Posts Tagged ‘VIvien’

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.

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.