Traveling not only gives one the opportunity to see new places and try new things there, but it affords one the opportunity to bring there passions with them to a new place. People have expressed their surprise over the last month that I schlepped my bike halfway across the world but it is right on par with the way I live my life. While I'm paving my own path here in Paris, it is essential that I not only take what the city has to give, but make sure I play my own cards.
I'm fortunate to be living in a family with a host-father who is an avid cyclist - on an equally crazy level to my dad and aunt and uncle. He does randoneering rides - with mileage in the excess of hundreds. He hooked me up with his club so I could have a group of people to ride with and learn the local routes. He wasn't in town on Sunday when I went on my first team ride but that was ok.
I arrived at the local mairie (local government building) to not get lost and the first woman who arrived, a total stranger was very friendly. She immediately came right up to me and put her head within centimeters of mine, and I was very confused until it registered that she was trying to faire la bise (the French custom of kissing the cheek as a greeting). Lucky my confusion was too short to be obvious. Over the next ten minutes, about 30 cyclists all arrived. I met every single one of them, as did they greet each other. It was great to see them scootching their bikes through the throng of friends in order to say hello to each and every person. We soon started riding, after the leader verified I should go in the A group.
The beginning of a group ride is a fabulous thing in that it is a wonderful symphony. There is a lot of clicking into pedals, shifting, coasting and chatting. This is enhanced by the amount of stoplights the first 10K of the ride as we made it out of the city. It was Sunday morning, which is the day that everyone rides and no one drives, so it is the easiest to escape. There were thousands of bikers on the road. We road for about 100km, throughout the countryside. I chatted witha lot of the guys in French, told my story a thousand times and tried magnificently to decipher the endless banter. At one point in the ride, a guys whose name I most definitely can't recreate in either a spoken or written fashion pretty much jumped the sidewalk and took a sharp left. I heard groans and French muttering that there were old people and newcomers on the ride, how cruel. Hearing this I downshifted as I expected a hill, and instead got a mur (wall). A 2km beast, mostly 12-17 percent grade saw a great ride between my difficultly named friend and I.
The ride consisted of leaving the city, town hopping and riding brilliant stretches of road in the countryside and then getting back into the city. I spoke a lot of French and was fortunate to have two anglophones on the team as well, which enabled me to get clearer explanations of things and deeper conversation. I like riding with this group, but I think I will try to get involved more with the competition team, as that is where my heart is right now.
Today, after a lot of studying and French writing (aka putting the study in study abroad) while waiting out the morning storm, I went down to the 5th with the intention of wandering. There I saw two wonderful things. The first was a Mosque, the second, the Jardin des Plantes. The Mosque was huge and while obviously not my religious building of habitude, it was a beautiful place of peace. The Jardin was even better, it was one of the biggest in Paris, which a focus on ecological education. It has a zoo, the natural history museum and so much more that I was unable to explore. Regardless, it was refreshing in that it was this huge and beautiful space of nature that didn't feel like it was in Paris, and wasn't too formal, as many Parisien gardens are. I was happy to be among the plants and trees yet again.