Ralph's Orient Express Bike Trip

By Ralph Monfort

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1 Jun 07, Friday, On a flight from Chicago to Paris
        After a six-hour wait in the O'Hare airport, I'm finally on my flight to Paris. Loading this Boeing 767 was strange. I was in boarding group two. After all the business, first-class, special K (i.e., mileage) folks were aboard, the attendant called for group one. A smattering of the nearly full waiting room dutifully filed to the podium. I arose and started forward because I had a bag to stuff in the overhead compartment. Long before I got to the podium, the few group one folks had boarded. The attendant called for group two. Instead of the expected crush, I was the only one to walk through. I entered a nearly empty plane and, after passing through first and business classes, the plane was empty except for two young girls and a bevy of airline hosts and hostesses. I sauntered to near the back and comfortably arranged my space. Another five minutes went by before other people straggled in. This was possibly the most laid back plane boarding I've experienced on a nearly full plane. Maybe the passengers are already in a French frame of mind. I felt positively type A but what a nice way to begin a transatlantic flight. And until a minute ago I thought the aisle seat next to me would be empty. Well, it's not. The last person to walk up the aisle was a woman carrying a two-year-old and guess where their seat is. You guessed correctly, right next to moi. So this flight might be more of an adventure than I thought.
        This will be a narrative of my most recent bike trip. Yes, yes, I know I just returned a month ago from April in Tunisia and, yes, it would have been nice to have planned them a bit further apart, but this trip was too good to pass up. It is called the Orient Express Bicycle Tour and, true to its name, it traverses, more or less, the route of the famed Orient Express Train from Paris to Istanbul. The company is Tour D'Afrique LTD based in Canada and their signature tour is called the Tour D'Afrique running from Cairo to Cape Town, the entire length of the African continent! On this tour we ride 4,000 kilometers or almost 2,500 miles across eight countries: France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and ending in Turkey. One of the selling points for me is that we will be biking the Danube Bikeway from the Danube's source all the way to Budapest in Hungary, about 800 miles - fancy that. We had ridden a short distance on this bike trail on our Odyssey tour in 2003 and, if that stretch is any indication, it'll be flippin' sweet! (Sorry, I just bought a Napoleon Dynamite birthday card for son Joe and got carried away.)
        Well, they found a different seat for the mother and child, so now I have a single seat mate. I'll just sit back, relax and enjoy the in-flight entertainment. By the way, two reasons this trip is starting off better than my last: 1) my back feels much healthier and 2) United is flying my bike for free, a $100 savings on this leg.

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