All posts by Graham

World Championships Videos

Here is a selection of videos of the races in Tampa. Double click to watch them full screen as they don’t fit in the blog width.

Premier Mixed 200m Final
Lane 4 – Silver medal

Premier Mixed 500m Final
Lane 2 – Silver medal

Premier Mixed 2000m
Boat 8 – Gold medal

Premier Mixed 1000m
Lane 4 – 4th place

Premier Open 200m Heat
Lane 4 – 2nd Place

Premier Open 200 Final
Lane 5 – 5th Place

Premier Open 2000m
Boat 8 – 4th Place

Retiree’s First Birthday

Happy Birthday Mom! I hope you have a relaxing day putting up the tree.

If you decide to come out of retirement I think you should work at this school in Angers France. Maybe you could get your own 'Rocket Pencil'.

Moules Frites

This past summer when Catherine and I were in Courseulles-sur-Mer (Juno Beach) we ate an awesome helping of Moules Frites (mussels with fries).  At the time we talked that we should try to recreate the dish at home.  It’s not something that I’d make just for myself, but mom and dad came over yesterday so it seemed like as good a time as any to give it a try.

Nice big musells in the pot

I picked up some really nice Saltspring Island mussels and used a small amount of leftover chorizo sausage to spice up the broth.  The spiciness definitely was different than the ones we had in France which had strong rosemary and other herb flavours, but no one was complaining.   For a first try, I was happy with the result, but it was too bad Catherine wasn’t here to eat more than her share.

Ready to dig in
Overhead shot for Catherine so she knows what she missed out on

Training Update

Gold medals are awarded in the summer, but they’re earned in the winter.

-Kyle Hamilton, Canadian Olympic Gold Medallist Rower

Over the last six weeks I’ve been attempting to get back into paddling shape.  I’ve had really good motivation and have been on the water nearly every day which is quite the change from all the indoor gym training of the previous twelve months. I’m not back to full speed yet but it’s coming back quicker than I had expected.  As it continues to get colder and darker it’s harder to stay motivated to be on the water, so I’ll shift some time into the gym and try to make every workout count.  There’s a long way to go, but I’m feeling healthy, strong and motivated.

Last Sunday we had our first dragon boat practice of the season as the first step as we build towards next summer’s World Championships in Tampa Florida.  We had a big group out and it was great to see some people I haven’t seen since we raced in Prague in August 2009.  The paddling itself wasn’t as painful as expected, but I did make the mistake of not stretching afterwards and paid the price the next day.

A film crew from Fantastic Festivals of the World that airs on the Discovery Channel was on hand to get some footage as a follow up to the story they started when we were racing in Hong Kong.  Once I have air time details I’ll make another post.

The reason for all the training. Once you get a taste you want to experience it again and again, hence the training year after year. Photo: Ben Lee

Paris

The most famous landmark in Paris.

After spending time in smaller, more relaxed places like Angers, Nantes and Caen it was a bit of a shock to arrive in Paris which is so big crowded and busy.  I think we both found it a little bit overwhelming actually.  We arrived on Saturday evening and navigated the crowds and construction to find our hotel.

View from the balcony off our hotel room overlooking Montholon Park. The playing areas are lit at night so it was a bit noisy, but we had no trouble sleeping.

First order of business on Sunday was the Louvre (as Catherine has already highlighted).  We spent several hours there focusing on sculpture – the place is so big you do have to narrow down what you want to see.  We’ve been to some art museums in Europe and I get bored pretty quickly, but fortunately the sculptures hold my attention a little better.  Even so we only scratched the surface in the 4 or so hours we were there.  Once we left the Louvre we started heading west along the Champs de Elysee.  I knew it’s a big wide boulevard, but didn’t realize how long it is.  Even with the wide sidewalks and being a little after peak tourist season it was packed with people all the way to the end at the Arc de Triomphe.

Catherine in front of the Arc de Triomphe. A number of bike riders from England had made the journey to Paris to raise funds for veterans and were having a presentation under the Arc. The police had the big traffic circle partly closed off so you don't see many cars in the picture. Normally there would be six lanes of mayhem! The drivers were none too pleased about the disruption as you might imagine.

From there we headed south towards the Seine and the Tour Eiffel.  From there Catherine busted out the map and channelled her inner Magellan and guided us effortlessly around to see a number of the city’s main attractions.  Well it wasn’t really that effortless since we did it all on foot and did I mention that Paris is a big city?  We both had sore feet once we got back to the hotel about 13 hours after we first left in the morning.  Here’s a small sampling of what we came across:

We came across this building near the Seine. I've heard of green roofs and green buildings but this one takes the cake.
Musée de l'Armée (Museum of the Army). Interestingly, as late as the 19th century France was considered to be the leader in military might and strategy. And then in the 20th century not so much...
Grand Palais and the Alexander III bridge across the Seine.
Notre Dame. There was a huge service going on inside yet they still let sightseers inside. It was very strange as people were milling around, talking and taking all sorts of pictures including of the congregation while the service was going on. I'm not exactly a fan of the Catholic church, but I thought it was kind of rude.
Late evening over the Seine. Apparently super romantic, but all I remember was being hungry and having really sore feet!

After our big day we had a good sleep in the next before heading out for more exploring, but at a more relaxed pace including lots of resting and eating which was great.  We even stumbled into the number one rated bakery in the city by pure chance – Catherine has some great internal radar for bakeries (and cats).  We ran out of camera battery so there isn’t a lot of evidence of the day, but here is one:

Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre

On Tuesday we had a early afternoon flight back to Stockholm so we slept in, had breakfast and bought some food for the trip before going to the train station to catch a train to the airport.  There we had ourselves an authentic French experience – a mass strike!  The French are legendary for holding huge strikes at the smallest provocation with little or no warning, so I was always a little nervous when I booked our travel that we might need to find alternatives ‘on the fly’.  Especially with the French government starting the process to move the retirement age to 62 (from 60) I knew that the potential for a strike at any time was very real.

Our travels had been totally smooth up till that point so I guess we were ‘due’.  Apparently the strike was huge with several million people across the country taking part.  We were on vacation and not paying attention to the newspapers so we didn’t find out until we had already bought our train tickets and made our way to the platform.  Only then was there a notice saying that all train traffic was affected by a strike, but thankfully some trains were still running to the airport from a totally different area of the station.  We made our way to the other platform and waited about 30 minutes for a train.  The locals seemed to be taking it all in stride – I’m sure they have seen it all before.  Luckily we had left ourselves some extra time and we made it to the airport without having to run for our flight.

And there ends the recap of our trip to France.  About 3 weeks late, but hopefully better late than never.  Next up for us (or one of us anyway) is a move back to Vancouver…

We'll finish the post the way we started. This time from the other side of the Seine.

Normandy

Us in front of William the Conqueror's castle in Caen. It is one of the largest enclosed fortresses in Europe.

Once we knew we would be in Europe for a year we started thinking of places that we’d like to visit since we’d be close.  Being a bit of a WWII history enthusiast, on my list was to see the D-Day landing beaches.  I thought it would be interesting to see the location that was the start of the tide turning and thus in all likelihood changed the lifestyle we enjoy today.  So, when we knew we would be in Angers it just made sense that we’d go north to Normandy.  Since we wanted to be in Paris by Sunday (for free Louvre entry) we only had two days in Normandy. On Friday we took the train to Caen which is the capital of the Basse-Normandie region, before doing a day trip by bus on Saturday to Juno Beach at  out to the beaches at Courseulles-sur-Mer.

Preserved bunker at the Juno Beach Centre on the rise overlooking the beach.
The beach was calm and peaceful when we were there. It looks like it is a popular swimming area now in the summer - quite different from the day 14000 Canadians stormed the beach with aerial bombing support and Germans firing from their bunkers.
Another bunker

Walking around the small town and the beaches it was quite sobering to think of what had happened and how many had died in this otherwise picturesque location.  Not surprisingly there are a number of monuments along the beach front remembering those fought and died during the summer of 1944.  Here is a sampling:

An amphibious duplex drive Sherman tank that has a number of commemorative plaques affixed to it. This tank sunk about 1km offshore on D-Day and was recovered almost 27 years later.
A monument recognizing that the liberation of France began here.
Recognition of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles contributions on D-Day
Monument recognizing the sacrifices of The Regina Rifle Regiment and the Royal Engineers.
Catherine standing in front of the monument recognizing the contributions that the French Resistance fighters made while France was occupied by the Germans.
Modern sculpture outside the Juno Beach Centre depicting Canadian soldiers.

On a lighter note, here are some pictures from our quick exploration of Caen.  We weren’t expecting much other than a jumping off point for exploring the beaches, but were pleasantly surprised as the town is quite charming.

Abbey d'Hommes
Close up
Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and gardens.
Catherine in front of Saint Pierre's church taken from outside the castle.
Abbey de Dames
Looking out a whole in the castle wall towards the Vieux Saint-Sauveur church, Hôtel de Ville and Abbey d'Hommes
Abbey d'Hommes
Not sure what significance these houses have but we found them along a busy pedestrian shopping street.

Nantes

While staying in Angers I decided to take a day trip to Nantes which is about 90km away along the Loire River.  Nantes is the capital of the Pays de la Loire region and the historic capital of Brittany.  In addition to many old churches and the big castle of the Duchy of Brittany it also has a lot of newer buildings because of heavy damage inflicted by Allied bombing during German occupation during WWII.

I didn’t have any plan for the day or any background really so I grabbed a map from the tourist office and set out on foot to see the town.  Here are some of the things I found along the way:

Part of Cathédrale Saint-Pierre which is a massive church in the centre of the city
Elaborate entry way on the front side of the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre. I couldn't back up far enough to get a shot of the whole facade.
Château des ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the dukes of Brittany). The Loire river no longer runs beside the castle but did originally allowing the moats to be easily filled. Now the moat area is a public park.
One of the buildings that makes up the inside of the castle. In 1598 the Edict of Nantes was signed in the castle which most famously gave Protestants the right to freely practice their religion.

View south from the castle walls. The Loire originally flowed along this side of the castle. Off to the right you can see the domed LU factory that makes the distinctive biscuits with chocolate on top.
Castle neighbours
Saint-Clément Church
L'île Feydeau showing 18th century shipowner's houses. If you look closely you can see that the buldings aren't level and have tilted into each other. The ground underneeth isn't very stable so not long after they were built they started to shift. Jules Verne lived here as a young child.
Place Royale square with Basilique Saint-Nicolas in the background

Angers and the Loire Valley

Here is the first in a series of posts about our 10 day trip to France.  Catherine was attending the prestigious PREMUS conference which I’m told has something to do with injuries at work or some such, and I was there to travel and relax because I haven’t had enough travel or relaxation in the past year.  The conference itself was in Angers which is a medium sized city in the Loire Valley located about 2 hours west of Paris by train.  While officially in the Loire Valley the city itself is situated beside the River Maine which is France’s shortest river at only 12km long and it drains into the Loire a short distance south of the city.

While Catherine was schmoozing and learning I had the tough job of checking out the city under bright blue skies and temperatures in the mid 20s (leaving Sweden we were already in autumn mode so it was great to get some extra summer).  I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking since I’m not feeling very ‘wordy’ at the moment.

Chateau Angers in the background is the big castle landmark in town. The statue is of Rene of Anjou who was the Duke from 1434–1480 and was born in the castle. The statue is right in the middle of a busy intersection but not in a sensible traffic circle way - it looked rather confusing but the locals seemed to have it all figured out.
The castle moat has now been turned into a classical French garden. Apparently they never put water in the moat but the castle was never breached by forceful means nonetheless.
The castle's inner courtyard is now a series of gardens including it's own little vineyard.
A big church seen from the castle walls. The density of churches everywhere we went in France was astounding especially given the size of the populations when they were built. I wonder what percentage of the population back then was devoted just to building churches. I haven't been to Italy so it may be even more so, but France must surely have one of the highest 'big-church per capita' rates in the world.
The River Maine
Saint Maurice Cathedral is the most impressive church in town
Walls built of slate were a common sight. Apparently it is easy to obtain in the area and was a main component in the makeup of the castle walls.
This is the view potential invaders would have encountered as they made their way up the Maine (minus the 20th century bridge).
One of many great gardens for people to hang out in and enjoy the sunshine
More flowers
I had several lunches similar to this: baguette, tomatoes, Brie, grapes, wine and sunshine. Life was rough.
I thought this house looked pretty neat so I took a picture. Later I found out that it had some historical significance, but have since forgotten what it was.
Someone's personal grapevine jumped over the backyard wall within reach of passing pedestrians.
We didn't eat at this restaurant, but we did check out the menu. Definitely not what your traditional 'french food', more hearty and less arty with liberal use of maple syrup.

The final day of the conference was only a half day so seven of us rented bikes and rode the trails along the Maine to the Loire and checked out some of the contryside and small towns.  Even though Angers isn’t a metropolis, it was a lot of fun to get ‘away from it all’ and check out the real countryside.  We talked about how it would be great to spend a couple weeks biking around the country – maybe one day!

An outdoor church in the tiny town of Béhuard on a small island surrounded by the Loire.
Béhuard
A vineyard in the sleepy little town of Savennières
Biking back north towards Angers
Catherine petting a native species of donkey. In the Balzac park they are starting to raise some native animals starting with cows and donkeys. There were two of them on the other side of the fence and it didn't take much convincing for them to come over and get fed the greener grass from the other side.

Bergen

The final stop in our very short tour of Norway was a two day visit to Bergen on the west coast.  Bergen is a former Hanseatic city with lots of history much of it centred around the trade of stock fish (generally cod that is dried in the wind).  The town gets its name from the seven mountains in general vicinity as ‘berg’ is the word for mountain in Norwegian (and Swedish).

Us in front of the Bergen's iconic Bryggen (the wharf) row of wooden houses. This is where the Hanseatic (German) merchants lived when they were using the town as a stock fish trading post. The Norwegians were officially not allowed to live there during that time.

Being right on the coast nestled up to the mountains makes for the perfect combination for rain as any Vancouverite will know.  We knew ahead of time that rain was highly likely and packed accordingly, but what caught us a little off guard was the speed at which conditions changed.  I’ve been to a number of places where the locals will joking say something along the lines of ‘if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes’.  In Bergen you can make such a statement in all truthfulness.  I lost count of the number of times we’d put on our gortex and/or run for cover and then five minutes later have to dig out our sunglasses and shed a layer.

View from part way up Mount Fløyen. We got caught in a pretty heavy downpour up there and ended up retreating before making it to the top. Instead we spent a few hours partially drying off at the Hanseatic Museum which was mostly a preserved trading house right on Bryggen. In was interesting to hear the stories of how the merchants lived and worked.
Similar view without the fence.
Fishing is still vital to Norway's economy. Here is a big fishing boat heading out of port. Eating out is extremely expensive in Norway so luckily we had rented an apartment and did most of our own cooking. We purchased a really fresh piece of white fish (sole?) that Catherine cooked up to perfection for dinner on Saturday.
Looking up the street that our apartment was on.
Johanneskirken (St. John's Church)
A gazebo and and art museum. We used this gazebo to get out of a sudden rain shower at one point.
Looking up to one of the mountains surrounding the city.

Ole Bull's Square. Notice the overhangs on the outside - when the rain starts to fall everyone makes a break for one side or the other.
A Pacific Northwest totem pole given by the City of Seattle on the occasion of Bergen's 900th birthday. I wonder if Bergen sent a gift to Seattle or if Seattle has to wait for its 900th birthday.
Fisherman statue - he looks well dressed for the weather.

After one too many downpours we decided to call it a day and made our way to the airport looking like drowned rats where we tried to dry off before our evening flight back to Stockholm.  Even though we packed a lot into four days we only scratched the surface of Norway.  Hopefully one day we’ll get to go back and explore some more and you should too; just don’t forget your rain gear.