Stormy weather

17 10 2010

You’ve got to love the French passion for protest.

We’ve flown into a country inflamed by anger at their government for daring to meddle with their beloved pension program for seniors. In France, it seems, you can retire as early as 60 years old with a reduced government pension. It’s no wonder the sidewalk cafés are always busy, even on work days; everyone is retired!


Those storm clouds over Paris aren't just from the weather.


But that’s starting to cost the country money it no longer has. So the Zarkozy government wants to raise the retirement age to 62, and up to 67 for a full-ride pension.

That doesn’t sit too well with the populace, who value their café time.

So they protest by going on strike, further crowding the tourists out of the cafés.

In the past month, a number of general strikes have shut down the rail system across the country, the Metro in Paris, the airports. Currently, the oil refineries are on strike. Nervous motorists are lining up at gas stations to make sure they can get fuel. Apparently the airports are running short.

Somehow, we’ve managed to avoid all that.

Instead, it’s the Belgians who’ve jumped us and bit us on the butt.

It seems their rail workers are in the middle of contract negotiations, and they’re not happy with how they’re going.So Monday, they walk out for the day. That also happens to be the day we booked our train from Paris to Brussels.

C'est la vie. When in France...

Thalys, the Belgian high-speed train service, says they’ll honor our tickets on Sunday or Tuesday. Not wanting to risk escalation of their strike action, we’re leaving Paris early.



Right now, being in Europe feels a little like being in the eye of a hurricane. What with terrorist threats and labor strife all around us, we were hopeful everything would just blow around us.

Where even the dogs poop with panache

16 10 2010

This is my third time in Paris, Katie’s second. We’ve done most of the touristy things in previous visits, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Jardins Luxembourg, the Tuleries, the Musée D’orsay, the boat ride along the Seine, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe.

This short visit is more about immersing ourselves in Paris, mingling with the people, breathing the air of this most vibrant, exuberant and stylish of cities. Heck, even the dogs have panache, with their jaunty cravates, er neckerchiefs. And, weirdly enough, they even understand french!

It hasn’t taken us long to acclimatize to the city. We navigate the Metro like pros, and we play the part of Parisiens so well, other tourists come up to us to ask for directions!

Where New York pulses with energy, Paris simmers. Here, it’s not so much what you do, but that you look good doing it and make sure to take time to linger over a glass of wine or tasse de café along the way. Sharp-dressed businessmen pedal to work, or to important meetings, aboard their Velib Paris rental bikes, their ties blowing past their collars in the breeze. Police drive three or four to a vehicle, none of them looking particularly stressed about whatever situation they’re heading to.

Today we walked up through the Latin Quarter along Rue Monge, stopped at Shakespeare and Co. english bookstore, past Notre Dame, and then out to the Marais district towards Bastille.

The sight of Notre Dame cathedral never gets old, no matter how many times you've seen it.

The guidebooks say the Marais can be a little tough in some parts, but the streets we walked were lined with upscale boutiques. We stopped at Place des Vosges, a beautiful square in the heart of the Marais and at the Musée Carnavalet, which tells the history of Paris through the eyes of painters, as well as displays recreating renowned shops and a grand ballroom. It’s a little out of the way, and not as well known as all the other museums and galleries of Paris, but it’s worth seeking out. Best of all, it’s free.

Places des Vosges, in the Marais district.


Paris, je t’aime. KLM, not so much

15 10 2010

Holiday memories last a lifetime. It’s a good thing our recollection of actually getting to those holiday destinations is short.

Katie and I are now on our third visit to Europe in three years. We like it here, the history, the food, the culture, the tartelettes.

Getting here, though, is a whole other story.

What better way to prepare for a long day stuck in planes than a 37 km ride on a beautiful fall day.

Each of our trips has been fraught with delays, missed flight connections, lost luggage. En route to Paris in ’07, our flight out of Vancouver was delayed by more than three hours, causing us to miss our connection at Heathrow. On the way to Italy last year, our plane to Florence broke, as did our train to Montpelier, turning routine journeys into epic, arduous tests of our patience and resolve.

Katie checks the hit counts on her blog as we await our flight at YVR.

And today, another delay. Rolling back from the gate in Vancouver, we heard a big thump and then the plane rocked. That’s as far as we got for the next 2.5 hours. Seems there was some sort of problem with the brakes.

Of course, that delay ate pretty much the entire cushion we’d left to make our connection in Amsterdam to Paris. We barely made the flight; yes, we were the people who get onto the plane just as the flight attendants are about to close the door. But alas, our bags did not.

Fortunately, we always travel somewhat prepared for that eventuality, packing along some fresh clothes and necessities in our carry-on. So all we’re really left with is the hassle of paperwork and then waiting for the bags to be delivered, pretty much confining us to our vacation apartment for a few hours. On the upside, the trains and Metro from CDG to our apartment were incredibly busy, so it was kinda nice not to have to lug around our big bags in those crowds, especially with Katie still in her post-marathon hobbling.

Well, if you've got to ice a toe still swollen from a marathon, what better place to do it than an apartment in Paris.

Our apartment this trip is in a modern building, just around the corner from the daily street market on the Rue Mouffetard, one of the oldest street markets in Paris. We stayed in the same neighbourhood three years ago and loved it; walking out in the morning to gather the pains au chocolat and fresh fruit from the shops for breakfast, while being enveloped by the sounds, style and rhythms of Parisiens heading off to work and school is an incredibly civil way to start the day.


How the other half… runs

12 10 2010

Cyclists live in one world. Runners in another. And never shall the two meet. Because that creates tri-athletes, which is not good for athletic fashion anywhere.

But this past weekend I spent a good deal of time immersed in the runners’ world. It’s a frightening and painful place indeed. And not one I ever see myself joining.

It was Katie’s marathon weekend, in Portland, Oregon.

I think she got the first glimmer of the idea of running the Portland Marathon when last we were there, on our honeymoon last September; she saw the banners on some of the streets in the Pearl District and said “hmmmm.”

We love Portland. It’s got great neighbourhoods like the Pearl and Nob Hill. It’s got great beer and lots of interesting restaurants. It’s got a creative, laid-back vibe. And perhaps most importantly for Katie, it’s got great shopping with the added benefit of no sales tax!

Signing up for the Portland Marathon would be the perfect excuse to return and take advantage of all those, especially the shopping.

And so there I was Sunday, standing on the curb along 4th Avenue in downtown Portland, in the dark and pouring rain, my belly burbling with a mixture of excitement, fear, anxiety, worry, and pride. A year to the day after Katie had overcome injury to complete her first half-marathon, the very unofficial Claustrophobia Half, 18 weeks of training, early morning and late night runs, strict diet controls and another injury scare were coming to a head as Katie shivered in the starting corral somewhere up the block.

The police drum corps across the street pounded out a tympanic rhythm that barely drowned out my own thumping heart.

I had no doubt she’d finish her run. She’s wired that way; when she gets a goal in her head nothing will deter her. But at what price? She’d been having aches and pains in her knee and legs as her training culminated, so she’d taken it easy in the two weeks leading up to Portland, cutting a couple of runs short and not going on any of her “race pace” tapering runs. She had the fitness, but would her body betray her?


Katie continued her rehab by elevating her hurting legs all the way to Portland.


Plus, a marathon is just a really freakin’ long way to be pounding your feet and ankles and knees and legs; 42 kilometers on a road bike is a warmup, but running that far is a deathwish as far as I’m concerned!

Katie had a really great crew of supporters to cheer her on; her parents came down en route to their winter place in Arizona, our friends Rich and Shona came down with their sons, and our trucking friends Greg and Marlaina bobtailed down from Seattle to be there in spirit even if we weren’t able to meet up with them until after the race.


Katie's support team included her parents, who drove to Portland en route to their winter place in Arizona.


The weather during the run was miserable, rain, wind, cold. Tough enough to be a spectator in those conditions; we could at least kill some time and get warm and dry in a nearby coffee shop, then a galleria. I can’t imagine running for four or five hours in that.


This is what non-marathoners do while waiting for their marathoner friends to finish running.


But she did it. A little slower than she’d hoped to, and not without moments of pain and doubt.

Seeing her round the corner to the home stretch filled my chest with pride and admiration. Katie is now a marathoner. She will always have that. And that is pretty damn amazing!


Katie rounds the last corner to the finishing stretch.



Part of Katie's pit crew, the dalmonte's, cheer to the line.



Katie Bartel. Marathoner. And in a lot of pain...


Cannonball run

1 10 2010

On my way out of UBC along Southwest Marine Drive on Friday, I was passed in quick succession by a Porsche, an Audi R8 and a Ferrari. All of them were driven by young people, presumably students.

How the heck does that happen?

When I was going to university, I had to scrounge for bus fare. Who sets their kid up with a Ferrari to get them to and from campus?

Color me envious.

It was a spectacular day to ride. Or tool around in an expensive sports car, as it were.

Warm weather, blue sky, fall leaves; what's not to love?

It was also my first chance to get back on the road bike since the Fondo. And oh how I missed it.

After a couple of weeks in which I only managed a pair of evening trail rides on the mountain bike, it’s always a joy to get on the lighter, lithe Orbea and whip along the pavement. Knowing this would likely be one of my last road rides of the season meant every turn of the pedals was to be savored.

Rain and other busyness kept me off the road bike and confined to evening trail rides in the two weeks since the Fondo.

And, bank account willing, it may also have been one of my last rides on the Orbea itself. In eight riding seasons, I’ve put more than 30,000 kilometers into its orange and blue aluminum frame. It, the fork, the brifterss and the seat are about the only thing still left from when I originally bought it; over the years I’ve upgraded the entire drivetrain, the seatpost, the stem, the cranks and the wheels. It’s been a very good bike, a quick climber and precise descender, and even reasonably forgiving over the long haul.

But I feel like I’ve earned a new ride, something more current, sexier. Something made of carbon fibre.

The difficult reality is, though, that if you’ve already got a good bike, it takes a LOT of money to make replacing it worthwhile. I’ll have to see how my bank account fares after our upcoming trip to Europe…