Thursday, February 15, 2007

The denouement

I realized after getting a question from my friend and fellow blogger Glen Farrelly that I hadn't posted an update on what's happening with Citronnade. Here's a picture of her, post-tip-over, that I took in Blankenberge in Belgium, for those of you who haven't seen her yet.

I decided not to buy her and ship her back, largely because I didn't think the damage from the tip-over in Brugge would be sufficient for that to be necessary and partly because the duty on her would have been prohibitive. Because the Honda CBF600 isn't sold in North America, the duty for importing her to Canada could have run into a thousand or possibly two thousand dollars. Add to that the cost of purchasing her and the shipping and the total would be more than the worth of the bike.

I'd expected to get an estimate on the repair bill from Frederick at by Tuesday and haven't heard a peep yet. He has a $1,500 deposit and it's in his interest to try to keep as much of that as possible, so I don't expect to get much if any of it back.

I'm in Montreal tonight on my way to Boston for the weekend; I promised some friends I'd join them on a (car) road trip. They're heading to BosCon, Boston's annual science fiction convention, where they'll be throwing a bid party trying to get people to vote for Montreal as the site for the 2009 World Science Fiction Convention. I plan to visit Manni Wood, an old friend I used to work with at Southam New Media. He and Andy Walker (of Cyberwalker fame) did the programming for the original site back in 1996. Now he's working near Cambridge and I hardly ever get to see him, so joining this road trip was perfect for a get-together.

But I will post an update on Citronnade's repairs once I get the estimate.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A final toast

I deliberately didn't completely drain my bottle of water when I left Brugge, filling it up again in Amsterdam and Dijon, so it has a little water from each of the places I stayed.

So I'm making a final toast with this mixture of water here at the Charles de Gaulle Airport to all the people who helped me through this adventure!


Also, had some fellow passengers take this photo so I could show Dr. Strangelove I did get around to reading Balzac while in France. Finished Cousin Bette on the plane.

GREAT book. Excellent recommendation. Wonderful way to end the trip.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Downtown Dijon

Sherry and I spent the afternoon walking around downtown Dijon, and took some interesting photos.

This first one is a long shot of Cathedral Saint Michel.

The next one is a close up of the arch above the doors.

And here's a close up of the gargoyles of the cathedral.

The square around this merry-go-round is where the folks in Dijon set up the local version of the farmer's market for fresh produce.

And these next two are exterior and interior shots of the indoor part of the Dijon market, where they sell things that need refrigeration. We were here on Monday, however. Half of the businesses around here close down on Monday, including the market, so there's no one around.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Expats in Dijon and Gothic architecture

My friend Sherry, who is from B.C., met another B.C. gal named Corrinne among Canadian expats in Dijon, whom I met today.

Then we drove about 20 minutes to the grounds of the Chateauneuf-en-Auxois (see photo on the left), which was a stronghold built around a French keep during the 12th century.

The photo below is the main central courtyard of the keep. Apparently a fella named Phillipe Pot, counsellor to the Dukes of Burgandy and a Knight of the Golden Fleece, added the Gothic buildings to the chateau in the 15th century.

The fountain in the photo to the left is in one of the smaller courtyards at the chateau leading up to the main courtyard.

Rainy in Dijon

It was raining this morning in Dijon, but the sun is trying really hard to peek out from behind the clouds and it's starting to clear up a little, so I hope to get some nice photos when Sherry and I go driving around today.

I did take a picture from her bedroom window (see photo to the right), which has a wonderful view of the city of Dijon, since their house is on top of a hill.

I also took a picture of the great view from her office window (see the photo to the left). I see why she loves it here.
I'm having a great time hanging with her boys, Grayson, Quinn and Max, who range from pre-school age to Grade 4. Watched Superman last night with Grayson, who's four. Grayson *LOVES* airplanes and trains. I'm quite fond of them, too.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

In the land of moutarde

Hopped a train to Dijon this morning; arrived shortly after noon. My friend Sherry Wasilow, an old buddy from journalism school, is living here now in part of an old French estate just outside the city proper, which you can see in the photo above. She provided the photo below of a shop selling the product for which this region is famous.

LOTs of vineyards in this part of the country. Sherry said it's smack dab in the middle of Burgandy, once ruled by the Dukes of Burgandy and has just written an article about the region that provides some detail about the power the dukes once had here, rivaling that of some of the French royalty.

Even in winter, the countryside is beautiful, lots of beautiful rolling hills. There are still rows and rows of grape vines, but they've been cut down to stumps this time of year. Sherry took this photo of them with fruit on them this past fall.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Creme brule -- yum!

Since I didn't have much time, I wandered into one of the first bistros I found that had main courses under 20 euros. I could see right away that vegetarians have a challenge in most Paris restaurants. I ended up ordering a grilled salmon that was delicious and moist, served on a bed of pasta. I normally avoid dairy products because I'm sensitive (not allergic) to them, but decided that since I was in Paris I had to try a creme brule. It was so creamy I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

Wish there was more time to explore the city, but I'm actually pretty tired after driving back from Brugge. That ended most of the adventure part of this trip, and I'm looking forward to relaxing a bit and catching up with Sherry when I head to Dijon on Saturday

Notes on Amsterdam

The first thing I noticed about Brugge and Amsterdam is that bicycles are a major mode of transportation in both cities (The picture to the right shows a bicycle path near the train station in Amsterdam).

I've been told this is true in much of Europe. A friend who has relatives in Holland said that his aunt told him she was getting old because she bicycles for only an hour a day. That's more than many North Americans will bicycle in a week.

But there are so many bicycles in Amsterdam that Amsterdam has bicycle parking lots. The photo to the left shows bikes parked near one of the canals near the My Home hostel I stayed at on Haarlemmerstraat.

This photo to the right shows one of the first things you see when you come out of the Amsterdam train station -- a two-story bicycle parking lot right on one of the canals.
Bicycles are parked everywhere, though, and almost every street has a bicycle path. There are so many bicycles darting everywhere that you have to watch carefully or you could get slammed by one.

The picture to the left is of the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, which was built in the 17th century as the new city hall.

I passed it on my way to the tattoo shop where I got my bat'leth henna designs over my collar bones.

Amsterdam is riddled with canals, and you can buy a fare on a barge that tours the city by canal. The photo below of some of the barges was taken near the train station, where they await tourists as soon as they hit town.

The second thing you notice is the amount of smoking going on. Amsterdam, particularly, is a smokers' city. I'm not just referring to the pot being smoked in cafes, either -- there is a mind-bobbling number of people smoking tobacco, and not pre-rolled cigarettes, either -- almost every where I went people were rolling cigarettes from tobacco so fresh they had to keep lighting their cigarettes to keep them from going out.

And apparently the pot smokers roll their marijuana up with tobacco, too.

Another interesting thing about Amsterdam is that staircases are very narrow and steep. Windows are large, though, and most buildings are topped by a big hook that is used to raise large furniture up so it can be brought into the house through a window. Mara told me the houses and staircases are so narrow because homeowners were taxed according to the size of their lot, so they made them as narrow in order to pay the lowest tax possible. The hooks were pointed out to me the first evening I was in Amsterdam and I intended to take a picture of them the next day during daylight, but I forgot.

One night in Paris!

I took the train from Brugge to Blankenberge at 9:26 this morning and arrived at Joris Sport to pick up Citronnade by 10:30 a.m. The picture to the right is of Rudy Joris, owner of Joris Sport in Blankenberge.

Took almost an hour to pack all the saddle bags properly and get directions out of town. The honking heavy chain and padlock insisted I use had to go in the rear case, which made the bike even more top heavy, because if I put it in a saddlebags it weighted the bag down until it was touching a tailpipe or a tire.

Stopped a couple of times to get gas. Everyone in Canada was freaking out when it approached and, for a while, exceeded $1 a litre -- but Europeans are used to paying much more.

The French really like their coffee: the vending machines at the gas stations sell expresso and cappucino! I don't usually drink coffee, but decided I could use a pick-me up and tried one. It was remarkably good expresso, despite being from a machine.

Although the drive between Paris and Brugge should be only about three hours, it took almost six on the way there because I got lost.

I managed to do it in four on the way back, stopping a few times to pick up a coffee and take a few photos. Here's one of a sign saying I'm about two hours outside of Paris.

But Paris was a different story. Took the wrong exit off Le Peripherique Ouest and got hopelessly lost within a few kilometres of Paris traffic is plenty scary and finding someone who would stop long enough to give me directions was difficult. A fella named Farouk finally gave me directions, after insisting on giving me his telephone number. He wanted me to call him tonight so he could meet me for dinner. I told him I didn't think I'd be up to it by the time I got settled, but he insisted I take his number anyway.

So I got back on Le Peripherique and took the wrong exit *again* and got lost again. Since I was doing such a lousy job of navigating, I offered to pay a nice young man named Eric on a Honda scooter to guide me to on Rue Rude. He gallantly insisted on guiding me "tout gratuit, mademoiselle" so I finally reached my destination.

Frederick clucked his tongue plenty at the scratches and damage (one of the mirrors was bent and part of the fairing was cracked) on Citronnade from the fall in Brugge. But he said he wouldn't be able to tell me how much he would have to charge for repairs until Monday, because they don't do their own repairs. The picture below is of their technician Christopher checking out the bike.

After repacking everything again I finally set off to find the Metro and Hostel Blue Planet on Rue Hector Malot, just a couple of blocks from Gare Lyon in Paris.

Folks in the Metro were very helpful, giving me directions to my platform to get to Gare Lyon. Trains of all kinds were passing by and I had a hard time making out the digital board where they announced the destinations of the trains. A woman on the platform saw me looking confused and asked me my destination. When I told her, she showed me how destinations lit up when trains were approaching and and told me I had to wait until my destination lit up. Efficient, once you know how it works.

I can't imagine someone in Toronto being that helpful.

I've checked in and an now heading out in search of dinner. Sorry Farouk, I'm hungry now. Then I'll walk around a bit. Will be hopping a train to Dijon in the morning, so I have to squeeze whatever I can see of Paris tonight.

Most of my drive from Paris to Brugge was in the dark, so I couldn't take any photos on the way there.

But since it was daylight I stopped and took some photos on the way back, including one of of the Belgian/French border, which is now a series of abandoned booths.

Had to wait until I got to Dijon to upload any photos; again the hostel Internet connection doesn't provide access to USB ports.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

We Kommen aan Brugge

We Kommen aan Brugge (roughly "we're now arriving in Brugge") ... that's what the scrolling digital sign inside the train said as it rolled into the Brugge train station late Thursday night. Am heading to Joris Sport in Blankenberge (15 minutes by train) to pick up Citronnade this morning. Hope to be in Paris by 4 p.m., allowing time to get lost.

Will be staying in Paris Friday night and heading to Dijon Saturday morning.

More details later, gotta get on the road.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Taking the train

I took the train to Amsterdam and and am taking it back to Brugge tomorrow, transferring both ways in Antwerp.

It started snowing on the way to Amsterdam, making me glad that I didn't drive Citronnade there.

The train system is amazingly efficient. There is often as little time between transfers from train to another as there is between subway transfers in Toronto.

People who saw my Canadian flag patch on my backpack would smile and say "A Canadian!" I take it that we're pretty well-liked as tourists in Europe.

It was snowing heavily the day I left Amsterdam, the picture to the right was taken during my walk from the My Home hostel on Haarlemmerstraat to the train station.

The Amsterdam train station is big, with a sort of glassed in top over the tracks, as seen in the photo below.

Most of the drive to Brugge was in the dark, so I was glad for the opportunity to see what the Belgian countryside was like. Saw a number of fields that were growing what looked like hops. Also saw many farms with rows and rows of greenhouses, but couldn't tell what was growing inside.

Struck up a conversation on the way from Brugge to Antwerp on the way to Amsterdam on Tuesday with a young journalism student. Didn't catch his name, because he had to quickly hop off in Roosendaal, a city in the southern Netherlands. But before he left he told me he was already freelancing for newspapers and that newspapers in the Netherlands don't pay freelancers very much. That's true in Canada, too. Most freelancers get paid a few hundred dollars for their stories. But getting bylines in newspapers makes it easier to get work for magazines. Some of the better established magazines pay as much as $1 a word.

One thing that stands out on train rides in Europe is the artistry of the graffiti, which you'll see on any building or fence next to the train tracks -- even along the metro tracks in Paris. Many of the letters have sophisicated color gradients -- much as you'll see produced in Photoshop. Taggers must have a lot of time to finish their work. Maybe it's not considered vandalism the same way as it is North America.

Amsterdam during the day

Walked up and down Kalvenstraat today, what folks in Amsterdam call a "shopping street," because it's closed to car traffic. I found it very strange that I'd run into more than one outlet of the same store -- sometimes within two blocks of another one.

Didn't buy anything, since I don't have room in my saddlebags to bring any souvenirs back. So I decided to bring home a souvenir I could wear. Got a henna design at a tattoo shop. Decided on a pair of Klingon bat'leths, each curving down from my collarbone.
Don't know yet how dark they'll come out because the henna has just started to crumble off, but the parts that *have* look like they're going to be a light orange.

It's almost dinner time so I'm going to go out to look for something to eat. I found an Internet cafe with access to USB ports, so I may upload some photos later.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Amsterdam glows at night

Mara and I just got back from having dinner at a bar called the Getto on Warmoestraat on the edge of the red light district. Warren the Wonder Chef made me a warm salad that was way too yummy for a salad and topped it off with a preview of his brand new experiment: an apple lasagna (made with pancakes, apples, cinnamon and cream) for dessert. It was quite possibly the best thing I've ever tasted in my life.

We walked back to the hostel through the red light district, lots of glowing neon and a dizzying array of pretty women in windows. Women in the sex trade have safe workplaces here.

Met a couple of Americans at the My Home hostel where Mara works.

This picture is of Ian (on the right), who is from upper state New York and is heading to France next, where he hopes to stay and work for a while and Michael (on the left) who (if I remember correctly) is from California and has been travelling Europe and Asia with his guitar. He spent some time in Japan and speaks what sounded (to me) fluent Japanese to some of the Japanese residents of the hostel.

Wish I had more time here, but I think I've made a friend and will be back. Originally thought I might leave Wednesday afternoon so I could pick up Citronnade in Brugge and head back to Paris Thursday morning. That way I'd have plenty of time to get the bike back to by Friday even if I get lost. But it looks like rain and even snow in Belgium Wednesday and Thursday so I might be better off waiting to leave from Brugge very early Friday, when it will be overcast -- but so far the forecast is dry.

Will decide after checking weather again in the morning.

Have lots more to report on the train ride and some of the people I met, but don't have time tonight, so I may get caught up on that and may have to wait until I get to Dijon to upload more photos. The Internet connection here is one with a box where you insert coins and I don't think they want me to haul out the tower out from under the desk to find the USB ports.

For now, before going to bed I'm going to go chat up a couple of the other residents of the hostel, who are sitting around listening to Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. Feels like I'm in a time warp.

Made it!

OK, Mara met me at the Picasso coffee shop a couple of blocks from Amsterdam Central train station and got me settled into the My Home hostel on Haarlemmerstraat.

It snowed on the way here from Antwerp, though, so I'm actually glad Citronne is in intensive care in Brugge. Actually in Blankenberge, just outside of Brugge. I don't care how cold it gets as long as I'm wearing the heated Gerbing gear under my leathers, but I don't like driving on ice or snow. With about six square inches of traction even on dry streets, wet and icy ones increase risk considerably.

And here's the good news: I called Joris Sport as soon as I got here and they said it's going to cost 92 euros for picking her up and repairing her shifter. Now, I'm taking that with a grain of salt because they could still discover something else wrong once they get started, but so far it's sounding like a very minor repair.

They said she could be ready tomorrow, so I'm debating whether I should head back tomorrow morning after only one night in Amsterdam because I don't know what the weather's going to be like and how much time that would add to my trip.

Will decide tonight.

Amsterdam, here I come!

Joris Sport just came to pick up the keys and their guy is now on his way to pick up Citronnade. So, I'm heading to Amsterdam on the train in about half an hour and should be there sometime this afternoon. I'll finally get to meet Mara Miller, who has been a lifeline of sanity with helpful advice through all this.

I'll call Joris Sport once I get to Amsterdam to find out if they've analyzed the problem so I know whether I can spend one or two days in the Netherlands. But I don't think I have to be back in Brugge to pick up the bike until Thursday.

Although I didn't plan on staying in Brugge for five days, I can't say I'm sorry it happened. Hostels are uaually not comfortable places, but the Bauhaus hostel in Brugge was fairly well-kept. See the picture above of the girls' dorm room where I slept.

And Brugge is an incredibly pretty town. It's laced with canals like the one on the right, and has some of the best-preserved medieval architecture in Europe. I loved the way all the rooftops are terra cotta tiles (see the photo below).

I really like Belgium. I've met so many nice people here.

For example, this morning while waiting at the Bauhaus hostel bar (see picture below) for Joris Sport to come get the keys, I met a young couple -- a young man from Pakistan (whose name I forgot to ask how to spell but phonetically it would be Kachif) and a young woman named Nina who has parents from Azerbaijan.

They came to live in Brugge in 2002 and are working hard to set up a business that imports marble from Pakistan. They have a cleaning contract with the hostel for the time being and said they love Brugge and Belgium because the people here are so friendly. When I asked how they met, "Kachif" said "I dreamed about her and looked for her until I found her." Nina blushed at this, and I laughed and said "He's a real romantic, isn't he?" She nodded and smiled.

What a wonderful interlude to witness on my way to Amsterdam!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Well, duh

I haven't confirmed this through official channels but apparently the reason no one was answering their phones on Monday was that everyone here takes Monday off. Funny no one mentioned this to me... but I'll try to dig up more information on why that is. It makes sense for the museums (which was the context in which this fact was introduced to me) because they service a lot of weekend tourist traffic. Bike shops, on the other hand... it makes less sense to me. But it doesn't have to make sense. But it doesn't have to make sense to me, just to the people who arrange their lives around it here. I'm sure it makes perfect sense to them. I just have to find the Web page or person who can explain it to me.


Today, I went for a walk. The photo here is a view leading into the Brugge town square.

Tonight, I'm having a Belgian waffle for a bedtime snack and chasing it with a marvelous local Bush beer. It's dangerous having a bedroom above a bar with a good chef.

Three days and a zillion phone calls later....

The Honda bike shop Frederick from referred me to wasn't answering their phone today, and Stan (the talented motorcycle mechanic who is the weekend chef at the Bauhaus hostel) never showed up to come have a look at the bike. Using Skype over a WiFi connection on my iPAQ, I called two of the numbers that Wim Vyncke managed to find for me and they weren't answering their phones, either. I kept calling and calling and calling... and thought it extremely odd that NONE of them were answering their phone.

Then again, the first time I called the Auto 5 gas/station garage today where they let me leave the bike no one answered the phone, but they did answer later. Maybe people don't believe in voice mail here in Brugge.

I hated to intrude on him at work, but I was getting desperate so I called Wim, who came to my rescue again and found a number for another place that repairs Hondas that isn't too far from Brugge. They're called Joris Sport and when I called them they ANSWERED THEIR PHONE! They said they could come pick the bike tomorrow. Now I just have to make arrangements to get the keys to the Auto 5 people or arrange to be there when Joris Sport shows up.

Here's hoping Joris Sport can get the bike back on the road...

About half an hour after I talked to Joris Sport I got an email from Erwin, who said his friend in Loppen could fix the bike. So if Joris Sport doesn't come through, I have a solid backup plan. It was so nice of Erwin to keep trying, too. Belgians are really kind people.

Meanwhile, I managed to upload some photos in the previous entries below about the Belfry and the Baslica of the Holy Blood, plus I put a photo of me with Citronnade in the entry where I said I fell in love with her. Isn't she a pretty bike?

The moon must be in klutz. Technology just isn't cooperating this week. Although I managed to get Skype working on my iPAQ this morning and used it most of the day, it stopped working at around 4 this afternoon. I rebooted the iPAQ twice and logged out of Skype and back in, but all of the phone icons remained greyed out and non-functional. Tres weird.

But after three days of waiting and trying to find someone who can look at her, I'm happy someone will be able to give me an educated opinion on what's wrong with Citronnade at last.

Looking for Honda dealers in Brugge

Talked to Frederick at this morning and he found a Honda repair shop for me here in Brugge. He's emailing the address to me. Frederick thinks it may not be the gear box but the shifter that got jammed when the bike fell.

Meanwhile, the bartender at the Bauhaus hostel told me that the hostel's weekend chef is a gifted motorcycle mechanic, so he's supposed to be meeting me at the hostel bar at 2 pm and go have a look at the bike and give me an opinion.

I still haven't heard from Erwin at the Honda shop in Belsele about whether he's contacted his friend near Brugge.

This morning I checked out Transport Canada's rules and fees for importing vehicles into Canada that weren't made in Canada or the USA and the cost of bringing this bike to Canada may be prohibitive. Transport Canada fees for importing the vehicle may be as much as the shipping.

It's starting to look like I may have to just do the best I can to get Citronnade healthy again and then kiss her goodbye in Paris. Sigh. But I am keeping my options open. Erwin (at the motorcycle shop in Belsele) said he could still help me ship her if I need to do that.

Meanwhile, I finally managed to figure out how to connect my iPAQ to the WiFi connection here at the hostel so I can use it to make Skype calls. The signal sometimes drops and the WiFi connection drains the battery at an alarming rate, but at least it's an alternative to walking to the Call Shop. Twenty minutes of Skype calls drained the battery from a 100 per cent charge to 67 per cent, though, which means that for almost every hour of Skype calls I'll have to charge the battery again.

Calling from Skype also requires dropping the international code you normally use before the phone number, it seems.

One of the most confusing parts of travelling in Europe is trying to figure out which numbers to use when calling people. When I use the phone's roaming function I have to start calls with the international code followed by the country code and drop the 0 before the first two numbers of a European number. You use that zero when calling locally, however.

And when using Skype I have to dial 00 then the country code instead of the 011 international code and the country code. It's a lot to remember and I'm constantly dialling the wrong intial sequence of numbers.

I'm going to try to call the garage that was kind enough to store the bike over the weekend now to tell them I have someone coming to look at it this afternoon. That means I need to find someone here at the hostel who speaks Flemish who can translate for me.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Sleepy in Brugge

I had hoped to spend part of today at the Call Shop, which has Internet access with USB ports (unlike the web access at the Bauhaus hostel bar) but they're closed on Sunday, as is everyone else in Brugge. At least the pubs and the hostel bar are open, so I won't starve.

The sun never really came up today, it was overcast and foggy for much of the day, so I took the opportunity to take a nap this afternoon and research some of the things I took pictures of on my walk to the central square in Brugge yesterday. The architecture in this town is amazing -- medieval and intact. Apparently the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which was built in the 12th century, has an ornate vial holding what the Basilica's name claims -- although the website I'm referencing concedes that the Bible never mentions any of Christ's blood being preserved. Wikipedia doesn't have an entry on it, unfortunately.

And there's this amazing 13th century bell tower called, oddly enough, the Belfry tower (Belfort). I have a picture of the view of it from my dorm room in the hostel, and took more when I went to it yesterday. Will post them here as soon as I find a Web connection with a USB port.

An update on Citronnade: Got a response from a very friendly and helpful fella named Erwin at a Honda shop in Belsele last night, who said he ships bikes from the U.S. all the time and could get me a quote and help me ship it to Canada. He confirmed today that he can't fix a Honda CBF600, though, because he works only on Goldwings. But he's going to try to get in touch with someone he knows near Brugge to find out if he can fix her, which is very kind of him.

If that doesn't work out, perhaps I'll hear back from the place I emailed in Brussels. It's farther than Belsele, though, and they probably won't even read my message until Monday morning. Time is ticking.

Everyone I've met in Belgium has been really nice, but people like Mara (the Ottawa native who's been helping me from Amsterdam) Erwin and Wim and Bernadette (my guardian angels from Saturday night) are extra special -- and would be special anywhere. If I were in charge of the karma dole, I'd make sure they get lots and lots of good luck. As it is, if they ever get to Toronto, dinner is on me. And I'll show 'em the CN tower. And the Hockey Hall of Fame. And anything else their hearts desire. I am *SO* in their debt. Dank uwel!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

And she shall be called 'Citronnade'

After reading the last post, a friend of mine who shall be known here only as Dr. Strangelove weighed in with an email suggesting that I might want to consider getting her towed to Amsterdam and fixed there. That would get both of us in Amsterdam and presents the possibility of driving a fixed motorcycle back to Paris.

I'm still liable for the repairs if I ship her ship back to Paris, so there's some merit in that idea.

But shipping the bike (or getting it towed) outside of Belgium seems to be an alien concept here. Everyone I asked that question today reacted as if that would run counter to Belgian physics. A representative of the Belgian equivalent of CAA looked at me like I had just grown green antennae when I asked how much it would cost to tow it to Paris.

At first, Wim, my helpful gentleman translator, said the man said it was impossible. Then, the fellow clarified that by saying the cost would be too prohibitive to consider.

But he felt so sorry for me -- and was so impressed with how hard Wim was working to help me (as was I) that he didn't charge me for coming to look at the bike. Thereby sending me three angels today, including Wim and his wife Bernadette.

But people must have to get bikes from point A to point B in Europe all the time without driving them. I can't see how it's possible no one tows long distance here. There must be a way. The trick will be in finding the person who can speak English who knows.

The Flemish work in mysterious ways. Tonight, for example, I tried to find out how to call VISA collect (to find out if VISA's platimum insurance covers bikes like it does cars -- apparently it doesn't) and no one could tell me how to make a collect call in Belgium. I must have asked everyone in the Bauhaus hostel bar and everyone said they simply don't do that here. Granted, about half the folks in the hostel bar are from elsewhere, because it *IS* a hostel, but locals hang out here, too -- and they thought it a strange question.

Then I asked how to call an operator. The hostel bartender gave me a number that my Rogers cell phone won't access. He said it was the help number for one of the three separate telephone networks they have here.

But Rogers doesn't seem to be connected to any of them. In fact, Brugge seems to be in some kind of intermittent Twilight Zone when it comes to Rogers. I can make local calls in Brugge with my Rogers cell phone plan. I can call Toronto. But when I try to phone Amsterdam, I'm told I don't have access to that network. I've had to make all my calls to Mara and the hostel where I planned to stay in Amsterdam at a Call Shop on Langestraat here in Brugge.

Dr. Strangelove was also helpful in reminding me that I'm having new adventures and new experiences, and I have to agree: Yes, I certainly am. That's one of the things I like about the Doc: he has a knack for making lemonade from lemons.

I was actually thinking exactly the same thing. If this (or its equivalent) had happened to me in Toronto, I'd be upset and in Toronto. Here, I'm upset and in Brugge! That is much more interesting.

If I were home, I'd be throwing a temper tantrum and stamping my feet and having a hissy fit about my biking adventure being interrupted. Here, I'm just gonna go to the hostel bar and cry into a beer. I have very low tolerance for alcohol, so two beers ought to make me very silly.

In fact, something the Doc said, combined with a question from my daughter-in-law, planted a seed of an idea in my brain that cheered me up so much I don't think I'm going to be able to squeeze a single tear into my beer. Victoria, who married my son Shawn in 2000 and made all of us very happy by doing so because she's smart, compassionate and an incredibly cool gal, asked me if I'd made a police report.

As far as I know, no crime was committed. I didn't see anyone trying to steal the bike, so that was my speculation. A drunk may have knocked her over, poor thing. There are a couple of pubs on Langestraat where she was parked. But that probably doesn't even qualify as vandalism.

In any case, a police report wouldn't help from the perspective of, since they told me that the only way their insurance will cover any damage is if I have the name and insurance policy number of the other party at fault.

So a thought came to me as I emailed Victoria to tell her that a police report might not help because said that I was responsible for repairs up to and including the total cost of the bike if we had no responsible second party.

*IF* in a worst-case scenario wants to charge me for the entire cost of the bike, why should that money disappear into a black hole?

There might be a way to make lemonade from this.

OK, so maybe I can't tuck her into the overhead bin on the plane. But if I could get her to a Honda dealer in Belgium (if I can make sure that doesn't violate any laws of Belgian physics) and get her some first aid, maybe they could ship her, recuperated, to me in Canada. I'd be spending a few thousand more, but at least would have a bike at the end of the deal, which is better being out a little more than $6,000 (plus) CDN with nothing to show for it.

So I searched the Web tonight while having a beer in the Bauhas hostel bar and came up with three businesses that claim to deal with Hondas in Belgium and emailed 'em all, asking how to get it towed to them and how much it would cost to ship it to me in Canada.

It's at least worth asking the question. And I *DID* fall in love with her. It would be terrible to leave her wounded and alone in Belgium.

If this idea turns out to be feasible, I think I'm gonna name her Citronnade.

Holy moley

OK, things took a turn downhill today.

First, I was late getting on the road because I spent an hour trying to find a cybercafe that would provide printouts of my route. Once I did, it took almost two hours plotting out my route from Brugge to Amsterdam on Mapquest and printing out the pages (at 30 euro cents per page).

Then when I went to go get the bike, I found her on her side. I think someone tried to steal her but couldn't move it because the steering was locked AND I had a chain through her wheels -- the rental place insisted on both.

When I started her, she started and changed gears just fine, but about half a mile later she got stuck in second gear and wouldn't go up or down. The fall must have done something to jam her gearbox.

So I tried to call the rental place, but they're closed until Monday now.

I'm not sure what they're going to tell me because they said that if she broke down outside of France I was on my own. So I essentially have two options: get her fixed here, at my expense, or have her towed to Paris, at my expense. I've been warned the latter could run €700 to €800 ($1,075 to $1,230 CDN, or $900 to $1,040).

I just spent three hours at a gas station where no one who worked there spoke anything but Flemish. Mara Miller tried to get some useful information from them about towing or bike repairs by phone from Amsterdam, but was frustrated that they weren't very helpful.

They did have a steady stream of customers demanding their attention and were trying to run a business, so I was grateful they did let me use their phone to call her in Amsterdam and to try to call in Paris (who were already closed for the day). I think they would have liked to help but were very busy and there was this language barrier.

A wonderful gentleman named Wim and his wife Bernadette, who overheard me trying to make myself understood, volunteered to become my official translators. And THEN they kindly spent an hour calling around to try to find a place that could fix her. But Brugge is a small place, so there's a dearth of bike shops. None of the ones Wim talked to had parts for this bike and would have to order them.

The rental place will charge me for the damage from the fall, but that's not the biggest issue. If I can't get her back to Paris, they will charge me the entire cost of the bike.


But I seem to have found some guardian angels. Wim and Bernadette not only insisted on acting as my translators, but talked the gas station into storing the bike inside overnight so it wouldn't get stolen. And then they insisted on driving me back to the hostel. And waited to make sure they had a room. AND gave me their phone number and told me to phone them if I needed any more help.


What amazingly nice people!

Looks like I'm moving into the Bauhaus hostel for the weekend. I'll call on Monday and find out what my options are.

Off to Amsterdam I go

Gloriously sunny in Belgium today! I took some photos in Brugge.

The picture here is of the town square, where you can see the medieval architecture found throughout this town.

Lots and lots of cobblestones here -- treacherous when on the bike, but old-country quaint. Couldn't upload the photos until I got to Dijon because there are no USB ports at the terminals in the hostel here. The photo to the left is one of the canals near Langestraat in Brugge.

And the photo below shows some detail of the fence along that same canal. I love how it looks like the lions are swallowing the posts.

I'll be heading to Amsterdam next, in about an hour after I get my route plotted out.