Front row at the Tour de France — Part Deux

Yesterday’s posting covered our visit to Figeac for Stage 10 of the Tour de France, with a focus on the race itself. Today I’ll describe our trip to Figeac, some of the surroundings, a bit about where to eat, and some of the colour of the Tour.

How we got there — and why. For some time, we had been planning to be in France’s capital for the final day of the Tour, the so-called race into Paris. One of my Toronto friends has experienced the final day, and says it’s a great event. However, the logistics got too complicated and the costs too high, so we gave up on the idea. Instead, we’ll be meeting Toronto friends Michael and Anna in Paris a couple of days after the Tour ends. Then, a few days ago, another friend emailed my wife, pointing out that the Tour would be passing fairly close to Daglan and asking if we were planning to visit. (Thanks for that, John!) Well, we hadn’t thought of it — but then realized the timing and the distance were perfect.  So yesterday morning we headed out to Figeac, driving through Gourdon and then Le Vigan, and then up onto a causse (a high limestone ridge) for the fairly fast trip (about one and a quarter hours) to Figeac. As it turned out, our timing was a bit tight, because passage through the town was being halted at 11 a.m., and we arrived at about 10:45. Phew.

Welcome to Figeac. This was our third trip to this historic and lovely town in the Lot (the département just south of the Dordogne) and it remains a treat. We found a parking spot on a major street, got directions to the Tour’s route from a pleasant woman in a real estate agency, and made our way to the main streets where the Tour riders would be passing. Not much after 11 a.m., we were having coffees at a little café in a pedestrians-only street when a truck pulled up at the end of the street, with music blaring and a man shouting through the speakers about the Tour souvenirs for sale. Here’s the truck:

Truck

An official Tour de France souvenirs-for-sale truck.

It didn’t take long for a crowd to gather, and for money to start changing hands. Like this:

Truck crowd

Crowding around, and anxious to buy.

Knowing that we had time to kill, my wife and I decided to wander around the town, poking our heads into stores, and looking along the narrow streets. Eventually we made our way to the central market, and then to Place Champollion — the large plaza named for Jean-François Champollion, a brilliant scholar and linguist who was born in Figeac and who deciphered the Rosetta Stone, unlocking the secrets of Egyption hieroglyphics. (Bet you didn’t know I knew that.) For a taste of the town, here’s a view of one of the streets leading off Place Champollion:

Street scene

A street off Figeac's Place Champollion.

On one side of Place Champollion is a place you must see if you ever visit the area — it’s the museum dedicated to Champollion’s work, with fascinating pieces from early Greek and Egyptian history, and much more. The history may be ancient, but the museum is only a couple of years old, and it’s brilliantly designed. Here it is:

Museum

The museum honouring Champollion and his work.

As you can imagine, Place Champollion is a magnet for tourists, and normally the sort of area you’d most want to avoid if you were looking for a decent meal. However, we’ve eaten three times at Restaurant Le 5, located at No. 5 Place Champollion (do you think that’s where they got the name?) directly across from the museum, and it’s quite good. Here’s a view of the building, with the restaurant at street level, extending out onto the plaza:

Restaurant

Restaurant Le 5 on Place Champollion in Figeac.

Lunching on Place Champollion. Restaurant Le 5 is not a gourmet’s paradise, and I didn’t bother taking photographs of our lunch. But the food is often interesting and is always well prepared. For instance, my wife began with a bowl of gazpacho that she said was excellent, and I started with a creative composed salad — baby leaves of endive, arranged in a circle, with chopped endive, strips of chorizo, pieces of sun-dried tomato, and thin slices of apple, drizzled with a pleasant vinaigrette. Just as we were served our main courses (salmon for Jan, sausage for me), the heavens opened up and we moved inside. There we finished our meal (fruit salad for Jan, red fruit crumble for me) and worried about what the rain would do to the Tour de France riders.

Now to the street. As it happened, we needn’t have worried. The rain stopped, the sun came out, and by 2 p.m. the streets were bone-dry. Again, here’s the corner where we chose to park ourselves, showing a camera crew at work filming the crowd, while the police stand by:

Corner

Standing on the corner, waiting for the Tour to pass.

I have to admit I was a bit concerned before we reached our vantage point, not knowing how deep the crowds would be, whether we’d have any kind of view at all, and so on. We were fully prepared to keep walking out of the town until we found a quieter spot, with fewer people. As it turned out, there was no reason for concern. The crowds were well-behaved and enthusiastic, the police didn’t seem to be hassling anyone (even when people’s legs were in the street), and the whole experience was friendly. Tomorrow I’ll finish up this coverage, with a few more photos and some conclusions.

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2 Responses to Front row at the Tour de France — Part Deux

  1. Janet Roberts says:

    Tour envy for sure! Watching the 8 pm rerun on Versus doesn’t quite match up, but we are still hooked. Dave is passing the time writing a “Brief History of the WFP Contrada”, since during these sprint stages you only need to actually watch the last 30 seconds. He has just returned from a wonderful cycling holiday in the Cotswolds, “sans Jan”, but I will have my day with a lazy tour of the GDA sometime soon. Anyway, after a brief review of his efforts so far, I definitely feel he needs a good editor. Any takers? Send email ASAP before he actually tries to post the thing!

  2. John Ison says:

    Great update. The TdF is captivating … strategy, tactics, strength and heart but still so unpredictable. Inspiring way to wake up each morning. Being there for a day must be a neat experience, not to mention the drive and lunch. Keep up the good works!

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