Birds of a feather…

No sooner had we arrived at our friend Arthur’s place on the Camino de Santiago, near Triacastella, (N. Spain), he announced that he had a blackbird’s nest in the bush clambering over his terrace and that there were two wrens building a nest in the palm tree only 2 to 3 yards away from his kitchen window.   Not only that but we spotted a family of young blackcaps ‘playing’ in the elderflower bushes to the left of the terrace.  So this is their story…

Let me first ‘set the scene’ with a (very poor) panoramic picture below of Arthur’s terrace – the palm tree is on the extreme far right, the (dark) green ‘blackbird’ bush is also to the right and the elderflowers to the left. (The glass of wine was mine! 😊)

0 Terrace

The Blackbirds were clearly well advanced as they all fledged and disappeared within a few days of us arriving.  But I did manage to capture the one picture below of at least 3 beaks (at the centre of the image).

1 Blackbird beaks

The Wrens were having a hard time of it.  Their first nest had been destroyed (I forget how now), but they were busy building their second towards the bottom of the dead brown leaves hanging down from the palm tree.  Unfortunately a storm blew up and hail (yes, hail – in June!) knocked it to the ground.  Undeterred, they carried on building another nest further up the tree.  One can only admire the determination and industry of these tiny little birds!

Last, but not least, the Blackcaps entertained us all week with their presence.  Rather than fly away when we approached the corner of the terrace, they simply hopped behind a leaf or onto the next branch.  This allowed me to get a few good pictures, including a very interesting series (see pics numbered 9 to 14) where the male parent returned with a berry and offered it to 2 of the 3 chicks, but then gulped it down itself.  It was as if the parent was saying, “Take a good look, this is what you should be out there looking for, now get going…!”)  Alternatively, or as well, the ‘teenage’ young, were looking suitably grumpy and saying “Not berries for dinner again!”).

 

Sion to Sierre bike ride

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I might have to get out my bike if I was going to get any exercise and, today, I did just that.  My road bike may need a little tlc before it’s roadworthy, so I opted for my mountain bike, even though I would be cycling on flat, smooth tarmac (at least for most of the way) alongside the river Rhone.

When I was planning the route, I noticed that there was a small lake, a monastery and a ruined chateau near Sierre, so that became my target – about 16 km (10 miles) away from where I started, after unloading my bike from the car in Sion.  Along the way I took a few short detours to capture some of the other small lakes nearby, as well as a few pictures of the Sierre golf course.   I hope you enjoy the ride… 🙂

Mont d’Orge, Sion, Switzerland

Sion, (pronounced Cee-on, as in Sea-on, by the way), is the capital of the Swiss canton of the Valais, which is in the south west, french speaking, part of the country.  It has around 30,000 inhabitants and a football team in the Swiss Super League.  Due to its position in the fertile Rhone valley, it has a rich and wonderful history going back to Prehistoric times.  It’s perhaps best known now for its two 13th century hilltop fortifications – the Basilique de Valère and Chateau de Tourbillon.

However there is a 3rd hill close by, called Mont d’Orge, which also has a ruined castle or chateau on top.  It can easily be reached from the railway/bus station and, for added interest, there is a small lake to the north, which teems with wildlife in the summer.  (See information sheet, pic 21, for a list, in French, of some of the creatures found thereabouts).

I’d read about this walk some years ago in a Rother walking guide, but had never done it, until yesterday.  Sadly the skies were a little dull for good photography, but I’ve done my best.

Those clever Swiss people have made best use of the geography by setting out a fitness trail up and around it’s sides.  (See pics 4, 15, 16 & 17 below).  I also stumbled across a yellow flower which my research suggests, (please let me know if I’m wrong), is either a Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem or an Early Star-of-Bethlehem.  If it’s the latter, then this is a very rare flower in the UK (where it’s also known as the Radnor Lily) as it only grows at Stanner Rocks in Radnorshire, Central Wales.  They believe that there are only 1,000 plants, of which only 1% flower each year.  However, it is quite widespread across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Last, but not least, I spotted a signpost with a plaque (pic 29) which shows that I was on one of the Swiss links to the famous Way of St James or Camino de Santiago de Compostela.   That makes it a little over 1,900 km to my good friend Arthur’s house. 😊

 

Ovronnaz and Saillon Walks

Yesterday I took Jude’s mum, Angela, out for a drive to Ovronnaz, to catch the chairlift up to Jorasse.  From there it’s a relatively easy walk, with magnificent views all around, to the Lui d’Aout mountain hut.  (My mate Pete and I stayed there during our Tour de Muverans, so it brought back happy memories for me.  Read more about our adventure on this guest post I did for The Marmot Post). 🙂

After a picnic lunch, (see pic 7), we drove back via Saillon, where we walked the Farinet Trail up through the vineyards, following a series of 21 stained glass sculptures.  On our way, we were lucky to spot the last few vines being harvested.  A sure sign that the long hot summer in the Rhone valley must be over. 😦

Cap Corse, Corsica

Corsica is a big rocky island in the Mediterranean – the 4th largest after Sicily, Sardina and Cyprus.  It’s a haven for anyone who likes walking or beaches or, like us, both. 😊

We spent our first 3 nights in a tiny village just west of Bastia, called Patrimonio, which must have more domaines or wineries per square mile/km than any other place on earth.  So not a bad place for wine lovers either!  😋

For our first full day on the island, we took a drive around the Cape, which sticks out like a pointed finger to the north and went for a walk along the Sentier des Douaniers from Macinaggio.  We were advised that it ‘only’ took 2.5 hours to drive around the Cape, but I can assure you that, with all the speed bumps in the villages along the east coast and the death defying drops from the winding road along the west (not to mention the odd slow driver or bus), it takes much longer.  Though that worked out to our advantage as we stopped to watch the sun go down.  A perfect end to a perfect day…

Sicily (Part 1)

There’s only so much snow that a person can take and, after 3 months of looking at the white stuff, my wife, Judith, was in need of a break.  In previous years, we’ve driven over the Simplon Pass to the Italian Lakes, but the forecast for that area wasn’t great, so the decision was made to fly further south, to Sicily.

If nothing else, the internet is a fantastic resource for finding accommodation and we booked ourselves into the delightfully peaceful Terra dei Limone agriturismo, near Noto, in the south east corner of Sicily.

As regular readers will know, Judith has a passion for the sea and lighthouses, so it was no surprise that on Day 1 we drove down the coast road to Cappo delle Correnti, which is at the very southern tip of the island and where the Mediterranean sea literally crashes into the Ionian sea. (See pic 21).  On the way we stopped off at the beautiful fishing village of Marzamemi, which was all but deserted when we were there that day.   But it was clearly a favourite destination for the Sicilians too as, when we returned on the Sunday afternoon, it was packed with people parading in their finest designer clothes, as only Italians can do.

After all the snow and icy weather we’ve had, it was great to have the sun on our backs and see green fields and wild flowers everywhere.  Sicily is noted for its agriculture and wine making and we saw ample evidence of that in the fields as well as in the restaurants of Noto during the evenings.  🙂

 

Mornington and Portarlington

The Mornington peninsular and Portarlington sit on opposite sides of Port Phillip Bay, south east and south west of Melbourne respectively.   During our day trip to the former, we stopped at three different places to taste 8 sorts of cheese (made from either sheep, goat or cow’s milk), 4 types of cider and more varieties of wine than I can remember! 😉

It was Aaron’s birthday while I was there and his father, Rod, came down for a few days to help him celebrate and share in the fun.

The following day we drove out to the annual Mussel festival at Portarlington.  The weather wasn’t great, so we don’t have many pictures, but I can confirm that the local craft beers are very good and that it’s a fabulous day out.  This was where I lost my camera, so the below images are, again, courtesy of Joanne.

 

Hohsaas day out

Judith and I were so impressed with the Saas valley, when we went camping there in August, we simply had to take Angela there.  With eighteen 4,000 metre peaks to take in, the views from the top of the Hohsaas lift are simply stunning.

While the ladies had lunch, I took the path down to Kreuzboden, via the Weissmeiss mountain hut(s).  I’m aware that not many of you will have had the pleasure of visiting one of these huts, so I went inside and took a couple of pictures.  I’d liken most of them to 2 or 3 star hotels, providing simple overnight accommodation, often in dormitories, but always with plenty of good food and drink to refresh the weary hiker.  🙂

Tales of the Scales (Week 11)

Dieting is a funny old business.  This past week, I’ve not done anything exceptional in terms of eating (too much) and, if you read my post yesterday, you will know I walked 24 miles on Saturday.  (My brother’s gizmo, counted over 59,000 steps). BUT, my weight has gone up!

Weight Week 11

OK, I accept that I had another cooked breakfast and a few beers following our walk, but nothing much more than the week before, when my weight went down – albeit only slightly.  So I’m a little confused.  But, as I’m now back home in good old Switzerland (and not tempted by bacon and real ale), it’s time to really concentrate on my intake.

Weight graph, Week 11

As you will see my graph is very red, so I’ve already cut out beer and wine for the past 2 evenings and plan to continue with that this week at least.  My sugar intake (e.g. in tea) is being reduced ever so slightly, maybe even until I’m weaned off it.  Cakes and biscuits are definitely off the menu.  And I plan to do some exercise every day if I can, even if it’s only walking to the shops and back.

As for my training last week, thankfully, it’s a much better story.  It’s fair to say that I’ve been inspired by all the running blogs that I follow (and all that talk of tempo runs and interval sessions, etc.)   I’ve mentioned to a few people that I’m now one-paced, but I figured that there’s no real reason why I can’t do some intervals, or whatever.

So, knowing that I would be walking at the weekend, I decided that for my main (and one and only) run, I would drop back to the 13.1 mile distance of Week 9.   I decided to ‘make an effort’ for the first 11k, to see if I could beat my previous time and I did, by 1 minute.  (I think that might be what you youngsters call a tempo run).  My left calf was a bit tight on the way, but I still decided to do some 500m ‘sprints’ on the way back.  (Is this an interval session or just a fartlek or both? Whatever…)

I had 10k to cover, so I did 5 x 500m easy followed by 500m at a ‘fast’ pace, then a 5k ‘warm down’ run to the finish.   Remember this was the first time I’ve tried ‘sprinting’ in years… So I took the first one easy and I timed it at 2m 25s.  For the 2nd one, I forgot to start the watch, but it would have been about the same time.  The next three were done in 2m 20s, 2m 16s and 2m 14s respectively.  Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I began the last 5k at my normal (marathon type) pace and, with 3k to go, I noticed that I was on for a good time, so I made an effort.  (‘Twas ever thus, I’m afraid, when confronted with the possibility of a good time).  I finished the 13.1 in 1h 54m 56s, which was about 4.5 minutes faster than 2 weeks before.  Not bad I thought for 2, or was it 3, back-to-back training sessions.

On the way home, and to put this all into context, I worked out that these ‘sprints’ were at 4.5m per k (or 7m 15s per mile), or 22m 30s for a 5k, (which is slower than my mate Pete has been running his 5k Park Runs recently – so I’m very impressed with his ‘comeback’ performances) or a 3h 10 min marathon (which is slower than I used to run them 16 years ago).  So they weren’t so fast after all!  😦

Run and Walk graph, end Week 10

 

Tales of the Scales (Week 9)

So, today was ‘weigh in’ day and I have to say that I wasn’t hopeful.  I’d been checking my progress almost every day and the signs weren’t good.  Though this did make me more determined to stick to the plan and cut out any extra goodies.  Beer consumption plummeted to just the two cans all week (and these were after my long run last Tuesday), though wine consumption did increase slightly.

My target for this week was to get down to 75.7kg (or just under 167 lbs) and the scales hovered between 75.8 and 75.9 before settling on the lower figure.

weight-week-9

So I didn’t quite make it and my graph is red. 😦

weight-graph-week-9

So my action for this week is to do a little more exercise in between my runs and hopefully that will make the difference.

As for training, I managed two runs last week:
– one of 21.1k (or 13.1 miles).  I started with the intention of running out along the Rhone riverside for 1 hour, then turning back for the 2nd hour.  On the way I got to thinking that, if I’m to run a maraton in sub-4 hours, then I should be able to do a Half in 2 hours.  So I was pleased to see that in the first hour I’d done 11k.  But, on my return, I struggled over the last 5k and finished the Half in 1h 59m 20s.  Although this might look quite good, there was absolutely no way that I could have done it all over again!!
– my second run was a gentle 8k up to Les Haudères and back to Evolène, which I have to say had a very positive effect on my legs for today’s 25k run… (which I’ll have to tell you about next week).

I also did a walk up to Les Haudères and back and I think this must be the first time in many a year that I’ve run more than my plan.  🙂
run-and-walk-graph-end-week-8