A week in France

Last week we got took the car on the tunnel (something I had never done before) and drove to the Loire Valley in France for a week in a self catering cottage/gite.

Fun fact- I also learnt how to make photo collages. So, look forward to seeing many of those over the next few weeks!

We left on Friday night and stayed right by the tunnel in France, as we got a very late train (11pm or something)- we were toying between staying there or nearer to Rouen, to break the journey up a bit, but in the end decided that a 2 hour drive would not be the best at that time of night. I then found out that a parkrun had just started there- it was so tempting to change our plans but as Andy was driving it wasn’t really fair on him. I took my running things with me as I knew I would have time to run while I was there- I’ll save that for a separate post though.

The drive to our gite took up most of Saturday- we had a brief stop to pick up some lunch (and to use the toilets in Ikea), and another brief stop later on to eat lunch, but it took us pretty much from 9am-5pm to get there.

On Sunday we had a wander around the town near to us (Chinon)- there was an antiques market going on by the river so we spent a while looking around before walking up to the castle. Later we had a walk along a cycle path (although cars did drive down it)- great for me to scope out an easy running route.

On Monday our first chateau visit was to Villandry- you could pay for just the gardens and they were very impressive. It was baking hot there but we spent a few hours walking around and admiring the views and the beautiful plants- some inspiration for our garden at home! The fruits and vegetables were grown in geometrical shapes, and each bed had a map so you could see what was being grown in each section.

Of course a visit to France could not be without croissants- I was looking forward to almond chocolate ones, but we only found these once in a little bakery in the town, and then on our final day. The owners of the gite also made their own jam, and we were given a couple of jars as a welcome- I very much enjoyed the strawberry vanilla jam, and I brought home the plum with juniper berries. They did all sorts including strawberry bergamot which sounded amazing. The shops were full of delicious fresh fruits- I ate a lot of peaches and nectarines that week, and one say we treated ourselves to a mango.

On Tuesday we stayed around the gite for the day- I’d been on a run and after breakfast I sat in the garden and let my hair dry (I didn’t need to use a hairdryer for the whole week as it was so warm) and read- I managed to finish one book, read another one and then start a third during that week so I read a lot! There was a pool so Andy did a bit of swimming but I was happy enough relaxing in the garden.

On Wednesday we had decided to visit a couple of chateau that were further away- the first one was about a 90 minute drive.

Chambord (bottom left) was more like a palace- it was huge and rammed with tourists. It was a bit like Versailles – a palace built for the royal family but hardly ever used as they traveled about. We shuffled through the rooms and saw more beds and tapestries than I have before in my life. It did have some amazing architecture- a double helix staircase and some very amazing turrets, but I much preferred being outside so we had a walk around the gardens afterwards. We then headed to Chenonceau which was very impressive- the building spanned a river with a ballroom being the room on the first floor over the water. Interestingly the river was the border between occupied France during WW2, so it was used to smuggle people out. The day was fairly overcast when we left, but between the two places the clouds disappeared and so we had a very hot walk around the beautiful gardens there too.

On Thursday we headed to a chateau very close to Chinon (Chateau du Rivau) which was possibly my favourite. It was really quirky, with  sculptures everywhere (including a hole mole coming out of a mole-hill at the castle entrance, plus giant wellies and watering cans in the garden). It had lots aimed at children such as flower fairy gardens (remember those?? I used to love the flower fairies) and had some really amazing sculpture gardens with animals made using garden equipment- my favourite was a peacock where the tail was made with spades and rakes.

On Friday we decided to stay closer to home- after popping to the shops for some lunch we drove out to a different town (Saumur- a town by the river with a chateau perched on a hill) for a little mooch around we had another walk along the cycle way.

We made full use of the kitchen in the gite and always had dinner there (we are doing up our living room and just had a wood burner installed so we are on a bit of an economy drive). I was very excited to find proper iced tea for sale (not just iced tea flavour which is what things usually are). We tried a few (mint, lemon and green tea) but the black tea with peach won- yes it did have some added sugar, but only a teeny bit- it was 94% black tea with sugar and peach juice concentrate and it tasted like proper brewed iced tea.

I was very excited to have a chocolate almond croissant too- alongside a huge yellow nectarine and some hot tea it made the perfect breakfast.

On Saturday we were up early to check out and drive to Giverny, where Monet’s garden is (tip- book online as the queue is massive otherwise as it seemed like a “one in, one out” policy too).

It was beautiful there- of course it had the huge lily pond with everyone trying to take selfies and photos on the bridges, but the more formal gardens were amazing with long rows of flowers- one row would be yellows and oranges, another blues, another purple. We then headed to a supermarket to load up on goodies to bring home (coffee and wine for our parents, jam and chocolate for us) before a night in a hotel. We had about 2 1/2 hours of driving to get back to the tunnel, so we got up early and were on the road before 7.30. Apart from a brief panic in Rouen (a tunnel was closed and no diversion was signed but thanks to google maps we were back on track) the journey was smooth and we managed to get on an earlier train too. We’d bought some chocolate almond croissants the day before and these were a welcome breakfast once we were aboard the train.

It was a very different type of holiday to the one we usually go for- we would rarely stay more than a couple of nights in one place usually- but it was really relaxing without me feeling like I had cabin fever!

What sort of holiday do you like best?  Have you ever been on the tunnel before? I’d only been in the Eurostar as when I was little we would always get the ferry when driving to anywhere on the continent. It was so easy to not even need to pack properly but just throw it all in the boot with no worries about the amounts of liquids or the weight of anything.

What I have been listening to, reading and watching lately

Listening to:

I have posted many times about some of the podcasts I enjoy, and I do tend to have a bit of a routine with them- some suit a commute, others I save for my runs. The podcast I am totally loving at the moment is the Judge John Hodgman Podcast– if you have not heard of it basically people take their domestic issues to him, give evidence, and then he gives his ruling. It is very funny, and as someone who loves an insight into the lives of other normal people (that is a polite way of saying I am nosy), I find that aspect of it brilliant. They are usually pretty “small” issues, such as who should feed the dog, whether you should ask permission before borrowing clothes from your sister and so on, but the way the show talks the issues through makes it entertaining.


A while back I read Mr Mercedes, which is now being made into a TV show (or film- I can’t remember)- I won’t give away too many spoilers but it totally freaked me out because some of the terror events in the news could have been lifted directly from the book, and I was reading it while some of the events were going on.

After reading a few other detective novels (the latest Roy Grace one, and an old Bosch one) I fancied something a bit different, so now I am part-way through A Year of Living Danishly. I’d heard the author on a podcast recently and thought it sounded very interesting indeed. One word of warning- it will lead to cravings of cinnamon rolls and all things cosy.

I popped into Gail’s Bakery and noticed these cinnamon rolls- I was good enough to only eat half and save the other half for Andy- this took some willpower I assure you!


After loving the athletics it was a bit of a come-down to watch the documentary Icarus (about the state-sponsored doping in Russia)- it was very interesting to see how it all unfolded, but also totally depressing that probably most drug-cheats won’t be caught, and that so many athletes were denied their medals at the time because of this.

Another brilliant documentary was The Keepers- this was several parts and was a bit like The Jinx or Making a Murderer- people were investigating the death of their teacher (who was a nun) as it happened years ago and was not solved. It was similar to Spotlight and was pretty infuriating, but very interesting.

For more light-hearted watching we’ve been going back through some old comedies. The order of watching these US comedies (for me anyway) went like this: 30 Rock- Parks and Rec– Master of None- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and then parallel to that for something a bit more off the wall, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. We also watched Pitch Perfect 2 the other night (and did you know that John Hodgman- see above- is in it?).

What have you been reading, watching or listening to recently? 

Athletics 2017!

At Christmas Andy gave me tickets to the athletics championships in London. Of course at the time it seemed ages away but on Saturday the day was finally there. We’d watched some of it while we were away in Germany (Eurosport with German commentary turned out to be quite entertaining as they pronounced Mo Farah to rhyme with Que Sera Sera, and interspersed German with the word “Mo-Bot”) and then once home we had a week to watch the highlights each evening.

We drove to Loughton and then got the underground in, as it was then only a few stops. The instructions said that you could not bring in meals but you could bring in snacks (and of course food would be available at concessions) so we went to M&S to get a late lunch/ early dinner. It was so busy and as if a plague of locusts has descended upon the shopping centre- the shelves were pretty bare!

After eating our lunch we went into the stadium (and we could easily have brought the food in with us as people had loads with them) and browsed the merchandise (which, by the way, only had men’s technical running vests, no women’s at all which very much annoyed me) before finding our seats.

We were up fairly high and in the middle (opposite the final 100m of the track) so we had a good view of what was going on. I feel like the event was hosted really well- they had Ewan Thomas walking around talking on the microphone, and also commentators saying what was happening with the events. When we first arrived the men’s javelin from the decathlon was going on, and then women’s high jump started. At one point they had Martin Lewis (yes, from the money tips website) giving the crowd some stats and tips, which to me seemed rather pointless as he only appeared a couple of times and I am sure someone else could have told us the facts.

Of course the big ticket races were the 5,000m (with Mo on his final track race) and the 4x100m men’s relay (with Usain Bolt’s final appearance) but in fact everything else going on was really exciting. Some of the athletes would try to get the crowd going, and there were big screens with information on them, as well as the stadium announcer giving details of distance/ height and current standings. The crowd were great at supporting all of the athletes too- during the high jump  our two British women had missed the height once, so really we should have been hoping that the other nationalities would not clear the height either, but there were only cheers when the bar wasn’t knocked down.

After the decathlon javelin finished, they had to then extend the tape and move the TV cameras back ready for the javelin competition to start- the decathlon guys has 55 and 65m marked, whereas for the main event it went to something like 85m. I don’t find this sort of thing interesting on the TV, but I think partly it is because you can’t really get an idea of how far each one is thrown. Being there meant it was easy to compare each throw, and the crowd would go wild when a huge throw was recorded.

When the 5,000m started it was such a tense atmosphere- and I think the crowd pretty much kept up a mexican wave for the whole 13 minutes- as the main group came in front everyone would stand up and shout even louder, then as they passed they would sit back down again.  Of course it was disappointing that Mo didn’t get a gold medal, but a silver medal is still very impressive and he really gave it his all- it is always more surprising that other runners have not grouped together before to try and get him with tactics.

It was a very exciting race, and a little later they held the medal ceremony which was cause for more celebrations.

There was a small break so we popped out to get a drink. The info had said there would be water fountains, so bring a bottle to fill up, but we could not find one. We then thought we would buy some lemonade to share, but all the stands were sold out, so we ended up sharing a hot chocolate (our throats were hoarse after all that shouting and we had more to come…). As we were going back to our seats we saw one water fountain but it had such a huge queue and we didn’t want to miss any of the races so we left it.

In contrast to a rather long race, we then had the 4x100m women’s final- seeing the women take silver was brilliant.

Scattered throughout the evening were medal ceremonies and it was great to see everyone being very respectful of the winners- everyone clapped and stood for the national anthems. I was interested to find out what the ANA athletes would have (these are Russian, but as Russia was banned somehow they get to compete as neutral)- it turns out they get the IAAF anthem. A lot of the crowd didn’t seem to know what ANA stood for as there was a bit of a confused murmur as it was announced.

Then it was time for the final event- the men’s 4x100m relay. I knew we were in for a shout of a medal as I had heard the heats when I was driving back from my parents- the Brits were a whisker behind the USA team so bronze was going to be possible (we were assuming it would be USA and Jamaica battling first and second). Well, of course by now you know what happened- the British (and NI- why aren’t we Team UK?) men did brilliantly and although I saw Bolt trip I was more concerned with yelling at the top of  my voice for our men to bring it home. It was like (I imagine) seeing your team score the winning goal in the world cup- everyone was leaping up and down and cheering. It was a pretty perfect ending.

This is still a very ugly thing.

It was a long shuffle out of the stadium and back to the train station, but everyone was in great spirits- there was even one volunteer playing music through his phone into a loud speaker. It wasn’t quite like when the Disney parks close, but it was close!

Did you watch any of the athletics? Have you been to any live events like this? While Andy was getting our drink I was asked to do a survey- the only live athletics I have been to was this and the Olympics, but I think that if the tickets weren’t too expensive I would be more likely to take a chance and head along to a session.

IKEA trip and not-quite a parkrun sandwich

On Saturday I had a brilliant time at the athletics, but I’m going to do that in a separate post, so on to the rest of the week.

On Sunday I was up early for a run- I decided to run along the old railway line and back as I wanted to be home for about 10am so I could just turn around when I had got as far as I could go. As I got to the path I saw an animal on the path ahead- at first I thought it was a fox, but then it jumped and I realised it was a small deer. It jumped up to the bank on the side of the path and then stood still, so I walked over, but as I went to get my phone out of my belt it hopped into the bushes.

Andy’s dad came over to help with some bits in the garden, and then we tackled the rest of the wallpaper (the steamer ran out just as we reached the very final strip of paper!).

I bought this cup last summer but had totally forgotten about it until this week- it’s fab as it has an infuser basket and a lid, which can double as a sort of coaster for the basket. I have a lot of loose leaf tea but I don’t always drink it as it is a bit more of a faff. I have been loving this tea which is rooibos with almond and coconut- plus as it isn’t black tea I can re-use the leaves later in the day.

On Monday Dad came over to help with the decorating (he is so keen to do this which is great)- we finished the last few bits of wallpaper (there were a few tiny patches here and there) including getting most of it out from behind the radiator. He had a brilliant tip which was to soak a tea towel and then put it behind the radiator, pulling it up and down- this was brilliant and I have managed to get all of the top layer out and most of the bottom layer too. While I was finishing that, Dad sanded down the walls and woodwork.

We enjoyed a cup of tea (and some of those lovely wafers) in the garden as a well earned rest, before painting the ceiling.

Dad was itching to paint the walls but we need to leave that until the fireplace has been sorted.

On Tuesday I headed out on a 5 mile run – I’ve pretty much perfected the route now, although I thought I could detour through a park but could not find the path to the right exit so I think I ended up cutting a corner there somehow. I was then off to brunch at The Waffle House- I had the banoffee one which is a waffle topped with sliced banana, toffee sauce and flakes of chocolate.

The weather was gorgeous so I decided to stop at Heartwood Forest on my way home and have a walk around.

They are doing something to the car park though so it ended up being a bit stressful as the entrance is along a road with passing places, but all the passing places were closed, and on either side is a big ditch so you can’t even pull onto the verge- I got a bit stuck between a lorry and a people carrier when I was leaving. Anyway, the walk was lovely but next time I’ll park in the village!

So, when the weather is lovely, it’s the perfect time to buy winter running kit right?

Tribesports were having a sale, and I really like their kit (and my beloved Thoosa winter tights have seen better days) so I got a pair of thermal tights, a long sleeved top and a long sleeved jacket (they both have thumb holes! I am so easily pleased…).  I do find their sizing a big difficult to work out though. On the parkrun milestone range (the 50/ volunteer tops, plus the apricot range) the small is a perfect fit for me, leaving me a bit of room but not too baggy. It does say that the parkrun range is relaxed fit (or something to that effect) which is fair enough. Anyway before I had ordered some long sleeved tops and chosen a medium, which is basically the same size as the milestone small, so the medium has been fine.

So I got the jacket and top in medium- the top is fine but the jacket is a little snug- I laid them on top and you can see that the top is a fair bit bigger than the jacket- and I would think it should be the other way around as you are going to be wearing the jacket on top of other things? Anyway, it’s fine (I mainly can’t be bothered with the faff of sending things back)- it will keep me toasty in the winter!

After dinner on Tuesday we drove up to IKEA as I have decided to get a bigger desk for my office. In our old house my desk was in a sort of cubby in the spare room, behind the airing cupboard, and it fitted perfectly. But now I have a whole room to myself I could do with a bigger desk. The one I had before was a build-your-own desk; you choose the size of the top, buy separate legs and then the options of cupboards or drawers to go under. I had drawers on one side and the smallest table top (120cm I think) but really I need a bit of space next to my laptop for paperwork, so I got a 2 metre wide table top, and a second set of drawers to go at the other end.

I also bought a laptop stand as I think it will be better to have the screen more at eye-level. I did look for the standing desks but we didn’t have a great deal of time. It’s something I will look more into as now I have a bigger desk I will have space for something like that.

My favourite bit of IKEA is the little food shop at the end- last time I got some organic mixed berry jam and it is really tasty, so I went to get some more of that. I found cloudberry jam (I had only heard of them as they were mentioned in my Hygge cookbook), and those green things are basically marzipan filled chewy oat things so I was never going to not buy them. At the moment I am reading “A Year of Living Danishly” and so I could not resist the mini cinnamon rolls either (they seem to eat them a lot in the book).

There is a new half marathon taking place at Knebworth House (by Stevenage) in the autumn, and after thinking about it for ages I signed up. I then panicked about not being able to run that far, so I decided to attempt a much longer run as I had some time on Wednesday morning. I was pretty sure that I did a half marathon in December last year with a parkrun sandwich to Ellenbrook Fields, so I decided to run there, do the parkrun route and then run home.

I set off later than I had intended as we had got back very late from IKEA the night before, and of course there was the usual pre-run faff of getting enough podcasts etc.

I actually enjoyed most of the run, and made it to the parkrun course just fine. It was pretty good weather as it was fairly overcast and not too warm.

I forgot to turn back at the end of the first little loop (it’s one small loop which goes back to the finish, and then a big loop repeating some of the first loop, so when I got back to the start/finish area I was a little under my target distance. I felt so thirsty though. Recently they have had a stand pipe fitted, with a dog bowl at the bottom. I spent ages looking at it, (and then a bit more time trying to work it)- first I splashed my face with it and then I decided to risk it and have a little drink (from the pipe, not the dog bowl I must add)- it’s a new pipe right? Then, even though by that point I was at 7 miles and had only 5 to run home, I decided to head back. Then I spent most of the run home worrying about the water that I had just drank in case it wasn’t drinking water…

(I was fine though, just very thirsty)- in the end I did 12.2 miles, but it took me ages- 2.15. I was questioning how on earth I managed a half marathon in less time than that, but of course races are different, and I haven’t been training for anything, I have just been pootling along and enjoying running, so I managed to talk myself out of the panic after a bit. The half isn’t until November so I think you can agree that I was being a bit irrational.

By the time I’d had a shower it was basically lunch time, so I went for a big brunch- soya yoghurt with cherries (I’d defrosted them before my run= more pre-run faff) and almonds, coconut water, tea and a pain au raisin- these are brilliant as they are frozen and take about  20 mins to cook= shower time.

I had a few hours to plough through some work before heading into town as I had a massage booked. I have been trying to go about once a month or once every 3 weeks when I can afford it, as I find it helps so much. I get terrible tight shoulders, and it also keeps the hip issues at bay. The lady I see (Katie) is brilliant- it feels like a treat as the room is lit by candles and she plays zen-like music, and there is a diffuser with lemongrass and other lovely scents. Most of the massage is relaxing and wonderful, but some points are not exactly painful, but not such a treat as she works through the knots. This time she paid a lot of attention to my lower back and it really felt like bliss (for the most part). I notice it so much too- I reverse onto my driveway and as the weeks go by I find it harder and harder to look over my left shoulder- I’m nearly as good as new when I get back from a massage!

On Thursday I had to stay in as we were having the log burner fitted- I spent the morning taking apart my old desk, building my new one and then moving the shelving unit (which meant take all the books off, move the shelves, then put it all back on again). Now I have two sets of drawers I feel like I can be so organised- I have one drawer just for sharpies and highlighters at the moment!

After the builders left I walked into town for some fresh air I was getting a bit of cabin fever! Friday morning has been the same so far ( they are finishing off) but I am hoping for a run before lunch as I think they will only be here for a few hours.

Do you buy clothes online? And if so, do you have problems with the sizes? Do you do much work at home? Would you have risked a drink from the stand pipe?

Heartwood Forest parkrun tourism- possibly the closest yet!

I sort of have three home runs really, (St Albans where I started, Panshanger when that started, and then Ellenbrook since that got going), but any different venue counts for tourism for me. I am still trying to visit all of the Hertfordshire parkruns (I think there are now 13), and last weekend was the turn of Heartwood Forest.

Heartwood Forest was recently created by the Woodland Trust on some land outside Sandridge, a small village on the outskirts of St Albans (which is why a lot of the trees are only a few feet high at the moment as they were only planted a few years ago). The parkrun has only been going a few weeks, and we chose that day as I was off to the athletics in the afternoon, and Dad and Tony had a football match to get to so we all needed to be finished fairly promptly.

There is only a small car park on site, so they ask people to use other parking in the village, or better yet, to cycle or run there.

On Thursday I had been to my parents for lunch, so on my way home I parked in the village and headed along the bridle path to a walk around the woods, as I had not actually been there. It is lovely, with meadows and paths and amazing wood carvings.

I pondered how to get there- I could park at my parents and then run there as it’s a couple of miles down a track, but my dad and brother would be cycling so I wouldn’t keep up with them and would take longer to get back. In the end I parked in the  village about half a mile away and jogged to the start- I got there so early (as I was worried about it being busy) so I ended up running around the course a bit.

We had the new runners briefing (loads of people- as it was only the third event so most people would be new to the course) and I chatted to a lady from Milton Keynes parkrun (it’s on my list) before I noticed Dad and Tony.

Then everyone walked up to the start, right by these amazing carvings of badgers.

The course is nearly two laps- you start half way up a hill, run a lap (which is a funny shape and at one point is two-way so you have to keep right) finishing at the bottom of the hill, and then have to run up the entire hill on the second lap. Annoyingly because I had used my Garmin for the warm up, although I pressed to do a new run, when I thought I pressed go, I actually must have selected run, as it beeped to go into power saving mode around half a mile in, so my Strava is incomplete!

I ran with Dad, and it was very enjoyable, although on the second time going up the hill I think I would have walked if we hadn’t been running together! I was aiming for under 30 minutes, and we started fairly near the back as we were not paying much attention on the walk to the start!

I loved this archway that you ran through- so many amazing carvings on it.

You were rewarded by fabulous views once at the top. They also had really brilliant marshals. I know parkrun marshals are always great (especially any OH ladies at Ellenbrook Fields), but we had cheers from every one- one lady was playing music on her phone and dancing as we ran past, a few people had children with them and loads of instruments- they really were very encouraging- we commented that perhaps they had been borrowed from the Gamesmakers at the Olympics.

From their facebook page

A few also had cameras (including this one placed at the top of the hill- I promise we enjoyed it even though we don’t look like it!).

After the hill there was a flat windy part through meadows and slightly taller trees, before heading to the long downhill to the finish area- it was the perfect downhill gradient as I didn’t feel like my legs were running away from me, or that I would trip as the surface was fairly smooth. When we reached the end of our second lap there was a sharp right-hand turn at the bottom of the hill before a final sprint to the end. My time was 29.03, for my 114th parkrun and my dad’s 99th!

Badger Selfie of course- I took this before the start as I knew we had to head off quickly at the end.

As we had to be quick, I jogged back to my car and Dad and Tony got their bikes- they had their photos taken to advertise cycling to and from the parkrun:

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people riding bicycles, bicycle, outdoor and nature

From their facebook page

Then it was time for pancakes made by Mum before we all headed off to our respective afternoon sporting activities.

It’s great that there is another parkrun close by that we can all easily meet at, and it also means that if I fancy incorporating a parkrun into a longer run, I could adapt it and park at my parents before running there and back. I need to go back and get the Strava route correct!

So, now the Hertfordshire count is here:

Done: St Albans, Panshanger, Ellenbrook Fields, South Oxhey, Aldenham, Stevenage, Rickmansworth, Barclay, Tring, Gadebridge and Heartwood Forest.

To do: Cassiobury, Westmill

I will miss the next two weekends, and then it is Dad’s 100th so we will be at a home run for that, so touristing will have to take a break until mid-September.

How do you usually travel to parkrun? If you have several near to you, how do you choose which one to visit each week? Are you aiming for anything particular at parkrun at the moment?  Once I have done the Hertfordshire parkruns, I might look at the alphabet challenge but that seems to make touristing a lot more complicated! I’d also love to add a few more countries to my list, but that will be a more long term goal.