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Last updated: Tuesday, 22 November, 2016
For a change, we didn't fly straight home to Brisbane this year. As a special treat we took a month coming home via Alaska, British Columbia and Washington State. We were a little reluctant to choose a package tour, but organised tours provide an easy method of touring through places usually less travelled. Hence we picked a cruise then added trips either end to complete the itinerary. I have wanted to see the Alaskan/Canadian glacier region for many years and this was the opportunity. Choosing a cruise was slightly difficult as we didn't want to spend more time than necessary on a ship and also wanted to be as late in the season as possible. This meant we had to pick a tour in early to mid September with a one-way trip from north to south. Although we would have preferred to stay in Cajarc for another month, we left France in early September with a flight to Fairbanks (AK) via Seattle (WA).
We travelled for almost a month before arriving home in Brisbane on the 1st October. We began with a 5-day land trip from Fairbanks to Anchorage via Denali National Park and joined our cruise liner, the Coral Princess, in Whittier Bay . We then sailed for 7 days on the ship to Vancouver, travelled for 5 days through the Rockies with the Rocky Mountaineer, and finished with 2 days in Seattle and 3 days on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. A total of 27 nights travelling after leaving Cajarc.
What we hadn't realised, or thought about, was the massive organisation required by the cruise ships to get 2000 people on and off a boat each day during the holiday season. (And then there are the other cruise liners that also visit the other ports ). As a 'cruise virgin' there was a little trepidation on my part, but the land content was less of a problem given my past tours to distant mine sites and smelters (just a different group of people). The trip would introduce us to parts of Alaska not normally visited (except by tens of thousands of other tourists) and provide enough of an experience for us to decide whether we would like to return on a less organised basis in the future. Perhaps also it would provide some tips regarding the best time of the year to visit.
I have added 12 photographic 'teasers' and 5 panoramas below from a selection of more than 2000 shots taken during the four weeks. The 'Trip' page has a selection of the photos (560) taken during the tour as well as links to 97 panoramas.
In addition I've finally attached myself to the NBN so the 'pipe' in and out of the house should be at a slightly higher speed although, to date, I haven't been impressed by the attainable speeds compared to the theoretical.
The 560 'normal' photos are on the North West Trip page and the 97 panoramas from the 4 weeks are all in the Panorama Page
Today, Thursday 7th July, we were fortunate to have the TDF pass through Villefranche de Rouergue on their way between Aurillac and Montauban. The 6th Stage for 2016. Perfect weather, 30°C plus, perfect blue sky and time on our hands. Those of you used to the Tour know that it isn't just the bikes it's the whole paraphanalia that goes with it. The caravan starts 2 hours before, then a pause, then the pre-race vehicules, then the race and then the 'mop-up'. Of course the published timing also assumes the riders average the estimated speed for the stage.
Could we take the full 3 hours? Thought hard about it and decided no, a half hour to hour before would be enough. Then the question became where do we go to watch? With the start just outside Aurillac (to our North) and the finish in Montauban (to our South) and the route well known to us (after they finally told us the route 2 weeks beforehand) we had many potential locations on the list. Villefranche is our local shopping town (the best supermarkets) but Thursday is market day and we knew that the town itself would be a disaster for easy parking. Nice backdrop but difficult timing. The route was also leaving town along the Route de Montauban making entry to Villefranche difficult from the North, but the route was passing our favourite supermarket (Leclerc) right on the way out of town . There are also several roundabouts on this road and a slight hill as you climb out of town and this combined with a large carpark at the supermarket suggested an ideal location.
Now the question was - How do we get to the car park? As always the roads around the TDF are closed several hours beforehand so the normal routes were off-limits. Some judicious investigation of Google Maps and Google Earth suggested a small road that allowed an entry to the Leclerc carpark and off we went with an hour and a half to spare.
We arrived expecting to find the carpark full but found only 30 cars in a park designed for several hundred. Success, not only that but the ubiquitous colonade of plane trees entering town had a family associated with every second tree on one-side of the road only. Plenty of space for 2 more people and it was only 14:35, 40 minutes to go.
Catching up with the TDF app on the phone we found 'les coureurs' were running 40 minutes late so we had even more time to spare. It was here that one realised just how many other vehicules are associated with the Tour. Well after the caravan a steady stream of team backup cars continued, sponsor cars, gendarmes, TDF officials and then the half dozen helicopters overhead BEFORE even a hint of the cyclists nearby. 15:45 came (25 mins after the target time) and the first hint of photographers on motor-bikes, then it was on...
A frenzy of cars with a few bikes in between. Given there are only 198 riders it is probably more than 1 support vehicule per participant and that's only on the route itself. Add to that the team coaches, mechanics, physios etc that go from Start to Finish along a more direct route and one starts to realise just what a major event it is.
Well, we saw the tour (evidence below AND on France Ch2) and it was worth the effort if only to see them in action after several years on only the TV. But it was quick with the peloton only 4 mins behind the 2 leaders and not really strung out, so 6 minutes of action after a wait of just over an hour. Would I have arrived for the caravan and be happy after 3 hours? - No! Explains the smaller crowds than normal this year. Everybody is staying at home and watching it in comfort on the TV.
Those of you watching on SBS, you have it easy, most the action, armchairs, ⅔rds of the ride, a great travelogue of the country around the tour and fantastic dialogue (much better than the Channel 2 and 3 here).
For the evidence...
This year, with an early Easter, we returned to Cajarc at the beginning of May. Hopeful to beat the weeds, we were a little disappointed to find that winter had been mild with lots of rain that promoted the growth of everything. We arrived in Mid-May last year to a warm snap, but this year the weather was quite cool, at least to us Brisbanites. (Overnights of 3°-7°C with daytimes varying from 15° to 25°C, occasional rain but with periods of fine weather in between - actually a more 'normal' spring for areas influenced by the North Atlantic.) A few days of intensive action in the garden saw most of the weeds banished and the plants and bushes that had survived the winter trimmed for summer growth.
The main reason for the earlier start to our European visit was to attend my departmental reunion in Cambridge (UK not Mass.) and celebrate 40 years in the workforce. We had a great time and it was good to see so many of the 'old class of '73'. '73 you might ask - well 1973 was the year of matriculation but 1976 was the graduation year for 30 odd (in numbers) geologists from that august university. So 40 years in the workforce. It was also interesting that I wasn't the only one to have returned after a gap of 40 years.
We stayed in a B&B for the first two nights, then spent 2 nights 'in college', in a guest room. The weather was stunning and brought back memories of what early summer in Cambridge can be like - freshly mown college lawns, punting, Granchester Meadows and revision for the exams. Fortunately none of the latter for us. May brings with it exam time and preparation for the May Balls, the last splurge before the end of year break, and Graduation for the final year students. Fitzwilliam, the old college, was a picture in spring bloom. The college has several new residential wings, library, concert hall and chapel, and the grounds were looking excellent. Far better than in my day! A tribute to those that work there.
The department now called "Earth Sciences" put on a great show for the "historic" students. Geology, Mineralogy & Petrology and Geophysics, previously 3 separate departments under the Natural Science degree have combined, and our gathering was probably the last of the get-togethers at the Downing Site. The department will move to Madingley Road shortly. One of our year's graduands, James Jackson, is currently in charge of the Department but will retire later this year, so this probably saw a few more us return to celebrate. 20 or so of the class of '73 were present, and we celebrated with a special lunch in Queens for the 'Old Delaboles' as we called ourselves at the time, followed by Departmental lectures. In the evening we celebrated with a more formal dinner at Clare for all the "6s" - this included graduate students from 1956 - 2016. More than 120 guests sat down for an excellent dinner in magnificent surroundings.
Sunday saw a few of us get together for 'lunch at the Eagle' and it was good to see that even after 40 years, we could still relate to each other and enjoy a few beers. The extra days in town gave us time to wander around the city and its environs. We took a short drive to Granchester for lunch on Monday followed by an afternoon walk in the meadows, and then drove to Saffron Walden and Thaxted. It was a short stay but well worth it.
An obvious difference between now and 1976 are the vast number of tourists around the city. In 1976 the tourists appeared only in the summer months when students were generally on holiday. Nowadays large numbers of tourists make the town and colleges less accessible than previously, and it now costs money to visit King's College Chapel. A great shame.
|Le Village de Cajarc|
|Les Villages tout près|
We now have pages for categories of photos covering the 2013 year. Some repetition but not a lot so worth looking at all the pages. I will attempt to update these as we go through 2014 although it is likely to be every few weeks rather than weekly.
The intention of this site was to provide a rough blog of our travels, a few comments on places visited, sights seen, things done (or not done) and a selection of various photographs taken during what we hope will become a regular annual (bi-annual?) stay in Europe based in a small village on the banks of the Lot river in SW France. The discussion will remain in reverse timeline, updated irregularly and with photographs as we go. Each Photo is a thumbnail into a larger version which will load into a seperate window when clicked. Don't worry, we archive every month and it's likely the diary will only be updated weekly at best so there won't be lot's to download each time you visit.
As always we can be contacted on our normal email addresses or or through Trish's Facebook page and the site is hosted on our micro server at home in Brisbane.