Stormy Night, Easy Days

7875AFA2-959B-4F56-A592-F6B82437D41EThe spectacular sunset presaged a terrific storm in the middle of the night – first came the lightning, which lit up my room even through the skylight shade, then the thunder and finally pouring rain. It lasted about an hour and a half altogether, and in the morning the terrace was covered with debris.

Colin and I went for a short ride in the late morning, then he drove the team car for the local club in the afternoon while Mo and I sat in the bar chatting with one of the local Brits.
When we got home we did yoga, then when Colin returned we headed down to the campground for a drink and a bite to eat. Neither of us was terribly hungry so we shared a ‘tapas plate’, which was actually very good – it’s difficult to know what to expect when ordering Spanish dishes in France, but we were pleasantly surprised.
The next morning we headed up to the charity shop again and managed to find several good books as well as a tea cozy, which we’d been hoping to find but didn’t think we would in France.
Colin and Neil went for a ride in the later afternoon while Mo and I stayed home and did yoga again. We had a nice late dinner out on the terrace, which I had swept clean from the storm the other night.

Hop back to Mansle

84E7D7C6-3F31-4368-BD5C-D4209D132DD4We took a nice walk up to the orchard and back past the pub, looking for Chips the cat – no sign of him at the moment, but I’m sure he’s still around. They must have recently done a cleanup of the pond – hardly any floating plastic and no shopping carts or bicycles to be seen.
I had a short nap in the afternoon, followed by a delicious lamb chops and roasted veggies dinner.
Up fairly early the next morning we packed and walked down to the train station. We managed to get a direct train to Bristol rather than having to change in Cheltenham as I’ve done in the past. As usual the airport shuttle bus was only a few minutes wait right in front of the train station.
Once again we got to the airport in plenty of time for the flight back to France – this time getting through security in Bristol was a bit of a hassle, however. Even though I was going back with the same things I’d come over with the english security system flagged several things. They considered that my toothpaste, deodorant and face cream were now all liquids and I hadn’t packed them right. They also flagged the bag of carrots I had in my coat pocket (looked like sticks of dynamite maybe?) – it’s Ryanair, after all, and they don’t feed you on the plane so I’d come prepared.
This time I got a window seat and had a better view – seeing the coast of England down below, then an offshore wind-farm was pretty neat. The drive back to Mansle was nice – we stopped at one point so I could take photos of some Poitou donkeys – they are so cute!
Some of them had quite large heads and very long ears, with shaggy/woolly coats. First one, then another, then all of them came over to the fence and we fed them my leftover carrots. This type of donkey almost died out after WWI but have actually made a bit of a comeback.
We got back too late in the day go retrieve Mo, so settled back at the house for a nice BBQ burgers dinner with Neil Sr.
When we did pick up Mo in the morning she at first didn’t seem that excited to see us – she even stopped to ‘water the lawn’ before jogging up to Colin. She is pretty happy to be home, but apparently enjoyed herself well enough while we were gone.
We took her for a walk down to the campground bar and had a nice cafe creme, and Laurent brought us a small plate of tapas – some lovely sheep’s cheese and some little ham and gelatin cubes which were very tasty.
On our way back to the house we stopped at the Penalty bar for a drink, then crossed the street and got some fresh produce from the market seller that Colin knows. It’s so nice to be in a place where almost everyone will say bon jour, shake your hand and/or kissy-kissy cheeks, whether they last saw you yesterday, or eight months ago.

Quick Hop Across the Channel

50CF68C1-9954-464B-A450-44CFCAD5C77EWe got caught up on laundry, sorted out what we’re taking to England, and took Mo to her ‘vacation property’ in the village of Chez Renard. I wanted to see where she would be kept but as she’s staying in the owner’s house I couldn’t – she trotted off without a backward glance.
The next morning we had lots of time to get ready, and left for Limoges with time to spare. The flight wasn’t too bad, and we landed on time in Bristol. Young Neil was there to pick us up and we had a fast ride into Worcester.

We’d intended to go to the Bull for fish and chips for dinner, but discovered too late that Neil had one set of keys for the mini and neighbours Lyn and Philip had the other, and they were out. As an alternative we walked up to the Grange Pub, which was ok, but not the Bull.
Saturday morning we went into Droitwich as Colin had a dentist appointment, while I went shopping, then had a decent cappuccino – the best I’ve had since we left Italy.
We stopped at the Bull on the way home and had lunch – it started to just pour with rain right before we left. By the time we headed out to the party the rain had mostly stopped and the sun was trying to come out.
It’s the 25th anniversary of the fencing company Colin co-founded, and the current owner (Colin’s former partner Tim) put on a great event.
It was held at the beautiful venue of Stone Manor near Kidderminster, and he’d gone all out. There were events for the kids in the afternoon including games and a magician, followed by a pig roast, and a band.
All drinks were free, as were very cozy warm blankets – also umbrellas, just in case.
There were a lot of very nice people – many that were with the company when Colin retired 10 years ago were still there and all were very pleased to see him.
I might have had one or two drinks too many, although the zambuca at the end of the night went down very well. I danced quite a bit, and managed to stay on my feet without face-planting and totally embarrassing myself – it was a lot of fun – good company, good food, free drinks – what could be better?
Breakfast the next day was great – I felt much better than might have been expected, and then we headed back to Worcester.

Criterium Du Dauphine – ITT

63837AD2-B708-459E-94C5-817470F92284We moved our chairs down the hill a bit so we’re directly across from a hedge on a steep incline – there won’t be any people standing there getting in our shots. I’m right next to a small group of french men, and they seem to think I’m pretty funny – I can’t understand much but I know they talked about me quite a bit. I was wearing my rah-rah skirt and every time I bent over to get water for Mo or something they kept tittering about it – but it’s not actually a skirt! It’s LPGA with built-in shorts, but at least they got their entertainment.
The ITT started a little late – likely due to Froome’s crash – as the first rider didn’t appear until about twenty to two. I’d experimented with my camera quite a lot with the amateurs and re-con riders so by the time the race was actually on I knew the best angle and zoom points – I didn’t even get off the chair and no one was in front of me or in the background – it was almost perfect.
I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd that eventually lined the road – very nice to see the great turnout especially after yesterday. Being so near the town and having the great weather certainly helped, I guess.
In a couple of my photos I can see myself reflected in the rider’s sun visors – Sally selfie!!
We knew the order of the riders as they go in reverse from the current overall standings. Each rider has a team car behind them with their name on it – even so when I squinted to see one near the end I was puzzled about who ‘Vatesa’ was – a spanish or south american rider I’d never heard of in the top 10?? I felt extremely foolish when I realized it wasn’t ‘VATESA’, but ‘YATES.A’ – Adam Yates riding for Mitchelton Scott – ha ha ha!! I laughed so hard I snorted – the frenchmen next to me didn’t get the joke, but they thought I was hilarious.
By now my neighbours knew where I was from, so when Michael Woods appeared they cheered at least as loudly for him as I did.
My satisfaction with my photos was the direct opposite of yesterday’s – I have so many excellent ones I can hardly choose. A very nice problem to have for once.
We packed up fairly quickly, said goodbye to our neighbours and got on the road to Mansle before 5:00.
We took a slightly quicker route back, hitting fierce rain at times, and got home just after 9:30 – a good little trip. I do, however, look like a raccoon now because of my sunglasses – I need a hat with a large brim, or maybe I should have used the umbrella (one day for the rain, next day for the sun!).

Beautiful Saint Alban Les Eaux

2B2C3422-78CE-4F8E-88E8-FBC4531AEBA5Had a really good night, and it finally looked like better weather. I took Mo for a walk down to the town, which is right down around the corner from where we’re parked.
It’s a lovely place, with beautiful houses, a cafe or two, a nice park, and lots of sculptures here and there, as well as a colourful war memorial.
I tried to find a place to get a newspaper but the small store wasn’t open, despite the sign that said it was open every day but Sunday at 7:00. By the time we got back to the campervan Colin was up and about so we all headed back down together for a coffee.

This is the type of place I love – just the right size with a viable town centre, but not completely overrun with tourists. There were some tents being setup on the main street for race watchers, and Colin noticed that the fancy-looking restaurant actually had at least one Michelin star.
Colin asked another person at the cafe where he’d gotten his newspaper from and was directed to the bread shop next door – not the first place we’d thought to look.
After our delicious cafe creme we walked a bit further – I went inside the large church to check out the stained glass windows, which, as usual, were so much better from the inside.
The local school kids must have had the day off for the race – there’s an area near the church where they’re displaying their artwork of bikes, flags and jerseys – it’s really cute.

Back at the campervan we setup the flags, which are so much more impressive in the sunshine with a light breeze than they were yesterday drooping in the pouring rain.
We sat on the lawn chairs in front of the campervan and watched as the racers came by on their re-con rides, as well as bunches of amateurs.
At times some of the kids were riding up at the same time as their heroes, who were generally quite relaxed – I imagine it was very inspiring for the young ones.
A large group of fans gathered at a house across the road, and proceeded to set up tables for food, as well as a banner for their cycling club. Watching the banner hanging was very entertaining – after much discussion they attached it to some trees, but it was a bit high so they proceeded to cut the lower branches off so the banner could be seen better. Personally I would have hung the banner lower to start with, but refrained from giving them that advice.
The last person to pass on the re-con round was Chris Froome, looking down at his power meter as usual. A little while later Colin told me the news that Froome had crashed on the downhill and was out of the race. Now I’ll admit that Froome has never been my favourite rider, and I can’t stand his team, but I never want to hear that a rider has crashed. As the day progressed we found out more and more – it was a very serious crash at high speed and he had to be airlifted to the hospital. Apparently he has a broken femur, broken elbow as well as some ribs – brutal indeed. I wanted him to get beaten in a race – cracking on a mountain stage or being unable to follow a competitor, but never ever would anyone be happy about a serious crash.

Miserable day for the Dauphine

4F403278-1461-4FE6-8169-771FADB365CEAfter a night of on and off rain the day started out very grey. I took a walk up the road, then back down the other way to check out possible watching spots.
We both ended up staying in the campervan as the rain started to pour again.
I opened up the long side window and took my photos through that, while Colin sat on the front passenger seat and took his photos out the open door window. It worked out very well – we were both dry and warm, and no one was around us or in our way.
There was a two-man breakaway with about two minutes on the peloton – unfortunately for them they didn’t stand a chance.
Froome, as usual, was just like a robot staring down at his power meter the whole time.
Some of the riders had long sleeves and pants, while some were in shorts. A few minutes after they’d passed the rain stopped. I was fairly disappointed with my photos, although still glad I’d been able to stay dry and warm, and my camera was protected.
We were able to watch the end of the race on tv, then left for the next stage, the ITT, near Roanne. Once again I had a destination in mind so we headed towards Saint Andre D’Apchon, which was supposed to be the top of the climb, but was actually on the downhill. We backtracked to the top of the hill and down the other side towards Saint Alban Les Eaux. We found a great place right next to a cemetery – there was already one campervan there and they welcomed us warmly.

Ticked Off

Several more rainstorms, as well as a very fierce windstorm in the last few days, along with a bit of sun. It really doesn’t seem much like June yet.
We spent some time one afternoon getting the campervan ready for our next short trip, and I discovered a huge, smelly mess in the fridge. Apparently one of us – ok, it was me – missed a couple of things in one of the door pockets, and one of the things was the butter. It wasn’t really butter anymore, but not quite cheese – it had melted in the heat of one of the warmer days and dripped down into the other two pockets and all over the bottom of the fridge.
I gagged repeatedly as I wiped it out with paper towels, then did two thorough scrubbings of everything with hot soapy water. We left it open to air for the rest of the day. Note to self: always check the top pocket!

I was inside the house doing something afterwards while Colin was finishing the campervan cleaning when I suddenly realized I hadn’t seen Mo lately. When I asked if she was in the campervan with him Colin said no. Luckily we had a good idea where she would be, and sure enough Colin found her nearing the bar – sneaky little rascal.

We got a good start the next morning – I showered, ate and packed, and we were on the road before 9:30. Packing was easier this time as we’re only going to be away for 3 or 4 days and I won’t be needing any of my winter stuff – theoretically.
It was a bit of a drive as we chose to go on secondary roads rather than the toll-highway, but at least the roads are in better shape than the ones in Italy. We passed the usual memorials to the resistance – some from WWII, and some of today’s.
We tried to stop for groceries but most of the stores are closed as it’s yet another holiday in France. We finally found a Carrefour in La Souterraine that was open until noon and stocked up on essentials.
I had chosen a spot to head for – there are three minor climbs in a row between 50 and 75 km from Tuesday’s finish in Riom so we found the route and traced it backwards. We passed what looked like a good spot, drove to the next town and turned around.
Unfortunately there’s been a rockslide on the main road in the area so all of the local and through traffic is now using this small side road. I guess the drivers will just have to exercise patience – ha ha, good luck, this is France – when the race is on, as they do close the roads down completely for large races such as the Dauphine.

We settled in and had some pasta with salad for dinner, then Colin took Mo outside for a little walk. Shortly after coming back Mo was sitting on my lap when Colin noticed something on her – she’d picked up a tick! It was very small and hadn’t yet burrowed in and I spent the next hour off-and-on searching for more.

Had a pretty good night, although the dickheads that honk as they go by annoyed me greatly. The thing is if I’m asleep they don’t wake me up and if I’m awake I hear them and all they do is tick me off. I pretend to myself that they’re just saying a friendly hello to us when in reality they’re being assholes. And it’s not just in France – they have friends in Italy that also do it.