Friday, October 12, 2012

Visiting Washington DC

Hello Folks,

Since we have been back in the United States we have been visiting Washington DC with Roze and Steve. They flew out from CA and we flew in from France. It worked out pretty well, they arrived about a half hour before us, and although the weather was cold with misty rain, that was the last of the rain for the rest of the week. We had a few clouds, but most of the time we had sunny blue skies.

Hail to the Chief
We had a chance to tour the White House, the Capital, and the Supreme Court. We didn't actually get to see any always being made, but we got to see where every stage of the process takes place. It was a lot of fun.

Linda and Roze at the White House

We spent quite a bit of times seeing the great monuments of the town, some of by walking from place to place, and the rest using a hop on – hop off bus. The bus got us farther out to places like Arlington, which would have been kind of a challenge by foot alone.

At Arlington we saw the Kennedys and the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier. I think the most moving part of the visit at Arlington is gazing out at all of the graves of people who served the country and protected us over the years. There are lots and lots of them.


Changing of the Gaurd
We did of course go to the Smithsonian a couple of times. It is one of the greatest collections of cool things anywhere. Any building that has a huge steam locomotive, Archie Bunker's chair, and Kermit the Frog is pretty incredible.

We will be home late Saturday night as long as the airlines cooperate.

Until we see you again, we hope you are doing well.

More pictures at this Picasa Link.

Stephen and Linda

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Finished Our Bike Trip

Hello Folks,

We completed the bicycle portion of our bike trip, and we are now in Toulouse, safe and sound. All 25 riders in the group I led, made it back without accidents or incidents and are for the most part on their way back home or off to their next destinations.

Since the last blog entry, we got into the heart of the Pyrenees mountains, climbing some of the well know 'Cols' or mountain passes featured in the Tour de France. Linda and I have now ridden over the Col du Tourmalet, the Col du Solour, The Col d'Aubisque, and the Col du Portillon. It was quite a bit of work, but the scenery was great and it gave us quite a sense of accomplishment. It wasn't bad for a couple of old farts.

On the way up the Tourmalet

On the Soulor

On the Aubisque

We had a chance to see many things other than the mountain climbs as well. We spent about four days in the National Park of the Pyrenees, and were able to see some of the scenic highlights of the Park and the French Pyrenees. We spent our rest day hiking along a mountain river with countless waterfalls and ancient stone bridges. The next day we walked into a huge mountain formation called the Cirque de Gavarnie, a spectacular cliff rising thousands of feet to the ridge line that is the border between France and Spain.

Cirque de Gavarnie

We finished our trip with a visit to Lourdes, which is where St. Bernadette had her vision of the Virgin Mary. It is a major tourist destination, in particular for those wishing to be healed of some affliction, by the waters of the spring. Since we were there during a festival or processional week, we were able to see the candlelight procession in front of the Basilica.

Lourdes - Candlelight Procession Below

Setting up this trip for a group was a lot of work, but I think that everybody had a good time.  Also when you are the one planning the trip, you get to see exactly what you want to see.

Now we are off to Washington DC for the portion of the trip that Linda has planned. Hopefully all of the issues with airline strikes will be resolved by the time we need to fly home.

There are more pictures from the last several days at this Picasa Link.

We hope you are all doing well.

Stephen and Linda

Thursday, September 27, 2012

First 5 Days of Riding Into the Pyrenees

Hello Folks!

We have been having a good time riding with our group.  We haven't been writing as often, being a little busy leading the bike tour.  I was very lucky to get a great group of folks, it makes it a lot easier when everyone is still pretty cheerful even after a rainy day.  Our ride started out pretty flat and has getting hilly as we approached the Pyrenees Mountains.
At a Castle Ruin at Lagarde
We had pretty high winds on our first day of riding, and some rain yesterday, but other than that, it has been pretty good.  We have seen some beautiful castles and cathedrals, visited interesting towns, and had some pretty nice places to stay.

View from the Castle at Foix

Saint Vincent's Cathedral in Foix

Our Room in St-Girons
We are in the Pyrenees now.  Today we road our bikes over one of the 'Cols' (mountain pass) from the town where we are staying into Spain.  It was a nice cool day, so it was perfect for an uphill ride, although we did put on our jackets for the ride back down.

There goes Linda

At the top and in Spain

Back down to the village where we are staying
You can see where we are scheduled to be, and have been on the itinerary page that I made for the trip at this link on the tour web site.

More Photos at this Picasa Link

We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen and Linda

Friday, September 21, 2012

A short Warmup Ride

On Friday, we had a little extra time and sunny weather, so we went for a short ride down the Canal du Midi for a little warm up ride.  Happily, everything on the bikes worked just fun, and once we got out of town the foot traffic on the bike trail dropped down to an occasional pedestrian.

The Canal

Linda, Jerry, Susan, and Frank

House Boats

We rode for about 20 miles with the only thing slowing us down being the wind.  On our way back we had the wind at our backs so we made it back to the hotel with pretty good speed.

In the evening, Linda and I went to have dinner with our friends Gilbert and Odile at Gilbert's home on the outskirts of Toulouse.  It was a wonderful dinner and it was great to unwind for an evening.  This morning we are going to start out with a walking tour of the Old City portion of Toulouse.  It is kind of overcast, I hope it doesn't rain .....

More Photos at Picasa

Stephen and Linda  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Second Day of our Trip

Our first real day in Toulouse has been a fairly lazy day, recovering from the Jet Lag.  We met one of the ladies from our trip and did a short walk around the old part of Toulouse.  We had a chance to see a protest march and walk around the city.  It was nice seeing the pretty and interesting architecture and the Toulouse Cows.

Toulouse Cow

We also met several of the folks for my bike tour today, nine folks showed up today.  We walked to supper with a couple of them.  After supper we took a nigh time stroll around the town.  The city is pretty well lit up often with colored lights setting off the architecture. 

Pont Neuf at night

We are off to bed trying to shake off the last of the jet lag.

There are a few more pictures at this Picasa Link.

Hope you are all doing well.

Stephen and Linda

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Our trip Across the Ocean

Hi Folks!
We made it to Toulouse!
From LA:
Our trip from the house to the airport began as you might guess with a few surprises. We had called ahead for a van, and even his notes indicated that we would have a bike box and that we needed a van, but instead the driver showed up with a car. It could have been worse, it could have been a smart car. We were happy to find out that a bike box actually can fit in the trunk of some cars. The ride was tight, because the suitcases had to ride with us in the passenger compartment, but we made it just fine.
Heading down the freeway was kind of a deja-vu experience, the driver was just like Linda, hit the gas, swerve right, swerve left, hit the brakes and repeat for an hour. Linda hated his driving.
The check-in process went so smooth and fast that we had plenty of time to spare. They took our bags so fast it reminded me of air travel 15 years ago. Dare we hope the rest of the flight will go this well? We will soon see.
From London:
The trip over was one of the best I can remember for years.  Everything at the seat, like the audio, video, and reading light worked.  The staff was nice, the meals were good too.  We landed basically on time, so all in all it was a really nice flight.  We made our connection to our next British flight with as much efficiency as you can get at Heathrow.  The Heathrow Airport is absolutely beautiful, it has a modern look, there is a lot of light and glass, is is spotlessly clean, but the people who figured out crowd control must have been in an asylum.  To transfer from one flight to another, we took a train ride, took a bus ride, went through security again, had some people look at our paperwork again.  They have lines to wait in the next line.  After we got onto the plane it all went smooth again.
We arrived about on time.  Our luggage made it as well.  Our friends Gilbert and Odile met us at the airport, and we are now in our hotel.

The temperature outside is perfect and the room is real nice.  We are pretty tired and hope to sleep well tonight.
Good night for now.
Stephen and Linda

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Heading off to France

Hello Everyone!

Linda and I are all packed and heading off on another vacation. This time it will be a little more work since I am actually leading (for the first time) the bicycling trip portion of the ride. Hopefully everything is pretty well taken care of at this point and it will go smoothly.  Luckily my Co-Director who lives in France is one of the most experienced people in our club for this sort of thing, so I am not going as far out on a limb as it seems.

We actually head out to for the airport in about an hour and 15 minutes. After a pretty long flight, we will land in Toulouse and meet up with my good friend Gilbert. I just hope that I don't make him too crazy working with me for the next couple of weeks on this trip. Right now the weather for the beginning part of the trip looks good, but the forecast has been changing pretty fast. There must be a storm influencing things.

I will try to update the blog as much as I can, I may not have as much time on this trip, so the blog may be a little more sparse this time.

We hope you all are doing well.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Part way Home

Hello Folks,

We traveled with our bike group from our hotel in Vaison-la-Romaine by bus to the Avignon TGV Station. Since it was Saturday morning the traffic was pretty light and we made good time getting to the train station. The Avignon TGV station is a pretty easy place to travel to and from, they tell you exactly where the door to your train car is going to be several minutes before it arrives. They you hop on stow your luggage, and enjoy the ride.

Riding the TGV is a lot of fun, it is fast, fast, fast. For the speed they are traveling it is surprisingly smooth, except in the rest rooms which must be in the bumpiest part of the train. Not good considering the purpose why you would go into the rest room in the first place. When you hit even a tiny bump in the tracks at 250 miles per hour, it sounds like someone is trying to open the door with an axe, and then you are pitched back and forth. You need lightning quick reactions and good aim. We arrived in Paris, made a metro connection in the train station, and arrived at our hotel a couple of minutes later.

After doing our checking and getting our boarding passes for our flight home tomorrow, we jumped on the Metro and headed up to the Champs-Elysee. We did a little window shopping, and people watching, bought a little food and had an early supper on one of the prettiest streets in the world.



Expensive Purse
As we were walking back down the street we noticed a crowd gathering and went over to check it out. There was a local film festival, and a few of the actors were out saying “Hi” to the crowd. If we stayed around at the end of movies and read the credits, we could probably tell you who the actors were, but we did recognize Donald Sutherland.

Movie Star Guys
We came back to our hotel to get a little rested up. We turned on the TV for the first time in a couple of weeks and found a rugby match. Since one of the teams is Toulouse (Toulouse vs Toulon), I am sure my good friend Gilbert is watching as well and cheering for he home team. Rugby is kind of like a combination of American Football and team Sumo Wrestling. There is a lot of action because they don't stop playing just because the guy carrying the ball gets tackled, they just pick up the ball and start running with it, toss it to someone else, or kick it. There is a referee, but it seems like a pretty easy job, because it doesn't seem like there are a lot of rules (other than no fistfights). Anyway, Toulouse won – Yeah!

Time to sign off, going to bed a little early tonight, we will have a real long day tomorrow.

A few More Photos at this Picasa Link.

We hope you are all doing well,

Stephen & Linda

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Provence - Riding to our favorites

Hello Folks,

Today we had kind of a do your own ride day, so we combined some pieces of the local bike rides that we particularly enjoyed with some things that we had not had a chance to see.

We started the ride by going to a small town nearby called Entrechaux and exploring it a bit and hiking up to the Castle ruins. One thing you can count on with a castle is that it will be on top of the steepest hill around, and that it will have a great view. Getting in to look around is an altogether different matter.



We then headed out to ride in some canyons with great views and visit a town called Buis-les-Baronnies. Although finding a detailed and accurate history is a little hard, I believe that parts of the marketplace are about 14th or 15th century. There certainly is very interesting architecture in this town.


As we approached Vaison-la-Romaine (the town where we are staying), we came upon a church built high on a narrow peak. The church occupies the entire top. You can easily see the church from anywhere in town, but I think they have a real parking problem.

Where is the parking lot?

Tomorrow (Friday) is our very last riding day, followed by cleaning up and turning in the bikes, packing our bags, and all of the other last day errands. Saturday morning at 8:00 we head for the train station and ride the TGV back to Paris for a night. Sunday we head for the airport and back home.

I am not sure if we will have a chance for another blog entry, or anything interesting to say unless our travel plans don't work out, so this may be the last entry for this trip.

We hope you are all doing well.

More pictures at this Picasa Link

Stephen and Linda

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Provence - Gorges de Nesque

Hello folks,

Our Wednesday ride was one of our longer rides in Provence. We rode to the Gorges de Nesque. France has a few gorges like Nesque that are cut into limestone by ancient rivers. The colors of the rocks change with the layers, kind of like the Grand Canyon in a different color scheme.

No worries about trucks, they won't fit through the hole.

We started off in the mouth of the canyon and rode up for about twenty kilometers. It was a slight uphill, but the scenery kept getting better and better as we rode further into the canyon. The very best views were where the road reached its highest point, which happened to be right around lunch time, so we had a picnic and enjoyed the view.

Not a bad spot for a picnic lunch

Our ride back was a slight downhill for about 20km, but the downhill was enough that we didn't have to pedal much. Unfortunately, there were several more kilometers to go when we got to the bottom of the hill.

This was probably the most scenic of all of our rides so far. We are talking about what ride we want to do tomorrow, there is an outside chance that we could repeat today's ride. We are down to only two riding days left.

Time for bed now. Hope you are all doing well.

There are more pictures at this PicasaLink

Stephen and Linda

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Provence - Mt Ventoux - and Rest Day

Hello Folks,

Yesterday we had a big ride, up a local hill called Mount Ventoux. It was a beautiful climb, with sun almost to the top, but then there was fog and wind for the last 3 kilometers. It was a fairly ambitious climb for us, but it was something we wanted to do since we had seen this mountain several times in the Tour de France. This road was one of the best marked in the entire area. Every kilometer there was a marker telling you how many kilometers it was to the top and what the current grade was. In the beginning it seemed like the markers were going by kind of slow – and they were, but toward the end when there were just a few kilometers to go it was very encouraging. Linda took a picture of every one of them that she saw.

Starting out

11 km to go and getting steeper

When you are riding in Europe, it is kind of cool to be using the metric system for distance, because it sounds like your distances are longer, and it is more impressive. The problem comes in when you are climbing a mountain. Climbing to the top of a hill that is 1909 meters does not sound as hard as climbing to the top of a hill that is 6263 feet – but it is.

That's us at the top!
 At the top it became pretty cold, so we started right down, stopping for hot coffee and cocoa about 4km from the top. It took most of the ride down to completely warm up since you really aren't pedaling that much for the ride down. We were pretty excited about our accomplishment while we were having our lunch at the bottom of the hill and finishing warming up. After we got back to town we cleaned up, went shopping and got a couple of Mount Ventoux “T” shirts, it has a picture of the distance markers that Linda was taking pictures of all of the way up.

Today was our rest day, but as you know Linda is not a big fan of sitting around, relaxing, and watching the world go by. We went to the town market in the morning, and then took a short ride to explore some of the local towns in more detail.

Lunch on our Rest Day

Tomorrow we are tentatively planning to take a longer ride to the south to see the Gorge de Nesque. It should be a real pretty ride.

We hope you are all doing well.

More pictures from today at this PicasaLink, and from yesterday at this other Picasa Link.

Stephen and Linda

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fourth Day of Riding in Provence

Hello Everyone,

Today was our fourth day of riding in Provence, and we did as always have a great time. Today our ride went through a beautiful canyon and back through a second canyon. We could see Mount Ventoux in the distance, waiting for us to try to climb it. We plan to try tomorrow if the weather permits.  We have been having a great time on all of our riding days so far.

Wish our friends could join us for this climb

We did not get as many pictures today because during the ride we had a couple of sprinkles of rain. The rain was not enough to get us all that wet, just a little damp. We did want to keep things like cameras in a plastic bag to keep it from getting damaged.

Near the midpoint of today's ride

After we got home we cleaned up and got dressed and it started raining in earnest. We were pretty glad to be back before the downpour started. There was a some thunder and lightening which is also a bit disconcerting when you are on a bike. During the lightening, Linda was drying her hair and the power went off briefly. She thought that she might have to settle for the frizzy top hairdoo. The power came right back on and she did manage to finish just fine.

We have been having our supper outside, but I suspect that we will have it somewhere else tonight.

The weather is expected to clear up before dawn, so it should not interfere with tomorrows ride.

Hope you are all doing well.

More pictures at this Picasa Link

Stephen and Linda

Thursday, May 31, 2012

First Riding day in Provence

Riding in Provence

We made it down from Paris on the TGV yesterday and then to our hotel in Vaison-la-Romaine in Provence without any incident. We have had a couple of suppers with our bike group and one day of riding and it is a great group of folks to be with.

Waiting for the TGV at the Station

Knitting at 320 km/h (200mph)

Tonight at dinner we sat with a couple who was not quite as lucky, British Airlines lost their luggage, so they are in Provence with the clothes on their back. It seems that every time they talk to British Airlines they get a different story about where their things are and when they will get them. The were able to go shopping today and have rental bikes so at least they are riding tomorrow.

Our hotel room
Breakfast on the porch

We had a very pleasant ride today, it was pretty flat and not to far. They use kilometers over here which is great when you are cycling, you feel like you have made a major accomplishment when the odometer reads 65km! It sounds a lot more impressive than 40 miles. The weather was warm and sunny, but not so hot to be oppressive.

Vineyards along the route

Will write more in a few days – Linda is kicking me off the computer so she can check here email

Good night – hope you are all well.

More pictures from yesterday and today -  Picasa Links.

Stephen and Linda

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Final night in Paris

It is our final night in Paris, we are washing our clothes and packing up in order to get ready for bike riding in Provence. Tomorrow morning we catch the TGV to Avignon, meet up with our bike club, and ride the bus to the base location for the bike ride, Vaison-la-Romaine. It will be sad to leave Paris behind, but we had a great time and I am sure the bike riding in Provence will be great as well. Since we will be arriving back in Paris for our flight back to the US, there is time to see one more thing if we think of something in the next 10 days.

Bercy Village

For the last two days we have been pretty busy touring neighborhoods and seeing the sights. We took a walking tour through the Latin Quarter where we saw an ancient Roman Arena – Arene de Lutece, that according to the signs was used to host gladiator combat. Today it mostly sees bocci ball matches which are for the most part more friendly.

Roman Arena

Roman Arena

We took another boat ride on the Siene, this time a little earlier in the evening. It was something we enjoyed enough to do twice in the same week. It is a great way to wind up the day, see the city, and rest the weary feet. At the end of the ride, the Eiffel tower is all lit up with sparkling lights.


We visited a high end department store with amazing products. You know you are in a high end store when the pay toilet costs a buck fifty apiece just to pee. We spent 3 Euros in this store, but had a good time looking around and there was a great view of the city from the roof.

Multicolored Toilet Paper

High end Dog Supplies

We had been wondering, but not enough to care, what people thought of our carrying our lunch in a backpack and eating it in a Park. Apparently the Parisians noticed what we were doing, and now it is hard to find lunch time seating in the Parks and on the steps of cathedrals. The price you pay when you are a trend setter.

Parisian lunch spots are getting crowded

We marched down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, and climbed up to the top. Here as in the ascent up the Eiffel Tower, the lift was out of order. A bit suspicious, but since it thinned out the crowd (in both senses of the phrase) and we wanted to climb anyway, we were not about to complain. The view and the breeze at the top were quite pleasant.

Arc de Triomphe - Stairs

We finished out the day with a trip to a park and one and a half cathedrals. The park was Parc de Monceau, which was very pretty, and apparently where a lot of folks take their kids for an afternoon outside. The half of a visit to a cathedral was to a Russian Orthodox Cathedral that closes very early in the evening. My advice is – don't go out of your way to visit a Russian Orthodox cathedral, unless you are in Russia. We headed back toward home and visited the other St Germain cathedral, Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois. It was very impressive and from what we read parts of it are very old.


We walked back across the Pont du Carrousel, the bridge with all of the “Love Locks” on the rails, and back to the apartment. If our hotel in Vaison-la-Romaine has decent Wifi, we will probably do another update in a couple of days.

Done for the day.

Good night and we hope you are well.

More (some of the best) pictures from yesterday and today at this Picasa Link.

Stephen and Linda