Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Chamonix exercise

I didn't just sit glued to the Olympics for two weeks, honest! There is the best open air 50 metre pool in the world in Chamonix, with a perfect view of Mont Blanc. So, I got myself a season ticket and swam every day. I did 2km one day in honour of the open water swimmers and I have huge respect for their 10km swim, I had wobbly legs and forgot my locker combination after just 2, so goodness knows how they feel after 10km.

So, I managed quite a bit of exercise in Chamonix as well as watching a lot of elite athletes who do bags more sport than me. A perfect two weeks really!

Olympic coverage dissected

My main views on the BBC coverage are these:-

Claire Balding, Jake Humphrey and Hazel Irving ; all brilliant, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and charming.

Lineker; stick to football, I didn't believe that you were really very interested and some of your interviews with medal winners were bordering on patronising and usually had the feel of an embarrassing uncle at a teenagers party!

The pundits - Denise Lewis and Michael Johnson, brilliant. Ian Thorpe, a really excellent first time doing this sort of job, he was so natural and I am sure the BBC will be trying to lure him back for other similar events. Colin Jackson......oh dear, a little out of his depth sometimes and not quite up to the knowledge and gravitas of Michael Johnson, I actually winced when Colin slapped Michael Johnson's leg as Johson was clearly not amused.

My small criticisms should not detract from the fantastic job that the Beeb did overall. The Olympics in London was, in my humble view, a great event for the UK and something that many of us will remember fondly in years to come. The volunteers, organisers and competitors did us all proud and the impression I got from lots of friends was that we would all like the Olympics to come back to the UK as soon as possible! I don't know if that will happen again in my lifetime, but I hope so. A job well done and I hope the country will continue the enthusiasm for all sports in the future.

Chamonix Olympics

After travelling through the Pyrenees and seeing the Tour de France, we headed on to Allos for a few days. Our friends were there and it was great to see what the village was like in the Summer after spending four months there over the Winter. It is hot and glorious in the Summertime. Gorgeous steak frites sitting out under the stars at the PMU Bar and lots of chilled Rose wine.

We then drove up north through the Alps to Chamonix. We went through the Frejus and the Mont Blanc tunnels, a first for me, and stpooed overnight in the Oeste valley in Italy. A recession busting conversation with the campsite owner took place " do you want a receipt or shall I put the money in my other place?"

We got to Chamonix just as the Olympics got going. We rented an apartment with UK tv so that we could see the full 2012 spectacular. We were there for the first Super Saturday and celebrated Mo Farrah's gold medal. I was glued to the BBC coverage for the whole two weeks. Paul had some work to get done, so he didn't get to see the full details of the dressage, Greco-Roman wrestling and  trap shooting, but he did see a lot of the swimming, cycling and athletics, which wasn't too bad either!

I even ended up watching the closing ceremony as I had missed the Opening one

Northern Spain

We had a good time travelling through northern Spain, however, we travelled quicker than originally planned because the weather was very wet.

Galicia was lovely, met some Brits who were just about to buy a farm and turn it into an Eco-campsite.

Asturias was really, really wet so we rushed through.

The Spanish Basque country was a lot of fun. Interesting camping experiences that widened my usual limited comfort zone of operation, for example, free camping on a remote headland with a panEuropean collection of travellers.

Spain is a very loud, party sort of country. Quite a change from shy, retiring Portugal! The Spanish social hours are unique for Europe, no one seems to think about eating in the evening until at least 11pm and that is considered early. We were on some campsites where entire families ( including very young nippers) didn't sit down to start eating until midnight and the meal would take a couple of hours, I don't know how anyone gets any work done when they are up that late every night!

Anyway, we moved on to France after about a week travelling through Spain and headed for the Pyrenees. Still a bit wet, but a bit of sunshine in between too.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Tour de France fun

We arrived in the French Pyrenees yesterday. I am going to blog separately about Spain as we had a great time travelling along the northern coast. We are at the col de Peyresourde. The point of being at this particular spot is that the Tour de France comes up and over the col on Wed and then it comes back up and over on Thurs, so it's a chance to see two days from one spot. We are camped out in a farmers field about 500 metres below the col. There are sooo many people arriving each day, it is like a music festival. It is already very busy so it will be utter madness by tomorrow. I think the road gets closed tomorrow evening, but who knows really? Everyone here is cycling mad, obviously. We've been chatting to some Brits, Belgiums and lots of French fans. It was a shame to hear about the tacks on the road yesterday, hopefully that sort of idiotic behaviour won't be repeated. Paul is really missing out on the cycling opportunities here, as he left his road bike at home. However, we managed a hot ride up to the col this morning on our beach cruisers, with Daisy in her basket on the back. It did produce some funny looks from the hoards of cyclists kitted out in Lycra on their carbon framed bikes, but I think it was good to show them something different!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Northern Portugal

We had a great time in Sao Pedro, cycling, swimming, beachcombing and watching a local go-kart competition which would have given the UK Health and Safety Executive a collective aneurism! Next we headed down to the surfing Mecca of Portugal, Ericeira. Gorgeous sunshine, clean, sandy beaches with wild surf. We camped for a couple of days and then headed to Ribamar, about 6km north for 5 days of luxury at a place we've visited before. Beautiful views, a pool to ourselves and a lovely owner who delivered carton after carton of ripe soft fruits from her orchard "just because I thought you might like these". The visit was only marred by England getting knocked out of Euro 2012 by Germany on penalties, aarrgghhhh! We went up to Peniche a couple of times, apparently this is the new surf Mecca of Portugal (according to a lifeguard in Sao Pedro who updated Paul on this fact, his main reason for rating it above Ericeira seemed to be that "the girls, they are better looking in Peniche"). After Peniche we started to head North. We spent a couple of hours in Obidos (the Rye of Portugal, very pretty but also very touristy). Next we headed for Figueira da Foz and Praia de Mira. Mira is a great beach town, very laid back. We saw Portugal lose to Spain at the campsite and the poor Portugese are very emotional about these events, lots of gesticulation and post match analysis, reminded me very much of home! Mira is a town on the north side of the mouth of the river Lima and we camped at a site to the south. There was a fab little ferry that took us and our bikes across to town to explore. Our next stop was Viano do Castelo, set in an area of Portugal called the Minho. Great rivers, wooded valleys and lots of greenery. A truly stunning landscape. Lots of agriculture and the people here are serious about preserving old traditions and customs. There was a dance festival in Viano, with men and women dressed up in traditional costume wearing clogs that looked impossible to walk in, let alone dance. We did a trip over to Guimaraes, inland. This is a mediaeval city known as the birthplace of Portugal. The architecture is really interesting and the grilled octopus that I ate there was delicious. It is the European City of Culture 2012, and it is easy to see why. Well worth a visit. The campsite there is up at the top of mount Penha, a 15 minute drive out of town. Once you are up there, you feel like you are in the clouds and there is an air-conditioned cable car that gets you down to Guimaraes in 5 minutes flat (only 2 Euros too). After Guimaraes we went to Vila Praia de Ancora (or Anchor Beach). So named because King Ramiro II had his unfaithful wife drowned here with an anchor tied around her neck! There was a sardine festival taking place there, so dinner was obviously sorted! The surf dropped off a bit whilst we were there, so I even managed to persuade Paul to accompany me out to visit Citania de Briteiros, an impressive Celtic hill settlement and apparently, one of the most important archeological sites in Portugal. It dates from around 300 BC and has streets, guttering, cisterns, a bath house and many circular and rectangular dwellings. It is thought that the settlement housed many thousands of people at its peak. We will stay here in Ancora for another day or two and then we are heading north into Spain. Portugal has been friendly, sunny, scenic and interesting. I hope Spain will be equally as good.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Google translate

Google translate has been a brilliant thing over the last 7 months, it has helped me get all sorts of information and stuff from the chemist, tourist office, bank, post office and pet shop. However, today I tested the extremities of its range and carefully wrote out in Portugese what I needed from the friendly vet in Marinha Grande. I tried to pronounce it - just got blank stares, so I handed over my little scrap of paper with my neatly written out and, I thought, polite request - the stares back at me went from merely blank to shoulder shrugging incomprehension. Eventually a lovely veterinary nurse who spoke a little bit of English (more than my non-existent Portugese anyway), came out and after a short conversation we were all sorted with the correct item. So, what I wanted to say on my little note was "Please could I purchase a worm tablet for my dog?" What I think my Google translated note said was "May I please purchase some earthworms to feed to my dog?" Oh well Google translate, it's been lovely and I'm sorry I gave you a task too far, I'll stick to easier subjects from now on.