Postcard from Brussels: Le Grand Depart

Last week-end we were ostensibly in Brussels for Le Grand Depart of the Tour de France. However, I did have a hidden agenda. Brussels is another town that I haven’t visited in over 20 years! On our one and only visit all those years ago I was totally charmed by all the Art Nouveau wrought ironwork which I later discovered was largely the work of architect Victor Horta – more of which much later. This time I’m back for a closer look, but first, Le Grand Depart!

We generally arrive in time to attend the team presentation and most of the team press conferences, but not this year as my beloved had only just managed to shoe horn this trip in-between business trips to Italy and London. Also, because of our forthcoming trip to Australia, we won’t be dropping in on any further Tour stages. Mind you, we’ll probably make up for it next year when Le Grand Depart is in Nice.

I’d timed my arrival on Friday afternoon to coincide with the BORA-hansgrohe team press conference where I’d hoped to snatch 10-15 minutes with Peter Sagan’s wingman, Daniel Oss. Sadly, our Sleazyjet flight was delayed and I arrived way too late to nab anyone. You might wonder why I didn’t target potential 7-times green jersey wearer, Sagan. I’ve already interviewed him and he paid me an immense compliment by saying that I posed him questions no one else had ever asked!

For those of you who aren’t cycling fans. The Tour de France is big, really big. It’s the biggest annual sporting event in the world. That’s the first thing that hits you. There are 4,500 people working on it, and only 176 of those are riding. There is no other annual event, not even other bike races, that comes close to this scale. Yes, there are two other Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana, yet they are family affairs in comparison rather than this State-like occasion.

Everytime I visit the Tour, I’m always impressed with the level of its organisation, it’s superb. I’m beginning to suspect that ASO’s secret is a very low level of staff turnover. Even the volunteers return year after year. Though, much as I enjoy the Tour, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to spend my summer holidays working at it every year.

I’ve been fortunate to attend a number of Grand Departs. My first was in London in 2007, followed by Monaco in 2009 where, working as a volunteer, I scored a great gig. I looked after HRH Prince Albert’s VIP guests. Next up was 2014 in Yorkshire where the crowds had to be seen to be believed. In 2015, we sweltered in the heat in Utrecht. 2016 saw us dodging rain in Normandy, and again the following year in Duesseldorf, Germany. Last year the weather was glorious in Brittany, and again this year in Brussels. Next year, Nice will most likely be my Tour swan song.

The staging of this Grand Depart paid tribute to the maiden Tour victory, 50 years ago in July 1969, of the Belgian legend Eddy Merckx who was omnipresent in the first few stages, particularly the first stage which passed through WoluweSaint-Pierre, where the five-times Tour winner grew up.

On Saturday, the peloton rode round the city’s narrow cobbled streets before heading out through Molenbeek and then Anderlecht, in the direction of the Mur de Grammont (which was also part of Eddy Merckx’s first Tour route). Riders then raced towards Charleroi, crossing a section of cobbles before heading back towards Brussels. They rode past the base of the Lion’s Mound, the battlefield where the defeat of Napoleon’s troops was set in motion. The last stretch of the route paid hommage again to Merckx as riders traversed the streets where Eddy first learned to ride a bike… as well as where he earned his first maillot jaune. Coincidentally, it’s also the 100th birthday of the yellow race leader’s jersey.

We watched the race start which filed past our hotel after we’d been to the Brussels Expo on the train to collect my press accreditation.

profil-general-etape-01

Sunday we met with some of our many friends from the world of cycling and scored a VIP pass for my beloved so that he could join us in the Village du Depart – much upgraded and enlarged this year – and the Bus Paddock. This enabled us to briefly catch up with some of the riders and team staff we’ve gotten to know over the years.

The organiser typically likes to see the leader’s yellow jersey changing hands during the early stages. And, after the first stage was won by the poisson-pilote (lead out man) of one of the more fancied sprinters, someone who didn’t feature on anyone’s radar, it was (wrongly) assumed that the team time-trial would produce a new race leader. But, the previous day’s winner was in one of the more highly ranked time-trial teams who’d recently recruited a four-time world time-trial champion. Not for nothing is German Tony Martin nicknamed the Panzerwagen. This marginal gain helped Jumbo-Visma to pip all the other teams to the post.

The wide streets of Brussels had provided the ideal route for an impressive team effort, with few turns and a series of false flats, that truly tested riders’ technical skills, terminating at the Atomium, built for the Brussels World Fair in 1958. So the jersey stayed firmly put on the broad shoulders of Holland’s Mike Teunissen for another day.

The newspapers estimated that 500,000 people were in Brussels to watch Le Grand Depart and it was true! Not that I counted them but the place was jam-packed with tourists and fans. Brussels put on a good show, not dissimilar to that in Leeds in 2014, making me wonder whether Yorkshire’s Sir Gary Verity had been acting as a consultant. But no in the land of cycling and Eddy Merckx, there’s an excess of expertise even if they also called their volunteers « Tour Makers. »

Awesome Blogger Award

If someone gives you an award for being awesome, you’re not going  to say “NO” are you? Well I’m not, particularly since  – and you may find this hard to believe – it’s my maiden award for Awesomeness!

So huge, huge thanks to Joshua for nominating me for the Awesome Blogger Award. It’s most kind of him. Please check out Joshua’s blog and maybe give him a follow, you won’t regret it!

Of course, it’s always worth checking out exactly what “AWESOME” means:-

adjective
1. extremely impressive or daunting;
2. inspiring awe

I’m all for inspiring some awe!

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Here are the rules…

  1. Thank the person/blogger who nominated you.
  2. Tag your post with #awesomebloggeraward.
  3. Answer all the questions given to you.
  4. Nominate at least 5 bloggers and inform them of their nomination.
  5. Give them 10 new questions to answer.

And here are Joshua’s questions:-

1. Do you play sports?

Beloved BMC

Do I play sports? Yes, I do. I’ve played lots of sport over the years: cricket, football, tennis, swimming, squash, hockey, volleyball, netball, trampolining but now I just jog (slowly), do yoga and ride my bikes.

2. Who’s your favorite author?

I have a few: Evelyn Waugh, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Kazuo Ishiguro.

3. Do you have a watch?

I wear (and treasure) a watch my husband bought me over 30 years ago with his year end bonus.

4. What is your favorite juice?

I’m not a fan of juice. It’s very acidic and hence very bad for my teeth, plus it’s full of sugar.

5. What do you like about blogging?

The freedom – I can blog when I want, where I want and about whatever I want.

6. If you had a pet rabbit, what name would you give it?

Flopsy, Mopsy or Cottontail which are the names of Peter Rabbit’s triplet sisters. All these characters were created by Beatrix Potter whose books I loved as a child. While their brother is naughty, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail are good little bunnies, who do as they’re told. 

7. What is your very first memory?

We were on holiday on the Isle of Wight and I remember jumping down the stairs in the garden in front of the hotel. I was 18 months old.

8. Do you like fried food?

Who doesn’t like fried food? Sadly, it’s not good for me so it’s only a very occasional indulgence.

9. For what purpose are you living for?

Sometimes I wonder but it seems one of my purposes is to make life much easier for my beloved husband! If you don’t believe me, read some of my posts about him.

10. What’s your favorite colour and why

Orange because it’s a happy, summery colour. It’s a great colour for accessories as it goes with many other colours I wear.

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My nominees are quite frankly anyone who’s bothered to read my post. In my book that makes you “Awesome.”

Here are your questions

  1. If you could make one book required reading for all your friends and family which one would you choose and why?
  2. Which sport would you most like to try and why?
  3. If you could transform into any (wild or domestic) animal, which one would you choose and why?
  4. Link to a photo/blog post/tweet that you are especially proud of and explain why you’re proud of it.
  5. If I were coming to dinner what would you cook for me? (Remember I’m a fish-eating vegan).
  6. What object best evokes childhood memories and why?
  7. How do you like to relax?
  8. What constitutes your dream job and what are you doing to achieve that?
  9. Give one (or more) example(s) of your awesomeness.
  10. What do you like best about getting awards?

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Thanks for bearing with me! And, remember, we’re all awesome in our own ways!

It’s la Fête nationale today!

In the English speaking world it’s called Bastille Day but here it’s known simply as le 14 juillet. The French national holiday commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, a pivotal moment in the French Revolution. What began as an angry mob of anti-monarchists looking for ammunition against royal authoritarianism turned into an enduring symbol of that revolution and today’s national celebration of the French tripartite motto liberté, égalité et fraternité. Celebrations, including firework displays, are typically held throughout France and it heralds the start of the month-long French holidays.

President Macron will be hosting the oldest and largest regular military parade – much envied by Trump who was present last year –  this morning on the Champs Elysees in Paris which is always worth watching, if only on the television. I assume my invite for this year’s celebrations got lost in the post!

 

It’s all change at Nice’s main station

One of the things I love about living in France is its constant investment in infrastructure. In the fifteen years we’ve lived here, pretty much everywhere has benefited from urban renewal. None more so than one of the city’s main arterial roads, rue Jean Medecin. I recently described the renovation of the old station Gare du Sud but, more excitingly, just a few hundred metres down the road, further redevelopment is taking place.

The main railway station in Nice Côte d’Azur (8 million passengers a year – 11 million expected by 2020), Nice-Thiers station was built in 1870. The arrival in 2023 of the new high speed network, the reinforcement of the TER (second largest in France after the Ile-de-France) as well as the development of the tramway network, highlight the importance of the redevelopment of this station. The aim is to create a real multi-modal exchange hub, which will meet the evolving transport needs of the city’s inhabitants and visitors.

Work on the passenger building, services and access to the platforms was completed at the end of 2015. A second phase of works, to integrate a commercial space into the junction with the tramway is planned for delivery by 2020.

These works will not only upgrade the station but will also revitalise the neighborhood. The planned construction of a mixed-development complex  will be housed within an “Iconic” building designed by Daniel Libeskind, the architect of Groud Zero’s “Master Plan” in Manhattan and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

The 40 metre high structure will be made of concrete, steel and glass (imagined in the header photo above) and will be reminiscent of a multi-faceted diamond.

Libeskind claimed:

I was inspired by the mineral forms of azurite, a harmonious crystallization to create a building that can be seen from all angles and thus help to remove the border between these two parts of the city. It will also serve to reflect the city, the light and the landscape.

On a footprint of 6,500 m2, this building will have 19,000 m2 over six levels. The ground and first floor will house 6,000 m2 of shops. The other levels will house 3,000 m2 of office space, a Hilton hotel with 120 rooms and a 1000 m2 fitness room, and a 600-seat auditorium – something the city currently lacks.

The development will not only unite the north and south of the city but will also, amd more importantly, regenerate the neighbourhood. This is one of the bolder station redevelopment projects ever undertaken and represents a significant investment for the city.

 

(Header: Daniel Libeskind et ­l’agence Février Carré. © Studio Libeskind)

Thursday doors #26

Here’s a few more doors from the Palma de Mallorca treasure trove.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

3,2,1 Quote Me – Hope

A huge thanks to The Bag Lady blogger who writes @ https://rugby843.blog for the tag. Her strapline is:

The Secret of Change Is to Focus All of Your Energy, Not on Fighting the Old, But on Building the New
– Socrates

I shall attempt to do this topic justice. If I’ve understood correctly, this tag is the work of Rory @ https://aguycalledbloke.blog and I thank him too for his many efforts to engage all of us at WordPress.

Having thanked the blogger who tagged me, I can now turn my attention to my two quotes but firstly, let’s look at the definition of hope.

 A noun which expresses a feeling of expectation and a desire for particular things to happen.

So, here’s my two picks:-

One from Suzanne Collins an American television writer and best-selling author of The Hunger Games trilogy. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of Suzanne, read any of her books or seen the films of her books, but this kind of resonated with me.

Next, one from another writer, Samuel Johnson, often referred to as Dr. Johnson, a devout Anglican and committed Tory. I wonder what he’d have to say about the current state of the Tory party? Plenty, I warrant. Dr Johnson and I have something in common. Sadly, it’s not our use of the written word, we were both born in Lichfield, Staffordshire.

I now have to nominate three bloggers, which is trickier than it looks as many of you don’t like tags or awards, but here goes……………………

Dawn

Gretchen

Dua

Hope (see what I did there) you have as much fun as I did with the tag.

(Header image: Beacon of Hope by Andy Scott, Belfast)

Postcard from Villany

Our bridal pair had chosen the village of Villany for their wedding celebrations largely because the bride’s grand-parents had once owned a vineyard here and the family had spent many happy hours in the area which is just two hours by car from their home in Budapest.

While wine-making in Villany can be traced back to Roman times, much of it had been developed more recently, largely by Swabian settlers who were encouraged to emigrate to the Kingdom of Hungary in the first half of the 1700s. The settlers were industrious, working incessantly to rebuild the countryside devastated by Ottoman rule and replanting the vines.  Centuries later Villány, the southernmost of Hungary’s 22 wine regions, is one of Hungary’s top wine regions, known for its award winning reds and rosés.

This is also where Hungary’s very first wine route was set up: in addition to the protected, landmark cellar-streets, old press-houses and small family businesses, wineries operating with state-of-the-art technology welcome visitors with open doors. Consequently, the region is popular with wine tourism. Most of the wine cellars are located on a wine route in close proximity to each other – along the main road! They are open for wine tasting and some wineries, like Bock and Gere, even offer accommodation.

If you’re thinking of spending some time in Budapest, this town would provide a lovely, relaxing (and inexpensive) extra couple of days. Plus, you could expand your wine knowledge!

The Sunshine Blogger Award VII

Many thanks to Dawn, whose blog Drawing Closer to Christ is full of wisdom, for nominating me for The Sunshine Blogger Award.

Reading her blog, Dawn strikes me as being one of life’s achievers, a real tour de force. She’s a devout Christian, has served her country, graduated college, works as an accountant, published ebooks, raised an adult daughter – she so does not look old enough to have an adult daughter –  started her blog, and feels her best is yet to come!

Please visit Dawn’s blog, read what she has to say and give her a follow. You won’t regret it.

Dawn’s Questions:

1. How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

I’m a happy-go-lucky, positive bundle of energy.

2. What are you most grateful for this moment?

Life.

3. What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

4. If you could only watch one more movie for the rest of your life what would it be?

Tough one as I’m not a big watcher of movies though my favourite is The Shawshank Redemption.

5. What was your favorite childhood meal?

Scampi (Dublin Bay prawns) and chips (French fries) with tartare sauce

6. Sunset or Sunrise?

I love both and am always taking photos from my balcony.

7. What is a food you hate?

Boiled, poached or fried eggs though I love scrambled eggs and omelettes.

8. What is something someone would never guess about you?

I once ran the London Marathon.

9. Do you prefer to write a letter, text someone,call someone, or spend the day with them.

To be honest, it all depends on the “who.” I’m not much of a texter, write letters when it’s appropriate (sympathy, thanks and Xmas), regularly email and call friends many of whom I’d love to spend the day with but they live in another country.

10. What’s your Favorite season?

I love all the seasons, but summer’s probably my favourite. However, since we’ve been experiencing a mini heatwave, I may regret saying that.

11. What do you want to be most remembered for?

My smile.

Those all important rules:

• Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to him/her.

• Answer the 11 questions provided by the blogger who nominated you.

• Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.

• Notify the nominees by commenting on one of their blog posts.

• List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post.

I know a lot of you don’t like awards but I do. It helps us to better know our blogging community. So I happily nominate anyone who has taken the time read this post and my questions are below if you’d like to join in and spread some of that proverbial sunshine. 🤗❤️

My 11 Questions:

1. How long have you been blogging and what prompted you to start?

2. What do you write about on your blog and why?

3. Typically, how much time do you spend each week on your blog?

4. What prompts you to follow certain blogs?

5. Do your family and friends read your blog? And, if so, what feedback (if any) do they give you?

6. It’s The Sunshine Blogger Award so how do you spread rays of sunshine on your blog?

7. If you could change one thing about blogging, what would it be?

8. If you were to impart one pearl of wisdom about blogging, what would it be?

9. Who or what, if anything, has influenced your blog?

10. What’s the best bit about blogging?

11. What’s your idea of “A Perfect Day”?