A Travellerspoint blog

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Time trial at Grenoble and our last day of the TDF

Woke up to a misty cool morning in the French Alpes. This photo is the view from our hotel room - notice the golf course again at the base of the ski field!
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Dropped down to the town at the bottom of Alpe D'Huez, Bourg d'Oisans, we expected that most of the traffic from last night would have cleared but NO! Campervans everywhere and people crawling out of tents pitched in the most impossible spots. Everyone looked a bit worse for wear! We picked up some essential supplies and left town as fast as possible (along with the thousands of others heading in the same direction!).

Dave had a spot picked out in the village of Belmont. To get there we had to drive over Col Luitel (a mere 1262 metres high). Sadly, the road was no wider than a goat track and we were mostly in really thick cloud - scary stuff! Incredibly there were little bundles of houses at regular distances as we snaked our way up the hill. They sometimes live in impossible places these French folks!

Made it to our spot just after the caravan went through so no free stuff today - ah well! Found a place to set up on an inside corner and settled in to wait for the cyclists to come past.

Because it was the individual time trial they started at 10.30am setting riders off at 2 minute intervals, but while we waited a number of the big names in the race cruised past doing their warm-up 45 km ride (I have yet to do a 45 Km ride!!!). There was a great photo opportunity as the Shleck brothers cruised by - sadly the camera was in the bag under my chair at the time! I did get Voekler though....
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Dave's big mission for the day was to thank Julian for the bottle and for being so friendly...so he made a special sign from a cardboard box that he begged from the hotel this morning...Julian smiled as he went past but was very focused on his ride (as were all the riders).
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I was trying to get a few different photos today...looking at legs and faces. Most of the leg photo's were rubbish but one worked. Wanted to get George Hincappies legs - they are disgusting - but only got all of him. 17 TDF's and his veins are all gross and deformed - Dave thinks they look like the Pyrenees!
So on the left nice cyclists legs and on the right George's legs (not the best as the worst of it is on the inside).
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Time trial's are very different to the rest of the TDF as it's very much an individual moment for each cyclist, even those who are rubbish are trying their very hardest for their team. From a New Zealand perspective we're delighted because the Garmin-Cervelo team will take away the team prize and of course that is Julian Dean's team - yay. Dave also thinks that it's good because we have relied on Mrs Garmin (our GPS) to get us everywhere for the last 23 days - I'm not so sure about that one!).

The time trial was the end of the fun for the fans from Luxemburg - Andy just is not in the same league as Cadel Evans when it comes to time trialling. So an Australian will take away the Tour de France for the first time ever, and one of the oldest riders for a while. Great for the Aussies and they were full of themselves - sigh! After the time trial finished we packed up our gear for the last time and wandered off to a bar in nearby in Uriage les Bains to catch a few highlights on the TV (and use the facilities!). Sadly it was full of Ozzies and we didn't stick around for long!

We had no hotel booking for the night so spent a little while finding a place - mistakenly started looking in small villages - no hotels for love nor money. So ended up heading into the big smoke of Chambery where the Lonely Planet recommended the Art Hotel. Not expensive but barely room to swing a cat! Couldn't open the bathroom door fully as it hit the bed first!

So that was our Tour De France - we're not going to Paris tomorrow - too far and virtually no chance of finding a spot to see anything...so just mooching around the country-side for the next few days with no particular plan. Thinking of heading into Switzerland Monday....other than that no plans.

Posted by Kanumera 02:54 Comments (1)

La Route des Haute Alpes

Nice sleep in this morning after an exhausting 22 days of following the Tour de France (including the 2 rest days where we travelled to our next spot). Intended to find a little breakfast spot somewhere along the way but failed on that count so ended up having just a coffee in Aix en les Bains then moved across the road to McDonalds where I did yesterday's blog....having run out of steam last night!

We then set off to find somewhere to watch the last stage of the tour on TV. So we wound our way through farm lands to La Roche sur Foron.
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We found a little Brasserie in the middle of the town and the kind man turned on the TV for us and set us up at the table right in front. So we had a drink and late lunch while watching the final stage which went into Paris.

So as I said yesterday Cadel Evans, the Australian, won, with the Shleck brothers Andy and Frank coming in second and third...all very good. Much debate over Evans' win, while they appreciate his skill he lacks the 'panache' that the French so admire and didn't win a single stage in his campaign - not our preferred winner we liked Volkler the French rider for Europcar as he is a real fighter and of course has 'panache'! He held the yellow jersey for 10 days but sadly Alpe D'Huez was his undoing.

Funny little Brasserie, had some very odd people in it! Firstly, we were accosted by a very strange woman who smelled of cannabis (not that either of us know what that smells like!). She was staring at the TV and banging on about how beautiful Paris was and why would anyone leave it. She then started chattering to us with her rotting teeth - scary! Then there was the table of elderly folk who had strong views on world affairs. The man had been there some hours drinking something, while the 2 ladies joined him later for wine and icecream. They were most disturbed that the TV was on and showing the silly bike race and we got the clear impression that we were sitting in their normal place.

So then we hit the Route des Grandes Alpes (the route of the grand alps), which was amusing as they weren't as grand as those of those of either the High Alps or the Pyrenees. Still very nice! We wound our way up and down several peaks through the ski stations of Les Gets and Morzine, then tracked on northwards to the Lac Leman, the lake that lies between France and Switzerland.

We drove along the lake edge to Evian les Bains - yes as in the water Evian, where we looked for a hotel for the night. We decided that the hotels in our price range would be away from the lake, so set off up the little roads up hill. BUT we were VERY wrong! Instead we found ourselves next to the Evian golf course which has just hosted the Evian Masters, one of the major ladies golf tournaments globally, and the site of very expensive hotels!

So back to the lake edge for us where, luckily for the golf tournament had finished today and the hotels had emptied! So we've found ourselves in a more moderately priced place right on the lake front with the city of Lausanne opposite.
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Sorry not many photo's today - the connection is slow and the car photographer was a bit off his game with many shots a bit blurry!!

Tomorrow, we'll head into Switzerland for a quick look and maybe up to Germany? Check in tomorrow to find out more........

Posted by Kanumera 12:27 Comments (0)

Flying visit through Switzerland

Left Evian this morning and travelled eastwards around the lake to the border with Switzerland. Expected to have to show our passports or something as Switzerland is not part of the European Union (apparently), but just got waved through by the customs man. Switzerland has it's own currency (Swiss Francs) so one of our first jobs was to find a money machine so that we could get out some of the local currency.

The other oddity about Switzerland is that rather than charge a toll on the autoroute like France, they have a “vignette” system, where you buy a sticker for your windscreen that allows you to drive on the autoroute. The sticker costs 40 swiss francs, about NZ$60, so Dave decided we'd avoid the autoroutes and just use the little roads instead...hmmmm.

So we wound our way around the lake to Montreux where we found the money machine, once all cashed up we did our best to get out of town without using the autoroute – harder than it seemed! We did manage after a few false turns. Ended up winding up the hill above the town through vineyards perched on the side of the hill – very pictuesque!
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We found ourselves in pastoral land, lots of dairy farms, and crops of various sorts: wheat, maize, tabacco and the odd apple orchard. Very attractive scenery with small villages every few kilometres.
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Farming enterprises seem very small scale compared to what we're used to. Photo shows one farmer bringing in his milking herd of 9 cows! Imagine that took a few minutes to milk!
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The farm buildings are interesting. Often the house, barn and milking shed are all one structure. The cows are wintered over in the barn and of course there has to be a way to clean out the sheds. They use what looks to us like a modified bale elevator. This creates a large pile of stinky straw – we think this gets spread around on the farm but have yet to see that.
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I think we've mentioned before that farms completely lack what we'd call fences and just seem to put up electric fences where needed. They also lack troughs and these trailers that carry water and have a small drinking bowl at the back seem to be the mode.
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We travelled north to the Lac de Neuchatel where we found a yatch club to eat lunch. Dave dabbled his feet in the lake and announced that it was cold – hardly surprising really! Lots of water birds swimming around – many that we didn't recognise. Didn't have the big lens on the camera so only captured some swans.
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Carried on north after lunch through squillions of little villages, and finally ran out of small roads and ended up on the autoroute (without our vignette!!!) for 13km! Managed to get away with it avoiding the 100 franc fine!

A few hours later having freaked out at the commencement of German road signs everywhere we scooted back into the Alsace region of France. Despite being in France it is still very strongly Germanic, was part of Germany before WW2. The housing style in Alsace is very different, while most of the regions of France that we have travelled through have stone buildings (except the Alpes where it's wood), Alsace has the wood and plaster combination. Very pretty villages with pastel coloured houses with steep roofs.
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We searched through a number of small villages before finally finding a small hotel in the village of Bettendorf. Had a nice dinner – I enjoyed couple of well deserved glasses of lovely Gerwerstraminer....mmm...my favourite! No wifi and mostly German television! But well priced. [So this is another McDonald's special the next day!]

Posted by Kanumera 08:03 Comments (1)

Alsace and heading towards Champagne country

Had a quickish breakfast at the hotel this morning before heading off through Alsace towards Champagne country - but first a quick visit to my favourite village in all of France! But I'm getting ahead of myself...first we had a pleasant drive through wine country
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...spotting the odd chateau here and there!

OK then....we finally got to Riquewihr, my favourite village. I've now been there three times! It's a very old village with houses dating back to the 13th century - a bit before Apiti was inhabited!
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It has a Katie Wollfhart Christmas decoration shop that is fabulous! Well I thought so - Dave was somewhat less impressed, but does acknowledge that it has "lots of stuff in it". So I spent a little fortune on fantastic gold sparkly deer decorations -oooooohhhhh lovely! Then wandered down the road and bought a couple of bowls for breakfasting with. Dave was sadly overwhelmed with too many tourists syndrome so we left before lunch.

We then set route for the Champagne area of France (no prizes for guessing why!). Once again we discovered some interesting roads, here's a shot of a cobblestone road over one of the mountain passes that had a 90km/hr speed limit!
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We then drove through the longest tunnel we'd ever been in - it was over 6km long! Quite impressive being underground in a car for that long! When we emerged we were no longer in Alsace, we found ourselves in the Vosges region instead!

We then started searching for a spot to eat lunch - you'd think around lunchtime that would be not too challenging but apparently in this region it's actually quite difficult! Every village we visited either there was nothing or the brasserie was shut! But we did stumble across a couple of chateaux during the drive.
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Finally found a spot but they were only serving the "menu de jour" which is a three course meal - in a rash moment I ordered the meal without even really understanding what it was. Ended up having a huge plate of salad and pate, followed by a huge pork steak with mashed potatoes (which I hate), followed by creme brulee - Dave (who ordered a coke) was in hysterics! After eating as much as I could manage I waddled off to the car and we drove on!

The rest of the drive was without too much drama, just driving through the little country roads admiring the country-side. Stumbled across a small hotel in the village of Givrey-en-Argonne. Quite a rural spot - while eating dinner three tractors drove down the main road - two pulling trailers full of straw! Oh and the church bell chimes every hour not far from our bedroom window! We only wanted a small meal so I ordered a salad - it arrived and I was slightly horrified to discover a plate full of salami, cold meat, pate and sliced ham with a hint of lettuce - nothing 3 glasses of wine couldn't wash down!

Might not eat much tomorrow - feel a bit grotesque tonight! Oh and even though we are technically in the Champagne region I have yet to see a single bubble!

Posted by Kanumera 12:05 Comments (0)

Champagne!

Today was all about Champagne.

Passed through a bit of cropping country on our way to Epernay where the day really started.

Epernay is in the heart of Champagne country. I had pre-selected a cave to visit - the one the Lonely Planet described as the most over the top! I wasn't disappointed! So we turned up at a goodly time in the morning for a tour of the Mercier Cave
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Never happier than when surrounded by bottles and bottles of champagne, so the visit to the actual cave was amazing! From memory there was something like 20km of cave with little alcoves like this full of bottles
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Champagne bottles are slowly turned, which used to be done by hand. The bottles were stacked in these wooden racks and slowly over time were hand turned and slowly tipped more upright (photo on left). These days they have giant metal racks that are mechanised to do the job (see photo on right)
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So our tour was followed by a tasting of course! We (well that would be I) had chosen the tour with tasting 2 champagnes. We started with a white followed by a Rose. Hmmm so 2 glasses of champers and no breakfast! Fabulous start to the day!

Here is Dave checking out the grapes....
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So after a coffee we carried on our drive. Epernay seems to be the place where most of the big champagne houses are based. We found Moet & Chandon, Perrier Jouet & Bollinger for example....I really think I could quite happily live in Epernay!
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We drove through miles and miles of rolling land covered in grapevines - ah so many grapes destined for bottles of champagne - makes me happy just thinking about it!
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Then we stumbled across a very interesting crop...not what it first looks like - it's hemp

So...that was our tour of France! We ended the night in the outskirts of Paris at Corinne's place - the Sister of our good friend Remy from Noumea. We had a pleasant evening chatting with her and drinking wine.

Posted by Kanumera 12:17 Comments (0)

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