Penultimate Or The Ultimate?

Penultimate Or The Ultimate?

I’ve been watching the Tour de France religiously each July since my Dad introduced me to it around age 10. I would watch the Saturday/Sunday coverage of the week and immediately following would hop onto my bike and tear off around the block with the voices of the British commentators echoing in my head. Anyone who has visited my home in the month of July or worse, vacationed with us during July has seen the addiction, uh, I mean passion with which I follow this event firsthand. While coming to a foreign, historic, art-filled, cultural city like Paris with my full family is as once in a lifetime as it gets, seeing The Tour on our penultimate day in Paris on one of The Tour’s most prestigious stages was the ultimate. 

Yes, cycling has some flaws, many of which have played out in ways even the best marketer wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy. But in spite of the flaws, I can’t get past what makes the sport so great. Immense strategy. Team over the individual – 6-8 riders on every team of 9 are riding for one leader and will sacrifice their standings, rank and fame to ensure the success of this pre-defined leader. The magnitude of racing over 21 days, 2000+ miles and unimaginable elevation change, never mind weather, crashes and a filled schedule from wake until sleep. There’s the color and pagentry of Grand Tour cycling. Today for the first time we witnessed the sponsors parade which arrived in Paris roughly 90 minutes ahead of the riders and lasted for at least 45 minutes. Modified cars wrapped in LCD screens, performers harnessed into or even above these cars, music blaring and sometimes even freebies being tossed. It was truly a circus. Borderline ridiculous but they clearly knew their audience and were clearly thrilled to have made it through the final day of twenty one straight parades around France. Only a few of these riders are wealthy from cycling. Most won’t ever get rich from cycling. They dedicate themselves to a sport for the sport. Most have been riding competitively since their early teens and few names will ever be memorialized like Hinault, Merckx, Lemond, Indurain or Froome. It takes passion to do this. Plain and simple. That’s why I love it. That’s why seeing the biggest race in this sport on the final day of this year’s race was so cool to me. Bucket list item checked. I hope one day to get back and see it again. 

It needs to be noted about how great and patient my family was with me yesterday. I had done some research on where to view but was constantly worried about not finding a good spot. They put up with the jumpiness from me that ensued. Moreover, they wandered around in a steady rain for about two hours as we awaited the riders’ arrival in Paris. A cold rain with a steady breeze. Then they put up with me as I watched every lap of the race. I’m grateful for their toughness and support of me when staying in a warm, dry museum or apartment would have been much easier. 

Here how our day played out in pictures. 

   My Storm Troopers. I’m grateful. 

Charlie’s only shoulder ride the entire trip. Aka, best seat in the house. 

    The Flame Rouge. 

 Norwegian priorities are never in doubt. Beer first, view second. 
   One pic from the parade. Nutso marketing gone bad or great jobs for kids just out of college??

 Caption: “I’ve ridden in this rodeo before.” Great idea. 
 This time we play “Where’s Stewart?”  Little did she know she’s illegally standing in the flowers. But a view from a hill beats one from below it. 

 And we wait for the riders to reach Paris. 
 The Peleton heading up the Champs Élysées (CE). We had a great spot with mostly shorter folks in front of us. 🙂  

 Following tradition, Froome’s Yellow Jersey team leads the first lap in Paris. 

   The Peleton coming back down the CE. Sagan in the green jersey to the right. 

 We saw a 5 second flat fix and go right in front of us!
   The breakaway on lap 6. Never more than 30 seconds ahead, they were eventually caught. 

 The traditional French Air Force flyover. 
  
Who knew they made special pizza knives? I also have some cool video and super slo-mo shots that I’ll try to post later. 

For now Paris, Au Revoir. 

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The French Channel

Because it would be offensive to call it the English Channel from French soil. And what historic soil it is.  I’ll come back to this later. 

Today was a reminder on why it is so nice to spend time connecting with friends. After a slightly frantic start running to catch the train at Gare Du Nord station in Paris and a very peaceful trip to Calais we were met by our friends Heather and Francois from Fort Mill. They relocated to a beautiful farming and fishing town called Audreselles which sits atop the white cliffs (across the English Channel from the White Cliffs of Dover) looking over the sea. Just past these cliffs sits the major encampment held by the Germans in WWII to control all access to England and the spot where the Allied Forces tricked the Germans with fake boats and planes to thinking this would be our strike point. Little did they know such a point was 100km down the coast in Normandy. More recently, this is also the location where the English Chunnel crosses to England. Even more fascinating are the remaining craters in the landscape from the heavy bombing routines and the remaining buildings and gun houses from WWII. Lastly the vast acreage of rolling farmlands that grows some of the world’s best flax, white sugar beets, corn and wheat. In my opinion, the ideal landscape to retire.  Their house is surrounded by quaint villages, vacation/fishing villas and older French farmhouses. The villages and towns are filled with butchers, cheesemongers, boulangers (bread/pastry makers) and vegetable markets. The butcher is also the cattle raiser and chicken farmer. 

Our friends are ex-pats from Fort Mill over here to work at Scheffler, a premier automotive parts manufacturer for most automobile brands. After three years in this beautiful land, they will soon move to Germany with the company. Such a fascinating experience. 

Cindy and me have been fortunate enough to spend time with several friends and family members these past years and have really come to appreciate and understand the value of these connections. We also notice time moves so very fast on days with meaningful human connections. Francois and Heather are the latest example of the healthy feeling received from the mere act of spending time with good people. 

 Such a fun, restful day full of great experiences and a new respect for the French countryside. Will even took a moment from his game to enjoy the train corridor.  I’ll never understand why we don’t put more investment towards rail. 

   

 A walk down to the beach at low tide. Water temps are in the 50s, air temps hit near 70 and yet there are still people swimming. That is nutball.   

    

Have sand and water, will dig.   

  
  Neighbors in Audreselles. Small doors and windows. The black line is on all the houses to hide the flood marks from heavy rains.   

  Lunch from the grill- the entire meal sourced from within 2 miles. 

  
Cindy and Heather in an old 12th century church – their neighborhood church. Plus the inside of the old church. 

    
A look back at Audreselles from the farm field. 

  
The fishing village of Audreselles. Quite a bit with the northern tourists in the summer. 

    
The white structure, now a home is a modified German canon bunker. Beneath the hills of Audreselles are old German tunnels and bunkers (both intact and bombed). Several times a year unexplored bombs are discovered and need to be detonated,disarmed or removed from the area. The next shot is the mirror image of the White Cliffs of Dover on the French side of the Channel looking back towards Calais. 

   
 
Hang gliders in the neighboring town. 

  
The old walled castle in Boulogne, complete with a moat, drawbridge and turrets plus
a view of the cathedral dome between the narrow streets of Boulogne and a walk along the top of the castle wall. Someone queue the pigeon counting. 

      
The architecture of Audreselles. Very cool and unique town. 

  
   
Tomorrow a combined two day post of Brussels and our return to Paris on the bullet train. 
    
    
    
 

Parlez-vous anglais??

We made it!  18 hours after leaving our home in Ft Mill, SC we arrived at the 17th Arrondissement on Rue Nollet in Paris, France. Our first interaction beyond the man in the taxi and some airline folk was Amy from South Carolina.  The nanny for the family who is renting us their apartment for our time here (and no, she’s not available to babysit, we asked).  Life confirms once again it is indeed a small world.

One minor note about our world. We don’t all speak the same language.  Never is that more apparent then when you are checking out of the Carrefour (think 1/16 of a Harris Teeter or Publix) and you think the clerk is telling you the lane is closed, but rather he’s letting you know that he doesn’t take cash. Ooh la la, is that sweat on my forehead?  Nope, that’s the world saying admire our differences. Or at least the man saying, keep your Euros in your pocket. My initial response is to run back to the U.S. and embrace the comfort.  But the clerk and I shared a moment, a connection and even a chuckle over it.  That’s cool.

We’ve learned a few things in these first few hours of our adventure:

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1.  Cindy, through the purchase of three neck pillows, has our kids thinking walking through an airport wearing said neck pillows is totally normal. It isn’t by the way. Neither is 2 of the 3 kids not sleeping a wink on these pillows. Hmmm.

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2.  There are two camps of travelers in our family.  Those who sleep on planes when it is night and those who don’t.  Needless to say Charlie and I explored Paris today while the others napped and we created a new Twitter hashtag:  #DontTalkToMom.

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3. London – we hardly knew ye.  In the 1.5 hours we spent in and around Heathrow airport we got to drive on the wrong side of the road, albeit on an airport bus going between terminals (my family’s reaction: meh?!?), we were delayed by protesters who barricaded themselves to the airport gates to bring more attention to climate change (attention granted) and we were served biscuits on the plane (pictured above) only for Charlie to exclaim: “hey, that’s not like at ‘BoJingos!'”  I love that kid!  He gets a CheddarBo upon re-entry to the U.S.  It should also be noted that Charlie speaks VERY LOUD on an airplane, especially when sighting another plane “launching.”  You’ve been warned.  Bonus points if you can explain the mascot guy on the cookie, uh, biscuit wrapper.

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4.  Taxis make kids happy.  Why do we own our own cars?  Dreamiest family car ride ever.  We might have to sell both cars when I get back home.  This one had back seats that faced each other and the movie “The Jungle Book” playing.  More than made up for the lack credit card reader and the extra stop at the ATM.  Parlez-vous Uber?

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5.  Not even an ocean crossing can change some things:  first things the kids (and adults) do upon getting into the apartment?  Plug in the wifi password.  Phew!  Back on the grid again.  By the way, you gotta love AirBNB – so much better than a hotel!

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6.  Charlie and me got up close and personal with some amazing chocolate-filled pastry thingy while solving important world issues such as why pigeons move their heads like chickens when they walk and what makes some pigeons in France brown (?!?).  We are open to all answers.

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7.  Paris is pretty.  No, not if you are judging by a dog’s business on the sidewalk.  But balcony sunsets (and at 10pm!?!), cool internal staircases up four floors to your apartment and heavy wooden doors with hundreds of years of paint on it are all pretty special.  We are truly blessed to have this opportunity as a family.

Each day or two I hope to share 6-8 pictures and a few stories about our trip.  For those of you who worry about the pending robbery that could take place at our house, no worries, we have lined up regular visitors.  Robbers beware.  I can’t tell whether this is fascinating or whether this is worse than home movies in the 70s for you the reader. I’d love to know. I think I do it as I would like to follow along in the vacations of others.

Au revoir!