Thursday, July 19, 2007

London, BABY! Days 3 & 4

FRI: July 6th

We woke up and headed down to breakfast which was included in the price at the Luna Simone Hotel. Breakfast was always the same: Your choice of coffee or tea, followed by orange juice or cereal and milk, choice of soft boiled eggs or fried egg, bacon and beans - all served with toast, butter and jam.

The first morning, Jim and I went for the OJ, fried egg, bacon and beans and coffee - and that ended up being our breakfast of choice every morning with just a few slight variations there after (scrambled eggs instead of fried and some mornings we skipped the beans....)

The weather was overcast and super windy. So we grabbed our rain jackets, umbrella and camera and headed off to Victoria Station to do a Double Decker Bus Tour of London. We figured we could ride the bus all morning (2 hour tour) see the sights and then decide where we would go back to later in the week. Despite the chilly weather, we sat ourselves on the top of the bus, were given our complimentary rain slickers "just in case" and rode around London, listening to the tour guide when the wind and traffic didn't drowned her out.

It was on the bus tour that we got our first look at the Tour de France: Le Grande Depart signs that were all over London. Jim and I observed the from the top of the double-decker bus, if somebody had some kind of scissors, somebody might be able to get a banner. Alas, we had no scissors and didn't want to be deported prior to actually seeing the start of the Le Tour. But one of those banners would have looked GREAT in our newly painted basement...

After a stop for lunch (crusty baguettes with ham and cheese for Jim and brie, spinach, bacon and raspberry jam for me!) Jim and I wandered down to Buckingham Palace to visit the Queen. Buckingham Palace is apparently what Queen Elizabeth considers "office space". It's a far cry from my government cubicle, that is for sure! We had a grand time taking pictures and watching people. We wandered through Green Park, getting familiar with the area, since the Prologue would be there the next day. Then we walked from Green Park down to Trafalgar Square where they would be holding opening ceremonies for Le Tour de France.

Trafalgar Square was already full of people when we got there around 4PM. Rather than risk the crowds later, Jim and I decided that we would find a good spot to view the stage from and simply "stay put" We pretty much chatted and people watched for the next two hours as the Square continued to fill with Tour enthusiasts and just about 20 minutes before the opening ceremonies started, we were surrounded by people. There was no moving... it was enough effort just to stay within 1 foot of where we originally started. I found myself amazed when I realized that I had been moved, simply by the constant shuffling of people around me.

Thankfully, the opening ceremonies started on time with a cool music video that showed footage of great Tour moments and great Tour riders. Then began the announcing of the 21 teams, 9 riders each and their Team Managers. We took some video and it was great to not only *see* my favorite riders but also realized that I *knew* more riders than I thought. As they announced names, I was cheering like a goofy fan and when the Discovery Team came out ... well let's just say that everybody around me knew I was FAN! It was great fun!

Still after nearly 5 hours of standing, both Jim and I were tired! We made our way back to the nearest UNDERGROUND station and headed back toward Victoria and some dinner, then off to bed to get some sleep before the day of Le Tour de France!

SAT: July 7th - PROLOGUE, Le Tour de France

Saturday was just perfect, weather-wise! 65F and partially sunny, not a drop of rain in sight! We started the morning with eggs, bacon and beans and then headed out the door to do some sight seeing. The morning was spent wandering back and forth over the Westminster Bridge. We wandered in and around the neighborhoods of Westminster Abby and The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Because the PROLOGUE of the Tour would go over the bridge, the bridge was closed to traffic and was the staging area for the London and Paris Motorcycle Police Patrols that would escort the riders during the Time Trials.

It was great fun walking down the middle of the Bridge and again, there were plenty of people to watch and sights to see. We crossed the Thames River and wandered over to The London Eye (a huge Ferris wheel), making note that we would come back on Monday for that and to see the Salvador Dahli exhibit. We stopped into McDonalds (for shame, I know) for some lunch and then made our way over the Finish Line for the PROLOGUE.

The FINSIH LINE was already two people deep on both sides so we wandered over to Buckingham Palace to try to get closer to the CARAVAN to get some free stuff! For those of you unfamiliar, the CARAVAN of Le Tour de France is a 100 Vehicle - PRE RACE MOVING ADVERTISEMENT. It is loud, it is crazy and if YOU ARE LOUD AND CRAZY, it is your chances to pick up free t-shirts, hats, candy, water, and whatever other self-promo piece the advertisers can come up with. But the CARIVAN is full of 18-24 year-old, model-beautiful Men and Woman who will hold their free stuff close to them, unless you make some NOISE and that fact was definitely LOST on many of the local Londoners.

Jim and I found ourselves two LOUD and CRAZY Americans in a crowd of quiet Londoners who were probably being respectful because we were in front of Buckingham Palace. BAH!! We came for some FREE LOOT!! So we quickly found and settle behind a German Family with CSC jerseys on who seemed to know what the Caravan was all about.

We came away with a Pizza Fan, a t-shirt advertising a French Vacation spot, a Team Telecom cycling hat and a Team Telecom pink inflatable hand. Our conclusion. The Caravan is much better in the French Alps!

For the PROLOGUE itself, Jim and I decided to settle in about 100 feet past the finish line. First of all there were no crowds and second of all, we got to see every single rider as they cooled down from there Time Trial effort. It is amazing to see these guys up close. Our biggest coo? Being less than 2 feet from Stuart O'Grady as he was interviewed after his crash on the PROLOGUE course. He looked pretty bad, with rips all over his skin suit and his number dangling off. While we couldn't hear what he had to say, we did video tape him. It was our best Tour encounter yet. We even got a chance to oogle our favorite Versus TV commentators, Al Troutwig and Bob Roll - who were up high in the mobile Versus studio. Saddly we didn't see Phil Liggit or Paul Sherwin in this Tour.

After about 2 hours at the finish line, we wandered across Green Park and down the the START line where we sat along the street near a big jumbo-tron and watched the big names start Le Tour. We were there are George Hincappe took off and raced his way into second and we were there when Andreas Cloden took second and finally Fabian Cancellara blew the whole pack away by over 13 seconds to win the PROLOGUE.

We finished up the day by walking to the nearest UNDERGROUND, heading back to Victoria and walking to the nearest pub where we both put away two Guinness, Fish and Chips for Jim, Venison style Bangers and Mash for me AND the most incredible Sticky Toffee Pudding (a la mode) for desert. Then we stumbled back to the hotel and straight to bed!

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