French Floats

IMG_6214About two hours before the cyclists of the Tour de France pass by, there’s complete craziness on the route as the beloved caravane parades through, tossing goodies to bystanders.P1100568No homemade homecoming floats here. It’s all professional, promoting the official sponsors of the race. They are simultaneously slick, professional advertisements and laughingly absurd.P1100548Take, for example, the Gaulois chicken brand. Yes, chicken–the cigarettes are Gauloises, feminine. The first vehicle had a chicken on a bike. Yes, it’s the Tour de France, and it was all bicycles all the time. But I learned during a trip in Mali that really tough chicken is called poulet bicyclette–bicycle chicken–so hard to chew that it must have been raised riding a bike, which doesn’t seem like an image to promote. On the other hand, the number of spectators who have eaten tough chicken in Africa is probably low.P1100549They also had nuggets…”Crousty Chicken” is quite the franglais mashup. “Crusty” in French is croustillant.P1100551Gizzards (you KNOW you’re in France when gizzards are all over your salad, whether you asked for them or not)…P1100552And very tantalizing brochettes. They didn’t forget the bun (petit pain--little bread–when something sells like hotcakes here you say “c’est parti comme des petits pains”).IMG_6226It takes a certain nonchalance to drive such a beast, no?

I don’t remember what they were throwing to the crowd, but we didn’t score any. Keychains? Magnets? The top photo shows Vittel, and they handed out bottles of water (no throwing those!). Then a float came by with people spraying the crowd with mist. Years ago, people would dance and jump in the mist, arms in the air, but this time everybody hurried to protect their phones.P1100560This one is very Parisian, n’est-ce pas? The lamp post, the advertising kiosk….Krys is an optician chain.

The floats are an opportunity for people to live out their superstar fantasies. Parading past adulating crowds. Several floats were like Krys, with booming party music and somebody pretending to DJ, and usually some dancers. Never mind that the crowds want freebies and don’t care about you. A person can dream! IMG_6222P1100571Cochonou (cochon is pig; Cochonou is a brand of hard sausage), with its iconic red gingham on iconic Citroën 2CVs. It’s definitely the crowd favorite–they distribute little sachets of sausage. Where else, right?P1100539Juice…P1100535Mickey Mouse magazines…P1100562Madeleines….and they throw out little packets with two madeleines in each! P1100541P1100542This one cracked me up–the family biking and the mother and daughter are smiling but the dad is grimacing. Skoda is a brand of cars built in the Czech Republic, owned by Volkswagen.IMG_6227Candy is dandy…and of course that’s what they tossed out.IMG_6225IMG_6224Laundry soap…we scored a sample of that.

I noticed that the people on the floats were wearing harnesses that were attached to the vehicles. It was kind of odd to see the ones who were on bikes (not on the road but atop the floats, a common theme) or dancing tied to the float. The ones who were throwing stuff really leaned out, and I suppose the sponsors didn’t want falls, even though the floats go much more slowly than the racers, at least in towns.IMG_6217Promoting the movie Hotel Transylvania 3…IMG_6218IMG_6219FDJ is France de Jeux–the lottery operator. Notice the symbol is a four-leaf clover. IMG_6221McCain is a brand of French fries. Notice that they’re in a fryer basket–there’s even the handle on the back.IMG_6223Bic pens, native to France, are so iconic that many people don’t say stylo (pen) but instead say Bic, the way people refer to a photocopy as a Xerox or a paper tissue as a Kleenex.

Lots of fun, with lots of scrambling for prizes. If you want to see an old guy race a young kid, just throw a free refrigerator magnet in between them.

On Tuesday, I did a post about the actual cyclists. And if you missed them, you can see the posts from when the Tour came to Carcassonne two years ago: the caravane and the race itself.

Did you know about the Tour de France caravane?






Tour de France 2018

IMG_9007The Tour De France left from Carcassonne today, having arrived on Sunday. A big, big, big event for a small city. Two years ago, the tour had a departure from Carcassonne, but to have an arrival AND a departure AND a rest day is huge.

Of course, we had to see it. After all the preparations, the roads miraculously repaved just days earlier, the banners, the excess all around. Plus, we’ve seen the Tour de France a few times and know there are goodies. More on that on Friday. Just sayin’, if you ever plan to watch the Tour de France in person, get there at least two hours early and I hope you can catch.

The (other) guy in a yellow shirt is waving a Romanian flag. What you don’t get to see is his wife, who also had a flag and who was wearing a Sponge Bob costume (not just a shirt, but a stiff thing that stood up as if it had a life of its own). I admire their devotion, but can somebody explain the Sponge Bob-bike connection?

This time, the riders came from Millau, passing the Pic du Nore, the highest point of the Montagne Noire (Black Mountains), which is the bottom part of the Massif Central (the highland region in the middle of southern France). I love that the Pic du Nore (the Northern Peak) is the southern most peak of the Black Mountains and the Massif Central. This tells you it was named not from the perspective of, say, Paris, but from a different perspective–from the plain that separates the Black Mountains from the Pyrénées, and from where the peak would be to the north. Like where Carcassonne is. BTW, the Pic du Nore is a first category mountain pass, with a 6% incline.

Clearly these are not in order. There’s Geraint!

Geraint Thomas, 32, of Wales and Team Sky, wore the yellow jersey. That’s him in the top photo as well as several others here (thanks to the Carnivore who has a phone that actually takes photos while I use a 10-year-old point-and-shoot camera and my phone’s photos look like what I see when I don’t wear my glasses). The BBC has a story and interview with Froome and Thomas here. The BBC lost big points in my book by misspelling Carcassonne. If it were another outlet, I might shrug it off to kids these days. But the BBC? All hope is lost.

And then a bunch come by. Why is that guy standing?

Today, the cyclists left from Place Général de Gaulle in the center of town, rounded the Bastide, at a couple of paces from our AirBnB apartments (!!!), and then headed toward Montréal (a different one! They’re everywhere, like Villeneuves! This Montréal is very small and pretty, with great views, an excellent day trip, though it wouldn’t take a day to see it all) and then to Fanjeaux (to complete your day trip), where the incline is so steep that when I drive there I have to use first gear, although I take the straight short cut that’s marked DO NOT ENTER, whereas the cyclists will do the switchbacks. It’s a fourth category hill with a 4.9% incline (unless you do the straight line. But I think somebody would notice). Fanjeaux, like Montréal (and la Cité of Carcassonne), is a hilltop village straight out of a medieval painting, designed for defense.

And suddenly there are a zillion of them, riding frighteningly fast.

Some things I learned this time: Sometimes the riders take potty breaks in the roadside bushes, but sometimes they just let loose while they’re riding. Did you know that? Goodness. I didn’t! And I was shocked! I suppose they try to do it in the middle of nowhere (after all, each stage is four, five, six hours). But at least two helicopters were filming them, plus drones. I guess if you’re paid enough, you don’t care.

Possibly related or not: A friend tried very hard to offer a cold beer to a sweet gendarme who was standing on the sidelines, for hours, in the sun, with disobedient onlookers. But he declined! I was surprised.

Does this not ooze V.I.P.? Note the fake tulip! I also appreciate the wheelchair ramp, having wheeled my parents (not as much as my siblings) and noticing the general lack of access in Europe.

Urination aside, the Tour de France is a class act. I poked my head into the VIP tent and snapped these awful shots before being chased away. I was impressed that even though it was a tent in a parking lot, the workers were busily wheeling in large potted plants, and every table had a fake yellow tulip (it isn’t the season for tulips–that’s why they’re fake. Not to mention the logistics–I imagine some poor roadie assigned to scrounge up so many yellow flowers at every stop along the route. Fake is the only solution). To me, it was SO FRENCH. Of course there are flowers on the tables. Of course there are potted plants. Of course there’s a carpet on the asphalt. And, knowing who catered, of course the food was amazing. (Actually, the food would probably be amazing anywhere on the Tour de France route. You have to make an effort to eat badly in France. It can happen, but it really has to be the result of a chain of miscalculations.)P1100522

This is like a paparazzi shot of a plant.

The last time the Tour left from Carcassonne, and when you’re close to the departure, the cyclists are closely lumped together. This time, for the arrival, it was after the Pic du Nore did its triage and the first riders arrived 13 minutes before the peleton.

If you want to split your sides laughing about cycling, check out the movie “Le Vélo de Ghislain Lambert,” with Benoît Poelevoorde, who is one of the funniest actors alive. It’s about a mediocre cyclist who dreams of the fame of Belgian multiple Tour de France champion Eddy Merckx (pronounced merks…he’s still revered today). Hilarious.

Do you watch the Tour de France? Do you bike?

The first guys. No idea who they were.

Guys on bikes

9 bikes
Are they not amused by my American flag? I stuck the pole down my back to have my hands free for photographing.

Believe it or not, the Tour de France is not about wacky corporate floats traveling around France and doling out trinkets. It’s about cycling! Though if you blink, you’ll miss it.

1 rounding the rond point
Do you see the thick cluster of helmets between the arrows of the road signs? En masse.
3 leigh howard and arthur vichot
Leigh Howard, left, and Arthur Vichot are in the lead.
4 nearing
The others stream soon around both sides of the roundabout.

5 more

6 entering7 bikes

8 close

10 bikes
It doesn’t really thin out. There’s a swoosh of bikes, then they’re gone.
11 last
Only one straggler. Hang in there, buddy!

Voilà! In under five minutes, the gendarmes leading, the riders and the last equipment cars had zipped by.

Big doings in the village last night. And then France’s second-biggest fireworks at la Cité tonight. Stay tuned!

Tour de France prequel

LCL bikeHere they come.


The crowds started gathering at 8 a.m. The cyclists wouldn’t arrive until two minutes before 2 p.m.


After lots of equipment trucks and such, the excitement mounted. The gendarmes! They got lots of applause. Followed by the sponsor parade.

LCL bear
A bank.
juice box
Juice. Bio means organic.
juice box orange
More juice
Skoda (cars. Part of Volkswagen).
Bread (actually a supplier of wheat and other stuff to bakeries)
Tourism for Béarn, home of béarnaise sauce. It’s in the Pyrénées–see the mountains, right?
bic pen
Bic pens (lighter behind). French company. To the point that “bic” is slang for pen.
Most logical mascot: a gecko for Bostik glue.
carrefour fish
Fresh fish from the supermarket (Carrefour is #2 worldwide after Wal-Mart).
cochonou trio
Cochonou sausages! Love those old Citroëns.
Cornetto ice cream.
Electric company. Brilliant, isn’t it? High-tension wires.
Those are drumsticks. Riding on a giant chicken.
haribo 2
More candy.
Budget hotel chain. They threw out inflatable pillows.
Tires. Clébard (sounds a bit like Kleber) is slang for dog.
la peche
National fishing association.

How about riding in a giant madeleine?



McCain makes potato chips and frozen french fries.

Syrup for drinks.
vittel bike
They handed out bottles of water.
vittel spray
Yes, she’s dousing the crowd.

Our swag is on the right. The left is what the guy next to me picked up. Newspapers, shopping bags, coasters, magnets, pens, madeleines….

The main event coming soon.

Cycle Swag

057.Tour de FranceThe Tour de France will depart from Carcassonne on July 13 and head to Montpellier. They will take off at 1:50 p.m. I’ve asked for details about this year’s routes and will update you when I get them.


058.Tour de France1The cyclists zoom by in the blink of an eye. It’s hilly around here, but the Alps it isn’t. So they ride in a tight pack.

But the best part will go by much earlier.

We’re talking about cycle swag. Most of which has nothing to do with cycling.

The regional newspapers toss copies in very handy cotton totebags.

The PMU is off-track horse betting. There are often bars or tabacs (cigarette shops) affiliated with the  PMU in big and small towns.


Mostly they throw candy, hats, key rings, pens, coloring booklets, wrist bands and other stuff that won’t hurt if you miss catching it and it hits you in the head instead.

Can you imagine riding around France in a 2CV, heaving little sausages at the crowds on the sides of the roads? Talk about a summer job!

Like little sausages. And, of course, cheese. Good idea!

I think they threw candy.

Obviously no tanks of cooking gas.

Hope they have A/C.

Nor bottles of a beer and lemon soft drink mix.


Not even watches. Sniff!

Make your plans early. The streets get closed off, and the route is crowded in towns, though if you’re in the country, you have plenty of space, as you can see here.

059.Tour de France2