Archive | September 2012

Day 11: Fail

OK so today has been a bit of a write-off. I woke up feeling lethargic and tired. To be fair I have been working hard and the last two days I did two long and quite difficult bits of exercise.

That’s not the only reason nothing really happened today. FH wanted to join me on a cycle so I ended up waiting for her, and the weather wasn’t looking too great, but I could have gotten away with it (and would have) in the morning had she been ready. At 2pm I finally convinced her to do something. The idea was that I’d cycle to Nevache to get bread and then when I came back we’d stick the bikes in the car and head off to Briançon to cycle around there.

Everything conspired to prevent this from happening. I did cycle to the bakery and back (my legs felt so tired coming back up the hill). But as soon as I got on the bike it started raining. When I got to the bakery it was closed and I had pedalled a bit hard trying to get there ahead of the rain. As the bakery wouldn’t be open for another 30 mins I headed back. You can have a look at my pathetic map and stats for today:

We then head off to Briançon in the hope that it was less rainy there. The car’s battery had gone dead, so we spent a fun few minutes pushing it (there are some advantages to living on a hill after all). When we got there, having thought all along that she had forgotten her gloves (she hadn’t) we realised she had forgotten her helmet. We decided the fates were against us. While we were there FH was determined to go to this amazing ice-cream shop before it closed for the winter:

Genuine Italian gelato shop. Nom nom nom nom nom

Where she treated us to an ice-cream each. Mine was pistachio and fig (nom nom). So not only have I not done any exercise today but I’ve also pigged out on delicious gelato. I officially fail.

Mind you it’s been going well the last few days. Maybe I deserve a wee day off. I do genuinely feel very tired.

So, sorry folks – back on the horse tomorrow.


Day 10: Into The Black Forrest!


Today the weather wasn’t looking great so I decided if I was going to anything it would be another hike. It was raining in the morning so I sat it out, doing a load of revisions and citations in my PhD commentary to pass the time.

ooooh dramatic mist

After lunch it was looking better so I decided to make a break for it. I had espied on the map another high path along the valley on the opposite side to the path I had taken the other day. It looked exciting, I had already walked part of the way on my Constitutional the other day and I remember seeing the turning and thinking it would be cool to go up there.

oooh dramatic river

The turning away from the forrest path I had taken the other day

I worked out on the map that it would be a good 2 hours walk, but there was also an exciting fork which would take me up to the summit of one of the mountains. I definitely would have taken this today – the path comes down into Nevache and would have been a fantastic walk. I was certainly up for it physically.

The walk ended up being really nice. The valley was overcast in the only way a valley can be at this altitude – whispy, mysterious fogs dripping off the bleak landscape. I was in a great mood for walking and the climb, while bringing me out in a sweat, wasn’t too challenging.

The name of the route was “Le Bois Noir” (The Black Wood) which entertained me, particularly as the moody, dramatic weather made it all very Tolkien. The woods are mainly pine (or similar) and I could glimpse the valley below me through the trees.

oooh dramatic. Where’s the big bad wolf today?

At one point I noticed a huge dry river bed running through the valley that I hadn’t seen before. This really is an odd place!

Big dry river bed carving its way through the valley

I was about 200m from the fork that would have taken me up to the summit when the skies opened up. I quickly got completely soaked and it began to dawn on me that my nice wind-proof jacket wasn’t actually that waterproof. Fearing for my iPhone, I arranged to be picked up by ma mére when I got to the road, which would otherwise have been a 15 minute walk from home.

Round about this point it started pissing it down.

Altogether though a great walk :)

Don’t take the stats too seriously – I must declare the last 9km on the map to be a car ride (I was too scared to take my iPhone out for fear of getting it wetter than it already was. I also took a 5 minute shower when I got back before I remembered to stop the Cyclemeter app.

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Day 9: Mounting confidence

Day 9? Really? Already? Ok today it’s going to be a bit boring I’m afraid. I didn’t have much time to go cycling – it would have been nice to whizz down to Briançon (15km downhill most of the way) but I would have needed someone to take me back – I’m not that good yet. Also work is mounting up – beginning to feel like this:

So today we’re just going to do a simple trip to plampinet like we did yesterday.

HOWEVER! That’s not what we did. I wrote that before we head off. In fact we got down to plampinet and, in a rare moment of carpe diem, I suggested we went all the way down to Les Alberts, as we had done on the first day. I decided suddenly that I could take it.

The obligatory bike-resting-against -plampinet sign pic while I wait for ma mére to catch up

And I did take it, I took it so hard… that is to say.. um. I kicked it’s big hairy arse.

It was a beautiful day and we whizzed down the valley – my bike seems a little faster than la Harpie de food’s, or it may just be because my hulk of a body can build up momentum, either way I zoomed off with a fastest speed of 64km/hour (according to my phone’s cyclometer). We even went a little further actually into Les Alberts where there were some cute donkeys and a nice crumbly church.

A few things conspired to make the experience much better, especially on the way up – 1) my fitness has improved quite a lot since being here, 2) the totally awesome bike which I love to bits (it’s the best thing since sliced iPhone and my new toy) 3) on the way down FH reccomended thinking of it as “lifting the knees” rather than pushing down on the pedals. This made an enormous difference to how I felt and the tension in my legs. The big muscles at the top of the legs are so much better for powering the bike. 4) toe clips, which kept my feet in line and helped me to develop a better cadence. There are few things which motivate me more to doing well at sport than actually working on technique. I love figuring out the mechanics of it, and it makes it all so much easier to do.


On the way up it was nowhere near as challenging as the first day and I actively enjoyed it right up to the home run from Plampinet, when I started to get a bit tired. Nevertheless, a great effort and I’m so glad to have buried those particular demons. I think I could possibly have managed more in fact. This morning we were considering to Briançon and back and now I feel a bit more up to the challenge (also I totally want to take some pictures in that direction – the scenery there will blow your mind, especially if you’re into Tolkien).

A sign in Les Alberts

Here’s the route as recorded by the brilliant Cyclemeter app:

If you follow my twitter stream you can get this and more stats as I exercise (providing I remember to switch it on).

Other stats:

Stats from Cyclemeter

Altogether a great day!

I would like to give a shout-out to another blog. My friend The Lucky Ladybird makes really beautiful mainly-sushi-inspired crafty things. She’s recently brought out an awesome sushi handbag. Check it ooouuuuuuuuuut!:

Also – didn’t have room to put all the pics, here they are in gallery form:

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Day 8: Le Velo de la Joie


La boulangerie de Nevache

This is backdated I’m afraid – I had a long and busy day yesterday. The day started with the exciting tryout of the Cannondale road bike we had borrowed from the shop the day before. It was a fantastic ride – first we head to Nevache to the bakery and to try the bike out on the flat. Then we were back to the house with some new bread and the plan from then on was to do some of the same route we took with the Vehicle of Abject Torture.

Ma mère le harpie de la nourriture.

So we set off to Plampinet (the village I had previously stopped at on the last trip). On the way down the Cannondale was just wonderful to ride – zooming along down a 4-5˚ descent. Brakes worked well and it was a lovely day for a cycle.

Plampinet is a beautiful little village with an hotel and just about nothing else

The bike is Carbon-based, 54″ frame with a Shimano break system and Shimano 105 gears (3-7). It’s 10.9 kilos – incredibly light. Carbon is apparently a little less durable but does make the bike really springy and responsive. I’m totally in love with it and want to have it’s babies.

The road is long and dramatic and cool

What to say about the rest of the ride? On the way up it was hard going but by no means as hard as it was with the Vehicle of Abject Torture. I managed it with a couple of stops and on the ascent up to the house, even managed to get up most of an 8˚ slope before I had to get off and walk.

Some random fat loser with a bike that’s too good for him

Plampinet :)

We did stop in an interesting place – it looked like there had been a huge wind but in fact it was the site of snow avalanche the previous year. The snow had come down over the road and completely blocked up the stream. All of the trees on the other side of the road had been flattened by the force of the wind that was pushed ahead of the avalanche. It was pretty impressive!

on the left (a gauche): the avalanche site, on the right (a droigt): The trees having a bit of a lie down (not my best pic sorry)

nice river that got blocked by an avalanche last year

After that it was a trip to Briançon, where for my 32nd birthday present, ma mére bought me the bike :) Hurrah!

the way back to Nevache

The rest of the day was spent moving stuff for a friend of the Food Harpy which = more exercise and hard work. Finally we finished the day with a slap up real Italian pizza meal in a lovely restaurant in Bardonnechia, an Italian town about 15 miles from our house over the col d’Echelle.

Day 7: Constitutional part deux et un peu des nouvelles

My Franglais is coming on I think. Today I had planned to possibly go for a longer walk – there is another path on the opposite side of the valley quite like the one I used yesterday but about double the length and truly a forest path. When I took a constitutional down the side of the river I had just passed the turning to take me on that path when I had to turn back.

bridge over la riviere de la Clarée

I was going to do that, however there was some confusion with timing and The Grumblies. Instead I had a morning completing the collection of my Bibliography and started to format it. I am deeply out of touch with these things – my PhD has been mostly composition and comparatively little academic writing so I’ve sent it off to my supervisor to check and give me some advice. I took out the first score for editing (the next job) but instead decided to get at least an hour’s walk in before lunch.

Abandoned ski lift :) I’ve been playing too much Fallout

So I took the path on the other side of the Clarée that goes down the valley towards the village of Nevache. I’d been along this path before on ski-du-fond (nordic) skis as it’s a popular piste every year (not long until I’ll do that again!).

Bridge over the… stream

I knew it to be beautiful and mainly flat so I set of at a brisk pace to get the old heart rate up. The weather was un peu du vent and it was a bit dark but it ended up being a very pretty walk. The autumnal colours are out now and the sun came out a bit towards the end.

mmm valley

There ended up being a nice gentle-ish climb which did challenge me a bit. Mostly to be honest I enjoyed the views and thought about a possible fun project that i might get going if I ever get bored (watch this space).

mmmmmmmmm mountain

So that’s that for today – about an hour 15 mins in all, nothing special, if there can be such a thing in this beautiful place.

nice berry tree

BUT! There’s more. The grumbles dragged me to Briançon this afternoon. I wasn’t quite sure why until we got to a bike shop and FH saw a sweet looking Cannondale road bike on sale. I had a go on it – it’s super light and responsive. It looks like it might be my “32nd birthday” and “finished PhD” gift, which would be awesome.

On that though- Les grumblements (I know, not proper french) had an argument over price in the shop. I should point something out. I feel completely spoilt to be out here, and completely spoilt by les grumbleires. To the point of feeling a bit sick really. I don’t consider myself materialistic, and I do feel guilty spending lots of money at a time. For a long time I was extremely poor and had to rake it in by taking up to 8 jobs at a time (freelancing). The world les grumblierementemanemants inhabit is a very different one to that which I’m used to. It’s nice to have a break and some fantasy for a while.

What the grumblies want, especially ma mere le harpy de la nouriture is to see me fit and healthy again and the best I can do is endeavour to live up to that promise. I’ve been given a good chance out here – in many ways I feel like I’m staying at a health farm, which is what I need now.

So, guilt aside, the bike is pretty damn awesome. We borrowed it to try it out tomorrow (which we will be doing first thing) so I guess that is my exercise for tomorrow sorted out. I had a practice earlier just before dinner – a 15 minute trek down the road from the house. It was great fun on the way down – the bike is super light and responsive. I had trouble getting used tothe gear mechanism though, and there were some alarming bumps. I’ve never had such a good bike and am unused to having the thin road bike tires. On the way back I got really out of breath but at least not despondent.

Anyway more on that tomorrow. Excited!


Day 6: Les Balcons de Nevache

Yesterday was really productive – I managed to finish the second draft of my commentary (19,500 words, 51 pages), formatted and sent off to my supervisor. It’s a great feeling and now I’ve been working steadily on the next stage – the Bibliography. On that note – Zotero and the British Library are FTW.

It was threatening rain today but I had been told by Grumble Meister that there’s a nice path up and along the mountain right above the chalet. Food Harpy had gone off for the day for a natter and shopping with one of her friends so after some serious bibliography and lunch I packed a bag and headed out for a walk.

It was a lot of effort on the way up – a really steep ascent through trees. I was sweating buckets.

There were a lot of trees fallen across the path – I would not like to be up there on a windy day!

Hulk Smash.

The path forked at one point, with a beautiful view of the next valley. Next time I’ll take that path I think, although it’s quite a lot longer and harder (I can take it).

It’s a mountain… It’s called…. Gah I really need to learn this stuff


The path then zig-zagged through the trees and up the side of the mountain and I emerged onto the aptly-named “Balcons” – the view of the valley was breathtaking. The path was on a steep descent (about 60-70 degrees)

Peek-a-boo with mountains is fun

Gnarly Trees!

It felt like I was stepping out into a huge space like a cavern. I then carried on along the path and came out at the top of the chamberlet ski-lift, where a couple of days ago I had walked to Nevache.

Mmm beautiful view

The sun then started to come out and it turned into a beautiful day. The walk came in around 1 hour 45 mins. While that doesn’t seem much there was a steep ascent (401 feet – when I was at the swimming pool the other day Food Harpy pointed out that I was swimming just below the summit of Ben Nevis (1,344m above sea level)).

The rock on the way to Nevache

In case you’re wondering, by the way, I take all my photos on an iPhone 4S. I think that, for what it is, it can take a beautiful picture and at a reasonable resolution. There is a slight problem in that light does creep in at the sides and in high light levels the picture can look washed out. You can counter this by hacking the autofocus feature a bit – if you choose different focusses the exposure automatically changes.


I try not to doctor photos usually but today was a bit of an exception – the light wasn’t great – bright but also white. I’d like to be able to take really good photos in RAW format but a good camera is just a bit too expensive for me at the moment.

The path crossed an old landslide which caused some dramatic grooves

Still, I am in a perfect place for it.

One of these chalets is home :)

Day 5: Swimming!

Not unfortunately anywhere glamorous. Last night we had a really beautiful red sunset (see above – nom!) . As a result I think today it is fair bucketing it down outside.

Yeah way to rain on my parade The Process of Condensation and Precipitation.

Yuck. It’s very dramatic – we’ve had thunder and lightning and had to unplug the electronics. So today we packed our trunks and headed to the local swimming pool in Briançon with the requisite trumpety-trump (which I ascribe to last night’s bean soup).

The pool was quite nice – there was a four-lane 25m adult pool with a graded depth and starting blocks on the deep end. I’m more used to a uniform pool so was quite surprised to hit the bottom of the shallow end. There’s also a fun pool with a strong current course, a couple of fountains (one under, one over), a jacuzzi bench and little jacuzzi “booths” with bubbles shooting out around back height. There were also water slides, but I think I’m a bit too big at the moment to enjoy them.

So swimming is something I love doing, and am getting quite good at. I’ve been working on my technique for a while and am currently working on my front crawl roll and stroke, and trying to get my head down more while breathing. As I’ve said however, I am horribly unfit at the moment so I could only do two lengths at a time (my best so far is 6 – I used to do 5 sets of 6 front crawl as a workout and 30 odd more breast stroke). I’m a bit out of practice so my arms burned for the first few laps but got into a more easy pace after a while. There are some issues with my breast stroke that I need to work out too, specifically my head position and my flick. I used to be able to do breast stroke pretty constantly but that was before I learned some technique and now I need to improve a bit more to make it easier.

Usefully there were floats as well. The pool was pretty busy and stressful though. On my left was a lane of about 10 people all doing butterfly, a class I think. On my right were the slow-caoches practicing with floats as well as (oddly!) someone swimming with huge flippers and a snorkel. I couldn’t decide if he was practicing for an island trip, or practising the body shapes of the butterfly stroke. Others were practicing their kick with flippers as well.

I got 45 mins or so in before heading to the fun pool for a relax and then out. All in all about an hour and 10 mins.

As we were getting out of the pool I noticed a load of french wifeys hauling exercise bikes into the pool. This is something I have never seen! Whoever thought of exercising by cycling underwater, I want to shake their hand. They win my “lunatic of the week” prize…

On the way back the sun had come out and rain had stopped. While it had ben busy raining in Nevache, it appears that on top of the mountains it had been snowing, and we could see white peaks behind the wispy clouds.

I am totally looking forward to ski season!

I can see clearly now the ra- oh wait no I can’t.

Day 4: Constitutional

Today I woke up having slept a little better and more up for things, although a little headachy. I had earmarked today for a work day as I desperately need to get on with the end of my PhD. However there seems to be a never-ending list of chores and diversions at the chalet and I spent the morning helping to move two heavy sofa-beds around. Lunch was a light affair of a little cheese-on-toast and tomato salad.

Walks for the afternoon were discussed but I was anxious to get to work now and didn’t want longer than an hour walk. When FH talks about “short” I know that to mean at least 2 hours, which is way to long to allow me to do work (although I would be happy to walk for that long). My plan from now on in is to restrict longer activities to the morning so I have some time to work in the afternoon, assuming there are no chores.

In the end I decided to take an hour long (exactly, as timed by my faithful friend Siri) walk down the valley by the river Clarée (we live in la Vallée de la Clarée). It was yet another beautiful day with no wind and blazing sunshine so it was worth it. I do love hiking and wish I’d done it more while in York. It’s not half as pretty there though.

On my way down I met a wee spider with a red-with-white-spots torso and white spots on its legs. It was quite cute, but might have been poisonous.

Super powers? No? (tried to get a better picture but no luck)

The path, once it had left the commune, followed the river down. I had traversed this path before both on foot and on skis, as this and a lot of paths and roads round here are converted to ski-du-fond tracks in the winter.

The Clarée is a fast-flowing brook, beautifully clear and with some dramatic flint-like rock along the sides. There was some beach and a bridge leading over into “la fôret”. I had a good walk through “les arbres” on a nice rubble patch before my phone beeped to tell me to head back.

Bridge over the river Clarée

I recorded “la route” on my mobile but unfortunately I wiped it by mistake. I’ll start doing that properly soon so they can go up here. I have a great app called “Cyclometer”.

La rue de la fôret

On the way back I passed by a cage of wolf-hounds – these are bred for the winter when the owner makes money providing sled-rides. They’re magnificent to look at.

Niice mountain

Just another nice pic

That’s it for today. Back to the PhD.

Day 3: Day off :S

Last night I was feeling super tired and a bit ill. It’s hard to acclimatise to the altitude I think and I hadn’t been sleeping terribly well. We did go for a wonderful real Italian pizza in Bardonecchia, which is a beautiful Italian town about 18 miles away over the col d’echelle, which is a beautiful pass over the mountain, and something I have earmarked for a cycle adventure at some point (The climb down into Italy is breath-takingly dramatic!). The pizzeria was loud, badly lit and had a TV playing and tacky games outside. A true Italian pizzeria in fact and the amazing food was well worth it.

As was the coffee afterwords, however I think this didn’t help me to sleep and I lay in bed awake until about 4am. Today is a write-off as a result, I am a complete zombie, and I’ve been saved from exercize by a bout of rain. Instead we went to the local town Briançon, where I was left to explore while FH and GM went to help a friend move house.

Briançon is a charming town built around an old French military fort. It has many pretty buildings and shops. We visited my favourite bakery, in which you can see the baker working at a deep stone oven (see below)

La Boulengerie de Briançon

I also went on my own to a bike shop to see what they had to replace the vehicle of abject torture. My French was truly tested through this ordeal and I spoke maybe 50% French and English at the very patient assistant. I’m pretty sure at one point I said “parle-vouz un peu de Angleterre?”. Doh. He insisted I wanted a mountain bike but I was sure I didn’t. There were a couple of possibles though – a nice looking La Pierre carbon-based road bike and a part-aluminium Cannondale that were my size.

I also visited a bookshop to see if there was anything that might help my stumbling progress at “la langue francais” – lots of possibles including an interesting looking novel about someone with Alzheimers. I thought maybe comics would be a good idea but according to les ainés they are too colloquial to be of use. Any suggestions welcome!

Finally I sat outside a French cafe, drinking espresso and calmly working on a poem. I tried to complete the cliche, but there were no turtle-necks, berets or cigarillos to hand.

Day 2:Walking to the Bakery

Yes yes, I know what it sounds like. It’s not what you think. A) they haven’t even heard of Greggs out here and B) it’s actually quite a long walk…

View of the chalet from the top of the chamberlet ski lift area

So while Food Harpie and Grumble Meister (after a lengthy and dramatic scene in which I was denied a small handful of granola with my cereal) were dealing with grown-up house-building things I was tasked with walking down to Nevache (about 3 miles away by road) which I was happy to do, because there’s a really beautiful scenic route you can take from our back door, up the chamberlet ski lift area, and across the foothills of the mountains that surround the valley. There’s no path and a fair amount of scrambling but it’s worth it for the views.

Nice gnarly tree on the way up

I was stiff and achey and had a sore bum from yesterday’s trials but was not to be deterred.

The effort of climbing was and scrambling was nice and easy and made it relatively slow going. As I was moving on I accidentally startled two dear out of the bushes and saw a pair of foxes from a way off. The sun is absolutely gorgeous today and I picked up a good burn.

View from the top of the rock

There’s a dramatic looking rock that sticks up above the town of Nevache. It looks beautiful from afar and I was determined to climb it, which I did. It has lovely views. The town of Nevache is small and higglety-pigglety in that wonderful way rural French towns are and has a beautiful church at its core.

View of Névache from the rock

Beautiful local church

Trouble with this place, camera (well, iPhone) rarely leaves my hand…

After that I gradually climbed down into Nevache. The first part of my journey had taken an hour. I got to the boulangerie and ordered “deux pain le blanche sil-vous-plait” and on the spur of the moment “un pot de la confiture d’abricots”. The bread at this boulangerie is some of the most beautiful bread I’ve ever tasted – far and away better than anything you can get in the UK.


I stuck these things under my arm and took the road back to the chalet, which took 30 mins or so. All in all, 1 hour 30 minutes is a good bit of exercise for one day.

The kids in Névache are very talented, and from a young age are taught to levitate.