Are You Ready for Tour de France 2016?

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Stage 1 of Tour de France 2014 in Yorkshire

Today is the first official day of the Tour de France (July 2). I have been following the Tour since Greg LeMond raced, although back then I could only read about it in the newspaper. The “golden years” for me was Versus coverage on the cable sports station. It was thorough. I could watch live in the morning as soon as I got up (most stages start before 5 a.m. PST), then watch again in the late afternoon as soon as I got home from work, and then watch the evening program with Bob Roll and others doing special reports. 

I know this sounds nuts. Afterall, I already knew the outcome of the race on the second and third viewing. But, as any good Kiwi can tell you, there is a lot to be learned by watching a sporting event a second or third time. Plus I find cycling and the commentary as relaxing as listening to baseball on the radio.

In 2014 I made the commitment to follow the Tour from team introductions to the finish line. While the overall experience is richer, it is actually harder to follow an entire stage in person. Television coverage continually improves too. GoPro cameras and a better satellite feed mean that you see more of the race and from a greater variety of vantage points than ever before. 

However, now I do not own a television (only a computer) and watching the Tour de France becomes more of a challenge. I thought I had it figured out because I have Xfinity Comcast internet service with the extra television package. I have not tried to use it before and, alas, I do not subscribe to NBC Sports. I did download the NBC Le Tour de France Sports Gold app on my iPad. For $29.99 I will have live access to watch the racing for this race and many others.

I am a little disappointed that I cannot review the race when it is complete via the app. This is a challenge mainly because with the summer heat I also like to ride my road bike when the Tour de France is broadcasting.

Thanks to the internet there are lots of awesome resources. Most of the teams have websites, so I watched Mark Cavendish pull on the yellow jersey at the award presentations on Team Dimension Data website. I have mentioned in this space the terrific Orica Backstage Pass videos: the Stage 1 video gives you a taste of what is in store on the Tour de France. There is also the websites of Cycling News and Velonews for in depth coverage and videos. Here is Cycling News great recap of Stage 1

Twenty more stages to go. I am ready.

How Trek Travel Surpasses Expectations

Complimentary photo book of Tour de France adventure in Yorkshire

Complimentary photo book from Trek Travel

I picked my mail up from the post office and what did I find? A surprise from Trek Travel. They put together a beautiful photobook of our Tour de France adventure in Yorkshire. It was very satisfying to go through the photos and see pictures of all of us riding our Trek bikes, meeting our favorite riders, standing on the podium in London, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, of course.

I loved my Trek Travel experience and this is just another example of how they surpassed my expectations.

P.S. Trek Travel has also added Jens Voigt to their team. He will be joining a handful of trips in 2015!

P.S.S. Read more about my Tour de France adventure–from Leeds to Paris–in my earlier posts.

Art of the 101st Tour de France

Supporting Greig Leach’s Kickstarter campaign to bring his beautiful drawings together in a book was a no-brainer. I’d seen some of his drawings in the news. We were both following the entire tour. I like how he captured pivotal moments of each day in line drawings with watercolor in his Book du Tour. I received my copy about 2 weeks ago and I have been going through it slowly. It brings back so many great memories.

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It is also time to sign up for cycling tours at the 2015 Tour de France.  I can personally recommend either Trek Travel or Thomson Bike Tours.

If you are interested in a spectator tour, then Thomson is the only one offering these. The brilliant Jacinta McHale is returning to lead them.

And on a completely silly note, those of us who traveled with Jacinta in 2014 were thrilled to see Enriique Iglesias’ song Bailando won the Song of the Year at the Latin Grammys.

Racing to Write a Tour de France Guide

I am setting ambitious deadlines to write a Tour de France guide for spectators and amateur cyclists for release this fall. Jane Friedman’s class “How to Write a Powerful Book Proposal Workshop” has really helped me focus. So I will not be traveling as much and writing more. Instead of taking a hiatus, look for posts on Norway from a trip my son and I took together just before I began this blog.

In the meantime I will tweet progress reports on the Tour de France guide. My goal is to be high-fiving you all with a finished book by the time the Tour de France 2015 route is announced.

Jens Voigt high-fiving fans at the end of Tour de France 2014 in Paris.

Jens Voigt high-fiving fans at the end of Tour de France 2014 in Paris.

How to Dine Alone “Adjacent”

Traveling alone is a choice that I make regularly. Sometimes people tell me, “I could never do it.” When I ask why it is sometimes because they cannot bear the thought of dining alone. Experience has taught me that sometimes the best encounters with the place and its people happen because I am seated alone and so I am more accessible and open. And the food tastes the same.

Recently my friend Ray shared with me how he uses opportunities to eat alone as a date with himself. While in France and England I had the chance to enjoy dates with myself on several occasions and it does change the atmosphere in a very positive way.  Or travel with a group for a long period and suddenly dining alone, eating just what you want, taking only the amount of time you want to take, leaving before or after dessert and coffee. It is divine.

On the last page of the September 2014 issue of Bon Appetit, actor Jason Segal shares his “Rules for eating out alone:

1. Bring a book. When you have a book You aren’t really alone. It’s more alone adjacent.

2. Don’t be bashful. The other people alone probably feel the same way you do. You’re all “alone together.”

3. Think of it as a date with yourself. Get to know yourself. If you get along with yourself, there is a very good chance you will get to go home with yourself.”

I’ll toast to that!

Tapas in St Lary Soulan IMG_2531

Chunnel Coolness Factor

The Eurostar train between London and Paris or Lille is a super cool way to get across the English Channel. The train passes through the channel tunnel or “chunnel” much more quickly than going through the airport or taking the ferry. Compared to SNCF (the French railway), it is amazing. 

I was scheduled to catch the 8 a.m. train from St Pancras Train Station in London the morning after Stage 3. I was out late the night before so I did not rise in time to check my email. I missed the email from Eurostar telling me that due to mechanical difficulties and repairs in the tunnel, I needed to reschedule to a later train. A ticket concierge helped me reschedule and I had a couple of hours to get a bite to eat and get through security. 

The St Pancras station’s (across the road from Kings Cross Train Station) Eurostar loading area is fairly small and probably due to the maintenance issues was very crowded. Once we loaded onto the train it was a very comfortable 2.5 hour ride to Lille. I did not even feel the pressure in my ears when we entered the tunnel. The only way I could tell I was under the English Channel was the dark windows. 

Later I received an email offering me a partial discount for the inconvenience. On SNCF I encountered crabby ticket sales people, nonexistent train conductors, closed cafe cars (for the duration of a 4+ hour train trip), and overcrowded passenger cars. I tried first class and second class. The only difference was the color of the seats and plugs for recharging phones.

My chunnel experience from Paris to London was excellent. I already blogged about my misadventure getting to Gare du Nord. Once I got to the station and found the Eurostar entrance I received excellent service. The ticket concierge helped me change my ticket to the next train without a penalty. This time security and waiting was easier. It seemed like we were in London in very little time. 

I will definitely use the chunnel again if the opportunity presents itself and recommend it to fellow travelers.

Our Wonderful Stay at Chateaux Dans Les Arbres

Guest Blog by Faith Winnett

The Chateaux Dans Les Arbres near Bergerac in France–This was a place I had seen in our Brisbane weekend newspaper travel section.  The picture caught my attention first, followed by the description of treehouses designed on local chateaux – castles in the trees. OOH!!! We just had to go. 

Cabane Milandes

Cabane Milandes

Amongst our mostly city hotel/B&B accommodation plans for our month in France, this seemed like the perfect retreat.  With each treehouse surrounded by the forest, and green meadows just a boardwalk away, our toughest choice was which one to reserve.  Fortunately for us, the same one was not available for the two nights of our planned stay, so we got to experience both the two-level Cabane Milandes and Cabane Monbazillac. 

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Our arrival after a light shower of rain and a long drive from Le Mans, made the warm welcome of our hostess promising.  We were given a quick overview of the property and asked what time we would like our breakfast hamper delivered (via a rope and pulley to maintain privacy), then promptly escorted to our lodgings for the night…

WOW!  Even better than the pictures–so warm and inviting. The tasteful décor and gentle lighting perfectly demonstrated the versatility and variance of timber.  We were like children exploring everything that opened and shut, climbing the small spiral staircases – one to the parent’s turret and the second to the bunk beds for the children (if we had brought ours from Australia J).  The two-person outdoor spa on the deck was simply the icing on the cake.  Entirely private and incredibly quiet and peaceful, we were so happy we had found this gem.  The enormous European pillows were like sleeping on marshmallows and the view of the forest was just a perfect. 

Breakfast was a very generous serving of warm croissants and baguettes, fresh juice, hot coffee and tea, yogurt, condiments, ham and cheese, delivered precisely at the requested time.  A wonderful way to start our day. 

Cabane Monbazillac

Cabane Monbazillac

We chose to drive to Bergerac (about half an hour away) to visit the original Chateau de Monbazillac and were not disappointed by it’s grandeur nor its wine selection.  A couple of souvenirs (wine bottles) and delicious lunch at a local café later, and it was back to discover the delights of Cabane Monbazillac. 

Our hosts had transported our luggage to our new lodgings (a mighty challenge up the steep steps no doubt), ensuring our only responsibility was to relax. The heavy wooden double doors unveiled an enormous bed with an incredible view, lush timber-lined shower and oriental-themed furnishings to add intrigue and interest.  Fresh fruit ready and waiting to accompany our newly purchased wine and cheese and we were set for another lovely evening under the stars in our private spa. 

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The infinity pool near reception was an added bonus, which I think we mainly used just to say that we had as we really had no need to leave the splendor of our castles in the trees.

 It is a truly wonderful place and I recommend to all who ask, and even those who don’t.