Sunday, March 25, 2007

Packing, money, internet, calling home, shopping


Duality is the key to packing. Anything that can be used for riding and daily travel is a plus. Also think dark colors that mix and match. With a broad range of weather and lots of outdoor exposure packing for Le Tour can be a challenge. Factor in that you often won’t have lots of extra room in rentals and the drudgery of toting heavy luggage. When I pack there are a few things I have learned that help immensely.

In one large hard side case I pack my clothes and one empty riding pack along with another empty soft tote bag. The extra bags allow me to separate out riding clothes and dirty clothes from clean once I arrive. It also helps my organization and transfers knowing all my bike clothes are in one space. On early mornings where I’ll drive and ride to the course I can quickly grab the day bags and go. I pack dryer sheets in my luggage to keep the clothes smelling nice.
I try and pack a lot of performance style fabric shirts and shorts that are available at most outdoor stores. They pack well and can be washed and dried overnight in your hotel rooms. I also go for cargo style pockets in shorts as it makes the job of thieves/pickpockets harder.
Clothes List (what I carry for a month!)

3 Wickable Tee’s (breathable, wickable shirts)
3 Pairs of Nylon or cotton Cargo shorts
1 Pair of cotton cargo pants or jeans
1 Dress shirt
1 Fleece pullover
1 Nylon/gore-tex waterproof jacket
3 cotton undershirts
1 pair sandals/flip-flops
1 pair dress shoes
1 pair running shoes
7 Days worth of socks/undergarments

Don’t carry too many things like detergent on your flight over. I typically purchase soap/detergent and things like baby wipes once I arrive as they tend to bust open and make a huge mess—baby wipes can serve poor mans bath on long transfer days. Some of my bike items could be helpful on colder non-cycling days so make sure and look at what items could double up.

Bike Clothes List

3 Jerseys
3 Bib shorts
2 Thin undertshirt/baselayers
1 Pair arm warmers
1 Pair Leg warmers
1 Inexpensive clear rain cape (good for cold descents, rain, windstopper)
1 Pair short finger gloves
1 Pair long finger gloves for cold days on and off bike
1 Cloth cap
1 Pair neoprene toe warmers
1 Helmet

The list is looks long but can be shortened if you know you won’t be riding in the mountains/colder weather or if you won’t ride in rain. Because I guide, I have to be prepared for the worst.

Along with the above I try and carry along extras like a few empty plastic grocery sacks for carry items that can’t get wet in my daypack. Also carry along any necessary Pepto/Ammodium/Tagament style medicines and ibuprofen. European food preparation techniques can differ from those you use in your own kitchen. Also, think about carrying clothespins ands a string that can serve as your clothesline.

Getting News and Calling Home

Because you’ll be on the road getting the news can be tough. Keep an eye out for Tabac’s and Presse shops. They are places that you will see in every big town and small village. The Tabac’s will sell the Telecarte Phone cards that you use in the French Phones to call back home—EVEN IF you bought a calling card at home or use a calling card you still need a Telecarte to place your call.

They come in units and have a metal “Smart” chip on the front. The phones will have a credit card slot for the Telecarte’s and the phone gives you instructions on an LCD screen on how to place the call. Before getting started look for a button on the phone with a flag. This button will allow you to change the language of the calling instructions. JJust be aware that not every phone has the capability, as some older phones don’t offer the language assistance.

A Presse is a newsstand and will serve to keep you up on race and world goings on. In most Presse shops you can find at least one English language newspaper. This is important as if you need weather information or GC status, or just want to know what happens back home. The International Herald Tribune is the most common though USA Today can sometimes be found in bigger cities. Also be ready for the race action with a copy of L’Equipe—the official newspaper of Le Tour and even if you don’t read French you can pick up the vitals of the race.

Internet and getting connected

If you want to connect occasionally I suggest internet cafes. Just be ready for the unique keyboard as it will often frustrate first time users. Ask your hotel if any are nearby or know that sometimes a nicer hotel will have business centers or computers that you can use.

Be aware that you will need a bevy of adapters and such to use the laptop. Your power cord won’t plug in so you will need a power adapter/converter for that as well—I always carry two of these to be safe. Carry an extra network cable some hotels have network connection in rooms or in spots you can plug-in. .

WI-FI it is becoming more common and on more recent visits I was able to use pay WI-FI in several newer hotels—just beware it isn’t free. Paris had great WI-FI Access but as you can imagine the smaller, more rural spots didn’t. Most of the time my access through Orange a French cell company.  They offered WI-FI access to the tune of $10 Euros for 2 hours of use. I was able to use the 2 hours during a 24 hour period that started from the time I signed up. If you need to connect daily you can also purchase extended plans through Orange for the length of your stay. 

Make sure to have a back-up plan if you can’t connect. I always carry extra floppies/cd’s to burn in case I lose my modem/Network card. That way I can use the net cafĂ©’s to transmit. There are several online resources for the adapters and cafe's

Money and Documents

When I travel Le Tour I live via Credit Cards and cash via ATM’s. It can be a common misconception that Travelers Checks are the best. I have found that they can be a hassle. When you arrive you may find it difficult to spend them and then find it necessary to have them converted to cash so you can spend. I use my ATM/Visa debit instead to withdraw money a once or twice a week.

ATM’s are everywhere and regulated enough that the exchange you get will be based on true bank exchange rates. Many of the currency changing spots will gouge and are not regulated as closely. They also take a transaction fees etc that will add up. The more touristy the area the more you’ll give up in fees. When trading cash or travelers checks try to find a walk-in bank as they are safer and honest to deal with. Though it’s widely publicized French Post Office is place to change money, it has been my experience that only the larger ones offer the service. Larger hotels sometimes offer changing services too.

Before I leave I make copies of important documents and keep them in several places just in case. Remember that a passport copy can save you if you lose your passport as the Embassy can assist you in replacing the passport much quicker. Also leave copies at with someone you trust that will be able to fax them to you/authorities if necessary. In the section below I’ll list some common bank names in France. Just like many French businesses they aren’t always open during times you’d expect, so try to anticipate/plan bank trips ahead of time. There are many banks in France but below are a few names to look for if you need to trade money. All of these banks have walk-in and ATM capabilities. I have no distinct fondness for any specific bank as I have only had to use the walk-in services a few times.

Credit Agricole—To cycling fans this name is tied to the name of the French team they sponsor.
Credit Lyonnais—Another name tied to the Tour de France as an official partner of the Tour de France and the sponsor of the yellow jersey
Banques Populaires—Another bank you’ll see along the way.


Inevitably you’ll find that you’ve forgotten something or you just want to go shopping. The following list is of some places that could be beneficial. To some degree some of these stores destroy the spirit the local artisans that make France so special. Everyone should take time to visit local markets and stores in the small villages when possible just for the experience. You should know that many of the stores (especially the small ones) will have shorter hours than at home. For instance, making a trip to the bike shop requires some pre-planning as they’ll close for lunch, which is common in France.

Hardware and Tools

Mr. Bricolage and Castorama are chain stores throughout France much like Lowe’s or Home Depot. They are great if you need tools or small hardware. I’ve bought everything from spare allen wrenches to cheap plastic organizing bins for food here.

Food Stores and Super Centers

All over France you’ll see chains of Super Markets (Supermarche) like Champion, Casino and many more. For those on a budget and just about everyone else these stores are a staple of travel. What I like best about them is that most have an entire dedicated section of healthy grab and go foods that are prepared. Unlike the bad fried chicken at the local grocery deli in the States you’ll find foods that will fuel you for riding, save time when on a tight schedule, and most of all save money.

Just like Walmart Supercenter or Super Kmart the French will have enormous super stores called Hypermarches. My favorite is called Carrefour and they serve as a one-stop shop. One trend is for this type of store is to have a mall built around it—typically called a Centre Commercial. Auchon is another name you’ll se along with Hyper U.

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