Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mulhouse, France - Tour de France

We took a train on Sunday, July 13th from Stuttgart, Germany to Mulhouse, France. I was excited about all of the train rides we were taking on this trip.  It just seems like if you are traveling around in Europe you should be on a train.  It was nice to sit back and read, nap or look out the window on each train ride.
We got to Mulhouse around noon.  All of the hotels were book in the city because of the Tour so we stayed at an Airbnb for the first time.  An Airbnb is similar to a vrbo (vacation rental by owner) which means you can either rent out a shared room, a private room or the whole apartment/house.  After we got to the correct street we both realized we didn't know the exact address and we couldn't match her name from the email with a name on the door.  Thankfully Jake has a phone plan that he can use outside of Sweden so he texted her and we were able to connect without waiting for too long.

We had a mostly private room :).  It was a one bedroom apartment with the main bedroom and bathroom upstairs and we slept on a futon like couch on the floor of the living room.  However, the living room was open to the kitchen and it was on the main floor so it wasn't really private in that we couldn't just shut a door and be by ourselves.  The person renting the room told Jake that before we booked her apartment but in the future I think we will probably try to find a private room with a door.   We dropped off our bags and then headed to the main square for lunch.

We had lunch at the restaurant under the red umbrellas.  It was okay but not fantastic.  We both had tarte flambĂ©e (which were like very thin pizzas) and mine had way too many onions on it but thankfully Jake isn't a picky eater and he split his with me.

In Mulhouse, they have city bikes that you can rent at different stations around the city which is awesome. (You can see the bikes to the right of the church.) We used them the whole weekend instead of using the trams and it was perfect.  You can pick them up in one location and bike to another station and drop them off.  If you bike for less than 30 minutes it is free and it was one euro for every hour after that.  I think all cities should have a city bike exchange with convenient locations :).
After lunch we headed towards the finish line of the Tour de France!  Jake's dad enjoys cycling and has been on a couple of cycling trips with a Jake and with other people.  He got Jake interested in the Tour and then after Jake and I were married we started watching it together.  Jake would always come home for lunch and in the summer we would have lunch together.  In July, we would watch the last part of the Tour or highlights from the stage that day.  Over the last 6 summers we've enjoyed following the Tour together.  We talked about going to France one summer to watch the Tour and then we moved to Sweden and it just seemed silly not to go see it if we were this close.  Thankfully it worked out that the Tour finished a stage and started a stage in a city close to other cities we were interested in visiting.  Plus since it ended and started in the same city we had two chances to see it.

Stage 9 of the Tour ended in Mulhouse on Sunday, July 13th.  We were able to watch from 1.7 km away from the finish line.  We found a spot right by a turn so they would have to slow down a little bit and maybe we could catch a longer glimpse of them that way.  About two hours before the riders come by a caravan or parade of vehicles comes through throwing out free stuff.  The sponsors of the Tour throw out hats, candy, biscuits, water, shirts, bracelets, etc.  It was really hectic when we were downtown during the caravan.  People were diving to catch things and knocking over kids only to realize what they just dove for wasn't all that exciting and they would just hand it off to someone else.  There were a few goodies worth fighting for but really not much.  The first day we got a bag of biscuits and a bracelet.  Vans also drive by playing loud music and selling Tour de France merchandise like umbrellas, hats and shirts.  The caravan lasts for about 45 minutes to an hour and then you have about an hour break before the riders get there.  At the end of the stage the riders were flying by us so quickly that we could barely see them but it was still lots of fun.
Tony Martin won the stage that day.  He was out in front of the peloton (the big group of riders) and he flew past us to pick up a stage win.  Here is a video of him biking by us:

A few minutes later the chase group passed us.  This group didn't have the main contenders (who had the best chances of winning the whole Tour) in it they are just a group of guys who were trying to catch Tony Martin so one of them could possibly win the stage but they weren't able to catch him on this day.  After the group of riders you will see all the team cars with bikes on top in case a rider has an issue and needs to swap out their bike.

The next group was the peloton, which is the main group of riders, that usually has the main contenders in it.  I decided to clap as they passed so I don't have any pictures or videos of that.  After the peloton passed us we walked around the corner to see some of the tents they had set up.  Jake got a polka dot hat, which is the design they use on the jersey for the rider who is considered the King of the Mountains.  We saw a few more groups of riders go by which was fun since they were more spread out than we thought they would be.

 After all of the riders finished we walked towards the finish line to see what it looked like.

They were already tearing down the finish line by the time we got there so they could head to the next city to set up again but it was fun to see what was still left.  I think it would be so draining to set up and tear down so much stuff each day for the race but I enjoy watching the race so I won't complain.

After the race was over we biked around town for a little while before getting dinner.  Several of the storefront windows were decorated for the Tour with drawings of bicycles.
We had dinner at a cute little restaurant and sat next to two guys who always watch the second week of the Tour and they go from town to town for a week following it.
I had cordon blue and Jake had another hunk of meat, similar to what he had in Germany.  It is a lot harder to read a menu in France than it was in Germany.  German words are similar enough to Swedish that we did pretty well on our own and most Germans could speak enough English if we needed help.  That was not the case in France.  Most of the people we met in Mulhouse didn't speak English at all and the menu was really hard for us to read.  But we survived and it definitely helped us appreciate living in Sweden.  Although I think had we moved to Germany or France we would know more of that language than we do Swedish now because it would be a bigger necessity.

The next day the Tour left from Mulhouse but the race usually starts about 30 minutes after the riders start riding to get them warmed up and out of the city.  We could have gone to the starting line but we wouldn't have seen much so Jake used his phone the night before to see if he could figure out how to get us up the mountain they were going up on Monday to watch some of the Tour from there.  After about an hour he found two different routes we could take to get up into the mountains to watch stage 10.  

The next morning we bought 3 pastries and a baguette (which felt very French and brought a smile to my face) and headed to central station to buy tickets only to find out the tram wasn't running because the tram route crossed the Tour route.  Thankfully we figured out they had a replacement bus that would take us farther up the route to a different train station where we could continue our journey to the mountains.  We took the replacement bus to a tram station and got on a tram that took us to a train-tram.  

While we were waiting for the tram we saw another family waiting and we figured out they were also going to watch the Tour.  The Grandpa spoke a little bit of English so we decided to stick with them since they might know more of where they were going than we did.  Once we switched to the train-tram more of their family members joined them included the Grandpa's son who lived in the US for a couple of years and could speak English really well.  We found out they were planning on walking up the same trail on the mountain we were and that he had already been there the week before to scope it out.  We asked if it would be okay to just stick with them.  After talking with him for a while I asked him what they were planning on doing for lunch.  Our plan was to stop in the town where our train stopped and grab some food before climbing up the mountain but he said they already brought food in backpacks.  We still had the baguette left from breakfast and a granola bar but that wasn't really enough for lunch.  But we decided it might be better to follow them up the mountain and not have much for lunch than try to stop for lunch and lose them.  A few minutes later our new friend came back with a baguette, cheese, sausage and tomatoes for us to eat for lunch just in case we got separated.  We could not believe it!  It was so thoughtful.

We got to our stop and took the trail up the mountain for about 30 minutes before reaching the road that the Tour would go on.  We walked up the road a little ways and then stopped to each lunch.  After lunch Jake and I walked up a few switchbacks to see if we could find a better spot and we finally settled on one.

We waited for 20 minutes or so before the sponsor caravan started going by us throwing out free stuff again.  This time we were much more successful because there were less people around us.  We ended up getting lots of great things!
We got another King of the Mountains hat, a yellow LCL hat which I wore, a shirt, three bracelets, glasses cleaning cloth, sun shade, reusable bag and we also go candy and biscuits but we ate those while we were waiting for the cyclists.

Here is a video of the caravan driving by.

The weather was pretty good while we were up in the mountains.  It was overcast most of the time which made it nice for our hike.  We did have a few rain showers but we found a spot under some trees that helped block most of the rain and then it cleared up again before the riders went by us.

Here are some of the sponsor cars coming around our switchback.  We were hoping to be on camera at some point but we weren't.  There are cameras on the back of motorcycles and there are also cameras in helicopters.  We saw our switchback on the coverage but you couldn't see us because we were standing under some trees.  We saw a glimpse of Jake's shirt on stage 9 but they were going by so fast all we could really see was the color.

Here are the riders!  We picked this spot so we could see them coming from below before they passed us.  And since they had to turn and go uphill they should be going a little slower than they were yesterday which means we should see them for a few seconds longer :).  Jake has explained that watching the Tour is like tailgating for 4 hours and then watching a 15 second sporting event.  I would say that is pretty accurate.  Since this was a mountain stage we had about six or seven 15 second sporting events because the riders were a little more spread apart from going up the mountains.  We were bummed because Alberto Contador a popular rider crashed out on this day before he passed us so we didn't get to see him ride but we saw in him in the back of the team car.  Mark Cavendish, a well known sprinter, crashed out on the first day of the Tour so we missed seeing him as well.

Sorry the video is a little all over the place but at least you can see how fast they go by.

We walked down a few switchbacks to meet up with our friends again and stopped to cheer on each group of riders that went by us which was fun.

Go Team Garmin!
We were trying to sneak in a picture of our French friends that we met on the train.  The one right next to Jake was the Grandpa we met on the first tram and standing next to him is his son who gave us food for lunch.
Standing by the 5 km sign showing you that there were 5 km left to the summit of that mountain.  Notice the sign is white with red polka dots, that is the design they use on the jersey for the person who is the King of the Mountains and it is the same design on Jake's hat.

On our way back to the tram.
Here is the train-tram we took and our new French friends.

Once we got back to Mulhouse we had dinner and biked around the town a little bit.  Like I said before ordering food was hard.  Everything was in French and no one could really translate for us.  Jake isn't a picky eater so he usually just asked the waiter to pick something.  I don't work that way :) but I ordered some homemade lasagna and it was great!

That night we went to watch the fireworks for Bastille Day, French National Day.  We missed the 4th of July back home so watching the fireworks here was really fun.  Jake LOVES fireworks and was really sad that we missed shooting them off or seeing any for the 4th but this made up for it at little bit at least.
 While we were watching the fireworks we ran into the Rachel, the person who owns the apartment where we were staying in Mulhouse.
We took the Mulhouse bikes to watch the fireworks.  They were great because after the fireworks were over we were able to ride back home really quickly and we didn't have to stand around waiting for a spot on the tram.  

The next morning we had some more French pastries and then did some shopping before heading to the train station.  We took a train from Mulhouse, France to the Frankfurt Airport and then flew back to Stockholm.

We had a great time in France and I am so thankful we were able to watch the Tour.  This is definitely a trip we will remember for a long time.  If you missed our first three days in Germany you can read about those here and I answered questions about Germany and France here.


  1. Ok seriously, all these food pictures are amazing. How have you not gained 100 pounds?'

    1. Not going to lie, I definitely gained some weight this summer with all the fika dates and ice cream I had but now I'm trying to make sure I don't overindulge. It is hard not to get things on trips because it is a vacation but then when I get back to Stockholm I have to remember that this is "home" not another vacation and cut back a little bit :).


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