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Leaving a comment on a friend’s blog forced me to sign in here. It has been a long time and much has happened. My life isn’t remotely the same life as it was when I wrote the last post. I have moved twice, this last time, recently, on my own. Mr. Army Guy and I are no longer. Without getting into the gory details, he lives in another city now, with another woman. Learning to uncouple has been hard work and I’m not sure that I’m there yet. But I will be. I am a work in progress.

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Actually, make that four minutes and thiry-two seconds.

I was surprised a few days ago when my daughter-in-law told me that a video we made in the spring of 2013 had been posted to Facebook by Military Family Services. I had completely forgotten about it. Suddenly, there it was out in the public eye. Not that it wasn’t before, since it was released on YouTube two years ago, but attention hadn’t been called to it or the series of videos made for the same project. And I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about it.

Early in 2013, I received an email from the director of the Military Family Support Unit for Europe asking if we would be interested in participating in a special project. A collaboration between the Directorate of Quality of Life and Military Family Services and the Vanier Institute of the Family, this project aimed to educate professionals as to the unique challenges faced by military families in the areas of health care, mental health, education, community and social services. The project is ongoing until 2018. A selection of families from across Canada would be interviewed and filmed to bring real faces and stories to the forefront. Of course, we agreed to participate. How could we not? It touches our lives in so many ways. A few weeks later, I was interviewed by telephone about our experiences as a military family of long duration and we pinpointed a few topics that were of interest to the production team, namely the isolation of a remote posting and the issues we had faced with respect to family over the course of my husband’s career. Shortly after that, the producer/photographer and his assistant arrived in Budapest to film and interview us, to follow us around over the course of several days.

The filming itself was fun. We were asked questions by a crew member who doesn’t appear on camera, nor does her voice make its way into the final video. You hear only our answers. Filming took place at our home, on a walk around the neighbourhood, on the tram, at our gym, at the Central Market of Budapest, and at a local restaurant where we arranged to have a friend join us for lunch. Fortunately, we were blessed with gorgeous warm spring weather, which made it easy for filming. The crew had planned to interview one of our adult sons with respect to the impact of the military lifestyle on his life, but unfortunately, a mutually convenient time was unable to be arranged. Consequently, a good deal of the things we spoke about on film were edited out of the final video. Nonetheless, I feel that we were able to discuss some issues that affect families who serve their country abroad in isolating situations.

 I suppose my unease at having this intimate portrait of a sliver of our life exposed arises from my reticence to discuss those issues with most of our family and friends. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard about how lucky we are to have had such opportunities to live in so many places across Canada and experience a few years in another country, I would be very rich. However, there are drawbacks that most do not even know about or acknowledge if they do. Simple things that we take for granted at home represented a huge hassle abroad. Moving every few years is difficult at best, leaving familiar places for the unknown. Never mind the job of arranging the minutiae of life for the entire family. It was a whole new ball game overseas. People, even those who know us well, don’t necessarily have inside information as we tend to keep much of this private. They see only the good things, the excitement of living in a dynamic foreign city and the travel. Also, we have moved on. We have been back in Canada since the summer of 2014, so this seems ancient history. And yet, there is a constant thread of continuity, as many aspects of life remain the same.
Without further ado, the video vignette is linked below. If you care to, do explore some of the others in the series. They offer an interesting window into the lives of the people serving this country.

January in Colour

It has been a busy couple of weeks chez moi. I’ve been spinning up a storm, knitting a fair bit, and planning future weaving projects. I’m not sure what has brought on this creative surge, but it is certainly welcome in the dark days of January. My little world is a colourful one at the moment.

The two spinning projects that I’ve been working on have each included experimental techniques, as far as I’m concerned anyway. The first is a singles yarn, unusual in my repertoire because this is only the third such yarn I’ve made in over six years of spinning. The first was a complete disaster, seeming to have enough twist to hold, but falling apart after skeining it up and wet finishing. Many, many little pieces of Gotland wool. So sad. I’d thought I had achieved a beautiful fuzzy laceweight yarn, but it was not to be. Nine or ten months later, I had another go at it, this time using Wensleydale wool top, reputed to be the ideal fibre for a singles yarn. Spun up beautifully, seemed stable….until I was knitting with it. Of course, it was a complex pattern and I was on a deadline as it was a pattern test for the designer. It was horrifying to watch some portions of my yarn disintegrate before my eyes several rows of knitting below my needles. Let’s just say there was some colourful language uttered. And a lot of spit splicing.

So why would I embark on another yarn of this type after two unsuccessful attempts? Stupidity, I guess, and more than a little stubbornness. The last try was almost five years ago and I’ve gained quite a lot of experience in the intervening time. Also, just look at this fibre:

IMG_0834The high proportion of silk and the intense dyes make it positively glow. It would, in my opinion, be muddied by plying. I wanted to retain the amazing dye painting and not risk having plies of more than one colour. While that is often my goal as I love barberpoled yarns, I couldn’t do it this time. Additionally, I thought that the gradient colourway was worth preserving. Figuring that a fingering weight would be the most versatile for my use, I dove in. It took me just over a week to spin this up and the experience was simply delightful. This was the most incredibly seductive blend of fibres that I’ve ever laid my hands on.

After a bit of trouble getting a sense of the correct amount of twist to insert for the diameter yarn I wanted, I was off to the races. Five ounces of fibre rapidly disappeared. Then came the tricky part. Most sources advise that this type of yarn be fulled, that is, slightly felted. It is soaked in hot water with soap, treated roughly, dunked into cold water and back into hot….generally everything one is told to never, ever do with wool. You have to stop this process at exactly the right time to ensure that your yarn has integrity without turning it into a messy pile of felt. More than a bit nerve wracking, I can assure you. Even as it was drying, I was not convinced that I hadn’t just ruined the entire thing. Once completely dry, however, I had a plump silky yarn with a glorious sheen. I’ve not yet decided what its eventual fate will be. In the meantime, I will just enjoy looking at it. And perhaps touching it.

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The other yarn I’ve been working on is the same weight and diameter, however it is composed of three separate plies. In order to make this, I had to spin three exceptionally fine singles and then spin them together, twisting in the opposite direction. However, I had to play and not do it “by the book”. I wanted to mix the colours up a bit, so I took out my hackle, which has not seen any action for several years.

As you can see, blending the colours in this fashion results in some optical blending, softening their intensity. When spun, you get very short colour runs. I only did this to the fibre in one ply of the three and it created quite an interesting colour play. I will be very interested to see how this knits up, as it is destined for a pair of socks.

There is another spinning project waiting in the wings. This will be a larger one, hopefully a sweater quantity. I have these rather bright braids of Falkland wool that I bought in a weak moment without the slightest idea as to what I would do with them. They really aren’t my thing as they stand, but toned down by combining with a natural brown Shetland, they may just be perfect.

A pair of colourwork socks are on the needles, another technique that I’m revisiting after a long absence. The last stranded knitting I did was very successful and I was hoping this would be as well. There isn’t as much contrast in the yarns as there should be; however, I am continuing with it simply because I like it. I’m also casting on for a lace shawl in the near future. With beads and a wintery sparkly yarn.

Today I took an inkle weaving workshop through the guild, which was a huge amount of fun. I’m hoping to make some guitar and yoga straps for the Etsy shop. I’m also beginning a series of towel projects on the floor loom and working on selecting a colour palette. I’ll show these in a future post.

So, what have you been up to during these first weeks of the new year?

I’m Still Here….I think

A chance conversation with a friend recently reminded me that I haven’t written in such a long time. She was telling me that she really enjoyed reading my blog and why wasn’t I still doing it? Well, I guess life just happened. 2015 was quite a year. At this end of it, my overall impression is that it was a horrible year, worse than 2014, full of stress and anguish, but that is not a fair assessment. Plenty of good things happened, but they have tended to be overshadowed by the difficult days.

Let me get it out in the open at the outset. My father had a bout of pneumonia in the late spring and the cough just wouldn’t go away. When he went to the doctor at my mother’s insistence, she sent him for a scan (CT scan? I’m not entirely sure.) and they discovered a mass on one lung and several others in different spots. He was losing weight, had no appetite and no energy. After further tests, a biopsy was done on his lung in mid-August. A week later, we were sitting in a room at the Cancer Centre of Eastern Ontario with a radiation oncologist who told us that Dad had stage IV lung cancer that had spread to several other parts of his body, and that radiation could only manage some of the symptoms. What she didn’t say was that his days were very limited. Less than two weeks later, on September 2nd, he passed away after a couple of days in hospital.

This has been an incredibly stressful time. Because my parents didn’t want to worry anyone, I was the only family member who knew for quite some time. And I suppose that is only because I coincidentally had been at their home a fair bit during July when he was having tests done. I went with them to the hospital for the biopsy and to his first meeting with the oncologist. I encouraged them to let family in on what was happening, but they were reluctant to do so. And it wasn’t my news to tell. This dragged on in the case of my father’s only brother – he finally was told only the day before my father died and only because my sisters and I insisted. Mom hadn’t yet accepted that he was ill.

So I have been spending quite a bit of time with my mother, assisting her in handling the myriad of details that one must handle when someone passes away. This has not been without its challenges, but I believe it has all been taken care of at this point. Mom will soon have to make decisions as to her living arrangements, as they were living in our home and we will be returning to it shortly. She is certainly not well-equipped to live alone in a rural setting and has health issues that would best be served in a larger community.

Before all this happened, I was happily learning more and more about weaving. I took a number of workshops through the guild and expanded my repertoire, intending on spending the summer weaving like a maniac and stocking an Etsy shop. Yeah. Didn’t happen. But that is my focus for this winter…just a small postponement. A dyeing class in June was a lot of fun and has given me plenty of ideas for future projects. My guild activity has increased exponentially over the course of the year, as I accepted the position of studio manager. This was a joint position at first, but has become a solo responsibility. As our guild has over 200 members and an active workshop and social schedule, it is keeping me very busy.

I also undertook in May and June to knit a stunning laceweight, beaded shawl for my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. The wedding was on July 3. Welcome to the family, Kevan! My son and his new wife have relocated to Ontario from Alberta, which means that we have been able to spend more time with them.

Another highlight of the year was travelling to Millersville, PA, to attend the Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association’s weekend of workshops with several friends from the guild. We had an absolute blast and I learned an incredible amount studying with a renowned weaver, Inge Dam, from just north of Toronto. The class I took was incorporating a tablet woven band into woven fabric. Like this:

IMG_0549After wet-finishing the yardage, the holes close up and it simply becomes a integral part of the fabric. We also learned how to add a band to the edges of the fabric piece. I’m looking forward to playing with this technique to create some unique items.

Our youngest son has embarked on a creative career as well this year. He enrolled in a luthier course with Sergio DeJong, who studied under Larrivée. He turned our garage into a woodworking studio and has been fortunate enough to sell his first few guitars.

workingIn the process, I am learning far more about guitar construction and wood than I ever thought possible (or wanted to know). An offhand comment has led him to start using some of his wood bits to make small weaving tools, such as shuttles. They sold very well at fibre festivals in the late summer and fall. My planned Etsy shop has been opened and, so far, only contains his work. But not for long!

At present, I’m working on learning Fiberworks, a computer programme for weavers. It also drives my new-to-me loom. (Okay, so not that new. I’ve had it for a year already.) My first project, a scarf, was finished just before Christmas and is awaiting many hours of fringe twisting to finish it.

IMG_0750There are the usual bumps in the road, but it is coming along surprisingly well. I hope to spend many happy hours throwing a shuttle on this loom.

I hope that this coming year is a quiet one, filled with lots of creativity. May 2016 be a good one for all of us.

Putting Pencil to Paper

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One never knows where an innocent comment might lead. A group on Ravlery were discussing the possibility of one of us returning to school to study art and she said that she couldn’t draw. Well, one thing led to another and somehow we had set a date for the group to do some drawing and post their results. Several of our group have degrees in art and we thought it would be a great way to get some constructive criticism. For some of us though, this presented a bit of a dilemma. While I love to draw, I have mixed feelings about it. I practically have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the page. I don’t know why. I’ve always been like this. Once I begin, or rather after the first few awkward moments pass, I am totally absorbed in what I’m doing, usually to the exclusion of the rest of the planet. But the effort required to get me there is, frankly, quite ridiculous.

I dragged my feet until Sunday evening, when I decided to show that sketchbook who was boss. Really, it was staring at me from across the room, mocking my attempts to avoid it. I found a pretty spindle and set it up with some interesting lighting, and grabbed the book and my pencils. Within a few minutes, I was in another world.IMG_0427Not bad, considering I haven’t put graphite to the page in just over two years. I just realized that the photo above doesn’t give an accurate representation of placement on the page. My art teacher in Budapest would be aghast! Let me fix that:IMG_0428My mind whirled for ages, thinking of all the things I could draw. But I’m trying to go at this slowly. I don’t sketch. For some strange reason, I seem incapable of rendering something quickly and stopping there. Something to work on. In the meantime, I’m having fun going through my art supplies and paper, dreaming of all the fun things I can do this summer. Thanks, ladies.

What Gives, Mother Nature?

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What the heck happened to Spring? I mean, less than a month ago, there was still snow on the ground. Yes, the 20-22°C temperatures last weekend were most welcome, as was the sunshine. There were outside chores to do, lawns to rake, and a barbeque to enjoy. Things have been getting green and the leaves are finally unfurling on many trees. Our landlord arranged to have the backyard pool opened on Monday, though there has been a delay due to a cracked pipe (we think). The crabapple trees in front of our house have gone from looking like dead sticks to this in the space of one week:

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But it has steadily gotten warmer all week, to the point of being uncomfortable. While 28°C was pleasant enough yesterday, stop already! Today our expected high is 31° and with that comes a humidex in the mid-thirties and an official heat advisory warning. We aren’t equipped for that, Mother Nature! Not yet!

There is, however, a bonus to the quick advent of summer. My bike has been released from the clutches of the indoor trainer, had a tune-up, and hit the trails yesterday afternoon for an inaugural ride. Ottawa is blessed with all sorts of bicycle trails within the city, many of which lead to those along the Ottawa River. You can even head over the bridge into Québec and the Gatineau Hills. I am so looking forward to packing up a picnic lunch and heading out for a day-long adventure. In the meantime, I think I need to practice some hills.

What fun things are you doing now that the warmer weather has arrived?

More Weaving

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Today must be the day for prodding – two of my friends have requested that I get off my derriere and update the blog. Actually, I’ve been thinking about writing a post for a little while, but I wanted the last Christmas gift to arrive at its destination. Yes, you read that correctly. I got seriously behind in November due to a lingering flu bug and then was more than a little crazy in deciding to make sweaters or hats and mittens for each of the grandchildren for Christmas. As well as the woven kitchen towels for my mother and new daughter-in-law. When I went to hem the towels for the last of these, my sewing machine started acting up, so off it went for a servicing. But they have finally arrived at their destination and I can share them with you.

After the striped warp of the last project, I decided to keep it simple and do one colour. I settled on a natural cotton with brightly coloured weft in a mixed twill pattern. This seemed to be a good approach as the kids will be moving in the near future, so their kitchen colours will likely change, and it will provide me with something new to try. I attempt to plan each project so that I learn a new skill, hopefully without getting in over my head. For the most part, I was successful, though I did discover an issue well into the first towel.

What on earth?

What on earth?

How odd. Where did that come from and what is it?

OMG!

OMG!

It took me a while to figure out that it was some kind of dirt that apparently was in the eyes of the heddles. Weird, but I hadn’t woven anything that wide since I got the loom, so who knows how long it had been there. Fortunately, I also discovered that it easily washed out. Phew! this was a five yard warp and the idea that it was going to be ruined from the beginning was not a welcome one. This yellow towel is probably the least successful of the batch. With the natural warp, it just kind of lost its impact. As in the previous project, I varied the treadling for each towel so they are somewhat different, yet still a set.

Ta da!

Ta da!

My daughter-in-law is thrilled with them, which makes me very happy.

So what else is new chez moi? I’ve been spinning and knitting, as usual, though nothing is ready for a grand reveal. Another project hit the loom this week and it zipped by so fast, it was almost as if it wove itself. More tea towels, primarily because I wanted one for a gift package. When I wash and press them, I’ll post some shots. The others will be the start of a collection that will eventually result in an Etsy shop. There, I said it. I’m planning to take my fibery obsessions to the wider world and hopefully someone might buy my work.

In other news, spring has finally arrived in the Ottawa region! It was beginning to feel as if it would never come. We had a few flakes of snow the other day, but I’m sure that was a mistake. After all, we’re into April. Spring flowers and all that, right?

The Accidental Weaver

I hadn’t intended on becoming a weaver. It was all an accident. It wasn’t that I am not interested in weaving. Not at all. In fact, I am quite fascinated by all things textile. I just hadn’t planned on buying a loom….at least not then. As my skill at spinning developed over the past few years, it occurred to me that weaving might be a way to gain control over the rapidly accumulating stash of yarn I was producing. When I move back to Canada, I thought, I’ll take a course through the Ottawa Valley Weavers’ and Spinners’ Guild, where I had taken a number of spinning workshops, and see if weaving might be for me. The universe, however, had other plans.

No sooner had I accepted the possibility of weaving into my life, then looms kept appearing. Just before departure on our bicycle tour of Provence in September 2013, I received a flurry of personal messages on Ravelry. There was a four shaft floor loom for sale in Hungary and I should make inquiries, my contacts repeatedly told me. Nope, not interested. Eventually, they wore me down and I clicked one of the links I’d been sent. Wow. It was a stunner. Solid ash framework with a natural linseed oil finish was certainly appealing. And only two hours away from Budapest. I suggested it to the man, who surprised the heck out of me by saying that it sounded like a good idea. So off we went, only to drag a carload of pieces back mere days before going on holiday. Yes, we did put it back together before departure. Good thing, too. Our memories are…selective. And there were a lot of pieces.

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It took quite a while for me to work up the nerve to wind a warp for it. I read everything I could get my hands on and downloaded videos, in an effort to self-educate. I wove a long test strip and played with different weaving drafts from a book. This was eventually cut up to become dish cloths. With trepidation, I wound a striped warp for my first project, waffle weave tea towels. Nothing like jumping in at the deep end (a character flaw, I’m sure). There were mistakes, but they turned out quite well, don’t you think?

Cottolin waffle weave tea towels

Cottolin waffle weave tea towels

And then the move took over life. Fortunately, I had enrolled in a beginning weaving workshop before things got too crazy, so I spent four Saturdays this autumn learning the ins and outs of basic weaving from an experienced instructor. This made a huge difference! As soon as the classes were over, I wound up another warp for tea towels, intended as a Christmas gift. Um, yeah. I just finished them the other day, at the end of January. Fortunately, the recipient is okay with that.

This is the first towel.

IMG_0270There are four in the set, all woven on the same warp. I’m glad that this first one was in plain weave (simple over-under) because I was very rusty indeed. There are numerous skips in the finished towel due to my ineptitude. Oh well. Each towel became better….some old adage about practice comes to mind.

IMG_0273See how different a change in treadling can make the finished cloth? The third and fourth towels used the beige as weft to make a coordinating set.

IMG_0275_2When I was entering the home stretch on the last towel, I realized that I had a serious problem. Evidently I had made a big oops when putting the warp onto the loom and now had sagging threads. What to do? The internet and several books in my library came to the rescue and I realized that I had to add weight to each of these threads in order to provide sufficient tension to weave them. But how? Imagination and a trip to Home Depot saves the day!

Underneath it all

Underneath it all

Those old fashioned shower curtain rings are certainly multi-taskers! I used oversized washers, pattern weights, and coins in a plastic bag to add the necessary tension on each of the loose threads. Unfortunately the problem meant that the final towel in the set was 5 cm shorter than the others, but the only other alternative was to have a set of three and waste a lot of cotton thread.

IMG_0298_2I think that it will be insignificant in use, don’t you? Here they are, all washed, hemmed, and ready to give to Mom. I hope she likes them.

So this afternoon, I started winding another warp. Another set of towels-to-be will keep me busy for the next little bit. And who knows what will come later?

Farewell, 2014

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

That pretty much describes how I feel about the year that just came to a close. Sure, some good things happened, but the overwhelming feeling about the year is one of stress and things not going according to plan.

Oh, it started with promise. I was working on the first module in an online creative fibre and spinning course, Journey for the Golden Fleece. I was taking multiple classes at the gym: spinning (the other kind), Body Art (a fusion of disciplines, similar to a combination of yoga and pilates), a weight training programme, and weekly TRX training classes. A new-to-me floor loom had recently arrived and was a whole new fibery world was beckoning. Our social life was thriving, though we were aware that there would be changes afoot. You see, 2014 marked the time for my husband to be transferred out of the job in Budapest. We had applied for another position in Europe and were hopeful, but the reality is that few people are awarded back-to-back overseas postings. Life was looking pretty good.

The first twinges in my hip caused me a bit of concern, as I’d had a previous injury, but I modified my workouts a bit and kept on going. Eventually, however, I had to cut back on a number of my classes and add a more rigorous stretching regimen. It didn’t help; rather, things got worse. By Easter, I could barely walk without severe pain and limping. Visits to medical professionals revealed that the grinding sensation in my hip joint was caused by coxarthrosis, but that there was little to be done. Much of the past year has been spent in considerable pain, alleviated only after extensive chiropractic treatments.

The dominant event of 2014 was our overseas move. Though we were told fairly late in the winter that we would be returning to Canada, there was some question as to where, exactly, we would be living. Official notice didn’t arrive until mid-April, much later than typical due to budget issues in the government. So, instead of returning to the Kingston, Ontario, area where we own a home, we would be moving to Ottawa. This notice caused all sorts of angst while we sorted out how to deal with all the ramifications. A trip to Ottawa to locate a house to rent took place in May, and the ball was rolling. An overseas move is much more complicated than most people can imagine, as there are detailed household inventories to prepare (both for insurance purposes and Customs clearance), movers to deal with, and arrangements for the relocation of our dogs. The latter turned out to be far more complex (and expensive) than we had expected, as we could not have them travel with us. It seemed that every week brought a new challenge! Stress, we had it. We departed Budapest at the end of July and occupied a hotel until early September, when our belongings finally arrived in Canada. We were home!

If you think that this was the end of the moving saga, you would be mistaken. There was a considerable amount of damage to our property, mostly due to improper packing and inferior packing materials. The resulting claim has not yet been settled. Our car, shipped separately, did not arrive until several weeks after our household goods, also with some damages. And, for the trifecta, an adult child announced in early September that he was in crisis and would have to move back in with Mom and Dad. He continues to be an ongoing concern.

There have been some high notes in the midst of all the craziness this past year. I warped and wove my first pieces on the floor loom, as well as designed and made a woven wrap with handspun yarn on the rigid heddle loom. The man and I both took a weaving workshop this fall. We purchased a second floor loom at the end of November for weaving more complex pieces, hopefully as part of a small business endeavour to come. And we attended classes at New York Sheep and Wool Festival in October, where we also had the joy of meeting a number of people only known to us through Ravelry previously, some for as long as six years. I would really like to go back again in 2015. We have continued to enjoy cycling on a regular basis, both before and after the move. We found a terrific fitness facility close to our house in Ottawa. My husband has settled in well to his new position at work and has reconnected with many colleagues whom he has not seen in years. Our eldest son was married a few days before Christmas, in a lovely service that we were able to attend through the wonders of technology and Skype. One of our granddaughters held the laptop so we could see the ceremony. The marriage has increased our family by four and we are looking forward to spoiling all six grandchildren when we all get together! Of course, we have also been able to see friends and family that we have not seen in the years were were living so far from home.

Okay, in retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the most awful year on the books. Still, I’m glad to have it over and done with. May 2015 be a wonderful one for all of us!

Provence on Two Wheels

One year ago this week, my husband and I were on the most fabulous vacation ever. I had a blog post almost ready to publish and got busy with something else, forgetting to finish up. This seems an appropriate time, as I reminisce about pain-free activities and the carefree feeling of cycling through the French countryside. So here goes:

Can you see the happy?

Can you see the happy?

It took months of exploring options and discussing to figure out the perfect way for the man and I to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary. After all, one doesn’t do this every year. As duty called the man away for the last two significant anniversaries, we thought it high time to celebrate in style. A friend suggested combining our love of travel with that of fitness, something both of us participate in regularly, and consider a cycling tour. Hmm. An interesting idea, though aside from spinning class, it has been decades since my bottom spent any time on a bicycle seat. Plenty of online research ensued, both to find the perfect location for our holiday and the tour company that would provide us with the experience of a lifetime. And the training began. Oh boy, did the training begin! But it was worth every second as we were well-prepared for what awaited us. The company recommended by our friend, The Chain Gang Cycle Tours, offers cycling holidays in Italy, France and Devon, UK. We had visited Provence briefly a number of years ago and have always wanted to return, so it was a logical choice.

I was more than a bit nervous as we set off from our charming pension in Avignon. Though we had spent months in preparation, I was unsure of my ability to keep up with the others as I was perhaps the least experienced rider of the group. And I was also leery of cycling in traffic. My fears proved unfounded as the French drivers were courteous and politely shared the road. My confidence increased with the realization that I was among the fitter members of our small group and would have no trouble handling the pace. We started with a fairly flat route from Avignon to Chateauneuf de Pape, where we had a lovely lunch. (Did I mention that the food on this trip was incredible? Kudos to Bernard and his team for their excellent research.)

Lunch a la Provençal

Lunch a la Provençal

We then headed to what would be the first winery of the trip for a tasting. The floor of the reception area has some transparent bits to show the “soil” that the renowned vines of Chateauneuf du Pape grow in….small boulders to you and I. After a sampling, we hopped back onto our bikes to ride to Orange. Altogether we cycled a smidge over 43 km, a nice warm up for the rest of the week. Orange boasts a spectacular Roman theatre and triumphal arch, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which we toured the following morning before resuming our tour. Very cool!

The second day of cycling takes us into Languedoc, on the other side of the Rhone river. Our goal is the medieval town of Uzes, some 50 km away, via the back roads that run through rosé wine region. Our dinner in the old town taverne just happened to be one of the best meals of the trip. The courtyard setting was magical and the food incredible. Yes, there was local wine, as there was with every dinner throughout the week. Unfortunately, my photos fail to do any of it justice.

The next day is a slightly longer route, 57 km, from our hotel just outside Uzes to the port of Beaucaire on the Rhone. Here is a shot of the gang at our coffee stop en route:

Our intrepid cyclists

Our intrepid cyclists

We set off the third morning along tiny back roads that one would never find without a guide. The highlight of the day is our picnic lunch alongside a Roman aquaduct. The scenery around the Pont du Gard is nothing short of breathtaking. The aquaduct itself is 275 metres long and 48 metres high, and is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. I confess to quite a thrill as I cycled my way across it.

From the Pont du Gard

From the Pont du Gard

From the ground

From the ground

Late in the afternoon, we arrive at our destination in Beaucaire, with time to spare for a swim or relaxation before dinner. Another amazing meal was enjoyed, appropriately so because we are celebrating a birthday, complete with a surprise sparkling dessert.

Happy birthday to me!

Happy birthday to me!

The next day of cycling sees us ascending some rather steep hills as we head across the Rhone and into the Alpilles, our sights set on Les Baux de Provence. The long climb up to the fortress was brutal, but we all make it without suffering the indignity of walking our bikes up. Every single breathless moment was worth it though.

Well worth the climb!

Well worth the climb!

IMG_1684IMG_1682Later in the afternoon, we stopped at Domaine Mas de la Dame for a tasting of their outstanding wines. This is the winery immortalized in a painting by Vincent Van Gogh when he travelled the region in the 1880’s.  We would see a number of plaques commemorating the sites of specific paintings done by Van Gogh, particularly near Glanum where the asylum was located. Glanum itself was incredible and we spent a happy bit of time wandering the site of the ancient town. From there, we rode into St. Remy en Provence to spend overnight.

Day five of the tour is a long one….60 km of cycling. In a hilly environment. I’d thought the road to Baux was tough, but it had nothing on the climb into Rousillon at the end of the day. Talk about sore legs! Our rest stops in the sleepy villages of the Lubéron yielded some interesting exploration, as one of our members was doing a little geocaching en route. One such cache led us down a back alley that seems to take us back in time.IMG_1702IMG_1705The ochre cliffs of Rousillon seemed to rise up from nowhere, after a long steady uphill climb in a forested area. Jaw-dropping scenery no matter which way one looks!

Yes, it really is that colour.

Yes, it really is that colour.

IMG_1717Of course, once you ride up, there is the inevitable coast down. It was fantastic….until you saw the next hill rise up ahead. The climb to Gordes was only doable because of a night to recuperate. I mean, seriously! Look at that hill:

After the descent

After the descent

The reason for smiles is that speedy return to the bottom. (Though I’m afraid that I’m a bit of a chicken and hit the brakes when the speedometer reads 50 km/h!) We are only ten kilometres into our last day of cycling at this point. We still have over 50 to go. One of the highlights of the day is our stop at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, an absolutely charming town located amongst many river channels.IMG_1729We enjoy a lovely saunter along this part of the river before heading back to our bikes, on our way back to Avignon. The quiet roads give way later to bustling city streets as we enter the outskirts of the former Papal centre. Wow! I had no idea that Avignon was so large. I would have liked to have had more time to explore, but our arrival in mid-afternoon only gave us an opportunity to check out the old part of the city in the vicinity of the Papal Palace.IMG_1734IMG_1732

The Palace itself is most impressive. Built in the fourteenth century, a total of seven popes were based here. We did walk through the beautiful gardens that form part of the grounds, from which we could see the bridge immortalized in the childrens’ song.

Sur la pont....

Sur la pont….

After taking a refreshment break, it was back to the bicycles to ride in rush hour traffic across the river and up the hill to Villeneuve les Avignon and our lodgings for the night. The great bike adventure had come to an end. If you are interested in seeing a map of our route, check here. According to the little odometer on my handlebar, we travelled a total of 310 km over the six days. Not bad, eh?

This was a fantastic trip in all respects. The route was well-planned so that all could handle the rigours of the terrain with a modest fitness level. Accommodations were well-researched, comfortable, and clean. The food was amazing – lots of regional specialties, variety, and local wines, and the lunches alternated between restaurant food and picnic fare that we picked up in villages along the way. The weather was perfect, not that anyone could have done much to influence it beyond appropriate scheduling. Finally, the company of our fellow cyclists was engaging and fun. I would highly recommend considering a cycle tour as an option for a vacation.

In fact, I would very much like to plan another one. The big question is: where?