Our Tandem Ride

On our recent holiday in France we decided to try something new as part of our ‘outdoors’ experience. Living in The Netherlands, we love cycling. It’s a national hobby for the Dutch and possibly the most-used form of transport.

But…

We didn’t want to hire ordinary bikes while we were staying near Lake Annecy in the south east of France – so we chose a tandem.

Big mistake.

Looking confident? We were anything but…

Riding a tandem is so difficult! My co-ordination and balance is pretty good, but this was so tricky. The fact that there were cars and other cyclists nearby didn’t help either. Cycling along we looked like something reminiscent of a Laurel and Hardy film.

After hiring the tandem for about 4 hours we decided that we wanted to live a little longer. Time to take the tandem back and reluctantly take two normal bikes.

I wish I could do this…

If any of you have tried cycling on a tandem then I would LOVE to hear about how you got on.

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Europe’s Problems: The Simple Explanation

It’s all gone wrong in Europe! Bail out – bail out.

Sometimes living in Europe can feel a little ‘titanic-ish’. Yup – this place hit an iceberg – and that iceberg is called Greece!

Greece is dragging us all down.

Latest news – a bailout of about 1 TRILLION! Hmmmm, nice one. That’s me on bread and water for the next hundred years!

The prime ministers, chancellors etc etc are all throwing their toys out of their prams too. The international meetings must be fascinating for those proverbial ‘flies-on-the-walls’. Cameron and Sarkozy have been arguing about who should be in the meeting…. Oh, the old battle between France and the United Kingdom.

It’s all old as time.

Don't you wag that French finger at my Prime Minister... Not that Cameron seems to care.

If you’re interested in a more ‘high-brow’ view on the latest economy news from Europe, but still something easy-to-understand then I’d recommend reading this Q&A site.

But, the best thing that I’ve seen – and it really sums up the state of Europe right now – is this.

Merkel has to look after Sarkozy - again!

Jumping off a mountain. Simples.

What better way to remember a birthday than by jumping off a mountain. That was how I celebrated my 32nd birthday.

It could have been my last.

I said that to the guy…

…He laughed.

I survived – clearly.

Paragliding is a must. I am now converted the wonders of the jump.

I’ve just got back from a two-week camping holiday in France. It was amazing. Lac d’Annecy is a stunning location for a holiday for all tastes. Relaxing if you like. Sporty if you want. Adventurous if you dare.

We dared.

Our paragliding experience was well organised. A team of instructors picked us up (me, Bas and A.N.Other). We headed up a windy and very steep death trap mountain road. The madman driver clearly hadn’t taken his tablets knew the route and we whizzed around bends on two wheels. Oh the joy. We reached the summit and grabbed the gear from the back of the minibus.

What was the gear being strapped to my back. I asked no questions.

I didn’t really want to know.

We walked a couple of metres up a pathway and then on to a steep slope of astro-turf (fake grass) which led over the edge to nothingness….. Long grass could be seen poking up, but beyond that…nothing. The lake, hundreds of metres below, was shimmering in the mid-day sun. Stunning. Terrifying, but stunning.

My instructor lay the wing (or canopy) out across the grass, while I looked at at the view and contemplated the drop.

Gulp.

There were loads of ropes called lines (yes, I’ve read up on it now that I’ve done it and survived). He untangled the whole lot and prepared it, then attached his harness to mine. Once secured he said “Right, now we just run”.

What!!??

That’s the extend of my pre-flight briefing?….”Now we just run!????” (I thought this part – I didn’t want to sound panicky).

We ran…Off the edge of the mountain.

I was expecting a sudden drop. It never came. Unbelievably, we glided off the mountain and into the air. It was the most gentle take-off I’ve ever experienced. The view was amazing! I was silent. In total awe of the view. The lake below looked incredible.

The instructor was busy controlling the wing (fiddling with the lines). I just grinned and enjoyed the view. I looked across and watched Bas and his instructor floating ahead of us. I didn’t hear any screams. All was good. For thirty minutes we floated down above the lake, the trees and roads below.

Sheer bliss.

There had been no wind at the top of the mountain. It was eerily still. Once we were a few hundred metres from landing we hit a rush of wind. With a jolt we were carried higher and higher. It made landing quite a challenge. Our landing field was too far to reach and the wind was too strong. Plan B – land closer. We ended up in a field nearby.

The landing was smoothe. Until a gust of wind caught the wing and whipped us backwards across the field. What a sight. The instructor was laying on his back trying to regain control and there was me, on top of him, wondering when we’d stop. I couldn’t help but giggle some more.

I survived. I loved it!

Enjoy my slideshow…

 

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Want to read more? Some links you may enjoy.

Happy Camping

Camping is great! Fresh air, back to nature, living life freely… What more could you ask for? (Okay, so some of you probably said ‘a hotel’……. I agree that hotels and cozy holidays are nice some of the time, but camping is fab – especially when you find the right spot.

I’m hoping that our camping trip to France this summer goes without any problems. I want a chilled time. Total relaxation and time to complete many of the things on My List for 2011. Reading the Harry Potter series in on my list as well as dancing in the rain and writing a poem. I’ll have time to tick off those things…. Wish me luck.

If you’ve ever been camping then I am sure you can relate to the next bit.

Here are some great camping one-liners:

“I thought you packed the toilet paper”.

“Shhhhhh….. Did you hear that noise?”

“Just one more hill to climb, it’s all flat from here”.

Of course I packed the tent poles”.

 “I love camping. You haven’t lived until you’ve cut your way out of a sleeping bag with a Swiss army knife”.

Searching the internet for things about camping has been fun. Here are some good blogs about camping:

Love in a Tent

Kyla40’s Travel Blog

Eurovision 2011: The ones to watch.

The Eurovision Song Contest 2011 is just weeks away. The songs are all selected. The acts are preparing and putting the final touches to their songs and stage routines. Who will win? This year the race is open wide. There is no clear favourite, which is a good thing.

Here are five songs that are worth keeping an eye on…. They could do very well.

Denmark: A Friend in London – “New Tomorrow”.

The song has caused some controversy with some people claiming it is too similar to other songs. Then again, in 2011 it’s quite a challenge to create a unique song. This is my favourite song of 2011. A dark horse. (Best bit to watch is after 2:00 – It will look amazing on stage in Germany in May).

France: Amaury Vassili – “Sognu”

France have raised the bar for this contest! This is undoubtedly their best entry since 2002. Paris 2012 is sounding a strong possibility. The song is anthemic! It reminds me of Bolero. Torvel and Dean skating around would not surprise me. Think Bolero/Vangelis and this is what you get.

United Kingdom: Blue – “I Can”

Finally, something to be proud of. The United Kingdom could win Eurovision again. This is the UK’s best chance since winning in 1997. After years of people saying that the UK should send an established act – here we have it. They can sing. They have the image. They have the stage presence and experience. They’ll go down well in Dusseldorf.

Estonia: Getter Jaani – “Rockerfeller Street”

Highly rated on lots of websites. A good bet in this year’s contest. Estonia wouldn’t surprise me by winning. The song really grows on you. It could look great on stage. How it comes across on TV will play a huge part it its success.

Norway: Stella Mwangi – “Haba Haba”

This song is addictive. Once heard it stays in your head, whether you like it or not. Norway could take the crown (but, she’ll have to hit some notes on the night and sway the juries). It doesn’t sound particularly Norweigan… But hey. It does sound more than a little reminiscent of Shakira’s World Cup 2010 anthem “Waka Waka”.

They are the five I’ll be keeping an eye on. Closely followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina, Poland and Hungary. It’s Eurovision and nothing can be discounted.

You may also like reading:

Eurovision: More than one night in May.

Bucks Fizz: 30 years since their victory.

French Adventures: The little paddle down the river that went wrong.

Dordogne River in Périgord

Dordogne River in Périgord

I don’t regard myself as a ‘outdoorsy person’, but from time to time I like to explore nature, go camping, trek and play ‘try’  different sports. That said I am a very good skier. That will be a story for another day.

When I first met Bas (my far-more-outdoorsy-partner) we went on holiday to France. OK, I must point out that we’d been together for less than 3 months and so I was agreeing to all wonderful ideas of adventures and exploration of the outdoor world. France was lovely.  So, here we were in France in the Dordogne. A stunning region that I’d never heard of before.

We stayed with some of Bas’ friends in a their converted farm. The house and outbuildings were amazing – There was even an outdoor swimming  pool. Holiday heaven! In the surrounding areas there were lots of quaint little towns and villages. We’d hired a car and went out daily exploring castles, ruins and French country roads. The weather was perfect! It really was fab!

Prior to our “canoe adventure” I thought:

  • It would be simple,
  • Paddling would be easy,
  • The river would be calm,
  • The French would be understanding.

We were proved very wrong!

We rented a canoe and specifically explained that we didn’t want to do a whole afternoon trip – but just some paddling about to ‘have-a-go’ and see if we liked it. Our French wasn’t good. Her English was not great either and Dutch and German wasn’t going to get us anywhere (Bas spoke both). After lots of hand gestures and swapping of money we had a canoe and life jackets. Good one!

Whilst happily paddling along the river, chatting away and taking in the scenery, we  were having a lovely time! It was very relaxing. My first canoe trip – I felt like an expert. OK, the initial paddling had taken some getting used to. Synchronisation is more tricky than you’d first think. After about 50 minutes we saw a guy in a canoe anchored in the middle of the river. He was taking photographs of canoeists passing by. We smiled – looking like professionals (of course) and then we moored? docked? (I really don’t know the canoeing words) to a shallow bank where we discovered a little wooden hut. Inside the hut, fitted with internet, a computer and a friendly lady, we purchased the photo that had just been taken. The wonders of modern technology. It was great to have a photo of us both in the canoe.

Here we are. Canoe experts!

Next came the big shock. We got into the canoe and planned on returning the way we had come. The water seemed calm. We’d given ourselves more than enough time to get back to our starting point. The current however was not gentle at all. While paddling against the current at full speed we kept our eyes on a tree on the river bank. It stayed put. We were paddling as hard as we could and going nowhere.

No matter how hard or how fast we tried to paddle there was absolutely no way we could make it back upstream. Ooops!

We had no choice but to go further down the river and find a place to stop. We found a road, some shops and civilisation. We got out of the canoe, pulled it ashore and thought of a plan. Bas called the friends that we were staying with. We had no way of contacting the canoe company (we didn’t have their number and we didn’t speak French). Our friends arranged with the canoe company to have someone come and pick us up. The whole story had been relayed. Oh the shame!

At this point I was laughing hysterically. I thought it was just the funniest thing. Bas however, had not given up smoking by this stage and was currently having sense-of-humour-failure!

A Frenchman arrived in a minibus. He didn’t look impressed. He was even less impressed when he realised that he was to take us and the canoe back. His mood just fuelled my giggled. So, here we sat – Bas and I on the front seat of the minibus. One angry French driver. One giggling Jamie (me) and one Bas poking me in the rips trying to get me to stop.

I love that day!

It’s one of my best memories ever!

An odd sign. Any ideas?

Here’s a photo from my vault of holiday snaps. I saw this a few years ago in a small cafe in France while I was enjoying a skiing holiday. The sign was stuck to the radiator pipe. I have no idea what previous customers had been bringing into the place.

What does it mean?