Alright, let’s get to the cycling already. I mean, that’s the main reason I traveled to France this year, right?

There are a lot of different ways to do bicycle touring. I’m open to most of the options when it comes right down to it but in recent years tend to favor bike tours where you pay a tour company to literally do all the heavy lifting for you. The routes are time tested, you ride from town to town, hotel to hotel. Guides are with you all along the way with van support, water, snacks. They handle the details and you just enjoy yourself. Most meals are included. You enjoy the cycling and more often than not it’s just a good time.

Oh, but then of course you pay for all that convenience. But where in the world is that not true.

Sometimes I might bring my own bike on a tour like this one (like last year) but this time I took one of theirs. It really all depends on what the tour company has to offer. In this case, it was a titanium bike with plenty of gear ratios. My bike has better componentry but this time I concluded not by a wide enough margin to be a factor. So, I brought my bike shoes, seat & pedals (and seat post – which I’ll explain later) and it worked out fine.

The photo above is of the group getting all fitted and ready to start the tour. 11 riders, 2 two guides. Nice ratio.

The ride on the 1st day on a tour like this is invariably something short. I would hazard a guess the main point is just to check out the gear and make sure you don’t have any major surprises. Any bike tour company I’ve used operates this way – and yet I always wish we’d just get on with it and get in a good ride. At least this year it was a nice little lumpy loop ride that we could just do a 2nd time if we wanted more time in the saddle.

The other photo here is of the group at the first dinner. Intros all around, great food & wine, and you can see of course it also makes for a good point at which to review the next day’s route map and elevation profile. In this case we were gearing up for 47 miles and some hilly terrain. Nothing mountainous in this part of the world.

More on the next day’s route in the next post.

After my overnight at Le Petite Clos I headed for Brive and what would be the start of my bike tour down the Dordogne river valley.

I arrived a day early knowing I typically take a couple of days to deal with jet lag.

Brive seems like some other small cities I have visited in Europe in that it has something of a sprawling and modern outskirts and then a very small historical core center, often with one or more lovely old church or similar historic buildings. In my jet lagged stupor I mostly just walked and browsed the little side streets of the central core.

My hotel, the Truffe Noire, which you see pictured in this posting was essentially on the edge of the historical center. Other than it’s convenient location, the restaurant was the key feature that otherwise set the hotel apart. The food was good. The room was nothing special but then I didn’t spend much time there.

You can see my room from the front of the hotel because it’s the one, again, with the window wide open. The weather was nice.

The other photo below was the view out my window.

The hotel was the meet-up point for the bike tour and even before the official metope time on my 2nd day at the hotel we started to meet one another. But we all got together officially at 2pm in biking gear to ready bikes and do our first short loop ride.

Next up: we’re off to Rocamadour.

One of the fun things about visiting France is happening across the markets – what we’d refer to as a farmer’s market – that you find in the little towns and cities. I stumbled on this one in Brive on a Tuesday morning before the bike tour group met and just a short walk from the hotel. I didn’t investigate but based on the weekday time and the location of the market (under a big shelter house) they may run it every day. In other little towns they block off and take over the streets of the town/city.

This one in Brive had plenty of interesting things to choose from. Vegetables, flowers, meats and cheeses of all kinds. If I’d been staying in a house as opposed to a hotel room and about to bike out of the city I would’ve gotten some things for later. But it’s still fun to look.

For bigger versions of the images, click through to open new windows.

1st Stop: Le Petite Clos

I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything since January. I should go back and post date some travel experiences. I may just do that but then this post will look a little odd because the casual observer will see postings between Jan and August and then this comment will be a little out of context. Anyway … I’m off to France! Actually, I’ve already been and am just now starting to take some time to post some of the photos and maybe a few notes. More than just the caption in a photo album would allow.

As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I love to travel but the connections to my destination of choice are often the most exhausting part of the experience.

As with my trip to Spain a year ago I chose this time to simply rent a car upon arrival to make my connection to what would be the start of another bicycle tour. And as with last year I strategically found a small inn just a couple hours out of my arrival city to hole up and relax for a bit. (I use the map view of TripAdvisor to essentially do the equivalent of throwing a dart at a spot on the map that seems about where I would want to end up and then see what’s around there that looks interesting.) In this case, that was the small town of Chaumont sur Tharonne just a few miles off the Autoroute.

I really enjoyed my short stay at Le Petite Clos. This place is indeed small as you can see in the photo. (5 rooms) I had the room upstairs in the corner. The one with the window that is wide open.

My host Rene was both helpful and friendly. After showing me my room he offered coffee and cookies at a table outdoors in the garden area. Perfect place to unwind. And I needed the coffee. Experience shows that getting off my caffeine schedule can be one of the worst parts of jet lag.

Absolutely nothing was going on in Chaumont sur Tharonne on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing was open. No restaurants open either. And when I tried a nearby town, nothing I found of interest open there either. I was thankful for snacks I still had in my carry-on bag.

Breakfast in the morning was great. French toast, fruit, yogurt, croissant, coffee. Good for the 3’ish hour trip that remained to get to Brive. On to Brive…

Le Petite Clos

I’ve been wanting to try out Launderette in Austin for some time. Nothing really stopping me other than taking time to actually plan because the place is routinely booked up. And I can now see why.

For a change I touched base with someone at Launderette much earlier than I typically would and arranged for a table for New Year’s Eve. Having never been there I suppose it might have been considered a gamble on whether it’d pan out but reviews have been good.

Suffice to say everything – including the service and new year party atmosphere – were fantastic.

Ok, on to my notes. I snagged the menu off the website and I’m glad they had it there so I didn’t have to type it in. Let’s get started…

First Course

Choice Of:Rabbit Terrine
Boston Mackerel Crudo
French Onion Soup
Frisée Salad

I can have a salad anytime – and I make a good salad – so that was out as 1st choice. And I’m sure the French Onion soup would have been great but we went for things we wouldn’t normally find: the rabbit and the mackerel crudo.

The rabbit terrine was sort of like a pâté. Not entirely spreadable but close. Excellent flavor and particularly with the Langhe Nebbiolo we chose to go along with the meal.

The mackerel was a much smaller portion and indeed raw but it packed a punch. It was very spicy but in a good way.

A great start!

Second Course

Choice Of:Razor Clam
Truffle Gnudi
Boneless Sardine
Roasted Kabocha

Here I went with the truffled Gnudi. Had no idea what Gnudi was but the waiter helped and I know I like truffles and how can you go wrong as anything billed as a little dumpling? Click the above link for more on what Gnudi is.

Third Course

Choice Of:Duck Breast
Short Rib
Squid Ink Cavatelli
Loup De Mer En Brodo

We opted for the duck breast and short rib. Both were absolutely fantastic. Might be the best short rib I’ve ever had.

Neither were large portions but they were just enough. When the the time came though, we were ready for the:

Fourth Course

Choice Of:Disco Trifle
Champagne Baked Alaska
Million Dollar Chocolate
Etherealmisu

We opted for the baked Alaska and the million dollar chocolate. Wow! These were both great. I especially liked the touch to add the gold leaf to the million dollar chocolate.

Great way to bring in the new year and I’ll be headed back at the first opportunity. Photos here are a couple I took of neon sign out front and a shot of the restaurant from the parking lot. The place was literally a laundromat prior to its current state as a restaurant and I guess you can kinda tell that from the look. It’s had quite a transformation into a restaurant though.

Launderette, Austin, Texas

I created an instagram account back in 2012 and promptly didn’t actually do anything with it. It was no doubt a busy time. I didn’t really start doing anything with it until just over a year ago. Since then, I’ve posted every few days. And sometimes I post more than once a day, but rarely more than that. (Actually I think it can be irksome to find someone you follow posting more than that.)

So what changed? I’ve enjoyed photography since I was a kid, but in the last couple of years I have renewed interest and the digital cameras and editing software available these days are very good. I’ve also found it to be a fun distraction at the end of the day. I can get into rush hour traffic, or I can take to the street, get in a walk and snag a few photos along the way. Both the popularity and simplicity of the instagram app have made it interesting as well. We all have phones practically glued to us.

Below are the 2015 stats by the numbers. From virtually no posts at the end of 2014 to 246 posts as I write this. Stats courtesy of the https://squarelovin.com website.
Instagram Posts 2015
The photos you see along with this post are the ones that have turned out to be the most popular (at least by way of ‘like’ counts) during the course of the year. The bicycle shadow with leaves was the most popular. And it should also be obvious that Austin folks and myself really like the Austin skyline. We do have a beautiful city.

I’d like to keep the same pace of posting next year but time will tell. This is most definitely a hobby and then there’s the real life & job.

I had the pleasure once again of taking some time out late on a Sunday morning for the once a month ‘classes’ that are put on by Hudson’s on the Bend chef Jeff Blank and team. Always fun and as usual, the food was fantastic.

That’s chef Jeff Blank on the left. He supervises and comments along the way as his team makes all the food.

I quote ‘classes’ above only because it’s really more of a cooking demonstration. The team of chefs make everything right in front of you and tell you what they’re doing all along the way. Along the way the staff keeps you lubricated with wine as you enjoy the show. Lake Travis forms the backdrop when it’s outdoors like the day I was there.

The menu of the day varies and on this particular day it was in my opinion: awesome for the season.

We started things off with “Wild Game Chili“. This was probably some of the best tasting chili I can remember. Of course, when you see what they put in there you can see why:

  • venison
  • wild boar
  • onion
  • garlic
  • bacon
  • freshly made veal stock
  • ancho chilis
  • poblano chilis
  • + other seasonings and goodness

You can see a photo below of the big pot they made it in. It smelled as good as it tasted.

Next up after the chili came “New Orleans BBQ ‘big ass’ Shrimp“. They referred to them as ‘big ass’ shrimp because they special order them for their size. The term also reminds me of George Carlin’s quote about “jumbo shrimp”:

The term Jumbo Shrimp has always amazed me. What is a Jumbo Shrimp? I mean, it’s like Military Intelligence – the words don’t go together, man.

This dish had LOTS of butter along with garlic, and a tasty collection of spices: bay leaves, rosemary (freshly cut from the yard), oregano, basil, paprika, black pepper, cayenne.

We’re not done yet, then there was also “Espresso Rubbed Venison Backstrap with lump crab in Chipotle Bock Beer Blanc Butter“. This one was was done up in a stovetop smoker that you can also see to the right on the stove in the pic here. Smokey flavors were excellent.

And for dessert? “Brownie Bread Pudding“. Wow, this one was decadent. Chocolate chips melted down with butter, sugar, vanilla bean paste, eggs, flour. They first make up a batch of brownies with the main ingredients and then they go crazy and break it all up in a pan and add 2 quarts of heavy cream and a dozen eggs. Mix ‘er all up and bake. Holy smokes. A little of this goes a long ways.

After the demonstration everyone goes to the restaurant not too far from the demonstration at Jeff Blank’s home and the restaurant staff serves all of these great dishes up.

Don’t worry about the calories on a day like this. Just go and enjoy it.