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Photo by Michael Jordan, enjoying a meal at sunset, Zangskar Valley, India

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Michael Jordan
enjoying a meal at sunset,
Zangskar Valley, India



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  #586  
Old 24 Jun 2015
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/225.html



So we've been here in Vauréal for over a week now, perched 40 minutes away from the most famous city in the world and we still haven't left the apartment to go visit it.

Everyday we find some excuse not to ride in to see Paris: "Looks like it's going to rain today", "We woke up too late", "Gotta go to the grocery store to buy more terrine..."


But one day we ran out of excuses, so we hopped on the bikes and headed into the city

The landscape here is fairly flat, the smell of fresh manure wafting up through our helmets as we ride by the green fields that lie between all the quaint towns between Vauréal and Paris. We picked a weekday to go, staying off the highway, and we're rewarded by having the roads all to ourselves.


The back roads to Paris


Traffic is not so bad in the big city!

Marielle had advised us beforehand not to ride in Paris because of the congestion and the crazy drivers. We've heard this warning before in every major city we've been to and no offense intended to those giving us this advice, but they're probably not aware of all the places that we've ridden in and that our definition of "bad traffic and crazy drivers" is very different than theirs.

After riding through the pure pandemonium they call traffic in Delhi, Bogotá and Mexico City, motorcycling through Paris and Rome is like strolling carefree through an open field.


Basilica of the Sacré Cœur in Montmartre

One of the places Marielle recommended for us to see was Montmartre. Situated on top of a hill overlooking the rest of Paris, it used to be an area of the city that was filled with bohemians and artists at the turn of the last century. In fact, Montmartre is right next to the Moulin Rouge. But any of the low-rent, ramshackle buildings occupied by writers and painters who voluntarily gave up their aristocracy to pursue "la vie boheme" have now been replaced by restaurants and souvenir shops catering to the hordes of tourists who visit every day.


Speaking of which...
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  #587  
Old 24 Jun 2015
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Moulin Rouge is where the Can-Can was invented. Here, you can pay €4 for a can-can of soda...


What is more stereotypical than street-side bistros in Paris?


Store all prettied up for the tourists

While walking around, we stumbled upon the market on Rue Daguerre, a pedestrian-only street with fruit and vegetable stands enticing passersby. You can duck in and out of all the fromageries lining the avenue. There are tons of these market streets all over the city and they felt a bit more authentic and local-oriented than the tourist traps that we came from.


Rue Daguerre

Obviously you can't see all of Paris in a day, which is exactly the time we've given ourselves to do. So we each picked a couple of places of interest and we rode around the city, crossing them off one by one. And once again, we parked pretty much anywhere we wanted without paying any fees! I love motorcycling in Europe!


Two-wheelers crammed on every square inch of sidewalk. For free!!!
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  #588  
Old 24 Jun 2015
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Catacombs

One of the places on my list were the catacombs underneath the city, the main reason being that I read about it in "The Da Vinci Code". There are many tours in the city based on the book, but they're all too expensive, so no Louvre for us, just the creepy catacombs, please.


Spooky skulls

Our tour underneath the city yielded some very interesting facts. The catacombs serve as a mass storage site for the remains of 6 million people who lived in the Paris area over the last 300 years. They were originally moved from cemetaries because of overcrowding of the bodies, leading to improper burial, bad smell and the spread of disease.


Some of the bones are placed in pretty patterns, like this heart-shaped arrangement

At many points, there are small signs pointing out the date of the bones. It was interesting seeing how the older ones from the 1700s were much more yellow and worn-looking. It was slightly creepy being around all these dead bodies, but yet strangely fascinating at the same time!


A shrine set amongst the bones

There are about 300 kms of tunnels that make up the catacombs, but only about a 1.5 km stretch is open to the public. The rest of it are not renovated for tours, but that hasn't stopped "cataphiles" from breaking in and exploring the labyrinths underneath the city. Some of them are urban explorers, but others hold parties or meetings in the darkened spaces under Paris. In 2004, police found a whole movie theater set up in the catacombs!

We emerged above ground far from where we entered and had to consult a map to get back to our motorcycles. It was Neda's turn to pick an interesting Parisian spot to explore.
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  #589  
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This washroom was self-cleaning. And free! Very cool.

Neda has very different tastes than most people. In restaurants, she's always ordering the more unusual items, and it's the same when it comes to sightseeing. What caught her interest was a park called the Promenade Plantee. You can actually see it in the picture above, the park is elevated above the city streets to give it a bit of isolation away from the traffic of the city.

The Promenade Plantee used to be an old elevated railroad which was torn out and replaced with a narrow garden that stretches through Paris. Stairs to get to the park are situated every few hundred meters and once you are strolling above, the big city seems to disappear.


Feels just like walking in the countryside!


And then you look over the edge...

Paris was nice, but we weren't in the right mood to truly soak up the City of Love. At least by foot. So we hopped on our bikes and just rode around town.


At one point, we passed by this structure. I radioed Neda, "Hey, is that the...? naaaah, couldn't be...."

But when I checked the pictures later on and cross-referenced it on the Internet, it was! We totally rode past the Arc de Triomphe. Kinda unassuming in person...


Little photoshoot on the streets of Paris

Being on bikes was waaaay more fun than walking around the city. The traffic in the middle of this weekday was light and it seemed it was too early in the season for tourists and their tour buses to clog up the streets. I consulted my GPS and headed towards:


The Eiffel Tower!

This was also an item on my list. Again, we approached the spot where my GPS said it would be and I looked over at the structure peaking above the trees. I radioed Neda, "I think that's the Eiffel Tower, but it looks kinda short. Maybe it's a miniature? And the real one is somewhere closeby?"

But when we got there, it turned out that it was the real Eiffel Tower. I guess we're used to "towers" being as tall as our CN Tower back home...? *shrug*


Sightseeing is soooo much better on two-wheels!

We're glad we got to visit Paris, especially riding around the city which was super-fun. Which reinforces the fact that although we might be tired of sight-seeing, we still *LOVE* riding our motorcycles! But we do need a long rest, and we know just the place to find it...
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  #590  
Old 1 Jul 2015
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We're going to Belgium!

We've been looking forward to this for months. Not to see the country, but to spend time with our very good friends, Eva and Thomas. We first met them two years ago while we were visiting Toronto. We really bonded with them during that time and we've been counting down the days till we could see them again, this time in their hometown of Leuven.


Hallo! We are in Belgium!

From Paris, it was an easy three-hour ride to get to their place. As we got closer, I got really excited when I saw the signs for "Leuven". This is because every time we meet anyone from Belgium, I always tell them "We have friends from Belgium, they live in Leuven", saying it as if I had actually been there. Well, now I can!

We arrived to their place like excited little kids, it was soooo nice seeing them again! We really missed them! And we brought them gifts - chocolates from France (which were actually Belgian chocolates) as well as the rain which has been following us since Guatemala in September 2013. You're welcome!


First things, first. Need to get rid of some the weight up top.


Ta dah! Now I am presentable to the Belgians!

I don't really know much about Belgium. I know Belgian chocolates, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Belgian and Belgian waffles... and that's it.

I asked our friends what else there is to know about Belgium and they mentioned some obscure musicians. Also something about the French stealing the recipe for Belgian Fries and calling them French Fries. So... just food, basically!


The Belgians baked a lactose-free cake and threw Neda a surprise birthday party! How nice!


And presents!!!

We used Eva and Thomas' address to ship all the gear that we've bought online to replace all the stuff that's been falling apart and breaking the last 6 months. They wrapped up all of our shipments like presents! haha!

Third birthday on the road. I can't believe we've been wandering around for so long...!
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  #591  
Old 1 Jul 2015
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Communicator installation party! Whohoo!

One of the packages we got was from Sena. Someone from the company contacted us through our blog and asked how our Sena SMH10 comms were doing. I mentioned that we loved them, but they are suffering from wear-and-tear from almost three years of daily use. So they mentioned they would ship us replacements as well as their new action camera. WOW! and COOL! Can't wait to try them out!


Leuven is most-well known for being the home of Stella Artois, so we took a tour!

Artois was merged with a few companies over the years, including Anheuser-Busch in the US, and they bought Labatts in Canada, making the parent company, AmBev, the largest company in the world. And they are headquartered right here in Leuven!


Stella is not really our speed, we tend to like darker s, but that didn't stop us from trying the free samples!

Eva and Thomas mentioned that it is unseasonably cold and wet this spring in Leuven. My eyes shifted side to side guiltily... But the weather did clear up and we spent the day walking around their city.


Tour of downtown Leuven


Leuven Town Hall, looks like it was made of Lego!


Rows upon rows of statues on the Leuven Town Hall
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  #592  
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We decide to take another stab at Belgian Beers, this time at a pub downtown

Knowing that we like darker s, Thomas ordered us some Westvleteren Trappist Ale. Holy smokes, it was good! Had a dark, fruity taste, with a champagne-like carbonation to it.


Westvleteren is now my favorite trappist ale!

There are only eleven monasteries in the world that brew Trappist . Six of them are in Belgium. What makes a Trappist is that it must be brewed entirely within the monastery walls, not be made for profit and have strict quality control. This makes the output sparse and the resulting bottles very difficult to obtain and thus expensive. Customers who drive to the monastery in Vleteren are limited to how many cases they are able to buy and their license plates are recorded so they are only able to buy once every 60 days.

The is *that* good!


Here's to Abbey Beers!


St. Peter's Church


Clock on St. Peter's Church
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  #593  
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Eva and Thomas took us to the best Belgain Waffle place in Leuven. A food stand in town!

A real Belgian Waffle has to be eaten plain. That means no whipped cream, no strawberries, just by itself. Also, it's preferable that you eat it on the street and not in a sit-down restaurant with cutlery and waiters. We are eager to eat waffles like authentic Belgians!


Smack Lick!

Leuven is in the Flemish-speaking region of Belgium called Flanders. So we have been learning some Flemish words while we are here in Belgium, specifically all the food words. Our favorite word is the expression for "Bon Appetit", in Flemish, it's "Smakelijk", but it's pronounced (roughly) Smack-Lick!

Such a funny sounding word: Smack-Lick!

Eva and Thomas don't realize it, but we have been using Smack-Lick randomly in our conversations now. Just out of the blue, I'll tap on the communicator and exclaim, "Smack-Lick" then turn it off. Smack-Lick.


These boys are kicking the Smack-Lick out of that ball


This strange statue of a giant bug impaled on a giant needle is one of the most famous symbols of Leuven
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  #594  
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Relax-time: Crocheting and Needlepoint

Staying with Eva and Thomas was so easy. Having done their own multi-month trip abroad, they intuitively knew that we were burnt out from traveling, so they knew exactly what we needed - namely Internet for me, and a kitchen for Neda and lots of relax time in their house.


Thomas enjoys cooking almost as much as Neda!

Eva and Thomas finished their trip just over a year ago and I had so many questions about how they were settling into their new life, as they are one of the few couples we know who have lived like nomads and then re-entered their old life again. It was apparent that their wanderlust had not dissipated at all. In fact, they were continuing their minimalist existence, trying not to accumulate too many possessions so they could be light and free for future travels.

I saw them as an ideal template for the way we would like to be when our trip is over as well.


Eva and Thomas take us to an amusement park! FUN!!!

Like I said, our friends knew exactly what we needed.


A nervous smile beside me, and how I know our friends really like us!

Thomas is deathly afraid of heights, but he bravely volunteered to accompany me on the Dalton Terror ride, which lifts us several stories above the park and then drops us, letting us hurtling to ground at the speed of gravity.


You can probably tell by this picture, I am not afraid of heights.
Smack-Lick!
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  #595  
Old 3 Jul 2015
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We've been at Eva and Thomas' place for over a week now and we're loving it!

We really miss the company of other people, and hanging out with our friends is really filling that need to be social. Meeting new people on the road has been amazing, but being on a trip this long we are struggling to find balance and it's comforting to spend time with friends who we don't need to explain who we are, where we've gone, what our personalities are like (one of us is lazy and other one has more energy that she knows what to do with). Sometimes it's just nice to curl up on the couch and pick some crappy movies by random on Netflix... and then razz each other endlessly about it...

P.S. Don't pick the movie "Parallels" and watch it with your friends. You'll *NEVER* hear the end of it. Ever.


Eva wheels her motorcycle out of the BatCave. Our bikes have remained parked for the whole week!


Watching Eva do some pre-riding-season maintenance


While we take our computers... er, motorcycles in for service

The service guys at the local BMW dealership knew us already even before we walked in. They follow us on our blog! We talked to them a little about our trip. Then they shook our hands and wished us a nice trip and handed us our bill. No discount for storytelling...

On the way, we tried out the new communicators that Sena shipped to us. The 20S is an upgrade to what we had before and although we didn't have enough time to give them a full run-through, we're blown away by how crystal clear the sound quality is. They've really improved the noise reduction from the SMH10, which wasn't bad to begin with! Thank you, Sena!

We're also really happy that we got most of our gear refreshed, getting it all shipped to the RideDOT.com European Headquarters in Belgium (and you thought only NATO had their headquarters here!) We just need to get Neda's seat fixed still. Finding an upholsterer in Leuven willing to work on it is proving difficult.
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  #596  
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I finally get to see Speculoos in person!

A couple of years ago when Thomas and Eva were staying with us in Toronto, I asked them what foods they had which were particular to Belgium. He described these spiced biscuits that you soaked in tea or coffee, then spread them over bread. It's called speculoos and now every morning, I got to see Thomas do his ritual dunk and spread.


And then in the grocery store I see pre-dunked and spreadable Speculoos!

When you stay with friends this long, we're not really guests anymore. So we did the room-mate thing and did some grocery shopping for them. Settling into Belgian domestic life, the most exciting thing for us is that there is a new grocery store called "Albert Heijn" that opened up around the corner. They're the biggest supermarket chain in the Netherlands and they are expanding into Belgium. Eva and Thomas pointed out all the new Dutch products on the shelves that they wanted to try. The shelves were a little empty, probably because they were a brand new store.

We kind of miss all these little neighbourhood details that fly under the wheels of our nomadic existence.


Because our roomies are vegetarian, Thomas attempts to make vegetable jerky.
I like to call it Vagirky. Because it sounds a little dirty...


The vagirky was put in the oven and baked until it should have been chewy, but instead it turned out crispy and dry. No Smack-Licking the dry Vagirky.



I thought about why we get along with Eva and Thomas so well. A lot of it is that we have so much in common: addicted to travel, motorcycles, relaxed attitude to life. But also, there's a sense of modesty to them that we've found is common to a lot of Belgians.

Belgium is a funny little country. It shares borders with France, Germany and the Netherlands and each of the Belgian regions are split along the language lines: Dutch Flanders and French Wallonia, similar to English/French Canada. But I don't think they lack a cohesive national identity here as much as that they an understated nationalism, similar to the modest Canadian culture that we grew up in.

And Eva and Thomas are just cool people to be around. I don't know if they truly realize how special they are to us.


What's going on here?

Eva works as a content writer for a PR company and one of her clients is a recreational equipment retailer. Each quarter the company puts out a glossy magazine/catalog and Eva had an idea of including our travels in the next issue as a lifestyle/human interest piece. We initially thought it would just be a print interview and some accompanying pictures from our blog, but to our surprise a camera crew showed up to do a live interview for a video supplement on the company website!

Cool! We felt like celebrities!


Fireside chat with RideDOTNeda.


In addition to the interview, the crew got some background shots of our gear. This was getting fancier by the minute!
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  #597  
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And then the video shoot went outdoors to include shots of our motorcycles! Thomas led us out to some scenic spots in Leuven


While we wait for the camera crew to set up, Neda tries to sell Eva her motorcycle: "Only 80,000 kms! Never dropped. Much..."


Making movies is boring for the actors. Gotta wait for all the cameras to be set up. So I went around and took lots of pictures


Setting up the shot

Because of my amateur video-editing attempts, I already knew how much footage needs to be shot to make a short video, but it was eye-opening to watch the professionals and see how much set-up time is required to get the best lighting, framing, etc. Compared to my seat-of-my-pants-pull-the-camera-out-of-the-tankbag-and-hit-record way of shooting video...


And then the video shoot goes mobile for some action footage!

Thomas and Eva led us and the crew on their bikes to some country roads where footage could be taken of us riding our motorcycles. Wow! All this for such a short video! I was so curious what the end product would look like now!
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Tim, the director mounts a miniature Action Camera on Thomas' bike to get shots of us from the front


I felt like a member of the Royal Family, riding around with a motorcycle escort in front and a chase vehicle behind us!


The stakes get higher when a drone was brought out. OMG!

At the end of the day, the cameraman shows us some of the raw footage that they've shot. It looks SOOOO good! I can't wait to see how they put it all together. Eva said that it will be a few months before it'll be finished and launched concurrently with the magazine article.

So it turns out it's not actually a short web video. There was so much time put into this and so many different cameras involved that we are turning this into a 12-part mini-series that will air on Netflix. We will be calling KTM and asking them for free motorcycles for our journey just so that we can capture them turning us down on camera...


This will be the cover of our Blu-ray Disc.


After a long day of shooting, we ride back to Leuven with the rest of the RideDOT.com European film crew
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lightcycle View Post
Compared to my seat-of-my-pants-pull-the-camera-out-of-the-tankbag-and-hit-record way of shooting video...
Hey Gene, it works for the rest of us poor suckers stuck at home
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Travel phobia

Continuing to follow you folks. Have been since you left Toronto. Can't get enough of your commentary about the places you have visited. Like reading the Encyclopedia Britanica. (Almost) LoL. Keep it up. Hope some day to meet you on the road.
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