Sunday, September 4, 2011

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

This has been the busiest summer of my life. In addition to finishing and defending my thesis, I've had to deal with the downside of thesis-completion—finding a job—and then preparing to do that job. (I'm teaching a course at the University of Toronto. It's the first time the course has ever been offered before, so I had to develop the entire syllabus from the ground up.)

All of this was made even more challenging by the fact that I had a long-planned vacation set up for August—I had to squeeze a year's worth of work into three months. But the vacation was wonderful. And while I did almost no framebuilding this summer, I did get a lot of ideas while I was away. Here is a cycling-themed summary of my summer vacation.

After spending a few quiet weeks in Poland, I went to London—where my visit happened to coincide with the London-Surrey Cycling Classic, whose start I was able to see. I was hoping to mingle with the riders before the start, but security was tight. No Tom Boonen autograph, I'm afraid—but if you squint, you can see him in the Belgian colours at the front of the pack. Cycling-wise, London reminded me a lot of Toronto: lots of fixed gears, some reasonably nice; generally cycling-unfriendly streets...

I made my first visit to the Netherlands, which I found generally less amazing than most bicycle-loving Torontonians do. I think the Dutch bikes in Toronto are nicer than the Dutch bikes I saw in Rotterdam, which mostly looked like mountain bikes. But I was suitably impressed with the separated bike lanes, and it was exciting to walk across the Erasmus Bridge, where the 2010 Tour de France started.

I couldn't help but be impressed by Flanders. Commuting cyclists get excited about the Netherlands; racing fans get excited about Belgium. I was hoping to bump into Tom Boonen in his home region, but failed again. I bought a copy of Het Laatste Niews, the Antwerp-based newspaper with the excellent sports section, despite my complete lack of Flemish.

By far the most educational stop was Barcelona. I was impressed not by the bicycles, but rather—like every other tourist in Barcelona—by the Gaudi buildings. And Gaudi gave me some very good bike ideas. This is because he is the most incredible constructeur ever. I was particularly floored by the Palau Güell—which is less colourful and crazy than most Gaudi buildings, but was designed from the ground up, and is really conceived as a whole, with every tiny detail (and there are, at least, millions of little details) fitting into the larger project. My favourite parts were the secret hallways above the guest rooms to permit spying; the handmade furniture, wrought-iron, and hardware fittings; and the incredible central dome around which every room on every floor is built. I was so impressed with the Palau Güell that I forgot to take any pictures. Above is a picture of the chimneys of the nearby Casa Batlló, which has charms of its own. I very much like the idea of decorating something luridly functional like a chimney: it would be fun to do something similar with fenders or mudflaps...

I am going to set aside at least one day a week for framebuilding this fall. I have a number of projects in mind—the first of which may well be called Gaudi Bike!

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