Wednesday, September 16, 2009



Nice or Nizza as they say in Italian is the hub of the Riviera. This is the second part of the previous post which is mostly a travel blog. I am a little off base but its hard to get to the preparations part without talking about getting there.

Finally on the plane my chartered flight headed out across the ocean. It was a non-stop from JFK to Charles de Gaulle in Paris. I booked it well in advance and in the day was the cheapest way to fly to Europe. I studied the Let’s Go travel books put out by Harvard Press. The books were designed for the student traveler who had no money. One of their books was how to travel to Europe on 25 dollars a day.

I was already a couple of days late on my original itinerary but if it all went well I could still make it to southern France with a day to spare before the race. I can remember people telling me that when traveling to Europe you wanted to depart from the USA so that you arrived abroad in the morning. This was to help with the jet lag and your own internal clock. Of course we didn’t leave like we were suppose to and would be arriving in Paris at midnight.

As we approached Paris the captain broadcast to look to our left and we would see the City of Lights then to our right Charles de Gaulle Airport. The next comment was we would not be landing at Charles de Gaulle because they would not let planes land after midnight therefore we would be landing at Orly. I really didn’t know anything about international travel and airports; I just wanted to be on the ground after eight hours. Everyone on the flight seemed a little upset about the news so I asked the guy next to me why the fuss and he said it was because Orly was now mainly a freight airport and at this hour there would be no buses or rail into the city.

I would never take a charter again after this experience, the flight was so inexpensive compared to the major airlines but you were really at their mercy with the delays and then not even flying into your destination. I had originally planned to be in Nice by now but instead I wasn’t even on the ground yet.

We landed safely and the fun was just beginning. We did the outside deplaning which took me by surprise, and ended up not that bad but the 200 yard walk across the runway to the terminal, that was a little strange. Once inside the airport it was a very cool terminal almost like something out of an old science fiction movie, the terminal was definitely dated. Everything inside was closed so no coffee food or anything. Customs was a breeze. Walking through a deserted ancient airport was my welcome to France and Europe.

Just like I had been informed on the plane there no buses and the gate to the city by metro was locked. The only way into the city was by taxi. Someone put a call in and the taxis started trickling in one by one. Most of the passengers from the flight were on a tour and their buses had rerouted and picked them up. The remaining 50 or so of us couldn’t get on those nice big luxurious buses so we just waited our turn to grab a taxi. My next dilemma was that most taxis would take no more luggage than what would fit into their trunks. I of course had my bike packed in a box which no way would fit into a European taxis trunk. Thru my terrible French language skills I negotiated with one for a ride into the city for an extra charge. We strapped the box on the trunk and he charged me for an extra person. What a deal.

I never had an attitude toward the French and what was supposed to be their attitude towards Americans. It did seem that all this was way too complicated. I had just landed in Europe and my budget of $25 for the first day was blown in 10mins.

The taxi ride into the city was longer than expected I kept wondering if we were taking the long way. I kept asking and the driver acted like he didn’t understand, something about he kept smiling made me nervous. I tried to explain my desire to find an inexpensive hotel, I was really nervous about staying in Paris. Like New York hotels can be very pricey. My original plan was to fly into Paris arriving in the morning and leave the same day by train to the Riviera. Hotel and the word inexpensive do not go together in Paris or New York. All my plans were a thing of the past, my objective was to make it to Southern France for the race.

The taxis finally stopped and he helped me unload all my gear which was a backpack and a bicycle packed in a box. I was amazed at how active the streets were around where we were for 200am, the hotel was pretty run down and I had no idea what part of Paris I was in. I went inside and got a room which of course was on the fifth floor and no elevator. There was a fairly attractive woman sitting in the lobby which surprised me at this hour. She spoke to me which I had no idea what she said but I thought was very nice. Later I learned that I was actually in the red light district and the woman was a prostitute that worked for the hotel.

I did not sleep well that night I kept thinking about how to get to the train station and making all the connections I needed to. I will never forget early in the morning lying in bed listening to the French garbage men shouting at each other. It all got me at that moment, all the sudden I felt like I was on another planet. I was in a place where people were speaking another language and how was I to communicate. Just one of those feelings where you feel lost and a little scared for a moment.

I got up early to get my bearings so I headed down to a café. Somehow the taxi driver did me right I was close to a train station and most importantly the Gare de Lyon. This was where I needed to be to head south to Nice. The train ride to the Riviera was a long one. Thirteen hours so my plan was to book a couchet so I could sleep on the train. The train left at eight pm so I would arrive in Nice around eleven am. The train went thru Lyon hence the name of the station; it made stops in Marseille and Toulouse.

Having to be out of my room by ten presented a problem. Traveling with a bicycle is hard to describe especially when it’s packed in a box. I couldn’t unpack anything because I was not at my destination and I had gear and equipment strategically placed in the box. It’s very awkward to carry around and taxis don’t want to deal with them. I walked thru busy Paris streets for what seemed like a mile or two with my backpack on carrying the bike box. I spent most of the day in the train station, waiting for my departure time of eight pm. The fantasy all day was just to get on that train to the Riviera, I felt like once on the train I could relax somewhat and hopefully get some sleep.

When it became time to depart I learned that I had to check my bike box in the baggage car. I tried to bring it into my cabin but at the point of being thrown off the train, I checked it. One of the warnings that I had read was when traveling in Europe always try to carry everything on with you and do not let them check your baggage. On trains that have many passengers or heavily traveled routes, the baggage is transported on a separate baggage train. Which means your baggage notoriously doesn’t arrive when you do.

I made it to my cabin which was shared with a French family. I got the top bunk and got under the blanket and closed the curtains. That was the best night sleep I had in days. When the train stopped in Marseille it woke me up and I looked out the window. It was so beautiful I had never seen anything quite like what I was seeing. The train was perched on a hillside overlooking Mediterranean the blue green waters were incredible. On the other side of the train were the Maritime Alps. The sun was out, now this was more like it.
I will post more later from travel and racing, below are photos and notes.
I always tell people if I had to imagine what Heaven is like it has to be like the French Riviera. Its absolutely breathtaking, something about the mountains, the Bay of Angels, the blue green ever so clear mediterraian, fruit trees, weather,architecture and of course the smell.

Nice is the hub of the Riviera and The Negresco is the center of the whole thing. It is one of the most famous hotels in the world and is know for its pink dome. I took the picture above with my twin reflex. I scanned it from a glossy copy so it has some distortion. The Promenade des Anglais runs in front of the Negresco, you can sit on a bench or in a cafe and watch the people while sipping campari or an espresso with a lemon peel.

I originally stayed at Les Cigales, which is a nice hotel two blocks off from the beach. On the Riviera prices are so steep along the promenade, you go in a few blocks inland and stay for $35 a night. Cigales was one of those and very convient to the race start and le plage.

In my later races I stayed at La Bagatelle, which is on Cap Ferat. It is about 10 miles from central Nice but is just incredible. The hotel is half way between Nice and Monte Carlo and inexpensive. It is owned by a German woman who has some interesting rules. One is a daily manditory cocktail hour for all guests. She likes for all guests to visit and it was fun. You have to attend if you stay at the hotel and she serves her homemade madarin orange wine. It was more like a liquer so it burnson the way down but is so good. The trees that she makes the wine from are on the property. I definitely got softer the last few years I did the race.

The view from my room at Bagatelle. A couple of miles down the road is Eze, the ancient mountain top village where the Paris-Nice time trial finishes. Also the Madone is close where Lance did his preparations every year for the Tour.

Who is this guy? I know every crack in the road on the Promenade des Anglais. A 20+ mile run in Heaven! The City shuts down for sporting events, citizens of Nice lined the road for the whole course.

Is that a pink De Rosa? On the descent from Gillette. The bike course has a 10 mile descent back thru a valley into Nice. It was spectacular but painful.

This has been some rambling filler for the blog now its time to start focusing on the Tour de Cullman 2009.


Anonymous said...

Dang, That was 1984 and you still hae an A-- Window!Didn't you were those shorts yesterday?

Nekid Cowboy said...

Nice spelling BillyBob! You must have graduated the 6th grade. Cant wait for the Tour so I can kick your REDNECK HILLBILLY ASS!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the proof read.... "correcto type"....That would be..Naked..wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

You two should go ahead and get a room.

jim e said...

This is a great two part story.
Saw Casey Tuesday and he was glad to hear the race would likely be on Halloween. He and Omar get back from the Xtera Championship in Hawaii just in time for the TDC.

Carson said...

Glad you got back on track with The Tour...What do you guys think about Saturday vs. Sunday? This is the 15th Tour...Big Day! Everyone thats ever done it is suppose to ride on #15.

jim e said...

Either or... Some have said (and one would bring plenty of good beer) they would have to miss the podium party if it were Saturday.

NeKid Cowboy said...

Are you sure you went to France? These pics have photo shop all over them.

I apologize about the Billy Bob comments. This EPO makes me aggressive.

BF said...

sunday is better for some of the locals, Sat is halloween, soccer matches, and cross country meets.

Nekid Cowboy said...

Nice try BillyBob, Back in the bus licking the glass.....

Eddy said...

Carson, how about a presentation of the team/riders party. All great tours have one.

jim e said...

Smithlock's directive: No threepeat for Tria/Donohoo in this fifteenth edition.

g.lic.s said...

Did your domestique miss the flight?


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