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Eastern Provence

Posted by on Oct 5, 2016 in Personal, Travel | 1 comment

Exactly three months ago today I was in France (just outside of the village of Monthoiron to be exact) standing by the side of the road waiting to see the Tour de France riders cycle past. Three months. I can’t believe how fast time is passing. Sadly the trip is beginning to feel like a distant memory. With it currently being school holidays, I’ve finally found some time to get back into editing my photos from the trip and it has been wonderful to revisit and savour the memories from our amazing time away. This post picks up where the last post finished as we made our way around the French countryside.

Following our stay in the stunning Bourg d’Oisans, we headed south to the region of Provence, with a short stop in Sisteron to drop Mum and Dad at the train station. Sisteron is a beautiful place but don’t attempt to source a late lunch in the middle of summer! The further south we travelled the hotter it became – we’d finally found summer! From Sisteron we drove east for an hour or so to our base for the next two nights at Moustiers Sainte Marie. Our reason for visiting this region was to explore the beautiful Gorges du Verdon. I first saw the Verdon Gorge in the 2015 Tour de France (stage 17 to be exact) and knew that it was another place to add to the list of places to visit next time we found ourselves in France. The Verdon Gorge is a river canyon that is described as Europe’s most beautiful. When booking the accommodation, I picked Moustiers Sainte Marie due to its proximity to the gorge, not knowing how gorgeous the village itself would be. Wikipedia describes Moustiers Sainte Marie as one of the most beautiful villages in France. We stayed just down the hill from the village in a B&B that had a pottery studio attached to it. Moustiers Sainte Marie is home to many pottery artisans, with the village itself containing many pottery shops. The owner of the B&B (and studio), Franck, kindly gave us a tour of the pottery workshop. He didn’t speak much English but we were able to get the gist of it.

Our time in Moustiers was spent exploring the nearby gorge as well as the village. The Gorges du Verdon certainly is spectacular, with the water an amazing blue/aqua colour…

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This is the actual gorge:

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The village of Moustiers Sainte Marie

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This area of Provence is home to much of the lavender that is grown in the region. We decided to venture out late one evening just before sunset (around 8:30pm) to photograph the lavender fields during golden hour.

Not a lavender field but still a beautiful view…

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Following our stay in Moustiers Sainte Marie, we headed east for the next two nights to stay in a farmhouse just outside of Forcalquier. Forcalquier is still part of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in Forcalquier besides relax (which we did). We did, however, stumble upon a couple of flowering sunflower fields which were spectacular. Seeing fields of sunflowers were something that I always wanted to see and fortunately we were able to do this. Later on in our trip we saw plenty more fields of sunflowers, particularly around the Loire Valley, but it was too early in the season for them to be flowering, so this ended up being our only opportunity.

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Forcalquier was certainly very beautiful and peaceful, however, in hindsight, we probably wouldn’t have missed it and could easily have stayed longer in Moustiers and then in Gordes (our next stop). Despite this, it was good to unwind quite a bit after nearly three weeks on the move.

Stay tuned for part two of our visit to Provence!

 

Bourg d’Oisans and Alpe d’Huez

Posted by on Jun 29, 2016 in Personal, Travel | 2 comments

After a short but sleepless overnight flight from Iceland and several hours on multiple trains, including 2 extra hours thanks to catching the wrong train (oops), we made it to the French Alps and specifically Alpe d’Huez. For those who missed my initial trip blog post (click here), one of the things I was most looking forward to about this trip was having the opportunity to ride Alpe d’Huez. Alpe d’Huez has featured in many a Tour de France and is one of the most iconic climbs in the sport of cycling. Despite having only cycled for 8 months, I was up for the challenge, along with Ian and Dad (who has been cycling for a lot longer but not as much recently).

We spent our first night staying in Alpe d’Huez itself and the view of the surrounding Alps was pretty spectacular.

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Having had very little sleep the previous night due to travelling, I awoke on the day of our epic climb feeling rather tired and somewhat apprehensive about what was to come. Thankfully the weather was perfect, if not a tad warm, and we set off down the mountain to meet Mum and Dad and pick up our hire bikes.

We had all agreed that we weren’t out to set some amazing time to get to the top of Alpe d’Huez – our goal was just to reach the top no matter how long it was going to take. For those who are interested, the fastest ever time up Alpe d’Huez is 37’35” set by Marco Pantani in 1997 (however there are drug suspicions surrounding Pantani so it’s possible that his rapid ascent of Alpe d’Huez was assisted). Before starting out, I was quite concerned that I wasn’t going to make it. I had driven up the mountain – I knew how hard it was going to be.

With our bikes ready to go, there was no turning back. We departed just after midday and had to have the bikes back by 6:30pm (so we sort of did have a bit of a time limit). The following photos are all from my iPhone as there was no way I was lugging my DSLR up Alpe d’Huez!

At the start:

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For those unfamiliar with the Tour de France, the red polka dot jersey I’m wearing is for the King of the Mountains classification. Fitting for our ride up Alpe d’Huez.

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At the actual start: Km 0

Alpe d’Huez is composed of 21 hairpins, each of which are labelled and have the names of past and (some) recent Tour de France stage winners. The first two hairpins (21 and 20) are by far the hardest, with a gradient of 11%. By the time we got to hairpin 20 (the second one from the bottom), I thought I had no hope of reaching the top. It was really hot and I was probably the thirstiest I’d ever been in my life. After a bit of a break in the shade, chatting with some English cyclists and taking on board some fuel and water, we set off again. Thankfully the spectacular views made up for the pain.

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One of the many things I enjoyed about our ride up Alpe d’Huez is the camaraderie among many of the cyclists. For example, for much of our time riding up Alpe d’Huez, we were riding near the group of English cyclists I mentioned above, so we were always encouraging each other to keep going.

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Photo by Griffe Photos

We slowly continued uphill, eventually passing the time trial (chrono) finish of Alpe d’Huez, being cheered on loudly by our English friends who had finished ahead of us and were enjoying a cold beer in a cafe. I had wanted to finish at the proper Tour de France finish which is about 1.5km further uphill from the chrono finish, so Dad and I continued on (sadly Ian couldn’t join us as we were now running out of time and he headed downhill to pick up the car to pick us up). Unfortunately the TdF finish was not all that well signposted and we actually rode too far, eventually finding it on our way back downhill (which was a pleasant way to finish). All up, it took us 2 hours and 12 minutes of riding and about that again with rest breaks.

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Getting to the top was the best feeling ever. I still feel stoked to have been able to achieve this. Yes, it was extremely hard and there were many times I had to tell my legs to shut up, but the views were spectacular and the closer I got to the finish the stronger I felt (it also helped that the gradients were slightly less than the start of the ride). My many months of training had paid off. It was also really special to have been able to ride Alpe d’Huez with Dad who I can blame for my love of cycling. Riding Alpe d’Huez is something that he has wanted to do for a while so it was a privilege to have had the opportunity to cycle it with him.

The day after our ascent was spent fairly quietly as were were all pretty exhausted from our efforts. We took a wander around Bourg d’Oisans which is the village at the base of Alpe d’Huez. It is surrounded by the Alps and is beautiful.

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You might be able to see a line running across the top third of the mountain in the image above. It is a road from the village of Huez and also excellent to ride along…I have plans 🙂

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This field of poppies was just outside of our B&B

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After our night in Alpe d’Huez, we spent the next two with Mum and Dad at a great B&B called Cycling Ascents (yes, a B&B targeted at cyclists) in Bourg d’Oisans. As you might imagine, there was plenty of cycling talk at the breakfast table as everyone shared where they had ridden the previous day and where they were headed that day. I loved it.

I felt a little heartbroken to leave Bourg d’Oisans. It is one of the few places I’ve visited that I think I could happily spend the rest of my life. I loved the scenery and the strong cycling culture (in winter it becomes a base for skiing). I loved what I was able to achieve by cycling Alpe d’Huez but it has left me hungry for more. The area is home to several other famous climbs such as the Col du Galibier, Col du Glandon and Col de Telegraphe to name a few, so there is plenty more cycling to be done in this area. Being immersed in the cycling culture and having the opportunity to test myself physically by cycling Alpe d’Huez has left me wanting more. We’ve already talked about coming back for a longer stay to tackle some more epic ascents by bike. I’m not sure when, but I’ll definitely be back and I now have some big goals to keep training for!

P.S. Shoutout to the awesome team in L block! Have a great holiday 🙂

East to West Iceland

Posted by on Jun 28, 2016 in Personal, Travel | 2 comments

We’ve had a couple of big days and before any further time passes, I need to do my final Iceland blog post! We said farewell to Iceland 5 days ago and I still need to blog about what we saw from East Iceland across the top to West Iceland and back to Reykjavik, so here goes!

We left the glaciers behind as we travelled north along the eastern coast of Iceland from Hofn to Seydisfjordur, a stunning little village set at the end of a 17km long fjord. Several scenes from Walter Mitty were filmed around Seydisfjordur, including the skateboard scene. Here are a few photos of Seydisfjordur.

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Not too far from Seydisfjordur was a village home to a colony of puffins. Not wanting to miss the opportunity of seeing puffins in the wild, we took the 2.5 hour round trip to Borgarfjordur Eystri. Thankfully our trip paid off – there were heaps of puffins and they were adorable!

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From Borgarfjordur Eystri we headed west to Myvatn. It is amazing how different the landscape is in the north of Iceland compared with the south. As you may have seen in my previous posts, southern Iceland is quite lush and home to many waterfalls and glaciers, whereas much of the north is quite barren and desolate. There are large lava flows that give the landscape quite an alien feel. Myvatn is quite a geologically active area and is quite similar to Rotorua in New Zealand, especially in its sulphurous smell.

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After some long walks and many hours sitting in the car, I was started to feel quite sore so convinced Ian to take a dip with me in one of the geothermal pools that Myvatn has to offer. It was about 11 degrees outside and the smell wasn’t particularly pleasant, however, the pool was 38 degrees and incredibly relaxing. You can’t really come to Iceland without having a swim in a geothermal pool!

Our journey continued west from Myvatn, passing through the the gorgeous little town of Husavik and also visiting Godafoss (another waterfall).

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Lighthouse outside Husavik

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Church in Husavik

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Our final night in Iceland (if you don’t count the one spent at an airport) was at Stykkisholmur, another charming sea-side village.

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Hotel Eglisen – our hotel for the night

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This building was used as the pub in Walter Mitty (just before he jumps into the helicopter). Our hotel is in the background.

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Our final day in Iceland was spent exploring the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. It was a spectacular day – sunny and warm. Despite it being only 14 degrees, it was warm enough to not need a jacket. The cold in Iceland (in summer) feels much different to the cold in Sydney. 14 degrees in Sydney would have me wearing multiple layers! I even managed to get a little sunburnt on a similar day earlier in the trip.

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Kirkjufoss 

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Kirkjufoss with Kirkjufell in the background

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Church in Hellnar

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Another cute church, this time in Budir.

That pretty much summarises our trip to Iceland for now. As I wrote previously, there are plenty of photos to be edited and blogged when I have some more time to do them justice so this will not be the end of what I share about Iceland.

I loved our time in Iceland and am so blessed to have been able to see it. I’m not sure how much the country will change over time, particularly as tourism grows, but I fear that as more people visit there will be less access to some of the sights that we were able to enjoy. If a trip to Iceland is something you’ve considered, do it!

My next post will be about the equally stunning Alps in France.