Saturday, July 28, 2012

Winnebago Nights (Part Un)

No, we did not travel in a Winnebago, Hubby just thought it makes for a great title. We did however travel in a Dethleff camper van which fits 6 people. But since there were only 4 of us, we did not have to convert the dining table into a bed every night.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, we were traveling to France for over 2 weeks to follow the Tour de France. I asked everyone to wish us luck and hoped everything would work out as we hurtled through the French country side in our camper van. We left on July 6 and returned safely on July 24. In my eagerness to simply stay alive, not get lost, arrested or get into an accident, I did not write a daily journal which I should have.

It all started one semi-drunk night early this year when we were in Australia. Hubby came up to me with his best mate D and asked me what I thought of a Winnebago in France and lots of bikes for my 40th. I had no idea what he was talking about and brushed it off as all that beer and wine talking. As the evening progressed and he kept mentioning the Winnebago, I looked up what the heck it is. I finally understood he wanted the 4 of us, Hubby and me, and his best mate D and his partner M pillaging the French country side, hurtling down the road in a Winnebago, chasing after the Tour de France to support Cadel Evans and oh yeah, celebrate my 40th while we're there and throw in our 10th wedding anniversary. It all seemed too far fetched and I KNEW it wouldn't really happen. But I guess I was wrong.

After Hubby sobered up and we came back to HK, he actually booked the camper van, booked our tickets and told me it was happening. To tell you honestly, I was scared. And you know why? Amongst the 4 of us, I'm the only one who doesn't drink. I am also not a confident driver. I KNEW there was a big chance I would have to end up driving a monster of a vehicle. I really was scared.

As the date quickly approached and the in-laws flew in to watch the kids, I started scurrying all around HK, looking for things that I think would help during our trip. I was able to purchase a few Michelin Guide driving maps of France, a phrase book, some odds and ends which the camper van website suggested and the Lonely Planet guide to France. I did as much research as I could on-line and tried to find as many campsites as I could. It was information overload. Good thing Hubby told me to relax and that we can find them as we go along. So with that I gave up the planning, tried to pack as lightly as I could and off we went!

Our first stop was to meet up with D and M at the Frankfurt airport then pick up our camper van. Since all the camper vans were completely booked out all over France, we had to get ours in Germany. After the man gave us a quick introduction to the different parts of the van, how to fill things up and dump things out, he gave us the key, we loaded up our stuff and then I realized the van was a manual drive!!! Look, maybe in an emergency I can drive a stick shift, but I don't think I can drive a camper van. With that I knew my chances of ever driving during the trip was gone. YEY!!!

After a quick and over indulgent stop at the local Aldi (all the expensive meats like parma, cheeses of all types are so cheap there compared to HK!!!), we headed to our first town of Besancon in the Jura Mountains next to the Pyrenees. We were going to watch Stage 9 of the Tour which is a time trial. We discovered it was easy to find campsites through Google maps. All you had to do was type in the word "camping" and the town you want to go and PING! its all listed. We chose Camping de la Plage which was the closest one to Besancon. Lucky for us they had space and so we camped there as our first ever camper van camping night.

Here we are in our first campsite ever, all plugged in, awning out and picnic set ready.

Turns out one of the sponsor trucks for the Radio Shack team was camped right across from us. And following in almost everyone's footsteps at the camp, we also dropped in to ask for free t-shirts! Too bad we had to stop wearing them further into the tour after one of the prominent riders was disqualified for doping.

There was a pizza place right across the street, so we had dinner there that night. The following day was a Sunday, so we walked for over an hour and a half to reach the center of town and checked out the tourist sights. Everything in Europe is closed on Sundays, so sadly I couldn't do any shopping. It was a good thing the 4 of us are the type who would be willing to spend on good food and not so much on tourist attractions, so as gasp worthy as it may sound, we didn't go into any of the museums and did not enter the paid area of the Citadelle. But I have to say, Besancon is a lovely town. It is not mentioned much when you talk about traveling to France, but we feel it should be given a chance when going there. Becanson reminded me a lot of Prague. It is a city surrounded by a river and at the top of the hill sits a castle, watching over its people below. Although it is not as majestic as the one in Prague, it still evokes a touch of romance with its architecture and a bit of mystery with baboons patrolling the empty moat which surrounds it. Sadly most the literature provided are in French. We tried to decipher as much as we could and thought maybe one day we'll come back again and spend those few euros to go on a guided tour.

Here are D and M in front of the Victor Hugo museum. Hugo was the one who wrote Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notra Dame. He was born in Besancon.

View of the town taken from the Citadelle.

The next day was the time trial so we drove a little out of town, researched where the bikes would go past and parked along the road like many others and made our way to the bikes. I got pretty excited since I had no idea what it would be like. As we crossed the bridge, we could see a small crowd and then there they were, one bike rider zooming past beneath us every few minutes. And in its cloud of dust, along came the cheer of the crowds, echoing down the street and disappearing along the bend. In a moment of awe and wonderment, I almost switched into a slow sprint. We positioned ourselves, checked out who were zooming past and was able to make out how many have gone and how many more to go. Turns out we were a bit early. Only about 30 have gone, 168 more to go, waaah! And since Cadel Evans won last year, he would be one of the last ones to start. Since we had quite a few more hours before Evans' turn, M and I decided to walk back into town, mail out our postcard for the kids and hopefully find a little cafe to kill time. We had to go back twice since it also turns out nothing is open between noon to 2pm.

Our first ever glimpse of the Tour, LIVE, as we were walking over the closed off bridge.

One of the many road signs letting the riders know how far they still have to go.

A very Tour spirited family with their own Tour decor in their front yard.

Town of Beure sign. It's town center consisted of one street with a few shops and a post office.

After exploring the ONE street of the town, we finally went back to look for the boys, did a ton of practice shots and waited for Evans to zoom past.

All I can say is that its a good thing he has such a formidable chin! Boy, when they zoom past they really zoom past. With all the gear they have on and being in a crouching position on the bike, you can hardly tell who is whom. The only way to be sure is after they have gone past already by looking at the number on their back or their name on the car following behind them.

I have no idea who this was. He was one of the MANY practice shot samples I took in preparation for Evans.

My pathetic attempt at capturing Evans after hours of waiting and TONS of practice shots. At least I got his chin and D cheering in the background.

Here is the video we took of Evans. Every rider has an entourage of cops on motorcycles in front of them and their team cars behind them. All the fan favorites have helicopters following above as you can hear from the video.

After the initial adrenalin rush and awe of Le Tour, I was happy to finally stretch the legs and get back into our happy van.

Next stop, Geneva and Stage 10.

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