If you didn’t catch on from my title, I have indeed arrived in France! After 2 stops on my flight and about 10 hours in the air, I finally made it to France. More specifically, I made it to the lovely town of Toulouse, in south central France (the spot where my Europeds trip would meet up before heading to our home base in the Pyrenees). I was a bit unnnerved when my bike didn’t make my last plane change, but the baggage agent in the airport assured me that it was on the next plane and would be delivered to my hotel later that night (quel service!) And as luck would have it, she was absolutely correct, and my bike box was waiting for me the next morning.
But since I had arrived a day before my tour trip departed, I had some free time to enjoy the sights of Toulouse. And it turns out that Toulouse is totally a bike-friendly town, in addition to having loads of cool and historic buildings. I first found this out when I saw this stand right outside my hotel:
This was (one of many) rental locations for Velo Toulouse, the bike share program in the city. Bikes like these were arrayed at tons of different locations throughout the town, and were yours for the riding at a very reasonable rate (or you could subscribe to the program if you lived in the city and wanted to ride them every day):
The Velo Toulouse bikes were basic but eminently practical, with front and rear generator lights, low stepover height, sturdy wheels, full fenders, kickstand, and of course a front basket (how else would you get your baguette home?) And the cool part was that people used these bikes… a lot! I saw them all over town, in addition to an array of cool city bikes (I’ll upload pics of some of the bikes I saw to our Facebook page). I saw young and old, tourists and locals, all taking advantage of this friendly bike-share program. It seemed that wherever you were in town there was a rental stand nearby, so it was truly a user-friendly experience (I would have tested one these bikes out, but sadly you needed a European style “smart” credit card to use the rental stand):
But bike-share wasn’t all that made Toulouse bike-friendly (well, in addition to a populace that rode their bikes everywhere). Though there weren’t many bike lanes throughout the city, the city was made bike accessible through other smart bits of planning. For example, most of the streets were lined with a type of railing that also doubled as the perfect spot to lock up your bike. There’s no need to hunt for a bit of fence or a signpost when most streets are lined with these slickly designed railings/racks:
And as if that wasn’t enough, the town was also full of just plain-old dedicated bike racks, so there was always somewhere to securely lock up your bike:
OK, now I know what you’re saying. I didn’t sign up for this blog to read about bike racks! You’re here for tales from the Tour de France and riding the epics passes of the Pyrenees. But the truth is, I haven’t started riding yet. I just met up with my Europeds group on Sunday afternoon, when we loaded up the vans and headed for the mountains (you can sort of see the Pyrenees through the windshield in this photo–trust me, it looks much more impressive in person):
But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had any Tour sightings yet. Indeed, just while wandering about Toulouse I saw a Lotto team car cruising about (even though the stage wasn’t really all that nearby):
But don’t worry, there will be plenty more Tour-related coverage to come very soon! My tour group is now safely ensconced in prime location for the upcoming Pyrenean stages, as we are staying in the little town of Argeles-Gazost, set in a valley at the foot of both the Tourmalet and d’Aubisque climbs (and hence smack in the middle of 2 stages in this year’s Tour). It’s a beautiful setting, and I can’t wait to go out and tackle some of these epic climbs. Here’s the view from the patio of our hotel, the Hotel Printania, where we enjoyed a sumptuous 4 course dinner:
And here’s the view from a bike path near the town, where we went for a quick ride to test our legs, and our bikes, after our days of travel:
I’ll have much more on-the-bike action for you tomorrow, as we are heading to the UNESCO World Heritage sight of Gavarnie (in a slight change from our original ride plan–our group leader David thought it was best if we started with an easier ride than tackling the Tourmalet on our first day riding, and I heartily agree with him). The ride to Gavarnie is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the whole region, so I’ll take plenty of pictures along the way to share with you. So until demain, I bid you au revoir.