|Tour de France||
random trip report
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Seth drives us to SFO. The 10-hour United flight to CDG is pleasant enough. We play the plane's trivia game, and I watch 'The Martian'.
We land noon-ish at CDG. There's an irritating 30 min wait for the gate to be available. We take a cab to the family apt, near Invalides, and buy groceries at Carrefour. The apt is a small 1-BR; over the year it's been used by several family members, and has accumulated a certain amount of detritus.
In the evening we walk to the Eiffel tower.
A big crowd is waiting to see a sort of light show where hundreds of strobe lights flash randomly all over the tower, like a huge tacky Xmas tree ornament.
A series of large lawns stretches E from the tower toward the Ecole Militaire. In the evenings there's a groovy social scene. Thousands of people sit in groups - couples, families, mostly young, all combinations of race and sex - facing toward the tower, waiting for the light show. Men walk around with buckets, selling bottles of wine and champagne, and little flashing models of the tower.
We walk along the Seine to Notre Dame and have lunch at the Paradis de Fruits. I slept poorly and am tired, cranky, and depressed. Paris has its charm, but it's big, crowded, and noisy. I've come to view the human presence on Earth as a sort of nasty infection, so I'm not really into big cities anymore. And of course I'm conflicted about being part of the infection myself.
In the evening we go to the tiny but historic Salle Cortot at the École Normale de Musique de Paris, where M performed in her student days, for a concert of music for single reeds (clarinets and saxes). The performers are recent graduates of the Lyon and Paris Conservatories. They're great, pro quality.
The concert is long but uniformly fabulous. The saxophones produce rich, smooth sounds - like french horns or flutes - with wide dynamic range. Not the loud honking sound we're used to.
The program is diverse. It includes:
The concert has the wonderful energy of young musicians playing their hearts out. The crowd loves it. At the end, there's long applause that turns rhythmic; apparently that's the equivalent of a standing ovation here. The group plays the last part of Candide as an encore.
We decide to leave town and do some hiking. We take the RER train to Fontainebleau, the former royal forest.
Navigating Gare de Lyon to find the train is difficult, even for Maryse. The signage is abysmal. In general, the Metro system is nice to have, but you generally have to stand, and it's kind of exhausting after a while.
There's an info office at Fontainebleau Avon. The guy there is helpful but vague. Instead of taking a bus to the rock-climbing area, we elect to do a 12-Km loop trail in a forest adjacent to the town.
This area is a web of roads and trails. There are a few defined trails, identified by different colors (yellow, blue, green). There are trail markings - small stripes painted on trees and rocks - but these are terrible, even worse than the RER signs. The markings are incomplete, confusing, and inconsistent. We start out OK but lose the trail halfway and up going around the loop the wrong way, then struggle to find a route back to town. The high points of the hike are an outcrop of 'mushroom rocks', and a stretch of interesting trail with some ancient springs.
Curious texture on rock
We return to the apt, eat something, then go to Hotel Sully for a concert of chamber music. It's not a hotel but an ancient government building of some sort. There are navigational difficulties and we arrive late. The concert turns out to be outside, in a courtyard. As a result it's periodically drowned out by police sirens and motorcycles.
The musicians are conservatory students in various ensembles, initially harp/flute/violin. The music (Messiaen, Debussy) is morose and wan. I suspect the audience is only pretending to like it; a contrast with last night's concert.
I don't like harp in general
Afterward we walk around a bit, have gelato, and walk as far as the Seine near Notre Dame.
The Metro ride involves 2 lines; it's long and tedious. We have Metro overload.
A domestic day: various apt improvements. The apt (occupied for a long time by M's uncle, then niece Olivia) is fairly small. It's accumulated a lot of stuff, including space-eating furniture (antique chair, big bookcase) that make it feel cramped. M plans to rent it, and needs to prepare it for that. We move appliances down the crowded storage room in the catacomb-like gravel-floored basement, retrieve a microwave, and move fancy china to top of a cabinet in the kitchen.
We go (by a curiously indirect route) to an IKEA near the Opera.
On the way to IKEA
Typical infuriating IKEA experience. Then we go to a nearby mega hardware store, Le Roi Merlin, and get lighting and locks for the proposed owner's closets.
We pick up rotisserie chicken and have dinner with M's nephew Toma, wife Virginie, and their teenage kids Guillaume and Matilde. I discuss rock climbing with Toma. Their apartment has a view of the Eiffel tower, and we view the 23:00 light show.
Another domestic day. We throw away some stuff from the storage room in the basement (originally a wine cellar). Parts of a slat bed, a globe, climbing shoes, bags of coal, a lamp, random pieces of wood, etc. Previous occupants have been reluctant to throw away anything that could conceivably be useful later. Of course, nothing is actually used later.
We have dinner at a Japanese place (Koi) with M's childhood friend Ailene, an anthropologist who studies Mauritania and Morocco. I have hot sake and observe an American tourist family with 2 kids. The restaurant is efficient and good.
Another hiking day. I'm not keen on returning to Fontainebleau. I Google 'hikes near paris' and high on the list is a hike starting at Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, a village SW of Paris at the end of RER B line. The hike involves forests and an ancient castle that apparently has an associated brewery.
This time I don't want to get lost, so I email myself the map and directions from the web site, and I download the map of the area into Google Maps (my phone doesn't have cell service).
This is all to no avail. We get off at the station. Roads lead off in various directions. The map and directions from the web site are useless. The tourist info office is closed. There's an area map on a placard, but it seems to have no correlation with what Google Maps shows, or anything else. There are lots of numbered roads, but the numbers don't match. A nightmare. I get in a bad mood, directed at the French in general, and in particular the mapping and signage division. In fact, I suggest mass beheading of the latter.
Acting on intuition, we walk through the village, and eventually come to a sign for Chateau de la Madeleine, which appears on the web site directions. That's nice, but it puts us on the narrow sidewalk of a road with cars whizzing by - not what I had in mind. We follow the road for a couple of Km, stopping a couple of people to ask for directions. The Chateau hoves into view.
I eventually make sense out of what Google Maps is showing me, and my mood slightly improves (turns out I had confused Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse with plain old Chevreuse.) We come to an old-looking stone path leading up to the Chateau, and it improves further. We climb up to the Chateau - an 11th-century fortress - and poke around. It has a visitor center that gives you access to the caves and dungeons, but it's inexplicably open only Tue-Fri.
My new gaping expression
We descend to the village and stop at a cafe on a groovy pedestrian mall. I have the amber-ale version of the local beer - not bad! My mood improves a bit more.
Colored paper lanterns
The waitress gives us directions back to the Gare along a canal. We locate this path, which parallels the road we came on. To the west of the path is a forest-covered ridge. What I really want to do is to explore this. But Google Maps doesn't show how to do this without walking along more car roads.
So we go along a path by the canal (which is actually the Yvette river, featured in several nearby town names). The path becomes narrow and very nice.
After a mile or so it ends, and we jog left on a car road, stopping briefly at a small park.
This quickly leads to another car road, with a bike path next to it, which goes back to the Gare.
However, at this point we're at the base of the forested ridge, and the first road leads up it, passing through a dairy farm and quickly turning into a dirt road bordering a pasture, then a trail. Finally, a real trail, and some forest! My mood takes a quantum leap, and I feel a surge of energy.
We reach a junction where a trail map is posted. We can't return to the Gare via trails, but we can do a loop and then return the way we came. We see a few other hikers.
We descend and check out the dairy farm's 'Boutique'. It's closed, but there's an amazing jumbo-size vending machine selling bags of various cheeses, bags of yogurt, and bottles of whole milk and of apple juice. It all looks really yummy. I would have bought some except we're leaving Paris tomorrow.
Just down the road is a chateau housing the Musee de Coubertin, founded by Yvonne de Coubertin, niece of Pierre de Coubertin, a central figure in the modern Olympics.
Our actual route is shown on Strava. It's way different from the route shown on the web site.
The trip back is pleasant. We dine on gazpacho and leftovers, watch Tour and Wimbledon highlights, and listen to Entering Marion. I install small locks on a couple of cabinets, turning them into 'owner's closets' for the upcoming rental.
We do some final apt cleanup and furniture moving, then catch a cab to Gare Montparnasse and take a high-speed (320 Km/hr) train to Pau. We're in 1st class. I'm sitting in one of those groups of 4 seats facing each other, which would be OK except for a hyperactive 4 year old.
We're met at the station by M's sister Rosine. We drop off stuff at her house, then go to the house of her son Adrien (and wife Sharia; kids Charles and Maxime) for dinner. I bond with Charles (<2) over an alphabet jigsaw puzzle game. They have two wonderful dogs (Samoyeds?), one of which vocalises like a human.
M/R and I drive to Pyrenees Blvd., which has a broad view of the Pyrenees and a set of markers (keyed off an antenna on top of a smokestack) identifying the various peaks.
Below the bluffs, a loop of streets acts as a race-car track. Rosine drives part of this, squealing her tires a bit; I'm impressed with her driving. At the bottom there's a Tour de France monument with lighted placards for each of the winners, 1903 to present. Earlier tours were a lot longer - up to 280 miles per stage!
Back at Rosine's place, there's a remarkable failure to get WiFi working on my laptop. I read Kitchen Confidential instead.
I play Chopin on Rosine's spinet. We drive to Argeles-Gazost, the town close to Silhen The heat wave continues: 100 or so.
We rent a car (Renault Capture with stick shift - quite nice) at the Carrefour supermarket. We drive to the family house in the tiny village of Silhen. There's been a house here since the 1400s; the first one was burned, possibly because of the Plague. A second one burned accidentally. The current house was built in the 1800s. It's been somewhat modernized but there's a feeling of history about it.
The barn has been completely renovated and is very nice; M's harpsichord is there. M and I have a walk and chat.
Note on French aesthetics: I run across a stack of 'House and Garden' type magazines and leaf through them. The ideal presented in these magazines is a house that a) respects and incorporates tradition - i.e. old stone farmhouses; b) is integrated unobtrusively with nature; c) is comfortable but unpretentious. It's pretty much the opposite of the American Dream House aesthetic, and I like it a lot.
A long but mild hike. We drive through the villages of Pierrefitte and Cauterets. The road ascends a lush, steep valley, with groups of extreme hairpin turns. The road ends at a large trailhead and parking area called Pont d'Espagne, from which there are trails in various directions.
We hike, mostly on a dirt road, to Vallee de Mercadau. We stop at a cascade halfway up.
Our turnaround point is a refuge which is being expanded and modernized. Next to it is an abandoned chapel. Rosine and M relax by the stream while I scramble up a hillside, to the base of some cliffs where M was taught to rappel long ago by her father.
I gets hotter as we descend. We periodically dip our hats in the stream. There's a cafe near the start of the trail. On the way back, M and I are parched so we stop there for a cold Orangina, which hits the spot.
I cook dinner: sauteed shallots, peppers, and zucchini, with sauteed chicken on the side for meat-eaters, served over lemon/mint scented Couscous. Not bad!
M and I spend quite some time trying to figure out the exact route of the Tour when it passes through here, and what our options are for viewing it. Information on the web is bizarrely incomplete.
BTW, our late-night ritual is splitting a beer and watching the histrionically-narrated highlights of that day's stage. Also BTW, the beer situation is a bit grim. IPAs haven't really made it over here. The local beer is vinegary. We've been trying dark beers.
We do a trip to the Pic du Midi Observatory: a mountain-top observatory accessable via a long gondola ride. It's a bit expensive (47E) but what the heck.
It's the maiden voyage of the car's nav system, which I think works OK except for a couple of odd hiccups. Maryse has never used an in-dash nav system and is leary of it.
The gondola ride is fun.
The observatory is similar to Lick - a dozen or so domes of various sizes - except that a giant tourist component has been added to it - museum, restaurant, hotel. The revenue funds the scientific work. You don't get to actually see any telescopes. The whole thing is kind of lame IMHO, but it's packed with visitors.
Back at the bottom, we go for a short walk up a valley with some horses and cow, and climb to the top of an oddly rounded rock.
We drive back by a different route, looping around to the east. It's wildly scenic, both the nature and a whole sequence of charming little villages that make you want to leave the big city and move there. One of them (in an attempt to get tourists to stop) has stuffed human figures everywhere - sitting on chairs, in windows, etc.
We see a sign for a rock-climbing area and pull off to check it out. It looks great. I think I saw some bolts.
We have dinner back in Argeles. M's favorite place is booked, so we go to another place, which is OK but slow. I have beef with blue cheese sauce, with scalloped potatoes (good) and broiled tomato half with garlic and olive oil (great).
It's Bastille day, and the town is gearing up for a big celebration with music and fireworks. We walk around and people-watch.
We go back to the house and watch the fireworks (pretty impressive) from the graveyard of the church on a nearby hill.
Another big hike. We drive through Gavernie and continue past a ski area to the end of the road. We hike to La Breche de Roland (or Roland's Breach). The trail starts off paved and easy (the remains of the old car road) but then gets progressively rockier and steeper as it goes, requiring continuous and complete focus. The trail crosses a cascade with a lot of water; you have to pick your way across some big wet rocks. The last stretch goes up a steep ridge of loose dirt and rock that is OK going up but slip-and-slide hell coming down. M (who has forgetten her poles) elects to skip the final stretch up to the breach, which goes across some snow and rock-covered ice.
Arty angled shot
Near the top there's a refuge where you can get food/drink and rent a bed. I have part of a Heineken.
The breach; note miniscule hikers
Note warning sign
View to the south, into Spain
Sheep markings indicate owner
Curious markings on rock
Strava says it's 8 miles and 2,400', but it sure felt harder than that. I'm pretty beat after.
On the way back we stop at an ancient place that makes Gateau a la broche, a cone-shaped cake that's cooked on a spit, over a wood fire! It's expensive (20E) but tasty.
Late at night I have an entertaining Zoom call with Vitalii and the Autodock folks.
Lazy day. I add exponential curves to Numula.
At night - around 9 - we drive to the Jazz festival in Luz, which is about 30 min away. The ambience is wonderful - a park in a beautiful village, with stands selling food and drink, and groovy people, but not too many of them.
However, the music that we hear is not what we hoped for. The first act (for which we pay 15E) is a piano/sax/drums trio playing "noise music": no melody, harmony or rhythm, just improvised cacophony.
At 10 PM the second act starts; it's free, and worth every penny. Two young women play loud but very simplistic rock. They seemed to have learned their instruments very recently, like maybe a few days ago. Not dissimilar from The Shaggs. The high point for me is their sound check; they keep complaining about various things to the beleaguered technician. It goes on for about 15 min.
Afterward, we wander through the town, which features a church surrounded by fortress walls, apparently needed to repel various Viking invaders.
On the drive back, I notice that the car's headlights point downward and illuminate only about 20'. Thie high beams work but annoy oncoming drivers.
We drive to San Sebastian, in Spain.
Some years ago, France privatized its highways, selling them to various companies. In this area it's 'Vinci'. There are occasional toll barriers. In some parts of the country it's a different company every 10 miles, so there are lots of barriers. I loathe unregulated capitalism.
Yesterday I found a hotel - Pension Arroka - and booked a room. They wanted me to enter my passport number online, which I declined, figuring I could do that at the front desk.
There's a series of snafus, centered around the fact that we don't have a working smartphone. The car's nav device doesn't seem to know about the street the hotel is on; I'm hoping I can locate it by intuition.
But when we arrive in town, I have no intuition. I pull over. It turns out the nav device knows 'Calle Estella' but not 'Estella'. We get close, but are blocked by a short section of 1-way street. We park in an underground lot and walk. There are no street numbers, and no sign for the Pension Arroka. M calls them on her (non-smart) cell phone. They text directions. The phone gets the text but doesn't display the whole message. She calls again. We eventually find the (hidden) front door and get in with the 4-digit code. The Pension is one floor of a large apartment building. There's an unattended desk.
Next task: move the car from public parking to the hotel space, which is on floor -3. The entrance is on Calle Amara. The problem is that one-block section of 1-way street. The nav device thinks it's two way. I have no idea how to circumvent it. There's little traffic.
So I make a snap decision to drive that block the wrong way. As I do this, various pedestrians yell at me. But it goes OK. I get into the garage with the 4-digit code and descend into the bowels of the building. There's another barrier with no obvious means of entry, but fortunately it opens for a car coming up. We eventually find the parking space (#58), and find the elevator up to the Pension.
The room is modern, clean, and air-conditioned. But there's no window to the outside, so it feels like a luxury prison cell. However, we're here, and we breathe a sigh of relief. The whole process of finding the place and parking the car has been EXTREMELY stressful for me.
It's around 4 by now. We walk to the beach, stopping to ask directions from a teenage girl. I'm delighted that I can still speak Spanish without having to think about it.
The beach is very nice, albeit crowded. The water is warm, and shallow for a long way. There are rafts a hundred yards or so out, covered with teenagers. There's a certain amount of toplessness (for better or worse) and a larger amount of butt-floss bikini bottoms revealing vast swaths of buttock.
We walk up the beach, then along a shaded (and cool) covered boardwalk, then up a ramp leading to a plaza, then to the old town. There's a row of stands selling artisan jewelry and art.
The old town includes a large (maybe 6x6 block) area of narrow pedestrian-only streets. It's a bit touristy but there are also some nice clothing and furniture stores. There are lots of cafes and bars, mostly featuring 'pinchos', which are small open-face sandwiches topped with various things such as seafood and jamon iberico. There are also a number of gelato/ice cream places, and about 25% of the pedestrians seem to have cones.
We walk through the old town, coming out on the far side which looks out across a large estuary to a second beach (Zurriola) and the other half of town.
We return to the Pension via Easo Kalea, stopping for ice cream in a plaza.
We rest for a bit, then (around 6) get swimming stuff and return to the beach. I go in for a dip, and M swims for a while.
We retrace our steps to the old town. A group of extremely athletic break dancers (e.g., one-arm handstands) is putting on a show in the plaza.
We eat at a Pinchos place. They have a display case; you point out what you want. We get 4 of them, with wine and beer; it comes to $18.
A middle-age man at the next table keeps looking at us. I go over and talk to him. He's drunk to the point of incomprehensibility, but I learn that he's from Colombia, that he lives nearby, and that he already had a couple of beers at home. We exchange fist bumps and I manage to disengage.
We walk back towards the ocean. Outdoor music is staring up. Just to the north is 'Monte Urgull', a large hill with an enormous illuminated statue of Jesus on the top. Of course I need to climb this; M waits at the bottom. I navigate a maze of paths and staircases to the top. The statue is surrounded by 30' high fortifications. The gates are all locked, so I can't reach the stature. I settle for moistening the walls.
I scurry back down, dripping sweat; it's still hot. There are two source of music. A brass band plays some kind of Basque music, and a crowd of energetic young people surges around like herd of some sort. Nearby there's a sound stage with pop music.
By now it's dark. We stop at the outdoor cafe of the Hotel Londres. I get a large Heineken, and M has tonic and lime. Across the bay, there's a castle on the top a hill, and just below it a modern building with all its lights on. I imagine that's it's some sort of research lab, maybe involving computer science and astronomy, and that they're looking for someone like me.
San Sebastian has made a profound impression on me. The people here seem to live the way I think people should - enjoying life, enjoying each other. No hostility, no pretensiousness, no racism or homophobia. Life is a continuous celebration - a stark contrast with the fear, loathing, and isolation of the U.S. I can easily imagine living here.
Somehow, on last night's hill climb, I lost my green cap. We walk down Urbieta Kalae looking for a replacement; we find only corporate-branded caps in the $30 range. We have breakfast at the Cafe de la Concha, overlooking the beach. We seek a kayak rental but they're sold out until 1:30.
We continue through the old town, where there are tourist souvenir shops. I buy a 'San Sebastian' cap for $8. I try on a linen shirt in a nice men's store but it's a little small. M buys a chocolate bar. We have our morning ice cream, then head back to the car, stopping to get Jamon Iberico sandwiches and some sort of pastry with 3 pork products.
M wants to take the scenic route along the coast. We end up stopping in the small coastal town of Hondarribia, which has a hill with an ancient castle and cathedral on top. There's a nightmarish search for parking that ends up with me backing up for a block down a narrow alley. We end up parking a farther away and walking. It's hot (c. 100). Many of the old houses have fancy coats-of-arms.
We drive back to Silhen, eating the sandwiches, which are good but contain some un-chewable connective tissue that I compare to rubber bands. We stop in Lourdes to buy cement for the fireplace and look for a hose reel.
The heat wave has broken; it's cool and foggy. We drive to the Pont d'Espagne trailhead. This time we take a ski lift up the left side of the valley. A dirt road gradually descends to Lac de Gaube,
which is fed by a stream coming down from melting snow on Pic de Vignemale, which is the highest point in the French Pyrenees.
A rocky trail goes around the right side of the lake, then up a steepening valley, with a sequence of waterfalls and cascades. Coming over a crest, there's a good view of Vignemale, which has several shrinking and brownish glaciers clinging to its upper slopes.
Dark clouds have moved in around the summit, and the wind picks up; there were warnings of afternoon thunderstorms. M gets tired; I continue for another 10 minutes or so, reaching a point with a good view of the summit. There's a smattering of rain and I turn around. But the sun comes out again and it's glorious.
On the way down we stop in Cauterets for pastries and ice cream cones. We have left-overs for dinner; mostly I feel like drinking a gallon of water. A (possibly feral) cat and her two kittens have moved into the front yard; the adventurous kittens come in and explort the house.
We watch Tour highlights. I have a long chat with Noah on Google Teams.
Early fog burns off; warm sunny day. I make various stale bread into French toast (pain perdu).
We examine various bikes hanging in the back shed, pick a couple, and pump up the tires. The rear tire on one (Daniel's) goes flat, so I use an older and heavier bike. We put the bike rack on the car, drive to Argeles, then ride about 6 miles on a nice bike path toward Lourdes. We stop at a path-side cafe for ice cream. A tall biker at the next table is eating an extremely tasty-looking steak, french fries, and beer.
Note: prior to the trip I assumed I'd do part of the Tour route, namely the ~10 mile ascent from here to Hautacam. But I decided not to, mostly because all the mountain roads have no shoulder or bike lane. Bikers ride anyway, but it seems kind of dangerous. Also, none of the bikes in the shed are big enough for me; I'd have to rent one.
We drive to Pau to have dinner with Rosine, Adrian/Sharia and kids, and Sharia's aunt Marianne, also from Iran but living in Palo Alto. There's a lot of Tour-related traffic (caravans, cars with bikes on roof) going the other way.
We tell Rosine about the rental car's too-low headlights, and she points out that there's a knob that adjusts the height. Who knew??
M is warming to the car's nav device. On the return trip it sends us on the highway. At the end it has us going on the back road to Silhen; we ignore this. Tour-related caravans are parked all over the place in Argeles.
On our return, we can't find M's iPad. Turns out it fell out and somehow bounced UNDER the car.
Beautiful day - Tour day! The main road (D100) is closed. In the early afternoon we walk down to Argeles and do some shopping at the (deserted) carrefour. People already line the road.
At 4 we walk on some back roads to Ayros, a micro-village that's on the Tour route, up in the hills a little. The road is roped off, but people ignore this. We find a spot on a grassy rise overlooking about 100m of uphill road, and fields of sunflowers in all directions - literally the perfect spot!
A group of possibly gay British bikers is next to us, beers in hand. I make tasteless jokes about the polka-dot jersey.
I wander up the road to a restaurant with a beer stand, and get a small draft. This is icing on the cake of perfection.
President Macron drives by in a big motorcade. Time goes by. Finally riders appear. There are several small groups, separated by a minute or so. First a group of 3, then a group of 4-5 that I think contains Pogacar and Vingegaard, then some other scattered groups, then the peleton, then a few stragglers, then the sweep van.
A scantily-clad gay couple emerges from the sunflower field, then stop to watch the show.
Applause and cheers seem to be louder for the later groups, and they're extra-loud for French riders. Apparently a French rider hasn't won the tour since the 1980s. I snidely suggest that they be allowed to ride e-bikes.
Just like that it's over and people fill the road, returning back to town or to their caravans. We walk back, stopping at a free library; I pour water on M's unsuspecting head.
Back home, I learn that Vingegaard dropped Pogacar with 4 Km to go, winning the stage by over a minute and effectively sealing his overall victory.
Later, around sunset, we do a short hike down toward the river, then up and over the top of the hill, then down through some sketchy trails and pastures.
Overcast and slightly cool. We drive to Saint Savin, about 1 Km uphill from Argeles. We have lunch at the Viscos restaurant, a nice place that's run by a guy who's the head of the French Chef's association, or something like that. I have the 50E menu: chicken pate, pigeon, and a dense chocolate raspberry dessert. It's perfectly fine.
We go to the church, put some pamphlets on the table, and nail laminated posters to the doors.
Mood issues continue.
We hike down to the river and back. I try to correlate a sign showing a picture of rocks across the valley with the actual rocks. Rosine arrives. We re-watch the highlight video of stage 18, and I realize that M and I are briefly visible at one point!
My excited yell startles Rosine.
We vacuum the rental car in preparation for returning it. M gets some markers to conceal scratches on the rear license plate caused by the damn bikes the other day (I should have mounted them farther from the car). I get a WiFi extender working in the barn.
M and I drive around to various villages to distribute festival pamphlets and posters. Afterward we drive up a harrowing 1-lane road to a mountain lake. I'm stressed out because I don't want to scratch the rental car, which alread has some tiny dings from where bike pedals hit it.
We drive to Carrefour to return the car, stopping at the do-it-yourself car wash.
Rosine meets us in the parking lot.
It turns out that M forgot to fill the tank. So she goes and does this, and returns.
It turns out that M left the rental documents back home, so we get in Rosine's car and head there. We immediately get a flat tire and pull over. I jack up the car and put on the spare (which is full-size) but Rosine wants to wait for the AAA-type truck, which might bring a new tire.
So M reclaims the car key from Carrefour and drives back to the house to get the rental documents. I wait with Rosine.
M returns and has decided to possibly keep car until Monday. She tells the rental people this, then we drive home. Then she realizes she has Rosine's bag, so she drives back down.
After not so long they return with both cars; the AAA truck was able to repair the nail hole in the tire and remount it.
We get up at 4:30 AM; Rosine graciously drives me to the Pau airport. The 6:30 flight to CDG is smooth. There's a long shuttle bus from terminal 2G to 2F, then an absurdly long walk to 2A. I enjoy a liesurely piece of quiche and a latte. The Canada Air flight to Toronto is smooth except that the guy on my right (although super nice, like most Canadians) is obese, and impinges on my arm and leg room.
US Customs has a bizarre and idiotic system where - if you're transferring and checked a bag - you can't go to your gate until they've 'processed' your bag, somewhere in the bowels of the airport. You have to scan your boarding pass, then wait in a room until your name comes up on a monitor. My heart sinks when I see this room is packed with about 200 angry-looking people.
Sure enough, my flight has left by the time my name comes up. The whole customs/TSA complex is a bunch of arrogant ass-hats, IMHO. They took a system that works OK and replaced it with a high-tech system that doesn't.
But at least I get meal/taxi/hotel vouchers. I take a cab to the Toronto Sandman Hotel, which is good. I go to bar, have 2 Heinekens and a sort of Poutine made with Tater Tots, and tell my story of travel woe to the sympathetic bartender.
Oh, also I seem to have left my phone on the plane.
After a sleepless night, I get up at 5:15 for the 8 AM flight. The airport is already jammed at 6 AM. Another security clusterfuck; you have to wait in a big room for your flight to be called before getting in line. Then you stand in line for an hour.
However, I make the flight, the guy next to me is skinny for a change, and they don't lose my bag. I take BART to Ashby and walk home.
Note to self: get a direct flight next time.
The trip was packed full of great and memorable experiences.
However, my mood was up and down. Partly because of pre-existing borderline depression. Also because a lot of the time I was around people speaking French, and I felt isolated. Also a lot of time waiting around at loose ends, which I don't do well with.
In several parts of the trip we were greatly inconvenienced by the lack of a smartphone with Google Maps.
The usual cultural contrast with the U.S. The way Europeans live, and treat each other, and treat the Earth, is pretty closely aligned with my views and values. Spending time in Europe confirms and heightens my disgust with the U.S.