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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

27e Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc

The story's all in the title.

A marathon where fancy dress is compulsory, where besides the normal water and fruit stations there are wine-tasting stations and which is only two-and-a-half hours' drive from home, must be worth some consideration - that is if you've ever considered running a marathon at all.

The course (26,2 miles of course) is almost a figure-of-8 starting at the village of Pauillac on the Gironde estuary, heading south, to Beychevelle, looping back past Pauillac into St. Estephe and finishing back at Pauillac.

Of the marathons I have run/walked (7 so far) this was probably the most fun. Not necessarily the most prestigious, impressive, challenging etc, but certainly relaxed. It's true about the "oeno-sportif" wine-tasting stations - 20 of them - you do get to taste young wines from some of the most famous chateaux in France but I wasn't quite expecting that people would actually stop and chat around the bar as if they had all the time in the world. It would be very easy to forget that you were running a marathon at all. In fact perhaps some people do forget that. In most marathons there seems to be a drop-out rate of about 5-6% who don't make it to the finish. For the Medoc this figure was about 5% 12 years ago steadily rising to an average of 15% and, last year, to 21%. I guess that because of its light-hearted atmosphere participants think it must be easy and fail to train. It isn't easy and because it is run in early September, it can be hot - especially if you are one of the slower runners. Also, more than a quarter of it is run off-road, on gravel, over bumpy ground in the vineyards and on cart-tracks. There are also hills - and the occasional waits at the bars! All-in-all not a marathon for a Personal Best.

Still, it's behind me now as was a very small number of other runners.

Santé!

(By the way, I'm meant to be a butterfly.)


P.S. It's true! There are oysters and steak en route too!

--

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Albania - Not as Scary as They Say (Part 1)

When we were doing our tour of Europe (and a little bit of Asia) three years ago, we wanted to visit Albania but the reports we received, mainly that the roads wouldn't be suitable for our mobile home, led us to drive round it instead. So, when we set out for Greece and the Special Olympics World Games, we thought we might give Albania another try on the way back, as we expected that our car would be better able to cope with bad roads.

The advice we got wasn't encouraging. The Foreign Office Advice to Travellers said that 3/4 of Albanian road users carried firearms and warned of 100.000 tonnes of ordnance being buried around the country. The Lonely Planet guide said that "only the foolhardy" would drive there and that it's "a really, really hard place to drive". As we thought we were "the foolhardy", we took that as a green light. A person in Athens told us that Albania was perfectly safe if you never let your car out of your sight. This might have made going to bed difficult, unless you slept in a garage. In Ioannina, on the Greek side of the border we were told not to worry. So we didn't, we decided to pop into southern Albania, drive over the mountains to the coast and, if that was OK, to carry on; if not we could turn round and catch a ferry to Italy from Greece.

Before crossing the border, we filled up with diesel. This was a mistake since fuel was easily available in Albania and cheaper than in Greece (or anywhere else, if it came to that). The filling station was a unique experience. The man running it had no arms. When I asked him which was the diesel pump, he pointed with his foot. To pay, since he obviously couldn't operate a credit card machine, cash was the method. I gave him a €50 note and he invited me to help myself to change from the till.

This is a lot of words. Here's a picture taken from our room at Ksamili.




Saranda, a place described in the guidebook as a fishing village, was filled with high-rise (but cheap) hotels, so we drove on 10 miles to Ksamili, a village with only a few hotels but with many collapsed buildings, e.g.:-




Our first guess (and fear) was "earthquake", but no, it was something more uniquely Albanian. After the collapse of communism a lot of speculative building had been carried out, much without official approval. Rather than embark upon expensive and time-consuming (or "chronophage", as the French say) litigation, the Albanian government went for the quick option - collapse the buildings. We saw more than 30 in a similar state around Ksamili.

TO BE CONTINUED

Sunday, 19 June 2011

On the Road Again - Welcome to the Hotel Astoria

We are on our way to help at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, travelling there by car down through Italy to catch a ferry at Bari. Last night we stayed at a very pleasant small hotel at Cassine, north of Genoa, tonight we are at the Hotel Astoria, Ravenna. Ruth has been wanting to see the mosaics around Ravenna for the last 50 years. They have been waiting to be seen by her since the middle of the 6th. century, so closure has now been reached. The mosaics were made when Ravenna had been briefly the capital of the Roman Empire and was then subsequently part of the Byzantine Empire so the mosaics and the churches in which they are, are a brilliant (literally - they shine with golden tesserae)example of transition both between what were to become the Catholic and Orthodox churches and the end of the Roman Empire.

But another example of multi-culturalism was the meal which we had at the fish restaurant we ate at tonight. My Italian is a bit sketchy (although I hope to ink in between some of the dots in the next few days) and we had aleady eaten our first course before we persuaded the manager to find us a menu. This he did, and gave us one in English and German. This made things a bit difficult as we couldn't explain what it was we thought we wanted from the English menu to the waitress as she didn't speak English and couldn't understand the English menu. Worse, we couldn't understand the English menu either; e.g "some plates in our papers". I sought the help of the German version but that had been translated by the same person who had done the English. I asked for a French menu, so the waitress brought a second German one.(I worked out that "some plates in our papers" meant "our a la carte dishes"). We asked for the Italian menu. We understood that. So did the waitress. After a fairly immense meal, we were given some digestives. Very nice they were too, but I usually expect liqueurs to come in tiny glasses, not in two quarter litre jugs. Good night!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Etape Moto

The Tour de France is a tough challenge to undertake by pedal-power alone. That's why when 3 of our friends made an overnight stop with us in the course of a tour around France, they rather cheated, I think, in making sure that that they had the added support of 1100cc a piece to help them over the hills.




The Chef de Choeur Wonders What to Do Next


In my role as a jobbing joint deputy stand-in under-assistant choir master, I sometimes wonder how committed the choir is to serious choir practices. Like, how come they've got time to take photos?

Some Loungers

When you've been hard at work all morning, eliminating pests from the garden, cleaning out food bowls and culling the fish in the pond, it's good to put your paws up and soak up some UV's. That's what life's about.


Bringing Britain to France

The winter was very dry in this part of France and the farmers, who normally start irrigating at the end of July, this year started in early May. I was in Britain for about 30 hours at the end of April but just had time to stock up on a few clouds from which we would hopefully be able to extract some rain back here in our garden. Here they are in the back of the car:-

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

WHY IT'S BETTER TO BE INTELLIGENT THAN BRIGHT

If you're Bright, it's always possible to find somebody described as Brighter than you, but if you're Intelligent, you'll never find anyone being described as Intelligenter.

Friday, 8 April 2011

HÉLAS AND ALACK!

Hélas because yesterday, 7th. April, was the last time that I was able to ski until next winter and Alack because the hot weather we are having (35˚ in the garden today) means that next week there will be a lack of snow to ski on. Never mind, though, the sailing season has started!

Monday, 28 March 2011

THE MANIFOLD ATTRACTIONS OF LABATUT-RIVIERE

The attractions of Labatut were irresistible to residents and visitors alike long before bridge-strengthening works opened the opportunity for a facelift (or, in French, "un lifting") for its shoreline and a makeover (or, in French, "un relooking") of its image. The aspect now presented to the World is now of a fun, exciting and vibrant year-round holiday resort. See what the Press had to say:-

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

RESTORED CHURCH AT BASSOUES

FROZEN CASCADES AT PONT ESPAGNE JANUARY 2011

What really interested me about these scenes, photographed in January, is that the water falling over the cascades is not - as I would have expected - flowing under the ice, but over it. It must say something about how cold the ground was.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

What we have been doing and what we hope to do - and Christmas

We are enclosed today by a cold grey fog.















Each of us in our separate studies is thinking of what we need to do this coming year and what we must do and would like to do. I sit in comfort in the room we grandly describe as the library because it is lined with bookshelves and books. John is camping out in the attic with only a halogen heater for warmth. It is a very grotty space at the present because it doubled as John’s workshop and storage for building tools and equipment. Neither room is tidy or organised. Both rooms are about work in progress – John’s more obviously than mine. He is also fitting doors into the space and gradually will enclose it into a landing, a bathroom, and the attic study/sitting room. The presently phantom bathroom will be connected by water pipes to the dream of a pantry in the first half of the chai or what used to be the cattle-shed. Any plan for development tends to need something else doing first. At present the chai is overrun with rats and mice and I have had to move all foodstuffs not in glass or tin into the passageway. The cats keep the house vermin free except for dead offerings to us but the chai provides a million hidey holes for small creatures.
The garden makes no demands at the moment and the long period of deep frost has wiped out greens that survived last year. It was so mild on the 31st however, that John mowed the whole plot – no spring bulbs showing yet. You wouldn’t credit it looking at John’s workspace but he loves things to be tidy. When John finishes his constructions then I have to sew, mend and clean. My Bernina sewing machine is dying – it is coming up to 40 years of age – made clothes for my children, house furnishings, theatre costumes and recently objects for art exhibitions. I shall have to replace it as it is essential to our projects here. I plan to get into my roulotte and make some drawings soon. It is reasonably warm in there with the heater on though it is a very small space. I have very many ideas to work on all seeming equally immediate.
My project for the year is a French course through the Open University. It is expensive and I am nervous about managing the commitment it will require along with all the other equally important commitments to house, garden and friends.
John completed our sitting room before Christmas – it is tiled and painted and we have a student settee – a door on concrete blocks so we can relax in comparative luxury. It looks good.
John and I had a quiet and pleasant time over Christmas with lovely, thoughtful presents from John’s family. We had oysters on Christmas Eve and small lobsters on New Year’s Eve – today I must make fish soup with what is left. At times though, it did feel lonely just the two of us – we both love to socialise and very much value family and friends. In France families keep Christmas and New Year as a very private time. As yet our friendships are new and untried and life is an experiment right now. It happens to everyone after retirement and at that certain age that one is disregarded – we all have to cope with it and we manage it badly sometimes – sometimes well. No one escapes this ever. Anyway finding our niche here is not straightforward – we have moved town, country, work and also most obviously into a different age group. We hope that friends and family stay constant.
Oh – a few things about living here – constant tripping out of electricity. One day we had no power sockets in half the house – not logically explainable as half a socket worked! John changed every fuse – up and down the steps to see what was on – then he tested every reachable junction box – got the sockets working but the hot water went cold. It has just tripped out again. When it does phones and internets don’t function - I may have to rewrite this. Kettle and any water heating in washing machines causes the problems, we just have to live with it.
Bizarrely our mobiles have become expensive and useless here. Phone credit runs out each month so you buy as little as possible so as not to waste it.