Posts Tagged ‘Becky’

Biking in the Bourgogne

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

A few months ago, my friend Becky mentioned that for her birthday she wanted to catch a train to the Bourgogne region, hire bikes and ride for the day. I placed my hand into the air and solemnly declared that I would be joining her. Excellent idea.

Becky’s birthday finally arrived this last weekend and she, her husband Vivien and I caught a train at 8:56am to Montbard, a town not far from Dijon. Once we arrived we walked across the road to the tourist office and picked up our hire bikes. It was so simple, painless and inexpensive with the bike hire being just 18 Euros for the day. The bikes were nice and light and had 7 gears which was sufficient for the canal-side bike ride most people would do. Plus they were yellow. Who doesn’t like a yellow bike?

Bike hire in Bourgogne

Speed mobile.

The Canal de Bourgogne runs through Montbard and extends for over 200km. We rode approximately 25 kilometres (in each direction, making an amazing grand total of 50 kilometres!) and went inland in search of hills. This was Becky’s idea, and seeing as it was her birthday she got to choose. Honestly, while the canal is beautiful, it is very flat and a bit of undulating countryside is always nice.

Canal de Bourgogne

Canal de Bourgogne

We rode to an area called Alésia, where a battle between the Romans and the Gauls took place. Julius Caesar was victorious but there is a statue of Vercingetorix, the head of the Gauls, on top of a hill. We rode up that hill (well, Vivien did. Becky and I pushed our bikes up) to see the statue and discovered a man with a very impressive moustache and long hair. He was probably very handsome in his day.

Vercingetorix

Such impressive hair growth.

View from Alesis

View from the hill

Our next stop involved another upwards climb, to a medieval town called Flavigny where they produce aniseed flavoured lollies in an old abbey. I’m willing to ride up hills for sugary treats and I managed to arrive at the top of the hill first. Red polka dot jersey for me! It was a beautiful little town with lots of old houses for sale. At first we walked around picking which house we would buy, but then we started thinking about the actual reality of living in such an isolated town at the top of the hill. So we rode back to Montbard.

House in Flavigny

I wanted this house because of the turret

View from Flavigny

The beautiful countryside surrounding Flavigny

The ride was fantastic – it was a beautiful sunny day and the views were spectacular. It was a relief to escape the noise and grime of Paris for a day and to be outside in the country. The only down side (because SOMETHING had to go wrong considering how my past few weeks have been going with the entire universe turning against me) was that I fell off my bike. Typical really… I wasn’t exactly surprised and I could see it coming as I attempted to roll down a gravelly slope and felt the bike slipping from underneath me. I knocked my shin on the bike peddle, which was probably the best outcome as there isn’t much blood between your skin and your shin bone so I could patch myself up without too much excessive blood loss.

Cut on my leg

A boo boo.

Still, I now have a lovely purple scar on my leg. Perhaps that’s why no French men have tried to kiss me lately.

My Little Garden in Paris

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

It’s amazing what can happen in three weeks. I have returned to discover that Becky and my little vegie patch in the middle of Paris has come alive and is producing like crazy. Clearly the Parisian half sunny/half rainy weather has made our garden very happy because everything has tripled in size and look what delicious goods I found:

Chillies

Chillies!

Eggplant

Eggplant!

Tomatoes

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes

The first pick from the crop.

I am going to eat the tomatoes for my lunch. I am expecting amazing things.

Potting About

Monday, May 7th, 2012

For months I have been eyeing off some dirt that runs along the sides of the driveway behind the Récollets. So much vegetable-garden potential. Recently some gardens have popped up and after some investigations I discovered that the plots are given out to people who live in the community and who have no garden space of their own. As a resident of the building, I figured I should be allowed a slice of dirt, and so I inquired and I am now a proud land owner (well, user as I haven’t bought it nor do I own it in any way) in Paris!

Recollets garden

Lots of little gardens

Becky and I are sharing a 180 x 100 patch of clay that we are hoping to turn into a blossoming, productive and essentially delicious garden. On Saturday we ventured to Truffaut, a garden and animal centre, and purchased plants and a 40L bag of soil improver.

Interesting fact: Carrying a 40L bag of soil improver from a shop to a train to home is about as fun as carrying a 40kg flat-packed shelving unit on the metro. Becky is wonder woman and carried it most of the way, while I mastered the ‘drag it along the shiny floor’ technique.

Anyway, we now have massive muscles and yesterday we planted our new plants. We have snap dragons (did you know they talk?! Becky showed me this for the first time… wow.) and marigolds; a lavender plant; some bulbs which we are hoping to see again soon; beetroot; various sorts of tomatoes; tiny lettuces; and mint, parsley and basil.

Vegetable garden

So much potential

We will soon be producing truck loads of vegetables and selling them at market stalls. And in the meantime, I can stick my head out of my window and throw rocks at any one who is attempting to steal our produce. You’ve been warned.

What a Champion!

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Sunday finally saw the arrival of the Paris Marathon – something my friend and running buddy, Becky had been wanting to get over and done with. I was also looking forward to the completion of it as it would mean less 30km runs on weekends.

The conditions for running 42km were less than perfect – a cold, overcast day with lots and lots of wind. Signs of spring were certainly about as pollen from the horse chestnut trees was flying through the air and getting up my nose and in my eyes. Not fun. Probably even less fun for the 40,000 runners who were killing themselves on the epic route through Paris.

I had planned on catching Becky as she passed through the Bastille but I mistimed my arrival and she had already sped past me. So, Tom and I caught the metro to the finish line where runners were already arriving having completed their race. Amazing! Becky had started further back in the pack and was therefore at a disadvantage and therefore still running. Definitely nothing to do with her abilities, speed or running finesse. Tom and I found ourselves a position with a good view of the approaching runners and waited…

Interesting fact: if you stare at a large number of runners approaching you, trying to spot a single tall, blonde female wearing a purple top, you will go cross eyed.

Just after the five-hour mark, there she was. And so we screamed! BBEEEEEECCCCKKKKYYYYY!!!!!!! GOOOOO BBEEEECCCKKKYYYYY!!!!

Paris marathon

I was too busy cheering to get a clear photo.

I don’t think I have yelled that loudly since my year 7 athletics carnival. She may not have come first, but Becky is a winner in my eyes. An absolutely amazing feat – I send my congratulations to everyone who ran in that race. It was insanely long and no human is really designed to run that far.

Another interesting fact: while waiting for Becky to arrive, we watched the security guards pull illegal runners out of the pack – people who had some how joined the race without paying to be in it. Most of them looked like they had only just joined as they weren’t red-faced like the REAL competitors. Clearly they just wanted the fame and glory of crossing the finishing line, and perhaps a free piece of fruit. I think these people should be FORCED to run the entire marathon as punishment because clearly they’re not good enough to enter it for real. That’ll teach ’em.

Left, Right, Left, Right

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

The weekend before I returned to Paris, my friend and running buddy, Becky, completed the Paris Half-Marathon. Impressive stuff, although her boyfriend, Vivien, a man who runs very infrequently, completed it too, which is potentially even more impressive, but I am on Becky’s team. Anyway, Becky is now in training for the full marathon – a decision that has made me question her sanity, but she is a neuroscientist so she must have a fairly functional brain.

She has been going on long runs and this week I put up my hand to accompany her on her Saturday morning death-jog. What can I say? It was early in the morning, I wasn’t fully awake and my brain was clearly in some sort of self-harm mode. So this morning, at 10am we met in the front courtyard, kitted out with water-bottle holding waist belts and GPS watches. We looked impressive.

I must say that the great thing about going for runs in Paris is that time and distance passes very easily due to all of the distractions. We spent most of the time either looking at beautiful buildings, pointing out newly blossoming trees, or dodging Parisians and dog poo. Constant distractions. We ran down to the Seine and then along towards the Eiffel Tower. By the time we had reached there, an hour and a half had passed and we were 13km from home. Time to turn around and go back.

Our total distance was over 23km and we ran for two and a half hours. Considering the longest I have run previously is about 15km I was extremely pleased. My knees are currently yelling at me and I want to go to sleep, but knowing I am capable of running those sorts of distances is very good for the old ego. If I have managed to recover from this run within the next week I might agree to go again on Becky’s next cross-city adventure.

Paris run

Look at us go!

Exercise Challenge is Fun!

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

As I have frequently mentioned, every morning I go running with my friend Becky, our running courses usually involving 6 to 8 kilometre circuits of the canal and local parks. Becky has signed up for the Paris half marathon AND the full marathon later in the year. I would have attempted the half marathon with her, however it is on the day that I return from Perth so I will be asleep and/or on a plane. Very annoying. Anyway, in order to help Becky train for the upcoming half-marathon and to burn off a few of those excess Christmas-calories, I suggested Becky and I attempt a longer run on the weekend in order to see how hard running longer distances really is. This was my Fun Times Count Down item #6.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, Becky and I met at 10am and caught the metro to the Bois de Bologne – a wooded area just north of the Eiffel Tower that is notorious for being the place to find prostitutes at night time and if you want to be murdered and buried in a shallow grave, go here when it is dark. Fear not, it is perfectly safe and full of people exercising on Saturday mornings.

Becky had planned a route that would be approximately 20km long, winding through the woods, circling a hippodrome and doing a figure-eight around Lake Superior and Lake Inferior. Interesting fact – Lake Superior is SMALLER than Lake Inferior. How French. We set off well – the first 3km passing easily and then everything seemed to slow down. It took forever to reach 5km, and then 7km was even slower. It wasn’t physically straining, it was just taking forever. We played eye spy in French for a little while but it became far too easy as we both have a limited vocabulary and there wasn’t very much to spy in the woods anyway.

We eventually made it over the half way mark and up to 12km but then our team was struck by injuries – poor Becky was hit with a terrible cramp in her lower calf that just wouldn’t go away. We called for our medical staff but no one came – no good looks physiotherapists to massage away the pain. Becky struggled on for a few more kilometres but it soon became clear that running was not a good plan. We decided to stop and walk back to the metro, having run 15km. Not bad for a first effort. The walk back to the metro was another 3km so in total we did 18km. I was pleased with our efforts and we are planning for a second attempt at the 20km challenge next Saturday.

It was a particularly enjoyable activity to be doing on a cold Saturday morning – the temperatures have dropped over the last few days so it was really very cold and I should have worn my gloves. It was about three degrees as we were running and there was frost on the ground – the closest I have seen to snow this winter. While it was cold, the sun was shining and the sky was crystal clear – a crisp and sparkly morning. The cold weather made my room temperature tap water in my water bottle turn refreshingly cold. Instant refrigeration.

So a great start to the weekend – I hope next Saturday the weather is just as nice and we can make the full 20kms. It was a lot of fun and I am really enjoying the fact that I am physically able to make these longer distances. Having run 15kms I know I could have easily continued on to complete the full 20. Maybe the marathon isn’t such a crazy idea after all…

Wine Time

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

I’m sure I have mentioned this previously, but connected to the residence that I live in is one of the coolest, hippest, and most sort-out cafés for the BoBos of Paris. In case you don’t know, a BoBo is a person between the ages of 21 and 38 who wears a lot of ‘vintage’ clothing and who hangs around in public spaces with other BoBos hoping to be seen. They usually wear oversized glasses and lots of layers. Anyway, the cafe, Café A, is cool. So cool that in summer there is a line of BoBos pleading to come in while my fellow residents and I walk past in our BoBo-offensive clothes and sit at our residents-only tables. You can probably tell I get a kick out of it.

There are often concerts, exhibitions and random events at Café A and this past weekend there was a two-day wine tasting event held within the café and the beautiful chapel that is connected to it. This chapel is part of the original convent building of the Récollets and is rented out by the Architects society (they now somehow own it) for excessive amounts of money. Therefore it is very rarely open and when ever it is, I try my hardest to get in there.

On Sunday evening, Tom and I walked in the back door of the café with our friends and fellow residents, Becky and Vivien. Why go in the front door when you can sneak in the back? We then talked our way into getting free tasting glasses and not paying the 10 Euro entry fee because ‘we live here.’ Seemed fair to me.

Salon du vin – Café A

A blurry photo but lots of people and lots of wine inside the chapel

The chapel was set out with 50-plus tables allocated to different organic and biodynamic wine producers, offering tastings of their wines and information about how they produce the wine and the region it comes from. These wine tastings are particularly helpful to us as there is so much difference between choosing a wine in France than in Australia. Back home, I usually choose a grape variety I like and then go by price and whatever label interests me the most. This doesn’t work so well in France and I have managed to choose numerous very bad wines as a result.

Vivien, the only true-Frenchman of our group, was put in charge of wine selection and we started off with his favourite region – Bordeaux. There were three different Bordeaux producers and we sampled three different wines from each. The flavours between each wine varied significantly and it was amazing to see how different the wines could taste despite containing similar grape blends. It all came down to handling, time, barrels and general competence.

After Bordeaux, Vivien took us on a grape tour of his life in France, moving between regions where he has lived, studied and worked. Every region produced significantly different flavours of wine and each vintage varied just as much. It was a taste-bud sensation and a big learning experience for me. Of course, after sampling a few different wines from various producers, they all start tasting good and there were a fair few people who had clearly been ‘sampling’ for most of the afternoon and evening. It was a great way to get a better understanding of French wine although I have come away with even more confusion about how to choose a wine when at a wine store. No matter what bottle I choose it will taste completely different to the last wine I had from that region. So I guess I have to return to my “try it and see” methods.

Maths and Mouse Brains Equal Sunday Fun

Monday, November 7th, 2011

What a great day! I woke up fairly late this morning due to a long and very enjoyable evening entertaining our friends, Sonia and Guibril, last night. After breakfast, I met up with some other friends, Becky and Vivien, and we headed off to the Fondation Cartier – a gallery space owned by the Cartier corporation which houses some very interesting exhibitions. The current exhibition is an exploration of mathematics, and presents an interesting mix of maths and arts in a single space. It is the first Sunday of the month, meaning most galleries in Paris are open for free. Not this one it seems. No matter – we paid our entrance fees and went in.

Fondation Cartier

The Fondation Cartier is in a really nice glass building surrounded by a very pretty garden

The exhibition consisted of seven or so large exhibits, usually requiring you to stand and watch for a fair length of time. The exhibits explored various concepts around mathematics and included robots that are able to learn; a large sphere that had images of mathematical problems projected on it; and descriptions of the mathematics involved in the Hadron Collider. For most of these, I stood back and watched the pretty pictures and said, “WOW!” a lot as completely foreign concepts were thrown at me. I have never been a particularly maths and science person, however I have always wished I was, purely for the stability and ‘factual’ nature of it all. Cultural theory is far too open ended and ‘there is no answer’-ish.

My favourite part of the exhibition was a series of films where mathematicians spoke for about three minutes on what mathematics means to them. Words that were mentioned and that struck a cord with me included creativity, exploration and expression. Obviously the films were made with the topic of mathematics and art in mind, however these mathematicians were passionate about how mathematics provided them with creative outlets and how it was beautiful, magnificent and amazing. A few of the mathematicians admitted their love for the physical shape of lines within equations or geometric forms. A mathematician by the name of Sir Michael Atiyah said that he felt maths to be a more creative way of expressing yourself and that the written word was archaic. I would require further explanation before I could agree with this statement but I found the concept fascinating. My whole concept of mathematics as a dry and quantitative thing was completely refuted by these mathematicians. They were all very passionate about their work and the affect the field has on the way in which the world functions. It was very inspirational.

After the exhibition, we went and ate galettes (yum.) before Becky and Vivien invited me to their laboratory. They are both neuroscientists who are studying (together) the way in which a part of the brain (the hippocampus) affects memory. At least, I think that’s what they’re studying. Anyway, they showed me their lab which is full of very, very cool machinery and instruments which they use to dissect mouse brains into teeny tiny pieces and then study them under microscopes. FASCINATING. They were kind enough to explain everything to me and I got to look in a microscope and then on a large screen I saw the neurones inside a mouse brain. So cool.

Microscope

It's a giant microscope!

I have recently been reading a grant proposal they are working on, hopefully providing them with helpful advice about where to place commas, and I am completely in love with what they are studying. It amazes me to learn what other people do all day and how there are people in the world who are working towards solving problems and finding answers to how humans function and how we can make the world a better place. I makes me feel like what I do all day, every day (ie. nothing) isn’t really having a great impact on the larger picture. That said, I’m not sure I have the brain capacity or the inclination to study for that long in order to do so. So instead I will write about how great Becky and Vivien are and stay out of their way to ensure they can continue to do amazing things.

Becky and Vivien's view

Not only do they have cool machines, they have a great view from their lab, too!

Somewhat connected, yet also not, I am currently reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which makes me wonder about all of these science experiments and the desire for human improvement. Hopefully all science students are forced to read that book to ensure the world doesn’t follow Huxley’s concepts.