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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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…
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.