Arts and Culture, Food, Running, Travel

Running Lessons Learnt + Race Recap EDF Cenis Tour (32km trail)

Note: this post was written with runners in mind. If you’re here for the photos, feel free to skip all the blah-blah-running-jargon-blah and jump right to the end. =)

When a runner ambitiously signs up for 2 races of distances 20 miles spaced 2 weeks apart, it’s an indication of confidence or insanity. In the Ninja Turtle’s case, it was a little bit of both. Before her scabs from the Trail des Passerelles had even come off, she and GodzillaPin found themselves doing the long drive back down towards Grenoble once more.

This time, the Ninja Turtle was signed up for the 32km distance of the EDF Cenis Tour. Here’s an awesome promotional video capturing the essence of the race:

Of course, the Ninja Turtle didn’t watch that video before she’d signed up. Had she seen it, she would certainly have thought twice about putting her name down on the list. There comes a point when one quickly discovers that in France, trail race organisers can be very casual about certain things, but more on that later.

Driving for hours in the rain on Saturday, hoping and praying that the rain clouds would finish dumping their load by the next morning.

Driving for hours in the rain on Saturday, hoping and praying that the rain clouds would finish dumping their load by the next morning.

Lesson #1: If you live on low altitudes, be prepared for some level of discomfort when running a mountain trail race.

The race kicked off from a little Savoyard village called Lanslevillard, up in the mountains of the Vanoise National Park. This is about an hour’s drive east of Grenoble and Chambery, and pretty close to the Italian border (on one side of the mountain ranges, the French call it Mont Cenis while on the Italians call it Moncenisio).

Look at the altitude from the starting point!

Look at the altitude from the starting point!

The race took the runners up to 2200m above sea level, which is an altitude pretty darn high for the Ninja Turtle. In fact, she was already uncomfortable at the starting line, because the air really is rather much thinner up there when one’s not used to it. She came with Ventolin, and took 2 puffs at the starting line, but that didn’t do much. All through the race, she struggled with nausea, breathlessness and towards the end, a lightheadedness that made her head swim.

In fact, these symptoms were so unpleasant that it completely threw her fuelling plan out of whack (plan being simply to eat as much as possible at every fuel stop). Due to the nausea, she could only manage a total of 6 dry biscuits and half a cup of apple juice through the entire course. Thankfully, she’d eaten a larger-than-usual pre-race breakfast (not because she was hungry but who says no to coffee, freshly baked baguettes, homemade jams, regionally sourced honey and cheeses, organic yogurt and locally churned butter?) For once, her greed did not end in bloated self-loathing and regret.

Also, signing up for trail racing has a different meaning in the mountainous regions. Not only do runners have to contend with the usual roots, rocks, sand and unstable terrain, very often, they find themselves along cliff edges too. For someone who’s still trying to grapple with a fear of heights and falling, this handicapped the Ninja Turtle greatly during the race. At various points, the runners had to climb up vertical cliff walls with the aid of cables driven into the face of the mountains. The Ninja Turtle was scared out of her mind and on two occasions, came close to quitting, but since she’d made a promise to run the race for Vaco, quitting was not an option. She just simply stood aside and let the faster, more confident racers overtake her (although a few very polite gentlemen insisted on letting her stay ahead and take her time).

The Ninja Turtle will either have to come to grips with great heights, or stop signing up for mountain trail races because she’s just going to be a pain in the arse to the other runners with her paranoid and tearful dithering. Bad attitude is a handicap on the trails.

Lesson #2: Distance isn’t all that matters, total elevation has to be taken into account too.

So, as the Ninja Turtle was saying, 2 races of 20+ miles in set 14 days apart. For a runner of about 3 years, she is no longer intimidated by covering distances like that, but there was one little thing she overlooked while signing up – the elevation of the race.

The last race had an elevation gain of 1900m, and this one of 1600m. Remember, what goes up must come down, and as any runner knows, it’s the downhill that kills (thrashed quads, bruised toenails, increased chances of taking a tumble or rolling an ankle). She measured a total elevation of 3834m (12,578ft) for the Trail des Passerelles, and 3523m (11,558ft) for the EDF Cenis Tour. Take her word for it, each of those races were harder than a road marathon.

Trail race organisers also have a peculiar habit of being rather vague about distances – her last race advertised 35km but she completed 36.75km, while this one said 32km but she measured 33.34km. It may be easy to say “oh come on, you’re already covering 30-odd kilometres, what’s an extra one or two?”. Well, when you’ve been on your feet for hours and all you want to do is sit down to a cold beer, one extra kilometre is a huge difference.

Lesson #3: Racing or training – pick ONE.

So after failing to complete The Trail Yonne, the Ninja Turtle spent hours crafting a training plan for her promised comeback (with a focus on higher mileage and more hills, basically). With swollen quads and a few new purple toenails to deal with post-Passerelles however, she was quickly forced to admit that she was going to need a few days off.

Some ultra running websites advise 1 day for every 10 miles raced, or 1 day for every 10km if the elevation was hard. The Ninja Turtle found this to be a pretty reasonable guide; on Thursday, she had ambitiously ventured out into the sunshine, but after 1km around the Parc de la Seille, her quads were squeaking “are you out of your soddin’ mind?” So she walked for an hour to enjoy some sunshine, and the next day, she was ready for a very slow 5 miles at recovery pace.

In fact, for the week leading up to the second race, ALL her runs had to be done at an easy effort, and she even cut one of her runs short. This was imperative to her ability to complete the EDF Cenis Tour.

For any runners out there contemplating on doing multiple races back to back, understand that by the time race season rolls around, your body should be in tip-top racing shape and training runs by this stage are secondary to your ability to recover as quickly as possible. This isn’t the moment to be obsessing over your weekly mileages anymore. And no, rest assured that you will NOT lose fitness in that one week or ten days off. If you can race multiple times in a season, you’re probably pretty fit, and your butt will not magically blimp out in the meantime.

Treat any injuries straightaway, and assess your ability to run in the upcoming races. Drink lots of water and stay hydrated. Eat lots of high quality food. This is not the moment to be on a diet – unfortunately, just like weight loss and eating for racing don’t mesh, weight loss and eating for recovery simply don’t go together either (wait until you’re back to base stage of your training to drop the kilos).

Get in plenty of fruits and vegetables for the antioxidants, protein for muscle recovery, and play with natural sources of anti-inflammatory like tart cherry juice, beetroot, ginger, turmeric, fatty fish and walnuts.

Sleep. Get lots and lots of sleep. Take cat naps. Take dog naps. Take elephant naps if you need to.

Professionals use electro-stimulation therapy, but that can get expensive. For mere mortals, consider a massage. Take an ice-bath post-race, and a warm bath with magnesium salts a couple of days later. Use Tiger Balm liberally. Foam-roll like you mean it.

The Ninja Turtle enjoying a post-race massage from volunteering physiotherapists.

The Ninja Turtle enjoying a post-race massage from volunteering physiotherapists.

Lesson #4: If you’re serious about racing, proper nutrition is important.

Here is what the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin ate for dinner the night before the race:

A meat platter on a DIY hot plate with an unfinishable side of French fries and a variety of cream sauces, because it was raining all day and 13°C (53°F) outside.

A meat platter on a DIY hot plate with an unfinishable side of French fries and a variety of cream sauces, because it was raining all day and 13°C (53°F) outside.

They also had a half-bottle of red wine to share, and later, the owner/chef came out to see if everything was all right, and gave them each a shot of home-made caramel schnapps, which they had to drink because firstly it’s rude to say no and secondly, come on, caramel schnapps!

This was what the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin ate for a late lunch after the race:

A giant hamburger with salad and even more French fries (not shown). The Turtle also had 2 beers because the tap said Best Beer In The World and she wanted to believe it was true.

A giant hamburger with salad and even more French fries (not shown). The Turtle also had 2 beers because the tap said Best Beer In The World and she wanted to believe it was true.

The photo does little justice to what must be the biggest hamburger this side of the Atlantic. Even with two hands, that thing is so loaded with mayonnaise, bacon, steak and salad just threatening to fall apart. Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds.

And then later, they went back to the same restaurant as the previous night “for cocktails, since we’re not hungry” – GodzillaPin. The owner was so surprised and thrilled to see them back, and asked the Ninja Turtle how she did. Well, drinks inevitably turned into dinner, and the Ninja Turtle’s kir de châtaigne became:

A half-bottle of rosé, all by herself because GodzillaPin was still nursing a cocktail.

A half-bottle of rosé, all by herself because GodzillaPin was still nursing a cocktail.

And because it’s not advisable to drink on an empty stomach, she and GodzillaPin eventually ended up ordering:

Apple and goat's cheese salad (supposedly to share but guess who ate most of it).

Apple and goat’s cheese salad (supposedly to share but guess who ate most of it).

Close to the Italian border, right? That pizza was like a party in the mouth - thin hot crunchy crust, gooey cheese, and a herby tomato sauce that literally sparkles on the palate.

Close to the Italian border, right? Thse pizzas were like a party in the mouth – thin hot crunchy crust, gooey cheese, and a herby tomato sauce that literally sparkles on the palate.

The owner came over to have a chat, and naturally, out came the caramel schnapps again. This time, he insisted on giving them not one, but two shots each, because après l’effort, le réconfort.

The Ninja Turtle obviously got the macronutrients backwards. A focus on carbs before the race, and protein after, right? But altitude sickness aside, the wheels didn’t fall off, and she managed to complete her race just fine. In fact, she surprised herself with her race results (see end of post). This goes to show that for the average non-competitive runner out there, there is no need to stress out getting the nutrition side 100% spot-on. Our bodies are pretty adept at taking what it needs and making the most of it.

BUT! After such a hedonistic weekend, the Ninja Turtle is paying the price. Two-pound gain aside, she woke up with a throbbing headache, and the worst thirst ever. Binge-drinking alcohol after a hard effort is a terrible idea no matter how you look at it, as the Ninja Turtle’s angry bowels can attest (alcohol can be dehydrating in more ways than one). She’s guessing her liver’s pretty swollen too, and she’s too afraid to ask her kidneys how they’re doing. Lesson learnt.

Now the four lessons are out the way, here are some photos taken mid-race:

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And for those with a fascination for numbers and stats, here’s the low-down:

GPS time and distance measured: 33.34km in 4 hours 30 mins 20 seconds.

Official time: 4 hours 30 mins 27 seconds (small racing field!)

Ranking for 32km finishers (don’t know how many DNFs): 82/151 Overall, 10/32 Women and 6/20 Senior Femmes.

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Arts and Culture, Food, Running, Travel

Exploring Bruges, “Venice of the North”

What a month it’s been! Every single weekend, the duo have found themselves somewhere new, and this last weekend, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin went to catch up with an old friend in Bruges. The last time they saw Matt Damon was in Mulhouse last October, and a lot has happened since then, so it’s been one long gab-fest to catch up on news, and to make more plans for later this summer.

The Ninja Turtle had very little expectations of Bruges, to be honest. Aside from hearing the phrase “Venice of the north” again and again, there was little else to really look forward to, and frankly, if a city has a reputation of being a geographic equivalent of another more famous city… well, what prospects does it have of establishing itself as a legit destination in its own rights?

Turns out, Bruges has a LOT going for it.

Turns out, Bruges has a LOT going for it.

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There are also plenty of tea houses and snack bars serving waffles, ice cream parlours and every imaginable sweet treat.

Between the waffles, chocolate and ice cream, Belgium cities are the shortcut to diabetes.

And of course, the Belgian beers

There is a beer for everyone in Bruges. GodzillaPin found his beer.

There is a beer for everyone in Bruges. GodzillaPin found his beer.

There’s beer, and there is beer. Belgium’s beer brewing tradition goes back centuries, and is a craft refined by the monks in abbeys, which is why trappist beers are THE BEST. If you ever get a chance, try a blind taste test between a bottle-fermented beer, and any old industrially-produced beer. One of them will have  “living” taste.

Bruges is a very beautiful city.

Is this the best photobomb ever?

Is this the best photobomb ever?

And this is how it earned its reputation as Venice of the North.

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Seeing the fine weather forecasted for Sunday morning, the trio popped over to Oostende, a coastal town which was a 20-minute drive from Bruges. The sun was shining gloriously but the North Sea wind was still cold. The Ninja Turtle went off for a quick 5K run along the promenade while the boys headed straight for the sand.

Matt Damon soaking in the rays.

Matt Damon soaking in the rays.

Matt Damon thought it was funny to secretly tail the Ninja Turtle for a few minutes, and to scare the daylights out of her as she approached their meeting point. It was a close race back to GodzillaPin.

Matt Damon thought it was funny to secretly tail the Ninja Turtle for a few minutes, and to scare the daylights out of her as she approached their meeting point. It was a close race back to GodzillaPin.

Visit Bruges. It’s kind of like Venice, but with beer, chocolate, fries and waffles, which makes it a thousand times better.

A French, a Singaporean and a Swiss walked into a bar... and they drank to the awesome city of Bruges.

A French, a Singaporean and a Swiss walked into a bar… and they drank to the awesome city of Bruges.

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Food, Travel

Eating and Drinking Marseille

This is a photo collection and summary of the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin’s dining adventures in Marseille. They received no recompense in any form whatsoever for what they are about to write. It’s all in the name of information sharing, to help other travellers make better choices. So, one of the main reasons why Marseille was so exciting, despite the terrible weather, was because as a grande ville, the dining options were far more varied and interesting than the handful of eateries in Metz.

Here, one could find food that was not-French-cuisine. Here, breakfast needn’t necessarily be croissants and orange juice. As the duo had explored Marseille’s markets in a previous trip, their food focus this time round was mainly on restaurants. (That said, they did quickly wander through Noailles to buy nuts, spices, teas, herbs and olives to carry back to Metz.) The first restaurant they dined in was L’Ecailler, one of the several restaurants on Rue Saint-Saëns that offered a 15€ menu of entrée, plat, dessert.

It’s one of those restaurants where there’s a server permanently parked at the door hustling people to come in, but service inside can be painfully slow. The place was packed to the brim though, so the duo will acknowledge that. GodzillaPin was embarrassed at the end of the meal when the waiter told him their card machine was not working and he had to go hunt down an ATM to withdraw some cash. The food was OK but the overall experience wasn’t great, so there will be no repeat visits to this place.

Dinner that night was at a chic establishment called Les Akolytes. Right on the corner of Rue Papety and Rue des Catalans, it has an air of recent refurbishment. This was the meal before the marathon, and when GodzillaPin told the Ninja Turtle that it was a tapas-style dinner, she worried for a while that she wouldn’t have enough to eat.

Menu board at Les Akolytes. Each person chose two or three dishes, but they were all for sharing.

Menu board at Les Akolytes. Each person chose two or three dishes, but they were all for sharing. Everything looked so darn delicious!

The Ninja Turtle’s fears were unfounded. The portions were generous and hey, in France, one could always fill up on bread. Carb-loading, right?

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In retrospect, this was by far hands down the winning meal of the whole trip. The ambiance in the restaurant made it perfect for romantic dinners, gatherings or special occasions, and the food was superb. The waiting time was a bit long, but it was a one-man-show in the kitchen and totally worth the wait. Definitely going back the next time they return to Marseille.

Post-marathon, the Ninja Turtle filled up on plenty of raisins, bananas, and oranges, so it wasn’t until 3pm that the duo went out hunting for lunch. On a Sunday, that doesn’t bide well. At all. Most restaurants stop service at 2.30pm. In the end, it was back to Rue Saint-Saëns, but this time, they really couldn’t stomach another tourist-trap meal, so it was back to the trusty old standby:

Hey, after running 26.2 miles, one is entitled to eat anything one desires. There is nothing wrong with a humble lamb kebab.

Hey, after running 26.2 miles, one is entitled to eat anything one desires. There is nothing wrong with a humble lamb kebab.

Later that evening, it was a long and windy uphill hike from their hotel to dinner. The restaurant was called Adonis du Liban, and while the service was slightly awkward, the food kept on coming. They started with a Lebanese soup of lentils and freekeh (not pictured because it looked horrendous but tasted not too bad), and proceeded to the following:

Also ordered a half-bottle of rosé wine to celebrate.

Also ordered a half-bottle of rosé wine to celebrate.

They almost had to beg for mercy when the shish taouk served with a Lebanese rice pilaf showed up at the table. That said, it was a really delicious meal and worth the effort of getting to the restaurant. Various online reviews also claim that it’s super authentic as far as Lebanese cuisine goes. The duo aren’t experts in Lebanese food, but they’d happily recommend this place.

Of course, there’s always room for dessert, and as the couple walked along Vieux Port, one of the various ice cream parlours caught their eye.

OK fine, Italian gelati. They chose amarena (cherry), tiramisu, marron glacé (glazed chestnut) and nocciola (hazelnut).

Fine it’s not ice cream, it’s Italian gelati. They chose amarena (cherry), tiramisu, marron glacé (glazed chestnut) and nocciola (hazelnut).

Monday lunch was at a little dining place called SO… Marseille on the other side of the port. In fact, the duo have eaten at this place two years ago, on their first visit to Marseille. It wasn’t intentional, they’d just forgotten they’d been here before, which was strange because the Ninja Turtle had happy memories flooding back as soon as she sat down.

Lunch was called a tasting platter of 8 tapas, but it was really more like a giant super-loaded salad drenched in lots of olive oil.

Lunch was called a tasting platter of 8 tapas, but it was really more like a giant super-loaded salad drenched in lots of olive oil.

Can you feel the sunshine on your skin and smell the Mediterranean just by looking at this food? It tasted of holidays.

Can you feel the sunshine on your skin and smell the Mediterranean just by looking at this food? It tasted of holidays.

Some may consider this a bit touristy, but the duo didn’t mind. The food was exactly what they came to south of France for, and the service was simply marvellous. The waitress was super-friendly and helpful, plus dessert was amazing:

Tiramisu and a macaron au chocolat with raspberry coulis.

Tiramisu and a macaron au chocolat with raspberry coulis.

One can probably make a pretty accurate guess at the tourism statistics of Marseille simply by looking at the number of British pubs that line Vieux Port. O’Malleys, The Queen Victoria, The Shamrock Irish Pub… you get the idea. It looks like the local Marseillais(es) have no problems assimilating the drinking culture into their own lifestyle though.

A beer pong tournament every Tuesday. Winners are entitled to an open bar.

A beer pong tournament every Tuesday. Winners are entitled to an open bar.

The final meal in Marseille on Monday night was at Le Grand Baie. Being completely unfamiliar with Mauritius cuisine, the duo didn’t quite know what to expect. Turns out, the little cosmopolitan island is quite the melting pot of cultures, and this blend of Creole, Indian, Chinese and European flavours is reflected in its culinary offerings.

Don't remember the names of these, but they were very much like Chinese shiu mai, Indian samosa, Portugese filetes de peixe and something incredibly crunchy but unidentifiable.

Don’t remember the names of these, but they were very much like Chinese shiu mai, Indian samosa, Portugese filetes de peixe and something incredibly crunchy but unidentifiable.

The owner was a really friendly man who was hell-bent on re-creating Mauritius for his diners. It was lashing with wind and rain outside, but inside, he cranked the heating right up, and served the alcoholic beverages with a very liberal hand. The aperitifs at 4€ were comparable in price to most other restaurants, but here, Daniel served up DOUBLE the quantity.

The Ninja Turtle went with a gambas curry for her main course, and was delighted with the size of the crustaceans in her dish.

The Ninja Turtle went with a gambas curry for her main course, and was delighted with the size of the crustaceans in her dish.

While GodzillaPin went with a fish curry that was salty, spicy and citrusy all at once.

While GodzillaPin went with a fish curry that was salty, spicy and citrusy all at once.

The curries were served with kidney beans, rice and a token dish of vegetables.

For dessert, a flambéed banana split with coconut ice cream, and of course, flambéed with generous slugs of rum.

For dessert, a banana split with coconut ice cream chantilly cream, and of course,  generous slugs of rum.

They could hardly finish their meal, there was just so much food. Although it was not as impressive as the food at Les Akolytes, the duo found this meal to be the best dining experience, between the friendliness and generosity of the owner, and the novelty of trying a completely new cuisine.

And there you have it, the round up on the duo’s eating adventures in Marseille, and a couple of recommendations based on their favourite experiences.

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Food, Travel

A visit to Cognac

The next stop on the trio’s tour was Cognac. No points for guessing what it is known for.

What is cognac? Quite simply, it’s a brandy (distilled from grapes). However, as it was explained to the trio at Rémy Martin, while all cognacs are brandy, not all brandys are cognacs. This boils down to the French ruling of AOP (appéllation d’origine côntrolée), meaning you ain’t got the rights to use the name unless you produce the goods in that region/land.

This is a map of the various terroirs (types of soils) in the cognac region. All the grapes grown here are more or less fated to end their lives in a cognac bottle.

This is a map of the various terroirs (types of soils) in the cognac region. All the grapes grown here are more or less fated to end their lives in a cognac bottle.

A display of what the Borderies terroir looks like. At Camus, visitors are invited to touch the display and feel the textures of the soil.

A display of what the Borderies terroir looks like. At Camus, visitors are invited to touch the display and feel the textures of the soil.

The varietals of grapes used are also different from those used to make regular wine.

The varietals of grapes used are also different from those used to make regular wine. Ugni-blanc is the most commonly used varietal.

A tell-tale sign of cognac production is when one sees a layer of black coating any building, trees or for that matter, ground. This is a mould that feeds off the fumes of cognac. Anyone care for some drunken mould?

A tell-tale sign of cognac production is when one sees a layer of black coating any building, trees or for that matter, ground. This is a mould that feeds off the fumes of cognac. Any care for some drunken mould?

Grapes are fermented into wine (7 to 12 days), and poured into the alembic, where it is boiled. The vapour passes through the copper pot, condenses on the other side with the aid of cold water. The process is repeated, hence, a double distillation, and it takes 24 hours. Distilleries run nonstop from end of September to mid-April.

Grapes are fermented into wine (7 to 12 days), and poured into the alembic, where it is boiled. The vapour passes through the copper pot, condenses on the other side with the aid of cold water. The process is repeated, hence, a double distillation, and it takes 24 hours. Distilleries run nonstop from end of September to mid-April.

Unlike whisky, cognac is stored in virgin casks. The oak wood is from the French region of Limousin, and unlike wine barrels that get replaced every few years, a cognac barrel is used for a loooooooong time.

Unlike whisky, cognac is stored in virgin casks. The oak wood is from the French region of Limousin, and unlike wine barrels that get replaced every few years, a cognac barrel is used for a loooooooong time.

The minimum ageing of a cognac is 2 years for a VS (very special), 4 years for a VSOP (very special old pale) or 6-7 years for XO (extra old). Since cognacs are blends of various eaux-de-vie (spirits) with different ages, the label refers to the youngest age in the blend.

The minimum ageing of a cognac is 2 years for a VS (very special), 4 years for a VSOP (very special old pale) or 6-7 years for XO (extra old). Since cognacs are blends of various eaux-de-vie (spirits) with different ages, the label refers to the youngest age in the blend.

The job of blending the spirits falls upon the cellar master, who opens barrels, takes a sip and decides if a barrel is ready for blending. Each year, a barrel/cask loses about 2-3% through evaporation, called the angels' share (well, really it's the black mould's share). Since some cognacs are blended from spirits upwards of 100 years old, it's easy to understand that cognacs don't come cheap.

The job of blending the spirits falls upon the cellar master, who opens barrels, takes a sip and decides if a barrel is ready for blending. Each year, a barrel/cask loses about 2-3% through evaporation, called the angels’ share (well, really it’s the black mould’s share). Since some cognacs are blended from spirits upwards of 100 years old, it’s easy to understand that cognacs don’t come cheap.

At Camus, visitors are invited to play the role of the cellar master, and to identify the aromas in the eaux-de-vie as well as the final blended products.

At Camus, visitors are invited to play the role of the cellar master, and to identify the aromas in the eaux-de-vie as well as the final blended products.

While at Rémy Martin, a domaine visit included a train ride around their immaculately maintained compound.

While at Rémy Martin, a domaine visit included a train ride around their immaculately maintained compound.

Each visit ended with a tasting but Rémy Martin stood out because they served food! The food-drink pairings are designed to enhance the flavours of the cognacs. A cream of roquefort on savoury butter biscuit was paired with a VSOP...

Each visit ended with a tasting but Rémy Martin stood out because they served food! The food-drink pairings are designed to enhance the flavours of the cognacs. A cream of roquefort on savoury butter biscuit was paired with a VSOP…

While the XO came with the world's best chocolate orange macaron. The in-house chef used to work in the Palais de l'Élysée for Jacques Chirac.

While the XO came with the world’s best chocolate orange macaron. The in-house chef used to work in the Palais de l’Élysée for Jacques Chirac.

While most cognacs are eye-wateringly expensive

While most cognacs are eye-wateringly expensive

There can only be one king of the cognacs - Louis XIII. The trio have seen the barrels in which some eaux-de-vie pre-date their grandparents, resting quietly underground waiting to be blended into a bottle of Louis XIII. Starting price: 2500€.

There can only be one king of the cognacs – Louis XIII. The trio have seen the barrels in which some eaux-de-vie pre-date their grandparents, resting quietly underground waiting to be blended into a bottle of Louis XIII. Starting price: 2500€.

No compensation was received for writing this post, nor for mentioning Camus and Rémy Martin. The reason why they chose to visit these two houses, instead of the others, was quite simply because the Ninja Turtle’s dad used to have a cognac collection with these two brands, and the Ninja Turtle grew up marvelling those bottles made of baccarat crystal. They chose these two houses for the sake of her childhood memories, that is all. That said, they were very good tours, and the trio would highly recommend these distilleries to any reader who’s thinking of visiting Cognac.

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Food, Travel

When in Bordeaux…

Happy days! GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle were joined on Friday by Sonic the Hedgehog, who flew all the way from Sydney to spend a few precious days with the duo. Since they’re in Bordeaux, there’s only one logical activity on the itinerary…

First stop: Château Lusseau, owned by the Quellien family

First stop: Château Lusseau, owned by the Quellien family and do visits by appointment

M. Quellien spent a good hour going into the details of the Bordeaux regions, and how the terroirs of the Left (sandy and stony) and the Right (calcium clay) banks of the river are different, hence influencing the profiles of the wine. The blend of varietals are also different; in Graves where they’re situated, the mix of Merlot and Cabernet Savignon tends to be about 50-50%, but they also do use Cabernet Franc and Malbec. On the right bank, it’s predominantly Merlot.

Sonic the Hedgehog marvelling the quantity of wine behind him

Sonic the Hedgehog marvelling the quantity of wine behind him

Château Lusseau produces both red and white wines, which was a surprise to the Ninja Turtle, since Bordeaux isn’t really known for their whites. They tasted one which was a mix of Semillon and Savignon Blanc, which was citrusy and carried hints of vanilla. She wished they had oysters at hand.

Then they were served red wines from this cool little temperature-controlled fridge maintained at 18 Celsius.

Then they were served red wines from this cool little temperature-controlled fridge maintained at 18 Celsius.

The boys browsing a book written by the younger M. Quellien, who'd gone backpacking around Australia a few years ago and decided to write all about it

The boys browsing a book written by the younger M. Quellien, who’d gone backpacking around Australia a few years ago and decided to write all about it

After a quick lunch break, it was off to the next stop:

Château Siran, another family-owned winery that's open for daily visits at 3pm, or by appointment

Château Siran, another family-owned winery that’s open for daily visits at 3pm, or by appointment

They arrived a little late, but were warmly welcomed to join the group, where they were shown an impressive collection of wine - 90% of which are already pre-sold

They arrived a little late, but were warmly welcomed to join the group, where they were shown an impressive collection of wine – 90% of which are already pre-sold

The massive French oak barrels where the fermentation begins...

The massive French oak barrels where the fermentation begins…

The château also houses a museum with an impressive collection of centuries-old wine vessels, porcelain plates and flasks

The château also houses a museum with an impressive collection of centuries-old wine vessels, porcelain plates and flasks

A nuclear-bunker style wine cellar (this is for real, and not a figure of speech!)

A nuclear-bunker style wine cellar (this is for real, and not a figure of speech!)

Where the family houses their precious wine collection

Where the family houses their precious wine collection

Some of which date back to the late 1800s!

Some of which date back to the late 1800s!

The patriach of the family is also a bit of a map aficionado, and this is one of several original maps of the region from the 17th or 18th centuries

The patriach of the family is also a bit of a map aficionado, and this is one of several original maps of the region from the 17th or 18th centuries

The visit finished with wine tasting and a guessing game of sniff-the-bottle-and-guess-the-scent

The visit finished with wine tasting and Clotilde, their beautiful guide, organised a guessing game of sniff-the-bottle-and-guess-the-scent for visitors

It was a Sunday afternoon fabulously spent at both Château Lusseau and Château Siran, and they walked away with a good half a dozen bottles, pleasantly tipsy (not GodzillaPin though, he had to drive). More adventures to come!

P.S Like all our other posts, we have received no payments nor recompense in any form to write about our visits; we simply share what we truly enjoy, and believe our readers would be interested in reading.

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Food, Running, Travel

La Champenoise de la Marne 2014

Qn: What’s better than running a road race?

A: A road race through the Champagne region.

A: A road race through the Champagne region.

Qn: And what’s better than running a race through the Champagne region?

A #1: When you find a victim who's willing to do it with you

A #1: When you find a victim who’s willing to do it with you (it was to be Biscuit’s first race, and his longest run was only 12km, so he was very brave).

A #2: When there are chickens

A #2: When there are prisoners and chickens…

Romans...

Romans…

not one but 4 Elvis Presleys...

not one but 4 Elvis Presleys…

the Knights of the Round Table...

the Knights of the Round Table…

men in uniform...

men in uniform…

Moses!

Moses!

Monsieur Le President...

Monsieur Le President…

giant soccer balls...

giant soccer balls…

and best of the lot: TETRIS running the race with you.

and best of the lot: TETRIS running the race with you.

The race started off only after TWO HOURS of serious partying. You know it's a good party when there is a conga line.

The race started off only after TWO HOURS of serious partying. You know it’s a good party when there is a conga line.

Dutch courage: the boys started drinking BEFORE the race.

Dutch courage: the boys started drinking BEFORE the race.

We finally started the race, which of course, began UPHILL to sober up all the racers. The rest of the race course was not much better, with a series of undulating steep hills and roads with sharp curves at the villages.

We finally started the race, which of course, began UPHILL to sober up all the racers (the organisers have a cruel sense of humour). The rest of the race course was not much better, with a series of undulating steep hills and roads with sharp curves at the villages.

And oddly enough, they didn't seem to struggle so much mid-race.

The toughest part of the run was NOT the pre-race champagne getting to one’s head. It was in fact, the unusually sunny and hot day after 2 weeks of rain and high winds, leaving all runners maladapted to race day conditions. Villagers were on standby with hoses and sprinklers to spray the runners as they passed by. Despite the generous amount of sunscreen we all used, we were burnt nonetheless. Yellow Jersey was banditing the race, with the excuse that he was giving moral support to Biscuit and the Ninja Turtle.

The Ninja Turtle was pleasantly surprised when the race turned out to be only 18K, not the semi-marathon she imagined it to be. It made no difference, there was no official time chips and people were cheating on rollerblades, bicycles and taking shortcuts, and it was definitely NOT a course on which to score a PR. The finish line champagne was very much welcomed by a thirsty Turtle.

The Ninja Turtle was pleasantly surprised when the race turned out to be only 18K, not the semi-marathon she imagined it to be. It made no difference, there was no official time chips and people were cheating on rollerblades, bicycles and taking shortcuts, and it was definitely NOT a course on which to score a PR. The finish line champagne was very much welcomed by a thirsty Turtle.

After meeting up with GodzillaPin and Yellow Jersey, we went to the finish line to wait for Biscuit, who finished nice and strong.

After meeting up with GodzillaPin and Yellow Jersey, we went to the finish line to wait for Biscuit, who finished with a giant smile for the camera.

GodzillaPin, the Ninja Turtle, Biscuit and Yellow Jersey celebrating the finish of Race #2 of the season.

GodzillaPin, the Ninja Turtle, Biscuit and Yellow Jersey celebrating the finish of Race #2 of the season.

Qn: What’s better than finishing an untimed race through the hilly Champagne region in which the race course was 3km shorter than you originally imagined?

A: Winning a bottle of champagne in the lucky draw. Thank you, person-who-drew-the-ballot; the Ninja Turtle has never won anything by luck in her life, and a bottle of champagne is a GREAT way to start a winning streak. Henceforth, the Ninja Turtle’s official favourite bib number is 1067.

P.S (For all the curious number-fixated runners, RunKeeper recorded 1h 46m 25s for the Ninja Turtle’s effort. It was 30°C or 86°F according to GodzillaPin’s car when under the sun, and the total elevation was 348m or 1141.7 feet.)

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Food

Bière Flambée at l’Estaminet

When in Germany, they serve your beer in 1 litre mugs, with a generous head. When in Belgium, they serve you three beers at a time, with a side of the best fries you’ll ever eat in your life. When in France, they pour your beer into a fishbowl, and set the darn thing on fire.

GodzillaPin and George of the Jungle drinking the equivalent of their weight in beer.

GodzillaPin and George of the Jungle drinking the equivalent of their weight in beer.

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