Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I'll do it again

After spending last week following the Tour through southeast France (we watched stages 10,11,13, and 14) I’m convinced that following a bicycle race is a GREAT way to experience a new country. You have a schedule, route, you get to see places off the “beaten” path, you can camp or stay at hotels, and you get to meet lots of other people.

I’ve posted some pictures from my trip on a Flickr and will probably put more on my blog

So, let me pass along a few lessons that I’ll use on my next visit to the Tour (Giro, or Vuelta for that matter).
  1. Rent a camper. The Tour route follows lots of backroads and you’re more than likely going to need to camp if you want good positions. Using a tent is quaint, but it’d be a heck of a lot nicer if you just pulled off the side of the road and setup shop. It was hard not to be jealous of the Frenchmen that had their tables spread with wine, cheese and board games.
  2. Barring a camper, make sure you schedule accomodations ahead of time. We scrambled everyday to find a place. Hotels and campsites fill up for over 100km around every city. The day after the race ended in Briancon we ended up in the resort town of Ceuse at midnight (over 100km away) and there were still folks from the “caravan” (Cochonou for the record)
  3. See every other stage. Obviously sometimes there are GREAT stages back to back, but if you see every other stage, you get a nice respite from the stress of travel and waiting, and you’re also more likely to get good positioning.
  4. Arrive EARLY. Even if you’re hours before the caravan, that’s often not good enough. On the climb of the Col du Galibier we arrived the night before around 5PM and were prevented from driving up the climb. See the previous point about seeing every other stage. I ran into some Texans inside 1km from the top (the guy was the director of the Texas Bicycle Coalition) who had arrived at their spot two nights before the day of the race.
  5. Know the language as best as possible. I get the impression that the Gendarmarie (police) treated native speakers more favorably than us. If you can’t know the language be sure to have a dictionary and try your best to speak it. It helped us out (lots of folks didn’t speak English) and it made the trip all the more interesting.
  6. Take a bike. If you go the camper route this is all the more easier. I found myself wanting a bike really badly. Further more, if you get shutdown by the Gendarmerie they let bikes through until JUST before the racers arrive so you can ride your bike up to a good spectating spot, and ride back to your transportation when you’re done.
  7. Take lots of maps. You can also buy them in the supermarches. I also found Vialys to be very good. I like maps, they fun, but they’ll also save you lots of wasted time trying to get from A to B.
  8. Take a radio, or phone with internet access. Being able to have real-time updates on the Tour status made things very exciting.
  9. This tip is specific to Americans… Generally London is the cheapest European city for Americans to fly to. Fly to London and then get a transfer to airports like London Luton, Standsted, or Gatwick (I used National Express for 21GBP roundtrip) and then fly the cheap airlines like Ryan Air or Easy Jet. I hadn’t even heard of these airlines, but my friends suggested them. The flights were $50-80 for oneway flights to and from France

Following the Tour was clearly a cultural phenomenon, and was an awesome experience among my all-time favorite sporting events. Viva le Tour!

Winding to the top

Fans line the whole way to the top of the Col du Galiber. The atmosphere around the Tour is really cool. People in their campers just drinking French wine and playing cards await the riders. Some folks hawk their wares. Others sit around making music. We saw a particularly neat group of Frenchmen playing and singing what seemed to be French folk songs on violin, harmonica, and mandolin. It's definitely worth experiencing.


Tour de France

Originally uploaded by aharbick.

After the rain stopped the night we camped on the Galibier there was a beautiful sunset.

Camping on the Col du Galibier

We camped out on the Col du Galibier. Even in the heat of summer it stays pretty chilly there. It must've gotten into the 40s overnight. Then again the summit is over 8500 ft.

Sprint Finish

This is 100m from the finish in Montpellier. It was pretty exciting to see the blur of rides blast past at over 40mph. I've got a bunch of video footage that I'll try to post at a later date.


On every stage of the Tour there is a stream of cars and vehicles plastered with cheesy marketing that precedes the riders by a few hours and lasts for at least an hour. This "caravan" is like a really long moving carnival. They go along throwing out swag (hats, scarfs, phone cards, cheese, sausage, candy, water bottles, magnets, etc.) dancing, and waving. It's quite a spectacle and makes the hours of waiting for a few minutes of watching the riding pass a little faster.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Beer in France

France isn't exactly known as a beer place but I managed to find a few interesting beers while I was there:
  • Kriska (you can see that it isn't thought of too highly, but it tastes like lemondrops and is very refreshing to drink... not exactly beer though)
  • Dorelei (decent amber ale)
  • Affligem (I can't find the beer that matches this... It was very Lambic-like... sour, horse-blanket and while Affligem makes Belgian, I can't find a Lambic. Not sure if we got a skunk or whether the barkeep poured the wrong beer, or my taster's busted)
  • Monaco (this one was confusing... a lot like a Shirley Temple, and it turns out my taster was right. It's actually a mixed drink Refreshing)
  • Brugs (a very light Hefe-like beer... served with a lemon. Pretty nice, but not my favorite by any stretch)
  • Leffe (a common Abbey ale... Very nice. It'd be very easy to seriously get into Leffe)

Friday, July 8, 2005

Saint Maraget's Chapel

We didn't go inside this one. Next time! It looked really cool. It was constructed in 1090!!

Wallace Monument

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Originally uploaded by aharbick.

We climbed to the top of the Wallace Monument. Saw the wallace sword along the way.

The Royal Mile

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Originally uploaded by aharbick.

We stopped and had dinner at a pretty tasty burger place on the "Royal Mile" in Edinburgh. GREAT atmosphere. Lots of people out and walking and beautiful building everywhere. The royal mile leads up to Edinburgh Castle.

Wallace's Cave

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Originally uploaded by aharbick.

Definitely one of the coolest parts of our trip in Scotland was the short little hike down to a "cave" (really just an arch) near our friends house. Supposedly William Wallace hid out from the English there. I don't know if it really happened or not, but Braveheart is one of my all-time favorite movies and being there among Stirling, Falkirk, and Bannockburn and standing in a place where the real William Wallace was said to have hidden was a neat experience.

Family shot

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Originally uploaded by aharbick.

Saint Paul's Cathedral

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Originally uploaded by aharbick.

While in London we visited St. Paul's cathedral. We decided that we needed to visit at least one cathedral while there and also that Westminster Abbey was probably the more touristy of the two. St. Paul's is beautiful (and ancient... current building only several hundred years, but there has been a church at the site since 600ish). However, I must rant... When you enter the church there are signs saying "don't take pictures or video in this place of worship..." It doesn't restrict the activity to just "flash photography" but all forms (and I saw them enforce it) out of respect for this "place of worship" I'm all for respect like that. We need more, HOWEVER they promptly charged me £19 and they have a cafeteria in the crypt of all places! So I stole a photo in an act of civic rebellion. Jesus probably would turned over tables and stirred things up in that "house of prayer"

Loch Lomond


Originally uploaded by aharbick.

Riley being the old man of the sea on the "bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond"

Wallace monument


Originally uploaded by aharbick.

This is a shot from Stirling castle in Scotland looking back at the the Wallace Monument. We climbed 250+ stairs to stand at the top of it (and saw the Wallace Sword along the way). Very cool, though it was grey and drizzly at the top; an awful lot like Snoqualmie falls near Seattle.


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Originally uploaded by aharbick.

This photo just makes me happy! Such a beautiful wife and son (err handsome).

Oldest fountain in Britain


Originally uploaded by aharbick.

...and the oldest fountain in Britain. We had a bit of a panic attack when our kids started running around the fountain playing tag. Kids somehow don't have a sense of antiquity ;) Then again I suppose it is 500 years old and probably isn't going anywhere soon. The docent at the castle took us around and showed us the dungeon etc. He said that they sweep a full bucket of sand out of the castle daily (sand from the sandstone used to make the castle)

Largest Chimney in Great Britain


Originally uploaded by aharbick.

Here's looking up the aforementioned largest chimney in Great Britain. I know, I know. Fascinating isn't it ;)

Linlithgow Palace


Originally uploaded by aharbick.

Definitely one of our favorite activities in Scotland was visiting the castles. There was something exciting yet peaceful about being in building erected 1000 years ago. Even our children had a great time, and there's nothing like being able to swashbuckle in a real castle when you're a little boy. This shot is out a window at Linlithgow Palace. Notewothy things, a. it was built in 1504 b. Mary Queen of Scots was born there, c. it has the largest fireplace in Great Britain d. it has the oldest fountain (not working) in Britain. Highly recommended!