francophile-ing away the memories: paris

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We rolled through Paris at the start of last August. Throughout our bike trip, our most consistent navigational struggles (and wasted hours) involved finding our way into city centers from the countryside. There was either not enough signage – common – or too much signage – also common. So when it came to Paris, I wasn’t willing to waste half a day  getting frustrated trying to find our way into town. We took a train from the Champagne-Ardenne city of Reims, a very nice place with loads of delicious affordable champagne that is unusually hard to pronounce if you are a confused American (think Rance… or Reams if you’re British and don’t give a shit about how other cultures pronounce things).

Before Paris, we had finished up a quick jaunt that found us biking from Germany -> Luxembourg -> Belgium -> France in the space of a day or so, much of which was in the pouring rain. We had camped overnight in a weird wet forest in Belgium, after eating dinner in an overly-priced overly-fancy Chinese restaurant in Luxembourg, and failing to find a dry place to spend the night. While in the weird wet forest, our nightly tent entertainment of a Game of Thrones episode was interrupted by some dude walking by on the main road, intermittently yelling loudly. At us? We’ll never know. But it creeped me out.

Once in Paris, our prime objective was to dry out all our wet nasty gear. Luckily our cute little Airbnb, which faced the Église Saint-Sulpice in the 6th Arrondissement, had a washing machine and four functional windows that let us air out our clothes, our tent, our stinky shoes, our sleeping bags, and whatever else I’ve since forgotten about.
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I love Paris. I love the energy, and the Frenchiness, and all the delicious everything, the artwork, the general faded coloring of the buildings, the hordes of tourists who make it impossible to do anything if you show up somewhere after 9am. To be fair, we were there in August, busy tourist time. We had chosen to to arrive in France when we did to avoid potential Tour de France traffic, which can be crippling if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. But August is the month of vacations for everyone. While tourists flood into Paris, many Parisians make gallant escapes out of the city for much of the month. This means that of the beaucoup chocolate shops and renowned pâtisseries that I hoped to visit, most of the smaller ones were sadly closed.

François Pralus was wide open, so we visited and left with a Chuao chocolate bar and one of their famous pralulines – a buttery brioche studded with rose sugar-coated almond and hazelnut pralines. I was over the moon.

We visited the Catacombs of Paris, which I had tried to visit in a past life before iPhones and constant internet, and had shown up on the wrong day when they were closed. After waiting in a miserable line at the Eiffel Tower for 90 minutes without any sign of anyone being admitted (due I think to a suspicious package terror incident the day before), we abandoned ship and made our way to Catacombs, where a 2+ hour admittance line greeted us. I didn’t really mind the wait, I knew it would be worthwhile. Eli grabbed us some sandwiches from a Paul bakery across the street, and we chatted a bit with some friendly British women on holiday from London for the weekend who were next to us in the line.

And sure enough, the Catacombs were spectacular. If endless piles of artfully-placed human remains are your thing, plan a visit of your own. The climate in the tunnels makes for a nice change from a sunny August day, another perk.

Whether eating in or dining out, we ate so very well while in Paris. I couldn’t get enough of the charcuterie and soft cheeses, paired with fresh tomato and cucumber, olives, and quality french butter, and topped off with several bottles of bubbly that we had purchased in Reims, as well as the dregs of a bottle of peach liqueur from the Mosel River area in Germany.

We had our share of mini French coffees, giant salads, more baguettes, and more soft cheeses.

There was a Pierre Hermé shop mere blocks from our Airbnb, and I waited in a lengthy line there before interacting with a charismatic yet condescending employee who was frustrated that I needed two minutes to decide on the eight flavors of overpriced macarons that I wanted to try. Of the Fall-Winter 2016 collection, standouts included the Jasmine Flower & Jasmine Tea, Fresh Mint & Red Berries, Lemon & Flaky Hazelnut Praline, as well as their signature Salted-Butter Caramel. And yes, I kept the flavor card that they gave me with my purchase, so that I could accurately reference these tiny confections over half a year later.

Of all the fine dining, the highlight for me was dinner at Huguette, Bistro de la mer, a seafood restaurant in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, again just blocks from our Airbnb. We split a bottle of crisp white wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, which apparently is now known as Occitanie (since the end of September 2016). We feasted on two varieties of oysters, as well as cockles, clams, and shrimp. It was an incredible, truly memorable meal.


We did the art thing a bit too. We visited the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie, primarily for the Impressionist paintings. It’s insane how cell phones have transformed art galleries. Everywhere we went, people were taking endless photos like the apocalypse was about to arrive, crowding each other and shoving their phones as far forward as they could to capture every masterpiece. I took a few pictures, mostly of the few I unexpectedly loved and the uglier paintings that made me laugh (see top painting, above).

When it was time to depart Paris, we rented a minivan, shoved our bikes and gear into the back, and ventured south towards the mountains, with the first stop being a stroll around the grounds of Fontainebleau. This last picture makes me smile, as I was so slim and fit, and I could still wear those pants, my favorite pair of Silver corduroys that have since bit the dust. We took one final wonderful memory away from Paris, which set the tone for the rest of our trip and largely explains why I fell off the radar and have failed to blog again until now. We conceived a child, a child which has since spent the better part of 2,000 miles riding along with me on a bicycle, has been sick with me on a dozen-plus ferry rides, has made a transatlantic flight back home, and is now seven weeks or so away from sprouting into a unique little lass of her own.

Paris je t’aime.


german and determined

Germany was beautiful. And it was just as much a cycling Mecca as sources had led us to believe prior to our arrival. There are cycling routes everywhere, and they are all well-labeled. I would go so far as to say there are even too many labeled routes, as the propensity to label everything tended to leave us wholly unprepared outsiders confused and lost due to the endless route options. With better information on the cycling routes, or preferably a map, we would have better known what was up.

The most thrilling part of cycling these German routes, for both of us, was hands down the varied terrain of the cycling network. We pedaled over the freshest, smoothest Tarmac. We passed oak logs piled down along a muddy double track forest road. We snaked our way across country lanes, through a narrow rooty single track in an ancient woodland, and perhaps most memorably, across several miles of rural road that was pure sand and nearly impossible to traverse. I’m grateful to Eli for having the foresight to purchase the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires that have seen us across 6000 km of riding without a flat between the two of us. The tires are heavy, thick, and have proven to be boss hogs. 

We saw as much in Germany as we could within our travel timeframe of just over two weeks. We arrived in mid-July and set our sights on the city of Braunschweig. We had never heard of Braunschweig (Brunswick in English) before meeting a German family while in Sweden who invited us to stay with them at their home were we to pass through. So we made Braunschweig a destination, which proved to be the best decision we made on the entire trip, as we spent several welcoming days and nights with this family, learning about German culture and customs, and also learning importantly that chanterelle mushrooms are called pfifferlinge in German — and they are just as delicious as they are at home.

Germany was about currywurst, and Bitburger beer, and the search for the perfect cream puff, and our continued obsession with waffles.  We spent a whirlwind day in Berlin without the bikes, where my favorite activity was downing massive plates of deliciousness at The Spätzle Club, and my least favorite activity was watching Trump’s live confirmation as the 2016 Republican nominee for prez.

After leaving our friendly Germany family, we headed west towards Düsseldorf, and then to Köln (Cologne). Our stop in Cologne was an eye-opening few days, and I think we visited more museums there than we have on the rest of the trip. Cologne was a large Roman outpost in ancient times, founded in the 1st century AD and formerly known as the mouthful that is Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium. One of their principal industries was glassmaking, and the region was prolific. The amount of glass that has survived intact for that many years just floors me,  and the care that must have been taken when excavating these pieces at archeological digs to keep them in one piece? It’s truly remarkable.

Cologne was heavily bombed during WWII, with 95% of the city center destroyed, but the city has recovered beautifully. I can’t recommend the Cologne museums enough, and so much has miraculously survived the destruction. The Wallraf-Richartz Museum is a compact art museum with (too) many religious paintings and a lovely collection of Impressionist-era works. I love art museums small enough for me to see everything without succumbing to exhaustion. The Römisch-Germanisches Museum contains relics dating back to the city’s founding, including the aforementioned large collection of glassworks, as well as an ancient mosaic from Roman times still in its original location, old jewelry, pottery, stone tablets, and a hell of a lot more. Three hours passed quickly while we explored the museum.  My favorite stop was at the Archäologische Zone, underneath the historic town hall (Rathausplatz), which houses the partially excavated Praetorium. The Praetorium was home base to the Imperial Governor of CCAA back in Roman times, although if I’m remembering correctly there are building remnants that predate Roman times. Archeological excavation is ongoing at the present time, although what they’ve already unearthed is fabulous, and walking through the ruins gave me a great sense of what used to exist. Signage in English is sparse at times, which is the only downside. This museum also houses more glass, pottery, mosaics, and other finds from the dig onsite.

From Cologne we headed south along the Rhine River. Suddenly we were surrounded by hordes of cycle tourists, including a granny who passed me and left me feeling disappointed in myself until I realized she was riding an e-bike. There were so many cyclists that the campground in Koblenz herded us all into a small patch of turf rather than allowing us individual sites, resulting in us having neighbors mere feet away on all sides. And hilariously, by the time we leisurely rose at 8:30 or so the next morning, most of them had already packed up and gone.

Off of the Rhine we continued our up-river stroll, this time on the Mosel River. Surrounded by vineyards and ripening grapes, we succumbed to an alluring guesthouse/restaurant and spent the better part of a day enjoying the fruits of their labor, while watching a constant stream of spandex-clad fit people cycle past on rented tandem bicycles. 

If there’s one thing I’m glad we’re not doing on this trip, it’s riding a tandem bike.

prepping for schlepping on our six-month bike trip: clothes

Our upcoming European bike packing trip has been a long time in the making. So long that I’ve been curating a collection of merino wool clothing specifically for the trip for a few years now. These threads don’t come cheap, but I believe that they’ll be worthwhile when I’m on day four of wearing the same pair of underwear, sweating under that endless summer sun in somewhere Norway, or feeling decidedly sticky as I pedal through the chestnut fields of Portugal.

Let’s start with the clothes I plan to take on this trip.


I’ll preface a more detailed survey of my threads with this:

  1. Last time I traveled long-term, in 2007, I took the well-meaning advice of student travel liaisons a bit much to heart when they recommended that those studying abroad ‘travel light.’ I ended up bringing five shirts, two pairs of pants, and three pairs of shoes with me. And one pair of shoes turned out to be too small. I’m a wandering soul both internally and in time and space (which is also just mentally though maybe?), and I quickly became bored out of my mind having limited myself to so few options. I knew I wanted a few more choices this time around.
  2. I have a lot of outdoor clothing already, but the majority of it is bulky wool sweaters and thick heavy work pants. Not things to take on a lightweight bike trip.
  3. This trip is technically my honeymoon. I’d like to at least have the option to look nice every once in a while.

So, what am I bringing?

Bike jerseys (2, both wool)
Hybrid bike jersey/shirt (1, has a zippered pocket in the rear)
Off-the-bike shirts (2, of which one is wool, the other is 3/4 sleeve)
Tank tops (3, all are wool)
Padded bike shorts (2 pair, 1 being wool, the other being liner shorts)
Bike outer shorts (1)
Cycling leggings (1)
Off-the-bike shorts (1)
Stretchy on/off-the-bike pants (1)
Long-sleeved hoodies (2, one is wool, the other polyester flannel)
Long underwear (1 pair, wool)
Skirt (1, wool)
Underwear (5, three are wool – merino doesn’t grow on trees, folks)
Sports bras (3, two are wool)
Socks (5, all wool; two are heavier weight)
Swimsuit (1)
Rain jacket (1)
Wind jacket (1)
Insulated jacket (1)

I’d like to also bring a pair of jeans, and perhaps a dress as well, but I’ll wait until I’ve loaded up everything to see how much room I have left. All of the aforementioned takes up surprisingly little space.

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I did a lengthy bit of research on currently-available Merino wool products before I dove in to make any purchases. I decided to focus on Ibex Outdoor Clothing’s wool offerings due to their cycling-specific apparel, their general stylishness, and the fact that every Ibex item I’ve bought has been constructed in the USA or Canada.

Most of what you see above was bought at sale price, except for the cycling shorts. I wore these shorts all of last season, and I have nothing but praise for them. They’re made with a wool blend, with just the right amount of elastic stretch. The chamois pad in the shorts is made of wool and polyester. I can wear them for days on end and they don’t get disgusting. Which is a plus.

The Hooded Indie sweatshirt is a comfortable companion as well. Mine took a beating the week after I received it last year, when I fell while biking too fast coming down the Cadillac Mountain Road in Acadia National Park. After skidding across the road twenty feet or so, the material had developed a few large holes, but those should be mendable enough to avoid disdainful stares from chic Frenchies.

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After gaining confidence snagging sweet Ibex swag, I became an internet predator on Steep & Cheap, searching voraciously for any and every deal on Giro bike apparel. All ten pieces of Giro clothing shown above came from the website at a ridiculously low price – I think I only spent above $30 on one item (one of the merino wool cycling jerseys), and most came in at $15-20.

The retail cost of new Giro leggings alone is $100; I paid merely $22. I didn’t feel too bad grabbing an extra two or three shirts when they were quality, cycling-specifc, and under 20 bucks each.

It proved to be worth waiting, biding my time to seek out deals. Patience seems to be the key with sites such as Steep & Cheap, since everything seems to go on super clearance every once in a while.

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This Mountain Hardware flannel is something that I treated myself to. I saw it on Steep & Cheap and knew immediately that it would up the cozy ante for my entire trip. But I watched as it appeared and disappeared over the next few months, since it’s $50 price tag was way over what I tended to allow myself per item of clothing.

But I went for it, and holy cow do I love it. It’s the coziest thing I’ve worn in a long time.

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Out of all this greatness, though, I might be most excited for my upside-down cross socks, also made of wool. Billed by the seller as being “good for both casual rides to Hell, as well as the occasional wedding,” these babies are right up my dark, soulless alley.

Next time, I’ll show you all the other shit I’m bringing! Accessories galore.