November 23, 2009

Reckless coaching

Almost three months since Malo was born, and I can't say I hate motherhood so much that I would give him back if I could. I even did not mind too much the night wake-up calls... although to be fair, they stopped after only 5 weeks, so I can't really complain anyway.

Something I find very difficult though is not to be able to do sports the way I used to. Or even half of what I used to. Or, to be totally honest, even a third. As a result, I am probably the only woman who managed to put on weight since she gave birth, and in spite of breast-feeding.

But I needn't worry. During pregnancy, Malo did not let me down and came along to every single one of my run (yes, I know, it is not like he had a choice, but still). He also, by steadily growing inside my belly, provided additional weight training as the months went by. And today, my son is doing his best to keep his mum somehow fit.

For a start, he is still growing. Probably around 6kgs to date, and counting. You may say that it is not much weight training wise, but try lifting 6kg dumbells for 2 hours non-stop, and you will see that when the little devil is crying for that long, your arms - and back - are working hard. And I should know: mine are still hurting from last week-end's "training session". And when you don't feel like training, too bad: you can be sure this is the day your self-nominated coach has chosen for a double whammy: crying/carrying/weight training session morning AND evening.

Carrying the prom is also serious training. For a start, the thing weights about a tonne, meaning that nurses and midwives who, at the maternity ward, told you repeatedly that "for the next few months, you should never carry anything heavier, than your baby" either were lucky enough to have an in-house maid doing everything for them or never have had a baby themselves. Add to this the fact that we live in a walk-up, I can tell you this is worth several stairmaster sessions a day.

Now, if you want the really hard core session, just do the following: put the baby in the prom, go shopping, realise once downstairs that you forgot something essential, go back upstairs (of course with the baby - in the prom as he is sleeping and you don't want to wake him up), then back downstairs, go shopping, come back with two heavy bags full of groceries (oh, and a 12-bottle beer pack while you cannot even drink the bloody stuff because you are breast-feeding), and the prom. Oh, and the baby, as it seems it is bad manner to forget him at the supermarket.

October 20, 2009

You don't notice you have them, until they're gone

I never, absolutely never did abs in my entire life. I mean, I did not purposely do abs But it does not mean I did not have any. In fact, there are not many parts of my body I like, but as it happens, my belly, or rather, my abs were one of them. That's the beauty of doing sports because you like it, instead of hitting the gym to work on your looks: you get the results, without the boredom. Running using my core, climbing overhangs, cycling up passes: trust me , that's the best way of getting a six-pack without once even knowing the meaning of "sit-ups".

So I never thought about my abs, and just took them for granted. Until, that is, 7 weeks and 6 days ago. Then something happened which changed my view on abs forever: I gave birth.

Two weeks later, I was below my pre-pregnancy weight, had my flat(ish) belly again, and it seemed life would resume as before. Except for one thing: flabiness. It very quickly became clear my abs were gone. Completely gone. The six-pack had been replaced by a massive jelly bean of a belly. Yak.

Of course, I could get back on the bike or head out for a 12-miler, and everything would soon be as it used to. Sure, except for two things: how do you fit a 7-week old on a racing-bike (I mean, we did buy a bike-trailer, of course, but even I, the crazy one, would not dream about putting a new-born in it)? And the 12-miler does not seem like the smartest thing to do when all your organs feel like they are doing the mambo-jambo inside your belly, as soon as you start a jog, let alone a proper run, precisely because of the jelly-bean issue.

Some tell me I should see things on the bright side, and be content to have, as a result of becoming a mum, sure, a jelly belly, but also boobs twice the size they used to be. But you'll have to admit, if your role model is Paula Radcliffe rather than Pamela Anderson, abs rather than a C-cup is the way to go. Of course, Malo would probably disagree.

September 27, 2009

The whale is back

Yesterday was Malo's first month "birthday". I had to celebrate in style, so I decided it was the perfect timing to start sports again. Obviously, if I had had it my way, it would have been with an 8-mile run. Even a 5-mile would have kept me happy. But I had a cesarean only 4 weeks ago, and no abs whatsoever, so running did not feel like a very smart thing to do (how boring to have to be reasonable, but here you go).

Short of being able to run, I settled on swimming. Swimming, have you read? Yes. I know, surprising, coming from somebody who would not go close to a pool unless she was injured and unable to run. But things have changed. For a start, Martin called me The Whale throughout the nine months of pregnancy. First, it was "Little Whale", but from the 7th month onwards, I became a plain vanilla Whale. Somehow, it must have sunk in (I know, not the best pun ever, but I could not help it), and I discovered during pregnancy that, for my sins, I actually enjoyed swimming. Turned out that in the last four months before giving birth, I ended up doing more miles in the water than on firm ground... maybe something to do with the fact that I felt less like being the weight of a double-decker bus in the water.

In August, 2 days after Malo's birth, I got for my own birthday a voucher for a wetsuit (Martin's attempt at convincing me that I do want to do a triathlon next year). Being lucky enough to have been back at my pre-pregnancy weight for the last fortnight (and a bit below as some of my muscles seems to have mysteriously vanished over this past month without exercising), and therefore with no excuses not to try one of these utterly unflattering neoprene things, yesterday therefore saw me going shopping for a wetsuit. On a side note, running/triathlon stores are clearly not meant to get the custom of women still in the post-partum period: again, it did feel like we were trying to fit a double-decker (or a whale, your choice) in a match-box, only this time the double-decker-cum-whale was not me but little Malo and his baby-jogger.

By the end of the afternoon, I was the happy owner of a wetsuit of the inappropriately-named brand Aquaman, and we were by the Annecy Lake. I breastfed Malo while Martin went swimming, then it was my turn. I got my wetsuit from under the baby jogger (perfect to get people's attention), got changed and jumped in the water.

I quickly realised something was not quite right. Then I got it: I had lost my integrated airbag, and could not see my belly while swimming... weird feeling...

Swimming was blissful. Of course, that could have been because the water was warm. Or because pretty much the only sport I did for the past 4 weeks was carrying Malo, and walking him back and forth in the corridor to try and calm him down. and any form of physical activity would have felt like the perfect workout. But actually, there was more to it: altough if you ask, I will swear I have never said this, I think I have actually started really enjoying swimming over the past few months. That must be Martin and all his whale-talk acting as brain...-washing. Another bad pun intended.

September 24, 2009

Malo's Marathon

I know, I have been a bit silent lately. But, as I said in my previous post, I have an excuse (hey, hey, never come unprepared). I gave birth to a tiny, wonderful, über-cute (add any over the- top adjective you may think of here, and there is 99% chance it will describe spot-on how I feel about him) baby-boy, Malo.

We have now been home for three weeks or so, but before that, I had to give birth in style. And, knowing me, you should know what "style" means. It had to be a marathon birth. Although, if, when it comes to running marathon, I am a true believer in the saying "it does not have to be fun to be fun", in the particular instance of Malo's birth, I would not have minded being spared, not so much the pain, but a bit of the drama.

I started feeling the contractions at 7pm on the 25th of August. On a side note, may I say here, pregnant-women-to-be, that you should NOT believe anything you hear about how you will just know when the "real " contractions start: this is just a whole bunch of rubbish.

As far as I was concerned, it was not painful, it was no different than any contractions I had felt for the last three months, and so I had no idea whether I was about to give birth, or not. So, just in case that was it, knowing that walking is what you should do when labour starts, and because I felt like running (surprise), Martin and I went for a two-hour walk by the lake. This did not speed up anything, so by 2am on the 26th, we were back at it. This time, it worked a bit better (sort of), and at 4am my waters broke. And it still did not feel painful at all. No drama, nothing... As a result, by 5am, Martin and I were still joking along in our living room, with me doing a bit of yoga in case things were getting tougher. By 6am, we went for yet another walk, (amazing how empty Annecy can be at night) hoping this would help speeding things up, but clearly Malo-to-be was in no rush.

By 7am, I thought it was about time to go to the hospital, so off we went.

We had time for one happy photo, before it all started to go wrong. Very wrong. To make a long story short, or rather a very long delivery very short, Malo's heart did not deal very well with the contractions, and as a result, the natural birth I wanted, without peridural, or inducement, or, obviously, caesarian, ended up being all of the above. Even more traumatic was the fact we thought for hours, hearing Malo's heart fainting on the monitoring device, that our little boy would not make it.

So an eventful birth it was, a fulfilling experience it was not. But in the end, after 16 hours of labour, Malo was born, and in good health. I just wonder if the length, if not the drama, was Malo's attempt at pleasing his mum by showing he was keen on endurance sports... in which case my son has clearly still one thing or two to learn about women, because this one is a marathon I may as well have liked to avoid...

September 08, 2009

This is Malo, the little one with the crazy Mum

I have not posted for a while, but this time, I have the excuse of hell: I have given birth to a beautiful little boy, Malo, on the 26th of August. I know I could be considered bias, but he really is beautiful.

We have now been back home for a week. Baby Malo is doing great, his Mum a bit less, but getting better (that's my second excuse for not posting since I came back).

More soon, but in the meantime, please post your comments, we'll give them for him to read as soon as he is able to (couple of months?)!

August 24, 2009

Too hot

Yes, too hot... I am obviously not talking about me: would not dream of thinking of a whale as "hot"... No, it is just the weather... so hot that, although I would have plenty to write about... I just can't get round it.

So no activity on the blog front, which does not mean we stayed completely inactive over the last few weeks (well, you know us). Last week-end, we in fact decided to kill two birds with one stone by fighting the heat while giving Petite Boule a pre-taste of another water sport:

A third bird to kill could have been to use that oportunity for a water birth, but Petite Boule was clearly in no rush...

Given he has not decided to get out yet, he has not been able to tell us whether he liked it... but one thing is sure: his mother did. Who said "too childlish to have a kid herself"?

August 06, 2009

Free Solo

Nothing beats some free solo climbing to celebrate the entry in my nine months of pregnancy 2 weeks ago (here at Mont Charvin, in the Aravis Massif, on the way back from a very nice - and steep - 5-hour hike and some superb views on Mont Blanc)...

July 28, 2009

Gear Freak Heaven

Martin is definitely no gear freak. He kept his old raod bike for the best part of 20 years, and does not even buy that much climbing gear, since there are that many times you can joke about buying new nuts anyway. I would not be able to say the same about me. Truth be told, I just love my gear.

And pregnancy has one great advantage: if you are into new kit, it provides you with one big excuse to indulge.

I did not discover this straight away. In fact, I first started pretty frustrated. We found out I was pregnant a few days before Christmas, and I had been hinting (OK, let's be frank here: lobbying like mad and with no subtility whatsoever) that I was dreaming about that great Polar watch which would give me not only the time of day, but, more importantly (why would you want a watch to give you time?) run distance, maximum and average speed, altitude gain, etc, etc... In a nutshell, the perfect toy for a running addict.

And there I was, discovering I was pregnant, and realising that my mileage would have to drop. Right, that did not mean the new toy I eventually got (I am a great lobbyist) would not be used, but it would start its life being under-used, which sounded almost as bad. And that was just the beginning, was I telling myself with dread. No more excuses for a new climbing helmet I had been coveting (I have one of course, and it does the job perfectly. Except it is white, while Martin's is orange, therefore much more funky, and I am not sure how much longer I can handle the frustration). No more excuses for new bike tires (and worst: my road bike is baby-blue, and for as long as I would still be cycling during pregnancy, people would think the choice of colour had been an early sign of repressed clock-ticking issues). No more excuses for über-light trail running, folding, carbon poles (I knew I would be soon enough considering myself happy to run a few miles on the flat, where, let's face it, poles would just make me look like a pregnant grand-mother). And the list could go on. And on. And on.

But then, little by little, it drew on me that, unless I was about to spend the next 9 months playing the couch potato at home (which was so NOT the intention), pregnancy could just provide an avenue for new gear discovery.

And it has. The kit is just different.

The one piece of gear I am really excited about is the baby carrier we are planning to get. Check this out: not only can it be used as a baby jogger, but it doubles as a bike carrier and can also be used when ski touring. OK, we will have to deal with the issue of petite Boule not freezing to death in this thing, but as soon as I am in working order again, this one fine piece of gear should prove like the perfect let's-keep-Mum-happy tool.

And then there is yoga, meditation and birth classes. Swiss ball (we had two, but you see, we need a different size, for Martin to play an active role during delivery. Now, that's an excuse), wobble cushion, and meditation cushions with funky names like "zafu" have quickly transformed the living room in an annexe of, depending on which corner you happen to look at, my gym or my yoga studio.

As for my turbo trainer, after months of inactivity (given the choice, no way I will get on it while there are so many passes to climb in a 50 km radius), it got a new life when I stopped using my racing bike outside, and now stands proudly, and used, in the middle of our living room.

So, unlike what I initially feared, pregnancy has been so far quite good for my gear addictions. As delivery date is looming, I just now wondered what it will be like after the Petite Boule is born: somehow, I cannot see myself getting over-excited over nappies and baby bottles. I mean, if they were making you fitter or faster, somebody would have already noticed, don't you think?

July 16, 2009

We have been busy

I may not have been that diligent in keeping this blog updated in the last few months, but it does not mean I was doing nothing of my days. Actually, the very fact I have been busy could even be the perfect excuse for not being better at being in touch.

Busy doing what, I can hear some of you wondering (although may I say that I find it a bit mean coming from friends). And, to an extent, I would agree: I mean, it is not like I am still working in banking, for crying out loud. Actually, it is not like I am working, full stop. Still, the past few months have been busy, as, and you may have guessed that my now, we did not exactly stop our little adventures with the news of the imminent arrival of the Petite Boule.

So here is a quick account of the last 8 months, since we found out our team would soon expand to three (8 months summarized in a post, now that’s blog-efficiency… very unlike me).

Month 1 and… # 1 ski outing of the season
In case you are wondering: the fact you don’t see my bump has nothing to do with the fog. In fact, it will stay very discreet for another few months (and I won’t be complaining). So discreet here that, at the very moment this photo was taken, I had actually still no idea my life was about to change forever (that may sound a bit melodramatic, but I stick to it).

Month 2 and… a 2-person team effort on race day
The Trail Blanc was my first (and actually only) race with my new partner. Just keep it for yourself though: not sure where the rules stand regarding getting help from non-race-registered partners, and would not want to be disqualified…

Month 3 and… 3 days of snow shoeing and cross-country skiing in the south of Jura
Well, three days, and, as the photo may give away, nights too, since early darkness combined with a snow storm made our arrival to the refuge a bit more eventful than planned.

Month 4 and… a 4 hour ski tour 4 hours of back-country skiing, and some pretty cool powder
I did not thank Petite Boule for his lack of cooperation on the way up, but at least the few kilos I had gained may have made me a bit faster on the way down, and made me feel like the Free Riding Queen.

Month 5: 5 sports a day…
“5 sports a day keeps boredom at bay” could have been that month’s motto. Skiing, running, hiking, climbing, cycling, we did it all! So far, the Petite Boule has not shown any displeasure at practicing any of them, so we still have good hopes he will turn out to be a climber, runner, cyclist or skier, or preferably all of the above.

Month 6 - Not quite 6 hours on the bike (but it was still fun!)
OK, so feeling your belly getting in the way of your knees while pushing on the pedals is not super fun, but the ride itself was, anyway. I managed to fall, with my feet still clipped in the pedals and while at a stop, which is so far the only evidence of pregnant women losing their sense of balance I have experienced (and according to Martin more a clear sign that I am a d*** with clips).

Oh, and have you noticed: since I am expecting a boy, I have a blue bike… cute, hey?

Month 7 and… a 7 hour-hike
And I really mean 7 hours of actual walking (not including my numerous pit stops. I am pregnant after all). Something to do with us looking over the map a bit too quickly and somehow managing to miss the presence of 2 deep valleys on our itinerary while doing so). Oh well, at least, if I need to walk non-stop in order to make sure Petite Boule falls asleep after he is born, I will know why…

Month 8 and… 8 x 100m (and a bit) of elevation gain
Not the longest hike we did in my eighth month, and since the weather was not perfect, not the most scenic photo, but the other hikes had too much elevation gain to feature in Month 8. That hike became something of a small adventure thanks to the massive storm experienced the previous night, which made a long traverse rather slippery, to say the least. Petite Boule and I negotiated the mud pretty well, which is more than can be said of Martin. Anybody still wants to comment about pregnant women’s loss of balance?

Month 9 and ???
As for the 9th month, starting in less than two weeks, which kind of “9” stuff will it entail? I leave it to you to guess… and am expecting a lot of educated or not-so-educated guesses in the Comments page! The winner will be receive a voucher for (let be generous) a full weekend of baby sitting. Now, somehow, I am not convinced this was the best way of ensuring a record participation…

July 10, 2009



Three athletes before the start of the Annecy triathlon last weekend, two of whom did not race... guess who?

July 06, 2009

Never too early for the right kit

When “petite boule” arrives (our son, for those who had not guessed), he will have no choice but be a sporty baby. We however don’t plan to be horrible parents, and plan to let him chose whichever sport he likes best. As long as it is among running, climbing, road cycling and mountain biking that is. And as long as the word “football” is never pronounced within a 10 mile radius from home. Obviously.

Our friends are great. They understand (well, most of them at least) that, as a result, Petite Boule needs to have the right kit. That includes getting ready for the potential injury. And here is what Petite Boule got from our friend Nadya as a “well-done” present for having got a (well deserved) ++ as activity indicator at the last scan appointment:

Ankle support bands, to help with his first tendinitis or other running-related ankle injuries! Isn’t that cool? And he can even afford to injure both ankles at the same time. Luxury…

Merci Nadya…

Gore? Bring it on!

I have recently stopped running (of course not, not for good… are you MAD?). Sure, I will miss it a bit for the coming few months. The running itself, obviously, but also (and allow me to be cheesy here), you know, that feeling of belonging to a community. Then I came to realise that there were more common points between runners and pregnant women than catches the eye, and wondered if that that would help me still feeling part of a community.

The runners amongst you will know that runners share much more than their love for running. For the others, just picture this: normally well-behaved and socially-apt adults describing in vivid details pre-race bowel movements. Debating for hours whether Paula did a number two on that 2005 London Marathon wildly reported pit stop. Not to mention giving detailed, gory and totally unnecessary description of various sport-induced injuries. I must myself confess to months of having as screen-saver the photo of my sliced-open ankle and naked split tendon, given by my surgeon after surgery. You want to see? No? really? Sure... OK then… shame, though...As for the triathletes, logically being as gross as runners to the power of three, just ask and they will delight you with stories of the best methods to pee from your bike, or in your wetsuit, or on your running shoes (and I should know, as Martin, having recently taken up triathlon, is delighted me with his accounts).

So I thought being now off running for a few months would have at least one plus, which would be to keep me away from the “gross” issue, and spare me the need to hear about my fellow runners’ bowel movements and other appetizing adventures, (and, let’s face it, sometimes share descriptions of my own: you do what you have to do to belong).Well, I had to think again. Because you see, the main characteristic shared by runners and pregnant women alike is precisely their propensity at being totally; overly gross. Actually, strike that off: delectation, rather than propensity, describes the phenomenon much more accurately.

The fact is, pregnant women LOVE gore. And the problem is that, no matter how you slice it, you have to hand it over to them, they have plenty to tell, much more than any runners, no matter how dedicated, will ever have.So, since we made public the imminent arrival of the little one, I have had to deal with descriptions which could make a runner, and maybe even a triathlete, blush. Think no-details-spared descriptions of first trimester nauseas. Hemorrhoids. 18-hour-long labour with tears, screams, ending up in apotheosis with the use of forceps or other torture device. Episiotomy. And here, guys, one word of advice: if you (lucky you) don’t know what this is, refrain from looking it up on Google. Trust me, you will find out soon enough. In a nutshell, think of something truly abominable and the chance is there will be a pregnant woman around with a story to share.

This has been a real problem for me for the past few months. In fact, I just feel like I don’t belong. See, so far, my pregnancy has gone super well. No nauseas. Ok, I was a bit tired for the last couple of months, but it did not last, and somehow this did not sound like something that would get my pregnant friends impressed. No significant back pain which lasted more than a few days. Not even water retention, for crying out loud. Result is, I am feeling a bit like an outcast: not a fully paid-up member of the running community anymore, and not quite gore enough to be admitted in the close circle of the Truly-Pregnant women.

But you know, I think I will live with it. Call me a softie, but not matter how much I want to belong, I don’t think I am ready to go for the 18-hour delivery just yet…

June 30, 2009

The other day, as I was waiting for my monthly appointment with the midwife, I came across an interesting article in one of these magazines for mums-to-be. It was about how pregnancy is a good time to come up with cool business ideas, a combination apparently of an improved creativity when you are pregnant (good to know there are some advantages at having your hormones all over the place) and the desire of many women to find a way to juggle work and raising their kids.I could not agree more. In fact, I recently came up with a great business idea, which Martin likes very much as well: we are going to rent our kid out.

Don’t start giving me grief or call the social services: I don’t intend to rent the baby out full time. But we figured a few times a week would be rather convenient for us, while being a perfect solution for childless couples too.Don’t get me wrong: we are obviously delighted and very excited (oh, and also scared beyond belief, if you insist), to soon welcome to the world a tiny new athlete. Still, we are also quite aware that fitting our sports sessions around feeding time, changing nappies time, sleeping time, and other I-don’t-fully-comprehend-what-I-am-getting-myself-into time, will be a challenge greater than any sporting event we have entered until now.

On the other hand, a lot of people are childless, some because they, like me until recently (OK, let’s face it: like me to this day), are not sure they are brave enough to give up their pretty cool current life for the big Unknown. What could be best then than a part-time baby? You want to play the devoted parents, we’ll rent you ours out for a few hours. It is time for your daily training session, you give it back. Meanwhile, we get a bit of “us” time for running, cycling, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, swimming (you see, I am not short of ideas) too. Perfect.

Oh, and have no fear: we will not rent our baby out to anybody: only deserving part-time parents, with values. You know: outdoorsy, dedicated to training, addicted to pain. We would not want our baby to pick up bad habits while away, and end up a couch potato. God, no.

So this is it. I got the business idea of the decade, did the market studies, drew the business plan, am ready to go. Just need to get the baby out, and I have the feeling that could be the biggest challenge.

June 29, 2009

Pregnancy, or Adventure With A Twist

Yes, I know, I have been AWOL for a while now. So long that some good souls have even pretended they missed the blog and asked for updates.

Updates? What on, am I some days wondering – and some of these days, with a bit of frustration I must admit. On the other days, it has to be said, I am just plainly not feeling like writing anything more taxing than the shopping list.

It is not like I could brag on a new running PB, dissert about a 50km trail race, go lyrical about some new mountaineering expedition.

So, no PB, no pushing-the-limit craziness then. Meaning: nothing to write home about? Well, considering the fair share of comments and sometimes nearly-abuse from observers and well- or no so well-meaning neighbours or strangers on the roadside, maybe not quite nothing.

After all, there have been a few adventures to recall. An hour and a half train run at five months, in tiny shorts and in the snow. A cycling outing which was uneventful until I decided to spice it up by falling off, or should I say, with (Martin and I are still debating on the technicalities) my bike. An 8 hour hiking epic (note to myself: maps are not just nice, they are meant to be used). Hour-and-a-half spinning sessions with gym staff clearly debating what to do in case I gave birth on the exercise bike. Quads that no weight training session could make so strong, courtesy of hiking and running with the added pregnancy weight. Not to mention more pregnancy-specific “sports” like breathing exercises using technologically-advanced devices such as straws and kid’s balloons (wonder if that could also help my swimming?).

So it looks like my sports life is not so limited, and pregnancy definitely is proving something of an adventure. Which means no excuses not to post. Aside, maybe, from the problematic pregnancy-induced softness of my brain these days?

March 18, 2009

Winter sport for pensioners. Oh, and pregnant chicks.

On a typical winter Friday night, the husband and I should be bitterly bickering about the coming weekend: will it be ice climbing or alpine skiing? Cranking hard in a south facing crag or setting up for a 2000-metre-ascent back-country skiing trip? Not that it matters: as long as it involves snow, ice or rock, a decent dose of adrenaline and preferably an epic, it is all good.

Problem is, I am pregnant. Which is all good news, except for one major exception: in this new state of mine, I am apparently supposed to show common sense and a minimum of restraint. Read: avoid intense efforts, activities leading to a risk of over-heating, major falls. In a nutshell, we’d better find alternative ways of having fun, as ours don’t seem to be the ones typically recommended for a woman ‘in my condition”.

So here we are, on this late Thursday evening, fitting our gear, having driven to the Jura plateau after work for a 3-day snowshoeing and cross country skiing week-end. Which, for my dearest husband, is more akin to “stuff for pensioners” than to anything worth being called a sport.

It may be so, but tonight, as we get ready in the dark, it quickly looks like the wannabe pensioners will get a bit of adventure. For a start, it has snowed heavily all day, and driving to the plateau has already provided us with some action. No surprise then that the “well marked” track supposed to take us to the refuge in a 45 minute snowshoe hike is nowhere to be seen. Here are we then, plodding along in knee-deep snow for the husband, tight-deep for me. After 15 minutes, the faint tracks we could just about guess suddenly disappear for good. We, of course, have a compass. Which, of course, is totally useless given we don’t have the faintest idea where we are. Back on our own tracks then. Eventually, after more than twice the time it would have taken on a normal day, we at last get to the refuge, where the owner, feeling sorry for our freezing selves, feeds us tartiflette. Pity feels good, sometimes.

The next day is earmarked as The Full Pensioner Experience: a full day of snowshoeing. Jura is not Greenland, and the plateau has some marked tracks for those who want. Of course, we are not among them, and decide to leave straight out for the powder, equipped with our map and compass.

Seven hours later, we are back at the refuge. Shattered. We have been once again stunned by the magnificent view on Mont Blanc, seated by the cliff bordering the plateau. We have marvelled at the crystal-like flakes of a weightless snow, shinning in the winter sun and at a lonely flower, miraculously sticking out of the powder. We have wondered about animal tracks tracing their ways across the plateau. And we have been plodding along in ultra-deep, ultra-light powder for the whole day, went up slopes we would not have dreamed of tackling with the skis on, jumped cornices, crawled under bushes to make our way through the forest, and somehow managed to climb a cumulative 600 metres on a plateau which would look as flat as a pancake on Google Earth. Our legs are hurting, our arms are hurting, our backs are hurting. In a nutshell, a perfect day.

And on Monday morning, the husband would almost be happy to be back at work and get a chance to rest, since a gentle sports outing for pensioners or pregnant chicks, maybe it was not, after all.

March 11, 2009

My new running partner

For the last couple of months, I have found myself a new running partner. The new partner is just this: a partner. If it had been completely down to me, I would have chosen him fitter, faster, or the perfect pacer, which he is not. But you have to give him credit for it, he never lets me down, and comes running with me every time I want to head out. Whether I go long or for a short jog round the block, face the snow or take advantage of a sunny winter day, hit the asphalt or run up alpine trails, no questions asked, he is just coming.

I enjoy running with the new partner, and, icing on the cake, the husband is not even jealous. Problem is, the more we run together, the more he seems to have a pretty detrimental effect on my running. It is actually dead simple: the more we go, the slower we are. But hey, I guess it is normal when one is pregnant.

Yep, you read well.

Now, I am a runner, not a triathlete, and even less a swimmer, but a few months ago, I took the plunge. Or rather, I guess Martin and I did, although, at least until this little thing I am “housing” inside me gets out, I feel I am plunging a bit more than Martin.

My new running partner and I did our first race together in early January: a Trail Blanc, or race in the snow, in the Southern Alps. It was great. The new running partner, our collaboration entering its 6th week, was still clearly showing some goodwill, since I did not feel too slow, too out of breath, too tired. Actually, be the truth told, I was totally feeling my normal self. Read: stressed out at the start. Competitive against myself. Annoyed against the competitors who, for a while, slowed me down to the point of walking (yes, a walk. During a race. A running race. Horror), being literally and figuratively frozen at the sight of a steep slope of deep snow waiting to be climbed. And, frozen fellow runners aside, decently fast. So far, so good.

Then for a (too long) while, the new running partner, although still never letting me down when it came to get outside, was clearly not too keen on helping either: every 5-miler felt like I had run a few marathons back-to-back the previous day. Not that I could log in a lot of 5-milers anyway, because I was just too exhausted.

The husband and I both have our own - and slightly diverging - theory about this lack of cooperation. Martin, who believes the little stranger inside me is a girl, thinks she is just showing some early stage of rebellion against the mother (I, at least, waited until I was a teenager to become a pain in the neck with my own mother) by showing a non-negotiable opposition whenever I decide to put on the running shoes. I, on the other hand, am convinced we will have a little dude, who, faithful to his gender, is already showing us what lazy b*** men are, most of the time.

The situation has however greatly improved lately. Maybe is it because I am out of the infamous first trimester. Or maybe is it just that my new running partner, whatever its gender is, has understood Mummy will always have the last word, especially when it comes to going running. So let’s move our (two) butts, and off we go.

March 10, 2009

Long Live the Queen, and Barclays

I never thought I would miss Barclays. These days, I am considering voting them best bank of the century. That’s since I (re-)discovered the French banking system.

It started as soon as we arrived in Annecy last year. Trying to set up a bank account, we got a very simple answer to our very basic request: NO. As to why, the bank manager was not short of answers. For instance, we did not have any tax return to show. No, she did not know why on earth this may be required, and no, a British one would not suffice. Martin not having pay slips to present was also an irrefutable argument for the refusal. And here again, she did not seem to worry about providing an answer to the catch 22 that this created: how to get paid, and therefore have a pay slip, if one cannot open an account on which to transfer the said salary?

Six months later, having gathered some courage again, we are back in the office of the account manager.

Things don’t start too well. As we show her our passports she looks up at us, clearly confused. Austria, that’s like… Germany?” she asks Martin. Anybody who knows Martin knows too that it takes quite a lot to make him angry. Problem is, calling him a German is right up there north of “quite a lot”. No need to say, he is not overly impressed.

At the next question, we wonder if she is faking her own stupidity: “passport issued in London. (puzzled look at us)… where is that?”. Then she asks me if I, too, am Austrian. I mean, I know my French is sometimes a bit sketchy and my accent sounding from time to time a bit foreign but for heaven’s sake, SHE HAD JUST CHECKED MY PASSPORT TOO!

Compared to this interesting start, the rest goes reasonably, if not ideally smoothly. Goes smoothly but does not come cheap. Instead of Barclays’ interest bearing current account and debit and credit cards, everything is now on a fee basis. Cards, check books, you name it, you pay for it.

Oh, and internet banking is charged, too, although our account manager seems at a loss to understand why we would want it anyway. But, weird as it may seem, we got used to managing our accounts from the comfort of our own home rather than getting a post-communist Russia feeling by having to stand in a queue for hours. So, deciding to get wild and splash out, we go for the full internet banking package. Not that we want to do more that the occasional bank transfer, but in the heat of things, you know…

An hour and a half later, - a tiny bit longer than the 10 minutes previously mentioned by the bank manager, and with Martin by now seriously late for work - we are done. It was a fight, but now, more than 6 months after we have arrived, we feel like real citizens, with still no tax return, but at least a bank account. And internet banking.

Or so we think. Until, a few weeks later, we need to make a transfer. Nothing fancy, involving cross border transactions, different currencies, crazy amounts (like, where would the crazy amounts come from, I am unemployed, for heaven’s sake). No, just a plain transfer, from a euro denominated account in a French bank to another euro denominated account in another French bank. So, here am I, logging on my hard-fought for, brand new, secured, internet page. I scroll through the menu. Look for transfer. Can’t find it. Look again. Still can’t find it. I am stuck. I call a friend (or rather, a husband, actually). Who can’t find it either. I give up.

A few days later, as I am walking past my bank, I think I may as well go in and ask what kind of stupid thing I have missed.

Well, as it turns out, the thing I have missed is that I actually CANNOT make online transfers. The fact that the possibility to do online transfers is the service we are actually paying for, and the fact that the girl at the desk explains to me that online transfers are not possible for security reasons but then proceed to set up the transfer without asking for any form of ID, all this is not relevant. ONLINE-TRANSFERS-ARE-NOT-POSSIBLE-FULL-STOP.

Shall I carry on with a list of the things you cannot do as a (clearly not at all) valued client of a French bank. Actually, I shall not, because it is bad for my health, gives me palpitations… But one thing for sure, forget everything I may ever have said about Barclays. Actually, give me Barclays any time. The staff may be useless and their outfits ridiculously ugly, the foreign exchange commission fees akin to day-light robbery, the website rubbish, at least, they do online transfers. So, to hell with the French banks, and God save the Queen, and Barclays.

March 02, 2009

An ounce of London nostalgia, part I – Or: me and my burgers

Is it still worth mentioning it: we love our life in Annecy. Still, as unbelievable as it seems, there are some things I sometimes miss about London. Burgers, for instance.

It is a widely known – and accepted – fact: the French have straight-out-of-heaven-good bread. Then, we have great meat, too (yes, I know, from time to time, I switch from “the French” to “we”. It is called “a little bit of self esteem boost has never harmed anybody”) since we don’t believe in mad-cow beef, over here. Last but not least, the French also do very, very good fries indeed, although the Belgians will try to tell you they invented it all and theirs are better. But then, fries are called French fries; not Belgian, is all I need to say.

So, I will ask you, since it seems all the necessary ingredients for the perfect burger and its must-have side-dish are available; HOW COME IS IT IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND A DECENT BURGER PLACE IN ANNECY? I recently got so desperate that I even ventured into a Mc Do (the “French” translation for Mc Donald’s), of all places. Granted, it will never happen again, but this is a clear sign of how desperate things had become. I also toyed with the idea of opening my own burger joint, which would have been cool, organic, a real community place with a café, books, mountain photo exhibitions and even a little bouldering wall at the back if there was enough space. In a nutshell, the perfect place where everybody would have loved to stop for a Saturday post shopping snack or spend Sunday brunch. Then I realized I, for one, did not want to spend an early Saturday evening, let alone Sunday lunchtime, in a café when I could be happily having an epic somewhere in my mountains instead, and the idea quickly lost a tiny bit of its appeal.

Some may say that a burger is not exactly the epitome of British cuisine, and they would be right. But while there are a lot of things that the Brits took from their American cousins they’d better leave across the pond (in no particular order, “z” replacing “s”, fad diets, investment bankers), one may give them credit when they import something really worth it. Like burgers.