Friday, December 21, 2012

Grand Slam of the World is On

Ultrarunning's Grand Slam of the World is on for 2013! This will be the inaugural year of a race series of four of the toughest, big mountain 100 mile ultra's in the world that I will attempt in one calendar year. The series will begin in April with the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji. Then in July, it will be the Hardrock 100 back in my old stomping grounds in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. After nearly 7 weeks of letting my quads recover, I'll be in Chamonix and the Alps for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. To finish things up will be a trip to the South America for La Misión in the Patagonia region of Argentina in December.

Combined, the four races will cover four continents, six countries, 400 miles and over 120,000' of climb. I'll be the first to attempt it.

Now, for the background. The sport of of ultrarunning recognizes a variety of race series known as “slams” (e.g. the venerable Grand Slam of Ultrarunning first run in 1986), which consist of four 100 mile races in the U.S. completed in a calendar year. However, the sport of ultrarunning has seen tremendous international growth in recent years and the development of some spectacular and punishing mountain ultra’s. I seek to recognize the “slam” as a truly international endeavor and do so with the sport's most challenging events. The Grand Slam of the World is also an opportunity to experience different cultures around the world and share the love of the mountains and endurance running with others in the sport.

The Grand Slam of the World has been recognized by the sport's record-keeper on such things at run100s.com (thanks, Stan).


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Madrid - Plaza Mayor

It's been a while since I've posted an update. I've been busy with flying, training, and activities with my kids..

Here are a few pic's from Madrid. I've been getting over there several times a month, sometimes spending 2 days on layover. I love Madrid and its laid-back atmosphere for a big city. I'm guilty of doing a lot of tourista activities, to include eating in the area of the Plaza Mayor.

There are some great places to run in Madrid, the most popular being Parque Retiro in the center of the city. While running a several mile loop around the park, I always see elderly people out walking and socializing. It's something you don't see to the same extent in the U.S. or most big cities throughout Europe. Madrid has a high crime rate (mostly petty thefts), but that apparently doesn't discourage these pensioners from getting out and staying active. I aspire to spend my golden years in such an engaged way.

All pictures are from the Mercado de San Miguel (near Plaza Mayor) on a recent Saturday night:



Lots of seafood stands
Packed on a weekend night
Tapas everywhere
Iberian ham
Sea urchin!!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Coffee Shop Roundup

I'm an espresso lover (some may say an espresso snob) and try to get to some of the better known establishments for good coffee wherever I go. The following is a brief review of 3 different cafes in 3 different cities - Paris, London, and Chicago.

Paris

La Caféothèque
For years traveling to Paris, I've been disappointed at the low quality espresso which seems to pass as acceptable at nearly all Paris cafes - over-extracted and tasting of low quality robusta beans. I don't know why this is for sure. It could be the Parisians just don't care for the art or science of making good espresso. Or, it could be that the French colonized places in the world that produce bad, low quality robusta coffee, like Vietnam. Regardless, French (Parisean, really) espresso is a vastly inferior to most anything in neighboring Italy, Germany and Switzerland.

So, I was looking forward to a visit to a micro roaster/cafe in Paris I'd read encouraging things about. La Caféothèque, located on the right bank accross from Île Saint-Louis, was a pleasant surprise. The atmosphere is more in keeping with a U.S. cafe - lounge sofas and small, intimate feel inside. They take their coffee seriously and roast a variety of micro-lot arabicas from mostly Central America and Africa. Upon my first taste of a single origin Rwanda espresso, I thought 'wow' this is definitely not like the stuff I'm used to in Paris. After chatting with the French owner and hearing that he's married to a woman originally from Guatemala, the mystery was solved. Guatemalans know good coffee.

Verdict: Loved it!

La Marzocco GB/5
Espresso du jour: Rwandan





London


Monmouth Coffee
Anyone who knows the London coffee scene knows about Monmouth Coffee. Love-it or think it's over-rated, Monmouth has been around for a while (since 1978) and has ridden the English trend from tea sipping to coffee loving nation (well, almost). They've resisted the opportunity to grow or franchise out their product and have kept overall quality very high.


La Marzocco Linea 3
Monmouth is usually my first stop in London to get caffeinated and shake off jet lag. On my last trip, I stepped into their Covent Gardens cafe (crowded and small) and ordered a cappuccino to "take-away." The girl taking my order looked apologetic and said she couldn't serve me a cappuccino today. Well, a macchiatto then. No. Cafe latte? No. But everyone is drinking coffee in here! 


"It's the cows..."
She explained, "it's the cows." "We get our milk from a small dairy and the milk wasn't producing satisfactory foam" for the drinks I ordered. The cows' diet had recently changed, apparently. This was definitely a first in all my years drinking espresso+milk drinks. I convinced her to make a cappuccino anyway. It seemed fine and I even went back for a 2nd cap later in the day.

Verdict: Reliable and Good

Chicago

Less concerned about "the cows" and more concerned with latte-art is Intelligentsia Coffee. I went to both their downtown Chicago locations at W. Jackson and E. Randolph. I'd once been a dedicated mail-order customer of Intelly's Black Cat espresso beans for my home machine, but had given up ordering from them about 5 years ago when their quality slipped. I'd hoped their cafes would have a better product than what I was able to produce at home after the blend obviously changed.
Tulip latte art

Their cappuccinos were 'above average', not great, and each had an exquisite latte-art tulip which the barristas poured with great care. Apparently, their barristas have won some awards in this department. While I was hoping for a coffee experience on par with, say, Espresso Vivace in Seattle, Intelligentsia just wasn't quite there.

Verdict: meh

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rhine Run

Rhine from the Mainz train bridge pedestrian walk
Went on a 6 mile run on a beautiful late summer Saturday in Mainz, Germany. I first ran through the Drususwall Park where a wine festival was being held. It was hard not to stop and get a cool glass of one their sweet Rhine wines.

Then on to cross the Rhine over the train bridge to Mainz-Kostheim, then back over the Theodor Heuss Bridge into Mainz. I haven't been running much in the past 2 months, so I was feeling sore for the rest of the day. Some locally brewed Shofferhofer weizen was just the thing post-run.


Mainz in the distance

"Beach" on the Mainz side 


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chicago and Paris

Willis (Sears) Tower 103 Floors Up
After John's trip to London during the Olympics, Camille had her turn by going with me to Paris. This was going to be a short trip (3 days total, with one day in Paris). Our first stop on the way to Paris was Chicago. We did normal tourists things - going to the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower, a walk down Michigan Ave., dinner at Carmine's. The weather was great and we did a lot of walking.


The next day, it was off to Paris. After a short nap at the hotel, we went straight to the Louvre and may have set a world's record for quickest walk through. Mona Lisa (check), Venus de Milo (check), Winged Victory, John the Baptist by Michelangelo, 100's of masterpieces in 1 hour (check). We'll go back with more time some day.

At the Louvre
Next, it was off to the Trocadero for an Eiffel Tower photo op. It was hot in Paris, Dallas hot, reminding me of the line in the song, "I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles." The lines waiting to go to the top were long (and sizzling in the sun) and our time in Paris short, so we opted to keep moving.


Then, a walk through the Tuileries, Notre Dame, dinner in St. Germain des Pres, a sunset ferris wheel ride back at the Tuileries, and a Metro ride to the hotel, exhausted. Paris in a day is never easy, but we had a great time!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

London Cheese Shops


Neil's Yard Creamery
John and I made it by two specialty cheese shops which sell mostly British artisanal cheeses. Our first stop was Neil's Yard Creamery in Covent Garden. Neil's Yard Creamery opened in 1979 and actually faces Shorts Garden (Rd.) to the south of Neil's Yard. The Neil's Yard Creamery gained some notoriety after opening when former Neil's Yard resident, John Cleese of Monty Python, tried to buy cheese there and they had none.

Montgomery's Cheddar
We tasted many very good farmhouse cheeses, including a Montgomery's Cheddar, but left with a quarter Colston Bassett Stilton. I've been shopping at Neil's Yard for the better part of 10 years of traveling to London and their service and the quality of cheeses is always exceptional. During a visit on a slow day several years ago, the shop manager took about 20 minutes and extracted core samples from a half dozen wheels of stilton sitting on the shelf to show me how each one, even from the same dairy at the same time, had a unique flavor. I didn't put them through this trouble on our visit and just tasted and bought what was already out and sliced. Our stilton happened to be made in February (most stilton selections were from February and March, about 5 months old). It's all very good, but I've gotten picky over the years and prefer cheese made during the late spring and summer months.


We didn't buy any cheese at the next shop, Paxton and Whitfield, on this trip, but I've probably bought most of my cheese here over the years. Paxton is located on Jermyn St. in central London, was founded in 1797, and currently holds a Royal Warrant from the Prince of Whales. Paxton's atmosphere is a little more formal than the farmhouse feel of Neil's Yard, but the friendly and helpful service of the staff is truly exceptional.  Paxton will always hold a special place in my heart when about 12 years ago, after a conversation with the shop manager about labrador retrievers (and my lab who was then dying of lymphoma), the manager went to the back of the shop and returned with a large slice of cheddar. He told me it was for my dog and had come from Prince Charles' private stash. "Cowboy" enjoyed it as one of his last meals.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

London during the Olympics

John at the controls
I got a short notice work trip to London last week - too short notice to get tickets to any Olympic venues. I did bring John along with me. It was his first time to travel with me on a work trip. It was also his first trip to London and we had a great time.

Despite there being many empty seats visible when watching events on TV, there were none available online on the several sources. Also, if you had found tickets available online, you could only pay with a VISA card (official sponsor). There was also a crackdown on ticket scalpers, who appeared early during the games outside various venues with both legit and bogus tickets. We decided not to spend our time tracking down tickets and, instead, play tourist for our two day visit.

Obligatory Tower Bridge photo!
On the first day, we went walking through the heart of London - Buckingham Palace, Green Park, Parliament, and took a tour of Westminster Abbey. On day two, we started with a tour of the Tower of London, then went to the Olympic Stadium, and finally back to he center of London for more walking.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Paris Plages

Paris Plages on the right bank of the Seine
Sometime, about 10 years ago, the city of Paris decided it needed to do something for those Parisians unable to take a summer vacation. Their solution was to bring the French Riviera to the banks of the Seine river. Paris Plage (Paris Beach, later pluralized) was what it was called and it has grown significantly in size and popularity.


Notwithstanding the dichotomy of transforming a centuries old urban bulwark against the Seine into the Côte d'Azur, the Paris Plages works as ridiculous but fun spot in the city to get away from it all. Or at least pretend to get away. Oh, and unlike the the Riviera, there's no topless sunbathing or swimming allowed!



Paris Beach with La Conciergerie in background
Pont Neuf from Pont des Artes