Sunday, June 23, 2013


I've never done a ropes course in the US. I've heard about them. Team-building, fun, up in the trees wandering around on tottery rope and beam bridges. A friend here suggested that we all go ziplining near Lyon. Ziplining near the city??? That sounds awesome! So, off we went to France Aventures. Which, it turns out, is mostly rope courses. On steroids. Possibly while taking speed. With some ziplining thrown in, yes. The friendly little squirrel guy is so happy doing it, see? (Note: all pics are links to their original pages since I was brilliant and brought my camera.... with my memory card still in my computer. At least I realized it after two attempted pics.)

It's up on a hill, and does have an awesome view like that. So, once we were there, I was still a bit confused. See, I was picturing something like this: Up in the air, with a solid footing, even if it would be tough for someone afraid of heights. And the little kid/beginner course is fun and welcoming, with stuff like this: and this

It turns out, though, that those things aren't super stable. And sometimes the planks or ROUND log/branches don't always look in good condition: But then you quickly get to things like the tightrope. When I mentioned it to my host dad, he was like, "oh, so you walk on one cable, while holding the other above your head?" No, no, I wish. In fact, you walk on one wobbly cable while holding onto another wobbly cable NEXT TO YOU. Yeah, so when you start to lose your balance (as if I had any to start with) you are either going to fall and find out how it feels for the harness to catch you, or you get to fight leaning back and forth with the side cable, looking like a crazy. This doesn't quite capture it, but it's the one:

And there's stuff like this tunnel: Looks nice, right? Yeah. Kinda. But it's 30 feet in the air and wobbly, and is kinda fun at first. But... umm... how do I get to the next one. Ok, gap that gets wider as I lean out traversed. Then the second. and now.... platform, please? Get closer? I'm small enough that I just turned around and stuck my feet out first and pulled myself up holding onto the cable. I could just see a repeat of kindergarten when I tried to grab the last bar and landed on my head. Only instead of falling into the gravel, I would have smacked my head on the wooden platform and been bleeding, dangling from a cable (safely, yes) next to the tree.

In the middle of the last, hardest course we lost one of our group. Here: They don't show that there is a trapeze that you have to hold onto and then you zip like a human fly for 50 feet and smack into this rope wall. You know what a PAIN rope walls are? Especially when there is nothing tethering the bottom, allowing them to swing freely as you struggle up them? Too much for our runner who will now start working on push ups as well. The nice boy who works there and had a good time laughing at us a LOT jumped impressively to grab onto the rope wall thing and climbed up past her, to grab her hand and help her up to the platform. Impressive. I want to jump up there like that!

Ugh, and I can't find a picture of the smaller rope wall, the one that WAS attached on the bottom. Why? Because you basically just jump into it. Your jump is 'guided' by a rope that doesn't have enough tension on it to actually SWING you, it just leads you as you fall, SMACK, into the rope wall. Um, thanks?

I don't know if you can see this one well: The lovely young man is walking by putting his foot through the bottom of those round-topped.... handles?? that are each suspended at the bottom of a rope. About 3 feet apart. Left, right, left, right. So you either get to kick at the next one and hope your foot goes in it, or you work on your balance and leg strength by letting go of the rope keeping the back leg straight while leaning forward and grasping at the next, hoping to catch it to then move up the back foot. It was tricky, but we all made it.

I can't find the pic of the last really hard part, where we lost another of our team. Four rope walls, unsecured, on opposite sides of the safety cable, that you had to go back and forth between and use a LOT of arm strength to hold on and move yourself forward. Let's just say that he lost strength and the poor boy who rescued the girl had to spend 20 minutes or so trying different things and eventually lowered him to the ground.

After ziplining twice for the grand finale, we then got some delicious ice cream to replace all of the important calories we lost during the previous 3 hours.

K, I know that was a lame ending, but I got tired. And I don't even have my own pictures!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Un leçon de café

It's amazing how much you can learn when you just ask questions. Today I was in a café with some others who wanted ice cream and I noticed that they had on their menu "café colombie - 100% Arabica." It also cost $1.30 more than their usual espresso. So of course I had to ask what it was. Then he told me it was pure Arabica. Now, I'm pretty sure that this is more or less standard in the US (or I never pay attention - entirely likely) so I asked what the difference was. And got a short history of coffee. Here is my retelling of his info.

You see, coffee is like wine: there are different varieties of the bean. There is Arabica, which is all aroma, and Robusta, which is all acid. Normally, coffees are mixed - up to half Robusta [he didn't say why, but I think it's partly price.] Now, when you have a good, 100% Arabica, then it is all aroma and more likely to be good.

But that's not all that matters in a coffee. You also have to pay attention to the roasting process. Too little and you don't have enough flavor, too much and it's burned, no good. Then to the beans themselves - the best coffees will have full beans (and here he got some out to show me) where the cheap kinds that businesses give employees (his description) will be all broken up. The full beans are more evenly roasted and will have a better flavor. For his espresso, he prefers a mix.

Then you have to pay attention to how you actually make it. First, your machine has to be kept in good condition and he makes sure that he's the only one to service his machine. In this area they have hard water, so they have a water softener installed before it even reaches the machine. Then the water temperature (at least for espresso) should be 80-85º C (175-185 F) and he makes sure to test his water in his machine at least once a week. [Interesting that it's so much below boiling!] After that, be careful how you grind it. Grind it too big and the water can't extract all of the goodness. Grind it to small and it becomes burned [over-extracted, I think, is our term] and bitter. When you get an espresso, you should look at it. The top should be a nice, foamy hazelnut color and should stick a bit to the sides of the cup and not change color when it does so. That means you did it right.

Finally, many cafés and restaurants here serve coffee with a bit of chocolate. He doesn't because he would rather charge for good coffee than mediocre coffee with a bit of chocolate, which is typically bad anyway. Be sure not to eat the chocolate first if you are in one of these places. If you do, you will have the taste of the chocolate on your palate and you won't be able to taste what the coffee actually tastes like.

And it was a nice espresso, at least. I mean, it would have to be after that.

But do you know where coffee comes from? [Yes, we did.] And how it was discovered? A herder was taking his goats to pasture and knew that the sheep normally had a nap during the hottest part of the day. One day he took them to pasture near bushes with red berries and the goats went wild, eating the berries, and then all afternoon they were running everywhere and didn't take a nap. The herder didn't think too much of it, but the next day went somewhere else. The following day he went back to the place that the goats had gone wild and noticed that they were all enjoying the berry bushes. Then he tasted one himself and got to experience the caffeine first-hand. Thus coffee was discovered. [And as unlikely as that sounded, I just looked it up and found that same story repeated many other places!]

After all of the stories he said that we should come back and we could help him with English while he helped us with French. I took a gamble based on looks and said I already spoke French, but if he spoke Arabic, maybe. He was born in France, but does speak some Arabic. I doubt I'll be back for lessons, but I will certainly be back for coffee!