Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Harvest Keeps Growing

The garden has gone crazy and I've been picking a lot of vegetables lately: green beans, purple green beans, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, pepperoncini, and for the first time on Tuesday- tomatoes!

So far we've tasted 3 of the 10 varieties that I planted and 4 more have almost ripe fruit on the vines! I've been practicing canning with the peppers and can't wait to try tomatoes. Once I have enough, I'll be going for it! There was a little carnage when the three times bigger than last year's tomatoes needed to be restaked, so I might try some pickled green tomatoes today.

Gardens gone wild!

Dill in bloom

Royal burgundy green beans.

Butternut squash

The zucchini are producing again after a few days rest.

Sugar snap peas are also putting out a second crop.

Marmande tomato just before I picked it.

Jaune flammée tomato- it's very orangey/yellow

Mr. Stripey tomato- not as stripey as I thought he'd be.

The harvest bowl before the second group of tomatoes and the green beans.

My Husband is famous (sort of)

Check out this video of the new Parlee bike that features brain controlled shifting. Recognize that handsome guy???

If you only want to see Janda, start at about 2:15 in.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lake Placid 2011

Janda and I headed up to Lake Placid this past weekend to have our first mini-vacation of the summer, which of course doubled as triathlon spectating. Janda had a couple of athletes racing, so on Saturday morning, we took off on a 5.5 hour roadtrip.

We headed north to New Hampshire and then west into Vermont. Once we got into Vermont, we were on country highways more so than true highways. That, of course, means that the ride is a little slower and you can enjoy the scenery. The drive is beautiful, right through a national forest, where we stopped for a little lunch picnic.

Janda at our picnic spot

Not too far past our picnic spot, we came to the ferry that would bring us to New York. For some time now, there has been a new bridge under construction, so there is a free ferry to get people across Lake Champlain to New York. We have never had much of a wait and it's actually a fun break during the very long trip. The bridge is almost done, so if we ever come to Lake Placid again, we won't get the free ferry ride.

The view from the car window heading towards the ferry

Just like France- hay bales everywhere

The bridge is almost done

After the ferry, there was only about 2 hours to go, and then before we knew it we could see the Olympic ski jumps. We were lucky enough to be able to stay with the family of one of Janda's athletes, who happen to live in Lake Placid, which is always 100 times better than a hotel. We arrived mid afternoon, Janda had time to get in a mountain bike ride and then we had an really great dinner with everybody. I learned a new way to prepare fish on grill that we'll have to try out next time we get some fresh fish. Of course, we all had an early wake up call to go see/do Ironman, so it was off to bed shortly after dinner.

The next morning Janda and I rode our bikes down to the start to see everybody off. This year's race was a little complicated due to the high water temperature, so we didn't know exactly what to expect coming out of the swim. Adam came out just about right where Janda thought he would, but Kat had a huge issue in the swim- due to some manhandling done by an aggressive competitor. As always with Ironman- things don't go exactly according to plan.

The start

Janda and I headed out onto the bike course to see what would happen next. We managed to see both athletes go by on their way to the second loop. Luckily both Adam and Kat looked awesome as they flew by us on the bike. All we could do now was to wait! We grabbed some lunch from town and headed out onto the run course. We found a nice, shady spot about 3 miles in and settled down to wait. We arrived about a half an hour before the race leader came through, so we had time to snap a few pictures of the ski jumps and have our picnic

Where the Olympic flame was

Ski jumps

Our picnic spot on the course

As we were watching the pros come trickling by, we met the brother of the owner of the property where we were. He was a cool guy and while we waited we helped him do a little brush removal. It was the least we could do since he was being so nice about us picnic-ing on his front lawn. We met his older brother a few minutes later and watched the race with them for a while. Then they went back to the house to get out of the sun.

As we were waiting the brothers came back over to us and dangled a medal in front of me. I took it and looked at it in disbelief. I showed it to Janda who also couldn't believe what he saw. At first, before I saw it up close, I thought that it was a finisher's medal. Then when I saw it I thought that it was a fake medal, but it was pretty heavy for its size. It was an Olympic gold medal in rowing from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics! The guy said to Janda, "Here, hold onto this for a while and show it to your athletes for inspiration." So that's was Janda did. Pretty cool!

A real Olympic gold medal

After we saw Adam and Kat go by, we headed back to the finish line, which was quite a ride given all the road closures. We finally got there about 2 minutes before Adam finished. Then we linked up with two of Janda's athletes who were spectating and waited with them. Kat came through not too long thereafter, in a PR time no less!

Ironman days are long days, so we hit the sack not too long after the finish and got up early-ish the next morning to head home. Even though it's the same amount of time, the ride home always seems long! We got home around 3 and had the rest of the afternoon and evening to relax after the long weekend.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 6 - July 4 : Versailles

On our last full day in France, we woke up in Vitré to a bright and sunny day- it was promising to be the warmest of our trip. We (of course) stopped by the pastry shop on our way out of town. For my last French pastry in France, I had a pain au chocolat, since they're not the same at home.

We started out on the long trip to Versailles France to see the famous palace of the same name. It was a three hour plus ride, so we didn't get to Versailles until the early afternoon. When we arrived we learned that the palaces at Versailles are not open on Mondays! This was a total bummer- since Versailles is one of the top 10 most visited sites in France, it didn't even occur to me that it would be closed during the high season! I had been to Versailles before, but it was in the winter and only some of the buildings were open then. I was really looking forward to seeing the other three buildings on the enormous estate, but I guess that it wasn't meant to be.

The entrance to Versailles

Luckily for us, the gardens were still open to the public, so we spent three and a half hours exploring the gardens. Frankly I don't know how you could do all the gardens, the 3 palaces and Marie Antoinette's farm in one day. My cousin made a good point- that's why they rent out golf carts! First we walked around one side of the grand palace and checked out the formal gardens of the Orangerie, where several kinds of citrus fruit are grown. From there, we took one of the side paths into the labyrinth of hedges punctuated by many benches, fountains and statues. We left the hedged paths and rejoined the main path, where we had an awesome view of the palace and the fountains and gardens in front of it.

One wing of the main palace

The formal garden of the Orangerie

View of the reflecting pool past the Orangerie

There were many paths cut through the tall hedges

Back on the main promenade, there were lots of topiaries

A ramp leading up to the palace, lined with topiaries and statues

The palace viewed from the gardens

The gardens viewed from the palace

We walked down the main boulevard, along the enormous reflecting pool, towards more fountains. The fountains were all extremely elaborate, with a mythological theme, I think. At this point you feel like you're in the middle of the long promenade, but I would estimate that we were at best one third of the way down the length of it. At this point we stopped for a quick drink in the shade before continuing. There was a snack shop where you could get cold beverages and ice cream. The ice cream was tempting, but there weren't that many flavors, so we passed.

The main promenade goes alongside the lawn and pools

One of the many elaborate fountains

We took a right hand turn towards Marie Antoinette's domain, which includes two palaces, Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon, plus the Hammeau de la Reine, which was a farm where Marie Anoinette would pretend that she was a sheep-herder. These were the buildings that I really had wanted to visit, but at least I got to see them. The two palaces were splendid and elegant. The Grand Trianon was made of pink marble and the Petit Trianon looked like it was tan marble. The farm where Marie Antoinette pretended to be a peasant was huge; it seemed bigger than a lot of the farms around here on the North Shore.

The path leading to Marie Anoinette's domain

Grand Trianon

Petit Trianon

The sheep on Marie Antoinette's pretend farm

The property is surprisingly large (nearly 2000 acres) and it takes quite a long time to walk around it, and we probably did less than half of it in three and a half hours. We did take our time though, because it was very hot that day. On our way out, we noticed a pedestal that was missing its statue, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make our own. Melissa and I quickly boosted Mariellen up and snapped a few once in a lifetime photos before the grounds crew started whistling at us! We also tried to peek in the windows on the way out, as a few others were doing, but the people working inside hastily pulled the shades.

The palace from the other side on the way back

Mémé and I in the gardens

Up on the empty pedestal

After spending the afternoon at the palace wandering through the gardens, we had worked up an appetite and set about finding a restaurant for our last dinner in France. There weren't too many choices on the road that we picked, and two of them were American style food, so we ended up at a French style brasserie. After a filling dinner of rotisserie chicken and salad, I was ready to do some shopping. First we hit up the tourist shops that lined the road to the palace.I was able to get a bunch of mini magazines for about a euro each, not a bad deal. Then we headed to Monoprix, which is kind of like the French version of Target. At every Monoprix that I've been to, there has been clothing, accessories, toiletries, home goods and stationary on the upper level(s) and then a grocery store on the bottom floor. This is definitely one of the best places to get the Haribo candy that I love to bring home, in addition to finding fun presents for the family.

After getting out shop on, we searched in vain for an ice cream shop or a crêperie before heading back to the hotel to get ready for our flight home in the morning.

The next morning, we got to the airport nice and early and still had to wait in a huge line to check-in, just like last year. If you ever fly Aer Lingus out of Paris, arrive early, because there always seems to be a long line and not enough booths open to accommodate it. We did make it through though, and got through security pretty easily and had a little time to kill in the duty free shop. I spent basically every last euro in my purse on cookies and candies to bring home.

Our flight to Shannon Ireland was quick and uneventful. When we arrived in Shannon, we went through US Customs, so we wouldn't have to do that in Boston. That was very convenient. Then flight to Boston was long, but I kept entertained by watching movies the whole way. Luckily all of our luggage made it and we were on our way home in no time!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 5 - July 3 : Bretagne

The next morning we woke up in Villedieu-les-poêles and continued our breakfast ritual of finding the local pastry shop. This morning I had a chocolat pépites, which means chocolate chips. It was a pastry similar to pain au chocolat, with a cream filling in addition to the chocolate chips. Yet another completely delicious pastry.

After breakfast, we started on the road to Mont Saint Michel. Since my first trip to France, I have always wanted to make it out to Mont Saint Michel and somehow never have, so I was very much looking forward to this. Our hotel was about a half an hour from Mont Saint Michel, so after about twenty minutes of driving through the Normandy countryside, we crested a large hill that looked down to the coast and we got our first glimpse. As we got closer, I pulled into a little scenic view area and we were able to see Mont Saint Michel across the marshes and dunes where the local sheep graze. It was just like the postcards.

The sheep grazing on the grass next to the Baie Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel in the distance

As we got closer, it became apparent just how enormous the island is! We stopped on the causeway to get a couple more long distance shots and then pushed forward to the parking lot. Some of the lots are submerged at high tide, which was about an hour before we arrived, so while we were heading up to the entrance, we could see the special street cleaning vehicles that clear the sand and debris from the lower lots as they become exposed. We headed up to the entrance to get our first look at the inside of Mont Saint Michel. As we made our way up to the abbey, we passed countless shops, restaurants, hotels and maybe homes on the lower levels. From each and every level we had many opportunities to take in the beautiful and unique views of the Baie Mont Saint Michel that each vantage point had to offer. The Mont basically spirals its way up to the entrance of the abbey, so we were constantly going up the front of Mont Saint Michel via a thousand and one stairs and ramps.

From the causeway

From the parking lot

The entrance to Mont Saint Michel

One of the narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants

View along one of the paths through Mont Saint Michel

Already quite high up on the Mont, we finally saw the entrance to the Abbey, an extremely tall and imposing archway. After we got our tickets, we continued into the abbey and continued going up. Once we arrived at the top level, we had an amazing view from the plaza in front of the church. We could see for many many miles both into Normandy and Bretagne, plus out into the English Channel. The Abbey was an amazingly tall and complicated structure on top of the already tall and complicated town that we had just walked through. Following the tour of the Abbey, I felt as though I was walking through a maze full of enormous rooms and stained glass windows. There was also a really cool interior courtyard with a garden on top of the Abbey. From what I gleaned from a French tour that was walking by me in the church, even though Mont Saint Michel has been a state owned site for a couple hundred years, right now there are 6 monks living there. Sometime in the past few years they applied to rent out space on Mont Saint Michel and practice their religion there- if you go at certain times of the day you will find the monks doing vespers.

The entrance to the abbey

Inside the abbey

The view towards Bretagne

The English Channel and Normandy

The interior courtyard of the abbey

The courtyard inside the abbey

After we made our way through the labyrinthine Abbey, we descended back down to the bottom of the Mont, taking the opposite route down. There we perused the many gift shops and bought some snacks. One of the things that is really notable about sightseeing in France is the importance that the French gift shops give to the regional products. Everywhere we went the shops were filled with regional foods, such as pommeau, calvados, many cheeses, jams, salts, and cookies, and regional products, such as soaps, candles, copper pots, and leather goods, in addition to the usual supply of tourist trinkets.

After we finished shopping, we headed out to the next destination, Fougères, a well-preserved medieval town. On the way, we stopped at one more tourist shop, that was like a whole market with many amazing regional products. If only I were rich... The trip to Fougères only took about a half an hour, and we were soon walking through the town and by the castle of Fougères which looks much the way it did back in the 14th century. The castle, which fortified the original town, had amazingly huge walls that I was able to walk on. From the walls I had an awesome view of the town and the surrounding countryside.

Château Fougères and its moat

Old houses built right next to the Château

The entrance to the old medieval town

Walking along the castle walls

View of the outside of the castle from on top of the walls

After visiting Fougères, we pushed on to our next stop, Vitré. It was about a half and hour drive and when we arrived we checked into out hotel, Le Petit Billot, which had the friendliest owner that you could imagine. When she realized that we were four adults and we had booked one room, she gave us a second room for the price of one, just so we would be more comfortable. I guess that we were very lucky to go on a Sunday night, when tourism is low. She also spent several minutes giving us suggestions on what to see and where to eat. After settling in, Mariellen and I checked out Vitré while Mémé and Melissa took a much needed nap. Vitré is also a well-preserved medieval town with a slightly less than well-preserved castle. The shops and restaurants were very cute, exactly what you'd expect in a medieval town. The castle is currently undergoing restoration and was not open when we stopped by, so we only saw the outside.

The streets of Vitré

Château de Vitré

Château de Vitré

After regrouping, we went to dinner at the restaurant recommended by the owner of the hotel. She promised that it was a very good restaurant with many choices. Unfortunately, we never found out how good it was because the waiter broght us our menus and then ignored us! We waited for at least 20 minutes for him to take our order but he never came back. We left in protest of the poor service and had yet another sandwich! The sandwich was pretty good, but it was the dessert that was worth writing home about. It was a chocolate mousse cake with a chocolate crumb on top of the graham cracker-esque crust called a chocolat royal. It was extremely rich and decadent, so eating one piece was almost too much!

After dinner we walked to a nearby park for a quick stroll before bed. The park had some very interesting trees, that seemed to be growing sideways and a family of black swans, which I had never seen before. After enjoying the relaxing walk in the park, we turned in for the night.

The crazy sideways growing trees

There was a small group of black swans