Self-Isolation Play List Recalls Travels

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_16ceI enjoy a weekly podcast of BBC Desert Island Discs. I just finished the Daniel Radcliffe episode. I’ve also noticed that the some people are creating self-isolation playlists and sharing on Instagram. Satellite Sister Lian Dolan created two with the themes of survival. We may as well have fun with it while we are waiting and looking out for one another by staying home.

I haven’t created a playlist since I dropped my youngest child off at UC Santa Cruz. And I don’t listen to as much music as I once did. So when I imagine being interviewed by the BBC presenter on Desert Island Discs, I think of the songs inspired by my travels.

My first big trip outside the United States was to Catrine in Ayrshire with Teen Missions when I was 16 years old. I came home at the end of the summer and discovered that My Sharona by the band The Knack had completely taken over the airwaves. My high school pep squad and student body adapted it to our school name, “La-Si-er-ra” and yet I had not heard it once! While I was in Scotland we sang a lot of Christian songs but weren’t allowed to listen to the radio; however, I did develop a real soft spot for bagpipe music and all things Scottish. Later I fell hard for the twins from Edinburgh, The Proclaimers. I have every album recorded by Charlie and Craig Reid and the disc I want in my COVID shelter in place is The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues.

My next travel adventure was to study summer school in Cambridge, England. First my then husband and I drove around England, Wales and Scotland. I loved Paul Young’s Wherever I Lay My Hat That’s My Home, and was bummed to find out that it didn’t reach the same popularity in America.

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I didn’t travel much while I raised my children–annual trips to Yosemite were more the norm. So when I was newly divorced I gave solo travel a go. Except air travel to meet up with a friend or group, I had not had complete control of an itinerary before and the rebel in me loved it. I chose London and Dublin for my first solo foray and I fell hard for Ireland.  That trip I was mad for Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping.  (And for the record, I apologize for linking to some truly bad videos.)

Within a few years I was semi-regularly volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Northern Ireland in Belfast. I even marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Downpatrick. There were many songs that I enjoyed singing as we enjoyed the culture in NorIreland. On one of my last trips a young builder who was apprenticing at the site shared with me his favorite song at the time: Voodoo Child by the Rogue Traders.

I discovered New Zealand through Habitat for Humanity as well. I met a group of Kiwis on a Jimmy Carter Build in Cambodia and the next year led a team to Wellington, New Zealand. Music was a big part of the build and I discovered Brooke Fraser. One of my favorite songs is Something in the Water.

I have returned many times to New Zealand and I like many other Kiwi artists besides the obvious–the phenomenal Lorde. I was briefly obsessed with Gin Wigmore’s Black Sheep. I have memories connected with the New Zealand National Anthem and the Rugby Union theme song for the Rugby World Cup, World in Union. Sometimes I would discover a song on Kiwi road trips that was a hit in New Zealand but not yet in the United States, such as Glad You Came by The Wanted.

The biggest connection with a song on any of my adventures was summer of 2014 when I followed the Tour de France from Yorkshire to Paris. For part of the tour I joined a Thomson spectator tour in the Alps. Our bus driver had a great playlist including Enrique Inglesias’ Bailando. If I only could take one song to my desert island it would be this one.

Working at home all day and then spending all evening at home is not quite as isolating as being stranded on a desert island. I have Facetime with my grandson and daughter and phone calls and texts with colleagues and friends. Still, there is a growing sense of the end of the world as we know it.  Just as 9/11 ushered in a different set of priorities, so too will this pandemic.

 

 

 

Catching a Concert at Oracle Arena

Recently I attended a concert at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. I do not appreciate reminders of my advancing age. This whole experience made me feel old! First, I could not remember the last concert I have been to at a big arena. (I actually tried to recall.) I do remember going to see U2 at Arco Arena (aka Sleep Train Arena) in 2000. It was amazing. They designed a set that created an intimate-like setting for 17,000 fans. The sound waved through our bodies as we all sang along to every song. I believe Gwen Stefani and No Doubt opened the concert but they did not make a big impression, except that they seemed dwarfed by the set. In contrast, the arena erupted with electric lights and excitement when U2 took the stage and did not ebb until after the last encore. The sound was not as good as a concert hall, but it was as good as it gets in a basketball arena.

Needless to say, my bar was set kind of high. Fast forward to 2015 and the Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull concert. My friend Noel put out the call to action on Facebook and a number of us–all Enrique fans–responded yes! Noel was able to get tickets at the box office. In fact, the price had just been dropped to $29 for nosebleed sections.

The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia
The Sushi House restaruarnt at 2226 South Shore Center, Suite B, Alameda, Califronia

We agreed to meet for dinner beforehand at the Sushi House in Alameda. It was Valentine’s Day so we expected it to be packed. They do not take reservations so I scrambled out of the car to sign up on the wait list while Noel parked the car. We were seated within 20 minutes.

Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!
Bento box includes starters of soup and salad and is enough to feed two!

While the service at the Sushi House is intermittent, the food is abundant and delicious. We ate as much as we could before we had to dash to Oracle Arena to make the show. So glad we carpooled! Can you believe parking is $45 a car?

Because I am an Enrique Iglesias fan, I assumed Pitbull was opening for Enrique and not the other way around. Showing my age, right? Oh, it gets worse.

Some sort of DJ rapper was on stage with a couple of excellent hip hop dancers. They were dwarfed by the sets and we could not understand what they were singing for the pounding bass drum beat that felt like a second heart beat throughout my body. I had to overcome the overall desire to retreat to the outside hallway. Conversation impossible. I also kicked myself for forgetting my earplugs.

The view of confetti falling from our seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.
We were in seats in the first row of the highest tier at Oracle Arena.

After what seemed an eternity, Enrique took the stage. Again I was taken by surprise because I was expecting Pitbull. (Full display of the power of assumptions; and admission that I never read my ticket). He sang beautifully on the ballads and with energy on the pop songs. He had a rapper and several excellent vocalists and guitarists accompanying him. He has a couple of songs on his Sex & Love album that feature Pitbull and yet Pitbull did not appear (the rapper filled in) during those performances. I naively thought maybe Pitbull was a no show. The staging was a bit clunky and old-fashioned. The use of fireworks and confetti felt like it was fulfilling audience expectations rather than inspired by the music.

Enrique saved Bailando for the encore and I loved it. My whole fascination with the Sex & Love album was inspired by my Thomson tour guides’ fascination with the song during the Tour de France. We sang it on the bus several times a day and it conjures up fun memories of Aussies and Americans singing in Spanish through the French countryside.

Enrique wrapped up about 11 p.m. and we all looked at each other, gathered up our stuff to go and proceeded to the lobby. Almost immediately another DJ came on to keep the crowd warm. We then realized that Pitbull’s performance was still to come.  We all agreed that we should at least stay and sample his show, so we sheepishly returned to our seats.

The DJ finally ended and six dancers skipped onto the stage and began to disrobe into essentially lingerie. Then Pitbull made his entrance. I know I have been playing the old fart card in this post, yet I do know most of Pitbull’s music from Zumba and pop radio (I adore!). I am still mystified how he can be the main attraction. Most of his songs “feature” Pitbull, that is a singer like Shakira sings the chorus and Pitbull jumps in with his Miami rap schtick. It is all backed up by a club beat. In fact, people play some Pitbull song to get the party started in clubs and at weddings. Now imagine, 15,000 to 16,000 people have been drinking since 6:00 p.m. (or smoking), and then Pitbull starts his act and turns the place into a giant club. People suddenly feel they have permission to act like they do in a club. Only it feels a little overwhelming because it is 100 times bigger. Whereas Enrique talked to us and invited us to drink with him and sing along in Spanish, Pitbull shouted at us to get up and act up. Except his songs did not sound like his songs because he only sampled a little bit of the chorus. So it was a few bars of Shakira and then all Miami club jabber. A few songs in and I let the group know I was okay with leaving. We were of one accord.

We returned to Alameda and found a Mexican restaurant with a bar still open and enjoyed margaritas and conversation. At last the music was not so loud.

Finally! Picture Postcard France

Watching Le Tour with Thomson Travel staff in hotel Mercure St Lary Soulan.
Watching Le Tour with Thomson Travel staff in hotel Mercure St Lary Soulan.

Since I arrived in Lille, France for the finish of Stage 4, I have been travelling almost non-stop. Today we drove 8 hours and arrived at our hotel in time to see the end of Stage 15 in St Lary Soulan in the Pyrenees. (spoiler alert) What a tragic end for the brave breakaway! Congratulations to the Norwegian phenomenon Alexander Kristoff with his second stage win.

St Lary SoulanIMG_2511Took my camera and my wallet and walked into the village.  At last! The France you see on television when you watch the Tour de France. I walked from one end to the other enjoying the Sunday afternoon summer crowd. I stopped at Nos Tapas du Terroir for a simple and delicious meal of bread, cheese and cured ham thinly sliced. It is the first great quality meal I have enjoyed in over a week. IMG_2531

The hotel Mercure St Lary is positively luxurious after the ski lodge in Albertville. I feel like I can finally truly rest, relax and recover. Tomorrow is a rest day for the Tour cyclists. All of the Thomson cyclists will be arriving (something like 63!) and they have a “warm up” ride of either 38 or 58 km with some uphill. So glad to be a VIP spectator. Jacinta and Jordi will be rolling in by lunch time with a new group of spectators. I already miss my Australian and American friends from the Alps and I look forward to making new friends.

The best part of a rest day is there is nothing pressing to do–well, some laundry. I have put in a request for a massage in the afternoon.  I will do some more exploring on foot.  Mostly I will let my molecules catch up with one another. 

Stage 14: Depart at Grenoble

IMG_2357IMG_2427Having VIP access at a depart is just the best. Thomson Tours delivered us to the Village where we ate a few snacks waiting for the team buses to arrive. The access to riders is phenomenal. We watched as the bikes were unloaded. Soon the cyclists rode past to sign in and then they would return to the bus until the start. There were lots of opportunities to learn more about the teams and gather a few signatures. 

IMG_2393I decided to focus on team BMC and I overheard someone from NBC Sports arrange to interview Tejay Van Garderen at about 11:20. So I cruised around taking lots of pictures and then returned to the BMC bus in plenty of time. 

I chatted with Ian the professional mechanic for BMC. He started his career as a mechanic in a bike shop in Alaska. He worked his way up to the prized full-time mechanic positions on the European bike tour. Although he will head to Utah and Colorado next with the team, he is based in Belgium. He said there is not real off season. It is a peripatetic life and not for a weak constitution. 

Ian suggested I stand near Tejay’s bike (No. 141) so I would have a better chance to ask for an autograph on my California flag. I repositioned and had a chance to speak with an NBC Sports cameraman. His life is a lot of hurry up and wait. He is pleasantly surprised how competitive the Tour is this year. He suggested I ask for Peter Stetina’s autograph. Peter is very obliging and complimented my Cali flag and even though his bio says he’s from Boulder, CO he said he is from Santa Rosa, CA. 

Soon Tejay emerged from the team bus and gave his interview. Then he was rushed by another group of journalists and they had to share an interview with him. His handler then cut it off. Tejay graciously signed my flag and then kicked off to sign in at the main departure stage. IMG_2458 IMG_2442

I moved up to the Cannondale bus because I really hoped for Peter Sagan, the green jersey’s signature. His nickname this year is the Wolverine and he has a cool wolverine on his bike (and look closely at the top of the helmet). He was the last member of the team to emerge from the bus and he fiddled with his bike for quite a few minutes and then just as he was kicking off he stopped at my unfurled flag and signed! 

I went to the line to watch the riders migrate to the start line. Vincenzo Nibali, the yellow jersey, rode directly in front of me! This is one of the many reasons cycling is such a fun sport to follow.

James in our group is living with a serious illness and continues to challenge himself. He came on this tour to be able to run a HC category climb. We dropped him at the bottom of the Col yesterday and he ran to the finish line. He had a wonderful interaction with Greg and Kathy LeMond just past the finish.

James also brought his real wolverine hat and so we have been calling him Wolverine. At home in Minnesota he wears it when he encourages marathoners from the sidelines. He has danced and shouted encouragement on the Col and then today to the racers as they headed to the finish. It was fun watching their reactions. Most smiled and laughed. James is irrepressible and a delight. 

It is our last full day as a Thomson Spectator VIP group. Tonight we will celebrate the Thomson cyclists who are still on the road as I write. We have a bag full of sponsor swag to share and some funny awards and songs. 

At the end of the stage, Nibali is still in yellow. Teejay moved up to 5th overall. 

 

 

 

 

 

Stage 13: Carnival on the Col

IMG_2239Watching the Tour de France at about 3 km from a mountaintop finish surpassed all expectations. Thanks Thomson Tours for arranging a brilliant experience: getting us right to the tents on a bus, and providing food, drinks, and television coverage of the race in English. We had time to walk up to the Arrive Village and get a sense of what it will be like for the riders to go up, up, up to the finish line. The road was lined with camper vans, tents, and people who cycled up.

IMG_2203Happy coincidence the tents were set up across the road from Norwegian eye candy. These delightful group of fans from Bergen and Stavanger kept us amused all afternoon. We especially enjoyed watching them being interviewed by Norwegian television. Two of them danced almost all day, much of it in carrot and banana costumes. The people viewing was so fantastic that when the caravan went through it was almost a distraction.

The Thomson cyclists rode up the Col (the first HC or beyond categorization climb of the Tour) and met us at the tents. Chamrousse ski resort rests at the top of about a 20 km climb, with an average 7% incline. Our tour guide Jacinta heartily encouraged us to express ourselves, even stopping at the grocery store for us to pick up last minute costume supplies. My fellow spectators got into the spirit of mountainside viewing and dressed up: Patrick as Willie Nelson, James as Wolverine, and Kris as, um, an Aussie swimmer (?). I had my California flag, Tony and Sandy had their Melbourne football jerseys, and there were several Australian flags.

We all gathered at the tents put up and protected by Thomson Bike Tours for 4 days. We had Sky television race coverage in English! This attracted a big crowd of other fans. This helped us not forget that it is a bike race. We knew to expect the yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali to come up the road first. What was surprising is how much time passed before the next two riders. He added to his lead and now has a 4 minute cushion. Essentially only a catastrophe like a crash will keep him from the top of the podium in Paris. Tonight he collected the stage winner’s trophy, the yellow jersey and the polka dot jersey. His nickname is the Shark and we are seeing more inflatable sharks and other shark images popping up along the roadside. 

IMG_2248Fantastico!

Tough Day for Le Tour; Easy Day for Me

Blel Kadri won a very hard stage 8. Flat until the end and then some good climbs. The finish was up a 10% grade. It made me think of Yorkshire. Ouch. I loved watching him once he realized he had won. I bet you right now he is still walking a f

BF since 2nd Grade: we met in Mulhouse to watch the Tour
BF since 2nd Grade: we met in Mulhouse to watch the Tour

ew inches above the earth. He was transported. I watched it all on French television. Alberto Contador also clawed back a few seconds in the general classification.

My day was much easier. I rode the train from Nancy to Strasbourg and then changed to Mulhouse. Met up with Harriet, Brian, Grace and Nora Watson Lovell also known as the WatLoves. Great to hear of their adventures in Germany and to see Grace after an exchange year.

We are staying at Les Jardin du Temps. It is a beautiful lodge in a vast garden in a suburb of Mulhouse (Illzach). Very quiet and beautiful. We will watch the finish tomorrow afternoon and the start the following morning. Then they go on to Switzerland and I travel to Lyon to meet up with Thomson Tours for the Alps.