Weeks 16 and 17 (17–30 April 2023)1
Parents are gone and things are back to normal. Work, climbing, gardening. Not for long though: friends from Berlin booked their tickets to come and visit and they're arriving on the 30th. After that, we're taking the train back to Berlin together, staying a week, and then C and I are heading back south to Sicily for a holiday with friends from Switzerland. But in the meantime...
Still more outdoor climbing
In these weeks we went climbing outdoors twice with S who was born in our hamlet (I know him since family holidays here as a kid ~15 years ago, he's bigger now). Coincidence: he is passionate about climbing, and when we met him one evening at a neighbors' dinner, we decided to go climbing the next day!
We went to Les Branches, probably the most beautiful crag we've seen in the area so far. Massive cave wall overlooking the Ardèche river and the famous Pont d'Arc, with a really cool (albeit a bit long) approach with some light climbing required right above the water. We went there because it was a bit rainy, since that's not a problem in the cave. The only downside is that overhang=hard routes, there's no huge jugs like in gyms. That's not a problem for S who routinely sends 8a/8a+ routes2 but we were a bit more worried. Thankfully it didn't rain in the end, and I climbed a 5c to the left of the cave and a route to the right that wasn't in the topo but S said was a 6a (hard! Really scary at the top).
A week later or so, we went back. (On the way we stopped at Face Sud again to buy the gear we were missing, so we're all set now!) S made us take lead falls on a 6b and they were terrifying (but not so bad in the end). I worked on the route (will need to find the name—we still don't have a topo3 so I can't log these like I'd want to), took some more falls. At the very top I had a slightly different beta (long arms) and went around to the anchor from the right. At the last moment, when I pulled on a small crimp to haul myself up to the anchor, the stone just gave and I flew back. Didn't really have time to be scared, it went too fast. C says I yelled and S saw me tense up while falling and shake my arms (did I try to fly?). No injuries but a racing heart—this was by far the most impressive fall I took so far. A while later, I went back and sent the route! (Making sure to use the regular beta at the top). First lead 6b.
Otherwise: a day with C at Tras les Baumes, a more beginner-friendly crag near Jaujac (in the Ardèche mountains for once, not gorges, which means granite not limestone). It has short multipitch routes for training multipitch climbing—we climbed two with our 80m rope (and skipping a lot of quickdraws in the first pitch, a 4c). The second pitch is a bit more vertical (5c) and great. New routes were also equipped recently to the right of the old site, 5s 6s 7s. I lead climbed a really nice 5b+, then as C was getting ready for it, it started pouring rain3. We hurried back to Jaujac and had an amazing Liège waffle on the village square4.
Finally: bouldering as usual at the gym, only we skipped Fridays because we replaced that with the outdoor sessions.
Spring turning into an early summer
At some point during these two weeks, without me noticing (probably a gradual change until it dawned on me), trees went from a crisp, light, pale green to a more lush forest green. They all seem much bigger and taller now. There's a 20 m tree that we see from the house, standing apart from others so very visible, that I hadn't even noticed until now. Roses are also in full bloom, some rose bushes are so big that they're breaking the branches of the old plum trees they were attached to.
There are more and more things to do in the garden, starting with finishing to prep the soil before we plant pretty much everything by the end of May. The potatoes, green peas, fava beans, and snow peas that we planted have grown a lot, we built bamboo-and-string structures to keep them standing. It's getting hot in the afternoon, I try not to forget to water my salads that look beautiful and are almost ready to eat. I also planted 7 zucchini seedlings in the lower garden, might have watered too much at first5, but they seem to be doing fine. F says that we'll be eating A LOT of zucchini: she planted 4 and it would already have been plenty.
Warm sunny days also means we had the first official apéros of the season. A large group from our climbing club met for a potluck lunch at N's family house near Les Vans. Tour of the garden (everyone was very interested), barbecue, optional swimming in the pool6. (Potlucks are pretty popular over here: there are fewer restaurants (and they're more expensive) and people have more space, so they typically gather at one another's house. And since there is a strong terroir and really good local products, food is always excellent.) We had another potluck (dinner this time) at our neighbor E's cabin, where we'd spent a night dog-sitting back in early March. That's where we met S and decided to go climbing together at Les Branches: the loop is looped7.
A day around Valence
Like I wrote in the intro, C and J arrived on Sunday (30.04) and they'll spend the next two weeks here. We picked them up at the train station in Valence about 1h30 drive away (there are rare buses too but that's complicated and can take a while). Since we were driving all this way, we decided to make a day trip out of it:
- Wine at the Domaine Lorient: Valence is not a well-known city8, but some of the vineyards right next to it are: Cornas AOC is one of the most famous northern Rhône valley appellations, along with St. Joseph and St. Péray. I wrote to a few domaines the day before and a few answered that they could welcome us on a Sunday for a quick tasting and vineyard tour. We ended up driving up a steep hill to the Domaine Lorient, one of the highest vineyards in the St. Péray AOC (and the domaine also manages vineyards in the Cornas AOC). It's run by a couple, Laure and Dimitri. Laure is the daughter of a wine celebrity, Jean-Luc Colombo, who put Cornas on the world map of wine. At the end of a bumpy, zigzagging dirt road, we were welcomed by barks from a friendly dig and Dimitri. He showed us around the domaine: big vegetable garden, fruit trees, a part of the property kept as a forest, animals grazing on top of the hill, and of course unmowed vineyards with young olive trees that will provide shading and freshness in a few years. All overlooking the huge valley, with the Château de Crussol on its hill and the Rhône flowing in the distance. We tasted a Cornas (100% syrah) and a St. Péray (marsanne and roussanne) and left with a couple bottles of each.
- Lunch at the Auberge de Crussol: Dimitri told us about the restaurant, run by friends of his and Laure's, just by the nearby Château de Crussol. "Call them to book and if they say they're full, tell them you're coming from the Domaine Lorient": it worked. We had a small table in a crowded main room, just by the area where chefs were roasting pigs fish sausages on an open wood fire. The food was delicious, wood-fire-grilled Aubenas trout with a glass of St. Péray.
- Hike around the Château de Crussol: we initially wanted to take a walk in downtown Valence, but since we were right next to the Château de Crussol, we decided to do that another time. We walked up to the Château (a fortified medieval town on a hilltop, with townhouses overlooked by a small castle), walked around the old stone walls in ruins (that had an HDR effect in direct sunlight), and then took the long way around to walk back down the hill, along a vertiginous ridge, past a climbing crag, and down through an oak forest.
- Bouldering at Mineral Spirit: Mineral Spirit is a well-known climbing gym and club. Their brand-new gym in an industrial area south of Valence ("la cité de l'escalade") is the first one in France with facilities for all three Olympic climbing disciplines (bouldering, sport climbing, and speed climbing), and recently hosted the French bouldering finals. We had a pretty long session and barely had time to visit half of the huge (albeit hot: warehouse, low ceiling, thin roof) bouldering area!
- Picked up C and J: ...and finally, we picked up C and J at Valence TGV and drove back home together. More updates in the next weeknote!
There's a bit more this time, but that's mostly because it's two weeks in one weeknote. I'd still in a watching-less-movies phase.
- Puss in Boots: the Last Wish (2022) by Joel Crawford. I liked the animation in this one, with anime-style with movement cues. Watching non-Pixar animation is always refreshing! The story is about as good as it can be for the sequel of the spinoff of a popular 2000s film franchise.
- Présages (2023) by Joana Hogg (short, 10min)
- The Fabelmans (2022) by Steven Spielberg. For a film with a Best Picture nomination at the 2023 Oscars, I was pretty disappointed in this one. Sure, it's based on Spielberg's early years, which were certainly interesting, but I just wasn't one for all the overblown high school drama, and the film ended right when it could have started to grow out of it. The final shot was cool but I saw it coming from miles away.
More reading, all audiobooks! (Mostly listened to when gardening.)
- Liberation Day (2022) by George Saunders. A story collection by Saunders, who also writes a newsletter I like. I've read Lincoln in the Bardo last year and, while different, this is similarly weird (in a good way) both in substance and in form. I'll need to read up on it and write a quick note.
- Sputnik Sweeetheart (1999) by Haruki Murakami
- Elevation (2018) by Stephen King
Yup, missed a week plus it's almost the end of this one. So this is two-in-one. ↩
At time of writing he just sent his first 8b. ↩
At Délices de l'Enclos. We'd also had lunch (burgers) on the square just before climbing at L'Estivin next door. ↩
I read up on it too late: theoretically they should only be watered every 2–3 days. ↩
Pools over here are a contentious topic. Water is rare and pools use up a lot of it, and there are plenty of wild swimming spots to swim in instead. But tourists often check the "pool" box on Airbnb or Booking.com when booking holiday accommodation, and there is a lot of holiday accommodation (N has a guesthouse). ↩
From the French "la boucle est bouclée", might be something like "we came full circle" (?) ↩
So much so that even when searching for things to do in "Valence France", I kept stumbling on French-language articles about Valencia, Spain. ↩