Sunday, July 23, 2017

Le Tour de France 2016

Le Tour de France – 7/24/16

Jim and I met the first challenge of the day: finding a good early Sunday morning breakfast near Moulin Rouge.  The first open place we found featured some colorful patrons enjoying their coffee and cigarettes before turning in for the day.  Our server apologized for having to wait for the croissants to come out hot from the oven…

Doesn't everyone visit a cemetery before the Tour de France? Le Cimetière de Montmartre.

A major roadway is built over a portion of the cemetery

The kitty cat is alive

Anne Rice inspiration

Okay, I know what you REALLY want to hear about – Le Tour de France!  We returned to our apartment to pack for the day: umbrellas, 4 water bottles, apples and apricots, cookies, my inflatable seat cushion, sunscreen, sunglasses.  We stopped at the boulangerie across the street for the standard ham and cheese baguettes and more croissants.  One Metro ride from the Blanche station and we emerged onto the Champs-Élysées, blue sky, puffy white clouds and the Arc de Triomphe, one end of the final eight-lap sprint of the Tour: a dream come to life.

People were milling about and beginning to stake out their positions along the barricades.  Jim and I had planned to stroll down the famous street to the far end of the race route at the Jardin des Tuileries…but there is a skinny shade tree, an unobstructed view to see the cyclists circle the Arc and pass by on the opposite side.  Maybe…we should stay right here?

Looking right

Looking left

A Danish family with 5 boys had claimed space with blankets, snacks and books to read.  Bathrooms were available at the McDonald’s on the next block, so that sealed the deal.  Our new home until the race starts!  If Jim can hike with me for 10 days, I can stand in one spot for 8 hours.

Police made a cursory check of our backpacks, but as the crowd increased they just walked around as a show of presence.  We commented that this would be an excellent venue for terrorists and the attack in Nice just the week before was fresh in our minds – but do we live our lives in hiding?  No easy answer.

Amid the street fair atmosphere people streamed up and down the wide sidewalk.  All the stores and restaurants were bustling.  We observed that people just hung out socializing until the cyclists came by, then everyone crushed to the barricades.  Once the cyclists whizzed past, the spectators went back to smoking, eating, drinking and shopping until the next lap.

La Course, the women’s race, arrived about 1:30 p.m., sooner than we expected, and the crowd ebb and flow began.  Those of us at the very front found our vantage points shrinking to mere inches, but I realized that rather than guarding our spaces, we became fast friends with the diehards around us and we watched out for each other.  If you had to leave for a bathroom break, your space (albeit small) would be there when you got back.  Kind of like the pit at a Springsteen concert! 

Jim's bucket list

Best buddies on the front lines:  a young couple from Barcelona, the guy a knowledgeable cycling enthusiast (Jim’s new best friend today); a very tall Canadian fellow hovering over my head (I nicknamed him Lurch) who was working in Paris for the summer but had spent time cycling in Boone, NC; a French family, mom/dad/young son, and dad worked for USAirways and trained in Charlotte; an Irish family who was on a camping holiday in the French countryside, came into the city to see what the race was all about. We grownups indulgently let the kids up front to see the race until they got bored (usually only one lap).
2690J Jim checking off his bucket list

We didn’t expect the parade between races – team sponsors with giant inflatables throwing candies into the crowd.

Fun to watch for a while, but it went on beyond our attention span.  Where is the men’s race???  Lurch was following on his phone, reporting the pelaton location minute by minute.  They reached Paris later than anticipated, perhaps because the winner was assured (Chris Froome) so they didn’t have to work so hard. 

At last:  the pentultimate excitement of the peleton streaming by, slightly uphill towards the Arc, circling, then stretching out on the downhill back down the Champs-Élysées!  A lap every 7-8 minutes, a total of 8 laps, so a full hour of cheering, waiting, and cheering some more. 

After the victory lap spectators were reluctant to just go home. Jim and I realized we were famished (watching the TdF is hard work) so we wandered on down the Champs-Élysées and squeezed onto a small restaurant patio on a side street.  Jim ordered something he couldn’t pronounce, but you know it’s got to be good if pickles are included.  

One last photo as we worked our way to the Metro: standing in the middle of the Champs-Élysées. 

“Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.” ~Jim Burlant

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Chamonix Before Paris

Chamonix Before Paris  – 7/21-7/23/16

We’d built an extra day into our itinerary at the end of our hike, a second night at Hotel Slalom, either for rest or for fun.  We woke feeling pretty energized (hey, we survived!) so we caught the bus to Chamonix for a little wandering without a timetable or agenda.  At the visitor center we picked up maps and also ran into our young friends, Cassie, Niki, Abby and Toby.  How nice to say a final au revoir! Roaming around Chamonix:

Jim sees bikes everywhere

Statue of Balmat and Saussure - read the story here

On the bus back to Les Houches, we spied John and Graham walking on a Chamonix sidewalk – too far away to get their attention, but we waved a goodbye anyway. Back at the hotel, we tried very hard to condense, compact and consolidate our belongings back to manageable size for tomorrow’s train trip.  I, of course, spent the evening obsessing over our ability to make our four rapid connections between Les Houches and Paris.  Jim obsessed over the fact that a Tour de France stage was passing through the same area at the same time as our train, yet another almost-but-missed opportunity.  But… the big one was coming up.

The next morning we enjoyed one last charming breakfast with Stacey before for our last hike with loaded backpacks, a mile to the train station.  It was a somber farewell to Les Houches in a cold steady drizzle, but a good day for rain since we would be traveling for most of it.

The train station at Les Houches, not too busy on a Friday morning

After our first change at St. Gervais I was happy to learn that our next connection was a track switch rather than a train switch, so we stayed put.  I relaxed after that.  Three changes and six hours later, we arrived at Paris Gare de Lyon.

About our apartment:  booked it through AirBnB, which I have always been satisfied with, it was located in the 9th arrondissement in the Pigalle district, a couple of blocks from Moulin Rouge.  The neighborhood is a bit gritty, kind of the darker cousin of artsy Montmarte, but we felt fine walking around day and night.  The apartment itself was protected like Fort Knox: a key code to get into the building, down a long hallway, out the door to a courtyard, get the keys from their hiding place, go through a locked door to another hallway, through the apartment door with another key.  No street noise whatsoever and very safe. 
Our courtyard window and door to our building

Looking down into the living area from the sleeping loft

Steps to sleeping loft

Sleeping loft


No photos of the bathroom because – hard to explain – pretty tiny…

We threw our stuff down and set off to explore the neighborhood.

Sacré Cœur

View of the city from the steps of Sacré Cœur

We woke up on Saturday in Paris!  What did we do all day?  Checked out the Eiffel Tower, wandered the streets, stopped often to fortify ourselves with coffee, croissants, then beer and cider.  We walked through Jardin des Tuileries and zeroed in on a spot to watch the final Tour de France stage coming through tomorrow afternoon (excited!)

Tomorrow is the big day!

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.” ~Thomas Jefferson