This past Tuesday, KT, NP, and I set out (just five days after getting back from Ireland) to Venice. I was traveling there to attend a conference on Thursday and Friday, and we decided that we’d take the opportunity to go as a family. We also went on Tuesday afternoon in order to have a full day to explore the city together before I had to get down to work. It must be said that KT and I were still feeling a bit tired from the trip to Ireland. Traveling with a baby of fourteen months has its added challenges: at the age when children are starting to walk and getting into everything (dangerous), the home environment is simply much more relaxing, due to the fact that you know exactly where the dangers lie and have removed (most of) the particularly hazardous ones (we discover, however, that new things become hazardous almost on a daily basis as NP develops: we would never, for example, have imagined that a bathroom scale, placed in the wrong location, could bring about scream-inducing falls). We were also a bit worried about interrupting NP’s schedule even more than we already had on our previous trip.
As it turns out, NP once again traveled like a pro, charming the flight attendants and fellow passengers on our plane, boat, and car journeys. She even remained calm and for the most part happy during our flight home on Friday, which was in the evening from 6:30-8:00 (not a good time for babies). The few cries she did emit were understandable – we all feel like screaming at times on plane journeys, and I figure that NP was just honestly expressing her feelings (at, for example, not being able to get down and properly stretch her legs). At the end of our time in Venice, as we made our way on the vaporetto (ferry) to the airport, NP fell asleep on KT and me (with half of her body on each), and KT made a suggestion that I think could change television history: a version of the popular (apparently, as I’ve never actually seen it) reality series The Amazing Race entitled ‘The Amazing Race with Babies’ – challenges could include changing a diaper in a boat on choppy seas (boy were we glad that NP didn’t challenge our parenting skills in that way!).
The success of traveling with NP is also in large part due to the stoic KT, who handled every twist and turn of the journey with admirable skill. We were staying in a Roman Catholic convent, which also provides accommodation for students and visitors, the Istituto Canossiano. This was arranged by my hosts organizing the conference, and it turned out to be great for traveling with children, as there was a kitchen available for doing light cooking, and the nuns were very friendly (upon our arrival, one nun greeted us and addressed Norah as ‘la principessa’). The room and general atmosphere in the convent were also wonderful. There were a lot of school groups and visiting students, but also tourists. I would recommend it warmly to anyone traveling to Venice
My training while in Venice was pretty light, as I had my Hemsbach race on Saturday. Before leaving on Tuesday, I got up early to do a 1.5 hour bike and then short brick run, so in Venice itself I had only a light 20-minute run on Wednesday and Friday (the latter with a few minutes at race pace). Now, Venice is a beautiful place to run (well, it’s a beautiful place to do most things…. except swim, perhaps…I wouldn’t want to journey into the canal water), but it’s a hard place to run, as it’s difficult to find space amidst all the bridges and narrow alleys. Fortunately, we weren’t far from the Zattere pier, which did give a bit of room for the short runs. Here’s a photo of the pier on the evening we arrived:
On Wednesday, we all ventured to the Peggy Guggenheim house, which was a wonderful experience. The collection of art is both impressive (including Klee, a lot of Picasso, Magritte) and very manageable. Large art galleries can be hard to visit in one day, as there is simply too much to see, and not enough time to reflect. NP was overjoyed particularly by the outdoor sculptures she could touch, but also pointed happily at paintings she was struck by (she liked, for example, Magritte’s ‘Empire of Light’). Otherwise, we just spent a lot of time wandering through the city and enjoying its alleys. KT pointed out with insight that wandering around Venice is a bit like walking through an M. C. Escher drawing (and Escher did, of course, visit Venice): sloping angles, endless stairways, and reflections all interacting to create an unfathomable beauty in which it’s all too easy to get lost.
Fortunately, KT and I have a reasonable sense of direction and we didn’t get too lost. At least, we were able to find our way back to where we were staying during our peregrinations. While in Venice we also spent time sitting in squares drinking coffee, visited the San Marco Cathedral (the area around there is not very nice, as it’s overrun with tourists, but if one looks beyond the trappings of tourism, the cathedral is of course very beautiful), and bought a bit of Murano glass. My conference also went well and was enjoyable. We were happy to get home when we stepped through the door at 10:00 p.m. on Friday evening, but we were also really glad we went and would love to visit Venice again sometime in the future when NP is a bit older.
Now, I said above that I have a reasonable sense of direction. I should qualify this by saying that it applies to most situations, but (apparently) not when I get on a bike in Germany. My coach has mapped out some routes for me to follow on particular training days, which give me appropriate distances and hill work. The maps are great and easy to follow online. But I’ve found with a couple of the routes that it’s easy to miss a turn when actually out on the roads – German road signs are good, but as I don’t know a lot of the towns around here to which I should be heading, and the roads are often twisty with lots of offshoots, I often find myself wishing the numbers of smaller roads were more clearly signaled on signs. That said, I take full responsibility when I get lost on my bike.
I had a spectacular occurrence of getting lost today. After my race yesterday, I today had schedule a 60km ride in lower heart-rate zones (about 2.5 hours), followed by a quick brick run. The weather was better than yesterday when I set out this afternoon, and I had a great beginning of the ride (directionally speaking) up to Weinheim. It was there, however, that I took a wrong (oh so very wrong turn) onto a road that ended up leading me much farther north than I wanted to be. As I don’t know the names of most towns and their relationship to Heidelberg, by the time I fully realized I was not on the right road, I was pretty far out of my way. I stopped to get directions back to the Neckar from two women, who upsettingly exclaimed ‘Mein Gott’ (never a good sign) and proceeded to tell me that I was at a significant distance from my intended route.
Their directions (and those of another couple) sent me on a bit of a climb up over the mountain a bit further on and back down the other side to the Neckar (armed with the names of the towns I wanted to hit, I didn’t lose my way again). Now, the upside to getting lost was that this ride was really beautiful, through tall forests and picturesque hills (you couldn’t ask for more). As my ride was in lower heart-rate zones, I was also feeling pretty comfortable just turning the pedals. The downsides were that the weather threw in a few loops – a low point came at the top of the mountain, where I was hit suddenly with a downpour. Soaked through in minutes, I thought, ‘well, I still feel pretty warm’. The rain then turned to hail.
Fortunately, however, the hail didn’t last too long and within a few minutes the sun miraculously came out, warmed me up, and stayed with me for the rest of my extended session. What was supposed to be a 60km (2.5 hour) ride turned into a 97km (3.8 hour) ride just to get home. I hadn’t brought enough to eat for such a long session, so at one point after 80km I stopped at a petrol station quickly and bought a Snickers bar (not the healthiest of options, but it does have carbohydrates and some nuts for protein – it was recommended, in fact, by my coach as an emergency option). I don’t like to deviate from planned schedules (it really irks me in fact), but in the end the ride was quite enjoyable. I admittedly didn’t feel much like heading out on my run when I got back, but after the first minute (during which my legs felt like stone), my body adjusted and the run was just a relaxed end to the session in the sun.
I will be working hard not to get lost in future (and may investigate some options to make sure I don’t – a map, for example). I did quickly phone KT to let her know that I was going to be late because of stupidity, rather than because I had been impaled on a tree branch halfway down the mountain. She took the news well, in spite of the fact that this meant she would have more work with NP for an extra couple of hours alone. I recently read an interview with Simon Whitfield about balancing family life with his training, and he emphasized the importance of scheduling and not deviating from planned parental time with and without kids. I think his advice really applies to any family situation – it’s impossible to be perfectly consistent with scheduling, as life throws in its curves, but if one parent makes a sacrifice in taking on parenting duties too often, the added stresses build up. To make up for my folly today, therefore, I’ll be taking NP on a two-hour impromptu afternoon adventure (yet undetermined) tomorrow on my day off from training, to give KT a bit of deserved QT.