Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tour de France - yet again

We watched the start of a stage of the Tour De France for the fifth year in a row. This year the closest start to us was in Figeac. (Every year thr route of the Tour changes, but as we're in the SW we always seem to get a stage or two pretty nearby. Last year was Cahors, the year before Albi & so on.)
Figeac is about 35 minutes away normally, but since the tour was going to use the normal main road, the road was closed. Being local we knew how to get around this. We headed up & crossed the river at Cajarc and drove along the North bank. We were able to cruise straight into Figeac and were lucky enough to find a French parking place (A French parking place is one that isn't really a parking place, but doesn't block the road or someone's drive so you get away with it. See earlier post for a treatise on French parking.) just by the main car park. From there it was a short walk across the bridge to the promenade where the caravan was just starting to pass by.
The caravan is a whole parade of decorated cars & floats done up by the Tour's sponsors. Lots of loud music & pretty girls. Also, lots of free samples thrown into the crowd. Everything from hats to pins to candy to bottled water to I can't remember what else. The children go wild & scramble for the goodies. Its great fun and to be honest more exciting than the riders themselves.
Eventually here come the riders. At this stage they're just starting so the race really isn't on and they're going relatively slowly. Its a good chance to see them all up close. As they leave the town they take off and start really racing. The Figeac start was neat because the riders have to climb a steep hill immediately. Anyway off they went.
We went to a riverside cafe/hotel & had a beer. Very nice, but they didn't serve food. A good lunch after the start has become a Tour De France tradition so is important to us. This year we hadn't booked anything in advance. So, we asked at the cafe for a recommendation. They said we should try the 'Le Cuisine de la Marche'. Its just across the river behind the church they said. Off we went.
It was easy to find although on a very small street. A good looking menu if a bit more expensive than the norm so we went in. The place was very nicely decorated with well set up tables widely placed. Can we get lunch we asked? Do you have a reservation they asked? No we said. Ok they said would you like the table by the window? Yes, that looks great. When we sat down Rob was intrigued by the unusual way the napkins were folded. (Rob's children still run the restaurant that he & Jean started in Scotland) So much so that when the waitress came with the menus he asked for and got a demonstration on napkin folding.
My starter was a dish of escargots served with finely julienned vegetables all encased in a choux pastry shell. The sauce was very lightly creamed to allow the escargot flavors to come through. A nice dish & well presented. The plat was roast cannette. This duck was served on a large plate surrounded by beautifully done seasonal vegetables and with a smaller shallow bowl in the center. This bowl captured the duck juices and was lined with sauteed potatoes. The duck itself was very tender and there were three generous slice of magret plus a cuisse. Delicious! I had a nice cheese platter for dessert. Others had a dessert with three sorbets in small pots, each over a different compot. This was accompanied by two kinds of cake, one chocolate & one spicy. It was pronounced to be superb. It certainly looked superb.
Wine was a nice 2002 local Cahor.
Amazingly we were the ONLY customers! We kept expecting the place to fill up given the crowds on the streets, but nobody ever came. We asked Madame, the joint owner, about this & she said that Tour De France spectators in general were too cheap to pay for a good meal. She also said the they had a full house for dinner the previous evening as the sponsors & team members were not so cheap.
This echos past experience, but we still are amazed that quality restaurants should be empty with such a large crowd.
Anyway, we had a great time and will do it again next year. I need to add to my collection of Tour De France hats & T-shirts!

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