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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kim and I had a relaxed afternoon and evening mooching around Paris the day after Le Tour ended. Kim the extreme cyclist from Austin was a complete stranger when we were assigned to the same room in St Lary Soulan; by Paris we were happy to share a walking adventure together and split the costs of an extra night in our spiffy hotel near L’Opera House.
We started by giving ourselves a little over an hour to speed shop in Galeries Lafayette. Then we began the slow climb up to the Sacre Coeur basilica.
My friend Jane from the Alps gave us a recommendation for a restaurant near there for dinner. (She had met the papa of the chef on her travels and dined there earlier in the week.) We stopped as our whimsy directed including a wonderful toy store. Eventually our hunger was prioritized over shopping.
We climbed and climbed until we finally found the restaurant, La Cremaillere 1900. The interior of the restaurant was beautiful (admired on the way to the loo) and all of the seating was outside in the courtyard on Henri Boulard. We enjoyed our meal and a glass of rose and then moved on to see the basilica.
The Sacre Coeur is very popular more for the view of Paris from the grounds than as a place of worship. I waited for Kim in a seat near the back and watched as people ignored the sign of “Silence, respectful dress, and no photos.” There was even a guy with a Heineken beer bottle cruising through with his family (sold outside on the steps by ambitious “entrepreneurs”). We walked past hundreds of people already waiting on the steps for the sunset.
We sauntered back to the hotel and packed for an early morning departure. I will never be a Francophile and after four visits to Paris I am satiated. After all of the frustrations traveling in France it was fitting that I had one last experience.
The hotel doorman hailed a cab for me and said “Gare du Nord” to the driver. I jumped in and noticed the drivers earbuds and did not think much of it until we started driving down the Boulevard that parallels the River Seine. Hmm. I do not know Paris that well but I did not think we were headed in the right direction. It took a few minutes to dig out my Paris map and establish that we were headed to Gare de Lyon not the train station for the Eurostar chunnel. I asked him if he was headed the right way to Gare de Nord. The driver removes his earbuds and says “Gare de Lyon”. By this time I had no time to spare to catch my train. Ideally we would be pulling up to the station in this moment. I probably shrieked, “NO! Gare du Nord!” He began to insist that the doorman said Gare de Lyon. We argued back and forth while he turned towards the right train station. He said he would only charge me 15 Euros and hurry as fast as possible to Gare du Nord. We pulled up at 9:05 and my train was leaving at 9:15. It took a few minutes to figure out where to find the security entrance and Pierre informed me that I was too late. Fortunately because I was there before the train departed I could get a new ticket for the next train at 10:15 at no extra charge. Huge sigh of relief. This misunderstanding with the taxi driver could have happened anywhere, yet the driver never apologized; he just kept blaming the doorman. So French.
It was a very emotional day: the final stage of the Tour de France. After 21 stages in 23 days I can hardly believe it is actually over. It was also an exhausting and hot day. It took some staying and recovering to appreciate that I was actually on the Champs Elysees watching the last eight laps of the 2014 Tour de France.
My favorite moments were actually trying to snap a picture of the lantern rouge, the only Chinese rider Jl Cheng of Giant Shimano. At the start of the day he was almost 6 hours behind Vincenzo Nibali. Today he was lapped by the main peloton. Ouch.
We were about 150 feet from the finish line, but it was on the other side of the road so it was only on a distant large screen television that I could see Marcel Kittel just barely beat Andre Greipel.
The end of the race was a nice surprise. Much of the crowd stayed and cheered for the riders as they made their way to the team buses. Some even high-fived us as we reached over the barrier. The winner of Stage 19 stopped to speak to his friend. Families helped to celebrate the end.
Thomson Bike Tours went on a river cruise. I chose to walk slowly back and see the team buses and savor the last moments of this magnificent event. The Vittel water sponsors were peeling off the logo from the vehicle and I got a section of it. Sounds strange I know, but it looks really cool.
I paused to see Jens Voigt, Frank Schleck and others at the Trek Racing Team bus. Then I spied Gabe, my Trek Travel guide. It was great to give him a big hug and bring my experience full circle.
Now I cannot wait to get the DVD from NBC Sports so I can hear about this year’s tour in English!
Some people who are unfamiliar with the Tour de France are surprised to learn that it is still a men only sporting event. This year is a grand exception. An inaugural women’s race is taking place in Paris on Sunday. I will be able to watch from my Thomson Bike Tours VIP viewing on the Champs Elysees.
(Marianne Vos, the current world champion, won the circuit race. We overcame many obstacles to be able to see the last couple of laps.)
Meanwhile, most of the staff supporting the teams are men, but women are not relegated to sponsor liaisons only. For example, Mariah and Alyssa with team Garmin Sharp are a communications director and soigneur, respectively.
The communications director wrangles television and radio interviews, new media as well as managing press releases and Twitter and Facebook accounts. Both Mariah and Alyssa laughed at the idea of having a narrowly defined job. On the Tour you do whatever is needed.
Alyssa could be assigned to hotel massages when the team bus roles in, or making the bags of food up for the feed zone, or filling water bottles among the many possible tasks. And filling water bottles is not just about filling them with water. Each rider has preferences for their liquids—gatorade, water, water with electrolytes, and so on. Read this article from Ride magazine to learn more about life as a soigneur.
They travel with the team over 200 days a year. Alyssa has been with the “Argyll” team since the beginning and has been living in Spain and will move to Ireland to be closer to family.
Today is Stage 20: the one and only time trial. I have been following Tony Martin’s career since he rode for Columbia HTC. He has mastered the discipline of the time trial where the best in the business maintain their focus and wattage for a solid 50 to 70 minutes.
Tony Martin, 3 time world time trial champion, crushed it!
This year Tony was put on the spot at the pre-Tour Team Presentation when they asked him how Mark Cavendish is as a leader. He froze. You could imagine the thought balloons above his head as he fished for something to say that would please the home crowd. Mark just leaned across the bikes and grinned at him. It reinforced the image some may have of a reserved Germanic machine.
Waiting outside the Omega Pharma Quick Step team bus yesterday at the departure, I saw the other side of Tony Martin. He has a charming smile and he has charisma. He also speaks English well and is very patient and polite with fans.
Yesterday the mechanics outfitted his bike with the on-bike camera. (They were going to upload the film to the OPQS website depending on how the race went; did not see anything on site).
I started the tour without a “favorite team” as I admire riders on BMC, Trek and other teams. Then standing at OPQS team area waiting for riders to wrap up their team meeting, I chatted with Davide Bramati, the sport director, and began to realize how many of their riders I admire. Of course there is Mark Cavendish. This video of Mark Cavendish in team car with Davide Bramati is fun.
Mark’s early departure meant that his teammates were freed up from recreating the lead train on possible sprint finishes and Matteo Trentin won stage 7 and Tony Martin won stage 9 and now stage 20.
This is the team where Brian Holm is also a sports director. I enjoyed watching him in the Tour movie Chasing Legends. Plus they have “Prince Harry” or Mark Renshaw.
In the first week, back in Yorkshire, (that feels like a million years ago) one of my Trek Travel teammates really like OPQS and now I can say they are my favorite team too.