Sunday, June 14, 2015

1940's Era Ball (Party like it's 1945)

The 1940's Era Ball is becoming a classic Colorado annual event, and rightly so. The summer ball first sprung to life in 2008, founded by Khyentse James. Per the website:

"The birth of this ball began in the 1940s, when founder Khyentse James’ grandparents met at a Pennsylvania radio station (WCDL Carbondale). Her grandmother was a singer and her grandfather became an announcer upon his return from World War II duty. Years later, their love story inspired Khyentse’s passionate interest in the culture and music of the 1940s that brought her grandparents together. It was when Khyentse was working at the Boulder Airport and earning her pilot’s license that she got the idea to hold an event in the large hangar to celebrate that culture"

Along with the summer ball, there is also a White Christmas themed ball in December; we have now been to 4 balls in total, and they continue to get bigger and better with each year. My wife and I feel like we have a close connection to this time in history, perhaps we were born in the wrong era!. 

Myself and my wife in RAF and WAC Authentic WW2 Uniforms

Paul and Trudee

My grandfather was an Officer in the Royal Artillery, 15 Medium Regiment, and saw action several times. He and his Regiment landed on Juno Beach on July 8th 1944, a month after the D-Day landings. His Regiment pushed onto Caen where they saw very heavy fighting, eventually they headed East along the coast liberating towns as they went, including Dieppe and Boulogne. I also had a great uncle that was captured at Dunkirk and spent the rest of the war in a concentration camp.

Both my wife and I love the music of the 40's (Glenn Miller, Ella Fitzgerald, Dame Vera Lynn....),  although at best our dance skills are bordering on the edge of basic and very basic. I think, breaking out the old 33's and the record player will be in order prior to our next ball!. 

We travel back to England at least twice a year, and inevitably find some kind of 40's event to go to go back there too. England really embraces that era still, and there are events year round, up and down the country. Having a similar event on our doorsteps here in Colorado, is a huge bonus though!.

Airport hanger is turned into a themed cafe

Main stage with the backdrop of the Rockies

Each year the Summer ball gets bigger and better, with more authentic ww2 military vehicles, planes, and re-enactors. It is like a museum wandering around the event field, and gives you a good sense of how it was back in that era.

What is so great about these period type events, whether they be in the USA, UK or elsewhere, is admiring the amazing uniforms and period clothing. You could literally spend all day/evening just people watching.

The entertainment at the 1940's era Ball is top-notch, and usually includes well known local big band The Hot Tomatoes. The Hot Tomatoes perform all the classics from Glenn Miller to Benny Goodman to Duke Ellington. 2015 lineup also included wonderful impersonators, including Carmen Miranda, Bob Hope, Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sinatra.

Carmen Miranda

Charlie Chaplin, Roy Rogers, Jane Russell, Bob Hope

Bob Hope

The evening was topped off with a spectacular sunset and dancing, another great 1940's Ball at the Boulder Airport!.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Fort Laramie, Wyoming

Fort Laramie began life originally as Fort William, then a few years later as Fort John. Fort William was founded in 1834 as a fur trading post, but it was not until 1849 that it took on the name of Fort Laramie, when the US Army purchased it. The US Army's main role at Fort Laramie, was to protect the many wagon trains travelling through on the emigrant trails (Oregon Trail, Mormon Pioneer Trail, California Trail and the Pony Express). As the fort grew it became the principal military outpost on the Northern Plains, and also a main transportation and communication hub for the region.

The fort lies alongside the Laramie River, close to the confluence of the North Platte River and the Laramie River. As you approach the fort from the northeast access road, the first structure of importance is the Old Iron Bridge spanning the North Platte River. This bridge was built in 1875 by the US Army, and provided an easier crossing, and vital link between Cheyenne, the Fort, and other surrounding outposts.

The forts demise came after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was built between 1863 and 1869. The railroad connected the west coast with the existing rail lines in Iowa, and made emigrating west a lot cheaper and faster, which in turn saw the decline of the Oregon trail. Fort Laramie was eventually de-commissioned by the US Army in 1869.

The fort today looks much like it did back in the late 1800's, although there is a mix of complete structures, building shells, and foundations. Eleven structures have been completely restored though, and give you a great sense of how it was to live and work on the fort.

Memorial looking towards the Cavalry Barracks (1874)

Officers' Quarters (1881) adobe style ruins

"Old Bedlam" (1849) built to house bachelor officers

Front porch of "Old Bedlam"

The front porch of the Cavalry Barracks

The Cavalry living quarters on the 2nd floor of the Barracks

Catling gun first used during the American Civil War in the 1860's

The fort is surrounded by grasslands, rivers and bluffs

Officers' Quarters Ruins
Parade ground

Fort Laramie was an important stop along the Emigrant trail routes. The Oregon Trail was laid down between 1811 and 1840 by fur trappers and traders, and provided a passage on foot or horse between Missouri and Oregon, the trail was 2,200 miles in length. The trail saw the most amount of emigrant traffic between 1846 and 1869, and approximately 400,000 emigrants, traders, farmers, ranchers used the trail from 1830 onwards.

Some of the best preserved portions of the Oregon Trail are close to Fort Laramie in Guernsey, including wagon ruts and signatures carved in the rocks.

US Post signature (1857)

Register Cliffs in Guernsey

Oregon Trail wagon ruts

The rock is soft, so over time the wagons carved out the ruts

Friday, May 22, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 5 (La Inseine)

Day 5 - Boisemont to Paris (May 6th, 2015)
42.5 miles +/-, 1928' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

After a very good nights sleep, in fact almost too good since we all slept through the alarm, and had about 30 mins to get ready for breakfast. 30 minutes may sound like enough time, but when there is only one shower/bathroom, it's not long. Like a military operation we all rotated using the bathroom, and ended up only being 15 minutes late for breakfast. The breakfast had a slightly more "English" flare to it, boiled eggs, toast, local jams, and cereal - but very good still, the strong French coffee was much needed!.

The weather looked promising, some cloud cover but no sign of rain or wind, and pretty mild temperatures. The last leg of our journey had finally arrived, and it was exciting but also sad at the same time. From the Ferme Rose Gite to Paris is only about 20 miles as the crow flies, but our route today using Donald Hirsch's directions would take us into Paris from the West, for about 42 miles total.

The view looking East from Ferme Rose

So off we set from the B&B straight up a steep paved path (for pedestrians), but quickly joined the main road. We did not quite realize how much of a hill the Ferme Rose sat upon, until we got going on the main road and descended for 3 miles to the Seine. So our first real taste of Paris came at only 3.5 miles into the days journey, we were in the Suburbs, and it was quite a shock having been in the countryside for the past 3 days!.

Donald's route from hereon has alot of twists and turns, I had loaded the route on my GPS, and also made a paper copy of Donald's route guide. The GPS worked well for the most part, but there was the odd occasion I broke out the paper guide too, mainly for specific guidance on how to join particular trails etc. The paper guide became useful at mile 4.7, where we had to take a short paved trail that connects to the first major bridge over the Seine for the day. This was the first of 5 crossings of the Seine we would make today, and possibly the least scenic crossing along a 4 lane highway. After exiting the highway, negotiating our first big roundabout, and me nearly biting the dust trying to read the GPS whilst ploughing into the curb, we were back onto quieter lanes.

We followed the Seine on quiet roads for about 3 miles, which was very pleasant after the initial shock of the suburbs. But at mileage 9 the fun began, and the Hirsch route started to get associated with a few choice words. Instead of continuing to follow the nice flat Seine valley, the route takes you up and over some steep hills, and winds its way though burbs and five of the Paris forests and parks.

One of the forest sections in the Saint Germain area

Another forest section before Versailles

Besides the numerous hills associated with this route into Paris, the forest sections really were exceptionally nice and peaceful, and made you forget you were within the boundaries of a bustling international City.

After several forest sections we reached Versailles at mileage 23, a very busy area understandably with tourists and buses everywhere. There is no entry fee for bikes to get into the grounds, so we decided to pedal through and see if we could see the Palace. You can only get so far on a bicycle, before they require you to lock it up and walk - as we found out after unknowingly (well partially unknowingly) breaking the rules. We did get a glimpse of the palace though, but after 30 mins we were getting people overload, and decided to continue on.

Palace of Versailles

For the next 10 miles or so of the route you drift in and out of suburbs and forest parks, never really getting a sight of central Paris, or even a clue you were getting close. But finally at mileage 32 you get a glimpse of the City, and a true sense the end of your journey is getting close.

a glimpse of Paris from Parc de Saint-Cloud

You leave the forest parks behind really at Saint-Cloud, and the city riding really begins in earnest; but 7 miles of city roads out of 42 for the day is not bad really. Paris is certainly not flat though, and one last sting greeted us at mile 33.5, a short steep hill that takes you up to an old aqueduct called the Passerelle de l'Avre, now a foot bridge that crosses the Seine. It was actually at this point we had to break out Donald's paper guide again, my GPS had mapped the route taking us UNDER the aqueduct, with no obvious way to get up onto it. We eventually figured out the only way was up, up another hill, and then we found the access point to the bridge, and also our first sight of the Eiffel tower!.

Eiffel tower as seen from Passerelle de L'Avre

The old aqueduct was a wonderful way to cross the Seine, and even though it is supposed to be for pedestrians, we did not have any issues cycling across it.  The bridge ends across the Seine opposite the Hippodrome de Longchamp (horse racing course) in Bois de Boulogne. The route takes you right around the edge of the race track, there must of been an event or race meet the day we were there, since it was mighty busy outside the entrance.

Old windmill next to the Hippodrome de Longchamp

From the race track our route started to follow cycle paths running parallel with the main roads heading into Paris; although we were clearly in the hub of the City now, at least we were out of the traffic. With one mile to go though (from the Eiffel tower), we did have to merge with Paris traffic, and take our own lives into our hands. The road surface was slightly damp from a quick heavy passing shower, and traffic was hectic, being on a bike was scary to say the least!. We had survived the journey though, and reached the end per Donald Hirsch's route - the Tour Eiffel!.

Eiffel tower

The official Avenue Verte route actually finishes at Notre Dame, since it comes into Paris using a different route. We decided we would also make our way there to "officially" conclude our journey by bike, so we had another 3 miles of Paris traffic to deal with, in fact slightly more since we also had to drop off the bikes at Gare du Nord!. Well, we had not anticipated that the roads running parallel with the Seine from the Eiffel tower to Notre Dame, are One directional (depending which side of the Seine you're on). Lets just say, we had to do some bike and hiking.

Pont des Arts bridge

We crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts bridge (pedestrian bridge), a tourist attraction in its own right due to all the "love padlocks" attached to the railings. Having crossed the bridge, we were now in a position to cycle on the road in the direction of Notre Dame. We noticed that the bus/taxi lane was also the designated cycle lane - scary thought having a bus up your backside, but what was even more worrying, was that Parisians were ignoring the fact that the "separated" lane was for buses etc ONLY. Little more walking was involved again, and a bit of scooting along on the pavement (sidewalk), much to the annoyance of bucket loads of tourists. We eventually got brave enough to ride in the bus lane, and make it in one piece to Notre Dame.

Cathedrale Notre Dame

The area in front of the cathedral was heaving with packs of tourists, probably a mecca for pick pockets I would imagine. We scooted our bikes through the chaos as fast as we could, and found a bridge to once again cross the Seine. Our final destination was Gare du Nord, which fortunately was a straight shot from Notre Dame, and fairly well signposted. We only had 2 more miles of crazy Paris traffic to negotiate, but even that was enough to encounter more kamikaze scooters, weaving taxi drivers, and buses up your backside.

We opted to use the Geoparts Eurostar courier service to transport the bikes back to London, they put the bikes on the next available train, and you collect them at St. Pancras, all for only £25. The trick we found was actually finding the Geoparts office at Gare du Nord, not even the station Gendarmes knew were it was. Luckily, good ole Donald Hirsch had some directions in his route guide, so for only the the 3rd time that day I used my printable copy. We found the office, unloaded the panniers, paid the fee - our cycle journey had officially come to an end!.

We had skipped lunch, mainly due to not actually finding anywhere to eat (we'll blame all those darn forest trails), so we were starving by now (late afternoon). Now bike free though, our first stop was the Buffalo Grill opposite Gare du Nord; we ordered large beers and burgers, and toasted our accomplishment.

We had decided when we planned the adventure, that we would spend one night in Paris, then get the Eurostar back to London at lunchtime the following day. So we took the Metro to our hotel, which unknowingly we had actually cycled past on route to Gare du Nord earlier. The hotel was a typical VERY small boutique hotel, with a lift the size of a postage stamp - the 3 of us with panniers in the lift was VERY cozy!.

We picked the Chatelet-Les Halles area to stay in, knowing it was a little less touristy, and had more of a everyday Paris feel to it. Although, Notre Dame and the Pomidou centre both were within easy walking distance. 

The view from our room at Hotel des Halles

John aka the Kebab Kid had busted his razor a day or 2 before, so had started to look a little like Grizzly Adams by now. I think he figured since we were now in slightly higher class surroundings, he better shave before dinner; luckily the little convenience store opposite the hotel sold razors, and wine too of course :). After a little chilling in our hotel room, showering, and John juggling with soap dispenser in the bathroom, we were ready to take a wander and check out options for dinner.

We did not have to wander far though to find "restaurant row" as we named it, every restaurant packed with locals. After checking out a few menus, we were coaxed into a restaurant by a couple of local girls sitting outside drinking wine, they assured us this was the best restaurant. We chose to sit outside to soak up the atmosphere, forgetting that almost every Parisian smokes; so I think all 3 of us smoked a pack of cigarettes each that night. The 2 girls, whom were sitting 2 tables away, spoke very good English, and told us Brits NOT to drink Beer, and told Pete the American NOT to eat a hamburger :). So taking their advice we ordered a carafe of red wine, snails (a little gritty for my taste buds), shrimp, salmon and Frogs legs (for the Kebab Kid). It was a fabulous night and great end to our Journey through southern England and northern France.

Sacre Coeur the morning before we boarded the Eurostar

Back on English soil

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 4 (Il pleut à verse)

Day 4 - St. Germer-de-Fly to Boisemont (May 5th, 2015)
58 miles +/-, 2668' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

The morning began with sunlight streaming through into our shared bedroom, Colorado blue skies, but a fair old breeze blowing. Breakfast was included within our B&B price, which is not always the case these days. It was another lavish spread though, including cheeses, meats, cakes, homemade jams and yogurts - enough to keep us pedaling all day long.

The lavish breakfast at L'Abbaye

By the time we had devoured the breakfast, paid our dues, and got our gear together, the blue skies had disappeared and clouds and a threat of rain had moved in (showers were forecast in the morning). Our route for the day would start off with a climb out of St. Germer up above the Epte valley, which with the breeze and threat of rain we were not looking forward to. Well the rain arrived after only 6.5 miles into the days journey, and boy did it rain!. We had to take cover under a metal bus shelter that we had spotted 0.25 mile back, we were already soaked at this point. The wind and rain was battering the tin roof of the shelter, sounded like someone was playing a drum kit on top of us. After about 10 mins of the drum symphony, the rain eased and we were ready to brave the elements once again. It was time to climb the first hill of the day, a 1.5 mile slog, but once crested, that would be the last of the hills for another 20 miles.

Some kind of farm ruins on the top of the first hills of the day

Great signage for "most" of the route

After leaving the hills, the route descended on quiet roads until we reached the town of Gisors at mileage 20. The town sits on the border of Normandy and the French Vexin area, and was a focus of struggles in medieval times. An opposing castle sits at the edge of the town center, and provides a stunning view over the town and countryside.

Castle at Gisors

Gisors seemed like a perfect spot for some refreshments and lunch, especially since we would not be passing through many other towns or villages for the next 38 miles. We found the main town centre, the sun was shining, so a nice cold local beer had to be our first priority. We found a bar next to the river "L'Epte", and with the backdrop of the cathedral too, what better way to enjoy an Abbey beer. Of course being beer loving cyclists, we ordered the largest sized glass they had; it wasn't until we stepped outside we realized the beer was a mighty strong brew. We opted to push our bikes across the square and found a patisserie serving up hot food, and sandwiches, that helped soak up the beer a little.

Mighty fine Abbey beer in Gisors

Having replenished ourselves with beer and food, we departed Gisors and promptly joined the Epte Valley Greenway. This greenway was the first "off-road" route we had seen since the morning of Day 3, and was a welcome surprise. The greenway follows the Epte river valley for about 12 miles, through small villages, and past hill top castles. We generally had the trail to ourselves, until it's terminus at Bray-et-Lu.

Epte Valley Greenway, along a crossing of the Epte River

Fabulous scenery and colour along the greenway

At Bray-et-Lu the Avenue Verte route starts to head Southeast through the Parc Naturel du Vexin region, an optional out and back heads south west to Giverny (Monet's house and garden). Unfortunately we did not have enough spare time to make the detour, so we opted to stay on the main route. The route through the Vexin area once again joins quiet roads, passing through quaint villages. We had an amusing conversation with a local at the pretty village of Chaussy, a few miles southeast of Bray-et-Lu. In the middle of town is a water trough and fountain, that we had gathered around to snap some photos. The water in the trough was very much non-potable, but a couple of locals seemed to think we were going to use it to fill up our water bottles; after some sign language that probably could of been used as a comedy sketch on Monty Python, we eventually convinced them we were not going to drink the water.

Village of Chaussy

At around mileage 38 for the day, we came across a magnificent sight, the Domaine de Villarceaux. The Park consists of a Chateau, water garden, and other structures, dating from the 17th-18th Centuries. The site is located on the site of a 11th century castle built to defend the region from the British; with free entry though, and bathrooms and water, it couldn't keep us British out on this particular day.

The stunning park at Villarceaux

Villarceaux water gardens

The Chateau at Villarceaux

From Villarceau we had just under 20 miles to cover to reach our overnight stop in Boisemont. The route became much more rolling than it had been for most of the day, and followed some wonderful farm tracks (some definitely not suitable for road bikes, or if muddy out).

Wonderful quiet roads & farm tracks through The Vexin region

The published Avenue Verte guidebook takes you into Paris from the northwest side, and mainly follows the route of the Seine. We decided when we planned our trip that we would follow an alternative route into Paris designed by Donald Hirsch. So at mileage 54 we split from the official trail and headed south to Menucourt, making an all important stop for beer and wine. We had to back track slightly from the supermarket to re-join the route to reach the B&B, which of course involved another 2 mile long hill through town.

We were stopping for the night at the wonderful Ferme Rosea 15th Century old Farm house. On arrival the host had left a sticky note on the door to say let ourselves in, she had to pop out and would be back at 9pm. We locked our bikes up in the old stables, and made our way to our accommodation for the night. This B&B is more of a Gite, so we had a large bedroom with 3 beds, and shared a large kitchen area with other guests (except we were the only guests on this particular night). We had also opted to pay extra at this B&B and have a cold buffet provided on arrival, it was another fine spread of home made food, along with wine.

The host, Claire, is a British expat originally from Cambridge. She has been in France many years, and uses the old farm to breed French horses. The B&B is in a beautiful location, and hard to believe only a stones throw from Paris. The final push into the big city awaited us the next morning.

La Ferme Rose Gite