Posts Tagged With: Toulouse

Touring at Le Tour

Today was the start of my “chase the Tour de France” week, in which I’ll be racing around the french countryside hoping to see the last 7 stages of the great bike race.  With my new friend Liz, whom I met while learning french in Toulouse, we headed out to Foix to watch the finish of stage 14.  Here’s how it went…

There was childish excitement when we arrived by train in Foix around 10am.  Foix has a pretty castle on a hill and stunning views of surrounding mountains.  The kind you probably wouldn’t want to ride a bike over, in my humble opinion.

We found the flamme rouge (the 1km-to-go mark) while there were still no crowds and jumped the barriers to take photos of each other underneath it.  Then we wandered in the direction of Centre Ville to find the finish (via a surprising amount of fruit juice and tasty artisan biscuits from a friendly shop owner who apologised profusely for initially thinking my flag was british).

Having found the finish area still suprisingly uncrowded at that time of the morning, we took up a spot on the barriers about 10m before the finish line, and settled in for the long wait.  The folding chair purchased last week has already proved useful.

During the 6 hours we waited there, we watched the making of a french movie about cycling (including guest appearances from french cycling royalty Bernard Hinault and Laurent Jalabert, and starring appearances from apparently famous french actors we didn’t recognise), battled with impolite barrier barger-innerers, picked up some useless freebies, then confounded the freebie distributers by trying to refuse any more (the yellow hat giver wasn’t to be denied though – lucky Liz!), saw a (non-tdf) cyclist take a nasty tumble and leave in an ambulance, got excited when the team buses arrived, watched a couple of dancing troupes, didn’t win any prizes by failing to answer trivia questions about tour sponsors, tested our french trying to decipher the periodic verbal race updates, saw the future of french cycling arrive in the form of a juniors race, spotted more cycling royalty (like Richard Virenque, and Mike Tomalaris… same realm right?!), waved like fools in the background of a few live camera shots (did anyone see us on Eurosports?), and welcomed the arrival of the publicity caravan as a sign that the race must be getting closer.

Turns out a lot goes on around the finish during the day that you never see on television!!

Text updates from mum watching on SBS in Australia were handy to clarify our sometimes muddy understanding of the french commentary.. particularly when there were repeated mentions of Cadel Evans “en difficulte”.

And finally, the riders arrived!  Whoosh…!  Luis Leon Sanchez, celebrating.  Well done that man – redeeming what has been an awful tour for Rabobank.  We stayed on the barriers and cheered right through to the guys in much later groups (like much of the Orica GreenEdge team!) who arrived looking decidedly damp, cold and tired, after all the formalities on the podium were already finished for the day.  Another amazing effort from every single cyclist.

And, just as quickly as they had arrived, the team cars loaded with bikes and the huge team coaches were on their way out again – off to get ready for another stage tomorrow.  As are we!

If you’re watching at home, tomorrow we hope to catch stage 15 somewhere between the feed zone and the intermediate sprint – hopefully less crowded than today!  Then we’re heading up into the Pyrennees for our own rest day – at Bareges, a tiny ski town half way up the Tourmalet where we’ll watch stage 16 on Wednesday.  If I can find wifi there, I’ll keep you updated as the adventure unfolds!!

Vive le tour!



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Some long overdue news from Toulouse

It seems I’ve been in France for 4 weeks already!  I know this because I just finished my first 4 week block of french classes.  And not a new blog post to show for it… tut tut.  So, finally, here’s a bit of an overview of what I’ve been up to during June.

I’ve learned lots of french!

Which is pleasing, as that’s the main reason I came here.  I’ve just finished a 4 week intensive course at the Alliance Francaise in Toulouse, and am about to do another one for the next 2 weeks.  An intensive course involves class time each morning (9am til 12.30 / 1pm) Monday to Friday.  That’s a LOT of french.  I’ve had a great teacher, and I’m sure I’ve learned more in the last 4 weeks than I learned in 4 years of french at school.

I still understand a lot more than I can say, but am hoping my conversation will improve in the next couple of weeks with more practice.  It’s quite exciting picking up the free local newspaper each day and understanding phrases that I wouldn’t have been able to decipher the previous day.  Also in “french language victories” this weekend I gave directions to (french) tourists who asked me the way to the river, and managed to answer someone who asked me some questions about my kindle.  So I must be improving.

I’ve joined in with the optional activities my school organises

During the afternoons, usually 2 or 3 times a week, the Alliance organises stuff for us to do so we can practice our french.  From watching a french movie with the french subtitles on to aid in comprehension, to a cheese degustation afternoon, a guided tour around town (and another in a neighbouring town), learning to cook french desserts, and a privately hosted visit to the local rugby stadium (really a temple of rugby – they are fanatical around here), they have all been fun and interesting.  These activites are also a good chance to meet students from the other classes and levels, and practice chatting with others who also have to think hard and speak slowly, often with much hand waving and improvised vocabulary!

I’ve enjoyed exploring Toulouse, and all the local festivites

I’m staying in the apartment of a local family, right in the heart of the very pretty old town and central to all the action.  I invested in a trusty (french) book of walks around Toulouse, and I’ve enjoyed wandering the warren-like cobbled streets admiring the many stunning facades around “La Ville Rose”, as well as heading further afield along the river (Garonne) and the canals, including the world-heritage-listed Canal du Midi – another engineering marvel.

I’ve been out to visit the Airbus A380 assembly site and marvelled at the size of the operation they run here (not to mention the size of the building where they can assemble and test 4 of these aircraft at once, under one roof… floor space the size of 22 football fields apparently.  And there are no internal supporting pillars!  Yep, the nerd within lives on.)

I’ve also enjoyed getting out amongst the masses for events like watching the french rugby final on the big screen with seemingly every single other resident of Toulouse  (they won!), or the France-wide “Fete de la musique”, where for one day of the year, every street corner, plaza, pub and public space is occupied by some sort of music making group – from the very amateur to the highly professional!  I started my evening with a free organ recital in the local landmark cathedral, wandered on to a couple of violinists playing spritely tunes to which locals danced in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Jane Austen balls, passed a rock group, several rastafarian wannabes with speakers in vans, an excellent jazz ensemble, and finally the big stage in the main square featuring some very talented ‘new talent’, and some opportunistic brazilian drummers who filled the gaps between acts.  I piked and went home about midnight after about 6 hours of taking it all in… the people I live with were just preparing to head out.  They got home around 7am.  It was that kind of party.

I’ve enjoyed exploring a bit further afield with a couple of weekend / day trips

I spent a lovely weekend at Carcassonne – a picturesque walled city complete with castle, cathedral, and views over picturesque countryside all the way to the Pyrenees.  The reality looks far more like the board game than I had expected!  There’s even a river (although I didn’t see any dragons or volcanoes), and a history involving heretics, a pope-ordained crusade, and orders of inquisitorial monks.  I’m sure I’ll remember this next time I pick up 9 points for completing a monastery, although due to infrequent use I seem to have already forgotten the french vocabulary I picked up relating to castle keeps, sieges, and large catapults.

Yesterday I hopped on the train again and spent Saturday catching up with some friends holidaying in Bordeaux – where there just happened to be a wine festival happening!  How fortuitous.

I’ve planned to watch the final week of the Tour de France, and become quite excited!

After my second course finished in another 2 weeks, the big bike race will just be rounding the south-east corner of France and heading across this way to wind through the Pyrenees before heading to Paris for the big finale.  And I’m going to follow it!  I’m hoping to see the last 7 stages, so if you’re the kind of fan who watches the broadcast on SBS late at night, be prepared to watch out for me cheering from the side of the road (with all the other crazy tour fans).  I’m pondering a suitable outfit… so far I have a GreenEdge shirt and a large Aussie flag.  But in the last week I’ve started a survey of the local shops, and have found glittery hats, fluorescent wigs and a range of other horrendously eye-catching clothing items and accessories.  Watched stage 1 on french tv today – it’s quite a different experience watching the stage during the afternoon instead of the middle of the night (not to mention the french commentary… I’m sure by week 3 I’ll understand it all!)

I’ve eaten a lot of baguettes, pastries and chocolate

Because, after all, this is France.  Which is pretty much food heaven.  And it would be a crime not to make the most of the opportunity to sample the widest possible variety of the local cuisine, non?!

This is the street where I’m staying

View from the apartment window

Le Stade Toulousain are french rugby champions.. again!

Le tour de France de fromages – an afternoon of amazing cheese

Pont Neuf, Toulouse

Toulouse is called “La Ville Rose” for all its beautiful pink/red bricks. This is the ‘Capitoleum’ – effectively the town hall – modelled on the palace of Versailles!

Exploring Carcassonne (sadly no handsome prince appeared, despite my loitering in high towers)

And one more Carcassonne photo (out of the MANY), because it’s just so pretty 🙂

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