Thursday, June 14, 2018

At the Meadow - Zermatt, Switzerland

The Matterhorn caught in the clouds
During my night's stay in Lausanne, I reached out to my host Silvia in mountain town of Zermatt to tell her about my change of plans.  I shyly asked if I could stay an extra night being I was not going to be pedaling my way around anymore.  To my surprise, she offered her home to me for multiple nights and I could have not been blessed to stay in that valley for a few days!  After a quick walk about Lausanne in the morning to snap a few more shots, I hopped on the train to begin the next adventure - see the Matterhorn!  As the train skirted along the shoreline of Lake Geneva toward Montreux, the valleys were growing more and more shadowed by the heights of the Valais Alps.  Watching the lake fade from view, my attention shifted to the remarkable peaks and the villages that the Swiss had built on the sides of them!  I was entranced by everything that I was seeing from my window seat that I nearly missed getting off the train in Visp to switch lines!  I quick grabbed a pastry to help pass the time while I waited for the train to arrive at the last platform of the station when I looked up the valley that I was going to be going up.  At that moment, I was partially thankful that my bicycle had gone missing for the road up was a steep one!  Throughout the windy train ride, there were half a dozen times that the train required cog track to pull us up the narrow valley and my appreciation for the comfort of the train ride grew stronger by the second rather than me struggling up the road on my bike!  After a series of tunnels blasted through the sides of the valley, the train finally reached the end of the line "in the meadow".  The name Zermatt comes from Wallischer German 'zur Matte' meaning "at the meadow" which could not fit this picturesque mountain village anymore perfectly.  

After walking about the narrow streets of the central area toward Silva's house, I began to notice that there were only these golf cart sized vehicles occasionally driving about the town.  Come to find out that there are no cars in Zermatt!  The streets were established centuries before and intentionally built narrow so that the eaves of the buildings would keep as much snow off the walkways as much as possible.  Plus, not having traffic adds to the tranquility and gives a sense of time travel.  That was not the only interesting aspect of Zermatt that caught my attention... Chocolate shops!  I swear they were on every block as I made my way southward through the town.  When I finally stopped craning my neck at the displays of confectioneries,  I looked up to see one of the most recognizable mountains in the world shrouded in a blanket of low clouds.  Even then, I knew that was the mighty Matterhorn before me and I could only stand there in awe of the mountain's beauty.  After a few moments of standing there and taking a few pictures, I realized I needed to keep on going to make my walk to Silvia's to shed my pack and get ready for my adventures in this breathtaking alcove of the Alps.

Friday, January 5, 2018

City of Stairs - Lausanne, Switzerland

Cathedral of Notre Dame
in Lausanne, Switzerland
I had a forlorn feeling as Geneva grew smaller from my train window knowing that somewhere back there my AWOL bicycle was without me.  However, the adventure must continue and my host Vidal had a long list of 'angles' to help me see and understand Lausanne life.  Before I departed from Geneva, I messaged him about my misfortunes that morning and my new arrival time and method.  Once that message was sent, I disconnected from the electronic world for the duration of the lakeside ride.  Setting foot in the gare de Lausanne, I strapped on my pack and pulled my bike cart out into the afternoon sun of the Olympic Capital.  When making my arrangements with Vidal, he warned me about the confusing streets of Lausanne.  He preemptively apologized for living on one of the most puzzling parts of the city and I told him not to worry.  I had looked at the map on my phone while I was in range of WiFi while in Geneva and told myself I would be able to manage easily in the matters of navigation.  Regardless, Vidal gave me as detailed instructions as anyone could possibly give and yet, once I was faced with this maze of streets I quickly understood his concern.  He had warned me about the bewildering situation that surrounded his apartment and being surrounded by the web of Avenue de Morges and Rue de Geneve - quite literally a web!  Some segments going north-south and others going east-west and all one after the other!  See the map below and to the right to get a feel for this labyrinth of Lausanne!   After I had found my way to Vidal's I was warmly welcomed with his request to relax and enjoy some wine from local vineyards dating back a thousand years before we set out to explore the city and I gladly took him up on that offer!  After expressively telling him of that morning's three-ring-circus situation and a glass of wine, we were ready to go get a taste of Lausanne.  

Map of Vidal's neighborhood in Lausanne
While we walked, Vidal shared with me the fascinating history of Lausanne and the area, bits and phrases of the Arpetan dialect of French, and tips on getting around Switzerland inexpensively.  Wandering around for an hour or so, our stomachs started to tell us it was time for sit down and eat.  Being a courteous host, he asked me where I would like to eat but I really could not pinpoint my craving.  Vidal then suggested go to a place he recently heard about which was a Thai restaurant and immediately my taste buds seconded that idea!  Our stories continued as the courses of fiery and flavorful food came and disappeared until we both could not fit anymore.  Needing to burn off the feast we just devoured, Vidal took me around the city, although it was more up and down rather than around as we climbed what felt like 40 flights of stairs in the matter of a few hours!  He jokingly said that the International Olympic Committee chose Lausanne being getting around the city is a perpetual workout!  The following morning after Vidal headed to work at the hospital, I wanted to make a quick trip to the Notre Dame cathedral atop the "hill" in Lausanne before I ventured back to the train station.  Just a few hours prior, my city host had taken me up to the walls of the cathedral and I did not recall the way being so stair heavy as the route that I chose that morning!  But, the end result was rewarding as I nearly had the Notre Dame de Lausanne to myself and the view from the "front door" was astounding over the city and Lake Leman onward to the Alps as I was about to embark onto one of the most famous of her mountains - the Matterhorn.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Last ride of the AWOL - Geneva, Switzerland

I started the morning casually with light breakfast and a quick spin on my bicycle to check out a few other spots in Annecy before beginning my three hour ride deeper into the Alps.  My heading was set northward as I entered the Swiss Plateau with my destination to be the Peace Capital of the World and the home to the United Nations - Geneva.  That morning's ride was phenomenal as I wound around bends and across bridges of this alpine byway taking me to the shores of yet another breath-taking lake with the sun shining down on my back.  This could not have been any more perfect for a bike ride on my AWOL.                                                                                                                                                                           Little did I know that this ride was going to be my last.  

I had made my Couchsurfing arrangements once I got to Annecy in hopes of preventing the panic that I put myself in when arriving there.  I found a graduate student that was willing to share his apartment in the heart of Genève for the night before my much anticipated lakeside bike ride to Lausanne.  Knowing that he was not going to be home until around dinner time, I made my ride casual as I crossed the border from France into Switzerland.  I took detours to international cemeteries, riverfront parks, and a few vantage points to take in the city on a wonderful Wednesday afternoon.  As the sun reached down to the Jura mountains to the west I began my finding my way to the across the Arve to unload my gear for the evening.  Once my bicycle and I were free of my bag and cart, I parted ways with my host for he was having a night out on the town with friends being the next day was a city holiday and I had a check list of places to see for myself!  My camera and tripod snugly fit around my torso,  I was ready to be off for an after-dark tour of Geneva but first dinner on the lakefront was in order!  Once my belly was filled with an array of local cheeses and an entree of baked onions stuffed with spiced chicken and more cheese topped with a savory glaze, I was ready to get some sightseeing in and a quick visit to a potential future employer - The United Nations.      

Once I heard the bells of the cathedral sound eleven strikes, I knew I ought to be heading back for the night to meet up with my host and then get some rest for the big ride the next morning.  Getting to the apartment at about the same time, I locked up my bicycle on the rack in front of the building door and headed in for the night.  Come morning, we had breakfast with one of his friends who was from India and we excitedly talked about my upcoming travels there until I realized I needed to get on the road.  As we passed through the door, I looked to where my bike should have been and then the wave of terror hit me.  My customized AWOL bicycle had gone.... AWOL!  My host, trying to calm my rapidly growing panic, reassured me that it was somewhere.  He knew it had to be because he watched me lock the cable through my frame and double check the lock before we headed in for the night.  My heart sinking to the lowest depths all while almost beating out of my chest, we began our search for my bike.  We checked EVERY bike rack in the vicinity, asked the apartment building attendants, up and down, left and right to no avail.  After I had come to terms with my bike wandering off "under new ownership", I asked my host to take me to a police station so I could file a report in hopes of collecting insurance on my custom-fit and custom-built bicycle.  There was our next problem.  When Geneva has a city holiday, they are serious about it being a holiday.  Every police station we went to was closed for the day until a local informed us that the one in the main train station would be manned on this holiday.  Well, I needed to go there anyway being that was going to be my ride from there on out and so my #WorldTour2015 bicycle tour came to an end but the journey across the globe continued nonetheless!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Pearl of the French Alps - Annecy, France

I discovered the beauty of Annecy while I was trying to coax my mind into letting me sleep and I was scrolling through Facebook when one of the suggested ads popped up with "the ten secret places of France".  I ran the risk of this ad being click-bait and I am glad that I did!  One place hooked my attention from the list and that was Annecy.  Luckily, this lakeside city was an easy addition to my route across the European continent toward Munich for the opening ceremony of Oktoberfest.  The 18th of September being 12 days away and the entire country of Switzerland to traverse by bike and occasionally train, I needed to get to this lakeside paradise quickly so I thought I would hop on a train from Avignon to Annecy.  After my early morning ride from Nîmes with my side stop at the Pont du Gard for a few hours, I arrived in the old papal city of Avignon with a few close encounters with French traffic with a sigh of relief.  Crossing the mighty Rhône river, I followed the signs guiding me to the city center and more importantly the Gare or main train station.  I parked my bike in front of the 19th Century train station and ventured inside to check the schedule for getting to Annecy.  

Cathedral of Our Lady of Doms in the heard of Avignon
Skimming the board, it looked like I would be  departing a little after 1500 which gave me some  time to explore the city and more importantly get lunch!  I chose the 3 PM departure time being the ride to Annecy would take about three and half hours and that would allow me time to find a place to stay and cruise the canals and shores of Annecy.  So I thought!  With a few hours to hit the historic spots of medieval Avignon, I began cycling around on a hot, sunny day at a casual, carefree pace over the cobblestone streets up to the Palais des Papes (on the right)I found a small street cafe that caught my attention from their display of massive cookies and settled in at a table to regain some calories and people watch before heading back to catch my train.  Remember when I said that this ride would be about three and a half hours?  Somehow it ended up being nine hours.  I was aware that I would be changing trains in Lyon but when I disembarked from the first train, I scoured the station in search of the information board to get to the platform for my second and final leg of the trip.  The ticket in my hand denoted that the second train would be leaving in about 35 minutes after my arrival thus I wanted to find the platform sooner rather than later.  Trailing my bicycle through the station to the assigned platform, I looked up to the marque and grew confused at the next incoming train.  Confused, I saw a station official and asked him about my train and if I was at the right platform - along with all the other crucial questions a concerned traveler would ask.  He squinted at the marque and then told me that incoming train was running late and in turn would make my train late "by a few minutes".  Those few minutes ended up being an hour and forty minutes until it would arrive in Lyon!  
Then we would have to wait in the station for an additional 40 minutes before taking off to only have more delays.  My arrival to Annecy was significantly later than I had wished but luckily one of the hostels was still taking in travelers.  Weary and worn, I finally found the hostel and was welcomed by a staff from around the world!  I had intended on spending only one night in Annecy but once I saw they were going to be having a sushi night the next evening, how could I not extend my stay by an extra day?!  Needless to say, I am glad I made that decision for I was able to witness this enchanting city filled with flowers, medieval markets, and beautiful people with the time that that this city deserves!  ...and of course - SUSHI with a group of great people from all around this big world in the "Venice of the Alps"!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Pont du Gard - Nîmes, France

I am not too sure when I truly first fell in love with architecture followed with engineering, but I do recall when and where I first discovered the wonder of the Pont du Gard.  My parents had a 30 volume collection of the 1954 Encyclopedia Americana as part of our family library.  Sifting through the pages admiring the maps and images as my older siblings referenced from these pre-internet resources, I was able to travel the world with each turn of the page with my carefree 'research' as I was not in school yet.  Arriving to the pictures of this place, I was piqued.  Heaving the hefty book up the stairs to my parents, I wanted to learn more about this place.  Skimming the information, my dad converted the encyclopedia jargon into comprehensible material my four or five year old mind could grasp.  I was having difficulty getting just how tall the 'water bridge' was and then my dad leaned over the book and set his hand on my head.  He then asked me to imagine how tall I would be if I stacked my standing body on top of itself 50 times and that is about how tall the Pont du Gard is.  My little eyes grew larger as I tried to fathom this massive place as my attention drew back to the page with more inquisitive passion.  I could attribute this experience to being the handful of snow that started the snowball that has been my life of travel, love of architecture and engineering, and the continued journey of learning.  

To this day, this aqueduct captivates my wonder and imagination.  As a student of engineering in the modern world with the technology we have access to today, my mind is boggled as to how the designers and engineers of this particular aqueduct system were able to build this wonder of the ancient world and still a wonder two thousand years later.  The credit goes to Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.  Considered to be one of the greatest minds of Roman engineering as he laid out near perfect road ways across the expanding empire, integrated state-of-the-art municipal sewer systems, and of course, aqueducts to serve growing cities, all of which are still functioning to this day!  One of the most recognizable structures of his craft is the Pantheon in the heart of Rome.  The design was his, however he did not live to see the completion of one of the world's greatest engineering feats.  Other honorable mentions of his include the Maison Carrée in the city of Nimes, the reason behind this aqueduct, and extensive Via Agrippa of over 21,000 kilometers of roadway were created by his one man.  Coming back to the Pont du Gard and the 50 kilometer aqueduct system that it stands a part of the intriguing fact that over the entire length of the system, it only drops 12.6 meters!  Expanding out the overall length to 50,000 meters of channel for water to flow without being pumped or forced, these builders were able to wind a (mostly) leak-proof channel to the 50,000+ citizens of Nimes and only dropping elevation of 12.6 meters!  In order to do so and with the little elevation difference between the source and the destination of the water, the Romans had to overcome the Gardon gorge.  That challenge was resolved with the tallest Roman aqueduct at a height of nearly 50 meters and requiring three tiers of arches to support the near nine million gallons of water the aqueduct provided to the citizens of Colonia Nemausus.  With credentials like that, I would rank the Pont du Gard in the top three of the Roman structures remaining today as marvels of engineering!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

France's Rome - Nîmes, France

When I penciled in my route for my World Tour 2015, how could I not include the ancient city of Nîmes and the wonders that the city holds!  The city cradles three examples of Roman structures that numerous 'top ten' lists have proclaimed to be the best preserved and 'must see' places.  Once I arrived to the city that dates back to the Bronze Age to witness the pristine Maison Carrée and the colossal arena with my own eyes, set off onto my other mission!  My told my hostess Sophie that I would make a homemade American meal for the night so I needed to stop by a market.  There was my problem.  I arrived in the later half of a Sunday and all the markets that I could find were closed for the day.  As the sun was fading from the sky, I made my way to Sophie's house to meet her and break the bad news about dinner.  After navigating my way there along Quai de la Fontaine to Sophie's, I meet another traveler that was also staying with our host for the night.  As we waited for Sophie to arrive I learned she was living in Germany as an au pair and exploring Europe before returning home.  During our conversation, Sophie pulled up and brightly welcomed the both of us and brought us to her incredible apartment.  Located on one of the low hills overlooking the center of the city, the view from her patio was breath-taking!  Once I broke the unfortunate news to my host and fellow traveler about dinner, Sophie suggested we have an American-style dinner with a Nimois flavor - pizza!  Once we returned with our pizza pies, we sat outside sharing stories and experiences with each other as we feasted on delicious slices of pizza while the apple pie for dessert was baking in the oven!  
As we finished up with dinner, Sophie shared an interesting story with us.  She began by saying she was hesitant on hosting another 'Trevor' from the experience she had with the last guest with the same name stayed with her.  Especially since I told her I was on a bicycling adventure across Europe and this other Trevor was riding a motorcycle on a European tour.  Long story short, he overstayed his welcome and left Sophie saddled with his motorcycle that he should not have had.  She closed the story with thanking me ying to the yang of a rollercoaster ride the other Trevor had sent Sophie on.  As we all decided to call it a night, I felt a great sense of relief knowing I was off the hook for not 'making' dinner and restoring faith back into the name Trevor for one of the best hostess' I have had the pleasure of meeting along my travels across the globe!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Pride of Pyrénées-Orientales - Perpignan, France

Making my descent from the Pyrenees mountains on D117 back toward the Mediterranean Coast, I knew I was riding through warmer regions as I passed trellis after trellis of grape vines ready for harvest to make the world renowned vin français.  I was not the only slow moving traffic along this route on that clear September morning.  Tractors pulling wagons laden with freshly collected clusters of grapes bound for coopérative les vignerones to begin the transformation from berry to bottled nectar.  On my 60 kilometer ride that day, I appreciated the beautifully manicured vineyards but nothing could surpass the heavenly aroma that pours out from the cooperatives as the grapes are pressed to begin the wine-making process.  The sweet smell faded as I left the peacefulness of provincial life in change for the urban bustle of sunny Perpignan.  Not only did the unique history of this city draw me into the once capital of the Kingdom of Majorca but also the Visa por l'image.  Every year, the city showcases international exhibitions of photojournalism from the most impacting stories from around the world of that year.  I was excited to be a part of this celebration of photography but unaware of the changes that this would have on me.  Years leading up to this point, I had appreciation for photography and passion for producing images to remember moments in my life.  During my visit, that passion I had carried grew beyond the hobby that photography for my own pleasure into something more.  The shift inside of me moved from a hobby to a duty.  I had been told I had a talent with photography from family and friends but saw no calling to pursue photography.   Seeing these images from war-torn Syria, the devastation of the earthquakes throughout Nepal, the lives of struggling teenage mothers, and a long list of others worthy of recognition all made that change.  From them, I discovered a purpose within photography as these images not only captured a moment, but wielded a story that cast emotion, strife, and substance from paper to the heart of the viewer.  If you wish to see works from that moved me that day, visit Visa 2015 to see these power images that have guided me on this path to become a photographer that hopes to one day impact the world as these great photographers moved me.

Taxed from the turmoil of the world through the photographs of Visa, I sought out the second destination while in the city and the one that holds much of the city's heritage of art and culture under it's Gothic vaults for tranquility. I found that in Catedral de Sant Joan Baptista de Perpinyà as the locals know this 700 year old Catalan Gothic basilica which was begun under the reign of Sancho the Pacific. His short reign of thirteen years were remarked with peace and prosperity of the kingdom and her neighbors unlike those he followed and those the crown passed after his unfortunate death from an asthma attack. Since his death, the body of Sancho has laid to rest under the nave of the cathedral he founded in the heart of his kingdom's continental capital.  

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Château de Puilaurens - Lapradelle-Puilaurens, Aude, France

 While I was planning my route to both make bicycling tolerable but to also see as much of the world as I possibly could.  In doing so, I spent hours pouring over books and surfing through webpages of places, cultures, and histories of the potential pauses during my pedaling adventure.  One evening as I was skimming through one of many "things to see in Southern France" pages, I stumbled upon the Cathar castles.  Piquing my interest, I opened a few additional tabs to learn more and within a few minutes I knew I would be adding one of the historic fortresses to my list!  But which one was the question I had to answer.  Looking through the lineup of châteaux, I was most intrigued by Château de Puilaurens and it's significance in history dating back to the times of the Roman expansion westward.  As the legions marched westward along the coast through Gaul, modern day France, to pave the way of the first Roman road to Hispania or Spain as it is known today.  The spur of stone that the chateau sits upon today served as a castrum to the first Romans to arrive in the area.  Here, the challenges of passing over the Pyrenees pushed them to settle the area before pushing onward to the southern territories.  After the fall of the Roman Empire, this fortification has played strategic roles in the rise of both the Kingdoms of Spain and France for nearly a thousand years.

By the time I arrived to the valleys that this ancient citadel looks over, the gloom that I had been enduring for the first three days in France finally started to lift.  Arriving to the petite village of Lavagnac cold and dripping wet, all I wanted was something warm to drink in hopes of bringing life back into my frigid body.  Fascinated by the beautiful stone train trestle that weaves through the provincial homes, I followed the main road into the heart of the community and lucked out with discovering a charming teahouse.  Entering through the door I was questioning if I truly wanted to spend the night in my tent with the weather as it was but the smell of tea leaf and herbs took away my worries temporarily.  Once I got my frosty fingers on a warm cup filled with tea, the lady of the house asked me what brought me to the area in heavily accented English.  Smiling and in my best attempt in French, I responded "to see the chateau nearby".  I followed up with questions such as how far away it was from the teahouse.  She looked at her watch at her wrist and then bobbed her head to look through the front windows, smiled and then told me to enjoy that cup of tea first and then she would show me.  Once I finished the last drop, she took me out and with a few steps over to the bridge, she pointed upward and said, "There.  There is Château de Puilaurens!"  The view I was taking in is the same as the image below and boy, was my heart happy that the fortress was not too far away and that the weather was improving beyond the dismal deluge I had been enduring!  She led me back to the shop while pointing out a few of the other features of the area and poured me another cup of tea upon our return.  
My inner adventurer had been recharged and was ready to go experience this unique piece of culture, history, and architecture.  I made a quick change into a dry set of biking gear before setting off southward to find my site to set up my tent for the night and to hopefully get a closer look at the bygone keep.  My road bent with the curves of the tumbling river nearby as I inched closer and my heart began to race with wonder!  Soon, as I found the roadside signaling the way up to the castle, my legs were starting to feel the climb!  Just as the burn was starting to heat up in my calves, I came upon the perfect spot to call home for the night.  There was an opening in the trees that looked up to the fortress with the most ideal ground to pitch a tent.  After setting up, I decided there would be enough light to venture upward to see how close I could get to the chateau.  To my surprise, you can walk in to the ruins!  Checking out the old walls and towers, I sat at the edge admiring the villages below as the sun went down behind the cloud-covered horizon.  When suddenly, I heard a popping noise below me.  Curious as ever, I looked over the edge of the precipice I was sitting on to see that there was a floodlight and the water drops were "boiling" off the glass!  Excited to know that the castle would be lit at night, I began my descent to find the perfect spot to capture the Château de Puilaurens in the dark of night.  While I made the final adjustments to my camera to snap the night shot, I looked up to the blue and golden hues cast onto the walls and smiled.  What a great way to end a day that had begun with dreary weather and doubt in this endeavor I was putting myself through.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Come rain or come shine - Pyrénées-Orientales, France

When I began my bicycling in southern Spain, I knew I would face challenges along the way.  From flat tires in the middle of nowhere to being lost in metropolitan cities, I thought I had seen it all by the time I crossed into la République française.  I was wrong.  All those hardships and struggles were puny compared to my 'Tour de France'.  When I started out on my ride that day from my hostel in Tarter, Andorra, the sun was playing hide-and-seek behind clouds.  As I neared the French border, a fog loomed over the series of switch backs I had to climb.  Nearing the crest of the pass, that fog was more of a freezing mist of tiny spears.  But, France was in sight - figuratively!  I knew it was there - a sign told me so!  There was one last Andorran village before passing the border into France and there I found a cafe to hopefully get my frozen hands on a cup of creamy hot chocolate.  After warming my body and spirit, the time had come to officially cross into France.  Now, rewind a few days to when I rode the bus into Andorra la Vella from Spain and my conversation with the lovely lady in the tourism office.  I had asked her if she could or knew someone that could stamp my passport with an Andorran stamp.  She was unable to do so but inquired about my route and when I said I was going into France by El Pas de la Casa.  She grabbed my arm and happily told me that I would be able to get both the Andorran and French stamps at the customs when I passed through on my way.  My spirits lifted by a few large cups of hot chocolate and a warm meal, I was ready to get those stamps and explore France!  As I wheeled up to the French customs station, which was in place mostly to control the traffic of non-taxed cigarettes and alcohol at discount prices in Andorra into France, I kindly asked the group of custom agents where I could get stamps for my passport.  One agent stepped toward me and told me that they cannot stamp passports being that day was a Tuesday.  I thought to myself on how ludicrous this was but it only got better!  The agent then snobbishly asked me where I was going so I returned an answer in sarcasm to match his, "France."  He retorted with a question "anywhere after that?" which I responded with Switzerland and Germany.  He proceeded to inform me that I would be able to get an Andorran stamp when I get to Germany.  Frustrated, I forced a smile and said my thanks to the group and continued on.  The ride was downhill from there.  By that, I mean in a literal sense as well as the experience of my first taste of France.  

After I left the customs station, the mist had upgraded to a full rain.  The shoulders that Spain and Andorra had allotted bicyclists such as myself to safely ride on had vanished.  As I hugged the edge of the narrow roadway, I was scared off resulting in my cart tipping and spilling my stores of apples and snacks when a passing Frenchman blared his car horn at me as he sped downward.  This was just the first ten minutes of my journey.  From my planning months in advance, I found a quaint camping area outside of the village of Ax-les-Thermes.  I had the directions handy in case I needed some guidance along the way.  Soaking wet, cold to the bone, I had arrived to Ax-les-Thermes and found the most confusing convergence of bending streets at two traffic circles with a sign that labeled destinations but gave no indication which way they were.  Being the signage was of no use to me I thought I would get some local assistance.  In reference to the Wizard of Oz after about my fourth attempt to get help here, I mumbled to myself "Trevor, we're not in Spain anymore!"  A little bit on the frustrated side, in the most polite voice I could muster, I asked an elderly lady which way was to Goulours in my basic skills from my French Handbook.  I was ignored.  I quickly thought to myself that Spain is right over there so give Spanish a try!  Still nothing.  Finally, at my wit's end, I gave my humble request in German.  That caught her attention and then asked for my question again in French.  Once I got out my inquiry again, she lifted up her hand and gave it a loose wave in the easterly direction and then continued on her way.  Taking the most dramatic deep breath, I pedaled onward in that general direction in hopes of finding my destination.  Subtly cursing to myself as I made each switchback uphill, I encountered an older man on a jog in the rain.  He was smiling at me as we approached each other and I initially thought "how strange.... happiness."  He eagerly greeted me which was a small ray of sunshine on this gloomy day.  After the greetings I asked him if I was on the right way to Goulours in Spanish which he brimmed in more happiness, confirming I was on the right path and that I had great Spanish (for an American).  He told me that he was from northwestern Spain and asked about my journey thus far.  After a few minutes of conversation we parted ways but before we did, he told me that I would come a place where the road would split around a house (pictured at the top) and that I would stay on the downhill side and my ride would be beautiful from there on!  Little did he know, he was the factor that made all that misery that I had experienced fade away despite that I was drenched, hungry, and ready to quit. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

La Vuelta - Canillo, Andorra

Upon my arrival to Andorra, I was unaware of this incredible 21-day Spanish race but I was quickly informed by one of the first locals I encountered!  She told me that I must stay to witness this whirlwind competition in the mountains of Andorra and was kind enough to make a few phone calls to find out which spots would be the best to view the riders.  On the day of the race, I staked out my spot in the mountain village of Canillo along with hundreds of other spectators from around the world.  

Island in the Sky - Andorra la Vella, Andorra

When people ask me which country I have been to is my favorite, I find the question hard to answer with just one.  However, Andorra always will find itself in the top five.  After spending nearly one month in Spain, I imagined Andorra to be similar to her neighbor to the south.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this place is like no other!  From the towering walls that form the boundaries of this ancient principality to extraordinary streets with works of art, Andorra stole my heart. 

In my planning of World Tour 2015, I thought two nights in world's 16th smallest country would be enough to check the 700 year old principality off my list.  I quickly realized that would not be enough time so I decided to double my stay within the first few hours of exploring this fascinating place tucked away in the Pyrenees Mountains .  Once the bus pulled into the station, I retrieved my bicycle and cart out from the compartments below and set off to see the highest capital city of Europe - Andorra la Vella.  As I spun around the cobblestone streets, I saw the beacon to travelers worldwide - the "i" for information and some local insight!  After parking my bike out front, I stepped into the information center to grab the ever-so handy maps, guides, and of course local wisdom!  I gave my morning greetings in Spanish to the lovely lady behind the information desk followed and she responded happily in Catalan.  I shyly smiled and then asked in English what information she could send me with for my stay in her country.
She started to fill my hands with anything and everything that she could and then asked me if I was excited about the race.  With my eyebrow raised and an apparent look of confusion, she exclaimed "La Vuelta! You must see La Vuelta!"  She then excitedly burst from her desk over to the little information area dedicated to the race while telling me all about this incredible race.  She then asked where I was staying and then asked for me to wait a few minutes while she made a few phone calls.  She came back and unfolded one of my maps and marked out two spots that her friends and family suggested to be great spots to watch the racers make their way about the winding roads of Andorra.  After all this, she sent me off to explore the streets of the capitol with the must-sees with a true Catalan farewell of a hearty hug, a brimming smile, and a lasting impression.  Ready to explore, I took to the narrow streets of the old city with my route roughly chartered to get my first taste of this magical place.  
Now, after bicycling for more than a month everyday, I thought I would not feel the effects of a little tour around a little city with a 'little' grade to it's streets... I was in for a hard lesson to be learned!  One of the first points my local from the tourism office recommend was the Church of Sant Esteve (pictured above).  She said the views are incredible, the history is intriguing, and once there, everything else will be downhill!  Quite right, but the ride up there was most definitely a workout!   The streets leading up to this viewpoint curved up narrowly between beautiful homes and municipal buildings were not only for wheeled traffic, but also foot traffic.  Different from all other places I have been, these 'sidewalks' were stairs.  Hopefully that gives insight of how steep these streets truly are!  Once I came down from the historic heights of the old city, I followed the gentle pathways along the river La Valira lined with modern structures and art.  The there were two pieces that captured my attention were La Noblesse du Temps by the famous Salvador Dalí (left) and the architectural icon of Andorra today, the Caldea (right).  
By the time I reached the Caldea, my stomach was telling me that lunch was in order.  Heeding that call, I found a small cafe with a table situated to take in the views around me but most importantly the crystal wonder that glimmered under the beautiful day that I had been blessed with upon my arrival to Andorra.  As I sat down at my small table with a savory cup of coffee and the soothing sound the river tumbling by, I thought to myself that Andorra is a place for everyone.  The roots of this country trace back before Christ, feeding the call to history buffs.  Upon those timeworn cobblestone streets are contemporary works of art to captivate the art enthusiasts from around the globe.  The natural wonders invite adventure seekers from the streets of city life into the beauty of the mountain peaks and valleys.  Last but not least, the best of European culinary arts!  Needless to say, the phrase "great things come in small packages" is a perfect way to describe Andorra and all that this unique country has to offer her visitors from near and far at any time of the year!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Discover Wyoming

    Growing up as a Montanan, the extent of the Cowboy State that I ventured about was typically within the bounds of Yellowstone National Park.  After about two decades of those confines, I broke out of those bounds and into the rest of the state when one of my long-time friends from the Navy was visiting her family.  Not only was spending time with her spectacular and memorable, but also the adventures we went on were of the same caliber!  This is one of my first videos that I have compiled since I have had my new toy more commonly known as a drone.   During our road-side stops along our three days of cruising the countryside of northeast Wyoming, her dad curiously inquired about the in's and out's of my Phantom drone which only encouraged me to fly to capture awe-inspiring views and push the limits of "how close can I really get" which equated to humbly showing off.  

All of that paid off with the video that led me to not only discover the State of Wyoming, but more about myself and what I want out of life.  Enjoy!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Saved the Best for Last - Manresa, Catalonia

My curiosity in Manresa began long before I started planning out my big world tour which landed me in the heart of Catalonia.  More than ten years prior to me setting foot on the Iberian Peninsula, I crossed the threshold of a mission church back in my home-state of Montana.  The teenage me was struck with awe of what beauty this structure gave the world.  Not only is the mission set in what I believe to be one of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the state, but the grace and artistry within this late 19th century brick church.  For me, most of the elegance came in the form of the 58 hand-painted murals that adorned the walls and vaulted ceiling of the Saint Ignatius Mission Church.  More impressively, those paintings were done all by one man and not just any man but the mission's cook at the time in the late 1890s!  That led me to learn more about the mission and it's history once I got home.  At the time, we were using dial-up internet which is a lesson in patience in itself.  Opening up the search with the mission church, I followed the path back to the man that is the namesake of a small church on the other side of the world from his native Spain.  The founder of the Jesuit Order, tolerant theologian and spiritual leader during the Spanish Inquisition, and true to the definition of being a saint all came from a young Basque soldier by the name of Íñigo López de Loyola.  After tracing all the history over a few days of research and waiting for images to load painfully slow on our household computer, I was fascinated by the ideals of the Jesuits and also their craftsmanship in their structures across the world.  From that point on, I have made pilgrimages to the works of the Jesuits across the world from Saint Joseph's in the heart of Georgia to magnificent Church of Sant'Ignacio just down the street from the Pantheon in Rome.  But where does Manresa play into my journey across the world and Saint Ignatius?

Reflecting back on all of those internet searches I had made as a teenager in our basement rather than doing my chores gave me more than enough reasons to want to see Manresa with my own eyes.  Not only is this city surrounded by the incredible Montserrat massif and rich with culture, this is where young Íñigo transformed himself from a soldier recovering from the wounds of war to an internationally known spiritual leader and philanthropist.  As he healed from his wounds and the primitive medical operations that followed,  Íñigo made a lengthy journey for a man that would bear a limp from severely broken legs to the mountainside monastery of Santa Maria of Montserrat from the shores of the Basque region.  After experiences within the monastery, the soldier found his calling in the life of different service.  Descending from the mountain,  Íñigo took service for a local hospital in Manresa in trade for food and lodging.  When not tending to the ill,  Íñigo would meditate in a small cave at the between the hilltop town and the river.  There, these meditations would deliver Ignatius to write the founding documents of the Jesuit Order - the Spiritual Exercises. 

All of this history is what drew me to want to visit Manresa for three days.  I had it penciled out where I would arrive in the city in the afternoon of one day.  The following to visit the Montserrat monastery, and the third to check out the cave and then continue on my way to Andorra.  I ended up staying in Manresa for five wonderful and life-changing days.  I will never be able to thank my host Geraldine for all that she did for me.  I have always been an advocate for travel for everyone to discover what is beyond the horizon.  Although, here in this picturesque city of Catalunya, my take on travel has forever changed.  Travel is more than seeing wonders of nature, beautiful buildings created by the works of mankind, or getting an adrenaline rush from adventure.  Travel is about people and the experience of meeting a new culture, a new family, and a new idea of yourself.  The memories that this curly-haired, beautiful soul gave me will be timeless treasures and some of the happiest moments in life as I have discovered more about the simple truths of a happy life.  When I arrived, her bright smile and warm spirit gave me a regal welcome to a place I have been waiting to explore for years.  Even though I was anxious to get out and explore, I was more than happy to sit at her table and share stories over the quiche we had made together that afternoon.  Then, as if we had been life-long friends, ventured out to go watch the opening ceremony to the multiple day of festivities celebrating Catalonia.  

In all of my travels, I have stayed with many great people from Virginia to Malaysia through CouchSurfing, but of all of them, my stay with Geraldine was the most impacting on me.  I felt as if I became a brother and an uncle in her family.  During my five days in Manresa, I never felt like I was a tourist being I was taking part in adventures that were spontaneous as if I lived there.  I find it hard to rate, but one of the best evenings we had was the afternoon we went to rock climb.  While Geraldine and her brother were setting the lines, Ethan and I attempted to play soccer while the pup herded the ball around the field from us.  After we all made our scramble up to the top of the wall, we set out to watch the firework show after the sun had set on the cool grass of one of the city's parks.  After they had shared their passion of climbing with me, I as able to share one of mine with them and that was photography.  Ethan watched with excitement in his eyes for when the LCD screen on my camera would show the image of the firework that had just burst in the air with a longer exposure.  In these moments, I saw the same curiosity in his face about photography as I did years before when I stepped under the vaulted ceiling of a mission church on the other side of the world from that park under the starry sky in northern Spain.  That, I feel is the power and the beauty of travel and hope all get to understand the feeling in their lifetime.