Sunday, July 29, 2012

Winnebago Nights (Part Deux)


Since Geneva is practically right next door to the east of France and Tuesday was a rest day for the Tour, we decided before we left HK to find a hotel that had space to park our camper van and stay there for a night. We drove for about 2 hours after leaving Besancon, through hills and past many lonely goat herders as if we were cruising down the mountains that so filled the hearts of the Von Trapp family.

After we entered Geneva and failed miserably for what seemed like ages in locating our hotel, we finally found it, tucked away between buildings and down a deadend road. Eager to park our camper van, we realized with slight dread as we stopped in front of it that the Sagitta Hotel had a TINY parking lot, with 2 trees positioned in the worst places possible. As I approached the reception desk, I was met by a young lady who had no idea what her colleague was thinking when she confirmed to me via email that the measurements I sent her of our camper van would be just fine for their parking space. After a bit of brainstorming and extremely skillful camper van maneuvering by Hubby, we miraculously parked it in their tiny lot.

We did a little bit of exploring the next day, a tiny bit of shopping and had lunch at one of the random restaurants that lined the square. Cafe du Center seemed to fit the bill for us that day as it began to rain. Nothing really popped out for me that day so no food porn pictures. Sorry.


After a little bit more of walking around we had to leave to get to Stage 10 of the Tour. The receptionist at the hotel was kind enough to let us park our happy van for the day even after we checked out that morning. It was a really good thing because Hubby and D were planning on driving it to a random outside of town parking lot and take the train back to meet us. Since they didn't have to do that, we walked back to our hotel, thanked the receptionist and back we went into France.

Culoz is located at the foot of the Grand Colombier. This was the first time the Tour was going through it. We arrived in the afternoon and of course the only campsite at the foot of the mountains was fully booked. But since France is such a camper van friendly place, we simply parked in the parking lot outside of the campsite and joined a few others who were already there. We seemed to have arrived just in time because not long after the parking lot was filled with camper vans.

M at the Culoz sign as we entered the town

Although we would not be plugged in that night, it didn't really matter because all that really does is enable us to charge all our gadgets. All the lights and fridge work with the car battery and gas tank. But since we were not at a campsite, we finally initiated our camper van "facilities" that night.

Hubby and D lounging on the grassy area behind our camper van, beers in hand

As the sun slowly set and the magnificence of the Grand Colombier towered behind us, we couldn't help but stand on the lonely patch of grass next to us and stare in awe at the maniacs who have driven god knows how long ago to perch themselves quite literally at the barely there roadsides speckled along the mountain side. Thoughts of mountain goats, guided only by their natural instincts to climb on what happens to be the most precarious mountain ledges simply because the grass looks better there, filled my mind. Only these grass chewing goats were actual people, crazy enough to risk their lives simply because the bikes might go a little bit slower on the way up.

The Grand Colombier in the background. You can see tiny specks on the mountain side which are the camper vans and cars that have already parked there.

That night we made our first none open fire, proper dinner. Boy let me tell ya, even Aldi-bought smoked meats tastes great! With our first dinner created in the van, I started feeling better about the rest of the journey. I love my smoked meats, I love my goats cheeses and I love them tossed together in a sandwich, in a salad, and mixed with all sorts of other good stuff. Life was good.

Our simple dinner with salad and 2 types of sandwiches.

The next morning we packed the boys some sandwiches, walked into town ( a mere 10 minute walk unlike the 1.5 hour marathon at Besancon) with them and wished them luck as they started their hike up the Grand Colombier. M and I walked around town a bit more, checked out the festivities that was well underway and finally found a spot not too far up the ascent and waited for the much talked about sponsor trucks.

The sponsor trucks are a HUGE part of the Tour de France. I personally think if there were no sponsor trucks, there would be significantly less people attending the madness every year. Sponsor trucks, named simply because they sponsor the Tour, come around at least an hour or so before the bikes come. M and I learned quickly that the hostile looks we got from the kids at our first spot had very good reason to be territorial. After we got up and walked a bit further up the road, we realized the kids were hogging the space because that gave them more room to catch the goodies. When the trucks started coming, M and I positioned ourselves across the road from each other, that way we could catch stuff thrown from both sides of the street. After the first few trucks, I also realized you have to work hard, jump like a crazy person and hopefully make eye contact with the thrower to have stuff flung your way. I know its bad, but screw it, it was the Chinese in M and I that brought out just the slightest aggression in us when it comes to getting freebies. M made a little boy cry when she caught a bag that almost missed her and was going toward the kids. I stepped on a rubber bracelet just so that the pesky kid on my side of the road couldn't get it. So I almost stepped on his fingers, but hey, all's fair in freebies and carnage. The man across the street saw what I did and he smiled in approval.

   
 
Above are a few pictures of the sponsor trucks. You can see how well they are designed and decked out.
Our first loot of the Tour. Not bad for a first ever attempt!

After all the trucks had passed and everyone had assessed their loot, some people left while others repositioned themselves for the best viewing angle of the bikes. We stayed put and waited. Then we heard it... the helicopters were coming.

You always know the time is near when you hear the helicopters. You have ones that does the overall shots of the course, you have the news stations ones, you have official Tour ones and you have the ones that focus on the crowd favorites. Every time a helicopter came close enough, we were all waving, hoping for a second of fame. Then a few minutes later, they were there! I think they came a bit too quickly because we literally scrambled to get our cameras as they zoomed past. And unlike the time trial, they zoomed past in 2 groups, the breakaway group and the main group. So after hours of waiting, it was over in a few seconds.

Video I took of the main group from where we were standing.

  
Picture Hubby took on the top of the Grand Colombier.

M and I walked back to our happy van, loot in hand and waited for the boys to return. They came back after an hour or so and filled us in on the mayhem up the mountains. It came and went in a blink of the eye, but as they say, its the journey that makes it worthwhile.

  
View of Culoz taken from where Hubby and D were.

Next stop, Lyon and my 40th!

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