Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 7 : July 8 - Tour de France

Paris, France to Montargis France ~ 1.5 hours + 2hours!! Montargis, France to Amboise, France ~ 1.5 hours

On Thursday we had a leisurely morning on our last day in Paris b/c the sight that we were going to see, the Catacombs, didn't open til 10am. We headed out around 9:30, stopped and grabbed some juice and pastries for breakfast and headed to the square where the Catacombs are. We couldn't tell exactly where the Catacombs was, so since it was only 9:40, we found a nice bench and enjoyed our breakfast, a pain au chocolat, a suisse and a torsade. Delicious. Once we finished off our pastries, we decided to go to the island in the middle of the traffic circle, thinking that would be a likely spot to find the Catacombs. We were indeed right and we got at the end of a very long line a little before 10.

The line was a bit slow moving, probably b/c they limit and stagger the people going down into the Catacombs for safety purposes. We finally got in at about 10:30. That meant that we had to rush a bit b/c we needed to check out and get to the airport to get our rental car to drive to the Tour de France. On the tour of the Catacombs, you descend 130 steps, walk for 2k and then emerge 83 steps later in a different part of the neighborhood. We started by going down a spiral staircase and a ramp into the welcome area. Then you head into the tunnels. (Before the tour they warn you that if you have cardiac problems or a nervous disposition, you should not enter!) The light is dim and the head room is minimal. As you walk you see stones with numbers on them that tell you when the section you are in was built and you see other tunnels that are blocked from the tour by iron gates and brick. After walking through narrow tunnels and then through large chambers, you see a door with the following sign above it: "Attention! C'est ici l'empire de la mort." Warning- here is the empire of Death.


The stairs leading down to the Catacombs


The tunnels in the Catacombs


Janda peering into a blocked off tunnel


One of the large chambers you walk through

If you decide to walk through that door, you are now walking amongst the bones of the thousands of skeletons moved into these catacombs in the 18th century after the mass burial sites of the 17th century were flooded and brought back to the surface. The bones are extremely neatly stacked, at least on the facade. Each section of bones has a placard to tell you where these bones came from and when. All along the way there are quotes about death carved into granite markers. At this point there is no flash photography allowed, so it was difficult to get good pictures. At this point we also realized that we were going to be late, so we booked it through the rest of the tunnels and out to the spiral staircase up to daylight.


Bones in the Catacombs


Stacked very neatly


Tells you where they came from and when they were put here

We all but ran back to our hotel to check out and then walk back to the Catacombs with our luggage b/c the RER train station to the airport was in the same square. We made it through all that no problem and we were in our car and ready to drive to the Tour de France by 1:15 at the latest. Then we got out of the airport and onto the highway and into the worst traffic I've ever been in! It took us 2 hours to go about 30k to get around Paris and to the south. In 90+ degree weather. With no air-conditioning! We basically gave up on the Tour, but decided to at least give it a shot and head to Montargis, the finish town of the day. Going through the wheat fields, we actually started to make good time on the Autoroute (French for highway). As we got closer to Montargis, we actually saw some Tour de France fans parked on the side of the back roads, so we knew then that we had a good chance of making it!

We got into Montargis, came upon the closed roads and followed the crowds to park on the side roads. It was brutally hot that day and the rays of the sun literally felt as though you were way too close to a heating lamp. I feel bad for those guys out there on the road for 6 hours with little to no shade! We made it into town and to the 1k to go mark. Since we were about 2 hours late, everything closer to the finish was packed. We were very bummed that we didn't get to see the finish and podium area, etc... but we were very happy to have made it at all in the end.

We set up shop in the shade at the 1k mark and watched the caravan go through. It was pretty neat, there were sponsor cars and souvenir vans coming through and stopping for the fans. There were multiple speaker systems going, so we knew when the peleton was on its way. Finally they made it into town and flew by us. We're pretty sure that we saw Mark Cavendish, the winner of that stage and Armstrong as they flew by us. Then all the team cars came racing through right after that, plus a few stragglers. B/c we were so far out and we still had some driving to do, we didn't get to see the podium, but it was still very cool. I only wish that we had gotten there on time.

Sponsor car driving by


The 1k marker

The lead riders flying through- Garmin to the right and Columbia in the middle

We headed back on the road and to the west to the Loire Valley in the Centre region of France. It was an hour and a half through wheat and sunflower fields and it didn't seem that hardly anyone was going our way, so we made really good time. We arrived in Amboise, checked into our hotel and headed out to look for dinner, b/c we had, once again, missed lunch. Our hotel was perfectly located, just outside the little downtown area where the Chateau Amboise, restaurants and shops were. We had a tartine for dinner- it looked like a pizza, but it didn't taste like one! Then we shared a raspberry gelato and meandered around town. Since the sun set so late, we had plenty of time to take in the sights before bed. As we were winding our night down, thunderstorms came in down the river and cooled things off for us nicely.


Heading into downtown Amboise


Chateau Amboise


Lots of old half-timbered buildings in Amboise


Sun setting over the Loire- those clouds brought rain, thunder and lightening

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