…and just a little bored.

Thursday, July 29.

So, we made it. It was nice to sleep in our own bed, but by 4:30 am, the bio-clock was saying “it’s way past time to be up.” The postman just delivered several pounds of mostly insignificant printed matter and one of our bags that decided to spend an extra day in France will arrive shortly.

Having walked at least 6 kms. a day for the past month, we decided to maintain the regime by hiking to Basha’s Grocery for a few breakfast fixings. Rotterdam and Copenhagen had felt pretty warm, but they really can’t compare to an 85° Phoenix morning that includes 80% monsoon humidity.

We’re incredibly fortunate to have been able to make such a fantastic voyage. We avoided illness, intestinal distress, falls, fractures and most any other malady. We’re equally fortunate to have a comfortable nest to return to. So why then is there just the slightest feeling of “ho-hum?” I’ll write it off to a rapid downshift from 5th to 2nd gear. No Metros to hop, no 14th century buildings to photograph, no menus to analyze, no being chastised for two of us sitting at a four-top. Clearly, it’ll take a bit to adapt.

OK. Now what’d I do with that Kazakhstan travel guide?

Another day in Paris???

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

As previously noted, this trip has been pretty damn wonderful and today we put just a touch of additional gilding atop this L’Opera dessert that was our July on the Continent. After our last petit dejeuner at hotel Belloy Saint Germain and a 35 minute RER train trip to Charles de Gaulle airport we found pretty much what was expected; CDG was a zoo. Passage to the American Airlines check-in counter began in a line that extended past the patisserie, past the restroom doors, past the McDonalds (remember, they call it a ‘Roy-al’) through a few hundred feet nylon tape-bordered zigzags  and took a bit over an hour and a half to traverse. The seats that I had selected back in June when we booked the flight were both aisles, one in front of the other—there was nothing else available. This was certainly a very full and probably oversold airplane. At this point, the obvious question was, should the opportunity present itself, do we want to spend another night in Paris. The more obvious answer was a quick “you betcha” so at the gate, we offered ourselves up to the agent and were informed that indeed, they may need a seat or two. We’d wait until boarding was complete and if they were full, we’d be provided with future travel vouchers, plus a hotel, meals and upgraded seats on tomorrow’s flight. The slightly disappointing result was that our coach seats weren’t needed. The pleasantly surprising outcome was that for being such affable and willing volunteers, we were upgraded to business class. As I typed this section, I was most comfortably perched in a 97-way-fully-reclining seat, finishing off a lovely fromage plate and a Kronenbourg 1664 beer.

The only down side to this leg was that we were too late out of Paris to make the connection in Dallas. I’d picked this flight because after a few weeks on the road and 9-hour time change, a long connection is the pits.  It’ll become a 3-hour layover, rather than one, but after a most relaxing ride from CDG to DFW, I suspect we’ll survive.

A quick note on Paris: there was a posting in the hotel regarding the shortage of taxis, reservation and prepayment requirements, etc. The RER train, nearby in almost all of Paris, is fast—it took us 34 minutes from the Left Bank—and at just over 8 Euros per passenger. The cab probably takes an hour or more, depending on traffic on the A1, and will set you back someplace north of €60.

What we learned today:

  • Always enquire about overbookings. It can’t hurt.
  • Even after 30 days, we seem to have a capacity for more.

Enough with the writing, already. It’s time for a few tunes off the PC. Laurel did find some Iz on the PC in Coco’s apartment in Dijon, but other than that, there hasn’t been much kanikapila for a few weeks. “Oh, madame. Plus de vin, svp.”

July in Paris…

Tuesday, July 27

Today is our last day in the City of Light and our short 3+ day stop has been great. The day opened with a quick au revoir to Hotel Crystal. We didn’t like the room or the neighborhood, so we moved a bit closer to the Sorbonne and the Latin Quarter. Our new home at the Belloy Saint Germain is wonderful. In the room we found a tent card curiously saying “ALL IN ONE: Nothing is included, everything is free. A glass of Champagne, the minibar, tea time buffet…” The Champagne was most welcome.

Because of the shemozzle with our tickets to Brugge back on July 1st, we had a spare day on our Eurail pass. We thought about taking the train someplace outside of town for a day, but in the end decided to get a one day Metro pass and bum around town. I suppose we can use our pass to take the TGV to the airport.

Anyway, our Paris wonderings today took us to Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise, a cemetery with a noteworthiness of Forest Lawn. Most notably, I suppose, is that this is the resting place of Jim Morrison. More significantly, perhaps, it also holds the remains of Fredrick Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Stéphane Grappelli, Balzac, etc., etc. The place is huge—105 acres—and it was a beautiful day for wondering and an area that was a bit less occupied by tourists than most of the rest of Paris. I did manage to get yelled at twice while we were here. Once by a man for my showing little interest in going to the grave of Maria Callas and the other by a woman who repeatedly told me “Ne vous reposez pas …” I wasn’t sitting on any of the gravestones and I didn’t want to sit on the stone bench she kept suggesting.

After a few hours with dead people we headed to the Centre Pompidou. The museum was closed for some special maintenance and the spouting lips were dry. Oh, well, back to the hotel for a bit of refreshment and then back to the streets.

Tonight’s event was a Metro to Rue Saint Denis—the prime red-light district in Paris and also home to Port of Saint Denis Arches. While not quite as grand as the Arch de Triumph, still quite impressive.

It’s just 11:00 p.m. and already we’re back in our hotel for the last night on the road. Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and France were all fantastic.  Time to go home, but we’re already talking about the next trip.

A little rain and la musique.

Aloha Friday, July 23, 2010

It was simply a wonderful day at the TdF. This morning started out with just a few clouds in the sky and mild temperatures. Our tram trip to le Tour starting line was halted about two-thirds of the way there because the Line B tram that we’d hope to transfer to had been stopped by the tour route, but a nice little morning walked resolved that issue. As we approached Place des Quinconces, it quickly became obvious that our morning sun had turned into a pretty good rain shower and once again, our trusty umbrella was back in the room. The rain, fortunately, was brief and as soon as it let up, we headed for the starting line. It was barely 10:00 and the crowds were already starting to build; it seemed they were composed mostly of organized cycling tour groups.

Paul Sherwin, moi and Phil Ligget

Paul, Randy and Phil

One issue with going to France to watch the Tour de France is that unless we want to spend a lot of money and time looking at your iPhone, we really see much less coverage of the race on TV than we do at home, waking up early, like 4 a.m., and watching it Versus TV. During July, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwin and Bob Roll sort of become welcome old friends in our house. So imagine my surprise and excitement to see Phil and Paul coming out of a trailer in the media area. What charming gentlemen they were to take a bit of time out of their busy schedules to chat with a couple of loyal fans.

It was going on 11:30 and we knew bus service on the No. 15 was schedule to stop at 1:00 p.m., so we headed for our ride south. Things were ticking along until, about 10 stops from our intended terminus, a bus passing in the opposite direction, flagged down our driver and they exchanged a few words. Next thing we knew, everyone was getting off and we were back to being “pedes”—well short of our intended stopping point. As it turned out, this was a rather serendipitous event.

Villenave D'Ornon ChildrenOur intended destination was Cadaujac where we had been the day before, but according to GPS Randy, that destination was close to 5 kilometers away. Laurel had packed us a “mix”—fromage et jambon–sandwich for lunch and we knew of your basic Target store equivalent just across the expressway, so we headed there to grab a bottle of wine for lunch. People were already beginning to line the streets, a traffic circle had been decorated at this location and several tents had been erected in the super market parking lot. As it turns out, we were right in the middle of a celebration in the small village of Villenave D’Ornan. The town band was there along with a couple of classes of school children, chanting, cheering everything that moved and generally having a swell time. Every time the band stopped playing for more the five minutes, they’d break into a mantra of “la musique, la musique…”

The advertising caravan passed, make sure all the children got some “swag,” then came a lone breakaway rider followed 90 seconds later by the blur of the peloton. On the flat stages, its incredible how quickly 160 riders can go past you.

Following the tour passage, everyone moved to the parking lot for biers, frites and sandwiches at a fundraiser for Villlenave D’Ornan sports teams. We did our little part to help their efforts.

Thank you, Villenave D’Ornan for sharing you race day with us. We had a wonderful time.

Aloha Friday, July 23, 2010

It was simply a wonderful day at the TdF. This morning started out with just a few clouds in the sky and mild temperatures. Our tram trip to le Tour starting line was halted about two-thirds of the way there because the Line B tram that we’d hope to transfer to had been stopped by the tour route, but a nice little morning walked resolved that issue. As we approached Place des Quinconces, it quickly became obvious that our morning sun had turned into a pretty good rain shower and once again, our trusty umbrella was back in the room. The rain, fortunately, was brief and as soon as it let up, we headed for the starting line. It was barely 10:00 and the crowds were already starting to build; it seemed they were composed mostly of organized cycling tour groups.

One issue with going to France to watch the Tour de France is that unless we want to spend a lot of money and time looking at your iPhone, we really see much less coverage of the race on TV than we do at home, waking up early, like 4 a.m., and watching it Versus TV. During July, Phil Ligget, Paul Sherwin and Bob Roll sort of become welcome old friends in our house. So imagine my surprise and excitement to see Phil and Paul coming out of a trailer in the media area. What charming gentlemen they were to take a bit of time out of their busy schedules to chat with a couple of loyal fans.

It was going on 11:30 and we knew bus service on the No. 15 was schedule to stop at 1:00 p.m., so we headed for our ride south. Things were ticking along until, about 10 stops from our intended terminus, a bus passing in the opposite direction, flagged down our driver and they exchanged a few words. Next thing we knew, everyone was getting off and we were back to being “pedes”—well short of our intended stopping point. As it turned out, this was a rather serendipitous event.

Our intended destination was Cadaujac where we had been the day before, but according to GPS Randy, that destination was close to 5 kilometers away. Laurel had packed us a “mix”—fromage et jambon–sandwich for lunch and we knew of your basic Target store equivalent just across the expressway, so we headed there to grab a bottle of wine for lunch. People were already beginning to line the streets, a traffic circle had been decorated at this location and several tents had been erected in the super market parking lot. As it turns out, we were right in the middle of a celebration in the small village of Villenave D’Ornan. The town band was there along with a couple of classes of school children, chanting, cheering everything that moved and generally having a swell time. Every time the band stopped playing for more the five minutes, they’d break into a mantra of “la musique, la musique…”

The advertising caravan passed, make sure all the children got some “swag,” then came a lone breakaway rider followed 90 seconds later by the blur of the peloton. On the flat stages, its incredible how quickly 160 riders can go past you.

Following the tour passage, everyone moved to the parking lot for biers, frites and sandwiches at a fundraiser for Villlenave D’Ornan sports teams. We did our little part to help their efforts.

Thank you, Villenave D’Ornan for sharing you race day with us. We had a wonderful time.

Moving way too fast.

Thursday, July 22

It is unbelievable that by this time next week we’ll be on a west-bound plane. It has been so fun and so quick. A month just isn’t what it used to be.

Tour this wayToday we decided to do a bit of recon for a viewing spot of tomorrow’s arrival of stage 18 of le Tour. We wanted to find a place far enough out that it would be free from the crushing crowds found near the finish and yet close enough that we could get to it via public transport. The schedule has the Tour passing through the towns of Cadaujac and Le Bouscaut about 15 kms south of Bordeaux—a distance that looked about right for our requirements—so we grabbed a tram; transferred to a bus that we took to the end of the line. Le Bouscaut was another kilometer walk down the road. Our confidence in being in the right spot was bolstered when a truck pulled up and a man jumped out and mounted a couple of the yellow and black “Tour riders this way” signs. We didn’t decide if we’ll stay around the end of the bus line or walk into town. There’s a 90-degree right-hander as they enter Cadaujac and they can get pretty exciting, but back at the bus stop, we’ll have a little longer view—it all happens so fast. We’ll figure that out tomorrow.

Our tram and bus trip also brought us into one of Bordeaux’s wine making centers so after a quick stop for something cool to drink; we continued our hike to Chateau Bouscaut. Surrounded by stone walls and several hectors of grapevines, the chateau itself was rather typically spectacular.  Our self-guided tour took us past the stainless steel fermenter/cooling tanks, the bottling room, tasting room and on into a few of the opulent rooms that the chateau rents out.

Returning to the city we watched the end of stage 17 on the tube—Schleck and Cantador fighting it out to the finish at the Col du Tourmalet. Go Andy! What followed the race was simply amazing. Immediately following the race, France 2, the local Tour TV producer, aired a 20-minute stand-up interview with President Sarkozy.  After about 15 minutes of questioning by the French equivalent of Bob Costas, they added Lance Armstrong to the set, then Andy Schleck and finally Alberto Contador. The Prez had kind words to say to them all, but I thought it was fairly obvious that he felt that the Texas boy was the big kahuna on the stage. It just couldn’t believe Nicolas would talk for that long with some TV schmo. It’d never be allowed with the POTUS.

Tonight we headed across the river from the hotel to Place des Quinconces where le Tour will end tomorrow. A few TV and a support trucks had just begun arriving after making the trip from the end of today’s event. By morning, there’ll be dozens more.

Just a touch of poor planning – Part II.

Monday, July 19

Our train trips on this excursion have been great, but there are few things I like more than driving around rural France. Other than hiking or biking, and I’m way too much of a devotee of sloth for extensive use of either of those modes of transport, you just can’t beat travel by voiture de location—rental. Driving provides the spontaneity and up-close contact with the sites, the land, the cafes and the people.

Today we drove west from just outside of Vienne, about 40 kilometers south of Lyon, to Clermont-Ferrand. As mentioned before, we were in Vienne so we could return to Roman ruins at Romaine-en-Gal. Here’s where the poor planning part II comes in. It was Monday; the museum was ferme, closed. C’est le vie. We did visit a roman palace and the coliseum in Vienne. The seats of the coliseum are pretty much what you’d expect for roman stone work, but the stage was completely hidden by one of the largest lighting and sound arrays I’ve seen. They’d just finished the 30th Vienne Jazz festival featuring BB King, Norah Jones, etc.

Anyway, it was time to head west. We told GPS Randy to take us off the fast route and send us on a more leisurely course and that he did. We spent a couple of hours going through tiny burbs, go-arounds. We may have passed through someone’s back yard. The countryside, though, was spectacular. I’ve never driven in this part of France. The undulating terrain, full of sunflowers, corn and cattle began to climb and eventually grew into some 1000-meter+ mountains. Great biking and camping.

Our course had been a bit slower than planned and incredibly scenic, but cocktail hour was calling and driving is stressful. A little drink, a little TdF on the tube (Contador is such a douche), and a rather lengthy Randy-directed walk to the centre-ville for some grinds. It was a nice end to the end of our third week of the TdF Tour.

Where’s Roux? Where’s Viane?

 

Saturday, July 17

Today we left our wonderful home in Dijon. The stay was great and we loved the market, being able to do a bit of cooking, the bikes, museums and the great little restaurant we found, but the Gypsy in us was calling. Coco, our host, delivered us to the gare to pick up our rental car and after making sure all was well, Coco bid us au revoir and we were on our way to the roads of Burguneon.

Our road trip today first took us to the tiny ville of Flavigny sur Ozerain, where the movie Chocolat was filmed. This medieval village, set in the rolling hills northwest of Dijon is a spectacular site. I doubt there has been a new building constructed here in 300 years, but the existing structures, having been continuously cared for are in full use today. A few kilometers outside of town we came across a stone block house, obviously several hundred years old, which was missing its roof. New timbers had been set and as soon as the new rafters and roof tiles are in place, it’ll be as good, if not better, than new. That’s real urban renewal.

Châteauneuf-en-AuxoisWe passed through a few more villages and then, at the direction of ‘Randy,’ our GPS, we wound up on the A6 Expressway. It had been hours (maybe 3) since we’d eaten, so we made a quick exit at a rest site and dined on a mix—jambon et fromage on a fresh baguette—that Laurel had prepared for us in the morning. A short aside here: despite the global recession, universal health care, and all the other things the French have to ‘endure’, they have managed to figure out a way to keep roadside rest stops open. The next time you’re pissing in the weeds on your way from Phoenix to Flagstaff, you may wish to ask yourself “Is the universal tax cut really a solution for all of one’s ills?” Anyway, I digress. After twenty or so kilometers, we decided the express way was way too boring and we were missing all the good stuff and it was time for an exit. Shortly thereafter, on a distant hill, we spotted a chateau; the Château de Châteauneuf. It’s a vast stone building, 75 metres in length and 35 metres broad, situated on a rocky outcrop 475 metres above the surrounding plains. Its history dates back to 1132, but in 1457, Philippe le Bon, duke of Burgundy, offered the fortress to his advisor Philippe Pot. On Thursday, we’d visited the crypt of Philippe le Bon at the palais de Ducs in Dijon. It’s fun to tie this stuff together.

Tonight we stay in Verdun Sur Ce Doubs, a small village outside of Beaune, tomorrow’s first stop. Verdun is largely a farming village and this evening, tractors towing wagons loaded with wheat made a pretty much continuous passes through town on their way to the local grainery. It takes a lot of wheat to make all those baguettes. Watching the crop on its way to being processed takes me back to my boyhood summers on the farm in South Dakota.

Geography

Watching the tube in our Dijon apartment, Laurel had a wonderful idea. If you watch CNN International, BBC World, Al Jazeera or almost any of the global channels, when they do weather map and summaries, they always include temperatures and condition summaries from continents around the globe.

Wouldn’t it provide a big boost to US geography comprehension, if a piece of the nightly weather on “12 NEWS NOW” or whatever included the same?

The Six Rue Rule

Thursday, July 14

Geezer shoots artToday was one of those top-to-bottom glorious days in France. The day began with omelets and hash browns—OK, the pomme de terre with le petit déjeuner but they looked good at the Carrefour.  It was then time to add a bit of culture to our Dijon stay. A quick walk across the street from our flat brought us to Le Palais des Ducs (Palace of the Dukes), the Capitale de la Bourgogne and its adjoining Musée des Beaux Arts. What a marvelous collection of artwork  encompassing French and German artists from the 1400’s to current times and even an Egyptian collection. My favorites were the paintings and sculptures of Dijon-born François Rude.

setting up dominosA few hours of museum walking can make your feet sore, so it was time for a short bier break, some shopping, and a bit puzzlement over a group of workers setting up thousands of approximately 1’x3’ firebricks in very neat, evenly spaced rows throughout the center of town. They even made a pass through a fountain. Turns out they were building one of those giant domino falls and keeping true to our Dijon norm, we missed the sequential curplunking.

On Wednesday night, we spotted a place that looked ideal for tonight’s dinner, but when we arrived, a fellow in front of the place said “ferme.” It was closed. Plan B was to walk down few streets and see if we could find an alternative. I’ve developed what I call my 6 Rue Rule. Basically, in just about any ville in France, if you walk down no more than 6 streets you’ll find an acceptable restaurant. We’d exceed the six by one or two, but finally came across Restaurant au Buffon—a very unassuming, yet charming little spot that could seat 34 patrons on its 9 tables. On our entry, only one seat was occupied, obviously by a neighborhood resident. The menu was fairly simple but enticing. Laurel decided on an entrée of legumes, a wonderful casserole of roasted vegetable topped with a crispy cheese lattice, and a turkey breast scallop. I went with the crudities entree, a gorgeous cylinder of slaw, cabbage and cucumber all marinated in their own delicious sauces. For my plat, I opted for the beef with a blue cheese sauce. We topped this all with glace with a cassis sauce for dessert. The service was by our waiter/chef/proprietor was excellent; the food was outstanding. Restaurant au Buffon is the kind of place we’re always looking and the kind of place, I believe, that makes France France.

After dinner we were sooo stuffed, but found the energy to dash for the No. 3 bus and head for the lake and the delayed Bastille celebration fireworks. We were not the only ones with this idea. By the time we arrived at the lake, the bus was hot and we were packed like sardines. I think we were also skewing the demographics a bit. It seems most French, as well as tourist geezers decided this event was a bit too crowded to attend.  Once off the bus, though, the air was sweet and cool and a short walk found us a fairly decent viewing spot on the lakeshore. I haven’t seen a live fireworks show in many years and this one was spectacular—well paced, incredible shells and a good 40 minutes in length. When the booming stopped, we decided to let a few our fellow French celebrants precede us on the public transportation and paused at the first bistro we saw for a couple Kronenbourgs and a half hour or so of watching snarled traffic and listening to honking horns.

Fine art, fine food and a fine celebration. A wonderful day in Dijon.