A Travellerspoint blog

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Mediterranean and heading into the Pyrenees

Last night was a most tempestuous night with thunder and lightening and heavy rain that went on for hours! This morning things were slightly improved but still wet. We packed up our bags and loaded up the car after breakfast and headed off to Lavaur to watch the end of a stage for a change. We decided to firstly go to the beach so that we could see the Mediterranean Sea. So we headed off to Sete, a town built on an extinct volcano on the Med. What a crazy town, full of tourists, cars everywhere, narrow little roads - complete mayhem!
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As fast as possible given the traffic jams everywhere we headed out of town and along the coast where we finally found a beach to stop at. We were lucky that it was sunny but the wind was terrible, so we didn't bother going for a swim, just paddled
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We then carried on our merry little way and at midday I made a strategic error by pulling into a restaurant on the side of the road so I could go to the toilet and we could have a quick bite to eat, sadly 'quick' wasn't in their vocabulary so an hour or more later we finally managed to pay them and get going again.

Traffic was a big problem today, tomorrow (July 14) is of course the National Day of France, Bastille Day. So lots of people were taking off on a long weekend, so along with a series of roadworks it took ages to get to Lavaur. As a result we got there with very little time to park and make it to the finish line. Just after we left the car it absolutely poured with rain so within minutes we were drenched. Then of course we had no chance of finding a good spot near the finish line as it was 3-4 people deep so we wandered down the road until we finally found a spot with a glimpse. Probably the least satisfying spot we've had so far, put us off arrival destinations a bit.
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We did manage to get a glimpse of some of the presentations at the end of the race, well Dave did, I was too short!

We then had what should have been a reasonably manageable drive to our B&B at the start of the Pyrenees, unfortunately Mrs Garmin decided that we needed to see the center of Toulouse (France's 4th largest city), she chose to take us there in peak rush hour traffic. So that along with the people going on holiday and roadworks meant that it took probably more than an hour longer than it should have to get here. We stopped for a quick bit to eat for dinner at what looked like a really nice Quebec style restaurant, but after nearly 20 mins they hadn't taken our order so we left and got takeaway pizza instead!

Life on the road can be challenging some days!

Anyway, Dave is as thrilled as anything to be in the Pyrenees and is really looking forward to the start of the real hill sections of the TDF tomorrow.

Posted by Kanumera 14:13 Comments (0)

Col de Tourmalet: the Pyrenees

Very exciting day today! Set off smartly after breakfast to try to get up the Col de Tourmalet before they shut the road. On the way we stopped to get supplies for lunch and then carried on over the hills. We had to slow down at one stage to let a couple of cows cross the road, they seem to be completely free-range in the Pyrenees - no fences at all. We can't figure out how the different herds don't get mixed up.

Unfortunately we arrived at the turn-off to the Col after they had put up the barriers so we had to find a park in the village somewhere - along with the hundreds of others trying to do the same. We managed to convince a man to let us down a road that was barriered off and found a great park. Sadly then some idiot decided to go the wrong direction (that would be me!) and gave us an extra 3km of walking before we even started up the mountain - Dave not impressed!

So we finally got to the start and started heading up the 17 km to the top. 013.jpg

Very attractive country-side down the bottom of the mountain, rivers and lots of rural scenery. Check out the tiny little tractor with the tiny little baler and the tiny little round bales of hay it makes - too cute!
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The sheep here are very odd - skinny looking things with wool that just falls out, and bells around their necks.
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On our trek upwards we were passed by heaps of Kiwi's on bikes, mostly giving us heaps for walking, but all very excited to see the flag. We again also got lots of French people shouting "All Blacks" at us and some even doing a strange French version of the haka - it's just not right!

We walked for almost 9 km, just taking it easy and stopping now and then to eat or take photos. We intended to find a spot in the next couple of km's and settle in but then a strange thing happened! One of the press cars stopped and the English reporter driving offered us a ride to the top of the Col...it would have been rude to say no and those offers don't come everyday so we leapt in! His name was Ivan and he's the cycling and golf reporter for the Daily Mail - top bloke! So within a short time we found ourselves at the top of Col de Tourmalet - awesome!
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So we wandered back down about half a km to a spot with a few people but not hordes like there were at the top. It was freezing at the top - luckily I'd borrowed some pants off Bea before we left Montpelier - Dave however just had a towel wrapped around his little leggies!
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Found ourselves next to a bunch of Norwegians - funny folk! They got very excited when a car with a man that must have been a celebrity sports TV reporter pulled up with his camera man - lots of interviews and photo's and autographs and drinking of wine...all very amusing.
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There were quite a few people dressed for the event, including this dutchman and a crazy Ozzie in his undies!
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So finally the caravan came and went, then I tried curling up in the foetal position to keep warm - failed! We both went kind of blue and our hands went numb and we couldn't stop shaking. The cloud kept rolling in and then rolling away again, but the wind stayed and was bitterly cold.

Then through the mist we heard the cheers of people as the first cyclists arrived so we got up and jumped around a bit to warm up. With the cyclists spread out and after a long climb they were going at a good speed for photographing today so I was able to get some good shots...here's a few...
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Here's a photo of Hoogerland - the poor rider that got knocked off his bike the other day and got tangled in the electric fence - he won the best climber that day but sadly lost it today - great effort though considering he's got 33 stitches!
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All too soon it was all over for another day and we faced the task of walking the 17km back down the hill! At first it wasn't so bad as immediately the cars and campervans went into gridlock and we just cruised past them. But as we got lower the traffic started to clear and our legs started to complain it became a bit arduous! Finally another kind Englishman offered us a ride (about 2km from the bottom), by then we had no shame and jumped in happily!

Finally got back to our little car at 7:50pm! Legs screaming and the odd blister on our feet. In all we walked about 25 km - so more than a half marathon!

Posted by Kanumera 13:42 Comments (0)

Col d'Aubisque still in the Pyrenees

[Photos to come tomorrow...internet connection too bad at our hotel tonight!]

VERY early start today, up at 5.30am and away by just after 6. The hosts at our B&B had left us hot coffee in a thermos which was nice. Driving up their small country road we had a fox encounter - it ran across the road right in front of us, unfortunately the camera was in it's bag in the back seat of the car. The purpose for getting up so early was to get as high up the Col d'Aubisque as we could today as our legs were in a pretty sorry state after yesterdays (half) marathon effort!

We were very pleased as we managed to drive as far as Gourette, a ski station which was only 4km from the summit of the Col. Really nice little town, we had a coffee, a wander around and then another coffee (mainly so we could sit down in the sun!). I also bought some woolly tights and Dave spent 5 Euro on a TDF drink bottle only to discover it was only 3 Euro just up the road...not impressed!

The town is magnificent - surrounded by enormous steep rocky peaks, some even had a hint of snow on them!
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So we started out slow walk up the Col, took our time today and had several rests along the way. When we were almost at the top, our favourite Cycling correspondant Ivan stopped for a chat. Said that he saw Dave on TV yesterday and was in hysterics because he'd given us a ride and Dave was practically wiping the cyclists out with his flag! Gave us a few hints about what would happen in the race, offered us a ride the last couple of Km's but we were happy walking so said he'd look out for us tomorrow and we waved goodbye - great guy.

We climbed to the top were we were stopped by a radio journalist who interviewed me! So somewhere in France I've been on the radio!

We then went over the other side, there we discovered a splendid panorama. Also free-range sheep and horses all with bells on. The sheep are very bizarre looking animals compared to ours, also have big horns! We sat there and had our baguette then wandered back down the road towards the 1km marker and found a nice little spot there just in time for the cloud to roll in and the temperature dropped to quite cool.

Once again the race was a great speed to see the individual cyclists. And finally we saw Julian Dean, the sole NZ rider in the race, he said gidday as he rolled past - Dave was very excited! After the cyclists had passed we started wandering down the hill, but stopped at a marquis where they had a huge flat screen TV showing the rest of the race, so we set up our deck chairs and sat and watched it there. Not sure who organised it, they were asking for a donation so we left them a few coins.

Then it was a slow wander down the hill, taking care of our sore legs and feet and back to the car in Gourette. We then spent some time debating whether to drive over the border to Spain for the night or to stay in France and head towards the next stage. In the end we stayed in France. So drove up and over the Col we'd just walked down. Much to our excitement part way down the other side some Donkeys wandered across the road, Dave got photos so we'll hopefully load them up tomorrow!

We then skirted around Lourdes where we got caught in a nasty traffic jam which held us up for some time! So we shortened our voyage and have ended up in a hotel in Lannemezan.

Tomorrow is the last day in the Pyrenees - we have no big plans to climb up mountains so will find a spot somewhere along the route that's not too complicated to get to.

Posted by Kanumera 14:01 Comments (0)

Last day in the Pyrenees: Col D'Agnes

OK so running a few days behind in blogging! Currently sitting in a McDonalds to get free Wifi! Here's a few photo's of the day at Col D'Aubisque
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(L) Dave and our new friend Ivan from the Daily Mail.
(R) Strange Pyreneean sheep - check out the weird head and bell!

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Dave at the summit, me in waiting position

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(L) Julian Dean on right (only NZer in race) saying hello to Dave.
(R) Mark Cavendish: great sprinter - rubbish climber!

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The donkey's from Col D'Aubisque

So onto the next day....
Started the morning from our lovely hotel following the now usual routine of finding a patisserie for our pastries and then a tabac for the newspaper. Got away early to try to get as far up the Col D'Agnes as we could, the internet said that the road was open until 10.30am so we were pretty confident! But the Gendarmes had other ideas! So we got to Aulus les Bains (the village at the base of the Col) only to be stopped and told no entry, luckily a helpful woman was walking past while Dave was trying to convince the Gendarme that we were staying at a B&B up the Col (not true!) and she gave us directions to skirt around the village and get back on the road about 100m further up - excellent!

So against the odds we managed to drive to the very top of the Col and over the other side, and then managed to find a park between the edge of the road and the cliff! That left us a short walk back to the top and over to the up hill section. We chatted to an American woman who complemented me on my "muscular" thighs and said I must be a very good cyclist - who am I to disagree!
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For a change the Pyrenees gave us a lovely hot sunny day! So finding a makeshift bar just below the top was very welcome: ahh nothing like an ice cold plastic cup of Hieneken at the top of Pyrenees!
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We wandered down the hill, stopping to chat about the pro's and cons of the french rugby team and their prospects for the World Cup. Also chatted to a few people who had been staying up the Col for up to 5 days prior to the race coming through - some people are crazy! Down a bit further we chatted to a couple of Ozzies driving around in a camper van - having a lovely time. While we were there our good friend Ivan stopped and had a chat!

We found a good spot to watch the cyclists that was just under 1km from the summit. No view of the road below us because of trees but a relatively steep spot with a bit of downhill road to see them coming. We once set up our little chairs and read our papers and took photos of scenery. Got showered by bits and pieces from the Caravan again (Dave thinks we'll have to buy a suitcase to carry them all back in!

The race was nicely split up and not too fast again, so we got a good look at the cyclists as they went past. When Julian Dean went past he said to Dave "Every day then!" So nice to know that he's been noticing the flag! We also heard from NZ that this time we both made it onto the TV coverage - yay! AND Dave had a drink bottle thrown at him - so he's managed to collect 2 so far! We thought they'd be easy to find but they're like hen's teeth and everyone wants them.
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No big changes in the standings of the tour after this stage (Stage 14). We raced back to our car to get in front of traffic coming up the hill, but got caught up at the bottom with traffic coming the other way. Still didn't really take too long to clear, but while we were there got an appreciation of the clean up effort. There are special TDF rubbish bags everywhere and as soon as people start to leave the rubbish guys move in and collect up all the bags and pick up anything left lying on the side of the road - very impressive! We drove through to Massat (another tiny village) where we found a bar with a TV and managed to catch the end of the race much to Dave's enjoyment!

Then it was a long drive back to Montpelier and to Bea and Serge's place for a couple of nights. We arrived at aound 9.20pm and had a lovely dinner of fresh sea bass and mouselline sauce - yum. Into bed sometime around midnight (explanation for no blog!).

Posted by Kanumera 04:53 Comments (0)

Montpelier

Today we did the finish of the stage (well we tried our best anyway!).

After a lovely relaxing breakfast and coffee on the patio at Bea's we got organised to head into Montpelier for the remainder of the day. Dave had checked the race route on the internet and according to him it finished in the city. On Serge and Beas' advice be went for the 'park the car out of town and take the tram' option. Worked perfectly to get us to Montpelier and we wandered around catching the sights: including the local Arc de Triomphe and the Roman aquaduct. We also looked into renting a bike to have a look around - but they were all out.
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We then started wandering around to look for the arrival area - we were slightly concerned that there was no sign of the TDF anywhere in the city! Finally saw a group of guys with TDF badges around their necks and asked them where we were supposed to go - they told us we were miles away and needed to catch the tram to the other side of town and then walk to the rugby stadium - yikes!

So we scampered back to the tram and sadly missed it by 3 minutes so had to wait almost half an hour for the next one. We jumped on when it finally arrived, it was moderately full and we had to stand but felt pleased with ourselves. Unfortunately at a couple of stops later about 200 other people also wanted to catch the tram! Most of them managed to get in making a sardine can seem roomy! So half an hour later we all burst out of the tram and gasped for fresh air - hideous!!!! Then traipsed up the road like sheep hoping the people in the front knew where they were going.

Found the finish line which was so crowded it was impossible so once again we wandered about a km down the road and found a quieter spot. After the caravan we lay down on a grassy spot and Dave had a nap while I read the paper. Unfortunately we didn't pay attention and the race was upon us sooner than we expected so it was a mad dash across the road to wave the flag for about thirty seconds as they screamed past!

Then it was the long trek back to the tram, where we managed to squeeze onto the 3rd tram and got home an hour later...oops low battery must go!

Posted by Kanumera 05:44 Comments (0)

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