Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Soul's Eye View

Another reason I love to travel by bike...

On any given trip to a new place, usually pretty far into the trip, maybe day four or so, maybe after you've been riding in too much heat, or the route was a bit too long, or went over terrain that was rougher than you liked, you'll come upon a view that just blows you away.

Now at that point you may be dehydrated, even bonking just a bit, and if you're like me, you didn't skip the wine at lunch, even though it does dehydrate you, but it's Europe—it's France or Italy or Germany or Austria, and you're in the countryside of those wonderful lands, where the grape vines grow in neat pretty lines, and the wine is just so good, so good it never makes it to America, and you'll have been looking at lovely countryside all day long while you struggle up hills, try not to get lost, make sure you know where your next meal and water is coming from, so basically you're bone tired. All of you is aching just a little, and some parts, quite a lot.

And then you see it—that place that seems to be brimming with God light.

I'm writing about this because it happened to us in the Loire Valley, this April 2013, and years before, in 2007, in the Veneto, the region near Venice in Northern Italy, it also happened. That golden moment, where two of us stopped, aghast, and wondered, wondered with a big huge sense of WONDER, as in Arthur C. Clarke-scale wonder, What is this place? Can we buy a house here? How would we live? Maybe we could afford just a small place here. And then we'd figure the rest out.

Since it happened on the last week-long bike trip, and then again on this one, I hazard that it might be a bike tour thing. I'm guessing it also happens on long hiking trips in the Old Country, on any kind of nice rural traveling vacation in which your transportation is, well, you.

That sense of beauty, of the sublime, is worth the whole trip. And the splendor you see from day one of getting those bikes and the gear, and the road manual, then swinging your leg over the saddle and pedaling toward some new destination, is cumulative. It soaks into you and changes you. It goes hand in hand with the hard exercise you are doing to get where you are going. It's all building toward that tremendous moment of revelation that seems to come, like any good climax in any good story, toward the end of the journey.

In the Veneto, it came after a long day of up and down past mountains and lakes, through a Belle Epoque town, and then over vine-clad hills like patchwork until we came to the village of Rolle. I've got some pictures below, which don't do it justice. It doesn't look like Shangri-La or Rivendell, but it felt that way when we came to it.


Vineyards around Rolle, Veneto, Italy
Part of the glory of Rolle was the view from it down into a sweeping valley, lined with more patchwork vineyards. The sun was low in the sky, painting everything golden. And then up in the village, there was a shrine, I think to the Virgin Mary, and there were a lot of school kids there to see it. And as we were riding out of the town right by a steep drop and a low stone wall, their tour bus almost killed us. The rest of the ride we were in survival mode all the way back to the hotel.
Rolle, Veneto, Italy
On this last trip, the God light place was called Candes St. Martin, right where the Vienne river meets the Loire. We crossed over a busy bridge with trucks whizzing by us, always a bit of a hair-raising proposition, and then turned right, gliding downhill down along a river front lined with stone houses, and down a narrow lane, and came upon this church.
Church in Candes St. Martin, Centre, France
There it is, the God light - my camera captured it. And there is that little column supporting a fan vault, an architectural detail I'd never seen before in a Gothic church. I think there is a lot of fan vaulting in England, but I'd never seen anything like this in France, or in my medieval architecture class way back during the Punic Wars.

Square in Candes St. Martin
 There was a charming restaurant right in front of the church, where we could have stopped for a snack, but we were worried about making it to our next destination. I would have loved to tour the church, too, but I could tell my husband was tired, and would feel better just pressing on.
Pricey lunch offering in Candes St. Martin
 These prix fix things are often way too much food for too much cash, but it does look good, doesn't it?
Pretty limestone houses

Detail of Church Porch

Stoney and Me, GoPro and allJ
Just a few blocks down the road, we turned left and saw this, and both stopped and said, "Whoa!" If we hadn't been on bikes we probably wouldn't have taken this route, and we would have missed this. Even if we had taken this route, we might have been going too fast to see that tower.
Tower near Place de la Douve, Candes St. Martin, Centre, France
I could imagine Snow White's Evil Queen opening the curtains and peering out through that window in the tower every few minutes as she does in Disneyland.

There were so many random little magical views like this one, but at that moment, the beauty and the serendipitous feeling of the Loire just basically smacked us across the face. Thank goodness France knows what it has in these picturesque castles and has restored them.

When I was at Ciclavia about six month ago, a regular Los Angeles event in which a nice long circuit of road is closed to motorized traffic so people can ride their bikes, skates and scooters, I ran into a guy who told me about touring all around France, and he said the Loire isn't the real France because it's too touristy. That's probably true, but let me tell you, I didn't care. It worked for me.

If you haven't been to the Loire and are heading to Paris, you can get a day trip bus tour to some of the major chateaus of the Loire, and you absolutely should do it. You just won't believe your eyes.

Cheers, and thanks for visiting my blog!

Love, BeautyJones

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