The Potato Chick
Travelling, eating and my other favourite things...
In a sentence...as wonderful as we expected it to be.
Food we loved...salted butter caramel crepe – why oh why did I only discover this delight on our last day in France??
I think it’s fair to say that most girls have a fantasy that when they visit Paris they’ll rent an apartment and pretend they live there for the duration of their stay. Wandering the tree lined streets, nibbling on baguettes and soft cheese, cooking Duck a l’Orange for dinner...
Well I got my apartment but it wasn’t quite what I had imagined. On the plus side, we were only ten minutes walk from the fabulous arty area of Montmartre. The only downside was the fact that we were nestled right in the midst of the African ghetto. So were lullabyed to sleep each night by the dulcet tones of French domestic disputes.
Once we settled into the neighbourhood we didn’t spend much time in the apartment anyway as we were too busy getting to know this gorgeous city. We started off with the Le Tour de France’s final ride into Paris. We waited patiently for several hours to secure our spot right on the fence on the Champs Elysees and were rewarded with over an hour of watching the riders fly by in 7 laps.
We explored Montmartre and the Right Bank during two excellent free walking tours. We ticked off the usual landmarks – the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre.
For me, the Louvre was an absolute highlight. We visited on a Wednesday evening in an attempt to avoid some of the crowds. What an amazing gallery. The whole building is gorgeous and filled with light. There really is something in there for everyone. My favourite item was probably Marie Antoinette’s travelling set.
We wandered around the fabulous Marche Vernaison flea market finding vintage items for our imaginary house and enjoyed lunch afterwards at La Recylerie - a restaurant and bar in an old disused train station. Very, very cool. We took advantage of the beautiful warm weather and had picnic tea on the edge of Canal St Martin one night.
Most importantly for me, we had delicious coffees at two cafes with some Australian roots - Cafe Lomi and KB Coffeeshop. For just a moment, it felt like we were back home in Melbourne, rather than in the heart of the African ghetto.
The Pyrenees, France
In a sentence...chasing Le Tour de France.
Food we loved...nutella (does this count as “food”?)
They say that you haven’t truly lived until you’ve spent a night sleeping in a car with two other people*. I am happy to report that, together with Mitch, we experienced such a night while high in the Pyrenees following Le Tour de France.
We started our time in the Pyrenees with a night in Toulouse. Toulouse could best be described as “interesting”, perhaps adversely affected by the fact we arrived on Sunday (when a lot of shops and restaurants are closed) and that it rained on and off as we tried to explore. It seemed to have quite a diverse ethnic population and the concentration of kebab shops and halal butchers was astounding.
On the Monday we enjoyed a run along the river before making unsuccessful visits to the museum of contemporary art (closed) and the Japanese garden (raining). Luckily a fabulous fixed price lunch saved the day from being a complete failure. We picked up Mitch and loaded up on baguettes, salami, cheese, salty potato-based snacks, nutella and red wine before finally hitting the road. We drove for a couple of hours through the most gorgeous French countryside and nearly lost it with excitement when we spotted a couple of official Skodas.
We stopped for the night on Port de Bals, one of the climbs in Stage 16 (from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon). Any thoughts we had previously entertained of sleeping outside quickly disappeared once we felt the decidedly crisp mountain air. Sleeping the three of us in the back of the car was an interesting affair. It involved the removal of all 5 seats from the back and a 2.00am rearrangement when we had all got pretty uncomfortable. We were pretty amazed that we ended up sleeping until almost 9am. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of nutella baguettes and then set about the serious business of waiting both for the cyclists and for 11am (the time at which it had been suggested it would be reasonable to crack open the first bottle of red wine). We passed the day with ease, mostly by cheering on the poor souls who had decided to attempt the climb on their mountain bike, and before we knew it was 3.30pm and time for the caravan parade.
The caravan parade you say? Yes – a caravan parade. This aspect of Le Tour has to be seen to be believed. About an hour before the riders arrive a parade of sponsors comes through the course throwing out free merchandise to the people standing on the side of the road. Some go to amazing lengths to ensure they get as much crap as possible. To counter this, the people throwing it out do so with over enthusiastic viciousness. The boys had more than one item thrown directly at their crotch and one hit me in the face, knocking my hat off my head. A photo of our loot is below – it included more than 15 hats!
Once the caravan parade was over the excitement really started to build. When helicopters started to appear overhead we knew that the riders were not far away. Before we knew it they were upon us and it was absolute madness for about two minutes and then they were gone. It was such a thrill to see the cyclists live, even if they weren’t around for long.
We hung out on the mountain for a few more hours before making our way to Lourdes, our base for the next few days. I had seen Lourdes described in Lonely Planet as France’s answer to Las Vegas and it certainly fit that description. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics make a pilgrimage there each year as they believe that the Virgin Mary appeared 18 times at the Grotto to a young girl, St Bernadette. As a consequence, the town is filled with tacky neon-lit shops selling any Catholic trinket you can think of – virgin Mary statues, holy water, rosary beads and candles. While it was possibly the ugliest town in France, it was certainly an excellent base for our purposes.
The next day the boys rode up Col du Tourmalet while I tried (and failed) to find Lourdes’ pocket of charm. At 2091 metres above sea level, Tourmalet is one of the most famous climbs of Le Tour and it has featured in more than 70 editions of the race. That night at dinner the boys were more exhausted than they had seemed after completing Melbourne’s Ironman – a good indication of just how impressive the professional riders are. During Stage 18 from Pau to Hautacam the next day they would not only climb Tourmalet but several other climbs as well.
On our last day in the Pyrenees we drove up Tourmalet to repeat the process for Stage 18. The day passed by in a similar fashion as Stage 16 except we got to see the riders for more than 15 minutes. The mountains had really started to rip the field apart.
We returned to Lourdes that night feeling sad that our adventure was nearly over. It really was a fantastic experience to see Le Tour de France live and to spend a few days hanging out with the diehards who follow the entire race in campervans. We vowed that one day that will be us. Mitch – are you keen?
* I made this up.
Setting up camp
In a sentence...a lovely few days in an apartment that felt like home.
Food we loved...chocolate and rum dessert crepe that was on fire when it arrived at our table.
Long term readers of the blog will recall that we had a wonderful time in Nice, our first foray into France. So even though we were sad to leave San Sebastian we were pretty happy to be heading back into France. And Bordeaux was a good place to start.
We stayed in a cute little Airbnb apartment which meant we could strike a nice balance between cooking meals at “home” and eating out. We discovered the wonderful French world of fixed price lunches and enjoyed a long lunch of steak and fries followed by crème caramel and tiramisu for 12 euros each. Another night we had delicious crepes for dinner.
We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art and spent an afternoon cruising the waterfront and the back streets on bikes we had hired. We made sure we were home by about 4.30pm each day to catch the end of Le Tour de France on TV – what a luxury watching it at such a reasonable hour! The only downside was the commentary being in French.
Of course, being in Bordeaux, we also had to taste some wine so we spent a full day touring a few wineries in the region (they call them chateaus in France). Disappointingly, the winery tour was not the wild boozy affair that they usually are back home. However, it was lovely to see the Bordeaux countryside and the spectacular chateaus along the way.
After our time in Bordeaux, we now feel highly qualified to recommend buying any 2 euro bottle of red we see in the supermarket marked with the Bordeaux appellation. Our number one tip? Stick to the bottom shelf.
Next...The Pyrenees, France.
Nice, France (and the Monaco Grand Prix)
In a sentence...a long weekend with the rich and famous.
Food we loved...slow cooked beef daube stew with ravioli.
One of the best things about our trip is the opportunity to catch up with friends from home in interesting places. Thanks to the organisational efforts of our good friend Tristan we came to Nice to watch the Monaco Grand Prix with some of our Hydac friends.
I had been sad to leave Italy and its delicious food but that feeling did not last long. By the end of our first meal (the beef stew referenced above) I had fallen truly madly deeply in love with France. Here is another country that places a high emphasis on the quality of its food. I enjoyed several trips to the supermarket just wandering the aisles and marvelling at the gourmet offerings you would not see in an Australian supermarket. Highlights included: numerous types of terrine, ready made remoulade, hundreds of cheeses, freshly baked baguettes, éclairs and chocolate tarts.
We spent our first full day exploring the city by bicycle, wandering along the beach and staring gobsmacked at the ridiculously sized boats in the harbour. When we returned to the beach for a swim a few hours later the boys tried to hide their disappointment at the fact that the rather beautiful topless sunbather from earlier on had packed up and gone home.
The next day the boys headed to Monaco to watch the qualifying. I spent much of my day at the supermarket – see above.
Before we knew it, race day was upon us. As none of us could justify the 500 euro price tag for seats in the grandstand we had booked tickets in a restaurant in the harbour. This allowed us to watch the race on the TV while eating lunch and to rub shoulders with the who’s who of Formula One before and after the race. We hung around outside the floating Red Bull pontoon and saw Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel as they came in from practice and as they headed back out to their cars. We saw plenty of other members of Formula One royalty, not that I knew who any of them were!
As usually happens at Monaco Nico Rosberg, who qualified in pole position, took out the race. A good battle ensued between Lewis Hamilton and our man Daniel Ricciardo for second place but Ricciardo just could not manage to overtake. Still, he seemed pretty happy with third.
After the race we joined hundreds of race-goers at bars set up along the track. The wealth on display was just astounding. People were ordering bottles of Veuve Clicquot and spraying the crowd with them! Nick and I walked the entire track before heading home for beers (Nick) and bed (me). All in all, a fabulous day.
Once the boys departed we spent another two days enjoying the sunshine (and baguettes filled with cheese and prosciutto) on the beaches of Cannes and Nice. We got into a nice little “routine” of starting each day with a coffee and a chocolate croissant. On our final night we were joined by another good friend, Dorey, for kebabs, beers and a long overdue catch up.
We left Nice with a new appreciation for the French, their food and our fabulous friends.
Next...the Cinque Terre, Italy.