Thursday, July 23, 2009

4 days in St. Antonin - village life!

me in front of Maison Bleu in October 2008

Our good friends Bonnie & Bruce have a house in St. Antonin Noble Val.  Now, we met B&B only 1 month before we left for France, but when we met it was very strange, not strange in a bad way, but strange in a good way.  There were/are so many similarities between us (too many to get into) and the instant we met them we knew we’d be great friends.  The strangest thing is the fact that we had visited their village in 2007 when we first came to this region and fell in love with it.  It quickly became our favorite village.  Bruce even took a picture of their neighbor’s house and then painted it.  When we met B&B and found out they lived in St. Ant we were thrilled and shocked, not many Americans have houses here in St. Antonin (maybe 2 others), we were especially thrilled when they told us they’d be coming over for the month of July! 

We came to see then once they arrived and had an amazing lunch on the terrace.  It was so great to see them again and we picked up where we left off in September, not missing a beat.  Then they asked us if we were interested in staying in their house for 4 days, we jumped at the chance.  First, because Maison Bleu is lovely (8 years of hard work, creating this beautiful home, it was a ruin when they purchased it) and second because we have been living in the country (rural france) for 10 months and we thought it would be cool to get a taste of village life.  So here we are….right now…at Maison Bleu.  I’m outside on the deck and Bruce is doing the dishes (something he does every time I good…love that man).  It’s warm, we just finished dinner of salmon, salad and green beans, the music is going, we just had a visit from the neighbor (the one that owns the house that Bruce painted…he gave him the painting too), earlier we road our bikes, went to the café for a Pastis and had a great village day.  We arrived on Saturday afternoon and we’ll leave on Wednesday morning for Provence for 4 days (my next post).  Maison Bleu is also available to rent if you are coming to france for a holiday, if it's just 1-2 people I highly recommend it.

It's now Thursday and I'm in Provence, but finishing up this post.  So, on Sunday, B&B and their family (son, daughter, her husband and their daughter) wanted to come to St. Ant to the Sunday market (a tradition) and also their daughter had not been to Maison Bleu in 5 years, so she wanted to see it finished.  So, they came to the house and fixed us an amazing lunch. We sat outside for 5 hours and ate amazing food, laughed and laughed and drank some really good rosé.  We had a great day with some amazing people who are now super friends!

Tuesday we went canoeing with B&B and the family.  We all met in St. Antonin and canoed down the Aveyron river.  We packed a picnic lunch and stopped along the river for a nice break.  It took us about 4 hours and it was beautiful.   Bruce and I rented individual canoes and had a blast.  I'm waiting for B to send over pictures of the canoeing and will post them when I et them.

So what do I like about village life.  First, it’s waking up and walking 2 minutes to the boulangerie for fresh croissants, second it’s not having to get in your car every time you need something, third it’s seeing people you know and stopping to chat, fourth it’s walking 3 minutes to the café for a coffee, coka lite or pastis.  Plus they have great neighbors; they are quiet, respectful and very nice.  Now, would I want to live in a village full-time?  I think no.  Maybe just outside the village.  I really like having a big yard and space and so do the dogs.  But it’s great to try it out and actually we are having a great time.  Bruce said the idea thing would be to have a house in the country and a little place in a village…sounds good to me.

Bonnie left these in the house for us

Regis (their neighbor) who came for drinks
over the winter Bruce painted a picture of this house
and gave it to Regis 

view from the terrace

Back of Maison Bleu

limestone cliffs

another view of Maison Bleu

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tour de France 2009 - stages 8 & 9

t-shirts, hats, and stuff for friends & family

On Saturday we decided to drive into Saint-Girons to see the finish of stage 8.  It was about 1 hour from Luchon and a lovely drive through valleys and up and down mountains.  Saint-Girons population is about 8,000, but today there were probably double that.  It was crazy.  We decided we’d walk to the finish and see them cross the line.  We arrived around noon and the guys were scheduled to come in around 4:45 or so.  Luckily at the finish there was a big marché and many vendors, so we picked up some bread, cheese, sausisse, fruit and water and headed over to a shady spot near the river.  After a lovely picnic we went to secure our spot near the finish.  Then we waited…and waited…there was a big screen near us so at least we could watch the race but other than that you just wait.  It was so hot, not a cloud in the sky, we baked!  Great finish and a great day, but we have decided no more stage finishes for us.  Too crazy, too many people and too hot. 

the yellow jersey coming in

fresh sausisse, nothing better

the winner of the stage, before he made his move

Yesterday was an epic stage, stage 9.  From Saint-Gaudens to Tarbes and 2 major climbs.  The Col Tourmalet (which we road on Friday) and the Col d’Aspin.  Since we had already climbed the Tourmalet we decided to climb to the summit of the Aspin and watch the guys go by on this major mountain.  It was not as hard or as long as the Tourmalet, 14km instead of 18km and average grade of 7.2 instead of 7.4, but it was still hard (still a couple of 10% grade sections).  We made it to the top and got a sandwich and soda (to go) and decided to descend about 1.5 km since the top was nuts!  We got an amazing spot right on the side of the road with a view that was nothing short of amazing.  We could also see 3 different sections of the winding road below so we had a great view of the guys coming up the mountain.  This was by far our favorite stage, the location and the excitement and climbing up to the top and descending on our bikes (sure beats walking or sitting in a traffic jam for hours).  We road back to where our car was parked and made it back to the hotel to see the final 15km of the stage.  Great day.

here i come

made it to the top

ouch is right

crazy spanish fans

we road up from that tiny village down there

here come the leaders

there is Tom Boonen

We had a lovely time in Luchon and the weather although cold the first day we arrived turned beautiful for the remaining days.  We would love to return (maybe in September) so we can do some more long mountain rides and enjoy the Pyrenees without the craziness of the tour.

I’m typed this on Monday, in the car on our way to the Toulouse airport to drop-off our rental car and pick-up “Claude” who has been resting for a few days.  Then back to the house and then this afternoon we’ll pick up the dogs from S&S…we sure missed them!

We’ll be over in Provence from the 22-26th and we’ll climb Mt. Ventoux and then watch the stage on the mountain.  The crowds in the Pyrenees were crazy but Ventoux will be insane! 


Stay tuned.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tour de France 2009 - The Tourmalet

c'est vrai!

We arrived yesterday in Luchon and it was cold.  Not freezing but not hot and sunny.  It's in the Pyrenees and deep in a valley.  More like Boulder than France.  We checked into the hotel - which is lovely, Hotel Majestic and went out to dinner.  

Today was a big day for us, we road the Col Tourmalet.  The highest road in the Pyrenees...the hardest mountain we have ever done.  We drove over to Bagnéres de Bigorre (about 30 minutes before the start of the climb) so we could start there and get a bit of a warm-up before we hit the mountain.  The total ride was 55 km and it took me 3 hours and 18 minutes (up and down) and it took Bruce 3 hours and 5 seconds.  It was hard and never stopped.  Just up and up and up. From Luz-Saint-Sauveur (which is 30 km from where we started) it's 19km long, climbing 1404m at an average of 7.4 % with a maximum of 10.2% at the summit.

me warming-up before the climb

still trying to warm-up

It was amazing and hard and rewarding and beautiful.  I would love to do it again actually.
We wore short sleeved jerseys on the way up and hats, gloves, jackets and arm warmers on the way down.  The tour de france will ride this col on Sunday as part of stage 9 and it was already filled with caravans and tons of people waiting for the race.  

warm-up over...time to start the climb up

the climb took us up and up and up

how many more km?

did we just climb up from down there?

getting into a rhythm

Bruce too

It took me over 2.5 hours to get up and a bit over 30 minutes to get down.  We changed in the car and drove to a café to watch the final 22km on the big screen.  Amazing day, amazing finish. Tomorrow the stage finishes in Saint-Girons and we'll be there. 

we made it to the summit 

the last 2 km kicked my butt

bruce got here 18 minutes before me

the last 2km!

just a beautiful church on the way home

More pictures and updates to come.
Right now we are going to give each other leg rubs before we go to bed.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tour de France - Stage 5

Riding along the Canal du Midi towards Cap D'Agde

Stage 5 today - leaving from Cap D'Agde and ending in Perpignan.  We decided to ride our bikes to the start, about 35 km from our hotel in Béziers.  It was a great ride in along the Canal Midi, until we heat Cap D'Agde which was crazy.  We watched the caravan go by, had a coffee and then decided to ride out and see them go by.  Once they did we jumped back on the bikes and headed back to the hotel to watch the finish on television.

there they go...

Canal du Midi

so psyched to be here

After a little nap and a shower we headed out for dinner.  On the way we stopped at a little wine bar that we visited back in February. It's very nice and they have some excellent wines to taste.  I had a Roussillon 2005 and a Corbières - 2005 and Bruce had a Vin de Pays d'Oc and a 2005 Santenay. Both of us loved the Roussillon!  We then went over to a little bisto near the church.  Perfect place for dinner, we sat outside, facing the lovely church.  Perfect day.  

church in Béziers

I'm pretty psyched to be here too

View from the terrace next to the church

Our wine & entrées

We leave in the morning for Toulouse to pick up our rental car.  Yes, rental car.  Claude our 1985 Peugeot stationwagon would have a really hard time making it up the mountains in the pyrenees.  Then we'll head to Luchon where we'll stay for the next 4 days.  We won't see the tour live again until Saturday, but those 2 days will be excellent!  We'll spend Friday riding some of the famous cols and Saturday doing long ride and then we'll see the finish in Saint-Girons.  

Stay tuned.