Leading Up to Shawn’s 50thBirthday Surprise Trip Here’s the game. You KNOW you’re going on a “Surprise” trip this summer for your 50th birthday. You KNOW bicycling is involved – you know the logistics, just not the “where”. We’ve agreed that knowing ahead of time will add to the excitement as you can read about the destination. You KNOW the tour company and the dates so you COULD figure it out if you wanted to. Instead, I’ll give you (and your Facebook friends) some hints here and you can all speculate! I’ll spill the beans 30 days before the trip. Here we go…
BIKE TRIP HINT #1 with 60 days to go: You are NOT going to Oceania or Antarctica.
BIKE TRIP HINT #2 with 59 days to go: You WILL be changing time zones. Prepare your inner clock. One direction or the other will hurt. Possibly both.
BIKE TRIP HINT #3 with 58 days to go: You WILL depart Boston on an A340-600, the longest Airbus airliner in operation, with an overall fuselage length of 246 ft. 11 in. All air travel will be within the Earth's atmosphere - this trip is entirely terrestrial.
BIKE TRIP HINT #4 with 57 days to go: You will NOT be on a glacier - so you don't need those funny sunglasses with the "blinders" on the sides or an ice axe. With any luck, the weather will be too warm to support persistent ice.
BIKE TRIP HINT #5 with 56 days to go: You WILL be leaving North America. Niagara Falls and Vegas are both out! That lovely trucker's motel we once spent a few hours in just off the Turnpike? Not going there either.
BIKE TRIP HINT #6 with 55 days to go: You will NOT be in a single desert, though I'm quite sure there will be a dessert or two. In fact, at one of our stops, the inn's Chef will teach you how to make a local dessert delicacy!!
BIKE TRIP HINT #7 with 54 days to go: You are NOT going to either Greenland, where there is ice, or Iceland, where it's green. Conventional seasonal color schemes will dominate. (And for you strip club aficionados out there - Poland isn't what you're hoping for either.)
BIKE TRIP HINT #8 with 53 days to go: Scheherazade stopped King Shahryar from executing her the morning after her deflowering, and the morning after that, and the morning after that... by telling captivating historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques and various forms of erotica. You will NOT be visiting the Arabian peninsula. No camels. No flying carpets. But, with any luck, some stories to rival those Arabian Nights!
BIKE TRIP HINT #9 with 52 days to go: You will NOT be visiting a rainforest on our trip, though it may rain and there will be forests; predominately Spruce and Pine with some leafy varieties mixed in. Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface but will now allow you to rule out only a mere 6% of it; and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years!
BIKE TRIP HINT #10 with 51 days to go: You will NOT be visiting any part of The British Isles. Or the United Kingdom. Or Great Britain. Or England. Not London either. Hyde Park is right out as well! Nor will English be the native language in any of the countries you visit. Since neither of us are fluent in any other languages, and sometimes struggle even with English, AND we won't be bringing Jacob King Of Phrasebooks, you better practice pointing!!
BIKE TRIP HINT #11 with 50 days to go: In the United States, more than 20% of people visiting the western mountains develop mild altitude sickness symptoms such as headache, lack of appetite, nausea, lethargy, sleeplessness, or dizziness. None of the countries you will visit have mountains that rise above an elevation of 16,000 feet and we won't be getting even that high. Acclimation should NOT be an issue and we will not be carrying oxygen support.
BIKE TRIP HINT #12 with 49 days to go: Chili Peppers are rated on something called the Scoville Scale which attempts to quantify the amount of capsaicin in each. A Chilly Day might be anywhere from 0°F in January to even 70°F in July. Firehouse Chili and a tired squad might produce enough methane to match a cow (about 100 liters per day!) which, if burned, might be 100 BTU or enough to raise one pound of water 100° F. The etymology of "Chile", on the other hand, is uncertain but it is clearly a country you are NOT going to visit on this trip!
BIKE TRIP HINT #13 with 48 days to go: Ex Africa semper aliquid novi - Out of Africa, always something new. (Quiquid latine dictum sit altum viditur!) Africa covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area. Although tourism is the fastest developing enterprise in Africa, and will likely be driven to new heights this year with the FIFA World Cup, you are NOT going to Africa so you won't have to get into or "Out of Africa" (or Arizona).
BIKE TRIP HINT #14 with 47 days to go: The "Arauscanos" or Mapuche are indigenous people of south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina. Between 1860-1885, as a result of a joint military campaign known as the "Pacification of Araucania" in Chile, and the "Conquest of the Desert" in Argentina, around 100,000 Mapuche were cruelly massacred. At the beginning of the 1990s, despite the return to democracy in both Chile and Argentina, it can unfortunately be argued that the situation has changed very little for the Mapuche people. Though visiting the Mapuche would be an interesting social experience, you will NOT be traveling to the "Cono Sur" or "Southern Cone".
BIKE TRIP HINT #15 with 46 days to go: St. Petersburg, Washington DC (maybe?), Christchurch - what is this worldwide fascination with building cities in swamps? Even Florin and Guilder were built on the borders of the Fire Swamp! Unlike Buttercup in the Fire Swamp, however, you should NOT expect to encounter any flame spurts, lightning sand, or R.O.U.S.'s on your trip - though you WILL visit one city, symbolized by a mythical beast, which was established around 2,000 BC, in a swamp.
BIKE TRIP HINT #16 with 45 days to go: You are NOT going to Scandinavia - which is a term that rises from the Scandinavist political movement, which was active in the middle of the 19th century supporting a literary, linguistic and cultural movement that focuses on promoting a shared Nordic past, a shared cultural heritage, a common Nordic mythology and a common linguistic root in Old Norse. We already have all the contemporary furniture that we need and the skiing there this time of year blows. Though it would have been a lot of fun to walk around saying "bork bork bork."
BIKE TRIP HINT #17 with 44 days to go: The tolerant and laissez-faire atmosphere then prevalent in the crumbling Roman Empire's province of Hispania was shattered in 409 C.E. when the Visigoths poured into Iberia from their western German homeland. You will NOT be on the Iberian Peninsula, nor will you be in Iberia, which I don't think exists any more (except as a small town in Missouri). You will not be in any "Hispanic" countries though speaking Spanish couldn't hurt.
BIKE TRIP HINT #18 with 43 days to go: The Americas cover 8.3% of the Earth's total surface area and contain about 13.5% of the human population. That works out to a population density of about 73 people per square mile for South America and 32 for North America. The most densely populated continent is Asia at about 203 people per square mile and the least is Australia at about 6.4. You already know you're not going to North America. You are NOT going to South America either. Or Central America. You can pretty much rule out 28.4% of the earth's land area covered by The Americas right there! None of the lands named for Vespucci will be visited on this trip!
BIKE TRIP HINT #19 with 42 days to go: Rudyard Kipling wrote that "East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." But some Easts are more East than others. You are NOT going to the Near East. You are also not going to the Middle East - neither the region nor the club. But you will be going East to get where you're going. On the other hand, you COULD get there by going West, though it'd be longer, which would imply that East is also West, where the twain meet.
BIKE TRIP HINT #20 with 41 days to go: Khalkhyn Gol is a river that forms part of the Eastern border of Mongolia with China. The river's source is in the Greater Khingan mountains of Inner Mongolia. Mongolia is North of China. You WILL be West of Mongolia at all times on your trip. You'll even be West of Western Mongolia - which I read is renowned for its endangered and rare species, including lynx, argali sheep (whose horns can measure over six feet long!) and snow leopards that have tails very thickly covered with fur which, apart from minimizing heat loss, allows them to be used like a blanket to protect their faces when asleep.
BIKE TRIP HINT #21 with 40 days to go: Donald Fagen told Rolling Stone magazine that the title of the Aja album came from a high school friend whose brother was in the army and came back with a Korean wife named Aja, although he wasn't sure how she spelled it. What's REALLY amazing is how that song, released nearly 30 years prior to its discovery, projected a double helix in the sky! Nonetheless, you are NOT going to any part of Asia. Chinese music may set you free, but there will be no angular banjoes on this trip.
BIKE TRIP HINT #22 with 39 days to go: You SHOULD have the continent identified at this point so we'll start to narrow things down a little more... You will NOT be anywhere North of Belgium. We won't be going Dutch on this trip - my treat!?!?!!?? No tulips either - though they actually have more to do with the Ottoman Empire than with The Netherlands. ([Puts on Groucho glasses] Why a nation of footstools is called an "Empire" I'll never understand!) On the other hand, parts of your trip will be in places that have a certain commonality with that northern region.
BIKE TRIP HINT #23 with 38 days to go: Not including the USA, two (three if you count airports) of the three (four if you count airports) countries you will visit have teams qualified for the South African FIFA World Cup and at least one (two if you count airports) of them has ("have" if you count airports) a credible shot at winning! I don't count airports. We won't, however, be playing or watching (at least not "live") any World Cup "football" on this trip - the final will be played the weekend before we leave!
BIKE TRIP HINT #24 with 37 days to go: You will NOT be going West of Hungary - but you might get hungry. There will be plenty of food though, some no doubt prepared with high-quality Hungarian paprika, which, by the way, comes in standard grades ranging as follows: Special Quality, Delicate, Exquisite Delicate, Pungent Exquisite Delicate, Rose, Noble Sweet, Half-Sweet, and Strong. If you do get hungry, you'll be happy to note that one of the countries you'll visit is rather famous for its food.
BIKE TRIP HINT #25 with 36 days to go: You WILL be in the foothills of the Alps (likely from the Latin "albus" for "white") - also known as the Prealps. (Are they the "Postalps" if you travel in the other direction?) I think the foothills should be called the Blps. The tallest Alp is Mont Blanc (there's that "white" again) at 15,744 ft (4,808 meters). Work those granny gears! More realistically most of the cycling will be on the relatively gentle riverside routes between the Prealps.
BIKE TRIP HINT #26 with 35 days to go: Twenty-one "modern states" have coastline on the Mediterranean Sea which has multiple "sub-seas" including the Aegean, Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian, Ligurian, Balearic, and Alboran Seas. Two of the countries you will visit are among those bordering the world's largest "inland sea" at ~965,000 sq. mi. - though, until the final days of our trip, fresh water shoreline will predominate. Bring your bathing suit!
BIKE TRIP HINT #27 with 34 days to go: You SHOULD have it pretty much scoped, so hints get pretty obvious at this point… This unpronounceable capital city with its dragon-adorned coat of arms will be your initial host in the first country you will visit. The city's patron beast is said to be the one guarding the Golden Fleece from theft by Jason and his Argonauts.
BIKE TRIP HINT #28 with 33 days to go: Your entry into its K/Carinthia region will make this country the second you will visit. This area, which boasts the unique combination of 200 lakes and more than 2000 hours of sunshine each year, is the home of Wolfgang Puck!!
BIKE TRIP HINT #29 with 32 days to go: You'll also cross into the Udine Province of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of this third country - one you have visited before and enjoyed.
BIKE TRIP HINT #30 with 31 days to go: Because every "active" vacation should end with some inactivity… A sinking island city, long famous for its unique transportation, will be your home for the final days of your trip.
BIKE TRIP: 30 days to go. I think you've figured most of it out by now and would be really concerned if you were lacking more than the details. So, it's time to spill the beans. What will follow are excerpts from the daily itineraries provided by the tour company. Your mileage may vary... Itinerary Day 1: We'll depart Boston's Logan Airport around 8 PM on Monday night, July 12, on Lufthansa. We'll change planes in Munich, Germany en route to our final destination…"
BIKE TRIP: 29 days to go, Itinerary Day 2: Upon arrival at the Ljubljana Airport, we'll claim our luggage, clear customs, and then transfer (~30 minutes) to our hotel - The Antiq. The rest of the day is free for us to settle in and explore the city. We'll stroll the quiet pedestrian streets and explore the central market, where local produce, wooden crafts and native flowers are on display. We'll walk the Ljubljanica promenade and its small, unique bridges: the Cobbler's Bridge, the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge. We'll pick a distinctive, Slovenian “Vinotek” for a glass of good wine, or relax at one of the many streets cafes, always lively and cozy at any time in the day – and particularly romantic at night.
BIKE TRIP: 28 days to go, Itinerary Day 3: From Ljubljana, we'll transfer by motorcoach (~50 minutes) to the little village of Begunje. Upon arrival at our inn, our leaders will hold a safety and bike-fitting session followed by a warm-up ride. The area is particularly charming and ideal for easy biking. Our route takes us to the historical city of Radovljia, where we have lunch, and continues in the afternoon to scenic Lake Bled. Later today, we transfer by coach (~30 minutes) to our first hotel, Vitranq, in the hamlet of Podkoren, outside Kranjska Gora. Upon arrival, we'll take some time to settle in and relax, or enjoy the sauna or a stroll around the quiet hamlet before enjoying a welcome reception and hearty dinner.
BIKE TRIP: 27 days to go, Itinerary Day 4: After breakfast this morning, we ride along an easy path in a pristine alpine landscape that takes us beyond the Italian border. Riding back to Slovenia, we visit the cute village of Kranjska Gora, famous for its World Cup ski area and a peaceful retreat for nature lovers. We cycle through pine forests, passing cute wooden houses along the Sava River. When we arrive at the village of Mojstrana, we'll pause for a picnic lunch prepared by our tour leaders. After our stop, we'll cycle back to our inn, where we'll learn how to prepare Struklji, a Slovenian sweet, with our smiling Chef Ales and some local friends. The class is an opportunity for a cultural exchange with people still tightly linked to old traditions. Dinner is at a local restaurant.
BIKE TRIP: 26 days to go, Itinerary Day 5: This morning, a scenic ride through the century-old forest of Tarvisio takes us from Slovenia into Italy. Along the way, we'll be treated to staggering vistas of the snow-capped Julian Alps. In Tarvisio, we stop for a short walk near the old main square and maybe for an Italian gelato, and then resume cycling on an easy bike path into Austria. Beyond the pass – and through the immense limestone wall formed by the Carnic Alps and the Karavanken – we continue cycling along the banks of the Gail River in Karinthia. This region is a scenic paradise due to the abundance of rivers and small emerald lakes set against the backdrop of the Noric and Carnic Alps. En route to Villach, we pick a local Gasthof (café) for lunch on our own. In the afternoon, we continue biking to Villach – the largest city of Karinthia -- and can opt for a longer loop to the Ossiacher Lake. Our hotel, The Romantik, is located on a charming cobblestoned street of Villach, a few steps away from our bike path on the Drava River. This evening, we might choose to relax and enjoy a sauna or Turkish bath on the roof of the hotel before gathering for an Austrian dinner at a local restaurant.
BIKE TRIP: 25 days to go, Itinerary Day 6: Today, our bike path follows the banks of the picturesque Drava River. The Drava is a major right-bank tributary of the Danube River and is still a small river in this section. Our path follows the valley through deep wooded slopes and sunny cornfields. At times we'll catch a glimpse of the high roof of a church bell tower or of a small village laid out like a blanket against the flanks of the mountain. We stop for an organic lunch at a small farm. In the afternoon, our ride continues to Spittal, where there is time to explore before catching a ride back on the local train, a very popular means of transportation for bicyclists in this area. Back in Villach, we have time to relax or shop before picking a restaurant for dinner in one of the vaulted medieval streets just behind our hotel.
BIKE TRIP: 24 days to go, Itinerary Day 7: After breakfast, we cycle along the Drava River bike path toward Wörthersee Lake. The bike path starts literally a few steps from our door. As we leave behind us the high pinnacles of Sant Jakob's Church, we are immediately immersed in natural beauty: the quiet Drava River on our right, small fishing ponds on our left, then a little hamlet with heart-shaped windows and manicured gardens… the landscape varies every few miles. On the way, you may stop at your leisure to enjoy the packed picnic lunch prepared for you, so you may make the most of your day in the tranquil countryside. Later in the afternoon, we arrive in Velden, the little “Monte Carlo” of Karinthia. Home to many wealthy, ancient families, Velden is a town of elegant mansions, colorful gardens and refined lakeside restaurants. Our hotel is the magnificent Schloss Velden, an ancient castle on the lake banks, re-opened in 2007 after a long, accurate restoration. Conde' Nast Traveler has featured Schloss Velden as a “Hot Hotel” and its spa centre as the “Hot Spa” of Austria – making Schloss Velden one of the 139 most luxurious and innovative hotels and resorts in the world.
BIKE TRIP: 23 days to go, Itinerary Day 8: Our bike ride today takes us around the Wörthersee Lake. On the southern bank, we'll visit the picturesque village of Maria Wörth, which features two little medieval churches and a small peninsula that jets dramatically into the lake. A more challenging option for avid bikers follows the hills south of the lake, with scenic rides in the forest before getting to Maria Wörth. On the northern side, Pörtschach is a more exclusive tourist resort, beautifully located on a little bay. The longer cycling option allows you to make the full circle back to the hotel. The shorter option offers a shuttle from Pörtschach, where you may also opt to take a ferry ride across the lake. We'll spend the rest of the afternoon swimming, relaxing or doing water sports on our hotel's beach. Thanks to the natural hot springs, the waters are sure to be warm and pleasant. Alternately, you might choose to pamper yourself at the hotel's luxurious spa center.
BIKE TRIP: 22 days to go, Itinerary Day 9: After breakfast, we'll transfer by private motorcoach (~3 hours) to Venice. Our hotel is located on Venice Island, in the city center. The driver will drop us at one of the city gate parking areas, where a water taxi will take us straight into the heart of the city. We'll find a traditional pizzeria for dinner.
BIKE TRIP: 21 days to go, Itinerary Day 10: We have the full day to explore Venice. Built on 118 islands in a shallow lagoon, Venice is a city like no other. It contains more than 150 canals and 400 bridges, which are delightful to explore by gondola or water taxi. Much of the island can also be seen on foot. Be sure to visit the Grand Canal and the famous Rialto Bridge, as well as St. Mark's Basilica, one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in Europe.
BIKE TRIP: 20 days to go, Itinerary Day 11: We'll continue our exploration of Venice for a second day. Spots not to miss include the Bridge of Sighs (said to provide prisoners with their last view of freedom before their incarceration), the Doge's Palace, the Academia gallery and the famous glass-blowing island of Murano. Our centrally located hotel will make it easy to access all the wonderful features this famous city has to offer.
BIKE TRIP: 19 days to go, Itinerary Day 12: After breakfast this morning, we transfer to the Venice airport (~1 hour) for our departing flight. When we arrive home tonight, we retrieve the boys from camp and get Josh ready for his trip to Kentucky at 5 AM the next morning and Jake for Scout Camp a week later!! Because too much fun - is never enough!
BIKE TRIP: 18 days to go... From here on, it's some interesting facts and links about the places you'll visit… Republika Slovenija, formerly part of Yugoslavia, is a very young nation, declared independent in 1991 and recognized in 1992.
BIKE TRIP: 17 days to go... The German name for Austria is Osterreich which means Eastern Empire. This refers to the time when Austria was part of the Holy Roman Empire.
BIKE TRIP: 16 days to go... Slovenia's capital city of Ljubljana has 275,000 inhabitants. Germans call the city Laibach and the Italians call it Lubiana.
BIKE TRIP: 15 days to go... The word ‘ghetto’ comes from the Ghetto area of Venice, where all the city’s Jews were forced to live in the 16th century.
BIKE TRIP: 14 days to go... A summer and winter tourist resort in northwestern Slovenia near the borders with Austria and Italy, Kranjska Gora touches Triglav National Park to the south. The Kranjska Gora ski lifts have the longest history in Slovenia.
BIKE TRIP: 13 days to go... 62% of Austria's total land area is covered by the Austrian Alps.
BIKE TRIP: 12 days to go... Zdravljica was adopted as the Slovenian anthem in 1989. Hej Slowianie, Hej Slovani and Hej Sloveni are all the same song in different Slavic languages, it means 'Hey, Slavs'. 'Hey, Slavs' was the previous national anthem used by former Yugoslavian republics after 1945.
BIKE TRIP: 11 days to go... Croissants and Danish pastries aren't French or Danish inventions. Both were originally Austrian specialties from Vienna. The former was invented in the late 17th century, and the latter in the mid 19th century - originally known under the name of Wienerbrød in Denmark. The French kept the name Viennoiserie ("Viennese specialties") as a general term for baked goods like brioches, chaussons, croissants, pains au chocolat, pain aux raisins, and so on.
BIKE TRIP: 10 days to go... As a place upon ancient trade routes Tarvisio's roots date back to Roman times. In 1007 Emperor Henry II furnished the newly created Archdiocese of Bamberg with the estates, which had considerable importance because of nearby ore mines and ironworks, especially around the village of Fusine (Weißenfels/Bela Pe?). In 1758 the bishop sold Tarvisio to the Habsburgs and until 1918 it was part of the Duchy of Carinthia. It received town privileges in 1909.
BIKE TRIP: 9 days to go... The Wörthersee is Carinthia's biggest lake and one of Austria's top tourist attractions in Summer. The visually stunning setting is reason alone to stop by for a few hours, though the only way to truly experience it is to take a dip!
BIKE TRIP: 8 days to go... Only three bridges cross over Venice's Grand Canal – The marble Ponte di Rialto built between 1588 - 1591, the wooden Ponte Accademia built in 1854 and the stone Ponte degli Scalzi which replaced the original iron bridge in 1858.
BIKE TRIP: 7 days to go... Villach/Beljak is the second largest city in Carinthia in the south of Austria, at the Drava River and represents an important traffic junction for Austria and the whole Alpe-Adria region. As of December 2006, the population is 58,480. The oldest human traces found in Villach date back to 3500 BC. We'll dine here at a local restaurant that brews its own beer, called Villacher after the city.
BIKE TRIP: 6 days to go... The first Sunday in September sees Venice celebrate the Regatta Storica, a procession of decorated craft followed by a race for expert gondoliers.
BIKE TRIP: 5 days to go... In Slovenia, when we talk of the Gorenjska region (Upper Carniola), we think of the Alps: the two thousand-metre summits of the Julian Alps which extend from the northwest of Slovenia across the border into Italy; the peaks of the Karavanke range and the Kamnik-Savinje Alps which link the north of Slovenia with Austria, and also, the connected Subalpine region full of surprisingly varied cultural and natural peculiarities.
BIKE TRIP: 4 days to go... Venice captured the impression of a magical floating city by setting wood pilings on the 118 submerged islands in the Northern end of the Adriatic Sea. 400 foot bridges and 170 boat canals connect the city to make it easily accessible to the local populace.
BIKE TRIP: 3 days to go... Radovljica was the home of Anton Linhart, the first Slovenian dramatist and is the centre of Slovenian apiculture (beekeeping), as well as being famous for its early music.
BIKE TRIP: 2 days to go... The name "Italy" comes from Greek "italos", which means calf. It was originally given to the region of Calabria by Greek settlers in the 8th century BCE, and was extended to the whole peninsula under Roman emperor Augustus.
BIKE TRIP: 1 day to go... According to legend, the origin of the Bled Lake in the heart of the Upper Carniola (Gorenjsko) is to be attributed to an act of God, a punishment for the negligent local people who failed to enclose the Madonna's Chapel; situated amid pastures, cattle often invade it, thus profanating the sanctuary.
BIKE TRIP: Here we go! Happy 50th Birthday my love!