Whilst I am traveling around England and France chasing the Tour de France, I am part of a unique tribe. We are not just cycling fans, we are keen enough to spend our vacation time and our savings to traipse around the countryside, stand in the freezing rain for the privilege of seeing the peloton go by in about 30 seconds.
You can usually recognize the tribe by their clothes. Many are wearing bicycle kits with team jerseys or Tour de France leader jerseys– telltale signs on trains and on sidewalks that these people are following the Tour.
A tribal subgroup is the English speaking fans who do not speak much French. Today I met Greg and Lorrie from Cincinatti, Ohio in my hotel breakfast area. They stood out in the freezing rain on the sixth section of cobbles yesterday. (Hopefully Lorrie will guest blog and share her photos). “Our clothes may never dry, “ they said like happy fans able to partake in the suffering on Stage 5.
At the start of Stage 6 in Arras, I found myself standing next to Mark and Jessica from the Lake District in England (see photo). They were going to just follow the Tour in Yorkshire and then they went to London, and then they found themselves driving their car onto a ferry to Lille and now Arras. We traded information like news starved sports fans that we are. They got soaked on the first set of cobbles and spent the day waiting and wondering what happened to their favorite rider Chris Froome.
Thank goodness for Twitter and Facebook, Bicycling and Velo blog sites, and other English speaking fans. Together we piece together how the race is going. Everything in France is in French only, of course.
When I got on the train to Paris, I noticed a young man who was also following the tour. As we disembarked he caught my eye and gave me a knowing look that said, “The Tour, right?” We had a brief conversation. He is from Australia and is wrapping up his Tour today, spending a few days in Paris before heading home.
I did not make it to Reims in time to see Andre Greipel win his first stage of this Tour de France. Although crosswinds split the peloton, all the leader jerseys remain the same. At dinner a friendly couple from Boston just happened to be from in the area and decided to watch the finish. They loved the experience catching swag off the caravan and then seeing the front group race for the finish.
Communication challenges abound. Most people have been super gracious about my lack of French vocabulary. I stopped at the Cafe de la Prefecture and tried to order a jambon sandwich off the board. The waiter said something to the effect of “no, no you want this” and he pointed to a special that I thought was erased. Sure, why not. It was a delicious sausage with a warm mustard sauce, fries and a salad. Other situations have been more stressful. Like taking the train to Reims through Paris and discovering with just 28 minutes until departure that I am in Paris Nord station and need to be in Paris Est station “five minutes away”. Everything is 5 minutes away, except when it is 10 or 15!
Other times no communication is attempted at all. I was shifted to another hotel without any email or attempt to communicate. Fortunately both hotels were fairly close to the train station in Reims. I have to credit Eurostar, for all the delays related to the recent repairs, they have done A+ work on communicating with customers.
This is why travel is fun. It is not always easy and it stretches us. Even simple things like stepping into the pharmacy to get contact solution and throat lozenges. It took quite a while to communicate that I wanted Bonbons au Miel. Meanwhile I discovered that in France you can get flea medicine for your dog or cat at the pharmacy.