When in France

I briefly mentioned in my last post that I went to France for a wee break, so I thought to expand a bit on that. I went on a fairly short notice: my brother had asked me and my boyfriend to come along with him about a month or two before, but it was unsure whether I would be able to come as it fell right in the middle of my resits. Luckily I passed all my exams, so I had a green light to go.

The majority of the trip fell in line with the Tour the France route: we had picked the third, fourth and fifth stages of this multi-day race as interesting stages to visit. The third stage was a hilltop finish in the northern reaches of the Ardennes, the fourth a stage on cobblestones crossing from Southern Belgium into Northern France, and the fifth a relatively flat stage in the Pas de Calais. As I realise that this is not a cycling blog, I have good news for those readers who happen not to be interested in cycling: the stages took me to some of the prettiest places in Northern France and Wallonia.

As said, we started of in northern Wallonia. The town of Huy is famous amongst cycling enthusiasts for its very steep hill, the Mur de Huy – literally: the Wall of Huy -. Although the stage was marred by a large accident of the flat parts of the stage, the finish was impressive, with a final struggle between both general classification favourite Chris Froome and climbing expect Joachim Rodriquez being decided in favour of the latter, and what looked like a platoon of wounded veterans following.

Mural in Huy

 The town itself was impressive as well. The river Meusse flows through Huy, and the town is situated on the steep banks of the river. It was a lively town, but it’s history was remarkable. In 1066 it became the first town with a city charter north of the Alps, and it thrived partly on the regional cloth industry. Many buildings in the town still are from Huy’s boom period in the 13th to 15th century. The castle however was built in 1818: though there had been an impressive castle previously, the towns own inhabitants, who were frustrated that the castle made the town a target in every war in the region, tore it down themselves.

Cobblestones: the holy ground of spring cycling

The second day we spend on the cobblestone sections between Seraing in Belgium and Cambrai in Northern France. Last year, the cobblestone sections that are common in the spring races were first introduced into the Tour. The stage was notorious for being the one where Chris Froome gave up before even reaching the cobblestones. This year, there was far less rain and mud, making the stage a lot easier for the peloton and simultaneously harder for experts to escape. The atmosphere along the track was amazing: there were French fans cheering on the local hero in the race, there were -as always in cycling- large groups of Basques, and Welshmen cheering for Team Sky. One of the local had brought his chair to a bottleneck on the track as to better inspect the tourist. “Êtes-vous Allemands?” he asked, hearing us speak to each other. “Non, Hollandais.” we replied, which made the man smile widely.

This was last year. The weather was a lot better this time.

At the finish line
This jersey (and complimentary umbrella) were the best of the loot in Arras

 Day three we spend at the start and finish zones in Arras and Amiens. This was a short, flat stage. As a child, I had been at these place before, but for my boyfriend the Tour circus was something completely new. The departure zone was a huge zone in the very friendly city of Arras. There were market stands with merchandise, food and regional products. After the start, we relocated to the arrival zone in Amiens, a city roughly 70km to the south in the Picardy region. It keeps amazing me how open the sport of cycling is. After the finish line, the team buses were approachable by the public, and the whole peloton rode through the crowds to get to the bus. For those with patience, those riders that wore classification jerseys came by when the majority of the crowd had gone, and they were very approachable for all the fans. A great experience! We even managed to make small talk with Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France.

Waiting for Vincenzo Nibali

My brother with Prudhomme

Peter Sagan!

Amiens Cathedral

Of the places we visited, Amiens was the most beautiful. Unlike the other towns, that were thoroughly regional, Amiens had a very international feeling, owing largely to it’s status as a renowned university town. The town had beautiful parks, a quaint canal with restaurants and cafés along it, and a cathedral that is said to be one of the earliest and best examples of the Gothic architecture. Amiens is also the town where one of my favourite writers, Jules Verne, spend most of his life. It was wonderful walking the streets and seeing the many references to this creator of science fiction avant la lettre. Posters of Verne festivals, memorandums of the 100rd jubilee of his death, little references to his books… Even the university in the city was named after him!

Amiens Cathedral

  While I was in France I had the perfect knitting project in tow, for those waiting moments next to the track, and brief moments at our lodging. It did result in some odd looks here and there from surrounding spectators and local French kids (what, aren’t they used to knitters in the cycling world?). The days were extremely hot, it was during that tropical heat wave we had going on in Europe, so in the days before we went I was hunting for the perfect warm weather project to take along. Luckily I found the perfect project, which I shall tell you more about later!

Park in Amiens
 Hope you have a great weekend! I’ll be back with crafty content in a couple of days!

3 thoughts on “When in France

  1. Super gezellig en mooi verslag. Het enthousiasme en actie spat er van af. Leuke ontmoetingen en avonturen een paar dagen de tour achterna. Ook leuk dat jullie zoveel hebben kunnen vastleggen op de foto en hebben gezien. Groeten ��

  2. Mooi geschreven Nelson en een fijne korte vakantie, weg van een hoop stress.
    Dat zijn wel speciale momenten zeker als je deze fotos kan maken.
    De groeten aan iedereen.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *