Wordless Wednesday #91

Here’s another photo from one of our many #adventuredownunder. Goodness knows when we’ll next be able to visit……

We’re now a UNESCO site!

The United Nation’s cultural organisation reported yesterday that it had added the French Mediterranean city of Nice to its world heritage list.

UNESCO made the announcement in a tweet calling Nice, famous for its mild climate, the “Winter resort town of the Riviera”.https://twitter.com/unesco/status/1419992781125267456?s=11

Nice joins France’s more than 40 world heritage sites which include the banks of the river Seine in Paris, the Amiens cathedral, the Mont Saint Michel and stretches of the Loire valley.

Reacting to the announcement, Nice’s mayor Christian Estrosi said:

The history of Nice balances deeply rooted and very accepting, Mediterranean and Alpine, European and cosmopolitan and has produced an architecture and a landscape that are unique, a model for many other cities in the world.

With close to one million inhabitants, greater Nice is the second-largest city on the French Mediterranean coast after Marseille, and the fifth-biggest in France. It is a tourist hotspot with several million visitors per year – though maybe not last or this year – and its airport is usually one of the country’s busiest.

Nicknamed “Nice the Beautiful”, the city attracted European aristocracy from the 18th century, starting with British royalty who had the seafront Promenade des Anglais named after them.

Painters including Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse also stayed there, as did writers Anton Chekhov and Friedrich Nietzsche.

The UN cultural body awards world heritage status to sites judged to be of special universal value to humanity. Top heritage sites include the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Machu Picchu in Peru and the Acropolis in Greece.

The sought-after distinction brings intangible benefits, but also often boosts tourism, and can help secure funding for the preservation of sites.

Cee’s Flower of the Day #126

I do enjoy showcasing beautiful flora – flowers, shrubs, trees, bushes and leaves – throughout the year.

Challenge rules, why not join in?

1.Feel free to post every day or whenever you you feel like it.  You can either post new flower photos or dig back into your archives.

2. Depending on the time of year, you can post any of these types of things for your FOTD.

  • Single flowers
  • Buds
  • Multiple flowers
  • Bouquet
  • Flower fields
  • Wildflowers
  • Tree or bush blossoms
  • Autumn leaves
  • Spring leaves
  • Decorative Cabbage
  • Berries
  • Still life
  • Fake or Silk Flowers

Latest Covid News from France

The Delta variant is the main form of Covid-19 circulating in France, and is responsible for the huge spike in cases recorded over the past few days. Prime Minister Jean Castex has admitted:

…..we are in the fourth wave.

Photo
ICU staff treat a Covid-19 patient at a hospital near Paris. Image: lain Jocard/AFP

Last week, Health Minister Olivier Véran had told MPs that total cases had increased 150% in a week because of the fast-spreading variant. The rise, he said, was ‘unprecedented’.

The French government has rolled out the health passport to venues including cinemas, tourist sites, cafés, bars, shopping centres and long-distance travel, as well as making vaccines compulsory for health workers.

Meanwhile on a local level, many authorities, including those in the Alpes-Maritimes where I live, are reinstating compulsory face masks in the street and in some areas bars and restaurants are closing early.

Rising case numbers

If the 18,000 new cases number mentioned in Parliament last Tuesday sound bad, the figures are continuing to rise.

France recorded 21,539 new Covid-19 cases last Wednesday – a figure Health Minister Olivier Véran said showed the “gravity” of the health crisis. He warned that models showed infection numbers would peak at the end of the summer, at levels that could overload hospitals. A further 21,909 cases were reported the following day.

This graph below, from le Parisien journalist Nicolas Berrod, shows the steep rise of recent days.

 

Incidence rate

The current national positivity rate, according to the Covidtracker website run by French data scientist Guillaume Rozier, is over 3%  and the R-rate is at 2.12, meaning that the virus is spreading again, rather than being in retreat as it was when that figure was below 1.

The national number of cases per 100,000 people currently stands at 179 – but there are massive local differences, as this map shows.

Hospital admissions

But with almost half the French population now fully vaccinated, how do increasing case numbers affect hospitals?

The number of people hospitalised and in intensive care has been falling for several weeks at the national level. But the sudden and significant rise in infections has health professionals fearing the worst.

There is usually a time lag of two to three weeks between a rise in cases and a rise in hospital numbers.

Between 1June and 30 June, the number of people hospitalised almost halved from 16,088 to 8,451 likewise the numbers in ICU fell by 50% but are now rising again which is understandably worrying medical staff. On average, 200 new people are entering hospital every day, according to official figures, compared to 113 at the beginning of July.

According to Véran, 96 % of people who end up with the most serious forms of Covid are not fully vaccinated.

Deaths

While increases in low numbers appear disproportionately higher when listed as a percentage, Covidtracker also demonstrates that the number of deaths was falling much more quickly at the end of June, and has stagnated in recent days.

 Image: covidtracker.fr 

Vaccinations

What might mitigate against hospitalisations and deaths is the number of people who are now vaccinated against Covid-19.

Castex has set a new target for vaccinations – 50 million by the end of August.

And the Health Ministry’s figures show that more than 39 million people in France have already had at least one dose of vaccine – with more than 32 million fully inoculated.

 

However, there is some way to go before ‘herd immunity’ levels are achieved.

Some of the increase can be put down to President Emmanuel Macron’s address on 12 July, when he announced plans to extend the health pass. An immediate and sharp rise in bookings followed his announcement.

 

What happens next?

Almost six million French people made an appointment to receive a first vaccine dose in the nine days after President Emmanuel Macron’s speech announcing the new measures. Most of those will be fully vaccinated by the end of August, taking the total number a good chunk of the way to the government’s 50 million target. In addition, plans have been mooted to take vaccination services into colleges and lycees early in the new school year to catch unvaccinated school children aged 12 and over as soon as possible.

But not everyone is sure that a return to normality will be rapid, even with vaccines. Noted immunologist and government Covid adviser Jean-François Delfraissy has warned that new variants could slow things down.

The return to normal life may be 2022, or 2023. We will win, but I think we have entered into something longer.

 

Cee’s Flower of the Day #125

I do enjoy showcasing beautiful flora – flowers, shrubs, trees, bushes and leaves – throughout the year.

Challenge rules, why not join in?

1.Feel free to post every day or whenever you you feel like it.  You can either post new flower photos or dig back into your archives.

2. Depending on the time of year, you can post any of these types of things for your FOTD.

  • Single flowers
  • Buds
  • Multiple flowers
  • Bouquet
  • Flower fields
  • Wildflowers
  • Tree or bush blossoms
  • Autumn leaves
  • Spring leaves
  • Decorative Cabbage
  • Berries
  • Still life
  • Fake or Silk Flowers

One from the vaults: Reasons why we love visiting Alassio in Italy

We’re actually in Milan meeting with clients today nonetheless here’s my final repost which is from April 2018.

We often spend a day or even a couple of days away in Italy, in Alassio. My youngest sister asked me why we go there so often. Fair point, why travel 90 minutes around the coast  – although it’s a lovely drive – to spend a few days enjoying the same weather as at home? You have to understand that for both of my sisters it is all about the weather and specifically whether it’s hot enough to sun bathe, their favourite leisure activity. Those two have farniente (doing nothing) down to a fine art.

On the other hand, my beloved and I are pretty much always on the go, particularly when we’re at home. There’s always something to do either in the apartment, or work-wise in the office. A few days away allows us to better relax and chill out. But why choose Alassio?

B8A00A0C-0F27-48DC-912C-6520E1FE1384

1. We have found a charming hotel, with a thalassotherapy spa, which does great out-of-season offers. Of course, that generally means the town is OAP central. But we don’t mind even though, of course, we don’t think of ourselves as OAPs. The deal includes a splendid breakfast, and sometimes dinner, with plenty of options for me. If we deduct the daily cost of entry to the spa and breakfast, the hotel room is under Euros 60,00 per night, not bad for a spot of 5 star luxury.

2. Alassio is very familiar territory. It’s next door to where, aged eight, I spent my maiden Italian holiday. We returned firstly in 2009 with the cycling club and stayed in what is quite possibly one of the worst hotels in town. I hasten to add I was not responsible for booking it. We’ve since stayed in a number of much better and nicer hotels in the town for a similar price. And, although we know the place well, each year there are changes. A favourite restaurant or bar closes, but another great one opens. There’s plenty of choice all within walking distance either in the pedestrianised old town and/or overlooking the beach.

3. Alassio has a sandy beach. Where we live, it’s stony. In my book, to qualify as a holiday resort, you have to have a sandy beach. This one is bordered by hotels and restaurants, rather than a road, giving it a real holiday feel. You’ll rarely find me sunbathing on the beach but I do enjoy wandering barefoot along the wet sand or just sitting in a bar, in the sunshine, listening to the waves caress the shoreline. I find it a very relaxing sound.

4. The town is small enough to stroll around and the neighbouring towns are also within walking distance. As you know, there’s nothing I love more than a spot of window shopping. The town has an interesting mix of retail. A heady cocktail of Italian designer labels – so ruinous for the budget but great for window shopping – plenty of long-established quirky shops, all with that unmistakable splash of Italian design and flair, and very few chains. Now, I don’t come to the place to shop but I’d be lying if I didn’t own up to a few purchases over the years. However, you are far more likely to find me buying wine, vegetables and olive oil than shoes and handbags.

5. It’s a lovely area to cycle around and makes a welcome change from our usual routes. That said, we don’t always bring the bikes as we do like to profit from the spa, though it’s very welcome after several hours in the saddle. The main urban routes are busy with traffic but it doesn’t take long to be up, up and away, far from the madding crowd in the hills.

6. Aside from the shops, it’s an interesting town to wander around with plenty of architectural treats and some amazing old doors and lanterns, which I’m sure could tell a few interesting tales. Property prices are on a par with parts of the Cote d’Azur and anything with a view of the sea has a high price tag. We’ve noted that the number of estate agents has mushroomed over the years. The town is constantly being updated and renovated. Some of the less well located hotels have been converted into apartments. My favourite places are the pretty pastel coloured former fishermen’s houses along the shoreline which are well-maintained and highly prized.

7. Despite its popularity with foreign visitors, particularly those that speak German, it’s largely an Italian town with a large local population which swells at the week-ends and holiday periods with smart Milanese and Torinese families. Out of season, you’ll find plenty, like us, who pop over from France for a change of air. It’s only a 90 minute drive away from the Cote d’Azur but its vibe is very different and from say Saint Tropez or Aix-en-Provence, both a similar driving time from home. Plus it’s way cheaper!

8. My final point is less about Alassio and more about Italy in general. Who doesn’t love Italian food? I can always find something to eat on an Italian menu and some of the restaurants cater well for both vegetarians and vegans. And let’s not forget about those Aperol Spritzs, enjoyed with a plateful of nibbles as the sun goes down. Of course, we drink them in many places but they taste so much better in Italy. Must be the all-important accompanying nibbles!

Cee’s Flower of the Day #124

I do enjoy showcasing beautiful flora – flowers, shrubs, trees, bushes and leaves – throughout the year.

Challenge rules, why not join in?

1.Feel free to post every day or whenever you you feel like it.  You can either post new flower photos or dig back into your archives.

2. Depending on the time of year, you can post any of these types of things for your FOTD.

  • Single flowers
  • Buds
  • Multiple flowers
  • Bouquet
  • Flower fields
  • Wildflowers
  • Tree or bush blossoms
  • Autumn leaves
  • Spring leaves
  • Decorative Cabbage
  • Berries
  • Still life
  • Fake or Silk Flowers

One from the vaults: Yet another trip to Alassio

Continuing my reposting about our many trips to Alassio while we’re there this week. This one’s from October 2018.
The rationale for our most recent trip was a few relaxing days away so my beloved could use the hotel’s Thalassotherapy facilities to sooth his hip which is becoming ever more painful. Of course, I too enjoy the jets in the salt-water therapy pool and found the warm herbal baths soothed my current chesty cold. We also attempted to be digital free for the trip. I succeeded but my beloved and his iPhone are rarely separated, only when he misplaces it.
I always enjoy the splendid views on the drive over to Italy particularly when the weather is still warm and sunny. So sunny in fact that after our arrival we sat out on the beach on the hotel’s loungers enjoying the warm sunshine. We’ve stayed at the hotel many times but sitting on the beach is a first for us. I did have a quick paddle in the sea but frankly preferred just listening to the waves lap the shore. I find that really relaxing.
Obviously at this time of year, the place is blissfully quiet. There’s a few holiday makers, but it’s mostly residents. All of which means it’s easy to get tables in our favourite restaurants. However, because my beloved can’t easily walk far, we confined ourselves to those closest to the hotel – no hardship.
We first saw this particular hotel back in 2009 during its renovation, while we were staying in Alassio on the cycling club’s annual trip. We stayed in a nondescript hotel at the far (noisy) end of Alassio which was favoured by OAP coach parties. Someone on the committee had organised the trip and I assumed had chosen this particular hotel so as to remain within our budget. However, I later found a number of much nicer hotels, with better facilities, including car parking, for the same price.
The presence of so many OAPs in the hotel meant that if we didn’t go in for breakfast and dinner promptly they’d picked the buffet clean, just like a bunch of locusts. Not that the food was anything to write home about. The hotel also made us unforgettable packed lunches to eat while we were out riding around the area. After three trips with the club where neither the accommodation nor the food lived up to its billing, we decided to call it a day. Instead, we decided we’d go on our own, staying and eating when and where we wanted.
We took my parents to Alassio the following October, my mother’s last trip abroad, to show them the hotel where we’d stayed when I was eight, in neighbouring Laigueglia. We ate however in the restaurant just down from this hotel which was still undergoing renovation. My father was much intrigued by the works and we promised to take him there once it had been completed. A promise we sadly never got to keep.
Lunch was an enjoyable affair as the restaurant has a conservatory over the sea which affords diners lovely views. We had one of the prized corner tables which I’d pre-booked. My mother had the fried fish which she insisted on eating with her fingers. My father was always concerned that her behaviour (she had Alzheimers) would attract undue attention but no one batted and eyelid and the staff were very solicitous. Eating at that restaurant always brings back warm memories of that luncheon.
We’ve spent time in the area most years either because of cycling events such as Trofeo Laigueglia and the Giro d’Italia, it’s a useful mid-way meeting point for clients from Milan and Turin or as a lovely place to enjoy a few days of fare niente. It’s a change from where we live, even though it’s only just over the hour up the motorway and, because of its sandy beach, the place has a real seaside vibe.
When we were last there in April, we noted with some dismay that our favourite place for Aperol Spritz and nibbles had changed hands. We rapidly found somewhere else to enjoy our evening drink and nibbles. There’s not exactly a shortage of great bars. This time we needed to find one closer to the hotel and chanced upon one near the main station. This bar’s Aperol Spritzs were excellent, as good as my beloved’s, and the nibbles plentiful, all for a bargain Euros 5,00 per head! This has now superceded the excellent and longstanding Bar Roma, where Ernest Hemingway used to drink – that man drank everywhere!
During our brief trip, we took full advantage of the thalassotherapy facilities and I enjoyed a bracing walk around town on my own, ostensibly to get some food to take back with us though I did, of course, indulge in a spot of harmless window shopping. We may try to fit in another trip, post my beloved’s hip-replacement op, as you can never have too much of a good thing!
Please note that in order to maintain my digital detox, all the photographs were taken on previous trips

One from the vaults: The food in Italy

Rather than repost an Italian recipe, I’ve reposted about Italian food.

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, let alone Apple Crumble with custard!

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, local ingredients lovingly prepared.

One from the vaults: Postcards from Pays Basque I

Today we’re heading back to our maiden visit to the Basque Country in 2010. Sadly circumstances have prevented me visiting for the past couple of years. Consequently revisiting my many posts is probably as close as I’ll get this year. Of course, many of the riders mentioned in this post have since retired but the race winner is still riding for a WorldTour team.

This morning we set off 50km south-west of where we’re staying in Oiartzun in order to watch the LXXXVII edition of the Ordiziako Klasika. A 165,7km circuit on the UCI Europe Tour, around the town of Ordizia, which takes  in 5 ascents of the Alto de Abaltzisketa and 2 of the Alto de Altzo.

The participants included teams from Euskaltel-Euskadi, Footon-Servetto and Caisse d’Epargne and well-known riders such as Igor Anton, Benat Intxausti, Romain Sicard, David Arroyo, Francisco Mancebo and Ezequiel Mosquera.

There was a huge, local, crowd to welcome the riders which swelled considerably as the race progressed. Most proclaimed their support for the Basque riders by either wearing the Basque flag or the orange of Euskaltel-Euskadi. The spectators watched the peloton pass before retreating once again to their local bars, of which there were aplenty.

The breakaway

A  3-man break away was quickly established which was whittled down to just Romain Sicard and Egoitz Garcia (Caja Rural) but they never gained more than  3 minutes on the peloton which broke and then came back together again.  The break away was  finally absorbed but another Euskatel rider soloed to victory ahead of the mass sprint uphill to the line.

The winner

To the delight of the spectators, the winner was local boy, neo-pro, Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) who finished ahead of Manuel Ortega (Andalucia Cajasur) and Pablo Lastras (Caisse d’Epargne) to record his 2nd win of the season. His first was the last stage of the Tour of Luxembourg in June.

Burgos 2016 – Castilla Leon won the team prize, Sicard carried off best U23, most aggressive, the mountain’s classification and the longest escape while Garcia won the points. The winner, Izaguirre, also won the prize for the ¨Most Elegant Rider¨ (I kid you not). I hope Euskaltel bought a large van to carry off all the swag: 6 trophies, 6 bouquets, 6 cheeses, 6 Cava, 1 red beret and 1 framed certificate.

We then hopped  in the car to head back to the hotel to watch the last stage of this year’s Tour de France. While I appreciate that it’s largely a procession, there was still the points (green) jersey to be decided.

As I watched the peloton riding over the cobbles on the Champs Elysees heading, towards the l’Arc de Triomphe, I was reminded of my own recent ride in London-Paris. Those cobbles are painful; no wonder they try to ride in the gutter. To no one’s surprise, Cavendish won at a canter to make it 5 wins this Tour and 15 in total but Petacchi retained the green jersey and becomes one of only 4 men to have won the points jersey in all three Grand Tours.

Radioshack had started the stage wearing unsanctioned special black Livestrong shirts but were obliged by the UCI to revert to their usual authorised grey kit: cue quick roadside kit change. However, as winners of the Best Team, they reprised the Livestrong shirts for the presentation. These shenanigans garnered plenty of column inches which I’m sure was the intent.