Le Tour

Cycling for me is a form of transportation or recreation, a hobby. Before this year, I’d heard of the Tour de France (of course) but never followed it. In case you don’t know, the Tour de France is a yearly bike race, which makes its way through the provinces before finishing on the Champs-d’Élysées. It serves both as a test of racer endurance and a promotional ad for France itself.

As the route changes each year, we’re lucky that the Grenoble saw two of the stages in 2014. Stage 13, from Saint Etienne to Chamrousse, climbed through the Chartreuse, wound through the east side of town and then ascended to the famous ski resort. Stage 14 started off at Parc Mistral and rolled down the street directly in front of our apartment before heading south through a gorgeous gap, scaling another alp and finishing in Risoul.

Not being cycling aficionados, Andy and I hadn’t really thought about seeing the Tour de France. If it hadn’t been coming straight through Grenoble, we probably wouldn’t have made the effort. As it was, we had two great days of Tour festivities.

Our friends that live in Quaix-en-Chartreuse, partway up a mountain and directly on the Stage 13 route were as excited about the tour as the rest of us. They decided to host a grill out. JeanMarc suggested that interested parties meet and bike up before the racers got there. I was going to hitch a ride, then the car was full and I psyched myself up to tackle the hill ride. That was stupid. Lesson of the day: Just as I am not a red-level skier, I am not a mountain-climbing biker.

This is the only picture.

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Quaix-en-Chartreuse is quite the picturesque mountain hamlet. We took a walk up to look at some of the festivities and of course Andy needed his coffee.

I didn’t know this, but the Tour de France is proceeded by a parade/caravan of advertisers’ floats. Imagine…giant horses, dogs, and cheese crisps rolling by as the young people who are harnessed in below toss promotional hats, Frisbees, key chains, and snacks to the eagerly awaiting spectators. Now imagine them doing it at top speed. This and the aforementioned Bastille Day procession may be why The French is the answer to Who doesn’t love a parade?

As one would expect, there’s a hour or more gap between the caravan and the riders. We watched the progression on TV and ran outside a few minutes before riders arrived.

To be street level on an uncrowded section of the route was an absolutely amazing once in a lifetime kind of experience. The pictures aren’t even a close representation to the energy and the power that these men exhibit.

The next morning, the route passed directly in front of our place, so we of course invited people over. Breakfast taco bar, anyone? It was a whole different atmosphere than the previous day.

A few friends who didn’t go the Quaix-en-Chartreuse, came over just in time for the caravan. If I’d thought they’d been driving fast in the mountains, that was nothing compared to flat open boulevards. The cyclists started about noon, but the beginning part through town was more of a processional than a race; there was a pace car…

 

…and even a short delay.

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The firemen had a banner stretched across the road. They have been “en colère” since late last year. Most of their trucks are shoe polished to say so. It took a while, but I asked around until I found out why. Apparently, the firefighters were directed to work more hours without additional compensation. Then at their demonstration, as they were trying to enter city hall, the police threw tear gas and someone lost an eye. Nothing has really been done; they’re still mad. (That is a picture of our TV.)

Both days we watched the end of the race on TV. That had us invested enough to tune in here and there as the tour progressed through the rest of France. It’s not something I would travel to France to see, but I’m really glad that we were here and made the time to participate. Le Tour de France 2014 will be remembered.

If you are interested in seeing Andy and our friends on TV, you can check out this video. Skip forward – at 1:31:30 the riders start through the town, at 1:31:50, we’re the group in front of the house, and it you pause at 1:31:55 you’ll see Andy and our friends. I was in the best picture position and am a flash of pale arms in the shadows at the end.

As I said, the Tour de France also serves to promote tourism. If you watch the whole stage video, you’ll notice that the race often cuts to or shares a screen with scenery shots of the day’s region. We live in a gorgeous section of France. Here’s the teaser videos for stage 13 – The Vercors and The Chartreuse and stage 14 – The Belledonne. Yes, we live in a postcard.

France Under Fire(works)

Despite living here for two years, 2014 was the first year that we were in Grenoble for Bastille Day. The original plan was to go up to our Bastille and watch from there, but a mid-afternoon phone call led to a change of plans.

Ben lives on the parade route and invited us to come watch the parade out his windows. There were not as many people on the parade route as I expected and it was soon clear why. Now, while there are many things that the French do well, shows of military force are not among them; this parade was no exception. A representative number of each branch walked in formation (2 lines) for 500 meters (at mist.) They were followed by police and firemen.

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After the parade we decided against walking up the Bastille to see the fireworks. Ben had gone his first year here and said it was too far away and above the display to really appreciate it. Instead, we headed to the city’s biggest park and staked out a spot with a good view of the Perret Tower.

We entertained ourselves with poker and people watching while waiting for nightfall.

The fireworks started more or less on time and were pretty amazing. They were set to music and narrated a story, as best I could follow, about WWII. Throughout the show, were personal excerpts of the time. The most memorable was a man who worked in a bomb factory and would secretly throw his work into the Seine because he didn’t want to contribute to death and destruction. We had a great spot on the lawn, very close to the epicenter. It was one of the best firework displays I’ve ever seen.

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Shaken, not stirred

There was an earthquake last night. I looked it up today; the epicenter was about 75 miles WSW of Grenoble. You can see it in the photo. (Thanks EMSC!)

IntensityMap I (Andy is away) was at a friend’s house for TV night and we all had a moment of, “What the hell is that?” The first thoughts: “Who’s shaking the room?” “Gosh, the neighbor’s are walking heavy today!” A few seconds later we agreed on earthquake.

Nothing shifted, nothing fell. It lasted at most thirty seconds and then was over. So, while it wasn’t much, it’s still the most interesting thing to happen this week.

Roman Around

Hi everyone! I’m Flat Stanley. I’ve been visiting Andy and Emily and reporting back to Mrs. K’s second grade class. We’ve been hanging out in Grenoble and I was lucky that our friends – Amanda and Travis took me to Barcelona with them.

For my second trip out of Grenoble, Andy and Emily took me on their Italian adventure. We started at the airport. Our flight went from Lyon, France to Munich, Germany to Rome, Italy.

Flat Stanley on the plane

Hello Alps!

Here’s me on the plane. Those are the Alps, the largest mountain range in Europe.

In Rome, we stayed in a lovely apartment with a great view. It rained while we were there, but luckily Andy and Emily remembered their raincoats and I’m already water-proof.P3220265web

 

 

 

You can’t tell from the picture, but Palatine Hill is right behind me and the Colosseum is right behind that. To my right is  the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, an Italian king in the 1800s.

Here’s me in front of the monument on Sunday morning. FS at EV Monument Sunday morning was the day of the Rome marathon. We watched the wheelchair racers cross the finish line and then went to visit some ancient ruins.   

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This is the old roman forum. There used to be a town and many temples in this area. T his is also where the Roman Senate met – in the Curia.   

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In the same area, is Palatine Hill where the emperors’ palace and gardens were.     P3230338web      P3230332web P3230345web

From the gardens, we got our first view of the Colosseum, but before we could visit, it was time for lunch.

PizzP3230355weba comes from Italy and we ate lots and lots of it.

 

After lunch, the sun came out and we went to see the Colosseum. P3230361web P3230370web This is an ancient mosaic. In the last picture, you can see the whole Colosseum. There was a floor that covered the underground passages. You can see how the sides sloped, the rich and important people sat close to the floor and the common people sat higher up.P3230374web After the Colosseum, we headed back to Trastevere, the neighborhood where we were staying. It’s a very lively area, good for people watching. We didn’t stay out too late though, because Monday we had an early start.

Doctor, doctor!

A trip to the doctor is a relatively rare occurrence for me, but my French health care card came I the mail today; I have a strong urge to go get all sorts of check-ups just because I can. Lucky for France, this impulse is offset by my general dislike of French doctors.

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It sucks!!

Between sleeping in and poor weather, the most exciting thing to happen this weekend may be cleaning the couches.

Meet Hoovie, the newest addition to the household.

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There is a vacuum that was left in the apartment. It sucks, as in it doesn’t. It has poor suction and I’m always afraid it’s going to over heat, so I haven’t used it very much.

I’ve been avoiding the issue, but Thursday there was a vacuum for sale classified with a reasonable price. I jumped on it and went to pick our new little machine up the next day.

It’s just a vacuum, but it works so much better than the other one that I did the whole house – including the couches and their cushions. I don’t think they had ever been cleaned before.

I no longer have an excuse for dirty floors. As Andy says, “it’s all about having the right tool to do the job.” He’s usually talking about cars, but I think it applies here. Goodbye, witch broom. Hello, vacuum!

Great Ascents

When people think of France, few plan to visit Grenoble; those who do come here go to the Alps and trek into Grenoble on their rest day. There are quite a few interesting museums here, most of them are even free, but the most visited attraction is the most visible. (We can see it from our bedroom.)

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The Bastille sits on the north side of the Isere River overlooking the city. There’s a téléphérique, also known as Les Bulles in French and The Bubbles in English, which carries people over the river and up to the Bastille. The site provides sweeping views of the entire agglomeration and many people are able to find their homes or at least their street.

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The Bastille was built in the first half of the 19th century as a defensive fort, but was never actually used as such. At the top, the old fort has been turned into an expensive restaurant, a gift shop, a snack café, and the Museum of the Mountian troops. There are also the “Mandarin Caves” at the back of the site. I’m not sure what they used to be, but they’re cool to visit.

In addition to being a tourist site, the Bastille is also the town’s most obvious and very accessible workout site. It has 3 different access/fitness paths of varying difficulties. On one side is a hiking path; in the middle, stairs can take you a third of the way, then joining with a wide, groomed path to the top; further east of that, is a long series of stairs.

This is where I walked twice weekly with friends now departed. It’s also where my friend Amanda and I have been doing most of our exercise this year. While polar vortexes continue to swirl over our homeland, Grenoble has stayed quite warm. (The skiers are complaining.) With the exception of a few rainy days, this has allowed us to ascend regularly. Being fabulous femmes de foyer, we usually go when other people are working and it’s a nice nature walk. One past weekend, she, Andy and I did the climb. There were a lot of people out and they covered the whole spectrum: casual walkers, workout walkers, joggers, runners, and even mountain bikers. It actually got a wee crowded.

Coming from the mid-west and fields of corn, I really appreciate the mountain views, both from our home and all around town. More than once I’ve stopped to take pictures of the mountains, just because. The Bastille trails are so great because it’s an almost mountain right on our doorstep. Both as my fitness challenge and a thing to do with visitors, the Bastille trail might just be my favorite place in town.