A fter my last trip to France, it wasn’t long before I started to miss the sun, the scenery, the food, and the vino of course. So I thought what better way to overcome the France blues by booking another trip. So here I am. Back in France, back in my happy place. Back where a nice bottle of wine costs less than €5 and you can drink it with lunch and no one will judge you for doing so. In fact, most people encourage such behaviour. Fab.
So the first part of my trip would be spent around the city of Albi. My Dad was competing in the cycling 15-mile road race world championships so I wanted to be there and cheer him on, but more importantly, keep the wine chilled.
My parents were out in France on a long camping trip so I gate crashed, yet again, and met them at the campsite just outside the Albi. I arrived late afternoon the day before the race, so we just had a chilled evening dining outside in the glorious evening sunshine, sipping on a nice cold bottle of the local vintage. We of course forgot that we needed to set up my tent until the sun had set and we were well into the second bottle, so that was a lot of fun
The next morning, we were up pretty early. Partly because my dad needed to get ready for the race, and partly because the tent had turned into a sauna! After night of sleeping on noting but a yoga mat and a thin sleeping bag, I stumbled out of the tent aching all over.
It had been years since I last went camping so it was a big shock to my system! My comfy double bed and Egyptian cotton sheets back in London had never felt so far away. But alas, two cups of coffee and some of Papa Browns porridge fixed me right up, and soon my mother and I were on our way to the start of the race.
My Dad had already left, he was cycling there as a warm up, the 25 degree heat at 9am wasn’t enough apparently, so mother and I followed behind him kind of as a support vehicle in case he had any issues en route. Our route however, was very different to his. I was all for using Google maps, only to be told by my mother that she had already cycled to route there so she knew the way. Of course, she didn’t, which I found out whilst driving down a French country road with her sat next to me saying “Oooo, I don’t recognise this at all”. No mother, that’s because it was the wrong way. Anyway, Google maps to the rescue, we got there in the end only a little bit late as well.
When we arrived, we went straight down to the start area to meet my dad and wish him luck for the race. By this point the temperature was well into the thirties and it was getting hotter. All the riders were lined up under a row of tents waiting to be called forward up onto the start ramp. It was probably the only time during the whole day that I was envious of the competitors. They got shade provided for them, meanwhile my mother and I were trying to find any small patch of shade we could just to try and cool down and stay out of the sun.
My Dad was looking very nervous whilst he was lining up, which of course made my mother nervous, which then of course made me nervous, it was all very intense for a Thursday morning! Pretty soon it was his turn to hop up onto the start ramp and get himself set up on the bike. Then at the hands of a French official, my old man was released onto the track!
Whilst he was out on the course, my mother and I decided to take shelter from the sun under one of the marquees they had set up and have a sit down. He was only going to be out on the course for half an hour or so, so we weren’t waiting for too long. For the finish, I wanted to be right by the finish line as close to the track as possible to try and get some good shots, and my mother wanted to be up on one of the viewing platforms. The event was being held at a car racing track, so the viewing facilities were pretty good.
Anyway, my dad had told me that he expected to be finished in 35-40 minutes, so I made it to the finish line around 32 minutes after he started so I could get myself sorted and get a few practice shots done. It was quite hard to see the cyclists coming down towards the finish line, it was very hazy, and I didn’t have my glasses on, so I couldn’t really see the riders until they were right in front of me, not the greatest situation to be in I must admit.
The practice shots were going pretty well and I was happy with what I had got so far, so I relaxed a little and checked the time ready for when my dad got in. 35 minutes had passed, any minute now. I looked over to where my mother was standing, but I couldn’t see her up there. I turned my head and looked to my right, just on the other side of the track and there she was talking to my fath- wait, what!? There she was, stood on the other side of the track, speaking to my dad. Who I was waiting to photograph finishing the race……bollocks!
I had completely missed him finishing the world championships. One of the main reasons I had gone to France was to watch him in the race and get some good photos, and I had missed the whole sodding thing! Note to self, glasses required at all times. It wasn’t all bad though, it was still such an amazing thing to see my dad do, and the result was incredible. 2nd from GB and 18th in the world!
We didn’t really do much for the rest of the day, just chilled out around the campsite and drank beer, the recovery drink for the pro athlete.
The next morning, we were up fairly early again to pack up camp and head into the city for a bit of sightseeing. The main attraction of the city, as with most of the French cities I have visited was the cathedral. This one was like nothing I have seen before. It looked much more modern than most of the others I have seen, aptly described by my mother as looking like a power station. I could see where she was coming from, the whole place had a bit of a Battersea Power Station look about it, minus all the chimney towers of course.
Apparently the design was Southern Gothic or something, which was quite evident with some of the design features. At the top of the building there were these stone gargoyles sticking out, just like there are on the Notre Dame in Paris. All I can think of when I see them is the Hunchback of Notre Dame film, which then gets all the songs stuck in my head, so the whole time we were looking around inside, I had ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ playing over and over in my head.
After a nice long look around on the cathedral, and a quick coffee stop in the square, we then headed down towards the river to have a wander around. The view down onto the river was beautiful. The cathedral sort of spilled out right to the river bank where there was a beautiful garden surrounded by a path that was draped with grape vines. The weather was really great for taking photos. The sun was shining, and there was a few fluffy clouds dotted round the place which added some interest to the sky.
The sun made the river look really beautiful as well. The buildings that lined the opposite side of the riverbank were reflected in the water making the whole scene that much prettier.
I stayed for a while taking photos, trying to get the best view. I was trying to maximise the reflection on the water all the way up the river up to the old arched bridge. After that, I dragged my parents all the way up to the bridge and over to the other side, back down until we were right opposite the cathedral again. I wanted to try and get the cathedral reflected in the river, but I was shooting directly into the sun, so the photos weren’t really turning out very well.
After we left this spot, I then continued to drag my parents to the other end of town to cross the newer bridge, again to try and get a shot of the scene as a whole. This bridge was slightly higher than the last, so the view was even better. There was a weir right in the middle of the river as well, so I tried a few slow shutter speed shots to try and get a nice effect. Unfortunately it was a bit too bright for this, and I didn’t have a powerful enough ND filter to darken the scene enough to get the blur effect I wanted. Time to do a bit of shopping I think.
Pretty soon after this, it was time to find a nice restaurant terrace in the shade somewhere and get a cold glass of wine and some lunch, kick back, and enjoy the view. So that’s what we did. And it was fabulous.