A Travellerspoint blog

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Province & Mont Ventoux

Sorry...another day late but no internet last night!

Yesterday (18 July) was a rest day for the tour de France, so that meant a tourist day for us. We set off nice and early to visit a few sites around the Provence region.It was a gorgeous sunny day so all good! Started with a drive through the Carmargue, a swampy region which is also known for its lovely horses!

Firstly we went to Arles to visit the Roman ruins. Arles was a city that welcomed Julius Cesar so he was nice to them and built a lovely ampitheatre or arena which we visited (see photo) and the theatre. Personally I found both quite disappointing, the arena was being set up for a concert or something so had roadies crawling all over it setting up gear and the amphitheatre was under reconstruction...so only a 5/10 from me!

Our next port of call was Les Baux en Province, a fortified village in amongst some pretty amazing rock formations. Highly commercialised it is a honey trap for tourists! Check out the fares in the lolly & biscuit shop...and yes I bought some biscuits....managed to resist the lollies!
As we drove away we got a fantastic view of the village...

The next place that was recommended to us was the Pope's Palace in Avignon, unfortunately in peak holiday period it is virtually impossible to find a park in Avignon, so the best we managed was a photo of the walled old city as we drove by!

Dave really wanted to go to Mont Ventoux, which has been a major part of the mountain climbs of TDF's in the past. It wasn't included in this years tour. So even though it was slightly out of the way off we went. It's a scary climb to the summit, and was crawling with cyclists all doing their best to get up, most seemed to make it but the odd one was walking here and there. My hat is off to them as it was a long climb and quite steep towards the end! It's amazing scenery, very barren with white rocks that from a distance resemble snow!
It was freezing cold at the top even though the sun was shining nicely! We didn't stay too long as it was incredibly crowded, just enough time to take a few photos!

After a bit of a wrong turn and having to descend then reclimb the mountain, we finally got on the right road to get to Villeneuve where we stayed with Christian and Geraldine, parents of our friend Remi from Noumea (hi Remi!). We passed through some beautiful Provincial country-side on the way fields of lavender and olive groves - fantastic!

We arrived at C & G's place without too much difficulty and had a very pleasant evening catching up with them and enjoying their extraordinary hospitality!

Posted by Kanumera 12:31 Comments (0)

The Alpes and Italy!

Woke to a rainy and cold day - quite a shock after yesterday's lovely weather!

Set off early-ish to see a few sights before catching the TDF. Drove from Villeneuve to Sisteron where we visited the Citadel, which had something to do with Bonaparte (great historian's Dave and I!). Unfortunately we arrived at the same moment as the thunder storm! Not being the timid sort, we pressed on with our visit! Managed to shelter in the museum for a while and then watched a film about the place which was in such flowery french that I only half understood! Enough to grasp that it has been around a very long time, was strategically important in linking the Mediterranean to the Alps and was important for Bonaparte! Voiila!

It is a very impressive place, built into and around the rocks that it is constructed on. We climbed up the tower to look at the dungeon where the future prince of Pologne was imprisoned for some time, and Dave climbed up the next flight of steps to the bell. He was just about to step outside when there was a huge flash of light and an amazing CRACK and we realised that the lightening had hit the metal thingie on top of the tower about 2 metres above his head! After that we kept our heads low and headed back to the lower areas of the citadel!

So we headed off to find our spot to watch todays stage of the race. We ended up at the feed station area quite by chance, we thought it was further down the road. Interesting to see the cars line up and the team support people pull out the 'musettes' with the various goodies in them. We hoped that by being there that we might score some thrown away stuff, but they were moving at such a pace that hardly any took a musette at all! And nothing got chucked our way!

Saw Julian Dean again and gave him a cheer, but like the rest of the riders he was pretty focused today on trucking along at pace!

We had some trouble finding somewhere to stay for tonight, and in the end booked ourselves into a hotel in Italy! So it was very exciting driving through the Alps over the border and into the Italian ski area. With the weather a bit cloudy the light wasn't good enough to take any photos so hopefully we'll get some tomorrow. I was very excited to spot a golf course right on the border of France and Italy - half the course in France the other in Italy! How cool is that! Would love to play there but with the road closures kicking in during the morning won't be possible - rats!

We have found ourselves in a tiny little village way up at the base of a ski lift! Another interesting drive through 'roads' that at home we would call footpaths! Finally found our hotel almost by accident as the GPS told us it was half way across a bridge! Had a lovely dinner of pasta, wine and italian icecreamy stuff - managed to speak 3 languages in the dinner ordering process!

Posted by Kanumera 13:10 Comments (0)

A lovely day in Italy

Woke to a spectacular day today - amazing after yesterday's tempestuous display of weather! Funny I thought that such a large continent would have more stable weather patterns, but clearly not!

We discovered a new breakfast food today - sticky moist apple cake! Not what we usually have, but very tasty, just not long lasting as a food, so felt hungry very quickly afterwards!

As we left we took a photo of ourselves in front of the ski lift which was right next to our hotel last night. It was a nice little hotel so we can recommend La Fontaine in Jouvenceaux (which I believe held the winter Olympics in 1957?)

Dave was keen to get to the top of a hill in the ski town of Sestrieres, so we set off quite early. Paid off nicely as we easily got a park within 500m of the summit of the hill and discovered that as a ski town Sestrieres was well equipped with shops, cafes, restaurants & bars - all good! And much to my excitement a golf club! It was part of the base of the ski field, so quite a good use of land in the summer, fantastic backdrop with huge snowy topped mountains all around - yes even in summer it can snow!

Checked out the prices - 60 Euros for green fees (about $NZ120), I didn't bother asking how much to hire clubs! So sadly I trudged away - even more despondent when I saw a very chique Italian woman with expensive clubs at the driving range and she had a terrible swing and duffed the ball - I wouldn't have done that! Big sigh!

Anyway....it was a bit fresh in Sestrieres this morning so a bit of shopping was required! Dave got a pair of leggings to wear under his jeans (or shorts!) and I got a nice pair of leather gloves. We felt much warmer once we'd achieved that and wandered back to the car to set up our deckchairs in the sun. Fortunately our car park position was handily close to a bakery which was selling slices of hot pizza. So it was hot pizza for lunch - quite pleased with myself for getting in the two major Italian food groups - pasta & pizza in a visit of less than 24 hours!

We then sat and got entertained by the crowd. Once again the Norwegian fraternity were out in force - they've got 2 really good riders this year Thor Hushovd & Edvald Boasson Hagen who have been winning stages - so the Norwegians are going nuts. These ones were making quite the effort with their viking helmets - most of them have a flag of some sort or a tee-shirt with their flag on it - very patriotic!

Then there are the supporters of the Astana team from Kazakhstan - funny lot! Today we saw a group dressed in what must be some kind of national costume (I know that I'm showing my ignorance here but my only knowledge of the country is from the film Borat and I really don't think it did them any justice!!!).

Then of course there are the odd New Zealanders!

Once again the race was quite split up by the hill climbs, so a good chance to see the riders and for them to see us! Dave was pleased to have Julian Dean say gidday again - it's become almost a daily occurence now we're in the mountains! After the riders had gone past we wandered back up to the town to find a bar with a TV so watch the end of the race. Dave found a tiny pokey little bar while I went to the toilet, but there was no room for me! So I wandered further down the road and watched it on a bigger screen in a nice ski shop with plenty of room! He also had no wallet so after ordering a drink then had a challenge explaining that his wife had the money and would turn up sooner or later - which of course I did!

All in all we did reasonably well with the language thing - some conversations required a mixture of Italian, French and English - but we got everything we wanted in the end! Being a tourist town a lot of local shop keepers spoke a range of languages anyway.

By the time the TV coverage had finished and the drinks had been paid for the traffic had pretty much cleared. So we headed back to France and found our lodgings for the night in Chateauroux-les-Alpes.

So another day over...just hoping that the sun today has melted the snow at the tops of tomorrow's hill climbs!

Posted by Kanumera 13:07 Comments (0)

Just another day in the French Alps

Started our day with a hiss and a roar, heading out on the road at just after 8am. Headed for Col D'Izoard (2360m altitude),
made it part way up the climb in the car to the village of Brunissard where we parked the car and made our lunch. We then set off on the 7.5Km walk up to the summit. Started out lovely and sunny and warm, but of course once we got to the top the cloud rolled in and it became quite cold.

We had the usual assorted array of tour fans around us. Italians, French and of course not far away the Norweigans!IMG_3730.jpg
I got really really cold, fortunately about half a km over the summit was a cafe, so I walked over and had a hot chocolate - marvelous. It was a place famous for being where Bonaparte stopped on his way to Italy during his Italian campaign.

Being a mountain stage, the cyclists were pretty spread out and came through in little groups. Julian Dean gave Dave a wave and said gidday as he went past...I only got a photo of his back!

Amazing backdrop to the race, with towering mountains all around us. Some with snow on the tips from a couple of days ago!

After the cyclists had gone by, Dave raced back down to the village where the car was parked and watched the last 16km of the race on a TV in a bar, while I took all the gear and went to the cafe just over the summit to have a coffee and wait. We thought that in that time that the traffic would clear a bit and we'd have an easier run through to Les Deux Alpes where we were booked into a hotel for the next 2 nights.

Sadly we were wrong! It took over 4 hours to get there, a drive that should have taken about an hour. We did finally make it however, even found the hotel without too much trouble, had a quick drink at the bar and then went to bed...too tired and too late to find any dinner!

Posted by Kanumera 12:18 Comments (0)

The famous Alpe D'Huez (updated!)

Final day in the mountains! Very exciting! Dave was determined to be at the top so we got up really early and headed away by just after 7am. Were amused to pass people carrying ski's and snowboards as we drove out of town! The receptionist at the hotel told us last night that the recent snow had meant that the ski field on the glacier was open - incredible for the middle of summer!

The drive we'd done in the dark the night before was quite spectacular in the light of day, lovely mountains all around, a lake and some fabulous tunnels carved through rock walls...

We thought that we'd probably be stopped by the Gendarmes at the bottom of Alpe D'Huez, so were all psyched up to walk the 13km up the road, but they let us through! So we drove the whole way up and parked in a parking building - amazing! There were campervans and cars and little tents littered all over the side of the road as we went up. Some had clearly been there for some time! They become like little villages some of the spots - bars & food outlets get set up and they have no need to go anywhere. Barbeques are all over the place, some big ones others just little fires with a ring of rocks around them on the side of the road. Not sure where the people in the tents go to the toilet - bears not thinking about really!

Having the car handy meant we didn't have to drag all our gear around with us so were able to leave the chairs, flag and heavy warm clothes in the car. We had hours before the race so had a wander around the ski village. Quite a quaint look to the place, Swiss style wooden chalets being the most popular in the 'old' village, this was definitely the swanky end of town, with spa hotels and the like. We had a coffee at one of the spa hotels - lovely toilets! Marble basin and proper handtowels - ah that's luxury!

After coffee we wandered off and checked out the arrival line - with 6 hours to wait people were already camped out at the finish line and at the prize-giving stage - there was very little room and hundreds of people trying to move through the area many with there bikes - chaos! We moved on quickly!

As we wandered around we bumped into our friend Ivan Speck the journalist from the Daily Mail. He'd been invited to ride up the Alpe D'Huez that morning by one of the sponsors - they'd given him all the riding gear - including a Pinarelo bike (very nice!). So Alpe D'Huez has 21 big corners on it - he'd managed 5 before waving down the van to drive him back up to the top - apparently you don't have to be a cyclist to be an ace cycling reporter! Not sure that I could have done much more to be honest though - one hell of a mountain! (Ivan mentioned us in one of his blogs - We are "World Famous" people!)

So we kept ourselves entertained until lunchtime when we went back to the car got our picnic and sat in the sun. They had put up giant screens around the village so we were able to watch the start of the race lying in the sun on the grass which was very pleasant!

Once the race reached the top of the Col du Galibier we raced down to join the thousands of people looking for a good spot on the side of the road! We ended up right on a corner in amongst some Spanish supporters. This turned out to be very exciting as the first two riders past were both Spanish. This was the day where Contador made his big move...(he's the photo!)

But the day belonged to the Luxembergians - of which there were many! As Andy Schleck took the yellow jersey off the Frenchman Thomas Volkler. This is Andy as he flew by...

And here is Julian Dean.
As he approached he dropped out of the back of his group - took an enormous drink out of his bottle - then swerved in and chucked his bottle at Dave's feet! Dave was absolutely thrilled! Took ages for the grin to leave his face.

So the day went to Andy Schlek and the Luxemburgians were crazy with excitement...dancing in the streets and generally having a marvelous time. We decided to eat at Alpe D'Huez, but couldn't find a place that suited us both that also had free tables so jumped in the car to go back to les Deux Alpes to eat. Unfortunately we didn't count on the 4 hour trip down the hill!

For the first couple of hours the drive was at least entertaining as the hillside was very animated with all sorts of supporters happy or dissappointed with the days events. Many had been drinking for a "little while" and as the traffic ground to a complete halt for nearly an hour they got more and more animated with horn tooting competitions and at one stage someone was running up and down the road completely naked - did I mention at that altitude it's VERY cold!!! The Gendarmes seemed completely oblivious to the whole issue and merely got in their vans put on their lights and sirens and disappeared down the mountain on the wrong side of the road leaving us all to our own resources! (We heard the next morning that lots of people had ended up sleeping in their cars!)

So once again arrived at the hotel too late and too tired for dinner and even too late to have a drink as the bar was shut!

Posted by Kanumera 13:02 Comments (0)

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