Nice, France Is Better Than Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo

I have a huge fascination with breakdancing (also known as b-boying or breaking).  Each time we see people dancing somewhere, I can’t help but stop and watch.  I love the sheer athleticism of it.  It evolved from almost every dance, acrobatic and martial arts style including: tap, jazz, capoeira, Balkan, ballroom, folk, shaolin kung-fu, circus and swing.

Breakdancing is popular in France.  When we were in Nice, we strolled the Pedestrain Zone of the Place Masséna.  It’s essentially the main square of Nice and center of all the action.  We encountered some break dancers (videos are all over YouTube) on checkerboard pavement and stopped to check them out.

Each time I watch break dancers, I am struck by the communal spirit that surrounds them.  It makes you want to learn how to do it.  Forget ballroom dancing, we’ll be taking this dance class instead.  It looks like a pretty good workout.

Being a former gymnast, I loved the power moves because they are particularly acrobatic.  It requires momentum, speed, endurance, strength, and control (like the flare, windmillswipe, and head spin).

Downrock (also known as footwork or floorwork) describes any movement on the floor where the hands supporting the dancer as much as the feet.  Common downrock moves include: the foundational 6-step, and its variants such as the 3-step.  Basic downrock is done entirely on hands and feet.  It didn’t take long for their moves to get way more complex and too fast  for the settings on my camera.

Freezes are stylish poses, and the more difficult require the breaker to suspend  himself or herself off the ground using upper body strength in poses.  How can you not love these creative displays of agility and physical strength set to music?

Well done gentlemen.

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The Spectacle Of The Tour Caravan

Before the cyclists, the tour caravan sweeps through, showering fans with loads of virtually useless promotional materials.  For the unfamiliar, sponsor vehicles are a significant part of the spectacle that is the Tour de France.  Like Rose Bowl Parade or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the floats astonish.

While the downside is garish commercialism on steroids.  The upside is it is that  entertaining while you wait for the riders and you get tons of free stuff.  The booty we brought home covered the dining room table!

We had to giggle at the brashness and sheer outrageousness of some of the floats.  Our top floats included:

I have a soft spot for anything dog related, but most people loved the giant puppy float (I’m keeping the key chain they threw us with the dog on it).

The Vittel float sprayed the crowds with water.  It was more of a cooling mist than a waterfall, but I still put my camera away when they got close.

Everyone loved the giant rubber duckie.   Forget the Viper I eyed at the Geneva Auto Show, I kind of want the duckie for my next car.  It looks like it would be a pain to park though.

I’m not a gambler, but the PMU horses were pretty cool.
Le Coq Sportif.  How can you not smile at a giant chicken?  If only they had tossed rubber ones instead of keychains…

Some of the floats were aimed at kids.  I’m guessing the cyclists are eating something more nutritious than loads of gummy bears.

To be one of the women (or few men) who toss the loot, you must be attractive, willing to spend a month throwing things out on a vehicle, good at dancing while harnessed into a vehicle (see above), and able to withstand blaring techno music 8 hours a day for three straight weeks.  They looked like they were having a pretty good time and there are worse things than spending a summer tooling  around France.

The vehicles are as large as the small mountain roads permit.  With spectators jumping into the roads, blaring music, bags of gummy bears flying through the air, steep roads and dangerous curves, the drivers must be amazing.  I get a bit nervous driving these roads without having to worry about crowds of people and the ridiculous amount of chaos.

A tow truck accompanies each part of the caravan, ready to immediately remove any breakdown from the road.   We also noticed that they were accompanied by an ambulance, just in case a vehicle hits a spectator (which actually happened on day two of this year’s Tour).

Our Introduction To The European Football Championship 2012

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la ...

English: 1964 Euro-Cup. Español: Trofeo de la Eurocopa disputada en el año 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most Americans know football (the American kind and the other known to us as soccer), many are unfamiliar with the European Football Championship (also known as the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, Euro 2012, the European Championship or Euro Cup).  Here, football/futball/soccer is huge.  People here are excited.  We see flags decorating balconies, viewing parties at bars, people wearing jerseys, etc. Even if people aren’t huge fans, they absorb a lot of football knowledge and culture by osmosis.  We’re enthusiastically embracing Euro 2012 as a chance to learn and are watching games.  Although I don’t think we are as enthusiastic as some fans who have been driving through Switzerland’s streets honking their horns for the past hour.

Meilleurs résultats Euro

Meilleurs résultats Euro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s how it works.  The top two teams from each of the 4 groups (referred to as pots) move on for a single elimination tournament.  Group “B” with Germany, Holland, Portugal and Denmark, is the toughest section.  Many argue that it is the hardest group ever assembled in international tournament history.  The top two teams in each group advance to a single-elimination tournament.

According to our friends, the Euro Cup is one of the most important soccer tournaments to Europeans.  Although Americans might not be familiar with it, it is one of the world’s preeminent tournaments.    To Europeans, it is second only to the World Cup and to some, it is bigger than the World Cup.  They argue that the World Cup has some weak teams while the Euro Cup only has strong teams.   It is more important than the Olympics and the European Championships.  The Euro Cup occurs every four years, alternating cycles with the World Cup’s so that a major tournament occurs every two years.

Like the Superbowl or the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, gambling pools abound.  Most offices have several pools.  Friends make informal bets.  It’s crazy.

In Geneva, an area with many immigrants and foreigners.  Euro Cup is a chance to embrace your heritage.   Everyone supports their home country and foreign nationals here get together to watch their home country’s games.  Our friend who lives next door to a Portuguese bar reports that it is packed, loud and, um, very festive on game days.

English: UEFA European Football Championship a...

English: UEFA European Football Championship appearances by country. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neighboring countries seem to rival each other more than non-neighboring countries.  History also may play a role.  We know more about European history than football/soccer history, so there could other explanations for rivalries.   Here are some of the rivalries:

This European  Cup has had a few controversies:

  • They had to post some of the games in Ukraine because some Polish cities (I’m looking at you Krakow) didn’t want to invest in the infrastructure and stadiums.
  • Several government officials are boycotting Euro 2012 to protest former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko‘s mistreatment in a Ukrainian prison.
  • BBC’s Panorama did an exposé on race-related soccer hooliganism in Poland and the Ukraine.  It showed disturbing images of racist taunts, violent attacks of minority students, as well as scenes of fans making Nazi salutes and chanting anti-Semitic epithets.
  • Authorities struggled to contain violence after the Russia – Poland game.

If you want to watch it in the US, a DVR is handy.  Most tournament games air in the morning in America.

Top Ten Reasons Why We Aren’t Going To The Olympics

Citizens can compete as athletes for the Unite...

We like to watch the Olympics.  When my sister and I were kids, we used to pretend to be Mary Lou Retton.  She (my sister, not Mary Lou) asked me if we were going to the Olympics and was surprised when I told her we weren’t.  Here’s why:

1. Crowds.  I hate them.  I can’t see anything.  Being short, my face is usually in someone’s armpit.  If someone is going to be trampled, it will probably be me.  The more personal space I have, the better.  Plus, London is such a great city that I want to experience it.  I don’t want to spend it waiting in line.

Olympic Games Message

Olympic Games Message (Photo credit: chooyutshing)

2. The marketing.  Brands pay tens of millions of dollars to be associated with the Olympics and use its values to burnish their own.  While not a reason to avoid the games, it isn’t exactly a selling point for me.  I guess I can’t blame them though.  Ask Greece if they would have liked to have had more corporate money?

3. I’m turned off by news stories about the greed that surrounds it.  For example, landlords are evicting tenants in east London from their homes in trying to cash in on the Olympics.

4. HDTV.

5. The prices.  London isn’t cheap.  When they jack up their prices higher than Swiss prices…

Cropped transparent version of Image:Olympic f...

Cropped transparent version of Image:Olympic flag.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Tickets aren’t easy to get, especially for some of the sports that I’d really want to see.  Heck, you have to buy a ticket just to visit the Olympic Park.  We didn’t apply in the initial balloting process so we would have to get lucky to get some at the general sale.  If we had to resort to other means to get tickets, I would probably gasp at the prices.  Just yesterday, Volodymyr Gerashchenko, the general secretary of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee, resigned after being filmed offering tickets for sale.  It’s a crime to sell Olympic tickets on the black market.

7. He works… a lot.  He probably couldn’t take the time off.

8. There are so many other wonderful places to visit.  It’s not as though we won’t have anything else cool to do.

9. The London games and their “legacy” has been so hyped that it seems impossible to live up to it.

Marion Jones - September 30th, 2000 at the 200...

10. Doping.  My disappointment was enormous after I learned of Marion Jones‘ steroid use.  I don’t know how the games can stay one step ahead.  Wondering whether the person who is killing it and ends up on the medal stand will later test positive takes some of the excitement out of it.

We’ll be heading back to London…after the Olympics.  We love the city and there’s still tons more to see and do.

Les Incompetents Vol. 10: Nothing Beats The Simple Pleasure Of A Bike Ride

Making a Jet d’Eau by pedaling

We finally got our bikes out of the our basement bomb shelter and went for a ride.   The weather had been so nice, how could we not?  Actually, we got them out a while ago, but I didn’t bring my camera along on that ride.  This time, I was a little wiser.

Note the stiff breeze

The good news is that we went for a bike ride, made it back in once piece and successfully investigated beaches for the summer.  The bad news is that (a) Geneva isn’t flat, (b) we didn’t look take the weather into account, and (c) we didn’t bring our passports so we couldn’t go across into France.

A team from Lake Geneva won the America’s Cup a few years ago. Seeing a sailing competition as we were heading out of Geneva should have been our first clue that it would be quite windy.

Traffic wasn’t a problem.   I wish we could say the same for the hills.  Living in Eaux-Vives, there is nowhere to go but up… literally.  Switzerland isn’t flat and we can’t bike more than a kilometer without heading up a big hill (or two).   A couple of years ago, we biked from Lisbon to Sagres and Sagres to Spain (with A2Z Adventures on a fantastic trip).   Portugal isn’t flat either.  Heading uphill on a bike on a sunny day, he had flashbacks.

The morning of our ride, I took our visitors to the airport on the tram and squeezed in a quick 7 miles by running home.  After breakfast, we decided to go for a bike ride.  From our window, we couldn’t tell how windy it was.  Heading up the lakeside to Hermance, we had a tailwind and didn’t really notice the wind’s strength.  Even when we reached Hermance, and saw a kite surfer, we didn’t think about biking back in the wind.

We checked out the Hermance‘s beach, did a tour of the cute town, and rode on to the border.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t go into France because we forgot to bring our passports.  Ooops.

This stream is the border between France and Switzerland

We rode back toward Geneva, straight into a headwind…the entire way.  Even though we wanted to see more aggrestic splendor, I was pooped.  How did I not notice the wind?  There were signs.  Flags, sailing competitions, kite surfing…  How could I have been so blind.   By the time we hit Geneva, my legs were burning and I was hungry enough to eat the back end out of a dead rhino.  After we put our bikes away, we ate an insane amount of chocolate, collapsed on the couch and watched Top Gear.

Despite our unpreparedness, it was a great ride.  We saw here were amazing views of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), the Alps and Mont Blanc.  Switzerland is very cycle-friendly and we saw tons of other bikers.  Cars were considerate and seemed used to cyclists.  Unlike cycling in North and South Carolina, we weren’t honked at a single time!  Indiscriminate honking is frowned upon here as it may disturb others, definitely a cultural difference.

Another Cultural Difference…Men In Spandex

We’ve reported on the fashion in Europe and in Geneva, but never on workout wear.  Spring is here and people have taken off a couple of layers so you can actually see their workout attire.

Runners here wear a lot of spandex.  More specifically, male runners here wear a lot of spandex.  I’m not saying that we don’t wear spandex.  I’m guilty of it on occasion.  We both wear bike shorts when cycling.  However, most male runners in the US don’t wear spandex.  If they do, they usually wear shorts over them.  It is definitely something we aren’t used to seeing.

We’ve had great weather and I’ve been running along the lake.  On one run, I counted 29 guys running in spandex shorts (I had to entertain myself somehow).        If you come to run in Geneva and forget to pack your spandex, don’t worry.  You can buy them everywhere.

We spotted these puppies at the auto show. You can get them everywhere.

 

The Winter Wonderland Of Les Mosses

We went to Les Mosses, near Aigle and Chateau d’Oex, in the Lake Geneva region, to watch a sled dog race.  This charming, picturesque, plateau is situated in a mountain pass.  As a result, it is surrounded by mountains. Covered in snow, it is a winter wonderland.  We almost expected music to fill the air and Santa’s elves to appear.

While it isn’t exactly extreme, and doesn’t have much nightlife this resort offers plenty of activities year-round.  It has a reputation as a good family resort.

Pimp my stroller, Les Mosses edition

In summer, it has nice pedestrian, hiking and mountain bike trailsLake Lioson is known for its fishing.  In winter, well, take your pick.

  • There are T-bars all over the surrounding mountains and beautifully uncrowded slopes.
  • It has almost 20 miles (32 km) of snowshoeing trails.
  • We saw cross-country skiers everywhere, enjoying the almost 27 miles (42 km) of scenic trails.
  • Believe it or not divers enter Lake Lioson in the winter for under-ice diving!
  • Les Mosses approaches learning how to ski from the viewpoint that it is also important to have fun, making it popular with families.  As a result, it has a park with a moving carpet, drag lift, short gentle slopes and enormous inflatable frog.  The park has obstacles, figurines and slaloms to encourage play.

 

Snowshoeing, It’s Like Hiking But More Awkward.

Last weekend, we went snowshoeing.  The snow here is melting…quickly.   We knew that we wouldn’t have too many more opportunities.  If you need confirmation that the season is over, just take a look at the snow above.

St. Cergue is in the Jura the lake, where there’s only a thin white band of snow at the top.

We strapped up our hiking boots, went to St. Cergue and rented snowshoes, having no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  Thankfully, some nice Swiss snowshoers helped us make sure they were on correctly.  They let us try their poles.  Not knowing much of anything about snowshoeing, we didn’t rent poles.  Ooops.  It was definitely easier with the poles, but we only went about four miles so we were fine without them.  The lack of snow near the parking lot was more problematic.

Luckily, this was the only area where the snow was sparse.

We encountered a few other Swiss on the trails and learned that the usually reserved Swiss are pleasantly chatty on the trails.  In Geneva, expats don’t always get the opportunity to have meaningful interactions and conversations with native Swiss.   We learned a lot about the area from them.  For example, these stone walls mark the borders of farms.  They aren’t relics.  In the Jura, they still build them!

When we weren’t chatting with other snowshoers, we enjoyed the peace and tranquility.  It was a gorgeous day.   It was a pleasure to be out in the woods and going “off piste” through the snow was a blast.

In this area summer farmhouses become winter restaurants that cater to the area’s snowshoers and cross-country skiers.  We got a recommendation from a nice Swiss lady on the trails and she did not steer us wrong.  The restaurant, Le Vermeilley, was fantastic.

It was a cozy room with wonderful traditional dishes and a nice proprietor.  After a nice lunch, we headed back.

We’d expected snowshoeing to be more difficult than it was.  I want to try it again  next year.   He wants to do some cross-country skiing more.   We have friends who snoeshoed at night under a full moon.  That sounds like a rocking’ good time so I’m pretty sure I can talk him into it.

Some trails around there are only for cross-country skiers, no snowshoers. I guess we’ll have to try that next year.

 

Bracketology: How To Fill Out A Bracket

Warmup before the 2006 NCAA Men's Division I B...

Warmup before the 2006 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament National Championship Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Last week, I posted about trying to explain March Madness to non-Americans.  Now, I’ve compiled some suggestions for our non-American friends who are wrestling with their NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets.  Here is their introduction to Bracketology, the art and science of filling out a winning bracket.

 

  • If you are filling out a bracket for a giant pool online, feel free to go nuts and pick crazy upsets. Otherwise, play it safe.  Smaller pools tend to be won by those who do.

 

  • The early rounds are not as important as the later rounds.  It is virtually impossible to win if you haven’t picked some of the teams in the Final Four.  The best way of ensuring this is to look at each region before filling out the bracket and choose the team you think has the best chance to come out of it.

 

  • After picking your Final Four teams, choose the highest of those to win the tournament.

 

  • Pick all of the No. 1 seeds to win against the No. 16 seeds.  The No. 1 seed has always won against the No. 16.

 

  • While you are at it, pick the No. 2 seeds to win.  They have always won the first game.  They don’t always win the second.

 

  • Since you have picked all four No. 1 seeds to win their first game, how far do you have them going?  In theory, your chances are probably better with all four No. 1 seeds the Final Four, but this rarely happens in practice.  A good rule of thumb is to have two No. 1 seeds in the final four.

 

  • It is probably safe to keep them winning through the Elite Eight.  The teams that are left at that point are all good teams and who have beaten other good teams.  At this point teams seeds do not matter as much as the individual matchups.

 

  • While there are occasional upsets, the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds win their first games over 80% of the time.  However, No. 4 seeds don’t win as often as No. 3 seeds in the next few rounds.

 

  • The odds say that a No. 5 seed will lose.  Almost every year, one does.  The No. 12 team that knocks them off is known as a Cinderella.  This team will likely win one or two games, but is not likely to make it past the Sweet Sixteen and almost never makes it past the Elite Eight.

 

  • You may as well flip a coin when trying to pick the winner between the No. 8 seeds and the No. 9 seeds.

 

  • The seed means  little to nothing with the  No. 7 and No. 10 matchup.  Ignore the seeding and just pick who you think is the strongest.

 

  • The No. 13 and 14 seeds are not expected to go far.

 

  • The No 15 and 16 seeds lose their games.

 

Now that you have some general guidelines, here are some things (in no particular order) to consider when choosing your winners:

 

  • Travel – Do any of the teams have to travel a long ways, which is tiring and time consuming?  If they have to change several time zones, it is even mores.

 

  • Location close to home – the closer a team plays to home, the more fans who will come to support them.

 

 

  • Talent – It is good to have it.  No surprise there.  The more of it, the better.  It’s good to have a deep bench.

 

  • Age of the players – Experience counts.  Teams packed with older players, upperclassmen, are less likely to be thrown off balance, used to the drill and have more leaders.

 

  • Past tournament experience – this is invaluable.

 

  • Coaches – Some coaches have a history of winning in the tournament.  They know how to prepare their teams and are able to get the best out of their teams there.  Teams coached by these guys have an edge.

 

  • Free-throw shooting – Free-throw shooting is important.  Everyone should be good at it, but they aren’t.  Teams that can make free throws have an advantage.

 

  • Offense and defense – Teams need to be able to play both to win the tournament.  Be very wary of any team that can’t and pick winners that do both well.

 

 

 

Now We Understand Why Everyone Likes Megève

We’d heard wonderful things about Megève and heard of its reputation as the “jewel” of French alpine ski resorts.  It’s a major ski resort and there are good reasons for Megève’s popularity.  We had a great day skiing there last weekend. The wonderful weather and virtually cloudless skies didn’t hurt.

It offers fantastic skiing, stunning views, lots of restaurants and just about every convenience you can imagine. Its location is idyllic in the “Pays du Mont Blanc”.  Many runs have a nice view of Mt. Blanc’s summit.  Many of the other resorts in the area, like Les Contamines, are above the tree line.  Megève has runs cut through the trees. It was quite busy, there were so many runs that we never felt that it was never crowded.

Megève offers great skiing for all levels. Megève’s slopes are have more easier runs than Chamonix or Courcheval’s.  Don’t worry though, there are plenty of red and blacks.  While there is plenty for beginners, the upper intermediate skiing terrain predominates and there are opportunities to go off piste.  Although, if you read yesterday’s avalanche post and watched the videos, you may not want to.

There are restaurants everywhere.  The food, atmosphere and crowds vary.  We got a later start on the slopes and just had a waffle (gauffre de Liege) at about 4:00.  It was beyond tasty; the wonderful view of Mt. Blanc made it even better.

By the end of the day, the snow at low altitudes was turning to slush.  We realized that if this weather keeps up, we wouldn’t have too many more weekends to ski.  In fact, I’m posting this at six something on a Saturday morning before we take off to ski.  As always, I’ll report back.

The slushy bit (and horses) on our way down