We were in Geneva this past weekend, initially because Peggy had to go there for a business trip. But as luck would have it, the Tour de France was passing nearby on Sunday, so we added that to our agenda. (It was tough for me to do, but I suffered through it.)
We arrived this afternoon, and little did we know that there was some kind of Lake Geneva Festival going on this weekend. From what we could tell as we walked around, it was some kind of Mardi Gras/Carnival kind of event, which you can take to mean a lot of people walking around drinking, smoking, wearing all manner of questionable fashion, all with a twist of blaring euro-trash music. Now, I like to think that Peggy and I can co-exist with fringe elements pretty well -- hell, you got to if you want to live in Boulder -- but this... this we found to be just down right annoying. After strolling around (and away from the festivities), we found a grocery store and picked up some provisions for our Sunday morning and afternoon along the Stage 8 route of the Tour, and then made our way back to our hotel to drop them off and get some dinner.
Recalling our experience from 6 years ago, we knew that if we wanted to get a good spot on the mountain climbs for the race, we had to get there early to get a spot as a) they fill up fast and b) it's not uncommon for roads to be shut down 5+ hours before the riders come through. With that in mind, we got an early jump on the day with breakfast at the hotel, and then off to get the rental car. It is only about a 30 mile drive to where we wanted to be -- on the Col de la Ramaz -- but about an hours drive. But that last metric assumes the cue sheet you get online doesn't completely suck. We weren't even out of Geneva and we were already calling audibles on how to get to a motorway that we needed to get on. We eventually found it, and had smooth sailing for a whopping 8 km. But almost as soon as we got off, the cue sheet ventured from reality again and we were once again driving blind. Luckily, when we pulled in a parking lot to get our bearings, we noticed a small bike tour getting their things together for their ride (along the Tour route, we safely presumed.) So I got out of the car, asked the one cyclist (who happened to be from NJ) if I could see his cycling cue sheet, and was able to piece together our next steps.
Back on track, we eventually started driving up the Col. Our plan going into this was to get as high up on it as we could -- the whole schadenfreude sensation of seeing them suffer is one that is hard to ignore. On and up we drove, passing by spots that would easily give us a place to park and set up our blanket and food/drink, but they weren't high enough. Must. Keep. Going.
A couple of miles later, a variation of the law of diminishing returns began to kick in, because the further we went, the fewer parking spots we found. We gave a good look-see to a couple but didn't think we'd be able to pull the car completely off the road (a condition the gendarmerie insist on.) Nervously trudging onward, we eventually spotted an opening between a car and a post that we could fit through, and pulled the car in to park. It was on a grassy hillside, so I tried to position the car off the steeper sloped portion and onto an area where I could feel comfortable in actually being able to get back on to the road. After some minor tire spinning and sliding (and hence, marginal damage to the farmer's field) we got the car in a good position and set up camp, happy to be roadside once again at the Tour. Only after an exploratory walk along the road did I realize where we were... about 75m from the summit! Yes!!!!
Several hours, a chance meeting with some other Yanks setup directly across the road from us, and some wine, grapes, bread and cheese later, the festivities began. First, the "caravan" came through, which is a parade of sorts, whereby sponsors use floats and various forms of funny vehicles to drive along the Tour and from which they throw their swag. (I'm not sure what Peggy was doing to get it, but she definitely got her fair share!) There was a slight lull in the action for a little while. But then more and more official vehicles came through, and then some announcement that had to do with "Rabobank" (a team in the race) and next thing we know, a rider (from Rabobank) who was out on a breakaway came through to thunderous cheering and applause. We thought for sure this was the kick-off to stage 2 of the festivities -- the arrival of the peloton -- but apparently this rider was having a strong day thus far as it was 20 minutes until we saw the next riders. And once that happened, it was about another 20 minutes for the rest of the riders to make their way past.
Once they did, we gathered our belongings, said farewell to our fellow Americans, joined the long line of cars making their way down the mountain, and made our way back to Geneva. Getting mildly lost along the way, of course.
Peg set off to her business meeting, leaving Chloe and I to explore on our own. We've had little problems finding outlets for this while in London, but surprisingly, there isn't a whole heckuva lot that is kid-engaging in Geneva. I was able to find a cable car ride that went up to the top of a nearby mountain, so after a leisurely morning and late breakfast, we made our way to the bus that would take us there.
I should point out that ever since we've been in Geneva, it's been hot and humid... low- to mid-90s, so not the best out-and-about conditions. Even though we broke a mild sweat going to and waiting for the bus, we thought the ride to the cable car stop would provide relief. Wrong! Apparently, air conditioning isn't a widely used technology on the buses there (nor is it in restaurants.) But if that wasn't bad enough, only very small portions of the windows could be opened to provide ventilation, so we essentially had a 20 minute ride in a mobile easy bake oven.
We got off the bus, walked to the cable car station (crossing into France along the way) and got our tickets. I had hoped to pickup a map atop the mountain about trails and whatnot, but none were available. So, Chloe and I found a trail and started walking. Unlucky for us, it was uphill, but it was shaded (and much better than aimlessly wandering the streets of Geneva.) The trail eventually terminated at a paraglider launch site; had it not been so hazy, the views would have been tremendous. We didn't bring our paragliders with us, so we headed back down the trail to a snack shop to get a drink and a snack. After a little bit more exploring, we both had had enough of the heat, and decided to make our way back to our hotel (via the cable car and oven/bus) to collect our luggage and head to the airport (via oven/bus) where we were pretty sure cooler climes awaited us.
- while at the Tour stage, I saw a man wearing a "Triple Bypass" jersey (it's a popular bike ride in CO.) We got to talking, and I found out he's from Aspen, but spends a fair amount of time in Boulder... enough to know Dakota Ridge, Lee Hill and Olde Stage.
- I can't say we came away from the weekend as big fans of Geneva. I guess it's OK if you like to shop (especially for the wares of Gucci, Rolex, etc.), like uninspiring architecture and overpriced dining, and don't mind being amongst a fair number of people who, at least based on our experience, tend to be unwelcoming and boorish.
For pictures from our visit, visit here.