Remembrance Day 2017

Commemorating Remembrance Day is never complete without a reading of “In Flanders Fields”. The iconic poem was written by Major John McCrae in 1915 after the death of a friend during the battle of Ypres.

It is a short poem. But the three stanzas pack a great deal of emotional power:

 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead.

Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.

“In Flanders Fields” does not glorify war. Instead, the violence of war is subsumed within imagery of the natural world – poppies, wind, larks, sunrises and sunsets. The place of the fallen is within the larger world and the human community. There is a timeless, moving quality to McCrae’s verses.

The poem makes an appeal to not “break faith with us who die”. The deaths of soldiers on the battlefield will not be in vain if those to whom the torch is thrown take up “our quarrel with the foe.” The proper act of remembrance is to not abandon the cause for which they fought.

When Major McCrae composed “In Flanders Fields”, he was a military doctor and second in command of the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery. McCrae was, like my grandfather who also fought at Ypres, one of “us” – a Canadian. He fought on “our” side – with Britain and her allies in the First World War. “In Flanders Fields” was therefore, “our” poem, inspired by our soldiers, our sacrifice. It was homage to our loss and our grief.

At least I have always considered it that way – until my travels this past summer brought me another perspective.

Hodonin is a small city in southeastern Czech Republic. While there, I visited their local museum. A sign on the street drew me in. It was advertising an exhibit entitled, “1914 – 1918”. Inside the museum was a large room with pictures and artifacts such as uniforms, letters and documents. The exhibit signs were in Czech without any translations available. I made sense as best I could of the photos and artifacts on display. But I was unable to decipher the descriptions and interpretations given to them by the museum curators.

One exhibit had prominence. It was larger and different in nature from the glass display cases in the rest of the room. This exhibit spilled out onto the floor of the exhibit hall. It was filled with representations of poppies on a green cloth with a photo of a cemetery as a backdrop.

 

The signage said all that needed to be said. It was clearly, even to my eyes, a Czech translation of “In Flanders Fields”.

 

As I absorbed this exhibit, a realization reached out to me across the barriers of distance, time and language. Other people in another country were also laying claim to “In Flanders Fields”. It expressed for them their loss and grief in the First World War just as it did for Canadians. McCrae’s words captured the humanity of their fallen grandfathers and forbearers just as it did for ours. The timeless power of this iconic poem was greater than I had imagined. I could not any longer consider “In Flanders Fields” exclusively “ours”.

In 1915, Hodonin was a town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their soldiers fought on the side of Germany.

 

They were the foe with whom McCrae exhorted us to take up our quarrel. Yet, their descendants now find solace and meaning in the same words. It made me ask, “Just who was our foe?” 100 years later, “What was the quarrel?” The First World War and its aftermath, the Second World War, gives some urgency to understanding the answers.

What endures a century later is that both sides in that conflict share sadness and remembrances over their great loss in human lives. This realization suggests to me “our quarrel with the foe” is something other than simply identifying enemies across a no man’s land on a battlefield. The foe is more elusive and difficult to identify than that. The foe is something that has to be common to both sides.

McCrae’s profound and beautiful imagery still speaks to us. We will not break faith with “us who die”, when we recognize the common humanity we share in our opponents.

Perhaps “In Flanders Fields” still even has the power to move us. We will hold high the torch tossed to us by failing hands whenever we are able to resolve our conflicts without reaching for a gun.

Then they can sleep in Flanders fields.

 

*Blue Jays Baseball!

August 26 –  a beautiful summer day in Toronto. A perfect day in fact, to watch the boys of summer play baseball at the Rogers Centre.

CN Tower in Toronto, Canada
The CN Tower as seen from the Rogers Centre, Toronto, Canada

And it was definitely a Plan B* game for the Toronto Blue Jays. They had dropped their game with the Minnesota Twins the previous night, 6 – 1. Sitting in last place in their division, Toronto needed a win.

 

Crowd of Toronto Blue Jays fans at the  Roger Centre
Toronto Blue Jays fans enjoying a baseball game in the August stretch of the 2017 season

Despite the Blue Jays standing in the league, Toronto fans of all ages were out in force to cheer on their team.

Young child wearing protective headphones at a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game.
A young Toronto Blue Jays fan
My friend, David Arkell enjoying the game

The home town fans were not disappointed. Whatever changes the Blue Jays had made overnight worked. They racked up 10 runs on 13 hits.

Baseball player running the bases after hitting a home run.
Josh Donaldson hits a fifth inning home run with one man on base, to lift the Toronto Blue Jays by two runs
Jose Bautista at bat for the Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista, at bat for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Minnesota Twins, connects with a pitch in the bottom of the 8th inning.

The Minnesota Twins did not easily go down to defeat. They kept the crowd in anxious suspense until the very end. They answered the Jays with two runs at the top of the 9th inning. The Twins finally came up short however, with 9 runs.

Final score: Toronto 10 – Minnesota 9.

Plan B* baseball. It doesn’t get more exciting than this.

*Blissful, Briny, Blue Seas

Cargo containers  were a disruptive technology in the 1960’s. They transformed shipping as much as the conversion of sail to steam did in the previous century.

80% of the goods we now consume come to us on cargo ships from one point in the globe or another. Yet, not many of us appreciate our reliance on these ships. An even smaller number earn a living on them as seafarers.

I sailed on a cargo freighter, the “Vera D” as a passenger. The ship and crew of 20 delivers containers between Europe, Canada and Cuba.

A container is being loaded onto a container ship
Loading containers onto the freighter, “Vera D”. The view from my porthole window.

I wanted to take a freighter to reduce my trip’s contribution to climate change. When I flew to Europe, my portion of the flight was responsible for 1.3T of C0₂ emissions: https://co2.myclimate.org/en/offset_further_emissions.

By contrast, in returning to Canada on the Vera D, my portion generated only 0.042T of C0₂ emissions – a reduction of nearly 97%.

The Vera D left Barcelona late in the evening of July 23.

Container ship leaves the dock at Barcelona Harbour
Leaving the dock at Barcelona Harbour

We stopped to take on fuel at Algeciras, Spain in the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar.

A fuel supply ship comes alongside in preparation for refueling the Vera D at sea.
A fuel supply ship comes alongside in preparation for refueling a freighter at sea.
Rock of Gibraltar
The Rock of Gibraltar
Dolphins
The Algeciras welcoming committee – dolphins!

Two days later, we passed through the Azores Islands midway across the Atlantic Ocean.

Azores Island
Passing through the Azores Islands

5400 nautical miles, and 10 days after embarking, we arrived at Halifax harbour to a glorious sunrise.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Frequently Asked Questions

“Did you get seasick?”

No. There was a day and a half of rough sailing. I had to hold onto the sink with one hand while I washed my face with the other. My reading glasses rolled to the floor from a table. That was about the worst of it.

“What was your room like?”

My room was certainly adequate. It was the size of a very small hotel room and had an ensuite bathroom attached.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“How about the food?”

The meals were tasty. Because it was a working ship, they had taken on sufficient provisions for a round trip voyage of 45 days. This dictated a set menu for each meal. We had a choice of rice or potatoes as well as a choice of how our eggs were prepared for breakfast. Fruits and salads were available each day.

Ship’s menu

“What did you do?”

The pattern of each day was dictated by the ship’s work day requirements. I ate when the crew ate. Other than that constraint, I had great flexibility to do as I wished. Time passed quickly. I explored the ship, watched videos, attended karaoke nights and read three books.

I also spent a morning getting an orientation on safety and rescue procedures.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The ship’s crew had a fire drill as part of their mandatory safety training and preparedness.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“What was the ship’s routine?”

Working hours were 8:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday. The Officers shared a 24 hour/day watch on the bridge. Like any workplace, once their shifts were over, the crew were free to “go home” – which on a ship, is to their cabin. They also had a lounge for socializing and hanging out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On the Saturday of our voyage, the captain hosted a BBQ for the crew.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“How much did it cost you?”

The fare was 120€/day, or approximately $180 CAD/day. The fare included all meals, transport and accommodations.

 

Is Freighter Travel for You?

First the disclaimer. I’m no expert. A novice really. I’ve only had this one experience. To help you decide if freighter travel is for you, I’m happy to share some observations and reflections:

  1. Freighter travel requires patience. Significant delays and changes can happen. Impatient people need not apply. If that describes you, read no further.
  2. This is slow travel. Freighter travel requires flexibility and the luxury of time. You have deadlines? Set dates to return from your travels? Nix to that, too then.
  3. Do you need constant stimulation or to be entertained? Nope. Not for you.
  4. Anxious of your social media status if you are without an internet connection for a few days? Stay away
  5. Wary of institutional living arrangements? Uncomfortable or unable to eat whatever is placed in front of you? Take a road trip, not a seafaring voyage.

On the other hand, for the patient, flexible, and relaxed traveler there are rewards and benefits.

The Vera D at sunset, the view from my porthole window
  • Freighter travel is an adventure. Oceans cover three quarters of our planet. There is no other way to appreciate the vast expanses of our watery world than to venture out onto them.
  • It’s a unique experience. A freighter passenger becomes a member of a tiny village that works, eats and lives together on a floating platform at great distances from other human beings.
Members of the Ship’s Crew
  • You will chill and unwind. Want to temporarily disconnect? The world’s concerns literally disappear when the freighter sails off beyond Wifi or cell tower connections.
Sunset from my cabin porthole
  • It’s your time for your priorities. Write your book. Compose music. Create poetry. Read to your heart’s content. Binge watch – guilt free – all those movies or videos you’ve downloaded and haven’t had time for. Work out in the fitness room as much as you want.
Sunset from the bridge of the Vera D
  • A freighter trip is to take a retreat. Be dazzled by the beauty and awesome power of the sea. Let the size and space of God’s creation seep into your soul. Contemplate. Mediate. Reflect. Re-calibrate.
Sunset from the bridge of the Vera D
  • Meet people and gain insights from around the world. The four others at my dining table had families in the Philippines, Israel, Ukraine and Germany. Other crew members came from Sri Lanka and Romania. Their stories were fascinating. Many were familiar, perhaps common. Other life experiences were unusual and distinct.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Plan B* includes *Bliss. Freighter travel on the broad, blue briny Atlantic was relaxing, unique, fun, and memorable. It was also very possibly addictive. I would happily and willingly travel as a seafarer anytime. The question now is, “How soon can I do it again?”

Vera D leaving Halifax Harbour

 

A Battle in Barcelona

Barcelona Container Port

It was never how I imagined my European holiday would end – in a police car, driven at high speed, through the Barcelona Container Port.

But that’s how it ended – sitting in the passenger seat, next to a Spanish National Police Officer.

The drive from the terminal security gate to the pier took two minutes – no longer. Then, a grateful handshake with the Officer. I say, “Gracias”. Smiles and the customary farewells.

From the car trunk tumbled my bags. Two went over my shoulders; the third one clutched in hand. Thus burdened, I climbed the gangway from the pier.

Gangway to a freighter ship
Gangway to the Vera D

And it was done.

In the blink of an eye, Europe was behind me. I was on board.

After days of waiting, anxious delays and aborted efforts I was finally on my way. To Halifax! A passenger on the cargo freighter, the “Vera D”.

Only later did I fully appreciate that I was in fact, a ship‘s crew member. And thereby hangs a tale…..

Barcelona from the bridge of the Vera D
Barcelona Harbour from the bridge of the Vera D
Barcelona Harbour from the bridge of the Vera D

Last February, Bob’s Excellent Adventure was still in the planning stages. I wondered, “How I could minimize the climate impacts of my trip?” Flying generates tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. “What were my options if I wanted to return home from Europe solely by surface transportation?”

My friend, Barry Truter, had once taken a freighter from Vancouver to Vietnam. So, I called him. Barry put me in touch with his travel agency, “Slow Travel Experience”   https://www.langsamreisen.de/en/ . Based in Germany, they specialize in connecting passengers with freighters. Through them, I learned the Vera D would be travelling from Europe to Halifax about the time I wanted to come home.

I signed all the required forms:

  • acknowledging my needs as a passenger would be subservient at all times to cargo requirements;
  • my physician declaring I had no health problems requiring medical attention while in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean;
  • confirming I carried adequate travel insurance coverage in case of a medical emergency.

I paid the fare and reserved my spot. I would join the ship at Genoa in late June. With stops in Barcelona, Valencia and Lisbon, it would reach Halifax two weeks later in mid July.

I left Calgary on May 4th. No sooner had my flight arrived in Toronto, than I received the first of four notifications of an itinerary change. The freighter’s departure from Genoa would be delayed to early July.

“Ah, wonderful!”, I thought. Already this adventure was improving. More time in Europe. “What could be better than that?”

This process would repeat another three times. With each delay in the ship’s itinerary, I gained extra days to explore Europe. I could not have been more pleased.

The last itinerary change had a difference, though. The Genoa stop was cancelled. The ship would instead be leaving from Barcelona. To catch it, I would have to travel from the Czech Republic to Spain, not to Italy.

Even then, I welcomed the change. 30 Million tourists a year can’t be wrong. I was happy to find out for myself why Barcelona has such star power. http://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/

Slow Travel Experience advised me to be in Barcelona a few days before the departure date of July 18. I would need to check in with the port agent as well as be available to board in case the ship departed earlier than scheduled.

The Shift

As directed, I arrived at the offices of the port agent to get my instructions. However, the interview had rude and unwelcome surprises. The manager of the port agency came out to speak with me. Instead of giving me the expected help, he objected to my travelling on the Vera D.

So far as he was aware, the charter company had not authorized the carrying of passengers. They only carried cargo. In fact, he had never before had a passenger on their freighter.

“Who sold you your ticket?”

“The ship’s owner”, I told him.

He replied that his company only represented the Cuban company that had chartered the ship, not the owner. If the owner wanted me to travel as a passenger, then the owner needed to have a separate agreement with his company to represent me as port agent.

“Anyway”, he continued, “the port where the Vera D will be arriving has no customs clearance. Only the ships’ crews are allowed there.” He did not know how I might get Immigration and Customs clearance to leave the country.

I have since thought often about that encounter. The ship could carry a maximum of only two passengers. Why would he be troubled about the tiny extra passenger revenue the owner could generate?

Perhaps he was threatened by discovering he was out of the loop;  or by uncertainty as to how to manage the anomalous passenger standing in front of him. Maybe there were already other problems between the owner and the charterer.

In any event, whatever the reasons, he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help me.

Somewhat alarmed and dismayed, I described this turn of events to my travel agent. Clearly, we needed a Plan B*!

Plan B* – an Ingenious Solution Emerges

Ah yes, Plan B*! But Plan B* can sometimes have false starts. And this one certainly did.

I was first asked to call a company in Gibraltar. They would help me. I called. “No, sorry.” They had no jurisdiction to act in Barcelona. That was a dead end.

The next initiative seemed more promising. I was invited to the offices of Hamburg Sud, a large German cargo shipping line. One of their senior managers assured me they would arrange for their port agent to represent me.

I was at least heartened by his observation that after 45 years in the industry he had never seen such an impasse. To him, it was “crazy” that the charter company should object to a passenger joining a cargo ship. Amen to that.

Ships at anchor in the ocean
Ships at anchor outside Barcelona harbour

By now, the Vera D was in Barcelona at anchor outside the harbour waiting for a berth. It was anticipated it would dock on Saturday, July 22.

It wasn’t exactly panic, but on Saturday morning, the new port agent did not contact me and was not answering my phone calls to him.

As the morning wore on, I began to make urgent calls and emails to Slow Travel Experience. Miraculously, they were available throughout the day. They urged me to go to the terminal and present my ticket. I should do everything in my power to attempt to board while the ship was moored and loading cargo.

I called a taxi. With luggage loaded, we roared off to the container port terminal.

At the security control point, I showed my passport and ticket. “Where is your port agent?”, the security guard asked. “I don’t have one,” I replied.

“It is not possible to get to the docks without a port agent,” he said, handing me back my documents.

My stomach dropped. My heart sank. Fortunately, at least the taxi driver had not abandoned me. With the meter still ticking, he returned me to my accommodations in the city. (Another miracle. They had one room left.)

More emails to Slow Travel Experience. I began to search the internet for flight options to Canada from Europe.

Slow Travel Experience tried to reassure me. “The ship’s owner is working to get you on board.”

Finally! At 16:08, Saturday afternoon, Plan B* finally kicked in. Third time a charm.

I received an email from an entirely new source, “Barcelona Transcoma Shipping”. The email had directions, times and instructions. A few minutes later, I received a phone call confirming the details.

I would be picked up at 8:00 the next morning – Sunday. They would take me to the terminal security gate. They would not leave me until I was on board the ship.

Events unfolded more or less as promised. The much delayed Vera D had finally been allocated a dock. My young driver eventually appeared and took me to the terminal I had visited only the day before. However, after waiting with me at the security gate for nearly two hours, he was called away. “To the Immigration Office”, he said.

Something worked. Not long after he left, the Spanish National Police arrived to stamp my passport. Relief! Elation!

And then, fifteen minutes after that, my escort arrived – not my port agent, but again, the Spanish National Police.

It was only once on board and my journey commenced, did I come to understand the ingenious solution adopted by the ship’s owner. The charter company port agent continued to refuse me boarding the Vera D as a passenger. Instead, the owner simply added me to the ship’s crew list. This allowed the ship’s owner to use the port agent that represented their crew.

It also had another elegant advantage. The charter company port agent had the power to frustrate or prevent me from becoming a passenger. But he was powerless in preventing me from travelling as one of the owner’s crew.

Ah, Plan B*! It can be credited with “Besting a Barcelona Bully”!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Stay Tuned!

I’m currently passing through the Azore Islands. This part of Bob’s Excellent Adventure is on a freighter, The Vera D.

But we do not have Internet except for the short time we are passing through the Azores.

Look for more blogs from me after we arrive in Halifax in early August.

 

 

Have BionX. Will Travel.

Before drawing the line under my tricycling adventure, I have one more commentary.

It’s a word about gear:

“Excessive”.

Whew! There. I said it. I finally got it off my chest.

Now, please let me tell you a bit more about how I rolled.

In the picture is a suitcase, a backpack and a computer case.

In that suitcase is everything I needed (wanted) to sustain me on this adventure. When I left Calgary on May 4th, the leaves were not even out on the trees. It was still cold. When I get back to Calgary in early September, the leaves will be about to turn autumn gold.

Meanwhile, the summer in Europe has been hot, with temperatures consistently over 30+C.

Thankfully, I brought clothing for these big temperature fluctuations. But all that clothing also has meant bulk and weight to cart around.

In the backpack is my camera equipment. As you likely know, I love taking pictures. If you have enjoyed the images I’ve posted with my stories, then bringing a pack full of camera and lenses was essential, not extravagant.

In the third case is a Lenovo computer. It was state of the art technology nearly a decade ago. In other words, it has still done everything I have needed it to do. But it has also weighed 5 times more than its 2017 equivalent.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I did mail home to Canada two separate boxes of items I realized I could do without.

That’s another hidden advantage to Plan B*. It helps you simplify; identify the essentials.

I’ve previously introduced you to the AZUB Ti – Fly recumbent tricycle. You’ve made each other’s acquaintance. A couple more facts about the Ti Fly, though. It conveniently folds down for transport in the back of a car trunk. It can be disassembled for packing into a soft sided bag.

AZUB also has a trailer onto which the soft sided shipping bag fits so the trike can be loaded and transported. The trike fits into the bag; the bag fits onto the trailer; and the loaded trailer can be hauled on a train, plane or bus as overweight luggage. Or it can be loaded into a car trunk or SUV.

Conveniently, the trailer can also be attached to the Ti – Fly and act as a cargo carrier. It was the perfect size to carry all my gear as well as spare tire, inner tubes, air pump, and security chains for locking down at night.

Needless to say, compared to most cyclists, transporting my gear was like driving an 18 wheeler semi-trailer instead of a car.

Bob Hawkesworth sitting in recumbent tricycle

It sometimes kept me from going where cyclists could go.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Bob’s pedal power” on my own, would still be barely getting this rig out of the AZUB parking lot. What gave me the strength of my youth was a piece of great Canadian technology: a BionX battery and electric motor assist: http://ridebionx.com/

Bracket on a tricyle that holds a battery for the BionX system
Bracket for attaching the BionX battery.
Tricylce with BionX batter mounted in place
Ti – Fly with BionX battery attached.

Don’t get me wrong.

I still had to pedal like a mad fiend at times. Climbing long hills was a true grind. But when I pedaled like mad or crawled up the hills, I also made progress – thanks to the extra boost I could get from the BionX battery and motor.

I was tired at the end of each day. Exhausted even, at times.

But I did manage to haul all the big, bulky gear I brought. The BionX did more than make the cycling manageable. It also kept it fun.

By the numbers:

On the road:                                 21 days.

Distance travelled:                   712 kms.

Actual pedaling time:             45 hours & 41 minutes

Average speed:                         14.5 km/hr

Canadian technology can sometimes show up to give Plan B* a beneficial boost. For this excellent adventure, let’s add “B* is for *BionX”.

 

B* is for Bidding a Sad Farewell

The Czech Republic had two national holidays the same week that Canada celebrated its 150th birthday of Confederation.

Ivan and Maria were my hosts in Telč. We toasted Canada Day before I hit the road.

The first of the Czech holidays was July 5. It celebrated the missionaries that brought Christianity to the Slavs in the 9th century. One of the two, St. Cyril, invented the Cyrillic alphabet which for the first time enabled a written Slavic language. Today, over 300 million people use some variation of that script. http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/europe/cyril_and_methodius_day.php

The second holiday followed on the next day. It commemorated the martyrdom of Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. Hus had been influenced by Wycliffe, and believed common people had every right to be able to read the bible in their own language. Hus also preached in the Czech language, when preaching in Latin was the general practice.

Jan Hus memorial statue in Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
Jan Hus memorial statue in the middle of Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

70 years before Luther, Hus condemned the commercialization and corruption of the Christian Church. At the time, the selling of indulgences was a significant source of revenue. His views got him in trouble with the authorities to the point that it cost him his life. http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/czech_republic/jan_hus_day.php

 

It feels like the Czech national identity incorporates two competing narratives. The founders are celebrated on the first day and the rebel celebrated on the next.

Perhaps it appealed to the “Canadian” in me. In our national identity, we have had to manage the tension of competing stories between settlers of French and English origins. This accommodation has had its rough patches over the decades. But by and large, Canada has made the tension a positive, creative and inclusive force.

Czechia is another country with two competing stories. And they celebrate them both – in back to back national Czech holidays.

What impact has this had on Czechs? It’s impossible for me to say with any confidence. Has it provided them with skills and ways of thinking that will prove valuable in the world of the 21st Century? Possibly.

For whatever reasons, the Czechs maintained their unique national identity within the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire for more than 300 years.

Their national identity was also sorely tested during two occupations of the 20th Century – first by the German Nazis and then by the Russian Communists.

Their first freely elected President at the end of the cold war, was a jailed poet.

Despite not knowing the language, I felt a strong affinity with the Czechs I met. Their interactions with me were, without exception, respectful, authentic, helpful and kind.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honza Galla and Patrik Ištok at AZUB Recumbents http://azub.eu/ were good examples. They took time to give me invaluable advice. The two helped me extensively to chose a route and to prepare for my unusual tour. They didn’t have to, but they did it anyway.

Patrik Ištok, Sales Manager, Azub Recumbent

There was a “down to earth” quality in the Czechs I met that made me feel at home. At no time when I was in the Czech Republic, did I have an unpleasant encounter. I would have a hard time saying that after spending a month in my own country!

In other words, all the Czechs I met, acted like Canadians when we are on our best behaviour.

 

The Czech Republic has so much going for it. It’s capital city, Prague, is one of the most beautiful in Europe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Czechia has been at the heart of European history from earliest ages. Their UNESCO World Heritage sites are merited and protected for good reason. The countryside is picture postcard perfect.

Here is a gallery of some favourite sights:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Plan B* is about creating and embracing new possibilities. What happens when those possibilities greatly exceed expectations?

My experiences in the Czech Republic greatly exceeded my expectations. I was not prepared for how sad I would feel once my visit there came to an end.

I hadn’t thought of sadness as a measure for enjoyment. But in a way, it makes sense. We are usually made sad by what we have lost.

For me, bidding a sad farewell to the Czech Republic is the measure of the meaning, pleasure and enjoyment I experienced there.

What’s the Czech secret? I can’t honestly say. I’ll only suggest that a country that celebrates founders and rebels at the same time has to have something unique going for it.

 

 

The World At Three Feet

When did you last travel through the world at a height of 3 feet?

I’m guessing you were 6 years old.

One of the surprising delights of riding a recumbent tricycle is that the seat is only about a foot off the ground. That means little kids of about 6 or 7 look me in the eye when I’m seated in it. Anyone older than that is looking down on me.

Cyclists standing n a city street waiting for a light
Cyclists waiting for a light, Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic

Adults on bikes? They’re giants. I reach up to shake hands. They lean over and down. Just like when I was 6.

The sensation of travelling through the world with eyes at the 3 foot level triggers some deep, childish delight.

Everything on the ground is so much closer, so much more accessible. I’m easily distracted by the variety of flowers, the diversity of colours, the flitting of insects and the darting of butterflies.

Poppies with wheat field behind

Perhaps it’s because at 3 feet, you are so much closer to the world inhabited by flowers and insects.

Sunflowers

 

Travel by trike with trailer is slow travel. Especially crawling up long hills. Even the butterflies make faster progress.

This is travel that breaks the sound barrier, though. Or perhaps more accurately, it is slow travel that breaks the silence barrier.

There’s nothing between you and the world. No windshield. No radio. No hermetically sealed cabin. No thick shell to suppress against road noise.

There is no road noise. Just the swish, swish, swish of a pant leg with each pedal I push. And the barely audible, rolling thunder sound of the trailer dutifully following along in my wake.

Sounds take on a different dimension. Cyclists and hikers know this phenomenon. The birdsong, the buzz, the chirps, the hum, the croaks that comprise nature’s chorus. Moving at three feet from the ground, you can’t help but catch snatches of creation’s hymn.

Dragonfly

Plan B* has been re-discovering the world from a new perspective – like the perspective of those who are 6 and those who are lucky to be 6 a second time.

 

 

There Is Magic

“Magic” is the word that captures the unexpected delights and surprises of this trip.

Each day, as I start my travel, I have a general direction. (West, through southern Moravia, following the border with Austria.)

Beyond that, I know very little about what to expect, what I will see or what I will encounter. I have no certainty where my day will end. I don’t know where I will spend the night.

This is Plan B*, after all.

Yesterday, I started pedaling. A hill rose in front of me. I crawled and strained. Then the hill fell away. I picked up speed and raced in exhilaration to the bottom.

Near Znojmo, Czech Republic

I slowed as the next hill rose in front of me. I repeated the process again. Crawl up. Race down.

And again. Crawl. Race.

There is a form of magic in that. Hard work and then fun. It may be why many people get so attached to cycling.

But then, other magic happened.

I pulled off the road to stop for a lunchtime snack.

Side road, near Lukov, Czech Republic

Why there? Why then? 10 meters down a side road was a tree loaded with black cherries. Abundant with cherries. More cherries within reach than could be eaten in a week. (Hint: You have to know how much I love cherries!)

Each day I pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread”. Yesterday, I never expected it would mean fresh, ripe cherries directly from the tree!

A person holding black cherries in their hand
The black cherries I’ve found here, look like Kalamata olives and are about the same size

“Thank you, God for answering my prayer.”

(And thank you for the magic of exceeding expectations!)

Energized and rested, I was back on the road.

Still the hills kept rising and falling. My legs began to flag. Where should I be looking to stay for the night?

I consulted the map. At my current pace, in less than an hour, was “Vranov nad Dyji”. I’d never heard of it. I wondered what was there. What would I find?

I was at least confident of finding a room. There would likely be at least one “penzion” (guesthouse), perhaps two. Every small Czech town or village I’d passed had had a least one, “penzion”.

Decision made: “Vranov nad Dyji”, here I come!

Then that magic happened again.

I came around a bend in the road. All of a sudden, Vranov nad Dyji was spread out in front of me. It was more than some non-descript name on a map. It was a place of real and unexpected beauty.

Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic

Here was a delightful, fairy tale beautiful, picturesque village hugging the river below a castle.

Like magic.

A view of Vranov nad Dyji from Vranov Chateau
A view of Vranov nad Dyji from Vranov Chateau

Vranov can take your breath away.

Vranov Chateau from the village of Vanov nad Dyji, Czech Republic
Vranov Chateau, Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic

And exploring Vranov revealed many other visual delights and treasures.

Many towns wish they had the natural beauty and historic legacies of Vranov.

Yet Vranov does not get any special promotion. It remains anonymous. Probably, it is because the Czech Republic is filled with towns that share some of Vranov’s magic. I’ve been delighted and awed at nearly every turn in the road as I’ve travelled here.

When beautiful, picture perfect places are the norm, then you know the country where they are found is exceptional.

A suitable description of the Czech Republic might be: “Small, but mighty (magical)”.

Did magic uncork Plan B*? Or did Plan B* uncork the magic?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that there is magic in Plan B*.

And so far, Plan B* in the Czech Republic have made magic happen for me.

Easy Rider

Easy Does it

Nope, I’m not Wyatt. Nor Billy.

Bob’s Excellent Adventure is not about some counterculture dude on a road trip.

Wait a minute.

Maybe it is – at least a wee bit. It is a Plan B* road trip after all!

Bob Hawkesworth sitting in recumbent tricycle
Definitely not Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper

What I want to mean by “Easy Rider” is that everyone, and I mean Everyone on wheels is faster than me.  Little kids and octogenarians alike. They all whiz past me. I have yet to overtake a single biker.

And the guys on bikes wearing the spandex?

I can hardly say “Dobrý den”, before they are half a kilometre down the road.

Two cyclists riding through a forest

Just call me your turtle traveler. Your plodder blogger. Your slacker tracker.

Motorist speed display monitor
Independent verification, if needed. No excessive speeding laws were broken in the making of this adventure (so far)

For the record, I travelled a distance of 80+ kms in the first three days. That’s an average of about 4 times faster than walking. I’m certainly not breaking any land speed records.

Pedaling a recumbent tricycle uses different muscles from walking. So, I’m taking it easy. Getting into a routine, into shape and setting a manageable pace.

View over Moravian Hills in Czech Republic
At the top of the first hill. Whew! And a view worth the effort.

Most importantly (for me) I’m taking the time to enjoy the journey. I’m learning the joys of slow travel.

Slow travel has its own rewards, something our culture has lost.

Small motor boats travelling through a lock in a canal in Moravia, Czech Republic
Another form of slow travel. Small motor boats navigate through a lock in a canal near Uhersky Ostroh, Czech Republic

It takes time to notice all the gifts hidden in plain view.

Easy does it. But easy doesn’t come easily.

 

I’ve discovered a few of those gifts by being mindful of the present without a deadline to meet or even a destination to keep. Here are a few from just one day to share with you.

 

Cherry tree
Cherries! Free! For the taking. Who in their right mind would race past an opportunity like this?

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.