The Flat Olympics

Morning all! We had a bit of a day out on Wednesday and someone special joined us. Remember I took a friend skiing over winter and then on another bright beautiful day we took her to see the highest point in the Alps to get up close and personal with Mt Blanc?

Yup Flat Ruthie is back in style my friends !

Considering we got up out and early, Ruthie is looking pretty perky for the journey, it may be the espresso or it might be the tickets into the Olympics that’s putting the smile on her face this morning.

Ok, strictly speaking we only had 2 tickets and Ruthie sneaked in, but what the heck she was in! Now all the way there we’d been talking about who are you going to support, who are you going to cheer over the finishing line? You see Ruthie hails from the US,  but has been busy recently, supporting something called a Cub (I think it’s to do with baby foxes getting together for a little run around, she was a bit vague about the details). So back to the cheering and clapping, Ruthie was all for supporting her home country being the patriotic girl she is, but once past security, and on into the  stadium she was a changed woman. She became a Brit for the day. Yup she switched allegiances, shameless I know! GO TEAM GEE BEE! And you know what, once she’d started she couldn’t stop TEAM GEE BEE!

She couldn’t help herself, swept along with the cheers from the crowd, she was soon talking with a British accent, well the odd vowel got mixed up, but who could blame her! There was Mo Farah, the 10,000m Gold medalist running in the heats of the 5000m, and Ruthie was all for cheering him on, besides if she’d picked another guy at that moment she would have been drowned out! GEE BEE !!

Flat Ruthie thought the roar of the crowd in the stadium was immense and that nothing comes close to describing it. You guys cheer everyone don’t you! We certainly do Ruthie, even the athletes who come last. Why Claire? Because everyone is special Ruthie, especially Sarah Attar the first woman to represent her country, Saudi Arabia, at the Olympics. Yeah Ok THAT is special. GO GIRL GO !!

Ruthie declared the morning at the athletics in the main stadium as being totally AWESOME, I pointed out that awesome isn’t very British, and she said oops sorry sweetie dahling, it was FABULOUS, Absolutely Fabulous!

There had been so much to see, so much to cheer, I think she made a new friend, the Olympic Mascot seems pretty enamoured. GO TEAM GEE BEE !

And then out and about in the park we went, now we’ve been to the Olympic Park a couple of times to see the progress of the building and re-development of the site, and we filled Ruthie in on the details as we went around, but what I had to remind her was that when we saw it, most people were wearing hard hats and Hi Vis.

We toured the park, watched the world go by, I think Ruthie secretly enjoyed being British for the day, she marvelled at the buildings, the crowds, the size and scale, the beauty, the fun and happiness of it all, the Olympics.

I think Ruthie was so impressed by the park and the gardens, with the planting being timed to perfection and so beautifully done she’s tempted to take up gardening!

And Ruthie thought us Brits were pretty snappy dresser’s too !

There was just one thing Ruthie would have liked to taken away from the day, just a little momento -

Yup Flat Ruthie wants a BIG HAND !!

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On the beach

I realise I’ve been back from France for a few months and have been a neglectful host – I haven’t taken you to the beach.

We live about 100 to 150 metres from the sea, or if you don’t do metric a couple of roads back or a two minute walk. The sea dominates our little town, that huge expanse of water is around a corner, beyond some rooftops or down the hill.

We like to take a stroll along the promenade and then drop down onto the beach. There is always something to look at, to re-visit, to enjoy. I think of the lines from a Billy Bragg song “Come on down the beach is free”. There are rock pools to explore, groynes to scramble over, pebbles to crunch on, shells to find, sand to discover when the tide goes out, seaweed left on the high tide mark, footprints to follow. The sea to stare at.

There are gulls on the beach, in the water in the air. Their raucous cries a soundtrack to life on the coast. On a blustery sunny Sunday they soar and swoop so agile on the thermals.

At the right time of day with the tide on the turn we watch them picking up mussels in their beaks, rising up then dropping the mussels onto the pebbled beach; time and time again they soar, drop and swoop until the shell can be prized apart. Moules Marinières anyone?

And on we walk, walking into the wind, filling your lungs, picking you up, blowing those cobwebs away. Stretch your arms out and feel the wind run through and around your body.

And as the promenade peeters out the action starts in earnest – the windsurfers and kitesurfers are out, lapping up the choppy water, finding the wind and scudding along the waves, leaping and jumping in the air, to turn and race back to the beach, a deft turn around and off they go again into the mist and the haze of the sun. The energy they use and the energy they gain is visible to the mind of the watcher.

And back we walk, the wind behind us, pushing us home, to take a turn up away from the promenade to the quiet streets where the wind is dulled and doesn’t blow so hard. The quietness strikes you as you step away – the wind is no longer in your ears and in your head. You wipe the salt spray from your glasses, maybe smooth down your hair and quietly and gently walk home.

Most of the photos were taken by my partner as I was too busy arms outstretched into the wind appreciating the effect of the cobwebs being blown away!

Going For Gold – a preview of the Olympic Park

The buildings are complete, we saw the finishing touches, the final planting, clearing and cleaning the site, to the backdrop sound of rehearsals for the opening show…. ssshhhh!

It was a real treat to see the park before the official opening ceremony and the start of the games. A small group of friends let loose in a playground and a big one at that! To stare in wonder at the incredible buildings to ooh and ahhh at the sublime planting and to puzzle at and play with the art works specifically created for the Olympic Park. You see the Olympics is far more than the sports events it’s a myriad of sights.

We saw so much in an afternoon of dark threatening clouds, rain bursts and sun spells that I’m going to split these posts up into sections. I’ll take you around the park at a more leisurely pace – slowly and surely we’ll see all the main buildings like the Aquatics Centre, the Velodrome, and the Basketball Arena – all stunning in their own right.

But me being me, we’ll take a look at the landscaping and planting, talk about the work, the science and the design that has gone into this remarkable space, the feats of engineering to create specific habitats and environments for the flora and fauna that inhabit this area.

I want to show you the way the river winds around the park, the bridges that crisscross,, and the train tracks intersecting. To talk about the recycling of materials, the cleaning of the ground, the growing of the plants, the testing, trialing and reviewing. The sheer scale of ait all. The numbers and facts are bind bogglingly glorious. And of course the legacy of a new park for London.

And yes, we’ll take a look at what everyone is talking about – the Orbit Tower!

So for now, a brief snapshot of some of the sights to hopefully whet your appetite. No matter if you’re not a sports fan or can’t make it to the games themselves I think you’ll enjoy the tour around London 2012. Besides you get some stunning views of one of my favourite skylines in the world – I know I’m a bit biased on this one having lived there for oh so many years, – just roll with me, ok?

Better RUN!

A visit to Charleston

A 17th century farmhouse made famous and in some circles infamous, for it’s former occupants.

You see Charleston became the London retreat for the Bloomsbury Group. Vanessa Bell the artist rented it in 1916 and gradually over the years it filled (and emptied) with children, husbands, lovers, friends and well, anyone on the guest list. from painters, writers, philosophers, sculptures, thinkers and movers.

I spent a sunny June afternoon deep in the Sussex countryside, far from the madding crowd, ooops sorry wrong author and county!

The house itself, extended over the centuries provides an inspiring and informative place to visit – it is not a grand estate or castle, but a former farmhouse on a working estate. The occupants, principally Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant set about decorating it whilst outside creating a truly pretty English country garden.

There is a wonderful tour of the house, the tour leaders are deeply passionate about the house and the art, fantastically knowledgeable and engaging. The house was literally decorated by the artists with every surface painted (if it didn’t move it was covered) and has been preserved and maintained by the charitable trust that runs the estate.

I’m no art critic so I will re-direct you to more informative pages on the subject and the story behind the art and the Bloomsbury Group. If I just mention that it’s occupants included  Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey you will get an idea of the importance of the house.

There was no photography allowed in the house, understandable considering it’s precious contents of paintings, decorations and fabrics, but I was free to wander and snap away in the walled garden. The garden is simple in it’s design and entices you in, along narrow paths bordered with densely planted English cottage garden favourites. I’ve included a slideshow to give you an idea. Some of the photos are literally snaps to give you and to remind me of the essence of the garden. I hope you enjoy your wander around this quintessential English Walled Garden as much as I did. And yes I stopped for an essential reviving cup of tea and piece of cake in the cafe.

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I’ll just add one more link about the Knapped flints – a common sight in Sussex and Kent.

Reflections

We’re packing up and moving on, leaving the mountains and France with mixed emotions. We’ve had an amazing winter an incredible experience living in the Alps for a few months, a dream come true. There’s been a few bumps and bangs along the way – some literal. But it’s time to head home, to our home, our family and friends, the garden and the allotment, life and new work.

Time to take a personal look back.

Big blue skies, the incredible and the fantastical, the rush of energy and the slumps of deep sleep

Wooden farmhouses and new build chalets, opened and shuttered, glass glinting and reflecting, wood piles and wood smoke

The backdrop sound of rushing water and melting snow in the gullies below you, of fallen trees and opened pinecones

France

Big blue skies, fat snowflakes drifting down, clouds creeping through the valleys, of clouds enveloping you and the mountains, misting the views

Of life in the Savoie when the clump thump of ski boots and skiers is long gone

France

Quiet yogic movements and controlled breathe, stretches and pauses

Stomping feet, tired eyes, rosy cheeks, weary legs, wind-chapped lips and cold hands clapped

Rich mountain food, the chink of glasses and the sound of celebrations

Rebelchon, France

Hospitals, x-rays, physio, stinging pain and frustration, reminder of the bodies fragility, it’s recovery

Doggies, wags and woofs

Ski resort life – the build up and wind down, the rush and the wait

France

The noise and bustle of travel, the movement and the static

Deep powder, snow laden trees and the drip drip of icicles

France

Seeing the spectacular, of dizzying heights and highs, views down the valleys to distant lakes, of crevices, cracks and fissures of rock

Standing still, noticing the minutiae, Spring emerging

France

Snaking ski schools, the red of ESF, of instructions called out, admonishment and encouragement given, to the whooping and whizzing through powder

The scents of home cooking – freshly chopped ginger, garlic and chillies, of baking cakes, homegrown food and simple salads

France

The brights and synthetics of ski clothing, of hats in every shape, colour and texture, of fake fur and real fur, of tiny dogs wrapped up against the cold and curious puppies

Digs, France

Smiles and sharing, discovering the new and remembering old favourites

Deep dark forests, woodland clearings, open pistes and standing on top of the world

France

Heavily perfumed vin chaud, jazz in the bar, refreshing mint teas and cool beers

France

The sound of your skis running on freshly pisted runs, the crunch of snow underfoot and the stillness that early morning snow brings

The mechanics and machinery of skiing – the snow ploughs, the piste bashers, the ski chairs and drag lifts, of lorries laden with snow, of gritters and shovels, brushes and scrapers

France

The smell and taste of the Savoie - tartiflette and fondue, nips of génépi and the sweet-sour of myrtlle tarts

Hot coffees, bitter chocolate and wonderful company

France

Sunsets and pink mountains, mounds upon mounds of snow, frosted trees and the pale blue of frozen waterfalls

Overnight animal tracks, morning birdsong, chattering Magpies, darting robins, flitting blue tits and the tracks of skidoos

The quiet reflective light of snowy nights, of full moons, owls hooting in the woods and the deep dark

The playful paws of a kitten to deep purrs and crashing sleeps

Frenetic school holidays, excitable tired kids, hopeful parents, the gathering of family groups, bumper to bumper traffic

Crisp whites and fruity reds, greetings and nods of recognition

France

Solitary walks, distant friends, visitors and a few giggles

France

Wonderous sights, sounds and dreams

France

Steamy cafes, bustling markets and supermarket bright lights

Thin mountain air, the hit of cold on your lungs and of clouds of breath

Patterns in the snow, of ski tracks and muddy paws

Window shopping, people watching and warm lights in the distance

France

Tall stories and high jinx, the silly and funny

To the faintly ridiculous

France

Stopping and staring, wondering and wandering, feeling the warmth of the sun break through the cold

Of Christmas morning on the piste, pink champagne, new hopes and dreams

Exploring and sampling, tasting and nibbling, of new finds and old favourites

France

From under the eaves our morning, afternoon and evening view

Of a winter spent with my love.

Saturday Samosa – spicy vegetable samosa with filo pastry

French style supermarket shopping

It’s Saturday afternoon in the Alps and a concatenation of events means I’m making Samosa. I’m stuck indoors – it’s been a cloudy, misty, snowy, drizzly few days in the Alps with few and far between fleeting glimpses of sun before the … Continue reading

The Pinnacle Of The Alps

The literal pinnacle of the Alps is Mt Blanc at 4,810 m (15, 782 ft), Europe’s highest mountain. We can see it when we ski and stop for our morning coffee, we see it emerging round corners when we drive. It is there, towering above the mountain ranges of the French Alps. Ever present.

I’ve visited the French Alps on many occasions, Winter, Spring and Summer but have never managed to get to a particular high point, that is until last weekend. Chamonix is an hour away by car, the Commune actually renamed itself Chamonix – Mont Blanc. you see wherever you are in Chamonix this mountain dominates the views. It dominates the activities too, with walkers, climbers and skiers. You see them al around town with their ropes and boots and goodness-knows what kit attached to them.

L'Aguille Du Midi

As a visitor to Chamonix it’s possible to get up close the grand mountain without the need of climbing ropes and huge exertion, you can take a cable car to The Aguille Du Midi (Needles). They are a few km (as the crow flies) from the summit, and somewhere someone thought it a great idea to build TWO cable car runs to this summit – the Aguille sits at a mere 3,842 m. Fancy joining us on the ride? All aboard!

You need to pick the right day, i.e not cloudy or snowy or rainy. But whatever the weather in Chamonix, there’s always a nip in the air at the top. Brrrrr.

So off we go in the first Telepherique to the mid station where we change cars to make the final journey to the top. The Col Du Midi at 3, 660m is the mid station.

You travel at remarkable speed, slightly swaying over the pilons. All the time you see the mountains and crags up close and personal.

The second stage of the journey is made in a cable car that has the longest span without pylons. Not a thought I wanted to dwell on. The car itself is packed with skiers and climbers and tourists like us. Every language seems to be spoken, there are woops and oohs and aahhhs to accompany us on our journey.

There is a palpable buzz of excitement and anticipation.

You finally reach the top, or what you think is the top and there is a series of bridges and tunnels and walkways in and around the rock, there is even a terrace for sipping a coffee, or maybe something a bit stronger is needed?

The next stage is to take a lift to the pinnacle, a quick ride and you are out in the open on a viewing platform with Mt Blanc shining in the sun.

The views from the top are truly spectacular. Nothing really prepares you for how beautiful the world looks from up high.

The clouds are below us. Chamonix a mere speck in the distance. On the horizon you can see the Matterhorn.

You simply stand and stare. You marvel at what your eyes are taking in.

You gasp at the enormity of it all. You smile, even grin at the impossibility of it all, or should that be implausability?

You watch climbers and skiers preparing to set off onto the Vallee Blanche. As your eyes adjust to the scale of what is in front of you, you see specks on the snow and glacier, there are ant sized people preparing for their day of skiing.

So tiny, so implausible against the scale of the peaks and crags.

We look north and a huge bank of clouds covers our view, we can’t see the mountain peaks of our ski resort today. Every now and then as the clouds circle around us, we catch a glimpse of a peak.

The rocks are stunning, the fissures and details can be seen clearly. These are the kind of peaks where climbers will camp out over night on a ridge to then complete their ascent.

Yes, look closely, climbers on their ascent. Words elude me!

Everywhere you look is snow and rock and rock and snow.

A few last lingering looks at what is literally in front of you – Mt Blanc

Just stunning!

I’ll leave you with my favourite shot of the day. Bon Voyage!

A footnote ~

Remember that we took Flat Ruthie Skiing? Well you know me by now, how could I not resist? She just had to come along for the ride :)

And just in case it was a bit breezy up at L’Aguille, she was tucked in safe and sound to some idiot wearing a bright red jacket and a ridiculous grin!

For extra info on Chamonix Mont Blanc