A moment of madness

A few weeks ago this image popped up in my inbox, and I was about to hit the delete button, when I noticed that this year there would be a 20km event. Before giving it further thought, I signed up. I’m now committed.

Then I thought, I just need a plan to carry me from the sofa to the start line – and across the finish too! It’s time to get off the sofa and move. Thanks to my beloved’s hip-replacement I haven’t worked out much in months and, if I’m honest, I’ve got a little more around the waistline than I’d like.

My plan

I’ve got plenty of time to get in shape and this is how I’m going about it. I’ve started with run-walk workouts which begin with a brisk walking warm-up, then alternate minutes of running with minutes of walking, finishing with a walking cool-down. In my first workouts in week one, I ran at a comfortable effort (just a bit quicker than my fastest walking speed) for one minute and then followed it with two minutes of brisk walking. I repeated this a total of 10 times. Obviously, as I build towards my goal, so does my running time.

Once a week, I undertake a longer workout which is vital to getting my body used to spending time on my feet, utilising fat  – I’ve plenty of that – as an energy source and simulating the half-marathon distance. I’m not planning on going the distance until the day of the race. My plan builds to running two 16km (10 mile) long runs to prepare me for the 20km (12.5 mile) distance on race day.

Why not go the whole way in training? Because when you push to run longer too quickly, your risk for injury skyrockets. I’ve read than 16km (10 miles) is plenty to prepare you well for a half-marathon race.

Tune In

It’s crucial that I listen to my body during this process. If I’m struggling to finish a workout or have aches or pains, it means my body isn’t recovering properly. If that’s the case, I can easily repeat the week I’m currently on, or keep the distance the same as the plan, but do more walking and less running. Of course, I’m planning to run all the way on race day but, like my husband’s niece who completed last year’s marathon, I may just use run-walk intervals to cover the distance. I used to run 10km (6 1/4 miles) comfortably within an hour, so I’m aiming for a time of around 2:30 – just don’t hold me to it.

Important

I have to remember to have fun and keep smiling. I’ve got this! 

However, if any of you have any helpful words of wisdom, please pass them on. Any assistance will be most gratefully received.

Date night: the horses

The view from our terrace encompasses our local hippodrome. We much enjoy its year round festivities which often conclude with displays of pyrotechnics. Its summer racing season drew to a close this weekend and, having not darkened its door to watch any races for a while, we decided to go on Friday evening. We took our semi-resident expert, my sister Lynn, who has an account with Paddy Power and wins a fair bit of money on horse racing.

My beloved and I qualified for half-price tickets so it was Euros 9,00 for the three of us to get in, plus free car parking. Kids go free and there’s plenty to amuse them with bouncy castles etc. We easily found seats in the Tribune and opted for bottles of coooling water rather than anything alcoholic, before turning to the free information sheets to select our runners for each of the seven races: all trotting events, six in harness and one mounted.

Obviously, my sister is not familiar with trotting, either mounted or with a harness, but nonetheless, she still had more success than either of us in picking winners. I was at least fairly consistent as my horse in the first three races was disqualified for breaking into a canter. Thereafter, in the fourth race my chosen horse finished – finally! –  I then had two third-places and a fifth. Obviously, I’m never going to win big on the PMU (French equivalent of The Tote).

The Racecourse

Our local hippodrome, is one of the larger racecourses in France, having opened its doors in 1952, initially with temporary facilities, and it wasn’t until December 1960 that it was officially inaugurated. Its most prestigious  race is the Cote d’Azur Grand Criterium of Speed, one of the great classics of the trotting season in Europe, held during its winter season.

The racetrack covers approximately 63 hectares and can accommodate up to 12,000 people, with a tribune seating ​​6,000. It has several tracks, including 16 hectares of grass tracks for the flat and over the sticks, 4-hectares of  flat sandy tracks and a 3-hectare red-earth trotting track.

Aside from the horse racing and jumping, the track gets used for numerous exhibitions and events throughout the year.

Trotting

French horseracing is among the most active and dynamic worldwide. It organizes more than 2,000 meetings a year with an average of 8 races per meeting covering all disciplines: flat, jump and trotting. You can bet on many of these races only via the PMU.


France is the world leader in organising trotting races. It has also created and conceived its own horse breed, le Trotteur Français (the French Trotter). More than 11,000 trotting races take place in every year, representing 61% of the total French races organised, which includes both harness and mounted trotting races.

And that’s not all…………

It’s a jam-packed sporting week-end with the start of what’s sure to be a fascinating Vuelta a Espana, the MotoGP from Silverstone and the third match of the 2018/19 football season for Ligue 1 here in France. Tonight we’re off to watch OGCN play at the Allianz Riviera against Dijon which, despite the absence of Super Mario – yes, he’s staying, break out the party hats – banned for first three matches of the season, we’re hoping will be our first victory of the season.

 

Holiday photos: day 13

A veritable smoregasbord of sport on Sunday, but what to watch, when? Our dilemna was partly resolved when Rafa lost in the semi-final at Wimbledon. It was unlikely that the final would reach similar heights and we fully expected Djokovic to win his fourth title which he did.

We ate lunch at our hotel in Saint Jean de Luz before settling down to watch a mouth watering afternoon of sport starting with the German MotoGP from Sachsenring. Nine poles and nine victories for my chou chou Marc Marquez, who’s leading the World Championship. I was a happy bunny.

Next up the Tour de France’s cobbled stage finishing in Roubaix which started a bit earlier so as not to clash with the match. Sadly crashes and inopportune mechanicals either put paid to or severely dented the ambitions of a number of riders, but hey that’s cycling. You also had to feel for those nursing injuries from earlier stages, those cobbles must’ve been really painful. It was good to see former Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb pick up his first win since recovering from a terrible accident.

Finally, the blue-riband event, the eagerly awaited World Cup final. The beach and streets emptied, as everyone tuned into the match. Finals are rarely great matches, although this one was exciting. Lady luck was wearing red, white and blue as pre-match favourites France showed flashes of both brilliance and stupidity to beat Croatia 4-2 and lift their second World Cup, twenty years after their last. I’ve become a huge fan of Kylian Mbappe who has enchanted everyone with his maturity and was rightly best young playet of the tournament.

Some of my favourite scenes were President Macron’s celebratory dance – don’t give up the day job! – and the mass huggging which followed the presentation of the trophy and medals. The hotel where we were staying broke out the bubbles to toast the team. It had been a great week-end for the French, though you had to feel for the Croats, and for anyone in France hoping for a good night’s sleep.

 

Things I’ve done: London marathon

I always enjoy watching the London Marathon. It brings back fond memories of when I took part in 1994. You have to remember when I say “fond memories” I think it’s a bit like giving birth, I have selective memory loss about the painful bits.

I had decided to take part off the back of a number of successful 10km runs around London. It typically took me an hour to run 10km, twice as slow as a top runner. On this basis I naively supposed that I would complete the London marathon within 5 hours. This time is important because, if you’re slower, you’re behind the marathon equivalent of the broom wagon which used to be and may still be a BA bus. So, as you pass through each of the markers, they’re packing everything up, the road is re-opened forcing you to run on the pavement and forage for water supplies among the piles of roadside rubbish. You see I speak from (bitter) experience. I was way slower than 5 hours.

While training for the marathon, I never managed more than a half-marathon. I wasn’t overly concerned as I knew I could just walk the rest of the way. I even used to joke about it because when you tell people you’re taking part, they always ask about your time. “Just the one day” I’d say. “I’m not envisaging an overnight stop!” Cue laughter. It may have been a joke but many a true word is spoken in jest.

My beloved and I stayed overnight on the Saturday in a hotel near Tower Bridge. I even shared a lift with the eventual winner, a Mexican runner the size and weight of my left leg who kindly advised me to run the second half faster than the first. Thank you for those pearls of wisdom, clearly this was where my strategy fell down.

Unlike last week-end’s marathon, it was a bitterly cold day. I wore my running kit under an old track suit that I planned to shed on my way round – I never did – plus a hat and gloves. Of course, the cold at the start meant I was constantly queuing for the portaloos. When I finally got underway, almost 45 minutes after the first fun-runner had crossed the start line, I started with what might politely be called a gentle trot. It was okay for the first seven miles or so. I found comfort in familiar sights that I’d passed when doing some of my 10km runs. I knew I was in trouble when runners dressed in rhino costumes – how do they run in those? – a Direct Line telephone and a chap running with a ladder easily went past me.

My beloved based himself at the hotel, given that he would have great views of the race going over the bridge and past the hotel twice. An old friend of mine joined him and wondered whether I might pop in and join them for coffee on my way round. Fortunately, the thought never crossed my mind because if I’d stopped for coffee, I’d never have started again. My beloved also bumped into BBC commentator Sue Barker who, on learning I was taking part, said she’d be sure to interview me. In the end she just ran out of time, and I never got my 15 secs of fame.

The best part of the marathon is the crowds and their unwavering support. I must have high-fived every kid I passed. I had to keep washing my sticky hands. The worst part of the run IMHO is when you head out to Canary Wharf and, if you look right, you can see thousands of runners streaming back the other way. One very enterprising kid offered to lend me his anorak for a tenner so I could cheat by nipping through the adjoining road and slipping back into the herd going the other way. I declined but gathered from his tone he’d had plenty of takers.

By 16 miles I was doing what might generously be called a brisk walk and had blisters on the inside of my heels. I’d been joined by another similarly afflicted runner and we kept one another going the rest of the way. Some wonderful lady around the 18 miles mark gave us carrot cake and hot tea – best cake ever! At this stage we were playing hunt the empty water bottle, there were NO snacks unless we popped into a shop and bought them and we had to use pub loos as the mobile ones had gone!

By the time we’d painfully hobbled over the cobbles at the Tower – yes the carpet had gone too – we had what might be termed a second wind. The end was in sight. We picked up the pace and finally crossed the finish line, I even managed to sprint across, just before the cut-off, accompanied by six Roman Legions carrying a non-runner on a bed. Now that’s the way to do a marathon!

I headed back to the hotel on the tube with my beloved and straight into a hot bath. My blisters were gi-normous. Just as well I’d not taken my trainers off to have them dressed. Again, I’d never have restarted. I had a couple of days hobbling around work in some comfortable shoes and no, not slippers, but otherwise was fine. My fellow runner said she’d never do another one but I said I would, though I never have.

(Header image: Huffington Post)

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.

Postcard from Seefeld: back where we first started

I first learnt to ski when I visited my French pen-friend who lived in Grenoble. The whole family were excellent skiers and, after they taught me how to do a snow plough, I just tagged along. Never having skied before, I didn’t have any kit. Fortunately, the girl next door was the same size as me and kindly lent me some. I was conscious that unlike them I wasn’t swooshing down the pistes but nor was I making a fool of myself. I took to skiing like a duck to water probably because I was a reasonably proficient ice and roller skater.

Fast forward 15 years or so and I found myself heading to Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a work colleague, a keen skier, for a week-end’s alpine skiing while we were auditing our Frankfurt office. I generally shied away from spending week-ends away with colleagues, the working day and evening for three weeks being more than enough. But as there were just the two of us on this audit, I kind of felt obliged. Unfortunately my colleague was a danger to himself and everyone else on the piste so I wasn’t keen to be seen with him. However, on the way to the resort, inspiration struck and I elected to go cross-country skiing. It was love at first sight and on my return home, told my beloved we had to give it a go.

Our first cross-country skiing holiday was in Seefeld, Austria, in 1986, chosen because of its reputation as a cross-country skiing resort. We spent two weeks in an apartment not far from the cross-country ski tracks following a course of instruction. I rapidly progressed, my proficiency as a snow plougher par excellence standing me in good stead, plus I’m pretty fearless. My beloved’s lack of hip flexibility – yes, even before his recent leg break – rather hindered his progress, but we were soon up and running using the classic technique. It would be some time before we progressed to skating.

We enjoyed a number of winter holidays in Seefeld, including one with my parents, refining our technique and skills. In 1990, my beloved decided we were ready to take part in the Engadine Marathon, a well-known winter sporting event in Switzerland. We spent the week before the main event taking part in some intensive training, which included a trial-run mid-week where I got lost – a tale for another time. On the Sunday we both successfully completed the marathon which was the first of our six participations, though the only one where we used the classic technique. That’s right, the following year we rapidly progressed to skating which, once you’ve mastered the technique, is an altogether easier and swifter proposition.

Aside from trips to the Engadine and to visit friends in Zell am See, we’ve spent many more happy holidays cross-country skiing in Seefeld and the surrounding area most notably a couple of years ago when we stayed in a hotel chosen by my beloved – big mistake! This time we chose to return to an apartment where we’d previously spent a week during a rather wet summer back in 2009, a rather more agreeable proposition in the town itself.

Over the years, we’ve skied all of the area’s cross-country ski trails many times, walked and ridden our bikes all over the area. We know it like the backs of our hands and while the resort has grown, it’s not lost its essential charms – at least not for us. It’s almost three years since we were last here and we’ve enjoyed spotting what’s changed and seeing how it has evolved.

The resort now boasts many estate agents. Back in the mid-80s properties for sale were advertised in a small display outside of the only newsagent, now the town sports many, including a very large branch of Engel & Voelkers, a decidedly upmarket estate agent. It also sports my other ritzy resort bell weather, a shop selling Il Gufo – a wickedly expensive brand of children’s wear.

This year’s Christmas vacation will be very different from last year’s but I’m not expecting it to be any less enjoyable!

Postcard from Mugello

I love lying in bed listening to birdsong. I find it really uplifting. So I was delighted to discover our chosen hotel lay slap bang in the middle of a Tuscan forest full of trilling birds. Yes, we were back in Italy again. This time for the Oakley Italian MotoGP at Mugello which is not far from Florence.

My beloved chose our hotel but with my blessing. It’s a small family run affair, sympathetically restored with a modern interior, small bar and great restaurant. Our drive over in glorious sunshine passed smoothly with a couple of stops for lunch and refreshments. We exited the motorway at Florence skirted round the town and headed cross-country to our destination through typical Tuscan countryside, lush and green with those distinctive trees and ochre clad properties.

I’ve wanted to attend another live MotoGP race since we last went to Catalunya in 2012. While the television coverage of all 18 events is excellent you can’t beat live sport for its atmosphere and noise. With MotoGP, I love the mix of Free Practice, Qualifying and Sunday Race Days. Lots of short, sharp, action packed sessions, none of which extend beyond 45 minutes. In between it’s good to stretch one’s legs and wander round the circuit and merchandise stalls. No rider sells more merchandise than Valentino Rossi and, with this being his home GP, pretty much everyone is decked out in blue and yellow.

We picked up our tickets at the accreditation centre where we bumped into a German guy who was staying in our hotel and was looking for a lift to Mugello. He works for Oakley, principal sponsor of the event, and had been parachuted in at the last moment to help. We happily obliged.

Quite by chance we parked near the entrance closest to the stand where I’d booked our tickets, which was under cover, in the shade, on the home straight, opposite the boxes. We were a tiny spot of red and black in a sea of blue and yellow, right opposite the Yamaha box. The stand was well served by refreshment stalls and facilities with proper toilets, unlike those scattered around the circuit which offered hole in the ground amenities which I (thankfully) haven’t seen in donkey’s years.

My hopes had been raised by a sign advertising vegetarian panini but they were dashed when the vendor revealed they were tomato and mozzarella. Ah well, I won’t pass away if I miss lunch though I was regretting not bringing some fruit and snacks from home.

Mugello Teaser

This weekend, a third of the way into the championship, Michelin (the sole tyre provider) changed its front tyre for the remaining 13 races to one which features a stiffer casing, which I’m reliably informed deforms less during braking. You might be thinking, so what? But in MotoGP nothing is more important than the front tyre. Everything comes from the front tyre: the all-important rider feel, corner-entry speed, mid-corner speed and therefore corner-exit speed. So, would the tyre change be a game-changer?

Preliminaries

Crowds were sparse on Friday, largely those who were staying under canvas or in their camper vans at the circuit. The main grandstand was about 30% full while the others were pretty much empty though there was a goodly number on the grassy hill overlooking the circuit which sits in a bowl surrounded by the Tuscan hills, thickly clad with forest and basking in the sunshine. Had it rained, it would have been Dantesque with mud and water everywhere.

The crowds increased by a factor of twenty over the week-end and, despite arriving in time for the start of the day’s action, we were some way back in the car park. This meant it was much easier to exit the circuit. As anticipated, many of the race favourites had shone in both free practice and qualifying. While to the delight of the partisan crowd, Italian riders were well placed though championship leader, Maverick Vinales – surely the best name in MotoGP – was on pole for the blue riband event despite not favouring the tyre change. His team-mate Rossi was second on the front row.  Obviously, the crowd was hoping for nothing less than a Rossi victory in the blue riband event and for Italian riders to shine

Throughout the week-end, the press were always at least 10 deep at the Yamaha garage, though largely only over at Rossi’s box. He only had to appear on the many screens around the track for a massive cheer to erupt from the crowd. Barely anyone, not even the other Italians, got a look in. Makes you wonder what’ll happen to the sport when Rossi (now aged 38) finally retires.

My beloved likens MotoGP to chariot racing of old and there’s something very gladiatorial about the whole spectacle, including when, and in what order, riders emerge from their boxes and the pit lanes.

I mentioned the noise. It’s not as noisy as F1. But if Moto3 bikes sound like mosquitos, the bigger bikes throb like Concord and your whole body vibrates as they pass flat out on the home straight. It’s not quite loud enough for ear plugs, but almost.

On Saturday, at half- time, a few brave/foolhardy souls have the opportunity to ride pillion on a Ducati once round the circuit. I’d love to do this but I suspect once on the back of the bike I’d be holding on so tight I’d probably suffocate the pilot.

Race Day

On Sunday, the place was stuffed to the gills with over 160,000 spectators, many of whom were sitting on the hill overlooking the circuit.

After warm up for all three classes, a moving homage was paid to the late 2005 World Champion Nicky Hayden who recently died from injuries sustained from being hit by a vehicle while riding his bicycle. You could tell how well he was regarded by current riders and crew from the emotions of their face during the 69 seconds (Hayden’s MotoGP number was 69) of silence followed by applause.

The dynamics of each race are very different. In Moto3, all the bikes have the same engine (different chassis) and the front group is highly competitive with the race lead swapping frequently. The leading twosome only managed to break free from the pack on the final lap, with a spectacular duel on the home straight. Italian Andrea (a Rossi protegé) taking his maiden GP victory, and on home turf, with fellow Italian Fabio di Giannontonio coming in as runner-up. Needless to say the crowd were delighted.

Moto2 featured a stunning three-way fight with veteran racer Mattia Pasini – yes, another Italian – recording his first victory since 2009. Another veteran, Thomas Luthi was runner-up.  Another home win and already the Italian commentators were running out of superlatives.

Finally, the race everyone was waiting for. Would Rossi avenge his defeat last season at the hands of the current world champion, Marc Marquez, back in sixth place on the grid?

Yet another Italian, Andrea Dovizioso, took only his third GP victory with a significant margin and amazing turn of speed on the straight. Current championship leader, Vinales was second, with Italian, Danilo Petrucci, on another Ducati, was third. Rossi was fourth. Three Italian wins! We heard more  Mama Mia’s from the commentators than you’d find in an Abba song.

Time to go Home

With most of the crowd heading for the track, we raced back the car park and headed for the motorway. I would’ve stayed until Monday but my beloved had a business trip on Monday, despite it being a Bank Holiday in most of Europe. Our quick get away meant we avoided potential hold ups and arrived home at a reasonable time. We’d enjoyed our trip to the MotoGP in Mugello and vowed not to leave it so long again before visiting another circuit.

 

Postcard from Adelaide to Melbourne

Tour Down Under over and it’s time to return to Melbourne for the last leg of our holiday. Like last year, time has just flown by. The sun was shining as we pointed our hire car in the direction of Portland, back in Victoria. Last year, we stopped here for lunch and found the place and area charming so, this year, we’re back for a second bite of the cherry. But first, we had a five hour drive to reach Portland.

The views from Adelaide as you descend to the Murray River Plain are magnificent. It’s a rich agricultural area and I remember covering it in Geography at school, many years ago. It’s odd how some things stick in the mind, isn’t it? But needless to say those rich alluvial plains are pretty fertile, the food basket of Adelaide. We stopped for lunch at a roadside tavern and enjoyed oysters four ways before driving in the direction of Mount Gambier  – which we visited last year – and Padthaway. The grazing land suddenly gave way to massive vineyards and then, five miles up the road, and we’re back to cattle country. 

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We try not to traverse roads we’ve driven before but some duplication is inevitable. However, our GPS decided to send us cross -country along  C roads. A welcome diversion where the countryside was beautiful but we only passed two cars in over 200km. Lucky that we’d already eaten lunch, had plenty of drinks and a full-tank. 

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The weather was glorious as we arrived into the coastal town of Portland whose claim to fame is that it was the first city in Victoria, established ahead of Melbourne. Where we were staying overlooked the bay and was a five minute saunter into town. Sadly, the next day it poured but not before we’d had our daily ride/run. Still, you don’t mind having to do a spot of work when it’s blowing a gale outside. The great restaurant we’d eaten in last year was closed, but there are plenty of alternatives in town along with an interesting selection of galleries and gift shops.

2016-01-27 Great Ocean Road 1

From Portland, it’s just a hop skip and a jump to the wonderfully scenic Great Ocean Road, one of the great roads of the world. Yes, we drove along here last year but you can never tire of such scenery. The road undulates and, every time you crest a climb, there are magnificent sea views – turquoise sea, foaming white against the red and yellow ochre cliffs. Much of the  surrounding countryside is akin to moorlands, dotted with grazing sheep and cows, plus some arable pasture, already harvested and in bales. 

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The road skirts the Great Otway National Park which is thickly wooded and carpeted with ferns. The smell of eucalyptus is heady but I still haven’t spotted a koala in the trees. Naturally shy, they must avoid the trees fringing the roads through which you get tantalising glimpses of the bright blue southern ocean.

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I’d built into the programme lunch at the Apollo Bay fish shack where last year we’d both eaten the best fish and chips ever under the watchful gaze of loads of marauding gulls, ready to do battle for any leftovers. It didn’t disappoint. The lobster tempted me until I realised it was large enough to feed a family of four, and then some. 

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After lunch we headed through the Park and inland for an hour or so to Birregurre, home to a restaurant of some repute which sadly only serves a tasting menu.  We were staying in a delightful historic homestead which is a national heritage property built in 1865, wonderfully preserved and maintained by the current owners, and sitting in splendid gardens. Sadly, the owners are shutting up shop at the end of February, so we were just in the nick of time.

With no dining options in Birregurra, we drove 20km to Colac and dinner in the only restaurant in town with white tablecloths and napkins – delicious. Sated we returned to our cosy B&B and watched the first BBL semi-final – a bit of a whitewash for the Perth Scorchers against the Melbourne Stars. After a delightful homemade breakfast we were back on the road and heading for Seaford, the final stop on our Australian adventure, just a few hours away, and where we’d be spending Australia Day. We learnt last year when in Coonawarra that most small towns totally shut up shop on their national holiday,  we’re not going to repeat that mistake this year.

Postcard from Adelaide: Part I

We’ve spent two fabulous weeks in Adelaide, the latter half of which was devoted to watching the Santos Tour Down Under. This left us a week to potter about, enjoying our surroundings. We stayed in the same place as last year. What can I say? We’re creatures of habit and having found the perfect spot, needed to look no further.

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We arrived in Walkerville after a lovely relaxing lunch at the Serafino winery in McLaren Vale. The following days we settled into a rhythm of pre-breakfast exercise, followed by a quick swim in the pool (no shark sightings) and a late breakfast. We used our time wisely and enjoyed all that Adelaide and the surrounding area has to offer. Having already explored McLaren Vale, we popped into the Adelaide Hills to visit the Beerenberg Farm, a South Australian institution, which makes a fabulous range of preserves – I love them all! The company was set up in 1839 and it’s still run by the Paech family. We couldn’t resist stocking up with a few of their products for the rest of our trip and purchasing a few gifts for friends and family. Of course, it remains to be seen whether they’ll make in back to France in one piece.

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The Beerenberg Farm Shop is just outside of Hahndorf, founded by German Lutherans, it looks and feels like a corner of Bavaria. We’ve previously visited the town which, this time, was heaving with day trippers. After a quick wander around, we headed off for the quieter Mount Barker and a late lunch in an excellent bakery. Of course, I have to rely on feedback from my beloved whose palate – or so I like to think – has been honed by our years together. As we drove around, I did note plenty of spectacular property porn in the area, both historic and modern.

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In truth we spent plenty of time moseying around, either on foot or on the bike, in the beautiful Adelaide Hills enjoying the lush, verdant pastures choc full of fruit trees, vines or grazing animals. There are lots of small towns with a few historical buildings, I particularly love the ones with wrought iron wrap around gingerbread trims on the verandahs. Not, of course, forgetting the many open cellars where you can try the local wines, oils, beers and other beverages or enjoy a delightful lunch.

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No trip to Adelaide would be complete without a few meals at our local in Melbourne St. It’s not strictly our local, there’s one closer but it’s not in the same class. The pub also has a first class restaurant where I celebrated my birthday at just a small, intimate, party for two.

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Where we stayed is next to a large park which I’ve happily been running or more correctly plodding around. It’s nice and shady but I still work up quite a sweat before cooling off in the pool. Of course, we’ve also had to spend some time working. It’s inevitable on a two month break!

Prior to the start of the Tour we reconnected with our friends who’d had a wonderful time in Tasmania. Looking at their photos I was about to put it on my bucket list but then their youngest showed me his hand. You could clearly see his little bruised palm punctured by fang marks. He’d been bitten by one of the (thankfully) non venomous snakes but it had been a bit of a shock for all concerned. However, this didn’t stop him from handling the python in the Tour Down Under Village. He was a lot braver than many of the pro riders who much preferred the cuddly koalas and joeys – me too!

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A trip into Adelaide gave us an opportunity to look around the magnificent central market bursting with local produce. Given half a chance my beloved would have bought enough food for the next month. I really had to rein him in. The market adjoins Chinatown and we lunched at what turned out to be one of Adelaide’s finest. When faced with so many dining options I fall back on my default position, I pick the one restaurant with white linen tablecloths and napkins – top tip from my late father who trained me well. We later found out it was voted Best Chinese in Adelaide by a local newspaper. It was fabulous and we were fortunate to arrive early as tables filled up fast.

As well as watching the Big Bash League matches, we’ve also been watching the One Day Internationals: India v England and Australia v Pakistan. Whether this interest in cricket will persist on my return to France, who knows? But I’ll certainly be trying to watch the other Twenty20 series and any more ODIs. By far and away the highlight of these ODI games has been India’s captain Virat  Kohli, a man who scores runs seemingly at will. According to my beloved who’s had several recent business trips to India, Kohli’s hugely popular, more so than any other Indian sportsman but then cricket is akin to a religion in India, one which unites all faiths.

Postcard from Melbourne to Adelaide

It’s Saturday evening, the first one in January, and my beloved and I are enjoying a night in watching the Twenty20 return match, Renegades v Stars. Looks as if it’s a sellout at HCG and it’s going to be an engrossing game, particularly after the Renegades’ recent away win at the MCG.

We left Melbourne on Wednesday morning and drove via the Victorian goldfields to Horsham. Almost as soon as you leave downtown Melbourne,  by way of the Old Melbourne road aka Western Freeway, the landscape starts to undulate, with vast expanses of yellow scrub punctuated by trees, the odd farm and plenty of small semi-industrial buildings. The scenery becomes more interesting as we near the former gold prospecting town of Ballarat, for a coffee stop. Those combine harvesters have been hard at work, leaving golden, neatly stacked bales of hay and straw from harvested fields framed by more trees.

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The pastures turn lusher and greener as we head to Ararat, and lunch at a local cafe. Now they’re dotted with flocks of sheep, grazing horses and herds of cows as we drive towards the Pyrenees and Grampian Hills, yet another wine producing area. The Grampian Hills’ national park is on our left as we drive along flat plains punctuated by the occasional man made lake. We drive to Horsham, the main town in the area, and an overnight stay in a motel. It’s clean, spacious, well-rated on booking.com and Trip Advisor but the decor’s dark and depressing. However, it’s just somewhere to rest up.

We case the town for our evening meal. Many of the cafes close at 5pm, there’s numerous takeaways but the only place that’s buzzing is the local hotel (pub). It turns out to be a good choice and on the way back we spot a juice bar for the following day’s breakfast.

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Once past the Pyrenees and Grampians with their fruit, olive and vine laden slopes, we’re onto the flatlands where you can see for miles and miles. Golden fields awaiting the combine harvester, golden stubble being picked over by the birds and huge silos with mountains of grain, walls of baled hay and straw. This really showcases the green and gold of Australia set against a brilliant blue backdrop.

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We have a coffee stop in Keith and then the land starts to undulate once more and the earth becomes sandier. As we near Adelaide, the countryside flattens and becomes scrubby again, which only the sheep and goats seem to appreciate. We eat lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Murray river. The closer we get to the city, the greener the countryside.

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We’re spending the weekend on the beach in McLaren Vale at the request of my beloved. It was an area he enjoyed when we were here last year for the Willunga Hill stage in the Tour Down Under. I had booked a family run B&B overlooking the beach in Port Noarlunga. The house was built in 1930 and its interior is very much in keeping. It’s a spacious studio with a balcony affording us a splendid sea view.

As my younger sister would say, the weather’s roastin’ and we’ve been basted in factor 50, wearing sunglasses and hats and seeking shade or shelter in air conditioned spots. We had a gentle stroll along the shore and jetty and looked enviously at the bathers splashing around in the cooling shallow water. I couldn’t see any sharks but I wasn’t taking any risks!

After our hearty lunch, we settled for a glass of local wine and a few plates of tapas at the local Portuguese restaurant before retiring. When I woke up my beloved had already departed for his early morning ride. I waited for him in the shade as, despite the cloud cover, it was already in the mid-30sC. Too hot to laze on the beach.

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My beloved was sweating profusely on his return. Revived by a cold shower and breakfast, we decided to drive around the area. First stop, the Farmers’ Market at Willunga Hill to pick up some fruit and provisions for dinner. Then we rode up Willunga Hill and drove down towards Kangaroo Island before turning back via the Myponga Reservoir – a great training ride – and then along the coast stopping for lunch at a vineyard cafe. We moseyed along McLaren Vale but couldn’t take the heat. It was time to return and watch the cricket.

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Fortunately, the mercury fell by Sunday morning and my beloved had a more enjoyable ride before we headed to a McLaren Vale winery for a leisurely lunch. Then we drove to Adelaide and our home for the next two weeks.

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In case you were wondering, the Stars stormed to 200 runs but the Renegades couldn’t match them, falling well short. doesn’t look like they’re going to make the semis.