Friday, March 30, 2012

Home via Strasbourg, France

Having packed up following Alpe d'HuZes we started the homeward journey, only around a 10 hour drive however for both of us that is too much so we stopped of enroute in Strasbourg. We stayed for just one night at the Villa Novarina, whilst it is slightly outside the city centre the comfort and surroundings more than make up for that ( That evening following a recommendation from the hotel we had dinner at Le Pont Des Vosges ( restaurant, it was fabulous, delicious food in lovely traditional surroundings.

Strasbourg is yet another beautiful city, thanks to the sheer density of its heritage sites, the entire centre of the town has even listed as UNESCO World Heritage. In a city influenced by both French and German culture, cooking is part of the city's vibrant culture. Strasbourg is renowned for its hundreds of restaurants and brasseries offering the latest culinary trends and dishes from all around the world as well as traditional Alsatian specialities such as sauerkraut, baeckoffe, flambĂ© tart and foie gras. 

As we walked into the city, by chance we came across this wonderful art market, for art lovers it would be a delight and you could easily spend the morning wandering around it.

Inspired by Wallace and Grommit??

As with Amsterdam this is a great city to walk around, not too big and easy not to get lost, you can also take a boat trip as we did, admittedly we both almost fell asleep but that was because it was a beautiful day and very warm on board.

Strasbourg city centre is lovely, it's like stepping onto a film set, for us it was a very pleasant surprise and yet another great destination for a city break or somewhere to visit whilst on holiday in France or indeed Germany as its slap bang on the border of both. Check out the following site for all you need to know about this special city Finally a few more photos...

Dutch beer travels far and wide

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The main event, Alpe d'HuZes 2011

Leaving Annecy we had a relatively short drive to our hotel in the village of Huez on the slopes of Alpe d'Huez. We stopped off for a break and some lunch in the town of Chambery  which is situated in the Rhone-Alpes region of France, it is the capital of the Savoie region. It lies in a valley in the Alps surrounded by the Bauges and Chartreuse mountain ranges and on a clear day provides almost 360-degree view of the French Alps.

Downtown Chambery

Next stop Alpe d'Huez. When we reached what would be the start point for the climb up the mountain we  got a clear understanding of what lay ahead. This time by car, two days later it would be on the back of a bike, daunting for the two of us who had never cycled up nor down (equally daunting and a lot faster) such a mountain. Once you hit the first bend the gradient increases dramatically and from then on it just keeps going for over 14kms, in all you encounter 21 switchbacks or hairpin bends, all of which are numbered so that you can count them down as you climb. Our reaction when we got to our hotel and met some of the early arrivals was "Oh my god", actually it was stronger that that.

Our hotel in Huez village, Hotel L'Ancolie
Our home for three nights was the Hotel L'Ancolie ( in the sleepy village of Huez en Oisans. The following morning we went for a training ride to climb up to the village of Les 2 Alpes which will be familiar to those of you who ski. This was a great day as it gave the unexperienced, like us, an understanding of what we would encounter the next day. Most importantly it gave us some experience of how to descend a steep mountain, you won't believe the speeds that the professionals and serious amateurs descend at, it's amazing.

Training day - Team Photo
The following morning the experienced and highly motivated part of the team descended the mountain in the dark to give them the best chance to climb the Alpe 6 times, Zes keer in Dutch. We departed a little later just to make sure we made it down in one piece to give us the chance to make it to the top.

Time to go.....
What followed was an amazing day, its an experience which all of us who took part will never forget. The event Alpe d'HuZes is huge in the Netherlands with around 4,000 participants and 15,000 supporters lining the mountainside and the route into town to cheer the cyclists on. The event raises money to support  the care for those suffering from cancer and raised over 20m Euro which is a staggering amount. Many of the participants have been impacted in some way by the terrible curse that cancer is, so the day itself is highly emotional and there are candles at every corner to commemorate those who didn't win their battle against the disease. What follows are some photos which hopefully give you an idea of what a great experience we were lucky enough to take part in.

Celebratory kiss xxx

Once you're up, you have to go back down

Team HQ, relaxation area

Time for a biere

The scale and success of Alpe d'HuZes seems to grow on an annual basis, so much that in 2012 the demand to take part is so big that the event will take part over two days. If you know someone taking part in the event be sure and support them financially, their commitment is their time and effort, your money will go to a very worth cause. For both of us in 2011 the experience was fantastic, for our team members who climbed the mountain 6 times (Zes keer) an amazing achievement,

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Horgen, Montreux(Switzerland) & Annecy (France) - Alpe d'HuZes 2011 (1)

In June 2011 we set off on a road trip to participate, along with a team of colleagues in the charity event know in the Netherlands as Alpe d'HuZes, the aim being to climb by bike up to Alpe d'Huez,  the legendary mountain stage of the Tour de France. Our route would take us to Horgen (near Zurich, Montreaux, Annecy, Chambery and onto Alpe d'Huez before returing via Strasbourg.

Preparing for departure
 Our first destination enroute was the town of Horgen close to Zurich to visit some family, just a 6 hour drive from our home in Eindhoven. We stayed in the Hotel Schwan, a cosy hotel in the town centre, close to the lake and the station, check out

Terrace area outside the Hotel Schwan, Horgen

Whilst staying in Horgen we took the opportunity to enjoy some beautiful weather and scenery from the back of our bikes with a spin round Lake Zurich, well half of it, next time all of it.

On our last evening in Horgen we enjoyed a lovely family meal at a great restaurant overlooking Lake Zurich. When you visit Switzerland you are always guaranteed spectacular scenery and it doesn't get much better than the view over Lake Zurich.

Lake Zurich

Leaving Horgen our next overnight destination was Annecy however enroute we stopped off in Montreux to visit Chateu Chillon which along with the town of Montreaux is situated on the shore of Lake Geneva. Perhaps most famous for its Jazz Festival, Montreux is worth checking out especially for a visit to the Chateau which is one of Swizterland's most visited monuments. For more information on the Chateau check out

Chateau Chillon

From Montreux we drove into France to Annecy where we would stay the night before heading onto our destination, Alpe d'Huez the next day. We stayed in the beautiful Imperial Palace Hotel on the shore of Lake Annecy. The staff there were great, only too happy to ensure that our bikes were securely locked away overnight.

Imperial Palace Hotel, Annecy

Lake Annecy

After a lovely overnight stay in Annecy, we left the next day to drive further into the mountains enroute to Alpe d'Huez.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Seville, the resting place of Christopher Columbus, Spain

Our 2011 conference was in February in the wonderful city of Madrid so we decided to make the most of it and travel a few days early to visit Seville. We flew into Madrid and took one of the fast trains (RENFE) to Seville, they are fantastic, quiet, clean and even have movies in both English and Spanish. Being early in the year the weather wasn't great however that didn't stop us from having a lovely few days in this special Andulician city. We stayed in the Vinci La Rabida hotel which was just a short walk from the catedral in the city centre, in February it was a little cold but I'm sure later in the Spring it would have been perfect for a city break.

View across to Seville's bull ring
The Catehdral and the Alcazar of Seville are perhaps the two most famous tourist destinations in Seville. The immense cathedral with its five naves is the largest Gothic edifice in Europe, it is home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Like other cathedrals in the region it occupies the site of a great mosque and was converted later in the 12th century.

Seville's Cathedral

The tomb of Christopher Columbus

Patio de los Naranjos
Located just outside the cathedral, the Patio de los Naranjos dates back to the Moorish times when worshippers would wash their hands and feet here, under the orange trees before their daily prayers.

No we didn't wash our hand and feet in the fountain, managed to resist the urge
Inside the Alcazar
Unfortunately on the day when we visited the Alcazar it was wet and overcast so our photos reflect the weather and perhaps don't do this amazing place justice. Later in 2011 we spent some more time in Spain and visited the Alahambra in Granada, perhaps more widely known than the Alcazar in Seville and whilst very impressive, for me the Alcazar was the one I'd chose to visit if I only had one option. 

It's easy to be fooled into thinking this is a Moorish palace as some of the rooms and courtyards seem to come straight from the Alahambra. Most of them were actually built by Moorish workmen but for King Pedro the Cruel of Castile in the 1360s who, with his mistress Maria de Padilla, lived and ruled from the Alcazar. Pedro embarked upon a complete rebuilding of the palace, employing workmen from Granada and utilizing fragments of earlier Moorish buildings in Seville, Cordoba and Valencia.

Pedro's work forms the nucleus of the Alcazar as it is today and, despite numerous restorations necessitated by fires and earth tremors, it offers some of the best surviving examples of Mudejar architecture.

Next stop during our brief break in Seville was the Plaza de Espana. Representative of much of the regional architecture, this magnificent construction is highlighted with polychromatic ceramic tiles. The semi-circular plaza is flanked by two spectacular towers and a bordering lake. It was built for the Ibero-American exhibition of 1929. Its creator was Anibal Gonzalez who mixed a style inspired by the Renaissance with typical elements from the city: exposed brick, ceramics and wrought iron, the latter worked by Domingo Prida.
Plaza de Espana

Our final port of call from our post on Seville is the Seville bullring. Whatever you may think of this Spanish tradition it is worth a visit to this magnificent building which is considered to be one  of the finest in Spain and is one of the oldest and most important of its type across the globe. 

Farewell from Seville