July 10: I drive the Peugeot and see the Tour de France!

Today we got up very early, packed up everything into the Peugeot, and peeled out of Fourchette, after depositing the key with the keyholder, or rather on her doorknob. We felt a little sad to say goodbye to beautiful, vine-covered Chambemerle, but excited to see what lay ahead for us in the East. The plan was to meet up with Jim at a crossroads south of Geneva, but we really didn’t know where we were going. Once again, the Garmin GPS download with the European maps was money well spent.

We took the A roads, very fast and expensive, and no tiny villages to wind through. However, we did see the mountains in the distance, and then approaching. The French countryside is dotted with fat animals grazing on bright green grass. I can’t imagine a feed lot in France – maybe they exist, but I look at all these grass-fed contented big fat cows, chickens scratching around in yards, and sheep and goats meandering around eating fruit and shrubbery, and I think, no wonder the food is so good. The other thing we noticed were the big huge communal gardens. It seems as if everyone who has room for a plot in their back yard has planted one, and everyone who doesn’t, gets a space in these big areas divided up into discreet little rectangles, each one with its own small shed. I read before I came here that any serious French cook, even one cooking for just the family, grows his or her own ingredients whenever possible. I see this happening.

I slept a bit on the way to the Alps, and the children slept a bit too, though Benny mostly played his DSi, nodding appreciatively when we would point out some spectacular vista. As we got higher and higher into the mountains toward Geneva, we kept oohing and aahing at the peaks and valleys – some of those views were just mind boggling. Pretty gorgeous. We started seeing Tour de France related vehicles before we even left the freeway – first the team busses and then a “voiture officielle” in the toll booth. Exciting! Dan and I kept poking each other. Look, it’s the Garmin Transitions team bus! Look, it’s the RadioShack team bus! It’s ALL REAL.

We located the intersection where Jim was to meet us, found his car, and the boys put together their bicycles and headed out on the road just across the stream from Jeurre.

We knew the Tour was coming through there later, so the idea was that they’d get out ahead of them and stay ahead for as long as possible, until they had to get off the bikes and let them through. I’ll let Dan blog about that experience – suffice to say they were pretty chuffed about themselves as they set out up the hill.

The kids and I had all of our luggage and Jim’s bag and passport in the van, along with various food and household items we’d collected. The time was about 1:00 and we thought the Tour was probably coming through at about 2:30 or 3:00, so we had some time to kill. I had no idea how bad the traffic was going to get, how crowded this spot was going to be, or anything at all about anything, nor had I driven the Peugeot at all before Dan got out of the car and handed me the kids. We set the GPS to “home” at the spot where we left Jim’s car, and agreed we’d meet the boys back there at 5:00ish. And we set off!

My first desire was to mail our postcards off – but the post office was closed because it was Saturday. Of course! My second desire was to get online and connect with everyone at home, post pictures, post blog posts, etc. so we attempted to find a McDonald’s in the area and ended up in a ski resort and manufacturing town. At the McDonald’s, I unloaded the laptop, relishing the wonderful idea of messaging Ahno, chatting with friends, checking on our pets, finding out what’s going on with everything at home, and updating the backlog of blog posts and pictures. Ordered the food, sat down next to the play area, and – DOH, the laptop is completely out of battery. It’s just not holding a charge at all. That was, as they say in other places that are not France, a real kick in the teeth. I did not realize how much I would need to connect, but after a full week of being gone, I was really really missing mah peeps. At least the children were happy. And that is something.

Thinking that after all this we were probably now going to also miss the Tour coming through, I loaded the kids back into the car, pushed “Go Home” on the Garmin, and was led back down through terrifyingly guardrail-less mountain roads to the rendezvous point. The side of the road and the road itself had become a giant parking lot, as the gendarmerie had stopped traffic and no one could enter the Tour route except official vehicles. Between the official vehicles trying to get through the traffic and people stumping around trying to get up the hill on foot, it was a mess. We parked the car, and emerged into the staggering heat. It seems weird, maybe, that’s it’s so horribly hot in the Alps, but brother, let me tell you, it was hot. I was dripping sweat before we’d gone ten steps. We hiked up the hill to the bridge, crossed it, and found a bit of shade in the village of Jeurre, which is basically six houses along the little stream.

Benny struck up a conversation with a woman who had a dog – I have to determine the French for “may I pat your dog?” because pantomiming it gets a little ridiculous. The bridge was festooned with flags and banners, including a huge one stretched across the road that showed the beginning of the feeding station. Benny found out by asking that the Tour was not coming through until 4:00, so at about 3:45 we moved over to the road, so I could set up my camera shot with the exposed stone cliffs in the background.

Lots of people gathered around the road, all hungry for shade, all looking up the road. Every time another media vehicle or team car came through, people applauded and the cars would often honk their horns.

We must have just missed the main caravan with all the dancing girls throwing swag – Dan and Jim saw it though, farther up the road. It was very hot. The children were trying to hide under blades of grass to get some shade. Sadie buried Pink Puppy:

The anticipation was building and building, and we saw the motorcycle photographers come through, we knew the Tour was close! Overhead there was a parade of five helicopters high in the air – Dan later told me these were VIPs, and then we saw the helicopters lower down that would be actually filming the cyclists. Then we saw them! Cocooned in support vehicles, a group of four or five cyclists came flying down the hill toward the bridge. THIS WAS IT. THE TOUR DE FRANCE.

I yelled like a fool and snapped a bunch of pictures. Then after the break group had gone by, the peloton arrived. Benny said he saw Lance Armstrong and I know we saw some RadioShack guys, but I couldn’t tell who was who at that speed! Benny also saw Fabian Cancellara in the yellow jersey but once again I was too distracted with yelling and jumping up and down to distinguish faces.

After the peloton, there was one more rider, Robbie McEwen, who had been dropped. The crowd cheered for him more enthusiastically than for the leaders! Just after he came through, the last official vehicles came through, and it was as if a flock of vultures descended on the d├ęcor – people took the flags, the directional signs, the banners, everything! It was crazy! We saw a sign that no one had taken, and I half-assedly pulled at it, trying to untwist the metal twists that kept it on the permanent street sign. A French guy with another sign in his hand came over and said, in French, “No no, you’re doing it wrong – let me do it for you.” Then he wrenched it off with one twist, and handed it to the kids. They were excited! We got a flag too. Apparently there is no clean-up after the Tour de France comes through – the spectators just take everything home. No one minded – the gendarmes that were directing the backed up traffic watched the whole thing and said nothing but bonjour to us as we went back to the car, desperate for air conditioning.

Finally Dan and Jim came back down the hill, and we packed up and went looking for dinner. We found it in the town square of Onynnax, right beside the church in a little brasserie where the aftermath of the Tour de France was on TV.

Of course, they didn’t start serving dinner until 7:00, so we drank and waited until 7, and then ate outside on the terrace. Dan and I had Pizza Sicillienne and Duo de Boeuf, which included basically a mozarella/tomato/olive oil/ pesto/greens salad on a pizza, steak grilled and also steak tartar, with some sort of cheese and potato concoction. It was awesome! What a relief!

We’re beginning to discover that dinner here is always long. Oh, and so is lunch. I think we got out of there by 8:30 but it was only by irritating the waiter and hurrying him along. With Jim in his car and us in ours, we caravanned southward to St. Antoine L’Abbaye. We made a few missteps, turned a few corners, and by the time we were off the main road it was quite dark and we were exhausted. I made the decision that instead of driving up to Annecy tomorrow to meet with Dan after they ride the next stage of the Tour, that I would just sent the van with him and stay in the village. This was even before I saw the house. It took us a long time to locate it in this tiny medieval walled village. The center of town is the abbey, a point of pilgrimages for centuries, and when we pulled into town last night and saw it all lit up, it was breathtaking. Our house is Maison du Georges, just off the main square on a cobblestone street.

The house is insanely awesome. The children just wandered through it with their eyes blinking, saying “I think we are in a castle!” All the right bits are original, and all the right bits are intelligently, lovingly updated – it’s like stepping into a fairy tale. Unbelievable. By the time we had gone up to the third floor with a balcony that looks out over the valley, we thought we had stepped into another time. We are so thankful that we found this place and that its owners allowed us to rent it for the week – if I had such a treasure, I don’t know that I’d want anyone else touching it. The children showered and put on clean clothes, but since it was after midnight at that point, they had a hard time falling asleep, and I ended up falling asleep sprawled over the end of Sadie’s bed with my legs sticking off the side, but we were so tired that we didn’t really care.

Such an interesting day, I said to Dan as we passed on the stairs, getting things organized in the house. This is a day that I will not forget.

1 comment:

  1. Miss you too!
    The rabbit happily hopped in the grass yesterday.
    I TOLD you their meals were LONG.
    And how exciting to see THE TOUR DE FRANCE!

    "Es que je peux donner une petite tape chein?"
    is a direct translation, but apparently means "May I punish your dog?" Have you tried Google translator? It says, "Puis-je animaux de compagnie de votre chien?" which Jesse interprets as, "May I join a group with your dog?" Good luck petting French pups! Maybe you don't have to ask?