When you take a dream bike vacation, you pretty much have to take your bike. And you have to ride it. Having a dream bike vacation and not riding the crap out of your bike = flail.
The last few dream bike vacations I’ve had have been dreamy. Two have involved bike cartage and all the fun that entails, and one involved bike rentage and all the disappointment that entails. “Could you get this bike with 50,000 miles on it since January to ride like brand new? No? Oh, okay.”
Still, no amount of first-world bike problems can much detract from going somewhere strange and riding strangely with strangers, or alone.
It’s quite frequently not about the bike
Especially when family is involved, it’s not only not about the bike, it’s often adamantly not about the bike. Like, “If you take off at 5:00 AM again and don’t get back until four, we’re dumping your stuff on the street and flying to Nice. Or Baghdad. Without you.”
Not that I would ever abandon my family in order to go ride strange roads strangely with strangers, but that’s certainly how they have seen it. So with a big chunk of July open and beckoning, it seemed like a perfect time to take at least part of my family on a dream bicycle vacation. But it was gonna take planning and deception. One of those I excel at.
Does anyone here like German grammar?
Since we were going to Austria again, and since we’ve already seen the sights, or at least those you can see on five euros a day, which basically means the lounge at the youth hostel, I figured I would spice it up to get people excited about the trip. Instead of saying, “Gosh, it’s going to be fun waiting for me all day to come home from a bike ride!” I came up with this #winner: “Wouldn’t it be fun to take an intensive course in German grammar for a vacation?”
The thought was that the other two members of my entourage would say “No, thank you,” and then I could shrug and say “Well, I TRIED,” and then huffily add, “I guess I’ll just take my bike since our interests OBVIOUSLY don’t align.”
Seemed like a sure thing.
Unfortunately, Entourage Member No. 1 said “That would be great! I can’t imagine anything more fun!”
More unfortunately, Entourage Member No. 2 said “That would be awesome! I’ve always wanted to learn German!”
So, now what?
You’re going to be Institut shionalized
In Vienna they have a branch of the Goethe Institut, which is the global educational propaganda arm of all things Germanic. They also have two-week intensive courses split into different levels so that no matter how badly you mangle your cases, there’s a nurturing environment appropriate to your level in which you can sound like an idiot and be subject to only mild ridicule.
I signed us all up for the two-week course, which is from nine to one every day, and includes several cultural events, by which I suspect means huge quantities of salty food and beer. My comprehension of slurred German should improve drastically.
On the surface, two weeks of intensive study sounds like a terrible idea until you think about it. What’s the most fun thing about travel? Being able to talk in the local language. What’s the worst thing about travel? Getting murdered. But after that, it’s getting a bad case of flesh-eating bacteria, followed by trying to speak the local language only to have everyone answer you in English.
Of course at the Goethe Institut they speak at you in German from start to finish and make you feel like you learned something at the end, or at the very least like you failed a competency exam. And when you’re stuck in a class with a bunch of other foreigners all of whom want to sound ridiculous, good things are bound to happen.
Protecting those you love
For us, however, the single most important aspect to being in class all day is that it spares our son and daughter-in-law the utter hell of having parents/siblings/in-laws descend on them for three weeks. Instead of having to come up with plausible excuses for not being together breakfast-lunch-tea time-dinner-dessert, everyone can shrug and say “Gotta go to class” or “Gotta review the genitive.” No one’s feelings get hurt, which is much better than them having to say “Could you guys go somewhere far away, like home?”
Back to the dream bicycling thing
Instead of making each day an assault on some awesome new cycling route, the Grammar Class Vacation allows us to rent an apartment far from the school so that we can all commute daily on rental city bikes. Nothing like getting to class drenched in sweat and stinking like old cheese to make quick friends!
And on the weekends, I’ve arranged through a buddy to have a genuine 58cm road bike ready for me. Mon-Thu I’ll be an obedient slave to German grammar. But Fri-Sat-Sun? I’ll be practicing it. On the bike.
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