Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Monuments of Sport

Sunset on the Champs
For the last four years, Liam and I have been in Paris in July - on the Champs d'Elysees - for the finish of the Tour de France.  Each year we do many of the same things in Paris - our "Tour ritual." We check into the same hotel on the Left Bank.  It is a quirky place straight out of a Hemingway novel.  There is no elevator, only old worn stairs and exposed beams.  I don't think the place has changed much since the early 1900's.  Its no-frill decor makes it pretty cheap by Paris standards,  but you can't beat the location and there are showers in most of the rooms.  Through the years, we have gotten to know the husband and wife who run the place.  We even know their little dog who sits and mostly sleeps in the 2nd floor room/lobby.  The dog has become more and more disagreeable throughout the years, but the owners have really warmed up to us.  Each year they treat our arrival as a pretty big deal. They marvel at how Liam has grown and how amazing it is that he now speaks perfect French with a Provençal accent.  They love to hear about the mountains that Liam has climbed during that year's Tour adventure.  In fact, they even move the dog over so that there is room for our bikes in the lobby. (Perhaps this is why the dog has become more disagreeable over the years.)

La Crêpe Française

Once settled in, which is usually pretty late on Saturday night, we head out for a celebratory crêpe.  We eat a lot of crêpes while in Paris. Besides riding his bike and watching the Tour, eating crêpes is Liam's favorite thing to do in Paris.  The crêpe is a great way of replacing lost calories from our time riding in the Alps and Pyrenees.  In fact, we eat alot over that weekend in July - Lebanese, French, Vietnamese... Paris is an exceptional city in which to have a big appetite, and it brings out the foodie in Liam which, for a time, I didn't think was possible.  Most of the time with Liam it is, "put some ketchup on it and it is good to go!" You can take the American kid out of the States, but you can't take the States totally out of the kid.  That is starting to change, however, especially when we are in Paris.

Tour Eiffel - Always a cool part of our ride!

Sunday morning always starts out with our bike ride through the streets of the French capital.  The ride has expanded over the years as we have become more and more comfortable with the city.  The ride is a celebratory loop of great monuments and buildings ending at the Arc de Triumphe on the Champs d'Elysees.  First we hit the Pantheon where people of great importance to France come to rest.  We ride down the Boulevard Saint Michel (just because I like to say the name as we are heading down the street).  We pass Notre Dame cathedral.  I like to glance up at the freaky gargoyles sculptures which guard the towers of the ancient building, and give a reverent nod to Charlemagne mounted in eternal glory on his imperial stead. Then we head down the river cycling past the Louvre through Napoleon's cobbled courtyard.  It is amazing that even early on a Sunday morning there is a line of tourists stretching out around I.M Pei's Pyramid to get into see the great works of art within the old palace walls.  Then it is down along the banks of the Seine.  On Sunday, the road down next to the river is closed off to vehicles giving cyclists and runners free reign.  We pass under the arches of many of the timeless bridges that span the waterway connecting the Right and Left Banks. The river divides the left from right - the yin from the yang of the city, but somehow its dividing presence makes the city complete -- whole.  We cycle around and under the Eiffel Tower craning our necks to look up and take in its enormity and scope.  It's cool!  Then it is a sprint down the Champs de Mars, out through Rue Cler and the market streets of the 7th Arrondissement, a pass by Rodin's sculpture gardens, and a respectful salute as we pass by Invalides - the resting place of the Emperor from Corsica.  As we head back across to the Right Bank the grand boulevards get - well - more grand. We pass Tuileries immediately followed by the Egyptian Obelisk standing in the middle of the Place de la Concorde.  I always marvel at the ancient hieroglyphics carved in this 23 meter high stone.  Although I can't read hieroglyphics, I know that this monument stood with another at the entrance of the Luxor Temple in ancient Thebes, and that the writing praises the glory of King Ramses II. (I often wonder about the possibility of Egypt wanting this little piece of history back.)  Once through the Place de la Concorde, we hit the French Presidential Palace, and then make our way up the Champs d'Elysees, passing the world famous shops, hitting Louis Vuitton at the corner of George V.  Finally, we reach our finish line.  It stands at the end of the Champs in the middle of one of the largest roundabouts in the world,  it is appropriately a symbol of glory and accomplishment - the Arc de Triumphe.  

 Egypt - think they want the other one back?
Paris - Don't think they will part with it.
The ride on Sunday morning is a pretty special couple of hours. At the finish, there is a sort of carnival atmosphere the morning of the Tour's arrival.  I always get this incredible sense of accomplishment as we stand along the Champs waiting for the riders of the Tour to arrive. This year we got a front row position along the barriers of the Champs and were really able to see the race up close. 

Front row seat to the action
For Liam and me, each year the day at the finale in Paris bookends and solidifies our participation and small place in the Tour de France, an otherwise greater than life event. It is the conclusion of another Father Son Tour. A crazy idea that a father and his then 8 year old son came up with on a spring training ride in California 4 years ago.   

Our finish line - Arc de Triumphe

Life Strong, Train Safe, and Live Well!!!

Bill and Liam signing out.


  1. This is great what you guys are doing. I hope I will be able cycle these roads with my daughter, which is now 1, in future. Carry on cycling and live strong. Greetings from Poland

  2. Saw you guys speeding down the Col de la Colombiere in 2009 and try to drop in here each summer! I too have been to 4 Tours, with this years being so special being British! Paris was magical for all Team Sky fans and great to see the Union Jacks everywhere.