Most of the recent stories on this website describe ways of getting to know a country, or countries, by bike. In 1998 I discovered France as a high school student. Saumur, a 30,000 person town in the Maine-et-Loire – an area known for beautiful wines, many old chateaus and small houses built into rockfaces – was my temporary home.
Listening to my thoughts as I returned to Saumur was like sitting in a room with my 15 year old self, my 30 year old self, and the self I see stepping into the future. Traveling is challenging like that, but that’s one of the things that make it so exciting. The same goes for learning a language. Given the ways my thoughts respond to these experiences both now and then, I found myself wondering if it’s any surprise that my research work has evolved the way it has – with a deep interest in the relations between language, place and culture: The connections between the words people say, the natural and artificial landscapes around them and the patterns in which they behave.
To see Saumur again now was also a chance to see it with fresh eyes. Biker’s eyes. A quick internet search revealed that a 3,653km cycle route passes through the town connecting the Atlantic to the Black Sea. Jumping on the bike for a final pedal before flying back to Australia, the journey reminded me of the Victorian Rail Trails. Many cycle-tourers were traversing from one city to the next. The trail moved through tiny villages and farmland with the wide Loire river never far away. Tapping along at a comfortable pace in the summer heat was the perfect coda to a month high on experiences. Pausing to run through sunflowers bigger than my head, and spending time with my French family before and after, was the chocolate in the croissant. Food, of course, being another great way to learn about a country. I’ll save that post for another trip.
Photos: Kath Bicknell.