Thursday, June 29, 2023

City Break - Bordeaux

Bordeaux, France. Various dates over Monday 12-June-2023 to Friday 30-June-2023.

This was our second bonus city break after Edinburgh, courtesy of the yoga and wild swimming retreat that we had booked in the Dordogne. The retreat ran from Thursday to Thursday. The flights times and dates from Bari to Bordeaux and Bordeaux to Edinburgh were such that we spent a total of five nights in Bordeaux spread over three visits with plenty of time to explore and get a real feel for the city. We did a bicycle tour, a river cruise, a visit to the wine museum, lots of walking around and ate and drank fine food and wines.

On the first visit we walked round the city centre to orient ourselves including a visit to the impressive Gothic revival Église Saint-Louis des Chartrons.

Classic stained glass rose window.

Our route into town and back took us along the picturesque Rue Notre Dame. Much of the old town was walkable as traffic was limited to residents and service vehicles hence the streets were very quiet.

In the afternoon we went on a river cruise with bi-lingual commentary. We learned more about Bordeaux's long association with the English, the growth of the wine trade and the early 20th century re-invention of Bordeaux (industry moved out of town, gentrification of warehouses, huge investment in transport infrastructure, jet-wash cleaning all the lovely stone buildings). 

The water is murky not because of pollution but because the river Garonne is still tidal at this point and the sediment doesn't get a chance to settle.

The lifting bridge is an impressive piece of elegant engineering to allow taller vessels to pass upstream.

In the evening we discovered an excellent place for wine tasting with food, Le Sobre Chartrons

They had around 20 wines in a temperature controlled dispenser. You bought a pre-loaded card and then chose your wine and quantity. Put your glass under the appropriate spout and you could chose a measure of 30, 60 or 120 ml. We majored on Bordeaux whites, when in Bordeaux...

On our second visit we did a great bicycle tour with Monsieur Bacchus which took us all over the city.

The Jardin Public is an English style garden including the national botanical museum, originally a botanical laboratory. Here the well-travelled Angus from Australia, but currently settled in Bordeaux, is explaining the history of the English connection with Bordeaux.

Roman amphitheatre in the middle of the city.

Old barracks repurposed as the Darwin eco-system: hybrid space committed to the defence of the environment including co-working spaces, a business incubator, restaurants, shops and a café.

Old wine warehouses repurposed as ateliers. We were close to our hotel here and the café at the far end of this alley was our usual breakfast stop.

One of the old gates to the city.

A feature of Bordeaux - spires built separately from the church partly as a demonstration of wealth and partly because of the marshy ground they were built on.

Back on foot we discovered the Basilica of St. Michael a "flamboyant gothic" church with a fancy pulpit.

Modern windows to replace the destruction caused by World War II bombing.

After all that sightseeing we needed lunch. Mary found an excellent bistro nearby Ô Saint Michel; great food, fantastic value for money.

On our last visit following the retreat we managed to fit in a visit to Cité du Vin wine museum which is on the edge of town. You could spend hours there learning so much about wines all around the world. A fun feature was the smell-o-vision gallery where you could test your aroma identification skills.

A great find for lunch was the Les Halles Bacalan food hall just across the road which was full of French office workers on their lunch break.

There were dozens of street food stalls to chose from; we went Japanese.

Our last night in Bordeaux was spent at an excellent hotel Kyriad Merignac Aeroport conveniently a couple of tram stops from the airport. Simple Travelodge-style, clean and with a quiet air-con unit. 

Mary tracked down a small, highly rated restaurant nearby, Le Bistrô, with a friendly proprietor, Jennie, and excellent food. Mary started with an artisanal beer made locally by a friend of the owner and we sampled a good selection of wines by the glass.

The menu was short (always a good sign), classically French and excellent value at €26.50 for three courses.

Next morning it off to the airport, back to Bari and home.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Yoga and Wild Swimming in the Dordogne

Dordogne, France. Thursday/Thursday 22/29-June-2023.

My first ever yoga retreat after 46 years of doing yoga. I was a little apprehensive, thinking it might be a bit lentils and brown rice and rather serious. As it turned out, it was much more hedonistic than I was expecting. 

It is true that most days there were about four hours of yoga: hatha yoga in the morning and yin yoga late afternoon plus some breathing exercises, but in between times it was more about relaxing and sunbathing and swimming in the lake. In the evening, we ate well and reasonable quantities of wine were consumed. 

There were also trips to nearby villages for a Sunday market and lunch, a small music event and a local wine producer to sample his wares.

The classes were held in a Gîte by a lake. We also had our meals there.

Our gîte was 10 minutes walk from the main house and lake.

We drew the lucky straw and got the most spacious bedroom.

Quirky staircase up to our room.

The walk to the main house went through some lovely woodland and past some tame sheep with a resident dog.

It was a Pyrenean Mountain Dog - a livestock guardian dog - who lives in the field with the sheep to protect them from wolves, bears and us, barking almost every day as we walked past.

Our teacher, Dawn, and Bonnie who had misunderstood downward dog.

The lake at dawn. Mary got up every morning for a pre-class swim.

As we were out in unspoiled countryside we saw lots of wildlife, highlights were a short-tailed eagle, a pine marten and a kingfisher. No pictures because they move too fast.

Friday 23rd we went to nearby Saint-Aulaye-Puymangou for a local music concert. A couple of bands were doing a tour of local villages. 

We went along for a listen and a pre-dinner drink.

The second act was using a tape loop sampling North African style music.

Sunday 25th we went to Aubeterre-sur-Dronne for Sunday lunch preceded by a wander round local shops and a market of artisanal crafts and food. I love the phonetic spelling of antique which puts me in mind of Shakespeare "How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself, as I perchance hereafter shall think meet to put an antic disposition on" Hamlet.

Monday 26th we were back to Saint-Aulaye-Puymangou to visit Florent Lagrenaudie, a local wine producer, Histoire de Cep.  He might fall into the category of Garagiste winemaker - a group of winemakers in the Bordeaux region, producing "vins de garage", "garage wine" who emerged in the mid-1990s in reaction to the traditional style of red Bordeaux wine.

We tasted three wines and bought two: a white "L'envol" a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon blanc, and a red "Espelida" a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

A man not afraid to buy used oak casks and re-use them. Personally I was never convinced about using 100% new oak: it’s expensive and risks overshadowing the grape itself.

One morning a couple of the girls went skinny dipping and Mary persuaded them to do a Calendar Girls shot. It's brilliant.

That meant a full team photo had to follow a few days later. As photographer I had to hide behind a bush, eyes averted until I was give the all clear to turn round.

Amazingly Mary, a complete yoga novice, took part in every session bar one and surprised herself with an attention span longer than her normal 20 minutes.

My background is Iyengar and Hatha yoga so it was interesting to try Yin yoga and some breathing techniques with a bit of philosophical background thrown in.

A week of yoga, wild swimming, wildlife and friendship in the Dordogne. A unique and enriching experience in so many ways.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

City Break - Edinburgh

Edinburgh, Scotland. Friday/Sunday 16/18-June-2023.

This was a bonus city break, prompted by the need to pop back to the UK for a couple of appointments. We had flights booked to Bordeaux for a yoga and wild swimming retreat and then decided to precede it with this trip back to the UK. As we thought the airline (not renowned for their flexibility) would likely not agree to changing our flights into a triangular trip we ended up flying to Bordeaux, staying one night and then flying on to Edinburgh.

Despite passing through Edinburgh, we went back there again halfway through our week in the UK to do this city break. This was mainly in aid of parkrun synchronisation: last August Mary did Holyrood parkrun while I was laid up in bed recovering from Covid. We had tickets to see Ian McKellen and a non-refundable hotel booking so Mary went on her own and did Holyrood the following morning. 

This visit, on Friday night, we dined again at the excellent 56 North with their extensive gin menu. The only downside of this place is the time it takes to choose the gin.

The good weather allowed a sprawl out into the streets, continental style. The menu was shorter than we were used to (because of the increased covers) but was still good.

Parkrun in Scotland starts at 9:30 instead of 9:00 unlike England, Wales and the rest of Europe. As she had already done the course and knew about the elevation profile, Mary offered to be a volunteer. We were joined by her sister Sandra who is also now into parkrun tourism. We were early enough that I was able to help set up the finish funnel and get a volunteer credit as well as running.

Mary sporting yet another new pair of colourful Tikiboo leggings. She chose them to match the volunteers’ orange hi-viz forgetting that Marshalls get pink ones!

In the afternoon, we booked a guided Old Town and Underground Historical Tour. Very interesting to see the underground streets of old Edinburgh; guide Alistair was both very informative and amusing.

An evening of curry and beer in the southside of Edinburgh. First a long overdue curry - they are just not available in Puglia! Nearby Solti was a good choice, Nepalese, aromatic & tasty. 

Then a short pub crawl (two pubs) just away from the main streets in the area. First was Steel Coulson Southside, apparently a new pub, interesting range of craft beers to try. 

Then a real gem of Victoriana, Leslies Bar. Good beers and stunning interiors, friendly staff and locals. we sat in the spit 'n' sawdust side with wooden floors for workers. The carved gantry behind the barman used to hold whisky casks and stills hold an original Bryson clock (renowned Edinburgh clock maker 1808 - 1852).

The other side was where the toff's went and had their drinks served through hatches in the bar. 

Our accommodation was comfortable enough but not matching the room description which included “views over the back garden”.

This was the view out of our window! There were no staff so we couldn’t request a change.

Sunday, it was back to Penrith for business as usual until the following Tuesday when we caught the train up to Edinburgh and flew back down to Bordeaux to pick up where we left off.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Crown Failure and Extraction UL7

Penrith, Cumbria. Wednesday 14-June-2023.

While we were in Italy one of my crowns started to wobble and then fell off completely. Fortunately we were due to return to the UK the following week and my dental practice was able to squeeze in an emergency appointment. 

My teeth happen to be well documented because my longtime dentist Professor Raj K Raja Rayan OBE, now retired, was also a dental lecturer. One time I went for a visit and my x-rays were on the board with a big letter A. It turned out that he had used them as an exam question and asked the candidates what their assessment and treatment might be. One wag joked, “I’d pull them all out and start again!”

He also used my teeth in a presentation on crowns, which is how I came to know the dates of every single crown in my head. This one was UL7, the gold crown top left (right in photo) at the back fitted in 1994.

When I got to the dentist it was obvious that it was going to be an extraction, which I was not looking forward to, as there was nothing left above gum level. However the dentist did a wonderful job. He trisected the tooth and extracted each root separately, so it all went very smoothly. 

I showed him this picture of my teeth complete with dates, including the fact that this crown was nearly 30 years old. “That’s older than me!” he exclaimed. So it’s not just policeman who are getting younger.


Friday, June 02, 2023

Parkrun Tourism Part 07 - 2023 Episode 01

All over the place. January-April 2023.

A busy year added 7 more venues in the first four months of 2023 (showing location, date, my time and number of participants) bringing my total to 50 unique locations. Normally I wait to the end of the year to blog our tourism but this milestone is worth its own post.

This year so far, taking me up to event number 50.

  • Ford
  • Gateshead
  • Cleethorpes
  • Victoria Dock
  • Ruchill
  • Monsal Trail
  • York

Again as last year we had a flurry of touristing whilst we are in the UK which slows down as we return to Italy for the summer.

Ford 01/01/2023. 30:56 [44 / 77]

Staying at our timeshare in Ambleside Ford parkrun was a bit of a drive since we had already done our local Rothay Park the day before. Jolly crowd from many different locations, including a group from Litchfield we had met on New Year's Eve at Rothay Park.

Three and a half laps, muddy and hilly.

First outing also for Mary's brightly coloured new leggings, inspired by a friend who loves this brand (Tikiboo).

Starting off the year right!

Gateshead. 07/01/2023. 30:51 [99 / 177]

Our second attempt (cancelled in December due to ice). Very wet and typically stopped raining as we finished! Friendly crowd and volunteers. More compliments for Mary's new leggings. 

Four laps with some inclines:

Nice cafe in the park for coffee afterwards, buzzing with the noise of happy runners.

Cleethorpes. 13/01/2023. 30:13 [75 / 132]

We were at Skeggy (Skegness) for the Great British Rock & Blues Festival 2023. Sadly Skegness Boating Lake parkrun is no more so we had to get up bright and early. For those unacquainted with parkrun challenges one of them is "Pirates" where you run Seven seas and an Arrgh! (seven parkrun beginning with C and one beginning R) hence the fancy dress.

We made the mistake of parking in the Tesco carpark to use their loos and had a very brisk 20 minute walk to the start. We arrived just as the Run Director went "3, 2, 1, Go!" and off they went. I started running and threw my coat over the nearest bench as I passed.

Three anticlockwise laps of the country park lake.

These are our full pirates venues:

It is not mandatory to wear pirate costume but we liked the idea. The RD (Run Director) was a great sport and joined in the fun.

Achievement unlocked, me hearties.

Victoria Dock. 25/02/2023. 28:36 [144 / 216]

We were in London for a friend's birthday celebration. Lots of parkrun choices but it had to be Victoria Dock for a V and a free cable car ride!

An out-and-back twice, nice and flat.

The cable car was reported to be free if you show your barcode but nobody checked and it was hardly necessary, who else would be up at that time on a Saturday dressed in running gear!

There have been some issues in the past with lack of toilets but the security men at the O2 helpfully directed us a set hidden down a side alley near the Tesco Express on the way from North Greenwich to the cable car:

Ruchill. 04/03/2023. 29:48 [74 / 133]

Sandra, Mary's sister, has got the parkrun tourism bug and we often join her as there are a number within striking distance of her home near Glasgow. 

Just under three laps. Scenic but not too hilly! 

A lovely sunny day with good turnout - lots of tourists. 

Monsal Trail. 22/04/2022. 28:27 [68 / 135]

We were back from Italy for a walking holiday in the UK with friends. Bakewell was chosen largely because it has a parkrun. On Saturday morning we didn't want to risk delays with the bus so we had a brisk warm up walk out to the course.

As it was the 22nd (two-two day) we wore our tutus. We had to explain it to the RD and helpfully she told the crowd so we did not get too many funny looks.

The course runs along an old railway line so inevitably a simple out and back. Lovely and scenic with virtually no elevation gain. Later that week we went for a long walk in the opposite direction so we have now walked the whole length of the Monsal Trail.

York. 29/04/2023. 27:20 [301 / 607]

This weekend city break was specifically planned to get a Y for our alphabet. I had never been to York which everyone tells me is a lovely city - and so it was. Mary sporting more colourful Tikiboo leggings called "More Bloody Skulls"!

The course is one and a half laps on a path running just inside the race track.

On the way back into York centre we popped into a local cafe which was doing a roaring trade in bacon butties. Almost everyone who came in, including us, ordered one. That plus a cuppa was an excellent post run snack. The menu prompted a typical Pythonesque response - 🎵 Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam... 🎵

That evening we had an excellent meal: Matching Food and Wine at Pairings Wine Bar - definitely recommended.

Addendum: The full list from previous years.

Parkrun Tourism Part 01 - 2017

  • Tooting Common
  • Malahide
  • Eglinton
  • Penrith
  • Bournemouth
  • Linwood

Parkrun Tourism Part 02 - 2018

  • Grangemoor
  • Salento
  • Wimbledon Common
  • Reigate Priory
  • Troon
  • Bicester
  • Fulham Palace

Parkrun Tourism Part 03 - 2019

  • Caffarella
  • Richmond Park
  • Clapham Common
  • Old Deer Park
  • Belloluogo
  • Moors Valley
  • Dean Castle Country Park

Parkrun Tourism Part 04 - 2020

  • Eastleigh
  • Skegness
  • Letchworth
  • Poolbeg
  • Bushy Park
  • Tyne Green

Parkrun Tourism Part 05 - 2021

  • Workington
  • Crichton
  • Mole Valley
  • Morecambe Prom

Parkrun Tourism Part 06 - 2022

  • Rothay Park (Mark only)
  • Talkin Tarn
  • Mura di Lucca
  • Keswick
  • Queen's Glasgow
  • Holyrood (Mary only)
  • Milano Nord
  • Ayr
  • Fell Foot
  • Clapham Common (Mary's first time)
  • Erskine Waterfront
  • Chopwell Wood
  • Carlisle
  • Windy Nook
  • Rothay Park (Mary's first time)