Postal problems

Posted in Favourites, Hazards with tags , on 19/11/2014 by Sheree

book du tour small cover for style v5

Book de Tour rolled off the publisher’s presses at the beginning of the month but I’m still waiting to receive my copies, all of which need the signature of the winner, Vincenzo Nibali. The author packed up the copies and sent them straight away via USPS aka US postal service. Who then handed over responsibility to the French postal service. I have been tracking the package’s progress with interest. The French postal service claimed to have tried to deliver the parcel last Friday and this Monday, but I wasn’t there. Actually I was home on both occasions but no one, not even Postman Pat, rang my doorbell. He did however leave me one of those slim yellow receipts.

I was so excited to see, and feel, the finished product and, if I’m honest, thoroughly check that all my edits had been correctly incorporated. I hot footed it down to the main Post Office yesterday to claim my parcel and pay the customs’ fees. It soon became obvious why the postman hadn’t bothered to deliver the box. It was decidedly bashed about on all corners, one of which was torn open, as if someone had been using it as a football. Also, the box was palpably damp to the touch, leading me to suspect it had been left out in the rain. But was it US or French torrential rain? Probably the latter!

I looked carefully at the torn corner and could just make out a couple of damaged spines. Additional the lightweight bubble wrap was loose and flapping – not a good sign. Was this the total extent of the damage or was it even more extensive? I sought advice and guidance from the post mistress. If I opened the parcel, I was explicitly accepting the state of it’s contents.

The post mistress pointed out that along with its bashed and gaping corners, the parcel had ballooned in the wet. She told me not to accept delivery, but to return it and have the sender claim on his insurance. I was in a bit of a quandary, it was too early in the day to contact Greig, but I finally decided to follow her advice. We simply couldn’t present Greig’s biggest financial supporters with a damaged “reward”.  She also gave me some helpful tips on packing heavy, fragile parcels such as these. Great advice which I’ve passed on to Greig.

Greig’s shipped me replacements express-delivery which should arrive within the next 5 days. This incident has doubled my resolve to keep hold of the books to obtain Nibali’s signature. After all, he only lives a few hours away in Lugano. Much better to preserve the integrity of the soft (not hard) cover books, which can easily get damaged, by retaining possession. It’s also given me food for thought as to how I’m going to maintain the pristine order of my master copy. This is the one where, in the run up to next year’s Tour, I’m going to try and obtain as many signatures as possible from riders featured in Book de Tour. The result will be auctioned on eBay, with all proceeds going to the charity of the author’s choice.

I keep reminding myself that patience is a virtue and everything comes to those who wait. Yes, but for how long?

Book de Tour Postscript: According to USPS, the package arrived in Nice on early Friday afternoon and was sent out to its final destination. My apartment is at worst an hour’s walk from the sorting office. Here we are on Wednesday morning and I’m still waiting. Who’s delivering it? Postman Ant? I have a feeling that Greig’s going to be sending me package number three later today! Let’s hope it’ll be third time lucky.

Let me check

Posted in Cookery, Favourites with tags on 16/11/2014 by Sheree

It’s not unusual for our friends in France to ring us just the day before to invite us round for a meal. This charming spontaneity always rather amuses me. Indeed, if it had happened while I was still in the UK, I would have assumed I wasn’t first pick and that someone else had dropped out at the last moment. No so here.

Given my beloved’s relentless circumnavigation of the globe or, in recent weeks, long trips back to the UK, I can’t operate with quite the same insouciance even though I pride myself on being able to produce a meal for at least four at the drop of  hat. That said, I’ll quite often invite friends round for lunch or dinner during the week while he’s away but will serve what I would typically eat during the week, albeit with a dessert. I often won’t bother with a starter, just some nibbles to chow on in the kitchen while we’re chatting and I’m putting the finishing touches to the meal.

Here, last minute invites, particularly those during the summer months, when there’s a crowd, often involves everyone pitching in and preparing a course. Guidance is, of course, required to achieve some sort of cohesion. But, even so, pot luck seems to work out just fine and a good time is always had by all.

There are times however when I like to make it more of a special occasion, particularly in the run up to the Festive season. Additionally, we have more space available indoors for entertaining than we have outside. However, our friends’ gardens will trump a balcony every time when the weather’s fine.

Having friends round also gives me an excuse to try out a couple of new recipes. Accepted wisdom says you shouldn’t experiment but there are plenty of dishes more appropriate for a crowd than just the two of us. The other great thing here is that people generally eat everything. At first, I used to enquire if there was anything my guests didn’t eat but after being assured countless times that they eat everything, I’ve stopped asking. Their children are the same and will happily eat anything I put before them.

A lot of the meals I prepare are ones that cook happily in the oven while I’m out riding my bike or can be quickly assembled or reheated on my return, thanks to plenty of forward planning and preparation. But a festive luncheon or dinner party is different. I revel at the prospect of several days’ preparation in the kitchen beforehand, not forgetting poring through my countless cookery books to choose what I’m going to cook. We’re talking three courses pre-dinner nibbles, petit fours and maybe even goodie bags of edibles to take home – the full nine yards!

It usually takes a while for a cookery book to become a well-thumbed, ingredient spattered favourite – I know I should get one of those acetate holders. Some, however, become cherished overnight. My most recent acquisition is Adam Handling’s “Smile or get out of the Kitchen“. For those of you who don’t know, he came to prominence on MasterChef: the Professionals in 2013 as one of the three finalists and many people’s, me included, favourite to land the title. He didn’t win but it quite rightly hasn’t stopped his ascendancy.

The recipes are all illustrated so you can see what the final dish is supposed to look like. I’m not sure I’ll be able to achieve his level of precision but I do want to try and match the flavours I’ve no doubt he achieves. I’ve read the book from cover to cover, several times, always a good sign.

A little slice of heaven

A little slice of heaven

I first made his pistachio cake for a friend’s birthday party. The recipe reminded me of one of my more popular bakes, Tarta de Santiago, and proved even more delicious. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photograph of the finished cake. Luckily, I kept back a couple of the edges which I had cut off to neaten the cake and, if I say so myself, it was scrummy.

Looks innocent but packs a flavour punch

Looks innocent but packs a flavour punch

Next up was Adam’s recipe for celeriac veloute, or soup to you and me. I love nothing better than making a big pot of soup to keep me going for a couple of days during the week. This was so delicious that I was sorely tempted to slurp it all down in one go. Fortunately, it’s too rich to do that so my beloved also got to sample it. He immediately said it was the best soup he’s ever had – praise indeed –  and I remembered to take a photo!

Now, you might be wondering why I’ve only tried two of his recipes. Well, when I test new recipes, I like to take my time, something that’s recently been in very short supply. But Adam’s recipes are going to be providing the inspiration for all my December Sunday lunches.

You can buy his book at www.adamhandling.com where you’ll find links to his restaurant – well worth a visit – and his chocolate. I can personally recommend the chocolate which I foolishly shared with my beloved. Won’t be doing that again!

 

 

Monsoon

Posted in Hazards, Training with tags , , on 07/11/2014 by Sheree

Only to be expected, I suppose, after our Indian summer! To be fair, rain was forecast for this week. It started early on Monday evening followed by an epic thunderstorm, or so my beloved claimed. That’s right, it didn’t wake me thus it couldn’t have been that epic. It only started to pour again mid-morning on Tuesday, after I’d dropped my beloved at the airport. His take-off was delayed a couple of hours as the weather closed in. When it rains heavily, my view of the sea is usually shrouded in mist. Visibility was so bad, I could barely see beyond the terrace.

storm3

If you look at weather charts for the Cote d’Azur, it’ll show October as the wettest month of the year,  not this year. That title belongs belonged to January, thanks to three solid days of torrential rain mid-month, until this week. In the space of 36 hours, the coast had up to 300mm of rain or three months’ worth! Some areas fared worse than others but the damage wrought on the beaches and in the hills was truly terrible.

storm4

The clean up operation swung into action on Wednesday, once the rain had stopped and Noah and his Ark had stood down. It continues apace. Today’s fine, the sunshine’s back but only until Sunday, when more of the wet stuff is forecast.  Of course, rain on the coast translates into snow in the Alps. So, it’s not all bad news.

The Domaine has not remained unscathed. The scaffolding at the far end of our block, recently erected for refurbishment and repainting of the façade, remained rock steady in the high winds but no doubt put back the schedule of works which is due to take almost two years to complete. I confess the thought of having workmen peering in my windows for the best part of a year while they paint the back, side and front of our block is rather unsettling. We’re not overlooked by anyone, don’t have so much as a net curtain to preserve our modesty and rarely use the shutters.

Storm1

High winds felled a number of trees in the Domaine. Fortunately none fell on parked cars and the gardeners, who love a bit of “Chainsaw Massacre” have been wildly sawing away for the past few days. The fallen trees will be replaced with new, younger ones to preserve the parkland and habitat for all sorts of wildlife. The trees, mostly pine, I suppose will end up on someone’s open fire.

Despite today’s sunshine, care will have to be taken on our rides. The road, particularly the cycle lanes, will be full of small stones and wet sand which often masks the broken glass. It’s a bit of a minefield for tyres. My beloved is absolutely bound to get a puncture. That man gets through more inner tubes in a month than I do in a year, and I cycle so much more than him.

Despite today’s strong sunshine, the mercury has dipped a bit and I’ll be wearing my Roubaix 3/4 bib tights and a long-sleeved shirt. Winter’s truly arrived. There’s not a cloud in the sky, so I won’t need any wet weather gear, at least, not today.

(all photographs courtesy of Nice-Matin newspaper)

 

Ride Postscript: Serious miscalculation on my part, a short-sleeved jersey would’ve sufficed!

 

Indian summer

Posted in Football, Training with tags , , on 02/11/2014 by Sheree

Here on the Cote d’Azur, we’ve been enjoying the warmest October since 1943. October’s usually when I swap over to my winter training bike and into my 3/4 thermal bib shorts but, despite this being the first official week-end of winter, I’m still in shorts and short-sleeved jersey with a lightweight gilet. I like to think this is recompense for the wet winter or maybe the so, so summer. Either way, it’s glorious cycling weather and I have been at pains to profit from it.

With a number of projects (finally) put to bed and the professional cycling scene enjoying its off-season, I’m finally getting back into the groove and steadily logging the much-needed kilometres.  When you’re busy, it’s all too easy to procrastinate but boy do I miss being outdoors, feeling the wind in my hair helmet and the sun on my face.

cagnes1

While temperatures are still delightfully mild, it’s a wee bit chilly first thing. No problem, as I prefer to head out after 10:30. With any luck, I’ll also be re-introducing my long mid-week ride on a Wednesday to compliment those on the week-end. Of course, everyone is out enjoying the fine weather, particularly the kids as half-term’s over and it’s back to school tomorrow. Large numbers are sunning themselves on the beaches and still swimming in the sea. One year, I was still swimming in the sea each day until well into November. If you swim each day, the drop in temperature is gradual and much less noticeable.

It’s the Nice to Cannes marathon next Sunday so we passed plenty of runners. Well, it would be too embarrassing to be passed by a runner wouldn’t it? We’re slow but not that slow. I like to think we were taking our time and savouring the weather. All the more so as rain is forecast for next week. No ride with my cycling buddy would be complete without a coffee stop. Again, we pick those restaurants with terraces in the sunshine and nice facilities.

cagnes3

Particularly on Sunday, I endeavour to leave Sunday lunch cooking or maybe gently reheating in the oven so that all I have to do on my return is lay the table. I usually get back just before my beloved who’s started riding each Sunday with his local bike shop team. The pace has dropped right off on the Sunday club rides as the average age of club members has soared and he’s been finding it way too slow.

cagnes2

After Sunday lunch we take a stroll along the seafront to better enjoy  the fine weather before returning home for The Big Match, my beloved boys in claret and blue v Spurs. The boys haven’t scored in five matches and are sliding down the Premiership – not good. On a recent trip to London, I treated myself to some fleecy jimjams. They’re far too warm to sleep in but just perfect for post-ride lounging around the flat, which is what I’m now doing. Sunday’s don’t get any better than this.

 

Postscript: Actually, it would’ve been a lot better if Spurs hadn’t beaten AVFC 2-1

 

Stick to your knitting

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 20/10/2014 by Sheree

On Friday evening I indulged my two great sporting passions football and cycling.

LeGrandMinvite

Velo Magazine had assembled two teams of cyclists for what they called the inaugural “Le Grand Match” in Nice which coincided with the announcement of the Velo d’Or prize winners.

LesBluesCupcake

The boys had arrived well before kick-off so that they could warm up and familiarise themselves with their team-mates and have their photos taken with local racers, including my “little cup-cake” (second from left).

RahBou

 

Prior to the start, the Velo d’Or prizes were presented to “Best French Rider” Jean-Christophe Peraud, who fought off stiff opposition from Julien Absalon and Pauline Freenad-Prevot to succeed his team-mate Christophe Riblon – coincidentally playing in goal for Les Bleus. Best Junior was Rayane Bouhanni, the younger, taller and – it has to be said – better looking brother of Nacer Bouhanni, the latter also turning out for Les Bleus.

No expense had been spared. Les Bleus and the “Rest of the World” teams filed onto the pitch hand in hand with their mascots, children from local cycling clubs. Someone obviously had a bit of a sense of humour as both the diminutive Samuel Dumoulin and Bryan Coquard had mascots who towered above them. Each of the players had their names writ large on the back of their blue or red football shirts.

LeGrandMatch

After being presented to the crowd of largely local cyclists and the great and the good in cycling in the region, we sang “Nissa La Bella,” the anthem of local club OGC Nice, and play got underway. The boys got an “A” for effort and clearly more than national pride was at stake but by half-time Les Bleus led easily 3-1 after impressive goals from  Thibaut Pinot, Remi di Gregorio and Nacer Bouhanni.

 

Urgent action was needed in the second half and the trainer for the reds, Oscar Pereiro, took to the field. You may recall that after retiring from cycling, Oscar played  football for a third division side in Spain. He has a nifty pair of feet.

PereiroHis play proved decisive and the rest of the world mounted a stout defence finishing 5-4 down at the final whistle. National honour was preserved and a good time was had by all.

Winners

When I interview riders I often enquire whether they’ve played any other sports and I’ve discovered scratch golfers, artistic ice-skaters, ice-hockey and tennis players and quite a few footballers. In truth, their attitude and competitive spirit serves the well in whatever sport they choose to pursue. But I was impressed with the play from FDJ, particularly Pinot, Bouhanni and Vichot. I learnt later that another of the French team, Jerome Pineau, had a trial at FC Nantes.

After the match Velo magazine put on a splendid spread for the players and guests and I took the opportunity to chat to a number of the players, including Europcar’s Dan Craven who had played for the rest of the world. He agreed he wasn’t one of their star players and I ventured to suggest that he might be happier with an oval ball. But no, it appears he’s much more content with pedals.

It was a great idea from Velo Magazine and I hope they do it again next year and I’m sure the participants would agree with me.

Les Bleus: Riblon – C Pineau, Blain, Cherel, Chainel, Di Gregorio, Soupe, J Pineau (c), Vichot Subs: Engoulvent, Reza, Corbel, Coquard, Dumoulin, Jurdie

Rest of the World: Fumeaux – Hutarovich, Craven, Baggio, Rebellin, Guttierez, Gatto, Agnoli, Capecchi, Van Avermaet, Nuyens (c) Subs: Van Hecke, Siskevicius, Camano, Pereiro

 

 

Postcards from Ponferrada II

Posted in Favourites, Hazards, Live Racing with tags , on 15/10/2014 by Sheree

Strictly speaking our vacation is over and we’ve been back home for a while. Embarrassingly, it’s been almost three weeks since we left our delightful Casa Rural some 50km from Ponferrada and started our slow exploratory journey home via the Mediterranean coast. Of course, I’d been meaning to put finger to keyboard while we were there but spotty WiFi and little time spent in our hotel bedroom, other than for sleeping, rendered that well-nigh impossible. In addition, the weather improved immeasurably allowing my beloved and I to cycle around the Leon Hills most mornings and the course itself. I should add that a couple of times was enough. No need to go the full 200km+.

At this point I should say that I have no idea who decided Ponferrada would be an ideal course for the likes of Messrs Cancellara, Boonen and Sagan when it patently wasn’t, hence the reshuffled Liege-Bastogne-Liege podium for the Men’s Road Race. The Germans and Australians, as usual, seemed to dominate the podiums though it was good to see new talent emerge and existing talent confirmed.

Everyone staying at our Casa Rural was, like us, there for the cycling. Two couples had sons riding against one another in the Juniors and another was the Hungarian national champion of Hungary who was self-financing her participation in the Elite Women’s road race, though Hungary had provided her and her trainer with kit and a track suit!

Leon

After a long, tiring day watching the racing we were all only too happy to return for a delicious home-cooked dinner washed down by a bottle of local wine and enjoy a lively discussion with our fellow guests about the day’s racing. On our day off, Thursday, we drove into Leon, home of Velonews reporter Andrew Hood who kindly provided me with recommendations of what to see and do in Leon – Cathedral, San Marcos and San Isidoro. We followed them to the letter and weren’t disappointed. Architecturally, it’s a beautiful town and, like neighbouring Astorga, boasts a Gaudi building. This one was now a bank but my beloved felt it wouldn’t be out of place in a Harry Potter film.

We were able to thank Andrew personally the following day. I also finally met up with Jose Been who was commentating for television with Phil Liggett. She’s a lovely, bubbly lady who should be awarded much more commentary work on the basis of her knowledge about and enthusiasm for cycling. As usual, I also met up with a number of former fellow volunteers who had once again offered to help out and were royally enjoying the Spanish hospitality.

Ponferrada 2014

Like all World Championships, Ponferrada had its plus and minus points but, on balance, was very positive from a spectator experience. Now if only they could have only solved the issue of the road-crossing pinch point…………they’d have gotten a far higher mark. Richmond 2015 promises to be a very different kettle of fish.

Zara

Our first stop on the way back from Ponferrada was Zaragoza. A charming old town, well worth a week-end visit. I felt we were unable to do it justice with our evening whistle-stop tour. Thereafter, we spent a couple of days living the high-life as the sole guests in a small château in Argeles-sur-Mer. The old town was quite charming but the beach area, fronted by miles of golden sandy beach, was a purpose-built, inexpensive, French, family holiday resort. That was not a ringing endorsement. The small villages in the hills above Argeles were however charming as were the smaller coastal towns nearby which put one in mind of Cornish rocky coves. The château had its own vineyard and a very acceptable range of wines which we tasted in its nearby restaurant. That’s the advantage of hiring the Kangoo, plenty of room for bottles of wine.

Sete edit

As we wend our way back home, we popped into the wholly charming town of Sete. My beloved has been wanting to visit for some time as I have a pastel painting of the area and he wasre able to identify the buildings in the painting. Not too much had changed in the 15 years since it was painted.

We’ve discovered that it’s an excellent idea to get back from a longish vacation on a Friday evening. That way one has all week end to catch up with various bits and pieces, ready for work on Monday morning.

Home Sweet Home

The end of the WorldTour cycling season usually sees us putting dates in diaries and making hotel bookings for next year, particularly for the Worlds, the Tour of the Basque country and La Clasica. We’re also thinking further ahead to 2016 when we won’t go to the worlds in Qatar but might well follow La Vuelta. Something to look forward to!

Postcards from Ponferrada I

Posted in Live Racing with tags , on 24/09/2014 by Sheree

One week into our almost three-week vacation, how am I faring? I confess that a week of sharing a bathroom with my beloved is stressful but plenty of exercise and fresh air has meant I’ve slept for well over nine hours per night and am feeling positively chilled.

It’s just what I needed after a hectic run-up to the holiday. Ideally I like to completely clear the decks the day before any vacation so that I have enough time to do all the washing, ironing and packing, ticking off my various lists as I go. Despite hiring a Renault Kangoo for the trip, which easily takes the bikes, our luggage and the kitchen sink, I like to travel as lightly as possible. My beloved, on the other hand, likes to cater for every potential occasion. If we’re travelling for 15 days, then he needs 15 of everything!

This time I had a day long business trip to Amsterdam on the Monday followed by an entire day spent editing. By the time I collected my beloved from the airport on Tuesday evening, I was too tired to even start thinking about preparing for our holiday. Instead I got up really early and did it all the following morning.

We had a great drive down to the Basque country and arrived just as the heavens opened at what our Garmin GPS and Michelin route planner insisted was our hotel. It wasn’t! Unfortunately neither the owner of the hotel nor some English guests could explain exactly how to reach it. They kept telling us to take the left-hand turn out of Getaria but they should have said “after” Getaria. Our hotel was at the other end of a very long road which snakes around the headland and is now partly impassable other than on foot. So the road has two properties numbered “4” and we were at the other one.

We did eventually find it and, despite not having a dinner booking, they managed to rustle up a meal for us. Which was nice as it was our wedding anniversary. To be honest, I’d thought it was the day before which is what happens when you’ve been married as long as we have! We slept well thanks to a good bottle of red wine and exhaustion, awaking to sunshine and glorious coastal views.

Getariaview

Fortified by a hearty breakfast, we headed along the coast to Asturias but not before a sighting of Haimar Zubeldia, out for a morning training ride. We laughed because there were all those jokes on Twitter during the Tour about whether anyone had seen him. He seems to achieve top ten placings in most races from beneath the radar and here he was. To be fair he does live in the town just up the road.

We were keen to further explore the Cantabrian coastline having previously visited Noja, a start town in the 2011 Vuelta a Espana. It lived up to expectations, apart from the stretch between Santander and Torrelevaga – far too industrial. But our overnight destination was near the Asturian coastline. The entire area is a very green and pleasant land with lush green grazing for its cattle and apples trees aplenty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. The air is perfumed with the sweet smell of drying apples.

We spent a couple of days in Gijon in a stately home, now a hotel, parts of which date back to the 17th century, which has been in the same family since 1850. It was a bit like stepping back in time and delightfully restful. Just what the doctor ordered.

Gijoncoast

Have bike, will ride. The roads of Asturias are practically car free. I joked on Twitter that we were giving Lagos de Covadonga a miss but still managed plenty of climbing. The roads are undulating, not perhaps as steep as the Basque country, but steep enough. I was disappointed not to have a sighting of Samu though I did keep my eyes peeled for a tell-tale flash of red and black with gold highlights.

After a relaxing two days in Asturias, we set off for Ponferrada on the motorway. The vista was very different to Asturias, clearly showing the area’s heritage to be one of opencast mining. The first of our challenges in Ponferrada was to find the ticket office. Our GPS once more fell on stony ground but clearly we weren’t the only people experiencing difficulties as the organisers sent us a series of emails concluding with one with a map. The road to the ticket office, a portakabin parked in the middle of nowhere, was blocked but we soon circumnavigated that hurdle and got our tickets..

We then headed to our hotel on the Camino de Santiago. I’ll be honest; it’s not a challenge that holds any appeal. Even less so now that I’ve more time to fully appreciated the enormity of the challenge. Our casa rural and home for the next nine days is in one of the small villages part-way between Astorga and Ponferrada with six delightful rooms, run by a mother and daughter team. After a delicious home-cooked meal, courtesy of Mum, we happily retired to our spacious bedroom and were soon fast asleep.

The following morning we were up early for a post breakfast ride. We saw five cars, hordes of walkers and 24 cyclists, eight of whom belonged to national squads. The terrain was undulating, the vista vaguely Scottish and you could see for miles. I was also grateful I’d packed my ¾ bib tights and arm warmers! Yes, it’s a wee bit chilly first thing.

The outlook for the first few days of racing was mixed. I’d bought tickets to the uncovered grandstand and as per usual, volunteers outnumbered spectators by a factor of ten to one. Fortunately, our more mature volunteers saw sense and let in a crowd of people otherwise the camera shot of the finish would have featured empty stands.

Ponferrada TTT

We’ve now had two days of rain and the outlook for the next few is more favourable so we’ll be back out on the bike. I noted that the British elite women didn’t field a competitor in the individual time-trial. I’d have been happy to oblige if only they’d given me a call. The races have thus far been dominated by the Americans, The Germans and the Australians.

I confess that most of the attraction in coming to the Worlds is watching riders I normally don’t get to see, such as the women and the young guys and gals – stars of the future. I also visit places I’d never normally think of visiting. For example, just down the road is Astorga which dates back to Roman times, has a castle designed by Gaudi and is renowned for its chocolate. I’ve been round the castle but have yet to indulge in some chocolate.

 

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