Someone asked me yesterday if I wanted to watch the Tour de France in person. The answer is yes, but! Because June and July are hot weather months. And yes, because the trip could be sandwiched with the French Open (tennis) at the start, and Wimbledon at the end.
The biggest challenge, other than joining a guided tour, is getting from one venue to the next, since they are not contiguous. Watching on TV over the years, one solution to the rather sprawling location of the routes is renting a motorhome. But as a foreigner, I cannot see driving through the French countryside in a cumbersome vehicle, trying to find a place to park, and a place to view the race. As exciting it is on TV, I think it would be better in person. Why are the logistics so difficult? Take a look at the routes.
First, the length of the race, from June 26 to July 18 is three weeks (actually 23 days long with two rest days). This year, the race has ten new sites and stage cities. So, there are twenty-one stages, including two time trials.
The best parts for me would be in the south, toward Bordeaux, and the beautiful town of St. Emilion. Though the race always ends on the Champs Elysees, I think I would avoid Paris. My ideal race stages would be, in this order: Champagne, Loire, and Bordeaux.
The race is 3414 kilometers, or 2121 miles long. Of the 21 stages, 8 are flat, 5 are hilly, 6 are mountain stages, and two are time trials. There are 23 teams with 8 rides each, for a total of 184 riders. And of course, not all riders who start will finish, due to accidents or medical reasons.
An American has not won the race since 1990, Greg LeMond. The wins by Lance Armstrong were removed, since they proved he was cheating.
But despite all of the doubts, it would be fun to attend at least once. But visit the French Open and return to Wimbledon!
To honor the start of the Tour de France on Saturday, here is a silly little email I wrote back in 2013. I was just starting to get serious about cycling, bought a carbon fiber road bike, and decided cycling would be my main form of exercise.
Fast forward to the 2021 race, the defending champion is a Slovenian, Tadej Pogacar (pronounced Po Ga Cha). He is only 22, weighs a mere 146 pounds, but proved to be the best in 2020. My personal favorite is the sprinter, Peter Sagan from Slovakia. You can see he is built for sprints, not the long haul.
Perhaps I will attend one of these years? Or take a cycling trip on parts of the TDF route? I really meant “Tour de France”, the world’s most famous bicycle race. Now that I am a bit of a cyclist, the race has taken new meaning. This means I can actually watch a rather boring event like this, though the last mile or two are generally the best or most action-packed. I know I will never wear the famous yellow jersey, given to the winner of each stage, and worn by the leader of the race.
Most people do not know the race started in 1903, as a means to increase paper sales for the magazine L’Auto. It was stopped twice for both World Wars. This year’s race is the 100th year of racing. Though the route changes each year, the format stays the same. The Tour is so popular in Europe that over a million people line the route each year. Media coverage extends to 10 different languages.
I find it difficult to root for these racers, knowing that so many of them were juicing, like Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong. Doping has plagued the race since its beginning. Fortunately, the race contains so many colorful characters over the years. The greatest professional racer ever is considered to be Eddy Merckx from Belgium. He won the Tour de France and the Gira d’Italia five times each.
Actually, there are four Americans who could win. They are Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing, Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Sharp, Taylor Phinney of BMC Racing, and Joe Dombrowski of Team Sky. A total of 219 riders started the race. Each day, some participants drop out due to injury or failure to achieve the minimum amount of time, based on the leader’s time.
One of the most remarkable, but logical aspects of the race, is that it is free, for the entire course. The only ticket required would be VIP seating near some of the finish lines. How would you even begin to collect tickets or control the crowd? They line the course, often spilling into the roads and city streets.
Some other numbers related to the course are:
21 stages, and 2 rest days.
200 bottles of water or drink mix riders are likely to consume during the race, depending on the temperature.
3 stages in Corsica for the first time in tour history.
Alpe d’Huez has 42 switchbacks. Riders will climb the Alps twice in one day.
90 kilometers of time trials, one team and two individual.
5 is the number of bikes most teams bring, per rider, with 3 for the road and 2 for time trials.
160,000 is the average number of calories that racers will consume during the three week tour.
29 climbs ranked as Category 2, Category 1, and HC* or beyond category.
*too challenging to fit into conventional listings
Though I am hardly a Francophile, I cannot imagine a more spectacular ending to the race than the Champs-Elysees. It might be fun to watch some of the race, then head up to the Champagne region and taste champagne for a week or so. Anyone interested?
And yes, I still think the riders are “juicing” in some manner, whether blood doping or “better living through chemistry.” How does a guy nobody ever heard of (Pogacar), at the age of 21, win the biggest cycling race on earth? Whatever it is they are doing, I could certainly use the help on these long, hot summer rides.
Most of you know I have a fondness for Port after a golfing trip to the Iberian Peninsula. My travel buddy, Mr. Mike and I spend over a week in Portugal, chasing down vintage ports. I have repeated the story numerous times over the years.
But what exactly makes a vintage port?
The process of declaring a vintage year and making a vintage Port begins with a judgment. How good are the grapes from that year? Each producer of Port makes this decision independently. If the grapes are excellent, if they possess just the right balance of richness, power, freshness, and finesse, then the producer will “declare” the vintage. Even though the decision to declare is independent, the truly stunning years for vintage Port are usually those declared by 50 percent or more of all producers. Once a producer declares a vintage, a formal procedure ensues. Before the wine can be bottled, the shipper must submit its intention and samples of the wine to the Port Wine Institute for tasting and approval. The great vintage Port years from the second half of the twentieth century through the first decade of the twenty-first have been: 1955, 1958, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1970, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2016, and 2017.
Let’s just say that we had a great time, and spent a few Euros on some excellent vintage ports.
So, you think I am crazy flying to Europe, golfing for several weeks, and buying expensive vintage ports?
Wine drinkers seem quite eager to throw some money around right now, especially when they visit Napa. The average tasting fee in Napa County is now $58 for a winery’s “regular” tasting and $90 for a “reserve” tasting, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s Direct-to-Consumer Wine Survey Report, released in May. (In Sonoma County, it’s $30 for the regular and $50 for the reserve on average.) And the spending doesn’t end with the tasting fee: In Napa, the average customer now purchases $319 worth of wine per visit, the report says, up from an average spend of $246 in 2016.
In contrast, I paid 120 Euros for a private wine tour to three wineries. One was the oldest winery in Santorini, one was one of the first and last “Mom and Pop” wineries, and the third was the high tech version of wine making.
Looking for a summer refresher, a bit off the beaten track? Here you go (from Winespeed):
Despite the lovely charm of a good rosé, we know that occasionally you may want to drink something else on a hot summer night. In that case, there is another famous, well-loved French libation—absinthe, a bitter, bold green, licorice-flavored spirit that in French cafés is usually served as an aperitif with a carafe of ice water. When the water is added to the absinthe, the drink immediately turns ominously cloudy. Absinthe’s emerald green color and herbaceously bitter flavor come from green anise, fennel, and the plant wormwood. Alas, in the early 20th century, several reports claimed that a volatile compound in wormwood, thujone, was a hallucinogen that could “destroy the nervous system.”
Although absinthe brands like Pernod were wildly popular among Paris’ bohemian artists and authors at the time, absinthe was banned in France in 1915, and before that in much of the rest of Europe and the United States. For several decades, absinthe drinkers had little choice but to substitute pastis, a similar spirit made from anise, fennel, and licorice—but no wormwood. Then research in the 1980s revealed that wormwood did not contain enough thujone to be toxic or deleterious to health. By the 1990s, bans lifted, wormwood was back as a legal ingredient in absinthe which, for its part, has regained its status as a café staple. Cheers.
This I did not know, but vintage ports are best served within 5 years of release, or AFTER 20 years of bottle aging. Truth be known, Mr. Mike and I bought several when we were golfing in Portugal, back in 2002. And as of today, they have not been opened to the best of my knowledge. I won’t tell you how much we paid.
Most port wines last for about a month after opening. Even then, it is often too much for one person. My suggestion is to have a Port Party!!
And a local note: Ficklin Vineyards in Madera has several excellent ports. Their Ruby Reserve is only $40, and for a splurge, try the 2010 Vintage Port for $75. They even have a 1957 Vintage Port for $620!!!
Always keep an open mind on ports. You might be pleasantly surprised, as I have!
Unless you are a golfer or cyclist, you probably never thought about shipping your equipment ahead to your destination. Shipping golf clubs, to far off places like Scotland, Spain, or even Hawaii is a lifesaver, particularly when I have other stops along the way. It was a real pain to carry our clubs through downtown London before heading up to Scotland for a week of golf. The same is true for cycling, even when renting a bicycle. My recent cycling trip to Bordeaux involved one stop prior to the week of cycling, and two stops after. I hate the thought of carrying my equipment up three or four floors without an elevator.
I shipped my cycling equipment ahead to my first hotel in Bordeaux. My bag included: helmet, cycling shoes, spindles, cycling clothing, extra underwear, gifts, water bottles, energy bars, gloves, socks, and rain gear. When I completed the week of cycling in St. Emilion, I filled to bag with all of my cycling gear, plus dirty clothes. They picked it up on my last day, and it arrived at my home in just a few days! It was not cheap, but well worth the $300.
First, carrying a regular roller bag, and wearing a backpack are not conducive to another 25 pound bag, through airports, onto buses or cabs, and up several flights of stairs. And don’t get me started on the extra baggage fees from the airlines.
Scheduling a pickup a few days before departure may seem like a terrible inconvenience. But I have plenty of spare cycling equipment and clothing. And just remember, a heavy bag at airport check in could run as much as $65! The shipping companies guarantee on time delivery, and offer insurance as well. And while there are no limitations, the fees are based on weight and baggage size.
I found my biggest problem to be the hotels, or your tour company. Some hotels do not want to participate in this shipping arrangement. I solve this by simply changing hotels, or finding a bellhop at my departure hotel who wants to make an extra 10 Euro.
Best of all, you can get a free quote before you commit, and compare it to your baggage costs, and the expense of rotator cuff surgery when you return! (Just kidding)
I have done this twice, once for golf clubs (two sets), and once for my cycling gear. Both times were great, no extra fees, on time delivery, and nothing broken or stolen.
It is worth a try is you are a golfer, skier, cyclist, or over packer!!!
My summer drink of choice is always sparkling wine or champagne. In fact, my winter, spring, and fall choice is more of the same. But once in a while, I prefer something else. And usually not by choice, but I try to go with it.
Here in the great Valley, we have an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables for summer meals as well as cocktails.
Some choices might be:
Watermelon tequila cocktails
Strawberry Lemon Mojitos
Manhattan ice cream float
Thai Basil sangria
Tequila Watermelon Aguas Frescas with Prosecco
Cucumber Rose Gin Spritz
Lemon and Lavender Gin Fizz
Tamarind Mezcal Sour
Third Wave Swizzle
Banana Rum Old Fashioned
Sandy Bottoms (no comment)
Frozen Cucumber Margarita
Normandie Club Spritz
Some of these sound rather complicated for me. My favorites are rather simple.
White wine spritzer
Prosecco with St. Germain splash
Malibu Carribean rum (with coconut liqueur) and diet coke
I hope you found some ideas to fill your summer parties and cocktail hours. I will probably stick to my sparkling wine. Or maybe a cold beer.
My favorite adult beverage for about the last ten years has been sparkling wine and champagne. I have probably written over a dozen emails about my bubbles. Here are some more bubbly insights.
From Winespeed: Well isn’t this brilliant. Just when flutes increasingly find themselves the object of Champagne-lovers’ dismay (even disdain), it’s beer to the rescue. The German Beer company Beck’s has just released beer in a can shaped like a flute. It’s not that far-fetched really. Historically, many traditional beer glasses were shaped like Champagne flutes, and both beverages derive some of their pleasure from bubbles. Curiously, one of the reasons the flute is in disfavor for Champagne is that it isn’t ideal for appreciating the wine’s aroma. (Because you can’t easily swirl the wine in a flute, volatile aromatic compounds aren’t easily released and the wine is rendered less “smellable.”) Leading us to wonder: are beer lovers less aromatically inclined?
Some rules exist to determine how my favorite Limouxs are made: Viognier is a major grape of the Languedoc region, but cannot be used to make Limoux’s famous sparkling. By law, Blanquette de Limoux is made with at least 90% mauzac, with chenin blanc and chardonnay added if desired. It is made by the traditional (Champagne) method and aged sur lie for a minimum of nine months. Interestingly, blanquette is the Occitan word for the mauzac grape and also refers to the dusty, white, powdery appearance of the leaves on mauzac vines. (Occitan is the historic language of southern France).
Here is an interesting story about wine glasses from Winespeed: Limiting yourself to just one glass of wine isn’t always an easy task. And it turns out it may be even harder depending on the size of that glass. The Behavior and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge recently studied patrons at a local pub in hopes of finding out if changing the size of the wine glass has any effect on drinking behavior. (And no, we aren’t talking Betty White-sized glasses.) It turns out, decreasing the size of the glass has no noticeable effect, but increasing the glass size does. In the experiment, the same amount of wine was poured in varying glasses. Nonetheless, people felt there to be less wine in the larger glasses. That led them to drink faster and drink more–10% more. So it seems like the question isn’t: is the glass half full or half empty? But: how big is the glass?
Actually, I prefer a medium sized glass. I don’t want my champagne to get warm, but I don’t want to keep refilling my glass.
When was the last time you stayed in a youth hostel, or even a senior hostel?
On my last trip to Dublin about 5 years ago, I stayed in a hostel. While I had a private room and bath, most of the rooms consisted of numerous bunks, crazy loud music, and the smell of a certain weed. Breakfast was a rather haphazard affair, with guests grabbing food, and plopping down anywhere in the dining area and lobby. I was shocked, upon seeing each day’s guests waiting for the bus outside. I would say the average age was definitely over 30!! But the place was clean, and safe, with a great location, walking distance to the Templebar area.
Prior to that, Mike and I stayed in some rather spartan hotels and motels on our journey through Chile. We could certainly afford better lodging, but when we arrived late at night, we just took what we could find. And yes, I had to prop a chair against the doorknob to “lock” my room at night!!! This happened several times on our trip, in the Atacama Desert (San Pedro), as well as in Ushuaia (southernmost city in the world). When it is so darn cold outside, we were just happy to have a warm place to sleep!
The most fun I ever had in a hostel was in Amsterdam, back in the 70s. Upon returning from the famous Milky Way kasbah, we all had the munchies. What did we buy? Grapes, of course.
Picture each of us on the top bunk in a room with about 10 bunks. We tried spitting the seeds into a trash can that we placed in the center of the room. And as you can guess, the laughter and noise erupted whenever we hit the basket. Our poor roomies!
Regarding sex in hostels, it was quite prevalent back in the day. Not sure about now.
In my skiing days, I often bunked in unusual places. My buddy and I found a ski hostel not far from Sugar Bowl in the Sierras. We had a room with about six or eight cots, a large communal shower, with group meals at dinner and breakfast. I eventually took other groups up there, both friends and family. Alas, it burned down a few years later.
But my latest trip to Athens resulted in a two-star hotel, about a half step above a youth hostel. It was clean, quiet, and safe. But the stairs had not railings, and I had only one electrical outlet in my room for computer, phone, and anything else needing a charge. Breakfast was served in a cardboard box that had to be taken back to my room. The elevator had an accordion door that was quite cute, but also quite old. And it talked to me in both Greek and English! But really, who can complain at about $350 for the week, with air conditioning?
So, in my view of the world, one can never be too told for a hostel. Just be ready to see sex, drugs, rock n roll!!!!
Northeast of Croatia’s famous walled city of Dubrovnik is the 98-feet-long Ombla River, which emerges from a cave inside a huge massif. The Ombla may be short, but its drainage basin is an impressive 230 square miles. It flows from the massif and then over a weir, or low dam, into Rijeka Dubrovačka, an embayment formed by the Adriatic Sea. Its drainage basin includes groundwater used to supply drinking water to the residents of Dubrovnik. The source of the river, Vilina Špilja (or Fairy Cave), is one of the largest and most biologically diverse caves in the Dinaric Alps region.
How about a tiny airport? The Luang Prabang, Laos airport is charmingly small with just one runway and terminal, with a handful of interesting little shops and spectacular mountain views from its windows. Handily, it’s just a short hop from Luang Prabang, with tuk-tuk drivers waiting to whisk passengers on the 15-minute drive into the center. We drove to this city, but left via this tiny airport. But at least the runway is paved. The airport in Xiang Quan was gravel!!
Or how about this one? Less an airport and more an airstrip, this is where passengers arrive after a 45-minute flight from Dar es Salaam International Airport to explore Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, the largest game reserve in Africa. Unperturbed by the planes, local wildlife often has to be chased off the runway by rangers, and pilots do a flyby before landing, to check no furry friends are lurking in the way. Animals, such as this lion, also often frequent the hut looking for shade.
But the topper is the tiny airport in Katmandu, Nepal on Buddha Air. We took Buddha to see Mount Everest. Please refer to my previous emails about Everest.
When we were in Costa Rica, we decided to fly back to San Jose, Costa Rica. Rule one? They needed to send our baggage ahead, since it would weigh too much for our flight the next day!!!! I began to worry. Then when I saw the guy at the airport, jack of all trades, did everything but fly the plane!
I am sure each of you have a story or two about tiny airports.
From Elaine Woo of the LA Times: Harry Kubo organized the Nisei Farmers League in 1971 and was its outspoken leader for 25 years. At its height, the league had 1,500 members of various ethnicities and played a prominent role in farm labor conflicts in Central California and statewide. Several farms (including ours) owned by Japanese Americans were vandalized and targeted for unionizing and picketing. Kubo responded by mobilizing some of his fellow Nisei — second-generation Japanese Americans — into the Nisei Farmers League. It had 100 members the first year; by 1976, according to the book “Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present,” it had grown to 1,500 members, of whom only 40% were of Japanese descent. Most of the farmers owned no more than about 50 acres of land.
During the 1970s, the league organized picket patrols to support growers whose farms were being picketed by the union and night patrols to guard against vandalism. Vandalism was rampant. Fruit trees and vines were broken, sawed, or set on fire. Ladders, tractors, and other machinery were fed with a mixture of sand and sugar. The nails in the photo above were thrown in areas where farmer’s vehicle and equipment were parked.
I recall both my Uncle Sus and my brother Bob helping the Nisei farmers with night patrols, and making sure the farms were safe for workers who wanted to work. The yellow banner above was used to distinguish the Nisei Farmers from all others. I thank Mr. Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League for these historic items.
I often wonder what my dear Grandfather would have thought about this. He passed away in 1965, but came to the US in 1896, at the age of 16. He did not receive welfare, food stamps, ESL lessons, or special legislation to help him. Instead, he suffered through the Asian Exclusion Act. Then he and his entire family were sent to Relocation camps in the swamps of Arkansas, and the desert of Arizona.
Unknown to most people who were sympathetic to the striking workers was a special motto of Chavez. His favorite was, “Break the Japanese farmer”, and his second favorite was, “The Japanese farmer is weak.” I guess when he encountered Harry Kubo and the Nisei Farmers League, he found a most worthy adversary. I am proud that my family stood with Mr. Kubo and the League.
Before almonds and other crops began to replace the grape and raisin farms, upwards of 50,000 to 60,000 migrant workers came from Mexico. For a period of roughly six weeks, they picked our grapes here in the Valley. Then they returned home with enough money to live comfortably in Mexico, and tend to their own farms and businesses. Today, the UFW number around 3500.
2021 is the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the Nisei Farmers League. A big celebration dinner is planned for November.
By I have a bigger question. What happens to the farms once owned by proud Nisei returning from Relocation camps? And how will we preserve the legacy of the Nisei Farmers League?