Riding the dream in Corsica

The propostion was simple - a two week bike tour of Corsica and Sardegne - many miles a day, self-supported, with my less than normal but very much loved aunt and uncle. The pros of the idea were overwhelming - an idealistic escape by bicycle to what the natives call the most beautiful island in the world (I can understand why). The only doubt was that of my fitness, my aunt and uncle were in top shape after countless endurance events and I was coming off of my Parisian spring, but it was not a nagging doubt, knowing it would be worth any pain and suffering.

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Autumn Brings Change

The leaves in the trees are changing, and with them is my Parisien life. The IES Paris French Studies program started on Tuesday, and it has been quite a week. It was a bit of a slow start, as the first two days were pretty focused on shoving important logistical and bureaucratic information into our heads while we sat and listened. It was a strange change because after the independence I savored for the last two weeks, it felt as if my hand was being held quite firmly. They tried to make Paris seem much scarier than it is in my experience, to keep us safe, but provided plenty of good information. The staff is great. One thing that was shocking was the manner of presentation. After two months at Tawonga, constantly thinking about group dynamics and encouraging lasting relationships, it was strange to see there was nearly no bonding games or even name games. I guess they expected us to not need facilitation, which we didn't, but it still wasn't idea. On that note, it has been great to have made so many new friends. We went to Normandy to see some museums and cemeteries and the beach where a very decisive WW2 battle was fought. The trip had a lot of bus time and more for getting to know each other. I never need to dine or wander alone again which is great. It is also nice having Americans to practice French with because there is less pressure, and helps build confidence. Additionally, everyone has some vocab or grammar advice to share. After this week, I am so glad I took my two week course, it has helped immensely, as I feel good speaking and many are impressed to hear I have studied French for just two years.

With new friends, I have been checking out some of Paris' nightlife. Last night I ate an incredible steak, and tonight we went to some bars in Bastille, which was lots of fun. Being able to drink legally hasn't felt like that monumental of a change, but going out to bars is a totally new experience that is both thrilling and scary. Mostly, it is a lot of fun though. Also lots of fun, on a totally different note, is the biking I have been doing. Today, I ventured pretty far. I started at Bois de Bologne and did the Longchamps circuit for an hour, getting my sufferfest on with some guys including a rider who I'm pretty sure is ex-Europcar (that is a pro-cycling team for you non-fans). Then I crossed over the bridge of the Seine and somehow made my way to Versaille. I've been before, but didn't remember much of it. Versaille is amazing. There is a huge town that is beautiful and vibrant, and the palace itself is immense. I was able to ride for many kilometers just around the grounds, through vineyards and trees, even on cobblestones. Cobblestones are really hard. I feel for classics riders now. After I explored, I headed out but couldn't exactly find how I came in. I went from town to town, seeing on the map at the beginning of each town that I was going mostly the right direction until surprise, I made it home. It was a great adventure and ride, and validation of my vague sense of direction.

On another biking note, all my normal biking food such as powerbars, GU and sports drink are super expensive here so I am learning to use alternatives. Today I bought a grainy bread (still super cheap and DELICIOUS) and made a Nutella, Banana, Salt and Peanut Butter Sandwich. Natural, and it covers all the important food groups for working out. And way better than a powerbar. So I'm stoked on that. They also don't eat peanut butter here in France, but I found it easily at a big supermarket. It was in the exotic foods aisle, with sushi ingredients. Shocker.

Stoke Level So High

I'm haven't figured out exactly what the equivalent of stoke is in French, but I will soon. Things are going super well and I could hardly be more excited. Here's why:

After finishing my language course on Friday, I moved into my new home in Neuilly-Sur-Seine on Saturday morning. Neuilly is a commune just outside of Paris near the Arc d'Triomphe that is known for being bourgeoisie. It is no shocker to me after my Bay Area upbringing, and it means I live in a beautiful apartment with lots of art, that is near the Seine, a huge park, and many great restaurants and food shops.

Saturday was a bit chaotic, I woke up early and took the metro out here with my big suitcase and big backpack. I unpacked all my clothes then took my first adventure of the day. I walked across the river to the Arc d'Triomphe, in the process seeing an awesome high-end bike shop and running store. I then meandered through the marvelous 17th arrondissement, through the nicer residential areas with many cafes and cool houses, through to the much poorer area. I then reached my destination, the Marche aux Puces. I unfortunately didn't have my camera, because it was stunning. The transition from Neuilly to the Marche really accented the extremity. The marche starts under the overpass of the Boulevard Periphique, with countless people sitting with huge blankets sprawled with stuff. Some people have hundreds of chargers, others have old watches, wallets, shoes, jeans, even computers. Moving on past the overpass, is a narrow street with vendors on either side. Some of them have what seem like lifelong collections of art, shoes, furniture and other junk. One seller had 6 or 7 washing machines. As I walked along the alleyway, the junk turned from old stolen stuff to fake designer jeans and Armani t-shirts. It is an interesting facet of poor culture, that is the way they survive, yet at the same time they strive to look cool with Armani and Polo.

After that I took the most packed Metro ever back to my first home and packed the rest of my stuff in my daypack. I left more stuff that I should have, so it was a little heavier than I would have liked. C'est la vie. I looked up the best biking route to get between the two houses and it looked to be an easy 15km. No problem. After about 2km, I took a wrong turn and went under the Periphique. I figured it wasn't a huge problem, as long as I went NW. The sun was low in the sky, so it was easy to orient. Unfortunately, due to the abundance of one way streets and dead ends, I ended up going way too far North and wound up in Saint-Denis, a pretty poor neighborhood. I didn't have an accessible map and felt asking for help getting to the richest suburb could be frowned upon, so I kept on trucking, following the occasional sign to Paris. After over an hour of riding, I found a Metro stop with a map, and saw I was still much too far North. But then I knew where to go, and headed out again. I found up on a long street along the river, which was hopeful, but I had no idea when to turn off. I saw a sign for Paris to the left, so I took the turn and voila, there was a city sign that said Neiully-Sur-Seine. What luck. I came in easily to my home for a great home-cooked meal.

The next day was my first day of a real petit-dejeuner, and let me tell you, there is a reason small is in their word for breakfast. The small breakfast is one of my biggest challenges in Paris so far, especially in its lack of protein. I then took the Metro to Gare Lyon where I met Mike and Bjorn and we headed out to Fontainebleu for a day of bouldering. I had bought new shoes recently, and they were great, but difficult. I usually wear a 45, but the proper climbing shoe was a 42. Ooof. They were great for the climbing, but my toes were killing me. I hope I get used to them soon. After some successful "summits" and relaxation we went back into the city, bought a few beers and drank and chilled at the Seine. It was dreamlike. I came back for my first dinner with the full family. My host father, Michel, had taken the weekend to do a +400km cycling event. He's got a ton of bikes and we will ride together soon. I can't wait. He also works at the Louvre. The mom is a chocolatier and a brilliant cook. It is going to be a good stay here. They have a daughter who likes film and music and will introduce me to many great French films.

Today I woke up and after another small breakfast, went out riding in the Bois de Bologne, a great parc just next to my neighborhood. It is a well-traveled training area for cyclists, with a circuit that goes around a hippodrome. There I saw hundreds of cyclists, from old guys on their ancient but awesome steel bikes, to your race ready slim carbon boys. I hopped on with some of the latter group and cranked so hard for an hour and a half. It was a great start to my training. It is maybe a 3km lap, and one side had a massive headwind. All the Frenchies constantly attacked into the headwind, and we were doing 25mph+ for much of the time. I talked to them later and they only do cyclo-sportive, which dos not include racing. So that's impressive. But they suggested some local clubs and told me I was riding strong. Yes. After pulling for almost a whole lap, they attacked into the headwind and I couldn't respond, so I cooled down and headed home, excited nonetheless. For very little riding in the past 3 weeks, it was a great day. It was really comforting to find I am living in a place where I can easily go on a hour or two ride, or a full day ride without problem.

Now off the lunch, a much bigger meal.