Wednesday, 30 June 2010

An appointment with the Col du Portet d'Aspet

Ouch! Just let me get that out of the way first.

So, the nitty gritty. Well, it all started out well enough. The profile for the first 12kms is nothing to cry about and was actually quite good fun to ride.However as you can see, it did kick off somewhat in the last couple of kilometers after the village of Portet d'Aspet. But, not a problem. With a bit of huffing and puffing and more unladylike perspiring, the col was reached and who should we see there but the Kevster who was acting as support for a group of Saddle Skedaddle riders who were doing the Trans-Pyrenees route. Naturally, seeing Kev gave me an opportunity to dawdle, chat, waste a bit of time before tackling the question of, well, what should we do now. We had only covered just over 18kms and simply turning around and tearing back down to Audressein seemed a bit of a waste of a day out. But I didn't think my legs could handle the descent down to Aspet and then the full 14km+ climb back up. Kev suggested we cycled 4kms further on down the hill to the memorial to Fabio Casartelli who was an Italian cyclist and an Olympic gold medalist, who died in a crash on the descent of the Col during the 1995 Tour de France. From there, we just had the 4km climb back up to handle. Note the word 'just'. This baby is no pushover.It turned out that the ascent over the 4kms was 369m which made for an average gradient of 9.2%.That was the average. Andy's Garmin Edge actually showed several short sections of up to 20% - no wonder my wheels didn't seem to want to go round! But some credit please, I didn't stop, although I do admit that the temptation was strong. I was fuelling well with my SIS liquid fuel and had had a gel before we set off on the descent from the Col which helped to keep me going. We made it back up in 36 minutes. Then, a fun, fast descent back to Audressein. Total distance covered was only just over 41kms but over 1000m of ascent. 2244 calories burnt = cake time. Full stats on the usual site. I may just make that cherry clafoutis this evening - I have earnt it!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Working on Sadie

The outfit who previously owned Sadie were Vinyl flooring specialists. Unfortunately, at some point, a tub of glue had gone over in the van and its contents had seeped under the bulkhead to settle on the floor behind the seats and down onto and underneath the side door's step. It was basically one sticky, gooey, horrible mess that needed cleaning up before work can start on the interior. It was a horrible job but it had to be doneThis morning, Andy swapped the British headlights for the French ones and while the lights were out, took the opportunity to tackle the dents around the driver's side unit
A bit of strategic thumping/panel beating with the hammer and the corner is ready for filling and paintingThen it was time to tackle the first window.... a job that Andy has not been looking forward to as so much can go wrong when installing bonded windows. But following a great deal of research on the internet, confidence levels were high and the jig saw was deployed. And voilà!At that point, having failed miserably to get in a run yesterday, it was time for me to get my ass into gear while there was some cloud cover, so I headed up to Peguere with the pooch for a rematch with the 6.55km Col de Peguere/Cap des Campets circuit that I last did on the 15 June. It was a good run and I knocked 1 min 20 secs off my previous time. Stats here as usual.

Then, back to Pissou and time to fit the new window. I think it looks fantastic! The masking tape will come off in the morning when the adhesive has gone off.Only the two windows on the other side of the van and the two smaller rear windows to tackle next! But having windows installed makes Sadie look much less like a utility vehicle and more like the budding comfort leisure vehicle that she is destined to become!

Tomorrow, if the weather plays the game, we will hopefully head down to Saint-Girons to tackle the Col du Portet d'Aspet on the roadies. Excellent!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Meet Sadie

Allow me to introduce SadieSadie, as those of you who have been paying attention will recall, is the long wheel base Mercedes Sprinter that Andy brought back from the UK recently. She has quite probably been feeling somewhat neglected and lost while we have been away in the Aude, so today we gave her some much needed attention. She came complete with bulkhead and somewhat raggedy ply pannelling inside.The bulkhead had to go in order to open up the space so Andy drilled out the rivets that held it in place and then we got cracking on unscrewing the ply panelsThe result is a more open, bright space. Next step, cleaning the floor base and the start of electrical, plumbing and gas installation. Watch this space!

Today, I have also been reacquainting myself with the potager which is in need of my serious attentions. The wet and then very warm weather of the past 10 days has resulted in some serious growth. So the secateurs and twine were deployed in order to bring the tomato plants under control and the onions and shallots were freed from the grasp of the weeds that were threatening to overwhelm them. After this afternoon's thunderstorm and rainfall, the soil was once again loose enough for me to make a second sowing of French beans and carrots and the potatoes were banked up. I have picked my first raspberries today which are allegedly autumn-fruiting canes but they must have been confused by May and June's bonkers weather patterns. I am not complaining! The fruit is delicious.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Holiday's end

Yesterday was a stinker, up to 32 degrees in the shade, one of those dead, heavy heats which really isn't conducive to any form of activity whatsoever. Well, that may be a slight exaggeration, as I did take the pooch for a little wander amongst the vineyards ...and was tempted by the nearly ripe figs which were hanging heavy on the treesbut covered all of 1km before we turned back to seek sanctuary in the blissful coolness of the house again, me dripping with sweat in a most un-ladylike way and the pooch with his tongue hanging out as if his life depended on it. But fortunately Andy and I both had work to do so time was not wasted. I also had 'Caves' to visit and wine to buy in the afternoon. My main purchases were from the Mont Tauch vineyards up the road at Tuchan where I bought a mixture of everyday drinking rosés, whites & reds plus 2 bottles each of Corbières and Fitou red for winter consumption with rich meat dishes. I also bought from Bertrand-Bergé, a producer in Paziols, but their prices were somewhat higher.

For our last evening 'on holiday' we drove 10 minutes to the village of Tautavel for dinner at a highly recommended little restaurant called 'Le Petit Gris'. It is in a fantastic setting, overlooking the bolted crags of Tautavel (over 230 sport climbing routes, folks!) to which we have made a note to return in the future when Sadie is up and running. But I digress, where was I .... ah yes, dinner. My entrée was foies de volaille (chicken livers) panfried with raspberry vinegar and local herbs accompanied by a simple salad followed by slices of cooked salmon with a vegetable thian and mushrooms and finishing with the Catalan version of creme brulée - all in all, rather scrummy. Andy enjoyed a bowl full of around 30 'petit gris en estouffade' otherwise known as small snails in a Catalan stew sauce followed by 2 spatchcocked quail cooked over the woodfire with a beautifully light vegetable thian and Catalan chips which were actually hollow - don't ask me how they managed that as I have no idea! We had a half litre of the house rosé which was produced in the local vineyards. Superb food and wine all round.

But today, it was time to make our way home. We decided to take the scenic route which included a diversion to the coast where we stopped off at Argèles-sur-Mer for lunch. We stumbled upon a little restaurant off the main boulevard which welcomed dogs and at which we could eat outside in the shade - a plate of anchovies (delicately dressed with vinegar and a light oil) followed by an enormous pot of stonkingingly big moules catalanes and chips for me, Coquille Saint Jacques in a bechamel sauce followed by some tasty squid with the trimmings for himself. Other than that, Argèles was no different to any other 'sur mer' place on the Med Coast and we did not linger for long.

The next step of the journey home is not one that I would recommend. Amélie-les-Bains to Bouleternère should be avoided at all costs. 43kms of winding, ascending, descending, narrow roads through indifferent scenery which mainly consisted of, well, trees and not a great deal else! Tedious! The rest of the trip home was also winding ups and downs but thankfully through rather more interesting scenery but it had still been a pretty long day by the time we got home this evening. More hot weather here over the coming few days but with a bit more cloud which should make a roadie outing or a run more practicable.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Another fine roadie circuit from Paziols

It's hotting up here. But with the camera now fully charged and my legs feeling much improved following yesterday's stretching session, we hopped onto the road bikes again for another circuit of exploration around this cracking area. Once again, it did not disappoint. Quiet roads, gentle gradients, stunning scenery, nothing more to say really!

The village of Feuilla....quiet country lanes, poppies and blue skies ....
with the windfarms providing the only blot on the horizon....
Oh look, there's Mont Canigou .... again!
Good roads meandering up through little limestone gorges .... have I mentioned that there are several good spots for rock climbing here in the Aude? Quiet crags are guaranteed!
More vineyards and little villages....
The village of Vingrau nestled at the junction of two gorges....
And finally, a shot of Paziols showing its unspoilt situation ....
We covered just over 70kms with 789m of ascent in a little over 3 hours. Stats on the usual site. I am coming to the conclusion that, along with tight muscles due to a lack of stretching, inadequate fuelling is a core issue with my general feelings of fatigue. I have lost a couple of kgs over recent months and simply don't have the bodily reserves to draw on anymore. I therefore need to ensure that I am properly fuelled and hydrated before I even set out on a ride and continue fuelling with good strength SIS PSP22 sports fuel throughout my exertions. A shandy stop en route is also obligatory and the post-ride recovery routine of stuffing my face with cake and anything else that may be to hand must also be rigourously maintained.... naturally. The local wine is also proving to be a muscle relaxant 'par excellence' so a trip up the road to replenish supplies is required imminently.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

On the roadies at last

True to forecast, the strong winds drifted away overnight and left us with a glorious day today with temperatures into the high 20s. Now, don't get the idea that there was NO wind as that would have been too good to be true. Oh no, on our roadie circuit today we encountered a couple of nasty little headwinds and their not so pleasant sister the sidewind but it all added to the variety of the outing. And my goodness, if anybody out there is looking for a good area for a road bike holiday in France then this area of the Aude department has to be it. It is quite simply stunning. It has everything a roadie rider could hope, from beautiful, tranquil riding on single track lanes through the vineyards, to steady climbs up not too extreme gradients for a super-fast descent through breathtakingly beautiful scenery. Now, my apologies, but I have no photos to show you from today's outing because my camera battery died and the quality of my mobile camera is, well, rubbish. But we do intend to repeat the route in the car before we leave so I will take tons of photos then. You have to see them!

We covered just under 66kms and 728m of ascent. Stats on the usual site.Unfortunately, I am paying the price for not having been on the roadie for a month and for not doing any stretching for the past week and my legs refused to give what I was asking of them during the ride, which led to a frustratingly slow outing. But a stretching session this afternoon and another in the morning will hopefully loosen up the muscles enough to make the next roadie outing more productive not to mention enjoyable.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Coastal bound

Well, the wind was just as strong this morning so we have had to postpone the roadie outing.... again. But the sun is most definitely dominating the weather now (26 degrees today), so we headed down to the coast which is a little under 1 hour away and a pleasant drive through the 'garrigues' and vineyards of the area. We headed to Leucate and had a short, unhurried walk along tracks, through more vineyards...with views yet again towards Canigou and the Med Coast....
We still had much of the afternoon ahead of us so headed further up the coast to Port-la-Nouvelle with the idea of having a walk around Ile Sainte Lucie, but were greeted by a sign advising that the island was shut due to important maintenance work to the access point. Thwarted. Port-la-Nouvelle is a main landing point for fishing boats that fish in the Mediterranean so we reckoned it would be a fine idea to hang around for a couple of hours until the shops reopened and take home some super fresh seafood. To kill time, we mooched along the coast to the salt flats where the kite-surfers were having an amazing time in the gusty winds
Then back to Port-la-Nouvelle where we acquired a 'Plateau de coquillage' which was a mixture of huge oysters, mussels, prawns, a couple of langoustines, small clams and whelks which we demolished this evening accompanied by a squeeze of lemon juice and some aioli, washed down with a quite exceptional but not at all expensive bottle of white L'Ancien Comté 2008 from the Mont Tauch vineyards 3 miles up the road at Tuchan. Cheers!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Local explorations

On the recommendation of Tony from Paziol Rentals, we popped out to try the village restaurant last night. And my goodness, it didn't disappoint! We had snails in garlic and parsley butter for starters (just enough garlic and not the overpowering quantity that some restaurants choose to use!) and I had a "brochette de gambas et noix de Saint Jacques" (enormous king prawns and scallop skewer) which was just perfectly done whilst Andy had "joue de porc" (pig's cheek) cooked in their special homemade sauce which appeared to hit the spot. With the meal, we had a scrummy bottle of white Cotes du Roussillon 2009, Cuvée du Cigala from the Lesquerde Catalan vineyards. Very very tasty. We shall be returning there before the end of the week.

Today, it has still been incredibly windy but we ran a lovely little waymarked circuit direct from the house this afternoon. It took us on good tracks up the valley ...where we were surprised to stumble on quite a substantial vineyard!We were heading up to the head of the valley...from where we had a fairly steep climb on narrow paths up on to the ridge above where we were greeted by even more excellent tracks and superb views towards Pic de Canigou in the distance
The track went on for several kilometres and provided some fantastic running
and even more vineyards!
We arrived back, totally out of water, having covered 12.6kms with 532m ascent in 1 hr 42. Hotter, calmer weather is forecast for the rest of the week. An outing on the roadies has to be next on the cards. The roads around here are superb and I have already got a couple of good circuits downloaded. It is so good to be able to explore another wonderful area of France. Why would anybody want to go anywhere else?!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Paziols in the Hautes Corbières area of Languedoc-Roussillon

Andy and Sadie arrived back in one piece on Thursday, albeit totally knackered - Andy, that is, not Sadie. The weather on Thursday, Friday and Saturday was truely appalling so I was looking forward to our holiday in what was hopefully the slightly better climate of the Languedoc Roussillon just inland from Perpignan, an area that is only 2 1/2 hours from us. So after only 2 nights at home, I dragged Andy away to the little village of Paziols, where it was grey and showery and very very windy when we arrived yesterday evening Today the skies have pretty much cleared but a very strong wind continues to buffet us here. With gusts of up to 95kph forecast for the next 24 hours we have had to abandon any idea of a roadie ride until Tuesday unfortunately, but there is still plenty for us to see and explore.

This is the view from the sunny little roof terrace of our old house in Paziols. It's not a bad spot.It's a lovely old village, nestled amongst the Fitou vineyards of the Corbières - it will be impossible to avoid some wine tasting and most probably purchasing of the local product while we are here .... which is a shame .

Today, we had a wander up to the Chateau d'Aguilar near Tuchan which is just 5 mins away from Paziols.
The old Cathare chateau is the little brother to the grander Chateau de Peyrepetuse and Chateau de Quéribus which are 10-15 mins away from us, but still occupies a dominant position as it looks down onto the surrounding plain. It is if course surrounded by vineyards
But with an entrance fee of €3.50 to see a load of old stones (yeah, I know, hush my mouth), we opted to explore the tracks that led up the hillside behind the chateau instead, from where we got great views towards Paziols village and Mont Canigou in the distance
The limestone edge of la Serre cut a striking figure ahead of us
En route, this little chap was making quite a racket!We collected bunches of wild rosemary, wild fennel leaves, some kind of wild mint, thyme, wild garlic and numerous wild flowers which are native to the 'Garrigue', or Mediterranean scrubland, which I am going to try and identify.More exploring tomorrow and most probably a local run on some of the excellent paths and tracks that run immediately from the village here. I am already enjoying the change of scenery. In due course, when Sadie is a fully functioning camper van, we are looking forward to spending a lot more time away exploring areas such as this all over France. Let the adventure begin!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The ups and downs of mountain biking

There was a bit of a weather window this morning with that seemingly rare commodity, blue sky, putting in a special guest appearance. Quick, make haste, up, out, mountain bike in car, Plateau de Beille for some VTT action with P&K. Obviously with all the rain that we have had recently, the going was soft to downright soggy under wheel which made for a couple of interesting moments. It was quite a surreal outing, as we watched big black clouds build in every direction - we fully expected a downpour at any moment but amazingly we stayed dry in the Plateau de Beille's own little micro-climate! Some photos for you;None of the tracks up there have yet been properly signposted for mountain biking so we had to make it up as we went along. Which was fine up to a point. Until P&K thought we should pick up what would have been a black piste on the cross country ski circuit this past winter. Great I thought, this descent is fantastic! Technical in parts, fast and furious in others. What fun! Until Kev pipes up 'Er, hang on, I think this track is taking us down towards Ax. We should be over there (pointing across a big ravine to the hillside opposite on top of which was a lone cabane).' We had done approx 200m of descent over 3kms. Please don't tell me we now have to reverse it?! But that is exactly what we had to do. We had missed a left turn somewhere near the top. Doh! But do you know what.... the legs felt fantastic and it wasn't a problem. I felt strong. Thank goodness I did that stretching last night. It was a cracking outing. I love my mountain bike :-) Sum total today 20kms and just under 2 hours of riding. Stats on the usual site.