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By: Neven Kahlina
The newly weds Sam & Neven decided to make their honeymoon trip traveling through the Europe this year. Before they left, I asked them to keep a diary, so that I can create a blog and post it on my web page. They did an excellent job, and I am happy to post their diary as it was written by them. It’s a bit long but it is worth reading it as they experienced some unbelievable events and visited some incredible sites.
Sam & Neven’s travelling route
Wednesday July 1, 2009 – L’Alpe-D’Huez
Most people have that one place that they dream about their whole lives. Some dream of playing in the Yankees stadium others in the Boston gardens, well for me Alpe-D’Huez was that magical place.
Growing up I watched and read about cycling greats such as Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon, Greg Lemond, Andy Hampsten, Claudio Chiapucci and later Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong, all of whom have had their successes (and failures) tied to this mystical mountain stage of Tour De France: stage of L’Alpe-D’Huez.
We left our camp site near Lyon very early in the morning and headed towards the city of Grenoble in the foothills of the French Alps. It was a scenic relaxed drive as we decided to stay off the highway and instead use secondary road that took us through various towns and villages. We wanted to take the kind of a route as the Tour the France would take.
Grenoble turned out to be yet another very beautiful city, with by now to us familiar architecture and busy streets. It is located in the foothills of the Alps so everywhere we looked there was this beautiful Mountain background. We had breakfast in town and loaded up on some groceries for our lunch in the mountains.
As we left Grenoble the road gently started going upwards, winding through a canyon up and down until we reached the town of Sarennes. There were no signs signaling where to turn to go to Alpe-D’Huez, but we could tell by now that we were getting closer to our destination as we started to see more and more cyclists until finally we were surrounded with cyclists everywhere.
This is the Mecca of cycling. Many people from around the world travel here just to “do it once” and others (like us) are satisfied to even only drive up the famous road. The Tour De France won’t be here for another 2 weeks or so but people are already coming and staying to watch this famous stage.
As we made a turn for L’Alpe-D’Huez the road immediately turned upwards and it felt like our little Ford might have some struggles going up. It was steep and it didn’t get any easier as it went along. My dad would probably be able to tell you what % the incline was but all I can say is it felt like we were driving up a vertical wall.
On our way up it was an interesting drive as we tried to give the cyclists climbing up enough room on the right side of the road yet try to stay out of the way of those coming downhill like rockets at 70 – 90 km/hr. The scenery was magnificent when we had a chance to look out the window or stop on the side of the road.
As we arrived at the top there were several pubs/restaurants filled with people in their cycling gear sitting, socializing and having a cold beer which I’m sure never tasted better. It felt like there was a huge party that we walked in to on the top of the mountain.
We enjoyed the mountain atmosphere and decided to lodge for the night at the ski resort of Alpe-D’Huez. We found a little hotel to stay in for the night and set off sightseeing. We took the gondola up to the top of the mountain “Pic Blanc” at 3330 meters above sea level. That is the highest altitude I have ever been at and I felt very light headed. I can’t imagine what mountain climbers experience when they are climbing some of the higher peaks such as Mont Blanc (4800 meters) which we could see in the distance.
We made our way back down and decided to go for dinner in this rustic little restaurant managed by a very friendly British lady. The food was amazing and her hospitality even more impressive. After a few glasses of wine we decided to call it a night, an amazing day and an unforgettable experience.
Thursday July 2, 2009 – L’Alpe-D’Huez-Avignon
We left Alpe-D’Huez and set off on a long scenic drive to Avignon. The GPS system wanted to take us on the main highways so we turned it off and decided to “wing it” for the day by driving on secondary roads and local roads that took us up mountain passes and in to the heart land of French Alps.
These were some of the most scenic places we have ever seen. The roads went up and down, left and right and at times seemed to lead nowhere. There was hardly a straight patch of road along the whole route. We were driving on the types of roads that the Tour De France usually follows. Needless to say I enjoyed every minute of it as the roads presented all sorts of challenges and at the same time provided us with amazing scenery. Sam took pictures while I drove and we stopped several times to just soak in the surroundings.
We had lunch in the small village of Mens and then continued on our way passing through more canyons and mountains. It felt like B.C. except the roads led through numerous villages. After about 8 hours of driving we arrived in Avignon.
Avignon is a very beautiful city built in the 14th century. The old town was vibrant with life in the evening and the churches, castle walls and cobble stone roads created an amazing atmosphere. We spent the evening walking around the old city stopping for beer and to watch street performers play guitars and sing popular gypsy tunes.
Friday July 3, 2009 Avignon
Today we spent the morning walking the streets of Avignon. We visited the famous monastery “Palais des Papes” and walked the walls of ancient city full of history and ancient structures, monuments and museums.
This is a beautiful town but a very expensive town. After walking through the city all morning we decided to take a short drive outside of the city to visit the famous Chateneuf du Pape wine region. We visited several wineries and tasted various wines in the region. The area is absolutely gorgeous. Rolling hills covered with grape vines and picturesque villages situated atop hills.
Driving through this region was very interesting as it constantly provides beautiful scenery. It was a good experience and we both were very glad we came here to see the wine region. It is truly magnificent sights and some of the best wines we have ever tasted.
Saturday July 4, 2009 Cote D’Azur & Monaco
Today was possibly the best day of our trip. It was supposed to be just a short 2 hour drive from Avignon to Cannes, but along the way we got a little bored of the highway and took a detour to a town of St. Tropez.
This town is in the Cote D’Azur region of France and it is a known vacation spot for the rich and the famous. When we reached the Mediterranean coast we immediately stopped the car and went for a swim in the Mediterranean.
We both craved the beach and the water as our vacation so far was fun but not very relaxing to this point. The hot temperatures throughout this past week got to us and we needed a dip in the water. Later we drove through the beautiful St.Tropez. This is a very old port town turned tourist attraction. It oozes of money as the rich from around the world flock to this little coastal French town for vacations.
We then decided to take the secondary road that hugs the coastline all the way to Cannes. This again was a very scenic route and I enjoyed the drive immensely. However this turned our day in to another marathon drive and after 6 hours in the car we both started getting agitated.
When we arrived in Cannes we could not find anywhere to lodge for the night and after a little fight I decided (out of spite) that we were going to drive another hour to Monaco.
We arrived in Monaco and noticed some strange behavior on the roads. There were large groups of Police everywhere and while checking in to the hotel the guy at the front desk asked me: “are you here for the Tour De France?
I said: WHAT? The Tour is here?
He said yes – it is just starting and if you hurry you can watch it two blocks away from here.
YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME……our sour afternoon immediately changed. We dropped of our luggage in the room and ran to where we were told the tour route will be. It was a lot more than a couple of blocks but the adrenaline in our bodies carried us all the way.
We got to the race route and we ended up on one of the best spots along the route of the prologue. We could see each rider twice as they passed by below us and then made a turn and passed by us again climbing up the mountain above the city of Monaco, all the while we had an amazing view of the whole city down below us. We got there an hour in to it and unfortunately missed about 30 riders including Lance Armstrong but we got the chance to watch all the other favorites.
What incredible luck…..had we not got in to a fight, we would have ended up in Cannes that night. I’m so glad we had our little spaz as it gave us a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch a stage of the Tour De France live. My lifelong dream fulfilled and totally unplanned and spontaneous – once again when traveling the best experiences happen when you least expect and are totally unplanned.
Sunday July 5, 2009 Monaco- Arma Di Taggia
We got up early in the morning and took the bus to the center of the city (Monaco) to go watch the start of 1st stage one of the Tour. We were very early so we decided to see the old city of Monte Carlo. This was another gorgeous little city but my mind was only on one thing and that was the Tour. I couldn’t wait to go back down in to Monaco and try to get a glimpse of some of the riders.
We came down and went in to the port where all the team buses and equipment vehicles were. We sat down for a drink in a little cafe patio. At the table next to ours sat the World champion Alessandr Ballan and another rider from the Lampre team. A little later we had the chance to see Cadel Evans up close as he arrived at his team bus.
But our favorites were the Astana team as it was loaded with superstars and we stood in the heat outside of their bus hoping for a glimpse of Contador, Armstrong and others. Our chance finally came after about an hour of standing outside. The guys arrived about 1/2 hour before the start of the stage. We took pictures and I wished Lance “all the best for this tour” and told him that I was glad to see him back at the tour, he responded with a “Thank you”. This might not sound like much but as there was a large crowd looking for autographs and screaming all sorts of stuff at Lance, he ignored all of it and I was the only one he responded to. This definitely made me feel a little special……..I know……Now I just sound like a crazed fan, but hey how many people can say they saw and talked to Lance Armstrong the 7 time Tour winner?
Tags: Summer 2009