Monday, September 26, 2011

A day and night in Milan

Milan by night

A little background story first--I met Rosy at the World Championships in July when she took my picture with Sabino Gadaleta, her friend, after the race. I knew her all of five minutes before I told her I was visiting Italy in September and she told me to come visit her. That's it. So I imagined she was a bit nervous having me there, which she later confirmed.  I didn't quite know what to expect either. It all ended up turning out well.  Here's the story:

Milan is a very happenin' city at night! Met Rosy and Barbara at the train station, then took a tram, then car, to her apartment, then car and tram back to the center of it all. The area was lit up well at night and had the intensity of a big city like Milan that one would expect. It didn't disappoint. The enormity of the age-old architecture that dominates the city was intimidating . The nightlife was there, on every corner, at every restaurant and gelateria. Places were overflowing with people and trickling into the street, and now, instead of a melée of languages, now it was all Italian.  Cars double-parked on both the street and onto the sidewalks oozed out life forms ready to lose their stress and meet with friends to sample all the alimentazione and bevande Milano had to offer. 

We met with Rosy's cousin, Sergio and his girlfriend, Gabriela, who reminded me much of my buddy Keith's wife, Bethany. Same joie de vivre, same smile--both awesome people. Sergio was great and we all had a blast.  I wanted to try a new veal dish besides veal cutlets parmigiana. I reluctantly ordered the osso bucco vitello com risotto. Wow! The rice mixed with saffron made it yellow and was out of this world! The veal, which I wasn't sure I'd like, also kicked my ass! In case things didn't work out, Barbara ordered the dish I passed up and was willing to trade if I didn't like it.  What great new friends!

We spent the night talking about the US and Italy and had some good, clean fun. I had some crêpe for desert that Barbara bought for me. It contained Nutella and mascarpone cheese.  I must find this cheese in the US! Delicious treat but I couldn't even finish it. 

Milan by Day

Milan was a city with some nice architecture. Like any good European city, it had a kickass church, the Duomo, which was closed to the public when we finally had a chance to go on Sunday. I did get to attend a few minutes of a Catholic mass in Italian at a smaller church earlier in the day, which I can cross off my list. I understood everything being said, mostly because I was an altar boy and have the darn thing memorized. I know all the priest's stupid lines because I was so nervous that I wouldn't ring the bell at the right time during his prayers.  I hated that gig.  Anyway, it was just like being a kid again, though this church was way cooler.  Took some pics and listened to the familiar hymns, hummed along in my head, then proceeded with my tour of Milan.  

Rosy and I did the entire city on foot that day, covering about 20 miles. I used my Garmin 310xt to track it and can't wait to see the map of it. Should be interesting! The first few miles were by car/tram, but the rest was all us!
We first got some coffee at one of their select spots, then started the day-long adventure. After walking about for an hour or so, we went to a nice little restaurant where I passed up my normal choice of veal in order to try rabbit (coniglio). At first I thought I got ripped off, because the meat resembled the consistency of chicken and actually did taste just like it. Then I saw the bone structure and knew it wasn't chicken. It was very tasty and I wish it was served in the US outside of Chinese restaurants. If they can cook it like this, I'm in!  
List of meats/creatures I've eaten in my life:
Guinea pig
All fish
And probably some obvious ones I'm forgetting. I'll eat any animal or creature of the sea, I guess. 
I ended up eating the majority of Rosy's and Barbara's meals, too. Lightweights. It was all good.  From there, I earned the nickname from Rosy "il pozzo senza fondo," which my dad gave to me when I was a teenager--the bottomless pit. Accompanying my coniglio, I ate some fennel, or finnochio, which happens to be the parolaccia (slang) for "gay, " but the more vulgar word used. It was tasty, but I wouldn't care much for it a second time. At her behest, I ate Rosy's sandwich and finished off Barbara's pork scallopini. Then it was time to walk it all off. 

We dropped off Barbara at work and began just walking around everywhere. We saw il castello, a castle filled with immigrants peddling the Gucci purses and sunglasses before they return to Senegal and Pakistan.  They can be quite annoying and in your face with their merchandise, especially the roses. Just because a guy and a girl are walking around together, one shouldn't assume they're "together." It's rude in any language or culture, especially if you're intruding on one's conversation.  Throughout the day, these peddlers, mostly the Pakistanis, wore on my patience.  Just like a good waiter/waitress does his/her best to not interrupt a conversation, so should these people. I understand they're trying to make money to survive and they're somewhat entrepreneurs, but they annoy the crap out of me.  They sell their same junk all over the place and it makes me thankful that we have big bouncer dudes and security guards who will get rid of these people in a heartbeat. If not, the police arrest them for selling goods without a license or something else-loitering, trespassing or soliciting. I'm serious when I say thank goodness for that!  More on that later.  As a result of these constant encounters throughout the day, I did learn the word "maleducato," meaning "rude." On a side note, that night at the bar, one guy came up while we we all sharing stories and stuck some roses in my face and I lost it! I told him to go away, get lost, leave us alone and stood up and threatened to kick his ass!  It's not like me to pick a fight, but I think I snapped after that 100th time being approached by some jackass who has no manners and seriously  invaded my personal space bubble with roses to face.  He just stood there like he didn't have a clue what I was saying, which was probably true, but I wanted to toss him in the canal.  It was like having I'll-mannered children around all day, ones whose parents never taught them to say "pardon me," or anything resembling manners.  Now I can understand why people hate the gypsies. While I did appreciate their work ethic, I wished some slack-jawed monstrosity of a dude named Bruno would have "politely" asked them to leave the premises, like they do in the US at nightclubs, or at least have it where the useless security guards phone the police and then law enforcement arrives for even the pettiest thing. I love the US!

Speaking of police, I was sad to see Milano in such the state it was.  Graffiti was everywhere, especially on buildings from long, long ago.  Some of these surfaces are either very expensive or impossible to clean! Today's youth just has q As I said before, drivers loosely followed the rules, weaving in, cutting off, endangering others and such.  Even though we all hate traffic cops and the douchebag bike cops, they serve a purpose to remind us that if we are driving irresponsibly, there are consequences that are enforced.  Milan's drivers in general seemed to treat the driving laws  in a manner similar to what we do with photo radar tickets. We know that they're not enforceable unless it's delivered by a process server or we make the mistake of calling the court to acknowledge we received it.  Italian cops seem to be well-hidden and not so involved in protecting the public.  I certainly have a new-found respect for law enforcement officers in the US.  I was even told by Barbara that it's absolute do-what-you-want with driving in the south of Italy. That's scary!

Now that I'm done with my rant on that...
We continued our walk through the park outside the castle and I nearly got a taste of my second Roman stadium of the trip. This one happened to be closed Sundays, so it was a no-go. I was happy to see many runners in the park. Outside of running with Christophe and friends, I hadn't seen a whole lot of runners with the exception of a few sexagenarians in St Elena in Venice. The park was nice, like most are, and was a pleasant little diversion before we hit the streets of Milan again. 

The people of Milan were well-dressed, and compared to Venice, they were very en vogue. In fairness to the Venetians, their jobs in their own city don't require a suit like the Milanese because the jobs in Venice itself are more tourist-centered, for the most part. In general, it seemed like the Milanese care a lot more for style and fashion and the women wear makeup and high heels, which the Venetians, though mixed in with tourists, didn't. I expected such manner of dress--after all, it was fashion week in Milan, and Milan is known for its sense of fashion, after all!

There were definitely not as many tourists here as there were in Venice, which was nice, but at the same time, it makes me the only guy carrying around a camera.  It's not the pocket-sized one, either. I'm talking the Canon 400d. I bought it on craigslist for $250 a while back and love it.  It does really well outdoors and has some cool settings I messed with for night shots, but I would like to get a better lens for action shots. I also have a Canon 8Mp digital Elph. That camera rocks, too, and has a bunch of manual settings that make it easy to transport. Canon all the way,baby!

Rosy knew a couple of secret spots in the city and she brought me to these stone columns, had me stand next to one, walked away and then started talking into the wall across from me, about 20 feet away. Her voice suddenly struck out from the wall next to me!  Pretty neat! The other spot was this mosaic bull inlaid into the ground. Legend has it that you'll become lucky if you spin around atop the hole where the bull's testicles would be.  You have to spin three times on your heel without touching down, from what I understood. No one was doing it right. I didn't want to do it because it might negate my pre-existing luck.  

I ate a lot of different things while in Milan, just as I did in France. The difference was that Sylvie does home-cooked meals that are fantastic, but more about that later. During the course of my day, I consumed gelato, rabbit, pork, some fried bread filled with mozzarella cheese that wasn't a calzone and some fried triangle cone thing filled with risotto and ham and cheese. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but I must thank Rosy for getting me to try some of these things. 

I really feel like I really experienced Milan because I ate the popular local dishes and saw the secret places. This was a very fun trip!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 4

Day 4 Geneva, Switzerland to Venice, Italy
I got in a good run last night with Gustav and had a really nice time visiting with him and Lee Ann and Max . Their house was pretty unique--walls made of windows with huge metal blinds.  I had heard about the view, but it was too overcast to see much of anything.  Cool place--I love architecture that's different than the normal cookie-cutter stuff in AZ.

Had a nice 8 mile run with Gustav, which we finished around midnight.  Ran about 7:30 pace, which is pretty impressive for a non-runner like Gustav. 

Unfortunately, even in my obsessive planning of the trip, I overlooked some of the time it would take  to travel or I didn't have access to the train schedules at the time, so I estimated, and poorly so.  Lesson learned, and my time there was limited. Was hoping for some time to wander the Swiss Alps!

Had my best night of sleep yet, getting a whole six hours this time. Up at 9, breakfast with them, then we drove 12 miles at the rate of 10 mph due to some tree trimming crew on the opposite side. Traffic in the other direction was non-existent. Weird how that works. 

Had a quick lunch at the train station with lee Ann and company. She was really sweet and bought me a big bag of meals for the rest of the day after treating me to lunch, too!

Got to both trains on time, which was nice. It was a partial fiasco getting tickets since my Eurail pass only listed two of the three countries I said I'd be visiting.  Switzerland was one of them, but since it wasn't listed, I had to pay about 70 bucks more.  Gustav and I had a good laugh, though.  Ticket guy was some Italian dude with a pony tail and hair pulled back like Furio Giunta, the guythey brought over as an enforcer in The Sopranos TV series.   

Enjoyed the view of Switzerland as we wove in and out of mountains.  The Swiss landscape consisted mostly of very high terraces from the train tracks up into the mountains where grapes were being grown. It went on all throughout the country. I never realized that the wine industry was so extensive in Switzerland. 

It was a noticeable change in the architecture from Switzerland to Italy.  Swiss had mostly wooden houses with turrets like you see on Disney castles here and there. Italy had stone buildings, sculptures and columns.  Crummy, run-down areas near industrial zones resembled that of the US. At times, I would close my eyes and pretend I was in the US and then open them to see if there was a real difference from our middle of nowhere, weathered, neglected communities on the outskirts. There wasn't.  I've seen it before. Nice to know that's a universal thing.  So is graffiti.  

Met some nice people on the train.  First, I initiated a conversation with Franchesca Fusco, an Italian native working in Switzerland, who was going to visit her family for the weekend in Milano.  She drew me a map of where to visit while in Milano and we had some pleasant conversation for a couple of hours. 

I changed over to a second train after a brief layover in Milano.  The subway was like a colosseum! Huge ceilings way past the point of even the longest ladder, arches, columns and sculptures! Wow, really incredible!

Had my half a chicken, yogurt and smoothies Lee had packed and got aboard my third train of the day.  Ended up with another two sets of seats facing each other with tables in between. Met Marta and her older friend whose name fails me at the moment. We had a nice three hours of Italo-English discussion, confusion and banter back-and-forth on the way to Venice.  We taught to and learned from each other. It made the final two hours fly by and I came out with a couple of nice friends. 

The subway in Venice wasn't as big, but still nice. I had managed to speak to Dave on the phone about directions for the apartment and he let me know it was approximately a 45 minute boat trip to Lido from the train station.  I waited a few minutes, boarded the boat and finally disembarked at Lido, just before midnight. The night scape was pretty nice from the boat and I saw all of Venice lit up.  I arrived at La Maleta restaurant as Dave instructed and used their Internet for a while I waited for Dave to come back from a party. Dave and Sadie picked me up at the restaurant and we headed upstairs to the apartment. Funny's called Villa Chiara, which is the way I wanted to spell Kiara's name and is pronounced the same.  Oh, how I miss my sweet little girl!

The third floor apartment boasts 12 foot ceilings, a three inch thick front door and a very spacious living room with huge windows and balconies with nice street views. Dave showed me a few things, gave me this huge treasure chest pirate key for the front door, and then bid me good night.  I chose my room and settled in, as it was already midnight. Then, being the night owl I am, and realizing it's only like 3PM in AZ, I went out for a stroll. 

I'm not your normal, everyday tourist.  I have a child-like fascination with pushing the limits to see what's allowed.  In this instance, it's what's behind the fence. I mean, I knew it was the beach and I really wanted to go check it out, but I passed up the first hole in the fence, then the second.  I began sweating and shaking with excitement, proud of myself for behaving. Further down the street, I encountered the third hole in the fence and couldn't resist. Without further resistance, I hopped the low part of the fence, jumped off the wall onto the beach sand, and proceeded ninja-like through the shadows, out of the way of the giant spotlight. The beach was different than anything I'd ever seen.  Yeah, it was ocean waves and water, but it featured hundreds and hundreds of little tool shed-sized shacks, complete with chairs and tables and a locked door with a changing room in back.  What an ingenious way to avoid skin cancer as well as having sand kicked on you by someone's kid or getting an eyeful when someone is shaking out their sand-laden towel next to you!

I proceeded in stealth mode out to the furthest point on the rock pier that jetted out from the shore. I took off my shirt and enjoyed the cool night air, about 20 degrees cooler than AZ.  I spent a while out there, clearing my head and relaxing and regaining focus.  I walked the beach to find big shells for Kiara, but there was nothing good. After getting my fill of beach timwe, I retraced my steps through the myriad of identical beach shacks to the point of secret egress/entrance.  I continued my night walk, taking some really good, unimpeded pictures along the way.  I walked a pier, straight for what seemed like forever, became bored and headed home.  8 miles done, I now found myself in bed.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Day 3 France

Day 3 September 16, 2011

After a good solid 3.5 hours of sleep, I awoke and ate breakfast with Chris, Sylvie et Anaïs.  I had my favorite, pain au chocolat and some orange juice. Chris took the morning off from work to take me for a petit tour of Autun. We saw some Roman bridges and the Gallois Temple of Janus and he brought me to the grocery store, Leclerc. Upon arrival, I saw several different shops inside the store, including a cleaners and something like a gift shop, where I noticed they sold French license plates, custom made. It is now a tradition for me to buy one when I visit France and it wasn't too pricey,either, like last time in Paris. While Chris used la salle de bains, I spoke with the guy at the counter and asked if he'd make one with my nickname, centered.  He said it would take 20 minutes.  Chris and I went shopping for groceries and when we approached the meat section, he pointed out the various uses of the pig--Le cochon. He had told me already that the French use all parts of it and he wasn't kidding! He showed me the pig's head, heart, testicles, liver and brain. I took pictures of each and will post them. Talk about culture shock. Yes, I've seen a pig roast, but it's not every day one sees brains and testicles for sale in the local store, right next to the hamburg and chicken.  Christophe was highly amused by my whole reaction and told each person he knew in the store how funny it was. Believe me, there is no shortage of people that know him. One time he was named Ambassador of Autun by the mayor. He is famous in the region for his dominance in running. While he was astonished by my reaction, he had some culture shock of his own when we discussed the license plate thing. In France, custom license plates aren't allowed by law--and they cannot be ordered, either. He was very surprised that could occur. I did tell him that it isn't like that in very state. California requires a plate issued by the state on the front and rear bumper, but one can still purchase a personalized vanity plate through the government. Even though he was amazed, it still didn't top my reaction to the pig parts.  As we wandered around the store, I thought to myself, "what else do they eat in France that we don't that I could find in this store?" Rabbit came to mind, so I asked Chris if they had it here. He brought me over to it and picked it up and held it (packaged transparently) by the legs, the whole body intact, skinned, with the eyes hidden behind a more opaque plastic. He told me the eyes are also consumed! It only cost about 9.5 euros (under $13), too! I'm guessing it doesn't make for a lovable pet, though. 

We then proceeded pick up Anaïs and encountered a crowd of parents waiting for their children outside the school. They all knew Chris and he couldn't wait to tell everyone about the grocery store and the time I called a French woman "chaude," meaning "easy," not "hot" like I meant it to be. Everyone had a good laugh and I stood there and defended myself, laughing with them. Everyone seems impressed by my French skills, which is reassuring, though sometimes when I'm tired I just go blank on words I know, and lately with the whole lack of sleep, nine hours in the future, even in English. Today, I couldn't recall the word "curfew" when we were talking about how safe it was to grow up in Autun. He expressed that if someone did wrong, everyone would know about it in a hurry and kids couldn't be out wandering the streets. 

On the way to pick up Alex, we stopped at the other piste (track), where he does workouts. While not in a Roman stadium, it was still a nice, cinder track, great for working out. We then went to pick up Alex and headed home.

We returned for lunch with his family. This time, I wasn't offered any alcohol, so I asked, "Chris, where is my Rickard?" He laughed and poured me some red wine instead.  I ate some bread to start, followed by a regional specialty dish, Beef Bourgignon over pasta.  It was delicious but I couldn't eat much more after that. Today, I passed up a bunch of food, probably due to the fact that it was like 4 AM Arizona time and my stomach wasn't used to it. 

Shortly thereafter, Chris dropped me off at the bus station in town and I waited next to some dude smoking something that he looked like he was trying to conceal. I sat down on the bench next to him and he got up, looking around and walked away, leaving his bag next to me.  Great, I thought.  Now I'll get busted instead of  this dumbass, while I'm in a foreign country. He came back empty- handed, probably high. He didn't exactly fit the description of  reputable, by any standards, though I must admit it's been 4 days since I shaved, so I might look a bit scuzzy (though sexy), too. Time for a shave, I decided. 

I slept the 40 minute bus ride and it was refreshing. They actually had seat belts, which is rare.  I arrived at Le Creusot and saw the lady, Paulette, who helped me chase down the bus the other day.  I thanked her and asked her about the next train, but she directed me to a train ticket person.  As it turns out, I need to make reservations to ensure a seat with my expensive Eurail pass.  What a bummer! I missed the first train that arrived and left within 10 minutes of me being there, then had to buy a to Part-Dieu for nearly 40 dollars. 

Had a nifty train experience today!  My train had about 10x the amount of people it should have!  It was supposedly the last train to Geneva with a spot that I paid for and I'm standing in a huge crowd. Some people got off the train a minute ago and now I'm sitting on the floor in first class in air conditioning. It's rather nice--better than having to stick my butt in someone's face for hours or having to stand on one foot. I'm finally there on time and they give us a really small train. It indicates on my ticket that I was supposed to be on a double-decker train in seat 108, second class. I'm in first class, in a single level car with no seat numbers!

Ok, I have a seat now that some people disembarked. Hope the train security doesn't kick me out! How embarrassing that would be! I'm just taking whatever seat for now. I'm in the third-to-last car and it may take a while for them to get here with all the people.  I wonder how effective an enforcement system they have in place for crowded, shorter train rides and people who don't buy a ticket. I wonder what, if any, are the consequences. 

Ok, so I rode for hours in style in my own little capsule in first class--pretty sweet.  Huge picture window, air conditioned, reclining seats, etc... A couple of hours into the ride I noticed that the door in front of us was for the conductor, even though I was  20 cars back from the main one.  We came to a stop in Switzerland, but the announcements were as bad as those over speakers in a US drive-through. We were waiting at a standstill for about 10 minutes when I asked someone if we were in Geneve.  He said it was the other train.  I disembarked to realize that it was gone, but the platform guy took me to the next train and I only arrived in Geneva 15 minutes after the train I was supposed to have been on. 

More to come!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Autun, France Day 2

Day 2
Petit Déjeuner
I heard someone stirring outside the living room, where I was camped out. It was Alexandre,the 12 year old son of Chris et Sylvie. I greeted him and decided it was time to start the day. Then, I wrote all of the above. 

For breakfast I consumed two chocolaty croissant type things. Delicious. OJ, water, I was good to go.  Chris took me to work with him. He is the director (animateur) of a children's after school program. It's something like the equivalent of Boys and Girls Club or the YMCA in the US. In his office, I was introduced to his co-workers Marianne et__ as "the American." I checked my FB account and saw that he had announced it. Apparently, Chris is pretty well known here in Autun, a small Roman village with 15,000 citizens, and it seems like having an American here is something of a treat that seldom happens. Most of the tourists here are English or Dutch. Fun times.  I'm Ok with being that guy, though. 

At work with Chris

At work, I had the experience of the double sided cheek kiss with Marianne, which I believe was my first. She first greeted Chris like that and it reminded me of the things I'd read about the French and had only seen in movies. I always thought that was a cool move and would have liked to adopt it. I remember teaching it to my students, but it was only the females that ended up doing it with the other females. The guys never adopted it. 

At the office, I had quite a long conversation with ____, whose friend had visited the US and nearly every state. Chris and I teased each other to his friends about our speaking SNAFUs from CA this summer. His gross mispronunciation of Lake Tahoe, "Lahktah oh" and me referring to his French teammate Carine as hot, "chaude," which apparently translates to "easy" when used in that context. 

We hopped in the car and I got some more history lessons about Autun and Chris pointed out where he grew up and where his family lives. What a quaint, charming and beautiful town. The ramparts put there by the Romans envelop the city and the elements of their presence are everywhere. 

En ville (in town)

We zipped around cobblestone streets to eventually park and visit his friend the boulanger at their bread shop.  I had Chris take my photo as if I had just made some fresh wood-fired pizzas as well with his bread-making buddy.  On my way out, I somehow found my black pants covered in flour. 

We stopped at the Office de Tourisme, where I flirted with the lady handing out maps and telling me where I was and what to look at. I asked if she could personally give me the tour. We laughed. After that, Chris bade me farewell and returned to work.  We were supposed to meet again in a couple of hours to have lunch around 12:15. I went up the street, taking pictures along the way and then went to the cathedral at the top of the hill. It was enormous, but not so intimidating as Notre Dame. Definitely huge for such a small town. After that, I started doing what I always do--start finding my way to the top of wherever I am. Atop this town's highest hill, overlooking the whole area, and visible still, even though far away, was the Croix de la Liberation. I later found out this was built as a celebration of WW2 ending. 

I wasn't sure how long it would take me to ascend the mountain to get there. I estimated 2 miles on foot. It didn't look like there was a direct route there, other than following the paved road and signs leading to it. Totally not my style--I'm more of a tangent taking type, but up I went. The roads were still barely two compact cars wide, but I think a total of 8 cars passed me in 90 minutes. Along the way, I took some trails, ended up on the road and finally arrived. It was very peaceful and quite scenic. One could see all of the town and surrounding region. I decided that there must be a faster way to descend, so I looked for another trail.  I found one that was a very steep downhill and proceeded to run down it. Chris called me on the cell he gave me and asked where I was. I told him, "à la Croix." He didn't understand, then when it registered, he was in disbelief that I had gone all the way up there. I raced down the hill at breakneck speeds and got back to the tourism office. He told me he had entered and asked if they had seen his American. Again, I'm apparently the only one that's been here in a while. I no longer use my name. I am now changing it officially to "The Americain."

Same old song and dance

I noticed some French stereotypes today. Since I walked the entire village on foot and drove most of it, I feel I now have the authority to make these observations and therefore prolong the stereotypes. Number one: the French love their dogs and bring them everywhere.  They like small dogs. Confirmed. 7 sightings in three hours. I even saw a couple of larger dogs, too.
Number two:  French people carry their bread home under their arms.  Confirmed. 6 sightings in three hours. Number three: I am making this a new stereotype. If the French don't have bread under their arm, then they have a dog, and vice versa. 


Chris brought me back to his house, where the children were waiting for us already and Sylvie had prepared lunch.  How great! A family lunch each day. Adults can come home from work for an hour or more and so can the kids to convene and eat together as a family! Love it! I had several versions of meat from un cochon (a pig) that were fairly tasty, but only after an aperitif. Chris poured me some anise liquor that was 40% alcohol and some red wine from nearby. We ate lunch, had some bread, steak like hamburger and potatoes. It was delicious and it was neat to experience the different courses, a welcome change from my daily 2 slices of pizza at noon.

Le footing (running) 

At 6, we went to this track to run. I was astounded when i laid eyes on it. It was an old stadium from Roman times with stone seating overlooking the  track! It was a nice cinder track and fit in just fine with the Roman archtecture.  We met with some gentlemen whose names I cannot spell yet--from Morocco and Tunisia. They joined us on the run, which wound its way through the forest of Autun. 

Great run, got to see the Roman pyramid made of special stone from the region. It's a mystery why it was created. I just assume that the Romans were bored and had some slaves make it for their own amusement. Great view and nice trails which reminded me of my hometown. Made instant friends with the other runners as is normal and we took some pictures together with the auto timer in several spots on the run, including the pyramid, which, by the way, is a sloppy excuse for a pyramid.  The run was mostly uphill and right back down, but I felt great. We finished on the track in the Roman stadium and it was an energizing moment. I love this town and everything about it! This is way better than Paris and everyone is great! Earlier today we had a discussion about attitudes and I said the citizens of Autun are very nice and friendly. The others disagreed, citing that they themselves weren't as friendly with their neighbors as they are towards tourists.  I agreed that it was much the same in the US. 

Le dîner (dinner)

We had like a seven course dinner after the run, starting again with an aperitif and Chris pouring me some more Rickard, the strong stuff. He waters it down, though. Then Sylvie brings me some wine from her caves. She's Portuguese, so the wines she shows me are from Portugal...Porto. She pours it into a glass smaller than a shot glass and adds, "this is strong stuff." At this point, we hadn't had any food yet, and I had told Chris that I didn't have a strong tolerance for alcohol. I wondered if it was his intention all day to see me enivré (drunk).  For dessert, after I had already indicated I wasn't able to eat anymore, Chris gave me some pear sorbet, which he then proceeded to drown in some other off-the-charts strong alcohol. Mon Dieu!
It tasted awful, but I cannot turn down something offered by the host; it's rude, and Chris and I discussed that very thing earlier today. 

Le Bar

To wind up the day, Chris took me out to a bar/bowling alley with his best friend Pierre. He ordered me another drink, some pear flavored thing from the region. We had a little toast and he told me to slow down, even though I was only given like a half a shot. I was getting tired at this point and we headed home. What a day, again!

European Vacation Autun, France Day 1

My adventures

Day 1 Amsterdam Schipol Airport
Landed in Amsterdam Schipol after a three hour pleasant conversation with a guy my age named Kai from England. New friend made: check.

Walked around quite a bit, to the end of all the terminals in Schipol to get the ol' legs moving and work out the kinks. Hopped back on a plane, this time a small one, to Lyon, France. 

Airport in Lyon
Realized quickly that the population of Lyon was not as accustomed to speaking English as much as the Parisians are. I started off in French, but I quickly found that in order to really figure out where I needed to go, I needed to clarify in English. Not what I planned on, but I didn't want to get lost, stranded or miss a train or bus. 

A lady named Corrine from the flight to Lyon aided me a bit and gave me a phone card. I gathered my suitcase and headed to the train station. I thought my Eurail pass was good to go, but found out I needed to take a local train first, an extra 20 bucks. After 5 PM there isn't a train directly to Le Creusot, my first destination on the way to Autun. I then began a half mile walk along a platform that resembled the architecture you'd find aboard the Death Star

Gare-Lyon (Lyon train station)
Waiting outside on the quai, or platform, for the Rhône Express train, I realized a cultural difference. Americans, though fairly inconsiderate of others when it comes to smoking in common areas, aren't as bad as the French. Funnily enough, the entire platform was smokers every two feet, smoking on the bench like it was acceptable. For me, that translates to "yuck" in any country. 

The other thing I noticed more and more was the way the French dressed. Maybe it was just business people dressed for work, but every man seemed to be wearing slacks and a buttoned shirt with a collar. Same formula everywhere I went. Younger guys had the Jean and t-shirt thing going. I had the tech shirt and shorts thing going. 

Confusion in Part-Dieu
Lack of sleep on any of the flights was catching up with me. I arrived in the Part-Dieu station, half-starved, and bought a Parisien, which is a baguette sandwich with ham and butter (not a prostitute from Paris), then I went to the Accueil, or welcome center, to find out where to go next. This was a very busy station, and huge! 

The communication barrier was present here, mostly due to my not being able to hear people well around background noise. What I got out of it in French was that I had better hurry. I waited briefly in line, finished my sandwich, and paid another 2 bucks for something I'm not even sure of--regarding my pass. 

Finally, I was told to wait and stare at the monitors to find out the platform from which my train was leaving. When it was finally posted, I followed the signs for what I thought was platform C, but apparently I followed the signs for bus C. Damn small print! I realized that it wasn't the train stop and rushed back toward the station to ask a security guard, with 5 minutes to go before I would  miss the train and would have used up Day 1 of my $537.00 Eurail Pass without actually going anywhere. Having a new-found sense of direction, I then headed up the escalator to the train platform and finally saw this huge, never-ending TGV (means "very fast train"). It is quite a sight compared to the freight trains we see around the US-very sleek but intimidating--like something out of a Batman movie. After walking past a quarter mile of train and  first boarding the wrong car and realizing I was sitting in the wrong seat, I exited, checked with a train attendant and boarded the adjacent car. Finally in the right car, I went to locate my seat, 104, and found someone sitting there. I decided to just move to a different seat. An hour train ride, I pondered how I would get in touch with Christophe without my own phone. 

After several minutes of conversation, I politely asked the man next to me,  Patrique, if he wouldn't mind dialing Christophe's number for me. I think he agreed because random people who ask to use strangers' phones arent usually sporting an iPad.  First time, no answer. Second time, got his wife, Sylvie, who I had never met. It seemed she was screening his calls until I told her I was on my way over to their house and she realized who I was.  We talked briefly enough to let her know for the first time that I was coming very soon, and she indicated that Christophe was way out of town and unreachable because he was racing a cross country race somewhere. Go figure.  I disembarked the train and went inside the station.  It was a tiny station in the middle of nowhere. I sat down next to a gentleman my age, explained my predicament and politely asked him if he would call the number I presented to him on my iPad. I did, talked to a frantic Sylvie, then took the gentleman's suggestion and went to the Accueil to find out about taking a bus to Autun, since the prospect of being picked up like I planned out months ago was no longer an option. Oh well, I thought briefly. I knew I'd get there somehow and sometime. I hoped it was tonight, but didn't stress about it. 

The lady helping me suddenly realized that the bus to Autun was scheduled to leave momentarily.  She rushed out of the booth and started running down the stairs as the bus started moving. I followed quickly, bags in hand, but it was slow-going down these stairs with my stuff. The bus wasn't stopping. I reached the bottom of the stairs and started sprinting with my stuff towards the bus. I cut the corner and was now running alongside it. I got into the driver's field of view, as I was now in front of the bus, determined to get her to stop.  Finally, I cut almost in front of it and she stopped, seemingly out of pity, or just finally realizing I was trying to catch her. I'm pretty sure if I were anyone else, I would have missed the bus or just given up. I chased her a good 100m. 

In boarded the bus, thankful that I didn't have to wait for another. I regained my composure and found out that the next bus wasn't until nine--another two hours! Breathing a sigh of relief, I paid my fare of 1.5 euros and sat down to enjoy my ride. Thank goodness I'm a runner!

The countryside was beautiful and very green, with lots of farmland and cows and sheep along the way. We reached Autun, an old Roman city with some pretty old architecture and narrow streets. As we came to the final stop, I asked the bus driver if she knew where Faubourg de Breuil was.  A helpful traveler on the bus, a lady in her 50s--Jeannette, told me to come with her.  Her sister was picking her up and she offered me a ride. How utterly thoughtful and so friendly! I loaded my things into her Renault and we began driving the cobblestone streets in an effort to find the address I had. She called Sylvie on her phone and the two were able to determine a spot where we could meet, as we couldn't seem to find the house. 

Sylvie drove down the street to pick me up and I bade farewell to Jeannette and her sister, offering to buy them drinks. Instead, they invited me to stay at their house this week! Jeannette gave me her card and we parted ways. What an adventure so far!

Sylvie was very excited but still surprised I was there, as Christophe never told her the dates. I uassured her I had sent them, but it didn't matter at this point!  She showed me the house and her garden, the adjacent mini-chateau across the field, her "caves" under the house for storage and other things. She prepared me some pasts with tomato sauce, bread and poured me a glass of cold soup called Gazpacho. I topped off dinner with some Camembert and realized that it was becoming more and more difficult to talk and understand French. I was tired and the fatigue had set in. As I prepared to settle in for the night, Sylvie exclaimed that she heard a car--it was Christophe! She told me to stay out of sight. When Christophe rounded the corner, there I was, to his surprise!  We talked for a minute, but at that point I realized that French was now starting to sound like a foreign language to me. 

Chris et Sylvie prepared the futon for me, I showered and hit the sack. What a day! I awoke 7 hours later at 5 AM, or 8 PM in AZ.  I emailed a few people to let them know I was alive, sent stuff to my XC team, then worked on this, trying to remember my day yesterday. The sun didn't come up until like 6:40 here. Not used to that! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

8-30-11 Track Workout ladder

Today I ran a solid workout, mostly alongside Daniel "Darko" Blech.  He's usually a pace machine, with some supercomputer in his head that makes some pretty good calculations on the spot.  I never truly rely on anyone to know pace down pat like I do, but I was just along for the ride today.

The workout was a ladder -- 400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1600, 1200, 800, 400 with 400m jog R in between and 800m jog R in the very middle of the workout. Some didn't have the mile repeats to complete. Overall, this workout seemed to take up more practice time than anticipated.
The first one we did was 1:23, then 2:54 (+2 slow), 4:30, 6:10, then Darko put on his racing flats and took off. The next mile was at 5:35, and I found myself dragging and sucking wind after a mere 200m.  I told him I was done, feeling like something was wrong with me.  I was going to finish this interval and re-evaluate the rest of my workout. Then, I looked at my watch.  The mile pace was 5:00!  I yelled to Darko to slow the hell down, but to no avail.  Wearing my Brooks Glycerin 9's, I continually closed in on him, eventually running a way too fast 4:28, but only after jogging the last 100m.  I was literally on pace for a 5:18 the whole time! I was done after calf was experiencing a slight twinge, so I decided not to ignore it because I have no major races lined up until March 2012.

I'm quite happy with the ease of my workouts lately.  I've felt smooth and relaxed, and noticed I'm really enjoying my Glycerin 9's as my go-to shoe on the track and roads. Last week's mile repeats with the last two at 5:28 and 5:27 seemed effortless.  I wonder what kind of shape I'm truly in at this point. I imagine that donning racing flats or track spikes could yield some quick 200 and 400 repeats.

Tired now.  Time for bed.

Keeping the Pace

Coaching (runners) is the pinnacle of teaching. If done correctly, you can elicit new mental and physical behaviors from your runners; it's just a matter of providing them with the necessary tools to unlock different parts of themselves they didn't know they had access to.  Of course, figuring out which tools each runner is lacking is part of the challenge. The rest involves getting in their head and figuring out what makes them respond best. Pacing oneself is a recurring topic and problem.

Pacing is a very difficult craft to master, and something that most of my runners are struggling with.  Usually the best way to do it is to take watches away and have runners do quarter mile repeats at a prescribed pace until they learn it by feel within +/- .5 seconds.  Garmin GPS watches abound in this day and age, bringing a whole new element to running. They also bring reliance on something that may or may not be accurate.  On the track, I say go with a Timex.  Your time is your time, and there's no worry about mileage.  Hit the split button for your lap time and you know where you stand.  Garmins on the track, if one has ever looked at an overhead of their workout, are grossly inaccurate.  They work much better on a straighter route.  Garmin finishes the mile a full 20 or more meters before I actually complete 4 laps.  Four laps is only 1600m. A true mile is 1609.344 meters, so it's a bit beyond 4 laps.  So my "mile" splits on the track with my Garmin are way the hell off every time, guaranteed.  The 310XT model shows me that my accuracy is usually within 18 feet.  To me, that's a long way.  A lap on the track is 400m if you run 6 inches out from the inside line.  Anything further outside of that, you are running extra on the curves. 

Furthermore, to pace oneself accurately, one must be well-versed in the pacing table and be able to convert to/from quarter mile and mile paces readily.  Usually one only has to be familiar with a handful of paces in one's own repertoire.  I say, familiarize yourself with paces from 4 minute to 10 minute miles.  Four minutes is the easiest pace to discern; 1:00 per lap.  I can go on all day doing these in my head and figuring it out in 10 seconds or less.  After practicing pace in one's head over and over, one should eventually be able to determine one's lap pace based on this simple formula, without using some crazy phone app to do it for them.  Here's a highly detailed pace table.  The 1600m and 400m Columns are the ones we will reference most, seeing as we don't really do a whole mile. 

Pace Table - Track

Mile 100m 200m 300m 400m 500m 600m 800m 1000m 1200m 1600m 2000m 2400m 3000m 3200m 5000m 10000m
4:00 00:14.9 00:29.8 00:44.7 00:59.7 01:14.5 01:29.5 01:59.3 02:29.1 02:59.0 03:58.6 04:58.3 05:57.9 07:27.4 07:57.2 12:25.7 24:51.3
4:10 00:15.5 00:31.1 00:46.6 01:02.1 01:17.6 01:33.2 02:04.3 02:35.3 03:06.4 04:08.6 05:10.7 06:12.8 07:46.0 08:17.1 12:56.7 25:53.5
4:20 00:16.1 00:32.3 00:48.5 01:04.6 01:20.8 01:36.9 02:09.2 02:41.6 03:13.9 04:18.5 05:23.1 06:27.7 08:04.7 08:37.0 13:27.8 26:55.6
4:30 00:16.8 00:33.6 00:50.3 01:07.1 01:23.9 01:40.7 02:14.2 02:47.8 03:21.3 04:28.4 05:35.5 06:42.7 08:23.3 08:56.9 13:58.9 27:57.7
4:40 00:17.4 00:34.8 00:52.2 01:09.6 01:27.0 01:44.4 02:19.2 02:54.0 03:28.8 04:38.4 05:48.0 06:57.6 08:42.0 09:16.8 14:29.9 28:59.9
4:50 00:18.0 00:36.0 00:54.0 01:12.1 01:30.1 01:48.1 02:24.2 03:00.2 03:36.2 04:48.3 06:00.4 07:12.5 09:00.6 09:36.6 15:01.0 30:02.0
5:00 00:18.6 00:37.3 00:55.9 01:14.6 01:33.2 01:51.8 02:29.1 03:06.4 03:43.7 04:58.3 06:12.8 07:27.4 09:19.2 09:56.5 15:32.1 31:04.2
5:10 00:19.2 00:38.5 00:57.8 01:17.1 01:36.3 01:55.6 02:34.1 03:12.6 03:51.2 05:08.2 06:25.3 07:42.3 09:37.9 10:16.4 16:03.2 32:06.3
5:20 00:19.9 00:39.8 00:59.6 01:19.5 01:39.4 01:59.3 02:39.1 03:18.8 03:58.6 05:18.2 06:37.7 07:57.2 09:56.5 10:36.3 16:34.2 33:08.4
5:30 00:20.5 00:41.0 01:05.1 01:22.0 01:42.5 02:03.0 02:44.0 03:25.1 04:06.1 05:28.1 06:50.1 08:12.1 10:15.2 10:56.2 17:05.3 34:10.6
5:40 00:21.1 00:42.3 01:03.4 01:24.5 01:45.6 02:06.8 02:49.0 03:31.3 04:13.5 05:38.0 07:02.5 08:27.1 10:33.8 11:16.1 17:36.4 35:12.7
5:50 00:21.7 00:43.5 01:05.2 01:27.0 01:48.7 02:10.5 02:54.0 03:37.5 04:21.0 05:48.0 07:15.0 08:42.0 10:52.5 11:36.0 18:07.4 36:14.9
6:00 00:22.3 00:44.7 01:07.1 01:29.5 01:51.8 02:14.2 02:59.0 03:43.7 04:28.4 05:57.9 07:27.4 08:56.9 11:11.1 11:55.8 18:38.5 37:17.0
6:10 00:23.0 00:46.0 01:08.9 01:32.0 01:54.9 02:17.9 03:03.9 03:49.9 04:35.9 06:07.9 07:39.8 09:11.8 11:29.7 12:15.7 19:09.6 38:19.1
6:20 00:23.6 00:47.2 01:10.8 01:34.5 01:58.0 02:21.7 03:08.9 03:56.1 04:43.4 06:17.8 07:52.3 09:26.7 11:48.4 12:35.6 19:40.6 39:21.3
6:30 00:24.2 00:48.5 01.12.7 01:36.9 02:01.1 02:25.4 03:13.9 04:02.3 04:50.8 06:27.7 08:04.7 09:41.6 12:07.0 12:55.5 20:11.7 40:23.4
6:40 00:24.8 00:49.7 01:14.5 01:39.4 02:04.3 02:29.1 03:18.8 04:08.6 04:58.3 06:37.7 08:17.1 09:56.5 12:25.7 13:15.4 20:42.8 41:25.6
6:50 00:25.5 00:51.0 01:16.4 01:41.9 02:07.4 02:32.9 03:23.8 04:14.8 05:05.7 06:47.6 08:29.5 10:11.4 12:44.3 13:35.3 21:13.8 42:27.7
7:00 00:26.1 00:52.2 01:18.3 01:44.4 02:10.5 02:36.6 03:28.8 04:21.0 05:13.2 06:57.6 08:42.0 10:26.4 13:02.9 13:55.1 21:44.9 43:29.8
7:10 00:26.7 00:53.4 01:20.1 01:46.9 02:13.6 02:40.3 03:33.8 04:27.2 05:20.6 07:07.5 08:54.4 10:41.3 13:21.6 14:15.0 22:16.0 44:32.0
7:20 00:27.3 00:54.7 01:22.0 01:49.4 02:16.7 02:44.0 03:38.7 04:33.4 05:28.1 07:17.5 09:06.8 10:56.2 13:40.2 14:34.9 22:47.1 45:34.1
7:30 00:27.9 00:55.9 01:23.9 01:51.8 02:19.8 02:47.8 03:43.7 04:39.6 05:35.5 07:27.4 09:19.2 11:11.1 13:58.9 14:54.8 23:18.1 46:36.2
7:40 00:28.6 00:57.2 01:25.7 01:54.3 02:22.9 02:51.5 03:48.7 04:45.8 05:43.0 07:37.3 09:31.7 11:26.0 14:17.5 15:14.7 23:49.2 47:38.4
7:50 00:29.2 00:58.4 01:27.6 01:56.8 02:26.5 02:55.2 03:53.6 04:52.1 05:50.5 07:47.3 09:44.1 11:40.9 14:36.2 15:34.6 24:20.3 48:40.5
8:00 00:29.8 00:59.7 01:29.5 01:59.3 02:29.1 02:59.0 03:58.6 04:58.3 05:57.9 07:57.2 09:56.5 11:55.8 14:54.8 15:54.5 24:51.3 49:42.7
8:10 00:30.4 01:00.9 01:31.3 02:01.8 02:32.2 03:02.7 04:03.6 05:04.5 06:05.4 08:07.2 10:09.0 12:10.8 15:13.4 16:14.3 25:22.4 50:44.8
8:20 00:31.0 01:02.1 01:33.2 02:04.3 02:35.3 03:06.4 04:08.6 05:10.7 06:12.8 08:17.1 10:21.4 12:25.7 15:32.1 16:34.2 25:53.5 51:46.9
8:30 00:31.7 01:03.4 01:35.0 02:06.8 02:38.5 03:10.1 04:13.5 05:16.9 06:20.3 08:27.1 10:33.8 12:40.6 15:50.7 16:54.1 26:24.5 52:49.1
8:40 00:32.3 01:04.6 01:36.9 02:09.2 02:41.5 03:13.9 04:18.5 05:23.1 06:27.7 08:37.0 10:46.2 12:55.5 16:09.4 17:14.0 26:55.6 53:51.2
8:50 00:32.9 01:05.9 01:38.8 02:11.7 02:44.6 03:17.6 04:23.5 05:29.3 06:35.2 08:46.9 10:58.7 13:10.4 16:28.0 17:33.9 27:26.7 54:53.4
9:00 00:33.5 01:07.1 01:40.6 02:14.2 02:47.7 03:21.3 04:28.4 05:35.5 06:42.7 08:56.9 11:11.1 13:25.3 16:46.6 17:53.8 27:57.7 55:55.5
9:10 00:34.2 01:08.4 01:42.5 02:16.7 02:50.9 03:25.1 04:33.4 05:41.8 06:50.1 09:06.8 11:23.5 13:40.2 17:05.3 18:13.6 28:28.8 56:57.6
9:20 00:34.8 01:09.6 01:44.4 02:19.2 02:54.0 03:28.8 04:38.4 05:48.0 06:57.6 09:16.8 11:36.0 13:55.1 17:23.9 18:33.5 28:59.9 57:59.8
9:30 00:35.4 01:10.8 01:46.2 02:21.7 02:57.1 03:32.5 04:43.4 05:54.2 07:05.0 09:26.7 11:48.4 14:10.1 17:42.6 18:53.4 29:31.0 59:01.9
9:40 00:36.0 01:12.1 01:48.1 02:24.2 03:00.2 03:36.2 04:48.3 06:00.4 07:12.5 09:36.6 12:00.8 14:25.0 18:01.2 19:13.3 30:02.0 00:04.1
9:50 00:36.6 01:13.3 01:50.0 02:26.6 03:03.3 03:40.0 04:53.3 06:06.6 07:19.9 09:46.6 12:13.2 14:39.9 18:19.9 19:33.2 30:33.1 01:06.2
10:00 00:37.3 01:14.6 01:51.8 02:29.1 03:06.4 03:43.7 04:58.3 06:12.8 07:27.4 09:56.5 12:25.7 14:54.8 18:38.5 19:53.1 31:04.2 02:08.3