Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Podium Number Two in France!

The new kits arrived today. Just like in America, nobody gets their new kits until after a couple of the early season races. I guess that will always be that way. The main sponsor is Cassoulidet and secondary sponsors include Caissee d'Espagne. The kit id black, yellow and white. I don't know what these French guys were trying to tell me but they gave me Large shorts and a Medium Jersey. I won't take offense just yet till I figure out the size conversions to USA! Check out the landscape. Rapeseed fields are in full bloom all over France right now.
The field was smaller today as another race was occuring not too far from Toulouse. This tends to split the region and riders choose the race closer to them. For us, St. Pierre was the closest so that is what we choose (Gas: $5.88/gallon). Today was much harder as the course had a long, but not too steep 4km climb at the start/finish. I still don't know any of the riders and one guy took off at the first of the race wearing a Mapei Kit, so I thought for sure he is a poser. Later I learned that if your local team is sponsored by Mapei, you can wear the pro team kit. He stayed away until the end. Three riders attacked on lap 3 of 6 and I thought for sure they wouldn't stick it. But they did so on lap 4, I attempted to bridge and spent the next 2 laps chasing by myself until I caught them on the climb with 500 meters to go. I jumped them but one guy still was able to beat me on the uphill sprint.
So, another 3rd place. And considering I still have the French Flu as shown below, I was semi-pleased with that. Little Marco Pantani guy on my left was trying not to breath my flu filled air. NO WINE this time. Only a trophy, T-shirt, medal, and a cool bucket cap. I got to get me some of those winner's flowers before I head back to America. Oh, and gateux's (mini-cakes) and chocolats were served after the race! Life is good and you will never go hungary in France.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Pissaladiere: Onion and Anchovy Pizza. Additional toppings, black olives and tomatoes with tomato sauce and gruyere cheese. The dough is a sweet dough made with Petit Suisse, flour, sugar, and eggs. Not at all like pizza dough, thus the different name.
I have come to learn that Madame will never let anything go to waste. The tomato sauce that made up the base of the pizza was made for my roommate Peter when he first arrived almost a month ago. The half-remaining contents had been in the refrigerator since then and all the sudden it dissappered when the pizza was made???? I had a slice, but I will leave it up to you to determine if it was good or not.

The French Flu!!!

So, I guess riding back and forth to school and training in the cold, rainy conditions of this past April here in France has landed me the French flu (aka Common Cold). I have had it for about 8 days now and this is the latest treatment that I have begun. Madame Luthie instructed me to buy something at the Pharmacy and then she would show me how to use it when I arrived home. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking!

I think it is just some herbal aromatics, but that smile post-treatment makes me think that there is more in that little box than I care to know!
Day 9 of the French Flu is nearing with little relief in sight. Three fumagations a day and hopefully this will be knocked out. I even found some Vick's Vaporub to get me through the night.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My first Podium in France.

The team readies to tackle the 70km circuit race in Ox, France near Muret. Myself, Yannis, and Laurent would make up a strong 3-man team, as we battled the terrible April weather of rain, wind, and cold.
The big crowd of riders was lessened today due to the weather, but a strong 50-man field took to the road.

The Podium from Left to Right. The girl didn't race, but presented the prizes. Not a French model by anymeans, but we are in Ox of all places.

So this Sunday was my first race with my new Toulousian based French team Cassoulidet. They are just a couple of buddies who love racing there bikes and have started a team sponsored by a local bank. This experience has really brought me back to my roots of cycling and every ride with them reminds me of why I love to ride….and race my bike. They don’t have power meters, or even heartrate monitors at that. They don’t care how many watts at threshold they can produce or even know what that means. Laurent comes from a football background (yes, soccer America) and Yannis grew up playing rugby. We ride 4-5 days a week together and they take me on some of the most beautiful French countryside rides that you could ever imagine. I occasionally will see a VeloTour Group pass by and I realize that those people are probably paying $3000-$4000 to get to do what I am doing everyday! Back to the racin! We loaded up the caravan of Laurent, Yannis, myself, and Laurent’s father Helios, who provides post-race gateaux’s (mini-cakes) which I love and a roof rack for my bike. The weather here in SW France has been atrocious this April. Lot’s of rain, wind, and low temperatures. Today would be no different as we took to the starting line with rain, wind, and 12°C. The field was smaller today as the weather keeps the French racers inside, hence the reason they haven’t had a Tour champion in 20+ years. Fifty or so riders took to the 5.5 km circuit, which was pancake flat. Within minutes, I could taste and smell the local produce and animals of the surrounding fields as the waste washed onto the roads and into my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. In all honesty, I thought I had a piece of Chevre cheese caked in my nose and in my teeth because all I could taste and smell was GOAT! Now I know why half of the pro racers in Europe have unheard of intestinal disorders and are constantly sick from racing and training on these roads:) This race was pretty easy to read and after watching the field chase down everything that got a 20 meter gap, I decided today I would tryout the new 70kg body for the sprint. Sure enough, we hit the last section coming into the finish and a two-man break had snuck off the front 2km before and the one guy would solo in for the win. The field flailed every which way preparing for the nervous sprint and before I could wind up my cheese & pate power punch, some guy jumped the field to finish 2nd, and I led the sprint home for 3rd. The first podium for the team this year! I got to go up on stage as my “unrecognizably pronounced Walnofer with a French accent” name was blasted through the speakers. I gave my podium kiss to a 12-year-old local girl and gladly accepted my two bottles of wine and size Large T-shirt. A nice Cahors Carte Noir (Black Wine, Malbec) Red and a Table Vin de pays du vin Rose (Bordeaux style). Amateur races in America should ditch the $50 prize money and do as the French do and give regional specialties as prizes. I know I appreciate this more than any “gas money” I won back in Arkansas. I bought a nice cheese at the local market this morning that will pair nicely with that Cahors for dinner. Cheers!

Making Wine in Gaillac

Off to Gaillac I went this Saturday to buy wine for home-bottling, with my lab colleagues Kerry and Philippe and his brother (???). Luckily, this was a Citroen Station Wagon so I had plenty of room in the backseat and the hatchback had plenty of room for our wine we would buy during our trip. Gaillac is not a well know region for making wine in France, but it does make very respectable regional wines that pair nicely with the local cheeses and many duck and meat dishes that are famous from this area.
We stopped at a local, very local, winery for a few tastings and to buy the wine in bulk. This incredibly nice woman who owned the winery with her husband and children is pouring me a glass straight from the holding tank. If you buy in bulk, the price for this red wine was 2 euros/liter and the white was 1 euro/liter. It is the 2007 wine, so the plan for Philippe was to take it to his uncle-in-law's home to bottle it and age it for the next 3-5 years and then have some very good, inexpensive wine for his family. Philippe and his brother have been doing this since their college days and they say they have turned out some pretty good wine over the years. As I went to purchase a bottle from the lady, she pushed my money back towards me and told me that the bottle was a gift for the wine expert American (via translation!). Oh how I have these French people fooled with my interest and studies being mis-interpreted as Expertism. It was a very special gift and one I truly appreciate. For some reason, people are always so kind to me and I hope that I can repay this to everyone I meet along my path of life.
This operation kind of reminded me of old-timers in Arkansas making moonshine in their bathtub, but I guess the end product was to be better. This was Philippe's Uncle-in-law's garage and it had the petrol, weedeater smell to prove it. The bulk wine was poured into thier bottles and then Philippe had a corker that punched the cork into the bottle. After the wrapper was mounted on the top of the bottle, the label was slapped on the outside, and the wine was put into the cellar where it would remain until 2012. I asked Philippe if I could return for a bottle in 2012 and he said sure.
No trip to a Frenchmen's home would be complete without a look into his wine cellar. Philippe's Uncle-in-law had numerous bottles he has been collecting over the years. I guess this is the hidden trade of the French culture because I don't think they ever drink any of the old wines. They just store them to show off like pieces of art. Maybe that is why the wine auction scene is getting so big now-a-days, because so many people have these gems hidden away deep in their dark basements. Many Bordeaux's, Gaillac's, Cahors, and local wines of the region were shown to us from as far back as 30 years ago. He did give us a bottle of very nice Champagne to open when we returned home to celebrate the "Blessing of the Wine!" Cheer's to that!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New Things in France..

Item #1) This is my new roommate, Peter. Peter is from a small town near Berlin, Germany and is studying Commerce (Economics, Business) in Toulouse. He is 24 years old, speaks fluent English, and some pretty good French. I think he will be a pretty cool roommie and we seem to get a long good so far. He did a study abroad in Cincinnati, OH in high school. We had an in-depth conversation regarding church after a recent excursion to a Protestant Church. I was telling him how the church I grew up in and would like to find here, doesn't even remotely exist! He went on to tell me a story about his host family in Cincinnati who took him to a church "where people were directing cars in the parking lot", and "there were huge beamers (projectors) showing everything on huge screens", and "the seating was set up like a cinema." I laughed and told him that it sounded just like my church back at Harvest Time in Fort Smith. Needless to say, he didn't think that type of church service existed anywhere in Europe. Can I at least get a little guitar with my praise & worship!!!
Item #2) This is my new townie bike. Since there seems to be a fascination with stealing anything not locked to a bike rack (seat, handlebars, parts, pedals, wheels) in Toulouse, I have decided to get a bike that is less likely to attract theives. So, I snooped around Madame Luthie's garage and found this beauty hiding under an old tarp. It is a Raleigh, circa 1970's and all it needed was a little air in the tires.
Item #3) This dessert isn't really new to France, but new to me. Poires Belle Helene or pears poached in syrup, then served with warm chocolate sauce and vanilla glace (ice cream). I had it at a dinner that I was invited to by my cycling teammate Laurent. His wife Heloise brought the house down with an incredible dinner including saucission, chorizo, salad with dried duck breast, corn, asparagus tips, and mustard vinaigrette, a fresh flute from the boulangerie, a Gaillac red wine, pork tenderloin, and pomme de terre lyonnaise au gratin (potatoes sauteed with onions, cooked in milk, butter, and cream, then baked with cheese). Followed as always by a beautiful cheese tray with two fromage des pyrennes, a Cantal, and a Bremis (sheep) cheese. Life is good in France!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Razorback Sighting!

So I found this Razorback while Kristen and I were out in Napa, California. Seemed like a pretty incredible omen that we were supposed to move to California as this exact replica is located approximately 200 meters down the street from my residence back in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Then I come to Toulouse, France and go to a museum of Natural History and "Tusk's" great-great-great grandmother herself is sitting right there in front of me! Sometimes when you are looking for direction in life, you just have to open your eyes and see the signs. On a sports note, good to read about the Razorback's winning a game in the NCAA tournament before they met up with North Carolina. I tried to stay up til 3:00a.m. and watch the game, but I could not succeed in pulling an all-nighter at the point in my academic career. Those days are over. Time for a nap before tea time :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Noah Singer is the Man!

My buddy Noah Singer just got done riding the cyclosportif of the famous Tour of Flanders. This Belgian Classic is notorious for its many incredible cobbled climbs and terrible weather. To pay my respects to Noah as the true stud he is, I found this beautiful section of cobbled gutter here in Toulouse. There was no snow or freezing rain, but I had a strong headwind on the way to school this morning and almost got my pant leg caught in the chainring if it makes my cobbled experience seem any more hardcore. Although Noah tackled 160 miles of cobbled roads over a 9 hour period, I spent about 200 meters bumping along the cobbles lasting for about 18 seconds. So, I think I am remotely as hard core as Noah. Props to you and tell everyone back in Arkansas I said Bonjour!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Flying around a plane!

Here is the little plane that would be taking us around the beautiful midi-Pyrenees region for some sightseeing. Our pilot Phillipe was a chemist from our lab at ENSIACET and offered to take us flying with him this weekend. How could you turn down that opportunity! He has a 4 month old daughter and two other childern, so I felt safe in his hands.
Kerry and Phillipe (front-seat) took off from a small airport in Toulouse in a 4-seater plane owned by Phillipe's flying club. Phillipe has been flying for 9 years and had over 200 hours in the sky solo. I felt pretty safe with his expertise and was ready for the adventure.
But, one never forgets some things when it comes to flying and I took my quick minute to say a little prayer! Hey, you never know!
The skies were incredibly beautiful. Not a cloud in sight and breathtaking views from 2500 feet! Our ceiling elevation for this aircraft was 3000 feet and we used every bit of it to capture all the beauty of southwest France. One view showed the snow capped Pyrenees mountains while the other showed the lush valleys that grow the famous wines of this region. It wasn't Bordeaux, but they make pretty good wine in Gaillac, Cahors, and the Fronton region.
You might remember a visit I took to Carcassonne to see this famous medieval castle during my first weekend in Toulouse. I never imagined I would get to see it from this view! Luckily, visiting these areas and cycling around the countryside gave me a greater appreciation of what I was able to see this day. We had a map in the cockpit so we knew where we had ridden the morning before, and where that steep hill was in that random town that we had ridden in the day before, and so on. I usually like to report on a culinary adventure with each blog entry, but this one would be the exact opposite as about 1 hour or so into the flight, I took on the new nickname of "Ralph Walnofer" and I'll leave the rest to your imagination. All was well though, and we landed happily back at the airport. Kerry and I spent the rest of the afternoon at the mega-giant superstore mall/market thing named Oceannia. Think Wal-Mart meets your local mall. It was terrible and I really came to appreciate the mom&pop bakeries, frommageries, and shops that provide my services in the city. The fresh baguette is well worth the extra 20 cents that it costs me I have come to realize.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Let's Start My Research...........With a Tasting!

My research is beginning and to introduce my collegues to my work, we held an informal wine tasting in the ENSIACET courtyard. I will be working with two wines, a Colombard (semi-dry white wine) and a Fer Servadou (red wine) during my instrumental, sensory, and consumer testing.
As in France, almost always, wine must be accompanied with cheese. Dr. Talou bought some assorted cheeses from a local Creamery for everyone to try with my wine before lunch. We have a soft chevre (goat), a frommage des Pyrenees (regional to the Pyrenees), a Emmantel (similar to Swiss minus the holes), and a sheep's milk bleu cheese (not a Roquefort).
Cheese platter two consisted of a pat of butter (I won't ever eat spray butter again) three hard-chevre cylinders, a cow's milk bleu cheese, a Cantal (the best mild cheese ever), and a classic Brie (minus the syrup and fruit junk that we top it with in the States!). All paired nicely with the Colombard, but the Brie and the hard chevre were exceptional with the Fer Servadou! I think I took a nap at my desk for a good two hours after this lunch! Who can work after that.

Weekend in Lourdes!

Why do I keep getting the back seat!
The amazing church along the river.
This church was built completely underground and constructed to appear as if it was the bottom of a boat. Mass is held in four languages and the seating can hold 25,000 people.
This is the famous sight of the appearance of the Virgin Mary.
Drinking from the famous healing springs of the cave located below the Virgin Mary sighting. Speaking of sightings, I feel for the sighting the young boy behind me got after getting his drink of water. Luckily, he was able to wash his eyes with the healing water and was saved from going blind.
This past weekend, Mr. Feral invited us roomies to Lourdes to visit his hometown and his family. Emanuel and I made the journey by car to Lourdes and Mr. Feral was our personal chaffeur within the small city. Lourdes is an amazing place steeped in Christian history. The city was made famous by the sighting of an apparition of the Virgin Mary to a peasant girl named Bernadette in a cave 150 years ago. The city is celebrating the sighting anniversary for the entire year with special events. This week was the festival of music with famous orchestra's from around France performing nightly. We received special invitation passes and were able to attend a classical concert in one of the famous churches by the Orchestra Champagne-Ardennes. The event was incredible and the sounds that adorned my ears for the first time in my life were amazing. Latin was the language of the classical vocalists and the orchestra consited of 30 or more players. Superb! It lasted until almost 12:30 that night. No story of mine would be complete without passing my compliments to Mrs. Feral, the chef for our weekend, who adorned her table with Spanish specialities from her native Spain. Menu highlights included duck leg confit, champignons de paris, etoki cheese from the Basque region of Spain, saucisson, and dessert pastries from a local patisserie! Even Mr. Feral chipped in a couple..........I mean four bottles of Spanish wine from his personal cellar under the house for our meals.

My cycling is better than yours.

Yes, although I have eaten my fair share of foie gras, amazing cheese, and many glasses of pure bliss (wine!), I have begun to supplement this with a little exercise as my pants are becoming a little too tight around the mid-section! I made a really great friend who races here in Toulouse, Laurent. He has been more than willing to show me some of the local routes outside of the city. There is the Canal de Midi (think riverwalk) that runs all the way across France. It just happend to begin construction in Toulouse, hundreds of years ago, and is a great way to get around the city and out of it by bicycle. Within 15 minutes, I can be out of the valley and into the incredible rolling hills of this midi-Pyrenees region in which I live. There aren't any mountains, even though you can see them on a clear day if you find a high point, but the landscape is a continuous rolling hill after rolling hill. Every ride consists of numerous 1K, 2K, killer steep climbs all the way up to 5K gradual inclines. The weather is starting to break here and the sun is showing its rays more often. Even the racing bug is starting to hit and hopefully I will join up with my new friend, Laurent, for some racing. I went with him to one of his races last weekend and I was amazed at the old school Europe vibe at the race. Some of the old teams still have their team cars from the late 70's all decked out with "Eddy-Mercx" era stickers and roof racks that a local welder put together out of spare metal. The fields here number typically 100 or more riders and are broken into 3 categories. #1 for studs all the way to #3 for beginners. Not for sure which category I will fall into, but I will have a glass of Bordeaux and a nice chunck of Camembert cheese tonight and and let you know :) Cheers to that!