August 2007


Well, today we packed our bikes and most of our luggage for our trip home tomorrow. That finished, we took one last trip into Paris to visit Notre Dame and the area around the Louvre. Clair had not yet been to Notre Dame so we went there first. It is a short walk from the RER train station and were there in no time. The crowds were as large as ever but it was still very impressive. The stained glass, the carvings, the flying buttresses and the sheer scale of this structure all contribute to the effect. Next, we went back to the Louvre via some small streets a block or two in from the River Seine. Turning each corner brought a new surprise as we explored some new areas. Tuileries Gardens then back on the train to our hotel in St. Quentin. We will leave early tomorrow for our long flight home.

This is one of the last “must do” things on our list. We rented a car today and drove out to the Normandy coast to visit the D-Day beaches and the American Cemetery. We had a cute little Renault Clio which is a 1.5 liter 4 door but it would cruise nicely at 130 kmph on the motorway! We went by almost all of the important beaches including; Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah, but I would say by far the most compelling site is the American Cemetery above Omaha beach. It is perhaps the most impressive experience I have had on this trip. It is hard to explain the feelings that this location creates in ones self. It is well worth the effort to get here! After our tour of the beaches we went to the little town of St. Mere Eglise which was made famous in several WWII movies. You may remember a scene of a parachutist hanging from a church steeple. Well, that scene is recreated on the church itself with a parachutist still up there today! Our drive home was mainly uneventful (which is good) with our main challenge being trying to pay the tolls on the motorway!

Reflection pool at the American Cemetary

Chevreuse is the name of the town we rode to today. The best I can tell that translates into Goatville. There is an old castle in Chevreuse on the top of the hill which we walked up to, but it was outside of visiting hours and it was closed. It took us some time to find our own special way up there but once on top it was easy to find the right way down. After all of this route finding we had worked up and appetite so now we had to find an appropriate restaurant. We searched around and could not anything we liked the look of so we rode over to New Goatville where they had a few more services. We found a little Italian place on the town square and enjoyed the Plat du Jour (not goat) which included a main dish, dessert and coffee for 10.50 euro. We had a table by the window and enjoyed our meal where we could watch the citizens of Goatville going about their daily business. People were carrying bread, drinking coffee and talking to others while waving their arms. Everything appeared normal in Chevreuse except one thing. Where were all of the goats?

Can you do that? Well when you are in Paris you can. We caught the Eurostar train in Paris which is a high speed train that goes direct to London under the English Channel via the Channel Tunnel. It travels at 188 mph and is very smooth. The rail cars actually lean into the turns although the chassis remains flat, creating a near zero G at 180+ mph. The tunnel itself is about 30 miles long but you are through it pretty quickly. We arrived at Waterloo Station which is on the Thames River in downtown London and were within a short distance of most of London’s most famous landmarks including; Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Harrods, Hyde Park, Picadilly Circus and oh yes, Starbucks! We just did a walking tour, took some photos and had lunch in Harrods. London is a very busy city and very expensive these days which became obvious when we walked by the Bentley and Rolls Royce dealerships. Us poor Americans with our weak dollar could only peer in the windows in amazement! We had a good day seeing the sights however and got back home after 10 that night.

We went out for a ride on the bikes today out to the town of Rambouilllet. We took a winding route through the forest and several small villages to get there. Apparently we found a popular local cycling route as there were hundreds of riders out today. We must have passed several groups of 50 or more and there were riders in smaller groups everywhere. Cycling is a very popular activity locally and on this Sunday cyclists outnumbered automobiles by at least 10 to 1. We have been treated with great respect by drivers and they give us plenty of room and never crowd us. What a nice change!

On our return from this loop we found our way back to the outbound section of the course. We knew we were on it in some sections because there were water bottles, tire tubes and other debris from the passing cyclists. In the narrow streets through the villages however we soon lost the route and found our own way back. We rode about 80 km today.

The ride is over now and most people have departed or will leave soon. We however are staying a few more days to see some more sights. Today we went out to the city of Chartres. It is famous for a very old cathedral and that is mainly what we went to see. Our wonderful surprise in addition to that was an amazing old walled city within the larger town. The streets were very narrow and there were no cars within the old center of the city. The cathedral was amazing and if you want to know more about its very interesting history then you should look it up. There is too much to tell to put it here. We walked the narrow streets and looked at many little shops selling every variety of merchandise from bread to the latest fashions. An interesting thing we noticed was that there were almost no foreign tourists here. They seemed to be mostly French tourists out for a day trip. I would describe Chartres as being everything good that you expect from a trip to France without any of the bad. Kind of like Paris without the crowds, traffic or high prices!

The stories are still coming in but they are saying that this was the worst weather ever in the more than 110 years of this event. Right now the estimate is that up to 1800 riders had to abandon the event. There may be many others who were still riding but would not make the final time cutoff at the last Controle or the finish. We are almost 24 hours after the event officially ended and people are still coming in. Talking to people who have finished we find that “suffering” seems to be the universal theme. There are many variations on this theme that reflect each riders individual experience, but wet, cold and wind are a constant thread. When I get better statistics on the results I will post them.

P.S.  Now that the event is over it has stopped raining and the sun came out this afternoon!!!

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