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John Williams_Europe 2010

This travel page is to record my Europe 2010 holiday.
The narrative is not about what I saw or what I did, but about what I felt and what I learnt about myself.
Perhaps there is something in this for us all.
Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning to you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account. – “Fish”, John Gardner

Diary Entries

Sunday, 06 May 2012

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Location: Brisbane, Australia

Hello to everyone who have followed my European adventure.

Well, I arrived home on Saturday and although it's now Tuesday I am still getting used to the idea of being back in Brisbane.

Anyhow, que sera sera [whatever will be will be] and over the next week or so I will move ahead with whatever will be my life for the future.

Thank you for your messages, and interest in my notes, and who knows what the future might hold.

Ciao and Biscous [kisses] to all, John W

Friday, 20 August 2010

Location: Paris / Hong Kong, France

I am writing this in transit some part high over Russia, and the final part in the Qantas lounge at Chep Lap Kok, Hong Kong. It seems most appropriate to me that I finish this travel log before I land back in Australia.
I wrote recently that I had not found a conclusive and incisive way to describe this “time away from the everyday”, but I feel now the closest description is “[that] I’ve given myself permission to enjoy some freedom of spirit”.
Phil Collin’s song in this link expresses some of my feelings as I am writing this
I hope that I continue to allow myself “freedom of spirit”, to love and be loved, to be a good person, and to be kind and gentle to myself, my family, my friends and others.
But this time has been “all about me”, and I want to thank my family, Jane, Amelia and Danielle, for giving me the space to go away by myself. Perhaps it was selfish, or perhaps it was something that I needed to do.
My appreciation also goes to my friends who have endured listening to my endless plans over the past year, to my Bikestyle cycling friends on the Tour de France during July ... Le Tour with them was exhilarating, to “our other family” the Swiss family Barresi in Lugano, Switzerland, to Pietro in Cernobbio [for your friendship, kindred spirit and wonderful sense of fun], to my Italian lakes cycling friends ... who made the Italian experience just so much fun, and to Rosemary in Paris for a lovely lunch conversation under the trees in the Jardin des Tuileries.
I’ve learnt some interesting things over the past two (2) months; in France the two most used words are “non” and “ferme” [closed], the most used word in Italy is “prego” [you’re welcome], the French really cannot make coffee [ as I like it], to be a good cyclist you need to be able to climb, the French TGV is excellent and leaves exactly on time ... to the second, in Italy you can park your car anywhere without fear of a traffic ticket as long as you put the hazard warning lights on, in Holland beware of the motor scooters and “old persons gofers” on the bikepaths, in Italy it can rain for days in the summer, in France the French sit out in the sun without sunscreen and just bake themselves, in France during Le Tour don’t try to beat a French grandmother to the items thrown from the caravane ... they will easily push you aside, in Italy it can take half an hour or so to order dinner once Pietro and Naomi go through the whole menu explaining each dish to us in English, the Italians love wine and pasta, and also the difference between “heaven and hell”
In heaven; the French are the cooks, the British are the policemen, the Germans make the cars, the Italians are the lovers, and the Swiss organise everything.
In hell: the British are the cooks, the Germans are the policemen, the French make the cars, the Swiss are the lovers, and the Italians organise everything.
... and finally, that being in the company of happy and fun loving people is where I love to be.
I’ve also been fortunate to have had many wonderful and fun conversations, but one conversations stands out from all. It was a conversation about acknowledging our “safe place”, and with that goes a song that we talked about
So, I am going to end this narrative now, and to sum up my “freedom of spirit”, there is one song that says it all
A bientot, john w

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Location: Paris, France

Today is my last day in Paris, and there was still much I wanted to do, particularly walk the length of the Champs Elysees, and that’s what I did.
So as I walked along that famous tree lined avenue, and enjoyed the view of the
Grande Arche at La Defense at one end, the Arc de Triomphe in the middle and the Place de la Concorde at the other end, it brought together the elegance and style of France for me. What a beautiful country this is, with its depth of history, culture, architecture both old and new, elegance and style.
It was a beautiful clear blue sky today just perfect to view Paris from the terrace top of the Arc de Triomphe, and then to walk through the Jardon de Tuileries.
The Champs Elysees was lined with all the French brands we all know, Cartier, Yves St Laurent, Mont Blanc, luggage shops, clothing shops, watch shops, shoe shops [with impossibly high heels which Amelia and Danielle would love], sidewalk cafes with red shades and white cane chairs lined up in a row, Parisians going about their business, tourists by the hundred peering into shop windows at E25,000 luggage sets and E15,000 watches, taking photographs beside the famous stores where security guards keep the tourist out, and ... beggars kneeling bowed down on the street with hands outstretched and a tin cup.
What an irony this presented, as everyone went about their day unconcerned about anyone else.
But there is so much beauty in the world, and I’ve had the opportunity to see some small part of it. So with my new found “metro mastering” skills and the things I’ve enjoyed, I now turn my attention to home. How much easier things might be if mastering our lives and our futures were laid out like the Paris metro. If we only needed to read the map to know which line to take, which side of the platform to stand to take the metro in the right direction, or which “sortie” [exit] to take to end up on the correct street. It’s just not that easy in real life, and like the metro, sometimes you need to get lost first to have confidence that you can find your way back.
Climbing the Arc de Triomphe was one of my goals, and I did that today. It was an errie feeling climbing those 234 stairs inside a building which was initiated by Napoleon in 1803 and finished in 1836. The Arc de Triomphe represents so much about France and its conquests, and I wonder how it is viewed by the French today. Does it represent times past, or is it a representation of the present and future of France? Whatever is the French perception, it does show the skill of the artisan and the horror of conflict.
But enough of that, I continued walking west along the Champs Elysees to the Jardin des Tuilleries, and brought myself what was to be my last “French sandwich”, or baguette and ham, and a “Coca light” and found myself a chair to sit under the trees ... just like a Parisian.
Anyhow it was time, and so back on the metro, shower and pack my bags and back to the airport.
... and so started my long trip home, “Air France 188 is ready for boarding”.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Location: Paris, France

Tuesday, 17 August
I slept in today until 10 am, and how nice was that!
I had some big plans for these few days in Paris, things to see and do. But my biggest goal was to “master the metro” and to those who know me well understand that I might take that as a challenge ... and that’s how I approached it.
First stop today was to be the Musee de l’Air et de l’Espace, or “boys heaven” to me. This is a link to the web site . This museum was simply fascinating and exciting showing French aviation from the earliest days to the space age. I was certainly in “boys heaven” for a few hours, and of course experienced a reawakening of my long held dream to get my pilots licence.
To get to the museum though required a metro, a RER and then a bus trip to Le Bourget. I made it OK, but what happened was that I felt confronted by another side of Paris, far removed from the Louvre, Champs Elysees, rue de Honorie, but a Paris where the less fortunate live in shabby and run down areas. That certainly was confronting.
But that did not dampen my spirits, so I just enjoyed the day for what it was.
Back into Paris by bus, RER and metro and I stopped off at the Tuilleries for a walk through the garden and along the Seine, before dinner in a sidewalk ristorante, then on the metro and back to the hotel.
I made it ... I had gained a new skill ... I’d mastered the Paris metro.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Location: Cernobbio to Paris, France

I was ready to go when Pietro arrived at the hotel. I’d been up early and packed “Miss Bianchi” [my beautiful and elegant Italian lady], wrapping her carefully for the long flight home.
I’ve been fortunate to meet so many lovely people on this trip and as we head off down to Milano, I cannot help thinking about each person who I came to know particularly on this Italian section of my holiday. In particular I feel I was fortunate to meet with Pietro, since in so many ways he has been a key part of my time in Italy, and we have developed a friendship far beyond simply a client and supplier relationship.
So Pietro, if you happen to read this someday, I know that you know how I valued my time in Cernobbio before we started the cycle trip to Lago di Garda, and particularly the things we talked and laughed about ... and of course the afternoon under the trees at the front of the Centrale. Please take care of yourself my friend.
I was a little anxious about EasyJet, but I need not have worried, it all went smoothly and I easily found my way from Paris CDG, through the RER B, to the Metro B5 at Gare du Nord, and to the Mecure, Place d’Italie.
When I checked into my room, I had an overwhelming feeling of tiredness, maybe after being away for so long I just wanted to get back to Australia. But if I am being really honest, I think I felt a sense of loneliness, that sometimes haunts me ... I was by myself again.
So a shower, a walk down a local ristorante for a light dinner sitting out in the Paris evening light, and then back to the hotel for bed. As I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of Eva Cassidy in my earphones, I started to think about what this time out has meant to me.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Location: Lago di Garda to Cernobbio, Italy

So brings to an end my Italian lakes cycling holiday, and today we all leave for home.
We left Lago di Garda at 6 am this morning to take Uzi and Menachem to Milano Malpensa aeroporte, and then to return to Cernobbio for one more night.
I leave tomorrow, Monday from Milano Malpensa airport for an EasyJet flight to Paris. I’m in Paris until Thursday evening, then arriving home in Brisbane on Saturday morning.
This meant that I’ve had some time in Cernobbio today to update my travel page, and to think back over my time in Europe, the places I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done and the lessons [I think] I’ve learnt.
It would be good to have some insightful comment about this time away, but I don’t have that right now. I know there are many things I’ve thought about, but a conclusive and incisive point is yet to come to mind. Perhaps I am just tired and need to go home, perhaps I feel lost now that this event which I’ve planned for so long is coming to an end, or perhaps it is none or perhaps it is all of those things.
I remember how lost I felt after Kokoda 2004, and I have the same feeling now. Kokoda 2004 was a driving force in my life for the two years prior and it was the catalyst for so much in the following years. My focus on Kokoda and all things associated with it gradually dropped away, and as that realisation evolved the feeling of loss became even more noticeable to me. At one of my talks on Kokoda someone asked me, “Did you get lost in the jungle?” I thought about that before I answered by saying “No, I got found”. Yet was that really true, did I get found, or did I get found and then get lost again?
Is it just me that feels like this sometimes, or do others continue to search for a rational purpose in the ebb and flow of life? Perhaps there is no answer, no plan waiting to be revealed in the fullness of time. Perhaps life is largely chance, opportunity and circumstance.
I do know one thing with certainty, and that is that I want my life to be fulfilling, to love and be loved, to add some value to my life and others, and to know and experience the sense of fulfilment that happiness brings.
... and so

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Location: Lago di Garda, Italy

Today started out as sunny day with threat of rain, a plan for an easy day with a “few bumps” turned out to be a little more than bumps, after the hard day yesterday. The cycle along the Valli Guidcarie was lovely, but I found the going a bit tougher on the long gradual climbs. When it started to rain, I felt the cold and the tiredness seep back through my body and my legs which seemed to be drained of energy.
As the rain started and stopped I became cold and then hot, then cold again, and on it went. We started to climb out of one village and as the rain had stopped, I started to get hot with my rain jacket on, so pulled to the side to take the jacket off ... and then it happened!
Over I went onto the road, crashing onto Barry’s back wheel and bringing him down heavily.
At least that’s how it was described as neither of us remembers much about it at all. I do remember laying on the road just stunned, but not thinking, just seeing myself there, and Barry beside me kicking at his bicycle to get it off him. Fortunately I was not hurt other than a bruised left elbow, but Barry gashed his left elbow badly, and had cuts from his chain ring on his inner right thigh. Uzi, who is a doctor and medical professor, treated Barry’s elbow and recommended that he go to the hospital for more effective treatment and more thorough check.
How did it happen ... my right foot came out of the cleat, and I over-balanced. As I think back over it now, it was a sign that I was more tired than I realised.
The rain continued and became even heavier, and soon I was wet through and very cold.
Massimo stayed with me as I worked hard to keep going on the long but gentle climb, and eventually we were at the pass. The rest of the group had arrived ahead of me and were in the ristorante discussing whether to descend in the rain or to go down in the support van. Five of us decided on waiting for the support van and the others descended. I was already totally saturated and cold, and would have made myself even sicker with this flu / cold I’ve had since arriving in Europe in late June. So we sat there, drinking coffee to keep warm, but it was a long few hours in my wet cycling gear, and I had to walk around to try to keep warm.
Pietro arrived to pick us up, and although soaking wet himself loaded the bicycles on top of the van and then drove us down the mountain. The rain was falling heavily, there was fog, and we did not see anything of Lago di Garda really as we came down the mountain.
So you might imagine how wonderful it was to see that my hotel room had a bathtub. I filled it up, and just sat there for half an hour.
The rain continued to fall heavily, but the hotel had an umbrella, so I took that and went for a walk around the town centre. From what I could see through the rain Lago di Garda and the surrounding mountains are beautiful, the city centre, lanes and squares are surrounded by shops and ristorantes ... this will be a beautiful place to come to in the sunshine!
It was a little sad that it rained during the last three days of the trip, as this did lead to everyone feeling more tired, than if it had been bright sunny days.
A wonderful trip, through a beautiful environment, a chance to experience some small view of Italia and its people, culture, art, and history, some challenging and rewarding cycling, and the company of nice happy people ... everything I wished for and more.
So, this brings to an end another stage ... so that the next can begin.

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Recent Messages

From Rosemary Crouch
Good evening John
A colleague at work (GH)gave me the link to you dairy because I was also on a Bikestyle tour - beginning in Toulouse on July 16 and finishing in Paris. I did Pyrenees,Bordeaux, Paris and was also in the hospitality tent on the Champs Elysees. Loved all the "up market" nibbles - took lots of photos of the food!
I also planned from Brisbane a train from Gare du Nord to Amiens and hired a private guide to take me through the Somme region. My grandfather, whom I never knew, lost an eye in action in Flers in WW1. I had done a bit of research on him and wanted to go to the town of Flers. My guide took me to Villers-Brettenoux and many of the memorials as well as Flers. It was a sad and humbling experience and I was so happy that I went the extra mile to make this pilgramage. Apart from Le Tour it was one of the highlights of my trip.
Another highlight was the helicopter ride following the peleton up the Pyrenees on July 18. I had purchased the optional extra of a day in a Tour de France vehicle following in front of the peleton. At the beginning of the climb our vehicle got very very lucky and were given a helicopter ride to the mountain top finish ! I'm still trying to figure it all out.
Thank you for allowing me to read your dairies - it will bring back many memories of my trip to France.
Response: Hello Rosemary, thank you for your message. Geoff H emailed me and sent your photo diary as well. I did the Prologue to Paris trip and it was a wonderful three (3) weeks. The day in the hospitality tent on the Champs Elysees, which followed an early morning cycle on the course in Paris, was wonderful. The food and beverage that day were out of this world - I enjoyed a "day of French champagne".
Like you I aslso did a two (2) day WW1 battlefield tour based out of Arras. So keep cycling and ... loving life. john w
From Greg
Bon Jour John, Greg the piano player here. have just read the blog & enjoyed it immensely. I have relived the tour over and over, looked at the photos numerous times and reflectred on what a great time we had. Ruth and I will long have particularly fond memories of you and your quirky thoughts and questions. Hope we meet again one day. Let me know if you are coming to adelaide for the TDU Bon nuit
Response: Hi Greg, nice to hear from you and Ruth. I'm working through putting up my TdF photos onto Picasa, and will send out the link. One of the most memorable events was the night you played the piano at Annecy - that was a special night for us. john w
From Alison
Hi John, I have been following your adventure from the start... and have loved every detail, every entry :) You write beautifully and honestly... thank you and well done!! You have inspired me with your stories of the Tour and France, I have always yearned to travel there and see the tour...through your eyes I had had a taste but will now be making some plans of my own to do the same (long term plan for me.. three/four years). Thanks again John, has been wonderful going on the trip with you... Cheers Alison
Response: Thank you Alison.
“Fortis fortuna adiuvat” – Fortune favours the brave
John W
Bruce said he will meet you at the fire station on Sunday am
Response: ... whoa, "Miss Bianchi" has just done over 1,500 kms and is "stripped down" in her "bag" waiting to go home for a "good servicing". Once she has finished her "day spa", she will be ready to go. john w
From Joanne and Bruce
Well done John, we have looked forward to your updates and have been very impressed with what you have achieved. Looking forward to seeing your photos. Bruce wants to know how many flat tyres you have had? Enjoy your lst days in Paris.
Response: Bonjour Joanne and Bruce, flat tires ... nil! How lucky is that? Bruce we need to train more on Mt Ommaney Fire Station to Oxley Station. john w
From Phil & Deb Marwedel
Congratulations on the Passo di Maniva climb - what an achievement! Enjoying the diary and the photos. All the best for the next stage. Regards Phil & Deb
Response: Merci Deb and Phil, a few more days in Paris at the art galleries and museums this week, and then home ... to the "real world". jw
From Cameron
Hi John
Wow is all I can say. You will be a man for the mountains in no time.
It seems you have had a fantastic trip, and we are most jealous. You have been missed on our rides, and we will welcome you back with open arms upon your return. Enjoy and we look forward to seeing you soon. in the mean time we will just have to look at this lovely Photo of you, that someone dropped in here for our wall. Safe journey.
Response: Hey Cameron, what a small world to meet Steve Cunningham who knows you from your racing days. Steve was great, good fun and made sure we had a good ride each day. Of course, we all learnt that his idea of "small hills" or "flat" were totally different from our perceptions, so we always then asked Michelle to confirm the gradients. Loooking forward to getting back into the Active group ... and I'll just have to climb the Tourmalet on a trainer. john w
From denny
How wonderful for you only having one fall. Someone was watching over you! Hope you have finally returned to your old self and ready for the next adventure. Thanks for giving me the ride of my life through your peddling adventures. cheers.
Response: Hi Denny, well if the truth is told I actually had two (2) falls, the other being when I was walking down a street in Le Mur watching how people were watching Le Tour from their upstairs windows. I went over in a hole in the road that I did not see. john
From Leona Romaniuk
John, we are so much richer for sharing your thoughts on this fabulous holiday. Thank you. Hope to see you walking on the mountain soon.xLeona
Response: Bonjour Leona, you would surely have loved Italy's northern lakes, they were just beautiful and the villas lining the lakes just pure Italian style. Of course, there was also the cofffee and the wine ... john w
From Geoff Lowes


"..many after we have a beer.."

Wots wrong with that?
JW obviously meant,

"after we have many a beer"! non????
Response: ... there's been lots of wine consumed ... but it's necessary for the "digestion" john w
From Bruce Wilson
9th August???? it sounds like you had Red wine??Beer?? it wouldnt be the coffee. Have one of each for us and keep on spinning.
Response: Thanks Jo and Bruce, john w
From John
You must be having a great time I am enjoying following your trip and viewing the photos. The K team has been communication about a walk in early November.

Response: Hi Les, thanks. This is hard work ... really and truely, john w
Great to hear that you will emerse yourself in the Italian way of life.....hopefully the coffee will improve. Enjoy riding in the mountains, Mt Cootha will be a little blimp.....

Bruce and Joanne
Response: Hi Joanne and Bruce, raining today at Lake Como, so no cycling - will be going on ferry to Bellargo and back ... past George Clooney's villa. Planning a cycle tomorrow. john w
From Rosemarie Beny Crist
Hi John, thank you a lot again for staying in our familiy. We will remember these days with you as very very nice days. Best wishes and tanti cari saluti!
Response: Pregio Rosemarie, it was lovely to feel part of your family for a few days - now I understand why Danielle told me she had "two families - her real family and her Swiss Italian family". I enjoyed the lunches from Beny's garden, our talks, and everyone's patience with my always asking how to pronounce the Italian words correctly, and of course to see you all again. PG [john]
From Geoff L

I read with interest your disappointing experience. Tres sad. Did you loose them twice or just thought you'd repeat yourself ?

John, as my children say,
Dad, build a pont and get over it.
One of life's little hurdles.

Response: Hi Geoff, no lost only once. The second edition was my trying to see if I could talk my way around the problem - but that was not to be. Just as well I did purchase a second ticket as the conductors were right on the ball yesterday and I had my tickets inspected several times between Paris and Lugano. Maybe the "word had been passed around" about some Australian trying to get on the train without his lost tickets. john w
From Geoff

Wow, the down hill racing award AND the 'Inspiration' award in the same year. What next, mon ami ?
And all achieved by someone who is not even 60!!!!
You would remember the Delltones....their favourite saying was;'Stop the Age, ....Enjoy the Rage".
Response: “Each day, well-lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness and each tomorrow a vision of hope. Look, therefore, to this one day, for it and it alone is life." Sanskrit Poem circa AD400 India
john w
From No. 1 Daughter
Bonjour Papa Giovanni,

Don't forget to visit Coco. You'll find a great sense of history there too!

Love AJ
Response: Merci mon #1 fille, Dad
From David
Keep at it mate,never give up,it's all character building.I'm looking for another cattle station to caretake on,to bloody cold down south.see you when you get home.
Response: Thanks David. It has been hot and humid in France, john
Well John you can tick this one off your bucket list now. What a fabulous time you have had and we look forward to hearing about the rest of your trip.
Joanne and Bruce
Response: Merci ... allez, allez Paris, john w
From Julie Hainsworth
Hi John
Loving your diary. Your prose is so descriptive that I feel like I'm there ...Je souhaite que j'étais là aussi.

Looking forward to your next adventure.

cheers, Julie
Response: Bonjour Julie, my next adventure? Seeing all that I can in the Louvre, strolling along Blvd St-Germain, Blvd Haussmann, coffee on Avenue des Champs Elysees ... c'est la vie, john w
From Denny
Hi John, so it is all coming to an end for you Love. You will relive each day for many years to come and maybe put your detailed memories into a book. Well done John for seeing your dream through.
Stay safe and thanks for the opportunity of following you on your wonderful journey. I have followed your daily adventures with interest.
Cheers and stay safe - Denny
Response: Hi Denny, "... for something new to start, something old must finish". It's not coming to an end, only Le Tour is finished. Now on to exploring Paris ... allez, allez. Love John
From paul lindsay
Hi John
I have left it till now the eve of the completion of le tour to read your diary otherwise I would have been envious for the whole tour instead of now just overenight.Seriously though you have had a fantastic trip - a worthy reward for being a good guy for 60 years- happy birthday.
" a man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it"George Moore.
I note that you will be home just on cue to exercise your voting right choosing between Julia and Tony!
Keep in the moment and safe journey home.
Response: Hi Mary and Paul, merci. Viva le tour, viva la France, john w
From David
Good to hear that your doing well,we only live but once.
See you soon.
Response: Hi David, thanks. Great people, lovely country and fun cycling "en France" john
What happened to Col du Tormalet????
How are your legs feeling John, keep on spinning!

Bruce and joanne
Response: Hi Jo and Bruce, I've now posted the update for Wednesday, the day we set out to climb the Col du Tourmalet, john w
From Les
Hello John
Great to be able to follow your trip and follow the updates on your experiences. We have been following the race when time allows. Your diary is a great thought and gives us the opportunity to take some part in your adventure.
Response: hi Les, thanks, john w