100 years – The Treaty of Versailles

We’ve been in France on holidays and historic days before. We spent Bastille day in Paris with our kids when they were much smaller – to celebrate Emilie’s actual adoption. And last year Jeff and I were here for VE day. Marking the day WWII ended in Europe with local celebrations, remembrances and parades in every town we rode through.

Today marks another one of those historic days in France, and yet again we are here for it. The 100th anniversary of the signing of The Treaty of Versailles- the official end of WWI. My grandfather fought in the war, but that’s not why I find this to be such an important moment in the history of the world.

The Treaty of Versailles would set up all the dominoes that would fall around the world from that point on. Yes, it’s echoes are felt even today. It would tee up WWII and everything that has happened in the Middle East, Asia and beyond.

On this historic anniversary, going thru it completely is too much ground to cover in a little blog like mine. But I read this article recently and I’m including a link in case you’re interested in learning more about not only the treaty, but all the activities that went on surrounding the negotiations. It’s an eye opening tableau.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/25/opinions/treaty-of-versailles-shapes-our-world-andelman/index.html

The lesson for me here is:

  • Revenge never pays off
    Diplomacy beats sabers every day of the week
    Never negotiate something so important in a place called the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ – cause that’s just too on the nose, and it won’t end well
    Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it
    Karma bites hard – and it has a long tail

We will be spending this day sightseeing in Colmar, so more pics. But as we walk around so much history, I think it’s important to reflect on how we got here. And 100 years ago today was where so much of it began.

Bah! Americans!

As Americans, we generally respond to the glance down a French patrician nose by adjusting our clothes, touching our hair and checking that we don’t have toothpaste in the corner of our mouths. And it doesn’t have to be the aristocracy either. We’ll let any Frenchman make us feel like the peasants he surely believes we are.

Today’s ride was like sweat yoga, except it lasted for more than 6 hours. We left our hotel north of Leon early, and what was supposed to take 3 hours, required 4 stops to cool down and drink water. In what is another far superior French highway invention, the toll road lay by.

This little slice of heaven will have AC, multiple cafeterias, some sort of Art exhibition, and you’ll be able to learn a new skill on your trip.

Cooking, Acupuncture, a new language? It’s all there. A place where you can tell the French know coffee by the 20 auto-coffee machines that spits out a latte that puts Starbucks to shame.

And they sell traditional French mime clothes too. Did I buy one of these at a gas station? Yes. Yes I did. When I came walking back to the bike smiling broadly carrying my new gas station attire Jeff asked where I thought I might put this acquisition.

‘You’ve done more shopping on this trip than I’ve done in a year. Now you’re buying clothes in gas stations. How are we getting all this home on the plane?’

I shook my head. Does he know who he’s married to?

‘Collapsible suitcase in the side pannier. What? Do you think I’m an amateur?’

He knows better than to mess with my packing skills. And bonus!

‘When I bought it, apparently I didn’t do it right, so that lady at the counter started shouting at me in French.’

Jeff knows better than to question my glee at this experience. But, I couldn’t help smiling when she did this. She didn’t realize that everyone had been too nice to me since crossing the border from Spain on Saturday. I had been waiting for this moment,

When I said aloud ‘Ah, there it is.’ She just said ‘Bah! Americans!’ And waved me away from the counter. If she had spit on the ground it would have been even better.

We made to to Colmar, where we will stay for two nights before the final push to Heidelberg. I’d almost made it out of France before being dressed down as the peasant I will always be. I’m so glad that didn’t happen.

Eating Crow

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. I don’t know if that is even possible this week in Western Europe as temperatures are going to be record breaking across our entire route.

Jeff has demanded satisfaction after my post from the other day, about our first days ride. No, he did not strike me on both cheeks with his leather motorcycle gloves and insist upon pistols at dawn; but a retraction and an acknowledgment that his lack of planning or ‘total Agile traveling strategy’ is what had us eating at the restaurant at our hotel last night, during which we were openly moaning.

It started yesterday morning. We were packed up and ready to head out. I decided to have the breakfast they serve. Jeff, not a breakfast eater, actually joined me. Yum! It was perfect. The food, the service, the setting. Provençal apricots so juicy they dripped down the chin. Fresh pastries, whose heavenly smells tempted even Jeff. Chocolate lava cakes. Fresh cherries and raspberries. And the cheese? Don’t get me started on the cheese.

‘I wish we could stay another day here.’ I said, eating my fourth apricot.

‘Why can’t we?’ Asked Jeff. ‘Let’s see if they have our room available for another night.’

They did so we stayed. We were not disappointed. Another day of Avignon is not hard time.

The restaurant at our hotel is closed Sunday and Monday so we would not have been able to enjoy dinner there had we left yesterday. But staying another day remedied that. I’ve been to more than a few Michelin starred restaurants, in several different countries over the years. The best ones are unpretentious and unexpected. Where it isn’t about how fancy it looks. It’s just about the food – glorious food. La Treille hits all of those notes.

La Treille got their star last year. And it’s chef, Jean-Michel Leclerc, did his best work last night, taking into account the unseasonal heat that did break some of his sauces.

In the decades I’ve known him, Jeff has proudly worn his meat and potatoes mantle. Last night he shrugged it off and jumped in to French cuisine with both of his size 49’s.

Please Note: This photo montage is dedicated to my good friend, Josephine Lee in Seattle. Her amazing daily food photos on social media used to force me to take an early lunch.

Gazpacho started us off with fresh tomatoes, basil, fennel.

Oops! I was so excited seeing the langoustine w legumes, I dug in before I realized I’d forgotten to take a photo of the plating and presentation.

The tenderest veal, caramelized onion and a reduction of ambrosia with a roasted garlic root vegetable on the side, to accompany its delicious friends, woke up my sad 21st century tongue.

Finally, a selection of cheeses and riot of frozen brandied cherries with chocolate, in all its various states, with a dollop of frozen creme fraise.

We ate in silence. Like we were in church. With a little moaning thrown in. Savoring the flavors. Jeff raised his glass of perfectly chilled rose’ as I shoveled in more deliciousness than I’ve tasted in a long time.

‘You know, if I had over planned this trip and not taken such an Agile approach (referring to a SW methodology from both our careers) we wouldn’t be here now enjoying this amazing meal. Outside under the trees. We would have had to move along down the road.’

I tried to pretend I hadn’t heard that. But he went on.

‘I think a retraction is in order.’

Hmmm. Well, perhaps he’s right. This detour on our itinerary was so welcome and it wouldn’t have been possible if we had planned, reserved in advance, and stuck to our itinerary.

Today, after another scrumptious breakfast, we will move North in scorching heat. But not before I officially eat cold crow. Jeff is right. Some of the very best things in life are the unexpected. And some of the tastiest too. So here you are, Sir. Please enjoy, with my compliments, an official retraction for one.

If you’d like to enjoy La Treille – the restaurant. Or even better, stay here too – here is a link to their website.

https://www.latreille-avignon.fr/en/

Carcassone and Avignon

We have spent the last couple of days in Occitanie – the prefecture that covers France from the Pyrenees in the south thru to its border with Provence-Alpes and Côte d’Azur. I’ve spent a lot of time in the latter but this is the first time I’ve spent much time in the Languedoc-Occitànie.

Like so many other places in Europe, there is a local language spoken traditionally by those who grew up and still live here. Some call it Provençal. But we were told by a local they refer to it as Occitàn and it’s got ties to Cantalan spoken across the border in Spain. So using our Spanish, with some limited French mixed in has served us very well. I’ve been quite surprised.

When checking in to our hotel in Avignon, there were other Americans shouting to be understood. The owner of the hotel smiled as I handed her my Spanish residence card and tried out my French ( I’ll admit sprinkled with Spanish). She leaned over.

‘I will give you the best room. These people? Meh.’

We were all Americans but we were the only ones trying to communicate. I don’t understand why people travel but don’t learn just a few words. Even linguistically shy Jeff is pulling out all the stops. He was laughing over lunch yesterday when the waiter walked away.

‘Well, we used French, Spanish and English in that interaction (he was a full on participant, I might add), now you need to pull out some of your German and we’ll be all set.’

Carcassonne

This small city with its castle, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is simply stunning. Nestled in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, it has been important to the region for more than 1000 yrs.

The Cathars (a Christian religious sect – sort of like Buddhism, seriously) ensured the city’s prominence at the beginning of the last Millennium. You can see how this might have angered the Pope and the Catholic Church. It all went south from there with the Pope declaring a Crusade on the entire area of the Languedoc, to root out the wicked Cathars. Sieges followed. Lots of deaths. It was really what kicked off what we call ‘The Inquisition’. So it’s a historical place and a rich time period.

Luckily, none of that is going on today. Cathar castles and keeps dot your descent out of the Pyrenees to Carcassonne. Especially along the twisty winding roads we took. But nothing compared to Carcassonne.

A rare picture of me. Helmet head didn’t stop me from enjoying the wine.

Unlike some castles we’ve been to, within the castles walls people still live and work – although tourism is the main industry. I love being able to see the historical strata on castle walls and Carcassonne didn’t disappoint. It’s easy to see the original fortress built by the Romans and each period where it was continued after. Layer upon layer.

The Cathedral is beautiful with its stained glass. The sign asking visitors to be silent shows its remaining bitterness to Catholic oppression. Alas, as I stood and lit candles for my family – it’s been a tough stretch for my parents – the sign didn’t stop a family of American tourist from opening a loud bag of caramels and then loudly debating which were the best ones. I gave them my best ‘Sil vous plait’ in my most accenty French accent complete with Gallic shrug and pinched fingers. It was a movie like charicature I knew they would understand.

The people of Carcassonne are very friendly and welcoming, even though they are over run in the summer months, with tourists from around the world.

Avignon

We headed up the coast yesterday to Avignon in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte. Heaven must surely be exactly like this little town. When I learned that Popes of the 14th century quit Rome and moved here, I felt a little better about their judgement. The Palais Des Papes is the palace they built for themselves and is the largest Gothic edifice in the World.

We checked into our hotel – Auberge de la Treille. Surrounded by Plane trees and nestled on Ile Piot – an island in the Rhône river – it is the perfect oasis from the hot sun and a 10 min walk across the bridge into the old city. I’m pretty sure God was listening when I lit a candle for this stretch of the trip, because after a very a hot ride it was truly in heaven. The owner is lovely.

We got cleaned up and walked into the city for an afternoon of sightseeing, food and drink. And maybe a little glacé. Followed by a farmers market that smelled like the ambrosia of Provence. Lavender, olive oils, tomatoes like cannon balls, fresh herbs, local honey, and rose’.

Do I want to leave here? Never! I am happy to sit under the Plane trees planted by Napoleon and forget there is anything outside of the water of the Rhône rushing by. There are no motorcycles needing to get to Germany. No hustle and bustle of daily life. I could paint here in perfect light, as all the impressionists did. And write my stories. Melting into the life of Provence – as I feel sure we were all meant to do.

The Frady Cat

I’m a big believer in facing your fears. Generally, I subscribe to the ‘if you’re afraid of it, you should do it’ school of thought. That’s why I am on this motorcycle trip from Valencia to Heidelberg. I hadn’t been back on the motorcycle since our accident a little bit ago. I hadn’t written about it here.

We had been up in the mountains in Alicante, riding home towards the sea when we hit a nothing slick spot and the bike’s back wheel slid and we went over. We were geared up so Jeff had a bloody knee, and afterwards, I felt muscles I didn’t know I had. But the thing that freaked me out was hitting my head so hard on the pavement I didn’t know where I was. I’ve had a bunch of migraine headaches since then.

Jeff was unbothered by it. I think because he almost died in a motorcycle accident nearly 4 years ago. So our little spill was tame by comparison. The bike hadn’t fallen on us and broken our legs, so in his book we were batting 1,000. He was ready to hop up and ride again.

At that point, I had already promised Jeff I would go with him to take the bike to be shipped – that decision was made. But getting back on it took everything I had that day and I hadn’t ridden since. We’d had to buy me a new helmet and new gloves. But I was set.

2 days before we left, I broke out in hives. I didn’t sleep that night. I communicated and assumed the well planned route wouldn’t include hours of hair pin turns on cliff hanging mountain roads without a center line, uneven rutted pavement, and oncoming traffic. But it would. I was sweating when we pulled out of the garage in Benimachlet.

Yesterday, in Carcassonne, I was feeling better. The city is beautiful and we’ve seen it all. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to see with the history of the Cathars that fascinates me. And the castle that has such a storied history. (See next post)

But it’s nearly 3am and we are leaving to head down the road in the morning and I haven’t slept at all. Jeff is snoring away and I’m wide awake. I’ve got to get back on that bike in a few hours and I’m sick to my stomach.

Sitting here, I remember my first bike accident. It included an ambulance ride and I messed up my back. I had a nasty concussion that took about a month before I felt human again. It took me years to ride again. This time between accident and riding wasn’t a half hour. We had to go home and it was an hour and a half away. But I realize now that I have some residual feelings left over from it and I’m not sure how I’m going to get from here to there.

Riding on the back of Jeff’s bike has always been a challenge for me. I’m putting my safety in his hands. It’s why I’m a nervous flier. But this time, it’s more than that and I can’t put my finger on what’s bothering me. Maybe I’ll figure it out by the time we get there.

We did figure out how the gps, not only miscalculated the time to Carcassonne but also why it put us on those terrifying roads. So that shouldn’t happen again.

Generally, I’m a pretty fearless person. The one thing between me and my goal is usually just a plan. But not for this. I don’t seem to be able to put my finger on it long enough to develop one. And I’ve noticed my riding fearfulness has unnerved Jeff a bit. He counts on me to just say ‘Sure, let’s do it!’ And this time I’m just not there yet.

Next stop is Avignon. I’ll write a post of the two Cites’ combined when we get there. For now, all I have to do is breathe for 244km.