Parisian diary

I took the train from Antibes to Paris: just over 5 hours door-to-door and a bargain at Euros 80 for a first-class return. I passed the journey lost in the pages of Sir Chris Hoy’s biography a very readable adjunct to “Heroes, Villains and Velodromes.

On my arrival in Paris, the skies cleared and the rain stopped so I decided to walk to our hotel on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne. Each time we go to Paris we endeavour to stay in a different quarter as I enjoy traversing the streets looking at the magnificent architecture and window shopping – by far the safest type of shopping! In addition, I love browsing the art galleries, antiques and book shops.

I also adore finding us great restaurants for lunch and/or dinner. Now, of course, I could just fish out a guide book and book one of their many suggestions, but where would be the fun in that? No, I like to walk around, sizing up the restaurants and their menus before making my choice.

Over the years I’ve had many pleasurable trips to Paris. My first came courtesy of my French pen-friend who, while she lived in Grenoble, had a large family living in Paris. I spent a week with her aunt in an impressive apartment just off Boulevard Haussmann and traipsed to my heart’s content around all the sights of Paris and Versailles. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to visit it on a regular basis.

When I told my Dad we were off to Paris, he reminded me of the trip we had taken with them some years ago, at about the same time of year, where we had eaten “our most expensive meal”. He still has a copy of the bill from the now-defunct “Lucas Carton” near Place de la Madeleine.

I have to say it was a truly memorable meal but, at the time, I had no idea how much it had cost as neither my Mum nor I had menus with prices. I started with polenta and truffles, while everyone else had scallop tartar. Dad and my beloved followed that with lamb while Mum and I had lobster, at my Dad’s urging, as it’s my Mum’s favourite. We elected to have the wines chosen by the chef to accompany the meal, but didn’t have room for a dessert or coffee, although we did manage to demolish all of the mouth-watering, petit fours.

My Dad picked up the bill, which was not what I had intended. It was some months later that he asked me what I thought it had cost. The tilt of his eyebrows indicated that my initial bid was way off the mark. But he did concede it had been well worth the money.

My first job in Paris was to interview 20 French dentists about their periodontology regimes. After speaking to a couple, it was clear that a 4-page questionnaire was several pages too many despite the inducement of a free gift. I decided an alternative strategy was required and based myself outside of the exhibition, close to one of the many lunch-time venues. Sure enough, by 11:30am, there was a long queue of people waiting to be served and what better way to while away the time answering my questionnaire. By the time lunch was over, I had filled my quota.

After a delicious meal in a small family-run restaurant on Wednesday evening, we invited a business colleague to share some champagne and oysters with us on Thursday evening at a restaurant close to the Palais des Congrès where we have previously enjoyed many similar evenings. Like me, he’s a recent convert to cycling and we are considering organising a cycling trip next year for his readership, to coincide with the club’s “ Brevet Kivilev”.

I used to view oysters with great suspicion. After all, they look like large blobs of snot. Well, they do don’t they? However, I decided that millions of French people can’t be wrong and took the plunge. Now, they’re one of my favourite foods and I regret all those wasted oyster eating opportunities. So, if you’ve never tried them, go-ahead, just do it. I promise you won’t regret it.

I bought my beloved an oyster opening kit for last Xmas (among other things) so we can enjoy them at home. I like them best with a squeeze of lemon juice and a glass (or two) of champagne. As I’m fond of saying “I’m a woman of simple tastes, all of them expensive”.

Friday morning I rose early for a run along the Seine. I can’t totally abandon my new regime. Although my husband had promised to keep Friday clear, I truly did not anticipate seeing him at all. However, we shared lunch at a delightful Corsican restaurant I found in the Marais before he returned to the exhibition for a further round of business meetings.

Bike friendly Paris!

We rose on Saturday to find leaden skies. It rained from time to time but fortunately, not heavily. My beloved decided he wanted to look around the Louvre. I knew once he saw the queue, he would decide otherwise, and was proved correct. He hates to wait for even 5 minutes: strange behaviour from a guy who generally keeps everyone else waiting!

However, we happily whiled away the morning wandering around the area and I found a fabulous restaurant for lunch a few doors down from Le Grand Verfour, which, sadly, was not open for Saturday lunch – maybe, next time.

While from time to time, I enjoy a few days away, equally I enjoy getting back home. I’m already looking forward to tomorrow morning’s ride, weather permitting, to Roquebrune Cap Martin. It’s a 90km round trip for us and I still recall how equally exhausted and elated I was the first time I did it, two years ago. How time has flown!

Hands off

I’m picking my husband up from the airport in an hour or so, around 23:15. He’s been in UK and Poland for the past 10 days. I’d like to be able to tell you that while he’s been away I’ve demolished the Vuelta and post-Vuelta ironing mountain, but I haven’t; maybe, next week.

No, while the weather’s fine, I’ve been out on my bike. Plus, let’s not forget, I’ve been baking biscuits for the dental students at Nice University where my beloved in lecturing tomorrow. I’ve made American-style squidgy raisin and oatmeal cookies (my fave), classic chocolate chip cookies and some elegant lemon thins.  In addition, I’ve been toiling with my translations and chasing up those members of the cycling club who have yet to pay their subs.

One of the (few) advantages of being club secretary is that I’m now on the mailing list for the details of each week’s pointage. So, no need to rely on the instructions on the club’s website or check the location on a map, I’ve got my own directions. The pointage is typically held in a car park. This week’s is in Stade Charpin in Les Semboules, which is behind Decathlon in Antibes.  

Lloris looms large

Of course, today’s big story has been Thierry Henry’s “hand of God” goal-assist which has prompted the Irish to ask FIFA for a replay (no chance). My estimate of six pages of commentary and two of adverts in today’s L’Equipe was a page shy of the mark. Man of the match, once again, was home-boy, Hugo Lloris. I can’t help thinking that he’ll be off to pastures new (and better paid) next season – Arsenal peut-etre? I do hope OGCN put a sell-on clause in the contract when they sold Hugo to Olympique Lyonnais. If so, they’ll be quids in. If not, they’ll be kicking themselves.

Rum soaked

My trainer, at my request, has ramped up the exercise regime. As a consequence, after our session yesterday, I have a few aches in areas best left unmentioned.

The weather the last two days has been glorious, just what I ordered. As I rode out of the Domaine this morning, my neighbours were picking the olives. Yes, we have our own olive oil from the 100 or so trees on the estate. The driver of the car in front of me stopped abruptly to encourage those picking, sadly without glancing in her mirror, so I nearly, but fortunately not quite, shot into the back of her car.

I decided that some interval training was in order and headed to the hill which goes up from Garoupe to boulevard Kennedy, in Antibes. The idea is to ride as hard as possible out of the saddle up the first incline, rest as it tails off and then pick it up again for the last bit. I did this six times much to the amusement of the builders working on the construction of what, I’m sure, is going to be an amazing (and totally wildly expensive) new property, “Villa Robert”. A couple of times round the Cap [d’Antibes] and then it was back home for lunch.

I spent the afternoon working on a translation before heading over to the cycling club. The offer of an English and/or IT course on Thursday afternoon seems to have been well received by my fellow, largely retired, members. I’d better get working on my first lesson plan. Loads of kisses, a couple of licence renewals and a new member later, I was back home in time to bake some cookies.

From time to time, my beloved speaks to the dental students at Nice University about aspects of dentistry in English, thereby satisfying some of their obligatory study of that language.The feedback from his first session suggested that he should have bought them something to eat. Remember, we’re talking about students. It was probably said tongue in cheek, more in hope than anticipation. So for his next visit, I sent him armed with cake: brownies, coconut macaroons and carrot cake. His ratings improved dramatically!

This time, I’ve decided on a selection of American style cookies.  I’ve made up large batches some of which can go into the freezer ready  for my first recreational afternoon at the club. We’ll need something to go with the tea and coffee.

I’ve also started on my Xmas cake. I like to soak the 2 kilos of dried fruit that I put into the cake for a couple of days in a mixture of rum, orange and lemon juice. Generally, I’m not a big fan of traditional UK Xmas food: disliking Xmas cake, Xmas pudding, turkey, sprouts, bread sauce, mince pies, brandy sauce and butter. You get the picture.

Our first Xmas in France, I decided to have one of my “once every eight years or so” family (mine) Xmas’s whereupon I needed to come up with a more acceptable (to me) Xmas cake. I decided to deconstruct the traditional recipe, eliminating the ingredients I don’t like and replacing them with ones I do. I came up with a recipe which makes a medium sized, square cake, choc full of lovely alcohol laden, dried fruit: prunes, dates, raisins, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, apricots and figs. After it’s baked, I soak it weekly in rum for a further 6 weeks and then I cover it in home-made marzipan and soft royal icing. Now I’m not an aficionado of fruit cakes, but my sister Lynn is and she reckons it’s the world’s best Xmas cake. I’m prepared to accept her opinion and concede that it’s probably one of the world’s most expensive.

Brits abound

With only two weeks to go to my departure for Austin, I realised that a few longer rides were in order and on similar terrain to that which I’ll encounter in Texas. Yesterday, like today and pretty much most days recently, was glorious. I left the Domaine around 10:00am, having avoided the early morning traffic. The Domaine is securitised by way of a barrier. To exit the mechanism automatically senses an approaching vehicle and raises the barrier. I am clearly too small (phew!) to be recognized as a vehicle and have to rely on the security guards to raise it as I approach. The service is outsourced and while we have a number of regulars, from time to time, we have newbies who don’t realise that they have to raise the barrier for me. This means it always has to be approached with caution. Obviously, we had a newbie in charge so I had to dismount and duck under the barrier.

I decided on a round trip to St Raphael. I hadn’t cycled along the coast for months; it’s a route to avoid in the summer for obvious reasons. My traffic light karma was in overdrive with all the lights turning green just as I approached – perfect. I breezed past loads of riders on the coast road between Villeneuve Loubet and Antibes; it was clearly going to be a great ride. On the short hill up to Boulevard Kennedy on Cap d’Antibes, I was wheel sucked by four gentlemen who turned out to be Brits from the Wirral down here on their annual boys biking trip. They asked if they could cycle with me and I agreed. I sensed a tinge of envy in their voices when I revealed that I lived down here and was able to cycle most days – cycling nirvana indeed.

As we cycled along, I was happy to explain other cycling routes they might enjoy and places they might visit before their return to Blighty on Saturday. They much admired my beloved bicycle but were not familiar with the BMC brand! We also discussed at length the growing interest in cycling in the UK. I don’t think it’s ever going to approach the deeply entrenched continental European love of cycling but it’s nonetheless very welcome.

Many hours later, I arrived back at the Domaine to discover the same guard was on duty. I rode up the steep hill to the barrier which he opened only as I dismounted. I popped into his office to explain the need to open the barrier as I approached so that I wouldn’t need to slow down and could just sail through in either direction.

My husband is away in London, his gout having subsided sufficiently, so I was able to sink into my spa bath for a reviving soak before heading out again to a meeting over in Antibes.

In Napoleon’s footsteps

St Vallier de Thiey
St Vallier de Thiey

Tomorrow we’re off to St Vallier de Thiey, just above Grasse. This is also the date of the club’s annual picnic on the shores of Lac St Cassien. Two year’s ago, doubting my ability to cycle all the way to the Lac via St Vallier, I instead drove the car to the picnic and cycled around the lake. Last year, I went to watch a friend compete in the Monaco Ironman. This year I’m doing the pointage, but not the picnic.

St Vallier was the Archbishop of Antibes  martyred in the 17th century by the Visigoths. While Le Thiey is the mountain at 1552m overshadowing the village which has a pretty12th century church and ancient city gates. 

The route is a gentle incline all the way to Pre du Lac. Thereafter, it’s reasonably flat  to Grasse where you take a sharp right-hand turn up the Route Napoleon to St Vallier. So called because, this was the route Napoleon took  on his return from exile in Elba after having first landed in Golfe Juan. My return route will depend on the weather and how I’m feeling.  

My first trip to St Vallier was last October. Wanting to increase my kilometrage, I had been exhorted by a club mate to ride with an UFOLEP group on Tuesdays, who “rode along the coast”, his words. This was my first outing with them and I was somewhat apprehensive as to whether or not I could a) keep up and b) ride the distance.

I joined the group at St Laurent du Var and we rode along the coast at a pace I could just about sustain to Mandelieu where we took a right-hand turn and headed inland, in the direction of Grasse, over a succession of short steep climbs which saw me slide ignominiously out on the back of the peloton and halfway-down the hill. My club mate kindly kept me company and, from time to time, even gave me a helpful push. I honestly don’t remember the route we took but I do recall we stopped for a picnic lunch in St Vallier. Yes, French cafes are quite happy for you to eat a picnic lunch while seated at their tables, providing you buy something to drink. Ever the pragmatists, the owners understand that the revenue from 30-40 drinks is not to be sneezed at. Shame English cafe owners don’t embrace the same view.

I confess that I am not a real fan of picnics. Many years ago my husband, for reasons I have been unable to fathom, bought me a picnic set for Xmas. We have used it twice. Both times to have a picnic in the gardens of Cleveland Sq, where we used to live in London, with my goddaughter. Frankly, I prefer to stop at a cafe or restaurant, have something to eat and drink, and continue on my way.

I had fondly imagined that after lunch our return route would be downhill all the way. Not so, we were not done climbing. Again, I barely recall the route but we continued to climb before finally descending past the high security prison, built on high above Grasse. This was the first time I had ridden in excess of 100km. Furthermore, I had anticipated that it would be along the undulating coastal route, not in the hilly, arriere pays. While it had been enjoyable, I was truly, but pleasurably,worn out.

L’Antiboise

I was awoken by flashes of lightening and loud overhead thunder at about 04:30am this morning. Now I generally sleep like the dead. Once my head hits the pillow I’m out for the count for 8hrs minimum. So, if anything wakes me up – it’s loud, really loud. My bedroom windows overlook the sea and, since we’re not overlooked, I see no reason to cover the magnificent view with curtains. The bedroom was lit up like the Blackpool illuminations by the thunderstorm.

When the alarm went off at 06:00am, I could hear the rain so turned over and went back to sleep: no L’Antiboise today. Yes, once again rain has stopped play on a Sunday. I had planned to do the 150km Brevet today thereby garnering maximum points for the club and putting in some valuable Livestrong training mileage.

Last year I had ridden the 100km with my husband. The course starts in Antibes,  goes along the coast to Agay, then turns into the l’Esterel hills before returning back along the coast via La Napoule. The longer route takes you past Lac St Cassien and over towards Grasse before returning to Antibes via Valbonne. Both great rides in good weather.

It’s not that I’m afraid of getting wet but, as I found out in the Pyrenees, my brake pads need replacing. They’ve been ordered and will be fitted next week. We rode in the pouring rain in the Pyrenees over Easter. On the Saturday I was able to demonstrate “how to perform an emergency stop” to the rest of the group. My brakes failed as I was rolling down a hill to catch up with them. They were waiting for me by the side of the road. Noting that they were next to a grassy patch, and my husband was at the back I hollered “my brakes aren’t working”. My husband caught my arm, thereby slowing me down somewhat and I flung myself over to my right and onto the grass. Both the bike and I came away unscathed, though I did have some rather spectacular bruising to my right knee and elbow.

Now, I’m a pretty good descender, largely thanks to my bike. I had thought that it was due to my superior bodyweight but if my husband and I descend at the same time, I go much faster than he does and he’s a good 20kg heavier than me. 

By 10:00am the rain had stopped and the roads were starting to dry out. So I went for a ride with my husband, meeting a number of club members en route. Let’s hope the weather will be fine for the Louis Caput sportif next week end.