After reacquainting ourselves with the bliss that are quiet French roads, we stopped over in Champagne, drank none, slept fitfully thanks to mattress-readjustment and found ourselves in Beaune the next day for lunch. What a terrible experience that was. Several of AM's facebook status updates later detailing our awful lives and even I'm beginning to hate us. The end goal however, was the Alps. We are currently atop Alpe d'Huez. Around us, a village of motor homes has been created. It is a sea of white plastic. We arrived late and are camped in what can only be described as a children's playground. Mainly because it is a children's playground. People have been arriving all day and pitching tents on any available square of grass. The lack of officialdom is so very French, but so very welcome. Swap our surroundings for the UK and you wouldn't be able to swing a baguette for hi-vis jackets and signs in large lettering telling us exactly what was against the rules. On the drive up, a stupidly steep climb with twists and turns that had Eddy's clutch bemoaning us ever buying him, we came across campervans perched on hairpin bends, supported by rocks under tyres and merrily inhabited by all nationalities bearing flags, drinking booze and generally having a good time. We later found out that the first campers, an elderly French couple, had arrived a full two weeks previously. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, stage 18 of The Tour de France.
I have never seen anything like it. There must be 50, 000 people here at least, half of which are clad in lycra and team kit they have no right to wear and sporting stupid cycling shoes. The other half (their other halves) are dutifully in attendance, wearing expressions of confusion as they patiently listen to descriptions of bikes, explanations of the route and historical facts and figures about previous Tours. No prizes for guessing which camp yours truly is in. There are dogs and children and pushchairs and motor bikes. It's like a small town has been set up. People have slept in their cars overnight, presumably sacrificed holiday days to be here. And all in the name of CYCLING! Lack of facilities aside, we've got ourselves a great spot, are totally set up with kit and supplies and have made friends with our French neighbours. People pass by looking into the van with amazement. Americans ask us for directions. Dogs sniff our feet. There's a lovely family atmosphere and the only sign of anyone organising the chaos is a bin bag that was tied to our wing mirror while we were out.
Game as I am, greasy hair is no fun so AM came up with a genius plan to visit the swimming pool in the resort and use the showers. I approached the sports centre with apprehension. Crowds of families could only herald internal mayhem. Inside, various offerings of activities such as ping pong, tennis, a climbing wall and the aforementioned pool were being set upon with glee. Glee and mania. Total carnage. It was like the scene from Airplane when the cabin goes into a panic, people screaming and throwing things and eventually all that is on screen is a pair of jiggling breasts. It was like that, minus the jiggling breasts. Stealthily I navigated the throngs, slipped unnoticed into the changing rooms through an open exit door and emerged feeling much cleaner. One of the best sights by far has been the toilet queues. Approximately 25 guys lined up, looking glum. Ladies toilets? No line. A brilliant reversal of the norm.
Sadly we seem to have cursed the weather again. Perhaps we are the cause of the constant rain in otherwise baking hot parts of France. If you don't mind I'll take myself off quietly and jump over the nearest cliff. Marvellous man that he is, AM has created a wind and rain shelter out of a ground sheet and various bits of rope that hangs off the back of the van so we can sit on the comfy seats and watch the race. He also provided tea and bacon and egg sandwiches this morning while I was still grumbling under the duvet. It's fair to say he's currently in my good books.
In about an hour the cyclists will pass by. We are ready with Union Jack flags. Not normally patriotic, we are in full British swing. France, it's great to be back. Vive Le Tour!