday special to the Norman city from Paris. While I’ve been to Brittany and Paris, I had never before visited Normandy between them. My twelve hours spent in Rouen were so rich, I’ll be doing a series of posts on the city and its history.

This first entry is dedicated to an edifice that embodies Rouennais history from the twelfth century to our own: la Cathédrale de Rouen. The photo above shows the Tour Saint-Romain on the left, one of the first examples of Gothic architecture in history, and the first part of the cathedral to be built. On the right is the more modern Tour de Beurre, built in the 16th century, a late example of Gothic Flamboyant architecture.

Gothic architecture originated in France, and was in fact first named “French work”, Opus Francigenum. The term we use today was pejorative then: Goths were destructive vandals, and the new-fangled French handiwork was seen as a modern travesty, with Greek- and Roman-inspired Classical architecture held as the ideal against which it was judged. Even Molière, who lived in the seventeenth century, well after Gothic architecture had been established, had words to say about it:

« Tout s’y voyant tiré d’un vaste fonds d’esprit,
Assaisonné du sel de nos grâces antiques,
Et non du fade goût des ornements gothiques,
Ces monstres odieux des siècles ignorants,
Que de la barbarie ont produit les torrents… »

Translation (which can never equal the original):
All had been drawn from a rich reservoir of great thought,
Seasoned with the spice of Ancient graces,
Certainly not the blandness of Gothic ornament,
Such odious monsters borne of ignorant times,
Barbarism alone could produced by such torrents…

As for we contemporary visitors, if we exclaim “oh my God!” or “goodness gracious!” when approaching the legions of gargoyles, sculpted saints, ornate spires, and stained glass windows, all set on massive stonework, we unknowingly keep alive one of the style’s key purposes – which was to inspire awe for God and the Church.

Darkness, Rouen Cathedral

Skipping ahead another few centuries, seventy years ago this May, Rouen Cathedral lost many of her colorful windows, all of her chapels on the south side, and bells in the Saint-Romain tower, which went up in flames. The year was 1944, and Rouen was being bombarded during la Semaine Rouge, “Red Week”, by British and American Allied forces. In Rouen alone, 400 people were killed, many of them drowned after having taken refuge in cathedral cellars, unable to escape them after the bombardment.

Allied forces bombed nearly 1600 cities and towns in occupied France. In Rouen, the purpose was to destroy bridges and railways, although the cathedral is near neither and was surrounded by homes, which were razed. Understandably, the subject is complex and does not lend itself to facile conclusions. Unfortunately, there is almost nothing available to read on either Rouen or the more widespread bombardments in English. Indeed, as you can see in the Wikipedia article linked for la Semaine Rouge, there is not a single translation into any other language. For a nuanced analysis of it, I highly recommend this 2012 PDF from the Canadian Centre for Military and Strategic Analysis: ROUEN: La Semaine Rouge, by Stephen Bourque.

While many are familiar with the Normandy Invasion, few American, Canadian or British citizens know about the massive air campaign waged against their occupied ally. This offensive lasted four long years and targeted most of France’s population centers and infrastructure. By the time the war was over, the Allied air forces killed as many French as the Germans killed British civilians during the “blitz” and vengeance weapon assaults […] The greater French narrative is extremely complex and begins with Germany’s invasion in 1940 and the resulting occupation.

Rouen Cathedral continues to be restored today, its façade getting more work done, as well repairs to still-damaged structural elements. Another church targeted during la Semaine Rouge was also recently restored: l’église Saint-Maclou. Here you see its freshly-cleaned Gothic Flamboyant entrance framed by wood homes typical of Normandy.

Eglise de Saint Maclou

In the next post of this series on Rouen, we’ll look at the Saint-Ouen Abbey, festooned with gargoyles, light filtering through a veritable tapestry of stained glass windows, and containing one of the largest Gothic organs in France.

Happy cats in Paris

Posted in Cats, La France, Travel at 19:07

Susu and Kanoko sharing a chair on the balcony

At home on my lunch break, I took what is quite possibly my favorite photo of the cats to date. They had never shared the chair on our Courbevoie balcony before, but today they did, and my camera caught Kanoko in another of his quintessentially feline “I am happy” expressions.

I’ve now taken the TGV often enough to earn Grand Voyageur status. My new card came in the mail today; Susu seemed quite interested in it.

Grand Voyageur card and curious Susu

There are two higher levels: Grand Voyageur Plus and Grand Voyageur Le Club. It’s nostalgic for me, because I’m just old enough to remember when airline mile clubs were all the rage, and business travel with one added up to a lot of perqs. Now that those have all but disappeared, I’ve nonetheless gained a… train card that comes with perqs! I’ll hit Plus status in a month, and likely Le Club not too long afterwards. You can exchange points for train tickets and/or gifts, get hotel reductions, use the special travel salons in stations, exchange train tickets much more easily, and for the highest Club level, if you miss your train for whatever reason, you can even get on the next one without exchanging your ticket. For free. All you have to do is notify the train controller.

No matter which card you have, the Voyageur programme is pretty nice. It’s free, and means you don’t have to print out your ticket, since it’s linked to your card’s QR code – those square barcodes you see everywhere nowadays. Controllers have QR code readers and simply flash your card. Bienvenue au futur !

Paris-Nice by TGV

Posted in La France, Travel at 12:32

Ever since learning about the TGV as a child, I dreamt of one day taking it. When I finally rode the Paris Gare de Lyon – Lyon Part-Dieu two-hour stretch as a newly-arrived exchange student in 1997, I was giddy. It was the end of August, early in the morning, and the French countryside was covered in shades of green, grazing cows, and houses whose walls and roofs changed as we moved a kilometer every twelve seconds (300km/h) from cooler northern France to its central region.

Since then, I had only ever taken the TGV once in a while. I promised myself that if I ever had a job that sent me away from home, I would take the train – not just because it’s cheaper and more convenient, but because the sight of France from its windows was so breathtaking.

On a flight from Nice to Paris, you get a lovely view of the Mediterranean Alps, and when flying over Switzerland, an enviable sight of some of the tallest mountains in the world from the air. Once you’ve seen them a couple times, however, that’s about it. You’re too high up to benefit from much detail.

Yesterday I took my third morning rail trip from Paris to Nice. I’ve been accustomed to taking in scenery on my bus commutes between Nice and Sophia Antipolis; this third time by TGV suddenly made me aware of another reality. I’ll be seeing France as she changes seasons! In just one month, from early March to early April, she has gone from grey and muted greens with bare deciduous trees and huddled cows to relishing in the returning sun. Bare-earth fields have now become resplendent in yellow canola robes. Hibernating vineyard stumps have begun pushing out their first leaf buds. Countryside roads are graced with cyclists in short-sleeved jerseys wearing smiles on their spring faces. Such a happy metamorphosis to witness.

Greetings from… sweet-aired Nice

Posted in Nice, Paris, Travel at 17:19

You may have been wondering why I haven’t posted in the last two weeks spent in Paris. The answer is simple: I changed my blog password before leaving, and, naturally, forgot it.

This weekend I’m briefly back home on the Riviera, picking up such necessities as hi-fi speakers and spring-weight blazers. As an unplanned bonus, I am also gulping up as much mimosa-and-sea-scented fresh air as possible.

This last week in Paris was quite literally suffocating. We had terrible air pollution; so bad that for the first time in the history of Paris, public transportation was made entirely free for three days, starting yesterday. This was nice timing for getting to and from my TGVs! This morning I popped into the RER A at La Défense and was at Gare de Lyon fourteen minutes later. For free. Walking through open stiles in Paris city center is an experience I’ll long remember, after years of wrassling with the things whenever visiting.

Kanoko, Susu, and I spent our first week and a half in a cheap apartment-hotel in Courbevoie, at the northwest corner of La Défense. Thanks to friends, I quickly found a furnished apartment nearby! We moved in on Wednesday. The cats took to the new place right away. Both of them had a rough time with the hotel; the tiny, dirty window (grimy even after I tried to sponge it off) drove them a bit stir-crazy, and they huddled under the covers every day. Once in the new apartment, however, they took to their old habits of pigeon-gazing from the French balcony doors, and dozing tummy-up on the vintage couch.

As for me, I spent the first week focused on work, and the second desperately trying to stay healthy while losing my voice, throat, and sinuses to toxic air pollution (100 microns per cubic metre). I didn’t get much sightseeing done – as a result, readers haven’t missed much of my Paris adventure so far!

Before the smog settled in, I took this photo on my morning “commute”, a 15-minute walk to the offices I’m at. You can find a few more photos in my Flickr stream – more will come soon, and now that I have my blog password, they’ll be posted here.

Grande Arche de la Defense

Paris in a day

Posted in Cats, La France, Photography, Travel at 19:17


Yesterday my employer sent me to our consulting company’s Paris offices for a client interview. The potential project would be with a client located in La Défense, which is a business sector in Neuilly, just outside of Paris. You can see La Grande Arche de la Défense from the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysées; it looks like a contemporary square white arch not much larger than the historical Arc. Once you’re actually in front of it, though, you realize that it is massive.

After the meeting finished, I had an hour of free time to see Paris. I took métro line 1 to the Tuileries, the large gardens in front of the Louvre. I found a tea shop nearby, with reasonable prices given it was set between the Conseil d’État and the Louvre. I sipped a delicious jasmine tea, then took the metro and RER back to Orly for my flight home. There are a few more photos in this set of the trip.

I thought the kitties would understand me getting home a couple hours later than usual. They seemed to yesterday evening, but not this morning. As I prepared to leave for work, Susu started mewing at me and circling my feet. When I went to get my purse, she said, “MEW?!” and jumped on it. She refused. To. Budge. “No! You are staying home today! No more purses taking you to offices! Mew!” She managed to jump back on it the three times I picked her up; eventually I had to pick up my purse with her on it, then put her on the floor. “Meeewwwwww…” she cried. Too smart for her own sweet good, that little kitty-girl.

Christmas ride to Cagnes

Posted in Cycling, La France, Travel at 18:17

La Cagne - river through Cagnes

The town of Cagnes-sur-mer is named after the small river that flows through it, La Cagne, Provençal for chienne, the feminine form of “dog”. Considering how popular dogs are on the Riviera in our modern times, it is fun to watch them trot alongside their human companions and think, “dogs on the sea”, the literal translation of cagnes sur mer.

We’ve had a rainy Christmas, but the sun finally came out today. I hopped on my bike and rode to Cagnes along what used to be my commuting route to the client I was working with. If you stay along the sea, it’s a very easy ride, and quite picturesque. If you don’t mind climbing 15-20% grades, you can also ride up the castle hill in city center, or another hill (described below) to get this view I had on my commute:

Cagnes in the morning sun

Route from Nice city center
Overview: about 30km round trip; 32 if you go up either hill. Very little elevation change unless you decide to climb, in which case you’ll have 75-100 metres elevation change over about 500 metres distance. That’s 15-20%, and they are narrow, curvy roads also used by cars.

Map: IGN Cannes-Grasse “Carte de randonnée” n°3643, at 1:25,000, or 1cm=250m.

Take the Promenade des Anglais out of Nice, and stay on it. If you take the bike lanes, do be aware that there are several stop signs along the way, and once you reach Cagnes, there is a strictly-enforced cycling speed limit of 10kmh. That’s just over 6mph. Great for easygoing sightseeing, but I coast at that speed. If you’re like me and average 20-30kmh, it’s much easier and more pleasant to stay on the road.

Once you reach Cagnes, you can either stay on the Promenade, or go into the city. The nicest way to reach city center is to go along the canal of La Cagne, shown in the first photo. There’s a painted bike lane, and trees separate it from a larger walking promenade along the edge of the canal. You often see geese and ducks, and always children playing, people walking dogs, and so forth. The only tricky bit is the passage beneath the railway line and autoroute, which is quite dark – slow down in case of oncoming bike traffic. I’ve also crossed motorized scooters there. Normally they’re not allowed, but some cut through at that crossing. You shouldn’t have to worry about them elsewhere along the bike lane.

Then it gets a bit tricky. There’s a large parking lot which you can continue to follow up north, if you want to go to the castle hill. It’s not always easy to follow the bike lane, so keep your eyes peeled for its green paint. You’ll reach a large intersection with a few bus stops: follow signs for la colline du château / vieille ville (either or both terms may be used). Watch out for pedestrians.

To get the same view I had, take a sharp left after the underpass. Go straight until you reach an intersection with a small, forested park across the streets. The intersection is full of strange angles; you’ll be going west-northwest up Rue Pasqualini. The end of Pasqualini gives onto another strange intersection: go straight uphill. After crossing the intersection, you’ll take the second right at the tiny roundabout, up Chemin de l’Hubac. This is where your climb starts.

Chemin de l’Hubac isn’t too rough when you know it. The first climb has a couple corners and is rather short, after which you’ll have a breather. But then there’s a very steep section, followed by another breather, then it climbs a third time. The second climb is the most difficult. Stay on Hubac, don’t turn onto other streets. Once you’ve reached the top, you’ll be greeted with a panoramic view of Cagnes’ castle hill and the Mediterranean. There’s not much beyond that, but it is worth it for the sightseeing.

On the way back, the Promenade road (not bike lanes) is more stressful. I’m not sure why – perhaps because drivers more easily see the protected bike lanes going this direction – but cars and buses get very honk-happy and crotchety when passing road cyclists on this segment. All my worst experiences with drivers have been here. You do have the right to use the road, of course. I’ve never seen all the car lanes full, even at rush hour there’s usually an empty lane. It is better if you’re a fast rider. That said, there have been days that I’ve swapped to the bike lanes just to avoid possessive drivers.

Enjoy the fresh sea air and sights!

Cycling in Cagnes

Cycling the Riviera

Posted in Cycling, La France, Travel at 21:13

Colline du château de Cagnes

This view from part of my commute, snapped with my phone yesterday at sunset, speaks a great deal about cycling conditions in this part of the world: to say “it is not flat” is an understatement. With just 200km on my still-new road bike, not quite in good enough shape yet for longer rides, I’ve been looking into weekend ideas for short trips into the countryside. I assumed, given the number of serious cyclists you see here, plus the 14 million tourists we get each year on the Riviera, and knowing pro cyclists train here, that there would be at least someone blogging about it at some point. I know of MapMyRide, but was hoping for stories, insight, descriptions, experiences. The sort of thing that GPS traces don’t provide.

Well, I didn’t find much at all after hours of fiddling with French and English search terms. Here are some in French that give good results for trips anywhere in France except here:
– balade vélo (essentially a short bike ride)
– cyclotourisme (French for “bike touring”)
– cyclisme (cycling, generic)
– région à vélo (switch out “région” for whichever region you want to visit on bike)

If you do put in Nice, PACA (our region’s official French abbreviation), or the Côte d’Azur, in French or in English, you’ll come across lonely questions with no responses, or forum posts with “be aware that it is NOT FLAT!” replies, or a couple links to bike rental/tour gigs in the area, who generally take visitors along the flat Promenade and Basse Corniche. Those are nice rides, beautiful ideas for first-time visitors, but I’ve lived here for a while now and am the type of cyclist who enjoys a good climb or three.

“Crickets”, respond the intarwebs, apart from the obvious, yet rarely-described, Moyenne and Grande corniches to the east. The Moyenne Corniche is a bit steep and has gorgeous views. You can ride all the way to Italy (which isn’t that far, 30km from Nice) on both it and the Grande Corniche. The “Grande” corniche lives up to its name, and is a road many pros train on for its challenges. Those take you east, and flat coastal roads take you west, but what about the north? There lie the Alps, and equally stunning vistas… but no recommendations, aside from one French blogger not from the area, who talked about the crête de Craus a few kilometers north of Nice, as well as Roquebrune, La Turbie (along the Moyenne Corniche), and a few other mountain villages. However, he entirely avoided Nice. Rather impractical for advice when Nice is my home base.

I’ll likely return to my favorite bike shop and ask them for recommendations. They would definitely know some great cycling routes in the area. In the meanwhile, my personality is also of the “neat, I can figure this out on my own and learn from mistakes” type, so I’ll be checking out topo maps and whipping up some outings that I’ll try, then post about here.

IGN, France’s National Geographic Institute, has some very nice maps available for free download, in addition to the excellent ones they sell. They also publish a free Android and iPhone app. Below is a crop of their large physical map of France, showing our southeast corner of it, as well as neighboring Corsica, another place I look forward to visiting on bike.

Cycling the Riviera – and Europe

Posted in Cycling, La France, Travel at 19:38

Saturday morning the bike shop called and said my road bike had arrived… with one small hitch. The 2014 geometries are slightly different than on the 2013 display model I had tried out. All things considered, the 2014 models are a bit larger than their 2013 sisters, despite looking basically identical on their website. It’s only once you see two size M bikes in person, the 2014 next to the 2013, that you realize the tubes are larger and that, presumably to accommodate that and keep proportions, they spaced things out a touch more. Also, to our mutual surprise, the photograph on BH’s website for the 2014 model with the 2013 name was not a mistake. The 2013 name was Zaphire, which was changed to Sphene in 2014, except that it’s still called Zaphire on the actual bike. I actually prefer the name Zaphire for its association with Zephyrus, the gentle west wind, harbinger of spring, who fell in love with the athletic Hyakinthos.

This is what she looks like, except my saddle is white. The shop wanted me to come for another preliminary fitting, this time on my bike, to ensure it wasn’t too large. Otherwise a smaller model could be ordered. When I arrived and saw her in person, I was impressed – it’s a beautiful bike, but then most are! The excitement of seeing your very own makes it special. During the fitting, the guy at the shop pointed out that the handlebars were too wide for me, which, when he said it, I realized, “oh, you’re right!” as I held out my arms an inch or two wider than my shoulder width, as they had been on the bar. He nodded and said, “we’ll look at other handlebars, because you can’t ride for very long on bars that much wider than you need.” I nodded in agreement. He looked through his stock of similar handlebars (compact drops) and pulled out one he eyed as the right size, held it up to my shoulders, and it was immediately obvious it was a good fit. “Not bad eh! First try!” he grinned, then read the size: “42 centimetres instead of 46.” “Ouf!” I said, “a whole 4 centimeters!” Nearly two inches. And that replacement is free – one reason they have handlebars in stock is because they change them out from bikes like mine. My 46cm bars will likely be given to someone else who can use them. If you’re curious about related fit issues, using handlebars too big for you causes upper back and shoulder pain. You can sense the difference: do a pushup with your hands shoulder-width, and when at the top of the pushup, stop, and put your hands a bit wider. You no longer have the same balance of muscles throughout the body being used to support your weight.

Then came the handlebar tape. I didn’t really want the white tape that came with the bike, because it gets dirty quickly. The guy nodded, and I vacillated on red or black, then he said, “I thought you might. Check it out, we have plastified white. The reason the tape you saw gets dirty is because it’s porous – this tape isn’t! All you need is a soapy sponge and dirt wipes right off. They last a long time.” Sweet. All that and pedals in the space of a second, 15-minute stationary try of the bike.

Once you get above basic bikes, they don’t come with pedals, just as shown in the photo on BH’s site, because everyone has their own pedal preference. To simplify: there are platform-type pedals where you can use regular shoes, then two main types of clipless pedals: SPD and three-hole, also known as road. (From my Pacific NW part of the world, REI has a nice overview if you’re curious to learn more.) Yet again, this is a huge reason I’m so happy to go to a bike shop. I never would have tried clipless pedals had it not been at their insistence. Why, because as much of a risk-taker as I am, I’m pretty risk-averse when it comes to having a part of my body locked into something. Thankfully, they did insist with my mountain bike, and I got SPD pedals with it. After a few falls off the bike (it looks worse than it ends up feeling, though you get scared the first time you fall and your foot’s stuck in the stinking pedal), I got the hang of clipping in and flicking out, and have never looked back. I can’t imagine riding any other way now, although I do, of course, because sometimes you don’t have your cleated cycling shoes with you. It makes as huge of a difference as everyone says. It’s actually safer, too, because often enough, you’re in a position where your foot might slip off the pedal, but when it’s clipped in, of course it stays put. You also get a lot more power for pedalling easier and more smoothly.

Normally, for a road bike, I would get road pedals, except that would mean an investment in road shoes. Decent ones start at 200 euros, with a good mid-range at 300, when I already have a pair of nice carbon-sole MTB shoes with SPD cleats. (They do last for several years, some even averaging a decade, since they aren’t subject to the stresses of running or walking.) You can put any type of pedal you want on a bike, meaning for my case, I can put on road-MTB hybrid pedals. The model I chose are called “cyclo” pedals, meant for cyclocross or touring: Shimano A600. They don’t take road cleats, but they do take SPD cleats, and have a “road feel” to them thanks to a road-similar platform that fits under the shoe. So I’ll get used to a feel similar to wider, more stable road pedals, while being able to use my MTB shoes. It’s perfect, because it will take several hundred kilometres for me to get the hang of road riding again, and the transition will be easier with a familiar pedal system. Once I’m feeling confident in the saddle and have built up strength (I’m not in the best shape now) as well as finances, then I can change to road pedals.

But that’s not all! The cyclo pedals aren’t a wasted purchase! The other big difference between SPD and road is that SPD cleats can be recessed into a shoe, meaning you can walk in them. You can’t, and don’t want to, walk far with road cleats. They’re huge and stick out. If you’ve ever seen a road cyclist walk on their cycling shoes with their toes in the air, that’s why. The cleats are pushing up their toes. With MTB (SPD) shoes, you only hear a bit of “clack” when the metal hits the ground, otherwise you walk just like in tennis shoes. Having read that, you’re probably able to predict what I’m going to say next: I can keep the cyclo SPD pedals for my daily commute, and switch them out for road pedals when I want to do serious weekend rides! Or even race! I’m seriously considering it. At least once in my life, it would be fun to try a race.

My biggest motivation is our natural surroundings in this part of the world. Our regional government, the CG06 as it’s known for short, has several cycling guides for all levels: short family rides, discovery rides into the Préalpes (foothills of the Alps, though they’re not really “hills” but actual mountains, they just look small with the full-grown Alps behind them), athletic rides, and multi-day tours. Then there is the excellent EuroVelo, which is nothing less than a network of cycling routes that cross Europe, from Greece, Romania and the south of Italy to the north of Norway; from Portugal and Spain to Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.

Tuesday I have my appointment at the shop for the final fitting (takes 45min to an hour) and delivery. I’ll have five days of vacation left to ride! Looking forward to trying out some of the CG06 routes.