We had so much fun watching the Tour de France we decided to change our route a bit so we could see more of the race. Leaving the Pyrenees we headed to the city of Rodez where we saw the end of one day’s race and the start of the following day’s race. The day we got to see the end of the race was blazing hot as we stood out in the sun along with thousands of other Tour fans to see the riders battle at the finish line. The stage was nearly 120 miles over several huge mountain climbs. The finish line was uphill and many riders whizzed by but a few were actually weaving around and looked as if they might fall over. I think it was the heat that got to the riders. The start time for the following day wasn’t until 12:30 but by 9 am the streets were packed with people. Sponsors were there throwing free stuff out to the crowds which actually got a little crazy sometimes. We just sat back and watched the show! Before the race they introduced every rider and team which was fun to see. We would have really liked to follow the Tour for a few more days but decided to get back on track and head north.
Our next stop was a volcano park near Clermont-Ferrand, France. We hiked up to the top of the highest volcano named “Puy de Dome”. On top there was a 2000 year old temple ruin to the Roman God Mercury.
We spent a few days exploring the champagne region of France and stayed in the “champagne capital” of Epernay just outside Reim. This region is the only place where the product produced can be labeled champagne. The tourist information center actually had free champagne tasting. There are at least 100 champagne houses in this area. Most are small producers but others are the well- known ones such as Moet and Chandon, Mercier, and Perrier Jouet. Dom Perignon, a Benedictine Monk (1638-1715) was also from the area and is buried here in a small chapel. He is credited with perfecting the process of in-the-bottle fermentation to make wine sparkle.
Our next stop was Chimay, Belgium which is home to the Chimay Abbey that produces the Trappist brewed Chimay beer. A little tasting of Chimay beer and Abbey manufactured cheeses kept us smiling.
We encountered some of the worst traffic jams of our entire trip as we drove through Belgium but we finally made it back to Amsterdam. We stayed at a campground that is nestled among some sand dunes along the ocean. Well…the Netherlands experienced the worst summer storm since 1901 with category 10 gale force winds and wind gusts up to 75 miles an hour. The campground was a little bit protected by the sand dunes but the motorhome really rocked and rolled. Trees down everywhere but luckily there are no trees in the sand dunes. Tents and awnings blew all over the place. After the most serious part of the storm was over we walked to the beach to see the waves and were surprised to see lots of kite surfers flying through the air. Some surfers were being pulled up in the air 30 feet or more. It was pretty exciting watching these people. Unfortunately, even though the most serious part of the storm was over, the weather remained horrible with constant rains and high wind for the next three days.
It was still raining and quite windy as we boarded a ferry for Newcastle, England. It was a long, 16 hour, bumpy ferry ride. We spent a few days exploring the Newcastle area and saw the play “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie. From Newcastle we headed west to the Kleider National Forest and got in two days of mountain biking. We are now in Glasgow where we plan to spend three days before heading north to the Isle of Skye and the highlands. The weather so far in Great Britain has been rainy and cold (mid-50’s and 60’s) so we are keeping our fingers crossed that conditions will improve as we head further into Scotland.