Collioure. A place to hide, ride and escape

Sunrise over Fort St Elme, Collioure, France

Over the weekend I ran into an old friend and by chance we meandered through the conversation to discover we’d narrowly missed paths 7 months earlier in the little publicised French seaside town of Collioure.

He’d cycled about 1000kms and gained 23,000 metres in altitude with a bunch of friends riding over the Pyrenees from Biarritz in the West. As they hooted down the last of the mountainous terrain they welcomed the site of the Mediterranean at the claws of the Pyrenees, at Collioure. Continue reading


Local knowledge and lingo

Fancy a Frenchman telling you that there’s a great adventure to be had in Spain, and he knows just where it is. Stranger things have happened, but thank goodness for local knowledge.

Rodolfo, a very accomplished cyclist who resides in one of the most delightful of places in France for outdoor activities, was to be my local source.

Local knowledge, so often transmitted to us via a guidebook or internet portal these days, is probably the most valuable of intellectual capital on the planet.

But what if the print and digitised media hadn’t caught up with a particular little morsel of cake sitting proudly on the counter of a tiny boulangerie in a little town between here and there?

I think we all need a Rodolfo to share a coffee with.

I’m going to call it The Dali Loop.

The border of France and Spain on the Mediterranean has a rich history across many channels, Continue reading

How will the story read at the end of the year?

Everyone has a story, often it reads with how we want it to be but what it actually is, is the substance all others seek.

Alessandro, reported by his sister in Italy in September 2012 as missing, presumed dead, has a story.

Umbria 24 News Clip

Umbria 24 News Clip

Presumably the victim of the economy, saddened by the loss of his Father, he disappeared without trace. His home untouched, possessions all accounted for, bank accounts not accessed for more than a year.

On the Train
Stepping onto the train about to depart from Perpignan, I hung my bike on the hook, placing it so as not to have it flailing as the train leaned from side to side on the short journey to the sea.

The Gutchi bike on the train

The Gutchi bike on the train

About to take my seat a man tried to lift his commuter Dutch-style bike up through the door onto the train from the platform. Visibly, it was a struggle.

We organised bikes and sat on either side of the train, gazing from windows.

French in a thick Italian accent blurted out lively and amiably. Dressed in a track-suit and runners, carrying a small day-pack, this friendly chap and I exchanged pleasantries, Francais style. A bit of velo talk whilst noting the beautiful sight of a snow-capped Mt Canigou as it drifted by, interrupted by wisps of tall grasses slashing at the train.

Mt Canigou, Southern France

Mt Canigou, Southern France

Alighting at the same stop, velos ported, we bid adieu and were thankful for a trip lost quickly to a polite conversation.

Days later, a man in a track-suit stretched by the sea-shore, a small day-pack sat 50 metres away alone on a bench.

“Bonjour”. “Ahh Ciao, Bonjour”.

After discussing the randomness of the situation, a café meeting was organised for a few days time.

It didn’t take long to discover this man was into sky-running, an endurance form of running, on par with enduro mountain biking. Almost every second day he would run between 20-25kms through the surrounding claws of the Pyrenees. Not bad (ie, “pas mal”, such a typical expression in French) for a 47 year old.

The merits of endurance sports were parlayed and so it was the sky-runner sought to test the cyclist in a head-to-head battle over a 3km run.

Details were exchanged; let the fun begin.

From the outset the perception was such that things weren’t quite adding up. The bag was toted everywhere, the same attire permeated each day and the discourse was spirited, if not a little forceful. The challenge didn’t fit the scene comfortably.

Though given this perception, surprisingly Alessandro provided his full name.

So, what do you do when you meet a person who is reported as missing, presumed dead?

Have another coffee and chat.

Antonio delivers another Cafe Noisette

Antonio delivers another Cafe Noisette

Following the Course
Over the course of several café excursions, Alessandro introduced another fellow. Cesar, an Italian national, a man of probably about 70-something, now living in France. Most days Alessandro and Cesar could be seen talking wildly in Italian with copious amounts of vigour fuelled by vin rouge, each day to be celebrated just as the last.

In a mixture of Italfranglaise, mostly swearing in Italian, whinging in French and jokes in English, the story started to develop.

Left to Right - The Author, Alessandro, Cesar

Left to Right – The Author, Alessandro, Cesar

Cesar, once an avid climber/mountaineer, is now a little less nimble owing to an accident that provided him with a walking stick and a move to the sun and sea. He moved to the south of France for the climate, the culture, the food and the Catalan ambience. All very worthwhile features of the region.

Cesar though, after 10 years or more, has found himself facing up to what he sees as a mistake. The aura of the south has dulled, though he speaks three languages integration has not been possible. An insider still on the outside he travels from Perpignan to Collioure most days just to gaze at the sea for respite. Except in summer because the volume of tourists jam the transmission of vibes.

Coughing up a Lung
Between puffs and gulps, Cesar speaks in a throaty crackling deep tone, he would make an intense Actor, General or Tsar. Long long tales have you poised in anticipation and duress but throaty cackles lifts the weight and want to arrest your ears.

The Italians bemoan the state of their homeland, the economy and the running of the country. Both hail the ambience of the Catalan Med but sledge its closed doors. Each arrived to escape lands of which they had become resentful and distrustful. Finding the Promised Land, the growing tension between living in a place of Paradise but without their tribes has evoked a common spirit. It offers the chance to compare regions, customs and mores of the societies.

Sky-running Alessandro has all but lost faith and trust in his country. Without his job, without his Father, without a sense of security he lives without dependency on governments and financial institutions. Travelling light, he is afforded the luxury of freedom. Freedom from ties and traces.

Different Tangents
Slowly the interplay between the gents develops. One man felt stuck and opted out, the other opted out and became stuck. Is it an Italian tragedy? The story could be so, but rather than that, it is merely but a rich story of substance. Things are as they actually are.

Cesar has found the medicinal powers of the Mediterranean satisfaction enough to continue his daily sojourns to the blue water and along the way met with a fellow that can in some way re-enforce that his homeland is suffering too. When you’re stationed on the Med and the problem is way over there, well, is that such a bad thing?

Alessandro weaved his way to the restorative powers of running over the mountaintops, taking flight from the Pyrenees Condors and circumnavigating a bull or two during various 4.5 hour episodes. He will return to his home soon enough, a new job in the health industry and his tribe await him.

The Cote Vermeille, Southern France

The Cote Vermeille, Southern France

In the End
Well and truly alive, the spirits of these two fellows truly shine and re-affirm for me that there is always another story that peers out from just beneath the surface.

How will your story read at the end of this year?

Beyond shiny lights work the brightest stars

Mary Cherry Cupcakes

Mary Cherry Cupcake (Photo Credit: Mary Cherry)

Cupcakes. Sweet morsels determined by a sponge-like base and coifs of cream or a spatular slathering of frosting. A hot topic in Montpellier, France at the moment.

Much like the vision of a glamorous femme fatale sporting 3-inch heels on a bicycle, cupcakes exude a hint of luxury, decadence, quality-time shared with close confidantes. Or a brief escape to another era, someone else’s, or your own moment of fantasy.

It was with great pleasure that I became acquainted with a Montpellier bright star recently. Unbeknownst at the time, but a cupcake shaped star would shine soon enough.

The Stars
Surrounded by bright industry leaders at the DigiWorld IT Summit a few weeks ago, it was only when the lights went down that I found myself walking amongst the stars.

These stars weren’t out to promote a new App, Device, Internet of Everything network communications package. Looking directly they tended to move about, but were always obvious in the periphery.

For another time is the introduction of the other stars Musee Transversal, developed by Didier and Corinne, here and now, it’s all about the cupcakes: Mary Cherry.

Discovering Montpellier
After Summiting DigiWorld over the mountains and valleys of forums, networking opportunities and gala dinners, I had a growing interest in discovering the real Montpellier. Beyond the strong university presence, a growing population, strength in design and animation (film), I wondered what really made it tick. Luckily, Mary Cherry offered to introduce the local’s view of Montpellier. Thank goodness, a real chance to avoid the city ant-trail.

What do you normally see on a city tour? This monument, that historic marker, that guy died there, that lady was born there, that thing was painted 18 times in the 15th century.

Montpellier walking shadows

Walking Shadows

Not that that’s not important but what mesmerised me on Cherry’s Tour de Ville was passion for life.

The tour took place during the period of “Design Tour Montpellier” another summit of sorts for designers across fashion and interiors. (Mary Cherry has a piece on it here). Design is a big influence for Mary Cherry.

Whilst we toured…we talked.

During the tour, Mary shared personal favourite destinations and I could not have been more pleased.
Tour Highlights:
– What must be the perfect template of a cafe mixed with retail operation: L’heure Bleue

– Street art by “BMX

Street Art by BMX Montpellier

Street Art by BMX, Tandem?

– Truly chic interior design using *gasp* Ikea furniture: In the mood for Ikea

In the Mood for Ikea, Montpellier

In the Mood for Ikea, mind-bending metallics

– Cool art and interior design pieces at: Metropolitan

Marlene at Metropolitan Montpellier

Marlene at Metropolitan Montpellier

– Coffee by Fairview Coffee

– And the piece de resistance, the parcours to Parcours (This place blew my doors off. Due to be demolished, it was once a squat-house, now urban artist’s house of design.)

Parcours Montpellier - Illegal

Parcours – Illegal?

– Okay, one more, PapaDoble, driving innovation in cocktails.

Papadoble menu

Papadoble drinks menu

Making your Mark?
But the real stand out was the conversation. The general theme was how does one make their mark in the world? Especially if you don’t subscribe to the ‘normal’ channels or blueprints of what’s on offer. Along the way I also met Manu, a marine biologist who also happens to knit extremely well. She was passing on her expertise (in knitting) to Fredric, a total fashionista keen to extend his capabilities. Talk of living by the sea intervened regularly.

Mary Cherry is a bright star working to create her own path, one that will provide endless satisfaction to the appetites of people from all over. You may think, well cupcakes, it’s simple. It’s not that simple when you’re working at being the premiere cupcake business in Montpellier. France is a conservative place, a grand protector of tradition and artisan style. Cupcakes are not French, they are American (and we all know how popular Lance Armstrong is with the French).

In Your Face
It’s like cycling in the south of France, you’re not just working against gravity up mountains, you’ve also got a 100km/h wind in your face and it’s 5 degrees. You may not think that’s ideal and you’d ordinarily take one of the three variables, but when there’s blue sky and sun shining, why wouldn’t you? And so it is, Mary Cherry’s mountains and wind are the forces of culture and bureaucracy, but the sun of innovation and blue sky of possibilities drive her spirit.

Mary Cherry will find her mountain pass, because she has a spirit that says “I have a duty to my art”. Her art is not an office occupation, a travel agent, a scientist or a teacher, it’s in visual and culinary delights.

The mountain pass lay fraught with hiccups, risks, challenges and a wrestle with the climb, but at the precipice awaits unknown rewards and a fast ride down the other side to the finish.

One’s Own Path
By choosing to create one’s own path, the responsibility for each boundary, each decision, each probe into the unknown, rests with you. There is no deference. Mary Cherry knows this. Making the decision to go it alone and try a different path has not been without its pains, for there is no template, no career ladder, no performance appraisal or structured dossier. It’s whatever you want it to be. Paradox of choice? Perhaps.

In the Mood for Ikea, Montpellier

In the Mood for Ikea, swirling

Once that decision was made by Mary Cherry, those things didn’t matter anymore, because they weren’t relevant to her mission.

Tour of Tours
As we moved through the streets of Montpellier scanning the environment for influences and eye-catchers, the true beauty of the untrodden path began to emerge. I’d somehow managed to convince Mary Cherry and friends to take part of the tour by bicycle, just like Paris’s Velib, this was Montpellier’s Velomagg.

Her acceptance represented the attitude of stepping outside comfort zones and not just eliminating barriers, but ignoring them. Mary Cherry was sporting some serious heels and her friend’s niece was just a smidgen shy of fitting on a bike by herself. No matter, a way was invented to make it all work. All with a ‘can-do’, ‘pourquoi-pas’ flair.

Velomagg on the move Montpellier

The mode, the style, the heel

From what I gleaned during that tour of tours, the core of the cupcake certainly represented that attitude. A melange of singular decisiveness to take an unknown path, the wherewithal to consciously push boundaries outward or ignore them altogether coupled with a knack for accepting and synthesising influences across diverse interests for better outcomes.

The Mont
And I can report that the ‘Mont’ in Montpellier is with good reason, indeed the city is built on a hill. No matter for my ardent new pals in 3-inch heels and porting a pint-sized passenger, these ladies literally rode up that hill into a headwind with the poise of the Paris-end. In art as in life.

Glamour on bicycles Montpellier

3-inch heels and a Velomagg. Glamour!

The rewards for a day in Montpellier? Many. Plus a cupcake treat (okay, two).

Enormous thanks to Mary Cherry, her man Alex, her BFF Marine (and Niece) for Le Tour of Tours. Merci Beaucoup.

If you find yourself in Montpellier, be sure to follow the stars.

Follow the stars in Montpellier

Follow the stars in Montpellier

*Thanks to JC for additional inspiration, yet another star not shy of a mountain.

Cycling through a developing obsession

The thing about the bike is, it takes you places you’d ordinarily not pass by car and certainly places you’d never get to by foot in the same time.

As I explore the lands in the search of good coffee and treats to reward thousands of revolutions of the pedals and umpteen calories burned, the things I see do not relent in their sensory applause.

Madhi and the Gutchi, Perpignan France

Madhi and the Gutchi, Perpignan France

It’s almost like train travel, staring out the window, the landscape rushes by but not without the ability to lock in on an object before it vanishes. The same can not be said for the conductor of an auto-mobile.

On these cadence dependent sojourns its apparent I’m developing a new obsession, mildly, but yet another one to add to the list perhaps.

It goes by the name of: MADHI

The style first struck me, a tad Betty Boop maybe? Simple, yet effective and evocative.

Madhi Perpignan France

A cracker of an idea, Ille sur Tet

What really has begun to feed the obsession, beyond the style and simplicity, is the reach of these artists. Across the landscape of the South of France there’s hundreds of kilometres to travel and nary much wall space clear, but there it often is in a faraway place, Madhi’s mural.

Madhi, Perpignan France

Madhi and the local businesses working in tandem

Whatsmore, mostly these street artists share their talent under the lumens of the stars. I guess not so dissimilar to 5am training rides?

Take a night out with Madhi here on Vimeo:

XpoSIT° EvolutiVh – Ep.001 from ИHK on Vimeo.

So not only has the bike delivered coffee and tasty treats but it’s delivered yet another habit, perhaps obsession, the motivation to try a new route, to find another mural, another slice of well-deserved cake.

And as transient as street art is, so too is the lactic.

Madhi, Perpignan France

Cycling may just help you see stars

Here’s a selection of recent favourites across the Pyrenees-Orientales region, France.

Madhi, Perpignan France

A little piece

Madhi, Perpignan France

Here, we sell stuff!

Madhi Perpignan France

On the hop. “Visit on the farm”.

Madhi Perpignan France

Out the back, Ille sur Tet

The best time to start: Now or 20 years ago

There’s a saying that goes:

When’s the best time to plant a tree? Now or 20 years ago.

Le Boulou Cyclocross 2012

Languedoc-Roussillon Regional Championships Flyer

This could not have been better exemplified than at Le Boulou, France on the weekend. Sunday saw the simultaneous running of the regional cyclocross championships across France, the filtration process to identify this years best of the best riders.

Apart from the racing, delicious home-baked gateaux, beer and coffee, was the opportunity to see the early fostering of potential that the Le Boulou Cycling Club supports.

Le Boulou CC Drinks

Drinks at cycling club prices

Le Boulou CC Gateaux

Homemade delicious cakes

Over 200 racers hit the track over the course of the day, but it was the presentation ceremony that provided the crescendo to a swathe of elite performances.

Le Boulou CC Cyclocross 2 Dec 2012

Le Boulou CC Regional Championships Race

The bouquets, medallions and prizes signified varying degrees of success, but for me the real success beyond raceday is the support that the club, families, friends and the region quite obviously provide for creating the stars of 20 years time.

Le Boulou CC Medallions

Raceday Medallions

Le Boulou CC Champions

Tomorrow’s future sports champions?

As the applause rang out and the temperature followed the sun, I thought, there’s no better time than now to start pedalling.

Le Boulou Sunset Winter 2012

Gratuitous sunset photo from the return journey. Worth a pause or two.

Le Boulou CC 2012 Ceremony

Plenty of pageantry

Le Boulou CC Podium

Maybe we can talk about that bouquet…?

Le Boulou CC Podium

If not now, when?

Le Boulou CC Team Car

The Club Team Car, including Tour de France style panel damage

Le Boulou CC Finish Kite 2012

The finish line