Apres-ski anyone?

After our first vacation skiing in Seefeld, a colleague asked me about the apres-ski scene. I was unable to tell her anything. “Frankly” I said “it’s as much as I can do not to fall asleep over dinner after a day out cross-country skiing!”

I’m someone who always sleeps well but I sleep really well in the mountains, easily sleeping for 8+hours a night. I’m please to report that habit has stayed with me back home. Yesterday I slept for 9 hours and 12 hours the day before! I can’t even excuse it on the skiing or clean mountain air.

The lack of any apres-ski action has persisted over the years. After 4-5 hours of cross-country skiing, we’ll typical stop early afternoon, enjoy a late lunch, then head for the spa to relax and unwind before dinner and bed. We usually managed to stay up for New Year when we were staying at the InterAlpen, if only to see its magnificent firework show, thanks to a nap in the afternoon. I know, we’re a bit of a boring couple.

The one exception was  a previous company’s Eastern European Equity Conference which was held in late January in the Austrian resort where the Head of Securities had a holiday home. To be honest, back in the early 1990s, it was just an excuse to have a few days skiing with clients. Inevitably it was a very alcoholic few days and I felt obliged to take part in some of the apres-ski activities. I looked after those clients who wanted to try cross-country skiing, not downhill. There were always a couple.

I clearly recall one evening when the younger members of the group were exhorting me to go to a disco with them. “Come on out with us. It’ll be fun, put on your boob tube and rara skirt!” While I was hotly denying possession of any such garments, our Head of Research had a far away look in his eye and said “I see you more in a French maid’s outfit than a boob tube and rara skirt.”

There was one of those awkward silences where no one in the group was quite sure what to say, and you could’ve heard a pin drop. I took charge, jokingly replying that I felt I was more of a leather all-in-one and whip kinda gal. I didn’t go to the disco and the Head of Research (thankfully) refrained from making any more personal comments. This is my roundabout way of saying that after a hard day of sporting activity, I much prefer to curl up with my beloved and a good book, than a vodka and Red Bull.

The apres-ski scene has always seemed to belong more to alpine skiing which often has small bars at the bottom of slopes where the alcohol and music flow well into the small hours, and well away from the accommodation. My experience of these is that they’re hot, smoky (before the smoking ban) and crowded affairs, none of which I particularly enjoy. I like SPACE and I’ve always hated smoky places. Somethings never change.

Treating myself

A few years ago I stopped buying birthday and Christmas presents. In general everyone thought it was a great idea. I wasn’t being mean. I still buy my family and friends presents but generally as and when I see something I know they’d like. Or, if we’re out together and they see something they’d like, I’ll buy it for them.

In my family my Dad was the present buyer. He’d buy throughout the year and always have an appropriate gift to hand for birthdays, anniversaries or Christmas. My mother bought us things as and when and those sort of unexpected surprises were always rather nice.

While wandering around Innsbruck after Christmas, I spotted something I’d been after for some time. So, I treated myself to the implement pictured above. You may be wondering what I’m going to use it for or on whom? Rest assured, it’s not my beloved. It’s for cracking lobster and crab claws. I’ve previously found them in all sorts of material, but have long wanted one in silver to match my lobster picks.

I treated myself to these a few years ago  – you can see a pattern emerging here – at an antique show in Valbonne. They’re not antique but silver has rather gone out of fashion, people can’t be bothered and/or don’t like cleaning it. So you can pick up all sorts of silver goodies relatively inexpensively. I bought some silver oyster forks at the same time.

My mother always carried a solid silver lobster pick in her handbag, just in case…………….It had her initials on it and was a gift from my father. It was something she treasured, along with the solid gold tooth-pick, because it demonstrated the thought my father would give to buying her presents. She loved receiving gifts, but not cards which she regarded as a waste of money. She always said not to bother buying her a card but instead to get her a pair of tights or a hankerchief. No fool, my Mum!

Anyhow, I’ve been hunting high and low for silver lobster crackers. Not that I need any excuse to visit a kitchen supplies shop. I’ve found them all over, just not in silver. Now you may be wondering why I’ve bought just the one when I have six lobster picks? I’ll generally serve lobster out of its shell as part of a dish, say lobster curry or lobster spaghetti, so that only the chef needs the crackers. Occasionally, I’ll serve a small lobster salad as a starter but I’ll crack the claws beforehand so that it’s easy for my guests to remove the meat with their lobster picks.

Not that we eat lobster all the time, though I rarely need an excuse to tuck into one, particularly since I’ve discovered Lidl’s frozen lobsters are NOT an urban myth! They’re also readily available in France at Picard, the frozen food specialist. I find these are ideal for curries and pasta dishes – a little goes a long way. However, if I’m serving it as a salad or as part of a seafood platter, I prefer to cook my own. I’m not in the least squeamish and usually put them in the freezer for half an hour before cooking them. I like to serve them luke-warm, with lemon and home-made mayonnaise. Bibs and hot hand towels obligatory!

 

 

40 Years of Memorable Moments: Le Manoir

Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons featured recently in the semi-finals of British Masterchef: The Professionals. It was once our “go to” place for celebratory occasions, particularly at lunch-time which, as at many fine dining establishments, is particularly good value. But the sight of those ivy clad walls and wonderful gardens didn’t evoke memories of when we’d stayed or dined there on our own. No, it evoked memories of the first time we ate there en famille for Fathers’ Day.

We’re going back over 30 years, not long after it first opened in 1984, when the executive chef was none other than Raymond Blanc. My parents had recently spent a long week-end there and, consequently, suggested we meet up to celebrate Fathers’ Day where we could enjoy their set Sunday luncheon. My beloved and I were the first to arrive and over a plateful of nibbles, gave the extensive menu the once over. My menu didn’t have any prices, but my beloved’s did and the colour had drained from his face. Typically, in those days, we’d pay around £150.00 for Sunday lunch for seven of us. The set Sunday luncheon was £32.95 a head, or £80.00 over our budget without a drop of alcohol!

The rest of the family arrived and everyone, except my youngest sister and I, plumped for the set menu. She wanted something simpler, opting for steak and chips – she’s never been a respecter of Michelin stars! I was going through my vegetarian phase and had fresh asparagus, followed by stuffed courgette flowers, finished with a truly sublime coffee mouse in an edible chocolate cup and saucer. We sat at a large table in the window and took our time, enjoying every wondrous mouthful. One of the first tables to be seated, we were among the last to leave. Even then we walked around the hotel’s magnificent gardens, not wanting to put an end to such a splendid day.

I’ve long-held that pre-dinner (or lunch) nibbles and petit fours say so much about the calibre of a restaurant and these were top-notch. The meal had been delicious. I doubt the kitchen had needed to wash our plates, they looked as if they’d been licked clean. We’d opted for the cheapest wine on the menu, a white Sancerre, but the bill still came in at a whopping, budget busting  £400. My mother was so cross with my Father for suggesting such an expensive venue (for us), while my beloved and my brother-in-law were praying that they had enough credit on their cards to pay the bill. In the end, Mother settled the bill with a flourish, while my beloved and brother-in-law heaved a sigh of relief.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. When she got home, Mother demanded Father reimburse her! Tough when you have to pay for your own present but I know he didn’t mind. We’d had a truly enjoyable day out, all together, which had been the real point of the exercise. That was the first of many meals and visits to Le Manoir, a truly relaxing place to stay. It’s about time we revisited!

All images courtesy of the hotel website 

The Musette: store cupboard lunch

Not long back from vacation, hardly anything in the freezer, I need to go shopping but, first, I have to cook lunch for my beloved. My typical “go to” is either a risotto – cooked that on Friday – or pasta. A quick rummage in the fridge and cupboard and I had almost the makings of a pasta carbonara. I say almost because I had no spaghetti, only durum wheat pici (fat spaghetti), and no parmesan cheese. However, I had some ham, an egg, some cream and nutritional yeast which vegans use to give dishes a cheesy flavour.

I could also have cooked the pasta with a variety of bottled sauces from the cupboard or make an aglio, olio e pepperoncini (garlic, olive oil and chilli pepper) but my beloved had eaten that only last week for lunch in Italy on our way back from Austria.

So here goes:-

Ingredients (for one greedy cyclist)

  • 150g (5 1/4 oz) pasta, preferably spaghetti
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) single (half and half) cream
  • 1 large organic egg or (preferably) two egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 100g (3 1/2 oz) wafer thin slices of bacon, ham, giancale or pancetta
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet in boiling salted water until al dente.

2. Cook giancale on a low heat in a deep frying pan.

3. Meanwhile, gently mix eggs, cream, yeast and black pepper.

4. Once pasta is cooked, drain retaining 125 ml (1/2 cup) pasta water. Add pasta to ham, add egg and cream mixture and toss pasta. If necessary, add some pasta water to thin sauce.

5. Serve and enjoy!

Purists will no doubt be outraged but my beloved lapped it up.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

I love coming up with dishes, without recipes, from whatever I have available. I used to get plenty of practice when we lived in London. After watching my beloved boys in claret and blue (AVFC) play at home, we’d often drop into to see friends who lived in Coleshill on the way back. They would challenge me to come up with dinner for four with the contents of their cupboard and fridge. Fortunately, I could always rely upon them having rice, pasta and tins of tomatoes though, it’s my proud boast, I never cooked the same meal twice!

Okay, aside from the bottled sauces, what else could I have put on the pasta?

1. I could’ve cooked down a handful of cherry tomatoes in olive oil, butter, garlic, salt and black pepper along with the few leaves of basil left on my plant. The sauce is ready in the same amount of time it takes to cook the pasta. Because cherry tomatoes have lots of pectin, their juice easily emulsifies with olive oil and pasta water to form a light sauce. Also, it can be jazzed up with any number of other ingredients such as cooked ham, chilli pepper, capers, anchovies and black olives.

2. I had some stale bread which I could have reduced to breadcrumbs and fried in olive oil with an anchovy or two and some pasta water to top the pici.

3. If I’d had some left-over cooked veggies, I could produce a surprisingly tasty sauce by chopping them into into small pieces and blending them into a sauce. You can experiment with different combinations of vegetables but you must use potatoes, since the starch they contribute is necessary for thickening the sauce.

4. If I hadn’t any ham, I could’ve substituted sliced mushrooms in the carbonara recipe, or used both for an Alfredo type sauce.

5. The only limitations are your imagination and ingredients to hand.

Postcard from Seefeld: these are a few of my favourite things

I’m home and looking back fondly on our most recent vacation. Strolls down memory lane are comforting just so long as your memories are enhanced by the development of your favourite places.

We’ve enjoyed many vacations, summer and winter, in Seefeld, most spent at the InterAlpen Hotel, Tirol, about which I’ve already written. However, we’ve also stayed at another 5* star hotel in the centre of Seefeld and spent time at a number of other establishments.

1. Klosterbrau, Seefeld

We’ve tended only to spend week-ends here while passing through the area. Its biggest advantage is its central position in the town. As its name suggests, it was a former monastery dating from the 16th century which brewed beer. The hotel’s been in the hands of the same family since the early 19th century and it still brews beer which my beloved feels is some of the best he’s ever drunk. Now, he’s no expert, but that’s still quite a ringing endorsement. I prefer to highlight its excellent restaurant which easily caters for my regime and where we ate a number of times, including for my birthday, on our most recent trip.

The hotel has a lively atmosphere and its décor is a wonderful and carefully curated mix of old and new. As is expected, it has all the usual bells and whistles, including a lovely spa, to justify its classification. On the downside, it’s a much smaller hotel than the InterAlpen and can be quite noisy.

2. Café Moka Muehle at Hotel Elite

After a day’s activity, there’s nothing nicer than a coffee and cake at this establishment. The café was formerly separate from the hotel but when it was recently enlarged and updated, the café was subsumed within the hotel to give it a larger dining room. The café lives on in the bar and lounge area of the hotel and still, again according to my beloved, serves the best apple struedel in the area. We enjoyed many a coffee, hot chocolate and gluehwein here while my beloved tasted many of its home-made desserts.

3. Hotel Wetterstein Bar

The hotel overlooks the start of the cross-country trails and has built a large terrace and bar to benefit from its sunny position. Again, it’s another though more recent favourite pit-stop for coffee or Aperol spritz. It also has a menu with a number of dishes which I can eat, including oysters. However, you need to either reserve a table or arrive early to bag one in the sunshine.

In fact any place that has a terrace in the sunshine attracts punters in their droves. In the parade of shops opposite the Klosterbrau, the delicatessen has outside seating, in the sunshine, which is always busy.

4. Ferienheim

This is a small, local run restaurant just down the road from the InterAlpen. It’s popular with locals and has long been one of our favourite pit-stops for a drink on its sunny terrace or self-service lunch inside.

It’s close to the (in)famous Wildmoos Alm which is a veritable gold mine, heaving with locals and tourists who have walked, driven, caught the bus, hotel shuttle or a horse driven carriage to enjoy its lively atmosphere and colourful mein host. We always pop in for a drink but prefer to eat at the Ferienheim which serves better food at half the price.

5. Mittenwald

Seefeld is just over the border from Germany and we typically will spend a morning in the southern Bavarian town which boasts many prettily painted properties from prior centuries. Over the years, the town has not changed much apart from losing its major sports shop to yet another restaurant.

6. Munich

An hour and a half down the motorway is the Bavarian town of Munich, a big favourite of mine which sadly I’ve not visited for the past few years or so. Its Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), one of the largest and most well-known in Germany, dates back to those first held the 14th century and only moved to its current home in 1972.

However, for me its main attraction is the fully decked out 30 metre Christmas tree and the scent of mulled wine (Gluehwein). The market covers 20,000 square metres with the booths and craft stalls from numerous vendors stretching out from Marienplatz to the tower of the old town hall (Altes Rathaus), its inner courtyard (Prunkhof), along Kaufingerstraße and Neuhauserstraße to the Richard-Strauss-Brunnen and from Weinstraße to the Sternenplatzl at Rindermarkt.

The market isn’t Munich’s only attraction, as you can see from my photographs. It has much to recommend it all year round with plenty of cultural attractions aside from its shops and restaurants.

7. Innsbruck

Another old town worthy of a visit and we’ll be back here again in September for the UCI Road World Championships. Nonetheless, we had an enjoyable potter about with a pit-stop for coffee followed by lunch, followed by a spot of food shopping in one of its indoor markets.

8. Villa Caroline

It would be rude not to mention our holiday home, situated almost in the centre of town, close to all the action. It’s four identical 100 sq m, two-bed, two bath, apartments within a newish building (built 2007-8) with panoramic views. It’s well kitted out and even has English television thanks to its roof top satellite.

You’ll have spotted the key attraction for us. The two bathroom means I don’t have to share with my beloved – always a bonus  – and he can use the second bedroom as a dressing room. Hence I don’t have to share closet space either – perfect! We first stayed here back in 2oo9 during the summer so knew what to expect and it didn’t disappoint.

Thanks for the memories

In a way it’s inevitable that we’ve made comparisons between last Christmas in Australia and this one in Austria. Largely, I should add, prompted by Facebook constantly throwing up photographic memories of last year’s trip. I had said I wouldn’t do a “where were we this time last year?” and, to be fair, I’ve not overindulged. However, it’s hard to ignore the contrasts.

The biggest difference is, of course, the weather: summer v winter. This time last year we were sightseeing in Adelaide and the surrounding area, ahead of the Santos Tour Down Under, luxuriating in the heat (35-40C) and petting cuddly baby animals. This year we’ve been out either walking or skiing and enjoying the sunshine, though not the heat (-3 – +3C), visiting areas we love and know well. We’ve thought about “how long is it since we were last here?” This, of course, includes working out what’s changed since that last time.

In both instances, we stayed in self-catering accommodation. We like spacious flats where we can stretch out, which have separate bathrooms and many of the conveniences we’d find at home. I enjoy cooking with local ingredients and confess to missing the oysters and lobster tails of last year or, more specifically, the markets where we bought our produce. Aside from the local well-stocked supermarket, this year I’ve contented myself with Innsbruck’s food hall and one of my favourite shops in Munich, Dallmayr’s.

Markthalle, Innsbruck
Dallmayr’s, Munich

Of course, I don’t cook all the time. In Australia, it’s never hard to find a restaurant serving something I can eat. The only one’s which are “no go’s” are fine dining establishments with 6-8 course set menus. Austria’s rather different. There’s plenty on offer for vegetarians, so long as you eat cheese and dairy. I am restricted to pasta with tomato sauce, pizza with tomato sauce and vegetables, large mixed salads and the occasional fish dish. However, the better the restaurant, the more likely it is to have or be prepared to adapt something on its menu for me. Meanwhile, it’s a refined form of torture watching everyone, including my beloved, tuck into some of my formerly favourite dishes.

It’s not all holiday though as we still have to keep the business ticking over wherever we are but my beloved tries to stay off the grid between Christmas and New Year. Interestingly, 2018 has gotten off to a great start business wise, and long may it continue.

One of the oldest bits of Innsbruck

 

Marien Platz, Munich

This year, we’ve spent just over a month in the same place although we’ve had trips to the surrounding towns of Munich, Mittenwald and Innsbruck. We’ve not explored as much as we did last year. Partly, this is because we’ve had many winter and summer holidays in this area and we know what we like to see and do. It’s less virgin territory and more of a trip down memory lane.

My beloved outside one of the many painted buildings in Mittenwald

Both holidays were pretty active in terms of both participating in and watching sport, though Australia definitely wins hand down. Largely because of the more favourable weather conditions but also because last year my beloved wasn’t still recovering from a broken leg.

I’m delighted to report that he’s been sensible – and about time too. He’s been much more cautious than before, when the idea of taking it easy for the first few days while he recovered his snow legs was total anathema. We’ve also walked a lot more than before, partly because of the weather and partly because my beloved’s leg gets tired after three day’s of consecutive skiing. He’s also stuck to the classic rather than skating technique on account of his hips.

Home sweet home

So, what are we going to do next year? While I would happily jump on a plane to Australia, I recognise that the business won’t allow us to have an extended stay and while a winter holiday was fun, I’ve become more of a fan of the sun. This was the last building block of 2018 and we’ve decided to spend it at home with occasional forays into Italy for some la dolce vita.  

 

 

 

Things my beloved has lost: a dinner jacket

My beloved recently wore his tuxedo to an industry awards dinner. It was the first time he’d worn the suit in many a year. Fortunately it still fitted him and required just a light pressing to bring it back to life. Probably, the last time he’d worn it had been for the New Year’s Eve bash at the InterAlpen Hotel. This suit was an eventual replacement for one he’d lost many moons ago.

How can you lose a dinner jacket? Well, we’re not sure exactly how it happened. My beloved went to a black tie do with his dinner suit and only came back with the trousers. However, I can probably hazard a guess. This was his first major loss. Up until then it had just been the usual towels, swimming trunks and swimming goggles carelessly left behind at one of the UK’s many swimming baths after a training session or water-polo match.

Many moons ago, all-male black tie dinners were quite popular. When we first got married, my beloved couldn’t afford to buy a dinner suit and had his late father’s one altered to fit. It was a lovely double-breasted jacket and, in my opinion, he did look rather handsome in it. Generally at functions where he was obliged to wear it, I was with him. But (sadly) not on this particular occasion.

He left for the black tie event with the suit in one of those heavy plastic suit carriers which he hung up in the back of the car to make sure that the freshly pressed (by me) suit remained in pristine condition. He returned from the event and rehung the carrier in the wardrobe without saying a word! Several months later we were due to attend another black tie event, this time with my parents. The week beforehand, I checked the suit carrier to find out whether the suit would need pressing, spot cleaning or dry cleaning. There was no jacket, just the trousers. I checked the other hangers in the wardrobe but there was no sign of his dinner jacket.

When he returned, I questioned him about the jacket and he immediately began to look uncomfortable. My beloved cannot lie. It was clear he was aware he’d “lost” the jacket when he’d repacked the morning after the event and couldn’t find the jacket anywhere in his hotel bedroom. Of course, he didn’t think to enquire of his dinner companions if they could remember what he’d done with it or even ask the hotel staff if they’d found a lone jacket! Too late now to enquire of the hotel staff, even if he could remember the name of the hotel where he’d stayed. It must have been some event!

In our early days of married life we didn’t have much money and, consequently, I didn’t feel like busting the budget to replace the suit. Instead I opted for pairing the black trousers with a white dinner jacket, as none of the black ones in Marks & Spencer were of the same weight and colour as his trousers. To be honest this made him look more like one of the waiting staff – white gloves anyone? – than a guest, but he just had to grin and bear it. It was quite some time before I bought him a new dinner suit which I’m delighted to say he still has in his possession, not that there’s much call to wear them these days.

So, how did he lose it? The jacket was made from a heavy wool and was rather warm. I suspect that as soon as he was able to do so, probably after the port had been served, my beloved divested himself of his jacket and hung it on the back of his chair. Thereafter I’m sure the table probably headed for the bar and my beloved left his jacket behind. No doubt it was found by the hotel’s waiting staff who put it into lost property, fully expecting its owner to reclaim it the following day. Why my beloved didn’t bother to enquire of the hotel whether they’d found his jacket, only he knows. On the bright side, as far as I was aware there was nothing of import in any of the jacket pockets.

I was rightly annoyed with him because he’d made no attempt to find the jacket and, if he’d owned up about the loss sooner, I could’ve rung the hotel to reclaim it or at least tried to track it down. At worst I would’ve made a small claim on our household insurance for a replacement. As it was, three months down the line, none of these was now an option.

40 years of Memorable Moments: InterAlpen Hotel, Tirol

We’ve spent many happy holidays in the Seefeld area so it would be hard to pinpoint one as being “The Best Ever.” Rather, happy memories have arisen on all our holidays. We’ve stayed in a number of hotels and apartments in the area but have a clear favourite, aside from where we’re currently staying.

On our maiden visit to Seefeld in 1986, we stayed in a self-catering studio apartment. The following year we stayed in a hotel we’d spotted while out cross-country skiing. The hotel is just outside of Seefeld in Telfs-Buchen, on a hill overlooking the Inn valley. It had opened a couple of years earlier, in 1985, and is owned by the Liebherr family who have one of their plants in the town of Telfs in the valley below.

Rumour has is that the late Dr Hans Liebherr wanted to build a home on the hill but planning permission was refused. Instead he built a large hotel, providing much-needed employment and business for the area. He maybe had the last laugh because as you drive into the hotel’s massive underground carpark, clearly marked on the entrance is “Dr Hans Liebherr, Alpenstrasse 1.”  He used to occupy the penthouse suite when he was in residence.

We so enjoyed our 1987 vacation at the hotel that we became frequent guests, staying there in high season, such as Christmas and New Year, mid-February and even low season in the summer. My parents accompanied us on a number of visits, including one in winter where my father manfully gave cross-country skiing a go. However, they tended to prefer visiting in summer when it was less slippy underfoot and the climate more temperate.

The whole area is a sports’ mecca and there’s little we’ve not tried: cross-country and alpine skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, ice-skating, tobogganing, walking, mountain, fat and road biking, indoor and outdoor tennis, swimming, wild-water rafting and canonying. We’ve also watched a number of sports’ events such as ski jumping, ski racing and, in summer, tennis tournaments.

There’s a number of reasons why we liked staying at the hotel. Although it is large and has many (282) rooms, it never feels full. There is plenty of space to enjoy the hotel, and its many facilities. The bedrooms are spacious, the dining rooms are split into a variety of rooms ensuring that they are intimate and cosy, rather than noisy. Guests can spread themselves in and around the many bars and lounges so there’s never a problem finding a seat.

The hotel is relatively isolated and consequently it provides plenty of day and night time activities for its guests. Facilities have been added over the years including Europe’s largest spa in 2002, a lovely place to luxuriate and be pampered before enjoying the hotel’s indoor or outdoor pools.

Since our move to France we’ve visited Seefeld and the hotel much more infrequently but it remains one of our favourite places to stay. You may wonder why we’re not staying there over Christmas and New Year? It’s simple. The hotel, like most in the area, offers only half-board which frankly we now find all too much, even without taking account of the challenges of my dietary requirements. Plus, we now much prefer the freedom afforded us in a spacious apartment.

Sheree’s 2017 Sporting Highlights

I’ve been a bit slow off the mark here largely because I’ve been out enjoying myself in the snow!

As usual there were many lowlights in 2017 – no need to depress ourselves by listing them – but I’ve always been a glass half full kinda gal and still found much to enjoy, particularly on the sporting front. I’ve limited myself to five – early new year discipline is no bad thing!

Football

With my beloved boys in claret and blue languishing in the Championship, it was again down to OGC Nice to provide me with some much needed cheer. Punching well above their financial might, the boys easily finished the 2016/17 season in third place, qualifying for the qualifying round of the Champions League. Sadly that proved to be a step too far too soon, though we’re currently doing well in the Europa Cup. Inevitably we lost six first team players to better (paying) clubs though hung onto both our manager and Super Mario (Balotelli).

A very shaky start to the new season has largely been rescued but I’m hoping and praying we don’t lose any key players in the January transfer window. Yes, Mario, I’m specifically talking about you! Meanwhile, AVFC yesterday crashed out of the FA Cup to concentrate on finishing at least in the play-offs giving them the chance to return to the Premiership. So 2018’s looking bright for both my teams.

MotoGP


2017 saw us attend the Italian MotoGP at Mugello, a fascinating race won unexpectedly by an Italian who wasn’t Valentino Rossi  – racing but still recovering from his broken leg – it was Andrea Dovizioso. It was possibly one of the most exciting seasons in recent history with Maverick Vinales – such a wonderful name – initially igniting hopes on the factory Yamaha vacated by Jorge Lorenzo, then Dovi coming to the fore on his Ducati before Marc Marquez steamed back to lift the title, his sixth and fourth in the blue riband event prompting #BigSix.

The event at Mugello was tinged with sadness as tribute was paid to former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden, a hugely popular figure in the sport who’d moved to World Super Bikes at the start of the season. Hayden was killed while riding a bicycle in Italy. Attendance at another, as yet to be determined, MotoGP event is definitely on the cards for 2018.

Cycling

Once again we managed to attend the start of all three grand tours which afforded us the opportunity to visit some new locations in Sardinia, Nimes and Uzes  plus visit some old favourites in Duesseldorf and Maastricht. My beloved’s broken leg prevented us from attending the Tour of the Basque country though thankfully not the Clasica San Sebasian. Prior to his accident, we spent another very enjoyable weekend in Siena watching both the ladies and gents’ Strade Bianche, two tough but absorbing races which are now firm fixtures on our racing calendar – any excuse for a trip to Tuscany! Sadly, we won’t be kicking off our season watching racing Down Under instead, this year, it’ll be the Tour of Dubai – a first  – followed by plenty of races on home turf. (See pictures above. For reasons best known to WordPress, I couldn’t insert them in the correct section).

Skipping the Tour of the Basque country once more, we’ll be visiting the Giro and clients in N E Italy, watching the start of the Tour in the Vendee and in the Pyrenees while (sadly) passing on the Vuelta to attend a family wedding. Also, after a two year absence, we’ll be gracing the World Championships in Innsbruck, just down the road from where we’re staying. As ever, at all the races we’ll be cheering on the riders we know and hoping that one of them will win a race or a stage, or two.

Easily my highlight of 2017 was watching Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue), a key member of my crack cake tasting team, winning his first WorldTour stage in the Tour de Suisse, followed by him lifting his national championships. He’s a very fitting Captain America and I’ll be hoping that his winning ways continue in 2018. He features in my header image courtesy of Sirotti.

In 2018 we waived goodbye to two giants of the sport, and two of my favourites, Tom Boonen and Alberto Contador, and much less gloriously and more disappointingly, Sammy Sanchez. A dear friend in the peloton told me he didn’t trust Samu. He was so right and I should never have doubted my friend. The riders know best.

Cricket

Last year in Australia I fell in love with #BigBash aka Twenty20 cricket and this year I was fortunate to attend more matches and watch the rest of the series on television. My beloved and I supported the Melbourne Renegades, largely because we spent more time in Melbourne than elsewhere and because their red and black colours reflect those of OGCN. As ever it was great family entertainment and an exciting evening’s viewing. This year I’ve had to contend with watching snippets on the internet. It’s nowhere near as good.

My Beloved’s Health

Having returned to good health towards the end of 2016, I was looking forward to getting back in the saddle and regaining my former fitness. I was definitely heading in the right direction until my beloved fell off his bike and broke his leg. It’s been a long road back (for both of us), despite the wondrous care and attention from the French healthcare system which cost us absolutely nothing and included 70 physio sessions. My beloved has never had particularly flexible hips and this injury has worsened the situation leaving him with less control over his balance. He’s fallen over a few times this vacation on the ice but fortunately nothing more serious than injured pride. He’s also back riding his bike but he’s being so much more cautious, probably no bad thing given his advancing years. I am concerned about his lack of flexibility and will be dragging him along to yoga with me when we’re back home at the end of the month. I’ll be hoping and praying for a healthy and injury-free 2018 for both of us.

Things I’ve done: race day

Having successfully completed the Engadin Marathon trial-run, Friday and Saturday were spent preparing our skis with the right waxes, stretching our aching limbs to aid recovery and indulging in a spot of carbo-loading. After my beloved’s faux humour, everyone was very solicitous towards me, carry my skis, making sure there was room for me at the table, giving me a helping hand so I didn’t slip on the icy paths and so on. Frankly, it made a nice change from being ignored/taken for granted by my beloved.

2018 Engadin Marathon Map

The Engadin marathon starts at 08:30 for the elite racers however there’s a tendancy for everyone to turn up far too early for the start. We were there at 06:30 to brave the elements and the very, very long queues for the facilities. I see from the event’s website, they now provide heated tents for people to wait in, but (sadly) not back in 1990. As newbies, my beloved and I were at the back of pretty much everyone and, like the London marathon, it took a while just to get over the start line though no one was wearing fancy dress.

While waiting for the start, I realised I had drunk too much hot tea staving off the morning chill which meant I needed yet another comfort break. I took an executive decision. I wouldn’t ski back to the facilities at the start but would have a pit stop at the first set of facilities, because there were bound to be portaloos en route? Wrong! I note from the profile map above that there are now facilities along the course but (sadly) there weren’t any back in 1990. However, there were tons of spectators with their video cameras. A fear of featuring on someone’s home video kept me glued to the track rather than seeking out a tree or some bushes for a much-needed pit stop.

I consoled myself with the thought that I’d stop for a comfort break in one of the many villages on the route but I soon discovered it was well nigh impossible to leave the track. With an already overfull bladder, I moderated my intake at the feed stations where the biggest hazards were rolling paper cups, soggy snow from dropped liquids and volunteers encouraging you to drink Rivella – revolting!

As one of the race’s tail-end Charlies, I had plenty of time to take in the raucous support from the spectators lining the spectacularly scenic route which helped take my mind off my more pressing need. Finally, about three-quarters of the way into the race, I reached one of the villages (La Punt) where there was a small restaurant right next to the tracks. I threw down my skis and legged it to the toilets. There was a long queue for the ladies but no one waiting for the gents. Who cared? Not me, I rushed in. What a relief!

Needless to stay without that pressing matter my skiing much improved and I sped toward the finish. As I approached the line, I listened to the announcer. I was just ahead of the oldest person in the race, an 86 year old woman, a local. I positively raced across the line to beat her by a full minute – result!

This was my maiden attempt and I went on to improve my time subsequently, particularly once I learnt the skating technique. My best ever time for 42km is just over three hours while the winner – usually a professional ski racer – takes 76-78 minutes! I’ve never taken part in any other ski marathons  largely because so many are even longer and I fear I might need an overnight stop.