And the stabilisers are finally off!

My beloved has finally relinquished his crutches. It’s been a bit of a struggle to wrestle them off him. He’s kept them close just in case………a bit like stabilisers or training wheels on one’s first two-wheeler.

A month after his operation, he was able to walk around the flat without crutches. But then it’s all on the flat with no rugs or carpets to trip over. Our downstairs neighbours have most probably given a huge sigh of relief. Although the sound-proofing is excellent, my beloved charges around like a herd of elephants. One of my neighbours used to say she could always tell when he was away.

Any time we’ve gone out for a walk, he’s taken the crutches. Although he could manage with just one, the physio preferred him to either use both or, preferably, none to avoid getting a lop-sided gait.

He’d been using them less and less and i suggested we leave them at home on our pre-Xmas trip to Paris. That seemingly did the trick. We didn’t walk as much as we would do normally (10-16km per day) but nontheless he managed just fine with a mixture of the Metro and walking. While we were away, I hid them in the cupboard and he’s not given them another thought!

In Paris he was walking with a noticeable limp but, after plenty of strolling over Xmas in Alassio, that’s now disappeared and frankly you would never know that he’s had a replacement hip. I’ll be returning his crutches to the pharmacy.

He will however continue with his twice weekly one-on-one physio sessions until his ordonnance (order) is exhausted. He’s supplementing those physio sessions with gym circuits and bike rides. Yes, finally, we’re back on our bikes!

It’s always a bit of a stuggle when you’ve not ridden for a while. The saddle feels like an instrument of torture and you hit your granny gear way too early on the climb. Fortunately, while it’s been chilly, it’s been dry and we’ve steadily built up the kilometrage and can happily ride 50km with ease. It’s onwards and upwards from here.

 

Visit to Atelier des Lumières

Whenever we visit Paris, my beloved generally gets to choose which exhibitions and/or events we visit. This time he elected to visit a relatively new exhibition space in Paris’s 11th arrondissement – not an area we know particularly well – called Atelier des Lumières, Paris’s first digital museum of fine art.

Not quite knowing what to expect, we took the metro over to 11th in Eastern Paris and walked the length of rue Saint-Maur. We almost missed the former foundry had it not been for the long queue outside. This didn’t augur well, my beloved does not like to wait. Fortunately, the queue moved briskly and we were soon inside the large multi-sensory exhibition space operated by Culturespaces, called its “Workshop of Lights.”

The exhibition is dedicated to Gustav Klimt and a century of Viennese painting, includin works by Egon Schiele and Friederich Stowasser, better-known as Hundertwasser. There’s also a smaller studio given over to works by emerging artists.

Using state-of-the-art visuals and audio, the artists’ works are transformed as 140 video projectors expose their works onto and across 10 metre high walls over the vast 3,300 square metre surface area of the refurbished building. These fabulously colourful images provide an immersive and panoramic show to the sound track of music by Wagner, Chopin and Beethoven, among others, using an innovative motion design sound system.

It was a mesmerising digital display and we were transfixed as 360-degree views of the artworks flash across the walls. Over a period of around 30 minutes we’re taken on a journey round neoclassical Vienna. Our favourite  aspect was the exhibition’s attention to details, particularly with Klimt’s “golden” phase.

It’s difficult not to be overawed by the scale and depth of this multi-sensory exhibition. However, in my opinion, the best bit is that it makes fine art more interesting, accessible and available to younger audiences.

Friendly Friday moved to Monday!

I take so many photos during the year that I decided to take part in Friendly Friday – a brand new photo challenge, co-hosted on alternate weeks by Amanda from Something to Ponder About and Snow from The Snow Melts Somewhere. Of course, I meant to post this on Friday, but I forgot! <hangs head in shame>

This week’s theme is Inspiration. So I’ve been flicking through my photos for inspiration. I started blogging initially to keep friends and family, who’d sponsored me to undertake a charity ride, up-to-date with my progress. After I’d successfully completed the event, they asked me to continue blogging as it gave them a view into our life in France. I still write about cycling, but the blog’s morphed more into a Lifestyle blog as I write about anything that takes my fancy such as my beloved [husband], the French, our life in France, recipes, trips, special memories, travel and sport.

So my photo really needs to be a shot of a cyclist or of a cycling event. Just one problem. Most, if not all, of our cycling photos are taken by my beloved with his all-singing, all-dancing SLR. I just snap away with my iPad or iPhone at the scenery or inanimate objects. But there’s a few………such as this one.

Amael Moinard, former stage winner at Tour du Haut Var Matin 2014

But here’s one I took of one of our friends who’s coming to the end of an illustrious career. We saw him take his first World Tour victory at Paris-Nice 2010 where he won the final stage and the spotted King of the Mountain’s jersey. Off the back of that win, the following year he moved to BMC and rode in support of Cadel Evans’ Tour de France victory in 2011. We saw him win a stage in the Tour du Haut Var in 2014 in the company of his family which was also a special occasion. At the end of 2017, he moved to Arkea-Samsic (formerly Fortuneo-Samsic) to ride in support of Warren Barguil and impart the benefit of his years’ of experience to the younger members of the squad.

Amael’s a talented rider with three top 20 finishes in grand tours on his palmares (14th Tour de France 2008, 18th Vuelta 2009 and 15th Giro d’Italia 2015) and has a enjoyed a long and successful career. This season may be his last. We love watching our friends take part in races and, though it rarely happens, enjoy watching them win. It’s truly inspiring.

The Musette: sourdough pizza

Homemade sourdough pizza is an eye-opening experience, with so much flavour in the dough and a crispy chewy texture to the crust. Of course, if only I had a wood-fired pizza oven I could add a smokey note, toasted crust edges and more intensely caramelised topping. A girl can dream can’t she?

Ingredients (enough for 4-5 individual pizzas)

  • 510g (31/2 cups) Italian tipo 00 flour
  • 90g (1/2 cup + 3 tbsp) wholemeal flour
  • 390ml (1 2/3 cup) filtered water
  • 120g (1 cup) sourdough starter
  • 14ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
  • 12g (2 tsp) fine sea salt
  • 2-3 tbsp additional flour for kneading
  • 1-2 tbsp additional oil for coating the dough bowl

Method

1. Prepare the sponge by mixing the starter with 120g filtered water and 120g flour. This is a 1:1:1 starter preparation, but other builds are fine too. Cover the bowl with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and let it sit at room temperature for 4-8 hours until roughly tripled.

2. Now, mix all the ingredients together by hand, or in a mixer with the dough hook attachment for 5-10 minutes, until everything is incorporated and forming a ball around the hook.

3. Scrape the dough out onto a floured counter and knead it for 3-5 minutes, adding a small amount of flour until the dough is manageable, but still sticky.

4. Lightly oil a bowl, then lay dough top side down in the bowl and cover with oiled clingflm (plastic wrap).

5. Let the dough rise until it has approximately doubled. Alternatively, you can leave the dough at room temperature for a few hours and then put it in the refrigerator for a day or so, and finally pull it out when it is fully risen or close to fully risen and just needing a few more hours at room temperature.

6. When the bulk fermentation is finished, lightly oil a sheet pan and your worktop.

7. Scrape out the dough onto the oiled counter, gently press out most of the air, and divide the dough into 4-5 pieces. The total dough weight is approximately 1140g. This makes approx.  approx. 225g or four 285g pizzas. (You can go larger and smaller, but you may need to adjust cook time.)

8. Form each piece into a ball by folding the sides of the piece inward. Then hold the ball in one hand with the taut top on your palm, while you pinch the bottom pieces together with your other hand.

9. Place the balls in the oiled pan seam-side down, and cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) or put the entire pan in a plastic bag. The final proof can be at room temperature for 45-90 minutes or in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours. It’s at this point, I’ll freeze any additional dough.

10. Before the dough has finished proofing, set up your toppings and the area where you will be stretching and “decorating” your pizza. My preferred pizza sauce is my home-made tomato one. I make it ahead of time, and simply pull it out of the refrigerator to warm up a bit when I’m setting out the toppings.

11. About 30 minutes before your dough has finished proofing, preheat your oven to 260C/230Cfan/500F/gas mark 10, using the top shelf if you have a top grill (broiler).

12. Remove a dough ball from the proofing pan and gently grasp one side of the circle with both hands. Holding the top edge of the circle (10 o’clock and 2 o’clock), let the rest of the dough droop/stretch downward while you then rotate and re-grab the dough like you’re turning a steering wheel. This will develop about a 1/2-1 inch crust edge and stretch the middle. (Using a rolling pin is fine too.)

13. Lay your pizza dough on a piece of floured parchment paper. If necessary, stretch and adjust the dough a little more.

16. Now top your pizza dough to your liking and put it in the oven for 7 minutes, then switch to the grill for 1 minute more. This will brown the top of the pizza and caramelize the sugar in the toppings.

17. Remove the pizza from the oven and enjoy! Repeat process with next pizza.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. As above, I often make two large rectangular pizzas to share among four/five rather than individual ones simply because it’s quicker.

2. My home-made tomato pizza sauce is made as follows:-

Marinara sauce: Ingredients (makes 3 cups)

  • 800 g (28 oz) tin of Italian tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp of tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Swirl around the olive oil to coat the pan and, when the oil is hot, add the shallots, garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir constantly until the shallots are translucent, around 2-3 minutes.

2. Pour in wine and cook, again stirring for 1 to 2 minutes to evaporate some of the alcohol. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1-2 minutes before adding the tomatoes, salt and pepper and bring to simmer.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low, crush the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon as they cook, stirring occasionally for a minimum of 60 minutes until the sauce thickens. Liquidise sauce.

4. If you’re not going to use it right away, it’ll sit happily in the fridge for a week, or the freezer for a month.

Postcard from l’île de la Cité, Paris

The flat we’ve rented in The Marais on our last few trips was booked, so we chose another one nearby, close to the Picasso Museum. A couple of weeks before our arrival, the owner advised there was a problem with the boiler and offered us a replacement (and much larger) flat on l’île de la Cité, on a small road just back from the Seine. We gratefully accepted his offer.

Rue_des_Ursins,_Paris_6_September_2015

The road was a total surprise. It’s a mixture of very old and new jammed into a rue just 113 meters long and four meters wide. Two blocks away from Notre Dame, Rue des Ursins is one of the oldest streets in the city and I understand it’s a popular photo location for fashion and bridal shoots.

We had some interesting neighbours. On the one side the Bureau of Naturalization, located within the Prefecture de Police. Looking closely at the building we could see it also housed the repair shop for all the motorcycle police in Paris. A pretty secure flat we thought except the prefecture closed in the evenings. 

Rue des Ursins Chapelle

On the other side is a seminary which also houses the remains of Chapelle Saint-Aignan.  At one time the island was full of chapels – 23 in fact. But revolutions and changing times have left only Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and this one. The other occupants of the road include a reconstructed home with medieval touches, several apartment buildings and a lawyer’s office.

IMG_8766

The medieval-style building on the corner by the stairs looks like a well-preserved ancient hôtel particulier but it was built in 1958 by architect Fernand Pouillon. A stair leads to a wood, gothic-arched door. The windows above are stained glass. On the other side, the garage door looks like an ancient wood entrance to a fort but holds two cars and is an underground entrance to the hôtel.

IMG_9008 (Edited)

Just past the faux medieval house is a jardinette, a small triangular garden. It is the smallest garden on the island and one of the smallest in Paris. It features two tiger head fountains, a tree and flowers that change depending on the season.

Chapelle Saint-Aignan, founded in 1116, was built in classic Roman architectural style with columns and rounded arches in white stone. The chapel was shut in 1791 and transformed into a barrel store. It did not fare well in the following years and today only the nave is left. It has been restored and seminarians of the diocese generally use it for private worship.

Ursins isn’t even the street’s original name. Indeed it had several when it was part of Port Saint-Landry, the Paris’s first port until the end of the 12th century. Around 1300, three streets had the name Ursins leading from Port Saint-Landry onto the island. They were all named after the hôtel des Ursins once owned by the family of the same name. Its next owners were French who managed the merchants of Paris under Charles VI (1380 – 1422) through Louis XI (1461 – 1483).

In 1881, the names of the other two streets were changed, leaving only this short street running between Rue le la Colombe and Rue des Chantres and parallel to the Quai aux Fleurs. The road’s at the old level of the banks of the Seine and the lowest street on the island.

Rue des Ursins now

At the street corner with Rue des Chantres is a placard that indicates the height of the Seine flood in 1910. The simple green sign says “CRUE Janvier 1910” with a line marking the flood height. Humorous graffiti adds “Poisson” and a happy face, referring to the fish that were no doubt swimming in the flood. Plus, the street sign has had an “O” added in front of “Ursins”, making it read Rue des Oursins. Although technically it translates as “street of sea urchins,” there are pictures of happy, cartoon bears by the name plates, making it a “street of bears.” We saw neither during our stay.
Rue des Ursins 1900

Standing in the street, it’s easy to imagine its history from early sailing port to bustling stores supporting commerce into the city. Even though you can’t buy anything or eat on this short street, it’s a great place to see the blending of old and new Paris. Fortunately for us, there was a great bakery and an excellent small neighbourhood bistro just around the corner.



Friday Photo Fun – romance

CalmKate is right, everyone does love a good romance! So I’m responding to her post and here’s a picture which I think epitomises romance.

We all have very different ideas of romance so why not join in and share what romance means to you either through a photo or words? 

Post a photo or get creative about romance … it’s in the air!

My photo is of a bride and her father on the way to her marriage in Paris, the city of romance.

Come on the more the merrier, please share and read each others photo posts!

Things about France that surprised me: the French torch cars

Burning cars is something of a tradition in France, albeit one much despised by the authorities and (unsurprisingly) car owners and, unfortunately since the appearance of the gilets jaunes, it’s on the rise again.

Every New Year’s Eve nervous car owners across France cross their fingers hoping their cars – generally only those parked outside – will emerge unscathed. This is because of a longstanding French tradition where youths in the less celubrious parts of French cities torch scores of cars. The number of vehicles burned this New Year’s Eve totalled 1,031, an increase from last year’s 935.

However stats released last year by France’s official crime data agency (ONDRP) show that the number of cars burned each year has fallen by approx. 20% since 2010 – good news for car owners and insurance firms. The bad news is that tens of thousands of vehicles are still burned across the country each year.

Most cars are torched during the summer, particularly on Bastille Day (14th July) when those disaffected youths mark the annual fête nationale with their own pyrotechnic displays.

The main reason for the overall fall, according to the ONDRP, is the media take much less interest now in the mass burning of cars, which means there may be less of a thrill for the arsonists.

Authorities have previously refrained from reporting on the number of cars burned on New Year’s Eve after it was discovered that a district-by-district breakdown was fuelling destructive competition between rival gangs. In addition, extra police are regularly deployed in sensitive areas on specific nights of the year to try to prevent the blazes.

The stats also showed that the departments most affected by the problem were Haute-Corse in Corsica, Isere to the south east (including Grenoble), and Oise, to the north of Paris. Rural areas of France are much less affected than urban areas, possibly because everyone knows everyone else in small villages and cars are less likely to be parked on the road. Sadly the car owners most affected are generally those in the more hard-up neighbourhoods who may only have third-party cover.

So how did it all start?

The custom of setting vehicles alight on New Year’s Eve reportedly began in the east of the country, around Strasbourg, in the 1990s, in the the city’s poorer neighbourhoods. It was then quickly adopted by youths in cities nationwide.

Cars are often set ablaze whenever there is an outbreak of social disorder, as seen in the 2005 riots when hundreds of vehicles were torched and again now with the gilets jaunes.

According to an article in Le Parisien, there are many reasons why youths burn cars:-

Vehicle fires are often associated with a context of riots and urban violence. It can also be a ‘game’ to break the monotony, or it could be motivated by vengeance after a violent arrest. Or it could just be to get rid of a car used in a crime or as an insurance scam.

ONDRP’s Christophe Schulz

Why do the French really burn cars?

But to get the inside track, I spoke to a few French youths, not necessarily ones who’ve torched cars. I don’t want people to be confused by the title, French people don’t burn cars just for kicks, like: “I don’t know what to do today. Oh! Check this car. Why don’t I torch it just to pass the time?”

Truth is, in a riot, cars are the easiest thing to burn: they’re just there, in the street, exactly where you’re busy rioting. And you’re mad, you want to destroy something, possibly set it on fire, and guess what, there’s dozens of them, full of flamable parts, just sitting there, almost begging to be burned. In other words, don’t park where there’s a riot or likely to be a riot.

That being said, keep in mind a few factors: cars get burned every night for a bunch of different reasons, but they seem to interest the media only on New Year’s Eve. And while it’s true that many more cars are burned on that night (it goes from a few dozen around the country on a normal night to hundreds on New Year’s Eve), I also think that the media played a role, especially in the spreading of the tradition to other cities. If they hadn’t initially made a big deal out of it in Strasbourg, I don’t think kids from other cities’ ghettos would have done it too.

And there it is, the elephant in the room. Those car burnings don’t take place in random streets, most if not all of them are in poor neighborhoods, the projects, the places the French government created a few decades ago to lodge immigrants and has since totally abandoned – we even have a few on the Cote d’Azur. So, not unnaturally, their inhabitents feel excluded, because they are.

As [cycling] club secretary, I used to occasionally attend a meeting in one of Nice’s poorer districts. During the meeting the car park would be guarded to protect our cars!

You might be wondering why folk get away with this. Quite simply because you can’t put a guard on every car or car park. And also, because as previously mentioned, most cars get burnt in the poor neighborhoods. It might be a whole different matter, if it were happening in rich neighbourhoods but that’s where cars are typically parked in secure garages, with video surveillance – like ours – and are much less easy to access.

So, in short, some French burn cars as a protest because they can!

Sheree’s 2018 Sporting Highlights

It’s always tricky distilling a year’s viewing of a number of sports into a few high points, but I’m going to try. You might be surprised at the results but, then again, you might not!

1. Rudy Molard’s stage victory in Paris-Nice

There’s really nothing better than watching someone you know win, particularly when it’s their first big win. I was delighted for him – my race winning brownies worked their magic again!

Rudy’s move to FDJ is proving to be inspired and he’s really blossomed in his second year with them. His main role in the team is to ride in support of Thibaut Pinot and in this year’s Vuelta a Espana he spent four days (stages 6 – 9) in the leader’s jersey while undertaking that role after getting into a long range break on stage five. It was the first time in 13 years that an FDJ rider had worn a race leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour.

Sadly, the Vuelta was the one grand tour we didn’t see this year due to other commitments. However, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of opportunities to see Rudy race in the coming season.

2. #Level7 for Marc Marquez

This year we watched the MotoGP Catalunya live and every other round of the World Championship on the television. It was an exciting year’s racing with #MM93 being challenged by a number of other riders but he finally nailed the championship in Honda’s back yard (Motegi, Japan).

Marquez has had another blistering season after a controversial start that saw him get into a spot of bother with Valentino Rossi at the Argentine MotoGP but the young Spaniard turned things around in emphatic style as he performed another world title smash-and-grab.

On his way to claiming his seventh world championship crown – that’s now five in the premier class, one in Moto2 and one in Moto3 – Marquez has scored five pole positions, six fastest laps and seven race victories. No one was able to keep up with the Spaniard in 2018.
 

Interestingly, #MM93 also maintained his reputation of the King of Premier Class Crashers. Last season he racked up 27, and the reigning Champion began this season saying he wanted to make sure 2018 went a little smoother. It did, he had 23 crashes, with only two of them coming on Sunday afternoon as he crashed out at Mugello and Valencia. But that’s what happens when you’re always on the limit!

3. Super Mario stays at OGC Nice

It was touch and go at times but we retained Mario Balotelli’s services for the final year of his contract. However, after a will he stay or will he go tug of war with OM, Super Mario started the season with a three-match ban and was out of sorts when he returned to action. In truth, we’re still waiting for him to hit his stride.

However, I’m confident new manager Patrick Viera will soon have him firing on all cylinders, that’s if he doesn’t decide to jump ship in the January transfer window!

4. France win the World Cup

France became 2018 FIFA World Cup champions, besting Croatia 4-2. France had entered the tournament as one of the favourites thanks to stars such as Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, while Croatia was a longshot. After the game, manager Didier Deschamps said:

We are world champions and France are going to be on top of the world for the next four years.

The victory meant celebrations erupted all over France though nobody was more excited than French President Emmanuel Macron seen below celebrating at the stadium.

However, the scenes that will remain in my memory are those where the French public paid homage to the team on the Champs Elysee.

5. Return of Rafa Nadal

The 2018 Rafael Nadal tennis season officially began on 15 January 2018, with the start of the Australian Open and (sadly) ended on 8 September 2018, with a loss at the semifinals of the US Open and subsequent injury.

The season was largely shortened by the hip, knee, abdominal and ankle injuries Nadal suffered during the year. He played only nine tournaments, his lowest since 2002 (which was his first year on the ATP tour). However, the season still saw Nadal win five titles including a record extending 11th title at the French Open, reclaim the No 1 spot and have his highest winning percentage of a single season at 91.83%.

What were your sporting highlights in 2018? Let me know in the comments section below.