Germain and Bernadette, Lezinnes, France
Arriving at our campsite along the Burgundy Canal, Kyle and I encounter a problem – the campsite manager only speaks French! For the most part, there are no issues communicating the basics such as cost, campsite location, and where to access facilities; however, we want the passcode to the WiFi and the manager had already come and gone. Instead of going back to the office, we decide to ask some fellow campers using the small bit of French I know. It turns out, the couple we ask can speak a bit of English and are from a small town in Belgium, not far away from where we had been cycling through on the way to France. More than happy to let us have the passcode, Bernadette also pulls out their camera to take a picture of the two traveling cyclists from America. Germain, meanwhile, shows us an app on his phone, What’s App?!, where they send pictures to a group of friends and family. Kyle and I of course return the favor. We aren’t back at our campsite for two seconds before Germain is back inviting us to eat with them and engage in an “Aperitif,” or pre-dinner drink. Normally they would have red wine, but the hot day has baked their supply – instead we have white wine from the region with a red syrup. Over drinks, Germain explains how “campers help fellow campers,” telling us about how just that morning someone’s RV battery had died only they couldn’t speak enough French for communicating with the insurance company. A native French speaker took over the task while Germaine translated back and forth. True teamwork! We also learn a little more about the couple. Married in their early twenties, Germain and Bernadette have three children and nine grandchildren, the youngest being four and the oldest, fourteen. They all live near to one another, so much so that everyday for lunch during the school year, all the grandkids go over to Germain and Bernadette’s home to eat instead of the school cafeteria. Sometimes they rent out a home in a different part of Belgium so they can all go on holiday together. However, this time every year Germain and Bernadette go on holiday alone, choosing a campsite in a different part of France than they had been before. As dinner wraps up, Bernadette encourages us to check out the wonderful camp showers, refusing to let us help with the dishes, even our own! “It is forbidden!” she says. What a lovely time. Thank you to Germain and Bernadette for providing us with wonderful company and hospitality after a day of cycling.
Alex, Dijon, France
Kyle and I are wandering the streets of Dijon, when we run into Chef Alex Miles asking us where we are headed that evening and where we are from. When we tell him we have no plan other than to just roam he says, “Ah, well that is the best way to do it.” Kyle then tells him we are from “The States,” at which point we get the no shit expression from Alex. When Kyle tells him New York, he informs us that he is originally from Brooklyn, “but Dijon is my home now.” We tell him a little bit about our mission and for a moment it looks as if we might get a meeting with someone from City Hall; but when we say the latest we can extend our visit is by one day, it is no dice because the city’s beloved mayor just passed away and elections are that Monday. After praising the city’s efforts in recent years to pedestrianize city streets and improve public transit, Alex suggests we check out the market area, a favorite place he likes to take people taking his English classes on French cooking. Formally a professor of sociology, it is clear from our conversation that Alex likes to make his classes an experience, from food culture to the actual cooking. He poses for a picture, joking that he wishes he were walking around with wine in his mug (guess we aren’t being overly discreet). We are swapping cards (check out his website at http://french-cooking-culture.blogspot.com) when a person using a wheelchair crosses an intersection with a car approaching. Alex says to us, “Hold on one moment,” and steps in front of the car with his hand up so that the person may pass safely. He rejoins us on the sidewalk and leaves us with this parting comment about Dijon: “A New York Times reporter once asked me to describe Dijon in one word (because they clearly don’t have time for much more than that from the likes of me), and what I said was ‘Accessible.’ Dijon is accessible [he waves over to where the person had crossed], case and point; but not just physically – emotionally, spiritually, socially. Dijon is my home. I love it here.”
Lena, On the Way to Dole, France
Kyle and I are eating a picnic lunch along a canal when we encounter Lena, a fellow touring cyclist with an indefinite plan and itinerary. Lena is from Sweden, currently living in Stockholm. She has plans to visit a relative in Geneva, Switzerland, and from there, she could go onto either Italy or Spain (or some other country). Many years ago, she cycled across Europe to Afghanistan on scholarship. Lena enjoys the freedom of the cycling lifestyle and travels whenever she can to other places in the world including places like Kazakhstan, Pakistan, China, and Turkey. When she is at home in Sweden, she teaches wood and metal crafting at Primary School (ages 16+). She says she is lucky to have had jobs that give her the flexibility to live the way she likes from time to time (traveling on a bike). Her greatest passion seems to be striking up a dialogue by living with, sharing with and learning from people living in third world countries where most can only dream of the Western life of pursuing pleasure. In those countries, the main game is survival. However, she is amazed at the misconceptions people of those countries have of Westerners; for instance, that we are all wealthy without having to work for it (wealthy enough to stay in lavish hotel rooms in touristy places at their corner of the world). They learn from her, too, understanding that most of us are common people, often not having the communal support that many people in those countries have. She mentions the true joy she sees there when people living and working together through difficult times take a moment to celebrate and dance with family and friends. They are amazed to learn that often times Westerners do not live with family, instead living fairly separated and independent lives. Aside from her anecdotes from her travels, Lena tells us a little about the culture shock she has had coming from rural Sweden, such as big grocery stores, expensive campsites, and tiny cars in countries like The Netherlands (but to her, big cars are the size of Volvos). Not speaking a lick of French, Lena agrees with me that in most parts of the world, you can communicate with people without any language at all (only in Western China did she encounter difficulty as she had the Chinese people she met falling to the floor laughing at her desperate attempt to mime going to the bathroom like the Chinese). In Dole, we take a break at a McDonalds so that we can bum the free WiFi and enjoy the AC; then, we part ways as Kyle and I make our way northeast to Basel City in Switzerland and Lena southeast to Geneva.