(written by Dave)
That’s it, we’re done! Well, maybe not completely done as we still haven’t made it back to Sydney and tested the waters on the job markets. But I think we can safely say at this point that the bicycle touring part of our journey is complete.
We are in Portland, OR now, having flown here on Friday. Nancy’s mum and family live here. We’ll be spending the next couple months between Nancy mum’s house, our cabin on the Oregon coast and down in Nevada, where my family lives. We hope to be back in Sydney in mid-January to get stuck into the above-noted job markets.
Our time in Paris was good. It is a very busy city. There are lots of people and it felt really crowded to us. That maybe because we’ve tried to avoid bigger cities for the past year and a half. Our French study earlier in the year in Nice really paid off. It was surprising how much came back to us. Class was fairly structured. For example, we were working our way through all of the possible verb conjunctions. I’m not sure we actually completed this for any one verb but the thing is, when you are trying to communicate with a French person on the street, they don’t seem care so long as they can figure out which verb it is you are trying to use. We are clearly not fluent, but from listening to other tourists around us, we were above average. Just being willing to give it a go generally generated a positive response from the French.
As for Paris, you’d never know that Europe is in recession by visiting the tourist areas. Even though we had dodgy weather and we were clearly in a shoulder season, everything we visited was packed. And the department stores in the more touristic districts were packed as well. Our apartment was in a neighborhood just north of Montmartre. There were quite a few empty store fronts and more people begging than we’ve seen in a while. That many people hard up on their luck could be normal for a bigger city but we haven’t encountered that in a while so it was somewhat disturbing to see.
The French were more than friendly pretty much everywhere. So the whole “rude” French service reputation didn’t really pan out. That could because of our sterling language skills as well (not!). The one thing that really bugged me about Paris (at least in our neighborhood) was the dog owners. They just don’t pick up after their dogs. While this is by definition anti-social, it is really doubly anti-social in a city. You can’t really walk down the street and take your eyes off the foot path for even one step. The result of this is that most people walking along the street look down and not at each other. Everywhere else in France, it is normal, almost expected, that you give everyone a friendly bonjour when you pass on the street. Well, not only have the dog owners of Paris fouled their footpaths, they’ve also helped create a less friendly and engaging society overall – at least from what I observed.
As for our trip to the USA, we flew from Paris to Chicago, then onto Portland. The flights were fine. We flew United and they took the bikes without issue but with a charge of $200 USD. Without even looking at how the bikes were packaged they made us sign a release saying that they were accepted on a limited release basis and marked “Fragile and Unsuitably Packed”. The boxes arrived in Chicago pretty beat up. I moved the boxes around in the apartment, into and out of the taxi and through the airport, with damaging them but somehow it doesn’t seem as though a professional baggage handler is able to do the same getting boxes loaded on a plane. So, for $200 per bike, United will absolve itself of all responsibility, beat your boxes silly but happily take your bikes on international flights. We are looking at getting new bikes here in Portland and if we do, they will have those fancy S&S couplers that let you at least put the bikes in a normal sized bag – this won’t improve the skill set of the baggage dudes but at least it will reduce the obvious bike box target and hopefully avoid the additional fees.
This is not our last post for the trip. We still want to do a couple more summary posts. We’ve received a couple good ideas from readers and will work on those posts in the coming weeks. We also want to do a post, after we settle back into Sydney and “normal” life. We read the blogs of lots of other long-term bicycle touring bloggers and often feel that the re-integration question is left unanswered.
I snapped a few photos of Paris and the trip to Portland. I’ll include them here just for fun. More later as we get those summary posts completed. For now, it feels great to be hanging out with family and we are looking forward to catching up with friends.