at the barricade – tour de france

The last several kilometers of the race are fenced off, and the finish is lined with a barricade with sponsor logos. This is a virtual city, planted on top of the mountain, and destined disappear hours after the race completes and reappear at the next race.

The VIP’s are on the right, helo’d up or bussed up and share semi-truck trailers that magically turn into restaurants and vantage points. On the left are the everyday people of France who have hiked or ridden their bikes up the steep seven kilometer final ascent to watch one man conquer the mountain.

It has rained all day and mud is everywhere, but the people are polite ( except for a few on the VIP side ) and we have stood for hours 50 meters from the finish waiting for the riders while Jazz and up-beat music plays in a mix of French and English. We watch the race on giant televisions, and periodically the announcers wildly, emotionally explain the race in French. The great Contador has crashed and must abandon, and the crowd murmurs.

There are children here, dogs, hikers, bikers and people dressed up in all manner or costumes. They picnic on the back of semi-truck trailers but when the riders approach the final summit, the thousands of people who have lined the route cheer wildly.

Near the finish, two riders approach the top, an Italian and Pinot ( a local boy ) as they come to the barricade we cannot see them, but we hear the roar, and the thunder of the people pounding the barricade a thunder that rolls forward with them. These men are suffering, pushing through pain and the people cheer wildly. Pinot cannot do it, he is spent, he cannot overcome the mountain and takes second. The third rider approaches, then more and every one is cheered wildly.

This is the magic of the Tour de France.


driving the backroads in northern france

Yesterday we drove out with out little rental Opel car, it’s about the size of a child’s toy, along the winding mountain country roads. Some are very narrow, and you probably know, that you take your half out of the middle in those cases. Jan and I looked at each other as we drove out the driveway with a childish excitement realizing we could barely read the signs let alone communicate meaningfully with anyone. That’s how adventures start.

The highways are fine and well marked, and the local roads use traffic circles instead of stop signs as long as you follow the advice of “What ever you do, don’t stop in the traffic circle, keep looping around until you make up your mind.” It’s the back country mountain roads that are so slight and narrow, often relying on periodic pullouts to let faster traffic by or let oncoming traffic pass.

Well, I can tell you that when other drivers come along these roads that are little more than goat tracks one moves a bit to the side, holds their breath and squeezes their shoulders in as if to make both cars fit. Some how they always do.

Our Tom-Tom took us back along tiny narrow roads through the mountains and we were so thrilled make it back. Our Tom-Tom seems to have the soul ( and accent ) of an Irish Girl.

Tomorrow we will share a working-man’s lunch in the village, but we have a long adventurous drive to Dijon.


a snail’s pace

Sometimes life is fast. Sometimes life is slow. Today hiking in the rain we discovered this slug, about four inches long, a favorite for the birds.

a four inch long morsel of delight for birds

a four inch long morsel of delight for birds

And then we saw this fellow, more of a choice for humans ( Escargot ) we left him to crawl away. The process of preparing snails consists of capturing your snails and placing them in a bucket where you feed them for 1 week. This allows them to purge whatever they have eaten previously which might be toxic or taste unpleasant. Then you “deslime” them by soaking them in mixture of water, salt and a touch of vinegar. Then it’s off to the pot.

Escargot wild in the forest

Escargot wild in the forest

To the swift goes the race, but this little fellow inches along.


of yogurt and wars and legends – Northern France

Today we started the morning with sheep milk yogurt, it was very rich and instead of fruit in the bottom it was flavored with a chestnut paste. Instead of plastic, the yogurt comes in a small glass pot. I think it tastes better in glass – one little item in the world where quality matters to someone.

Sheep milk yogurt with chestnut flavoring

Sheep milk yogurt with chestnut flavoring

The land is rich here but not prosperous. The farms don’t have that finely kept look of Austria or parts of Wisconsin. The Romans took the towns here, but never subdued the Celts that lived in the deep dark forest. It was foreign to the way the Roman armies fought and they were content with roads and cities.

Before the potato came from the new world, chestnuts were crucial to survive the winter for the poor. They made bread from chestnuts to tide themselves through. One of the armies that came through stripped the bark from all the chestnut trees and that winter the villagers starved.

Some of the old stone houses may have had their cornerstones laid four hundred years ago. When you visit, you might find a “hobbit hole” where an original door makes a grown man or woman stoop to enter it.

An abandoned stone building near the village fountain

An abandoned stone building near the village fountain, it might have housed a community oven

Nearby is the “Plank of the Beautiful Girls” – where in the thirty year war some young girls jumped to their death before being ravaged by plundering Swedish mercenaries. One of the girls was very beautiful and the leader of the band tried to save her. He emerged with her lifeless body and above her grave carved a plank to honor her.

The mountains and valleys have seen much war and strife

The mountains and valleys have seen much war and strife

After war and pestilence and martyrs, spring rains always and the cows graze in the meadows and the larks still sing in Northern France.


northern france – food

One of the beauties of France is its honesty. Rich and verdant, we came to visit the tour de France

the promise of cycling and racing

the promise of cycling and racing

Few things surpass butter from Normandy with sea-salt on a fresh baguette from a visit to the local bakery.

Butter from Normandy with sea-salt

Butter from Normandy with sea-salt

We are enjoying a world that still loves the table… It might be from the Champagne Les Brun Servenay ( light and dry and perfect ), or in the foi gras with sea-salt and a touch of apricot jam, or the chicken spread which prepared with duck fat, or the olive tapenade with a local cheese melted over it

The table is a beautiful thing

The table is a beautiful thing

Some things in life cannot be hurried….

Wishing you the luxury of time….