Monday, August 30, 2010


The project I am working on at my place of employment is being carried out in conjunction with a few other companies who are based in Europe, which means that every 6 weeks or so we have in-person check-in meetings held in Europe, usually in Barcelona though the next one is in Belgium (stay tuned to this blog for live coverage of Belgian World Cup Cyclocross races, coming in October). A work trip to Europe means one thing to me: side trips. It would be out of the question to have someone else pay for your flight to Europe and then fail to take advantage of it by tacking on weekend trips before, after, or during the business part of the trip (which is really just a side show to all the fun that is waiting to be had). Preferably these extra trips should be to mountainous regions of Europe (the Alps are ideal), and should generally avoid museums, old churches, and other such trappings of “culture”. Actually, up to one church (no more than 30 minutes spent inside) and one museum (no more than one hour spent inside) is permitted per trip under my leisure-planning regulations.

The last trip of this nature to Milan/Barcelona took me into the Italian Dolomites for some climbing and cycling and then into the French Pyrenees to see a stage of the Tour de France (see previous blog entries). The business part of this trip took place on a Monday to a Thursday, so the plan was to fly to Paris on the Friday of the week prior, spend the weekend in Paris, then on to Barcelona to fulfill my obligations, then on Friday morning fly to Geneva and take a bus to Chamonix to spend a few days before returning to Seattle on Tuesday morning. Luckily Roanne was able to join me, she has a number of relatives in the UK so while I was in Barcelona working for the man, she went to the UK to hang out with her family and do a bit of work remotely. Roanne can sometimes exhibit a tendency to try and skew the agenda away from my preferred itinerary of all-day mountain sports and towards museums, old churches, and shopping, but luckily we were able to come to an understanding leading up to the trip and plan something that we were both excited about.

We flew out from Seattle on Friday afternoon on a direct flight to Paris, and after an uneventful flight we landed in Charles DeGaul airport at 8:30am on Saturday morning. After clearing customs where the customs agent just stamped our passports and didn’t say a word to us (EU customs are so much smoother than North American ones!), we hopped on a train and after one transfer we found ourselves at the Gare de Lyon train station, which to my understanding was quite close to our hotel. After walking through the cavernous Gare de Lyon train station a few times we finally oriented ourselves and headed out onto the streets towards our hotel. The hotel turned out to be quite a bit further than we thought so it was a bit of a hike, and in retrospect we should have taken the metro, but it was a nice walk just the same and it was fun to see all the everyday parts of Paris that we like so much:

The hotel we were staying at was called the Sport Hotel; I have always seen similarly named hotels in Europe (generally in the Alps) and they sound really fun which is why I had booked this one. However, this hotel turned out to be sporting in name only, as there was nothing different about it compared to any other hotel I have stayed in (other than that the rooms were quite small and the proprietor seemed hesitant to give me an extra pillow). After a short nap to recover from the flight, we headed out onto the streets were we stopped for an espresso and a sandwich at a street side café, and then tried to check out bikes from the city-wide bike share system:

Unfortunately this was my 3rd unsuccessful attempt to access a city wide bike sharing system in a European city (after similarly unfruitful attempts in Milan and Barcelona), this time it wouldn’t accept our credit or debit cards for the deposit. Maybe if they ever bring bike sharing systems to North America (unlikely, as the extra bikes on the road might slow down all of the single-occupant SUVs. On a related tangent, I read that a small town in Colorado recently banned bikes from riding on their roads. USA! USA! USA!), I will have better luck with accessing the bikes by virtue of being a local. Anyway, with our preferred method of transit off the table, we resorted to our second choice and headed for the metro. Our first foray took us east to the outskirts of Paris where we walked though a large park and made our way to the Jacques Anquetil Velodrome where they had held the cycling events in one of the first Olympic Games (or something like that, please don’t quote me). I had been picturing something like the Marymoor Velodrome which was open so that you could walk around and look at it, but this sporting complex was considerably more elaborate and unfortunately involved locked gates that denied us access:

Oh well, at least we tried from here we boarded the metro again and headed into the heart of Paris, disembarking near the Cathedral de Notre Dame and bunch of other historic sites. Roanne and I had visited many of these spots during a trip to France that we took back in 2002, but they were just as impressive so it was fun to see them again and walk along the Seine with the other holiday makers. Roanne was evidently still feeling sleepy after her nap, this is the pose that I found her in after returning from one of the rare public bathroom facilities in Europe:

After rousing Roanne from her slumbers we admired the Notre Dame for a while before continuing on our way:

We then continued our tour, walking along some streets and seeing some stuff as we headed to a confectioner that had been recommended by a friend of Roanne’s. We eventually found the store, and they specialized in these things called macarons (which I at first thought were the same as macaroons, those unappealing blobs of coconut; thankfully they are not). Macarons are light and puffy blobs of flavoured sugar, and while they are pretty good, I have definitely had better sweet delights (Top Pot donuts are one example). Here is Roanne standing outside our macaron vendor of choice:

We then headed to a kebab restaurant that had been recommended for dinner, unfortunately the one we had planned on eating at was closed (like most of France, they apparently take all of August off) but we found another one nearby and had a really good dinner before boarding the metro and heading back our hotel.

The next morning dawned with cool weather but mostly clear skies and sunshine, so with our day of acclimatization/culture under our belts, we decided to head to Fontainebleau to try and track down some bouldering. For any non-climbers who might be reading this, Fontainebleau is a famous bouldering area located about 50km from Paris. It is a really unique style of sandstone, and it’s proximity to Paris coupled with the flat, sandy landings and plethora of boulders mean that people have been climbing there for many years and many classic problems and benchmarks have been established there. I had seen it in a lot of magazines and videos so I was pretty excited to check it out, even though I didn’t have a crash pad with me (we did have our climbing shoes and chalk bags).

Upon leaving our hotel we found that a street market had been set up directly outside, so we spent a while browsing the market, buying some fruit, and complimenting the vendors on their delicious looking tarts.

We then rode the metro to the Gare de Lyon train station, where we got confused and wandered around a bit before a really nice old man approached us and asked if we wanted to go to Fontainebleau (he must have guessed we were climbers by our appearance, since we hadn’t said anything to him), and guided us in person to the correct platform and told us which train to take. Who says the French aren’t friendly or helpful?

After arriving in Font we took a bus into the middle of the town where we inquired at the information center as to where we could find some bouldering. Fontainebleau was actually a bit different than I had pictured it, for some reason I had assumed we would be able to just take a train there, disembark, and then walk in any direction and encounter large quantities of amazing boulder problems. However, it turns out that this is not the case, while the town is relatively compact, the forest of Fontainebleau is really large, and the bouldering areas are pretty spread out with a car being required to access most of them. I guess in this case a little advance planning/research would have been appropriate, but hindsight is 20/20 and who would have ever guessed that? Luckily there was one area that was only about 15 km away so that we could ride bikes to it, and there was even a special trail (called FB since it went from Fontainebleau to some other town that started with a B) that would take us there.

We headed over to the local bike shop where we were able to pick up a couple of low end mountain bikes that would serve as our trusty steeds for the day. Before leaving town we picked up a baguette and some hummus at an outdoor market that we encountered, and then headed out to try and find the FB trail using our somewhat inadequate map. After about 10 minutes we found ourselves on a really busy road that didn’t seem to match any of the roads on our map, much less the vaunted FB trail, so stopped at some sort of fair where we asked some people in one of the booths for directions. They sent us back where we came, and eventually we picked up the FB trail which is marked by small, often worn off and unrecognizable, painted white letters on the pavement. How silly of us to be on the lookout for signs instead of white splotches on the pavement! Here is Roanne established on the FB trail and eager to get underway:

Now happily on course, we guided our bikes (which, incidentally, were branded “rock dasher” or something similarly indicative of our quest for the boulders of Font) along the FB trail which was a mixture of paved paths, dirt roads, and trails. We eventually arrived at our destination, called the Gorges du Something-or-other, and happily began scanning our surroundings for boulders. We soon realized that, as the name implied, the boulders were likely stored down in the gorge that was in front of us, so we headed down a long flight of wooden steps to gain access to the bottom of the gorge. Unfortunately at this time it began to rain, but we continued our hunt. After roaming around some sandy trails on the bottom of the gorge (again, some sort of advance planning in the form of a guidebook would have been eminently useful), we eventually found some boulders that looked climbable, here I am proudly posed in front of our find:

By this time it had started to rain pretty hard, so we took shelter underneath some trees and snacked on our baguette and hummus, which was really delicious. Here is Roanne about to dig in to our lunch-in-the-woods:

You can see that Roanne maintains her sunny disposition even during most of the semi-ridiculous adventures that I drag her on (“most” is a key word in this statement, there are exceptions). For some reason we didn’t see any other tourists doing a rainy hike-a-bike through the woods of Fontainebleau in search of large rocks, how strange! At this point Roanne decided to read her book (actually, her kindle, which was acquired during our technology revolution last year) while I went off in search of more boulders. I did find a bunch, legitimate ones that had the coloured dots and circuit directions painted on to them (which Fontainebleau is known for), so that was fun to see, but by this time they were way to wet to climb and it was still drizzling so after a bit of scrambling to allow a checkmark in the box beside “climbed at Fontainebleau”, I threw in the towel and we headed back towards the stairs up out of the gorge. Here we are at the conclusion of our Fontainebleau boulder quest, with some evidence of our success on the hill side in the background:

We headed up the stairs past some French families who were descending and complemented our bike-carrying endeavors with “Bon courage!”, and were soon on the FB route back towards F. We decided to forego B since there was a large chateau in Fontainebleau that we were interested in checking out and which could easily fill the remainder of the afternoon that was opened up by getting rained out at the boulders.

After returning the bikes we walked over to the Chateau Fontainebleau and did a tour through the grounds, with the first thing we happened upon being a sculpture of peeing dogs:

We continued our tour through the grounds of Chateau Fontainbleau, which was quite large and impressive. The front of the Chateau features the "Farewell Courtyard", which is where Napolean bid his friends farewell before being exiled to the island of Corsica:

There was a small lake/pond on the grounds near a cafe, where we stopped for espresso and tea and sat and observed people rowing around the lake on boats that could be rented out. There was one group in particular who was particularly entertaining to watch, it was a man and woman with their young daughter, and they were attempting to navigate the lake with just a single oar. They were having fairly limited success, slowly turning in circles as the wind below them to one side of the water. Bystanders were offering them tips such as "It works better with two oars", and general words of encouragement.

I'm not sure how they got out there with just one oar, but eventually the apparent proprietor of the boat rental business, a teenage girl, rowed out to help them. She was also rowing incorrectly, facing forward in her boat and using the push for her "power" stroke (the power descriptor is used very loosely here). Nevertheless, she finally made it out to them, at which point she realized that she should have brought an extra oar to give them, since if the gave them one of hers she would be in the same situation they were presently in. So after a brief discussion with them, she headed back to shore and returned with another oar to give them. At this point we had had our fill of this drama unfolding on the high seas, so we continued on our walk without ever finding out if they eventually made it back to shore or had to be rescued by the french navy.

Our walk next took us through some more courtyards and into some gardens, the nicest of which was the "French Garden" which had a good view back at the Chateau that gave an idea of how expansive it was:

Eventually we decided to head back to the train station and make our way back to Paris. We ended up walking all the way back to train station as the buses didn't seem to be running too frequently, and then rode the train back to gay Paris without incident. Upon returning to our hotel room Roanne took a nap while I went for a short run on a nice elevated walkway that I found (I think it was a converted railroad, they have something similar in New York City) and then we went out for a late dinner where we enjoyed pizza and a small vat of wine that Roanne ordered. The next morning came bright and early as I had to catch a 7:30am flight to Barcelona for the work part of the trip, and Roanne headed over to the UK to visit her relatives there.

1 comment:

  1. This is hilarious! Thankfully, everything turned out well, although I guess we are not quite sure about the rowers :) !