Sunday, July 13, 2014

From the Alps to the Volcanos of Clermont-Ferand

I keep thinking I need to finish this post but life got in the way. Now it's nearly Christmas and I haven't had much time to photograph due to the weather the last few weeks, so it's nice to reminisce about what a fantastic summer we had.
After leaving Venosc and the Alps on the 6th of July we headed west to stay with our friends Aurélie and Aurelien in Clermont-Fernad. Aurelien suggested we stop in Lyon and visit the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, and since I really love looking at old cathedrals it sounded like a good place for a break in our trip. Even though Aurelien said it was worth the visit, I try not to get my hopes up to avoid being diasappointed, but this was a real jewel...

And as a photographer the challenge is how to take it all in? No single shot can capture the how impressive this cathedral is, so panorama is the only option. First a 180 degree horizontal panorama

And then a 180 degree vertical panorama; I think the woman behind me was quite surprised with I continued my shots from front to back and wound up pointing straight at her.
I am really happy with how this turned out considering it is handheld; it would have been much easier with a tripod...

After spending an hour in the cathedral it was time to continue to Clermont-Ferand, and area of France known for its past volcanic activity. Arriving at the home of A & A we were treating to an assortment of French cheeses; I had to take a picture of the beautiful presentation, and it tasted as good as it looked.

From their flat A&A have a fantastic view of the cathedral of Clermont-Ferand, but it's a bit of a challenge to photograph it and capture the detail in the shadows, so every morning and evening I took a few shots.

Despite a few rain showers we made daily trips in the region including one which led us to the Château de Murol.

The clouds from the storm that trapped us in the château made the scene look much more dramatic, and Kristina looking out over the fields reminds me of Rapunzel letting down her golden hair. It was  a bit of a fairy tale day.

After the storm passed the skies quickly turned blue again...

After one of the longest summers I can remember autumn went by in a flash, and in three weeks it will be Christmas. I hope spring doesn't keep us waiting...


Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Killer Marmotte of Alpe d'Huez

In search of a new adventure, and new scenery I jumped on a bicycling challenge proposed by Nina Gilljam from Höllviken CK (one of the two cycling clubs I belong to). Höllviken CK has all sorts of interesting cycling destinations and this one "La Marmotte" struck a chord;
thirty years ago in 1984 I visited the Alps around Alpe d'Huez and watched two stages of the Tour de France and since then have dreamed of crossing the Alps on bicycle in order to experience what the pro's really go through. My hero at the time, Greg Lemond, was the first American to have a shot at winning, even though officially he was working for Bernard Hinault and team "La Vie Claire".

So on the 15th of July, 1984 after spending the night in a tent on a slope my traveling companion Cathy and I spent the day watching the racers fly by, one every two minutes, during the individual time trial. A real festival atmosphere as thousands of fans lined the roads and waited for their favorites.

But "La Marmotte" is a very different animal, literally. La Marmotte is a cyclosportive named after a rather large rodent of the same name that makes its home in the Alps:

I have no idea why they named this cycling event after a rodent. Maybe someone thought a marmot would give associations to something soft and fuzzy, and that was probably a good marketing move, since the animal that best captures the pain of the world's most challenging cyclosportive (174km/108 miles and with 5,180 m/16,990 ft of climbing) would probably be the tasmanian devil, and who would sign up for a ride like that? But never mind the pain, the rewards are unforgettable.

The scenery in the alps and particulary along the route of La Marmotte, alpine meadows, quaint villages, wild orchids, and the comradery of 7000 cyclists climbing a 12% grade at 2600 meters to pass by this sign...

I was completely exhausted by the first 114km when I reached that sign, but from there it was 50 kilometers downhill which begins with sheer cliffs and hairpin turns at speeds of 60+kph before leveling out ahead of the final 13km climb up Alpe d'Huez.

Unfortunately inexperience put a stop to my race; I neglected to douse my head with cool water before starting the final climb and overheated 10 km from the finish. I didn't lose too much sleep over not making it up Alpe d'Huez that day though , since I managed to make it up another day:

Whether for cycling, photography or both this was a fantastic destination.

From our ski cottage we had fantastic views all day long, and beautiful sunsets that played out on the glaciers:

And while struggling up a hill on a training ride there were countless orchids lining the side of the road.

On the final night of our stay in the clear summer night, the stars were amazing...
But since most of this week had been dedicated to cycling, most of my photography started the day after the ride...