Le Tour de France

IMG_3626Numerous times throughout the trip research has been an Achilles heel. No matter how much you research something, boots on the ground radically seems to shift your actual experience. We experienced this with Versailles, before the trip with failing to purchase a EurRail pass in time, and so we were determined that this time would be different. We scoured the Internet for advice on seeing the Tour in Paris, checked the metro system’s website to see if certain lines would be shut down, and even the Tour de France’s website for the exact times and streets of the route. We knew we had to get there early, like 4 hours before they would even enter Paris. It was incredibly hot, over 90 degrees (34 centigrade) and the sun was blistering; we were glad we didn’t have to cycle in this weather.

IMG_1769Nathan found a great place to watch the peloton pass, near the Tuileries garden next to the Louvre. We made our way toward the garden and the metro was crazy. The metro website said nothing about closures of lines or stops, but of course the exit we needed to use was closed and we had to go back a few stops and even spend another metro ticket. But it was worth it!

We were meeting up with Lena, a young American traveler who we had met through Austin and Sheila, outside of the l’Orangerie. She brought a friend and the four of us made our way under the trees looking out toward the Seine and the route the peloton would take. It was really hot. Did we mention that? It seemed like there were a million Brits there to celebrate the inevitable victory of Christopher Froome. He had a significant lead and only catastrophe could prevent his claiming of the yellow victor’s jersey he had held for more than half of the Tour.

IMG_3627Gardens tend to mostly be gravel or dirt paths, with roped off grass areas you shouldn’t sit on. We didn’t have any soft grass, only a thin blanket, so Nathan and Lena went off to find chairs in the Tuileries. Many people were bringing chairs into the shade of the few trees, or up to the bridge overlooking the street. We sat there in the heat for hours. We decided not to go to the famed Champs Elysees because it is really hard to see and would have been way too crowded to enjoy. Our spot near l’Orangerie was difficult to get to and so there were few people in this area. If you ever have the opportunity to see the closing of the Tour, we really recommend this spot, assuming they take the same route.

IMG_3643Once the cyclists would get into the center city, they would do 9 loops around where we were at the l’Orangerie and the Champs Élysées, and then the last loop would end with a sprint and a champion.

We ate our picnic food, but it was so hot that we really just wanted to escape the heat. Hours to go and the sun wasn’t setting, nor the heat dissipating. But time did pass and with about half an hour to go Lena reminded us that we had brought the ukulele, but hadn’t played it yet. This is a bad habit of ours. We acquiesced and played some of our favorites like Ingrid Michaelson, Bob Dylan, and we even got a crowd to sing Old Crow Medicine Show’s Wagon Wheel. People clapped and asked for more.

IMG_3630Amy had been worried about being able to see once the cyclists actually got here, as the area near the bridge kept filling up over the course of the afternoon. So after entertaining the crowd with a few songs, with our newly earned social capital we got out of the shade, drug our metal chairs toward the bridge and stood on them, and snuggled up near strangers from around the world for an even better view.

You know they are getting close when you start to hear the helicopters. Everyone stood up, eyes trained on the bend in the road beyond which we couldn’t see. Police, camera cars, sag wagons, and other support vehicles started to come around the bend. Then the small pack of leaders who had pulled out front to set the pace! Then the peloton! Everyone cheered and they zipped by so quickly it was unbelievable. The rest of the support vehicles followed close behind, swerving and shuffling to maintain position in case their guy needed a replacement wheel or bike.

IMG_3649A few laps later, Nathan started to keep track of the lap time on his phone. It was taking them about eight and a half minutes to go all the way around the gardens, all the way up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, and back down. Every time they passed us, the lap time would increase slightly. Until the last two laps. All of a sudden the leaders had entirely changed, the peloton had stretched out, and the lap time had plummeted as they turned on the gas. The final lap past the gardens, there were no longer any leaders and the peloton had stretched out as everyone began the final sprint towards the Champs Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe.

Some of the crowd rushed off to try and catch the final sprint, but we decided to take it easy and avoid the crowds. The heat had taken its toll on us, despite the fact that we had been sitting, not riding pell mell along the streets of Paris. We said goodbye to Lena and her friend and headed back to Fabien’s apartment.

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Back at the apartment, Nathan shared his experimental art app for the Leap Motion Controller with Fabien. The Leap is a new hardware device for your computer that allows you to wave your hands to control your computer. Fabien is a software developer and was very interested in the app. Shameless plug: it’s called Beautiful Chaos, and you can buy it for $1.99 here! The Leap itself costs $79.99 and is available online or at Best Buy.