Thursday, 29 November 2012

Walking in Palm Springs

Palm Canyon 
Most people come to sunny Palm Springs for the golf or gambling. Not many people come here to walk in the desert! We do, but at least we have the sense to set off at 8am and be finished before lunchtime. 3 hrs is plenty even in the "cool" November weather of about 80 degrees!
We arrived here on Saturday after 4 hrs drive from Santa Barbara to quite cold weather but going to pick up. It was also Veterans Day on Sunday so hotel very busy with lots of noisy Americans especially in smokers corner right underneath our window! Added to that was our neighbour listening to the TV until 3am - unbelievable. No doubt much more civilised people in the "Bay" area.
Anyway, weather much better on Sunday so went for walk in Indian Canyon around the Palm Canyon and East canyon routes. Really beautiful seeing palms in the canyons contrasting with the sparse vegetation all around. There is not much water but what little there is supports so much life and is where local Cahuilla Indians lived.
The walk we did on Monday was in the Coachella mountains and the palms we discovered there were situated on the San Andreas fault. It was fascinating following line of the fault by observing the trees, again in sparse desert environment. The fault throws up water from below and supports growth. We completed the Pushawalla and Horseshoe Palms route. Hotter today so glad to get back and relax around the pool.
Pushawalla Palms
We were delighted to see the maid cleaning the room next door- a sure sign that we were in for a quieter night!

James Bond in Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens
Really chilly start but bright blue sky.  We drove up into the hills to the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens.  Full of native plants, trees and shrubs, with informative identification boards, listing the uses that the various Native American Indian tribes put them to, medicinal, nourishment and basket weaving.  A mile long walk into a small canyon, with the remains of an old dam and water transfer system, set up by the Franciscan monks in the early 1800s, who lived in the nearby Old Mission, an imposing building, a  mile or so away.
A drive up Mountain Rd and then Gibraltar St took us almost to the top of Mt Calvary, with great views over the coastline and out to the Channel Islands, about 10 miles off shore.
Fire fighters guide to planting fire resistant plants
Lunch in town took us to the best and the cheapest meal we've had so far, at Nature Cafe.  Sweet potato and spinach soup, Thai chicken and artichoke noodle salad, and half a massive cookie each for less than $20.  They pride themselves on no additives, no unnecessary sugars and flavourings, just good, honest food.  Brilliant!  Turns out there's one at San Luis Obispo, so I think we'll probably be calling again another year.  In the afternoon Ian went to the gym in town, where the hotel had a concession for guests, free entry.  Took him to Marcel Hemp's shop and bought a hemp/organic cotton shirt for $50.  Great heavy duty cotton form the plant famous its other quality, marijuana!  Looks great on him, and it was fun to talk to the owner, Marcel, who's been there for 24years, and designs all his own clothing.  There was a lovely smell of patchouli in the shop-took me back!
In the evening, we had a pint and fish and chips during happy hour at the Brewhouse, where we've been before.  The beers are much stronger here, averaging 5% and sometimes as much as 9%!  Great buzz and really full, but difficult to get to- have to walk over the railway lines to find it!  Then went to see the new James Bond film, Skyfall.  Really good and without the hassle of having to go to Chesterfield to see it - the cinema just being a block away.  Off to Palm Springs tomorrow.  Hope it's a bit warmer there, without that cold Northerly.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Morro Bay and Santa Barbara

Detour north to Morro Bay

Josh Talbott
We'd zipped straight past here earlier, and it was with some reluctance that Ian agreed to go to yet another fabric shop!  But Morro Bay, even on a cool, overcast morning was definitely worth a visit.  With an hour to kill before the shop opened up, we wandered down to the fishing port.  An industrial backdrop of power station chimneys and transformers doesn't spoil the attraction of the real, working fishing port.  We watched as large swordfish were winched ashore from a boat, weighed and covered in ice before being cut up.
Further along we watched as the local artist, Josh Talbott ( painted a large mural, of  a seascape, painted in acrylics over a collage of his personal collection of literature about the sea.  It is to raise awareness and to protest against moves by the local energy company to survey the local coastline with imaging equipment, which basically involves high frequency sound waves being used, harming the fish, sea mammals, and ultimately threatening the fishing industry and way of life of the local community.  I hope that's right.  I was being distracted by a large pelican, which seemed to have been attracted to a kindred spirit!  His favourite work is painting seascapes over sheets of music.

Morro Bay
We both found that this central and northern regions of California seem more reflective, less driven by materialism, a bit bohemian, and back to nature.  Really like it.  Buildings are low-rise, often wooden.  Countryside is greener and tree-filled.  Advertising is low-key, with smaller stores.  We continued on, after a successful visit to a very nice shop for flannels, the Cotton Ball, to Santa Barbara, about 120mls down HW101.  The weather worsened to drizzle, with temperature dropping to the low 60s.  We booked in at the Hol Inn Express, where we've stayed before, and headed straight for the Shellfish Company Bar at the very end of Stearns Wharf, where we've been before.  Great seafood cooked in front of you, as you sit at the narrow bar, around the cookers, watching the chef at work, with flames licking up the old, battered pans.  Great fun!
A stroll down the main State St, however, revealed suggestions of a decline since last year, with several shops closed down, some looking in need of some attention, an influx of massage shops and, (the sure sign that things are on a downward trend), nail bars!!  More vagrants and beggars than last time, and just a bit shabbier than I remember.  Maybe the recession has started to bite even in the upmarket towns.  That said, Santa Barbara still has one of the most beautiful hinterlands, with pine, oak and eucalypt clad mountains, layer upon layer coming down to a lovely sea front.  Here for two nights, so we'll probably have a drive up into the mountains tomorrow.
Missing Lily, Andrew and Lizzy.  Missing little hands pulling you inside, missing little feet pattering on the wooden floor of their apartment!  The weather has gone a lot cooler and wetter up in Novato now.  Andrew and Lizzy will be pleased with the change, and Lizzy will be able to wear her new gloves, hat and scarf she got for her birthday, on 14 November.

Monterey and the Big Sur

Elephant seals on Big Sur
It was hard to leave everybody this morning, particularly a bemused Lily, but it was time to go.  We drove about 130miles south to Monterey, and stayed for one night at the Holiday Inn, separated from the sea by two major roads, Highway 101, which runs all the way to Los Angeles, past where Andrew used to live, and Highway 1, which runs along the coast and Big Sur.  All the rooms we've stayed in have been excellent and good value.
After lunch at Bubba Gumps, we walked through the historic Canning Row, made famous by Steinbeck, where there was once a thriving sardine canning industry, until over-fishing and climate change caused its collapse.  The industrial warehouses have been restored and reused as shops, in a sympathetic way.  The world-famous Monterey Aquarium is housed in one of these old warehouses, and we spent a couple of hours wandering around it.  Really enjoyed the layout of the aquarium, with massive tanks showing kelp forests, the deep sea conditions and fish, the deep sea, with sharks, turtles, sun fish to name a few.  The tanks dedicated to seahorses and sea dragons, and jellyfish were fascinating.  Would definitely go back again, and would love to take Lily there, when she's a little bit older.  Great place.

Monterey near Aquarium
The following day, we set off on the famous Highway 1, the Big Sur.  Weather unfortunately dull and thick mist over the rugged coastline, which is quite common.  Though much quieter than height of season, November seems to be the month of road repairs!  Classic of reality not meeting expectation!  Scenically stunning but stark and wild.  A road for driving but not stopping, in that what you see is all there is!  But then, just when we were both feeling a bit deflated, the most interesting sight.  The coastline flattens out and looks particularly bleak, and then you see all these, what look like white rocks in the distance, on the beach.  Turns out these are colonies of elephant seals of the Piedras Blancas.  The seals live out at on the Pacific, and come ashore for a few months in the winter to breed and give birth, and then most leave by March.  More than 4500 pups were born here this year.  It was full of seals basking in the sunshine, swishing sand over their fat bodies with their flippers, to act like sunscreen.  Large bulls were fighting at the water's edge.  It was so unexpected to see a phenomenon that only happens in this particular spot at this time of year.  We stopped overnight at a Holiday Inn express, in San Luis Obispo, exactly half way between San Fran and Los Angeles.  Just expected it to be a fairly uninteresting staging post, but turns out to be a very characterful town, busy with young undergrads at CalPoly.  At a bar in town we got talking to Jim, who worked at the recycling plant, designed and made his own retro-style clothing, and had travelled to Ireland, and was visiting Scotland next year. He recommended a fabric shop about half an hours drive back north at Moora Bay, where he lives, so thought we'd call in tomorrow!

Lily first haircut

No posh booster seat for Lily
Started the day with Lily climbing into bed with grandma, grasping a torch, hiding under the sheet like a tent and shining the torch inside!   Today was a big day for her with her first haircut. The few long kiss curls were trimmed and saved for grandmas, and the rest tidied up to reveal thicker, waiver locks!  Lily sat remarkably patiently, whilst mummy trimmed away.  Andrew seemed a little sad that his little girl had lost her long, thin curls.
I extended my jog up to Miwok Park, to enjoy the views again, as the morning already began to heat up.  Today it got up to 75deg, and too hot to sit outside until late afternoon.  but it's given cooler up here for the next few days.  At the moment it's hard to believe that it's November 5th.
Ian hired a road bike from Old Town cycle shop in town, for a very reasonable 25$ per day, compared with $50 we paid in Sonoma, and went off for a 60 ml ride to the sea via Nicasia, and Point Reyes.  Later we drove out to explore some of the many hill roads, up Vineyard Rd and San Marin Rd.  They certainly live in much leafier and greener place.  We had a smoothie at a curiously named Dr. Insomnia Cafe, followed later by a pint of Blue Moon at Finnegans Irish Bar, before returning to our last meal together for a while.
Tomorrow we head off South to Monterey, about 170miles away.


Point Reyes national park

North Beach on Pt Reyes
Day out with the family in Point  Reyes State Park.  After a quick jog in the morning with Lizzie, we set out for the state park alongside Pacific Ocean. It looks just like Scotland but with the sunny weather. The lack of trees and vegetation is due to the cold winds and salty atmosphere which are a feature of this area.
The local town is called Inverness which is appropriate. We went to North Beach which has rough sand and a lot of signs warning of sharks, rip tides and the like. Lily got her feet wet but didn't like it - too cold I think.  It was lovely kicking the ball around the beach, with views to the North and the South, and high waves crashing on the beach.  A few guys were surfing, but seemed to spend more time in the water, than riding the waves.
Back to Point Reyes Station, which we've driven through before,an interesting place with a mix of warehouse style buildings, and outpost style shops.  Quite busy and the road to the lighthouse was chocker with daytrippers so we headed off back to Novato.
The way back was full of lovely views across the channel.

The following day was spent trying to give the family some space, and us exploring the area by foot and cycle.  After we'd facetimed mum and dad and then Laura and Emma,  I went on a run up the block and then further on to the Miwok Trail, named after the Native American Miwok Indians.  The views from the top from a short, steep climb were great- across the sierra as far as the Bay of San Francisco.  It made me realise how close they are to the sea, and the city.  Wouldn't mind going back to SanFran on the ferry again.
In the afternoon, Ian and I cycled up to the Cheese Factory, about 20 miles round trip.  Ian continued on to Nicasia, whilst Lily had her afternoon sleep and mum and dad relaxed.
Our last day altogether tomorrow, so Xmas presents and birthday presents to wrap and hide away!
Trying to convince reluctant Lily to edge of water

Cycling around Sonoma

West Dry Creek Sonoma Valley
The local paper announced that this year's vintage is one of the best they've had for a long time, because of the weather.  We noticed that there are lots of new vines being planted all over.  Sonoma is more recent on the wine scene than it's more well-known neighbour Napa, just 10 miles or so away.
We booked two road bikes with a nearby bike shop, Spokefolk Cyclery in Healdsburg. We cycled along quiet vineyard roads on West Dry Creek Rd, up to Lake Sonoma, then on to a lunch stop for a sandwich at Geyserville, then along a lovely stretch of road called Red Winery Rd to Jim Town Stores where they did great coffee and cookies, in a vintage store full of hand made crafts.  Then eight miles back to the cycle shop.  We'd been out for about forty miles, fairly easy riding through the main wine-growing area, and felt we'd got to know it quite well.
On the way back to the family, we made a little detour up Adobe Canyon Rd, to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.  Plan to go back there in the future, where there are a number of walks with views out to the sea or over towards Napa Valley.  Called in for lunch at Finnegans Bar in Downtown Novato, and organised a bike to hire at the nearby bike shop.  On this occasion only able to hire one bike for Ian, but took his details for the future.  We'll give him more notice next time!
Jimtown Stores Nr Healdsburg

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Around Sonoma

What a lovely way to waken up with little Lily cuddled up next to me!  She has a cute way of putting her hand under yours!  She lies there and babbles, attempting to answer your questions about where are her eyes, ears, nose etc. What was she going to do today?  Was she going to play with her friend from the library group, called Yokari?
Packed and then we were off for a few nights in the vineyards of Sonoma, Russian River and Dry Creek, not far from the better known Napa area.
VJB Vineyards
We pulled in at our first vineyard, VJB, an Italian family vineyard, which pride themselves on enjoying wine in a sociable way, with family, friends and food.  We particularly liked the atmosphere there.  Relaxed and informal, without intimidating stuffiness you sometimes get, a lovely sunny courtyard, where you could sample wines, or just buy a glass or bottle, with sun-dried tomatoes, cheese and herbs, olives and artichokes.  Really nice place and again just up the road from the family.
On to the Hampton Inn in Windsor, a great place from which to explore Sonoma, with a reasonably priced Applebee's next door.

The forecast for the following two days wasn't great.  Hurricane Sandy was bashing the coast near New York, bringing two feet of snow to West Virginia.  Chicago has certainly been a lot colder since we left, so we were very lucky.  It was going to rain heavily this afternoon.  So exploration by car today.  First up to Russian River.  Wooden shacks hidden deep in the huge redwood trees, quiet roads, thick mist over high hills, it had a very different feel to it.  Apparently in this part of Sonoma, it's usually misty in the morning, and this burns off by lunchtime.  Perfect for growing.  Today the mist would develop into heavy rain.  Russian River is very scenic and atmospheric, littered with historic villages from the 1850s.  Bohemian and quirky.
We called into Bodega Bay for clam chowder, and watched a pelican coming in to land on the jetty, and a seal poke his head out of the water to see if any easy food was in the offing from a nearby fishing boat.
Dry Creek Valley
We hadn't been to many vineyards, so decided to pick one which looked interesting.  Quivira vineyard, recently awarded for its excellent Zinfandel, or colloquially Zin, is surrounded by acres of vineyards, undulating up the many surrounding hills.  Autumn is a great time to visit, with the vines changing colour as well as the trees.  The area is ablaze with red and gold.  Quivira sells vegetables as well as wine.  Raised beds, carefully tended support chard, rhubarb, squashes, beets, herbs, and several varieties of chilis, salad leaves to name a few.  Wine tasting has become much more expensive, doubling in price.  A 10$ tasting gives you small tastes of a lovely citrus Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache, Zinfandel, Grenache/Mourvèdre blend and a Syrah.  They knock the price of the tasting off the price of a bottle, if you buy.  We bought a bottle of the Grenache blend, Elusive, which is very good, but at 30$ average it's quite expensive.  Wine in the supermarkets is still very reasonable, but drinking wine in vineyards and restaurants is still high-end and special.  So different to Spain and France, where most wine is inexpensive.  Wine=wealth and status in the US!  That said, reall impressed with the area.  Very hilly, green, full of forests around the river, rustic, historic buildings and, best of all, very quiet roads.
Back to Windsor, via Healdsburg, another very chic, pretty town with a square, like Sonoma, with a Mediterranean feel.  Pretty individual, expensive shops for the well-heeled from San Fran, visiting the wine area.
San Francisco Giants have just won the World Series Baseball, so "Go Giants"!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Cycling by Car!

After an aborted attempt at cycling, with a puncture!, I took Lily for a stroll in the pram into Novato.  It had been busy with Halloween celebrations last time, so I was looking forward to a quiet stroll down the street, just me and Lily.  It was really quiet and pleasant ambling along in the sunshine.  Christmas lights were being strewn around the trees that lined both sides of the street.  It looks really pretty at night.  We made our way to the great little toy shop, on the Main Street, where I bought Lily's Christmas present and birthday present.  The shopkeepers were quite happy to have this little girl excitedly pottering around picking things up, with little squeals of joy!
Marshall Oyster Shack
A bit of lunch with Lizzy, and then Ian and I drove past Lakeside, on to the hamlet of Marshall on the sea inlet, looking across to the park of Point Reyes.  Almost like a fjord, this narrow channel of water is dotted with shellfish shacks.  We stopped at a crab shack, and ordered 6 oysters and a beer.  It's a really lovely unspoilt place, which we found to be much less touristy than some of the places on the coast further North, made more busy by their proximity to the wine-growing areas.  It's great to have this just on the doorstep of Novato.
Cheese Factory
Later we called in at Lizzy's favourite spot, the Cheese factory, home of the famous Rouge et Noir cheeses, produced by the same family for generations.  They've even won awards in London, beating French Bries!  We bought Triple Cream Brie and blue Brie to take back to the family.  We're under strict instructions not to buy any more cheesecakes, which are delicious!

San Francisco

A 45 minute ferry from Larkspur took us to San Fran.  A beautiful, sunny, chilly morning promising another hot day ahead.  The Bay is superb, with views of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.  The Golden Gate stands out red against the bright blue sky.
The ferries don't run as regularly at the weekends, as they do for the commuters during the week, so we couldn't set off until 10am.  Earlier would have been more impressive in the early morning fog.
Where to start, when you're plonked down in the port!  Well, the Market at the Port is a great place to start, with warehouses full of food and chic items!  Then a long walk along the front to Fisherman's Wharf.  Not really impressed with this part- just full of gift shops and typical visitor fare!  But we did get to see the dozens of sea lions, basking in the sunshine, on pontoons floating just out from the wharf.  We moved on to Boudin's Sourdough Museum and Bakery.  Operating since the 1850s and run by the same family, it is unique to San Fran.  It's been using the same sourdough Mother Starter, yeast starter, since 1850s, and that mixed with the foggy air of the San Fran Bay makes a bread specific to the area, and yet hardly gets a mention in the Lonely Planet guidebook!  The highly informative talk and presentation by guide and boards makes the trip to the Bakery fascinating.  The massive Kenwood-style mixers are a joy to behold, mixing bread that was a feature of Greek and Roman times.  They even reimburse you the price of the admission to the factory, $3 each, if you eat on the premises, which is a treat anyway.  Clam chowder in a sourdough bun, which comes in two different sizes, so you don't need to feel over faced - unusual in US.
Famous SF Cablecar
A tram back to the port and then a famous cable car up to Union Square.  An ingenious way of being pulled up the high street, which is no mean feat here, as the streets are so steep!  Great fun travelling on the cable car, and a pleasant rest after all the walking about.
Apart from visiting Chinatown, which we'll do in the future at night, we felt we'd seen enough now and headed back.
It was wonderful to be greeted by Lily with a big hug and be pulled into the room!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Meeting the Family

Reunion with family in Novato, San Francisco

the balcony at Andrews and Lizzies
Another walk around the leafy and very chilly streets of Chicago, before we make our way down to the airport.  The temperatures had plummeted overnight, and a mere 8deg this morning.
The journey time to San Fran is a comfortable 4 1/2 hours, but with 2 hours time difference  it was about 6.30 pm, as we left in the hire car.  Unfortunately we were stuck in all the rush hour traffic, got a bit lost and ended up skirting the bay, and finally drove over the Golden Gate Bridge in the dark, so couldn't see anything.  Finally arrived at the the apartment at 7.40pm!  Lovely to see everyone again and after a brief moment's shyness, Lily was at ease with us.  She seems to have grown a few inches since we last saw her and accompanies most of what she does with a little babbling commentary.  Adorable!  She cuddled up next to us on the sofa, and sat on our knees.
The new apartment in Novato, north of San Fran, is in a much quieter area, surrounded by pine trees, and overlooking a house with a small holding, with apple trees, a large fig tree and other fruit trees.  All the buildings in Novato are one or two storeys high, and you can see small hills rising up in the distance.  Very leafy and quite quiet.  The shops are individual and attractive, rather than just functional.  The cheaper brands like Ross and Target are out of town, and a short drive away.  There are numerous attractive restaurants and coffee shops.  I made a note to return to one of the cafes for a pecan pumpkin pancake.  They do the sweet stuff so well!!

On Saturday am., we all walked down to the Main Street in Novato for a Halloween gathering, put on by the shops and community.  All the children, of all ages, from babies to adults were dressed in fancy dress.  Lizzy borrowed a pumpkin costume from a friend for Lily to wear, with a cute little hat.  Shopkeepers were handing out sweeties, lollies, toothbrushes and even little books to fairy princesses, ghosts, cartoon characters and little cute pumpkins!  A trip to a superb Wholefoods Shop, was followed by a Mediterranean lunch, cooked by Andrew and Lizzy, - pimientos, meatballs, dried ham, cheese, dates in bacon, figs and tortilla.  They really spoilt us!  The afternoon was hot and sunny, about 28deg, but the flat gets all the sun in the living areas , whilst the bedrooms face north and stay nice and cool.  The architecture is interesting, less concrete and more wooden, clapperboarding.  Almost Wells Fargo style, outpost town, with wooden terraces and porches.

US Trip Oct 2012

USA trip October 24- November15  2012

The Cloud
Actually I came over to visit the family on my own in March, but it's our first trip together this year.  The family came over for a few weeks and stayed with us in August, whilst renewing visa, and it was great to be back together again in the UK.  Particularly special as I now have wonderful memories of Lily wandering around the garden, picking the heads off flowers, climbing the steps in search of more blackberries, standing on the platform at the top of the garden and shouting down to us, spending time with great grandma and visiting great grandparents in Lancashire - the list goes on!
The decision to fly via Chicago started off with a need to avoid the four hour journey to Heathrow and the following eleven hour flight.  Although longer flight time overall, at least we would break up our journey with two nights in Chicago.  Ian's been there before, but it would be the first time for me.  Much more than a diversion, we instantly felt relaxed and at ease in the city.  It is beautiful, with the trees all yellow and red, several open spaces and parks.  The city is particularly good for walking and cycling, with paths running for miles along the river and the shores of the mighty Lake Michigan- more like a sea than a lake!
Famous for its impressive skyscrapers, it has four of the biggest eight skyscrapers in the USA.  The city feels quite small and compact, and most places we wanted to visit were within walking distance of our Holiday Inn Express, the Hotel Cass, in the main shopping area off Michigan Ave.
The first day we walked down to the lake front and along the lovely river walk, past the Trump Tower, and on to the John Hancock Tower(second tallest).  You ascend the 94 floors in a few seconds, with ears popping on the way up! The views over the city are amazing.
The second day started early, wide awake at 5.30am, we bought a ticket to go around the loop on the train which runs above the road and then walked back through Millennium Park to marvel at the installation, "Cloud" , by Anish Kapoor.  A massive, highly polished steel cloud shape, sitting in the square, in which you can see reflections of the sky and clouds passing overhead and passers by gazing at it.  Absolutely awesome.
Back to the river, and we'd booked to go on a boat trip, about which Ian had heard good reviews, a guided tour of the architecture of Chicago from the river.  So what's there to learn about skyscrapers - they're very high and that's it!  How wrong could I be!  One of the most informative 90 minutes on Art Deco, Gothic, Modernist architecture, as we floated gently along the river, staring upwards.  We learnt of how modern architecture, like the Aqua building, designed by a local woman, manages the stresses and strains of winds in an aesthetic way, so wavy open balconies act like fins and break up the destructive force of wind, and look beautiful!  We both said we'd do this trip again, because it was so fascinating.  We'd missed the city by night yesterday, because we'd been awake for 18 hours and were in bed by 7pm, so went back to the hotel for a snooze for an hour, with the intention of staying up until dark!  We'd been lucky so far, it had been bright, sunny and very warm, unseasonably warm 80deg f.  But a blast of cold north air was forecast to bring heavy rain and a drop of 30deg f tonight, as we set off to Keefers Restaurant, one of the top 20 steak restaurants in town.  I had a delicious steak salad and Ian had fillet, with a delicious grilled octopus salad for starter.  We hurried back to the hotel through the chilly wind and rain. Well done we'd managed to stay up until 9.30 pm!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Col de la Madeleine

Col de la Madeleine In a couple of weeks time, Wiggins et al will be charging through La Bathie on the the same route we are taking today, up the Col. Absolutely sweltering heat last night. Managed to find a curious site, very few and far between here, just off the autoroute, behind a truckers stop. Very popular with a group of French people, who said they returned here every year, staying for two to four months. Now there's quite a bit to do if you're keen on cycling and walking, but I could n"t stay here for two nights, let alone months! Sat with my feet in a bucket of cold water, trying to bring my temperature down. At which point, our enterprising French neighbour came across with a product his friend, from the Pas de Calais, was selling. Basically smelt and had the same effect as Fiery Jack! It turned out that some of them were traders, selling their wares at local markets. They were very friendly, but bored, and seemed intrigued by us and our comings and goings! The night was extremely hot, only cooling in the middle of the night. Promised myself that the col was out of the question in this heat! Very noisy night, situated so close to the motorway. Woke in the cooler morning, determined to do the Col, as it was likely to be our last trip into the high mountains. Set off at about 8am again, as the day was forecast to be another steaming one. At this point, it's worth mentioning that back home, they have had the wettest April, May and June, since1910, when records began, coinciding with the announcement of a hosepipe ban in parts of UK! Col de la Madeleine was a classic climb, which we were pleased to have done. Caught up with Ian, on his way back down, with 6km to go. The route climbs steeply up through the trees, through Bonneval and other villages, before climbing steeply again up the hill and onto the summit. Shame that the views were marred by steamy conditions, and the summits of the surrounding mountains looked bleached! But savoured the descent, knowing it was likely to be the last mountain descent for some time! 15mls of ascent, av 6%, 5000ft actual climbing. 45 miles in total, from site. A fast cycle 40mins down the road to La Bathie. Glad we explored here, because I was ready to write it off as a busy, industrial area, with motorway running through and massive cement and gravel works nearby. But 15 mins cycle down the road are little old villages, lived in rather than empty, and stunning hills and mountains. On returning, another quick shower, farewell to the neighbours, who have chosen to stay most of the summer here, and brief drive down the road to Annecy, to a site with a swimming pool!


Mont Blanc from Saisies
Beaufort 2012 Another very hot day forecast, so up at 7am as usual, and cycling by 8.30am! Ian was going up Col de Joly, via Col de Saisies, and me reliving the ascent of the Cormet de Roselend, but from much lower down than I'd done it before from les Sources, 4000ft ascent, 12.5 miles, average gradient 6.6%. Enjoyed the climb up through the trees, and the view of the Lac du Roselend. Felt strong as a climbed up to the summit and then descended to the lac, across the barrage and then back up the steep little ascent to Col du Pre. An omelette at the restaurant at the top, expensive and not really catering for cheapskate cyclists like me, but with great views towards Mt Blanc and the curious perpendicular mountain, PierraMenta. Down into Areche, again with lovely views over meadows, filled with wildflowers, and pretty chalets, cow bells tinkling and flies buzzing over head! Ian had a fast ascent of Les Saisies but found the ascent of Joly tiring. Back for a rest pm., catch up on blog etc. Tomorrow, Saisies for me, with a shorter day, returning via Hauteluce. Ian deciding to do what I did today. Have you noticed, we don't do much together! Ps ...did Saisies in 1hr 32mins, and worked hard all the way to the top. Lovely views of Mont Blanc, with the summit covered in cloud. Another blisteringly hot day today, 34deg! So had to get out cycling by 8am. Back in time for a quick shower, and drove down the valley to our next cycle venue, La Bathie, near Albertville, where the Tour goes on its way up to Col de la Madeleine.

Tour de France Etape

Col du Mollard
Saint Jean de Maurienne and Col du Glandon, Col du Mollard aka Tour de France 2012 Drove over the Col du Telegraphe on a wet, misty morning and landed on St Jean de Maurienne. We'd been through here last year on a long, miserable road section on the way to the Telegraphe, and I just remember that I couldn't wait to get this bit over with. We'd dropped steeply and precariously down into this concrete jungle. Massive infrastructure, roads, hydroelectric dams, thundering river, a working, large town. St Jean was a good base but I didn't expect much from it! Wrong! After two nights there, I would feel very differently! Both decided to have today off, in view of the weather, and what the cycling we had planned for the coming days. So we pitched the van at the excellent municipal campsite, Camping des Grands Cols. Very friendly and efficient staff and excellent facilities. Bread could be ordered each morning, bar and snacks open pm. We wandered into town and walked the St Jean way around the cathedral, and admin buildings, following little pointing finger studs in the pavement. But the town itself is not greatly interesting, apart from the fact that this year it hosts the Tour de France. They go from Albertville up the Col de Madeleine, from La Chambre up the Col du Glandon, onto the Croix de Fer, down to St Sorlin, across to the Col du Mollard, down to St Jean, then finishing on the summit of the ski village of La Toussire. After an evening spent "enjoying" the delights of Jersey News on our neighbours radio!, we set off down the six mile main road to La Chambre. Busy and intimidating with lorries, it soon came to an end in green, rural, old villages. From there the road works it's way, relentlessly climbing following the river Glandon, through little villards, to the Chef Lieu, St Alban des Villards. Time to take a breath as the road flattens off for a kilometre, before climbing continually up through the meadows eventually reaching the Col du Glandon. The last three kilometres are nasty, 10, 11 and finally 10%!!! Chatted to some of a group of French guys from Alsace on the way up, and kept passing and being passed by some of them. They even asked me if I'd like to join them, taking pity on a lone woman! As usual, Ian's doing a similar route but at a different "cadence", ie. faster! The rest of the final ascent from Glandon to Croix de Fer is easy, as the road sweeps round at a gentle gradient. Time for a buttty, hot chocolate, and take in the views, not quite as extensive as a few days ago, because of cloud cover. Then the high speed descent through St Sorlin, into the Arvan valley, on to St Jean d'Arves, and then climbing up through pretty, old wooden chalets perched on the sides of meadowland, Belleville, les Rieux and La Villette, with chickens roaming free in the gardens! Another climb onto La Mollard, but a glorious circuit. Time to pause and take in the views over the Belledonne mountains and the Massif de la Vanoise. There's a notice board at the top, telling one of the fables handed down, before TV and Radio killed the art of story-telling. It tells of a labourer who bought a new mule and took it up the Le Mollard, from a village right in the bottom. Half way at Gevoudaz, the mule started to shake and tremble, and the man told the mule that he hoped he hadn't made a mistake buying him. He promised he would make an offering of 5sous at the chapel, if the mule managed to get him up the mountain. The mule did so, and the man cheered at having got up Le Mollard, and not having had to spend his 5 sous, at which point, so the fable goes, the mule dropped down dead!! You must always keep your promises, especially if they involve chapels, sacred offerings and mules! Anyway, back to the route, now descending ferociously steeply. Hands suffering from brakeitis, forgetting to breathe, and balls of feet killing, trying to keep sore ar..e off saddle, whilst careering down lumpy road all the way directly into St Jean. That's me done for the day, 6700ft ascent, 40 miles. Amazing to think that the "tourers" do that plus Madeleine first, and then climb again all the way up Toussire. Ian finished there himself, and was chuffed but cream-crackered when he got back! I'm saving myself for tomorrow. I've persuaded Ian to do a slight detour and head for Beaufort from the east via Modane, Val d'Isere and Bourg St Maurice, so that I can experience going over another major pass between France and Italy, the Col d'Iseran, at 2764m, one off the highest passes, depending on where you stand on La Bonette. Now, we cheated really, doing it the shortest way up, already at a significant height when we set off from Bessans, near Bonneval, where the recognised climb starts. Only 8 miles, height gained is nearly 1000m, average gradient of 7.3%, and max of 10.5% . That's the stats, but the reality is a beautiful ascent up to the plat, where it flattens off slightly, and then through the tunnel of the Pont de l'Ouiletta, with views over glaciers towering above Bonneval. I met up with Ian descending, about 4kms from the summit. He was on his way down to collect the van, having parked up at Bessans. Time for a celebratory hot chocolate at the summit, complete with the usual motorcyclists and Dutch cyclists!
Col de L'Iseran
 After Ian picked me up from the summit, it was back down the other side to Val d'Isere and Bg St Maurice. A couple of hours later we were approaching Beaufort and our lovely site at Les Sources where we've been each year. Horreur! The site was closed. Tourist Info told me that they had stopped doing the site, but were alive and well and enjoying their retirement in Beaufort. Ah well! The municipal site down the road out of town would be fine. Actually very nice, but extremely hot day and desperate for shade!

Col du Galibier

Relaxing at Col de Lauteret
Valloire to Col du Galibier Once Ian had returned from a speedy ascent of Col d'Ornon, we set off on the short journey to the town of Valloire, in the region of the Haute Savoie. A grassy campsite, Camping de Sainte Thecle, near the centre. There's not much in town, being yet another ski village, deserted in the summer, with not much atmosphere. But it's the best place to cycle up the Col du Galibier from, a much shorter but steeper journey than from Bourg d'Oisan. After a rest day, I set off at 8.30am, getting a head start on Ian, both of us having to pause for a short time whilst sheep were herded across the road! A lovely sunny morning, with a slight nip in the air.
Kilometer markers
 A steep climb out of Valloire, and then out through the hamlet of Bonnenuit, onto the Plan Lachat, before climbing steeply up to Les Granges, and the farming cooperatives of Beaufort cheese, although we're about 50 miles from Beaufort itself. Still climbing up to the cafe near the tunnel, where cyclists then continue on up to the col summit. Feeling strong and comfortable, having reached the top in 2hrs 2mins, it seemed to soon to return to Valloire, and the views were spurring me on to spend more time at altitude. Nothing for it, but to follow Ian's suggestion and continue over the top and down to Col de Lauteret, about 8kms away. A coffee and a portion of tarte aux myrtilles and then it was back up the way I'd just come down, back up to the top of Col du Galibier for the second time. I was a bit worried that I'd bitten off more than I could chew, but was pleased that I didn't find the return climb too strenuous, but had to work hard on the last kilometre, which is 10.5%. Over the top for the second time and then an exhilarating descent down the mountain, all the way to Valloire, and a beer at the van! Really chuffed, having climbed 1800m and more importantly feeling good. Now I've climbed three of the highest passes, Col d'Agnello (2700m), Col de la Bonette (about 2700m) and Col du Galibier (about 2600m). The training up Mont Ventoux has definitely paid off, and I'm so thrilled with my "granny" gear, which has made all the difference between struggling and enjoying.

Monday, 25 June 2012

La Berarde

Not the only with a sore ass!
La Berarde Some days you feel great, but not today. Yesterday's efforts really told! Ian remembered a trip he did from La Berarde to La Grave, on a walking trip with Keith and friends about 35years ago, and he was impressed by the remoteness of the place. Steve and Ali, campers opposite us, had just come back from walking there and were thrilled by the fact that La Berarde is right in the thick of the Ecrins mountains. It was an old shepherding village, literally at the end of the road. 20 miles to a beautiful cul-de-sac. You take the road to Briancon, and then come off at Le Clapier, following the road to Venosc and St Christophe. The road climbs steeply 11% over 3kms. As the road hairpins up to St Christophe, you can see the white-water rafters on the churning river Veneon. The Veneon Valley is spectacular, and the road climbs steadily and more easily up to L Berarde. Time for a small beer and take in the snowy mountain scene. The majestic SW slopes of the Ecrins reach 4102m, wonderful and quiet. Because there's no Col as such to conquer, you don't get hoards of motor-cyclists. Because it's a long cul-de-sac, you don't get much traffic. Consequently, it's mainly cyclists, and not many of them, so lovely and quiet. A shorter day, today, only 4hours in the saddle!
St Christophe dOisans
Would definitely repeat this ride!

Col de la Croix de Fer

Climb to Col de la Croix de Fer
Col de la Croix De Fer - the valley of the L'eau d'Olle A stunning if long climb from Bourg, which I really struggled with last year! The route passes through Allemont, through the old village of Articol, and then rises steeply through Le Rivier. Having done all that climbing the road hairpins steeply back down to the stream of the Olle and then steeply up to 12% up to the Grand Maison barrage/reservoir. Fantastic views of the mountain chain of the Belledonne to your left and the Grandes Rousses mountains on the right. Time for a breather and then a glorious climb up the sweeping road to the green pastures, past the Turn-off for the Col du Glandon, and then on to the summit, adorned with the usual cafe and beautiful Croix de Fer. For a change, it was warm and pleasant on the top, and time to take in the views across to the stunning Aiguilles d'Arves, 3206m and 3506m. Really enjoyed the trip up, catching Ian coming off the top. Hot chocolate for energy, followed by a coca cola, and then the lovely descent back to Bourg. Even the hairpins near le Rivier didn't seem so bad! Loving the granny gear! 50 miles and 1550m climbed. A good day in the saddle!
The Cross

Col de Sarenne and chat about San Fran

Col de Sarenne
Bourg d'Oisan and Alpe d'Huez Mixed feelings about being back in Bourg. Busier, and more touristy, but set right in the big mountains of the Haut-Alpes. Didn't get off to a good start with the longed- for campsite being all but closed, although we were offered four spots exposed to the sun, most of the day! Finally opted for one close by called the Rencontre du Soleil. Friendly people and lovely site with pool. The forecast was a bit mixed but very hot and humid at moment. Opted for our first swim,on our day off, and then relaxed on our day off. Early morning was overcast, but small patches of blue sky trying to expand. After a warm-up around the roundabout, off up Alpe d'Huez. We'd both been thinking about this in our sessions at the gym in the winter. It's such an awesome climb, covering 1000m of ascent rapidly. In 15 mins, you're looking down on the town of Boirg, which suddenly seems far below. Steadily climbing, counting off the 21 hairpins, passing through tiny hamlets and the village of Huez, past the turn off for Villard Reculas, which we planned to take later. I was overtaken and then overtook, and was overtaken again by a bad-tempered Scot, who shouted at his wife to get him some water because he was "dying!". Finally reached the top considerably faster than last year on 1 hr 32, Ian just missing out on his target of 1hr, by 3 mins. So naturally we'll have to do it again, me to see if I can break 1.30 hr, and Ian the hour! Joined at the top by a Kiwi cycling group, and the 62 year old got up in an amazing 54mins, the best time of the day, beating young men a third of his age. His comment on arriving at the finish banner was "I bust mi guts getting here!" Never done it before, because been too exhausted, but carried on past the cafes to the official Tour de France finish higher up in the ski village. But there's nothing there apart from chalets and a bus stop, and a small sign saying the finish of the climb for the tour, so the cafes are the chosen destination for most cyclists! On through the village and then out into a wonderful wilderness of snow-capped mountains in the distance, and sweeping hillsides and gorges, on past the Brande d'Oisan, an archeological site, where silver miners in the 12century set up home and worked high up the mountain side. Eventually a "pastoral" ie. rough track leads up to the Col de Sarenne. Total contrast with Alpe d'Huez, remote, silent, desolate. No cars and no motorcyclists. In fact, hardly any cyclists, most, as we have done before, deciding that Alpe d'Huez is their ultimate destination. Chatted to a Brit, now living in San Francisco, funnily on the same day that Andrew, Lizzy and Lily are making their way up to San Fran! He recommended cycling in the Sonoma Valley, and making your base in Santa Rosa, and said that it was a great place for cycling, so should be good. Decided to take the route back through Alpe d'Huez, and Huez village, where we turned right and cycled on the high-level, contouring road we've taken before, to the beautiful, hill-top village of Villard-Reculas, steeply down the hill all the way to the main road about 7miles out of town. Heads down and averaging 18mph, to get back in time for pasta and a beer at the Dutch-owned, good value restaurant in town. Surprised to find it was 2pm. No wonder we were starving. Cycling for 4hours and climbed about 5000 ft, and this was supposed to be an easier day! But feeling good and strong. Mixed feelings about the place have been dispelled. Get off your bike, sit down in a busy bar and the food's there in no time! The up side of being somewhere "touristy" .

One wheel in Italy and one in France

Col dAgnelli
One wheel in Italy and one wheel in France aka the ascent of Col d'Agnell/colle d'Agnello.
12 miles up the Queyras Gorge, before we start! The gorge was steep-sided, a narrow,little road hugging the rock face all the way up the gorge to the old town of Queyras, with its 13th century fort/chateau, perched high on the hill overlooking the old town, with snow-capped mountain views in the far distance. We climbed on and on up to the meadows/prats/prads, covered in wild flowers and buzzing with insects. On and on as the road climbed through the little villages of Pierre Grosse and Fontguillard and views up the mountain road ahead. Italian motorcyclists sped by, and punishing gradients of 9% made the ascent feel tough. On and on and eventually reaching the summit, with the sign that you are no entering Italy. Breathtaking views down into the Italian side tempt you to want to explore further, but it's another 25miles back and no time to hang around. A quick bite of the packed butties and off back down the hill, with snow-capped mountains of the Ecrins mountains in the distance. A couple of beers break up the journey back, but couldn't relax too much as there were motorbikes, Italian speedy drivers and tunnels to contend with! It's been a hot day today, 30 deg, but still cyclists are starting up the mountain early afternoon. We aim to be done and dusted for about 2pm, back before it gets too hot and resting with a couple of beers! Ian had a day off with me today, taking his time! Both of us felt like discharging batteries, and felt that it was time for a day off tomorrow, so no Col d'Izoard. That will have to wait for next year! The campsites OK, but too far to walk into historic Guillestre, where we've visited before. Probably wouldn't come back here again. By contrast, would return to Barcelonette, where there are more unclimbed cols to explore, and easy reach of town, from a very pleasant site. Off to Bourg d'Oisan, for a longer stay in more familiar surroundings. It's been good though, returning to places we've been before, and mixing it with new, unknown locations.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Col de Cayolle and Col de Vars

Col de Vars
On our final day in Barcelonette, we cycled up to the Col de Cayolle, altitude 2326 m, 29km from the campsite. A delightful cycle ride along the Gorge du Bachelard, with steep cliffs rising above the road, and the churning river below, into the Parc National de Mercantour, and out into meadows full of wild flowers. You have to keep your glasses on around here, with massive insects flying at you all the time! A lovely ascent to the summit of Cayolle, and then a speedy run off, down a gentle gradient. Just the ticket for recovering legs! Nearly 40 mls in total, but an easy climb. That night we went into town to watch the footie. France had just beaten Ukraine, though you wouldn't have known it. They don't seem to be into football here at all. As England and Sweden began playing, people stood in front of the screen to decide what to order for drinks next, sat down briefly, changed their minds and got up again. They left and then a large group of young French girls, out on the town, sat right under the large screen, totally oblivious to any match being played. In the end we left at half time, just after Sweden equalised, and a few French cheers went up! Woke to find that England had won in the end 3-2, so it might have been a good game! The day after, Ian set off for Guillestre 30 ish miles away to the North, and I cycled over. Going north to Guillestre takes you over the Col de Vars, 2109m. Wouldn't have been such a busy road, had it not been for the Coupe de Grande Route des Alpes, a classic racing car rally, continually coming towards me on route. Some sounded like there was no way were they going to make it all the way to Nice, back-firing, alarmingly, as they spluttered and coughed past. But there were some beautiful classic cars, and I managed to snatch a few snaps.
A few kms before the summit, the road ramps up to 10 and 12% which knocks you a bit flat, so the top is a welcome sight! High mountain peaks soar up, and there is a lovely descent all the way to Guillestre. I met Ian cycling up from the town towards the Col and ate the butties I'd packed for us earlier, and then back to van and a rest! Just been reading up on the cols that Ian has in mind for us while we're here, Col d'Agnello, on the Italian border, and the Col d'Izoard, which Ian has done before. I'm not sure that the old proverb "fore warned is fore armed" works in this case! Probably better not knowing!!!

Friday, 15 June 2012

La Bonette - highest pass in Europe ( ish)

On to Barcelonette in the Ubaye valley of Haute Provence, twinned with a town in Mexico! Barcelonette was given its name by a Spanish Count of Provence, who named it after his home town. It has strong connections with Mexico, because many emigrated there between 1840 and 1955. The provençal flag shares the same colours as Spain, a various graffiti swear liberation for the children of Provence. The river Durance runs through the Ubaye valley, famous for white-water rafting, when the river is full, which is now! You begin to see mountains rising up towards the border with Italy, and Cuneo. It's beginning to feel warmer as we pitch the van on the campsite, Camping du Plan, which we've visited before, when Ian was doing his Nice-Geneva trip. Nice grassy pitch, with a short walk into town. The town is OK, with a square newly renovated, a lovely old church, and the usual shops. So we pitched up and enjoyed the remaining hours of our first day off! The following day was still and sunny, as we set off for Jausiers, thirty minutes cycle up the valley. We remembered pitching the tent here with Colin and Morty, way back when. We'd just driven over the Col de Bonette, in Colin's Hillman Hunter, at about 11pm. The highest road in Europe! We were fearless then, or just plain bonkers! Pitching the tent by the side of the road at midnight, and wondering why we were so cold, when we woke up, having spent the night at 1200m! As we cycled through, we tried to identify where we'd pitched all those years ago, but without success!
At the summit!
Anyway Ian pushed on ahead to finish his unfinished business, not having been able to go over the Col de Bonette on his trip, because of fresh snow on the top and bad weather generally. So today he was going to fill in the gap! I just wanted to do the best climb I could, bearing in mind this is one of the highest passes in Europe, having been surpassed now by a road in the Sierra Nevada, Spain. But either way it's a challenge. I kept company with a pleasant, young Irishman, who was on his way from Geneva to Nice, and chatting to him helped the kilometres and the climbing go by. I was climbing well, and feeling quite strong. The gradient is a very pleasant 6.7% average, over a long 28 km reaching 2715 metres. Zigzaging up the mountain-side gives a constantly- changing perspective on the mountains and valleys, and it's really quite pleasant, when you get in a rhythm and plug your way up on a "granny gear" . The final few kms are a delight, sweeping along the side of the mountain and even managing to get into second gear on the gentle climb. To the top of the pass, where the road descends to Isola and the Tinnee valley and eventually on to Nice. Cyclists and motor-cyclists taking photos of each other, complaining that they weren't able to climb the final kilometre to the summit, the cime, because of new snow, but I was just thrilled to be there in a reasonable time, feeling strong and not stressed, and most importantly not frozen! This time carried three extra tops, food and drink, to cover all possible hazards!
Desolate but beautiful
Ian passed me on the way near the top, having got there in 1hr46 mins, about 50 mins ahead of me. Well done, and really chuffed for both of us!

Mont Ventoux 3!

3 times to the top!
Mont Ventoux 3! Well, you just have to, don't you? If there's three ways up and you've done two, you've just got to do the third and final way up. Fortunately, although a long day, it's the easiest way up the mountain. Unfortunately not a great day for the weather. So far we've been lucky, with rain, wind and stormy weather during the night and late afternoon, but today started of dry but cold, with a keen wind. 15 miles from the campsite to Sault, through the little village of Flassan, and a pleasant climb over the Col de Notre Dame des Abeilles, and then on to Sault. Past the lavender fields, and time for a coffee before the start of the climb. It's a lovely climb up to Chalet Reynard, 7km from the summit,but the weather was looking grim and it was getting colder. On up the grey final ascent, which still hurts, no matter how many times you practise! A cold mist was engulfing the summit, and it was starting to rain. The photographers weren't plying their trade, they'd given up and gone home. There's no cafe on the top, but a shop selling souvenirs. So I could buy a plastic cup with my name on it, but nothing to put in it! Absolutely freezing, but thrilled to have finished the climb, and being photographed by a coach load of Japanese tourists!
Gorges des Nesques
I had to stop twice on the way back down to Chalet Reynard, to get feeling back into my fingers for braking! Finally at the cafe, it took me a good ten minutes before I could stop myself shaking and order a coffee and a crepe, which arrived in seconds, as the bar man explained he was experienced in speedy service to distressed cyclists. It was a good half an hour and another sugary crepe, before I could face venturing outside again. Some Dutch guys followed me of the summit, and I was staggered to see them order a celebratory drink of cold beer! A cold descent all the way directly to Bedoin, with weather deteriorating. I was surprised to see cyclists still starting the climb, but don't think many people got to summit later that day, as the rain came down, again. The following day was brighter but very windy. We felt fortunate that the weather had not really interfered with our plans, although the experience could have been warmer! Really chuffed that we'd managed to do all three ascents in four days!

Second Ascent and Nesques

Ventoux Vines
Bedoin, Mont Ventoux, Sault, Gorge de la Nesque and return Maybe a bit ambitious but a second attempt on Ventoux but this time from Bedoin. Up at 7am and off to the market in the village of Bedoin. A huge market right through the main street and off up side streets as well. Bought a massive string of garlic and a few pun nets of fruit- it"s the season for cherries and strawberries. Great market full of colour and enticing smells. But a quick tour around and back to the van, change and off cycling by 8.30am. A lovely morning after the wet afternoon yesterday. We set off together, even though I'd tried to persuade Ian to hang back for at least half an hour, but he couldn't wait to get going as well, and was soon off in the distance on the gradual climb up the first few kilometres. After a lovely start, we were soon climbing 9 and 10%, which never let up for the next 9miles. But I got into a good rhythm, and was making good progress up to the Chalet Reynard, where you get a little pause before the final climb up the limestone "desert", past the monument to Tom Simpson, and the Belgian monument. The last few miles seem to take forever, and are usually into the wind. Past the photographers, hoping you'll buy their snaps of you. You always feel amazing at the top, and freezing cold on the way down, smiling at the other sufferers toiling their way up the last ascent. A quick coffee at the Chalet Reynard and then a fast but rough descent all the way to Sault, with a brief pause to take a photo of the fields of lavender, which Sault is famous for. A sandwich and coke in a cafe in the square at Sault and chance to catch our breath. Tried a sirop de lavande cordial, which Ian thought was just sugar and water, but there was a strong taste and smell of essence of lavander too, with a welcome injection of sugar. Chance also for Ian to warm up. He'd taken 1hr 45 to the top of Ventoux, me 2hrs 32, so there was a bit of waiting around for him, which he part- filled with almost a second attempt to encourage me, but not quite to the top!
Gorse bushes in Ventoux
The downhill cycle through the Gorge de la Nesque must be the most thrilling ride. A gradual descent for about 12 miles at about 17 to 20 mph all the way, with the most amazing vertiginous drops off to our left. Hardly any traffic, because most are put off by the steep drop, and the low tunnels you have to go through, but what a fabulous ride! It makes all that slogging around in the cold at home, and the gym sessions all worth while! The remainder of the return through Flassan, land of cherry growing, is a gentle climb and then fast descent into Bedoin and home! 56miles and a blooming lot of climbing!!! Decided to eat in the restaurant on the campsite tonight, after the football match with France, currently 1-1. Campsite restaurant is very impressive for a campsite, with modern furniture and lighting, not the usual tatty, dirty stuff you often get on camp sites. Kate texted to say exams have gone well, so hopefully she can get her life back for a little while!