Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Le Marathon du Medoc.... Je ne sais quoi.

Less than elaborate costumes.
Translated from French, this means "I don't know what."  It's used colloquially to mean "a certain something."  Le Marathon du Medoc... Je ne sais quoi.  I don't know what to say about it, it definitely had a certain something, though I'm not sure what.  I know that it's over and that I've never been so happy to see a finish line.

[Disclaimer: Sorry Francophiles, my computer doesn't have the fancy accents to go on many of the words, so pardon my  misspellings.]

Where to begin?  I'll start with the race I suppose.  So, if you're not familiar with this race, it is a race through the Medoc region of France, which is near the city of Bordeaux. The race starts and ends in the village of Pauillac.

As usual, the day before we had to pick up our race packets.  The expo had beer for only 2 euros and wine for only 1 euro!  Sweet deal!  We drank some, of course, while we tried to make sense of our race guides, all in French.  We didn't get very far with that, but did enjoy looking at pictures of the race theme from last year, Animals.  Our theme was History.  The costume possibilities are endless.

Also better than ours
Better than ours
Speaking of costumes, everyone is encouraged to wear a costume.  Of course Miri and I planned ours last minute so were dressed as opposing Greek Goddesses, Harmonia (goddess of harmony) and Eris (goddess of chaos).  I admit, our costumes are a bit sad.  There were definitely some pretty cool and wacky costumes, which was fun to see.  Case in point, the blue haired British guy to the left and Japanese samurais to the right.

Miri's view while "working"
After packet pick up, we radomly came across Fort Medoc, so decided to pay for the tour.  FYI, it was self-guided.  Miri also had to make a conference call for work, so she set up shop at a shady spot along the River Garonne while I explored the fort.

View from inside the gun powder building.
The fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and some of the original structures still remained, like the gun powder building.  Guess they needed to make that thing sturdy. 

And now...  Race day.

Sunrise at the start
The race had a late start, or what they call a "civilized" start time of 9:30 a.m.  Normally, I'd be pretty excited about this, but considering the high on race day was 35 degrees Celcius (95 Farenheit), I was not excited about giving the temperatures more time to creep upward.
The acrobats. And they had a soundtrack.
The start was pretty amazing, I'm not gonna lie.  We did get there early to make sure we could find parking for our incredibly fuel efficient rented Renault (Some advice: book a rental car in advance, oh and make sure someone can drive a manual).  I recall cannons of confetti and acrobats hanging from a dome.

Had some of this...it was good
Our only source of shade

The really cool part about this race is, about every 2 kilometers or so, you arrive at a beautiful chateau, which so kindly has tastings of their wines out for the runners to sample.  However, I think because of the high temperatures, runners who arrived at these chateaus earlier than Miri and I did seemed to have nabbed all the water.  So while I tried a few glasses along the way, (and they were delicious) most of the time we were focused on finding water, sometimes to the point of looking for half-full or full bottles of water discarded along the course.  Not a proud moment, but seemingly necessary at the time.  But, at least we had some good scenery to look at as we were baking in the sun.
Unidentified chateau

Another unidentified chateau
The last 7-10 kilometers of the course also had food along with the wine to sample.  Oysters, cheese, ham, steak, and ice cream.  Sadly, by the time I got there, the thought of eating was not really appealing because I was so stinking hot.  I would have gladly taken some ice cream, but it was all gone. (Insert wha-whaa trombone here).

My personal experience with this race, because of the heat, was not as good as it could have been, I think.  Many people seemed to be having an awesome time, and maybe that was because they were more drunk than I was.  Note to self, next wine race, drink more wine!  I'm not going to mention my finish time, because it's embarrassing, but we'll just say that I did not make it in time to get a goodie bag, which had a bottle of wine it it!  Gasp, the horror of missing this!!  However, I did receive a medal for my efforts.  (Wine would have been better).   I made up for this sadness though during dinner back in Bordeaux where I had a huge tasting platter of 3 different kinds of oysters, 14 in all.  When in Bordeaux, eat oysters and drink wine. 

Before - minus a couple I ate pre-photo

Cotes de Bourg
The day after the race, Miri and I went to nearby Bourg en Gironde/Cotes de Bourg and sampled some wine.  I brought back a really cool bottle for my roomie since she took great care of my buddy Dean while I was gone.  It was from Le Chateau Lamblin, and the wine guy also hand made this super cool box which had landmarks of Bordeaux painted on the box using the wine as paint. Cool, huh?  We also hit up Le Chateau Croute Charlus.  We had a hard time finding the entrance to go in and taste the wine, but some little grandma came out of the house and showed us where to go.  I think she was concerned by us creepily peering in the windows.  The wine maker was so friendly, although didn't speak English well, which is fine, because I also don't speak French well.  But between my limited French and his limited English, we did ok. His wine was also pretty amazing and totally inexpensive!  Plus, I liked that he tasted each wine along with us. (I wonder if he's tanked by the end of a busy tasting day).  Sadly, he does not import to the U.S. and I only had room for 1 bottle of wine in my suitcase which was filled by the prior bottle.  Miri did bring a bottle back and it's unfortunate that I don't live closer to her so I can sip some out of that bottle.  But he does import to Prague, so if you're ever there, hit up Chez Marcel and have some. 

So that was the race experience.  Here's what else I did on this trip that I'd recommend.

1. Paris - duh. 

A wistful walk along the River Seine

 2.  Perpignan and Le Petit Train Jaune -  The train goes into the Pyrenees and all the way into Spain.  Plus, there are some cool sites to see along the route.  It's like 100 something  years old, with an open air car (awesome, but bring sunblock and line up early).  The train line begins at the UNESCO World Heritage site Villefranche-de-Conflent, which is an old fortified city.  If you miss the early train like we did, you can kill some time shopping and eating in the fortified city or in the caves nearby, both in walking distance from the train station.
Le Petit Train Jaune

In Perpignan, eat at Le Divil.  You can select your own steak (also called entrecote en francais) if you want and they had great mussels (moules et frites).  I'd also recommend La Table, which is hidden away on Rue de la Poissonerie. The owners were incredibly accommodating and slight perfectionists.  The presentation was immaculate as  you can see by these photos.

Le Cite at night
Garden of La Maison Vieille
3. Carcasonne - It has an old medevial Cite (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site) that was reconstructed to make it look even more medevial.  It sits up on the hill looking pretty awesome when it's all lit up at night. Tons of places to eat and shop to your heart's content inside the walls of the Cite.  And there is no shortage of fake princess and knight gear if you are so inclined.

If you want a great place to stay, that isn't too expensive, in a great location, and pretty, stay at La Maison Vieille, a incredibly quaint B&B.  Travel note: cash only.  But they have free wifi!

OK, so I know this wasn't a race in the good ol' U.S. of A; but since this was such a unique experience, I thought it was worth sharing.   I hope you enjoyed reading about it my trip almost as much as I enjoyed experiencing it.  Bon voyage!