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Re: East of Eden

on Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:11 pm
[size=68]TO THE EAST OF EDEN[/size]






Perhaps it was that we arrived at just the right time- past the driest heat of summer, in the full swing of harvest and production. It also could be that we had some rough WWOOFing wake-up calls just prior to our arrival - realizing, at Sunny Meadows and Mold House Farm, that we could take for granted neither our hosts' passion for agriculture nor their commitment to the WWOOFing ethos of education, exchange, and integration. Or it could simply be that we were back in France, and happily fattened on the realities of French pâtisserie and encore du vin.
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Whatever the reason, we quickly realized that Ferme de Truttenhausen was and would remain unique among our WWOOFing placements. Here was a place where we felt fully integrated and graciously welcomed by our hosts, and perhaps more importantly, a place where we were introduced to an inspiring form of agriculture, and by extension, a way of living. The single most basic goal of this 9-month journey was finally realized on this small farm on the eastern edge of France. 
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We spent five weeks at Ferme de Truttenhausen, a biodynamic vegetable and dairy farm located in the wine growing region of Alsace. It was immediately apparent that this was a hard-working, well-organized farm. Over the course of our stay we were able to fully appreciate the respect and recognition that this farm has earned among its neighbors, its dedicated clientele, and the biodynamic community as a whole. The workload was rigorous but managed in a stress-free, fully dedicated manner: four days a week, we WWOOFers started work at 700, broke for lunch at 1230, and then worked from 1430 to 1900. A chore wheel added a few hours here and there for shared tasks such as feeding the pigs, cleaning the WWOOFer housing, washing the lunch dishes, etc. Full-time farm staff worked a similar schedule, with one additional morning shift a week and occasional evening or weekend shifts for markets and deliveries.
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Communal lunches were one of the highlights of the work day. Expertly prepared by a full-time staff member, Nacima, the lunches featured a full array of the farm's produce in the bounty of harvest season: vegetables, fruits, bread, butter, cheese, yoghurt, nuts, pork, veal, chicken, as well as preserved foods such as pestos, tapenades, jams, etc. With a two-hour break, the three-course lunch was typically followed by a nap - a French custom to which we are both now enthusiastically, fully accustomed.
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Truttenhausen has two distinct operations that are jointly managed by it's owners. The Élevage, livestock and diary operation, is managed by the founder Antoine Fernex, and the Maraichage, vegetable farm, is managed by his partner Pierre-Henri. The full-time staff are trained in and specialize in one of these two branches of the farm. WWOOFers, typically, split  their volunteer time equally between these two halves of the operation to better understand how they function independently and, perhaps more importantly, how they support each other. In addition to WWOOFers and paid staff, Truttenhausen also accepts young students from Waldorf high schools, as well as college-age interns from biodynamic and organic agriculture programs. The Waldorf students typically stay at the farm for 4 weeks, and the interns work 4-7 months. At a weekly Monday morning meeting, all the staff, students, and volunteers gather for a review of the achievements of the preceding week and the goals for the following week. 
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Late summer harvest was in full swing when we arrived, and thus we were asked if we would be willing to spend the majority of our time on the Maraichage team, with one day a week spent with the livestock and diary. We were happy for this opportunity to learn both aspects of the operation.
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In this busy time of year the sheer volume of the harvests were impressive. Here, Heide sips coffee in the cool barn attic to help with the motivation to dig into this mountain of onions that needs to be cleaned. 
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However, no one was alone in their work. Here a team cleans and prepares garlic for seed at our communal dining table.  We often worked in teams of 6 or more, giving us plenty of time to practice our French. Many at Truttenhausen were bilingual - all the staff and interns spoke French and a bit of German, all the Waldorf students German and a tiny bit of French, and the majority of people at the farm had some level of English.  
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Truttenhausen has several markets for its produce including four weekly farmers' markets in nearby Strasbourg and Barr, a weekly farm stand when clients are able to visit the farm, and nearly one hundred AMAP clients (Maintien de l'Agriculture Paysanne: similar to what in the USA is called CSA or Community Supported Agriculture). In order to stretch the season, many fruits and vegetables are processed (called transformation) so that they can be offered to clients during the shoulder seasons together with the farm's bread and dairy products.  
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During our stay, we were involved in a number of transformation projects: cleaning onions for onion tapenade; chopping tomatoes for green tomato jam; cleaning vegetables for ratatouille; salvaging bruised tomatoes for tomato sauce; collecting windfall apples and pears for juice. Through this active, organized processing of produce during peak harvest time, Truttenhausen produces very little vegetal waste. Any remaining edible product is fed to the pigs, calves, and chickens, while dry waste (onion skins, stems) is added to the compost. 
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A major transformation project that we participated in beginning to end was the annual sauerkraut production. Sauerkraut, in French choucroute, is a very popular regional dish of Alsace; neighboring town Krautergersheim holds the title "Capitale de la Choucroute" and one can see vast fields of green cabbage dotted between the vineyards.
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Working as a team we made quick work of harvesting a field of green cabbage. The following day we brought our harvest to a local production facility where the cabbage was cored, shredded, and packed in salt. 
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Our group was a bit surprised at the state of the cabbage production facility. A cavernous barn housed a rickety assortment of ladders and scaffolding that precariously linked together conveyor belts, rotating blades, and sputtering motors, all of it dripping with shredded cabbage in varying states of decay. Scattered throughout the facility were enormous wooden casks outfitted with pipes and valves to release the gasses of fermenting cabbage. 
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Patrick was given the job of standing in the container that would hold the fruits of our labor, stamping and salting the shredded cabbage as it fell from the conveyor belt. 
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Once all our cabbage was processed, our containers were left at the facility to begin a minimum three-month fermentation. Back at the farm, we had the helped with the final step of the process: packaging the choucroute of the preceding year for sale. From the field to the market stand: we were glad to see it all.
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As much as we enjoyed working on the harvest teams and in the fields, we were also happy that we were given one day a week in the Élevage, and thus gained a fuller picture of the workings of the farm (and it doesn't hurt that these young Jersey cows are terribly cute). 
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The farm has approximately 50 Jersey cows, which are milked twice a day, in a year-round rotation. The cows spend their days grazing the fields and those who are with milk are brought back to the milking parlor for the morning and evening milking.  
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Bringing the cows to and from the farm was a straightforward but enjoyable part of the days we spent working in the Élevage. The walks gave us a chance to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings during dawn and dusk - views of the valley and forested hillsides, glimpses of the neighboring abbey. 
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Unseasonably warm weather preceded by a rainy summer led to a flush of green grass and unusually high cream and milk yields during our first few weeks at the farm.
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Here Kaled shows Patrick the method for attaching the automated milking system. These machines are a bit unwieldy at first, but we soon got the hang of it. It helped immensely that Kaled was an exceptionally patient instructor - despite the fact that his instruction was almost exclusively in French. 
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Each cow is milked by hand into a testing vessel before the milking apparatus is attached, in order to proof for irregularities. This system seemed to work out well for the barn cats. 
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Tending and milking the animals took up only a small portion of our time in the Élevage. The majority of our time was spent in the crèmerie or the cave. Truttenhausen produces an array of raw milk cheeses, ranging from soft, young cheeses to hard cheeses aged several months. The farm's other diary products include yoghurts (both natural and flavored with fruits or vanilla), crème fraîche, and butter. The first step in the production of all of the cheeses begins with the raw milk being heated in this copper cauldron.
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The soft cheeses are heated to a lower temperature, with a portion of the milk removed from the cauldron early on in the production process to be allowed to sit at room temperature while the cultures are activated.
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The hard cheeses are raised to a higher temperature and are processed until the whey is separated from the curds. The whey is removed and piped directly into the pigs' trough, while the curds are packed into weighted molds.
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Here Heide has removed one of the hard cheeses, Carré des Vosges, from its mold after it has been allowed to rest under weights for 24 hours at room temperature. The cheese is already relatively firm, and it is trimmed and inscribed with the date before being sent down to the cave to begin its aging and salting process.
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Once in the cave, the hard cheeses are placed immediately in a brine bath and covered with additional salt. Depending on the variety and size of the cheese, they remain in this bath for anywhere from a few hours to a day before being removed and placed on wooden planks for the remainder of the aging process. 
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The temperature in the cave is regulated at 17 degrees Celsius, and the Carré des Vosges, Tomme d'Alsace, and Muenster cheeses are all aged here for 4 to 6 months. Our primary weekly task in the Élevage was turning all the cheeses in the cave and rinsing them with a saltwater solution. The saltier Muenster cheese receives this brine rinse three times a week, while the milder cheeses are washed only once a week. 

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Washing the cheeses was, to put it kindly, NOT the highlight of our week. It was repetitive, awkward work to lift the heavy planks of cheese, and the brine pickled our fingers and left us stinking of Muenster for the better part of two days. And for some reason, the cheeses never quite tasted the same to us after our hands and arms smelled like them.

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Happier work was to be found back up in the crèmerie, in the production of butter. 

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Here Heide and Cecile, a fellow WWOOFer from Denmark, complete the final stages of butter production after the cream has been heated, churned, and washed. Any remaining water is squeezed out of the butter by hand, and then the butter is packed into a wooden mold before being wrapped for sale. Butter production happened once a week at Truttenhausen, and on those days we were always happy to find fresh, still-warm butter on the lunch table. 
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The unique role of Truttenhausen within the biodynamic farming community did not become fully apparent to us until the last weekend of our stay. We had a hint of it in the enthusiasm of our fellow volunteers and the farm interns – many expressed surprise that we had not known of Truttenhausen before our arrival, as it is well known within alternative European agricultural circles. Another clue should have been the pile of horns outside our bedroom door. 

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The horns were stockpiled in the barn loft for an important biannual event known in biodynamics as the “preparations.” Once in the spring and once in the fall the biodynamic farmer engages in the preparation of highly specific and, to an outsider, somewhat mystical soil amendments. The founder of biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner, conveyed the details of these preparations to a group of farmers at the first biodynamic conference, which was held in Germany in 1924 and is generally considered to be the “birth” of biodynamic agriculture. A scientist, clairvoyant, and philosopher, Steiner developed (or divined) the preparations in order to set the biodynamic farm in balance with the cosmos. Steiner was a prolific writer, and there is a wealth of material written by him and his followers – as well as his critics – that can be accessed online and in printed form. Rather than attempt to explain the details of this complex, deeply holistic view of agriculture, we would prefer to simply explain what we witnessed and participated in during the preparations. 

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First of all, the horns! (It should perhaps be mentioned here that the horns are NOT removed from living cattle. The removal of a cow’s horns is viewed as deeply disrespectful and traumatizing within biodynamic agriculture.) In the fall, these horns are packed with fresh manure and buried for six months. The horns are retrieved in the spring, and the aged manure is then applied thinly to the fields to stimulate humus formation. In total there are nine animal, vegetal, and mineral preparations in biodynamic agriculture; cow horn manure, or 500, is what is known as a field preparation. 

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There were many guests to the farm on the day of the preparations that enthusiastically helped fill the large volume of horns with manure by hand. We also employed this contraption (Gelato machine? Sausage machine?) to speed the process along. 
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In addition to 500, there is one additional field preparation, 501, in which horns are packed with silica powder (in far fewer quantities than the manure preparation). These horns are buried in the spring and then retrieved in the fall when the silica is diluted with water and sprayed over the fields to prevent fungal diseases. 

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Autumn also sees the production of a number of compost preparations, which are not applied directly to fields but are rather used to enhance the properties of the farm's compost. We witnessed several, including (from top left): chamomile blossom sausages; dandelion blooms stuffed into the mesentery of a cow; and crushed oak bark funneled into the skull of a domesticated animal. All of these preparations were buried on the farm's orchards and grazing fields, to be retrieved in the spring.
You might be wondering: what did we make of of all this? How did this day impact our views of the farm, and how much do we now know about biodynamic agriculture? The simple answer is: not much. Biodynamics is still a bit of a mystery, and we both want to do more reading to understand it better. What we know is this:  over the 5 weeks of our stay we experienced a smoothly functioning, impressively productive operation that was managed by and employed with some of the most dedicated, optimistic farmers we have met during our entire 9-month journey. That is saying something. The preparations were an extension of what we experienced to be a healthy approach to farming and thus they, perhaps bizarrely, did not feel at all bizarre. We have already recommended Truttenhausen to a few WWOOFers we have met since, and would both be happy to return one day and learn a bit more. 

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Another aspect of Truttenhausen that makes it so recommendable as a WWOOFing destination is the way we were able to spend our free time. Yes we did work long days, but the pace was relaxed and the setting was stunning. Lunch breaks and before dinner pauses were often filled with engaging conversation or games such as backgammon and table tennis. 
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Hiking was another option: the farm lies directly on a series of hiking paths that crisscross the region and the Vosges mountains. One could easily trek along wooded paths and country roads through vineyards, to nearby towns, and to historic monuments and ruins. 
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The onset of fall also allowed hikes to be turned into foraging expeditions. In France there are many nut trees to be found – walnuts, chestnuts, and hazelnuts – along trails and in the public right-of-way.

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Alsace is well-known for its white wines, and we were located a short walk through fields and woods to the wine-producing town of Heiligenstein. A wine tasting and grape sampling walk was a nice way to spend an afternoon off. 
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We also took advantage of Alsace's incredible bicycle infrastructure, where marked cycle lanes and dedicated cycle paths link local villages and provide access to such regional destinations as Strasbourg and the banks of the Rhein river. 
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One Saturday we cycled the 90 kilometers roundtrip to Strasbourg in order to do a bit of sightseeing and to visit the weekend farmers market in which Truttenhausen takes part. 
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We also had a chance to visit one of the AMAP drop-off sites in Strasbourg. It is located outside a cafe that is owned by the wife of the vegetable farmer, Pierre-Henri, where AMAP members often round off their evening veggie pick-up with a glass of wine and snacks from the cafe. 
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We found Strasbourg to be a charming city with, not surprisingly, a very Germanic feel. In Alsace we became accustomed to shopkeepers, campground owners, and waiters greeting our bumbling French with the question: "Anglais? Ou Allemand?" With Heide's German skills, the answer was invariably: "Either." We were surprised at how useful - and sometimes necessary - German language skills were here. 
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Many of our prior  WWOOFing placements were relatively remote, and far from cities as cosmopolitan as Strasbourg. We enjoyed a taste of urban life in the extravagant, baroque architecture of Strasbourg and in small details such as the sight of an urban apiary, browsing an upscale flea market, and gaping at this French-made wooden bicycle parked outside a budget grocery store.
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As our time at Truttenhausen comes to an end, the fall weather has begun to settle in and the rhythms of the farm are adapting to the close of the summer season. Though we are both looking forward to our upcoming farm stay in the Pyrenees, the change of the seasons heightens the sense of nostalgia we feel while leaving Alsace.
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Re: East of Eden

on Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:12 pm
[size=68]ENCORE DU VIN[/size]



Patrick Lee Coughlin

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With both of us still battling a cold, we were fortunate to grab one of the last remaining sleeper cabins on the overnight ferry ride from Rosslare, Ireland to Cherbourg, France. Unlike our previous ferry trip over to Ireland, which felt like a mini cruise ship, this ferry was much more modestly equipped with many passengers sleeping in the common areas. We were happy to land in France well rested as we still had a day of train travel before starting straight into our next bike ride.
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Having enjoyed our previous ride on the western section of the EuroVelo 6 (EV6) along the Loire River from Orleans to Nantes last May, we were keen on the idea of biking the eastern section of the trail to the German boarder, completing a full traverse of France. A little short on time we were forced to start a little east of Orlean in Nevers. We had ten days to cycle 700+ km to our next host farm in Alsace.
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Nevers is a pleasant little town with enough architectural history and culinary bounty to provide a stark contrast to Ireland.
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It was Heide's birthday, but having celebrated in earnest a little early in Dublin we treated ourselves to a modest meal, a stroll around town, and an early night's sleep.
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Although architecturally interesting and beautiful in a classical way the rural landscapes of France are not nearly as stunning as the rugged Atlantic Coast of Ireland. The first few days the photo opportunities felt much less apparent and we had to force ourselves to pull out the camera to capture the subtle beauty of our surroundings.
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Even though we were marveling less than we had been at the grand vistas of Ireland, we were very pleased to be back on the dedicated bicycles trails available in France. The EV6 follows several rivers and canals with short diversions into small towns and onto lightly traveled country roads, with the full route continuing east through 9 more countries, ending at the Black Sea.
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The EuroVelo 6 is incredibly well signed and comprised primarily of dedicated lanes that keep the cyclists separated from traffic.

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As we moved further east the network of local bicycle routes became even more impressive, and although we had to leave the EV6 for the last leg of the trip to the farm we were able to stitch together several regional ‘voie verts’ to get us there with very little time spent alongside automobile traffic.
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There are even bike stations with a stands and tools for any necessary maintenance on the trail.
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We did not find ourselves alone on these trails. Many day trippers and light travelers, some in large groups, populated the path and we even saw several loaded distance travels.

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Two young Welsh men at the beginning of a world tour stopped to chat with us as we were finishing up our lunch. Although light on clothing (which is our primary luggage) they were loaded down with gear to film their trip for a local TV station back home. Check them out on facebook.
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Although the parts of the trail that follow along rivers and canals are lovely and flat it is a nice change of scenery to head off-trail onto the country roads.
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Greeted by the usual suspects, we get a better feel of what life in these rural areas must be like.
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One diversion early in the trip took us into the hills west of Givry, one of many regions in Bourgone (Burgundy) famous for it 's wine. Particularly well known for its pinot noir and chardonnay, some small scale Bourgogne wines rank amongst the most expensive in the world. Just weeks away from harvest the vines are laden with fruit.

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Although the grapes are off-limits, Heide has enjoyed the bounty of other roadside fruits and nuts available for foraging this time of year: apples, pears, blackberries, plums, hazelnuts, etc.
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Just east of Bourgogne lies the department of Franche-Comté, famous for its fruitières (traditional cheese dairies), producing 40 million tonnes of cheese each year, including Comté, one of our favoritesThe EV6 took us into Besançon the capital and largest city of Franche-Comté with its UNESCO World Heritage Site Vauban citadel.
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Rather than entering the city by road we biked the cobblestone promenade around the ramparts and passed through a pedestrian walkway smack into the middle of the old town square.
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Grand old stone buildings, lively café culture, and modern public transportation collide.
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The day following Besançon, heading further east into this Swiss influenced region, was the most picturesque day of the ride. The river valley narrowed with rugged hills on either side.
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Althought not as stunning as Ireland, the campsites along the way are numerous and pleasant, often right on the water.  Camping in France is also much cheaper than Ireland. We often paid less then €10 a night total, warm shower included, where in Ireland we rarely paid less than €20, with a 5 minute shower costing a euro or two extra each.
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Readily available inexpensive fresh food is also a welcome treat to being back in France. 
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Bread, cheese, wine, yogurt, produce, honey, canned fish: our diet doesn’t suffer on the rides.
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Our last night before arriving at the farm was possibly our most unique camping experience yet. Vauban Camping, just outside of Neuf-Brisach, should not be missed if you are bike camping in this area. They have constructed several minimalist elevated sleeping tents specifically targeted toward bike travelers. Under the sleeping loft is a personal table (the most coveted item possessed by our fellow automobile campers) and a covered area for the bikes, both very desireable things especially if it is rains, which it did.
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Aside from these cool velo tents there is also a teepee and several little wooden cottages one can stay in, as well as the usual space for caravans and tents.
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The site is very well maintained with colorful flowers and exceptionally clean facilities.

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This Sunday it had slipped our minds that most supermarkets closed by noon if they are open at all and we were left foodless for dinner. Fortunately the campground had canned ravioli available for sale for such occasions and a small garden that supplied us with beans to accompany.  Not the best camp meal but at least we didn’t go hungry.

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Adjacent to this campground is Neuf-Brisach, a fortified town designed by Vauban, built in 1698.
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Most impressive from above, from the inside it is difficult to tell one is in such a highly designed symmetrical space.
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The perimeter walls completely contain the town.
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Only one of the four original gated entrance facades remains, the others having been removed to allow easier transportation of goods in and out.
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Original entrance and vacant soldiers barracks.
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Amazing wood doors, big and small, dot the little town.
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The last leg of the trip headed north, following the Rhine River which delineates the French-German border. For the novelty of it we crossed over into Germany for a bit before heading up into the foothills of Haut-Rhin, just past  the tiny town of Heiligenstein to Ferme de Truttenhausen, which we will call home for the month of September.
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Having left our last farm in Ireland early we have been on the move now for over a month. We are looking forward to unpacking for more than a few days and chipping in at this diverse biodynamic farm.
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Re: East of Eden

on Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:13 pm
September 3, 2014
[size=68]THEY THE DUBLINERS[/size]





After deciding to take an early leave from our last host farm (read Patrick's Mold House Farm post), we headed to Dublin, our final destination in Ireland. We were thankfully able to change our ferry ticket from Rosslare to Cherbourg by ten days, free of charge, but the infrequent sailing schedule still left us with six days in Dublin. We hadn't really budgeted for such a long stay in the city, so we did a bit of shoestring exploring.
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After nearly three months in Ireland, we were admittedly less than impressed by Irish architecture. The Celtic Tiger boom left the countryside dotted with staid, cookie-cutter homes that lack architectural variety or detail. The docklands and center of Dublin are uniquely beautiful in Ireland for their variety and interest of buildings. 
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Trinity College lies in the heart of Dublin's historic core, and we walked the grounds several times during our stay in the city.
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Trinity College was founded in the late 1500s, and retains much of it's historic footprint while also successfully integrating newer buildings such as this marble-clad academic building and small wooden theatre.
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Trinity also has a number of cricket greens, where white-suited collegiate teams compete regularly. 
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In addition to the formal, impressive buildings, Dublin has plenty of big-city quirks. We were pleased to see plenty of bicyclists and a fairly robust bike infrastructure system in place (by Irish standards).  Another happy discovery was that, for whatever reason, Dubliners seem to be fond of burritos and Tex-Mex food, a rarity in other parts of Ireland. We came across a quirky burrito restaurant, Little Ass Burrito Bar, and had our first spicy food in months. 
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Only in Dublin, I imagine, can you find a shop with such a variety of mini whiskey bottles. Products by small distilleries and breweries are difficult to come by in most parts of Ireland, with Dublin regarded as the national hub for craft houses. 
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As the capital of Ireland, Dublin also has a large number of free national museums and galleries. We visited the National Museum of Decorative Arts & History, located in historic Collins Barracks. Built in the 1700s, Collins Barracks housed both the British armed forces and Irish army garrisons over three centuries. 
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The barracks were in use until 1997, when they were redeveloped and renovated for museum use. Many of the original details of the building were maintained and modern insertions, such as this steel mesh spiral staircase, were thoughtfully integrated. 
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We enjoyed the displays of traditional farmhouse furniture. To the right, an early model of a Murphy bed: a highback bench makes a simple conversion to a bed.
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Another of Dublin's free historic sights is the library and reading room of the Royal Irish Academy, which owns one of Ireland's most extensive historic research archives. The reading room features elaborate antique desks equipped with magnifying glasses to view the historic documents, and white gloves and pillows to protect them. 
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We visited to view an exhibition of historic maps and surveys of Dublin and the surrounding countryside. Some of the more obscure and interesting documents included listings of each village's professions in the early 1700 and 1800s: "3 Haberdashers, 5 Soap Boilers, 48 Shoe Makers or Menders, 1 Brewer, 1 Architect, 29 Carpenters..." It was an interesting peek into what life might have been like.
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We had another glimpse into Irish life through a visit to the theatre. For Heide's birthday Patrick took us to see Ballyturk, by Irish playwright Edna Walsh. The play was a challenging bit of theatre - surreal, abstract, stream-of-conscious - and it was performed to an absolutely sold-out crowd. 
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We realized that we could not afford to stay in a hotel for our six nights in Dublin, so we pieced together a varied itinerary. For our first two nights, we stayed at a crowded but pretty campground in the outskirts of the city's western boroughs. We encountered quite a lot of group tours at this camp, including this unusual "rolling hotel" or Rollende Hotel, which provides a self-contained experience for travelers.
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Our next two nights took us much closer to the city, to a beautiful bed-and-breakfast in one of Dublin's older, upscale neighborhoods. The stay was a splurge for Heide's birthday,  and we felt very welcomed at this family-run establishment whose proprietors were fascinated and pleased that we arrived by bicycle.
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For our last two nights we stayed directly in the city center with Sarah and Baptiste, a lovely French couple we met through the online community Warm Showers. Warm Showers is a Couch Surfing type of hosting community, but specifically for bicycle tourers. Hosts offer what they can, which ranges anywhere from cycling advice and repair assistance, to a campsite in the backyard, to a spare bedroom and dinner. Sarah and Baptiste offered us the use of their comfortable fold-out couch, and we shared cozy dinners with them, swapping cycling stories. The two of them spent their recent honeymoon cycling the entire coast of Ireland with a tandem on a trip that took them two months and over some 1,500 kilometers. Inspired, this got us thinking about what our next ride might be.
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Overall, our trip to Dublin was a wonderful break from our routine of cycling and farming, but we also are ready to get back on the road and back into the countryside. After nearly three months in Ireland, it is time to ferry back to France and to our last rides, and final two host farms. While we enjoyed much of Ireland, we have found ourselves missing France a bit for it's food and wine, culture and architecture, variety and scale. 
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Ireland is famous for it's unique mix of dramatic and bucolic landscapes, and in this regard we feel we saw some of the most beautiful landscapes of the country. Our rides along the southwest coast and inlands were stunning for the views of rugged coastlines and moors, wild grazing sheep, stout thatched cottages. The generosity and openness of Ireland's people were a constant pleasant surprise and, though our WWOOFing experiences here have been mixed, we feel that we have gotten a fair impression of Irish agriculture. We were fortunate to have had such a sunny summer in Ireland, and are looking forward to fall in France. [/size]
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Re: East of Eden

on Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:14 pm
[size=68]THE MORE THE MERRIER[/size]






Sunny Meadows was our first market vegetable farm; the first place were our efforts were directly effecting the success and income of our host farmer, Dermot O'Mara. For this reason it felt a little like our first true WWOOF experience, but that type of thinking only discredits the diversity of WWOOFing. So let's say it is the first WWOOF experience that at all resembled what most people image when they image WWOOFing.

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The farm consists of 36 acres, but most of that is fields for the cattle which did not require much of our attention this time of year.  Other than cattle, there are 90 laying hens and about 3 acres under vegetable cultivation with 3 large polytunnels for heat loving crops and cold season growing.
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Dermot and his two teenage daughters, Emer and Lesha, live in a very simple old stone house with a single room downstairs for kitchen, dining, living room and office space and two bedrooms above. The WWOOFers all live in a single room wood cabin that is equipped with four single beds. WWOOFers have the use of an outhouse toilet facility, but share the shower, kitchen, and dining facilities with the main house.  For at least half of our stay Dermot's girlfriend, her two children and Spanish exchange student were also staying on the farm. We'll just say it was cozy.
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While the accommodations were a little sparse the work was varied and interesting. Despite relying entirely on WWOOFers for farm help, Sunny Meadows is well maintained and under good production. We spent our first afternoon digging early potatoes by hand. 
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Here Heide clears some space to plant coriander, or as we call it back home cilantro. We were both involved in seeding, planting, harvesting and of course weeding.
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At one point there were five wwoofers on the farm. Here we are  keeping the brasicas weeded.
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Much of this type of work was familiar to Heide with her past experience on various vegetable farms, which was useful as Dermot had little time or inclination to provide WWOOFers with detailed instruction, and seemed to rely on the most experienced WWOOFers to make sure everyone else was doing things properly. Despite providing inadequate instruction he was often short or aggressive with inexperienced WWOOFers, especially if they were not completely proficient in English. This bummed us out and made us a little uncomfortable.
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Patrick was happy to spend so much of his time with his hands in the dirt. This was the first farm where he wasn't asked to do any building projects.
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We had the opportunity to put this old farm tool to use, shredding up large beet root that had grown too large to sell into feed for the cattle.
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Having a way of using up vegetables unsuitable to eat or sell is one of many beneficial reasons to keep livestock on a vegetable farm. The large qualities of rich manure they provide is another.
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While we didn't work with the cattle much we did get to witness these two oldtimers purchase a few bullocks and wrangle them into their trailer.  In Ireland castrated male cattle are referred to as bullocks, while in America we use the term steer.
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The hens on the farm needed daily attention including: watering, feeding, and egg collection.
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The egg collection was a breeze with the fancy German Europa Nest Vollautomat. The nesting boxes are hinged in a way that locks out other birds once one is occupied, providing the security of a private egg laying experience.  After laying the egg drops down from the nesting box to a tray below, keeping them clean and eliminating any need for washing. 
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After collection the eggs are weighed and packaged for sale.
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€2.80 for half a dozen farm fresh eggs. Dermot sells most of his produce to repeat customers thorough individual weekly orders. As opposed to a regular CSA scheme were each customer gets the same box, Dermot takes specific orders from every person and individually packages and delivers each order. Although this took up a great deal of his time and did not provide much stability on what was ordered each week he insisted his clientele would not participate in a more standardized service. 
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As well as fulfilling individual orders Dermot also sold his goods at a very small weekend farmers market in the nearby town of Mount Shannon.
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In order to meet demand for organic produce in this remote area Dermot supplements his own produce with a great deal of exotics and out of season fruits and vegetables wholesale from Holland.
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We had the great pleasure of being at Sunny Meadows on the weekend that the farm was highlighted in a local farm tour event that saw roughly 200 visitors to the farm in one afternoon. 
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Much preparation was needed to ready the farm and prepare enough food to feed that many people. Everyone chipped in, including the kids, to get everything ready.
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Dermot gave an informative farm tour covering good organic growing practices such as composting, green manures, and dealing with pests and disease.
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All afternoon there was a cue for face paint and temperary tattoos provided by Dermot's girlfriend.
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The kids drew up some amazing signs leading folks around the farm.
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Unexpectedly Patrick was asked to round up kids interested in egg collection.
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Despite the many helpful hands it all went fairly smoothly; there were only a few broken eggs.
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Our second weekend on the farm we took a short bike trip to get some fresh air and a little more room to spread out. Just outside of Mount Shannon there is an old quirky campground that was high on charm despite being a little run down and obviously not in its prime.
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A few kilometers past Mount Shannon is the home of the Irish Seed Savers Association. We enjoyed spending the afternoon wandering around their property and seeing all the interesting projects they have underway.
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Profitable times provided them with grant money to build this modern facility for their outreach programs, but recent budget cuts have left them struggling to survive.
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Interns and students stay in this straw bale house on the property.
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They do a good job providing many areas and guided walks geared toward children. Here is an elaborate bug hotel.

All in all Sunny Meadow was probably the first farm that we felt our host was getting their money's worth out of us. After a hard day's work we often took a moment to ourselves on the blue bench outside our cabin before figuring out what to do for dinner. This time of day was often awkward as Dermot was irregular in his participation with meals and meal prep, and worst of all did not inform us of his plans, leaving the WWOOFers to fend for themselves. By the end of our stay we had established a bond with our little gang of WWOOFers and made the most of our cramped living conditions and unclear meal responsibilities. As always though, or maybe more than ever, we were ready to get back on the road. 
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Re: East of Eden

on Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:17 pm
[size=68]COCK-A-DOODLE-DO BOY[/size]






Nestled into the rolling hills of West Cork, on the south slope of the Mizen Peninsula, just 5km from Roaring Water Bay, Glensallagh Gardens is a sprawling oasis of botanical diversity.  Over the last few decades, our WWOOF hosts Richard and Jules have transformed their patch of rocky, windswept land into a flourishing pocket of life. Originally a working cow farm on 47 acres, the landscape has been transformed by vigorous planting.  There is now managed woodland of 18,000 trees (Oak, Ash, Sycamore, Beech, Sitka, Lodgepole Pine), 15 acres of woodland 'garden' containing over 200 species of trees and shrubs, wildflower meadows, moorland, wetland, and extensive areas devoted to fruit and veg production, including two polytunnels and two green houses.



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Foot and tractor paths cross the property, leading one through the many varied landscapes of wood and garden.
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Exotic plants and flowers reveal themselves at every turn.
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Richard takes a very laissez-faire approach to the woodland garden, allowing nature to primarily run its course, unmaintained after planting, creating a very natural feel to this otherwise curated landscape.
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The primary veg garden containing onions, leeks, squash, chard, lettuce, carrots, peas, beans, chives, edible flowers, etc..  And the enclosed fruit cage bursting with different varieties of raspberry and gooseberries.
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One of our first tasks was to learn the delicate art of edible flower picking.  Each Monday and Thursday Richard sells salad greens highlighted with flowers to a local organic grocery and cafe.
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Heide was partial to the violets.
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Edible chrysanthemum, brassica flower, and violets.
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Borage.  Richard demonstrates the subtlety of picking this particularly persnickety flower.
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Each day we were also responsible for feeding the hens and collecting the eggs for sale.
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Heide's love for gardening was hugely useful as she spent the majority of her time focusing on the endless tasks at hand in the green house, polytunnel, and gardens; transplanting, planting, and weeding an amazing amount of plants each day.
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Here she battled with the jungle to carve out some space for a new rose bush.
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The warm, dry weather created a prefect climate in the polytunnel for the heat loving plants like basil, tomatoes, peppers, and corn.  We saw these just explode during our short stay.
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We had three weeks of nearly no rain, requiring Patrick to tackle various irrigation projects in the garden, conservatory and polytunnel.
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A strong wind storm last winter blew down many trees around the property, blocking passage on several of the access paths. Patrick spent a few days playing with the chainsaw and tractor, limbing the trees and hauling out the trunks for later use as building timber or firewood.
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Patrick also made himself useful with a few small building projects such as new doors for the secondary polytunnel.
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Heavy machinery gardening!
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We both chipped in to begin construction of a new bbq pit at a site on the property with stunning views of the surrounding hills.
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As far as our accommodations, we were fortunate enough to stay in both the Cottage and the Tractor Shed during our stay.  Representing both ends of the spectrum in terms of building style and aesthetic we found we enjoyed them both.
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The first few days of our stay was the only rain we had and it was perfect weather for staying cozy next to the wood fire stove with a book.
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After a week in the Cottage we exchanged the low ceilings, small windows, and stone walls for the vaulted ceiling and glass walls of the Tractor Shed.
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Where the Cottage was cozy the Tractor Shed was stunning, looking out over the tree tops and down to Roaring Water Bay.  If you are interested in staying at either of these lovely accommodations they can be rented out to you, contact our hosts on their website.
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The heating and domestic hot water for the Tractor Shed are run off of wind power in the summer and a modern wood fired furnace in the winter.
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Richard and Jules lived in a lovely house decorated with art and artifacts from their colorful lives in Africa and Australia and India and goodness knows where else.
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The entire north side of the house was enclosed with a glass conservatory.  We enjoyed our mid morning coffee here and a few dinners on the warmest days.
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Richard was full of amazing stories of his travels as an exploration geologist as well as a great conversationalist on so many topics.
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Thanks you for all that you shared with us Richard and Jules we truly enjoyed our time with you Glensqualler Gardens.
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Re: East of Eden

on Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:19 pm




Though we both loved France and our time at our last French host farm, La Bergerie, we were excited to get back on the road for our bike and ferry trip to Ireland. We gave ourselves over 2 weeks for a ride that would take us over 800k and across varied landscapes and climates. Our trip was going to take us along several types of biking terrain: west through the Loire Valley from Tours to Nantes; northwest along the Nantes-Brest canal to Carhaix; north from Carhaix to the tip of the Finistère region of Brittany, the Port of Roscoff; and, finally, via the Roscoff>Cork ferry from Cork to Ballydehob, the location of our first Irish host farm. Read the nerdy stats on our ride page, if you are into that sort of thing.
We started our trip by biking the 25k from our host farm to the train station in Orange, where we caught a train to Tours. Tours lies in the Loire Valley and along La Loire à Vélo, the bicycle route we fell in love with during our first ride in France when we rode from Orléans to Chaumont-sur-Loire, just east of Tours. 



A brief overnight in Tours with an early morning start gave us only the briefest introduction to this historic city, but it left a good impression. In particular, the bicycle and mass transit facilities were impressively designed: this main boulevard features wide sidewalks and a center lane devoted to trams and buses. The bike lanes share space with parked cars and parking access, while through traffic has yet another separated track. The raised berms between transit and bikes/cars support the transit stops as well as outdoor cafe seating. 

On the outskirts of the city, the trams followed grassed medians inlaid with rail, similar to many Scandinavian cities. Vegetated tram lines flanked by bike lanes - when will major US cities follow suit?




Traveling along the Loire was, once again, a relaxing and stunningly picturesque ride. The route signage is easy to follow, and much of the ride is along dedicated bike paths or surprisingly low-traffic roads. We had rainy weather for much of the first few days, but the cloud cover resulted in stunning sunsets.



The Loire bike path includes several short side tours that bring you deeper into the countryside, and invariably these detours feature visit-worthy monuments or landscapes. Outside of Saumur, we took one such detour that took us past these intriguing cave buildings, or troglodytes. Some of these are still used as private homes, but many have been converted into restaurants, galleries, museums, hotels, and wine shops. 




Just outside of Nantes, another portion of the trail was tucked into a steep, forested hillside between the Loire and an active railway line, and for many kilometers we bicycled past small, quiet fields set into the river's vast floodplain. We have enjoyed the Loire trail and it's many varied landscapes, and have now biked about half of it's length. It is part of a bicycle network that stretches from the Atlantic to the Black Sea - biking the remainder of this well-designed trail is high on our list for future trips!

Just before ending our time along the Loire trail, we reached a milestone of 1000 kilometers of fully loaded travel. So far, our Rivendell bikes are holding up well!

We ended our 270k tour of the Loire in Nantes, a lively city that, though it separated from Brittany in the 1700s, is still widely regarded as it's cultural capital. 


The city has a youthful feel to it, and has well-designed tourism campaign that focuses on art and cultural exploration. 


A series of neon green lines guide you through the city's most noteworthy sites and interesting quarters; the neon green color appears in other city signage, such as the plant markers in the public botanical garden. They have also taken creative liberties with signage, such as a standing tree stump shaped into a pedestal for a sign in the botanical garden. 

Nantes lies just 30k from the Atlantic coast and along the wide mouth of the Loire. Just outside the city we came across this group playing kayak polo among the sail boats and crew teams. 



After a restful couple of nights in Nantes, we loaded up our bikes again and joined the EuroVelo 1, an Atlantic coast route that stretches from Portugal to Norway. We would spend nearly 400k on this trail, the majority of it along the Nantes-Brest Canal. In all honesty, by this point in the trip we are both a little tired of biking canals (so straight! so flat!), but in many ways this canal became our favorite of those we have experienced thus far. 


The winding form of the canal and the fact that much of the vegetation has been left in a more or less natural state gives the canal the feel of a broad, winding river and not a navigational channel. 

The stone walls of the locks are architecturally stunning, and vertical drops are dealt with through closely spaced, short falls. 

There are a few abandoned mill houses along the canal, including this impressive complex. Looks like a fun restoration project...


While we saw very few vessels on the water, the banks of the canal were busy with fishermen and groups of people socializing outside the lock houses.

This view of the village of Josselin is one of the more dramatic along the route, with the medieval Castle of Josselin rising directly adjacent to the water. 

Another aspect we enjoyed about the Nantes-Brest Canal trail was the opportunity it allowed for detours off the canal. We took a short detour through Rochefort-en-Terre, a small village that is known as one of the most beautiful in France. It is also known as a Village Fleuri, or Village of Flowers, and the stone walls and buildings seem covered with moss, lichen, and wildflowers. 

The American painter Alfred Klotz bought a château here in 1907. The building was in ruins and only it's facade remained: Klotz kept the ruin as the gateway to the estate, and built a new home on the property. 



Today the estate is open as a museum, and the grounds include an old stone chapel and views over the rooftops of the village.


As we traveled further into northwest France, the vegetation and the landscape began to change perceptibly. The air was cooler and we saw much of the vegetation we see in our own US Pacific Northwest - ferns, deciduous trees, and wildflowers such as lupine. Diary cattle grazed on the hillsides, replacing the view of beef cattle we had while traveling through the Loire.


Just outside the town of Caurel, we camped along the Lac de Guerlédan, the largest lake in Brittany. The little lake resort features architecture with clean lines reminiscent of something you might see in Scandinavia or the US Pacific Northwest.


Another notable feature of Brittany, besides the wheat fields and diary pastures, is the presence of the Breton flag. Brittany is culturally unique within France - somewhat geographically isolated from the rest of France, it has Celtic roots and is one of the 6 recognized Celtic Nations, alongside Ireland, Scotland, and Whales. While French is the official and formally spoken language of Brittany, the Celtic-rooted Breton is still spoken by a few hundred thousand inhabitants, and all road signs in the region are bilingual.


As we neared Roscoff, our destination for this final French leg of our bike trip, the landscape gave way to the ocean. We were impressed that the intense level of cultivation we had seen throughout France was present here on this windswept coastline; perhaps even more so. We passed endless fields of artichokes and onions, crops that seem well suited to this maritime climate. We also passed an artichoke museum and a tourist information office decorated with garlands of red onions. 

It was exciting to reach Roscoff, and we spent an evening and day exploring this rather touristy little port town before catching our overnight ferry to Cork. We rested our legs and took stock of our milage thus far: we rode 1,584 kilometers on our tour of France, or just under 1,000 miles. The hills of Ireland are waiting...







As we cued up for our ferry at the port terminal we met only a few other bicyclists headed to the Emerald Isle. Most of our company in the "bike lane" included touring motorcycles. Biking through passport inspection we got more than a few questions about our handlebar bags from the customs agents. 





The 13-hour overnight ferry was a relaxing way to travel with our bikes, and we enjoyed picnicking on deck and taking in the sunset and sunrise. 

Our first views of Ireland were the rolling green hillsides outside of Cork, and the busy port villages of Whitegate and Monkstown. We spent a short night in Cork before biking west for our final destination on this trip, our first host farm Glensallagh Gardens.



Ireland met us with it's famously rainy weather. All rain gear was brought out, but it was difficult to stay dry in the windy weather. The weather was a bit of a challenge, but as Pacific Northwesterners we feel we can handle it! But we also realized quickly that biking in Ireland can be challenging for a host of other reasons. There are almost no dedicated bike trails, so it is necessary to share the busy roads with motorists. Even established and marked bicycle routes sometimes traverse roads with posted speedlimits of 100 kph. We found that small roads, while less travelled, are often very rutted and steeply graded. Hm.



Nevertheless, the landscape is stunning and we are looking forward to seeing what Ireland holds in store for us. 

Along our short trip we also found that there is always an opportunity for a pint and a bit of live music in most every small town. Very welcome after a wet day in the saddle!
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Re: East of Eden

on Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:20 pm






We departed Carcassonne via train to head deeper into southern France and into Provence, the region of our second host farm.

The train ride took us through the coastal town of Montpellier, and deeper into the quintessentially provencal landscape of terraced vineyards, olive groves, and narrow stands of cypress. 


In Avignon, we had the opportunity to stay for a few days with friends of Patrick's parents, Jean Paul and Colette, who generously took us in and showed us around the region. We explored Avignon on our own a bit, and enjoyed the narrow streets and dramatic presence of the papal palace. 

Colette played tour guide during our stay. A trip to the nearby town of Arles gave us our first introduction to the Roman history of the region, as the town center of Arles is dominated by the ruins of its Roman roots. Built in the year 90 A.D., the bone-white shell of the Roman amphitheater is well-preserved. A modern steel stadium was inserted into the relic, enabling the structure to be used to this day as a popular forum for bullfights, plays, and concerts during the summer season.

Colette also took us to see the Pont du Gard, an ancient roman aqueduct bridge that served as support for a 50k aqueduct system built to bring water to the settlement of Nîmes (Nemausus). 

The structure was built from a local sandstone whose rough texture enabled it to be constructed entirely without mortar. Precisely cut stones were inscribed with location and building instructions, leaving marks which can still be seen today.



Pont du Gard is the highest Roman aqueduct bridge standing today, and is a major tourist draw of the region. Indeed, the scale of the structure is most impressive.

One of our favorite experiences of our stay in Avignon was our visit to Carrières de Lumières, or Quarries of Light. These quarries are a beautiful example of post-industrial reuse. For hundreds of years, limestone was extracted here to build the neighboring medieval city of Les Baux, until the quarries were closed to mining activity in the 1930s. In the 1960s and 1970s, the stark, dramatic beauty of the limestone voids inspired French artists, filmmakers, and scenographers to use the space as an integrated, immersive canvas for their work.

Since 2011, the space has been open to the public for a series of exhibits that combine projected images and music for a unique gallery experience. The current exhibit, Klimt and Vienna: A Century of Gold and Colors, explores the work of Gustav Klimt and the artists who were influenced by him.



When leaving the darkened, illuminated gallery, visitors are also able to walk through a portion of the quarry that has been left virtually unchanged. In it's form and scale, it is easy to see that which inspired the early artists. 

After four days in Avignon enjoying the company of our hosts and visits to the region, we were happy to get back on the road for a bit of biking. On the 52k trek from Avignon to our second host farm, we enjoyed the hilly roads and our first clear views of Mont Ventoux.

We knew we were traveling through one of France's most celebrated wine regions, and made sure to make the time stop for a bit of wine tasting!
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