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Le Tour de France 2010


It’s that time again, so get on your bike and cycle to Rotterdam in the Netherlands, where the Tour de France 2010 will commence. Rosie Khdir finds out what is in store for the brave participants.

One of the world’s most prestigious “Grand Tours” will begin this Saturday 3rd July in Rotterdam. Hundreds of cyclists who have gone through gruelling training to battle through 3,600 kilometres of French terrain will be making there way to the Netherlands to begin the first stage of the tour.

This first stage will take the riders to Brussels to celebrate the 65th birthday of professional cyclist and legend, Eddy Merckx. From here, the troupe in Lycra will battle the rolling valleys of the Walloon region and arrive in the Belgian town of Spa.

This race will see them circle the whole of France, stopping in town and cities such as Reims, Chambéry, Revel and Bordeaux before finishing in Paris.

Cyclists will have to endure nine flat stages, six mountain stages and three summit finishes, four medium mountain stages, and one individual time-trial stage of 52 km.

This world renowned race began back in July 1903 when six pioneers set out on their bicycles to complete a 2,500km race across the country. The reception of their six stage journey was one of amazement.

This race had highlighted many towns, cities and mountains that had been previously overlooked and so it became an annual event. It survived the wars and economic downturn and has since evolved, encouraging other nations to participate and even to host the prologue stage.

For more details about the Tour de France 2010 stages visit letour.fr.

If you want to cheer on these courageous cyclists, then there are a number of different P&O Ferries services that will get you to any one of the stages. You can take the Hull to Rotterdam service, from £149 each way for the first stage, or the Hull to Zeebrugge service to Belgium. There is the Dover to Calais service from as little as £30 for a car and up to nine people.

Image credit: myahya

Running for your Dinner in Madrid


Tomas Mowlam explains where to eat in Madrid, with a different way of dining and meeting new people. (Note: little to no running actually involved).

The concept is pretty simple really: three different courses – starter, main course and dessert – eaten at three different houses while meeting a load of new people.

Participants are paired up in male-female teams and each team prepares a course at one of their houses, before heading to the other teams’ houses to enjoy the other courses.

The night ends with all the running gourmets meeting up in a bar to talk over the night and have a few drinks.

If this sounds a bit hurried and like an un-Spanish way of eating, the organisers promise: “You have an hour and a half to enjoy each course; afterwards, the teams have half an hour to get to their next destination.”

So you’ll have to prepare your course in advance like a good Boy Scout, but the organisers say: “We’ll try and make sure (as far as possible) that there isn’t too great a distance between the flats each team will visit.

“The more participants sign up as hosts, the more flats there will be and the shorter the distances will be.”

It’s free to take part and each team splits the cost of the ingredients

The first ever Running Dinner is on the 24th July 2010, but you have to register by 17th July, with your name, address, phone number and of course any dietary requirements. You’ll then receive an email with your team mate’s details, the course you’re going to prepare and where you’ll be eating the other two courses.

Check out runningdinnermadrid.blogspot.com/ for more information or email them at runningdinnermadrid@gmail.com.

That picture’s a Van Dyck. The food will be fresher than that. Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Going green in Rotterdam


Rotterdam is one of the world’s busiest ports, and the busiest port in Europe. Despite this it’s also one of Europe’s greenest cities. Tomas Mowlam checks out Rotterdam’s eco credentials.

For a start they have two new electric buses rolling silently through the streets. Rotterdam authorities today announced the introduction of two e-Traction 384 volt buses, with over 14 hours road time from a charge.

Icecap saving buses aren’t the only green thing about Rotterdam however, for a start it has a brilliant public transport system (like most Dutch cities), with 28 bus lines, nine tram lines, and two subway lines ensuring you can get almost anywhere in the city without starting your car. And if you really need to drive, there are green car rental companies like Greenwheels.

Two wheels are better than four however, and it’s easy to rent a bike from countless stands around the city. Rotterdam is busy but cyclists have plenty of bike paths to keep them safe from motorists.

Rotterdam has several great markets where you can buy good value, local food and should you feel like eco friendly rave then there’s the Sustainable Dance Club, and eco hotels such as Hotel Bazar to sleep it off in.

It’s all part of the Rotterdam Carbon Initiative which aims to slash carbon emissions by 2025, to half of 1990’s levels. Even the Netherland’s favourite sport – football – has been co-opted into this, with demands that Kuip Rotterdam, a new stadium for the Holland Belgium 2018/2022 world cup bid must be eco friendly.

It has earned the city the accolade of World Capital for Carbon Capture Storage, which may all sound a little esoteric, but it’s cheering to see how a huge industrial city like Rotterdam can be such a clean and green place to live or visit.

P&O Ferries sails a daily, overnight ferry service from Hull to Rotterdam, from £149 each way.

Image Credit: Trebaxus on Wiki Commons

Adventures in the Ardennes


Think Belgium is flat fields and historic towns, think again; Tomas Mowlam heads into the wild in one Europe’s oldest forests, the Ardennes.

The Ardennes is an area of forests, hills and mountains that runs through Belgium, Luxembourg and stretches into France. A strategic battleground for centuries, including during WWI and WWII, the Ardennes is now home to less warlike pursuits.

The two largest cities in the Ardennes are Verviers in Belgium and Charleville-Mezieres in France, but consider basing yourself in a smaller village to really explore the area.

There are great camping opportunities through the Ardennes, including the small but beautiful camp ground at La Muree, just a few kilometres from the Meuse valley (above).

The rivers of the Ardennes, including the Meuse and its tributaries, provide some of the best fun to be had. You can fish on the lakes and rivers or canoe and kayak your way down them.

You can paddle the Lesse River, and Anseremme near Dinant makes a good starting point. To travel down the Ourthe River, the town of La Roche en Ardenne makes a great base to explore the countryside and its easy flowing rivers.

Cycling is just as popular here as in the rest of the Low Countries, but two wheeled activities are more likely to be mountain biking.

If climbing mountains, rather than hurtling down them, is more your thing, then the limestone cliffs of the Ardennes, especially around Freyr near Dinant, will keep you occupied.

There are opportunities to hunt wild game such as boar and deer, or just shoot photos if you’re after a less blood-thirsty time.

Let P&O Ferries get you there with the Hull to Zeebrugge or the Portsmouth to Calais service, both of which are just a short drive to the Ardennes region.

Image Credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, Wiki Commons

Le Maison du Camembert


Calling all cheese lovers! Rosie Khdir ventures to the Normandy region of Orne to discover the history of Camembert, a cheese that went on to become a world favourite.

Once upon a time in a small village called Camembert in Normandy, lived a dairy farmer called Marie Harel. In 1791, in the midst of the French Revolution, Marie offered refuge to a priest from the Bouvoust Abbey in Brie.

In return for her hospitality the priest told her the secret of making cheese in his region and so Marie created her own and named it after the village. It was marketed at Vimoutier where many cheeses from the village had previously been sold.

The recipe was handed down through the generations and in 1890 Eugene Ridel invented the famous wooden box that we still package it in today. This packaging, along with the progresses of the industrial revolution saw Marie’s cheese reach ultimate commercial success.

It went on to inspire many artists, one of the most prominent being Dali’s, who used a melted Camembert as inspiration for his famous dripping clocks!

If you wish to learn more about the famous cheese “pie” that gets taste buds tingling the world over, why not visit La Maison du Camembert in the very village where it all began. The Museum itself is shaped like the circular cheese and visitors are able to sample fresh batches of this French delicacy.

Is you fancy a trip to the Orne region P&O Ferries can help you on you way, with Dover to Calais trips crossing starting at £30 for a car and up to nine people. From Calais it is just a short drive to Camembert.

Image credit: pdphoto.org

Couleur Café 2010 – Brussels musical mayhem


Brussels and a music festival might seem an unlikely combination, but Couleur Café is a brilliantly exotic gathering right in the heart of Europe, writes Tomas Mowlam.

Between 25th and 27th June Brussels echoes to the sounds of what must be one of the most eclectic festival line-ups.

From “R&B, hip hop, world, afro, reggae, ragga, dub, dancehall, Latin, salsa, son, raï and rock” according to the organisers, Couleur Café has it. This year is no different with Rodrigo y Gabriela (above) on the Friday, hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg on Saturday and Nas & Damian Marley and George Clinton on the Sunday.

Tickets for the full weekend are sold out, but day tickets are still available for €34, so you can go for just a day, catch your favourite acts and then soak up the atmosphere of Brussels.

Music starts around 4pm and goes on until late with firework displays each night before the headline act. There’s also great food, art projects and workshops where you can join in with percussion and brass.

The festival has been going since 1990, when it first packed 5,300 festival goers into the old covered market – Halles de Schaerbeek. It rapidly expanded and moved location and this year over 80,000 people are expected to pack out the festival site.

Let P&O Ferries get you there with the Hull to Zeebrugge or the Portsmouth to Calais service, both of which are just a short drive to Brussels.

Image Credit: Kmeron

Belgium celebrates the 195th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat


The name Waterloo strikes up different images in people’s minds, maybe ABBA at the Eurovision song contest or a busy London tube station, but Rosie Khdir rediscovers the Waterloo that was scene of an epic European battle 195 years ago.

This year mark the 195th anniversary of Napoleon’s Defeat by the combined armies of the Seventh Coalition, and this weekend will see Belgium come alive with celebrations of this victory.

The Battle of Waterloo in 1815 was the last stand that saw Napoleon toppled from his position as ruler of the French empire.

The armies of the United Kingdom, Prussia, the United Provinces, Hanover, Nassau and Brunswick fought in the fields at Waterloo, in modern-day Belgium, and in three days defeated his army of 72,000 men.

The celebrations start with an hour-long Battle of Waterloo-inspired firework and light spectacle at 10 p.m. Then on Saturday visitors are able to travel to the Napoleonic bivouacs, to discover the everyday life of a typical soldier in the imperial army.

Also taking place during the weekend will be a full scale reenactment of the battle with over 3,000 soldiers and Napoleon himself – who is often played by an American actor. Access to these events is free.

Visitors can also learn more about the battle and its participants via the Wellington Museum, which used to be the Bodenghien Inn and former headquarters of the Duke of Wellington during the Battle of Waterloo.

For more information visit the official tourism site for the Waterloo region.

P&O Ferries does a great value service from Hull – Zeebrugge, or you can take the Dover – Calais route from where it is just a short drive along the E40 to the Belgian border. Prices start at just £30 for a car and up to nine people.

Painting by Robert Alexander Hillingford

Paris Plages – sand, sunbeds and the Seine

paris plages

If you are visiting Paris this summer and are worried about the sweltering heat in the built up capital, fear not, as you can relax on the sands of the Paris Plage. Rosie Khdir discovers the summer tradition down by the shores of the Seine.

In the summer time, Paris is usually avoided due to the hot and humid weather and flood of tourists that take over the city. If you are a visitor this year, you can cool down from a day’s sightseeing or shopping on the sandy banks of the river Seine.

The Paris-Plages were trademarked in 2002 and are run by the mayor of Paris during the months of July and August. There was initially a single beach on the Rive Droite but on 2006 a second beach was added on the Rive Gauche.

These stretches of the river bank are coated in white sand and there are sunbeds and volleyball nets, comedy performers and even floating swimming pools. Every year new exciting features are added, attracting more and more visitors – in 2007 the figure topped four million.

The beach at La Villette Hosts a variety of water sports and boating, including Kayaks, pedalboats, sailboats, canoes, all available to the public at no charge until 9:00 p.m.

The more traditional beach stretches from Pont Neuf to Pont de Sully and features parasols and chaise longues, all free to rent as well as fountains and mini pools to help you cool off. Both beaches have waterside cafes for food and refreshments.

Topless sunbathing is not allowed and swimming in the Seine is not permitted due to safety reasons. The beach will be open from 20th July to 20th August 2010, daily from 8 a.m. to midnight.

Let P&O get you there; a crossing from Dover to Calais in a car with up to nine people starts from just £30.

Image credit: Jean-David et Anne-Laure

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