Monthly Archives: March 2020

going loco

Today we headed across the border into France once again. This time we were going by train instead of on foot and a little further afield to Chamonix Mont Blanc.

Chamonix is situated at the foot of Mont Blanc and is the oldest ski resort in France. It should be a busy town but felt very quiet today. Possibly a result of the Coronavirus but maybe just be too late in the ski season.

We wandered around the town which is dominated by bars and restaurants with sports shops taking up the next spot on the street. It’s a nice town and I’d expect it to be quite a buzz when filled with ski holiday makers enjoying the aprés ski.

Despite the commercialism the town still shows a lot of its traditional side and there were sights to see rather than just the inside of the bars.

The weather was against us today with persistent low cloud. We had hoped for views of the surrounding mountainside and Mont Blanc in particular but despite tantalising glimpses we were denied all day

this guy sits facing mont blanc but just cloud today

As well as exploring the town our other draw today was to visit Poco Loco and to have one of their fantastic burgers. Jim knows this place from previous visits and highly recommended it for both the food and atmosphere.

The place is tiny. It’s built in a space that used to be an alley and the small sitting area upstairs still shows signs of that. I loved it! The decor is great, as is the atmosphere and the food was fantastic. Living in a vegetarian house all week made it even more so 😊

On the way home we stopped in Argentière for another look around and to assist Pierre with his grocery shopping.

down the valais

We woke up this morning to the sound of the snow plough and glorious sunshine.

morning view of the valley
charging the battery packs

The plan today was to head down the valley. We took the train to Trétein which is a beautiful village built on the side of a very steep hill. Once you step off the train you’re looking right down onto the village.

looking from the train station

We went down through the village past the gorge and down the valley further to Les Marécottes. This village had a lot of very nice buildings with lots of newer ones as it also has a cable car terminus for the ski slopes above. Quite a few people heading up today despite it being a Wednesday and with the snow beginning to melt.

Part of the road runs under an avalanche barrier. For some reason it has lots of holes and with a rapid snow melt we were rained on quite heavily on the way through both times

if you look carefully you can see the drops hitting the road and leaving the roof

After a wander around we went to the zoo(!) for a beer by the swimming pool. We sat outside in the sunshine and it really was baking hot.

i wouldn’t fancy a dip ❄

Afterwards we walked back to Trétein and caught the train back as far as Finhaut. Both bars were closed so we bought bread, smoked meat and beer and had a picnic along the road where we had a great view of Mont Blanc before continuing on to Le Châtelard.

finhaut station
up the valley from finhaut
chalet du glacier with triente glacier in the background
triente glacier on the left
lunch with mont blanc in the far distance above my bottle

12km total walking today and the legs feeling all the hills we climbed! Hoping for more sunshine tomorrow 🤞

click the image to view on strava

horses for courses

We only had a very basic plan for today as we wanted a reasonably restful day to recover and the weather forecast was for rain. Woke up to more snow instead of rain!

pierre’s garden table. all this snow fell since thursday!

After breakfast we channelled our inner lumberjack and cut and split wood for the stove.

fried eggs in the wood burning stove

On my last visit 6 years ago we had a drink in this recently opened bar. Sometime after Pierre discovered it was a brothel for the construction workers at the dam! I guess the red curtains should have been a clue 😊

i wonder what exactly is “a vendre“?

We caught the train into Finhaut for a wander around with a plan to then walk the 4km back to Le Châtelard.

We tried to get lunch in Finhaut but picked a bad time as Heléne in Beau Soleil was busy…….having her lunch. She advised the café next door with a great cook and very cheap 😆

We didn’t really like it in there and as the snow was getting wet and threatening to turn to rain we decided to take the train to Frontiére, have lunch there and walk back. We ended up having a huge and very tasty lunch of Quiche (spinach and goat’s cheese), horse steak and chips followed by a fruit salad. Horse was a first for me and in French/Swiss style almost rare. It was very nice but the quiche was really delicious, something I wouldn’t have tried if I was at home.

if you listen carefully you may hear it neigh!

It was a slow walk back to Le Châtelard with full bellies,stopping in one of the shops to view the tourist trap displays.

fantastic cowbell

On the way back I stopped at the little Church just above the village. It’s dedicated to St Theresa of the Infant Jesus and is really nicely decorated with icons and stained glass with a fantastic carved front door. For some reason there’s a small statue of a marmot just outside the front door on a raised rock.

Yesterday afternoon we started building an igloo for Jim’s birthday. We almost finished it but the cold beat us and we were running out of light. The plan was to finish it this afternoon but the rain killed that idea. This evening, after dark we decided to decorate and christen it despite its unfinished state and before it melted away on us.

border hopping

Today we decided that a trip to France was in order so the plan was to walk across the border to the ski resort of Vallorcine. Overnight it had snowed quite heavily and was still snowing this morning.

All the fresh snow combined with the little use the path receives at this time of the year created a very beautiful walking environment but tough walking conditions with the snow knee deep for much of the walk. We were following in the tracks of a deer and also saw a red deer doe and stag along the way. Both much too quick for photography.

After approximately 1.5 hrs we reached the edge of Vallorcine. It was busy with cable cars heading up and down the mountain and skiirs having a break in the bars. I was surprised to see it so busy on a Monday afternoon. We had a beer to celebrate Jim’s birthday and lunch in the restaurant attached to the railway station. Lunch was well timed as the waitress turned away a couple of groups not long after we started eating.

Post lunch we headed back the way we came. Just before we left Vallorcine it started to snow again, quite heavily and stayed like that pretty much all the way back to Le Châtelard. The walking was much easier with the path broken by our journey up and also being mostly downhill again.

All in all just under 12km and definitely feeling it this evening.

click the image to view on strava

i’m a lumberjack and i’m okay

Day 1 Switzerland began with a lie in and eventually a chatty morning followed by some relaxing in the sun. There’s not much more strange than sitting in deck chairs, surrounded by feet deep snow and basking in warm sunshine. Nothing much more enjoyable either!

back yard view
pierre making steps to enable the job of the day

Once our solar panels were sufficiently charged began the real work. Pierre had already cut some steps in the deep snow above his house to give us access to the small stand of trees over the ridge and the two fallen trees that were to provide fire wood. An hour’s work provided 4 large logs cut and transported down the hill to the house.

The afternoon was a 4.5km walk along the road into Finhaut. Surprisingly warm and sunny and very picturesque with beer at the end and the main aim of the day.

planes, trains and automobiles

Early start Saturday for my trip to Switzerland with Jim to visit Pierre’s. I was a bit nervous about travelling due to the recent Coronavirus outbreak and blanket news coverage but decided to go anyway. I wasn’t sure what to expect but apart from signage in the airports and trains and queues in the toilets to wash hands I didn’t see much different. Another passenger in Belfast International thought the airport was very quiet but I didn’t see much difference to when we went to Prague last year and my flight to Geneva seemed full.

The flight from Belfast was really good. We were flying above the clouds with very sunny conditions and breaks in the cloud gave tantalising views of the English and French countryside below. On the approach to Geneva the Alps were poking majestically above the clouds.

In an attempt to get a discounted train fare to Le Châtelard I had a 4 hour wait in Geneva. It was clear and dry but very cold and as I had a heavy bag I only walked down to the lake to see the view and then back to the train station with a stop at McDonald’s for something to eat. Even that short walk gave an indication of the sights of Geneva although I was mildly disappointed that “Le Jet D’Eau” wasn’t in operation today.

After food was the long wait in the train station followed by the train journeys to Martigny and then change to Le Châtelard. Slight stress out at Martigny as the incoming train was 4min late and I only have 9min to make the change from Platform 1 to 40. Panic subsided when I realised this was simply a matter of crossing the tracks via the subway!

busy train to martigny

Arrived in Le Châtelard at 21:55, bang on time and greeted at the train station by a barrage of snowballs! Made it 😊


Trace (Kay Scarpetta #13) by Patricia Cornwell

From Goodreads:

Dr. Kay Scarpetta, now freelancing from South Florida, returns to the city that turned its back on her five years ago. Richmond, Virginia’s recently appointed chief medical examiner claims that he needs Scarpetta’s help to solve a perplexing crime. When she arrives, however, Scarpetta finds that nothing is as she expected: Her former lab is in the final stages of demolition; the inept chief isn’t the one who requested her after all; her old assistant chief has developed personal problems that he won’t reveal; and a glamorous FBI agent, whom Scarpetta dislikes instantly, meddles with the case.

Deprived of assistance from colleagues Benton and Lucy, who are embroiled in what appears to be an unrelated attempted rape by a stalker, Scarpetta is faced with investigating the death of a fourteen-year-old girl, working with the smallest pieces of evidence — traces that only the most thorough hunters can identify. She must follow the twisting leads and track the strange details in order to make the dead speak — and to reveal the sad truth that may be more than even she can bear …

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Half this book is very good but the other half is very poor. First of all it was great to see a return of Kay and Marino as investigative partners. In a twist from the norm Kay is investigative only, more like a detective than a medical examiner, as she returns to Virginia with barely any access to postmortem exams. Marino is also back as a leaner, healthier and mentally stronger detective without a badge. It was great to mostly get away from Kay’s relationship with Benton and the constant, depressing angst of earlier books and to focus on catching the bad guy. This element of the story was really interesting and the quality of the writing high carrying me right through to the end before I knew what was happening.

The second story was based around the inexplicable collapse of Lucy, her disastrous relationship with a new nutcase girlfriend and Benton’s attempt to solve an attack on her. The two stories were tied together with the same perpetrator but the Lucy element was badly written, boring and frankly unnecessary. It would have been a much better book if it had stuck with Kay and Marino.

I’ll probably keep going with this series as there does still seem to be the odd good book in there yet but I have a feeling it has almost run its course for me.

royal assassin

Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy #2) by Robin Hobb

From Goodreads:

Fitz has survived his first hazardous mission as king’s assassin, but is left little more than a cripple. Battered and bitter, he vows to abandon his oath to King Shrewd, remaining in the distant mountains. But love and events of terrible urgency draw him back to the court at Buckkeep, and into the deadly intrigues of the royal family.

Renewing their vicious attacks on the coast, the Red-Ship Raiders leave burned-out villages and demented victims in their wake. The kingdom is also under assault from within, as treachery threatens the throne of the ailing king. In this time of great danger, the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz’s hands—and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A lot of books suffer when they are the second installment in a trilogy. This book is an obvious setup for the third and final edition but it doesn’t fall into the common trap and is a very good read in its own right.

The crucial element of Fitz’s nature and magic, his Wit abilities, finally come to the fore and in a fantastically well described relationship with Nighteyes, a relationship that eventually both damns and saves him.

Two other important influences on Fitz are his relationships with Burrich and Chade. The former suffered tremendously in Book 1 but they manage to restore that and eventually it develops into a true friendship rather than just one of master and apprentice.

A similar development takes place with Fitz and Chade but on a different level as Chade is absent for a lot of the story forcing Fitz to make decisions on his own when he really needed advice from his old mentor. When he does return it is to find a much changed and more mature Fitz, one he is forced to accept as a colleague as much as an apprentice.

The two problems I have with this book are Fitz’s relationship with Molly. It’s a constant through most of the story but adds nothing. Having read the trilogy before I know where it’s heading and why the author treated their relationship this way but frankly it’s an annoyance in an otherwise great storyline.

The second issue is Royal and his usurpation of Buckkeep and eventually the throne. I find it very difficult to believe that Shrewd and Verity would have allowed it to happen so easily despite their individual distractions. I also find it difficult to believe that Chade was so powerless and that the Coastal Duchies permitted him to treat them in such a way. However, the political machinations were a real pleasure to read, how he manipulated the court and all around him for his own ends and how he managed to gain the power he craved. Seeing him brought low (hopefully!) in the final installment will almost be as enjoyable for me as it will be for Fitz!

spring is in the air

Wednesdays are my usual day off and in a change to the usual weather we’ve been experiencing Wednesday’s forecast actually looked good for a change. Cool but dry and sunny resulted in a plan to do 55km in the morning.

Woke up after a bit of a lie in to the sun shining in the window and a complete lack of enthusiasm. Probably the best day of the year so far and I really couldn’t be arsed. I guess the warning signs were there as I hadn’t organised my gear the night before which is usually my best motivator.

Once I dragged my lazy arse out of bed I decided I had to do something productive with the day and we headed to Letterkenny, and eventually Strabane, to sort out a present for Conor’s birthday. Once done the lure of McDonald’s was strong and lunch was had.

I wouldn’t advocate McDonald’s as an athlete’s diet but getting home I was in better form and decided the afternoon was far too good to waste sitting around the house and headed for a 55km planned spin on a slightly different route than one I normally ride.

My last few spins have been affected by the stormy weather and confined to lower ground due to the windy conditions so I decided today would be a good day to add back in some hills……big mistake! 🙈

The route heads across the back roads from The Crossroads to Trusk Lough. From approx the 5km mark it starts steadily climbing on increasingly hilly sections pretty much all the way to the top of Trusk Lough with only short downhill sections to give some relief. Considering the first 1.5km is all downhill from my house I wasn’t at all warmed up before the climbing began and with tired, heavy legs it was no fun. A route that I could do easily a year and a half ago suddenly looked daunting.

Above Trusk I stopped to admire the view and take some photos of the snow still lying on The Bluestacks but mainly to catch my breath. With only 16km on the clock I already had 280m of climbing, almost half of all the climbing for the day.

snowy bluestacks

Dropping back down to the Derg Line I was hoping for a little help from the slight 15km/hr breeze and a chance to recover all the way to Castlederg. It was at this stage that I finally realised that the day’s problems weren’t just tired legs but that months of less than the bare minimum of bike maintenance meant that the bike was actually working against me. The cursory check of my chain that afternoon was wildly over optimistic and my drivetrain was obviously much too dry and dirty and making everything that little bit more difficult. The superficial wipe downs the bike has received in the last 6months has led to a buildup between and behind the front rings and I’m sure my jockey wheels are in a similar state. Add to that rubbing brakes on the rear wheel and my laziness was paying me back in spades.

The road from Trusk to Killeter and along the river to Castlederg is a really nice rolling, fast road and quite picturesque in places but it really was head down, arse up and try to get as much from my legs and bike as possible with the plan to have a rest break in Castlederg.

having a break…

Falling back on the old reliables I was hoping that a 15min rest, cup of tea and a Kit Kat would be restorative enough to get me the final 15km home. About 7km of that was over one of the more difficult local climbs, a road we call The Steps due to the appearance and elevation profile.

It doesn’t look like much from the average grade of 2% but the effort is partly hidden by the couple of descents that rob you of the hard won elevation you gain on the first couple of short, steep climbs. The main part of the climb is from Garvagh Hall just after a fantastic, fast descent.

According to Strava the average is 3% but there are quite a few tough 8, 9, 10 and 12% sections hidden in there which definitely justify the Category 4 rating. According to my Garmin the full elevation was 175m over 4.5km so it’s possible that the current segment stops before the climbing does.

Getting over that climb seemed impossible on the way back from Castlederg with the breeze back in my face but somehow I made it and even managed to enjoy the already mentioned descent to Garvagh Hall. The following climb wasn’t pretty but I made it to the top in one piece.

The one benefit of this route is that the final 5km is pretty easy, mostly flat and the last 2.5km to home all downhill. This means that I arrive home mostly recovered and not puffing and panting like I usually do.

*not* my bike 😱

My next job before my next spin is a strip down of the bike and a deep clean of the chain, rings and cassette as well as a trip to Halfords to get the brakes adjusted and finally replace the bearings in my rear wheel before they give up the ghost entirely!