Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Another Marathon Bites the Dust...

Nikole putting final touches on Linzy's costume. Linzy was
a peacock, Nikole was a swan.

The marathon here in France was a success! Both girls finished - at some point both doubted they would. I did not attempt the whole marathon as I was under doctor’s orders (if I wanted to return to the U.S), so I fudged and walked the first 5-6 miles and then waited for Nikole at the end and walked the last mile in with her.

The marathon was filled with party animals, and the course traveled through 59 vineyards in Medoc. There were 22 wine rest stops (which of course I visited a few), and the route traveled right through the courtyards and residences, and down the access dirt ways through the vineyards. Since it was a party, most people dressed up as animals (the theme this year), but many French men cross dressed. It is very strange to see hundreds of French men in corsets and fishnet tights running, but the most difficult to adjustment was the men who wore only a thong… AND RAN. This was just a little too much… I think I have seen way too much French ass….

(I embedded a video below of the race start...)

When the race was over, I took over driving Bridgee (the BMW) back to Bordeaux, which was interesting. We made it safe. Parking was an issue at the hotel, and I have come to the conclusion that the French park anywhere and there is no such thing as meter readers or parking police in France. You need to park really bad and block traffic before they care (I think); they even park in the turning lanes at lights – as long as a couple of cars can turn – they just park far back from the light and fill those lanes.

The next day we headed for Spain. It was a beautiful drive along the Aquitaine Coast (150 miles of beach that stretched nearly from Bordeaux to Spain. The tide was pretty vicious, and even surfers were not present. We dipped our feet in the Atlantic (from this end), and sat at a café sipping cappuccinos.

Nikole and I trying to not get caught in a wave on the
Aquitaine Coast in southern France near Spain.

Spain was pretty amazing… wow. The road signs immediately switched from French to Spanish and we quickly learned that Spanish based off Mexican and Spanish based off Spain are very different. We had a difficult time understanding the language - although, we are not sure if it was really Spanish or Basque. If we had ventured deeper into Spain we may have figured that out, but that was not the case. We went as far as San Sebastian. Basque is the area located between Spain and France that is culturally different. It was interesting to see the difference (almost immediately) between the countryside and the architecture. Basque is known for the white houses with green shutters and traditional red Spanish-style tiled roofs. The food is based off seafood (as they are fisherman), so lots of sea veggies and squid on the menu.

We also learned that we stumbled into Basque country during Basque Week… a week-long event where all the resident villages get together for friendly competition, culminating with a rowing match. All the different villagers wear different colored tee shirts to show their spirit. On the final day, the rowing competition takes place (on Sunday) with a major party in the streets filled with drinking and dancing. Guess what day we stumbled into Spain on? We ended up in the streets with all the happy Basque, and as luck would have it, ended up having dinner next to the winning team’s flag bearers. It ended up being an interesting evening that ended with the group trying to explain to the americanas the importance of the rowing event to their culture. I have never seen so much partying… thousands of people drinking …. Blocks and blocks… it made Bourbon Street in New Orleans or 6th Street in Austin look pitiful.

The Basque really know how to party... here they are taking
to the streets. Block after block after block... thousands
of people!

Linzy and Nikole with the winning Basque winning rowing
team flag bearers....

We had a relaxing drive through the country side back to Paris. Tomorrow is our last day in France. It has been a wonderful visit with the girls.

Here is a video of the start of the race... watch until the end to catch a glimpse of Linzy and Nikole.

Friday, September 9, 2011

They Drive Like amerikanas...

We drove the countryside from Rouen to a small town near Alencon, France. The driving has been not too bad, but there are many round-abouts. We have named the GPS Bridget on account of her British accent. Nikole has adopted a British accent and has become a little irritating. Everything is now stated with the accent… but she is driving so we just ignore her… neither of us want to drive.

She has done pretty good, and has only surprised the French a couple of times – one time included turning too wide and ending up on the railroad tracks – but for the most part she has done very well. We have BMW that does everything which compounds the driving. It is a standard car and it seems to believe that it can do a better job at driving then Nikole. Occasionally, it believes she is not at a high enough RPM for the gear she is in, so it gives itself gas… which can be a little frightening…

The BMW - navigated by Bridget, driven by Nikole...

And like in Alaska, Bridgette is from the trickster corbeau clan (French for raven)… and insists in her accent that the road does exist. You see, the problem here is that the roads are really winding and narrow and lots of cobble stone, and even roads that seem only as wide as the bike path in Anchorage. The straight roads cost a toll to drive on. To drive from Paris to Bordeaux in tolls was about 50 euros, and with the dollar as weak as it is, it was spendy. We decided to take the roads without tolls… it added nearly 3 hours to the drive. Since we were not in a hurry, we enjoyed the countryside from several angles. Eventually though, we needed to stop for the night, and Bridget from the raven trickster clan led us to what she claimed was a hotel, which was really a barn and a closed down restaurant… and it was in the middle of nowhere on a country road… we had visions of the movie An American Werewolf in London… and several different zombie flicks. We ended up staying at a small French truck-stop, where no English was spoken, but the universal hand gestures for a cold beer were clearly understood.

We spent the next day driving some more before we made it to Bordeaux, a large city surrounded by large vineyards, and some of the greatest wine producers in the world.

We made a slight detour in Cognac to sample cognac... very beautiful place. Many of the villages have a medieval center, where all the buildings are very old, and then spread out to new architecture. Cognac was no different.

Cognac anyone?

Many old buildings... and road hazards that go with them...

Let the wine tasting begin!

Saturday is the start of the Medoc Marathon… I invite you to check out the website… here is an English version… from the 7 continents club… of which someday the 3 of us hope to be proud completers!

Here is what we signed up to do - Marathon du Medoc:

Few marathons are in a class of their own. Le Marathon des Chateaux du Medoc on September 10, 2011 is one. Routed through 59 vineyards in the fabled villages of the Medoc region, this event appeals to the true connoisseur of fine runs. Where else do they ask you at the aid stations, "red or white Madame?"

We walked by the start of tomorrows marathon...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Something Unidentifiable on the Plate…..

This situation occurred more than once. The first time we thought it might be celery… or something that sort of had the texture of jicama. It was mixed with eggplant… whatever it was. Neither the waitress of the cook spoke English… so we are not sure. It tasted okay.

The second time was a whole different story. It came on a plate drizzled in olive oil and cheese. At first glance it sort of looked like salami or sausage, but then we tasted it. It was… raw beef. Totally. Completely uncooked and cold raw beef. I’m not talking rare or seared… but bloody ass raw. Now if the menu had been in English, or had some version of steak tartare, I would have figured it out sooner… but no… it was boeuf. No clue. Well… I tried it. YUKE! The texture was just all wrong. I spit it out… and looked both ways… no one saw. Next task was to cover it up so I wouldn’t have to look at it. Yuke. I double stacked a plate over the top of it… but you could still see it. I didn’t want the waitress to see what we were doing… because then we would go through an agonizing translation attempt to explain what I was doing… that probably would involve communicating that there was nothing wrong with the raw meat… except that it was raw… and most amerikanas don’t eat cold red meat ground to a pulp. Nikole started trying to poke the red meat further under the plate before the waitress saw us… I ate a loaf of baguette trying to scrap the memory off my taste buds.

The third time it happened… we were at a café in Rouen. No one spoke even a shred of English. The menu did not have a lot of clues. She brought us paté that sort of smelled fishy. The menu, deciphered with a lonely planet translator, narrowed it down to duck, rabbit, goat, mutton, or wild pig. We think it was wild pig. We never figured that one out either.

Once again, I still marvel at the fact that people eat so much here. We are playing a game now… “Spot the Baguette on the French Person.” We have seen it coming out of briefcases, in trunks, under arms, in purses, and my favorite… under the baby in the carriage.

We left Paris for the countryside. We headed towards the Palace of Versailles. During the French Revolution a mob from Paris had taken the decision to march on Versailles while Marie Antoinette, the king, and their children were present. Not only did we see where she escaped her chambers that night, but also stand in the same place (Hall of Mirrors) where the Treaty of Versailles was signed – ending World War I!

Palace of Versailles - lots of people in line to see

We then moved on to Giverny to visit Monet’s house and gardens. This was absolutely amazing, and so far my favorite stop of the trip. Claude Monet’s gardens include the water lily pond that appeared in so many of his paintings. In addition, the types of flowers planted in the garden keep it blooming all season long. We took pictures of ourselves and then claimed we were now part of a Monet.

Finally, we moved to the community of Rouen. This is the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. I am not sure what to make of this stop. It was right there with the catacombs… a little morbid and a strange stop related to death. The French have erected a very large cross near the spot, but the actual spot is plain and simple with ruins and a simple sign. What made the whole place really seem a little odd was that this place is a center courtyard-like area lined with cafés overlooking the site. So you can sit and sip your cappuccino or beer and give a toast to the memory of Joan - which we did.

Joan of Arc - Rouen, France.

Monet's pond today...

We are off to wine country and to also prepare for the marathon in Bordeaux… which is really the reason why we came. This is marathon #2 on continent #2… 5 more to go after Saturday! We hope to someday be proud completers of the Seven Continent Club ( a marathon all 7 – including Antarctica).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Death, Catholic misery, and more bread...

It has been a whirlwind of a trip so far! We went to Notre Dame and toured the church, as well as sat across the street in a small café and sipped to the gargoyles and listened to the church bells. Apparently only one of the original bells is left. We have done a lot of people watching from the street side cafés. I have gotten tired of baguette and cappuccino and have switched to ciabatta and Caffè macchiatos to mix things up a bit. AMAZING.

We then moved on to the Catacombes de Paris, a Nikole-driven exploration of death; it was pretty creepy and strange. The catacombs are a series of tunnels underneath Paris that were created by rock removal to create the buildings of France. When the quarries were no longer used, the place became an underground cemetery with an estimated 6 million people buried in the tunnels. What makes the place creepy is that the majority of the dead arrived here because of a consolidation of cemeteries city-wide of all the bones (for sanitary purposes).. and they arrived in stacks.. the bones are just piled around lining the tunnels, sometimes in patterns. Very CREEPY and the walls are slimy and dripping… the place is dark and musty… the floors are slippery. It took an hour to tour the underground tunnels.

lots of death...

Nikole in the catacombs (CREEPY)

We resurface and traveled across the city to the Arc de Triomphe which honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. The circle around the Arc was crazy traffic and we sat and watched all the craziness of the drivers and were glad we did not have a car. We walked the entire length of the Champs-Élysées and did more shopping.

Nikole and Linzy under the Arc

We spent the next day exploring the Musée du Louvre - one of the world's largest museums, the most visited art museum in the world and a historic monument.. The Lourve was fantastic; we saw Ruben, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Monet, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo to name a few. The buildings themselves are amazing and the ceiling paintings alone could keep you very busy. We had a wonderful dinner and walked the city at night. We have managed to do everything on our list.

The 3 of us outside the Louvre

We leave Paris tomorrow morning for the countryside... follow along at the link above and to the right - "hucklberries GPS"

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Jim Still Lights Women's Fires...

Jim Morrison's grave - still has groupies

Friday was a full day in Paris. We started out at 10am. Linzy was pounded by the jet lag and opted out of the day. Her cold had flared up, and we all decided she should just stay in bed and rest. Nikole and I visited places Linzy was not as interested in going to. We started the day out by going to the Père Lachaise Cemetery which is where Jim Morrison is buried. The site was surrounded by old groupies and young fans alike… and many stood around talking about smoking a joint in his honor. They have it fenced off now because of the constant vandalism. While we were there, one 20ish year old fan climbed over the fence and kissed his tombstone… apparently he lights her fire.

From the cemetery that Napoleon built, we headed over to the Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge is the birth place of the can-can dance and cabaret style entertainment. After exploring the area, we headed in to Montmartre. Many artists had studios or worked around the community of Montmartre such as Salvador Dalí, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. Today, many artists still hang out, and you can walk the streets and watch people paint. We sat in a café sipping espresso in the shadows of Sacré-Cœur Basilica (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris). We toured the Salvador Dali Museum which had 300 pieces and then wandered to the Basilica – rumored to have the best view of Paris.

View from the top of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Me standing on a French street corner

The view was spectacular and the 300+ steps climbing to the top justified the crepes soaked in Marnier afterwards. The narrow spiral staircases are becoming familiar in all these old buildings. The staircase was so narrow it touched both shoulders in some places. The view was amazing! It was 360 degrees of history below us… and pretty breathtaking. We could see the Eiffel Tower across the city. We decided to head that way; Nikole and I drank champagne under the tower and toasted our trip on the banks of the Seine River.

Nikole sipping champagne at the Seine

Our day turned to night and we hopped on a night cruise of the Seine. It was wonderful sipping wine and boating up the river enjoying Paris by night. The Eiffel Tower was lit with orange lights, as were most of the city lights. They added an extra sparkly dash of lights that seem to turn-on every hour.

It seems that the French like to sit along the river at night with their baguettes and wine and chat and enjoy the river. The French like to do that everywhere. We finally rolled back into the hotel at 11pm. What a packed day!

Eiffel Tower at night. Hard to take
photos of it...