Monday, 13 May 2013

My definition of a dilatory blog style; France 4-12 May

I've only blogged twice in the last month, that's why I'm dilatory. I did warn last time though that it might be a while before I did again, and so it's turned out.

Now, it's going to be very tempting to turn this post into another in my occasional series of paeans of why riding in France is so great. The last 10 days were so good, however, I'll broaden the thing out into why just being in France is so great. But lest this turn into one of those nauseating Christmas round robins that outline just how brilliant the preceding year has been along with the full extent of the genius of everyone in the family, I'll start with some negatives....

Things The French Don't Do Very Well:

  1. Roundabouts - by and large, the French aren't as bad drivers as they're sometimes made out to be. Yes, they can tailgate a bit sometimes, and the concept of acknowledging someone else's politeness is slightly alien, but in general I find them to be patient, relaxed and highly considerate to bikes and their riders. Their roundabout discipline, however, is appalling - most drivers don't use indicators before or during the process, it's a regular and apparently acceptable practice to take, say, the 4th exit by crawling round the outside rather than using lanes properly, and some older drivers seem to think "priorite a droit" still applies
  2. Milk - for a country that has so much agriculture and so many cows, it's a surprising one this, but it's true - most of their milk is sold as the UHT variety, and it's not very nice, frankly. I love splashing a bit of cold skimmed milk on my cereal, but you just can't get the same stuff across there; it's very disappointing. Their cream isn't much better either.
  3. Newspapers - I love the printed British media, principally its political blogs, periodicals and newspapers. I think you find fantastic, provocative, informative stuff in the Telegraph, Guardian, Spectator, Private Eye, Economist and even, very occasionally, The New Statesman. My French is generally pretty poor, but I can read it to an extent, and there just doesn't seem to be much in the way of equivalents over there. Their papers are undoubtedly functional - we bought a copy of Ouest France on the way back yesterday, and its 5 pages of handball coverage were nothing if not comprehensive - but they seem to lack the humour and contrariness of their British counterparts. It's clear they consider themselves purveyors of news first and foremost, rather than comment and analysis. 
So there we are. France isn't perfect. However, as always we've just had a really enjoyable week out there. Highlights in no particular order included:

- the Normandy landing beaches, museums and cemeteries. I could do a whole post and much more besides on this, but I'll confine myself to saying that the whole coast manages to pull off the balancing act of appropriate remembrance and taste, with informativeness and accessibility. It would be easy for the area to have turned into a kind of WW2 theme park, but it hasn't. Not even the massive American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, which in fact seems to me to be a rare example of American restraint and controlled patriotism. It was a unexpected and pleasant (not quite the right word given the subject matter, so forgive me) surprise.

- the food. I'm really not sure why it seems so much easier to eat better over there. Of course, when you're on holiday you have more time to spend buying and cooking, but nevertheless you get a much clearer sense of seasonality and local produce in even the biggest French supermarkets. They're not necessarily cheaper these days (in fact everything is more expensive, bar the wine, which is still a steal if you know what you're looking for), but their fruit, vegetables and seafood in particular are streets ahead of ours, at least by my criteria - i.e. they don't all look as uniform as ours do, but my, the flavour is there in a way that's missing from much of our imported produce these days.

- Caen. I'd never been before. It's lovely, and has a massive market on a Sunday. Anything and everything is available, though amusingly the busiest stall was run by Brits, and was selling pulled pork sandwiches.

- sleep. OK, so this is a bit specific to our house, but at night, there is no light pollution, and no noise. On a cloudy night there are no light sources whatever - if you open your eyes in the night you think you've gone blind for a moment. And our nearest road is a kilometre away, and there's only 15 cars a day on it anyway. All of which means that I seem to sleep much more deeply and satisfyingly there than anywhere else. Which is nice.

- riding my bicycle. It had to come didn't it? I got out four times whilst I was across there, which meant that I effectively exercised 6 times during the week (the other two occasions were mowing our lawn at the start and end of the week; it was a challenge shall we say, especially the first assault on the jungle). I only rode for just under 8 hours and just over 200km respectively, but the advantage of splitting that into four rides meant that I could really hurt myself when I was in the mood. That mostly occurred last Tuesday, when I managed a 39 mile ride in 2 hours 6 mins, including 788m of climbing. I'm pretty strong at the moment, but a bit heavy; some dietary modifications are called for. The most difficult of the four rides was last Wednesday, when I rode 35 miles from the coast back home in a south-westerly direction when there was a headwind pretty much the whole way. Nothing unusual about that, but a croissant and two ice-creams do not good ride preparation make, and there wasn't much in the tanks as I crawled the last 10 miles home at a snail's pace.

Otherwise, the week was as advertised; I did drink lots of red wine and eat lots of French bakery product; we sought out, purchased and imported a variety of tat, sorry, quality French antiques, for Mrs M to do up and flog on; we walked our holiday dog; we drank beer with our 79 year old French farmer neighbour who speaks not a word of English, and we lay in bed listening to the families of starlings under our rear rafters and sparrows under the front ones. All in all, a bucolic and lovely week.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Tweets by @skinsalive