Postcard from Hamburg

When I worked in internal audit for an American bank in the early eighties, I regularly visited Hamburg to see friends. Friends my beloved had made when he’d spent his industrial placement there in the late 1970s. We even spent Christmas and New Year there early in our married life together – anything to avoid going to the outlaw’s.

Eventually our friends settled down, got married, built a house and had a family. At this point when we visited we stayed in a hotel, largely to minimise disruption to their family life. At some point and I’m not sure why, we just stopped visiting. Two years ago, at the invitation of one of our clients we spent a brief week-end there but had little opportunity to explore.


My beloved had business meetings there this week so I decided the time was ripe to reacquaint ourselves with one of our favourite cities. Hamburg, with its port, lakes, rivers and vast network of canals, is located in the middle of a wonderful watery landscape punctuated with patches of green in the form of numerous parks, meadows and forests – many designated as conservation areas. With its fresh North Sea breeze, urban architecture and vast public green spaces, Hamburg is well worth a visit and, as one of Europe’s greenest cities, provides an almost unparalleled quality of life. Sadly, the other side of the coin appears to be an increase in homelessness and street beggars.


In the heart of Hamburg, there’s the Alster, divided into Binnenalster and Außenalster (Inner and Outer Alster). Adjacent to Binnenalster, is the ever-expanding Neustadt shopping, with well-known streets like Jungfernstieg, the magnificent Hanseviertel and Neuer Wall. The shops are well worth a browse and I spent most of Monday, while my beloved was at meetings, window shopping. However, if you’re visiting the city for the first time, I’d recommend a boat trip as exploring Hamburg from the water provides a whole new perspective on this beautiful city.



imageSunday we strolled through Hamburg’s green spaces, particularly the park all around Neustadt, en route to lunch in the harbour, an area that has much benefited from gentrification. Aside from the renovation and repurposing of historic buildings, there are plenty of modern apartments overlooking the river. It was a good 10km walk from the hotel and back which enabled us to a) work up an appetite and b) work off the calories on our return. Both times we passed through Speicherstadt, a gigantic warehouse district of renovated, century-old buildings built in traditional Hanseatic red bricks with gables, turrets and projecting alcoves.


Tuesday, we had just enough time for lunch in the hotel where we always used to stay. The hotel has since changed hands but the new owners have maintained and enhanced its old world charms. The restaurant menu featured all of my Germanic favourites which are now strictly verboten! I had to settle for yet another half of lobster (my third on this trip) and a beautiful leafy green salad. We both enjoyed our trip down memory lane and vowed not to leave it quite so long before our next visit.


Farewell summer, hello autumn

One minute I was enjoying our Indian summer, the next it was already autumn. As soon as the mercury falls, I change the bed linen over to our mid-season duvet, swap shorts for trousers and start riding in my 3/4 bib shorts and long-sleeved jersey. One minute I’m enjoying salads, the next I’m yearning for hearty soups and comforting stews. It all happened so quickly. Some of the local cols have now closed for winter because of snow and the Domaine has switched on the central heating – and thank goodness – two weeks ahead of schedule. It’s been so chilly, and wet, that I’ve rummaged in my dressing room for cashmere sweaters.
Wild, wet and windy view from the kitchen window where you can just spot autumnal creep.

It’s not all bad news my beloved has been away for the last ten days so I’ve been able to progress some of the sorting out and overseen the installation of new blinds and shutters. Though, with the weather forecast is not looking too favourable for the next ten days or so, I doubt we’ll be making much use of the terrace. Instead, I’ve had the ideal excuse to spend a few relaxing and restful hours in the kitchen preparing some soups for the freezer.

I rarely follow recipes when it comes to soups. My vegetable drawer generally provides enough inspiration. I had 500g of organic carrots and two small sweet potatoes crying out to be used up. Generally, I would chop and sweat a small onion, a clove of garlic, a knob of ginger and a small  red chilli in a mixture of butter and olive oil over a medium heat until translucent, before adding the peeled and chopped vegetables, a teaspoon of sea salt, half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and continuing to cook for a further ten minutes or so before adding homemade chicken stock. Cook gently until the vegetables are soft, liquidise and serve with a swirl of coconut cream….mmmm. You get the idea. Choose your base ingredients, add aromatics, release the sugars, add stock and you’re most of the way there.

The warming and restorative powers of home-made soup are not to be underestimated
The warming and restorative powers of home-made soup are not to be underestimated
However, my new regime prohibits the use of animal fats or animal products or frying, gently or otherwise. But that doesn’t stop me from still making great soups. Instead I cook the chopped vegetables in vegetable stock and again liquidise once they’re cooked. If the soup’s too thick, I’ll add a spot of hot water and add a few chopped herbs before servings. This time I had some chives which needed using, although my preference would have been for coriander which goes well with carrots. A nice steaming hot bowl of soup was just what I needed to keep the chill at bay. Well, that and my fleecy jimjams!

The Musette: Turmeric Oat Pancakes

My beloved and I generally go for longer rides at the week-end, calling for a more substantial pre-ride breakfast. I haven’t made him pancakes for a while but I recently found a recipe for Turmeric Pancakes. Yes, I know that doesn’t sound terribly inviting but they were surprisingly fluffy and delicious. They also ensured I had my daily dose of turmeric.

Ingredients (makes 4-6 pancakes)

  • 150g oat flour (just grind oats in food processor)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened apple puree
  • 100ml non-dairy unsweetened milk (I used almond)
  • 2 tbsp of maple syrup
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat heavy bottomed non-stick pan or grill.

2. Combine everything in a food processor. It should take no longer than 30 secs and the texture should be similar to softly dropping cake batter.


3. Portion batter into equally sized portions (4 or 6) using an ice cream scoop, or something similar, and plop onto cooking surface. They should take 2-3 minutes to cook on each side. They’re quick substantial, so flip with a fish slice.

4. Serve with whatever takes your fancy: non-dairy yoghurt, maple syrup, fresh fruit or, in my beloved’s case, crispy smoked bacon and maple syrup!


Postcard from Como

One of the many advantages of living on the Cote d’Azur is its proximity to Italy and La Dolce Vita. We watched Il Lombardia for the first time last year which afforded us an opportunity to make our maiden visit to Bergamo. This year, the course was reversed and the race started in Como and finished in Bergamo. The ideal opportunity for a quick trip to Como to see the last WorldTour race of the season and one of my favourite Monuments. We set off early on Friday morning, eating breakfast en route. Or I should  say that my beloved breakfasted while I watched enviously. Sadly, I’m still forbidden coffee and pastry cream filled croissants! The sun shone and the first part of the drive along the coast is glorious. As soon as we turned left before Genoa, the clouds put in an appearance. One reason to never live anywhere other than on the coast.


We arrived in time for lunch on the lake. Sadly, it was a tad overcast but that didn’t lessen the pleasure of eating spaghetti vongole (clams). The afternoon I spent reacquainting myself with the old town. Many moons ago, I would visit Milan regularly on business and usually spend a week-end in Como, just 30 minutes away by train. However, this was a first for my beloved as we’d not really looked around much last year when the race concluded in Como. There’s plenty of cafes and restaurants, an eclectic mix of shops plus plenty of buildings of architectural interest.

My beloved always likes to check out the price of property in the local estate agencies. While, I like to lust over a spot of property porn where the price is rarely given. Of course, any view of the lake just multiplies the price by a significant factor.

We stayed in a small hotel, right in the centre of town. It was housed in an old building which had been sensitively renovated, pleasingly mixing the old with the new. The WiFi worked, the rooms were light and spacious and the bed comfortable. The polished concrete floors and slate staircase looked good but, as we were later to discover, magnified every sound. Sadly, soundproofing between the rooms had been omitted which meany even heavy sleepers like me were in for a rude awakening. That was the only blot on a lovely week-end.

Neither of us felt particularly hungry at dinner time so we cruised a few of the bars which all have small serve yourself buffet tables of olives, grilled vegetables, pasta salad, pizza, focaccia etc to accompany their drinks, meaning we had no real need for dinner.

The sign-on for Il Lombardia took place less than 100 metres from out hotel meaning we rolled out of bed, grabbed breakfast and pitched up for a ringside seat. For many this was their last or nearly last race of the season but they were in for a long day in the saddle as the course had been reworked to include over 4,000 metres of climbing, much of it in the latter part of the race. It had rained heavily overnight and while still overcast, it was drying out as the riders departed from in front of the cathedral for their parade around the town.


As the crowds started to disperse, a handful of riders were racing to catch up.


Obviously, they didn’t get the memo about the time of the race start or, if they did, they hadn’t read it. These included the eventual victor Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange). It’s thirsty work watching racing, so we retired to a nearby café for fortification.

Rather than drive over to Bergamo to watch the race’s conclusion, we had arranged to meet friends for lunch at a local seafood restaurant for oysters and lobster – allowed under my regime. Dessert was a vegan ice cream from the shop next door to our hotel. It’s rare I can indulge in any dessert, let alone ice cream and I feel I showed great restraint by only darkening the shop’s door just the one time. After a disturbed night’s sleep, we had a power nap before watching the race conclusion on the television.

The route is surprisingly undulating, even alongside the lake, as the road frequently rises and falls around the surrounding hills. My beloved and I have frequently ridden around here but not this time. Having seen the forecast, we left the bikes at home. Luckily for the peloton, the rain only fell in the final kilometres of the race. Many had taken advantage of the short-cut back to Bergamo once their work for the day was done. Only a handful of riders finished the course which had been animated by two riders we know well – BMC’s Damiano Caruso and Cofidis’ Rudy Molard. We’d been enthusiastically cheering them on but sadly their early break didn’t succeed.

It was a later one which took the glory. It was a thrilling and fitting conclusion to the 2016 WorldTour season which saw Movistar finish top team for the fourth consecutive season and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) claim the UCI top rider spot. He’s had a fantastic season, dispelling the myth of the curse of the rainbow jersey which I’d love to see him retain next week in Doha.

Again, after that sumptuous lunch, it was drinks and nibbles with friends from the cycling world that evening where we enthusiastically discussed the many merits of the day’s race. A great way to pass an evening.

We were again woken up several times in the night by the other hotel guests returning to base. Consequently, we rose early and headed home where we knew warm sunshine awaited and we could go for a spin on our bikes. Lunch and dinner were courtesy of a superb delicatessen in Como. So we spent a relaxing day though opted for an early night to catch up on those lost hours of sleep.



The Musette: It’s still salad time

We’re enjoying our Indian Summer on the Cote d’Azur and I’m keen to prolong the feeling as much as possible with plenty of salads. These three are suitable for vegetarians, vegans, fans of clean eating and celebrate great local, seasonal produce.

The first two recipes have been taken from Anna Jones’ column and the third from that of Thomasina Meiers, both in The Guardian newspaper. Please note, I’ve tweaked all three recipes to my taste. Feel free to do the same.

Carrot and mustard seed salad

This salad has a southern Indian vibe and is really refreshing. I bought the sprouted seeds but you can just as easily sprout your own.


Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 50g unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp. liquid coconut oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 10 small curry leaves
  • 200g peeled organic carrots
  • 4 big handfuls of organic spinach
  • 50g sprouted beans/seeds (any will do)
  • small thumb of grated ginger
  • juice of ½ an organic lemon
  • handful of toasted raw cashew nuts
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped, including stems


1. Soak the desiccated coconut in about 100ml of boiling water.

2. Toast the cashew nuts in a hot oven for 5-7 minutes. Once roasted, leave to cool before roughly chopping.

3. Meanwhile, make your dressing by heating the oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and let them crackle and pop. Lower the heat, add the curry leaves and stir for a few seconds, then take off the heat and pour the mixture into a small bowl to cool.

4. Grate the carrots into ribbons with a speed peeler or mandoline, then put them into a big serving bowl. Wash and dry the spinach, then add this too, along with the sprouted beans/seeds. Next add the coconut, which should have swelled and absorbed all the water.

5. Using a microplane, finely grate the ginger into the cooled oil and mustard seeds, squeeze in the lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the carrots and spinach, mix, then finish with the chopped coriander and cashews.


Raw cauliflower salad

Who doesn’t love cauliflower? Okay, we’re not talking cauliflower cheese here. No, we’re talking something that’s much healthier. Here its meaty flavour is offset with sweet, crunchy radishes and spiky herbs.


Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 1 English cucumber, seeded, cut into small pieces
  • 1 medium head of cauliflower, finely sliced or in small florets
  • 1 bunch radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 thinly sliced 2 green/red/yellow chillies (deseeded if you’re not too fond of heat)
  • 100g toasted raw almonds, thinly sliced
  • small bunches of dill and parsley, roughly chopped

For the dressing

  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • juice of ½ an organic lemon
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. First, make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together.

2. Toast the nuts in a hot oven for 5-7 minutes, then leave to cool before finely slicing.

3. Mix all the remaining ingredients together with the dressing and let it all stand for at least 15 minutes, so the flavours can mingle together and the cauliflower softens slightly.

4. Transfer the salad to a serving platter and top with the almonds.


Warm Corn Salad

I’ve been having a thing with fresh corn of late, particularly since I made my beloved a delicious frittata with the remains of my vegetable drawer  – fresh corn, red pepper, small red onion, two new potatoes – before heading off to the Vuelta a Espana. Here those buttery corn flavours are replicated in a warm salad.


Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 4 fresh organic corn on the cobs
  • small red pepper cut into batons
  • 1 tbs liquid coconut oil
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 gloves of garlic, finely grated on a microplane
  • juice and zest of 2 organic limes
  • handful of mint and coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • 1-2 jalapeno chillies, finely chopped (I used tinned)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. Shave the corn from the cobs. Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan on a medium heat and add the coconut oil. Saute the corn, spring onions and red pepper for five to 10 minutes. Add the garlic for the last minute of cooking, then season well with salt and pepper.

2. Once the corn is tender and has taken on some colour, take the pan off the heat and stir in the lime zest and juice. Toss with all the other salad ingredients and top with the herbs.

I promise, just eating these salads will make you feel good!


Postcard from London

Since moving to France I have made infrequent trips back to the UK. Far fewer than I originally anticipated. This was my annual flying visit to the dentist and hygienist. Yes, they have those in France too – well not hygienists. My dentist is a personal friend and, in return for the occasional dinner, takes great care of my teeth. Meanwhile, my hygienist is simply one of the best in the business and well worth every pound I pay her. I initially planned the trip to also include a visit to my middle sister to ooh and aah over her remodelling of the family home.  However, it’s over budget and over schedule so that’ll be next year’s flying visit.

When I left Nice, the weather was warm and the sun was shining. We arrived in Gatwick to overcast skies. I immediately wanted to return. My beloved headed to Heathrow and a flight to Milan. Yes, I know it’s only three hour drive up the road from us, but the London trip had been booked before the trip to Milan. He returned the following day in time for dinner with my dentist. Meanwhile, I headed to my brother in law’s. I usually stay with my youngest sister but she was in France!

Having lived in London for over 20 years, there’s very little I haven’t seen. Like all great cities, it’s best enjoyed on foot. Curiosity got the better of me and  I decided to visit my old stomping grounds of Bayswater, Notting Hill, Marylebone and Mayfair. While much has changed, many of my favourite spots are still reassuringly flourishing. The weather was overcast and decidedly chilly though everyone around me was resolutely holding onto summer in short-sleeved or sleeveless outfits. Footsore but not weary, late afternoon I travelled  south of the river to my dentist.


Once the condition of my teeth had been proclaimed stable – a good thing – we left by tube for dinner at The Frog, Adam Handling’s new restaurant in Whitechapel. It’s a wee bit tricky to locate but I enjoyed the scenic wander around E1 which has mushroomed since I left London. As I suspected, this is a hip, happening place favoured by the 25-40 crowd so we definitely increased the average age of the diners. The restaurant has a great vibe but more importantly an open kitchen and I was sitting in pole position. I left my beloved and my dentist to chatter about all matters dental while I observed what was going on in the kitchen.


imageMy dentist is a fish-eating vegetarian while I’m a fish eating vegan so (sadly) the great value tasting menu was hors course. Nonetheless, the kitchen was happy to adapt two courses to meet the strictures of my regime. I had charred broccoli to start with followed by octopus! The title of the former dish’s title belied its delicious flavour while the main course was the best octopus I’ve eaten and I’ve eaten A LOT of octopus this year.


The boys greatly enjoyed all their three courses. The portions aren’t large so you can easily eat three courses. It was a delicious meal and The Frog got a huge thumbs up from all three of us.


I spent the following day at Cliveden catching up with an old girlfriend who I first met back in 1980 while we were both training to be chartered accountants. How time has flown! While she’s visited me a couple of times in France, her job and a demanding pooch preclude regular visits. We enjoyed a glass (or two) of our favourite beverage in the bar overlooking the manicured gardens. I find the main house a wee bit overpowering, so we ate in The Grill. Fortunately the sun was shining so we could walk off our admittedly light lunch by walking around the splendid grounds.


My beloved was unexpectedly available on Thursday lunchtime and expressed a desire to visit the Whitechapel Gallery. The gallery is just up the road from where I used to work and often had off-site meetings there. My beloved is somewhat conservative in his tastes particularly when it comes to art. Would he be prepared to hang it on the wall or display it in the apartment? If the answer’s yes, then he likes it. However, much modern conceptual art is not for display in a domestic setting and it’s often intended to provoke. The gallery is small and having already been fed in its café, my beloved suffered the exhibits. I could tell he wasn’t won over when he likened it to the exhibition we saw in New York’s Guggenheim where a Colombian artist had poured concrete into a number of pieces of furniture, as a protest against the regime not the furniture.


As I took my leave, I was tempted to smuggle my nephew’s dog in my handbag and take him back to France. Indeed Arnie seemed keen to join me after I’d told him the weather was soooo much better though I suspect this was because he’d been abandoned at his grandparents while his owners were enjoying two weeks in Barbados.  Before going our separate ways, we had brunch at Waterloo before my beloved headed to Paddington and a train for Cardiff and I took a train to Gatwick for my homeward journey. The few days in London had been lovely, despite the weather, but I was happy to be back home.



Tourists view Puppy flower feature floral art by Jeff Koons at Guggenheim Museum  in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain

Postcard from the Vuelta III: Bizkaia

We first visited Bilbao in Bizkaia back in 2011 when the Vuelta stopped and started in the Basque country for the first time in 33 years. No prizes for guessing why the Vuelta had avoided the area for a while. Fittingly, that stage was won by (former) Euskaltel rider, Igor Anton.We stayed in a small hotel overlooking the town which, by chance, was next to two great restaurants. I had thought of staying in the town this time around but my beloved preferred to stay outside since it would be easier to ride from there. He was right – and I don’t get to say that very often!

Although we’ve visited Bilbao a number of times, I don’t think we’ve seen most of the town. It’s one of the most prosperous parts of Spain largely thanks to its port and industrial heritage from its iron ore deposits. Though it’s now more reliant on the services sector and better known for its Guggenheim museum, on the Nervion river and  fronted by Jeff Kroon’s flower strewn puppy, which was opened in 1997 as part of the city’s attempts to revitalize the city. I’d say they’ve succeeded.

We left Gijon early on Thursday morning, right after breakfast, and headed to our new hotel to drop off the bikes and luggage before heading back into town to watch the conclusion of stage 12. The hotel was another converted Palace  – I could get used to this – situated on a golf course with all the amenities you could want or need. We had a light, spacious room at the rear of the property overlooking the golf course with a patio garden- perfect.


After a delicious press buffet lunch in the NH Hotel, I interviewed Ashley House of Eurosport for VeloVoices. I first met him back in 2012 when I spent a few days with the Eurosport team at the Tour. We’ve bumped into one another on a regular basis at most of the Grand Tours, so an interview was long overdue. He didn’t disappoint.


We then bade the Vuelta a fond farewell and spent the last two days of our holiday enjoying the beach and riding around the incredibly undulating countryside. Friday evening, we ate in nearby Gernika-Lumo which was full of families enjoying themselves in the warm late evening. The sun was starting to go down which is why I’ve resorted to photos from Getty Images, mine were too dark and my beloved’s are still languishing in his camera! I’m sure he’ll download them eventually. In his defence, he’s been on a lengthy business trip ever since our return from vacation.

After a leisurely stroll around the town famously bombed and destroyed by the Germans with Franco’s blessing in April 1937 –   I found what looked like a great bar and restaurant. I wasn’t wrong, the diners on the next table confirmed it was the best in town. My father taught me well, I can sniff out a great restaurant at 50 paces! And, yes, I did eat more octopus!

Saturday evening, we returned to Bilbao to investigate another part of town. We followed a similar strategy to the previous evening until I espied a small restaurant (20 covers) at the rear of a wine shop and deli. The maitre’d explained there was only a 7-course tasting menu. My face fell as I explained my dietary restrictions but he assured me that chef would cook me something within those guidelines. He did, and it was absolutely delicious, and a fitting end to our wonderful vacation.

I can’t recommend northern Spain more highly for a fabulous, inexpensive vacation to suit everyone’s tastes. I haven’t recommended restaurants or hotels because those things are very personal and, frankly, it’s much more fun to find these yourself. I rarely book restaurants in advance unless it’s one where I know I’ll have problems booking a table. And, even in August, it’s possible to find hotel vacancies at short notice as we (thankfully) discovered in Asturias.  Also my idea of heaven is another’s idea of hell. For example, I do appreciate that octopus  – like oysters – is an acquired taste but I’d urge you to try it – just forget about those suckers and dive in


Postcard from the Vuelta II: Asturias

Expectations were high for the remainder of our vacation, particularly after our previous hotels had spoilt us with spacious suites. We arrived in Gobientes late afternoon, after a pleasant stop for a seafood lunch in the middle of nowhere. Despite GPS and GoogleMaps, we had trouble locating the hotel. So I rang them for instructions. A combination of my Spanish and the hotel owner’s French had us driving round in circles for almost an hour. No one we asked had heard of the hotel and there were no road signs guiding us to it – not a good omen. We finally chanced upon it, about 400 metres round the corner from where we’d first rung, given our location and asked for instructions!

At this point neither my beloved nor I were in the best of humours. The hotel’s situation, right behind a working farm left much to be desired and bore no relation to the photos I’d seen or the glowing references I’d read. Its scruffy garden and terrace, where the owner was stubbing out a cigarette, didn’t inspire confidence. We checked in and then almost immediately checked out again. Our room, right next to the creaking front door, had a sea view only if you craned your neck out of the tiny bedroom window at an absurd angle. There was no air conditioning and the bathroom was another contender for my book of the world’s smallest bathrooms. Plus, it was at least 2 km from the sea and overlooked the main road. My beloved will not easily let me forget this booking disaster.




Relieved to get out of there, we drove straight back to the centre of Gijon and the soothing presence of a traditional Spanish hotel for a couple of nights. We’d previously visited the town in 2014 and had fallen in love with its charms and lovely sandy beaches. Two further days of exploration unearthed a number of fantastic local shops, bars and restaurants where I launched yet another assault on the Spanish population of cephalopods (octopuses). Spending two days right in the centre of town made us aware of how much of the town we’d missed on our earlier trip. There’s a wealth of architecture across the ages, including Roman remains near the port. The town’s been around since 5000 BC and on the outskirts of town, to the south and west, and its the main port, you can clearly see its heavy industrial legacy.




Our sanctuary for the following week was the same small, family run hotel we’d stayed in back in 2014. The house, once home to one of Spain’s steel barons, has been in the same family for five generations. The family now lives in its lodge while its guests enjoy the splendours of the beautifully maintained house and grounds, with a magnificent arboretum and a trampoline – a new attraction. I had to give the latter a go since I’d done a lot of trampolining in my dim and distant youth. I think it’s fair to say the hotel’s guest were somewhat taken aback by my skills while the owner’s grand-children were seriously impressed.


Having visited Oviedo on both Sunday for the stage finish and Monday for the stage start, we rode there on the Vuelta’s rest day, ostensibly to find its statue of Samu Sanchez but we fell short. We should have asked Samu’s family where it was when we saw them on Monday’s stage start. However, his ream, BMC Racing, had no such trouble.

I will attest that there’s very little flat in any part of northern Spain and I was thankful for the granny gears on my Orbea as I churned up yet another incline, trailing in my beloved’s wake. It was a relief to join up with the Vuelta again and watch lots of fit young guys suffer on its inclines, particularly the one to Lagos de Covadonga. Of course, their suffering only starts on the really serious gradients, which I tend to avoid for fear of having to get off and push – so embarrassing!

Nine days in Gijon allowed us to fully explore its countryside and the surrounding area, with its many hills, beautiful sandy beaches, lively bar and restaurant scene plus any number of local watering holes. One of the advantages of cycling is that you find so many more places. We spent many an evening in a local restaurant which served inexpensive but fantastic food where many of the locals were sitting in its garden playing cards and ludo. Now, that’s a game I haven’t seen played for years but it’s obviously popular in Spain as a bar we went into in Ourense had three grannies playing a highly competitive game over what I assume were some G&Ts. It was also lovely just lazing in the hotel’s grounds and enjoying myself on that trampoline. It was a really restful break. Next stop the Basque country, Bilbao to be precise, for the arrival of the Vuelta a Espana.


Postcard from the Vuelta I: Galicia

After attending 10 consecutive World Championships, I decided to take a break this yea – largely prompted by its location in Qatar. Initially, my beloved and I had decided to visit Montreal and Quebec, to watch their respective GP races, as part of a longer trip to New England. I had our whole itinerary mapped out, and then the Vuelta announced it would start Galicia and spend a significant portion of its duration in northern Spain. Plans were quickly changed, we were off to Spain.

To spare my beloved a long drive there and back, we flew to Madrid with the bikes and hired a car. We spent the first night in an excellent and inexpensive airport hotel, before driving the five hours or so to Ourense, in Galicia. We initially drove to one of Ourense’s many spas, the site of the Vuelta’s brief press conference with the leading riders who had the good fortune to be staying in its hotel. This was a few hours ahead of the typically relaxed team presentation which gave us time to catch up with some of the riders we know. Clearly, they were disappointed to discover I hadn’t bought any cakes with me but I promised them all plenty on their return, including samples of my new Musette Bar.

IMG_6631G5I’d booked a hotel in the old town of Ourense to better enjoy the many local bars, restaurants and the famed cuisine of the area, where the humble octopus looms large. We were given what can only be described as a suite with a generous outdoor balcony, bedroom, sitting room and a ginormous bathroom. I’ve slept in bedrooms smaller than that bathroom.

It poured with rain on Friday but, undeterred, we donned our anoraks and ventured forth to explore the old medieval town which is full of squares, churches and even an old Roman spa, with bars and restaurants aplenty. The architecture is fascinating with buildings dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries built from an iridescent, creamy stone and decorated with beautiful wrought iron railings,  gates, lights and balconies, spectacular stone carved detailing along the roofline, above the window, doors and even on the facades.


It’s a delightful mishmash of styles: Romanesque, Gothic, neo-Classical and Baroque which blend seamlessly along the oft tree lined streets. Statues and civic monuments abound in the attractive squares and plazas. The whole place is a veritable delight.The surrounding area is also well worth a look around, aside from its Roman bridge spanning the river Mino, there’s some charming villages on the outskirts, plus the aforementioned thermal spas.  Sadly we never got to experience any of those healing waters!


We decided to take photographs at the start of stage one’s team time-trial which set off from another spa town late on Saturday afternoon. The riders descended the ramp against a backdrop of cascading water and a large lake. It’s fascinating watching how the different teams prepare and, based on what we did see, we weren’t surprised that team Sky won.

Sunday we decided to head for the finish in Baiona by way of Vigo, which my beloved had expressed a desire to visit. A desire stirred by Iberia’s in-flight magazine which he’d read on our recent trip to San Sebastian. It’s a fascinating place – well worth a visit – though I preferred the pretty seaside town of Baiona, which was buzzing in anticipation of the Vuelta’s arrival.


imageMonday, a bit of a scorcher, we headed for the finish in Mirador de Ezaro, arriving well ahead of most of the spectators. We bagged a spot in front of the big screen, purchased plenty of liquid refreshment from the only vendor ( who later ran out of supplies) and applied the sun screen. The finish afforded a spectacular view of the ascent and the coast below. It wasn’t long before I was wishing I could dangle my feet in those cool Atlantic waters below and being grateful for the freebie Vuelta straw Stetson.

Race over we headed to our next hotel in A Coruna which we shared with the day’s stage winner, Alexander Geniez and his FDJ team, along with that of Ag2r. Frankly, after muddling along for days in Spanish, it was a relief to chat to someone in French. I doubt however that any of the riders were enjoying as much space as my beloved and I who were upgraded to yet another suite. This time we had a bathroom each; I bagged the one with the spa bath.

Early Tuesday, we drove to Asturias where we planned to spend the next nine days, dipping in and out of the race. We’d much enjoyed Galicia but had recently spent time in Castilla y Leon, plus we wanted to ride too. I’d booked a sea view room in a small, family run hotel, within walking distance of the sea shore, just down the road from Gijon. I hoped it would live up to my beloved’s expectations after the two generously sized suites!



The Musette: Baked stuffed tomatoes with potatoes

My beloved is home for the summer which means I have to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. My challenge is to prepare things we can both eat without having to cook or prepare two different meals. My new regime  – fish-eating vegan – means I have had to broaden my repertoire – no bad thing. This week a recipe by Rome-based blogger Rachel Roddy in The Guardian caught my eye.

My other half enjoys stuffed vegetables called petit facis niçois, a popular local dish which uses forcemeat whereas this recipe uses rice. I’ve had to amend the original recipe to eliminate the cheese and reduce the amount of oil but, nonetheless, it was still delish and made use of plentiful local produce.

Ingredients (serves three)

    • 6 ripe, firm, fleshy, medium‑size organic red tomatoes
    • fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    • 2 medium garlic cloves
    • 1 small dried red chili pepper (optional)
    • 6 tbsp short-grain brown rice
    • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 kg potatoes, peeled and cubed



  1. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set them aside. Use a teaspoon to scoop the insides – flesh, seeds and juice – into a bowl, taking care not to pierce the skin. Sprinkle a little salt in the cavity of each tomato and then put them cut-side down on kitchen paper towel so that any excess juice can drain away.
  2. Liquidise the tomato flesh, seeds, juice, garlic and chilli pepper. Add the rice, season  with salt and pepper, stir, then leave for at least 45 minutes during which time the rice will absorb some of the liquid and start to swell.
  3. Toss the potato cubes in the olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
  4. Sit the empty tomato husks in a lightly greased oven-proof dish or baking tin. Spoon the rice mix into the shells so they’re not quite full, then put the lids back on. Scatter the diced potato around the tomatoes.
  5. Bake at 180C/160C fan/350F/gas mark 4 for around 60 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and starting to shrivel, the rice is plump and the potatoes golden. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before diving in and eating.


Sheree’s Handy Hints

  1.  The tomatoes are the star of the show. Buy the very best you can find.
  2. You could add nutritional yeast to the tomato water to compensate for the loss of savoriness from the cheese but I didn’t feel it was necessary.
  3. My beloved decided to add a dollop or two of sauce vierge to his dish, a container of which was lurking in the fridge. It’s essentially fresh herbs, lemon juice, lemon zest, a clove of garlic, capers, cornichons and olive oil whizzed up in the liquidiser. It’s delicious on grilled fish and meat.