A DIFFERENT Kind of Tour de France

Whatever you may think of Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, which takes place every summer in July, is an absolutely grueling endurance test.  Three thousand, four hundred, ninety six kilometers…that’s 3,496 km! (2,173 mi), pedaled over 3 weeks, up mountains, down valleys, through small villages and across France…I am exhausted every time I watch it.  These men cycle all year in preparation for, what I would call the ultimate competition of strength and perseverance.  I watch with great enthusiasm as I learn the names of the individual cyclists, pick a favorite team, open my fridge and reach for a bottle of cold water as the thirsty, pedaling cyclists reach for theirs, held out to them by a team member standing along the road.

City Hall, Bagneres de Luchon, Summer 2012, end of Stage 16

Proud Sculpture…Le Tour de France Dans Les Pyrenees

But I want to talk about a different kind of Tour de France…the kind not relegated to elite athletes or needing months, nay, years of training.  I’m talking about the Tour de France centered in the wine country of southwestern France, sharing a border with Spain along the Pyrenees, from the Mediterranean to the Bay of Biscay…

THAT Tour de France!   Continue reading

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Splash of Color

The vendors’ stalls in El Mercat de La Boqueria in Barcelona breathe life into color.

Once inside, you realize that you have never before seen red, until you saw the strawberries in front to you…you’ve never seen orange until that piece of Valencia next to it.

Splash of Color, La Boqueria

The myriad of fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, coffee, cafes, tapas…each vendor hawking his wares, looking you in the eye to make sure you understand that theirs is the best, the freshest, the tastiest, beyond compare.

Si, Señora, these are the best!

As soon as you enter La Boqueria, you are swept in, like a pebble in a river’s current, and the smartest idea is to go with the tide.

So many different colors of tomatoes

The fruits and vegetables bloom in the ultimate expression of their given colors…

while the grays, whites and pinks of the squid and octopus are pulsing as they writhe to escape the fishmonger’s table.

The colors fill the air, surround you and get into your nostrils as you inhale…

LIVING color…vibrant, palpable, LIVING color.

Weekly Photo Challenge: BIG #2

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is, itself, a work of art, as this glistening titanium structure flows, just like the river it rests upon.  Standing sentry around its perimeter are sculptures by Jeff Koons and Louise Bourgeois that are beautiful, colorful, magical and certainly BIG.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Guggenheim Bilbao

Jeff Koons, Puppy

Jeff Koons, Tulips

Louise Bourgeois, Maman

Six weeks/One Carry-On Bag Results Are In!

The results of the ‘6-weeks, 1 carry-on bag challenge’  are about to be announced.  I just don’t want this to overshadow the results of the 1st Presidential debate, so please keep it in context.

Out of the challenge we have a clear winner and we have a bending of the rules ( So far it sounds Just like the Presidential debate!)

What we found is that it is very easy to go away for 6 weeks with only 1 carry-on piece of luggage (and some stealth packing).  Now that includes clothing and outerwear that took us from 107 degrees (!!) in Barcelona at the hottest, to about 35 degrees at the top of Pic du Midi.  And although we were “peaked” for only a few hours,

Sweater, Jacket, Shoes, Socks Required!

we were at other points in the mountains for days at a time where the daily temperature was about 50 degrees…so there was definitely ‘change of seasons’ clothing required.  I must admit that in the sauna-like conditions of Barcelona the heavy sweater and jacket seemed like a huge waste of valuable real estate; weeks later I was thankful for both.

Fran’s results:  I only had 1 article of clothing that was not worn during the trip, and since that was a very thin, small cardigan, it added no weight, or bulk.

BUT, Steven brought along an extra pair of pants and an extra pair of shorts…not worn…heavier and they take up FAR more room than my eensy cardigan, SO…I am declared the clear winner.  ( How do YOU spell competitive?)  Could I have gone with the smaller, European-sized suitcase?  Perhaps, but that brings us to the bending (dare I say breaking) of the packing rules.  And that is…

we bought wine along the way and had to check luggage coming home!  Yes, we broke our ‘No checked luggage’ rule because we were seduced by buying local wine at its source.

Buying Banyuls in Banyuls

Rule bent, but memories of Spain and France will come flowing back (literally) as we pop those corks.

C’mon Steve…that will Never fit in the suitcase!

Will we be able to stick to our rule next time?  Will we be so easily seduced again?  Will the US be able to pick a President without driving everyone crazy in the process?  All these important questions will no doubt be answered soon.

 

 

 

 

Call me before your next trip…your suitcase is WAY too big (You know who you are!)

 

Chefs, grab your ladles

Much has been written about the gender wars when it come to cooking.  Who makes a better chef, a man or a woman?  Who pays more attention to detail? Does one gender have a natural penchant for cooking? (A-Hem) and so on…

But the real question is…why isn’t my husband making dinner more often? (No, actually, truth be told, I can’t say that…at all!  Steven is an excellent cook and I probably just got myself into a lot of trouble)

But what I mean to say is

Barcelona is a center of culinary delight.  The freshness that spills out of markets like La Boqueria and Santa Cristina is testament to that.  So what better place to learn some of the secrets of their ‘cuina’ (yeah! I know a word in Catalan!) than cooking school?

Steven and I went to the ‘Cook & Taste’ cooking school in Barcelona and learned some Catalan specialties…divine!  We also learned the answer to that long-debated question, who makes a better chef, a man or a woman?  The simple answer is…

Whoever puts down their wine glass long enough to get the work done.  In the case of our Catalan cooking class, it was definitely the men!

10 of us, eager students and food lovers, arrived at 11 a.m. where Maria, our instructor, had laid out all the items we were going to need to cook each dish.  She went through them one by one, starting with the Romesco sauce for roasted courgettes (zucchini).  Once she had demonstrated how each dish would be cooked, she invited us to start pouring our wine (Spanish, of course); after all, what self-respecting chef cooks without wine?

We laughed and savored our way into Catalan cooking and eating until well after 4 p.m.  We were stuffed and swore off eating…until about 9:30 that night (it is Barcelona, after all).

Maria, I need you for a dinner idea tonight!

(Click on image below for slideshow)

Next time you are in Barcelona, you can find them at:

Cook & Taste   Tallers de Cuina – Cooking Workshops

Paradis 3, 08002 Barcelona

T. +34 933 021 320         http://www.cookandtaste.net

(Have you ever been to a cooking class when traveling?  I would Love to hear about it!)