Saturday, July 30, 2011

I’m Not Forrest’s Daddy

I’ve been thinking a lot about that line from Forrest Gump when Forrest asks his mother, “What’s vacation?” and she replies, “It’s where you go somewhere and don’t ever come back.” She was referring to Forrest’s father who wasn’t in the picture. Many years ago when I watched the movie with my grandparents, my grandfather Ben said to my grandmother, “Momma, I guess we’ve never been on vacation.” That line and my grandfather’s comment always make me laugh. If I’m going by Forrest’s Momma’s definition then I guess I’ve never been on vacation either since I’m headed home tomorrow.

For our last day in the city, we made a few small stops. This morning, we headed over to the Tuileries gardens since when we originally planned to go it started raining. There are a lot of gardens around and we have enjoyed seeing each one of them. After strolling through the Tuileries for a while, we took some pictures of the Place de la Concord and then headed over to the Musee D’Orsay. Really wanted to make this stop but wasn’t sure if we would be able to fit it in, thankfully we were. The museum itself was once a train station and is a rather large building, but there isn’t an overwhelming amount of art. I could have spent a lot of time looking at many of the paintings, but since we had some other stops to make, we only spent about an hour and looked at the Van Gogh’s, Renoir’s, Monet’s and a few other things.

After strolling through the D’Orsay, we walked to the Military Museum. We actually didn’t go through this museum although I’m sure it would have been interesting. The reason we went here was to see Napoleon’s tomb. I’ve been fascinated with Napoleon since high school and find him to be an interesting character so I wanted to see the tomb.

When we were finished looking at the tomb, we headed to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. I have always been under the impression that artists would be along the streets of Montmartre selling their original artwork and I wanted to get a piece or two for myself; but when we got there, there were no artists or original artwork to be found, which was quite disappointing. In fact, the area is filled with tourist shops and people peddling fake handbags and hats and little Eiffel Towers. I bought a few prints of Paris as that was one of the things I wanted to get. They are good for framing and hanging up in your home.

As for Sacre Coeur itself, it was a total disappointment as well. We climbed the steps up to where the line to get in was. This is the highest point in Paris and so it provides a good view of the city. On our way to the top there were a couple of spots that had human feces on it, which was a huge put off. Apparently, or at least we think, homeless people must live in this area. The line to go in to the church was quite long and even though the museum pass covers the cost to get in, there was no express line and I didn’t feel like waiting in a long line to see the inside. With so many people around, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it. I really don’t think it could be better than the inside of Notre Dame which was quite beautiful in my opinion.

So, we headed back down the hill. Midway down, there is a fountain and my dad commented that the water looked like pee. I told him it might be judging by the sights and smells of the area. We got back on the metro and stopped off at a shopping center. There was a Starbucks there and we both had a Frappuccino which was really good. The Grande here is larger than the Grande at home, or so it seems. We sat and enjoyed our drinks and then did a little shopping where I bought a few small things. I could have and actually wanted to do a little more shopping, but my dad needed to find the toilets and there were none in the shopping center, so we headed back to the hotel.

We are at the hotel now resting before we head out again for dinner and a night boat cruise on the Seine. I did this on Sunday, but it was really a lot of fun and a great way to see the city. We are hoping to find some place to get pasta for dinner. My dad is in hopes that pasta will not make him sick. I stepped out a while ago to go get a pedicure at the place next door to the hotel, but they are all booked up for the day. So, now I’m hanging out at the hotel for the next couple of hours until we head out for dinner. I suppose I will repack my suitcase in preparation for our departure tomorrow. My dad is sacked out on his bed. I think all the walking and what not has caught up with him because he seems to really be struggling today.

We’ve had a great time since we’ve been here and I hope to come again in a couple or three years. I think I will definitely do another Tour de France trip, but not any time soon. I’ll have to save some more money first. Thanks again for reading along and following our adventures. I hope to see you all soon!

Clock at the Musee D'Orsay

This is the building where Napoleon's Tomb is.

Our hotel

My dad taking a photo

Place de la Concorde

My dad in the garden by Napleon's tomb

Friday, July 29, 2011

Versailles and Le Tour Eiffel

We started out the day by sleeping in a little bit. I got up at 7:30 and took a shower and got ready while my dad still snoozed. He got up a little after 8:00 and we went downstairs to eat breakfast. After breakfast, we put out walking shoes on yet again and headed to the metro station to catch the metro (RER)out to Versailles.

The RER to Versailles requires a different ticket and luckily we bought those yesterday so we didn’t need to stop by the ticket booth this morning. We went to the first metro and got off at the right station and then got on the wrong RER. Yeah, the trains have not been fun the past couple of days. So, we got off and rode back to the middle station and then got on the right one. The problem was that three different trains were using the same track and you had to read the schedule to know which one to get one. We obviously just jumped on the first one that came along, which was not the right thing to do.

We finally made it out to Versailles around 11:00 a.m. or so and once again our museum passes saved the day as they allowed us the privilege of not having to wait in line. We waltzed right in without any problem and didn’t have any problem going through security which is always nice.

We toured the main chateau at Versailles which was just as lovely as all the pictures I have ever seen. Extravagant is a great word to describe it. I honestly would have loved to have taken my time looking at things but there were gobs of people everywhere. In some spots it was even hard to walk. As mentioned, I am not a fan of crowds and so the mass amount of humanity was more than I bargained for and made the trip less enjoyable for me. It was still nice to see everything; it just would have been nicer if I was there with say 20 people rather than 2,000.

We then took the petit train down to two other buildings on site, the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon Palaces, which weren’t too impressive to either one of us after having seen the main building. There was about a 15 minute walk out to Marie Antoinette’s estate on site and I took the stroll out that way but left my purse with my dad which had my museum pass in it – total brain fail – and so I only looked at the outside of the buildings because once I met back up with my resting father, I wasn’t about to walk all the way back to the estates.

We had to wait about 30 minutes or so for the petit train and we were both pretty tired at this point so we decided to go ahead and go back up to the main house rather than stroll around the Grand Canal. The gardens are so massive, it would take a whole day or more to walk through them all.

We finally reached the RER station around 5:00 and headed back towards our home base. When we reached the changeover station, we actually didn’t get on the metro right away. The change over station was where the Eiffel Tower is located and so we decided to go ahead and get off and visit that while we were in the area. We didn’t care one way or the other about going up to the top so we opted to just take some photos and be on our way; and that’s exactly what we did.

We caught the metro back to our home station and then ate dinner at the restaurant next door. We both had Boef Bourguignon which has subsequently once again made my dad sick. I have banned him from eating any more French food although I think he wants to have crepes tomorrow.

After dinner we stopped at the Patisserie and each got a sweet treat. I have already eaten mine. While there, we ran into a woman from New York (Phyllis) who comes to Paris quite often with her husband who does business here. They have an apartment close by our hotel. She talked our ear off for a while; it was hard to shake her. At one point, while standing on the street corner, a tourist with a large suitcase walked by Phyllis and bumped her. Phyllis started yelling at the woman in French and it cracked both me and my dad up because apparently you can take the woman out of Manhattan but not the Manhattan out of the woman.

We are now in the hotel early, which seems really odd when there is still so much that we can do. My dad is getting some sleep right now before his ulcerative colitis takes over and he spends the remainder of the night being sick. Hopefully it will be quick and he will be feeling well soon because I would like for him to enjoy his last day here in France.

We have had a lot of fun while we’ve been here and now only have one more day to enjoy ourselves before our normal everyday lives take control once again. We’ve got a few things on the menu for the day tomorrow so hopefully we will be able to get them all in.

If you are saying your prayers please remember us as we will be traveling home on Sunday. I would appreciate it if you could pray for us to have a safe and comfortable flight but also that my dear ole Daddy won’t be sick on the way home.

Thanks for tuning in these past couple of weeks. I hope to be back tomorrow evening with a final post from France and then on Sunday evening when I return home. Your comments have been encouraging and I thank you for being with me in Spirit! Have a great Friday afternoon and evening and a wonderful weekend!

Some of the gardens at Versailles

Chateau Versailles

My dad in the garden at Versailles

Eiffel Tower

Thursday, July 28, 2011

By The Hair of Our Chinny Chin Chins

Well, my dad and I had yet another adventurous day out and about in France. Last night when we got in, I called downstairs and asked for a wake-up call at 5:00 a.m.; we had a 7:07 train to Carentan to catch and I wanted to shower before we left and we also had to take two metro trains to get to the main train station.

My dad was sick through the night due to the delicious French onion soup we had had at dinner the night before and about 4:30 this morning he asked me what time it was and told me he wasn’t sure if he would be able to go to Carentan today. I said a little prayer that he would soon be feeling better and then dozed off for what I thought would be only 30 more minutes of sleep.

I woke up to sunlight streaming through the windows and knew something wasn’t right. Turns out it was already 6:00 a.m., the time we were planning to leave the hotel. I jumped in the shower and was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. My dad decided he would go ahead and make the trip and so at 6:35ish, we headed out of the hotel.

We caught the first metro and when we arrived at the second, the horn was beeping for the doors to close and we jumped on just in time. Once we arrived at the train station stop, we had to walk what seemed like miles. I still had to pick up our tickets and got in line at 6:55 – for the 7:07 train!! Finally, I made it to the window, got the tickets and ran to platform 18 where my dad was waiting with some breakfast he had bought. With about 45 seconds to spare before the train took off, we jumped on. Whew, what a relief. I was so stressed out and told my dad I was sweating like a whore in church.

The train ride was a little over two hours and while on the train we spotted an American looking couple and both said to the other that we thought they may be going on the same D-Day tour as us. My dad moved to another seat and we both were able to stretch out a little and get a little nap in. When we reached Carentan, our guide met us, and that American looking couple was indeed American and were indeed on our little tour group.

Our guide was Trevor and there were six of us tourists he was carting around in his van. Let me tell you, he was more concerned about something happening to his van than one of us I think. We started the tour at the Airborne Museum and the church in the city where the 82nd Airborne Division first landed. Then we moved on to Utah Beach where we ate our sack lunches we had bought. Then we moved on to Pointe du Hoc which still has what was left of the German bunkers after it was bombed by the Americans. After this we went to Omaha Beach and then to the American cemetery. It was a really great tour and I think we both enjoyed it immensely. It was so interesting to see where the battles actually took place and learn a bit more about it.

Trevor dropped us off at the train station about 30 minutes before our train was to depart. We boarded and rode the train back to Paris without a nap. We just had some good old fashioned conversation and it was a good thing, as my dad would say.

When we arrived in Paris, we headed to the metro to the line we thought we had taken to the train station this morning. Turns out it wasn’t and a very long and boring story short, we walked for over an hour and eventually found someone who could help us get to where we needed to be. This was the first time I have been confused on the metro system and I was really frustrated with myself. I was also tired and not thinking clearly and just wanted some food in my belly and a bed to lay my head.

An hour and a half after the train arrival, we finally made it to the hotel. We ordered take-out chicken Caesar salads from the restaurant next door. They gave it to us on real plates and after we ate, I had to return the plates to the restaurant. The salads were really good and hit the spot because it wasn’t too heavy for such a late dinner.

Now I am typing this post and my dad is snoozing after having had a shower. We plan to go to Versailles tomorrow, which I am really looking forward to, but my dad, not so much. Hopefully he will enjoy it a wee bit. He wasn’t fired up about the Louvre and really enjoyed it. We are both tired of walking and I am pretty sure I’ve lost some weight from all the walking because the pants I put on today kept falling off of my behind.

Erika asked in the comments about the language barrier. I have spoken some French, especially when starting a conversation and doing some ordering but for the most part everyone speaks a little English. Sometimes the conversations will be some English and some French. Everyone has been very helpful and friendly and we have run into no problems at all. It’s been a lot easier than I thought it would be.

I got more sunburn today which is no good. I meant to put sunscreen on this morning, but in my haste to get out the door, I forgot it. My nose is burned again after already peeling twice.

Before I close, I want to say HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to my mom and dad. Thanks, mother for letting Daddy come over to France the week of your anniversary. That was quite swell of you. I guess we’ll keep you around a little longer.

Sign for Utah Beach

Utah Beach

Saw this bowl that said "Dog Bar" and thought it was funny.

At the American cemetery

American cemetery

Tired after a long day and catching a snooze on the train.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Notre Dame, The Louvre and The Moulin Rouge

Today we were able to sleep in for a moment which was a welcome relief to me and also to my dad I think. After getting in late from London, we needed the rest. I woke up about 8:00 or so and got my shower and then my dad got one and we soon after headed down to breakfast. Sadly most of the breakfast was gone as far as the sweet rolls and croissants; so, we got what we could find and ate it right up.

After breakfast, we headed out to conquer the city, relatively speaking anyway. We started at Notre Dame and got there at a good time because the line to get in wasn’t too long. We got an audio guided tour and walked around admiring the old cathedral. I think I enjoyed this more than my dad. There were a couple of things he found interesting but not a lot.

We next went to the Louvre, which I’m pretty sure had a million people milling about. We had bought museum passes at the Arc de Triomphe earlier so thankfully we didn’t have to stand in line to get a ticket. After a quick toilet break, we headed straight for the Mona Lisa. Well, us and about 500,000 other people. My dad fought the crowds to get up close, but if you know me very well then you probably know I hate crowds and especially hate being pushed this way and that so I opted not to stand amongst the people and instead got a glimpse from a distant.

We moved on and found some other famous pieces such as Napoleon’s Coronation, the Venus de Milo, and The Winged Victory of Samothrace. After three hours or so we decided to head out to the Tuilleries, the gardens in front of the Louvre. Just as we got outside it started raining and so we decided to come back to the hotel instead. We are going to try and see some of the gardens on Saturday, along with Napoleon’s tomb, the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur at Montmatre.

We rested an hour and a half or so and then headed out to dinner at a seafood restaurant. We both had French onion soup that was amazing and then for our main course, I had poached haddock and my dad had salmon. I really enjoyed mine and I think he enjoyed his as well.

We had an hour to kill before the show at the Moulin Rouge –well, and hour before our ticket told us to be there. Turns out we maybe should have gone in a little sooner than we did. Our seat was on the back of a table in the balcony and we didn’t think we would be able to see anything. My dad found a stool and I moved my chair over and we ended up being able to see fairly well. The show was really amazing. The costumes were gorgeous and the singing and dancing and acts in between were really entertaining. It was one of the best things we have done so far I think.

We headed back to the hotel and are now getting ready to turn in for the night as we have another early start tomorrow. We are headed to Carentan and Normandy Beach to learn about and see up close the scenes of the D-Day invasion during World War II. It should be a great and interesting day.

The people trying to get an up close glance of the Mona Lisa

The Pyramid in front of the Louvre - and my dad in the foreground

The Moulin Rouge

London, You Weren't The Greatest

Well, Tuesday, we made the voyage over to London and it was quite an interesting one. We left the hotel around 6:00 a.m. which is more or less before the sun really even comes up here in Paris. We had to take two different RER lines (underground subway system) to get to the train station. Once there, we had a little difficulty getting our tickets and I thought I was going to have a panic attack. We had ordered and paid for our tickets online, but they were not able to pull up our reservation at first.

Finally, we got in the line for the 7:13 train to London and were unfortunately towards the end of the line. When going through, we had to be stamped out of France by a French customs officer and into England by an English customs officer. The French officer asked my dad to take off his cap, which he did… while rolling his eyes. I didn’t seem to have any problems but I think the guy recognized the last name as being the same because he kept looking back at my dad while holding my passport. The English officer was a woman and she was nice. She asked us a few questions about why we were going and so on and so forth and then stamped our books and let us on to the train. We also went through airport like security scanners.

We finally made it on to the train and our seats got mixed up – I was sitting in the wrong seat and someone else was sitting in my dad’s seat and long story short, we ended up not sitting together on the train, but we both slept, which was a good thing because the night before my dad snored most of the night and I didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked.

Two hours later, we arrived in London and when we got off the train, there were probably 20 or more customs officers watching all the people getting off the train. They pulled my dad aside and asked for his passport and asked him what he did. He said he was a minister. They asked for what church. My dad said the church of Christ and then he asked who does he answer to and my dad said God. Well, apparently the guy didn’t like that answer because they took him back into an interrogation room and asked him a few more questions. Thankfully after three or four minutes he came back out because I was quite concerned that they may hold him forever. Apparently they are on the lookout for terrorists disguised as American tourists. We actually came to the conclusion while we were there that the Brits are more than a little paranoid when it comes to security measures. We Americans don’t seem to hold a candle to the Brits in that department.

We grabbed a small bite to eat at the train station and then asked a police officer how to get over to Buckingham Palace. I had bought tickets in advance and we wanted to do that first. He was actually nice to us and gave us a couple of maps and told us how to use the Tube as they call it, formally known as the Underground, which is just their metro. We have ridden a lot of trains since we have been here.

We headed over to the palace, took some pictures, picked up our tickets and toured the palace at 11:00 a.m. I really enjoyed it and I think my dad thought it was okay. He isn’t really into touring palaces and what not. He said he could have breezed right through it but he did say that Kate Middleton’s dress was nice.

After the palace tour, we stopped at a pub and ate some fish and chips, then we headed over to The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We also rode on the London Eye and then went to Westminster Abbey which was closed because it apparently isn’t open on Tuesdays. Go figure.

We went back to the train station and had to wait about three hours before our train left for Paris but we ate some food and people watched and went to the boarding area early. This time we only got one stamp, from the French who asked no questions and were easy peezy about getting folks through customs. We made it back to Paris and took the RER back to the hotel, getting in around midnight.

It was a long an interesting day and I’m glad we didn’t have to spend the whole day at British customs because that would have put a major damper on things. However, it did leave a bad taste in our mouths and I don’t think either one of us wants to go back.

At Buckingham Palace

The Houses of Parliment

My dad at Big Ben

The London Eye

Today we are hitting the streets of Paris and are going to the Moulin Rouge this evening. Should be an interesting day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

My Dad Made it to Paris

Today was yet another early start for me. You would think when you are on vacation you would have the luxury of sleeping in, but that has not been the case for me, I’m afraid. My dad arrived in Paris this morning. Yesterday I arranged a shuttle to go to the airport to go meet him and this morning arranged for the shuttle to pick us back up. The shuttle picked me up this morning at a little after 7:00 this morning and so I got up around 5:30 in order to shower, drop my laundry off and eat some breakfast before leaving.

Once at the airport, I waited and waited and waited. I also bought a L’Equipe, the French spots paper with the Tour de France final on it. About an hour after my dad’s flight arrived, he finally came through the gate. Apparently there had been some craziness at customs as someone had left a bag on the plane and they had to determine to whom it belonged. I called the shuttle to tell them we were ready and about 10 minutes later, it arrived.

We made our way to the hotel which was about a 45 minute drive. My dad dropped off his suitcase and we headed out with Bernie and Catherine to Pere Lachaise Cemetery which is where Jim Morrison is buried. We stopped by his grave as well as the graves of Chopin and Oscar Wilde.

Jim Morrison's grave

Chopin's grave

Oscar Wildes' grave - it was covered in lipstick kisses.
Maybe it brings you luck in love.
Does anyone know?

After our cemetery stroll, we found a place to eat and had steak and fries, a salad and some crème brule for lunch. It was a pretty good lunch. We then headed to the area of the Bastille but apparently there is no Bastille to tour or if there is, we never found it. It was rather confusing.

At this point we split up from Bernie and Catherine and headed back towards the hotel so we could tour the Arc de Triomphe. We bought a museum pass while there which gained us admission to the Arc but also to other spots. After a few minutes at the top, we came back down and watched the traffic for a bit and then headed back to the hotel where it took my dad about an hour to email my mom. He is very tired and not thinking properly. Hopefully he will get a good night of rest tonight because we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow as we are heading to London on the 7:13 a.m. train. Yikes! So, it’s early to bed for us and also early to rise. I’m not sure if there will be a post tomorrow as we don’t get back to Paris until after 11:00. So, if you miss hearing from me tomorrow, then check back on Wednesday. Our week is jam packed with activities but I hope to find some time to post at some point. Until next time…

Waiting in line at le Arc de Triomphe

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at le Arc de Triomphe

Sunday, July 24, 2011

And It All Came To an End

Well, this was it folks, the last day of le Tour and it did not disappoint. I got up earlier than I really needed to, but in my older years, I’m not one for sleeping in, just napping. So, I went down to breakfast a little before 9:00 and then came back up to the room to check emails and what not. A bit later I went down to find Rob and Joy and Bernie and Catherine eating breakfast. Upon talking with them, I made plans to peruse the streets of Paris with Bernie and Catherine before meeting up with Nathalie who would lead us to our viewing spot in the Grand Stands.

So, at 10:45, I met up with Bernie and Catherine and we walked the Champs Elysees and checked out the le Tour booths one more time. I ended up getting a baseball cap this time. I had seen one on Alpe D’Huez that I liked and didn’t get it and had decided I wanted it but still didn’t find it today. I instead found one that I liked just as well. Bernie and Catherine surprised me by buying me a polka dot shirt too. I guess they were tired of me whining about not getting one. It was a very nice gesture and I am really appreciative of their generosity. I look forward to wearing it when I get home and will always remember them when I wear it.

At 12:30, we met up with Nathalie and around 1:00 we walked to the Grand Stands. We walked for what seemed like an eternity. I have not walked as much as I have this trip in I don’t know how long and I will be promptly making an appointment with Dr. Behmer when I get back in town because my foot will soon be the size of a watermelon - it’s pretty close right now. Our gift at the Grand Stands was a le Tour mug which was quite nice. We thought there was going to be food but there were only drinks and so I left in search of us some sandwiches. I finally found the stand and came back with sandwiches for us to eat so that we wouldn’t start rummaging through people’s bags for food.

At about 4:00, or perhaps a little after, the riders came through on their first lap on the Champs. They ride eight laps around and it is quite wonderful to see them pass through each time. The last day is a day for the sprinters and it is always an exciting finish. My man Cav did not disappoint and won the stage for the second year in a row and to top it off, he won the sprinter’s green jersey for the first time in his career. It was awesome.

After the award ceremonies, the riders come through in a parade and it’s a good time to get photos. I got a few but am hoping to get Bernie’s and Rob’s because they were both smart and brought their SLR cameras and have been getting some really great shots.

After the parade, we walked and walked and walked some more to the dinner cruise and finally found the boat. The cruise was actually quite nice as it is nice to see Paris all lit up at night, particularly the Eiffel Tower. The food was just mediocre in my opinion but Nathalie said it was a lot better than last year.

After the cruise, Bernie, Catherine and I got a cab back to the hotel because we were all tired of walking. The cab ride was awesome as we drove around the Arc de Triumphe which is an every man for himself type of situation and it was thrilling. I told Bernie and Catherine that I might have to take a taxi in and out of traffic around the Arc before I leave. I think it would be hilarious and fun!

Now I am back at the hotel icing my foot and hoping at least some of the swelling goes down before the morning. My dad arrives at 8:10 a.m. and I have arranged for the airport shuttle to pick me up to go and meet him. Then we’ve got to get the shuttle back. The receptionist at the hotel is supposed to help me with all of that in the morning. I’ve also got to drop off some laundry in the morning as I am running out of pants and I don’t want to go around in my undies.

So, the 2011 Le Tour is history and it was absolutely an amazing experience. I am so very glad I made this trip and maybe in a few years can come again. I want to give a shout out to Tony who taught me all about cycling and what a great and fantastic sport it is. It’s because of him that I fell in love with the sport and am now here in France; so, thanks buddy!

*No photos today. I prefer sleep over uploading them. Sorry, but love you all!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My Heart Was Broken In Grenoble

We were in Grenoble today for the time trial which would determine the winner of the 2011 le Tour de France. I came here hoping Andy Schleck would win, I really love that guy. Andy was wearing the maillot jaune heading into today’s stage and as I told the folks in my group, “It’s his to lose.” Andy is not very good in the time trial. He has improved in the last couple of years, but needs more improvement as this is his weak spot. Cadel Evans of Australia beat out Andy today in a fantastic time trial performance and after finishing second twice, will now wear the maillot jaune en route to Paris tomorrow as the winner of the 2011 le Tour. Andy will finish second for the third year in a row, but at least this year, his brother, Frank will be alongside him in the third place position. Maybe 2012 will be Andy’s year.

We had another exhausting day today. We had made plans with our guide to meet downstairs in our hotel at 10:45. At 9:30 she called and said we needed to be down at 10:00 with our luggage… I was in the middle of repacking. Thankfully, I got it all done on time.

We headed to our viewing area where we had a catered lunch but no place to sit down – that was a big bummer. It was raining on and off during the first hour or so but cleared up not long after we arrived. The wind was blowing and it was quite cool. I had to wear a jacket again. I could get used to this. By the late afternoon, when the leaders came through, the sun was out and it was warming up.

Our viewing location

A rider coming through

Once Andy went through (he was the last one) we watched the finishes on TV, which is how we discovered Cadel had won. We then went to the train station where we were to catch the 7:20 train to Paris. We waited around the train station for a bit because we had an hour or so to kill before the train loaded. Then as we were walking to the train, Bernie spotted a familiar face but couldn’t come up with the name, it was Bob Stapleton from HTC. He is the team manager. So, I went up to him and said, “Mr. Stapleton, may we have a picture with you?” He said, “Of Couse, where are you from?” and then Bernie’s wife Catherine jumped in beside Bob for a photo and said she was from Canada. It was pretty funny. Anyway, I then got my photo with Bob and told him I was from Alabama and that I was a Cav fan!! I love me some Cav! He was very nice and was taking the same train as us although we didn’t see him again.
Me, my red nose and Bob, looking off in the distance

We arrived in Paris at 10:20 and took the metro to our hotel. When we got out of the metro station, we saw the Arc de Triumphe, and I can also see it from my hotel room window. Amazing.

Tomorrow is a big day. I have a seat in the grand stands and am looking forward to a wonderful end to the best le Tour de France in a very long time. I saw a tweet from David Millar (Team Garmin-Cervelo) earlier about passing little Tommy Voeckler on the road and how broken he looked. I’ve just gotta say folks, what an amazing tour little Tommy Voeckler had. As much as I wanted Andy to win, I would not have been disappointed if it had been Voeckler. He had the whole of France on his shoulders and rode magnificently. He should be extremely satisfied with his performance and for holding on the maillot jaune for as long as he did. It was a beautiful thing to watch. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and to my dad’s arrival on Monday morning. Pray he has a safe flight. Love to you all!!

Alpe D'Huez!

I’m posting this one late because sweet mercy I don’t remember the last time I was as exhausted as I was last night. Before I get started with the day’s recap, there was one thing from yesterday I wanted to mentioned and forgot. As we were driving to the Galibier, we were driving on the race route and because our van is the same color as the maillot jaune, people thought we were some sort of important people and kept waving to us and so we waved back. It was great fun and quite hilarious. OK, on to the events of Friday.

It was another early start for us as we left the hotel at 8:15 to head up the mountain. It was about an hour and a half drive from the hotel in Grenoble to Oz en Oisons which is where we would have to get the ski lift to Alpe D’Huez. I was a little frightened about this whole ski life situation because whenever I am on one, I am always afraid I am going to miss my jump.

Once the tickets for the lift were bought, we got in queue for the lift, which turned out to be a gondola, an enclosed sky bucket like the ones you would ride at Six Flags, only we were going up into the Alps which is a little bit different, eh. So, we rode through the first station up to the second, got off and on to yet another gondola which took us down into Alpe D’Huez village. Once there, we rode an open air type gondola which took us into the heart of the village.

The company we are with rented a chalet on the next to the last switchback on the Alpe D’Huez route, but it was not going to be ready until 1:30. It was 11:00 when we arrived. So, we had some café and then did a little shopping. I bought a Tour de France apron which they had not had at the other spot and also an Alpe D’Huez shirt and also a winter hat which turned out to come in very handy.

After the shopping was complete and we met back up together, we made the trek down to the chalet, it was probably a 1.5 kilometer walk and it was all downhill and a very steep gradient and I think we were all dreading the climb back up to the top. We passed all sorts of magical and mysterious people on the mountain. If you don’t already know, the mountain stages in le Tour bring out the crazy in everyone and Alpe D’Huez did not disappoint. The chalet was in an absolutely perfect spot. Up high from the road, it allowed us to see the riders coming from a distance and watch them through at least three of the switchbacks.

We had grilled chicken, sausages, pasta salad, fresh fruit, and of course fresh bread to eat for lunch. I don’t know what it is about the fruit and the juice I have had since I have been here, but it seems to be the best I have ever had. We all staked out a spot at the very edge of the not-too-high overhang but before the race got started, I went down to the street to catch some more swag from the caravan; particularly in hopes of getting my polka dot t-shirt, which was referred to yesterday as the holy grail of swag. I landed some more goods, but, alas, no t-shirt.

While I was waiting for the caravan to arrive, Steve and Jordan from Radio Shack Live on Twitter came over and asked me and the people next to me if we were American. They said they were from Radio Shack and I said, hey, are you Steve and Jordan, and they were. They did a little video interview with me about who I wanted to win, etc. and it is supposed to be posted on You Tube and their facebook page. So, those of you who use facebook can check out the Radio Shack Live facebook page and let me know if it’s on there. If it is, leave a link in the comments, if you don’t mind.

After the caravan passed, I walked back up to my spot on the overhang to watch the riders come through. We also had TVs; so we knew where the riders were and what was going on in the race, which was nice.

The first man through was Alberto Contador, with Sammy Sanchez and Pierre Rolland close behind. In the third group was the Schleck brothers and Cadel Evans. Let me tell you, the mountain was FULL of people from Luxembourg to see the Schlecks. I’m pretty sure the whole country was there, or at least 75% of it. Rolland ended up winning the stage and Andy Schleck ended up in yellow!! It was just what I had hoped for!!

Backtracking a little, if you watch le Tour on TV, you may notice writings on the road in the mountains. I have always thought it to be chalk and had intended to bring some with me but then didn’t. It is actually paint. And apparently it’s rarely painted over because there was old paint and new paint alike on the street. It’s really quite interesting.

After the autobus came through, it was time for us to make the way up the steep incline to the ski lift. Rather than take the road, we climbed a mountain trail which was steeper than the road and rocky, but a shorter distance. We had to stop and rest about three times – and it wasn’t just me. First of all, your heart is already working harder because of the altitude, then you add walking on a mountain trail at a steep gradient to the mix and also for me, major sinus issues. Yeah, not fun. I really thought my legs would be screaming at me this morning, but thankfully they are not.

We made our way to the first ski lift, which was the open air one and the line was quite quick. Then we got to the first gondola station and the line looked like it would take an eternity, or at least an hour. Thankfully, we were through quickly and made it to the next station to go back down to Oz en Oisons. The total time to get back down to Oz was about one hour, which was amazingly fast considering the mass number of people trying to get down on the lifts.

We made it back to the van where we were to drive into Grenoble and take another lift up to a restaurant reserved for us for dinner, but because of the traffic, we didn’t get back into Grenoble until almost 11:00 and so we had dinner at the hotel restaurant instead. All the others ordered a multiple course meal; but I just ordered one course and when it arrived, I ate it and vamoosed to my room, leaving the others to their other courses. When I got to my room and looked at myself, it was a scary sight. My face got some sun and wind burn, but particularly my nose is burned. I suppose because I was constantly blowing my nose (thank you sinuses), I rubbed off my sunscreen and make up and therefore it was more susceptible to burn. I should have worn a cap because I now look like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Today we were able to sleep in longer, which was much needed and very nice. We will be sending our luggage to Paris on the van and after watching the time trial from the Velodrome, we will take the bullet train to Paris, a three hour and 15 minute ride. It has been a great week so far and I’m looking forward to more excitement ahead! Vive le Tour!

Our view on Alpe D'Huez

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Wore Layers in July!

Me on the "podium"

Today was a very exciting day in our le Tour de France adventures. We got up early this morning - 5:00 for me; had the alarm set for 5:30 but ended up awake at 5:00 - showered and ate breakfast and then met down in the lobby for our 8:00 a.m. departure. We were leaving Italy which means leaving hotels again and so everything had to be packed up and ready to go, including all the swag we scored yesterday. As mentioned in my last post, two of the teams stayed at our hotel last night and this morning the mechanics were getting everything ready, including the water bottles. The Omega Pharma Lotto guys were kind enough to give us girls a bottle which was filled with energy drink like Gatorade. A great souvenir and it has been a great drink today as I have been very thirsty. I was really thrilled with getting the water bottle it was a great start to a wonderful day.

Once we left the hotel we went to the departure village where there were all sorts of sponsor booths set up. We scored LOTS of swag. More hats, the green hands for the sprint, a bag, key chains, sausages. At the Skoda tent we girls scored some sunglasses and the guys received miniature cars. While at the Skoda tent, we ran into Robbie Venture who commentates on the “sidelines” if you will for Vs. He sat at the table next to us and I said, “Hey, Robbie Venutra, can I get my photo with you?” He said yes, and then I told him I watched him every day at home when I am at home, that is. I’m great at making conversation with famous people as you can tell.

Me and Robbie Ventura

Also while in this area we ran into the great Eddy Merckx. If you are not familiar with cycling, you may not know him, but he won the Tour de France five times and so I had my picture with him. I think he was less than thrilled, but he’ll get over it.

Me and Eddy

After a couple of hours in the start village, we went to the team busses where we still had exclusive access. I stalked the HTC bus for a while waiting on my man Cav but then missed him when I was getting a photo with a rider from Sauer. Our guide, Natalie knows a rider from Saur and so I got his autograph and a photo with him and also got the autograph of some other Saur riders. They are a wildcard team from France and I don’t really know any of them but it was still a good experience. Natalie also knows Antony Charteau who rides for Europcar, the team of Maillot Jaune wearer Little Tommy Voeckler. I got Anthony autograph as well and also a picture.

Anthony Charteau

We watched the riders coming and going and I managed to snag a few good photos and also got Mark Renshaw’s autograph. I bought this book at le Tour de France stand that has a place for autographs and I pointed out where he was to sign. This is how it went:

Me: “Can I have your autograph?”
MR: “Sure” Looking around as to where to sign.
Me: “You can sign right here where it says Mark Renshaw, because’ that’s you.”

I’m a genius, people, a genius I tell you.

Some of the others in the group got good photos of Fabian Cancellera and the Schlecks and I plan to get all of their photos downloaded to my computer before I leave here because some of their photos are great, especially on the stages where I’d rather just scream like an idiot than take photos.

After the riders took off, so did we. We took a different route than they did to get to the Col du Galibier. I had been looking forward to this all week and it did not disappoint. It has been snowing on the Galibier earlier in the week and we knew it would be cold. On the way, we stopped at a ski resort to have a sandwich for lunch and then we made our way to our designated parking spot and then walked up the Col a few meters until we found a spot in front of the French radio both. . No one was standing there and it ended up being a perfect spot. While waiting for the caravan, I had my photo taken with a French policeman which ended up being my favorite photo of the day. It cracks me up.

Wearing the new Skoda glasses
And the scarf Jackie gave me
And layers in JULY!!
Loving life!!

Soon the caravan came through and I got a … wait for it… polka-dot… hat! I know, I know, you thought I was going to say shirt. I was really hoping for a shirt, but they weren’t throwing those out yet. I think they throw them out really close to the summit and we were seven kilometers from the summit.

The Vs. booth with Phil and Paul was by wear we stood.
 Unfortunately I did not get a glimpse of them.

Once the caravan was through, we knew the riders wouldn’t be far behind and about an hour later, here they came. Leading the way was Andy Schleck – love that guy – with a man from Astana riding on his wheel. Andy ended up winning the stage which was super exciting because I really want him to win. The next group included Little Tommy Voeckler, Frank Schleck and Cadel Evans and then minutes later Alberto Contador who had been dropped. Sweet Mercy, I was thrilled! I really don’t want Alberto to finish on the podium and I think he probably lost it today.

Once the pelaton came through with my man Cav struggling in the rear (Bernie got a great photo by the way) we all began making our way back down the mountain to our parking spot. We got in the van and spent an hour and a half going down amongst other cars and cyclists who had ridden up to watch the stage. After the hour and a half of driving we stopped for dinner, which I didn’t think was very good and was overpriced, but c’est la vie, I suppose.

We are now back in the van driving to Grenoble where we will stay the next two nights. Tomorrow we will head to what I expect to be my favorite stage of the race, Alpe d’Huez! I cannot wait! We are taking the ski lift up to a chalet on one of the switchbacks from where we will watch the race on TV and then of course, venture outside when the riders get close. I bought a special t-shirt for this stage and I am excited to wear it tomorrow. I will probably only wear it for some photos because it will be cold there as well and I will be layering up once again.

I guess I didn’t really mention the weather on the Col du Galibier. It was probably in the high 30s to mid-40s with a breeze blowing. Very nice. Loved it! I layered up in July, people! In July! Never before has that been done by me! I was thrilled to see snow in July! I hate the heat so much. Wow! Snow and cold in July – that is a little slice of heaven.

Speaking of heaven, the Alps are gorgeous! Absolutely gorgeous and when looking at those mountains, I don’t know how a person could not believe in God! What a magnificent creation!

That’s all the news for today. As for me personally, my sinuses are out of control, my ears are going nuts in the mountains and, my foot is still swollen and I still haven’t found a bank to exchange my currency but other than that I having a blast and wish this party could continue for a while longer but, sadly the Tour comes only once a year. Vive le Tour!

Me and Jimmy Engoulvent

It's Lars Bak!
Look at that smile!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's Exciting At The Finish

Once we finally arrived in Italy, we checked in to our rooms and immediately went downstairs for dinner. The dinner was very good and very filling. After we ate, I was able to get online and put up yesterday’s post and also respond to a few emails. By the time I was finished, it was midnight and I was more than ready for bed.

This morning, I got up and showered early so that I could leave all of my dirty clothes in the hall for the maid to wash. That’s a big advantage to staying in the same hotel two nights in a row. I then went down to breakfast and ate just a little bit. For some reason my stomach is still not feeling quite right. Each morning I feel a little sick to my stomach and so I keep some crackers close by to munch on when I first get up. I also woke up with major sinus drainage; I’m assuming this is due to the mountain air. I’m sure this is more information than you bargained for today, but I’m just trying to give everyone the details.

I spent the rest of the morning checking emails and bank accounts and also reading up on all the cycling news and other things such as this. I also didn’t want to walk around too much this morning because my left foot and ankle are swollen. This is the same foot on which I had surgery late last year and the top of it has been bothering me for a few weeks. So, this morning due to all the walking yesterday it is swollen and so I have slathered it with Bio Freeze and am hoping it will hold up okay today. Leave it to me to come to France and have all sorts of problems.

I am now continuing this post after returning to the hotel. For starters, my foot held up okay. It isn’t painful just swollen. I am going to try and get a bag of ice from the reception desk and ice it down this evening. Now, on to more important things like the days’ activities.

We left the hotel at noon today and went to eat at a restaurant in Pinerolo. I had a salad and pasta that was very delicious – it is Italy after all! After lunch, our guide walked us to the VIP area from which we would be viewing the stage. Today we were between 200 and 150 meters from the finish line. I have emailed Tony and given him instruction as to where to look for me on TV. I, unfortunately didn’t record today’s stage and Tony is the only one of my readers who probably watches le Tour; so, I will leave it up to him to tell me if he spots me on TV or not.

We stopped off at a le Tour de France stand to buy some souvenirs before heading into the VIP area. I bought more than I should have but have no regrets at all. J’aime le Tour! So, Natalie, out guide, took our bags with her and put them in the van for us since she wasn’t going into the VIP area. She instead just read a book or something on the park bench. She’s not really into le Tour and that’s okay. Different strokes, ya know? Our bracelets also had computer chips in them so that there could be no fakes.

When we got to the VIP area, there were free drinks and snacks and some of the caravan was coming through throwing out things. After about an hour, the big part of the caravan came through and this is the swag I got today: Candies (Haribo and Smurfs), Yellow LCL hat (you will see folks wearing these at the finish line every day), White Skoda hat (another finish line accessory), BIC pens and highlighters, French newspaper, one of those blow up things that you beat together to make noise, and pom-poms. Both of the pom poms came from French TV and both times I yelled out “Oy!” to the person handing them out and they came over and gave us some. Apparently yelling “Oy!” works. Guess it is a universal word or something.

There was a big screen to watch the stage and so we knew when the riders were getting close. With about 7 kilometers to go, I stood along the road because I wanted to make sure I had a good spot. I had spoken with Bernie beforehand about getting some photos from him. Since I didn’t bring my big camera, I knew I couldn’t take high speed photos. Bernie has the same camera I do and so I asked him if I could just cheer and get photos from him later. He agreed.

When the riders came close, it was super exciting. Edvald Bossan-Hagan won the stage today and he was ahead of all the other riders. Then when the groups starting coming in it got so confusing because they go so stinkin’ fast that you can hardly catch a glimpse of who is in what group. For example, I totally didn’t even see Little Tommy Voeckler go by in the malliot jaune! I’m embarrassed to say that, but it’s the truth. I think I was paying attention to someone else in his group. I did manage to scream out “Andy” when Andy Schleck went by and of course let out a big yell for my man Mark Cavendish!

After the stage was over, we had a glass of champagne to celebrate and then it was to the bus but first we stopped off for a scoop or sorbet or gelato. I had the strawberry sorbet – it was quite refreshing after being out in the sun all afternoon. Here the hottest time of the day is between 2:00 and 6:00 or so due to the fact that the sun doesn’t set until after 10:00.

We made it back to the van and managed the crazy post-tour streets of Pinerolo back to the hotel where when we pulled in we discovered that two teams (Omega Pharma Lotto and Movistar) are staying at our hotel. We were outside enjoying a drink (Orange juice for me – for real, ya’ll!) and Bernie had been up to our floor and said that there were riders walking around in towels. Apparently they were going from their own room to the massage room. I knew I wanted to get a glimpse of this but alas when I got upstairs, there were no naked men. Ah, C’est la vie.

Movistar Buses

View from my window - Omega Pharma Lotto

My laundry had returned and I started panicking because I thought my pants and a shirt and pair of shorts were MIA so I went down to reception to ask about it and the gal came upstairs with me. This is the same girl who helped me with the internet last night. She speaks great English and is very nice and helpful. Turns out my missing clothes were hanging in the closet. Yeah, duh! I didn’t even think to look there.

I took a shower because I felt disgusting and put on some clean clothes in preparation for dinner. We had smoked swordfish, mushroom risotto, roast beef and chocolate pudding for diner. The pudding is actually more like a flan. I am now in the room icing my poor foot which seems to get bigger each minute. My sinuses are also not much better and I had to ask Jackie to pick up some Allegra from my house and drop off with my dad to bring when he comes in on Monday.

So, that’s all the news from this side of the world. It’s an early start for us tomorrow as we are leaving the hotel at 8:00 and heading to the start village and then we will leave after the riders and take a different route to the top of the Col du Galibier to watch some mountain climbing. It should be a great day for le Tour!

Me and Joy - she's from South Africa

Two Italian policmen - polizia - holding the South African flag.
 didn't bring a flag with me. Oh well.

The final meters to the finish.

Fans along the final meters.

Here I am all ready to wave my pom poms and yell as the riders pass!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We Drove and Drove To Italy

And I mean drove! It took us between five and six hours to get here! Jeesh! The internet service is kind of wonky again here so I am putting up this post while sitting in the lobby and then am going up to te room and hope to get some pictures up if I am still connected...

Well folks, today le Tour de France got started back up after the riders had a rest day yesterday. We drove from our hotel in Pouzilhac to the start of the race in Saint-Paul Trois Chateaux in order to catch the festivities and watch the riders take off.

Hotel parking lot this morning - lots of rain!

When we first arrived, we began walking to the start and ran into the publicity caravan which throws out all sorts of swag to the fans. Anything from hats to t-shirts to sausages, yes, sausages, Since the place where we ran into the caravan was just the very beginning, they had not begun to throw out anything yet which was unfortunate, but I’m hoping to catch some swag from them on another day as I really want one of those polka dot hats and shirts for the king of the mountains.

A sample of the caravan! I want a polka dot shirt!

More caravan!

We took lots of photos of the caravan and then resumed walking to the start where we ran into the line-up of team buses. It was about an hour and a half or so before the start and the riders were all loaded on the buses already. We stood there as each bus drove by and took lots of photos again. I looked for some folks in the team cars like Jonathan Vaughters from Garmin and Johan Bruynel from Radio Shack but saw no recognizable faces. The riders were in the back of the buses too and so we couldn’t see them either.

Little Tommy Voeckler's Europcar Bus!
I kind of hope Little Tommy Voeckler wins because the French will go insane!!

Garmin! Love those guys!

We then found the start and each staked out a place. I got behind an old man and what appeared to be his grandchildren and it was a pretty good spot until other people started piling in around us. It’s le Tour and everyone is excited I know!

The riders finally pulled up and I managed to get a few okay shots. I tried holding my camera up to take a photo of my man, Mark Cavendish, but it didn’t work out too well. Bernie got a great shot of him and I will have to get a copy because I love me some Cavendish, bad attitude and all.

Big George Hincapie from the US was right in front of me and I got some shots of him leaning on his bike, no really good ones of his face though. Tyler Farrar, another American was also close by. If I had had something for Big George to autograph, I would have shouted at him but I didn’t. Maybe I will bump into him again. I heard rom our original guide Katherine that if you have big boobs you’ve got a better chance of getting autographs. So, I should be okay in that department. (Sorry Aunt Linda – just being honest here!).

So exciting at the start!

It's Big George Hincapie, I promise it is!

Finally the riders were off and so were we. We actually stayed in Saint-Paul Trois Chateaux for lunch where for 16 Euro we had a three course meal consisting of a salad with chicken, leg of lamb, and cheesecake. It was all very good.

We ate outside - this is a view from our table.
Lovely village!

We are now driving to Italy as I type this and I plan to post once we get to the hotel. We have been driving for a couple of hours and have a couple of more to go. It is chilly here in the Alps and as I mentioned in the previous post, snowing in some places. The morning actually started out with pouring rain and was quite cold, but by the time we arrived in Saint-Paul Trois Chateaux, the sun was out and it was in the 80s I would guess judging by the heat from the sun and the sweat down my back. I packed some warm clothes and will have them ready for the colder mountain stages this week.

The Alps are absolutely gorgeous as we are driving though. I haven’t taken any pictures because it is raining again and very foggy. Hopefully when we drive back through on our way to Grenoble I will be able to get some good shots.

I think that is all the news from this Tuesday in France. I am looking forward to a nice dinner at the hotel and a good night of rest so that I will be all ready for tomorrow where we will watch the race on the television and see the stage end live! Vive le Tour!

Found this one when going throught the photos just now...

There's my man Cav in the green! Woot!