Trip to Port of Nice

We’re currently rather limited as to how we spend our free time thanks to my husband’s ailing hip. He really can’t walk any distance. Typically if the weather’s as great as it was last week-end, we’d have been out for a long cycle. However, as that’s not possible, we decided to go into Nice for lunch.

Being creatures of habit, we’ve tended to eat at the same handful of restaurants but we’ve recently decided to branch out. Two of my crack team of cake tasters have an apartment overlooking the Port of Nice. This was a shrewd choice of location as the area will soon have its own tram connection into central Nice and, more importantly, the airport. We were there recently and it reminded us that there’s a couple of great restaurants, plus Cafe du Cycliste nearby.

My beloved dropped me off in Nice to run a few errands while he parked in the Port and bagged a table with a great view and an Aperol Spritz. I pitched  up later, chores done in a bit of a sweat glowing gently from the heat. I’d probably walked around 4km. As I walked around the Port I couldn’t fail to notice this massive boat parked – or should that be moored? – to one side. Unlike say Antibes, the Port of Nice, aside from the ferries, tends to be full of smaller boats and only a handful of million pounders.

This one seriously tipped the scales and, while I’m no expert, would probably set you back around two hundred million dollars. It probably belongs to one of the many Russian billionaires. Neither my beloved or I are boat people though we did once go round the Monaco Boat Show with one of his ex-bosses who had a yacht so I have a healthy appreciation of purchase prices, running costs and weekly chartering fees – way outa my league.

Charles Emmanuel III, Duke of Savoy, ordered the construction of the port back in 1749 for commercial purposes. Nowadays pleasure rather supercedes those interests. The harbour is surrounded by colourful facades, dominated on the west side by the Colline du Chateau which overlooks the port and Old Town. At the end of the port is the Notre-Dame du Port church. The west wharf of the port of Nice consists of Quai Lunel (which extends the Rauba Capeu wharf), the Quai des Douanes and Quai Papacino. The Rauba Capeu wharf is located at the eastern end of the Quai des Etats-Unis, itself an extension of the Promenade des Anglais. Rauba Capeu is a reference in Nissart to the wind which blows across the port and is strong enough to blow off your hat.

Boats aside, I love the colours of the buildings around the Port, they’re typical Niçois though it’s currently difficult to fully appreciate its beauty while it’s still largely a building site for the tramway.  I gratefully joined my beloved and slaked my thirst  with water before enjoying an Aperol Spritz.

Les Pecheurs is a longstanding, family run fish restaurant which has plenty of menu options for me. My beloved opted for a spin on a traditional Salade Niçoise and a side order of chips! I usually pinch one or two but they disappeared before I had a chance. I was torn between pointing the digit of doom at a lobster in the tank, the octopus or the dish of the day. I chose the last one, a seafood linguine where the pasta was perfectly cooked as was the seafood. There’s nothing worse than overcooked shellfish.

To finish, my beloved enjoyed a successfully deconstructed tarte tatin and I had some sorbet. It had been a delightfully relaxed lunch, in soothing surroundings, where I’d had a clear view of the open kitchen. I love watching the chefs work.

After a potter around Cafe du Cycliste admiring their extensive range of cycling wear, we headed back to the car and home to watch the final exciting kilometres of Il Lombardia. We really should do this more often maybe at least once a month, particularly once we’ve resumed cycling.

 

Our view

I’ll never tire of the view from my apartment. On a clear day – and there are plenty of those – I can see from Cap d’Antibes to Cap Ferrat. It’s the reason we bought the place and the reason why it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever move again. Indeed, we’ve now lived here longer than at any of our five previous properties. Of course, the place has other advantages but there’s no beating the view.

Our apartment is on the end of the block and we have a wrap around terrace which gives us access to the sunshine all day long.The sun rises in the furthermost corner and bathes the terrace running along the lounge, dining room and master bedroom with heat and light for most of the morning. Early afternoon it glows on the side terrace (and office). It’s the perfect spot for a bit of sunbathing. Late afternoon it moves around to the rear of the property, gently warming the guest bedroom, bike room and kitchen.

 

Most of the year we follow the sun around the property. In high summer we eat breakfast and lunch on the rear terrace, enjoying cocktails and dinner on the front. When it’s milder, though still sunny and warm enough to eat out, we do the reverse. Sometimes, it’s too cold and or too wet to eat outside though we’ll vary whether we eat in the breakfast room, attached to the kitchen, or the dining room, depending on the weather. Sometimes the weather is so bad, we can barely see beyond the terrace.

I don’t have a favourite time of year for the view. I adore it all year round though I am partial to a good sunrise and sunset. I love watching the sun rise, spreading its rays along the horizon. Sometimes it looks like molten lava, other times it’s just a gentle peach glow, in between there’s every shade of orange. As the sun sets, the horizon between the sea and the sky is imperceptible and the colours range from azur blue through to midnight then mauve, blush and pale gold. It makes me wish I could commit the vivid colours to canvas and, who knows, maybe one day I will.

I’m a sucker for property porn and love flicking through the glossy real-estate magazines though I’ve yet to find a property I like better with a similar view. Yes, I’d love a basement, a library, a vegetable garden and a wood-fired oven but not at the expense of my view.

It’s not just the view. Floor to ceiling windows allow light to flood the flat, the gentle flow of air through those windows keeps it cool, even in summer. No need to resort to air conditioning. Likewise, in winter, a spot of thermal gain through those windows keeps us toasty though we do have central heating.

The view from the back of the apartment is quite different, it’s of the forest. Throughout the year we’re much amused by the antics of the birds, our lone squirrel – what has happened to him? – neighbours walking their dogs, the kids playing and sunsets. There’s never a dull moment.

 

RAKA nomination

It’s always good to get the day off to a great start. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when I read that Cathyrn from Cathryn’s Kitchen had nominated me for a RAKA (Random Acts of Kindness Award).

In her blog Cathryn’s kitchen you’ll find delicious and healthy, plant-based, gluten-free recipes. Cathryn’s worked in catering and as a personal chef, as well as feeding her husband and three sons – don’t youngsters always have hollow legs? –  so she knows what she’s writing about.

Just what is a random act of kindness?

‘Stocks rose on the news that random acts of kindness today outnumbered random acts of violence.’

A random act of kindness is a non-premeditated, inconsistent action designed to offer kindness towards the outside world. The phrase “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” was written by Anne Herbert on a placemat in Sausalito, California in 1982.

The Award Rules

These are pretty short and sweet:-

  1. Say who you nominate and why.
  2. Copy and share the picture that shows the award.
  3. Share a paragraph about something that impacted your own life in the way of receiving kindness or how you extended kindness to someone else.
  4. Nominate someone and share it on your own page. Don’t forget to tag or pingback to the original person who nominated you, or the original post.

After finding out about the award, my day just got better. When we get up in the morning, I have trained my beloved to go into the kitchen (it’s closer to his bathroom than mine), fill and turn on the coffee maker. That way, by the time we’re both washed and dressed, the coffee’s ready. However, that’s usually his sole contribution to breakfast, but not this morning. This morning he also laid the table. I was shocked but delighted and have already put in a call to The Guinness Book of Records! Regular readers will know that my beloved generally causes me more work, not less.

Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. I’d like to think that I unconsciously try to espouse this each and every day whether it’s something small like lending a hand to a neighbour or just taking time to have a chat with someone to dropping everything to help someone out.

Aside from the slightly tongue-in-cheek example above, I’m fortunate to be on the receiving end of many acts of kindness – too many to list. Once again, a big shout out to Cathryn at Cathryn’s Kitchen for the nomination. Please go and check out her blog https://cathrynskitchen.com and wonderful recipes.

Nominations *drum roll*

I would like to nominate the lovely Cheche Winnie https://chechewinnie.wordpress.com who writes passionately about nature conservation and species survival for future generations.

I’d also like to nominate A Dude Abikes who’s been riding a bike ever since his car got smashed up in January, 2005. He’s a volunteer with Bike Austin which recently made him an Advocacy Ambassador. Plus, he’s raised loads of dosh with his charity bike rides. He’s hoping to turn his blogging into a living. So why not help him out and visit https://adudeabikes.wordpress.com.

 

 

Memories from World Championships past: Part II

Here’s the second part of my meander down memory lane with my friend Ute covering UCI Road Race World Championships from 2011 to 2015.

Copenhagen 2011

While Ute didn’t travel to Melbourne she once again volunteered in Copenhagen. I had facilitated her application as the section of the website calling for volunteers had only been available in Danish. She still thinks I speak Danish, I’ve not disabused her! Again she worked for a few days in the Press Centre leaving her to enjoy watching some of the racing with me.

Manx Missile in rainbow jersey

Neither of us is tall so we needed to be on the barricades early otherwise we risked having our view blocked by tall northern Europeans, specifically this year by tall Scandinavians. I’m quite sure that Norway and Sweden were empty those few days at the end of September while they lent the Danes a hand trying to drink the place dry! After the race on Sunday I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many empty beer cans discarded by the side of the road.

Ute, being German, generally has the upper hand at most years’ races, results wise. But not on this occasion as Mark Cavendish was guided almost to the line by a tour de force from Team GB. A French friend had asked me to get him Cavendish’s autograph and while I saw him briefly before the post-race press conference, it wasn’t the right moment.

No, that came the following morning as I was checking out of my hotel. Peta and Cav literally bumped into me and I seized my opportunity. My friend was delighted as the autograph was on a copy of the UCI official announcement of the win, accompanied by the route book and other goodies which my friend Bert had given me earlier that morning as I’d waved him off on his plane back to New Zealand. That was the last I saw of Bert who sadly passed away the following September.

Here’s the posts I wrote about my trip back in 2011:-

Cards from Copenhagen I

Cards from Copenhagen II

Cards from Copenhagen III

Cards from Copenhagen IV

Limburg 2012

Ute tried not once, not twice, but three times without success to volunteer. However I think staying in the same hotel as the Belgian team, which included Tom Boonen, more than made up for the disappointment of not having a lurid, ill-fitting volunteer’s outfit to add to her burgeoning collection.

During the Championships I stayed in the same hotel as the Italian and Spanish teams. How fantastic? No, not a bit! Fans and journalists camped out in the entrance hall and bar, hogging the WiFi bandwidth and all the chairs, the hotel corridors smelled of embrocation and there was lots of door banging.

Ute and I loved the fact that few spectators could be bothered to make the trek to the finish line. Well it is 4km from the train station and, unless like me you had got press credentials granting entrance to the press restaurant and facilities, it was pretty poorly served in terms of food and drinks. Still we had a big screen and a great up close and personal view of the podium, so we weren’t complaining. Honestly.

Aside from catching up with people we both knew, being at the finish meant we spent quite some time chatting to anxious Mums and Dads whose offspring were riding in the various categories. It’s always interesting to see a race from someone else’s point of view!

Belgian’s top dog in trade team time-trial (image courtesy of OPQS)

Ute and I spent 10-days in companionable admiration of the racing. This was the first Championship to (re)introduce the trade-team time trial and combine racing for Juniors, Under-23s and Elite so we positively gorged on great racing in an environment where cycling is hugely popular.

Even though I had a great time, I only wrote one blog post about the trip.

Postcard from Limburg 2012

Firenze 2013

Ute worked once more as a volunteer, as did Nathalie, but I didn’t get to spend much time with either as my beloved decided to come along too. We also took our bikes and much enjoyed cycling around the Tuscan countryside.

I have two abiding memories from this Championship. The first was Matej Mohoric who, having won the Junior road race in Limburg, added the Under-23 title at the tender age of 19 with some of his trademark top-tube descending. The second was the Dantesque conditions of the Men’s road race which should’ve been won by the uber-popular Purito Rodriguez. His sad face on the podium was almost more than I could bear.

As in Varese, the Italians contrived to have the start and finish in a stadium and, while viewing en route was free, you had to pay to get into the stadium unless you had accreditation. And that’s largely why my friend Ute volunteers, to get accreditation, though it’s by no means the “open sesame” it was back in Salzburg 2006.

Again, I only penned one post:-

Postcard from Tuscany

Ponferrada 2014

Our trip to the World Championships in Ponferrada was part of a three-week vacation which spanned the Med and Atlantic coasts in both France and Spain. Ute once again volunteered to help out in the Press Centre but I only saw her a couple of times, including at an evening reception about the following year’s Championship in Richmond.

My beloved and I much enjoyed watching the racing in a very convivial atmosphere and in the company of parents who had offspring racing. Since we were all staying in the same small casa rural, it made for a lively discussion over dinner most evenings. As you can see from the photo above, this was not a well-attended Championship. Probably the least well-attended of those I’ve been to, but it wasn’t easy to get there and it was held in an area of Spain with a low population. However, it was a beautiful area to ride around and it’s on one of the many routes to Compostela.

That said, I did manage to write a couple of posts:-

Postcards from Ponferrada I

Postcards from Ponferrada II

Richmond 2015

Official Richmond UCI Road World Championship 2015 artist Greig Leach.

I had high hopes for Richmond which formed the second part of a vacation in the US. We didn’t take our bikes as I’ve found riding in the States to be frankly scary. It was an opportunity for me to finally meet Greig Leach after we’d already worked together on one project and this event was to form the basis of our second collaboration. I also met up with a couple of my fellow VeloVoices. Unbelievably, I’ve still not met everyone on the team.

Ute volunteered and once again spent time in the Press Centre but unlike in Europe, her accommodation was provided by a local host who also made sure she saw plenty of Virginia. I only saw her the once as we were staying in very different parts of town.

My beloved and I enjoyed watching the racing, there was no problem standing close to the finish line for any of the races, even the blue riband event, the Men’s road race. Our hotel was out of Richmond so we camped out at The Marriott Hotel which was almost on the finish line. One of the organisers had told me last year in Ponferrada that they had modelled the event on Salzburg, with everything being in the centre of town.

They’d gotten that part of the equation right and the thousands of Eritrean fans, who’d descended on Richmond for the races, provided lively animation. However, they were no substitute for the thousands of European fans who typically arrive by camping car, and colonise part of the course in order to support their riders. What I’m trying to say is that it was well-organised bur a bit lacking in atmosphere.

Again, I did write a post about our trip:-

Postcard from Richmond

Neither Ute nor I went to Doha 2016. But as an avowed fan of all things Scandinavian, she was in Bergen 2017 and can be found manning the reception desk in the Press Centre at InnsbruckTyrol 2018. We had hoped to meet up this week but sadly work has gotten in the way and I’ll have to settle fo watching the action on the television.

Memories from World Championships past: Part I

I’ve been fortunate to attend ten consecutive UCI Road World Championships. I worked as a volunteer at the first few which gave me an opportunity to make a number of friends whom I continue to meet up with at various cycling events. My first WC was Salzburg 2006 and my last was Richmond 2015. I ducked out of Qatar and Bergen, and was due to attend this week’s in Innsbruck but work intervened! So I’m having a bit of a gander down memory lane revisiting the highlights of championships past with my dear friend Ute who’s manning the reception Desk in the Press Centre in Innsbruck this week.

Salzburg 2006

We first met in Salzburg when we both worked as volunteers. She assisted with the podium ceremony – flags, anthems, flowers etcetera – while I dished out packed lunches to the 2,000 or so volunteers, army, police and municipal workers. Now I appreciate that hers sounds the more glamorous job but mine afforded me the opportunity to see all the racing and catch the action on the podium. Let me explain.

Valeria – another friendship cemented in Salzburg – and I were billeted in a large tent at the back of the press area right next to the all important television chow wagon. That’s right, no packed lunches for us – we were royally fed all week. Most of the volunteers dropped by to collect the lunches for their team but a few had to be delivered giving us an opportunity to get out and about and check on the action.

Super Mario

In Salzburg all the races took place on the same circuit. We watched the race unfold on the adjacent big screen, emerging only to watch the riders pass by from the specially adapted platform for handicapped fans. Now this is going to sound a bit callous but it was a) in a great spot right by the finish and b) they weren’t going to leap up from their wheelchairs and spoil our view. We weren’t the only fans who shared this opportunity. Guess who we met? I have to confess both Valeria and I went a bit weak at the knees, he drips sex-appeal.

Salzburg wins the award for being the best volunteer experience. Largely I think because everything was pretty much in one place, the atmosphere was terrific and, of course, it was our first. You never forget your first anything, do you?

Stuttgart 2007

18 months post-Puerto, the Germans were reluctant hosts and it showed. This time Valeria and I were working in the luxurious surrounding of the UCI’s Congress Hotel in the centre of Stuttgart manning their VIP welcome desk where we provided, and I’m quoting a high-ranking UCI official here, “the best service ever …”

Bert and Me

This was where we first met Bert,who used to attend the Congress on behalf of New Zealand and whose lengthy service to the world of cycling had been recognised by the UCI, Queen and country. He was an old charmer, everyone knew and loved him. I’ve lost count of the number of World Championships he attended but it must be close to 80! (That total includes a few on the track, MTB etc.) He’d seen Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali race and had a whole raft of interesting tales to tell, if only you took the time to sit and listen.

 

Valeria and I both agreed our favourite moment was meeting the incredibly humble, but oh so charming, Miguel Indurain who signed what seemed like hundreds of autographs at our behest for other volunteers. I do believe Valeria still has the photo I took of her snuggles up to Miguel wearing that rather Bet Lynch-ish low-necked leopard print top!

Stuttgart stands alone in not winning any prizes whatsoever, rather we’ve awarded it a big fat raspberry.

Varese 2008

Drawn by Nathalie and signed by Tom

Home to the Mapei centre, the town of Varese embraced and celebrated the World Championships with a style not seen before or since, by me at least. I was staying in a small guest house not far from the town centre where I was working in the accreditation centre: more long but enjoyable days.

Mine hosts served breakfast whenever I wanted and would rush to comfort me when I arrived back from a long day’s work with herbal tea and home-made cake. I never wanted to leave, have remained in touch and visited many times since. Ute was again manning the flagpoles. I worked with a great crowd of largely local students and bonded with fellow fan Nathalie. We’ve kept in touch and frequently meet up at Italian races.

Varese wins my prize for the nicest volunteer outfit by a street mile. Grey trousers, light blue polo shirt, navy blue v-necked sweater and quite my favourite backpack which I still use. Sadly, the trousers had matchstick legs, they probably only fitted the hostesses and podium girls.

Mendrisio 2009

Swiss boys: Fabian with my friend

Again I’d volunteered but as it was only 10km up the road from the previous year’s event, the organisers were swamped with applications and decided not to take anyone from outside the region. Ute threw a wobbly and, fearful of an international incident, the organisers wisely gave her a position in the Press Centre. I stayed with my friend in Lugano, helped out on the Santini stand, saw all of the racing and rode my bike on the road race circuit. My friend Nathalie was a hostess in the VIP stand where, with the exception of Sunday, staff outnumbered guests. We chatted using sign language as I was camped out on the 50m to go line opposite.

My favourite moment came when I was riding along the flatter part of the circuit and seemed to be drawing a fair amount of excited interest from the fans on the roadside. I looked around to find none other than Fabian Cancellara sucking my wheel. I flicked my elbow and he obligingly came through. I stayed on his wheel for another five or so kilometres, admiring his fluid pedal stroke, until the road turned upwards and I slid off said wheel.

Mendrisio wins my prize for the most exciting racing. You may recall Cancellara won the time trial so easily he was celebrating 100m from the line and Cadel Evans won the men’s road race having demonstrated he was indeed an attacking rider.

Should you wish to know more about my trip and the racing, here’s the links to the posts I wrote back in 2009, the year I started the blog:-

Observations from Mendrisio

Postcards from Mendrisio I

Postcards from Mendrisio II

Postcards from Mendrisio III

Melbourne 2010


This wins my prize for the best organised and most fan-friendly event despite it being staged some 70-odd kilometres from Melbourne in Geelong. Fans had access to both sides of the finish line while the UCI’s guests and sponsors tents were at the base of the final drag. Viewing spots with refreshments and a big screen were dotted all over the course and given different nationalities. I was again camped out on the 50m line next to the hard-core Tom Boonen fan club that had turned up even though their hero hadn’t. Shame, really, the course would’ve suited him.

I again rode the course, this time on a hired mountain bike. I was glad of the lower gearing on both of those strenuous climbs. One moment sticks in my memory from Melbourne. I was enjoying a coffee in the Spanish team hotel when they found out about Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol. They were shocked, devastated and extremely upset. That news effectively killed off the Spanish challenge.

Again, here are the links to some of the posts I wrote about the racing:-

Postcards from Melbourne III

Postcards from Melbourne IV

Postcards from Melbourne V

Memories of Melbourne I

Memories of Melbourne II

You’ll find my thoughts on the UCI Road World Championships from Copenhagen 2011 to Richmond 2015 in Part II.

Cosseted in the British countryside

I’m a big fan of The Four Seasons, not the four violin concerti by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, but the hotel management group. I’ve been fortunate to either stay in or visit a number of their hotels over the years – far too many to mention. You may find this surprising since I’m usually banging the drum for small, family-run businesses and these guys are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Or are they? I find that thanks to their excellently trained staff and philosophy, I always feel cosseted in their hotels.

The hotels they run are oases of tranquility with all the bells and whistles one’s little heart could desire. Despite the large throughput of guests, staff miraculously remember your name, and particular likes and dislikes. Nothing is ever too much trouble, not even my regime. The hotel whipped me up a scrumptious vegan afternoon tea at the drop of a hat!

I booked the hotel over a year ago because the wedding we were attending, which was a short car ride away, clashed with a Classic Car event at nearby Goodwood. I was also pretty certain we’d be the only wedding guests staying at this hotel thereby obviating the need to socialise further. I wanted a restful and relaxing week-end with my beloved which would serve as an early celebration of our (41st) wedding anniversary – where have those years gone? And, I think it’s fair to say, we achieved that.

We did however bump into someone we knew. Spookily, we’d only been talking about him five minutes before and were surprised to see him. I think that surprise was reciprocated though, of course, he may’ve wondered why his ears were burning.

The hotel grounds were enormous and despite my beloved’s leg, which was still painful, we had a very pleasant meander. We also enjoyed looking at the car porn. A number of guests had driven their Classic Cars to the event and you could see by their immaculate state that these were their pride and joy – all that gleaming chrome and immaculate paintwork.

We were not familiar with this part of the country, so spent an afternoon pottering around nearby Farnham, a pretty market town with bags of history, lots of interesting buildings and a good selection of shops and restaurants, the latter with many vegan options. Having eaten in the hotel restaurant on Thursday evening, we ate in Farnham on Saturday. No need to eat dinner after the mid-afternoon wedding luncheon on Friday, though we did have a couple of glasses of Rioja in the bar before retiring.

A copious breakfast was included in our room rate and my beloved enjoyed a full English most days while I enjoyed the selection provided for the hotel’s Middle Eastern guests. Fresh fruit, moutabal, salad and hummous for breakfast may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it certainly floats my boat.

A late check out allowed us to fully enjoy the hotel’s facilities, particularly in the Spa, before tucking into Sunday afternoon tea in the library ahead of our departure. It was a lovely three-day break and we enjoyed chatting about France, in French, with some of the staff, one of whom came from Nice.

When we checked out the receptionist asked me which other Four Seasons we’d visited. It was only as I started rattling them off that I appreciated just how many of them we’ve stayed at, or eaten at, and I thought about why. Largely because it’s a brand I trust. I know what I’m going to find, that’s often very comforting because I so don’t like surprises.

European Heritage in Cagnes sur Mer

Last year, quite by chance, we spent The European Heritage Days in Paris poking around buildings and gardens which are not normally readily accessible by the public. This is a widely celebrated participatory cultural event launched in 1985 in France and now embraced by all 50 European States with the shared objective of promoting common understanding of cultural diversity, local skills and traditions, architectural styles and work of art that form part of the European Heritage.

These events happen all over, not just in the major cities. Here in Cagnes sur Mer, they hold a celebratory event at Auguste Renoir’s former house (now a museum) on the Sunday. Everyone’s encouraged to dress in the Belle Epoque style and enjoy a picnic – you know how the French enjoy a picnic –  under the olive trees in Renoir’s garden.

Yes, one of the great masters of Impressionism, Renoir built his house-workshop in Cagnes sur Mer in 1908 where he lived until his death, painting over 720 canvases. Consequently, many artists settled in Cagnes sur Mer, which became know as “the little Montmartre of the Côte d’Azur!”

Here’s a video of a small piece from French television from a couple of years ago to give you some idea of the day’s events.

In case you were wondering, Dejeurner sur l’Herbe was, of course, a painting by Manet, another of the great Impressionists, which was turned into a film by Jean Renoir  – no relation.

In order to maintain the 1900s theme coolers are forbidden, unless you can hide them in wicker style baskets and you’re encouraged to bring a white or checked tablecloth to complete the picture.

Of course, it’s not just about the picnic, there’s a whole day of events:-

 

  • Lace-making demonstration by Les Dentelières. From 10:00 am – 05:00 pm under the lime trees
  • Ride in vintage cars from the town centre to the Renoir museum, departing at 10:30 am
  • Flora and fauna walks in the Renoir Garden’s starting at the farm from 02:30 pm
  • Old-timer car exhibition 04:00 pm in front of Renoir’s House
  • Games of yesteryear from 10:00 am – 04:00 pm
  • Musical entertainment

I’ll be honest, I’ve visited the museum and gardens numerous times. It gives you a very personal view of the artist, his daily life, and the importance of his family.  You can even go into his studio and see his brushes and the last paint colours he was using. It was Renoir’s family home for the last 12 years of his life and although he filled it with his sculptures, paintings, furnishings, photographs and personal effects, understandably not all his works remain. It’s a charming spot, well worth a visit but I’ve not yet had a picnic in the grounds –  Maybe, next year.

Bidding a fond farewell to Igor Anton

Like many cycling fans, I’m experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a thrilling Vuelta a Espana 2018. I just love it when you don’t know who’s going to win until the last few stages. It’s so much more exciting. I was bitterly disappointed not to go to any stages this year, particularly as the race started in Andalucia, and also visited Asturias and the Basque country. All places I love to visit.

Our first Vuelta was 2011, when we went to watch the stages which started and finished in Bilbao. Stage 19, the first stage of the Vuelta to be held in the Basque country for over 30 years, was fittingly won by Basque rider Igor Anton, then riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi #Carrots.

I say fittingly because the previous year Anton had crashed out of the Vuelta while wearing the red leader’s jersey. His brave soldier face and bloodied body as he was folded into his team car is an abiding memory. Sadly, he never again reached such heady heights and on Sunday bought the curtain down on his illustrious 14 year professional career (incl. GC win in Vuelta Asturias, 4 stages in Vuelta a Espana, 1 stage Giro d’Italia, 2 stages Tour de Romandie, 3rd on GC at Tour de Suisse).

The 35 year-old Basque from Galdakao in Vizcaya started his professional career with the Euskaltel – Euskadi team in 2005 and when it sadly folded nine years later, he joined Movistar in 2014 before signing for what was to be his last team, Dimension Data in 2016.

Anton explained why he was retiring in an open letter:

The Vuelta a Espana has defined me as a person in many aspects, it is where I achieved my best results, it gave me some of my best moments and some of my worst moments. Therefore, after thinking well about my career, I have decided that tomorrow I will end my career with my final race number, 102.

It is a fitting scenario and race to bring this adventure I have been on to an end. This chapter of my life has been unbelievable, and I would not want to change anything because I have been privileged to make a small contribution to the long and magnificent history of the sport of cycling.

I want to say a big THANKS to all the partners that supported me at my 3 teams; Euskaltel-Euskadi, Movistar Team and Dimension Data for Qhubeka. From the first day of my career until this very last moment I have been backed by these incredible organisations. At Team Dimension Data I had three very special years and it was a great experience to be part of this unique project, it made my career so much more interesting.

I want to remember my mother MaryJose in this time, who I dearly miss. She sacrificed a lot for me and put in great effort to help me achieve my dream. Also, my father, he allowed me to pursue this career. My wife, she suffered with me through all of the bad moments but always stayed by my side to help me through the tough situations. Then to my loving daughter Udane, because she is my engine now.

I’d like to wish Anton all the best, much happiness and every success in whatever he decides to do next.

The food in Italy

I’ve previously waxed lyrical about the food in Spain, now it’s the turn of our nearest neighbour Italy. Who doesn’t love pizza and pasta? Exactly! I’m so old I still remember eating in Birmingham’s first Italian restaurant, called Gino’s which opened on the Smallbrook Ringway in the early 1960s. My father and I ate lunch there on Saturdays after my ballet lesson. I always had the set menu of  Minestrone, Spaghetti Bolognese and Apple Crumble. Three courses for 5/-! Of course, as we all now know there is no such Italian dish as Spag Bol.

Gino’s opened just after our first vacation in Italy where, at a family run hotel in Laigueglia, we ate a different pasta each day, all absolutely delicious and a total revelation. Don’t forget this would have been around the time that the pasta experience of many Brits was limited to tinned spaghetti hoops. Remember them? They were are truly disgusting and amazingly still around today.

Of course, there’s so much more to Italian cuisine than pizza and pasta, however it’s the Italian attitude to the latter which I think shapes their cuisine. Pasta is sacred in Italy and there are an infinite number of debates about how to make it, what sauce to serve with which type of pasta etc But why is Italian pasta soooo good?

It’s not rocket science. The bond between flour and water (and in some cases egg) is sacrosanct, and it must not be broken unnecessarily, compromised by sloppy cooking or aggressive saucing or tableware transgressions. That means cooking it properly, and relying on a system of vigilant testing to ensure it’s cooked al dente (barest thread of raw pasta remains in the centre of the pasta), no more.

Pasta should also be sauced sparingly, in the same way a French chef might dress a salad, carefully calibrating the heft and the intensity of the sauce to the pasta itself. That means refraining from unholy acts of aggression such as  adding oil to the boiling water, adding sauce to the pasta or cutting it with a knife and a fork. Above all, it means thinking about subtraction, not addition. Not what else can I add, but what can I take away?

Italian cuisine, at its very best, doesn’t seem to add up. A tangle of pasta threads, a few scraps of pork and a grating of cheese are transformed into something magical. 1 + 1 = 3: more alchemy than cooking. However, as in most things, it’s all about the quality of the ingredients.

Yes, more than genius cooks, Italians are genius shoppers intent on returning from the market with the best produce possible. Whether buying a single tomato or a kilo of sardines, be selective, demanding, relentless in your search for perfection. Let what’s best in the market guide your menu, not the other way round.

Restraint is the common bond between all great Italian regional cooking – a culture where Parmesan on many pastas (especially seafood-based pastas) is a sacrilege, and even a wedge of lemon can be seen as an assault on pristine seafood. Savour the taste and simplicity of every ingredient and remember less is almost always more. This also applies to their cooking of other dishes.

We’ve never eaten a poor meal in Italy and have often eaten lunchtime in restaurants whose offerings are targeted at the local working population. Three courses, wine, coffee and water for 11 – 15 Euros/head. It’s always delicious, home-made and we’ve never, ever been disappointed. It’s just simple, seasonal, ingredients lovingly prepared.

 

Things about France that surprised me: popularity of pizza

France may be known for its fine dining, but recent studies have revealed that the French also have a taste for fast food. I’ve previously written about their growing love of Le Hamburger; now let’s talk about their love of pizzas.

Yes, unbelievably, the French regularly challenge Americans as the world’s largest consumers of pizzas. According to the latest available information, they now eat more pizza than any other country in the world, with a whopping 819 million consumed in 2015. Though, to be fair, they’re probably much smaller pizzas than those consumed in US.

It was a phenomenon that I noticed fairly early on after our move to France. Pizzas are everywhere:  pizzerias, food trucks, take away joints, home delivery services, fresh and frozen pizzas in every supermarket. They’re ubiquitous. Our own on-site clubhouse even sells pizzas on Friday and Saturday evenings.

To put the French appetite for pizzas in context, they scoff around 10kg of pizza per head every year, that’s enough to put them third in the world league table, just behind the 13kg of pizza digested by Americans and 11kg by Norwegians, putting them well ahead of the Italians, the inventors of pizza.

Some 96% of the French declare a love for pizza – their favourite being the Reine – (tomato sauce, ham, cheese and mushrooms) followed by the Margherita, and a massive 84% order takeaway pizzas at home.

Here are a few reasons why the French are so ready to grab a slice and go:-

Comfort eating

Pizza is the number one French comfort food according to a 2018 Harris Interactive survey. The study states more than 8 out of 10 French people eat to comfort themselves when they feel depressed. Of those 8 out of 10, 34% said pizza is their go-to dish to ease the blues. Hamburgers and fries come in a close second at 28%, followed by pasta at 25%.

A contrast

The French take the most time eating and drinking compared to other countries. If the norm is to sit down, en famille, and spend hours chatting and slowly eating every bite, then grabbing a pizza and throwing it in the oven might sound pretty tempting every once in a while. In other words pizza is a switch from their usual dining routine though it also fits perfectly with another French trait, because it’s a dish you can share.

It’s relatively inexpensive

While eating out in France is not necessarily overly expensive, there’s no doubt that pizza is generally a cheaper option and attractive to those on a tight budget. The average price of a pizza in France is €6.15, according to a 2017 Gira Conseil study, which takes into account the price of pizzas sold in supermarkets as well as those in restaurants.

It’s a long-term relationship

Don’t forget, parts of France, including where I live were once part of Italy and, over time, Italian cuisine has become more popular in France though marketing has helped expand the popularity of this iconic Italian dish.

Cheese anyone?

According to the Yale Food Addiction Scale, pizza is at the very top of the addiction scale because of the cheese. Cheese has a particular ingredient called casein, a protein found in all milk products, that makes it more addictive. And who eats the most cheese in the world? The French. France has the per capita consumption of cheese.

So, there you have it. A few reasons why the French love pizza, lots of pizza!