Bastille Day and Le Tour de ChAlli
Trip Start Jun 12, 2006
62Trip End Nov 28, 2006
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After a few problems with booked trains, other options leaving from different stations, and a full day of travel that entailed meeting two more people from Colorado, we finally got out of Spain! After studying the French language and culture in school for more than six years, never having the opportunity to live and learn here, and trying to fulfill my desires to come here with trips to the French pavilion at EPCOT and many overpriced restaurants, I have finally made it to France! We couldn't have picked a better city to introduce us.
As much as I've enjoyed the other countries we've visited, I can't even begin to explain how happy I am to have finally made it to France, and as a result, I know I'm going to have to try my best to see the faults this country has, as well
Montpellier is one of the larger cities in France, but it retains the feel of a smaller town. It is has the broad, tree and café-lined promenades and avenues. It has the narrow streets that open into lively squares. It has the fountains. It has the grand architecture and marbled plazas. It has the carousels. It has the French flags flying from lampposts. It has the accordion players making music for people eating sweet-smelling crepes and drinking good wines. It has the bad apples, like the one panhandler that screamed to Alli that "Americans are greedy" when he found out she spoke English, but it mostly has the type of people that have treated us with kindness and been patient with my rusty French. Basically, Montpellier is what I always thought France would be like, and I can't wait to see the rest of it.
Our second day in Montpellier was Bastille Day, the French day of independence in memory of a middle-class mob that stormed the Bastille prison to rescue political prisoners from an overbearing king
On our third day, we took an early morning train to the daytrip town of Beziers, the beginning point for the 13th stage of Le Tour de France. This is also something I've always wanted to see, and now I've been to the world's largest one-day sporting event, the Indianapolis 500, and the world's largest multi-day sporting event, Le Tour de France. The streets of Beziers were lined with people hours before the race began to catch freebees from the Tour sponsors as they drove past in what was, basically, a long corporate parade. Alli got herself a new hat and caught a packet of Laughing Cow cheese and crackers.
Eventually the riders finally came by our area. They were in a large pack and moving slowly, as it was the very beginning of an over-200 kilometer stage. Our small section of Le Tour lasted about thirty seconds, and it was over.
On a different note, I've really been trying to understand what the French are all about, and like any culture, I feel like it resides in their past
France is a country that has twice been occupied by an aggressor, Germany, in the last fifty years or so. The people here remember that, and it is etched into the national psyche that all nations have. They don't take war lightly, and they certainly don't take occupation lightly, as it was so recently done to them. This is why, I think, they were supportive in our first war in Iraq, but not the second.
Beyond all of this, I also have to make sure I let Alli have her own impression of the French, as I know her experiences here before weren't as good as they could have been. I will do the best I can to help facilitate the language barrier for her, without getting in the way of her individual experience. What I won't do for her, though, is clean dog shit off of her shoes.
Our journey to France from Spain was quite complicated
We met a girl, Meghan, who got left by her friends in Barcelona because they had reservations on the train, and she, like us, did not get a seat. We felt terrible for her because she was in tears so we told her to stay with us and we would make sure she got to where she was going (she is 19 years old, with friends like that, who needs enemies?). Turns out she is the second folk we met from Colorado.
On one of our stops to Montpellier, we met another guy, Will, from Colorado, who was also headed there, and joined us in our train car. The conversation flowed and we all compared travel stories. We spoke of politics and stereotypes and at the end of the ride, Will said, "At some point, all four of us will end up in Colorado." So we traded email addresses and phone numbers and went our separate ways
The next day was Bastille Day. Like a Sunday in Spain, everything was closed. So we took the opportunity to join all the other tourists not invited to a BBQ and went to catch up on emails, errands, etc. We walked around the town some and enjoyed the empty streets to explore freely. If we thought Spain was hot, France is hotter. Unfortunately, peak season prices mixed with gouged prices for A/C prohibited us from staying at a hostel with air conditioning. Needless to say, I have taken more mid-day cold showers than ever in my life! That night, we followed the locals to the river and watched the fireworks. Call me bias, but Macy's puts on a far better show! It was nice though and felt very festive, sort of like it was our 4th of July, delayed.
The next day, we woke up early (not so easy anymore) and hopped on the train to Beziers to see the Tour de France. The town was obviously well-prepared and excited for this event, and the people were out early to witness it. We joined them somewhere along the route, and Chad competed with a 12 year old kid to catch some free promotional products being tossed from a parade of advertisements (hence the hat). When the Tour finally made it to our stretch, it was a very exciting 20 seconds to see them go through
Joey Gentry, you win the silent competition I had going for the first person to comment on Chad's lack of diversity in shirts. Between the blue "tiki shirt" and his new Guinness shirt, I am not sure which he wears more. I predicted it would happen, good job Joey for being the first to publicly comment! No worries, we bought him a new shirt!
Now I want to add my own introduction to France statement. Unfortunately, the last time I was in France, Jamie and I had a bad experience in Paris. Although we tried not to leave with a bad taste in our mouths, it definitely left a mark. This time, though, I am determined to see, learn, and experience more of France and of the French people. Part of my goal in this trip is to get to know the people of each place we travel and feel as if I gave everyone an educated, fair chance before I judge and compare them (when I say judge, I mean only as a means of comparison). Sure, someone in France already called me a greedy American because I wouldn't give him change. However, I have not forgotten NYC for the past seven years, and if I had a nickel for every time I was called something negative for not giving change to a beggar, we would be here six more months
One last thing. Since we arrived in France, we have become aware of the situation in the Middle East (somewhat delayed). Although we have not felt any of the ripple effect, it will be interesting to see if, and how, Europe will be affected. I am going to try not to let what is going on affect this trip, but I am sure I will see more anti-Israel sentiment like I already have.
No, that's not what will make or break my experience. The people, the food, the culture, the sights, and of course, Chad as my translator, will all contribute this time through. To be continued...
Since this marks the end of our first month, we'd like to celebrate by giving you our first installment of the ChAlli Top Ten List. So here are the top ten things you don't see in Europe:
10. Rain. Seriously. The last time we really saw rain was the week before the Belmont Stakes.
9. Coffee pots. We're getting very addicted to espresso, and are happy not to see those ugly pots with the brown and orange rims
8. Baseball. No diamonds in the parks, no articles in the papers. We haven't seen anything at all, and while Alli might be glad about this, Chad isn't. Any updates and standings are greatly appreciated, and not just the Mets, Steph.
7. Mexican food. There is absolutely no Mexican food. No chips and salsa, no tacos, nothing. Maybe in Colorado?
6. Trash TV. Can't say we really watched it anyway, and maybe they do have it and we just don't understand the language.
5. Rick Steves' books. They cannot be found in any English bookstore or travel section, though rumor has it, he is in Europe somewhere. A couple we met just missed him in the Italian Riviera.
4. Artificial Sweetener or Skim Milk. This stuff just doesn't exist, and neither does...
3. High Fructose Corn Syrup. You know, that stuff that is in just about every single American food product. Well, they don't have it here. It's illegal to put in sodas. And I think we're both feeling healthier because of it.
2. Tipping. Aside from leaving a few coins on the table, there is no math at the end of dinner because the tip is already included.
1. Our friends and family. Props to Evan and to those that have already booked tickets, but the rest of you should come meet us because we miss you all!