Just the Right Speed – George & Irene’s Many Experiences with VBT

Meet veteran VBT Travelers, George and Irene J. Through their 19 years of exploring with us they’ve managed to take 24 VBT Vacations in all! They’ve visited us here in Vermont a couple of times, they’ve made it all the way down under to New Zealand, they’ve taken every Italian Vacation that we offer and it’s anyone’s guess as to how many passports the couple has gone through. It all got started, however, back in 1993 when George and Irene took their first biking trip with us to Bordeaux.

“That was back before we had the internet. I think we saw an ad for VBT in a biking magazine. Irene and I figured that if we had a week’s vacation from work… there’s no better way to see the world than from a bike.”

For their week away, George and Irene decided to spend time exploring the French Countryside, riding along the Dordogne. First off, they loved the biking. Pedaling along the river flats was peaceful and they really got a thrill by challenging themselves and conquering a few rolling hills, all the while knowing that the VBT van was just behind them in case they needed to rest their legs.

The pair also enjoyed connecting with the culture in Bordeaux. Riding through vineyard lanes, the couple witnessed, first-hand, the devotion that the residents have to winemaking. It was autumn and George and Irene were able to chat with the local vintners, taste a variety of grapes and they even used their bike seats as boosters to pluck a few figs from a tree that hung high over their heads. They were wearing their helmets, but you still might not want to try that one at home.

When George looks back on his Bordeaux Vacation the small river villages stand out in his mind. He really got a sense that the river was the lifeblood of the region—it delivers water to the vineyards, the residents have the river for fun and for recreation and it also provides a glimpse into the past, when rivers were essential to commerce and a town’s livelihood.

Another highlight, particularly for George, was exploring each town’s bakery, sampling the macaroons to see which town had the best. All in the name of scientific research, of course.

Though George and Irene took this vacation almost twenty years ago, the memories that were made seem as vivid as ever and the experiences that they had were enough to keep them traveling with VBT 23 more times, including a 40-year anniversary vacation to the Dolomites.

George and Irene joined VBT in Italy’s Dolomites to celebrate and commemorate their 40th Wedding Anniversary. At the time, it was the best vacation they had ever taken! Though George would clarify, “Every one we’ve been on has been the best.”

Visiting the region had been a dream of both George and Irene’s since seeing the Winter Olympics of 1956, which were hosted in Cortina. After enjoying VBT’s Pre-Trip Extension in Venice, George and Irene were able to realize that dream when they joined the rest of the VBT group at their Cortina Hotel. They fondly recall peering down at the main pedestrian street in town and watching the beginning of a marathon. The very next day, the group got to join in a bit of the fun as they cycled a good portion of the marathon route.

Largely due to the excitement of the race, there was a particularly celebratory atmosphere in town. However, that exuberance remained even after the runners had crossed the finish line and moved along. The locals were warm, inviting and happy to share their unique corner of Italy with travelers.

The greatest surprise that the couple encountered in the Dolomites was the scenery. On day 5 of their adventure, George and Irene took advantage of an optional ride up to Cimabanche Pass. After climbing through wooded areas along a former railway line, the landscape completely opened up as the path leveled out. “It was as pretty as any other place we’ve seen in Italy, but the contrasts were really special. We didn’t know we’d be riding through such great forests along the Austrian border.”

After twenty four vacations in nearly twenty years, George and Irene are still looking forward to their next VBT Vacation. This time around, they’re considering heading back to France, and riding through southern France on our Provence: The Alpilles biking vacation.

When it comes to Traveling with VBT, it isn’t just one aspect of the vacation that appeals to George and Irene—it’s everything. From the optional routes to accommodate all riders to the opportunities for cultural connection and even for self-discovery, George and Irene are hooked on VBT’s Vacations. Engaging with new environments with all of their senses, George and Irene ultimately feel that Biking Vacations suit them because they’re the best way to “Travel at just the right speed.”

5 Classic European Monuments that Barely Stood the Test of Time

The Classic European Destinations of Italy and France hold some of the world’s most iconic and historic structures. Yet despite having faced their share of struggles through the years, they have managed to remain intact, helping us to better connect with European history and culture. With that in mind, here are some of our favorite European monuments that have just managed to survive.

Pont du Gard

Travel France, Provence, Pont du Gard

A couple thousand years ago, the Roman Empire was the driving force behind technological innovation and one of their most important claims to fame was the development of the aqueduct. Still, among the sun-drenched, rolling hills of Provence lays a shining example of ancient Roman innovation, and one of our favorite European Monuments, Pont du Gard. It was built in the 1st century and survived the years relatively easily right up to 17th Century when the functioning bridge began to be used as a military passage. Though suitable for hundreds of years’ worth of foot and carriage traffic, apparently the bridge wasn’t quite cut out for the artillery and ammunition of the 1600’s and it quickly fell into disrepair. Luckily, after conflict ceased, Pont du Gard’s Roman roots were enough to draw many admirers, leading the local government to fix things up a bit for the Pont’s pilgrims. Since that time, travelers have continued to flock to the awesome ancient structure and after that one major revamp in the 1800’s, several sporadic restorations have helped Pont du Gard in weathering over two thousand years in the South of France. That certainly gives a little weight to the old adage, “They don’t build ‘em like they used to.” If not for those historic travelers, though, who knows what would have become of the aqueduct?

Cross Pont du Gard when you Travel to Provence with VBT.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower, Travel Paris, Travel France, Tour Eiffel Tower

For many of us, the Eiffel Tower is the ultimate European monument. Completed in 1889, it has graced Paris’ skyline for well over a century. And today, no vacation in the “City of Light” is complete without a trip to the top to look out on the French capital. However, the Eiffel Tower wasn’t always held in such high esteem. In its early years, many of the city’s residents felt that the modern, lattice tower took away from Paris’ natural beauty. In fact, the French government put serious consideration into removing the Eiffel Tower when its initial lease expired in 1909. Fortunately for all of us, France never went ahead with those plans, but the final decision had little to do with aesthetics. Surprisingly, it was the tower’s integral function in telegraph messaging that ultimately solidified its place in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. It seems safe to say, however, that both Parisians and the rest of the world eventually came around to its visual appeal, too.

Visit the Eiffel Tower on one of VBT’s France Vacations.

Château de Chenonceau

Chateau Chenonceaux, Travel France, Loire Valley, Chenonceaux Castle

Speaking of the importance of travel, the iconic Château de Chenonceau in France’s Loire Valley owes its very survival to it. Originally built in the 11th century, later burnt and rebuilt, the grand chateau certainly has a turbulent past. It’s also seen quite a few owners in the last thousand years. It was passed from King Henry II to his mistress, then from his mistress back to Henry’s wife and eventually taken over by a different line of nobility in the 18th century. Around that time portions of the castle began being sold off, yet commerce came to a halt at the arrival of the French Revolution. Hardly a saving grace for the manor, most prominent symbols of royalty like Château de Chenonceau saw their end during the revolution. This royal residence would have too, had it not been decided by all parties that Chenonceau’s bridge was far too essential for travel to lose. It was spared so that wayfarers could conveniently make their way across the Cher River for years to come. Ironically, today most travelers make their way across that very bridge simply to take in the splendor of Château de Chenonceau itself.

Explore Château de Chenonceau when you bike through the Loire Valley with VBT.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Tower of Pisa, Travel Italy, Leaning Tower of Pisa

Moving along to Italy, we come upon, perhaps, the most obvious monument that barely made it, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It wasn’t just dumb luck that led this tower to lean, either. In fact, it is thought that “Pisa” actually stems from an ancient Greek word meaning “marshy land”. Given its location between the River Arno on the Tyrrhenian Sea, it seems logical that the land would be softer and that the large tower would have a hard time remaining upright. Shortly after construction began in the 12th century, the tower began to lean. However, the project continued until complete, and until the tower had succumbed to a full tilt. Extensive restoration efforts over the years have kept it from toppling completely. However, a recent major restoration almost undid hundreds of years’ of work. On one night in September of 1995, the tower’s famed lean grew just about as much as it normally does in the span of a couple years. In fact, back in the mid-nineties, the tower came as close to falling as it ever has throughout its 900-year history. Thanks to prompt action and modern technology the lean was reduced drastically and quickly. Though it was at odds with the initial goal to keep the lean at its original angle, the tower had to lean just a bit less in order to stay safely upright. Despite the historical discrepancy, most travelers agree they’d rather visit The Leaning Tower of Pisa and not the Laying Tower of Pisa.

Travel to the Po River Valley with VBT and lean up against the Tower of Pisa.

Fontana Pretoria

Travel Sicily, Travel Italy, Palermo

It wasn’t natural disaster or even public opinion that almost prevented our last European monument from lasting. It was simply a case of bad finances. Built in Florence and intended for the garden of Luigi de Toledo, Fontana Pretoria seemed like a sure cinch as far as Renaissance masterpieces were concerned. However, after the sculptures of Fontana Pretoria were completed, the Toledo family flat-out couldn’t afford to pay. But the work was done, and done quite well at that. So the Fontana was put up for auction to pay off the debt and, more importantly, keep the statues from being sold off one by one. Thankfully, the Toledo family found a bidder. The bad news was that it would be leaving mainland Italy, and making its way to Sicily. The Palermo Senate purchased Fontana Pretoria, moved it all the way to Sicily and even commissioned a few locally inspired structures to add to the mix.

Enjoy VBT’s Sicily Vacation and take in the Renaissance Art of Fontana Pretoria.

Make the journey to Europe to stand at the foot of these iconic monuments on one of VBT’s Classic European Vacations.