- February 2003: business trip to Seattle.
- February 2003: skiing in Switzerland.
- May 2003: canoeing on the Tarn river, France.
- June 2003: family get-together in the Dordogne region of France.
- July 2003: hiking in the Pyrenees.
- August 2003: a week on the French Atlantic coast.
- October 2003: a week at Club Med on Djerba island, Tunisia.
Early February, I went on a business trip to the office in Redmons/WA. With customer representatives Boris, Xavier, and Laurent, we flew up to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for lunch. We had a nice flight, including 1+ hour inside the clouds.
My passengers, at Friday Harbor airport
The last week of February 2003, I enjoyed the friendship and hospitality of Jan van Straaten at his family's chalet in Bluche, just below the ski resort Crans Montana, in the Rhône valley in Switzerland. Ski slopes all the way up to 3000 m (9843 ft). Weather was perfect, as was the company. Did not break a leg, despite over 15 years of no skiing. Skis, and esp. ski boots, have come a long way since!
Jan and myself at Cry d'Er, Switzerland (2267 m, 7438 ft)
Time for another canoeing trip on the river Tarn. Pascale and I did our usual 22 km stretch, starting in Sainte-Enimie.
The first two weeks of June, my parents rented a house in the southern part of the Dordogne region of France, about 1½ hours drive to the northwest of Toulouse. I spent a weekend with them, while Michel and Brecht were there as well.
Early July 2003, Pascale and I escaped the heat wave in Toulouse by going for a long weekend hiking with in the Catalan Pyrenean mountains. It was about 200 km (2:30 h drive) from Toulouse, just a little to the south-west of Andorra, on the northern edge of the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici (= "twisted waters" and lake St. Maurici) National Park. We stayed at the Els Avets hotel in Sorpe, Lleida. Reasonable room rates, excellent service, copious breakfast, basic-but-good dinners, good picnic lunches for the hikes, and they arranged for the guide! The staff speaks primarily Catalan (if they can speak Spanish, they usually don't), some speak decent French or some English.
On saturday we climbed the Pic de Pinató, starting at the Refugi del Pla de la Font ranger station at 2015 m (6600 ft) up & down to 2627 m (8700 ft) with our very friendly and knowledgeable private guide Orulio. Great views, several species of large eagles, and absolutely no tourists. Didn't spot any of the small black bears that roam the area.
Sunday morning Orulio took us to the small village of Borén in a nearby valley, and showed us some deserted 9th and 11th century hamlets, way up on the mountain side.
There are many hiking trails in this area. Try here.
We rented a small vacation home for a week in Ronce-les-Bains, on the French Atlantic coast. It is a 400 km trip from Toulouse, about an hour and a half by car north of Bordeaux, just south of Ile d'Oleron island at the mouth of the Seudre river: famous oyster country! The weather was perfect, and we got to ride our brand new bicycles. Beaches are wonderful: wide, quiet, clean - but the Atlantic waters are fridgid...
Pascale and myself on the beach, south of "Pointe Espagnole"
Frank's introduction to backgammon. Win some, lose some...
The local culinary specialty: éclade de moules. First, about 1.2 kg of raw mussels (over 150) are arranged on a heavy plank. Then a very thick layer of long, dry pine needles is stacked on top of the mussels and set on fire. After the fire dies down (takes about 5 minutes), the mussels are ready to serve! Tastes great, and some of the pine resin finds its way into the mussels and gets caramelized. Delicious! Start with (half a) dozen oysters (always "fines de claire nr. 3"), add a nice bottle of white wine, some fries on the side... While in town, we get this every other day, at "La Bonne Renommée" restaurant in La Tremblade. Great and not expensive - what more do you want!
Our "éclade de moules" - getting cooked (above), and ready to eat!
Visited Ronce again in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2016 - sunset at beach, 50m from our 2016 rental house
The first week of October, I treated myself to a week at Club Med on Djerba (small island off the southern coast of Tunisia, 2½ hours flight from Toulouse). Weather was perfect, as was the temperature of the pools and the sea (28-30 °C). I took a tennis course (group of four) that was very well set up and intense: 3 consecutive days of 3 hours. It became rather clear that I am (no longer) "Wimbledon material". Group of 4, and very intensive. Swam laps twice a day in the big pool. Went sailing several times, on Hobiecats "15". Had only one day with winds strong enough to ride the catamaran on one keel, but it was still lots of fun. The rest of the time I just lounged, relaxed, enjoyed the food, and met people.
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